Grow Your Own

Landscape Juice Network ran a story over the weekend about the cancellation of the Edible Garden Show which got me thinking. The show was rather different in scale to the Lamyatt village fete; it was scheduled to open at Stoneleigh Park and looked pretty impressive, with sponsorship from people like the Mirror Group. The gist of the debate on Landscape Juice is to what extent the current interest in Grow Your Own is a fad. I personally think it’s more than that – GYO seems to be part of a general trend in the way people are behaving and consuming. You could easily paint a different picture though:
1. It has recently attracted a disproportionate amount of lightweight media attention and advice – too much Directgov and not enough River Cottage – which will have attracted a number of fairweather enthusiasts.
2. Vegetable seeds are cheap and plentiful – i.e. there is limited commercial interest in promoting them.
3. I don’t think that huge numbers of people have started to GYO because they find vegetables unaffordable. You’d think they’d just stop buying them, unless they had at least a moderate interest in horticulture itself. I would guess, though, that more people are gardening generally as a consequence of the Recession; when they get busier they’ll garden less.

Let’s hope we’ll see the Edible Garden Show next year.

Battery Hens

Posh Poultry
Posh Poultry

Another animal welfare posting following the pigs (sorry)… I saw the Battery Hen Welfare Trust on the local news yesterday and wondered if we couldn’t squeeze some “ex bats” in, especially as the Runner Ducks haven’t been laying for the last 6 months (it must be stress related). I’m rather envious of the smart set who march about over the road, but I think it would be bats for us. Time to consult.

Local Pork

I’ve just booked our three not-so-little-at-all now Large Black pigs in for the chop. I’m not looking forward to it.To be honest I still get a bit quivery about it, although it has become part of our annual routine. Anyway, I reckon it’s important to see the whole thing through; if you’re not a vegetarian then you should know what the process involves.
It strikes me as odd that while consumers are starting to get concerned about animal welfare and local food provenance there isn’t more of a fuss made about how they are slaughtered. I suppose that compared to things like farrowing crates it seems like a minor issue. I suppose too that people don’t like to think about it. We don’t now eat any meat that doesn’t have a local provenance we’re happy with (or our own), and that includes where the animal it came from was killed. Yes, I know – it’s one of the perks of living in the country and having a bit more money than many to spend on food.
We make a particular effort to get our own pigs to the nearest small abattoir, and when we arrive there is no waiting around. Unfortunately most animals are not so lucky. Livestock is often taken on a transporter for miles before being penned for a long wait at an enormous “facility”, often with other, frightened animals. It’s far from great. The DIY approach a friend of ours remembers from his time in France is long gone, and ironically many local abattoirs have closed down, apparently under the cost and demands of health and animal welfare legislation – we’re lucky to have a choice of a couple within an hour’s drive. From the point of view of the end product it’s not good either; stressed meat won’t taste as good.
So next time you buy some pork ask your butcher whether the producer uses a local abattoir. Bet you he won’t know, but he ought to.
Related Posts: Pigs

Slow Food in Warwickshire

I really like the slow food movement which among other things:
works to raise awareness on the sustainability and social justice issues surrounding the food we eat and aims to protect traditional UK foods, defend biodiversity and promote food education
Slow Food UK’s latest regional group, in Warwickshire, launches tonight at Monks Kirby village hall. They’ve already got a great programme for 2010, including a plan to plant a Warwickshire Drooper in all 220 parishes in the County. Good luck to you.

Sheep Again

Poll Dorsets
Three of our Poll Dorsets
Time for an update on our beautiful Poll Dorsets, which are rather woollier than they were in the summer – I’m envious. They are busy grazing our meadow areas, keeping the grass down so the perennial wildflowers will have less competition in the Spring. We’re trying to get our timing right to have our first lambs grazing in the autumn, when they will tidy up the “aftermath” after the meadow has been cut.

Mazzard, my liege?

Mazzard at Harford, near Landkey

I’d never heard of a Mazzard until Ian asked me to have a look at them, but it turns out I should have done. They are edible varieties of wild cherry, historically particularly associated with the Southwest and currently undergoing a revival in North Devon. They are really beautiful, large trees which would look lovely in a mixed orchard and which all but disappeared in the 20th century. I spoke to the authority on them, Michael Gee, and subsequently bought his booklet, which finishes with a description of the Landkey Millenium Green project – a really lovely story. More than that, though, it has put these ancient and handsome trees back on the map. The varieties propagated for the project were those identified from existing local trees; Bottler, Dun, Greenstem Black, Hannaford, and Small Black. I wonder if I could squeeze a couple in somewhere…
Word of their renaissance is spreading. I bumped into another interesting chap, Stuart Peachey, who runs a business called Historical Management Associates Ltd. Among other things, Stuart will recreate a medieval feast for you and to this end grows all sorts of historic fruit for complete authenticity, including Mazzards. Fantastic.
Picture courtesy of Charles Waldron & Explore North Devon Project

Perry Pears for sale

Another selling point for Perry Pears
Some good news from Ian Roger of R.V.Roger. I’ve rattled on before about the joys of Perry Pears, and I’m delighted to hear that Ian is starting to grow selected varieties, regardless of whether or not we can extricate any trees from the defunct Scotts of Merriott. He is beginning with Black Worcester, Gin, Green Horse and Sweet Huffcap, grown on Pyrus communis rootstock. If you would like to reserve any maiden trees for delivery from November 2010 please let me know. Woot woot.

Related Posts:
Perry Pears
Heritage Fruit Trees…A National Treasure?

Cider for the connoisseur

Press at Hecks
We had a barrel of 2008 Bullbeggar left over, so we thought we should bottle it before the 2009s arrive. Hecks of Street have been hugely helpful throughout our community cider project, and didn’t let us down today.
Perry on tap
What nice folk and, furthermore, Perry producers, who are buying some extra trees with us from the liquidators at Scotts. We picked our way through tonnes of apples and barrels piled high in their impossibly crowded yard to bottle and pasteurise 350 bottles of Bullbeggar and see the old vintage out. These will be available to the lucky burghers of Castle Cary at our village stall on Saturday, gales permitting. Some say that if Parker ranked ciders, the 2008 Bullbeggar would be a 95.

Three Little Pigs

The Third Little Pig
The arrival of the latest weaners in our orchard – two Large Black gilts and a boar – gives me the chance to have a cute pig picture on the blog, celebrate rare breeds, and talk about meadow management. The Large Black is a fabulous pig; good eating, well behaved, hardy, and doesn’t root like a maniac. Unsurprisingly it was once a common breed, successfully exported all over the world – so what happened ? Apparently, and like many rare breeds, it was a victim of consumer fashion; from the 60s the meat trade stopped buying coloured pigs. Ridiculous. We’re lucky enough to be half an hour away from Martin Snell, one of the top breeders in the country, which makes them even more of a no-brainer. We’re not proper pig people; all we do is buy the weaners in and fatten them up over the next 3 months. They’re incredibly easy. Do visit the breeders’ association website for more information. The pigs also do us a favour by turning the ground over and opening the sward up, either for new seeding or to give this year’s annuals’ seeds a better chance next spring. These need disturbance and good contact with open soil.


I’ve had a love affair with Large Black Pigs over the last few years. I’m not a full time swineherd, but we buy our pigs in as weaners every year and fatten them up. Once common, they are a Rare Breed now, but excellent for beginners like us as they’re very phlegmatic and easy to keep. We let ours wander around the orchard with the odd length of one strand electric fence coralling them in (in sharp contrast with the entertaining but hooligan Tamworths my friend Spon keeps down the road). I am also appalled at the conditions in which pigs are often kept commercially and our Large Blacks make fantastic eating, so we no longer buy sausages, pork, pancetta or ham.

Large Black Pig, Winter 2008/9
Large Black Pig, Winter 2008/9
They fulfill a useful function for the meadow too, by opening up the sward with their rooting. The breed is not known for being particularly aggressive at excavating, but they do the business. I’ve just sorted out delivery of our next three weaners in October, which is perfect. I have dragged around the green hay from an existing patch of meadow to where the pigs will be, hoping that the seeds from it will do well on the bare earth they will leave. We should have a new annual rich meadow area as a result – albeit one that will need some rolling!