Archives for the month of: June, 2014

It sounds a bit unpleasant I suppose, but don’t worry, it is nothing nasty.

We are building our Orchard House from roundwood Sweet Chestnut poles. They came straight from our coppice to Swan Barn Farm, completely sustainable and with all the character of the woods in which they grew.

They do need a little bit of preparation before we make a building out of them though. We need to peel the bark off them. This inhibits rot, helpng the wood to last longer, it also makes them look lovely.

Anyone who has worked in a coppice knows just what is like peeling bark from roundwood poles, hard work, and not great for your back either. Our building poles are pretty big, and none of us fancied having to bend over all day to work them on the ground… A minimum of head scratching and repositioning of logs later and we were making a peeling bed.

Making the peeling bed

We arranged four likely looking logs into shape, drilled and pinned them together and cut some handy notches to stop the logs from rolling around. A bit rustic, but it certainly does the job.

Peeling chestnut 1

When the chestnut is fresh it peels like a banana, these poles are a little bit older so take a fair bit of effort to work. They are looking really nice though. Really looking forward to starting to join some of together into frames.

Chestnut peeling 2

This summer the National Trust is opening up some of its most special places for a one off event where people will get the chance to go camping in a place you would never normally be allowed too.

At Black Down we are joining in and on 19th July (for one night only) we are offering the chance to sleep out on the highest hill in the South Downs National Park with an incredible view across 3 counties towards the setting sun. It is going to be a really special evening.

Big camping site

We are going to be joined by local band “The Burning Glass” who will be singing songs for us as we enjoy the summer evening air.

There will also be nature walks led by our Countryside team and refreshments in the form of beefburgers from our herd of rare breed Belted Galloway Cattle and cider made in our Orchard at Swan Barn Farm.

Places are limited and as you can imagine are going fast, to book your pitch email

Big Camping 2

I think it is going to be a really wonderful evening, I cant wait.

It has been lovely hot weather lately, perfect for growing vegetables in the garden, but not so great if you are a sheep with a big thick woolly coat on.

Shearing 2014

A quick visit with from the man with the clippers provided the answer yesterday. I discoverd years ago that I am the worlds worst shearer and am therefore only too happy to ask someone to come along and weald the clippers for me, better for the sheep, and better for my back.

Shorn sheep 2014

Its no good hiding at the back sheepy, you are definitely next for the clippers!


Sadly, last year, the colony of bees at Swan Barn Farm died out. I was really upset about it at the time, we were never quite sure what had happened, but for some reason they rounded on and killed their own queen. This is really unusual behaviour, I wouldn’t even have realised what had happened if I hadn’t found the old queen’s body and observed the workers aggresive behaviour toward her, even after she was dead. We tried to rear a replacement queen, but for a variety of reasons it never worked out.

That was last year though…

This week it was time for the return of the bees to Swan Barn Farm. There is nothing so wonderful in life here as a day on which new livestock arrives. I will never get bored of it. It makes the place feel whole and complete, the place truly comes to life on days when new life arrives.

We have missed our bees.

It was a lovely sunny day on friday when I went to collect them. We had ordered 2 nucleus colonies (small new colonies that will need building up over the course of this summer). I have no doubt there was a big grin on my face as I drove them back from the bee breeders place.

The bees arrive

Lauren met me and helped me to move them onto their hive stands.

Pulling the plug

We put the roofs on, took out the bung and let them fly so that they could get used to their new home. These were the first few bees out of the door.

First bees out

Today the time was right to transfer the frames out of their travelling boxes and into their proper hives. We are using WBC hives, the design is a really nice one which fits in well at Swan Barn, but they are also unmistakably “bee hives”, a WBC says “bees” in a way that more modern designs of hive never quite manage to replicate.

It is such a pleasure to see them back, and to think of the polination services they are already providing for us and our neighbours.

On a not unrelated note… (I know I post on this most years!) I just thought I would share these photos of our fantastic orchids in Winding Meadow at Valewood on the edge of Black Down. If you get chance to go and have a look they are simply stunning this year, and this week they are at their absolute best.


It is a magical place, tens of thousands of orchids in one single field, the air heavy with the scent of an early summer hay meadow. Watch out, if you get chance to go and sit there and soak it all in it could very well overtake all of your senses.

Field of Orchids

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about our exciting Orchard House Project. This year we will be putting up a building that will be used to house our historic apple pressing machinery as well as a much needed store for our orchard and veg garden related activities. We also plan to use it on our community apple pressing days when people come from the surrounding area with apples to be pressed and juiced.

The building will be a roundwood cruck framed structure, a bit like Speckled Wood, but with an open fronted aspect. It isn’t going to be very big, but it is going to be really interesting. I am really looking forward to seeing it come together. We are lucky to be working with Ben Law again on the project, hopefully between the Black Down Ranger Team and Ben we will have all the skills and experience needed to make it come together well.

Although we only got planning permission recently the cycle of the woodland year meant that we felled the timber for the building back in the winter. It is all coming from managed National Trust woods around Haslemere, and all of the timber has been sustainably produced. Recently one of the main tasks has been fetching this wood back from the woods to Swan Barn Farm.

loading poles

Thanks goodness for our timber crane, it makes my back muscles grateful every time I use it!

marley coppice loading

The main frame of the building will all be made from coppiced Sweet Chestnut, these were the rafters ready to be brought back, the block of coppice the tractor is driving through was cut a year and a half ago, and as you can see the regrowth from the stools is almost as tall as a tractor already.

On the way back I spotted an oak that had been brought over in the storms during the winter. It caused us a bit of greif at the time… but looked like it would come in handy now.

storn felled oak

Our cladding and beams will be made of oak, and these two lengths made a useful addition to the pile.

We needed a some particularly long straight poles as well, for the ridge and wall plates. Another of the storms over the winter had skittled over some larch trees on the edge of Black Down, and we had put the most useful looking ones to one side whilst clearing up.

long timbers

Matt from Hindhead very kindly came over to help us move these with his long bale trailer, we were very grateful of the help, it would have been very tricky otherwise. Even then getting them in to the build site was difficult, we couldn’t come the main way in to the farm as the timbers were too long, so we had to come in across the fields and use a bit of initiative…

passing through hedge

At one point they even had to be passed through a hedge with the crane as they were too long to get around the corner!

All the wood we need is now ready and waiting in the field next to the basecamp at Swan Barn Farm, over the next few weeks we will be starting work on processing it to get it ready for framing. Pop in and have a look if you are passing, its going to be an exciting summer.

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