A year passes, a new one begins… and it’s time again for our annual Newsletter…

You can read the Newsletter online below. You can select articles to read from the Contents List. If you’d prefer to read it offline, or print it out, here is a pdf file containing all the text but not the photos.

Velwell Orchard Newsletter – Winter 2015/16 – PDF




Seven years in a (Wal)nutshell

More about 2015 at Velwell Orchard




Summer Biodyamic Course – Anna Hewitt

Accounts and Finances

Derek’s Article

Past, present and future – Jeremy Weiss

Banana Cake – Kate Handley

Laura’s Plan

What will 2016 have in store for us?

How you can help Velwell Orchard




Untitled – by Olly Miller

The skittle tongued stream words that trickle down the unsteep gradient constitute the extent of my ear’s delight these caravanned days.

Purple headed foxgloves that talk to the colour of the evening sky.

The space between space, the time between time, eternity within the minute as well as the massive,

The limits at every step along the way, going nowhere fast.

Lighted, moving and coloured hallucinations, not necessarily in that order.

Fluid sparks breezily rocking us every ways.

Every breath of caravan chamomile,

Every sweet wince of stinging nettle flower.

Right and left reoriginated by the early morning scythe.

Giving an idea that is a seed, which melts into chaos the moment before it germinates, looking up to its future chloroplasts, now closer, whose parts move differently under different circumstances.

Right and left reoriginated by water stirring hands.

What is the sound of the song of the big bang?

We’ve just finished that which could never have begun.”

(Olly and his six month pregnant wife, Tori, stayed here for a week during the summer).

Nick, Tori and unborn baby building timber frame
Nick and Tori making timber frame for compost loo


The summer days, so beautifully described by Olly seem a long way off at this time of year, the rains have been falling incessantly for weeks, I’ve never seen it so muddy here at Velwell Orchard.

So sending my mind back into the past of the year gone by is a challenge, but when achieved, I see before me laughing faces, late night barbecues and campfires, early morning silica stirring, and warm summer sunshine. And I remind myself that the days are getting longer again and that soon the spring will arrive, and the grey and brown of a Devon winter will be replaced by brighter colours. I am grateful for my memories and imagination that enable me to find the strength to enjoy the dark winter days.

It’s now been seven years since Derek handed me the tiller and since almost going under the waves in 2011, and reemerging stronger in 2012, we have had four years of steady improvements. The waters have been choppy at times but financially we are now well above the water thanks to the incredible generosity shown by all who come here, as well as many who don’t!

A lot has changed in the last seven years. The project is now financially stable after years of hardship. The vegetable production has greatly decreased but we’ve planted a lot of trees in their place which are now beginning to bear fruit and so we hope that in future years the production will increase again.

This winter’s newsletter will be a bit different from previous years, as now that we have our website, those of you who wish to are able to keep up to date regularly. You can add your voice by scrolling down to the bottom and leaving a comment in the box. Dont forget, if you’re not already subscribed, you can “follow Velwell Orchard” by entering your email in the box.

Ingenious elm bark plant pot
Elm bark plant pot

Seven years in a (Wal)nutshell


After 18 years of dedicated work, Derek retires and hands over responsibility to Jeremy and Hannah. They spend the first year growing lots of vegetables and salads. Jeremy begins his training with the Devon Rural Skills Trust.


Hannah moves on to other tasks. Jeremy takes full control of Velwell Orchard and commences his dictatorship. He concentrates on growing salad for sale at Greenlife and Riverford Farm Shop.


We publish first of our annual newsletters as a way of fundraising suggested by Derek Lapworth and Adrian Antrum. Wednesday volunteer days start to become a focal point of the week. Despite dedicated help and valiant fundraising efforts by volunteers, Jeremy continues to lose money. Help from WWOOFers keeps the project going. Jeremy starts his Aikido club in Buckfastleigh, teaching some volunteers and children too. New bread oven completed. Jeremy puts forward a crazy idea of giving the vegetables away. His plans are seen as financial suicide by some but most people support the idea.


The new financial model begins, donations start to pour into the new Velwell Orchard bank account. Lots of volunteers and WWOOFers help out with tending and eating the produce.


£1500 is raised for a new polytunnel! We put it up over the winter, ready for spring planting. Article about Velwell Orchard appears in New View. Disaster seems to strike on Christmas Eve in the form of a torrential flood of water washing away the track leading up to the field. Heroic digger man, Graham Soper spends New Year reinstating track and creating new flood defences and drainage. Appeal for money causes financial meltdown as we receive over £1,600 instead of the £600 requested.


Jeremy’s old Aikido teacher dies and current teacher is diagnosed with lymphoma. Lots of volunteers come together to muck in at Velwell as Jeremy helps out in Cornwall for much of the growing season. Kate holds it all together and begins plotting to overthrow the Boss. In August Jeremy’s teacher returns to teaching Aikido at two-day course in Buckfastleigh Town Hall. Everyone camps together at Velwell Orchard.


Read all about it below…

Poppies for seed
Poppies for seed being tended by Kate

More about 2015 at Velwell Orchard

Another year has gone by and it’s been another busy one. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster this year, not everything went according to plan to say the least. It was another intense year of surprises and challenges, but also one of progress and learning.

As spring arrived we were busy with plans to begin building when all of a sudden this was thrown into the air and we had to take the difficult decision to cancel the build, and the even more difficult decision not to explain to anyone the reason behind it. It felt horrible to keep so many people in the dark, but we had to do it that way. It was difficult for Kate and Lola who had to move house three times in six months but now they are settled in a lovely cosy annex just down the road.

Instead of building according to our original plans, we decided to focus our attention on building a new compost toilet, an epic creation that I’ve described in detail on the Velwell Orchard blog. This project kept us well entertained throughout the season until the wet weather arrived at the end of October. We’ll wait for the spring to arrive, and finish it off then.

One spring highlight for me was hanging the two new gates that DRST trainees Laura and Alice had helped to construct from chestnut. They look really good at the all important entrance to the farm.

New chestnut gates at the entrance to Velwell Orchard

I received a letter informing me I’d been left £2,300 by Mary Binder when she died in June 2014. Mary had only visited once or twice so I was taken aback by her generosity. Her will stated that the money was to be used for the development of Velwell Orchard. We used some of this money to buy a good quality second hand trailer and a large portion of it will be used to fund the new polytunnel we’re planning for next year.

On the biodynamic front we hosted a few events and courses here over the year. Our usual preparation days around the equinoxes were well attended with Richard Thornton Smith giving a talk at each event and offering his advice. We managed to fit in quite a few stirrings of cowhorn manure, followed next morning by cowhorn silica over the course of the growing season. I particularly enjoyed experimenting with different additions to the mixes, using glass jugs to stir the silica, and stirring in silence. Around the end of October, we were involved in spraying cowhorn manure on the new Huxham’s Farm. The month ended with a fascinating workshop by Mark Moodie.

Filling cow horns with manure

In August we were greatly privileged to host an Aikido course at Buckfastleigh Dojo. In the evening everyone was invited back here for a barbeque and to camp the night. My teacher and family were kindly put up by Tom and Melanie next door. We had a great weekend! You can see a photo of us all on the Aikido website here. You might be surprised how many people you know!

The summer was really busy this year, with a family picnic, visit from Schumacher college students and students from further afield. We had Tori and Oli staying here for a week and also Nick with his two children, Evie and Harry.

The produce was somewhat hit and miss this year. Some excellent fruit, including apples, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and fabulous peaches. But rather miserly crops of onions, carrots, and parsnips. As always it is quite a challenge to grow vegetables on this soil, and I’m happy we made the decision to grow more fruit.

Robin lent us the use of his awesome apple press with hand powered scratter and we spent quite a few Mondays pressing apples throughout the autumn.


This year I finally got myself together to make a website for Velwell Orchard. I wanted there to be a simple online presence to replace a lot of out of date stuff that came up when one searched for Velwell Orchard online. I also made a news/blog page where you can sign up to receive email updates. The aim was to replace my cumbersome email list with something that people could easily sign up for and unsubscribe from easily. So far it has attracted 3,409 hits from 1,137 visitors.


In July we got a little fluffy kitten/lethal rat murderer called Flea Bag until that name was banned, whereupon she became known as Bagheera (which is long for Flea Bag). Baggy (short for Bagheera) quickly began to live up to her name by attacking everything in sight, her greatest achievement at four months old was knocking a grown man off a straw bale. One day she disappeared and a couple of days went by before Kate suggested phoning the vet. Sure enough they had a kitten matching Baggy’s discription. Unfortunately she was a he! Well, I’m afraid his newly found manhood didn’t last long and, freshly snipped and chipped, he was returned home to rest for a couple of days. Baggy, of course, had other things in mind, and decided to celebrate his celibacy by hunting a few wood pigeons in the holly tree.

Over the last few months our new cat has won the hearts of the volunteers that he’s chosen not to eat, and become the most ferocious hunter this side of the Tamar. Poor little children watched on in fascination as he terrorized mice under the walnut tree. His proudest moment was taking down a pheasant, which Kate promptly turned into soup. The other day I caught him wistfully gazing at the cow next door… It’s only a matter of time before I return from a day’s hedging to find Baggins (the burgler) crouched on the doorstep over the carcass of a deer.

He was given the name Baggins by my brother. He immediately took the name to heart showing the uncanny ability to get in or out of any building or caravan without the need for any windows or doors to be open.

A truly remarkable cat.


“Your farm is beautiful!!

The cat was cute and fluffy.

The vegetables were yummy.

It was so much fun.”

Evie Read

Evie and little brother Harry camped with Nick in his van for a few weeks over the summer. What a great time we had!

“Velwell is a wonderful place for both adults and children. It’s great to be able to help out, reconnect with nature, feel part of a community and take home some delicious organic vegetables!”

Eleonora Russo

Summer Biodyamic Course – Anna Hewitt

We began on the Saturday evening with an introduction by Jeremy about how the BD spray preparations can bring balance to the process of growth – combining quality and quantity through the relationship of dark/light, yin/yang, limestone/quartz, bone/skin… The cowhorn manure we stirred as evening was approaching at the end of an overcast day and sprayed just before it got dark. The cowhorn silica we stirred in the morning and as we sprayed it the sun came out. The course ended later in glorious sunshine!

Derek’s talk about the elements and ethers brought an esoteric perspective on how matter and life forces work together to create life in polarity and process. We worked at digesting how the life forces interact with elements to create a plant as we digested the delicious lunch we had created and shared together: potatoes and Swiss chard, tomato and blackcurrant salad, cucumber and dill, beautiful flower salad, and raspberry, blackberry and apple crumble! A banquet of abundance, mixed with nurturing and inspiring conversation.

Stirring silica in a glass vessel just after sunrise

Accounts and Finances 2015

You can see a breakdown of the income and expenditure for over the year on the table below. I’ve selected a few details of where the money has gone. If you want to see our accounts, let me know and I’ll email you a copy.

Income £ 3,874.13
Expenses £ 3,667.12
Net Income £ 207.01
Regular payments £ 1,188.00
One-off donations £ 2,636.13
Trailer £ 800.00
Tools £ 180.00
Shower £ 185.00
Seeds and plants £ 300.00
Magnus – logging £ 206.00
Coffee £ 120.00
Feed (cat and poultry) £ 180.00
Other £ 1,696.12

The turnover this year was much higher then last, thanks to a significant gift from the late Mary Binder. This has enabled us to spend money on a new trailer, a shower for wwoofers and volunteers to go in the new bathroom area, and some money to pay Magnus to log up the wood from the hedge at Jill’s. These logs will be available to you all next season.

The backbone of the project however is formed by the money that we get in regular monthly payments. We really appreciate this. Regarding expenses, you may be surprised to see how much was spent on coffee! Hopefully a worthwhile investment. A significant amount was also spent on feed, but beyond the produce and services given to us by chickens, ducks and cat, for me these animals justify their cost just by character alone. I hope you all agree.

So you will see that we have around £200 more in the bank than this time last year, there is around £1,100 for the season ahead.

Apart from the usual large winter seed order, the other major expense this year will be the new polytunnel which will cost £1,400. This means we are looking to raise around £600 in order to fund this project for the summer. If you’d like to chip in, you can find details of how to donate here. We welcome all contributions, no matter how small.

Scratting apples ready for pressing

Velwell Orchard – Derek Lapworth

When I first stepped into Velwell Orchard in 1992 there were in this area the two mighty farms of Hapstead Camphill at the head of the valley above Buckfastleigh, and Sharpham Barton Farm at the other end on the estuary of the Dart. Both Frankie van der Stok and Richard Smith were real farmers with a national prestige to the name, I was new to gardening, a complete novice.

Then Jo Clark started as gardening teacher at the Steiner School, followed later by Andre Tranquellini and family and biodynamics became very noticeable in this area; Tom Petherick and Melanie Eclare came in 2008 to start their small biodynamic farm adjoining Velwell Orchard.

Then came the demise of the two big farms at the ends of the valley. And now, with the arrival of Huxham’s Farm we have an even stronger presence of biodynamics right in the centre of our community.

There have also grown up all over South Devon numerous other gardeners and farmers who are practicing biodynamics but here in the middle of the valley lives a strong beating heart of biodynamics.

The preparations are now stored here at Velwell Orchard, Tom Petherick is a Demeter Inspector – several of the local residents at Velwell visit for volunteering or joining in the festivals.

These four enterprises of Velwell, Cholwell, the School, and now Huxham’s have the potential for working together possibly with a common task, at least as part of their work.

The heart, in the threefold image of the human being, mediates between the thinking realm of the head, and the will realm of the metabolic lower Man. In human affairs you can say this is the social realm and the realm of rights as opposed to the cultural or economic realms.

Education and therapy are already part of the vision of Velwell Orchard I believe – obviously in subtle ways – Jeremy has strong links with the other three projects and it will be interesting to see how this develops.

The Walnut Tree

Yes, you obviously wait expectantly for news of last year’s growth. In brief its overall width and height have grown by one metre to 17m wide by 11m high. It is truly a giant.

Past, present and future – Jeremy Weiss

“All things, material and spiritual, originate from one source and are related as if they were one family. The past, present, and future are all contained in the life force.”

Morihei Ueshiba – Founder of Aikido.

Every day more news comes in of financial instability, climate change, habitat destruction, soil erosion, droughts, famines and wars. Individually it’s hard to see how we can make any sort of a difference at all. Anything we do is just a drop in the ocean and we may already be past the point of no return anyway.

So maybe it’s best just to ignore all of these things and carry on as usual. Live for the moment, even if this means killing off everything we depend upon for our survival. After all it’s the present moment that’s important isn’t it? As long as we’re happy, who cares about the future? No doubt some sort of technical solution will present itself so that I may continue to live the way I do, safe in the knowledge that somebody else will solve the problem. So say the materialists.

The spiritualists might be of the opinion that we can only ever truly “be” when we are present, conscious of everything happening now. Here again we need not concern ourselves with the past, it’s been and gone and cannot be altered. As for the future, we’ll we never get there because when we do it isn’t the future anymore.

Both materialists and spiritualists seem to agree then: Carpe diem – live for the day.

I can see the sense in not worrying about things in the past that we cannot change, and not spending our lives endlessly dreaming of a utopian future which is my own tendency. I also understand the value in unifying mind, body and spirit in each thing I do. When driving a car I can see that I need to be concentrating on what I am doing instead of thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow or what I did yesterday. And that applies to whatever I am doing, whether that is mowing the lawn or washing the dishes.

Yet there is still something that doesn’t quite feel right. Why do we have a memory if not to use it? Why do we have the capacity for imagining the future? Shouldn’t we learn from the mistakes we made in the past so that we can find a more harmonious way of living for the future?

For me, as someone who works the land, I find it is vital that I spend a period of each day reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. And at this time of year, when the nights are long and dark there is plenty of time for reflection of the year gone by and for planning the year ahead. But I do my best to make sure that I am not driving a car at the same time!

Someone once told me: “live like you’re going to die tomorrow, but farm like you’ll live forever”. That is something I was told in the past, that I still remember now, and hope to continue repeating far into the future.

And I think that what happens here at Velwell Orchard is a case in point when it comes to small individual actions performed in a collective manner, coming together to create something greater than a sum of their parts. It inspires me that each time one person gives some time, energy or money towards supporting the project, it goes towards creating a sequence of events that continues to benefit people and planet for years to come.

“Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it.”

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Dunno hoo seddit but wuzzunt me

Blackthorn blossom and blue sky

Banana Cake (With or Without Bananas!)

– Kate Handley

So recently I decided to make a banana cake. Nothing unusual there, made one many a time before. I thought I’d make it a little more interesting and add some coconut and chopped up dates. I put it into the oven and 20 minutes later I took out a lovely smelling golden brown cake. Now I don’t know about you but I can never wait to try what I’ve made, is smells so good! So I cut off a corner put it in my mouth and… I had forgotten to put the bananas in, oops! Sure enough I turned around and there they were still sitting on the table!

It actually wasn’t a bad cake, coconut and date go very nicely together. (Jeremy may tell you otherwise, although if I hadn’t said anything I’m sure it would have been fine!) Anyway so here is the recipe, I’ll leave it up to you whether you put bananas in or not!

100g of Butter

100g of Sugar

3 Eggs

3 Bananas mashed (if you remember!)

Some desiccated Coconut, maybe 40-50g

Dates chopped (however many you like)

100g or so of self-raising flour (gluten free or normal is fine)

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat eggs and stir in.

Mash bananas and stir in.

Add coconut and dates. Stir.

Add flour a bit at a time till you get your desired consistency. If using GF flour I’d make it a little on the runny side as it tends to dry out quicker. Pour into tin and bake in oven at 180c for about 20 minutes till golden brown. All ovens vary so keep an eye on it.


[Please us Velwell Orchard bananas, sugar, dates and coconuts – Editor]

Laura’s Plan

Laura and Ronald kindly came along to map the farm and have created this digital plan. We hope that it can be used to create more detailed plans of different areas in the future. Thankyou!

/Users/lauragiliberti/Desktop/VERWELL/Verwell base plan.dwg

What will 2016 have in store for us?

Looking ahead there is lots of uncertainty this year. One thing is of course the weather, and another is money. But nevertheless, I think it is helpful to have some sort of vision of what we’d like to do this year.

For a few years now I’ve been considering setting up another polytunnel of a similar size to our current one but with a different use in mind. I would like to keep one tunnel for growing veg, and put up a new one for growing some perennial crops such as grapes, pineapple guava, Chinese yam (lightroot), and more. Mainly, however, the tunnel will be used as a covered workshop and toolshed area, a place to go to make things on wet days, a place to gather for events and courses.

This structure would make the current shed redundant and this area would become an outside seating area, with firepit and access to the stream along the southern boundary of the field.

It would also have a big effect on the vegetable area, and I’ve redesigned our rotation to accommodate it. I’ve taken the opportunity to rethink what sort of vegetables we grow here based on what people seem to enjoy eating most, what we need to feed us, and what will grow well here. Kate has plans for a new herb spiral and strawberry patch, two things that I know volunteers have been keen on for a long time.

I’ve been hoping to work a lot this winter and to save enough money so that I can spend June, July and August here at Velwell Orchard. We can then invite people to stay as WWOOFers and get our teeth into putting up the new tunnel, taking down the old shed, and completing the compost toilet. However, I’ve had some very bad fortune with the truck and the weather this winter, and so far haven’t saved a penny! I remain hopeful though that I can work during the first three months of the year and continue a few days a week through April and May.

How you can help Velwell Orchard

There are loads of ways you can help us here.

You can come and help out with jobs on volunteer days, come and join us for our courses, events and celebrations, come and get fruit and vegetables and share them with you friends and family. We always really appreciate it if you come by bike or on foot or at least share lifts.

If you have any surplus jams, chutneys, juices or anything else from your larder you can bring them along and put them the packing shed for others to take and enjoy. As Lola informs me: “Sharing is caring.”

We are always very grateful for financial contributions. You can donate via the jam jar in the packing shed, or set up a regular payment to our bank account or donate online using PayPal. For details see the donate page on the website.

So finally it’s time for me to say a massive thankyou to you all on behalf of Velwell Orchard and myself. It’s pretty impossible to describe how grateful I am for all the support. And so, despite the lashing mud, howling rain and gooey wind, I remain optimistic that the year ahead will bring more food and fun for all at Velwell Orchard.

If you’d like to add anything, please leave a comment in the box below.

High summer in the garden