Traditionally, this is the time of year where we send out a newsletter recalling the year gone by and looking ahead to the one to come. This has been a very exciting year for us at Velwell Orchard and there’ll be some significant changes this coming year.

Jacob watering

Jacob has been in charge of the garden for the last year and has done a really fabulous job of balancing working with a few select helpers, managing the garden behind the scenes, and doing most of the day to day work, sowing, planting, weeding, watering, feeding animals, harvesting and so forth. Kate has also assisted him and kept us all well fed while I’ve been busy working for most of the year. Derek has been very helpful, collecting and distributing surplus fruit and vegetables and making sure nothing goes to waste. All of this has taken a huge weight off my mind and I’m very thankful for it.

An abundance of veggies

The vegetable garden has produced wonderful results this year, down to a combination of Jacob’s care and attention, the use of copious quantities of grass cuttings as mulch, and the treatment of the soil with biochar activated using our urine. This might not sound terribly appetising, but urine contains all six of the major nutrients needed by plants and the proof of the pudding has certainly been in the eating. The bees have also been busy this year and have been well looked after by Jens.

A few words from Jacob

Dear supporters of Velwell Orchard, Jeremy has requested I share my thoughts and experiences of living and working at Velwell over the last two seasons. For those of you that aren’t aware, I moved onto the land in early spring of 2020, it was the first lockdown and so much seemed uncertain. During times of change and challenge we tend to assess what is most important for our success, it was clear to me that health and family were my priority. Faced with the complexities of personal growth and a changing world I found comfort in the simple and straightforward truth of connecting with the land at Velwell. The seasons still changed, the plants still grew and and my jokes were still rubbish no matter the circumstances!  


Although it has been rather quiet here at Velwell over the last two years, we have had a small but faithful group of volunteers and supporters that have made working here a real pleasure. I would like to thank Derek Lapworth for his guidance and support in particular.


In other news, the garden has been especially abundant, providing some really satisfying results. Trials of new crops, proved over all to be successful, with autumn king carrots and cayenne chilli peppers producing great yields. Our trials of super early Milan purple top Turnips also were a winner, proving to be hardy and a good crop to sow in late winter. Trials of Kohl Rabi were not successful. I plan new trials this spring and expect better results this year. Our South American  root crop trials of Yacon and Oca have again been a success, proving that these two varieties are prolific growers needing very little attention for successful cultivation. 


I will be continuing my work here at Velwell over the next year, maintaining the garden and growing. I would like to create a few Velwell herb teas during the summer so if anyone would like to help or contribute any experience or ideas please contact me via email at j.thenaturalworld.c@gmail.com. For now the garden remains closed for winter, but we will announce in late winter our dates and days for future volunteer workdays. 


Now that I’ve got my rambling out the way, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! Most of all I would like to thank Jeremy and Kate for their hospitality over the last two years. It has been a real pleasure being part of this project and I’m excited to see hows things will grow and evolve over the coming years. 


I look forward to seeing you all in spring 2022.
Jacob 

Squash and sweetcorn

2022

Looking ahead to 2022, we will be opening again to volunteers from March onwards although the volunteers will need to contact Jacob before attending so that we can regulate numbers. I am hoping to be there for most volunteer mornings but Jacob will be in charge of the garden again this year with Kate assisting. I will be working a lot of the time, and most of my time at Velwell Orchard will be spent on specific projects.

Rest in Peace

This year we have had to say goodbye to Emma Stripling, wife of my Aikido teacher. All who knew her will greatly miss her. I have many fond memories of practicing Aikido with her. Her Aikido was a potent combination of gentleness and power. Emma has very kindly and surprisingly left a significant amount of money to Velwell Orchard which we’d like to use to fund one or two major projects over the next few years. We have a few ideas, but if you have an idea of your own, please let us know.

Aikido

The pandemic has been tough for Aikido practitioners but we have managed to maintain some sort of practice throughout. Personally, I really enjoyed our outdoor sessions, particularly at New Bridge on Dartmoor. This year was the tenth anniversary of the opening of Buckfastleigh Aikido Club and to celebrate I decided to open a new club in Totnes, in St. John’s Church, where my own training began in 2003. It’s been really inspiring to return to this special place and remember how it used to be. There has been a surprising amount of interest since we started up and we have had quite a few new people join bringing fresh energy and enthusiasm. My good friend and best man, Anthony Waters, who is also an Aikido teacher, agreed to assist me and this had made a huge difference to the club. So now I’m running two clubs, Buckfastleigh on Monday evenings and Totnes on Wednesday evenings. The new year is a great time to start something new so if you are interested you can find more details here.

Support

We are very, very grateful to those of you who continue to support us with monthly standing orders or small cash donations. This money helps us to pay for seeds, plants, animal feed, etc, and generally keeps the project running. Since we closed to the public during the first lockdown, we have remained officially closed but during this time a few select helpers have come forward and helped us with much of the picking, planting and weeding. We owe them a big thank you.

Scythe courses

Last year I ran quite a few and this year I have more planned, including for beginners, but there’ll also be refreshers courses for those of you who are a little rusty, and peening workshops too. Click here to see what courses are coming up.

Mowing on a scythe course with newly laid hedge in the background

Something special

Sasha will continue to work with me three days a week until the end of March. We have been secretly working together on an idea for a very special course we are intending to run… there’ll be more information on this coming up soon so watch this space…

Spot the picker

Further into the future

None of us really know what the future holds for us but that doesn’t stop us looking forward and there are plenty of things we’d like to develop over the coming years. We have plans for another polytunnel, a new outdoor kitchen area, a forest garden, more nut trees, a couple of ponds and so on. Over the last five or six years time and money been the limiting factors, but we’ve been very fortunate to have been supported by friends and family with gifts and loans. I have a feeling that we are beginning to turn a corner at last, thanks to all the kind people who make Velwell Orchard such a special place.

The Land at Velwell Orchard

Perhaps the most significant event to have occurred here this year was the transfer of the land into our stewardship. Kate and I have been able to purchase the land here at Velwell Orchard. In 1992, Derek bought the land and put it into trust so that it could be farmed biodynamically in perpetuity. It was hoped that the lease would generate enough income to allow the purchase of more land but since then the cost of land has gone through the roof making this idea impossible. The trustees decided to offer to sell the land and we have managed miraculously to find the funds through a mixture of gifts and loans. Thank you so much to those people. My wonderfully kind cousin Luke helped us with the legal side and saved us vast amounts of money in solicitor’s fees. We will be eternally grateful.

Jago eating whitecurrants

The money from the sale of the land will now be used to offer loans and small grants to local biodynamic enterprises. To see if you qualify, please contact Derek Lapworth.

As many of you will know, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years wrestling with the concept of land ownership. The Earth is our mother, so how can we own her? Perhaps in the future, we will wonder how people could ever have thought it right to own land in the same way we now think it is ridiculous that people could once own slaves or wives. So to get the chance to purchase the land did seem pretty foreign to us, yet, given the amount of time we’ve invested in it over the years it also felt good to know that we had security and the right to pass it on when the time comes.

It’s been 24 years since I started working at Velwell Orchard, that feels like a long time. And yet we are still right at the beginning of unlocking the full potential of this land’s ability to feed people – mind, body and spirit.

Wishing you all the very best of health and happiness in 2022,

Jeremy.

With love too from Kate, Jacob, Lola, Jago, Baggins and all of Velwell Orchard.