Archives for posts with tag: vegetable garden

Finishing touches on the building now.

The bridge and steps have been the main things, along with a visit from the National Trust Council and our Regional Director. Was a bit nervous about the visit, which was on tuesday, but it seemed to go well. They were certainly an interesting bunch of people and they seemed to really enjoy looking around the building and Swan Barn Farm. I hope they liked it, I like to think the Speckled Wood project is something the Trust is going to be able to be proud of.

Its been a real relief to get the bridge and steps finished. After all they are the ways you walk on to the veranda and access the building, getting them done has started to make the whole thing feel like it is nearing completion.

The bridge had consisted of a plank for some time, it couldn’t be built until the landscaping around the project had created the finished level of the track.

As soon as that was done we could get the joists in. They were douglas fir with the outside ones made of oak, from our own woods of course. This means they will match the pattern of the ones we used for the rest of the building.

It took a while for us to decide quite what shape to make the bridge. Somehow at right angles to the veranda the look of it seemed off. But then I remembered a converstation I’d had a while ago with our Curator. She had suggested building it at an angle, we gave it a go, and I really liked it, you can judge the results for youself, but it looked pretty good to me.

One of the nicest things for me about the building is the way the roundwood reflects the landscape and gives a direct link with the woodlands we manage. Unfortunately this does mean whenever you are working on it there are not a lot of square edges and there is lots of scribing and measuring and cutting out to make things like floorboards fit around posts… its all part of the challenge.

Spindles and handrails were next, pretty pleased with the results.

Then it was on to the steps on the other side of the building. I had a bit of a brain freeze at first and for some reason cut the supports the wrong shape. A bit of adjustment soon had them in order though and put us back on track.

I like the way they work with the slope and lead you up and on to the veranda.

Sometimes the practical details of a living space take a while to get right, things like places to store boots and hang coats, I guess you just don’t think about that too much until it gets near to people moving in. A coat and boot rack was knocked together in an effort to sort out some of these issues.

Meanwhile in the garden the first of our home grown produce is nearly ready. The salad has been doing well for a while. But I was really chuffed when I saw the peas were swelling in their pods.

I tasted a few raw straight from the pod, they were so sweet and delicious. I know they aren’t the most exciting vegetable in the world, but there is something really pleasing in the way they grow, and the act of podding them. Plus you just can’t beat some fresh pea soup.

We really thought we had the place pretty much finished this week. Unfortunately a visit from the building inspector on friday turned up a couple of issues we still had to address before it can all be signed off. Its nothing major, we need to put in some extra higher handrails outside and spindles on the staircase inside to fill gaps in order to satisfy some of the health and safety regulations. Its a bit frustrating to be honest, it wont take us long to get it put right, but it just fealt like it was finally done. Never mind, wont be long now.

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Our spindles have been going in on the veranda recently, they were cut back in the winter in one of our Sweet chestnut coppices on Black Down, we peeled the bark off them and put them to one side so that they would start to dry and shrink in the spring and summer sun. The aim of this is to try and ensure they don’t fall out after they have been put into place.

We used a hollow shoulder tool, supplied by Ashem Crafts (usually used for chair making) to shape the ends of the spindles to a consistant size. It works a bit like a giant pencil sharpener.

Several hundred holes of the required dimensions were then drilled into the veranda floorboards and the underside of the hand rail. The use of much baler twine and head scratching was chosen as the appropriate method of working out the spacings to try and ensure the spindles were going to look right.

We are really pleased with the finished result. Its a long and laborious job, as there are several hundred to do, and due to the nature of the building each one has to be hand made to fit.

Originally we had thought of weaving strips of chestnut or hazel in between the spindles, but on reflection decided that the spindles would look nicer on their own, that way they provide a space that feels safe and secure but they let the light and views flood through.

The landscaping work around the building is going on at the moment as well, you may have noticed the digger in the background in the pictures above. Its such a relief to see the place changing from a building site and starting to become a home.

Progress in the veg patch has been steady as well. The presence of large numbers of potentially pilfering rabbits and deer at Swan Barn Farm meant we had to fence it off if we were to get anywhere.

In the winter a large sweet chestnut tree fell over in the field next to the Speckled Wood building. A few weeks ago with the ground around it starting to dry out we could finally get to it to clear it. The main stem was about to become our new fence. It took quite a lot of work to convert it on the sawmill, and then for Richard and his team to turn put up what we had processed.

We were really pleased with the results though. It has been constructed with rabbit netting at the back to keep out pilfering bunnies, and the raised pales on it are at sufficient height to make deer from thinking twice about jumping in, ordinarily they would need to be higher, but here the shape of the fence and the fact that they have no clear landing spot should be enough to deter them (I hope!).

Over the last few weeks we have been growing on plants from seed inside the basecamp, and then planting them out into the new vegetable garden. Its a fantastic time of year in the garden, with everything so full of potential and new green shoots stretching for the light.

A couple of weeks ago we were lucky to be able to host a group of candidates who were looking to be the first to get the opportunity to move in to our new building. Competition was pretty fierce and it was a difficult choice, they spent a day working in the building beeswaxing the window seats and shelves and then a day out in the chestnut coppice processing some lengths of timber for hurdle making.

Thanks very much to everyone who came along, it was just a shame that there wasn’t a place to offer to all of you. In the end we managed to choose our successful candidates and we hope they will be joining us within the next month or so and moving into the new building. Better get a move on and get it finished for them!

I know, its a terrible pun, but it wasn’t my idea. One of the beds in the basecamp provided the perfect area for germinating seeds.

Some of the vegetable seeds we planted out a couple of weeks ago needed thinning out and transplanting this morning, its really exciting seeing the seedlings starting to grow, for some reason I especially like it when the bean plants germinate, they have a really comical way of unfurling their first couple of leaves.

We tried to get a nice mix of vegetables, which we largely did. Not quite sure what happened when it came to the brassica’s though, we seemed to plant quite a lot, could be a bit windy at Swan Barn Farm later this year.

Meanwhile the onions are starting to grow and you can just make out the first rows of salad and rocket reaching up for the light.

I’ve been waiting for the last couple of weeks for the first of the lambs to be born to the small flock of sheep that graze our orchards. This week the first ones finally arrived.

Very cute, I am sure they will be getting quite a few visitors in the coming weeks.

Things have been a bit quiet on the building for the last week or two, we have been having to catch up on a number of other jobs across the Black Down estate as well as getting easter over and done with (if you came along I hope you enjoyed the easter egg hunt, it was very well attended).

Over the coming weeks we are going to be getting back in the building and aiming to get the last details finished as soon as we can.

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.

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