If you go down to the farm today…

IMG_1823…then things are going to look a lot different!

It’s been another busy couple of months, but both Adrian and I have both been suffering from writers block.  This time there have been reasons and I’ll go in to those in a separate blog, but first, let’s get up to speed on where we are at now.

So, after getting the permitted development sorted for our barn and two poly-tunnels, our next mission was to get a caravan on the farm to use as a restroom.  Although we’ve had a fantastic summer with plenty of sunshine, with the kind of work we are engaged in, you need somewhere to go and sit, make a cuppa and eat your pack-up.  We looked at all the options available to us and eventually decided that a static caravan was the way to go.

DSC_0063On the 18th August we got the call to say that our static had left the yard in St Austell.  This was an issue as we hadn’t finished sorting out the base, but thankfully I had my friend who wishes to remain anonymous on-line so will be known as ‘She Who Has No Name’ (SWHNN for short!) and my cousin Sarah down here with me.  So, with an hour and a half’s notice we set to shifting the last 3-4 tonnes of hardcore over to the base as a weed suppressant.  We just made it!  In fact, as we sat down on deck chairs in front of one of the containers, we all became aware of the sound of a chainsaw getting closer.  SWHNN free-climbed up the side of the container to see what she could see, and lo and behold, what she could see was an orange flashing light and a roof and chimney coming down the lane towards us!! The excitement was palpable!

DSC_0070It seemed to take an age for more of the caravan to reveal itself, but then, Keith Cheesewright and his guys were having quite a job getting a 35ft x 12ft static down a narrow Cornish back road!  My cousin shot off down the lane to investigate and this is what she found.  Slowly but surely our static WAS making it’s way towards us.  I think by this time I was actually bouncing with excitement!  I guess putting a caravan on a field wouldn’t cause so much excitement ordinarily, but, the arrival of this caravan meant that so many things could be started and it also solved a number of issues, most importantly, it gave me somewhere other than the car to put Bob whilst I was doing busy and doggy-dangerous stuff.  A long hot summer had not been conducive to having Bob with me everyday and I hated leaving him at home even every now and then.

DSC_0091The next issue for me was whether my truck driving experience had really allowed me to judge how wide the gates at the front needed to be to allow large and wide loads in to the farm.  It seemed to look too narrow having the static inching ever closer to them, but amazingly I got it spot on!  One of Keith’s lads had to remove one of the wide load signs of the back left-hand corner of the static, but that was to avoid scrapping the top off the 800 year old Cornish Hedge.  After all the waiting, the caravan was on the farm and breaks were going to be comfortable from here on in.  Hurray!  But, the fun of the day was a long way from over.  In fact, much as I had anticipated being able to sit and watch the delivery happen in front of my very eyes, myself and SWHNN very quickly became honorary members of Keith’s team!

DSC_0096In order to get the static down the lane, Keith had put it on the back of one of his smaller rigid trucks.  This wasn’t a problem until it came to getting the caravan off the back of the truck and positioned onto the hard standing that we had finished with only minutes to spare!  However, when it came to winching the static off the truck, the bottom of the caravan had gone to ground.  To counter this, SWHNN, myself and one of Keith’s lads had to climb into the caravan and make our way to the lounge at the front to make it tip that way and bring the back of the caravan up off the ground.  It was the most exciting thing to do.   Both myself and SWHNN were loving the excitement of it so much.  Keith’s lad who was in with us was just enjoying a break from all the labour!  For him, being in the caravan with two excited women was better than working!!

My cousin Sarah stayed out of the caravan as it was being taken off the back of the truck and filmed it all as it happened for us.  The trouble is, it took ages and as a result the video is too long to post on the blog, but it remains a reminder of a very exciting day for us, and, it meant that Adrian could enjoy all the excitement later as he was at work on the day the caravan arrived.  So, there it was!  Sat on the farm looking big and imposing.  A real moment for us at the farm.  I guess putting the caravan on the farm made everything we are planning seem more achievable.  More real.  Actually happening.  No going back from here.  If I’m honest, I was as overwhelmed by seeing it sat there as I was when I visited the venue for our evening reception on the day before our wedding!

At 4pm, when Keith and his happy crew had left, it dawned on the 3 of us that we hadn’t eaten all day.  So, we headed back to Truro and indulged in some well earned fish and chips.  We were all emotionally and physically exhausted by the day, so we relaxed for the evening in readiness to go back to the farm the next day and start on Bob’s dog pen.

DSC_0106As I mentioned earlier, with such a wonderful long and hot summer here in Cornwall this year, it had become a nightmare having Bob up on the farm with me everyday with only the car as a place of safety and shelter for him.  Our fields are all enclosed by Cornish Hedges, but they don’t throw up much shade.  Although the caravan offered one solution for his safe keeping, it wouldn’t be very much cooler for him than the car with only the windows at the tops open to create a through draft.  With the granite that had been removed from the Cornish Hedge to open up the entrance, and the soil that had been removed to put the concrete bases in for the static to rest on, my cousin Sarah set to making a raised bed in front of Bob’s dog pen, whilst myself and SWHNN set to the task of bashing in fence posts and putting up rabbit fencing to create the boundaries of bob’s new pen.

IMG_1911By the end of the week of having my most excellent work crew with me, the caravan was sited, the dog pen was all but finished and all the things that needed to happen could suddenly be achieved without the stress of a puppy with no shade.  I managed the last couple of jobs in the week that followed the departure of SWHNN and Sarah, building my very first gate all by myself and putting a bamboo screen up to stop Bob barking at every horse-rider and dog-walker that passed the farms entrance.  His bath was added to the pen so that he could rinse off the grass pollen that he’s allergic to, and our old dining room table was put in with a pallet resting up against it to provide some shade.  Job done!  It’s been a labour of love to get things this far, but really, we’ve barely scratched the surface of building a farm!

IMG_1901Since the week after my work crew left and I got the dog pen finished off, sadly, I’ve been suffering with a trapped nerve in my neck.  This has slowed down my progress somewhat and has so far lasted for 3 weeks, but I’ll be back to building more of the farm just as soon as I can lift my post rammer up again!

On the day the caravan was delivered I was visited by two of our neighbours.  One came to let me know his thoughts on the caravan (I’ll go into that in my next blog!), and the other came to ask me very politely to remove the branches that had been cut down from his trees to get the caravan past his property.  Myself and SWHNN went down and dragged a good lot of firewood up the lane to the farm.

If you look at the photos below though, there is no doubt whatsoever that we have altered the look of this land, and very visible progress of what is to come is starting to appear.  It makes Adrian and I very happy to see our dreams becoming a reality.

Axe Head Farm - Google Map 2009

Axe Head Farm – Google Map 2009

Axe Head Farm - Google Map 2011

Axe Head Farm – Google Map 2011


Axe Head Farm - May 2014

Axe Head Farm – May 2014


Axe Head Farm – August 2014

Feel the fear…

Since getting the permitted development confirmed for our barn and poly-tunnels, we’ve been able to really crack on with getting things established on the farm. We’ve had service provider after service provider do a site visit and we are now just waiting for the final few quotes to come in.  We’ve had some back already and we’ve been pleasantly surprised that they came in less than expected or was initially quoted.

In order to work full time up at the farm and build a barn & poly-tunnels, a few basics need to be established.  Not least is access to water, followed very closely by power, toilet facilities and shelter. For the water we are considering a mains connection backed up by a borehole.  For the power we are looking at a generator to start, a mains connection and then add in a bank of solar panels.  Toilets will be compost toilets, built by me, with a bit of science added for good measure.  Shelter will most likely come in the form of a caravan to make cuppas and rest for a while, not to mention to hide in during bad weather!! Although, my workshop space will also have a temporary roof made of a sunshade that is semi-waterproof.  I believe our skills in innovation and adaptability are going to need to come to the fore whilst we get this farm started!

You may also remember months ago I posted a picture of the sign I’d painted for the farm??  Well, I’ve finally plucked up the courage now to put it in it’s permanent place!!  I saw it as a sign beyond a sign… it meant we were actually doing it… we were truly building the farm we’ve dreamt of and planned for 3 years… putting the sign up made it all very real.  So now, without allowing myself any further hesitation or procrastination, it is just outside the entrance to the farm on Underlane!

My brother Andy and his lovely family came to Cornwall during our normal family holiday time.  Adrian was off work for 10 days too and we managed to fit in our wedding anniversary quickly and quietly as well.  On the morning of our 1st wedding anniversary we sat up at the farm looking around, planning some more plans, and wondering how on earth our lives had changed so completely since getting married 12 months ago.  No longer living in Hampshire, no longer an IFA for Adrian, my rehab for my accident has come on leaps and bounds, and we are down here to build our dream.  We really are very lucky.

So, as I understand my career in agriculture so far… almost everything costs twice what you think, takes 3 or 4 times longer than you anticipate, and causes you to face fear after fear, but you do it all anyway.  You say things you never thought you’d hear yourself say, and, whilst everyone else is praying for a summer of sunshine and surf, we are praying for rain to help our newbies settle in!!  It really is a lot different to being a truck driver or an IFA!!

The list of jobs in August reads like this:

  1. Finish tackling the weeds in the orchard, Lavender and Blueberry zones and where the caravan is to be sited
  2. Put in a field tap ready for the mains connection
  3. Build my workshop shelter
  4. Build Bob’s shelter
  5. Build the compost toilets

If I get anywhere near the end of that list in August, bearing in mind it’s the 9th August today, then I can start looking at the farm track to the barn and poly-tunnels, followed by footings etc…  BIG plans!  We remain behind our proposed schedule by two months, but given the weather in the first two months of this year, with storm after storm battering the south west, it’s hardly surprising.

An update to ‘Grass pollen and Bob!’

Never underestimate the power of blogging and social media, especially Facebook!  Within 24 hours of posting about Bob’s grass pollen allergy, I now have the perfect dip/bath for him and it came from a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook, after a couple of really cool shares of my blog post!

To say I am thrilled would be an understatement.  But, never mind what I think… here’s the ONLY opinion that matters… Bob’s!

Thank you so much to Jane Wright for your amazing kindness and for meeting me so quickly to provide this awesome fish box, which is now very much Bob’s NEW bath.  He loves it so much it was all I could do to get him back out of it!!

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Grass pollen and Bob!

BobWell, I didn’t see this coming…

When our offer on the land had been accepted last year (2013) and the purchase was going along swimmingly, I decided it was time to get my smallholders dog, Bob.  I figured that way he could grow up on the farm and that would be his lifestyle.  All has been going brilliantly… until the grass pollen came out to play.  It turns out, my Bob is allergic to grass pollen!!

In order to solve this dilemma (concreting 13 acres just isn’t an option!) he’s taking antihistamines and I’m bathing his sores with salt water, but what I really need is a bath/large water container to be able to rinse him off each day to get the pollen off him.  In the summer months when the pollen is at it’s worst it will also be a nice refreshing dip for the lad.  Much better than the muddy puddle he chose for himself, which now we’ve not had much rain for a while is gone.

So, perhaps you are doing up your bathroom and have an old bath you want rid of (not too far from Cornwall would be good!), or maybe an old trough or loft cold water tank?  Anything really that would hold enough water in it that a large breed dog could use as a bath/dip.

Let me know if you can help.  Bob & I would really appreciate any input or offers of water holding containers, so that my lad can get back to some good old unfettered enjoyment of the farm, without the issue of an underbelly reacting to grass pollen.

Phase One planting completed!!

WOW!  WOW!  And WOW again!!!

It feels like it’s taken an age, and the aches and pains have been considerable, but I am delighted to announce that Phase One planting is finally completed after 8 days of hard yacker in mostly sweltering Cornish loveliness.

Like everything that’s been done so far, we expected to have it finished in half the time it’s actually taken.  Adrian was available for a week to help, and between us we planted out 11 apple trees and 25 Lavender.  The hobbitsess were down for a weekend and helped tidy up around the apple trees and built a berm for the chickens in chicken run one, but that still left another 25 Lavender, 4 bamboo and 12 blueberries to plant out.  Adrian and the hobbitsess had helped by digging the next 25 holes for the Lavender thankfully.

I had to take a ‘rest day’ on Tuesday to do some washing, weed the garden, sort the recycling out, vacuum the house, dust and generally make the kitchen a habitable food preparation area again!  Add to all that an oversized, malting 9 month old Golden Retriever for a sidekick, and you’ll know that my kitchen had acquired a blonde carpet!

I anticipated an early start yesterday (Wednesday), but Bob had clearly eaten something that didn’t agree with him and overnight had redecorated the rug by the back door – poor lad.  Anyway, with the end of the planting in sight, I arrived at the farm around 9:15am, once I was happy that Bob was OK.  It’s been far too hot during this current phase of amazing sunny weather to have him up at the farm with me due to lack of shaded areas.  I plan to build him one, but this hot spell caught me out well and truly.

The bamboo was my first job of the morning, and it was picked as there were only four to plant out and I could start the day with a sense of achievement early on.  The bamboo is both a crop and a foraging zone and wind break for the chickens.  These four are a clumping variety that grown up to 10 foot tall.  The bases of the bamboos are a haven to insects that will keep the chickens happy and well fed.  Each chicken run also has 3 apple trees in it with chicken run one also having a completed berm for the chickens to shelter in.

One of my next jobs is to start building the chicken runs.  We have two of them so that we can rest one each year, making sure the chickens stay good and healthy and happy.

Lavender LinesThe Lavender had been finished on Monday and the four lines look fabulous, with the early flowers swishing gently on the warm breeze.  One thing that has been made obvious, however, is that these little guys need protecting from dogs!  So, I’m going to have to put a fence around the Lavender and Blueberries/fruit patch.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Lavender mature and its potential harvest boom over the next couple of years.  The chosen Lavender is a cross between ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ (the two most fragrant types) so walking down the path between the four rows should be a total smell sensation.  I’m even excited by the potential by the end of this summer if they all settle in well now.  This rain that’s arrived today will help!

BlueberriesAfter the Bamboo was done yesterday, I set out the row of blueberries and set about digging the twelve holes for them.  It wasn’t until after I’d finished the 12 holes and went to get the blueberries that I realised we had 14 blueberries to plant out.   The blueberries are a mix that give fruit early, mid and late season ensuring we have a crop all summer long.  I aim to plant out at least another 10 blueberries to finish off the second line.  I may even add another couple of lines of different berries before netting them in.

I love blueberry muffins, so you can guess what I’ll doing with the odd handful to placate the appetite of the hungry smallholder.  That’s if I can get to any of them before the hobbitsess.  Those hobbitsess sure are quick at spotting ripe fruit!!

So that’s phase one complete.  Despite it taking far longer than expected, now that it is done it feels immensely satisfying.  I love looking at the Apple Trees, they are all three years old, knowing that in just 2 years they should be established trees providing crops for harvest and production.  It feels like the plan is coming together.  We are exceeding our initial ambitions and striving daily for a bigger dream to become a reality.

With low-level fencing, fruit net enclosures, chicken run enclosures and chicken housing to erect & build, I also need to build a shelter for Bob, and then start to focus my attention on the erecting of two poly tunnels and a barn, and stock fencing off an acre for the arrival of pigs…

Today is what I jokingly call a rest day.  It means that I concentrate on Admin type stuff, write a blog, update the website, tweak the business plan, and more generally, catch up with daily chores about the house.  It also means getting the costings and materials lined up for the next few above mentioned building projects.  Although, it’s fair to say, with a body that aches as much as mine does today, come lunchtime I may well take up residence on the sofa for the afternoon and indulge in a little Wimbledon!!!

Dry weather entrance and a fire-pit

firepitIt’s an awkward moment when you sit down excitedly to blog about what’s been an exciting week and come up well short of being able to write the first sentence.  The last 10-12 days swirling around in my head, and me, sat dead still in front of my laptop wondering, ‘where do I begin?’.

For those of you that don’t know my history, I had an accident as an HGV driver in September 2011 that ended my career.  The injury to my ankle has left me with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which put’s me in a constant battle of wills between my determination to overcome all obstacles, and, the CRPS’s ability to bring me to a grinding halt, no matter how motivated I am to my ultimate aim.  For every day that I succeed and get something achieved on the land, I can pay with 2-3 days of not being able to do much at all.  I wear an Air Cast Walker for long day trips out and to parties so I can dance.

Some of my friends have taken to calling me ‘one 16th Storm Trooper’.  I mention the nickname, because Adrian and I were discussing it earlier.  When we use it with reference to my progress.  It means we’ve also reviewed the last 6 months, with the 6 months previous, always stating that the progress I’ve made with my ankle is astronomical. 6 months ago I couldn’t have walked easily around the land once, let alone once up to 4 times in a day in the last 2 weeks!  That’s 4 miles walking in a day.

This week I’ve exceeded even my own expectations of myself!

I’ve built a fire-pit!cuppa2

Well, I suppose technically, it’s more of a stove-pit… I built it to protect my gas stoves flame from the wind, so that the kettle might actually boil!

Whatever you call it, I love it.

I’ve been up to the land and walked Bob round a couple of times, then got back to the car and made myself a coffee before starting on a little project.

This weeks little projects have included clearing the mud from the entrance, building a fire-pit, and making a fake hedge out of branches and twigs.  All of this action inspired by the arrival of Draco the Christmas Tree and the farms tracks being laid out as we want them.

cuppa1Clearing the mud out of the entrance has also made it possible for me to reverse the car on to the land whilst the weather has been dry.  I’m not sure my none 4wd vehicle would cope with even the smallest amount of water on the land.  I’m hoping this respite in the wind and rain will continue for sometime to come.

The fake hedge is more of an experiment in using branches and twigs to make a screen.  I figure it will also help to shield you if you are taken short on the land!

It feels like things are finally starting to happen.  Although we still have the ongoing delays, at least something of progress has been able to happen.  It means that future visits to the land are becoming more and more comfortable, and the more time I can be up there, the more I am likely to be able to do…

A quick update from Di…

Hi, it’s Di here!

It’s now the 5th March and where has Axe Head Farm got to?  Other than enjoying walking the dog, the use of the land is quite limited at the present time due to a couple of legal delays.  To compensate, I’m busy getting the business plan up to speed and doing the drawings and maps that are required for our initial ground works, barn, fencing etc…

christmastree3There has been some progress up on the land though!  I planted our first tree yesterday and it was a Christmas Tree 🙂  The Christmas tree was brought to us courtesy of Anna Williams.  It was a real honour to get the first tree in the ground.  Hopefully the tree will love its new environment and become a feature of the entrance for all to see.  It was in Anna’s front room at Christmas 2013, then her garden temporarily, before finally ending up in her van en route to us.  I’ll provide pictures when Anna sends or posts a couple, perhaps even the planting ceremony 🙂

Tool Bags

I’m really excited today!  I’ve finally unpacked my new tool carrying bags, accessories and accessory belt.  I will hopefully now feel confident enough to get them packed and ready for when I finally get a green light to start on the ground works, fencing and barn etc…  I plan to put a fairly large vehicle pull-in area at the farms entrance so that when the big trucks start arriving with the farms infrastructure, they will be able to pull in off the lane and out of everyone’s way.  It should work out pretty handy for visitors to be able to pull in and park up, without the risk of getting bogged down.  It’s still pretty damp at the farm at the moment, so really needs a 4wd to cut some tracks for us, to show the best routes around the land.

That leads me on to another exciting developments!  On Sunday morning we are going to meet Anna and Duncan over at the farm.  Duncan’s going to play out with his 4wd, let me and Adrian sit in it, as we see our track-ways properly formed for the first time 🙂  We are both really excited.

I hope that we can aim toward bringing our first pigs onto the land in early 2015, so there’s lots of fencing and sty’s to be built!  Chickens should become a feature by the autumn of 2014!  Busy times ahead as soon as I can get going properly… I’ll keep you informed 🙂

Axe Head Farm is born…

Google Land Map

So, why did we go with the name Axe Head Farm? Well, this Google maps picture gives the answer! The land we own is the three ploughed fields that clearly make an axe shape, and our logo is an interpretation of the view from the centre of the axe head, looking down toward the very tip of the Cornish coast and Penzance.

We’ve been looking for land to buy for over three years and have looked at lots of plots!  We finally found this land not long after our Cornish Wedding in July last year.  Even before putting an offer in we knew what the land was going to be called.  In fact, my cousin Sarah visited not long after we’d looked at it and had to suffer us drawing endless plans as to how we could use the land, even before our offer had been actually accepted!

On Friday 13th December 2013, the purchase completed and Axe Head Farm was set to become a reality.  Three years of looking, forming plans and researching our ideas was finally to be put in to practise, and that’s where we are now.  We are still planning, as these things need a certain amount of fluidity to become a success, but now it’s also about putting the theory into practice.

Exciting times are ahead of us!  We hope you will join us on our journey and watch us make our dreams a reality 🙂

Bob’s 1st Day as a smallholder’s dog!

BobOnce we knew our offer had been accepted on the land, I put forward my plan to Adrian for a smallholder’s dog to keep me company and help around the farm 😉  I wanted to get a German Shepherd, they have such an awesome bark, but that’s probably the one breed of dog that Adrian’s actually scared of!  So, I put forward the idea of a Golden Retriever.  A big dog with a lovely temperament and a working dog, so could keep up with the pace of life on a smallholding.  This idea was duly accepted and I started to look for my boy 🙂

It could be said I was slightly sneaky… Bob is 3/4 Golden Retriever and 1/4 German Shepherd!!  I’m hoping for a dog with a Golden Retriever’s nature and a German Shepherd’s scary bark, but it’s not an exact science is it??  We’ll have to wait and see how he turns out.  He is just over 4 months old now, and I have to say, other than Adrian, he is the love of my life.  So far so good on the temperament .v. bark thing.  When he remembers to drop the pitch of his bark (the first couple are always a bit squeaky!), he’s got a good German Shepherd’s bark.  He’s a lovely chilled out lad too – most of the time.  When I say ‘most of the time’ what I mean is, he can be a bit nippy when he needs a poo!!  Now I’ve worked that out I have less scars on my hands 😉

This is him after our first official walk around the land as the owners, rather than officially being trespassers with sales particulars at the ready!  So far, it’s the same picture after every walk around the perimeters of the land… but, it’s 13 acres, much bigger than running around the garden or our front room 🙂  Bless him!