Results for category "Maddocks Farm Organics"

Return to WWOOFing

After our wonderful holiday, wedding and family time, it was time return to WWOOFing and our goal to learn about how to manage our future smallholding. Over two weeks ago now, we returned the rental car and made our way back to K’s Dad’s to change out essentials from holiday/wedding needs to WWOOFing needs, enjoy a meal with K’s Dad and then wait…

That Wednesday, Stuart had spent his workday in the Midlands and offered to pick us up on his way through Bristol and deliver us back to Maddocks. At just a few minutes before five o’clock that evening, he arrived and we were soon cutting through the cool night air towards Cullompton.

Upon arrival we started the settling in process, which is becoming a familiar ritual, especially after staying in five different places in the last month. As our temporary home again took shape around us, our hosts offered us supper, homemade and warming butternut squash soup and we shared our Christmas stories. A little later that evening we made our way back to the annex to complete our unpacking and settle in for the night.

Over these past couple of weeks, most of our WWOOF time has been spent working on the computer to rebuild the Maddocks Farm Organics business website so that the friend of Jan’s that built it some time ago will no longer have to be the one to maintain it.

We have had a few sporadic days outside working the beds, though. Being January, there’s not a lot left growing outside, but there are still many things in the polytunnels. On our few days outside, we cleared several beds, weeded others, shoveled on dung to prepare the soil for next planting, relocated a few plants, sowed watercress and found some lovely flowers still blooming in one of the polytunnels.

Nearly every day, we were warmly greeted by Pickle and Lily. Pickle likes to bark her “hello” and Lily’s approach, as the smaller Jack Russel Terrier, is to jump into the air and push at us with her front paws. They even amazed us on more than one occasion with their vole hunting skills in the triangle field. This process involves a lot of jumping, so as to shock the burrowed voles, and an almost constant digging of their noses into the dirt, much to the distaste of the farm cat, Karate, who prefers a stealthier approach.

With the first month of 2014 already drawing to a close, we put the finishing touches to our web work and appreciated the breaks in the rain which allowed us to help prepare the farm for the new growing season.

A Christmas Break

Against a backdrop of grey skies and a bitterly cold wind, we prepared our belongings for the journey. With Christmas fast approching our luggage seemed to have grown somewhat. So despite accepting Jan’s kind offer to leave our non-essentials at Maddocks, we still found ourselves hobbling to the car ready for our trip to Bristol.

The previous few days had also been poor weather, so after a small amount of work outside, it was agreed our time would be better utilized inside, continuing to work on Maddocks Farm new web site and social media. Punctuated with our daily walk, a sprinkling of festive cheer and much Christmas preparation, our last few days at Maddocks passed quickly and it was soon time to leave for the holidays and join K’s family for Christmas.

Stuart was travelling past Bristol, so he had kindly offered us a lift, saving us much time, expense and a great amount of inconvenience trying to navigate the public travel services at Christmas time. Soon we were sweeping up the M5, leaving behind the green chattering of the countryside and approaching the grey roar of the city. Upon arriving at K’s Dad and Jan’s house, we settled in and started some preparations for a few Christmas goodies for the family (no spoilers 😉 ).

That evening, sat comfortably with hot drinks and snacks beneath flickering Christmas lights, we began to unravel our previous 4 months, reflecting on our experiences WWOOFING, and recalling the things we had learned and adventures we had had. We also cast an eye forward to more adventures when we resume again in a couple of weeks time, beginning with our return to Maddocks. Before then, however, there is the opportunity to relax and spend precious time with some family … and, of course, a very special event… Merry Christmas!

Christmas Countdown

The days passed quickly at Maddocks, starting with the weekend. On Saturday, we made our way to Exeter for a day of shopping. There seems so much to do to prepare for Christmas, which is made even more difficult when living out of luggage and traveling to and fro, leaving little room for extra things. With throngs of shoppers everywhere and us seeming to have an uncanny knack of always wanting to go against the “flow”, by the end of the day as we weaved our way through the streets, we were definitely growing a little tired of crowds.

After an intense day, the good news was that we’d reserved Sunday as a day of rest, barely leaving the little annex, other than for our daily walk about the lanes around Maddocks. Given the bustle of the previous day, we appreciated even more the natural beauty and peace of the countryside, as we made our way down past the cattle farm and then into the little road through the woods. Every time we travel the lanes, the path seems shorter, as everything becomes more and more familiar with each step.

When Monday arrived, so did the rain and Jan asked us to continue working on the website rebuild in place of outside work. We spent another day bouncing ideas around, planning and preparing for the new site launch.

We were very pleased to see the sun appear on Tuesday morning, beckoning us outside again. Our first task was to water some of the plants in a couple of the polytunnels. Although we have had quite a bit of rain recently and the ground even inside the polytunnel seemed to acquire the benefits of this precipitation, there were a few places that still needed extra help. Maddocks has their own bore hole, which supplies water to the house, annex, holiday cottage and to the large butt used to supply the polytunnels and garden full of raised beds with the water to feed the hoses stationed throughout.

So, we ventured down to the smallest of the five polytunnels and watered all of the plants inside, both in the beds along the ground and those plants in pots on the tables at the back. Then we moved to another of the polytunnels where a side bed of watercress needed hydration before beginning our weeding chores on part of the middle bed. Firstly, we needed to clear around the violas, removing the sweet pea which had self-seeded after having been cleared from a neighboring bed.

The bed next to the violas also needed aide. We removed nasturtium and more sweet pea from around the chervil being intentionally grown in the bed. Sometimes called garden chervil to distinguish it from similar plants also called chervil, or French parsley, the annual herb is related to parsley. These plants were in a quite delicate condition and the sweet pea had grown directly into them, as had the nasturtium, with it’s winding vines, both leaving the task tedious and tricky, for certain.

Once we’d cleared all of the weeds and wilting plants away, with the help from a little robin that stopped by (taking his payment in green caterpillars 🙁 ), it was time for lunch and the end to our WWOOF day. After our lunch, some laundry and our customary walk of the lanes, we geared ourselves up for the rest of the week of rain and, as a result, more website work indoors.

Doris and Dot’s Big Day Out

The sun shone brightly over Maddocks Farm as we made our way to the raised beds, five of which were indicated for clearing. Later there would be an opportunity to care for the sheep, but early Thursday morning was all about weeding. So, as the sun danced it’s way across the sky, leaving long winter shadows in it’s wake and prompting increased song and general merriment from the birds, we set to work.

Raised beds have a number of benefits: they help to extend the planting season, reduce weeds and the need to use poor native soil. Since there is no need to walk on raised beds, the soil is not compacted and the roots have an easier time growing. The close plant spacing and the use of compost generally result in higher yields in comparison to conventional gardening.

The first three of the beds cleared easily, consisting of small and shallow-rooted lettuce plants with only very manageable and fairly sporadic weeds. However, the fourth bed we set about clearing broke this happy trend. Here, coriander was planted, with roots between 6 and 18 inches down into the soil spreading in many directions. As the day darkened, it took well over an hour and several passes, digging deeply with forks to locate the majority of the roots that infiltrated the small space. As we started on the last of the five beds, clearing it of the heavy growth of chickweed, we received a call from across the courtyard – time to prepare Doris and Dot for their big day!

Doris and Dot were to be meeting a ram that afternoon and it was time to help the girls look their best before being transported to the nearby farm. But before we could entertain any thoughts of a pedicure, the sheep would need to be caught. With a fairly large field in which to roam, this, we were told, had not always been particularly straightforward. Bearing this in mind, Stuart and Jan had called up reinforcements to ensure the wily old sheep could be caught and tended. So now we joined Jan, Stuart and Mandy (part-time worker) ready to herd, with Jan’s Mum and the chickens looking on and offering support from the sidelines.

The first victory was ours. Between the five of us, it wan’t long before the sheep were in the small enclosure and the gate closed to the larger field. Now the “fun” really began – time to catch and inspect them. First up was to be Dot (full name Spotty Dotty). With her years of experience, she put up a good fight, dodging into impossible gaps, ducking, diving and weaving through our line with mesmerising grace. However, after tiring herself out, she was cornered by K and Stuart and eventually we were able to hold and look her over.

The main concern was the hooves. Sheep had evolved to spend time, especially the winter, on rocky higher ground which would wear down the hooves naturally. However, nowadays at least, a domestic sheep will spend their time grazing in fields so the hooves grow too long. If not trimmed, they can cause cuts in the animal’s flesh and dirt trapped there may cause infection. Dotty certainly needed a hoof trim, so we set about carefully cutting them back. We also put on some antiseptic spray (a very attractive shade of blue) as the front hooves may have been slightly infected. Once all trimmed up and the antiseptic spray applied, Dotty was next ushered into the trailer, pretty blue hooves and all.

Next up, Doris. Having watched the whole event, the younger Doris was not at all keen to join in on the festivities. It took a lot of chasing about and what she may have lacked in experience, she certainly made up for in youthful vigor, as she left a trail of missed tackles behind her. Finally, Mandy dove onto poor Doris and ended up sitting right down onto Doris like a horse. After looking her over, it was easy enough to lead Doris into the trailer, close the gate and cover it up, pulling the trailer into the field for safe keeping while we broke for lunch.

As we tucked into cheese sandwiches and salad, Jan rang up the owner of the ram to notify him the girls would be on route that afternoon. Unfortunately, though, the ram was out on another visit. The owner offered his apologies to Doris and Dotty and agreed that the visit would be rescheduled for a few weeks time, this time with the ram coming to Maddocks to spend the winter. So, once lunch passed, we let Dotty and Doris back into their field and explained the news to them. They were quite obviously devastated, but put a brave face on it as they munched their grass.

With the holiday cottage rented for the weekend, Stuart had been working to prepare it for the guests and asked us to help by picking the remaining apples that had fallen on the ground so that he could mow the grass there. Once this task was complete, our WWOOF work day also came to an end and we cleaned up our tools and put everything safely away before retreating to our annex.

After enjoying a longer walk of our lanes and a variation of our pasta and veggie fare, we enjoyed a film in the evening, resting well with the end of the week almost upon us.

Friday began chilly, the sky saturated with a fine, persistent rain. We made our way out to the heavily-rooted coriander bed for one last pass for residuals and then finished the chickweed clearing in the fifth bed. Next, we headed back over to the mint and fennel beds we had maintained earlier in the week to add a layer of dung to each. After twelve wheelbarrows full, the beds were both prepared for the winter.

Jan had stopped by whilst we were weeding and informed us that we didn’t need to be outside in such conditions and could spend the time looking over her website. WWOOF hosts often seek certain skills from their WWOOFers, such as, ability to work a chainsaw, carpentry skills, or in our case, IT and business skills.

Maddocks had been looking forward to our time with them as much as us with them, with them being keen on our assistance with website updating and general internet marketing guidance. So, we spent the last couple of WWOOF hours for our week researching the current website, social media pages, competitor websites and in discussion with Jan about what she does and doesn’t like about the current setup, so that we could begin to formulate a plan to create a new electronic face for Maddocks.

In the afternoon, after working through some web tasks of our own, we ventured out to the same lanes for our nightly wander before enjoying another pasta and veggie creation and settling in for our weekend off, making our plans for both our day out and our day in.

Polytunnel Daze

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in a similar fashion, clearing and weeding many meters of plant beds. Tuesday morning was another chilly affair, this time with a covering of frost for good measure. As much as our fingers and toes disliked the cold, Pickle was positively infectious with excitement at the tickle it gave her nose and she continued to stick her head into the grass and then run around in circles and proclaim her love for it verbally.

The primary task of our day would be inside one of 5 polytunnels. We were to clear the now wilted nasturtium along one side of the 30m long tunnel and one smaller section in the middle bed. This meant a lot of work as nasturtium self-seeds very easily and grows vines across pathways, from one bed to another, and were already starting to germinate for the next growth. As we cleared, we unearthed a toad, who’d been quite content tunneled beneath the slimy mess.

We were also charged with collecting the seeds from the bed. Jan has been commissioned to write an article about these edible plants and their seeds and her intention is to pickle the green seeds, which result in a sort of caper. Unfortunately, though, these nasturtiums were long wilted and most of the seeds had dried out and turned brown already. We found only sporadic and very few green seeds… K recommended Photoshop to come to the rescue. 😉

After about three hours of clearing and collecting, we decided it was time to move on to the other task of the day, weeding around the lavender plants. These planters run along the outside length of another of the polytunnels in the garden. Grasses and other weeds had penetrated the soil and were growing around and even right up through the middle of the fragrant little bushes. Although some of the weeds were quite persistent, it was peaceful work, with the scent of the lavender continually present in the air.

At our later than usual lunch hour, now our official routine, the workday was concluded. We found our way to the lanes once more and then set about the task of our laundry using the machines in the game room of the holiday let. K immediately started grinning with glee when we opened the door to find the room complete with a table tennis table, dreams of games we could play in our free time no doubt prominent in his mind.

After a restful evening warm and cozy in our annex, Wednesday arrived and we were again tasked with polytunnel work. In this next polytunnel, another entire side needed to be cleared, this time the plants included rocket and some tomatillos, parsley, cilantro and, yes, more nasturtium. The good news about nasturtium turning up in this bed, as well, was that this plant was more recently expiring and many of the seeds it had dropped were green. So, we were able to supplement the small bag of seeds from the day before, almost doubling it.

Once we finished clearing and cleaning up the pathways of escapees, we headed back into the barn off the driveway to continue with more foliage corsages. Another customer order had been placed the day before, so now a table runner and garland to reach the length of a staircase railing, some 20 feet, needed to be made. After well over an hour of corsage making and also more foraging for some of the foliage used, it was time for lunch and to call an end to our work day.

Once we’d made our way around the lanes, we took a trip to Tesco with Stuart for food stores.  On our return, we sat down to a proper evening meal of pasta and veggies and settled in for the night with full bellies and warm hearts.

Loving Simplicity