Monday, 6 July 2015

Spring/Summer 2015

This year so far has been uber productive on the farm I am very pleased to say! The weather has had a huge part to play in this fact as it has been so very dry. The start of a year is usually cold and wet which limits me going onto the fields due to making a mess but this year was quite different from mid February onwards. This dry weather has enabled me to get on with jobs such as apple tree pruning, ditching, sorting out drains, fertiliser spreading and improving gateways.  I have also got to say a big thank you to 'Dave' who has been an enormous help with his digger. The more I achieved the more I have wanted to do!

Apple Tree Pruning

Pruning apple trees on the farm
Managed to tidy up and prune both of our small orchards and I really enjoyed it! Pruning is quite a mellow job (if you are not on a ladder) and where to cut on a branch as well as the shaping of a tree is really quite fun! It is a little bit like being an artist and you step back every so often to see how it is all going. Lots of blossom in late May so I must have done something right!

Ditching and gateway improvement

This was a good job done. Several gateways are 'pinchpoints' and 1 gateway can serve more than one field. With the cattle and tractors going though these gateways they had become impassable on foot in the wet weather so at long last we have addressed this (to a certain point). Do one gateway and drain it then moves the water on to another area... so a bit of ditching is then required and then you come across another gateway and you have now moved it the water situation onwards - you need to drain area! We have at least made a start and hopefully we can continue what we have started a little later on in the year.

Drainage project on the farm

We have had three parties in the barn on the farm in May and June and they were a great success. Lovely people whose party it was each time and also the guests which all help the atmosphere and fun. At last I have now constructed a proper bar area which worked very well for these events. When I first made the bar area I thought it it was way too big but by the time it is stocked up with drinks, glasses, fridge, bins etc and you have 2 people behind it frantically keeping thirsty guests refreshed it is actually just the right size! One party decorated the barn as if it was the inside of a marquee (see below) and it was very effective indeed and I still have all  this material so this could be an option for parties in the future! I have also got some more lighting and even a laser for the barn which all helps the atmosphere. We have also purchased a new 4 metre Bell tent for the campsite.

Quote from a couple who had their wedding reception on the farm a few weeks ago...

'We had a day exactly as we dreamed - We loved every minute!'

The marquee effect!

New Bell Tent for hire

New Bar Area

Not quite the same theme as partying but it does happen in the same place albeit involving less booze!I am also hosting several photography courses in the barn over the year. These events are for  photographic clubs in learning how to photograph Birds Of Prey and we have a professional falconer providing the birds and a professional photographer for the instruction. Please note we are only hosting these events and any enquiries need to be directed to

Food and drink shows.
We have now started the Show season and The Shrewsbury Food and Drink Festival was unbelievable! Great weather, lots of people and excellent show organisation all added up to a spectacular event and we were very pleased with the weekend. We ran out of stock on the Saturday which was somewhat  unexpected as we thought we had brought enough stock for the 2 days!! As I have mentioned previously we are doing less shows this year so the ones we do we hope work well for us. Oswestry Food and drink show is the next one on the calender.

Shrewsbury Food and Drink Festival

Land Rover restoration

Some of you are aware that I got very excited in fixing up our old Series 2 Land Rover this year.... with the help of my mate Sion we were hoping to get it up and running in Springtime for a classic car event in Ludlow. Despite the very positive progress we have made over the months on it unfortunately the limiting factor has been time or more to the point - lack of time...(see above) Unfortunately it is STILL not done despite it being so very very close indeed to be finished... It is a shame as these balmy summer days we have been having it would have enormous fun. I am seriously thinking of towing it up to the local garage and getting them to finish it.... Something has to be done!! When it is finally done the world will know.... until it breaks down.

AND we managed to go away for a week family on the Isles of Scilly! Wow! What a great place.. Had a great break and it was like being on a Greek island! White sand, Blue sea lots of little islands, gorgeous sunsets and the local supermarket was a crazy place! Blazing hot weather which resulted in minor sunburn - but it didn't matter as I was on holiday!!

Enjoying an pint on the Isles of Scilly!

Oh yes almost forgot... we are also half way through having an extension built onto the house.... Yes things have certainly been keeping Chris busy!


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Start of 2015

The amount of times I promise myself to keep on top of the blogging and I never seem to achieve it but here goes for the start of 2015..

The end of 2014 we ran out of bottled cider which was embarrassing to say the least and I want to really forget about the whole scenario. The only slight positive is that we should learn from our mistakes and I am going to try and ensure it does not happen again.

January 2015 I must admit was a bit hard work if I am honest for various reasons. It was cold which I quite like to be honest as opposed to being wet all the time but it is the really short days that I find frustrating. Evenings are really long and seem to go on longer than the daylight hours. I sort of try and promise to myself to take things a bit easier in January each year as it can be quite hectic for every other month. I suppose I have sort of achieved that element but oddly enough I do find it difficult to 'not do anything' and to have a break. I have so many things  'to do'! That said looking back over last month I have managed to formulate quite a comprehensive list of plans but the inevitable result is that 'the list' that now it has been prepared is a massive list and is a weeny bit sobering.... Anyway if nothing else it is at least some sort of foundation to build on!

This month has been much more positive I am pleased to say! Several pallets of cider have come back from the bottling plant so we are back in business regarding cider sales! Everyone has been so understanding about the situation which has been a great help. The days are getting longer too and a bit milder as I have said I like the cold it can slow up plans. I have been managed to get my teeth into one or two projects on the farm which I am pleased about. One particular shed on the farm has been in my sights for sorting and I have made fairly good progress in sorting out what is what. Lots of recycling into certain piles is going on and unfortunately there is the classic pile of stuff that I am not sure what to do with...
The farm shop and kitchen etc has had a lick of floor paint and it looks a lot better. I tried to do it when it was unlikely that we would have many visitors considering the time of year etc and of course inevitably we had quite a few which was somewhat challenging. It was just as well I sort of staggered the painting and did it in sections so the shop still could be used. Still had to go over a couple of bits though for a second time..

January is also a time for planning for the shows we would like to do in the next 11 months. We of course have our favourite shows but we have left off a few shows for this year for several reasons. One reason is that there is a danger of shows eating up weekends considering the time to prepare, the travelling and of course the related costs to each show that we do. We very rarely (which is lucky) to go to a show that is very disappointing but we have been a bit stricter in the amount of profit that we would like to achieve at any event. I know this is fairly obvious but going to shows is of course marketing etc as well but taking into accounts the true cost of going to a show can be quite sobering. I am sometimes amazed that some fellow stall holders sometimes do not even cover their true costs let alone make a profit to make it all worthwhile. Another factor is having a little 2 year old boy means that weekends are starting to have different priorities too. Also one element that I do find frustrating and I have to admit is one of the main reasons why we are choosing not to go to a couple of events, is the fact that we are not allowed at some shows to sell our cider by the glass! This is like going to a show with your hands tied regarding selling your product. I find this so very short sighted regarding the organisation. It completely goes against the whole theme of so called 'local shows' and encouraging small producers to attend while only a few metres away there is a large trailer unit selling mass produced drinks! These mass produced drinks can be bought anywhere in any pub. Fair enough that people like to have a choice on what they drink but heck give the small drinks producer a chance to try and compete! Our customers are always so surprised that we are unable to sell by the glass and as a result we lose a huge amount of potential business... Why do the organisers choose to do this? It is all down to those trailer units paying huge money for a pitch.... Anyway got a bit carried away there but I do find it frustrating and as time goes on these 'local shows' which just become 'another show and will begin to lose their identity.

Another good job that has been done is taking the electric winch of a rubbish tractor and sticking it on the Land Rover which is much more usable. I have done one job already and it is a brilliant tool! A huge branch had fallen off an Ash tree and had got stuck in a hedge and on top of a fence. Without a winch it would have been a nightmare but with a decent winch the job is now done! And we have instant firewood...

 A bit of footage too!


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Spring 2014

The first part of the year was wet to say the least...rain, rain and more rain and then it stopped. From one extreme to another! The farm was very wet however no flooding. But it has however been very mild indeed with only a couple of small frosts.
 A fairly gentle start to the year regarding work on the farm as well as cider. Managed to get on with a few jobs that have been on the list 'to be done sometime'. It is also an opportunity to get a bit of rest too before the year kicks off with everything. That said having a little boy at home does not always help with the resting part of the plan...
Once the sun came out and the ground dried up slightly then that was the green light for action! One of the first big projects for 2014 was to lay a significant stretch of hedge as well as plant up an old field boundary. This is all part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which enables us to do certain environmental projects on the farm. We wisely asked a contractor to do the actual hedging work but I had to do preparation work regarding removing any old fencing as well as thinning out numerous trees in the hedge line. This served 2 purposes as all the fencing materials that we could reuse on the farm as well filling up the shed with firewood from the trees.  We decided to do two hedges on the farm for this year with more hedgework planned over the next 2 years. Photographs of the hedgework can be seen on the website.

We have a new tenant on the farm as our last one had decided to downsize his herd. Early spring is always my time to check and repair any fencing on the farm in preparation for the cattle arriving. I quite enjoy doing this work but this year it was quite wet to be getting onto the fields with machinery. Despite only having a small farm we also have small fields which equals in miles and miles of fencing... It takes time to replace fencing and as time as gone on they have improved but what is frustrating is that the 'modern'  fence posts we use nowadays simply do not last. I grew up on the farm when post seems to last a lifetime and the only fencing that was required was rusty wire! Now it seems to be the other way that post only a few years old are simply breaking off at ground level due to what appears to be is shoddy preservation treatment by the manufacturers! I did hear that due to a sudden uptake on Grant funded environmental work a few years ago by farmers and landowners, lots of timber was 'rushed' through the manufacturing process and were not allowed to dry out properly to ensure the preservation treatment worked. Whether this is true or not I don't know but it's disappointing that they do not seem to last.

On my fencing travels on the farm I am brutally reminded of some gateways which have been getting steadily worse with access and at some point I need to dig them out and pour a good amount of stone in them. The main problem is that it seems to me that when we do have rain it really can throw it down and these gateways act like sumps which hold water and it is difficult to drain. Off course having 150 acres of catchment area coping with what would be tons of water it all has drain off in an orderly manner. To put it mildly this could be improved and these gateways are part of the problem.  I am aware that I don't have the best machinery known to man but  getting a vehicle stuck on the farm drives me nuts. It slows up the job that was meant to be done, I will probably damage something and it is tricky getting a vehicle 'unstuck' and safely on my own.. I do have the Leyland tractor (known as the Blue Beast) if all else fails, which has the winch on but odds on it wont start and then I have to find a battery etc etc. Sorting the drainage out on the farm is however quite a major project which will take time, machinery and money.

The show season for the cider starts for us in spring time with a few smaller shows to start with to get us back in practice. Weston Park was an excellent show over the bank holiday as it just happened to be the best day of the weekend with beautiful sunshine. It is always a fun show as it is well organised and in such a great setting but as it was the only fine day it seemed that everyone wanted to escape and go to a show. I ran out of about 90% of the cider I had brought!
Unfortunately the opposite happened at the Wenlock Show as the weather forcast was awful and at 6am when I was sorting a few things out before I left the farm the sky went dark again and the thunder and lightening started and then it poured down... I was not overexcited about the day at all at this point as I was destined to be setting up, standing in and taking down a flimsy tent in a graveyard... BUT the weather did ease and by lunchtime there was hot sunshine! Numbers were down however but considering how bad it could have been it was certainly worth going to. I did enjoy the street entertainers especially a bloke called George.

We are doing a couple more shows this year including Shrewsbury Food and Drink Festival at the end of June as well as the Shrewsbury Flower Show in August. As always I am hoping for a good summer as sunshine seems to bring everyone out.

 Mahorall Farm and TCHT Autumn Fayre - Sept 20th 2014

We are also in the process of organising a 3rd Autumn Fayre on the farm. All quite exciting as we have a good few things planned for September 20th. The show will be based on local crafts in the area and so far we have:

Cidermaking (on the new portable cider press)
Glass making,
Charcoal making,
Metal forging,
Green Wood Working,
Vintage Vehicles
Hog Roast

We also have some fabulously quirky local entertainment booked (not me!).

Some of you might remember that we have done this on the farm a before a few years ago and they were such a success so we have decided to res erect the idea with the Titterstone Heritage Trust and see how we go!

   As I write we are only a couple of weeks to midsummer's night which always seems to come around far too quickly and an abrupt reminder of how quick time goes! Elderflower picking is due to start soon and the crop is looking good. One of the most mellow jobs on the farm as it has to be on a bright sunny day to get the highest quality flower. Utterly silent as there is no machinery required apart from some secateurs snipping away and listening to birdsong. I also think it is a refreshingly primitive action of simply picking a flower to prepare for a drink.

Roll on summer!


Saturday, 21 December 2013

End of year post

I have to say that 2013 has been a year to remember for all sorts of reasons. Looking back on the year it has been one huge roller coaster and I have loved every minute of it!

This year has been very good for for all sorts of reasons and one is how generous mother nature can be with harvests. As Autumn approached we were blessed with a great crop of damsons on the farm which was a great relief. Had some lovely weather to pick them too and really enjoyed the experience. On one side of a particular hedgerow there is one of the best views on the farm overlooking into Herefordshire. With the fine weather, lovely extensive views, solitary bliss and eating fresh damsons like sweets! Fond memories indeed!

The shows have been very good overall in 2013 and the great weather certainly helped. We really only attended the shows we knew should be pretty good and also due to the new addition to the family we wanted to see how the year would turn out. We have some new ones planned for 2014 though already.

Talking about shows we are hoping to fire up the Mahorall / TCHT Autumn Fayre again for 2014 which I am quite excited about. We have hosted the Autumn Fayre with the help of TCHT a few times now at the farm and it seemed to work so very well. A date is yet to be organised but watch this space!

We have also been accepted into the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which is fantastic news. A lot of planning is required over the winter but it will enable us to do a number of little environmental projects on the farm such as coppicing, hedgelaying wetland creation and associated fencing.

As mentioned before I had a large oak log from a tree on the farm which had fallen over, which I was hoping to make into a large beam. Now some of you know that I am guilty of all kinds of planning for ideas which not all happen BUT some do. Now it must be about 15 years ago when I came across a screw from an old single screw cider press which was down at a local auction. I had to get it and not only was it listed poorly on the auction description and no one really knew what it was BUT it also had Coalbrookdale stamped on it. We all know that this was where the industrial revoultion was at Ironbridge and it could be as old as 200 years! Anyway I managed to bag it for £20 notes and it was then 'put in storage' on the farm.... The Oak tree falling over on the farm was sad but I am hoping it has not died. The opportunity of a beam awakened the idea of building another cider press using the old screw. THEN I was offered to run a cider course at Acton Scott in October so all of these things just sealed the plan. I was lucky enough to know a buddy to help building the steel frame and also another mate who could do the milling on the beam to finish it up. All of things came together beautifully and not only did the course at Acton Scott went very well but now have a travelling cider press! For anyone who is interested I have put an album up on the website with a few pictures of it.

For next year I can see it being available for hire as a complete portable cidermaking set up!

The season for apples this year have been on the whole pretty good. The apples have however played tricks on us this year in as much as some refused to come off the trees due to the lack of cold weather. Even the wind that we had in December the trees refused to budge off the trees.We did manage to get the early varieties for once which have increased the amount that we could process. That said cidermaking seemed to go on for ever this year as we eventually finished late December. It was to be expected though as our aim was to process as many apples as we possibly could as it was such a good season. As a result we have made a furious amount and the cider shed is now brimming full! It is a lovely feeling to have now got plenty of stock when we had the opportunity.

It has been a heck of a year but looking back on what has been achieved I am very satisfied indeed so bring on 2014!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Mid Summer 2013

And what a summer we have had so far! After what seems like an eternity of cloud, the sun came out and has stayed out! I know the heat can be hard work but on the whole I am loving it. I have not even been burnt - yet....

Hay has been made on one field quite early this year. I felt I had to seize the opportunity with the glorious spell of good weather considering the nightmare the weather was last year. Despite all the vintage machinery that I use continually playing up during the whole process, I managed to make a very quick 280 bales all my own and get it in. And yes it was made super quick due to the extraordinary heat that lasted well into the evening.I am leaving our wildlife meadow for late cut of hay to allow nature such as butterflies and moths to enjoy it. I watched a lovely springwatch program the other night which highlighted the loss of meadows and how much diversity can be extinguished so quickly which can have a big knock on effect. Makes us proud that we have several lovely species rich meadows on the farm which have not been ploughed in living memory. Now here is a bit of info - we have had a group on the farm looking for insects and moths in old orchards and they came across one species that (it is thought) has never been recorded in Shropshire before! I love it!

Closely linked to meadows and all that, we are still hoping to be accepted for the HLS countryside scheme (fingers crossed). It would allow further exciting environmental work to be done on the farm which I would love to do but simply cannot find the time. One example is that we have an old coppice wood tucked into an awkward corner which would be so good to start the coppicing again on a rotational basis. Excellent sustainable source of wood PLUS different insects like different stages of rotational growth on trees. The scheme would enable me to part finance a contractor to do some of the work much more efficiently than me.

The sales of cider have been very pleasing so far this year and the hot weather has done us no harm! We have only done a few shows this year and the lions share is yet to come. In the next week we have 3 seperate shows which I am lookng forw So far so good though. Only just keeping up with the flavoured ciders. I was hoping to offer a mail order selection pack at some point to trial it but we have so much on at the moment it would be a bit much for us. Really hoping the damsons will be fruitful this year but we will have to wait and see...

Over 18 months ago now we lost half an ancient oak tree on the farm which had split in the wind. Half of it is still ok but I dont think it will last for too long.We had someone come up to process the wood mainly into firewood but I have salvaged a couple of largish beams. We have now over 12 tons of firewood all ready seasoned, chopped and split ready for winter. Need to mix some other wood types into it as well but it is a lovely feeling to be semi prepared for the winter.

I have plans to put on an event on Halloween in the barn. I have spoken to my Falconry friends and they are excited about it too. I think it has some real potential. Set up some trees in the barn, spooky music, smoke machine, coloured lights, projector, cobwebs, pumpkins, candles and owls flying over your heads! Watch this space!

This year is going fast for me, even quicker than normal... Being a dad is great fun to my 4 month  little boy. Priorities have changed somewhat but I am feeling positive about trying to keep on top of things. I am having a great time!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Spring 2013

Ok I am certainly guilty of not staying on top of this Blogging BUT my little life has been ram packed with stuff going on since January... I am now a new dad to a lovely little boy born in March! Urgent plans had to happen to make more space in the house which involved building some sort of outside office for me to function. It has taked for ever to build and went fiercely over budget but not only do I have a boy but I am a proud owner of an official man cave in the garden. Wow! - its great and so much space to at least feel prepared to get sorted and to plan for the next few months. So apologies to everyone but I am slowly getting back to normality again!

So we have had one of the most awful start to the year with the weather.. but finally we are starting to see some sun again albeit sporadically and the cider drinking season is now well under way. We have only been to a couple of shows but we were very lucky with the weather and there were good turnouts for both shows. No real 'new' shows this year as I have struggled a bit with formulating a proactive attack regarding the cider business, as there is only so much I can do BUT we are still sort of holding our own. We are only doing the shows that we know work well for us and of course there is only so much we can physically do.

The brown tourist signs on the road identifying we are, are working very well indeed and we are certainly seeing more visitors at the shop. The problem of people particularly relying on Tomtom sat navs... and then turning up at the neighbours has been drastically reduced. There will always be some people who utterly rely on these machines and will drive past the signs but there is only so much you can do!

Regarding the farm we are in the process of applying for the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. This is a comprehensive environmental improvement plan that is grant funded. Until recently we have been so busy we have not seriously been able to consider it. The preparation for the scheme was originally daunting (as you would expect) . Lots of data have to be collated and firm environmental improvement plans have to be in place for longevity. What has helped is that we have had the opportunity of the original Environmental Plan being done for us as part of the project. Also it materialises that we are already doing a number of the requirements. A little bit more assistance and we would be able to implement some fairly big plans on the farm. Not confirmed yet but it has certainly got out interest!

So plenty of stuff going on!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Winter postime

Winter time posting 

Sorry for the delay in posting but my last effort which I tried to do in December disappeared in front of my eyes in the process of posting! A little disappointing to say the least… Anyway we have got through the Christmas season as well as cidermaking and we are here plump in the middle of January. As I write there is snow blowing around outside.

Cidermaking 2012 – Not the best season we have had in all honesty. Apple crop was a little slim on the ground and the apples were considerably smaller and contained less sugar. We had thought we had done a deal on 10 tons of apples from a local businessman who had some orchards and plenty of apples which we were quite excited about. Time went on and we repeatedly contacted him to see what was happening as it was unuasually quiet. Then we found out that he had not got around to telling his man in charge of the orchards and the apples had been since sold to someone else! Beggars belief and it will be the last time we do business with him and his pubs… Anyway we at least managed to do a bit of cidermaking and the plus side is that the bank balance is a bit better as a result! I occasionally have  to look on the bright side..  We are lucky that we have actually got plenty of cider in reserves as we make as much as we can in the good years for this very reason.

Christmas shows 2012 – As cidermaking went as a quick as a flash it enabled us to do more Christmas shows than we would have done normally. I really enjoyed the shows and meeting lots of people and we also sold a heck of a lot of our very popular Mulled cider. The majority of shows went very well and it is also a form of promotion for the farm and we have had a few extra visitors that have come to the shop on the farm as a result of the shows. This will be a strategy for the future and I am determined to find time to make the most of the Christmas season which normally passes us by due to us being busy making cider. Even our internet Christmas selection box sold quite well.
On the run up to Christmas is normally my cue to knuckle down and get on with planning for the forthcoming year which I enjoy. Plenty of stuff to get my head around for 2013 but also a little daunting and the bottom line is that to get on at all this year I need some physical help. It is all good news though and at least things are not spiralling downhill and there is a lot to be excited about. 
The continual quest for looking for wood on the farm to keep us warm continues and it certainly does not help the ground being so wet. Only yesterday I got really badly stuck in the Discovery trying to sort out more wood. Took most of the day trying to get it out and very close to ripping the bumper off trying to pull it with the tractor. You can see the tree in the background of the picture below which I was trying to bag.. It is still there and I failed to get even a twig to burn yesterday..

So there I was getting on with my plans in mid December unbeknown that there was a huge torpedo that was lurking in the wings which was silently on its way to explode my plans. My lovely wife suddenly discovered (and I mean suddenly) that she was pregnant! Now this of course blew us away with joy but the added news which was to extend the ‘blowing away bit’ is that she is due in March!! So we are absolutely thrilled. We were all aware she was putting on a bit of weight and I was one step away from putting an alarm on the fridge! There is a lot to get sorted in very little time…