Call for New Tenant/s

**Please note that we have a new member process and that by contacting us you are entering that process. From now on things may take a little time but do not despair, we haven’t forgotten about you! Please do not try to circumvent our little system by dropping in to see us – every unplanned visit costs us much in energy, co-op time and family time, etc., and we simply can’t do it. If you are truly interested, you will trust us and trust that our process is sound. Be patient, we will be in touch.**

We currently have vacancies for new tenants and/or opportunities for ethical investment. Enthusiasm and interest in permaculture essential. For information about us, the accommodation and our exciting plans for the future, please comment on this post. (Your comment won’t be made public.)

We look forward to hearing from you!


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Orchard/Chook Update

DSC02004Lots going on in the chook compound at the moment. I’ve been reading Deano Martin’s blog at the Sustainable Smallholding website and learning a lot from him. He’s very methodical in his approach to permaculture, very knowledgeable and well read. He’s got me interested in creating a chicken scavenging system, growing grains (I’m especially interested in perennials here) and hardy bamboo, of all things. Yes … bamboo. It’s a wonder plant, believe me, just have a look at some of his posts on the subject, here.

I’ve managed to get hold of a few different types and we’ve put them in containers for now until we decide where to site them permanently.  The idea is that they will create shelter and food for the chucks (and some food for us, as well as useful poles) and drop their leaves continuously, creating a deep litter from which the chickens will forage for insect protein.

I’ve also been watching quite a few of Geoff Lawton’s videos and learning, learning, learning. This man has a passion for Earth Care that’s infectious – and he loves chickens too so can’t be bad.😀 If you’re interested in feeding chickens naturally, interested in reducing or eliminating the processed and bought-in food bill for them and feeding them instead on stuff they really want to eat, then I suggest you take a look firstly at this (you’ll need to input your email addy to subscribe, but nothing more) and then watch this: Geoff’s Chicken Tractor on Steroids.

Now our flock is not as big and nor do we have any large animals (yet) to contribute manure, but we’re attempting an even smaller scale version of Geoff’s Chicken Tractor which does away with the tractor and uses only the chuck and duck house litter and poo as the innoculant. The other ingredients we’d like to source on-site too, but will start with manure and then tweak as we go. I’ll let you know what happens. And I’ll be looking at nitrogen/carbon ratios and what chickens like to eat, etc., before going the whole hog and removing their pellet mash.

In the first picture at the top of the page, you can see our first week’s ‘cage’ with old litter straw, poo and sawdust in it. We added some veg scraps and the chickens were more than happy to scrat about in it. We have a bit of manure arriving tomorrow, so we’ll add some of that and will continue to add scraps as the week goes on. Next week, we’ll move the pallets and start again, leaving the first pile to be de-constructed by the chucks, but with a bit of a safety net in place in the form of a wire fencing circle around it to stop them from spreading the contents too far. Hopefully, like Geoff, at the end of four weeks we’ll have some compost to barrow out of the orchard and to the veg garden.


The other thing that’s chuck related (and a nod toward Deano) is that I’ve collected leaves and dumped them around one of the apple trees in order to re-create a deep-litter forest floor for the chickens to scrat about in. It’s encircled with wire fencing and a little chicken netting to stop the leaves from spreading out of the circle at the bottom. The idea is to kill the hogweed, grass and nettles growing beneath the tree, and to encourage insects, worms, etc., for soil and chicken health. Any bad insects that harm the apple tree may also be eaten by the chucks – so function truly is stacked here.

I didn’t take the leaves out of the woodland, by the way – we really don’t want to remove nutrients away from that zone – we have a barn range that ‘catches’ leaves against the back of it from the woodland and the huge trees living on the edge there.

DSC01992There were about three euro bags of leaves, so I took them down to the orchard. If the circle proves too large an area, there are another couple of bag loads further up the range that I can filch.

So far, the chucks seem to approve of all these different places to scratch around in – they are kept busy and interested, fulfilling their natural behavioural needs. And that’s what we’re after in the end: happy birds producing high quality eggs, compost, meat and not forgetting their entertainment value too!

When the leaves have done their job and mulched the weeds away, we’ll plant a guild beneath the tree with plants that are beneficial to all – tree, chucks, insects and people. Watch this space for more on that.

Also happening in the orchard is a duckweed cultivation experiment. Ducks love it, and, if we can encourage the chickens to eat it too it’ll give them between 30 and 40% protein. Amazing stuff. So far, I’ve managed to encourage a bit too much blanket weed in the pond, so will look at shading to see if I can’t reduce it. Once the duckweed covers the whole water surface area, it should lessen the problem, but until then I need to sort some other solution out.

DSC01982The net over the top is to stop the ducks from eating it all should they manage to infiltrate the compound somehow. And the plant growing on the right hand side is water cress. Yum!

At the bottom of the compound, awaiting bees, are the hives.

DSC01985I’ve been clearing hogweed and planting bee plants down there. When everything’s established, we’ll let the chickens in. They’ll peck away at any mites beneath the hive which will help with bee health in the long term.

Haven’t got time today, but I will write a post on natural bee-keeping using top-bar hives soon. Maybe after we’ve received our first swarm!

Elsewhere, we have two chickens sitting on eggs. First to hatch a brood this year was an only-just-begun-to-lay pullet, Moaning Myrtle (named for the wailing sounds she made while hunting out somewhere to lay). She hatched six out for us. Maude was sitting next but, unfortunately, lost all her brood and that was partly or mainly my fault. I’ll write up that particular cautionary tale on broody care soon. It won’t be one I’m proud to make but I feel we must share the bad as well as the good if only to prevent someone else making the same mistakes… And now we have two more sitting: Mavis, another young bird, and Blodwyn, a veteran broody and fab mother.



Here we have Bud, incubator raised by Alex. When Myrtle showed signs of going broody, I took the eggs out she was sitting on and replaced them with some egg-sized pebbles just to see how serious she was (some people advise against using birds that are in their first year for brooding as they can be a bit flakey and get off the nest). After three days, she was still sat fast, so I took out the pebbles, and put a collection of eggs underneath her. Unfortunately, I’d missed one three days previously – a small banty egg. I couldn’t leave it with the others because the timing would be wrong: the egg would hatch three days before the others were ready, and Myrtle would only sit on the nest for a certain amount of time after this one chick came out.

So, off to the incubator it went. Alex already had two duck eggs in there, so it was a no-brainer just to add the one chicken egg too. And, less than three weeks later, we got Bud. She really needs a post of her own though, as the differences in chicken-raised chicks and person-raised chicks warrants a bit of discussion, I feel.

As I said, there’s a lot going on in chuckland at the moment. I’ll keep you updated. For now, I need to get back out there!


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Feathered Friends

Just Ridiculous

I haven’t made a chicken post yet, and as they feature quite a bit in our lives here then it’s probably time I did. The picture above is of our borrowed broody hen and her six chicklings (or it’s a picture of a seven-headed chicken, whichever suits your mood) taken one evening after their little house and run had been moved without them in it.  Ma Broody decided that they were going to sleep where the house had been, so tucked them up right there in the grass where any predator happening by would have had a lovely surprise supper waiting. I suppose the lesson here is remembering that chickens (well, this one anyway) need to come out of their front door in order to remember where it is in the evening because, despite them walking past, going in and out of, and sitting on top of their run every now and then during the day the default mode for bedtime is to return where they came out.

Daft things.

We have big plans for the cheeky chooks in the orchard. We’d like to grow as much food for them as we can while feeding ourselves a bit at the same time. By way of explaination, I’ll give a little chuck history.

We started off with a dozen year-old warrens from a farmer who was selling up their egg layers for meat after a year’s egg production. This is usual practice unfortunately. Egg laying falls off after year one and the farmer, to meet costs, must renew stock in order to keep the supply chain going. Our dozen were the lucky few out of a huge barn full of birds and weren’t in bad condition. As the weeks passed, their natural instinct for scratching and dust-bathing etc., took over, and the egg laying was fab from the very start.

Unfortunately, we lost some of the birds to dogs over those first few months, illness took another two and we were down to half of the original number. Wanting to keep chickens for meat as well as eggs (and all the other benefits chicken keeping brings) we bought an orpington cockeral with hen and a white sussex hen to compliment the remainder of our flock. The idea was (and still is) to breed our own type of bird that would be both good for laying and for the table.

We’ve got quite a mix as a result of this brainwave, three cockerals and three hens. We kept one of the lads to keep the new ‘strain’ going – seems he’s a mix of orpy and warren, so we’re hoping any female offspring will be good layers and any male will give us a good meal or two. We’ll see.  The three new girls are in full laying mode and look big enough to make a good soup at the end of their days too. Can’t complain.

Anyway, the plan is to survey the orchard soon, and then divide it up into four unequal compounds with access into each from a movable gate set in a fence surrounding the hen-house. This way we hope to rotate the birds through the seasons, with the largest compound set aside for winter. We’ll plant guilds around the old fruit trees and forest garden the rest of the available space with planting suited to chickens. We have a list of plants and shrubs they like but would welcome any other suggestions – tried and tested, or even inspired ideas, anything’s good.

It will be a little more complex than I’m making it sound, with swales for water capture, a moat for hen-house bedding composting, bee-hives, etc., but until we’ve surveyed the land we can’t draw up the plan with any great detail yet.

Anyone interested in coming along to help with surveying is very welcome, by the way.

And watch this space for more!

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HOW many worms?!

To be delighted or disgusted? That was the question when Ros investigated the beautiful pile of casts just outside the three-quarter-buried access door to our makeshift solar composter today.

I shall explain. When we moved into Tan-y-fron we needed somewhere to recycle material like bones and cooked food, etc., so we decided to create a solar composter out of one of the two bog-standard plastic composting bins we had to hand. First we chose a place in a south-facing part of the vegetable garden, dug a two foot deep hole there and then we ‘planted’ the compost bin inside it as far down as it would go. We lined the hole inside the composter up to ground level with double thickness chicken wire to stop rodent infiltration, then we fed the bin.

You can just see the top of the access door to the left of the bin at the bottom sticking out from the ground.  So the bin is not buried all that far; the most important part is the hole, you see, and how deep into the ground it goes.

The idea is that composting will continue all year round because the matter being introduced to the solar composter sits below the frosts, and the sun (even the winter sun) heats up the contents to hot-composting levels in all seasons and, well, nature does the rest.

And nature certainly has had a hand in this, for sure. For the last few months, the worm activity has been quite astonishing in this bin – far more active than the ordinary composting bin (exact same model) only two feet away. Far more alive. So much so that when Ros moved aside the worm casts and revealed the worms beneath…

…it seemed that worms were all there was!

This, of course, was at ground level, so we can be pretty sure that everything going on below that level is as it should be: nutrients radiating out from the composter, feeding and building the soil around it, letting nothing go to waste.

To test this I’ve a mind to plant the three spaghetti squash plants our friends gave us today next to the composter just to see how they fare compared to the other squashes planted around the site. It’ll be a great indicator, hopefully proving that the nutrients from our waste (how we hate that word!) really do radiate out from that bin in a place that didn’t really have much else but daffodil bulbs and grass growing there.

And, really, who can’t help but love the thought of spaghetti squash and worms doing a stringy little collaboration?

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I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since I last posted here. Time really does run away at Tan-y-fron and here we are, already half-way through our second summer (such that it is) and thinking about the coming winter: bringing down fuel from the woodland, etc., and perhaps fitting a Rayburn or Aga in the kitchen.

Heatwise, this is where we are: we had a chimney fire in the middle of one of the coldest winters I can remember that had us decomissioning all the chimney flues until they had been swept and maintenence work carried out such as pot repositioning and flaunching replacement. The rest of the winter was spent in front of superser type gas heaters, one per occupied room, and it wasn’t at all easy. Last summer all the chimney flue and pot work was done, along with a little roof-leak repair, and one handy type among us modified a Jotul woodburning stove for use in the main downstairs room in the house (it had a high canopy, and we wanted somewhere to put a kettle or a pot or two while the burner was in use, so this was replaced with a flat top) and though quirky, it has served us well through this last winter and is, ironically, still serving us well through this very wet and quite chilly July!

We’ve build a second loo – a treebog – and it is functioning beautifully. More on this in a dedicated post.

Our water supply has been an on-off affair but our water capturing has taken a step forward. Again, more about this in a dedicated post.

Where the garden is concerned, we applied for, and was granted, planning permission for a polytunnel. Hooray! We can’t erect it yet, as there are still five of the thirty or so huge leylandii left overshadowing the veg plot part of the garden to come down. Hopefully this will be happening sometime over the next few weeks, by our resident felling team, so we can start thinking about getting the tunnel up, and planting some winter veg inside.

We haven’t planted much this year in anticipation not only of the tree-felling but of the landscaping we’re sure our permaculture design will need. We’re thinking beds along contours, swales, greywater cleansing and pond systems from rainwater run-off – everything designed for minimum watering and maximum wildlife and biodiversity – a lot of soil moving (perhaps one of the leylandii could sacrifice itself to a huglebed [sp] somewhere in there too).

Letting the weeds grow has its benefits as we get to see what wants to grow here. Already we’ve seen sow thistle, yarrow, evening primrose, borage, and chickweed appearing from nowhere. And I know that at least two of those plant varieties are a chicken’s delight so maybe a little seed-saving will be in order soon!

Speaking of livestock, our chuck flock has seen its ups and downs over the last year. We’ve lost a few of the rescue warrens we took on due to various reasons and have gained three new heritage birds for a little ‘experimentation of purpose’, hoping to produce a nice table bird that’s good at laying from the mix. We have our first six chicks recently hatched, so only time will tell. Again, look for the dedicated posts on the Tan-y-fron poultry and other livestock.

A sad decision we’ve had to make is the one not to keep pigs here. We simply haven’t got the room. Should we be offered land to rent within walkingcycling distance, then yep, the piggy concern will be back on but for now it’s a no-go. We have to tip our hats to permaculture here, of course, for it’s “Observe and Interact” principle, as it would have been all too easy to set up pig pens right from the off and discover too late that we haven’t enough room to keep both animals and land thriving. One would have had to give, and it most certainly would not have been the pigs. We would have had to buy food in, which is not sustainable, and we wouldn’t have been able to rotate them through enough pasture to stop the land becoming ‘pig sick’. A shame, of course, because we have a thriving orchard – apples and pork! but if we want to rotate the chickens and produce as much of their food as possible from the land we do have, then we can’t consider anything bigger than a chicken for meat at the moment.

Talking of the orchard, we had such an abundance of apples and plums last year we could barely keep up. Two of us took on the challenge admirably though and managed to either chutney-fy, jami-fy, dry, store or otherwise cook everything that came off the trees. They did a sterling job, and the last of the stored apples only went a few weeks back. This all from trees of which the majority are bent and near-horizontal to the ground, and whether that’s because of age, or a symptom of the leylandii overshadowing them, we don’t know. What we do know is that they produce! Maybe this year will see a rest as we’ve done some pruning (some trees lightly, others a little more harshly) getting rid of dead, diseased, damaged, crossed and crowded branches, as per the RHS Pruning & Training book, purely because of what they’ve suffered living in the shadows for so long and because there’s quite a bit of canker there. Let’s hope the increased sunlight helps them too.

What else? Ah yes, friends.

We’ve had help in all kinds of forms over the last year since we took this huge idea by the horns and decided Tan-y-fron was for us. Friends have helped us move; given us things, including water; they’ve encouraged us; dug things; moved, cut and chopped wood; felled trees; helped with coppicing; taught us lime-plastering and helped us plaster; lent us tools; made us laugh; listened to us; enlightened us; partied; marvelled at what we’re doing; called us crazy for what we’re doing but still came back for more; and most importantly, they’ve been there for us and they STILL want to know what else they can do to help!


This blows us away. So thank you one, and thank you all. We really don’t think we can do this without you.

So was that an update? Well, I daresay I’ll think of other things I could have included, but since I’m determined to keep the blog up to date now, I think they’ll get added naturally as I post in the future.

Maybe we’ll have some guest bloggers too?


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Pig of a Job…

As I tucked up the chucks last night I shone my torch around the orchard and was startled to see dozens of ghostly white hogweed flowers blooming all around. These things blend in beautifully during the day, it seems, only to reveal themselves to the gaze of a multi-led rechargable inspection lamp in the dark of night.

Hmph, work.

So today I donned gloves, enlisted the help of one of the younger co-op members, and got snipping with the shears.

Now, these plants have been cut twice this year already and so have become progressively shorter (which is good – means they’re weakening) but they are more difficult to see (which is bad because, well, we can’t see the damn things in order to cut them) so cutting them down today was hard work. Not least because I couldn’t resist snipping at the flowering nettles in there too.

Then it occurred to me, after a couple of painful hours grubbing around, getting stung, sweaty and sore, that I am not the right person for this type of job (after all, if it’s hard work then it’s not permaculture) no, the right ‘person’ would be someone who actually enjoys this type of thing…

Yep, I was doing the pig’s work. Or, because we don’t actually have any pigs yet, the chicken’s work.

We have a few problems with the chucks that are becoming more and more apparant as our year of observation rolls on:

  • Dogs keep eating them
  • They keep eating our veg
  • They lay their eggs where they like (not easy to find in 5+ acres of woodland)

Please don’t get the impression we don’t know what we’re doing where chucks are concerned – we have a bit of experience – we simply wanted to observe our girls free-ranging over the site for a year to get a feel for the chicken-feel-good-places, etc. Trouble is that there have been these negatives among the many positives and now it’s time to think of a solution.

Sepp made me realise that our orchard could be the place for chicken tractoring. I’m thinking rotation forage planting for the girls as well as a small forest garden type affair where they’ll be happy to feast on everything growing there (including the damn hogweed). This might just be the answer. We’ll see.

One thing for certain is that I’m not going to do the pig’s work anymore. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I know he, or she (or the chucks) would given half the chance.

Thanks, Sepp.



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