Reparing not replacing the pressure washer

Would you belive it – we get all ready to clean the lodge verandas with a loaned pressure washer, go to turn it on, and nothing. So frustrating! Even more so when the screws are hidden down long plastic tunnels and it’s hard to take the machine apart. When we got inside it was obvious what had gone wrong – that familiar burnt wiring smell.

We looked online. It’s at least £120 to replace the whole thing, and most of it’s fine. Such a waste. So how to replace the part? Turns out they still make them – in Easter Europe. And they still sell them – on Ebay. But only in Australia!

£25 and a wait versus £120 for a new one. Thankfully, the post was pretty prompt. We’re back up to full strength now.

Managing down the rushes

Well, we’ve done it. And with a heavy heart because it involved using herbicides. The Devon Wildlife Trust came yesterday and weed wiped Lower Newland Moor to control the rushes that have been taking over so much in recent years.
Why do we do it? Especially given you have to use nasty chemicals? Because soft rush dominates, growing into stronger and stronger clumps that push out all the other flowering plants and also mean there’s no room for grass. No grass means no food for cows, which means you can’t manage the field with grazing. Sooner rather than later there’s only rush in the field – that’s until the willow and brambles take over and turn it back to scrub. Rush growth has been particularly strong over recent wet winters.

This has been a big build up, and has involved planning with our Natural England advisors. Last year we cut and cleared the rushes, as we’ve done several times over the past decade. You have to cut them first because you need fresh regrowth if the herbicide is to work efficiently.

Cutting them wasn’t too bad as Andrew and Tim from Fiona’s farm shop came and did it with machinery. Clearing is always another matter – needing back breaking work pitch forking the rushes into piles and burning them. Then we let the cows graze the field late. Thankfully it was a dry autumn.
And we’ve had cows back early this spring (requiring a derogation from Natural England for our Higher Level Stewardship agreement) to eat the grass and flowers down around the rebounding rushes. That means when you treat the rushes the rest doesn’t get treated – and survives. It’s not a spray that’s put on everywhere, but a wipe – like a big paint roller wet with herbicide that is literally wiped onto the rushes. Steve, the guy from the Devon Wildlife Trust who did the work, says it’s amazing what pops back up when the rushes die. Let’s hope so.

But the battle isn’t over. There’s so many more rushes on Popehouse Moor, our Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that need tackling. Last year I cut a good proportion of them by hand with a scythe (it’s too wet to take machinery down there), but it’s an endless fight that you can’t win even with hard labour. We’ll be out there again later this summer to do more cutting, once the breeding bird season is over.

Helping out the Plough Arts Centre

We’re on The Plough Arts Centre’s list for band accommodation – no charge. It’s nice to be able to help small enterprises bring the arts to rural Devon and great to meet new people and look after them on their travels. Yesterday The Lowest Pair and their tour driver stayed over in Beech Lodge after a gig in Torrington.

This morning it was a run through the local lanes for Kendl followed by coffee (OK, that’s expected) and then scrambled eggs with raspberry jam under. Eh?! Different creatures these Americans… well different taste buds at least. But maybe that’s worth a try? Then again, I think I’ll stick to that British stalwart marmite.

The van is loaded up and they’re off to Topsham, then Honiton I think…

Safe travels guys – great to meet you!

Another donation to the Devon Wildlife Trust – thanks to you

Thank you all you lovely lodge and cottage guests who have paid your holiday balance by BACS. It keeps our costs down and means we can donate £5 from every such booking to the Devon Wildlife Trust, whose staff have given us so much advice over the years.

The latest cheque is for £250 and is in the post right now.

But even if you didn’t pay that way, everyone who stays helps our conservation efforts. It’s your holiday that finances managing Wheatland Farm for wildlife. We’ve been here over 10 years now, and there’s been a huge wildlife improvement, with stoats and barn owls seen regularly along with our nearly 200 species of flowering plants.

So thank you everyone for your support!

The restored pond fills up at the eco lodges

The bothy pond begins to fill upThe new pond at our Devon eco lodges is filling up… Well, not that new. It’s part of what was the slurry pit system when Wheatland Farm was a working dairy farm. It was filled with junk when we first arrived, and after clearing it we let it get overgrown because we didn’t have time to make anything of it. Now we’ve dug the pond out a bit and sown some marginal plants around it. Next spring we’ll clear a better path. It’s just below the fishing pond and makes a lovely out of the way spot for people as well as wildlife.

There’s also an old circular concrete structure that we want to turn into some kind of bothy or folly… More on that as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, we don’t suppose the frogs and newts will need a proper path, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for new arrivals here. Frogspawn should be a near certainty.

How many ponds is that now then?
Well, there’s the fishing pond, the main wildlife pond, the woodland magic pond, the seasonal pond we hope to turn into a reedbed, a small pond below the withy, a pond in the gravel garden at the farm house, and the tiny ‘ironic pond’, complete with plastic duck and waterlilies by our back door. They do say that if you want to attract wildlife just add water.

Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet

Here comes the new go cart! Everyone should have a go cart hill in their childhood. George is the main technician on this one with a bit of help from Ian and some additions from Euan.
“What’s special about it?”
“It goes fast”
“What about its build?”
“Rack and pinion steering, wheels from the old push chair, and now it even has brakes”

Sounds good to me.

This one is ‘by appointment’ at the moment – so come ask the boys for a tug!

Recycling the plastic the council don’t

Recycling food plastic at Wheatland Farm's Devon eco lodges Since Torridge District Council don’t recycle food plastics (other than bottles) we save yours up and take them to the nearest recycling centre that can handle them – Okehampton for us. So thanks to all you lovely guests for keeping them clean and easy to deal with!

A new life for the ride-on

Refurbished ride-on toyThe toddler ride on toy has been given a new lease of life. It’s done many years of faithful service but the old plastic body had seen better days. So it has been reborn in wood, with some taps eyes, a blue smile, and new antennae.

Turbine blade replaced

Changing the blade on the wind turbine The summery weather means we’ve finally been able to change the blade on the wind turbine that largely powers our eco lodges. We’ve had the new blade sitting ready for ages now, but last time we tried, the ground was still too wet. This week a team winched the new blade into place.

The old blade developed a crack and was replaced under warranty. But it should still make a mighty fine dragonfly bench at the end of the turbine walk…. That’s a project for this summer. Let’s hope the weather holds.

The cows are finally back

Thankfully Andrew and Fiona’s TB movement restriction has finally been lifted and they have been able to move some of their cows to Wheatland Farm. Just in the nick of time for us as we need to be grazing Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor for 10 weeks over the summer. It’s this light grazing that maintains the flower rich grassland here, including the orchids in our earlier post.

So eight young cows arrived in two livestock ‘boxes’ pulled by tractors on Friday morning – just as Maggie was returning from taking Euan to school on the tandem. Often the cows are simply herded down the lane from Higher Punchardon Farm, but this time there weren’t enough people to manage that.

The summer task of ‘lookering’ begins now, ie checking on the cows everyday. They’re a bit skittish, but hopefully will soon get used to us. Apparently a handful of ‘cow cake’ is the trick.

Orchids in flower

Every year we get a carpet of heath spotted orchids flowering on Popehouse Moor SSSI. Here’s a short clip of some of them in early July 2016. The are such a delight, and confirm our conservation grazing is working. This is one of the highlights of our wildlife year, so if you’re staying in the eco lodges do take a stroll onto Popehouse Moor (or ask us to take you for a guided walk). As well as the orchids it’s a-buzz with pollinating insects and nectar sipping butterflies. And if you can’t be here right now we still thank you for your visit at other times of the year – it’s your stays that make it possible to manage our small Devon farm for wildlife.

Thanks also to Natural England and the HLS scheme for ongoing support, and the Devon Wildlife Trust for always being on hand to offer practical advice.

Land management July 2016

Cows at Wheatland Farm's Devon Eco Lodges, summer 2016
Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.




What? Mowing
Where? Everywhere!
Why? Well, not quite everywhere, but the paths, the orchard (apart from the designated long patches) the turbine walk if it needs it, and the patches below Balebarn Eco Lodge – where we’re preparing for some autumn sowing.


What? Continuing to remove water weed and bull rushes
Where? From the wildlife pond
Why? This is an ongoing summer job – especially to keep the bullrushes from taking over in the shallow water.


What? Pulling thistles and nettles
Where? Everywhere really, but especially in the field below Balebarn
Why? We spot sprayed earlier in the year but now there’s too much other plant life around in most of our ‘problem areas’. So it’s back to the back-breaking approach.


What? ‘Hair cut’ for the other side of the drive
Where? One side at a time, and in patches
Why? The long grass eventually falls over, so we cut it with a scythe, taking care to avoid the later-flowering plants like birds foot trefoil.




What? Tie in the ‘Evie Avenue’
Where? Links the (very) old manure heap behind Balebarn with the treehouse.
Why? The trees on the old manure heap will eventually out-compete the nettles – at least that’s the theory. But we have to keep them short because of the overhead wires. So we’re tying some of the willows togther to form a ‘tree tunnel’ avenue. Why Evie? Because she helped us plant them while staying at Balebarn Lodge last autumn.




What? Cut back nettles
Where? Along the path going to Popehouse Moor
Why? Nettles are good for butterflies (small tortoiseshell in particular) but only if they’re in the sun really – so this shaded patch can go, especially as it’s starting to encroach on the path




What? Get the cows back for the summer grazing
Where? Lower Newland Moor (aka the turbine field) and Popehouse Moor
Why? Yay! They’re back! Just in the nick of time to do the summer grazing for us.




What? Trim the ivy
Where? On Otter Cottage and the turbine room
Why? We like ivy! It’s good for insulating the buildings (even the National Trust agree on that now), provides nest sites for the birds and the flowers help the bees in the colder months. But it still needs to be kept in trim or it starts coming in at the windows and even lifting the roof!


Thanks for keeping food out of the bin

Many thanks to our Polish guests who left Balebarn Lodge this morning to fly home. It was great to see you enjoying the fishing, the bikes and the football. You were lovely recyclers, and we particularly thank you for keeping this lot out of the bin. Everyone over caters on holiday, and it’s not always practical to take the excess with you, but we just hate seeing food, often imported from far off places and grown by under-paid workers, ending up in UK landfill sites.

This lot will be put to better use. Looks like it’s baked beans for lunch for starters…

Watch our ‘slim the bin’ video from our environment page

Love your weeds!

Oxeye daisies

Oxeye daisies May and June are the months when we get the most from the ‘weeds’ growing in the old farm yard. These oxeye daisies have seeded themselves in the cracks and accumulated soil. They’ve been flowering outside Otter Cottage all month, and when they’re going over we’ll collect some of the seed and sow it in the meadow. Most of our gardening tends to be selective weeding these days. If it thrives and it’s pretty, then it survives – especially if it’s native.

And if you’re interested in mini-wildlife as well as flowers, the daisies are a great place to spot a stunning white crab spider laying in wait for an unwary fly.

Land management and conservation, June 2016

A hair cat for the drivewayWheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.




What? Mowing more patches
Where? In the southern part of the lodge field.
Why? We’re cutting patches that are very ‘grass heavy’ in the hope of lessening the grass domination before seeding with plants like yellow rattle in the autumn. Eventually we want more flowers and less grass.


What? Continuing to remove water weed and bull rushes
Where? From the wildlife pond
Why? If you don’t manage ponds they eventually silt up. This year we’ve got a bloom of blanket weed we want to keep on top of. And we want a few open patches for swimming and boating. We leave the weed on the edge for a while in the possibly-vain hope that any beasties escape, but the important part is we only do a bit at a time. And we pull it by hand. Lots of newts get released back into the pond.


What? Pulling thistles and nettles
Where? Everywhere really, but especially in the field below Balebarn
Why? We spot sprayed earlier in the year but now there’s too much other plant life around in most of our ‘problem areas’. So it’s back to the back-breaking approach.


What? ‘Hair cut’ for the drive
Where? One side at a time, and in patches
Why? The long grass eventually falls over, so we cut it with a scythe, taking care to avoid the later-flowering plants like birds foot trefoil.


What? ‘Hair cut’ for the willow arches
Where? These are along the walk from the lodge field to the field below Balebarn Lodge. They edge the trees we planted as part of ‘Tree O’clock’ back in 2008.
Why? Just to keep them looking intentional, to direct energy into the arches, and so as to not overshadow the young trees behind. Mind you, these are getting pretty big now. Soon they’ll be taller than the willows.


What? Maintain the ‘Evie Avenue’
Where? Links the (very) old manure heap behind Balebarn with the treehouse.
Why? The old manure heap is a tricky area. Not only is it thick with nettles it’s also thick with plastic, baler twine etc (not dumped by us!). Initially we were going to make a ‘garden’, but the soil is just too difficult. So instead we’re growing trees, which will eventually shade out the nettles. But overhead wires go across here, so we can’t have tall trees. Under the wires we’ve planted willows that we hope to weave into an avenue. At the moment they mark a scything route to lodge field. Why Evie? Because she helped us plant them while staying at Balebarn Lodge.


What? Put tree guards on young trees
Where? By Beech Lodge
Why? Coz the squirrels have been having a right go at the bark…

Bike Week UK 2016

Bikeman at Wheatland FarmBike Week UK 2016 starts today. We hope you’re not feeling this rusty! We’re offering a prize to help you get Devon into cycling, via Love to Ride. It’s a weekend in our Nuthatch Lodge at the beginning of October. Hopefully it’ll still be good weather for biking Devon’s lovely lanes and taking a breather at country pubs. Register with Love to Ride for a chance to win this and other great prizes. You can use their app to record your rides this week and set yourself challenges.

And what will Wheatland Farm be up to this week? We’ll be upping our usual cycling quota:

We’ll be biking Euan to school on the tandem – something we usually do in the summer.
Maggie will be biking for exercise as well – maybe we can blog our 45 min route.
Ian is going to build himself a road bike from old bike bits we’ve got lying around – and take it for a ride.
George will join Maggie on a Sunday cycle… “but you always go so far… I’ll just go up and down the drive…” OK so we’ll have to work on that one. But at least he can bike to judo and back.

What will you do?

An evening walk with Winkleigh’s green group

A walk around with Winkleigh's green groupOn Friday the Winkleigh ‘Green group’ came for an evening wander around the farm. It’s an informal set up where anyone can drop by, and about 12 people turned up. We took a walk around and explained how we manage the land for wildlife rather than food, and how the holiday accommodation finances that, then all sat around for a bowl of soup and a chat. Summer flowers are coming out, and we found one heath spotted orchid, but not carpets of them yet!

Popehouse Moor SSSI management progress recognised

Lower Newland Moor, Wheatland Farm Devon Eco Lodges, May 16Our recent visit by Natural England has produced a good report for Popehouse Moor’s management, saying it’s still in ‘favourable’ condition and that all that scrub bashing and grazing is paying off. Lower Newland Moor, where the turbine is, is also improving with our advisors noting better plant diversity including ragged robin and bog stitchwort. The visit has meant we can apply for a derogation to weed wipe the rushes that are becoming more dominant – but that won’t be until next year. This year we need to graze, then cut the rushes in late September. Next spring, assuming the rushes get away before the grass and the ground isn’t too wet, we can ‘wipe’ the new shoots with a herbicide and leave the grasses and flowers untouched.

If you’re interested in the full report, it’s here

Land management and conservation, May 2016

May land management 2016, Wheatland Farm eco lodgesWheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.






What? Establish a new reed bed
Where? in the ‘puddle’ and the wet ditch below Balebarn and in the ‘corner pond’ in the eco lodge field.
Why? Well, ‘establishing’ might be piling it on a bit thick. All we’ve done is move a few phragmites rhizomes from the patch in the edge of the wildlife pond into a scrape we had made below Balebarn Eco Lodge and into the gated wet corner of the lodge field. The scrape below Balebarn is in the ditch system that takes any excess water from the biorock digester that deals with Balebarn’s sewage. And although that water is clean enough to discharge to a ditch, reedbeds are often used to clean water and we’d love to have a bit more wildlife habitat. We didn’t go for a reedbed sewage treatment system initially because they can freeze over in winter, and then – well you’re up the proverbial without a paddle. So this is just a bit extra. And while we’re about it, why not turn the ‘seasonal pond’ in the corner of the lodge field into a reedbed too – it tends to dry out in summer and be a bit of a mess, and the wagtails would love reeds to roost in in winter.






Pond management at Wheatland Farm Eco LodgesWhat? Removing blanket weed, some bullrushes (Typha), and Canadian pond weed
Where? From the wildlife pond
Why? The open water is starting to close, becoming overgrown with invasive Canadian pondweed that a relative threw in in a well meaning attempt to oxygenate the water. Enough said about that really. So now we have to pull some of the weed out. We can’t do it all at once as it’s home to lots of lovely invertebrates – dragonfly larvae, newts and tadpoles etc. So little by little. The ‘bullrushes’ also need controlling. They put themselves all around the edge of the pond, moving in as seeds. But we’d rather have phragmites (reeds) so we routinely pull some bullrushes out. It doesn’t seem to slow them down much.






Moving ferns What? Moving ferns
Where? From below the fishing pond to the wet ‘corner pond’ in the eco lodge field.
Why? We’re planning to restore a hidden pond below the fishing pond and it will mean diggers and some mess. So we’re moving some of the plants we want to save.






What? Site visit with Natural England, Tues 10 may.
Where? Through the lodge field, Lower Newland Moor, Popehouse Moor, back up past the widlife pond and to the orchard.
Why? Routine check and advice visit to ensure we are doing the work specified in our agreement and help sort out any problems. The main discussion points were to plan a late cut for the rushes on Lower Newland Moor (September) followed by weed wiping in early spring. The agreement will also be adjusted to say we can graze with ponies as well as cows if needed.






Planned for this month…
Dig out the hidden pond below the fishing pond – it’s still full of tyres from previous farming owners!
We hope the cows will come back for their summer grazing.
Mowing will continue
Bramble bashing below the wildlife pond early in the month – so long as we can still see there are no birds’ nests.
Bramble bashing along the fence line in Lower Newland Moor

You helped us raise £280 for the Devon Wildlife Trust. Thanks.

Cheque for the Devon Wildife TrustThis cheque is in the post to the Devon Wildlife Trust – and it’s come from all our guests. Many thanks. When you book we let you know that if you pay the balance of your holiday cost by BACS we will give £5 to the Devon Wildlife Trust. And lots of you do. So you can be sure that you’re not just helping look after the wildlife on our 21 acre smallholding, but also contributing to wider conservation work in Devon. And for us, it’s a way to say thanks to the Trust, whose staff have given us help and advice over the past ten years.

Land management and conservation, April 2016

Lady's smock, April 2016 Wheatland Farm eco ldoges
Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.

spotspraying1What? Spot spraying persistent perennial weeds: docks, creeping thistles, nettle patches (plenty of nettles left at the edges of the field!).

Where? In the field below Balebarn eco lodge above the pond on both sides of the path. On newly cut section below the pond (see last month’s diary). In the field in front of Beech, Nuthatch and Honeysuckle Lodges. Also In a section of the turbine field, as in map.

Why? This field is in long term management to return it to flower-rich grassland. In March and April when the nettles and creeping thistles emerge, and before everything else gets going, we spot spray with a herbicide so as to knock back the thugs and let the other plants thrive. Later in the year we pull these plants by hand if we need to.
Notes: 11 April, 18 April, (28 April – lodge field)

 

What? Putting up nest boxes

Where? On the side of the turbine room wall

Why? When we were clearing out the turbine room a pair of bluetits were in and out a lot. We hope they’ll take to the box now we need to put a door on this outbuilding. Update – they haven’t. But they go through the hole we left them in the door and continue to use the warm space behind the turbine metres. At least they should be safe from the stoat there.

 

What? Cutting the grass in the orchard

Where? hmmm… in the orchard actually

Why? It’s unlikely we’ll have sheep this year, but we still need to keep the grass down with a few cuts during the season. So George was set to with the ride on mower (10 April). He cut the middle, but left the section with all the daffs. Spot spraying docks here to, on 28 April.

 

What? Scything rush patches

Where?  Only the isolated patches in the lodge field.

Why? We can’t cut the main rushes in the turbine field as there could be birds nesting amongst them (and the ground is too wet for heavy machinery). So we’re just cutting a few tufts in front of the eco lodges  – because left unchecked it has a habit of taking over.

 

Wheatland farm eco lodges: mowing pattern 2016What? Establish annual mowing patches

Where? In the eco lodge field and the field below Balebarn Lodge.

Why? Rather than cut everything all at once we mow different patches in different years. We leave some long, and cut some shorter. That’s because barn owls love to hunt over tussocky grass where the voles hide, and butterflies overwinter at the base of long grass. But if we did nothing we’d just get tussocky grass and lots of dead thatch blocking light from other flowers we want to see returning. So some bits we cut once or twice a year.

 

 

What? Clear wood stacked from ash pollarding

Where? In the eco lodge field

Why? That’s our sustainable fuel source for the biomass boiler. It’s going into the woodshed to dry out.

 

 

A world away from Whirlpool

Yuck fom WhirlpoolTop marketing drivel from Whirlpool!
[Maggie] Recycling day brings an opportunity to read other people’s papers… Sometimes it’s handy to keep up to date with ideas and trends – free training.

This time the Super Brands 2016 supplement from the Guardian’s 5th March edition caught our eye. Any top tips there for building a successful business? There were some pertinent comments from the Global Head of Marketing at Investec about focusing on the culture and behaviour of the organisation and good people ‘who are good at what they do and are fundamentally interesting to be around’.

But dear oh dear. Now I know how and why we are fundamentally different from Whirlpool, who seem to be priding themselves in being at the forefront of planned obsolescence – the idea that you must have some new slightly improved ‘thing’ all the time whether or not the old one is still working.

Yuck!
Bad for the consumers who have to keep working to afford the new shiny thing.
And bad for the planet that has to keep coughing up the raw materials.

Reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax:

I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering…selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

I’d like to think we’re the polar opposite of Whirlpool’s attitude. Wheatland Farm is about long-lasting quality and comfort that doesn’t need constant consumption to maintain its appeal. That’s why we re-use, re-purpose and recycle, not just in ‘not-at-all-brand-new’ Balebarn Ecolodge but in all our Devon accommodation.

Building a new wormery for the lodges

Composting wormsWe’re busier than we’ve ever been, and our green cone digesters are over filling. What to do? Sure, we can remind people to slim the bin. But there’s still going to be food waste from the eco lodges.

So we’re hoping a new wormery will speed up the break down process. We’ll be decanting some of the semi-digested green cone waste into the new contraption near the bike shed. It’s been made (from the bottom up) out of an old farm tank we had knocking around, a recycled tap (for the worm waste), a good layer of stones, a sheet of plastic with holes in it, some garden compost, a thin scattering of kitchen scraps and, as a starter, 500g of worms from Wiggly Wigglers. On top of that goes a layer of wet tabloid papers (good use for them…) Finally, there’s a lid to keep the rain out but let the air in.

The worms were the expensive bit (over £20). And perhaps we could have got some from the cones. But we wanted to get ahead on the year and certainly ordinary earth worms aren’t much good – you need brandling or tiger worms. You can dig them out of a mature compost heap, buy them from a fishing shop, or order composting worms online.

There are lots of online resources on building wormeries, from tiny ones in a box to farm scale ‘vermiculture’. Here’s what seemed to stand out to us.

Build in a tap or holes at the bottom so you can drain off any ‘liquor’.
Cover the top of the compost with something damp – newspaper, a towel etc.
Put a lid on the whole thing to keep the rain out.
The worms eat the fungi that grow on the decomposing food, rather than getting stuck into a broccoli stalk on its own, so you need conditions that help things rot.
They come up to the top ‘scraps’ layer to feed, but otherwise they like to live a bit deeper in the compost they’re busy making.
Worms like most kitchen scraps, but not too much of any one thing, and particularly not lots of citrus, onions or garlic.
Your worm population could double every 3 months or so, given the right conditions…
…which are damp and dark and not too much over feeding. Get it wrong and they will either die or desert.
Leave air holes, but not vermin holes, and keep it in the shade in summer, adding water occasionally if it starts to look dry.

Land management and conservation, March 2016

Woodpile at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges

Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.




What? Putting up a new owl box

Where? In the eco lodge field, on the south side

Why?

Barn owl box  at Wheatland Farm eco lodges This replaces an older box that rotted away. We hope we’ll get barn owls, but if we don’t maybe a tawny will take up residence next year (it’s a bit late for tawny owls this year – they nest early). Or maybe we’ll just get a family of stock doves! We know barn owls nest of a neighbouring farm, but they need a good year and a rising population to expand to a new nesting site, and sadly those have been few and far between recently. Wet winters are not the best news for barn owls.







What? Pollarding ash trees

Where? The east side of the eco lodge field

Why?

Pollarding ash at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges We’re pollarding the other half of the ash trees here to thicken up the canopy and keep it low, to give more light to the larger chestnut trees, to provide managed and sustainable wood fuel, to keep the trees manageable on our small holding, and for aesthetic reasons. We did the first few ash trees a couple of years ago and they are developing well. Most trees will pollard so long as they’re reasonably young. These trees were planted 24 years ago – you can see in the rings. So that’s about the limit. We’re a bit worried about Ash die back, but there’s nothing we can do and it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve got our fingers crossed.  Have you spotted the little chair Ian carved? It’s from one tree we cut right down to the stump (because it was too close to the neighbouring more mature chestnut).







What? Establishing a wormery

Where? Next to the bike shed

Why?

Composting worms As our eco lodges have got busier, our green cone digesters are finding it difficult to cope with all the food waste. The wormery, once properly established, should help speed up the process and help keep food waste out of the waste collection and landfill.







What? Scything rushes around the wildlife pond

Where? The field below Balebarn eco lodge

Why?

We’re trying to control the rushes here – and it’s an ongoing battle. We are cutting some of those growing along the path that goes around the pond. They are all self seeded and since there’s no grazing here if we did nothing they’d take over and we’d lose the wild flowers on the bank. It’s not the right time of year to cut masses of rushes – there might still be dormice hibernating at the bottom of the clumps, but these few we can check before we cut. And there’s that old saying about omelettes and eggs.



What? Tackling a huge nettle patch

Where? Below the wildlife pond

Why?

This area used to be ablaze with birdsfoot trefoil in August, but it has become overloaded with nettles. So we’ve scythed the dead stalks and we’ve sprayed the nettles. We only use herbicides on nettles, creeping thistles and docks. Actually, nettles are generally the least troublesome of that trio, but here they have run riot. And if we spray now, before other plants emerge, there’ll be a chance of recovering those wildflowers. As our guests will know, there are still plenty of nettles about the place for small tortoise shell butterflies to breed on!







What? Hedgerow work

Where? Between Lower Newland Moor and Balebarn Lodge field

Why?

What was once a hedgerow has become a line of willows that are falling off the bank and establishing an invading frontier of nettles, brambles and new willow. We’ve cut the east side this year. Next year we’ll tackle the west. Larger branches are kept for our biomass boiler.







What? Spot spraying

Where? In front of the eco lodges

Why?

After ten years we’re still fighting the legacy of overgrazing by horses under the previous owners. This field is in long term management to return it to flower-rich grassland. It’s cut in patches on rotation. But in March and April when the nettles and creeping thistles emerge, and before everything else gets going, we spot spray with a herbicide so as to knock back the thugs and let the other plants thrive. Later in the year we pull these plants by hand if we need to.

Pollarding ash before the season ends

Pollarding ash at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges
It’s the last few days before the hedgerow cutting / tree felling season ends (on March 15th). The trouble is, earlier in the winter the ground was too wet. So now we’re in a race to get this year’s work done – or at least get the big cutting done even if the clear up takes a bit longer. One task is to pollard some of the trees at the side of the lodge field. We did some of these a few year back and those are recovering nicely. The idea is to reduce their height and get new growth, but to keep this above the reach of nibbling deer. As you can see, we get some wood fuel out of it too! These were a bit more tricky as they were leaning the wrong way. It’s a pity we didn’t have a video of roping the trees and pulling so they didn’t smash the old shed, but we were too busy pulling the rope and then running out of the way. Timber!

Talking at the West Country Tourism Conference 2016

Talking at the West Country Tourism Conference 2016wheatlandfarmWednesday and Thursday were the dates for this year’s West Country Tourism Conference, in Exeter. Maggie was invited to talk about sustainable tourism. We often hear the argument that 20% of the holidaying public have extra access needs, and tourism should adapt to that. It’s true. But we went one further and pitched the idea that 100% of visitors have sustainability needs and that, rather than see this as a insurmountable challenge, it is an opportunity for every tourism business. ‘A shade of green to suit everyone’. Big or small, upmarket or budget, everyone can do something. Here are the slides for anyone interested.

Fossilised thinking

We were looking for a reliable figure on the subsidies fossil fuels get – it’s always useful to have something to balance the complaints about subsidies for green power. So here’s a 2015 global estimate from the IMF – £3.4 trillion a year. That’s greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments, and takes account of all the costs governments have to cover (and which private companies are let off) because we burn fossil fuels, including air pollution and the cost of droughts, floods etc driven by climate change.


The same article, in The Guardian, also had this short video explaining in very simple terms why we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

With the UNFCCC climate talks coming up next month, and scientists telling us this week that the world is half way to dangerous climate change (we’ve already had a 1 degree overall temperature rise, and 2 degrees is considered the most we can realistically cope with) it’s time we all started taking personal action and making our voices heard. We’re proud to say our latest stats show we’re still a power station disguised as a holiday destination (we have generated more green energy than we have used). We’ll soon be ditching our last gas bottles (which we use for cooking in the farmhouse) when we move to an induction hob. (Three of our five accommodation units already have these efficient appliances). That will only leave our vehicles, and we’re working hard to keep that down too.

Our Devon eco lodges win Gold Award for sustainable tourism in England

Visit England Gold Award for Sustainable Tourism 2015The Visit England Awards for Tourism Excellence have just been announced. Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges took the Gold award in the Sustainable Tourism Category, presented at the Gateshead Sage yesterday (11 May 2015).

We’re surprised and delighted. To come anywhere in the top five is wonderful, especially with the stiff competition. We achieved gold in 2012, and to do it for a second time is a real accolade. Probably what helps us stand out is our absolute commitment to sustainability. We are not just greening an accommodation business, we are running a ‘green’ business that supports, and is supported by, wildlife in the countryside – in other words we’re using, but also growing (quite literally) what economists sometimes call natural capital. If only more economic growth would take this path!

But it’s about much more than just looking after our wildlife, because if wildlife conservation teaches one thing it’s that you can’t protect isolated ‘pockets’ – you have to look at the whole system. And it’s the same for sustainable business. For our lodges and cottage that means thinking through the environmental implications of everything we’re buying, and everything we’re throwing out. Usually, the best way to go green is to do less of both. This award particularly recognises our inspirational ‘not-at-all-brand-new’ Balebarn Eco Lodge, built with many recycled and reclaimed materials and constructed to standards that ensure it will use minimal energy over its lifetime.

But we’ve also ensured all our other accommodation is highly energy-efficient. Our annual fossil fuel use for home and business is about 0.7kWh/m2 (the Green Tourism Business Scheme say ‘good’ is anything under 240kWh/m2) and our kgCO2/room-night is actually negative because we generate more wind and solar power than we use.

Words and statistics are one thing, but there’s nothing like seeing, so here’s a new video about Wheatland Farm produced by one of our marketing partners, Green Traveller

Further information
Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges is owned by Ian Ripper and Maggie Watson. 01837 83499 / 07780708747
Other winners in the Visit England Awards sustainable tourism category were:
St Cuthberts House Bed and Breakfast in Northumbria.
The Green House Hotel in Bournemouth.
At-Bristol Science Centre, which aims to be the UK’s most sustainable science centre.
Colton House, a luxury guest house in Staffordshire.

Devon Environmental Business Initiative board meeting

Last week Ian went to the Devon board meeting in Exeter (a train and bike ride away – apparently the helmet drew comment at reception). David Rose has joined the board from SW water, bringing his low carbon experience. We remember him from his time judging some of the Devon and South West tourism awards. He is also part of the Devon and Cornwall energy and environment management group, but his big task seems to be improving sustainability at south West water. He’s in charge of all their renewables, including covering the roof of Peninsular House with solar panels.

Awards were on the agenda for board, and spreading the word. (All the information is on the DEBI website http://www.debi-online.org.uk/awards. 27 September is the closing date.)

Th directors also discussed making the newsletter paperless and using social media rather than stamps and envelopes.

Next meeting is at Highfield Farm, Topsham (November).