Egg-sighting times

Rather a lot has happened here at OHP over winter and an egg-cellent place to start this update is with the arrival of the hens! There’s been much discussion over the years about when livestock may become part of the cohousing group development (guinea pigs don’t count) and now that there are several families living on site we considered the time was right. Not only have the Hackworthy’s moved in but so have some chickens courtesy of our builder Dean. Everyone has settled into their new homes well but so far only the chickens have laid some eggs. Photo below right shows ones of our eggs with a bought large egg on the right for scale. The 13 chickens of various breeds have taken up residence in the courtyard and so far no one has even heard the cockerel. So far some of the chickens have been named Jasmine, Coral, Delilah, Queenie and Duke. Let’s hope the egg production increases from 2 a day to just a few more but we’re perhaps not quite up to the heights of 72 a week just yet.

Sheila and I began this growing year as we usually do with a walk around the garden writing a list as we go of everything that needs pruning (fruit trees, roses, herbs), digging out because it’s finished or died in the recent cold spell (lavender, rosemary, old sweet peas, annuals from last summer) and eating (spinach, sprouts, kalettes and parsnips). This years list is 4 pages long and has kept us both busy all day for a week so far and we’ve barely made a dent in it.

Sheila and I usually pick a border and attempt to tackle everything in it at once. I’m working on a drawing of our site so when I talk about the garden its easier to understand – Sheila still has issues with the veg bed numbering, I maintain no 1 being at the top of the hill and no 7 being at the bottom makes perfect sense! So far all the shrubs along the border below the car park have had a firm prune, usually we’re too cautious with the forsythia and the fuchsia but they were starting to get in the way of the path (below left). The autumn fruiting raspberries have all been cut off at the ground (below right) as they fruit on stems they regrow every year whereas only the oldest growth has been removed from the tayberries and Japanese wineberries as they fruit on last years growth.

This year we were not so heavy handed with the orchard, only removing branches that crossed and shortening the longest spurs that appear too thin to support apple growth. Most of our trees fruit more heavily on the polytunnel side of the orchard and therefore several trees lean that way and are currently propped to try to encourage them to straighten. We lost the Braeburn and Conference pear to disease and storms so their spaces in the orchard will be filled by another cherry called Kordia and an apple called Summer Red, now I just need to dig some big holes!

Here’s my favourite bit of garden planning, drawing the plans and colouring (though my colour coding went a bit astray) where there will be pumpkins growing beneath the sweetcorn as they did so well last year. Above right are the beds behind the plant room (which actually contains the ground source heat pump and not plants) showing where the new summer raspberry canes will go.

Above left are the gooseberries after a very prickly and severe pruning (aiming for an ‘open goblet’ shape as per Monty D), in the centre photo are the currants. I don’t think I’ve ever pruned the redcurrant before which probably explains the excess we usually have. I advertised the overwhelming redcurrant crop a few years ago through my work Facebook page usually used for A&E shift swaps and a colleague I barely knew answered and we spent a happy afternoon in the sun picking them together. I hope there are many such friendships among people who grow their own fruit and veg because we are always wanting to trade surplus. If only we could have visitors currently as I usually ply them with blackcurrant jam. Above right are irises under the silver birch grove and the snowdrops I found in a huge swathe years ago under our blackberry and redistributed around the whole site. There are daffodils, crocuses, grape hyacinths and the usual million tulips just popping up – sure signs spring is coming!

Look out for a blog about the big move from caravan to The West Barn coming soon!

Garden update May 2020

So it’s fair to say gardening has become pretty important to me during lockdown. And as garden related minor injuries (fingers cut with secateurs, infected hand from embedded rose thorn etc) seem to be on the increase in my A&E it seems everyone is giving their garden some attention at the moment. With only a basil plant on a windowsill to tend to when I was ill I missed the farm terribly.

Right now everything is taking off for the season with great haste, summer is coming (Kate and I saw TWO swallows today so it’s confirmed) and the polytunnel is lush with broad beans sown before winter and a passionflower that is rampant.

The tomatoes are being potted on as they outgrow their pods, Sungold, Faworyt, and Pomdoro are already on their strings with the strangely coloured varieties Green Zebra, Orange Russian and White Beauty trailing behind currently.

Onions and shallots sown before winter are being ‘religiously watered’ (Sheila’s words) – I think she talks to them. The brassica bed has been planted with kalettes (new this year-a sort of flowering sprout), brussels, red cabbages and a variety of oddly coloured cauliflowers –who knows what they will become!

In previous years this sort of spring update has featured strict crop rotation plans in bright colours, less of that this year. The beds have been merely allocated to legumes, roots or brassicas and as seedlings become ready to plant out they will go where there is space. Rotation only works if you have an even number of beds for each veg group and we have decided to grow more of what we’re good at and what everyone likes to eat – so 4 are dedicated to beans and peas, 1 to roots and 2 to brassicas.

The group has also built new beds along the track behind the plant room to grow potatoes and both baby and large sweet corn; of which there is a forest of seedlings waiting to get planted out.

For the last few years Sheila and I have been trying harder at flowers. With tulips, daffodils and irises planted the first colour comes effortlessly to the fruit bed in front of The Byre. Now there is aquilegia among the blackcurrnats and redcurrants that are already starting to form fruit. The wall alongside the orchard features roses, honeysuckle, a wisteria, Solomon’s seal, lavender, Echinacea and sweet peas when they’re ready to be planted out. My recent attempts at ‘angel’s fishing rod’, ‘eryngiums’ and ‘flying hedgehogs’ (seed bought purely because of the name) have produced nothing – in summary some things are best left to the experts!

We’re currently eating broad beans, asparagus and lettuces and my bet is on the strawberries as the next crop to ripen.

Sowing the seeds of summer

The winter gardener reviews the successes and failures of the previous seasons’ crops, tidies the polytunnel, gets excited about seed catalogues and draws up plans for the crop rotation for the new growing year. Growing plans below from left to right – the outside beds, the polytunnel bed, the long outside bed. The brassicas (blue) like to follow where the legumes (green) were last year to take up the nitrogen left in the soil and the roots (orange) fit in the areas left. There are some odd vegetables like artichokes and sweetcorn which don’t belong to a category and just get put wherever there’s space.

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I particularly enjoy choosing the seeds we’ll order with Sheila. When reading about the properties of different varieties you can believe the promises of ‘prize-winning quality, rust resistance, and sweet tasting roots’ and imagine a year of perfect vegetable success untroubled by aphids and slugs and powdery mildew. The planning phase feels so hopeful.

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Above is the beginnings of our tomato jungle (and some pak choi seedlings) that occupies half the polytunnel each year. This season a cherry variety called Red Pear will be our main crop, with smaller numbers of Harbinger, Black Opal and a yellow variety called Sungold. I brought in the seed modules to the Byre and I think the underfloor heating provided them with lovely conditions for germination, forget electric propagators!


The carrots, broad beans and peas which were sown in the autumn have been on hold over winter in the tunnel and are now starting to grow in earnest again. We’ve been eating Russian and curly kale, lettuce and red cabbage throughout winter and the minimal Brussel sprout crop managed to provide enough for  group dinner on Christmas day.


Above shows the outdoor beds in their winter covering, sparse vegetation and carpet to reduce the weeding come spring. The blackcurrants and redcurrants in the foreground have been pruned to a ‘goblet shape’ by removing low and centre branches to encourage fruit. This fruit border is full of alliums, daffodils, tulips and crocuses yet to flower and mark the start of spring . One of gardening aims is to grow more flowers this year, particularly varieties suitable for a semi-wild garden and cutting, as we all enjoy having flowers in our homes. There will be sweet peas, delphiniums, cosmos, larkspur, cornflowers, hollyhocks, sunflowers, foxgloves and poppies to name a few.

The orchard is growing happily, now with crocuses flowering around the base of the trees. Sheila has taken to regularly inspecting the buds just beginning to open on the fruit trees and has developed a theory about the fat buds being the fruit producing ones and the narrow buds producing only leaves – we’ll see if she’s right come summer!


I realise this is a vegetable heavy blog and many readers might not be into gardening. Whilst I did grow up in a family that grew their own veg I hadn’t done much myself before we bought the farm. I’ve discovered it’s not so complicated, you do what is says on the back of the packet and if it goes well you do the same the next year, if it doesn’t you try something different till you discover what works in your soil and the micro climate of your garden. So hopefully this will inspire  a few of you to get some seeds, a pot and a bit of compost and grow something edible at home.

Odds and ends

We have been working to complete phase 1 which includes the construction of unit unit 7- “The Byre”, the growing area, and the drilling of boreholes for water supply. Jobs range from fitting wardrobes to building concrete borehole chambers a wide range of activity inside and out. The landscaping has been the major challenge. The construction and planting of the orchard and the associated walling, paths, beds and steps which surround it. All of the stonework has used material retrieved from the site. The phase 1 area now looks very much like our architects original sketches. With the sliding doors opened wide the  Byre living room expands across the terrace into the orchard where the greensward is thickening nicely and all the fruit trees are growing well. The terrace provides the space for us all to sit together and eat.

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Guest blog from Hannah on the orchard ground works

We had a brilliantly productive day on the farm on Sunday making way for the orchard.

Adults and kids alike attacked “the mound” of earth in front of the Byre. Together, we got rid of weeds, rocks and rubble ready for Paul to come in with his bulldozer to flatten it all out. It’s the best exercise I’ve had for ages  and everyone had a real sense of achievement at the end of the day as we reviewed our progress. This is what it’s all about; community and the knowledge that we’re working towards something extraordinary.

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This really is a family project and the kids had an amazing day helping out and playing. Who needs a beach when you’ve a ton of mud to play in and make exciting discoveries? From big fat juicy worms, to millipedes, to exotic looking rocks, the kids had so much fun.

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I love the fact that nothing is wasted; the smaller stones found by the kids are going to be used for the car park and the larger stones have been set aside for other projects.


Now we can look forward to the ceremonial planting of the fruit trees!

Note from the editor – the fruit trees have arrived and will be planted this weekend.

Moving in to The Byre

The Byre is very nearly finished, just a few cupboard doors to go! We wanted to share with you some of the finished

The master bedroom has sliding doors to the outside  stone flagged terrace, an interior wall of larch cladding and an original high window that has a shutter on the outside.


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The living room also has a wall of larch cladding, part of the orginal beam structure and sliding doors which open the full width of the room to the terrace outside.



The kitchen has white cupboards with intergral handles, oak work surface and windows that face the field to the north and the growing area to the south.

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Photos of the study/second bedroom, bathroom and hall will follow when fully complete. What you can’t see in the pictures is the energy efficiency of the house which is due to the wool insulation in the walls, the underfloor heating system and the photovoltaic panels which transfer energy from the sun to heat the water for the house. We’re looking forward to life here!



Can we build it? Yes we can!

The story of building the byre in photos.


A place to store old farm machinary when we first took over the site

In deep snow last winter


The start of the car parking wall and the floor of the byre has been scraped out.


End wall demolished and front beam propped up on acros


Concrete slap poured in including the new extension


Roof removed, stone walls of the extension built and the car parking wall nearly finished.


Interior walls being built, the solar panels on and the gutters finished.


All exterior windors and doors fitted.

Work currently ongoing includes interior painting (so many edges to paint becasue of the internal beams), bathroom plastering and working out how to lay the floor stone.

Big Site Update

A lot has happened on the site in the last few weeks – too much to write so I’m going to show you in pictures.

Starting with the wall along the roadside being demolished to create the new parking area.





A trench for the retaining wall foundations was dug and the concrete poured in.


The area for the new fruit bed in front of the polytunnel had the turf scraped off and the foundation stones laid.


Wall building continued in sun, rain, and some sideways sleet over a period of weeks and was then filled with soil and manure by Emily and Greg in the digger with much shovelling and raking. It is now planted with blueberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries.

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The retaining wall for the parking area has block wall beneath ground level and will have a stone wall built on the orchard side which continues above ground to waist height.

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Broken stone was delivered for the underneath layer of the parking and below the foundation in The Byre (unit 7). Acrow props are positioned to hold the weight of the roof  and the front pillars of The Byre have been taken out. A trench was dug the length of The Byre and under the end wall for the foundation the new wooden pillars will sit on. The original corner stone pillar was reinstated where the parking wall will meet the road.

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On the gardening front many seeds have been sown with particular attention to getting our tomatoes started earlier. The lemons are starting to turn yellow. The peas that have been growing over winter in the polytunnel are flowering. Two varieties of potato have been planted in the new raised bed. The brambles that produce such wonderful blackberries have been cut back hard. Some mushrooms have appeared,meaning the spores have moved around the polytunnel.

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I will endeavour to provide more frequent updates as this was well overdue looking at the dates of the working weekends included here.




What shall our garden grow?

Planning ahead for this year’s growing season meant a review of last year’s successes and failures in the vegetable world.

The big success of last year was the tomatoes, though the sheer volume was a little overwhelming – we’ll grow fewer this year. Despite slightly late sowing, we were harvesting them into November due to the long growing season in the tunnel.

The baby sweetcorn were impressively tall and we feared for the poly tunnel cover. The few we ate were delicious but we missed the bulk of the crop through being on holiday. The moral is to pick them small and early!

We grew a great many carrots as all the kids love them. While the first ones were good, the main crop had a problem with splitting (due to a water shortage) and slugs. For this season we’ve bought carrot seed that promises to be resistant to splitting and we will take care to thin them out more and earth them up to keep out slugs.

The runner beans ran away with themselves and produced a bumper crop we’re still eating from the freezer! The sugarsnap peas were a fantastic success with the kids picking and eating them raw in the tunnel.


This year the seven outside beds have a plan, drawn to ensure good rotation in the following years. Legumes (beans and peas) fix the nitrogen in the soil which brassicas (cabbagey type things) love, so these follow the legumes. Some roots such as potatoes want well rotted manure adding to the soil where as carrots and parsnips do not.

2015 Growing beds planFor those interested in the full range of crops; outdoors we’re planting: french beans, broad beans, runner beans, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, courgette, garlic, curly kale, leeks, onions, parsnips, pumpkin, potatoes, shallots, spinach, swan gourds, and swede. Indoors: globe artichoke, baby carrots, cavalo nero, cucumbers, fennel, 5 varieties of lettuce, mizuna, pak choi, sugarsnap peas, radish, rocket, soya beans, baby sweetcorn and of course tomatoes (4 varieties)!

Then there is the new tunnel bed (10m x 1.5m). It probably won’t have the tunnel over it this season but its a good size growing bed…for what?