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…