Naomi and Dan’s adventure

The first day of our new food adventure starts today the 23rd June on the mid summer full moon. For one month we will endeavor to eat from Devon. How will it change and challenge the landscape of our diet? How in a predominantly vegan community will it make us re address how we eat and what we consume? How will this work in one of the busiest month’s of Embercombe’s calendar?

Our intent is to deepen our experience of the food that we are eating. To make this an exciting inquiry into how it feels, how challenging and how rewarding it is to eat from our county. This is about relationship and making sense of the world, by making sense of the food that we eat. Connecting more with land, growers, producers, distributors and ourselves.

This is a good time to be starting. The hungry gap (late this year because of the long hard winter) is drying up, and a season of abundance is knocking on the door. We’re digging up potatoes and carrots in our poly tunnel. We have a field of broad beans, and far too many early bolted onions to make any grower happy. We have some peas in the garden, some chard and plenty of red Russian kale from early spring sowings. The courgettes under cover are starting to produce, and the strawberries are giving their first – quite late – fruit. A lot is available from just this piece of land, and a lot is still to come. Following the strawberries will be the gooseberries (not long!), the cherries, jostaberries, currants, loganberries, summer raspberries…. Carrots, beetroot, parsnips, fennel, celeriac, Swede, potatoes – all these hearty belly fillers and energy givers are in the ground, some growing a lot faster than others. The first spuds won’t be too long now – perhaps a month – whilst those old parsnips will be many a month still. We grow fruit and vegetables for a community and educate around the principals of growing and sustainability. The prospect of eating fruit and vegetables just from the garden and the local area, feels possible if slightly challenging, exciting and something to be proud of.

We’ve just had breakfast – boiled eggs, from our chickens, toast and butter. Toast – wheat from UK growers, water, and salt. Sourdough yeast cultures from the grain and the air. Butter – milk from YeoValley cows across the border to Dorset and salt again. We also had a milky coffee and used up the last of yesterdays pancake batter, with strawberries from the field, kefir and a little of our precious Embercombe honey.  Coffee!? Tea?! Salt, pepper and olive oil ….Yes, we have allowed ourselves a couple of exceptions – notably these – for now at least. An adventure none the less!

Sugar? Home made wine? Honey? The honey in the Embercombe kitchen comes from Bulgaria, the pumpkin seeds from china…..How much harder will this be in Embercombe’s kitchen than a our own?

This morning we found ourselves at a pre breakfast car boot sale. We where met by a stark reminder about how much society unconsciously consumes. Time to bring consciousness and questioning to our plates and to our stomachs.

Here we go!


Food Growing on the National Curriculum

As spring is rapidly arriving and new shoots are popping up all around Embercombe it feels poignant to read that horticulture looks like it may be set to find a place on the key stage 1-3 national curriculum from September 2014.

Myles Bremner, Chief Executive of Garden Organic, said that horticulture on the curriculum “… will give pupils an opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables, which is a vital part of their wider food education and brings so many other benefits in terms of health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours.”

It seems so vital to be connecting our young people to the land and to what they eat so that they can grow up knowing more about food based on hands on experience. We need to learn about what is in our back garden before we can possibly comprehend a global system.

Last week we worked with Hereford Steiner School and watched the film Food Inc. alongside gardening, cooking and visiting a local beef farm. It sparked many interesting conversations about where our food comes from and a curiosity to continue learning.

To find out more about the addition to the curriculum you can look at the Gardening Organic website:














What’s happening in the garden?

So as we swiftly pass through autumn and winter appears to be just around the corner there is much going on in Embercombe’s garden!

Over the past few weeks we have been busy in the field garden planting up crops that will “over-winter” (i.e. stay in the ground over winter) and will be ready for us to harvest in the spring and help to close the dreaded “hungry gap” (the period between vegetables planted and/or stored from the year before running out, and the new vegetables of the current year being ready to harvest). A field of plants from the Allium family consisting of leeks, garlic, and onions, as well as the addition of spring cabbages to the current Brassica patch have been our main focus lately.

In the poly-tunnels meanwhile it has been all change in keeping with the seasons. Out have come all the deliciously scented basil and tomato plants which lined each side over summer and provided us with many a tasty morsel, and in their place have gone winter salads, carrots, and spuds; an important food source over the winter.

Due to the recent rain, the garden is suffering slightly as the ground is difficult to work and the race is on to “put to bed” as many beds as possible for the winter. As many gardeners may know (particularly those permaculturists out there), bare soil is bad news, and as our beds become clear and winter sets in it is important that we do all we can to make life easier for ourselves when the ground thaws out next year. This means weeding, feeding, and mulching the beds, and making sure they are well covered to reduce perennial weeds and recharge the soil. If you have cardboard lying around that hasn’t made it out to the recycling bin yet, get it down on any bare beds and mulch over the top for an effective weed killer.

Celeriac and leek are our winter staples this year after a distinct lack of sun led to a dismal squash harvest. If anyone has any innovative recipes for either please let us know!

Bye for now,

The Embercombe gardening team

Jo Clark unveils Embercombe’s new Land Management Plan

Embercombe Land Management Plan

Most of our work at Embercombe includes a land based element. We are blessed with a diverse landscape that provides numerous opportunities to match an activity to any of the wide range of programmes that we offer. As we develop this fantastic resource more choices become available, a richer habitat is created for the wildlife and a greater selection of food and other useful raw materials are provided as well as an ever improving aesthetic.

Eleven years ago there was woodland, one large and two very small fields, a lake ,two hangers and a runway and Embercombe was unfenced and open to the deer. Now forty acres of land has been fenced enabling us to carry out coppicing cycles and the planting of new trees in the woods. More woodland areas have also been created, new hedgerows, field scale cropping, a forest garden and two orchards. Clearly then, since Embercombe took over the management of this land huge improvements have taken place and due to conscious intervention and non intervention more wildlife habitats have been created.

The grassland

Often the terms natural or unnatural are used when describing the outdoor environment, so this requires clarification. The land outside the deer fence is severely overgrazed by the fallow deer and there is degradation of the broad leaf woodland where no natural regeneration is taking place. In what we may call a natural environment there would be sufficient predation of the wild grazing animals so the flora of the forest would not be under threat. The last wolves were killed by humans in the mid sixteenth century, we are now the only predator and we are not keeping pace with what appears to be an exponential increase in their population. Inside our deer fence on the other hand we have examples of grassland amongst the new tree plantations where a small number of wild plants dominate because they are not grazed. In our new tree plantations where strimming and scything have been used to control the undergrowth a wider range of wild plants exist. The above examples expose two extremes; overgrazing and zero grazing. In a natural environment where wild grazing animals are hunted by carnivores there could very well exist a natural balance where herbivores do not denude the woodlands and glades, trees naturally regenerate and annual and perennial plants can complete their life cycles without being continually nibbled off.

This assessment of what we mean by natural leads to an explanation of how we manage our meadows. Until September 2009 Embercombe had an arrangement with our neighbouring beef farmer. This management involved the harvesting of a crop of hay annually for feeding his cattle, applying a small amount of animal manure and his cattle grazing the meadows in the autumn. The grassland became a little malnourished as more was being taken from the land than returned. This was apparent through observing relatively slow spring growth and small yields of hay. This did not however effect the diversity of plant species as hay was always made in July or August so wild flowers had the opportunity to reseed. The example exists where there was no grazing or hay making around the stone circle where natural regeneration of mysteriously planted oak trees has been allowed to take place, an area that has now been fenced for its protection from grazing animals. In this area and in the areas that have been planted with new trees there has been created through being protected an environment in which trees will develop into new woodland. They are an example of what would happen if no grazing or cultivation took place.

Since Embercombe took control of the grassland it has been grazed by heavy horses that we no longer have and a neighbours’ sheep and horses.

The grassland has now been divided into five paddocks where grazing can be rotated. The oak grove meadow and cedar hill are managed as wild flower meadows where grazing or haymaking takes place in late summer. Last year three north Ronaldsey rams and eleven Shetland ewes were purchased for the purpose of managing the pasture and the provision of wool and meat with all the obvious educational benefits. The ewes have now sixteen lambs, the ewe lambs will be reared and added to the flock and the ram lambs will be reared until the age of eighteen months and then slaughtered for meat. Some of this will be used at Embercombe and the rest will be sold.

At Embercombe we are exploring many forms of land use; vegetables, fruit, polytunnels, orchards, forest garden, coppice, high forest, hedgerows, grazing meadows and areas of non intervention. Our forest garden simulates woodland condition whilst providing food from many varieties of perennial, biannual and annual plants. In the home field we have field scale crops ensuring sufficient produce for all visitors and residents. The new orchard is a traditional plantation with 55 trees including fifty varieties of apple which will provide a staple for generations to come with their many and varied uses. This area also houses the chickens. Over the last few years they have fulfilled a vital role in food production. All the non compostable kitchen food waste is fed to these omnivores who occupy a large area with ample greenery. Until now the point of lay birds have been bought from an organic supplier. We now have a cockerel and we will begin a breeding programme which will inevitably produce male offspring that will be reared for meat.

Meat, eggs, carbon, protein and buildings

The main headings at the centre of our “land based curriculum” are food and shelter. What we choose to eat and how we resource or produce it will be the subject of many “ courageous conversations” here at Embercombe and we hope far beyond. If there came a day where this was not the case it would certainly be a cause for concern.

Part of fulfilling our mission statement is to offer visitors an opportunity to connect with processes and phenomena that assist them in reconnecting with themselves. The garden is a fantastic and accessible resource that offers an uncontroversial connection with the earth that feeds us.

Few people have a close up experience of all that is involved in the production of meat,milk and eggs. At present we buy cows milk and butter and are therefore actively participating in the dairy and meat industry and yet we are unable to offer an experience that helps to connect our visitors with these processes. There are of course many discussions relating to a “need” for specific types of protein and the human, environmental and ethical implications in sourcing it. For example a comparison between the sourcing and consumption of a carton of cows milk compared to that of soya milk may lead to some surprising findings in relation to the impact that our choices have on the planet and its inhabitants.

Organic, well managed grazed grassland is very good for carbon sequestration and for the biodiversity of flora and fauna, whilst offering us the meat, milk, eggs, leather and other animal products that the majority of the population utilise

At Embercombe we are very keen to explore the wild of both our inner and the outer landscape and this outer landscape on our fifty acre site is very rich in wild plants that we can utilise for food, medicine, dyeing, tools, building and more. I am under no illusion however that on the whole this is a managed landscape and much as we underestimate what there is to learn from hunter gatherers both past and present our survival depends on managing the land. What we have already demonstrated here is that through conscious and sensitive relationship with the land, with responsible and respectful husbandry and with an understanding of both the long term needs of human beings and of other species we can, and have created a richer and more diverse environment.

Diversity on all levels is at the centre of Embercombe’s work. We work with individuals and organisations from all walks of life and we do not adhere to or advocate any one spiritual or philosophical path. Our investigation towards finding a sustainable way of managing and caring for our land and producing the food we need also demonstrates an openness to a range of approaches, whilst reflecting the range of views held and lifestyle choices made by the wider community. However the overarching policy for our land management is that of organic practice (we have soil association certification) as it is without doubt that the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is contrary to any sustainable system.

Future plans

When I am sure that we have sufficient experienced people we will introduce small ponies that will help us convey materials around the site without the use of fossil fuels, which will provide yet another opportunity for children and adults to connect with animals in a positive way. Likewise the introduction of goats for grazing the marginal land and producing milk is being considered.

Future documents

I will be working this forthcoming winter on a revised woodland management plan that will project ahead until some of the oak trees that have recently been planted will be ready for harvesting for building and fuel (150-200 years). There has been some work done and there is much more to do on a full permaculture design for the whole of the site both retrospective and well into the future.

My wish is that this overview will inspire discussion and feedback.