Here we have the third instalment in Liberty Nimmo's farming dairy. If you have yet to read March's article, I would encourage you to do so. Liberty is an old friend of mine, but that is not the reason. Farming is a very under-appreciated vocation, and this small insight helps one remember the trials and tribulations that go into such an essential part of our economy. Liberty delivers this message firmly with heaps of charm, which is no surprise to anyone who has met her.
April at The Three Turnips
The swallows have returned – they appeared briefly and, rumour has it, then popped back to France for a long weekend where things have been a little warmer. Yet, they are now back, and so is Spring. There have been some false starts with big, blustering winds, rain, grey and everything else in between. It has indeed been the coldest April in over 50 years, and it’s been tricky to have a conversation without someone mentioning it, but the swallows are here.
It’s as though we’ve sped through the motions of Spring; wild garlic, hawthorn in flower, that resplendent cherry blossom, daffs and clematis scent now dwindling. April, Aprire – to open – and we are right here in the eye of it all watching the leaves on the horse chestnut trees appear overnight, making way for those beautiful Candles as we all roll on into May.
Aphrodite’s month – of love. I sometimes wonder who doesn’t love lambs? To watch a gang of lambs playing tag in the sunset hour or King of the Castle, or doing the 50m sprint is pure joy. Undeterred by frost and wind, the brave things skip about and know full well which way their bread is buttered and who to run back to in a moment of crisis. Lydia has been bottle feeding and mothering four charming little tots who have been gently nibbling their way through her garden. Sage, chard and pineapple weed being their preferred choice of grazing. As though she is wearing Aphrodite’s girdle, how could this ever be an irritation for Lydia? Instead, she sees only the intelligence of these little motherless tots – the way they drink, the way they play, how they browse and the hierarchy between them. No wonder Miss Dot, Lydia’s pet lamb last year, was once found with her head in the dishwasher cleaning the plates. Whoever said that animals aren’t intelligent?
Yet, the sad thing about the dreaded maths of bottle feeding a lamb is that it doesn’t add up; 4 – 6 feeds a day at £75 a bag of formula plus the time taken to feed said lamb. After the first three months, the lamb will eat a diverse mix of grasses, legumes and herbs – the very best diet which contributes to improving biodiversity, soil biology, and, most importantly, capturing and storing carbon. At 6 -8 months old, the lamb will be sold for a maximum of £180, half of which goes to the abattoir and butcher. The margins of farming, or growing and producing nutrient-rich and valuable food, are at odds with ‘business’, as are the emotions of then having to bid farewell to these good friends. But, for a pet lamb, Aphrodite knows no bounds.
This month has slightly disappeared in a puff of smoke – potatoes have been planted, more beetroot, more brassicas, more onions, squash, cucumbers, courgettes, more celeriac, more lettuces, more celery, parsley, and sweetcorn. I lose myself in lists of sowing and planting, and harvesting plans. It’s hard to keep up, and as the days lengthen, the distance between sowing and planting out shortens, and the polytunnel starts to groan with its burgeoning produce. It’s very nice, but if only the clock would slow down a little.
Market gardening is not entirely dissimilar from gambling. Will the frost take its grip? Is the seedling big enough to be transplanted? Have we got the right hoverflys? Will the fleabeetle strike? Are our ladybirds producing enough larvae? Most of these, at the moment, tend to come in as a 50-1 or 25-1 shot, so you’ve got to be prepared to lose a few along the way. Nevertheless, it can be crushing. And yet, I think the odds will increasingly be on our side over time as we continue building our system up so that it is resilient because of the way we have nurtured our soil and works in a holistic way where nature takes the reins and calls the odds, rather than me and my reams of dog-eared lists.
Elsewhere on the farm, Clive has sown his Spring crops during a fleeting dry patch as well as big swathes of wild flora for winter wild bird food. Along with a brilliant butterfly expert, Lydia has been plotting to create the right conditions to encourage the Duke of Burgundy Butterfly here on the farm, which means lots more cowslips. The Duke has been swiftly plummeting towards the trap door of extinction, but he doesn’t just like any old cowslip - those chosen tend to be on more sheltered north-facing slopes, ideally large flowering plants with wide leaves that are half shaded by a nearby shrub or tussock. Watch this space.
In case anyone asks, I’m not quite out of my thermals. Old habits die hard, and I’m not yet ready to cast aside the trusty friends of the last six months.
The Handy family have been farming a 330-acre mixed farm at Hampen for over 220 years. Clive and Lydia’s aim for Lower Hampen Farm is to provide an environment where nature is allowed to flourish and their holistic, regenerative approach aims to build soil health to benefit livestock, plants and wildlife whilst creating a circular, financially viable system.
Liberty Nimmo joined Clive and Lydia and in 2022, together they created ‘The Three Turnips’ market garden and pop-up shop. The veg box scheme provides the local community with a year-round supply of seasonal, nutrient dense vegetables grown in a Regenerative way using no-dig principals. The Saturday pop-up shop has become a hub for selling all produce from the farm including seasonal homegrown vegetables and fruit, certified Pasture Fed meat, heritage wheat flour and bread, charcoal, honey, wool, jams and preserves.
The Three Turnips” on Saturdays 10 am–4 pm in the lean-to shed at the Grain Store at Lower Hampden Farm, Andoversford, Cheltenham, Glos GL54 4JJ