Some of the LandBase team went along to OffGrid festival this year, and we'd like to share with you some interesting organisations pioneering off-grid sustainable living and farming...
Held just outside of Exeter at Goffin Farm, the site is part of The Biophilia Project offgrid project.
The festival is focussed on skills sharing and community with workshops on basket weaving, rope spinning, jewellery making, knitting/crochet, forging, kiln making to name just a few! It was good to see these skills still being used and passed on.
It was spread out over a 4 days and we only made the Saturday so weren’t able to see all the interesting talks, however, here are the highlights from our day…
Stephanie Hafferty gave a talk on Charles Dowding’s 'No Dig Approach.' And Charles is leading one of the workshops on our Market Gardening course in September. There are still places left so book your place here…
There were innovators in off-grid technologies and we managed to go on a DIY Solar Panels Workshop with Ian Westmoreland from ‘Demand Energy Equality’ to learn about making our own household solar panel. We hope to offer some of Ian’s courses through LandBase in the future.
Another highlight was a discussion group lead by Joanna Dornan from the Agroecological Land Trust trying to find solutions for low impact, land based cohousing and land ownership. She shared her wealth of experience and discussed the successes and failures of community projects. Looking at the models of the Ecological Land Co-Op in Devon managing planning & permissions for 3 small holdings. And also methods from the Biodynamic Land Trust.
She also drew on Bill Knight’s talk the previous day on Restorative/Regeneration Settlements, and the importance of looking after our soils through sustainable small-scale agriculture with biochar methods by Ed Revill at Soil Carbon Regeneration in Swansea, Wales.
LandBase is organising an event on the themes discussed here - looking at the issue of land access in the UK, especially focussing on the gap between the amount of land available and the amount of people looking for it. It will be held of Saturday 7th October at Monkton Wyld Court, Dorset. Keep an eye out for more information on our facebook page and news page. Or email is at email@example.com
The Community Convergence tent was set up by wetheuncivilised as a beautiful outdoor cinema showing inspirational films and talks. If you haven’t seen it already watch the wetheuncivilised film – “A Life Story.” It is a story searching for our lost connection with nature and the land, and challenging the self-destructive system of western civilisation.
A great day out for the family with arts & craft stalls, a BBQ & Bar with produce from Monkton, and tour of Monkton’s kitchen garden and sustainable eco buildings, there were even local Morris dancers to entertain us! LandBase had a stall to promote our courses for Autumn 2017…
Seeing the fruit trees in Monkton's walled garden
Our Planning & Planting a Fruit Orchard was a success at Monkton Wyld Court this Saturday...
It was an small intimate group with participants from varied backgrounds offering different experiences, from running a local organic kitchen garden, owning vineyards in Brittany France, and growing on an allotment! The tutor, Tom, was able to help with specific problems people encountered with their fruit trees, from growing on the cliffs of Cornwall to using the sunshine in Kent. We used the beautiful walled gardens and fruit orchards of Monkton Wyld, with a huge variety of fruit trees: apples, plums, kiwis, pears, cherry trees, grape vines….
Seeing an established fruit orchard gave us the opportunity to see what works and do our own site assessment, looking at the importance of getting the right altitude, soil, shelter, slope direction, disease prevention and much more. The day was packed with information and Tom was a fantastic teacher, we all came away with useful information to put into practice, I’d recommend this course for anyone interested in growing fruit trees, regardless of experience.
To book onto our Autumn 2017 course click here...
Our most popular course, with the tutors (and successful organic growers) from Trill Farm and Charles Dowding's No Dig, it’s no wonder it sold out! Tickets are now on sale for our September course. To book your place click here…
"With the hottest day of the year so far, we had a really successful Market Gardening Course over the weekend with no dig pioneer Charles Dowding of Homeacres, organic veg grower Ashley Wheeler from Trill Farm and Hugh and Patsy Chapman from Longmeadow Organics. It's great to find so much interest in growing food with growers from all over the UK & Ireland on the course. Thanks to all who came".
We're proud to announce that the first of LandBase course’s went ahead at the start of February! Read about the day from Course Co-ordinator and Market Gardener of Trill Farm, Ashley Wheeler...
The first LandBase course was led by Tom Nancarrow of Pip & Stone and Adam's Apples. The course was held at Trill Farm in their apple and pear orchards.
About 10 people attended and the day started with tea and coffee and a chat about the theory of pruning, covering why and how we do it. We then ventured out into the beautiful sunshine and Tom put the theory into practice with a couple of trees before letting the course participants loose on the apple orchard.
I think what was especially interesting about the course was that we were dealing with trees that had been previously pruned by many different people in many different ways, so we had to look at the trees and think about how they should look in a few years time, especially in the case of training trees to have central leaders, where central leaders had been pruned out.
I think the fact that we worked with trees that had not been perfectly managed before made the course more realistic (in that it is probably quite common to be pruning trees that are not perfect) and meant that the participants had to think more about why and how they should prune.
Overall it was a great day and everybody left feeling like they wanted to crack on and put their learning into practice!
With it’s success we've decided to run this course again next Autumn. For more details or to book click here.... Don’t miss out on a place!
Dan Powell, co-founder of LandBase, tells us about a recent workshop he took part in...
“One of the more interesting contacts I made at the Oxford Real Farming Conference this year was bumping onto Lois Phillips, an old colleague of mine who works in land education at Rushall Farm in Berkshire. She has helped organise a set of workshops on Soil microbiology in conjunction with Simon Parfey of SoilBioLab.
Simon set up SoilbioLab in 2014 after working for Laverstoke Park Farm running the soils analysis lab there. He is helping land managers to look deeper into what lives in their soils and offers both courses in observational soils microbes analysis as well as a lab based soils analytical and evaluation service.
I set off early in the morning from Dorset towards Rushall Manor Farm to avoid the worst of the SE England rush hour traffic. I arrived in time to find Simon setting up his microscope in the field classroom at Rushall Manor. The session started with him describing the importance of organic matter in soils. He told us that the organic matter is the driver of everything that goes on both above and below ground as it acts as the basis for all nutrient cycling that feeds plants and animals and ultimately us!
Simon was going to concentrate on the microscopic animals that, although invisible to the naked eye, are far more important and make up the bulk of biological life in the soil. We were introduced to bacteria of which there are millions in a teaspoon of soil. Next up the rung of soil life where the protozoa or single celled organisms, the most common of these were amoeba and flagellates. These consume bacteria almost continuously and cycle the nutrients their bodies contain up the food chain.
Then there were the fungi who make up a much smaller diversity than their bacterial neighbours but are responsible for not only extending the rhizosphere or root zone in many plants but also in exuding acids to breakdown the more coarse organic matter.
In addition to this function specific fungi called mychorrhizia also have a symbiotic role with certain plants, exchanging hard to get nutrients like phosphorous for important energy and sugars that the fungi need to grow themselves. Some plants rely on this association and seem to have evolved in line with the fungi.. this fungal plant association is especially important for trees.
Lastly were the nematodes. These tiny round worms have over 20000 different species some of which we associate with pathogenic parasitic conditions in the gut of animals or eating plant roots such as potato or clover eel worms. However we learned that free living soil nematodes are essential in cycling the fungi and bacteria into nutrients that become available for plants and the vast majority of species are poorly understood although they are crucial for the cycling role they play in soils.
We learned that different soils have different balances of the soil biota and if the populations have been damaged through for example, pesticides, bad fertiliser practice or poorly planned cultivations, then this delicate balance can be upset and the plants and animals will not thrive on these soils until the balance was restored.
Simon’s company makes use of compost teas which are propagated populations of bacteria or fungi through aerated water that can be applied to soils as a way of correcting this soil imbalance.
After these microbial introductions we were introduced to using a microscope to actually see these little beasties as they really are. We looked at a number of samples and discovered tiny bacteria darting about on the prepared microscope slide, also strands of fungi where apparent and some of us even came across the odd nematode or two.
It was one thing talking about these little fellows but quite another coming face to face with them down a microscope.
By the end of the day I felt that I had been privy to another world just as full of life as the word above the soil, and although this was one we talk about in our farming and gardening everyday, it is not everyday we get to see these guys face to face as it were!
I don't think I will be purchasing a microscope just yet but it has reinforced my conviction that if we can recognise what conditions are good for a healthy soil then we have the tools at hand to nurture the life in the soil to ensure healthy plants and animals and healthy us for a long time to come.
Thanks Simon for a very interesting and stimulating day. This has helped me to continue to take care of soils in my care for the sake of the little guys!”
If you want to learn more about soil, Dan Powell is running a course with Landbase next month “Getting to know our soils and what they need from us” Book your place now!
Select strong healthy plants with characteristics that you are looking for. If it is an heirloom variety that you are saving, it is best to select the variety that best fits the description of the variety. If you want to select varieties that fruit earliest, then select the earliest fruiting each year.
Clearly label the plants that you have selected. Tomato plants generally do not cross with one another (they are in-breeders) so you can grow and save seed from more than one variety in one polytunnel.
Harvest and processing
Once the fruit is over-ripe for eating it will be ready for harvesting for seed. At this stage take all the ripe fruit off the plants, then slice them along their equator (use a bread knife for this as it is less likely to damage the seed). Then squeeze out the pulp into a container.
This can then be left for 3-4 days to ferment (this breaks down the germination-inhibitor that surrounds the seed). Do not leave for longer than for days as premature germination can occur. You may notice a mould appearing at the top of the pulp – this is fine and all part of the fermenting process.
Once fermentation is completed then poor the pulp/seed into a long necked container – something like a milk bottle works well. Fill it up to ¾ full and shake the bottle vigorously (with a lid on…). This helps to separate the seed from the pulp. As the seed starts to settle back down to the bottom of the bottle you can start to decant the pulp and water. A few small, light seeds may also come out. Decant until most of the water has left the bottle then repeat this process 5 or 6 times, or until the seed looks clean.
Fill up the bottle, now with clean seeds in, one last time and empty into a sieve. Blot the bottom of the sieve with kitchen towel to dry excess moisture and then turn out the seeds ideally onto a non-stick surface such as a plastic chopping board. Using the bottom of the sieve, spread out the seeds evenly to form one layer of seeds. As you are doing this you can have a bit of kitchen towel inside the sieve which will take away some of the moisture without the seeds sticking to the towel.
Label the seeds and put somewhere dry and airy to dry further. Once the seeds have dried they will peel off the chopping board in one piece. They can then be crumbled up into a paper seed packet and dried further using silica gel. To do this put the seed packet inside an airtight container and put the same amount of silica gel in the bottom of the container. Put a humidity reader into the container and close the lid. Leave until the relative humidity is around 50%. Then remove the silica gel and store the seeds in the airtight container somewhere cool and dry, and they should keep for up to 5 years. Don’t forget to clearly label the seed packet with the variety and the date.
This was written by Ashley Wheeler, a grower from Trill Farm Garden in Devon.