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March 2021

A New Season, by Nell Benney

Spring has arrived at Oakbook Farm! The new buds of the season are starting to show in our hedgerows and trees and our projects are re-awakening as the days are lengthening. We have reached that important milestone for all farmers, the Spring Equinox, when the Northern Hemisphere starts to tilt towards the Sun and we benefit from longer days than nights. 

The rate of growth after this date is remarkable. In our greenhouse and polytunnels, the crops are really starting to pick up speed. And along with them come the weeds! What looked like a manageable few little sprouts of chickweeds a week or so ago are now thickening into daunting bushes. Its all a sign of the fertility of our soil, a few hours work and the chickweed is easily pulled out, and the beds can be prepped, ready for the new season plants. 

Our two horticultural projects, Zerodig and Nell’s Patch, have been busy sowing seeds since early February. Benefiting from heated benches, these businesses have been able to start the season early, keeping their delicate seedlings safe from the brutal weather that hit in those last wintery months. It’s quite a skill, looking after seedlings in this cold, damp time. You have to be very careful, watering far less than you would in the summer, so that you don’t drown the baby plants and rot their stems, the dreaded ‘damping off’. And you must also be careful with heat, too much and not enough ventilation will cause humid conditions, which also encourage mould and rot. 

With the soil warming outside and the threat of frost receding, these projects are now able to plant outside. Zerodig have planted their rhubarb and asparagus beds, and Stroud Community Agriculture has cultivated their plots, ready for carrots to be sown next week. 

Our fence for the horticultural field has started to go up! A bit taller than expected, these wooden posts are essential for keeping out pesky deer who love to come and nibble on our crops. Although it looks a little dominating at the moment, once it is full of abundant, glorious vegetables, we think it will blend beautifully into the landscape. 

After a couple weeks hard work, Zerodig has put up their 30 meter polytunnel. A vital space for growers, polytunnels provide a protected, warm environment, in which you can sow seeds and grow valuable heat loving crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. The students of The Grove, the alternative educational group which runs farm sessions three times a week, helped with putting on the tunnel’s ‘skin’ – the expensive plastic sheeting which encases the metal frame. This is a difficult moment, and it was great to have such a team on board to help get it secured tightly. 

Oakbrook Orchard is also really starting to take off this spring. Jessie and Sarah started planting apple trees this winter, and they now have 22 baby trees in two 10m strips inside the arable field adjacent to the horticultural zone. They are trailing agroforestry techniques of planting trees alongside crops, in their case, daffodils and soft fruit. They have had their first few flower harvests and are selling at Loose, Star Anise, Four Seasons and The Crown and Sceptre Community Shop.

Ellie has received the exciting news that her hens can move from their netted enclosure close to the farm yard! The threat of Bird Flu seems to be loosening and we are all looking forward to seeing the chickens back on the pasture, rotating around the farm, aerating and fertilising the soil. 

Over the last few weeks the honey bees have come out of hibernation and we can see them buzzing happily all around the farm. Christian will host some open days from May, potentially in late April. Check our social media and website for updates. He has also recently received approval to extend the Bee Observatory to 0.6 acres, creating a wildflower meadow and wood chipped area for families to enjoy picnics. Christian plans to add hives suspended in the smaller oaks to the Observatory and will plant a bee and pollinator friendly hedge for this new zone. 

The Micro Dairy has had two new members of staff this year. Nat has joined as Herdsmanager and Sylvie to manage the Dairy. They have been working since January and are great additions to the farm team. The Dairy purchased a new cow in February to supplement the milk supply over winter and she is settling in well. We have a little crew of calves forming, with the newest, Panda, arriving only a couple weeks ago. Kees has started to sell organic, grass fed cheese from a farm in Devizes in the Dairy shop. 

We are all feeling the community nature of Oakbrook Farm really come to life this year. Running a small business, it is very easy to get tunnel vision about your own project and to forget to ask for help from those around you. At Oakbrook, we are sharing resources and labour, working closer than ever to support each other to become the thriving businesses we can all be. 

Nell Benney