Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Cider drinkers

October 16 2014

The annual outing for the Wye Valley AONB volunteers saw a welcome return to Broome Farm in Ross on Wye. Ross cider which is owned by Mike Johnson is a real inspiration in the cider community. His business model is based on community participation. The farm has been the home of the Johnson family for over 70 years.  The 65 acres have been put to many uses during this time including a dairy herd, crops of potatoes and soft fruit, sheep and more recently alpacas.

In 1974 the first of the commercial orchards contracted to Bulmers, the Hereford cider makers, was planted.  This enterprise has grown in recent years and today is the main farming activity occupying 40 acres.

Throughout this time a traditional farmhouse orchard of cider apple and perry pear trees has been maintained with a small amount of cider and perry made each year for consumption on the farm.  Since 1984 when the farmhouse was reopened after renovation the popularity of the cider and perry with both local customers and visitors alike has resulted each year in increasing quantities being pressed. All Broome Farm Cider and Perry is made from whole fruit juice – once pressed the juice is allowed to ferment with its own natural yeasts. 

Further orchards have also been planted to supply fruit for the growing production of Broome Farm Cider and Perry.  There are now over 70 varieties of cider apples and perry pears growing on the farm enabling the creation of individual blends of award winning cider and perry. 

The farm cellar is open every day for tastings and sales straight from the barrels and there is also a selection of bottled cider and perry available, both single varieties and blends.  


The volunteers picked and pressed apples and enjoyed a great lunch at the Yew Tree.


Thursday, 31 July 2014

“Come up here if you don’t know how to peen” …

Andrea Gilpin from Caring for God's Acre

… so shouted out our guide for the day, Andrea Gilpin, of aptly named Caring for God’s Acre from the top of a Tintern graveyard one hot and sunny July day.


Andrea displays the range of blades
A small group of AONB volunteers was on a steep learning curve that day as we were introduced to scythes and scything and encouraged to mow as much of St Mary’s churchyard as we could. Few of us had touched a scythe before and we listened intently to tips on carrying, sharpening and even on how to stand in a group (scythes on ground in front of you, edge down). We learned that scythes have a snath (shaft) and a blade, and that a blade has a tip, heel, tang, beard, belly and knob. Oh, and that peening is a hammering technique which cold forges the blade to bring it back to a thin profile.


The churchyard was overgrown with long grass, bracken and many weeds, all of which covered ruined stones and metalwork. We couldn’t have had a much tougher introduction as we were scything in tight spaces on sloping land, constantly in danger of damaging the blade tip on hidden objects. Somehow, we made progress and it wasn’t too long before those who weren’t scything were carrying away our fresh hay on pitchforks. It was a curious scene: a country churchyard with no one in it apart from our group of scythers and forkers looking very much as it might have done in the Middle Ages.


Andrea was an excellent instructor and we all learned a good deal from the day. We even managed to mow some of the yard too!



The following Thursday saw AONB volunteers in action again, this time assisting the Gwent Wildlife Trust at its Pentwyn Farm site in Penallt, a few miles further up the valley. Our task was to spread green hay onto one of the farm’s larger fields in order to further diversify the plant species growing in the meadow there. Our green hay had been cut and baled that morning from a field near Wet Meadow, just to the north of Trellech, and sat in an ominously large pile on a trailer in the Pentwyn field. Luckily, the field had already been mown and scarified and the bales were deposited regularly around it, so our task was “merely” to spread the hay evenly all over it.


We had pitchforks and rakes at our disposal but, following a wide variety of individual experimentation, all but one of us soon dispensed with them and scattered the hay by hand, again giving a scene redolent of medieval times. The sun was hot and the Penallt mercury hit 26C for much of the time. Sarah’s sunscreen was much in demand (her insect repellent proving to be redundant) and her frequent calls for drinks breaks were both welcome and necessary as the work was not only hot but very dusty too. Seeds got everywhere, even to the extent of mysteriously filling pockets with several ounces at a time and many shower drainage systems were strangely challenged later on!


All in all, some 150 bales were scattered and we broke the back of the work needed to be done. Can’t wait to have a look next spring to see the results of our labours!


David May



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Joan's Hill Farm

The first volunteer day for 2014 was a return visit to Joan’s Hill Farm, on the edge Haugh Woods, just outside Hereford.  This 46 acre nature reserve includes an old apple orchard which dates back to at least 1843.  Most of the old trees have died and the task was to build more wooden tree guards for new replacement apple trees. 

After the wettest winter on record, we were fortunate to be working on a pleasant spring-like day in early March.  Volunteers again arrived from up and down the Wye Valley, all looking forward to an active day with good company.

Joan’s Hill Farm is a 46 acre nature reserve managed by Plantlife, an organistion set up to conserve wildflowers and plants.  The orchard provides an important habitat for mistletoe and a large number of micro moths.  Management of the reserve includes hay cutting in late summer and cattle grazing in the autumn.  The tree guards are designed to protect the new young trees from the cattle, so they have to be robust and substantial.  Yasmin Lynes, a local volunteer at the reserve was on hand to offer a helping hand and some local knowledge.
Plantlife provided the timber and general design of the guards and then the teams set to with a selection of tools. General construction plan was
1 Measure and saw 12 side panels for the each tree guard
2 Dig 4 holes so the side panels fit – not so easy with a sub-layer of stony ground
3 Using a 1 or 2-person action, use a post rammer to sink the 4 posts into the 4 holes, trying to keep them as vertical as possible.
4 With the help of a spirit level, hammer the side panels horizontally to the frame
At a later stage the new apple trees are planted in the centre of the guards and netting added as extra protection.
After mastering our techniques a welcome lunch break gave us time to sit, chat and admire the views across the beautiful Herefordshire countryside in which we were working.  Time to discuss the forthcoming River Festival and events associated with that up and down the Wye Valley.  And after lunch still time to put up another couple of tree guards and for one team to help out clearing an area of meadow after a tree fall. 
Plantlife carefully manages the area to preserve the rich and ancient flora in this special habitat.  As some of the fields at Joan’s Hill Farm have escaped agricultural “improvement”, they are home to some of the classic flowers of old English hay meadows, including the green-winged orchid. Haugh Woods itself is designated a SSSI, and is one of the top 10 woods in the UK, due to the presence of a over 600 species of butterflies and moths.  Although we were working right at the top end of the Wye Valley AONB, the words of William Wordsworth written a few miles above Tintern during a tour in 1798, echoed all the way up the river
The day is come when I again repose….. and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts
Once again I see these hedgerows