Friday, 3 January 2014

Transforming The Mill Pond

In the centre of our venue space there is a pond. Around 10 or 15 years ago it was in use as a trout pond, but since then it's become overgrown and bit of an eye-sore. Frank, the head gardener here at Radford Mill Farm, has been beautifying the venue space for over a year and half and, as the seasons started to change at the end of 2013, it was the mill pond's turn!

Frank's vision is to create a water garden you can walk into via steps and a small jetty. It's to be a place of beauty for people to enjoy but also one that increases biodiversity on the farm. The pond is to be planted with many pollinator-friendly species and, in time, become a haven for wildlife. 

The first job was to drain the pond and clear the banks of nettles and other perennial weeds that had taken over. Wwoofers armed with slashers, spades and trusty garden forks got stuck in and soon we could start planting. 

Steps were built using old railway sleepers which made the pond much more accessible (we nearly lost a few tools and Frank himself to the deep mud!).

Frank managed to spend very little money on plants through sourcing things from the farm itself and other contacts, donations or propagation.
Around the pond's margins (in or just above the water) we planted Juncus Grass and just above this Miscanthus sinensis which will spread and whose soft heads will look nice in winter. The bright green and red bark of Shrubby Dogwoods planted along both banks will also bring winter colour to the pond. Hart's Tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium) was planted into the edges where the stream enters the pond creating an instant fern gully. The upper parts of the bank were planted with the pollinator-friendly flowering plants Rud Beckia and Abyssinian Gladiolus, while in the water there is Papyrus and Yellow Flag Iris. 

There are still a few more improvements to be made including more planting (White Water Buttercups, Water Lillies, Bull Rushes and Horsetail) and building a jetty.  The banks will need to be tended to eliminate the last of the perennial weeds that were choking the pond but Frank sees it becoming self-maintaining in two or three years. A lot of hard work went into this project and it's a huge reward just seeing the impressive difference, even before things have had a chance to take root and spread out.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Workshop on bees on 4th May 2013 at Radford Mill Farm

Come and learn about bees at this wonderful workshop being run by Brigit Strawbridge from BBC2's 'It's not easy being green'

Spring Green Fayre on Saturday 18th May 2013

Details of the forthcoming Green Spring Fayre at Radford Mill Farm. A wonderful space, good music and lots to do, A great day out for all the family !  

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Behold our new central heating system !!!

In line with our principles of trying to be energetically self sufficient and alongside our plethora of solar panels, we took the bold move of installing a log burner to fuel the house’s central heating system. Designed on the farm by Richard and built by Roy this impressive burner was installed by Mario just as winter set in.

It has now been in use for the last 3 months using wood that has naturally been cleared from the farm. When going well, it heats the communal living space and people’s rooms and has been pretty effective at staving off the cold.

Our new river walk

Although we managed to escape relatively unscathed by the December flood it was a little close for comfort. We therefore decided to reinforce the riverbank along by the mill and at the same time create a new river walk. This is a beautiful little stretch and Operation Raleigh started the process by hacking back the undergrowth and Liz then cleared the steps down to the river.

From then Richard and the WWOFERS set about building walls and raising levels and now we have not only reinforced the riverbank at the point that it flooded the mill yard, we also have a wonderful new approach to our main event space.

Roll on the Summer when people will be able to experience the space and the new walk in its full glory. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The great flood of 2012

 Flooding on the farm

We’d never seen anything like it in down here at Radford Mill Farm in the last 30 years. One day in early December after a particularly savage downpour, the river Cam, usually a gentle creature, burst its banks and flooded the lower reaches of the farm. People stood by anxiously in the mill yard and watched as the water just kept coming and the level rose at an alarming rate.  

Frank’s cottage got the worst of it and the poly tunnels were underwater and very soggy for a while. Whilst we did suffer some flood damage, thankfully this has been relatively minor but it was a real reminder of the power nature can have and how this can sometimes become up close and personal.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Our lovely new hot beds

We have established two hot beds using a technique popular with the Victorians.  

We created a brick border and filled this up with a mixture of fresh horse manure, hay and comfrey. This was allowed to rot down which generates heat. After about a fortnight we put a layer of soil on top so that the beds contained a ratio of 3 parts compost to 1 part soil. We then plant seedlings into this.  It is great for squashes, courgettes and salad veg.

For a period of 6 – 8 weeks they have generated a constant bed temperature of around 20 degrees compared to a ground temperature in the poly tunnel of 11 degrees c. 

The advantages are that it:
  • extends the growing season
  •  generates extra heat in the poly tunnels
  • makes compost and improves soil fertility.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

To dig or not to dig ...

Here at Radford Mill we have been conducting an experiment to compare the effects of digging or not digging the growing beds on the productivity of some of our crops.

The idea, advocated by Charles Dowding (, is that when you dig the soil you destroy the microflora and fungal networks which act as extensions to the plants' root systems. These then need to re-establish themselves, which takes more time.

We have two beds, side by side, one dug and one not dug. Otherwise what we have sown in each bed, and the amount of compost added is the same. You can see from the photos that the plants in the no-dig bed are bigger.

One significant advantage of this approach is that it is much faster to prepare the beds. Another advantage is that we hope the plants will be stronger and less prone to disease and attacks from pests. The trial continues, and we shall see.

Undug bed                         dug bed

Monday, 15 October 2012

Our wonderful Autumn Festival

Thank you to everybody who supported our Autumn Festival and made it such a great success. Fortunately the weather was kind to us, we had a good turnout and we were really pleased with how well it went. Thank you to everyone who volunteered and gave of their time. To the artists and musicians who entertained us, the workshop holders and therapists and everyone who turned up to enjoy the space and have a good time.

There was a lively buzz on site combined with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The beautiful location, the excellent music, the sumptuous food, the range of traditional workshops, healing therapies and fun and creative things to do all helped to make this a really enjoyable day out.

Thank you to Sam for organising it and pulling it together and thank you to everyone on the farm who got behind the event and made it happen. It was a genuine community effort.

We are now planning our Winter 2012 – Spring 2013  programme of activities. If you are interesting in supporting the farm and finding out about forthcoming events or if you have any ideas for things we could do, you can find our Facebook page at

We have posted a number of additional photos there.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Sign of the Times

We have new signs. Yes the farm is tidying and making itself look a bit more respectable. The signs will be used to advertise our various courses and events and are almost ready to be put up. Here are Dave and Tom, with the first one varnished and ready for installation. 

Please note the excessive amount of white paint on Tom’s overalls, even though this job did not involve using white paint. Look at the quality of that varnish… sadly the arms of both these men are stuck to it!! We will post a picture of the finished article soon.

Monday, 13 August 2012

We Have The Energy

We told you a few weeks ago about the new solar panel system we were putting up, here at Radford Mill Farm. The project is now complete and the final parts of the system were connected up on 29th July. It is producing lots of lovely green electricity, although not so much today as its raining!

We had a tough time putting the system in place as we were on a tight deadline, due to a change in the government feed in tariffs that we wanted to take advantage of. The steel posts are dug down a metre into the soil, which consists mainly of clay and stones so that was not easy. We also had to line up all the posts using a clear plastic tube full of water, to get the heights right and string and spirit levels, to get everything in line and upright. The posts are all held in place by stones and concrete and each one took 3 or 4 people to carry and a tractor to lift in position!

The panels were finally bolted to the wooden framework about 9 o'clock in the evening but most of the work was done in the heat wave just before the Olympics started, so it was quite a task. I myself was drinking about 3 litres a day extra!

This system is rated at 3.66 Kilowatts and on a very sunny day, can produce enough electricity to power 3-5 houses. It's connected to the national grid, which absorbs and distributes the electricity and we hope to get the cost of the system back from the sale of its electricity, within about 10 years or so. After that the income will then be used to put up more solar panels or to do other sustainable projects on the farm.

This system was designed to do 3 jobs: produce electricity, collect rainwater and keep the rain off our machinery. Aim number 2 hasn't been realised yet as we still have not fitted the guttering but we think the other two aims have been admirably achieved.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Beast of Radford

    It’s big, its yellow, its dirty and its quite clever! It’s a bad, bad boy. It’s our 1973 JCB. 

    It’s very handy to have a powerful and versatile machine like this on the farm. It's engine is a 4 cylinder diesel that in its heyday, pumped out 76HP. It's still going strong after 39 years of service. Sometimes however it does need a little work and here we see the injectors being removed for checking. We have just treated it to a new battery and fuel filters and will shortly be changing the air filter and throttle and stop cables. That should just about do it for another 39 years!

    Last may we built a fab new bridge to ford the Cam Brook, that meanders through the farm. The JCB was right in there lifting the finished item into place. Note that it works best with several people standing nearby, studiously watching and offering advice.

    The JCB is used for moving heavy items around, digging out banks and ditches, lifting work, banging in large posts, digging trenches, shifting manure and all sorts of other random things.

Long live the Beast of Radford!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Flying the Nest is Such a Wren-ch

    Birds have been nesting in our workshop and today I got the best view of one so far. This little fella had just jumped out of the nest and was wondering around on the floor. It's probably a good job we don't have cats!

    I think it's a Wren, the commonest breeding bird in the British isles. They are often seen on farmland and in wooded areas but rarely use chainsaws and tools, so why he's in our workshop I don't know. Lets hope he's had his safety training.

    The RSPB website says the Wren eats insects and spiders, which explains his reluctance to eat the worm I dug up for him. Lucky for the worm, who crawled away unharmed to wriggle another day.     

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Seaching for Our Pot of Gold


It must be close!

A view across our valley yesterday evening, looking at Summer Leas field.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Out On The Tiles

    Our philosophy on life is the old and well worn mantra, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Why spend your hard earned moola on new stuff when there is perfectly good stuff available for free or almost nothing. Every time you buy something new you are using up valuable resources for no valid reason.

    With this in mind we are keen addicts of freecycle and freegle in our local area. Just last night we collected a used toilet, a couple of beds and a great treasure... 307 roof tiles in perfect condition. They were collected from a builder who had been doing repairs on a property and just wanted to get rid of them.

    Big result!

    Here are the guys unloading. We have no exact plan for these at present but you can be sure we will put them to good use soon.

     It's mind blowing to think of all the raw materials that have gone into the products we have bought over our life times. Think about all the energy consumed to collect, process and transport all those raw materials and the energy used to make the products. Then think of all the energy to drive the ships, planes, trains and vehicles to ship the products around the world, just so you have the latest thingamy Dyson Mc-i-wotsit, just like the neighbours thingamy Dyson Mc-i-wotsit. We are all a bit susceptible to advertising and peer pressure but maybe it's time to actively say 'no' and start to reduce, reuse and recycle, all the time!

    Why not find your own freecycle or freegle site and become a member. Not only can you give your unwanted stuff to people who will use it but you can also collect your own items from others and save yourself a little money. And best of all... it's free to join and use! Good luck!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

What's Cooking Arnault?

    So what will you do if you come to volunteer with us, here at Radford Mill Farm. Well we do our very best to try and vary the work but when it all comes down to it, we have a lot of manual work in the soil (I'm trying not to say the 'W' word ...  weeding!). It's an organic farm so to produce great tasting healthy food, the weeds are a part of our life! C'est la vie :) 

    Sometimes though we change things around a bit. A snapshot of the tasks from today is as follows: planting leaks, picking gooseberries and blackcurrants (and weeding them), weeding out an invasive species (Himalayan Balsam) from our willow plantation, repairing a trailer, planning a rainwater harvesting system, doing improvements to the mill building, collecting a large number of old stone slabs and a used toilet for reuse (thanks freecycle!), more planning for our soon to be fitted new solar photo voltaic systems and of course everyone over the week, takes turns washing up and cooking. 

    Many people find it a challenge to cook for 10 or 15 people but theres always help at hand and once completed, you can enjoy a great sense of achievement, when you produce a nice meal for everyone. Don’t forget to cook something for the vegetarians though!!

    Here’s Arnault from Brittany, one of our long term WWOOFers, cooking us all pork chops, which were yummy! Arnault will also give you advice on anything to do with Cheese because everyday is cheeseday! Arnault is also a big fan of cakes and is a dab hand at making them.

    This chocolate treat graced our dinner table for nearly 2 whole minutes! You can't buy any of Arnault's cakes as we are guarding them with a high security fence but we will be selling our freshly picked, organic gooseberries and blackcurrants throughout July. You can get these at the Radford Mill Farm shop, in Picton Street in Bristol. Pop in if you're nearby and treat yourself!!/radfordmill

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Look No Rain

    Yes it's hard to believe but we almost had no rain today! At least it's quite good for the crops but the little sunshine we did have today, put a smile on people's faces and everyone was in a good mood.

    WWOOFers come, WWOOFers Go. Here's the current gang at Radford Mill Farm. From left to right we have Richard, Lea, Rico, Aida, Liam, Arnault, Lou, Chris, Valentin, Carlotta, Sam, Cyril, Tom and Mikael. Shortly before this picture was taken we had just had a lovely pasta dinner and an impromptu game of Boules!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Run Away Chickens!

    City folk who go out on an evening, often see foxes roaming the streets. Sometimes furtively and sometimes as bold as brass. I myself saw an adult fox last winter, sitting on top of a VW Polo in a London street. The fox was watching its cubs playing in someones front garden, just half a mile from Tower Bridge!

    The country however is a different matter and foxes here are far more wary of people. Just recently however, we have been graced with some sightings of a new resident on the farm. Ok its not a great picture but here is the new fox in the neighbourhood, caught on film a few days ago one sunny evening (yes we did have a sunny evening), down in the Alder Bed close to or willow plantation.

    We had been keeping an eye on this fella as we previously lost 2 chickens within a few days. Foxes are known to stalk their prey just like a cats and they often play with it before they kill it. If they aren’t hungry they may even catch a small animal just for fun, then let it go. A fox’s hearing is very sharp and they can hear a watch ticking 40 metres away. I saw this particular one on a disused railway embankment we have here, about 100 metres away and he sat and watched me for 2 minutes. As soon as I started talking on my phone he ran off.

    Apparently the fox is seen as a sacred animal in Japan so perhaps we should treat this one to an all expenses paid, one way trip to Tokyo. Sadly we shall probably have a friend come in and take care of the problem, as we only have 10 chickens left now. Its still nice to see some real wildlife and not just an animal hanging around some dingy bins, behind a back street Chinese restaurant.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

It's Not All Fun, Down On The Farm

    Working hard as we do, to grow our crops and bring them in, we work our machinery and tools quite heavily too and sometimes they break. It’s quite frustrating at times but fortunately we have a number of people with some engineering skills, to get things moving again. In the last few days the safety brake on the chainsaw and the steering arm on our little Yanmar tractor have both failed.
The Husqvarna 230 is a cracking little chainsaw

    The chainsaw part was a nice simple fit once it arrived, courtesy of an excellent ebay shop. A quick clean of the air filter and a top up of chain lube oil and its ready and safe for action.

 Yanmar mid repair

    Here is the Yanmar mid repair, with the kingpin and bearing in clear view. Of course the spare seal we bought to compliment the new steering arm wasn’t the right size!

Our Yanmar Workhorse 

    The Yanmar 1500D is our main workhorse for all the small jobs on the farm. We have 5 tractors in all and the bigger ones are used for lifting and ploughing but the little Yanmar mops up all the small jobs nicely. It’s perfect for shifting loads of stones, soil or building materials around and moving tools or irrigation water to newly planted leeks and squash. A quick trip to Shepton Mallet and a new seal for £3 will get her back in action shortly and we shall be working and smiling again. Yesterday evening after dinner we had a lively debate about whether work is necessary to be happy. A working Yanmar certainly is necessary to keep the farm running smoothly and happy! 

Friday, 29 June 2012


    WWOOF or 'Willing Workers on Organic Farms', is a loose network of national organisations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms. There are placements available in 99 countries around the world, with each country's WWOOF organisation, responsible for running itself, to loosely similar standards.

     At Radford Mill Farm we rely heavily on 'WWOOFers' to keep our fields and polytunnels in good order, as well as making improvements to the facilities and buildings here. The current crop of 'WWOOFers' includes one American, one Welshman, two from England and 5 from France. WWOOFERS get to improve their English and have a cheap working holiday, as well a chance to learn a little about organic farming and food production.

Left to Right : Chris, Lou, Liam, Valentine, Caio, Ben, Leah, Mikael and Ben

    Here's the current motley crew, pictured shortly before returning to work after a hearty lunch. If you fancy a little time down on the farm, in a peaceful part of the beautiful English countryside, why not get in touch with us directly or through the WWOOF organisation. In exchange for 6 hours work a day (Mon-Fri) you'll get fed and be given a bed and you can enjoy a little community living to boot. Work includes planting, weeding and harvesting, a bit of painting and woodwork, garden maintenance and all sorts of other things and we try and tailor your skills to the work that's needed. We look forward to sharing a cider with you!