Somewhere to Grow & Share

by Creating a better future in Lydart, Wales, United Kingdom

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To create a model organic orchard for the community to teach how to grow fruit, vegetables, keep animals sustainably and boost biodiversity

by Creating a better future in Lydart, Wales, United Kingdom

We are looking to raise money to create this project which will in turn enable us to give back to the community. We have designed and set up biodynamic growing systems several times over for others and now want to create this unique project in our own vision so that we can run it correctly with integrity on a permanent basis, creating a future for ourselves and something very special to share so we can continue to have a positive impact on the environment and the wider community.

We feel that this is absolutely the right time to start this project and that we are the right people to do it. The environment is in trouble, we need to dramatically change the way we produce and distribute food in ways that are kinder to the planet, give animals the respect and comfort they deserve and design our growing systems to harmonise with nature, being part of the ecosystem rather than just exploiting it. We also live at a time where many people of all ages and abilities have an interest in these things but perhaps lack knowledge and need a little guidance on where and how to start. In this fragile climate there is a clear need for other people to benefit from our experience and knowledge and we know how to share and teach but for this we need a permanent location and site.

With many years of unique learning experiences all leading to this project, we have learnt ways to achieve the above and how to physically apply them.

Please read our story before deciding whether to help or not.....

Meet Our Team of Two...we are a team of two, who are lucky enough to have found each other and share the same dreams. We were due to be married in April 2020 but this has been put on hold due to Covid-19!

Jack has been involved in the broad spectrum of conservation and ecology since the mid 1990's. His first job was at a wildlife hospital whilst he was still at school. After Studying Conservation and Land Management at Agricultural College his initial interest and career steered towards wildlife and habitat preservation and led to him working and volunteering for many different organisations in several different countries. In 2006 Jack began to grow vegetables organically, marrying new horticultural skills with his existing wildlife gardening knowledge. Whilst living and working in a forest in a National Park in Italy Jack began to grow food for himself and his partner Kerry in ways that sympathised with and replicated the systems and cycles of nature, later discovering that this was called forest gardening and permaculture.  Despite there being many wild mammals, birds and hoards of insect life Jack discovered that if one species became a pest, the problem could be solved by attracting something to predate on it, and that ultimately the greater the biodiversity the fewer problems he had with pests.

In Italy Jack also cultivated many wild food species which he incorporated into his growing systems which was not only more ethical than foraging, but also provided a natural diet for wildlife, which in turn would leave his crops alone. He soon realised that any square metre of land could not only be home to a fruit tree but vegetables could also be grown up and around the tree.

In New Zealand Jack worked on an apple farm, and in Austria he learnt all about the Austrian's expertise of organic care of fruit trees and how animals can be kept in an orchard/farm situation to highest of welfare standards and how to apply happy animals to manage land in a way that they enjoy.Grazing animals beat petrol machinery any day and when done properly will increase biodiversity and ground flora. 

Once back in the UK Jack pursued his interest in Heritage fruit trees and orchards and took time to learn more about holistic orchard management and learnt new skills such as tree grafting, making  biofertiliser, beekeeping, grazing orchards, growing organic rootstock trees and pressing apples for their juice. 

Ultimately in an eureka moment Jack realised a unique biodynamic orchard design that encompassed everything he had ever learned about conservation and organic food production and that with a relatively small piece of land it is possible to grow fruit, vegetables, keep animals and provide much needed habitat for nature.

In January 2020 he was offered the position of farm manager to design and build the transformation of 47 acres of grazed land into a biodynamic farm complete with orchards and organic productive vegetable gardens. Two months later he was made redundant due to COVID-19.

Kerry also attended agricultural college in the 1990's and has always loved nature, wildlife and all animals and dedicated her life to animal welfare and anything natural. 

Her main career and experiences in life combine to help bring this project together as she has a background in administration, coordinating events, volunteer management and a level 3 City & Guilds in Training and Education.   Kerry has worked with adults with learning disabilities and helped create services in horticulture, animal husbandry and farm environments, arts and craft and has helped service users learn life skills  for education and also on a sensory level. Providing a similar service is something both Kerry and Jack  would be keen to introduce into their own project.  Kerry has also worked and volunteered for several animal charities and even lived in the mountains in Spain helping rescue, rehabilitate, cared for and rehome dogs.

In her spare time Kerry loves spending time with her pets and animals, going for walks and taking photos of bees, butterflies, trees, mushrooms, flowers and landscapes.   From creating gardens and growing her own medicinal plants and herbs she has learnt about and enjoys making natural remedies, aromatherapy essential oils and organic herbal cosmetics.

Kerry is currently working in the environment and wellbeing sector and is currently on Furlough leave, which could also lead to redundancy. 

Our Project

Initially we are looking  to raise funds  to either buy, rent to buy or long-term rent a site which would be either an existing orchard or a plot in which to plant an orchard. The site would ideally have some outbuildings one of which we could turn into a teaching room to run courses, free to the disadvantaged or people in need of help and advice. 

We would enrich the existing orchard by planting rare and endangered Heritage varieties of fruit trees and create species-rich hedgerows with wild food and edible species. We would also create secondary organic growing systems beneath the trees, and introduce bees and rescued grazing animals into the orchard system. We would take measures to attract wildlife by creating habitats and installing nest boxes and insect hotels.

 We have not specified a location for our project as the location very much depends on where we can find suitable land at the right cost. 

Our Vision of a Model Community Orchard

To fully understand our vision of our Model Orchard, we will describe the structure of the proposed  orchard itself, its features, inhabitants and how it will function as a growing ecosystem, this description of the orchard and how it works would also be the framework of what we would teach people to do for themselves. Our classes would be a blend of classroom theory followed by a practical, demonstration or structured lesson.  This is how we ourselves learnt at Agricultural College and we know how effective this method of learning is. The orchard would essentially be a living functioning learning centre. 

If we first look at the canopy layer and the fruit trees themselves. There will be varieties to boost biodiversity such as plum, wild cherry and pear. But the main body will be apples, all carefully selected rare heritage and productive varieties some of  which are endangered and need conserving in their own right.

Through our connections with dedicated craft cider producers and holistic orchardists, we have access to lots of rare trees to take grafts from including a variety of Perry pear from Monmouthshire with only 13 trees left in existence.

A big part of our approach would be to conserve and cultivate traditional fruit trees with special and multiple uses. For example there are certain old varieties of pear that can be harvested in November and can be stored until spring without the need for refrigeration which is great for a sustainability approach, whilst some apple trees will produce  versatile apples that can be eaten fresh, cooked or juiced every year so would be a good choice for somebody with limited space.  

We will be teaching people how to select trees to grow for their specific needs and site. 

Fruit trees are so valuable to wildlife for a multitude of reasons, most obviously because of the blossom which is beneficial to the bees, and butterflies and a lot of other species.

Holistic orchard management is a 100% organic approach eradicating the need for chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides. An orchard can be fertilised inexpensively by planting nitrogen fixing plants, by manure trodden into the ground by grazing animals and by spreading wood chippings from the branches of pruned apple trees themselves.

Apple juice, cider and apple cider vinegar are some of the most environmentally sound products that can be produced, they are also a source of income to help pay overheads.

Organic apple juice is bottled 100% pure free from additives and after a simple pasteurising process has a shelf life of 18 months. Locally pressed apple juice is an much healthier than concentrate based commercial juices and has far fewer food miles.

Craft organic cider is finally getting the recognition it deserves with blends and single varieties being noted by a new generation of connoisseur  ciderologists. Again nothing is added to real cider, not even yeast which is present in the skin of the apples. The apples are, minced, pressed and the juice is left to ferment naturally, which is known as Wild Fermenting.  When the cider ferments to dry, this mean all the natural sugars have left the fluid, making it a low sugar adult tipple free from preservatives.  Which is obviously a world apart from mass produced carbonated "cider" that is packed with sweeteners and sugars, such products are causing diabetes. 

Apple cider vinegar literally has hundreds of uses ranging from pickling, to a natural sterilising and antifungal agent.  It is also a natural weed repellent and has many medicinal uses.  It is also used in animal husbandry, added to livestock feed to aid good bacteria in the gut and added to chickens drinking water as a mild natural antibiotic, a tonic for injury and shock and to boost hens immune systems. It makes sense then to keep hens in the orchard.

On the trees we will install bird and bat nesting boxes, specifically designed to attract species such as the Treecreeper that will predate on orchard pests such as the codling moth.

Built around some of the trees will be a large raised bed or fencing. Each year the raised beds are topped up by fruit tree leaf mold, cuttings and homemade compost insuring fertility for the next growing season. The raised beds are high enough to stop the hens or sheep from eating the crops growing inside. This could be anything from lettuce, root vegetables, to broad beans boosting the soil with nitrogen so the trees can produce more succulent fruit. In Italy we even had runner beans growing up high into the fruit trees canopy. Everything in the raised beds will be grown organically using, crop rotation, companion planting and our own tried and tested methods which we will be sharing with our visitors. 

Another benefit of growing in high raised beds is that gardening is accessible to those who use wheelchairs and have issues with mobility

Behind the fences anything can be grown such as nutritional supplement crops for livestock such as kale for sheep or maize or sunflowers for chickens.

For extra income and nutrition it is also possible to impregnate logs with spores of mushrooms. Cultivating mushrooms this way will result in several hundred grams of mushrooms per kilo of log over a 10 year period. Dead wood is also a valuable micro habitat for many invertebrates and birds.

The grass on the orchard floor actually inhibits the development of apples and pears and therefore needs to be kept under control. If petrol tools such as mowers are to be avoided, then it is essential that the orchard is grazed by livestock and this could be chickens, geese, sheep or even cows or pigs.

It is also essential that the orchard is not over grazed, therefore a method of rotational grazing should be introduced. The system should be tailored to the type of grazing animal.

In the instance of grazing sheep, guinea fowl can also be kept in the orchard as they will eat sheep ticks. Kits containing native parasitic wasps are also available, these will eradicate the species of fly which cause flystrike in sheep naturally rather than using chemical sheep dip.

We ourselves prefer keeping chickens for the production of eggs. Ever thought that hens look constantly nervous? This is because they are and chickens kept in the open ground or large sheds spend something like 89% of their time worrying. This is because they are actually descended from jungle fowl, and jungle fowl have evolved under the canopy of the jungle, modern hens still feel nervous when they are exposed in open ground, which affects their health and mental wellbeing as well as their egg laying.  An orchard is therefore a good home for a chicken, the dense foliage of fruit trees is very much appreciated by hens. And in winter when all the leaves have fallen, the installation of camouflaged netting hung between the trees will do the trick until spring.

We would be rehoming laying hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust.

Chickens, sheep and other grazing animals will benefit from the orchard being scatter sown with clover, this miraculous plant which grabs nitrogen from the atmosphere and converts it into nitrogen and pumps it back into the ground, fertilising the fruit trees. The clover is packed with protein with is great for the grazers, which in turn will convert it into nitrogen rich manure that will fertilise the orchard floor. The clover is also excellent as a bee plant providing pollen.

The installation of top bar bee hives to attract  swarms of wild honey bees will ensure a greater pollination rate and put simply will result in more fruit. We will also be providing the pesticide sensitive bees a good organic source of pollen and somewhere safe to live. Top Bar beehives differ from traditional hives as you do not have to be an expert beekeeper to have one. The idea is that the bees move in of their own accord and are just left to it. The idea is not to fuss the bees and let them become immune to diseases by natural selection. A top bar hive can be simply a bee house, but also has the capability for honey and wax collection, it helps the bees either way. Top bar hives do require some extra insulation during the winter and the best material suited to this is untreated sheep's wool- perhaps from a sheared orchard sheep! Beeswax is also used to seal the join of rootstock and scions when grafting fruit trees together. 

Surrounding the orchard will be a species rich hedgerow creating a wildlife corridor and habitat for numerous species. The hedgerow will be planted with a diverse selection of wild food species providing sustainable "home foraging" as well as a natural food source for wildlife. In Italy we foraged one side of our hedges leaving the other for wildlife, it was a system that worked well. 

At the rear of the orchard we would like an area to demonstrate the production side of things, including composting bays and a wormery. 

We would need some indoor space for the production and fermentation of biofertilizer, to press and store apple juice.

A small segment of the land would be dedicated as nursery for the growing and grafting of the fruit trees.

What we need the money for and what we would spend it on...

The above section covers our initial business plans and ideas.  For this to work and be set up we would use the funds donated dependant on the amount raised.  This would be one of several ways we could start this project:

 Firstly if only a small amount raised, this would enable us to rent a small property to live, base the project and start organising. Hopefully the land would be attached to this property but if required we could then rent some land separately and start to create our project and raise further funds with the aim to eventually buy.

Secondly  if we are lucky enough to raise enough funds,  then we would look at buying the land outright or putting down a deposit and getting a mortgage.

In our wildest dreams we would like to live on site!

Initial funding would also go towards the essential non-perishable materials and resources needed to establish the orchard system including wood to make the raised beds, the chicken coop, beehives and nest boxes.

If our crowdfunding exceeds our starting amount we hope to create so much more than the above project plan.  Please read onto the next section to see our further plans if we get extra donations.

We have uploaded a video of a few of our previous projects and some photos which illustrate our skills, capabilities and what we can achieve.  Unfortunately nothing featured in the video and photos belongs to us and are now just past projects that are no longer available to us and this is why we are here.

Why we are here....and how we came to be asking for money. 

Reluctantly we had to leave Italy because of the volatile political unrest and financial restraints and Austria due to Brexit and no longer being able to stay.

Relocating from Italy to Austria, then back to the UK with our three pets really was not cheap and took all our savings.

Once back in the UK we offered our services in exchange for accommodation or in a working capacity.

We really want to keep this on a light note, but in the short time we have been back in the UK we have set up three projects and have written associated management plans but to be brutally honest people have taken advantage of our good nature and we have been forced to move on. It is good that there is presently  so much focus towards the environment from the Government, but with funding available for those taking a more ecological approach to land management but inevitably there are unscrupulous  landowners who take advantage of this and  need established ecologists to draw up conservation management plans to apply and qualify for grants and funding with no intension of following the plan, completing the work or living by the ethos. Unfortunately we have seen this a lot since being back which reinforces our need to create and run this project ourselves so we can make sure that it is run with integrity and that the benefit of our knowledge, efforts and experience are going to benefit the environment and the right people. 

At this strange time with Covid 19 and Brexit, we understand this is a difficult time for so many people and we find ourselves in a position where Jack has been made redundant, which also means we need to leave the house that came with the job.  We find ourselves and our pets with no savings, no deposits and nowhere to go and a friend of ours has suggested we look at crowdfunding to raise money to create our own project.  It is not something we have ever thought about as we did not think people would donate money for a personal project but she said it can? So here we are giving it a go to see if it is something that could be possible and any donations given will be a step closer for us to create this.

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading and your time.  

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