Velwell Orchard

Biodynamics, Aikido, and Traditional Rural Skills

WWOOFer wanted, scythe courses and Aikido classes

We’re looking for a keen volunteer to come and work with us part time for 4 to 8 weeks in return for board and keep. Contact us for details.

Jeremy is running a couple more scythe courses this year, one for beginners and one for improvers. See here for more information:

Jacob continues to do a wonderful job of tending the garden and supporting a few keen helpers. Rajni and Sasha have been backing him up and providing much needed labour, and Kate has been working continuously behind the scenes to turn the produce into tasty meals. Thanks to everyone for helping out this summer. The garden is looking amazing!

After a very long time out of the dojo, Aikido lessons begin again this week in Buckfastleigh, and Jeremy is opening a new club in Totnes. You can find information about these classes here: and

Aikido – why is it relevant?

By Jeremy Weiss

You may wonder how Aikido is relevant to farming, or to traditional rural skills such as hedge laying, mowing with a scythe and gate making.

It’s because Aikido is so much more than throwing people on the floor. Yes, that’s fun too, but the purpose of studying Aikido is to understand the principles and to apply them to your daily life. For me personally that means applying the principles to how I farm, how I interact with people, how I make gates, how I mow with my scythe, and how I teach, etc.

One of the principles of Aikido is to respect your partner’s Ki. But you can’t do that without knowing your partner’s mind, and you can’t do that unless you are extending your own mind. So we study how to extend our mind, which leads to awareness, stability and flexibility. From this point we can know what our partner wants, and then we can respect their Ki.

When you make a gate out of cleft chestnut, you have to extend your mind and be aware of the wood, how the grain flows and what it wants to do. You can fight it if you want to but it will be hard work and yield an inferior result. Or you can respect it’s Ki, and put yourself in its place. What does the world look like from the point of view of this piece of chestnut?That allows you to then have the confidence to work with the wood, knowing that you are not trying to make it be something it isn’t, but become a part of something greater than itself and serve a useful function whilst maintaining its own character and integrity.

These are things that cannot be truly understood simply by reading some words. They have to be understood through constant repetition on the mat until they become engrained deep in our subconscious. My teachers have been very clear: words are just words. Understanding can only come through doing.

A new Aikido Club in Totnes and some news from Velwell Orchard

Velwell Orchard News

Thanks to those of you who have been supporting us recently, those who contribute to our bank account and those who have been helping out on site. Jacob continues to do an amazing job of looking after the plants, animals and helpers. I dont think the garden has ever looked so tidy!

We are still working on our health and safety framework and protocols and hope to open to the public again soon.

In the meantime a few regulars are helping out on Wednesday and Friday mornings and we have a new WWOOFer called Rajni starting next week. If you’d like to come and lend a regular hand, informally as a friend, let me know.

New Aikido Club

10 years ago on this coming Monday, I started up a Ki Aikido Club in Buckfastleigh. To celebrate this I’ve decided to open another club in Totnes in the place where I studied under Sensei John Stoner from 2003 until 2011. It will be an emotional and exciting return to my roots and I’m hoping a few new students might come through the door.

After the upheaval of the last year or so I feel this is a good time to start a new club, when people might be looking for a new path to follow. For me Aikido has been the trellis up which I’ve been able to grow and learn over the last 18 years. I dont know how I would have survived without it and I’m very keen to pass on what I’ve learned to a new generation of students.

The classes will be in St. John’s Church, Bridgetown on Wednesday evenings. You can find more details here. I will continue to teach in Buckfastleigh on Monday evening and we always welcome new students there too.

Sensei John Stoner teaching in St. John’s Church, circa 2006.

W A N T ED – W w o o f er

We are looking for someone who’d like to work part time at Velwell Orchard over the summer in return for food, somewhere to stay, and learning some new skills and knowledge. You will need your own tent or camper van. We eat meat, but we can cater for vegetarians and we are gluten free. If you’re interested in learning more please get in touch.

Scythe courses for beginners and improvers at Velwell Orchard

I’m running a couple of scythe courses in July at Velwell Orchard. One for beginners, which will be over two days, and one for improvers which will just be on one day and is designed for those who have done a course before but would like some tips on mowing, honing and peening.

You can can find all the details here:

A discount is available for volunteers and supporters of Velwell Orchard.

Velwell Orchard Update – at long last!

Dear friends and supporters of Velwell Orchard,

Sincere apologies for taking so long to get around to this update! The past year has been so busy… but more of that below. Here’s a little recap of 2020, a rather unusual year… and a little taster of things to come in 2021.

2020 – A massive year of change

In the height of summer

Last year will be remembered by many for the distruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have been very fortunate here at Velwell Orchard to have weathered this storm well and we are emerging from it stronger than ever. We have really missed our regular volunteers, the sounds of children screaming! The satisfied groans of tummies full of pizza! The noisy coffee breaks! The long chats over the weeding!

Jacob came to stay with us in March, at the start of the lockdown, and gradually has taken on more and more responsibility. He is now pretty much running the operations while I have been working full time. Kate and I are really grateful to him for this and also for his work as brother and uncle!

Sasha has also been a massive help to us this year, she has now been working with us for two years and her skills have improved to such an extent that she can easily lay hedges and make gates on her own. She’s also a pretty dab hand at scything and her log stacks have gained worldwide acclaim.

We have not been able to run our usual lively and sociable volunteer days but Jacob has had some regular help from some individuals which has been hugely appreciated. Derek has continued to visit weekly where possible, helping with errands, distributing vegetables, and generally ensuring that we maintain our connection to the local community.

We are so grateful for this support and from the financial support we have received. I am always amazed at how generous folks can be, many people donating money despite hardly every receiving any produce. I’m glad to say that the Velwell Orchard bank account has a healthy balance at present that affords us some security going into the coming year.

2021 – How will it unfold?

At present, Sasha and I continue to work full time and Jacob is running the garden. We have decided not to restart our volunteer days until the restrictions have been fully lifted in the summer. In the meantime, we are looking for one or two people who can offer regular voluntary help in the garden on a friday morning. They will need to be able to commit to regular weekly hours, and be willing to abide by current coronavirus restrictions. If you are interested please let me know or get in touch with Jacob directly.

We hope to restart our weekly volunteer days sometime in the summer, in time for the harvest, apple pressing and general merrymaking. This will hopefully coincide with restarting the Buckfastleigh Aikido Club for adults and, later in September, also for children.

A vision for the future…

Moving forward into 2022 and beyond, we hope to be able to spend more time at Velwell Orchard, purchase a new polytunnel, plant more trees, rebuild the field kitchen and many more things. We want to open the place up to the community again, as a source of biodynamic fruit and vegetables, but also as a place to come and learn and enjoy. I’ve been working this land now for well over 20 years and I firmly beleive we are only just at the beginning of unlocking its potential. We’re looking forward to being able to share this place again with you all soon.

Thanks so much to all of you for your support,


Beetroot seedlings

Biochar Workshop

At Velwell Orchard

On Saturday 19th of December

9am – 4pm

£30 per person

Learn how to make Biochar from hedge brash using our Oregon Kiln. We’ll go through the whole process from lighting to quenching and explain the different methods for activating and using this product. The techniques are applicable from small gardens up to large farms.

You’ll go home with 50 litres of Biochar which you can activate and use on your garden.

5 spaces are available in total and full payment must be made to confirm your place.

You will need to bring your own refreshment and a pair of thick gloves. Welding gloves are good. Avoid wearing anything plastic that could melt from sparks and wear old clothes.

Chestnut Gate charity auction – ends this morning 9:30am!

Dear friends,

I’m selling a gate on eBay to raise money for Old Skills New Ways, an amazing local project educating children in rural skills and nature connection.

Please make a bid and help us raise some money!

Hedge laying courses at Velwell Orchard

This November I’ll be teaching three hedge laying courses at Velwell Orchard. Only 5 spaces available on each course so book now to avoid missing out. You can find details here:

Helpers needed on a Friday

We remain closed to the public until the spring but we are looking for a few helpers to join our small Friday work team here at Velwell Orchard over the coming weeks.

The work involves picking, harvesting, weeding, mulching, tidying and generally keeping the place tidy and proper under the guidance of Jacob.

Helpers must be willing to observe hand washing and distancing protocols.

If you think you can spare a few hours on a regular basis please let us know.

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