Mid summer - early winter 2020
Determined to make the most of this most unusual year the overall theme has been trying to catch up on numerous jobs on the farm. With having no shows or parties at the farm for once I had extra time on my hands to do many small jobs that needed to be done.
As with the last post the order of activities are in reverse order.
Lockdown 2 - We decided to close the farm when the second lockdown was announced. Initially the new laws prohibited us from opening and then at the last minute 'breweries' were allowed with a click and collect service. The shop usually gets quieter anyway and coupled with the 'essential' travel only' element we have decided to shut.
Following on from the above we have decided now to shut the shop at the farm until spring 2021.
We have plans to improve the buildings and shop and this will enable us to carry out the work and reopen again when the work is complete ready for spring next year. All quite exciting stuff.
Our one show on the run up to Christmas which we were really hoping was going to happen and I was really looking forward to was unfortunately cancelled due to the new tier system.
No mulled cider available to purchase this year from a show!
Regarding mail order we are now offering slightly more ciders online as well as doing a more regular delivery service of twice weekly until Christmas.
So our own orchards had not only produces a lot of fruit but I managed to get it all collected too. This year we did not buy in any apples for the first time. All the cider we have made in 2020 is from our own orchards. All the apples were in such good condition and also really clean as they were picked by hand. Had to deal with one or 2 issues with the cidermaking equipment but soon got it sorted. So it was quite nice to get cidermaking done before it either got very wet or cold.
Updating of farm office.Long overdue but the farm office needed a 'once over'. Networking is now installed and we now at last have wifi on the farm.
Apple picking - With my pruning project in late winter and the stunning sunny spring all led to perfect growing conditions for our trees. The spring blossom was stunning and this was a good indication of what to expect in Autumn. The apple crop on the farm in 2020 was twice as productive compared to last year and by far the best ever.
To see the orchard bearing so much fruit was a very welcome sight indeed!
|Lots of apples!|
We have a ongoing situation on the farm which unfortunately I can do nothing about and very relevant regarding our apple collection. The situation is the fact that Pheasants are reared locally and then released around early Autumn. A slow wave of the birds move across the farm and once they reach the orchards in any real numbers they is a good chance they will decimate the apples. I have to be ready and organise my apple picking regarding the season. This involves regular checking and identifying exactly when to start collecting them up . The early apples are of course the first ones and I managed to time this just right. All the apples were handpicked by my goodself and it is a job a really enjoying doing.
|A splash of colour|
The early apples have a habit of dropping off the tree despite them not actually being ready so some need to be shaken off. Once collected they still had to wait in the trailer for a couple of weeks before they were ready to press. Ideally they need to be be nice and ripe to get the maximum sugars and juice.
The second picking of the mid to late varieties went well too and was vey pleased with the amount that I had collected.
New Barn Owl Box - It was time to replace one of our outside Barn Owl boxes on the farm which has done so well over the last few years. We have links to the Shropshire Barn Owl group and we have had a brand new one made and installed. Many thanks to John Lightfoot for the construction and installation.
The cancellation of the Ludlow Food and drink festival was one of the biggest hits for us in 2020 and of course as with many other people this was a big festival and was an important source of income for us to help take us through the winter.
September is the time that I have to 'put the farm to bed' for the winter months and this involves topping a good few acres to knock back the growth over the year in preparation for the spring.
Ancient Oak clearing - As mentioned in the last post we lost an ancient Oak Tree in the storm at the start of the year. This tree was huge and it had fallen onto a fence that surrounded one of our orchards and it needed to be sorted. A big job again for me on my own but not only have a got a reasonable amount of tools to help me but the wood will be an enormous help for regarding firewood.
My main tools were a front end loader on a tractor, a winch and of course a chainsaw.
Oak wood is of course very heavy and great care had to be taken for safety.
|Drone footage of fallen tree|
The tree had split at the base into three distincts parts which made it slightly easier to deal with.
|Using the winch to pull a branch down to ground level.|
|Using the front end loader to move the heavy wood.|
|1 of the 3 piles of wood!|
Well this was of course going to be a big unknown for 2020 but we was helped by the increase of our mail order sales of cider. Bit of a panic about cardboard box supply in the first instance but soon got it sorted... Thank you to everyone who has helped to support us over the year.
When the shop opened for the summer again it was a great to see so many visitors and not only due to the help in finances. It was so good to meet and chat to people again who were so pleased that life 'seemed' to be getting back to normal. The nature walk was also very popular too. During the year I have certainly missed meeting our customers and people generally at both the shop and also at the shows.
The shows have been a real loss however and not just regarding meeting people!
Also no parties or events over 2020 was a hit. Not only no site fees but also of course we sell cider through these events. When this will start up again is anyones guess but I think the interest will be huge for the entertainment industry when some sort of go ahead is announced.
This year we have had continued interest in the farm facebook page. No marketing push but a gradual 'organic' growth has been quietly going on. A big hello and a warm welcome to our new followers, all 150 of you!
Nightmare Willow tree.
I have yet to find a real use for Willow wood. I do not make baskets or cricket bats and we have numerous Willows on the farm. They are fast growing and break easily in gales and the wood is very poor for burning. A large Willow tree had split which came down at the start of the year and blocked 2 large shed doors where I keep the tractors... This was a shame as it just involves hassle and extra work for no other reason other than clearing it away. Emergency trimming had to be done in February so I could get into the shed and then it was going to be a big project later on in the year. Alas when I did the trimming it served to prune the tree and extra growth shot up making the whole project even bigger so the time came when it had to be dealt with once and for all...
Willow is a
very heavy wood and when cutting it is very unpredictable as it splits
so it was going to be a challenge to say the least.
|So it was a case of starting the job to try and hopefully make it smaller bit by bit.|
|It started off quite well but the main stem was a problem.|
was put up to try and gain access to the higher bits of the tree.
Partially successful but I was not able to safely get the higher
So I resorted to attaching the winch and pulling the whole thing down to ground level which was did the job and the branch was now at ground level.
Once it was on the ground I could continue in removing the bulk of it and the job was done!
After my mammoth fencing push on the farm I was kind of hoping not to see any stray animals wandering around in the wrong place. But this did not no exactly to plan.
A few things about fencing.
- The materials are really expensive. I was lucky to have so much recycled ex pipeline fencing to use on the farm.
- It is time consuming. - not only to put up but also to remove the old fence.
- Fence posts can deteriorate much quicker than you hope! - About 5-7 years ago there were batches of fenceposts that were sold when the wood had very poor treatment/preservative. As a result if you had purchased and installed these posts then after 5 years you would have to replace all of them..
- The wire on the fences can become slack over time as animals push against them and machinery sometimes strikes it.
- Trees and branches fall onto the fencing.
- Undergrowth grows through the fence and weakens it.
- We have even had huge snow drifts which engulf fences and this severely weakens the fences due to the weight of the snow!
So considering all the above and we have over 6 miles of fencing on the farm to keep on top of it is never far from my mind. I had focussed on stretches of fencing that were important but I was so disappointed when I first spotted a handful of sheep where they should not be..
This was the starting point of a slow burn problem which began to slowly haunt me as time went on.
|Caught red handed!|
Fences were checked and checked again and at one point it seemed as if that if I looked up from doing any job on the farm I would see some sheep in the wrong place..
This situation kept on going and sheep were kept being shuttled back to where they were meant to be. Lots of running about and even involved using our 7 year old son (which he loved).
With sheep there are always a handful that will spend all their time 'testing' the fence. They stand on the wire, push at the bottom where it flexes between posts. A ewe will then 'teach' their lambs that this is the way to behave so the problem then shifts onto the next generation. The final straw was when I caught them jumping over a fence! Some breeds of sheep do jump but if they are able to jump a certain height then it can render large stretches of fencing useless!
One example was that 1 particular sheep was pushing through a fence and a hedge to get onto the road. This of course was a big problem. The sheep got onto the road at first light, trotted along to the main entrance to the farm and then got into our top field but then would wander into our garden!
So the rogue few were then quarantined inside the small new 'Barn Owl' filed with all brand new fencing in front of where I live. After all the rogue sheep were identified I had a quiet word with the tennant and they were eventually moved somewhere else to another farm.
Managed to make some hay this year and this is something I really enjoy (as long as it goes ok).
Sometimes a challenge as the equipment I have and use is somewhat outdated but nevertherless managed to get a reasonable harvest and also gives me a good workout!
Well with a little extra time I have had enormous fun playing with the drone. With having a large playground to play in and the changing seasons I am slowly compiling a fair amount of footage.
One striking aspect of taking to the air is just how many trees we have on the farm!
A couple of short clips are below.
We have 2 cattlegrids on the farm and one was replaced a couple of years ago it was time for the other one to be done while the farm was quiet. The grid was made by a good friend of mine and he did an exceptional job and I then organised someone to install it.
One issue we had with the old grid was that it filled up quickly with stone off the drive as well as vast amounts of mud. The new one we built up the apron of concrete on the front in an effort to reduce this and to encourage the water to run off the front and not go in.
Summary of 2020
Of course it has been a different year for us on the farm as it has for everybody but I hope to look back on the year and say I am pleased with what I have managed to achieve despite the challenges of 2020.
So what achievements have slowly taken shape?
- 15 tons of firewood coppiced and collected back to the farm for barn storage.
- 900 metres of new 'ex' pipeline fencing taken down.
- 400 metres of old fencing removed and recycled.
- 500 metres of new 'recycled' fencing put up.
- 5 new gateways installed with new posts and gates
- 3 very large trees which had fallen and needed to be removed.
- 3 water troughs replaced
- improvement of the farm office with networking and new outside wifi.
- increased presence on facebook
So I know I am not alone in thinking 'bring on next year' and fingers crossed it will be whole lot more better for us all!