Buttercup spring

Yellow flag iris, Wheatland Farm, Devon 2012The fields are golden with buttercups this spring – even the lodge field which hasn’t had so many in recent years. Yes, they’re creeping buttercups, and yes, they’re a bit of a weed, but they are spectacular (and do give way to other flowers). Spring is the season for yellow – the flag irises are out in the pond too.

The cows return again

This week the cows returned – at least the first 3 young bullocks that will graze the wind turbine field (Lower Newland Moor) and the nature reserve (Popehouse Moor). These guys haven’t been out of the yard before, and were fairly frisky. But the ground was still too wet to drive the tractor and trailer across the lodge field, so they had to be driven across ‘by hand’. Good thing there were plenty of young legs to keep up with them! This was 7 May – just for the records.

And when they go back to Higher Punchardon Farm at the end of the season they’ll probably be herded the same way. Hopefully they’ll have settled down a little by then!

To Barnstaple and back by bike (and train)

Volunteer Veronica arrived and left on her bike, and while she was here took a day out and did a full circuit from Wheatland Farm to Barnstaple and back. Bike to the station, Tarka Line to Barnstaple, Tarka Trail to Fremington, to Instow, to Bideford, to Puffing Billy at Torrington, on to East Yarde and then nearly to Meeth, and finally back on Devon country lanes to the farm. About 40 miles cycling in all, so suitable for fit adults! But we’ve also done it with an eleven year old, as a challenge. Continue reading “To Barnstaple and back by bike (and train)”

Reprieve from rain

We’ve had rain for several days now, and only the odd sunny interval, so today was a treat. And the insects were making the most of it too. I think they’re low on reserves after so much rain, and sometimes less likely to take flight, hence the chance to take a close up of this female orange tip butterfly on lady’s smock without out it fluttering away.
And I hardly ever get a picture of the deer, so here’s a more blurry but still notable pic!
Fallow deer at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

Solar PV and hot water for the new Eco lodge

Source Renewable, a local firm from South Molton, is installing solar PV on the new Eco lodge. it’s just under 4kW at peak generation. They’ve been really helpful with the solar hot water Ian is putting on too, advising on special mounting for our tin roof.

Worst bit was finding rust spots in the roofing sheets that needed to be fixed. But Ian pinched a sheet from the car shed that had the same profile and all was well.

The inverters take up a fair bit of room in what we hoped would be the reading hide-away, but we’ll box them in. They can’t go in the loft as it would get too hot.

More nests and escaping hens

Sadly the dunnocks didn’t make it. No clues as to what happened but one morning no nest and no birds. What a shame. Still, there are other successes. This is probably a dormouse hibernation nest in a sedge at Plovers Barrow, the thatched cottage at the end of the drive that we’re managing this year. And it looks like it’s already been vacated – you can just see an exit hole. I didn’t prod and poke though as despite todays sunshine there’s bad weather on the way and the dormouse might still be having a lie-in.

Back on our own doorstep there’s a downy brown robin chick flying around the barn, still being fed, a wren has built a beautiful nest in the side of a bale of hay in the old hen house, and I think another wren has walled up an old swallow nest above my freezer and has moved in. It’s too high for me to photograph though.
Entrance to a wren's nest woven into a bale of hay
And of course the chickens are getting into full swing in unexpected places. They’ve taken to laying in some straw in one of Ian’s trailers.
Hens eggs laid in the back of the trailer

Nestlings and flowers

Amazing what a week does. Spring flowers are dotting Popehouse Moor now, with woodsorrel and carpets of primroses beneath the trees at the far end of the nature reserve and cuckoo flower on the grassland. And best of all, I’ve spotted a dunnock’s nest with young in the garden. They’ve nested in the sedge again, and I missed the beautiful blue eggs this year, but I’m looking forward to watching these youngsters hope around the place. I just hope they make it – they’re pretty low to the ground. I’ll have to put Muttley on guard against neighbourhood cats!

Blackthorn in blossom

Blackthorn in blossom on Popehouse Moor, Wheatland Farm, Devon
What a glorious spring it is being – even after the forecast said the sunshine would break. And now blackthorn is in full flower – my favourite spring blossom. Tiny, delicate, understated but there first, before the leaves break through on this prickly shrub. The insects love it, and it only flowers on old wood – a good reason not to cut your hedges every year. Hedges trimmed annually have something like 50 times less blackthorn blossom, and why would you miss this spring glory?

Biofuel powered mowers arrive for new orchard

Our new mowers have arrived for the orchard, recently planted with traditional Devon apple varieties.
The mowers are powered by biofuel – the grass in the orchard – and should be almost carbon neutral. We can’t really afford (and don’t understand) this high tech approach so we’ve loaned the technology from our helpful friends at Higher Punchardon Farm. Marvellous – they’ll even do most of the serious maintenance on them. Basically, so long as we can count to 5 and check the water is topped up these should be pretty reliable machines…

The sheep arrive. They’re used to chickens but the chickens are not used to them!

Andrew and Fiona delivering the new mowers from the production line half a mile down the road.

Signs of spring

In March you have to look for the details – the trees are still bare but the birds are singing. Our favourite robin has a beak full of fluff – I wonder where the nest is? In the garden the primroses are out, but in the wood they are still in bud. And those are the ones I always think of as the ‘real’ ones. Willow is putting out catkins though, and of course gorse is in flower.

Eco lodge update: plastering and insulation, and a look back at the windows

Here’s a short video update for the eco lodge. We blogged about the windows when they arrived, but I don’t think we showed it on video. So here they are, coming off the lorry and then opening wide for the view. Wow!

Local plasterers Martin and Edward plastered the whole of the inside ‘envelope’, ie the air tight layer on the inside of the building. So then it was time for internal partition walls (woodwool), ceilings with insulation above them, and more plastering. The insulation was not sheeps wool in the end, but a combination of warmcell – recycled newspaper – and recycled bottle insulation, like a big duvet. But Ian can tell the tale.

Goldfinches on the teasel heads

goldfinch feeding on teasels, Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

Vindicated! Untidyness by the office window has benefited the goldfinches – which are busy stripping the seeds from dead teasel heads. This picture was snapped through the fairly grimy glass, and I’m surprised it came out as well as it has. They are such beautiful little birds, cheering up winter days.

Snowdrops and a woodmouse

February snowdrops at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, DevonThe snow drops are out – and so was this wood mouse down in the nature reserve. Well, the truth is I disturbed it from a nest box that I was clearing out for the coming spring. But with temperatures rising I don’t think it will suffer much of an eviction. Spring really feels like it’s making a move now – the light feels stronger and the birds are louder.

Winter wildlife work

Winter is when we do a lot of our land management work. Since entering the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme last June we’ve got an even longer ‘to do’ list!

One of the tasks is more ‘scrub bashing’ on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest. We need to push back invading willow and bramble so as not to lose the precious culm grassland. Here’s a shot of the western end of the reserve where scrub bashing, and eventually hedge laying, will lessen the barrier between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is), hopefully helping us manage them so their wildlife converges. We’ve got 3 winters of this work to do…

We’ve also been adding some new fencing to make it easier to keep the cows out of sensitive woodland in the summer.

Many many thanks to our volunteers from the WWOOF network (world wide opportunities on organic farms). Ayaka, Marion and Ben all braved near knee-high mud and worked hard chopping, carrying and burning.

Come back and see it when it greens up in the summer!

Frogspawn and a first primrose

Frogspawn in the ponds at Wheatland Farm, January 2012There’s frogspawn in 2 of our ponds! I hope it doesn’t turn seriously cold now. I’ve already seen the first primrose flowering in the hedge banks of our local lanes. That’s months too early really – overall so far it has been a mild winter. But today there was a dusting of snow. In previous years the kids have been off school because of bad weather even in February, so there’s no knowing yet.

EV charging points at our Devon farm

Our electric vehicle charging points are fully installed and ready to go. They were donated by Zero Carbon World (Thanks guys!) who want to free motorists from having to carry lots of different smart cards around when they travel. It’s much more simple here! Just ring Ian on 07780 708 747 if you want to recharge your car. It’s free to guests (or come without a car at all!) and costs £15 to non guests. If the farm shop’s open we’ll run you up there while you wait (good tea and coffee). If we can fit it in we’d love to take you on a nature walk. Or you should be able to pick up our WiFi if you’ve got things you need to get done. It’s early days, and we may change arrangements as we go along, so just ring us for details.

Eco lodges get charging point for electric cars

We’ve installed two electric car charging stations for the eco lodges, and also for the general public. The charging stations were donated by Zero Carbon World and we’ll be on their Open Charge map. The idea is to get lots of charging stations that don’t need smart cards. That should make life easier for electric car users. If you’re staying here at Wheatland Farm eco ldoges you can charge your car for free. If you’re just passing through there’ll be a small charge, but we’ll run you up the road to the farm shop where you can get tea and cakes while you wait, or take you on a walk around the nature reserve. Telephone 07780708747 to book a slot.

Local flooring for the new eco lodge

No, not some modern art or fancy jenga game – it’s the larch for the new eco lodge, once again felled just 8 miles away in Mike Moser’s conservation woodland. He milled it for us, but we had to have it ‘thicknessed’ and then sanded. For that it made the short (15 miles) to Mike Latham’s joinery at South Molton. ‘Bit of a pile’, he said, when we rang to arrange collection. ‘Oh’ replied Ian ‘but I said it was about 100m2?’. ‘Yes’, said Mike, ‘But I forgot to mention that to the lads!’.

So here’s some of it stacked inside the lodge ready for flooring.

Wind turbine puts our Devon eco lodges back into energy credit

We’re celebrating, drinking Devon bubbly from Pebblebed wines because the wind turbine has put us back in energy credit. Ie it has now caught up and overtaken our overall consumption despite a busy ‘season’.

Here’s the graph that shows our cumulatiave consumption (purple), our generation (blue), our export (red) and grid import (green). Basically, after a good start the turbine couldn’t keep up with high season summer consumption (to be expected), then kept pretty much parallel for ages into the autumn – we kept expecting the lines would cross but they jogged along.

Wind seems to have picked up a bit now – but it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. It’ll probably be March before we have any sensible idea about what it will generate over a year. We’re almost empty now but busy again at Christmas and New Year, and they are bound to be fairly energy intensive, so we hope to build up a bit of credit before then!

Paper and bottles for roof insulation

We’re insulating the roof in the new eco lodge with recycled newspaper and bottles. Originally it was going to be local sheep wool, but the factory doesn’t treat it against moths etc so we’d have had to get into the roof and spray it each year – and that wasn’t really practical. So instead we’ve gone for a mixture.

On the flat sections it’s warmcell – treated pulverised newspaper that you ‘fluff’ into a thick heat retaining layer.

But that won’t work on the sloping sections, so here we’re using insulation made from bottles – it just looks like the the inside of a nice new duvet! It’s 85% recycled. Shame it’s not 100%, but never mind. It’s important to be closing the waste loop and buying products made from what might otherwise have been rubbish. These industries need support.

Reparing a sofabed

Repairing and strengthening the sofa bed with a strip of aluminium left over from a previous life will give this bit of furniture a new lease of life. It’s invisible — on the inside, and good wood glue is essential too. Repairing rather than replacing is our strongly preferred option, mostly because it avoids all the up-stream environmental costs, be it logging for the timber or just delivering the bed down Devon’s narrow lanes.

Too cool for school lunch boxes

We try to minimize waste, even when it’s a big birthday party. We re-use and recycle as much as possible, and now the kids love their lunch boxes for the new term.

They are made from from recycled beer kegs! Ingredients? Mini beer barrel (drink contents), an old seat belt, a brass door knob from our old house, a cupboard handle we couldn’t bear to throw away, and some wood offcuts Ian turned on the lathe.

As for the party (a while ago now), it was great fun to see so many friends and we were really pleased to manage it without disposable plates or glasses etc. People bought food contributions, the freezer bulged for a while afterwards, and just about everything got used. Best of all there was just the normal amount of rubbish at the end of the week.

Picnic by the River Taw at Bondleigh

Paddling in the Taw at Bondleigh
Here’s a lovely spot for a river-side picnic 6 miles from the cottage and lodges, at Bondleigh.

This little woodland is owned by the Woodland Trust, and as such has public access. That means you can wander off the path – indeed right down to the Taw – without worry. It’s a pretty small wood, but you could combine a picnic with a Bondleigh Walk too. There’s room to park (just) at the second gate (the Bondleigh end) some big trees, and a lovely peaceful atmosphere.

If you want something similar by even closer, try the Big Tree Walk at Haywood Wood, Eggesford, just 4 miles from us (and easier to get to by bike).

Water from the well?

We’re investigating whether we can switch some of our water consumption to the well. It’s close to the house and has been bugging us for ages that we’re not using it. So Ian has made a start on investigating the feasiblity, pumping it out, and storing water for the garden in a borrowed tank. Now it’s refilling, so we can assess the rate of flow. It must be about the driest part of the year – and it’s certainly the driest I’ve seen the farm in the past 5 years.

But it seems to be replenishing at only around 100 litres an hour. There was a store of 5-6000 litres when it was full, but it’s not recovered yet (about a week later). So it looks like we could probably run the house on it, and maybe the laundry, but probably not the lodges.

Using it just ourselves would make it easier on sterilising it to begin with too. We could keep mains for drinking water (no bottled stuff here), but run the loos, shower, bath and probably the laundry on well water from a header tank.

Exactly when is another question though. It wouldn’t cost that much, but it would be disruptive, digging up concrete for pipes and pumps, replumbing part of the house. Meanwhile, we’re flat out with guests and the new eco lodge. So it’s on the ‘to do’ list, but realistically there are other things ahead of it for the time being.

New pillows from recycled polyester

We’ve bought some new pillows, and they’re made from recycled bottles…

If we want recycling facilities we also have to ‘close the loop’ and buy recycled products. So like the duvets we bought last winter, we looked for pillows made from recycled material. It wasn’t that easy. I looked online first, and didn’t come up with anything much. But I knew Marks and Spencers had their ‘Plan A (because there is no Plan B)’, and sure enough, there it was in the small print of their pillow page.

But I still wanted to check what the pillows actually felt like, so I rang my Mum who lives near a store and sent her on a pillow-pinching mission. When she got to the shop she asked “a group of young staff” where she could find pillows with recycled filling and they looked at her blankly.

One offered to ‘ring head office’ and did so, reporting back that “it was a one off bulk buy and we don’t have them any more”. Hmmm. Plan A because there is no Plan B?? Surely not?

And indeed when I next was near a store and went in, there were the pillows and they feel fine. At the cashier’s desk I made a point of saying why I’d bought them. More blank looks. So good marks to M&S for corporate responsibility, but a bit more staff awareness is required!

Our new mower from the local recycling centre

Our new mower. Well it was new in 1972…

It’s a Hayterette ‘rough meadow mower’. Ian spotted it in the ‘for sale’section at the Okehampton recycling centre and paid £5 for it. Despite straw and bird poo, he’d spotted the name – and the extremely reliable Briggs and Stratton engine.

It has a cast aluminium deck (they’re mostly plastic these days) and the blades came free easily enough. The engine turned over, but needed a new spark generator.

And that was about it, apart from a little sharpening up. A new one costs five to six hundred pounds. Recyling clearly pays!

Scythes over strimmers

Well we do use the strimmer, and a ride on mower (in moderation), but we also try to use hand tools where we can… It’s quieter, it’s more selective, and it cuts fuel use.

Here’s WWOOFer Scott taking the scythe to the long vegetation on the drive way. He’d make a good grim reaper!

Hole Wood to Redland circular dog walk

Admiring hedgerow flowers in HollocombeThis circular Devon dog walk is fairly easy terrain, with wide paths and no styles. But it does have a couple of gates – and a couple of hills in it too, so you’ll get a bit of exercise!

You’ll start about 2 miles from the Wheatland Farm eco lodges and cottage. You can borrow a bike, or drive. Turn right out of our drive, and keep going until you get to the Methodist Chapel at Stable Green. Just opposite the chapel take a left, at right angles to the road, steeply downhill into Hollocombe – not the one that almost doubles back on you when you reach the chapel. Head down into Hollocombe and leave your bike or park opposite the house at the bottom of the valley and just before the stream. Take a lead because you may encounter livestock or tractors. OS Explorer map 127.

Muttley said:

We set off through Hole Wood. It’s a bridle path, meaning it’s fairly wide and flat, though it can be muddy. You go through conifers, roughly following the stream – Hollocombe Water. When you get to some out buildings turn left, walk downhill and through the gate. There were pigs here! Great hairy things. I was on my guard, ready to warn everyone, but the kids didn’t seem concerned and even scratched the lazy beasts’ bellies through the fence. Hey – that’s my role isn’t it – lying around in the sun and being tickled on the tummy?

So anyway, swiftly on to the footbridge (for me) or the ford (for those who like to splash) and then a right turn and walk up the lane on the other side.

Don’t get side-tracked here by the diverted footpath sign looking like it wants to send you up a steep hill. Not that I mind hills but there are others coming… No, just stay on the lane, which is still a bridle path, and go through the farm buildings and on. Where the lane divides, ignore the track curving uphill and stay on the concrete driveway.

You’ll soon come to a hairpin turning, almost back on yourself that takes you down to the water again.

Enjoy the flowers in the hedgerow, but when you reach the footbridge watch out for rotten planks!

You’ll come across a pretty pink thatched cottage – turn right alongside it and follow the path that takes you up the hill. You walk through conifers first, then broadleaved woodland with speckled wood butterflies and dappled sunshine, and eventually come out at a gate. Pause for a pant if you like, then go through the gate, shutting it behind you and follow the edge of the field.

You come to the farm buildings at Redland and another pretty Devon thatched cottage. Walk with the farmhouse on your right, following the track through a gate and around the buildings until you get to the lane. This will take you back to the public road, but both are pretty much as quiet and grassy as each other. When you do get to the road turn right and head back, downhill, to where you started. It’s a steep and windy Devon lane, so be ready for cars but you probably won’t even get a sniff of one.

Greening the cleaning

Here’s how (and why) we keep our cleaning as green as we can, and with as few chemicals as possible getting into Devon’s streams and rivers.
It’s time to buy some more cleaner. To be honest I can’t remember when I last bought any, and that’s with 5 houses to clean.

We generally use Ecover because of it’s claim to break down fast in aquatic environments. And that’s what it’s about. All those chemicals end up going down the drain. Even here, where we’re on private drainage, anything that goes down the sink eventually ends up in ditches and then streams and rivers.

Up to half the water in some UK rivers is effluent from waste water treatment plants – ie it’s already been round the system at least once. And it carries with it countless tiny chemical traces that add up to a cocktail that can disrupt fish hormone systems and may even now be affecting human male fertility (here’s a link to more about that research).

So we try to keep them out in the first place!

It sounds, and is, really obvious. But it’s good for the environment and cuts costs too.

So here are our top tips (shh, don’t tell the cleaning company marketing department):

Ignore all that ridiculous advertising trying to persuade you that dousing your home with ‘antibacterial’ cleaners will keep you healthy. It won’t. And not all bacteria are bad anyway – about 1000 different species probably live on your own skin! We do use it on toilet seats and flush handles between bookings, but no-where else.

Obviously you’ve got to do some cleaning… So put the cleaner on the cloth not the thing you’re cleaning – you’ll find you use so much less.

And have two cloths – one to get soapy and one to rinse off. Otherwise you’re always rinsing those expensive cleaners down the sink, then spraying on more.

That’s it really, other than to resist the seductive call of all that packaging. We only use one multipurpose cleaner rather than lots of different products with their additional packagaing and distribution costs.

It works for us, clean accommodation is the most important thing our holiday makers look for. But it doesn’t have to cost the Earth.

The wind turbine is producing more energy than we consume

It’s early days yet. But we’ve had the turbine up and running for about a month and a half. And so far it’s producing more electricity than we consume. May and June aren’t usually windy months, though this year they’ve been breezy. And the turbine is doing well, generating more energy, overall, than our business (your holidays!) and our home uses. Here’s the graph of total generation, as it climbs day on day, and our total energy use, also day by day, since 16 May.

More about the turbine’s installation here.