Our annual winter newsletter is a bit later than usual this year for obvious reasons… mainly the arrival on Christmas Eve of little Jay-Jay. I can tell you he’s been keeping us very busy during the first few weeks of his life. So this is just a brief newsletter this year.

Contents:

  1. 2018 – Another fruitful year
  2. Biochar
  3. WWOOFing at Velwell Orchard
  4. A WWOOFers experience – Tim Radja
  5. 2019 – The year ahead
  6. Appeal for funds
  7. Thanks to all

2018 – Another fruitful year

It was yet another busy and intense year at Velwell Orchard; the things that mostly stand out in my mind are a very cold spring, a very hot summer, lots of work building with Tim, and Kate being pregnant with our son. Here’s a little look back.

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Dry stone walling at Stert Quarry Farm with Freddie

The year started off with quite a bit of gate making and hedgelaying with only one day a week spent at Velwell Orchard to keep on top of things. In February we were joined by Freddie, who stayed with us as an intern, learning new skills in exchange for board and keep. With him came some very cold weather with heavy snowfall and, unable to work, we enjoyed the snow, building snowmen and a little igloo for Lola. Once the snow melted it was time to get sowing and planting once we’d finished off our winter jobs. As spring moved into summer, Ben also joined us to help and we had some lovely swims in the river as the days became hotter and hotter.

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Snow under the Walnut Tree

By midsummer the garden was looking wonderful but Kate and I were very worried about our financial situation. We called a meeting to discuss the issues and were really grateful of the support we received. Talking things through around the fire really helped us to realise that the situation we were in was only temporary, and that with a bit of help over the next couple of years we’d be able to come out the other side stronger and more resilient.

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Cob mixing in the heat of summer

It was around this time that Tim joined us from Pentiddy and he stayed with us for six months. Combined with some extremely generous donations, this enabled us to keep our heads above the waves. Robert, Anne and John were ever-present, taking charge of the gardening work, weeding and picking and keeping things ship-shape. Our heartfelt thanks goes to them and a small army of other helpers who have given so much time to help us this year.

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A wonderful harvest

Talking of which, we had quite a few “cob parties” during July and August which were great fun. Lots of mud followed by lots of pizza seemed to be a good recipe. Thanks to all the people who came to help out, especially to the Pentiddy lot who provided much needed assistance in times of need!

The summer was long and oh so hot! Swimming became a necessity rather than an option… Very little rain fell but thanks to a thick mulch of grass cuttings and some soaker hose we enjoyed the best harvest of vegetables we’ve ever had. The cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes were particularly impressive. After we lost a couple of ducks to a mink or pine marten, we invested in five more and Tim and I built a proper secure pen for them. We also raised two clutches of chicks thanks to eggs from Ruth.

In September we switched our volunteer days to Wednesdays which seemed to work really well and we had lots of children coming up in the afternoons. We kept them busy pressing endless apples and making charcoal for next summer’s barbecues.

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Tim demonstrates firelighting with a bow drill to a captive audience

As the leaves began to fall Lola’s Class Three came to visit for a day, working hard pressing apples, making biochar and doing some gardening. They will be visiting once for each of the seasons during this school year as part of the Class Three gardening, farming, forestry and building curriculum.

As October moved into November and the last leaves fell to the floor Tim and I started our hedge laying jobs and when the weather was wet there were gates to make in the workshop in the polytunnel.

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Hedge laying

We had a very quiet solstice as Kate was nearly ready to pop. Lola and I fetched lots of green branches from the woods, we lit lots of candles and had a little feast at home in the warm. Then on Christmas Eve, at 11:40am, Jago John was born, and the rest is a rosy haze of sleep deprivation, dirty nappies and that sort of thing…

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Jago John Handley Weiss, with his Great Grandad, John Cornish Mullin

Biochar

When Tim arrived from Pentiddy he brought his Oregon Kiln with him for making biochar and we proceeded to experiment with it for making biochar mainly from hedge laying leftovers. This has proved to be a great success and now I am able to turn what would normally be wasted, into a usable, saleable product.

Biochar is essentially fine charcoal but it isn’t used for barbecues, rather as a soil amendment where it provides a habitat for mycorrhizal fungi, and helps to hold water and nutrients, as well as aerating the soil.

Velwell Orchard supporters and volunteers are welcome to have small quantities for free, if you’re interested in larger quantities please enquire.

You can find out more on my website here.

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Freshly made biochar in the kiln

WWOOFing at Velwell Orchard

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opertunites on Organic Farms. As WWOOF hosts we offer basic accomodation, food and learning oppertunites in exchange for about 20 hours work per week. Work is seasonal and can range from sowing, planting, weeding, hoeing, and harvesting. For longer term WWOOFers, as well as tending the fruit and vegetables, there are also others skills to learn such as scything, gate making, hedge laying and dry stone walling. This year we had lots of great WWOOFers including Freddie, Juliette, Ben, Tobias and Christina, Hannan and Tim. Our sincere thanks goes to them for their hard work and enthusiasm.

A WWOOFer’s experience

From Tim Radja

Living and working on the land is what I love. Spending summer and autumn of 2018 at Velwell Orchard was a deeply enriching experience. There was a great diversity of work: scything, building with cob, growing fruit and veg, keeping poultry, making chestnut gates and hanging them, biochar, stone walling and hedgelaying… All of which I enjoyed intensely. But as well as learning many new skills and refining old ones I learned much about the philosophy of living and working on the land sustainably that has changed my life. I am deeply grateful for my time there and look forward to visiting again when I can.

2019 – The Year Ahead

Looking ahead I will be busy with hedging and gate making until around the end of March. Once March arrives, however, we’ll start up the volunteer days again on a Wednesday. There’ll be lots to do getting the beds ready for the coming season, sowing, planting, etc. This year again I’ll be very focussed on the building work and hopefully our volunteers will be able to keep things ticking over in the garden. We will also be looking for wwoofers to come and stay from April onwards…

Appeal For Funds

As usual at this time of year we like to raise some funds for the coming growing season. We particularly need some money for this year’s seeds, which we haven’t ordered yet. All the money for this project comes from individual donations, we don’t receive any outside funding so every little penny helps and is gratefully received. Donations can be made by cheque to Velwell Orchard, or in cash in our donation tin, by PayPal on our website, or we can give you our bank details if you’d like to transfer via BACS.

A huge thank you goes to those of you who have contributed money over the last year, especially those who have set up monthly standing orders. The regularly income, even if it’s a small amount, makes a big difference.

Thank you all

We’ll sign of this year’s newsletter with a big thank you to every one of you who have been involved at Velwell Orchard over the last year. We’re so grateful for all of your help and support, it really makes it all worthwhile.

With love and best wishes for the coming year,

from Jeremy, Kate, Lola, Jay-Jay, Baggins, the ducks and chickens and everyone else at Velwell Orchard.

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Walnut, alder, buckthorn and moon

 

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