As January draws to an end you may be wondering what happens in the winter months at the St Madoc Centre. Does everything stop? Does work slow down? Does everyone go into hibernation? Or, at the least, do all activities move indoors? Good questions! Things most definitely do not stop. They may well slow down in certain areas but these quieter times are when lots of planning and preparation takes place.
As someone who manages the allotment and animals on site (collectively known as a smallholding) these times of planning are vital. It’s a time to sit down and think about the vegetables that we want to grow this coming year, to plan with the kitchen staff when they need certain things to be available in order to feed the visiting school groups, and then to plan how long before all of that the seeds need to be sown so that they’re available on time. Some of the things that we grow are surplus to the catering needs and instead make their way to the stall at the end of our drive. If you’re in the area, call by to see what you can find on the stall - from cucumbers to tomatoes. This year, with the addition of a heated propagator we can also start sowing a few things now; giving the seeds a head start by gently warming the soil they’re in.
The winter is also a time of doing. A few vegetables are already in the ground, so time is given to watering the polytunnel which is home to vegetables such as spinach, kohlrabi and mizuna (a type of oriental cabbage), and to putting up protection from hungry rabbits for vegetables outside in the allotment such as broad beans. Some of our raised beds are showing their age so time is given to repairing them and adding compost or manure to encourage plant growth.
When it comes to the livestock most things are ticking over without much work during this time of year. The chickens, ducks and geese spend their days foraging for things to eat, and the only work that they require is changing the water in their runs every so often (even during this wet time!), cleaning out the sheds or coops, as well as checking the wire of the runs for any holes and repairing them. Some of the hens have recently started laying eggs again after a few months off, so if you’re looking for fresh free-range eggs then visit our stall. Some of our sheep have benefited from lower visitor numbers recently as they’ve been allowed to roam freely across the site. They’ve wandered everywhere and eaten any grass and shrubs they can get access to, even finding their way into the woods a few times and occasionally needed rescued from brambles. Our small flock of Shetland Sheep had a temporary increase in numbers in the form of a ram called “Cwmamman Eccles”. Being pedigree sheep they often have unusual names - some of our ewes have names like Dornie, Nan, Souixie Souix and Sycamore. The hope is that Eccles has done the deed with our ewes so that we’ll have a few more additions to our flock later in the spring, so watch this space.
There are lots of things I like about my job, but recently I’ve particularly enjoyed building and making various things for use around the site, including equipment for the sheep for example a hay rack. The biggest project I’ve been working on has been alongside Rob and some young volunteers, as we’ve worked to construct a shed that will form an outdoor toilet block. We think it’s coming together nicely and that it’ll be a great addition to the facilities on site, located next to the Sports Barn.
- Tim , Smallholding Ranger