Flourish

Summer Session at the Allotment

Luckily there was a bit of cloud cover on this particular mid-July Wednesday morning, because very hot weather can make it tricky for the St Nicholas group at the allotment. Sarah and Felicity Ann had prepared some activities in the shade, including digging potatoes, looking at some of the reference library and making/decorating name badges for the Allotment Open Morning on 25th July.

Some people did some trimming back of brambles and clearing, tidying up the entrance area to the Allotment.

Beautiful new sign for Ringmer Community Orchard

By Emma Chaplin

Owena from Baulcombes Barn brought three Bluebell House members along to Ringmer Community Orchard for a very special reason. Baulcombes regulars Ash and Sue, along with Paul, have developed a keen interest in pyrography, also called poker wood, or wood burning, which is creating art in wood by burning a design with a hot tip.  

I was hugely impressed. It's a wonderful piece of work, with beautiful apple designs. The lettering must have taken a lot of work to be so accurate, neat and well-spaced.

Ash told me about how it come about:

"Last year Ben, Bluebell House Occupational Therapist, asked us if we'd mind creating a sign for Ringmer Community Orchard, after Flourish asked if it might be possible, having seen one we'd done for Baulcombes. "

"It took about two and a half months, which is nine or ten sessions. We all had pyrography machines and worked on it together, three at a time. We bought the wood online. We wanted something to last. This is birch ply. It's nice and thick, which is good for  pyrography. "

"It's the first time we've tried something so big. We have tried pine in the past, but it was too soft." 

"In terms of the apple designs we chose, it was a joint effort. Sue drew the designs on paper. We all chose the font. Natalie from Bluebell House printed the letters off for us. We wanted it to stand out. Paul did all the measuring to fit the letters in. We traced the lettering because we found that using graphite paper didn't work."

"We did the burning together. Then we put on about three coats of varnish - and the varnish does pong! You've got to be careful about breathing it in. We kept it in a separate room."

"The last piece we made was a 5th birthday design for Bluebell House."

"We've really enjoyed it and us doing pyrography has inspired other people to do it at Bluebell."

Owena took a look at the sign to see if she could put it up there and then, but, looking at it, we all felt it needed some extra bits of wood to fix it properly to the gate without putting holes in the sign in a way that would spoilt the design. So that will happen at a future date.

Owena had bought some art supplies for Emma to present as a thank you from Flourish to Sue, Ash and Paul for all their incredible hard work.

Katharine and the Orchard members will be hugely delighted to have such a wonderful sign.

Last Rural Pathways session at Baulcombes Barn

By Emma Chaplin

We had our last session with the Plumpton College Rural Pathways students at Baulcombes Barn on Friday. First of all, the group fed the pigs and tended to the hens as usual. Then they came back to the pony field area to clean that (and meet Ben, the new pony) and remove some posts.

They had a break for a drink of Ringmer Community Orchard apple juice first because it was hot.

Emma and Mark Gilbert took students aside one by one to do a feedback exercise. Rhiannan from Bluebell House was kindly there to cook food for our end of term celebration over an open fire by the pond, because she's great at it. She recently did an Erasmus cookery course in France. Rhiannan fried onions and made a fantastic salad with finely sliced fennel and lots of other interesting and delicious ingredients.

Mark, who has excellent skills in this area, helped her with the fire and the meat cooking. Rhiannan has developed an interest in meat and butchery and is talking to Owena about it. Owena had provided sausages and burgers from her own animals, and bought locally made Mamoosh pittas.

First we presented the students with their certificates. Owena and Ivan have been very impressed by how hard the group have worked. So Emma created certificates which told each person what Owena and Ivan thought were their strengths, and then she read all of these out before giving them out.

Then we ate a delicious lunch by the pond. It was a beautiful setting. Niyati had brought Owena flowers and elderflower cordial. Emma had brought a carrot cake by Felicity Ann, sessional worker at Lewes Community Allotment, for afters.

Everyone thanks Owena and Ivan, and Rhiannan. What a lovely term it's been. We wish all the students the very best of luck in the future.

Tourist Information Window - celebrating three years of Flourish

We decided to celebrate three years of the Flourish project with a display in one of the Lewes Tourist Information Centre windows. The Lewes TIC is situated in the centre of town, so lots of people see it, and many service users can take a look as they pass by.

We wanted to involve users in the display, for it to be entertaining and engaging, to tell a story through pictures, in the most part, and to show what we do, offering positive images of people with learning disabilities and mental health challenges at the sessions that we run at our three sites.

We included quotations from service users about how they'd felt after their sessions in the 'clouds'.

The overall look of the display was designed by graphic designer Suzie Johanson. Photographer David Stacey helped with lots of the planning and thought processes, and did a fantastic job compiling letters of the project using photographs. Michi Mathias created the pictures of the horse and stable door as well as the apple tree and apples that you can see in the photos, representing Baulcombes Barn and Ringmer Community Orchard. Lewes Community Allotment is in the centre, represented by a hazel obelisk, as well as two watering cans, two trugs (one full of knitted fruit and veg on loan from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership), and various gardening tools.

A team of myself (Emma Chaplin, project manager), Suzie, Michi and Lois gathered at the TIC with handfuls of props to set everything up. The TIC kindly lent us the astroturf, and we used the struts and fishing line to dangle everything. We stuck the photos up with push pins, added apples with blu-tac (which I got upsidedown to start with!) and laid out all the other bits and pieces, adding straw and the knitted veg. 

We've included a number of wildlife creatures we see at the allotment in the window for people to find - including a blackbird, a caterpillar, a bee, a hedgehog, a lizard and two butterflies.

Michi also created a fantastic poster which features various animals from Baulcombes Barn as well as quotes from members of Bluebell House Recovery Centre, who attend regular sessions.

Huge thanks to everyone who helped! It was Maggie's idea to do it in the first place in the TIC. Thanks to Lois Parker, for the great butterflies and lizard, and for helping out with the window set-up. James McCauley, who heroically helped with sorting, editing and printing all the project photos (on the post on the left hand side). Arnold Goldman lent us a trug, as did Anne Turner. Janet Sutherland lent a watering can and old seed packets.  Billie from Leadbetter and Good, who lent us the pig.

And thanks to everyone in the Tourist Info, who have been so helpful and supportive. 

A wet, wild & fun wildlife walk with Michael Blencowe at The Secret Campsite

By Emma Chaplin

We haven't had the best of luck with weather in terms of visiting The Secret Campsite in Barcombe. It was unbearably hot last summer when the St Nicholas Centre group visited. And this time we had quite a lot of rain.

But Eleanor of St Nicks and the group (which was the usual Wednesday allotment group, plus some previous St Nicks allotment attendees) said they were happy to wear raincoats and come anyway, and neither Tim, who runs The Secret Campsite, nor our (Sussex) Wildlife friend Michael Blencowe, wanted to let rain stop play, so we decided to make the best of it. Tim and Michael know each other of old.

First of all, we all gathered in the reception building of The Secret Campsite where Tim greeted us, and Michael jokingly mentioned what we wouldn't be able to spot on this visit. Butterflies in particular. But what we could do was look under the snake boards to see who might be sheltering.

So we put up our hoods and headed out. Michael was sporting an excellent, waterproof poncho he told us he'd won in a raffle.

He explained that The Secret Campsite is well known for its wildlife. They have a Wildlife Festival every year. They have bat boxes, for example, and a pond. We began by looking up at various bird boxes tucked under eaves. Then we walked further into the campsite to find and carefully lift each of the snake boards (boards which warm up when it's sunny, which snakes and other creatures like to hide under).

First of all we spotted several wood mice scampering off, and saw their nest surrounded  by cracked acorns they'd been eating. We saw a friendly toad (which Michael picked up carefully to show us). In total, we saw five slow worms and a common shrew. A lot more than we expected.

We walked into the woods for a brief look at the bluebells. We noticed the the fire point on the way, which has a dampener in case camp fires get a bit fierce, then buckets of water and fire extinguishers. Plus there's a alarm bell you turn by hand, that a few members of the group had a turn on (there weren't any campers to scare!).

We had a look up at a tree tent, Michael and Miles had a little kick about with a football until everyone caught up, and finally we went back to the main building for elderflower cordial and biscuits. Plus a look at an animal skull and some handy pictures of animals that you might see at the campsite. For fun, Michael wrote the names of all the members into the tree-named plots on the empty camp plan, with some sketches of creatures we'd seen.

It was great, despite the rain, and it was lovely of Michael to come along to talk to us, and for Tim to host. 

Thanks all!

Chickens, lambs & a puppy. Our St Nicholas group visit Baulcombes Barn.

By Emma Chaplin

Our regular allotment group from the St Nicholas Centre really enjoy visiting the animals at Baulcombes Barn, so Owena agreed to host them on (mostly) sunny April day, so they could see the newborn lambs, groom the ponies, see the broody hen and much else besides.

It was lovely for us to see some old faces get off the bus with support worker Eleanor, as well as members of our current group. Volunteer Penny and sessional worker Felicity Ann came along too, which was great.

Penny and I made some drinks (tea, coffee, and homemade elderflower cordial), then we sat outside the therapy room, those who wanted to taking turns to hold Dottie the puppy, whilst Owena explained the safety rules of the farm - washing hands after touching the animals, not eating near the animals, and being quiet and gentle around them so we don't alarm them.

We watched some swallows fly down into the stable roof - Owena explained that they had arrived after their winter migration a couple of days before.

Then we went to see a broody hen on her eggs, fed the chickens, collected some eggs, held the cockerel and a hen, saw the lambs in the field, watched whilst Owena caught Tallulah the pony, stroked Buster, said hello to Frankie, and finally, those who wanted to, groomed Tallulah in the yard.

Lots of interesting questions were asked during the visit. Do horses prefer apples to hay? (Owena said they mostly eat grass now they can). Does the broody hen ever get off her nest? (yes, to eat, drink and stretch her legs). Owena also pointed out that Dottie had some fur shaven because she'd recently been spayed so she couldn't have puppies. Some people weren't sure if they liked that, so we chatted about it for a bit, and what it means to have puppies that then grow into dogs.

Everyone thanked Owena for a lovely morning then got back on the bus to head back to Lewes.

Bluebell at Baulcombes. Lambs, a therapeutic puppy & some naughty weaners

By Emma Chaplin

The group from Bluebell House enjoyed some hot cross buns and a bit of puppy love from Dottie at their last session before Easter. There is a new weather vane outside the therapy room made from a pheasant feather.

We fed the chickens, took a look at the new-born lambs with their mums that were having extra care in the stables, then headed out along the muddy lane to feed the pigs and see the ponies.

The ponies were pleased to see us, and enjoyed their hay. Unfortunately, the awful weather had caused the battery to go flat for the electric fence keeping the weaners in, and we found them making a determined effort to escape by digging. We distracted them by mixing and giving them food whilst Owena put a new battery in place. Then we headed back to the therapy room. 

Farm update from Owena, 16 April 2018: Lambing is now over. 54 lambs have been born. No ewes were lost, although a couple needed some extra care. Penny has just had her piglets, but unfortunately, due to the difficult weather conditions, the extreme mud and some bad luck, only two have survived. 

Signs of spring & other news from the Community Allotment

By Sarah Rideout, 14/3/2018

Saw lots on our 'signs of spring' walk today - wild violets, bumble bees, lambs, skylarks, and the tiny delicate jewels of hazel flowers. A common lizard was warming itself on the tyre by the pond.

Leeks, kale, Japanese salads, herbs and brussels sprouts were all picked today in the sunshine - but look out for a cold snap again this weekend...!

Problem-solving with the Rural Pathways group at Baulcombes

Friday morning our work experience group helped repair some fencing at the Stable Field, Hamsey.

They also fed and tended to the animals. But with the wet weather, we were slipping and sliding when we carried the feed for the sow, Penny and the boar Jeremy. So a few weeks ago we created a 'board walk'. It makes our life much easier.

The next task is to improve the area where we feed Penny and Jeremy. Suggestions so far have been to lay some large sleepers for them to stand on instead of sinking into the mud!

Owena Lewis, Farmer and Therapist

News from Baulcombes Barn

In the last week of January, we were puppy-sitting little Dottie, so she spent some time with us at Baulcombes Barn. She enjoyed her time on the farm, with all the smells and unusual and new things to explore. She was fussed over by the Bluebell House group, and both were pleased to meet each other.

At one point, she watched the hens through the gate, before going in the yard to meet them. We soon realised that she was less interested in the hens than their poo!

Later that week, the Plumpton College Rural Pathways group came for their work experience session and worked well at various tasks. These included: feeding and tending pigs, sheep, hens and ponies.

One student commented how clever the hens are, making the feed hopper work in order to feed themselves.

Another student found where some of our free range hens had been laying eggs, and helped to collect fourteen eggs.

Unfortunately, at the weekend after the groups had been, two chicken were killed by a fox. I suspect that the chickens did not get into the chicken house before the safety nighttime door closed, because the evenings are getting lighter and they may not have been ready to go to roost.

I have now set the automatic door to close an hour later. We need to keep an eye on the daylight changing and keep adjusting it accordingly.

Report by Owena Lewis, therapist and farmer

New Rural Pathways student group at Lewes Community Allotment

We were delighted to welcome a new group of Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College to the allotment. It was their first session in this academic year. Unfortunately Sarah the allotment coordinator wasn't well, so the group was led by a group of us. Myself (Emma, Flourish project manager), Mark, Felicity Ann, Penny plus Niyati and Maisie from Plumpton.

I introduced myself and explained a bit about the Flourish project. I checked out photo permissions and discussed the Golden Rules. These include safety measures, such as: being aware of uneven ground, not running, the fact that there are ponds, wearing protective gloves when dealing with thorns and brambles, using tools safely etc, and inviting thoughtful ways of behaving at the allotment, including awareness of allotment neighbours (ie not shouting), and being aware of others working around you - good teamwork etc. I also talked about the Flourish ethos. 

We were joined at that point by two allotment members, Sue and Carina, who came over to welcome the students. Mark invited them to say a bit about why they liked being members of a community allotment, and what benefits being part of a community can offer. They said that they enjoy the companionship, the fresh air, the exercise, as well as sharing the tasks and the produce that is grown over the year.

After that, everyone from Plumpton and Flourish introduced themselves and told each other what vegetables and fruit we either liked or hated.

Mark then took the group onto the Downs next to the community allotment for a game of 'bat and moth', as a fun exercise to get to know each other a bit better, as well as a way of thinking about our senses and how we use them. He began by asking us to form a circle, then to close our eyes and listen to how many sounds we could hear in 30 seconds. After we opened our eyes and checked in, some people heard a few sounds (birdsong was common), others heard lots of different ones, including voices, cars, dogs, children playing. 

Then Mark said we were going to play bat and moth. This involved one person being a bat, wearing a blindfold, several people were moths. The blindfolded bat was going to try to touch them, with the rest of the group standing around in a circle as 'trees'. The person being a bat could use echo location - the mechanism that actual bats use to catch insects. What that actually meant in the game was that if he or she said 'bat', the moths had to respond by saying 'moth' immediately. This helped the bat locate the moths using his or her ears. To make the game safe for the blindfolded bat, the people around the circle or trees would shout 'tree' if the bat got close to them.

If was a very interesting game, and it became clear that you are much more likely to be able to find your 'prey' if you use the echo location frequently. The bats did really well, but commented that it is disorientating losing one sense that you normally rely so much upon, ie sight.

After the game was over, Felicity Ann showed the group around the allotment - the raised beds, compost heaps, the ponds, the shed etc.

For future sessions, the students will be undertaking gardening tasks when they come, such as turning over the compost, clearing the ground and weeding.

We look forward to seeing them all again.

Emma Chaplin, Jan 2018

Welcome to Baulcombes Barn, Rural Pathways students!

It was great to welcome the new group of seven Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College to Baulcombes Barn. They came with support workers Niyati and Kieran, and were greeted by Owena and Ivan, plus myself, Flourish project manager Emma.
We sat in the art/therapy room around the wood burner whilst everyone introduced themselves, said what experience we all had of both farms and animals.

Then Owena talked about health and safety issues such as:

  • Being aware that there are electric fences
  • Only eating/having food & drink in the designated areas where animals do not go - not even in your pockets or bag - the animals will want to get the food from you and it sends the wrong message
  • Being aware of animals that bite or kick (pigs might nibble your boot, which is fine, but you need to keep your hands away from their mouths - they have incredibly sharp teeth). It's fine to stroke their backs. Ponies might bite if they are anxious or think you have food, and they can kick too (be careful walking behind them)
  • You should not rub a ram (male sheep) on the front of his face or head - it's an invitation to fight
  • Being careful where you walk - the rain causes the ground to be muddy/slippery underfoot, and the ground isn't even in places 
  • Everyone needs to wash their hands with soap after being at Baulcombes Barn
  • It's important to always close the gate behind you

Owena then talked about the animals, their food, habits and bedding.

Ponies

There are three ponies; Frankie, Buster and Tallulah. They live in a field most of the time and eat grass, but are given hay in the winter too when there isn't enough grass, when it's muddy or the ground is frozen. The ponies need grooming and sometimes their horse dung is collected from the fields in wheelbarrows (to reduce risk of spreading infection) and kept in heaps to rot down for manure. The students can help with all of these tasks.

Owena passed around hay (dried grass - which is winter food for the ponies), straw (which is bedding, not edible, and can be barley or wheat stalks) for pigs, ponies and ewes when they lamb bedding, and explained the difference.

Sheep

The variety of sheep she keeps, Owena explained, are Shetland. They are various colours and she uses their wool to make rugs and cushions, and they become joints of hogget, which is lamb but older, which she sells at the market. She talked about the ewes, or female sheep, and how they are due to be giving birth to lambs in March. The usual number of lambs each ewe has is two, but the ewes are being scanned this week to check, and will be marked if there are more or less than twins. Ewes having more than two lambs will be given sheep nuts near lambing, to help them produce more milk.

Pigs

Owena's sow (female pig) will have piglets.

Once weaned from their mother, the pigs are fed milled barley mixed with water. The students are welcome to bring apples for them she said. because the pigs love to eat them and they are not bad for them. The Rural Pathways students will be taught how to feed the pigs.

Owena sells pork from her pigs at the market in the form of joints, burgers and sausages.

Chicken

Owena has two flocks of chicken, some that are pretty (the Brahma variety), and the brown community hens, who lay the most eggs! They are all free range, and they are fed with layers pellets. They need feeding, cleaning out and the eggs need collecting. The students can help with that.

The chickens produce eggs, which Owena sells. Sometimes they hatch eggs which broody hens sit on to produce chicks. Sometimes Owena will eat the chickens,

At this point, everyone then put their wellies on and went for a walk around the farm, to meet the animals that they will be working with in future.
 

Emma Chaplin, Jan 2018

Making bunting with the St Nicholas group

It was a bit too windy for making leaf bunting at the allotment, so we made some instead at the St Nicholas Centre. We also decorated some sugar paper bunting that Maggie had brought with chalk designs. We also got to practice our knot-tying skills! Then hung it up in the sensory garden outside.

We looked at how land artists Chris Drury and Andy Goldsworthy make their leaf sculptures. People really responded and liked their work. Then we made a leaf picture of our own. 

Thanks to Maggie for leading the session and for the great support from Felicity Ann and Penny.

Words and pictures by Sarah Rideout

Bluebell at Baulcombes. Rams, vets and piglets

Project manager Emma Chaplin went along to meet Owena and the new Bluebell House group at Baulcombes Barn on a lovely Wednesday afternoon in early November. Sue from Bluebell House had made a beautiful new Baulcombes Barn sign.

As everyone introduced themselves, Owena explained that the vet was due to look at Frankie's sore skin on his tummy during the session, and asked if everyone was ok with that. If anyone wasn't ok with it, they could stay out of the way, but everyone said they didn't mind meeting the vet.

Sandra mentioned that her ponies were in a recent movie that was filmed locally, Goodbye Christopher Robin.

We ate our lunches together, and Owena discussed health and safety issues for new people (washing hands, not eating food outside the shelter area, being aware of the mood of the animals etc), then we went outside. There are three rams in the field near the shelter. Owena mentioned a few things to be aware of when entering their field, including:

  • don’t rub between horns, because they take it as sign to fight
  • if you get chased, turn round and spit at them, because they hate it

Some people went to see the rams, some fed the chickens, a few groomed the horses, and helped when the vet arrived by helping keep Frankie calm as he was sedated and treated. The vet shaved his tummy, washed the skin with a special treatment (Frankie has very thick hair and might have been overheating in the mild autumn temperatures), then rinsed that off with a hose and applied cream.

Then we all walked along to feed the pigs and meet the piglets. When we got back, one new member of the group said after his walk and time with the animals:

"I've calmed down and woken up. I feel better now"

Here are some photos of our afternoon:

Apple Course with Plumpton Supported Interns

On a sunny day in early October, a group of 13 Supported Interns from Plumpton College came along to Ringmer Community Orchard, where Peter May, Stephan Gehrels (from Brighton Permaculture Trust) and facilitator Mark Gilbert greeted them and put on a day of learning about apples; picking them, grading them and weighing them. The group worked very hard and managed to pick lots of apples, mostly Red Falstaff with some (green) Edward VII. They also tasted some juice from the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park.

Here are some photos (taken by Mark Gilbert):

One week later, the same group went to the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park where Stephan of Brighton Permaculture Trust showed them how to wash the apples, cut out the rotten bits, then crush them in the macerator, put the pulp in the hydropress, and press the pulp into gallons of lovely raw juice.

The group then tasted it, poured some into glass bottles and some into plastic containers. The glass bottles went on to be pasteurised, the group could take the raw juice containers away, one each, to drink (within three days).

A passer-by came over to buy some raw juice for her grandson, which was fun.

Here are some photos of the day (taken by Emma Chaplin):

In the afternoon, after a lunch break, Bryn from Brighton Permaculture Trust (BPT) joined the group to give a tour of the orchards at Stanmer. He talked about how orchards were planted in order to produce food and drink, for people to enjoy and learn in, to support wildlife, and to provide blossom for bees to produce honey. He showed us the bee hives.

He explained that BPT help schools and communities to plant orchards. Each orchard will feed three or four generations of people because apple trees can last to be over 100 years old. Trees get less productive as they get old. Pruning helps refresh growth. Sometimes older branches fall off and leave holes. These are good for insects and birds. Blue tits and great tits love them, and they also eat green caterpillars. 

The orchard we first looked at holds the national collection of Sussex apple trees, and each had a beautiful ceramic name label, made by Anne-Marie Bur.

We looked at the moss and lichen -  Bryn said that there are 60 species at Stanmer - and told us that lichen is an algae and a fungi living together. 

Members of the group asked lots of questions as we walked around. Bryn asked us to think about why trees produce fruit in the first place - and what we concluded, was that it means the tree spreads its seeds - after the apples are eaten. These happened by means of horses, pigs and bears in Kazakhstan, where apple trees originated. 

We looked at some Golden pippin apples. It's thought the Romans might have eaten apples similar to these. The Romans were skilled at grafting, and we know they cultivated orchards. Surviving Roman mosaics certainly depict apples.

Bryn showed us the Sussex collection, which has a row of trees planted at an angle so that they stay small - also, Bryn explained - branches trained to grow sideways produce more fruit. 

We looked at the Knobby russet - which tastes nice but has rough skin, like a toad.

Bryn showed us a large lump at root of tree which he told us had come from the grafting process. 

We discussed why there are so many types of apples, and we thought it was because they all taste different, their ripening times vary, and each has adapted to grow in a particular place. 

We talked about the Great Storm of 1987 and the fact that it led to a lot of damaged and destroyed trees in Stanmer.

After this really interesting walk and talk, the group headed back to the Fruit Factory, where Stephan had finished pasteurising the juice. The bottles were warm but ready for the group to take back to their base at the Linklater, where they can design their own labels. These they will show Huw at the Elephant and Castle pub, the last part of the apple juice project between Flourish and Plumpton. Then their juice bottles can be sold towards a charity of the students' choice. Here is a link to the work done by last year's students.

Thanks to Stephan, Bryn, Peter and Mark for all their hard work - and thanks to the interns for all of theirs too.

Emma Chaplin, Flourish Project Manager

Bench cushion at the Allotment

Since we've got such a fine new bench at the allotment from a Transition Town Lewes donation, we felt it would be really lovely if interested allotment members created a cushion for it, made from wool from Owena's sheep at Baulcombes Barn.

So Owena came up to the allotment with bags of her wool and her peg-loom, to demonstrate how to make a peg-loom 'cushion' (which could just as easily be a rug). They are relatively easy to make, once you've got the technique, and every one is different, which is particularly nice - it depends on the colour of the sheep, and Owena's sheep are Shetland sheep, which have different coloured wool, from pale to dark brown. 

Owena showed us examples of ones she's working on and explained that wool, once so valuable, has largely lost value in this country - and is mostly exported. The top she was wearing has been made from soft, fine merino wool. In New Zealand, they have developed fine wool products such as merino, which are still commercially valuable.

She told us that you can weave with either unwashed or washed wool. The former is somewhat smellier and the outcome more random, but can be washed in a machine after it's been woven. Washed and combed wool, on the other hand, is fluffy and cloud-like. She handed round examples of combed/washed and uncombed/unwashed wool and explained that you can wash the unwashed wool in a tub with a hard olive oil soap bar. Or, you can get it washed and combed by an expert she knows with suitable equipment, which does make life easier! She had taken some of the Shetland wool to Diamond Fibres to be processed into 'slivers' which we can use for peg loom weaving. 'Slivers' - the first stage of raw fleece. Roving - is when you get a long cord of it.

She then demonstrated how to use the loom, which is quite simple once you've got the wool prepared. You use strong strands of wool to run through the rug as you weave it, that get tightened as you press each woven layer down. Differences in tension make for variations in widths of the woven rug/blanket. Once you've filled each peg, you pull the pegs out of what you've woven, one by one, and push them back in to the holes again, so you can start weaving again. So the length of the weave increases bit by bit. 

Emma and Sarah went to measure the bench so the allotment weavers could decide how many pegs to use to make the cushions to fit the seat ie the right width. In terms of length, Owena pointed out you can make one long weave to make a cushion, or several smaller ones, which you can then join together.  

The group began to weave their own cushion, with Owena's supervision.

Update - early November

Everyone that wanted to (including volunteers, staff, allotment members and project users) has contributed to increasing the length of the peg-loom cushion over the intervening weeks, so it's a lovely patchwork of all our efforts. Owena returned to work with the St Nicholas Day Centre group in order to show them how to finish off the cushion, ready to go on the bench. So now we have the finished product, and it's comfy, warm and lovely. Thanks everyone, wonderful joint effort.

Last Bluebell session at Baulcombes. Marshmallows & felt!

By Flourish project manager Emma Chaplin

It was a sunny, muggy day for the last Bluebell House session at Baulcombes Barn of this project year (which for Flourish, runs September-August).

Sitting outside under the shade of a tree, we began by 'checking in', each person saying how they feel about being there.

We then shared some lovely refreshments. Rhiannan had very kindly brought her delicious fluffy homemade marshmallows to share, including banoffi flavour, coconut ice flavour and pretty pink and yellow marshmallow, rhubarb and custard flavour. We wondered where the word 'marshmallow' came, because it's the name of a plant. Rhiannan thought it related to throat lozenges - and indeed it does. The sugary marshmallow we know derives from the medicinal confection originally made from the marshmallow plant.

There was apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, and tea for those who wanted that.

Owena explained that one activity for the morning, for those who were interested, was felting. Felt is made out of wool. And felt-making, she told us, is an ancient art. In Mongolia, for example, they make yurts with it, using horses to tread the felt. It's both waterproof and warm.

Owena had a basket of wool from her sheep. She demonstrated 'carding' the wool, then teasing it out into squares (or any shape you want) in order to make a flat, fine shape. You end up with a pile of about 8 pieces, and you alternate the direction of 'threads'. 

She said the method is to place these on a large piece of tarpaulin in a place it's ok to get messy, Then you pour washing liquid over your pile (it's soap that makes the wool stick together), followed by boiling water. You pull the tarpaulin over the top, put wellies on and stamp! Felt is formed when there's been friction, Owena explained. You can also use a rolling pin to do this.

The felt ends up very wet, so you can then put it in spin dryer or whack it on the ground, if you're outdoors, to get the water out.

Also, Owena said, you can make felt pots, by wrapping the wool around a boulder or pebble, soap using a bar, add boiling water as before, then cut it open to make your pot.

Sue, Rhiannan and Di helped make a felt rug, teasing out the carded wool so that the fibres would bond together to form felt. It quickly turned to felt with the boiling hot water and soap and friction from them walking on the mat! It was too wet to take back to Bluebell, so Owena took it home to spin dry and will deliver it to the centre next week. The group would also like some wool to do their own felting at Bluebell.

And for those interested in seeing to the animals, their job was to get the ponies in. They had been moved to the field near the cabin. Owena explained that too much sugar in the grass had been causing laminitis (painful hoof inflammation) in the ponies, so she'd moved them to a field with less rich grass. They'd been struggling a bit with the flies and the heat. Frankie needed a fly sheet to protect his skin.

Some of the group caught them all up to come in the stables for a bit of shade. Frankie's fly sheet was removed, and they were given a drink and some hay.

So the ponies were attended to, the hens fed, including the chicks. Plus we had a look at the two unexpected new lambs that had been born after the ram escaped.

We finished the morning with feedback from each group member. There were comments about having learnt a lot about the animals during the year; feeling more confident handling the ponies and enjoying being outdoors. We all felt sad to end the sessions for this project year, and spoke about next autumn.

Rural Pathways groups - Last Session Celebrations

It's been a great pleasure for Flourish, running regular sessions for groups of Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College at Lewes Community Allotment and Baulcombes Barn. The young people have all worked very hard and got a lot of work done. So to thank them, we had celebrations of their time with us at their last sessions.

Lewes Community Allotment's group's last session.

First of all we did some work, such as weeding, then we stopped and had a visit from a friendly cat.

Then we enjoyed some Ringmer Community Orchard juice, or water, as well as a lovely feast of cheese, quiche, chopped veggies, hummus and homemade samosas brought by Niyati. Then allotment member Karine came along with a spectacular cake to thank the students for all their hard clearing work at the Allotment, which the members have really appreciated.

Finally, Common Cause director Topsy Jewell presented everyone with their own certificate that Emma had brought along.

Baulcombes Barn last session

 

 

At the last session at Baulcombes Barn, first we did some work on the farm. So we split up into groups and either collected eggs or fed the pigs.

Then we went back to enjoy some burgers in rolls or pitta made from Owena's pork, as well as freshly boiled eggs from her community hens, washing down with apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard. 

It was a lovely way to say thank you and goodbye to the group, who have all been brilliant.

Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife on bugs & butterflies

Today the St Nick's group came up on a sunny but blustery day for a bug and butterfly session with our old friend, Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife.

We walked around the allotment with him as our guide, looking for bugs, catching them sometimes to see them, then letting them go. We also walked up the path outside the allotment. He pointed out various birds as we walked around, including a wren, and wood pigeons.

We saw a dock bug. We learnt that some bugs and beetles take on the look of a wasp to protect themselves - including the wasp beetle and the hover-fly, both of which he showed us.

We saw a hawthorn shield bug.

We were surprised to hear that there are 3,000 varieties of beetle in Sussex alone. He showed us an asparagus beetle, a wasp beetle,  a long horned beetle,  a pretty swollen-thighed beetle and a rose-chafer beetle.

He told us that foxgloves, which we have by the ponds, are good for bees.

Sarah mentioned that the broccoli is covered up to stop pigeons and cabbage white butterflies from eating it all.

Michael showed us a mullion caterpillar on the plant of same name. We saw an ichneuman wasp. We also spotted a rare small blue butterfly.

Finally, we were delighted to get our copy of his wonderful new Sussex Butterflies book, which he kindly signed.