Saturday, 9 January 2016

A year in the life of a smallholder

Hello and welcome to the Nags Head Farm blog!

We moved to Nags Head Farm back in the Summer of 2014, realising a lifelong dream to have our very own smallholding.  Prior to moving we struggled to maintain some semblance of the good life while holding down full time jobs and running our own start up business.  We did this whilst tending the garden, two allotment plots, a small flock of chickens and our young horse who was stabled on a private yard a good few miles from our home.  It's safe to say moving to the smallholding and having all of this in one place made the whole endeavour much more enjoyable!

Some of you may have followed my adventures via the Ryan's Garden blog which documented my trials of growing produce on my allotment, keeping chickens and creating a  small urban garden back in Wales.  I intend to continue in this ilk here on the Nags Head Farm blog, although there may be a little bit more talk of the farm, the country and our trials and tribulations in between.  Over the past year-and-a-bit the act of gardening has been pushed aside as I've battled hedges, cut down stupendously large dead and dying trees, managed livestock and erected rather a lot of fencing.  2016 should see the start of the garden at least!

The past year and a bit has been thoroughly enjoyable, incredibly frustrating at times and certainly a steep learning curve.  When we first moved to the farm the layout was simple.  We had a house and two large fields with a beautiful hedged boundary and hedged centre line between our two fields.  The field came all the way up to the back door and the grass was knee high and even higher in some parts. The land had been managed over the years, with the previous owner renting the land for grazing but during the sale the grass had grown in to a mature meadow hiding a number of features that we discovered later - some good and some bad.

Our first task was to tame the part of field we now call the garden.  A cheap and cheerful ride on mower was sought and the garden was roughly carved out.  The bottom of the garden was fenced and we set about readying a shelter and a number of paddocks for the arrival of our horse Brucke.  Our chickens that had enjoyed a brief holiday on a friends farm on Gower were collected and finally came to stay.  Gradually we took on more animals, rescuing ex-battery and barn hens, a pony as a companion for Brucke, and two cats.  In between this we bought a pedigree flock of Hebridean Sheep to help tame the meadow for fear of Brucke becoming too fat and we later added our ram, Brutus.  I delved in to the world of breeding and showing pure bred chickens with some great successes.  I settled on Cream Legbars and Indian Game as my breed of choice and I'm sure you'll read more about these as the blog continues.

Clearing the meadow instantly highlighted an issue that we weren't fully aware of when we moved in - moles!  This wasn't the odd mole, this was an infestation and anyone with horses knows a pitted field with unstable ground is quite the hazard.  No longer had we spotted the issue but the garden also fell prey to these earth shovelling nightmares and nobody likes a patchy lawn.  The mole man was called in and we set about repairing the ground.

Once we'd settled the animals and carved up the land, the vegetable and cut flower garden was next on the agenda.  A greenhouse was already in place and needed minor repairs and i'd planted the soft fruit bushes I'd trained years previously on the the allotment in an old set of beds that had been set out by the previous owner.  Next to these I planned out a set of ten no-dig beds measuring 20ft x 4ft and a large bed where the original chicken run once sat. Surprisingly, even though immature, these beds produced great yield in their first year.  The no-dig method of laying cardboard, manure and compost on top of lawn was very successful and this part of the garden will be extended in 2016 to form three large beds.

As you can see the first year and a bit has been rather productive but there's still much more to do and several more lessons to be learned just yet.  This blog will chart our progress and developments as the farm grows and expands and I hope you'll find great interest and entertainment reading about it here on the blog.