on the farm in February

The Ley, Slamseys Farm

The fields are still wet and muddy and the days on the farm in February start grey and murky.

flooded footpath

The water on the public footpath in The Ley field, in the photo above, has now receded back into the ditch but the path has widened from 1.5 metres to nearly ten metres in places as walkers take an ever widening route to avoid the mud. Despite Bill’s grumbling at the crop loss, the trampled wheat seems very insignificant compared to the despair of people whose homes are still flooded or the livestock farmers who have flooded farms with dwindling feed supplies. It’s been good to see how farmers across the country have rallied together to donate and pledge offers of forage and straw, particularly the campaigns organised by enthusiastic Young Farmers.

solar panelsinstalling solar panels

Our neighbour on the farm next door is constructing a new solar facility where 24,500 solar panels are being installed in two fields on his boundary. It should, apparently, be capable of providing electricity to 1650 homes for the next twenty five years and with the push for renewable energy, will doubtless become a regular sight across the country. Walking the public footpaths around the solar panels has proved interesting, with something new to see most weeks, though Morris the fox terrier and I had to be escorted by one of the contractors, lest we were run over by one of the large lorries trying to negotiate its way along the narrow track.

barley barnThe Barley Barn, Great Slamseys

The Barley Barn is nearing completion. The internal doors have been hung, the kitchen is being fitted and this week the heating should be switched on. The website is live and bookings for courses are being taken already, so it feels as though everything is coming together even though we seem to have an endless list of “things to do” before Ruth opens the doors to her customers.

The next major job for The Barley Barn is the outdoor landscaping so it would be good if the rain and wind would blow elsewhere. Unfortunately, we are forecast showers and cloud for another week though. Hey ho, soon be spring.

Slamseys Art in The Barley Barn

The Barley Barn stands in the corner of our farm yard. To the east are the traditional farm buildings – the old cowshed, another old Essex barn and the house while to the west is the working farm yard with modern grain stores and sheds.

The Barley Barn was probably built around 1800 and appears to have been cobbled together from several older buildings, with some of the posts dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. No longer suitable for modern agriculture, the Barley Barn lay virtually unused and neglected with rope holding down the roof, rafters rotting away and some decidedly dodgy looking brickwork at the base. At the beginning of 2011, faced with expenditure just to keep the barn standing (it’s a Listed Building so letting it fall down was not an option) we sat down to work out a Grand Plan to renovate the barn so it could be put to use once again.

Barley Barn Aug13

Two years later, after bat surveys, historic building reports, planning applications, unsuccessful grant applications, business plans and a forest of paperwork, the builders started work. The small adjoining shed was knocked down, the roof and weatherboarding were stripped from the Barley Barn and the concrete floor was dug out to leave a glorious skeleton of beams. Gradually, everything has been replaced, though not necessarily as we would have chosen. As the barn is Listed, rules regulate the materials we can use, so we don’t have the internal finish we’d have liked (and what we have has cost us more) and the insulation is less efficient than we planned. Hey ho.

But, despite that, the building is gradually coming together. The roof is on, the walls are boarded and the doors are hung. There’s still plenty more work to do on the barn but, when it’s finished, The Barley Barn will house an Art Gallery and Exhibition Space and be used for craft workshop days. Our daughter Ruth, who’ll be running Slamseys Art is planning classes in crafts such as floristry, screen and lino printing, photography, upholstery and jewellery making. There’ll be Hand Made Wedding workshops for brides-to-be and Hen Weekends with Life Drawing and Nipple Tassel Making, which sounds um … interesting.

So, do any of you bright sparks out there have ideas for original and exciting classes? Have you been on an inspiring course or is there a craft that you’d like to try? Maybe you’re a tutor with skills to share.  Anything considered. All tips, advice and warnings will be gratefully received.

Christmas wreath making


I don’t decorate inside the house until Christmas Eve, when we bring in the tree and greenery but I thought it would be nice to put a cheery wreath on our door. We have a selection of wreaths, that we sell alongside our Christmas trees, and I could just unhook one and spirit it away. But, they’re all the same; uniformly made, lined up in regimented colours and remind me  of women with neat haircuts who look smart whatever they wear. As I have a rather more relaxed appearance, it’s not surprising that I prefer a slightly less formal and structured wreath.

It’s easy and quick to make a simple rustic wreath with small, whippy branches of hazel or willow cut from the hedgerow. Make a circle with one stem, overlapping the ends and then twist the overlaps around the circle. Tie the circle together with twine and then one by one, twist more stems around the base circle, overlapping them as you work around the circle. Tie at intervals with twine if it looks as though the whole thing will burst apart and leave to dry for a few days. Once dry, you can cut the twine, though I leave it tied in one place just to be on the safe side.

from the garden wreath
This is my “From the Garden” wreath using feathers, crab apples, rose hips, teasels and ivy that I picked from the garden and poked into the base. None of it is wired in, so if we get a windy day then the whole thing might fall to pieces, but until then, it’s hanging from a door that I can see from the kitchen sink.

herb wreath
The herb wreath is made with bay, marjoram, thyme and rosemary pushed in and tied onto the base with ribbon and is hanging on the back door so that instead of putting on my boots to go out to cut herbs, I can just snip them off the wreath. By the end of December it may be rather denuded.

By Christmas next year The Barley Barn will be completely renovated and Slamseys Art wil be holding courses in it. I’m going to book into the wreath making course so I can make a proper wreath that’s held together by more than a wing and a prayer.