For me one of the main points of the whole project here at Swan Barn Farm has been the way we are trying to make the site more sustainable, and how we can demonstrate to the many visitors and volunteers who come here that it is possible for really positive countryside management to coexist with productivity and usefull materials from the land. I don’t think we will start to live up to these ideals without having a functioning vegetable garden. As well as the lucky three volunteers who will live in Speckled Wood at least a couple of hundred working holidays volunteers stay in the basecamp every year, I want them to be able to have the opportunity of putting their hands in the soil and helping with looking after as well as eating the fruits of a new vegetable garden.

I am now getting a bit worried as I type this, although I am a keen vegetable gardener at home I am also aware I am no expert, I feel sure we are bound to be bothered by a plague of slugs or rabbits or some other pest, but I guess that is all part of the journey. As long as we get something edible to go on the volunteers plates I think we will all be able to be proud.

We all have to start somewhere, and at Swan Barn Farm the start was creating some new beds at the side of the basecamp. Catherine used our sawmill to make some lovely oak raised bed kits. The oak for them came from within sight of the basecamp and will also be providing some new benches which will be going out on Black Down and Marley in the coming weeks.

I like using raised beds for vegetables, they make weeding and mulching easier and look really smart too, at home I have given over the front garden to a vegetable patch, I reckon they are as pretty as any flower bed.

A fair bit of pondering over levels and measurements ensued, we wanted to get them nice and level, as well as properly lined up with the basecamp. It was also important to make sure they were not going to get in the way of the events we hold here over the summer months.

Much head scratching and laying out of string lines was shortly followed 6 new raised beds. The ground slopes fairly steeply, so we had to sink one corner of the bed into the ground and raise up the other corners to get them nice and level.

I found the finished effect of them cascading down the slope at the side of the basecamp rather pleasing, to me they speak of the promise of fantastic future meals. I am sure I caught one or two of our local rabbit population eying them up greedily as well. I think a bit of rabbit fencing is going to be required.

We were lucky to have the kind donation of some well rotted farmyard manure from a nearby National Trust site to help get us off to a good start. Matt fetched it with our tractor and trailor, but getting it onto the beds still involved a bit of wheelbarrowing around the project site. All of that was made much easier as David was here in his mini digger starting on some of the landscaping works. It certainly was a lot quicker than filling each barrow by hand.

We also levelled and top soiled over the muddy patches that had appeared over the lawn at the front of the basecamp. These will be seeded so we start to get the place looking a little less like a building site.

The water trough you can see by the beds is fed using recycled rainwater from the roofs of the buildings, we have a really clever rainwater harvesting system now which went in as part of the project,must remember to write a post on that soon.

Spring is moving on fast here, hopefully we will have some vegetables in the ground soon. It is also a busy time for the livestock. The Jacobs sheep that graze in the orchard are expecting lambs any day soon and we have two cows in the fields at Shottermill which will be calving later in the spring. We have added a few extra numbers to our herd of belted galloway cattle this year so we can keep up with the grazing that needs to be done. One misty morning not long ago some new steers from Woolbeding arrived to add to the herd.

Along with George and May, the calves born here last year, they will be the grazing force for Marley Common this year. Yesterday we took them up onto the Common so they could start their job of munching and trampling and thereby providing the conditions that are required by so much of the rare and fascinating wildlife that lives there.

Its always a thrill seeing the animals making their way out onto the heath in the spring, it took such a lot of hard work by everyone here to restore the heathlands at Marley and Black Down, they have come so far in the last few years and are real havens for wildlife as well as providing fantastic access and views of the new South Downs National Park. With the weather like it is at the moment surely there is nothing better than blowing away the last of the winter cobwebs with a walk through the local countryside.