Category Archives: History

Permaculture Southampton 2018-03-17

In February and March we visited Liz Batten and had a really good time sharing our permaculture ideas and doing some practical work in her back garden.

This is the background to the work we did with Liz:

At the first meeting of the Permaculture group at Aldermoor Community Farm last year, my theme for myself emerged as “coming home”. My life is spent mostly looking outwards, running campaigns, and not much time spent with “me”. I wanted to remedy this imbalance by using Permaculture principles. So, I battled with my reluctance to ask for something for me, and asked if members of the group could meet at my house, to help me think about the design of my garden and (I later realised) help me get unstuck, help me “come home” to my garden, which is laid out as a fruit orchard.
[Read more about the February session at Liz’s here]

Here is the final installment from Liz:

Thank you so much for braving the weather and helping clear the old wood out of my garden last Saturday. We accomplished a lot in a short time and now I feel ready to greet the Spring.

During the time between the two sessions I was observing what the bees were enjoying and have identified two plants which will fill the “hungry gap” for the bees. These are hellebores (Lenten Rose) and pulmonaria (common lungwort). Bees love them. I am also going to add Daphne Bohlua (very fragrant).

Finally, as I now have a ready-made seating area, exposed by removing the wood pile, I have decided to make it more private by planting a screen of runner beans. So I have, with the help of the group, achieved what I wanted for my garden.

Thank you very much, and I hope to get an opportunity to help with someone else’s garden.

Warmest wishes,
Liz Batten

News – January 2018

A happy new year to all our friends! 2018 is looking both exciting and a little daunting for us as a community…

…Yes daunting because our dear Adam Brown has got a new job, working as head gardener at the amazing Minstead Study Centre. He will be responsible for growing all the food needed to feed the hungry children staying at the centre. He started at the beginning of January and HE WILL BE GREATLY MISSED! We are planning a farewell party at the start of February (details to follow). We’re hiring a room, cooking some food and probably playing some games!

The shop and volunteering
We are now only open on Wednesday and Saturday, due to the loss of Adam. But we hope to be open on Fridays again in the early summer. We have a plentiful supply of chicken eggs. We also have spring and summer bulbs in pots – the crocus are looking very cheery already!
More about the shop…
More about volunteering…

Our ‘vegetable year’
We learned a great deal last year about growing vegetables and we are looking to put it into practice as the need to become financially self-sustaining increases. Our aim is to have vegetables for sale in every month of the year, from March 2018 through to March 2019 and beyond. We are also very excited to be growing a considerable amount of vegetables to supply our friends at Bitterne Box Company throughout the year.

Activity on the farm
The main activity in January is planning. The major work here is planning for our ‘year of vegetables‘, but we are also planning the construction of our sawdust toilets and the associated composting system. We are applying for funding towards getting mains electricity to the barn so we can put in proper lighting and have power for running tools and maybe a bit of heating under my desk!!

We are working hard to finish top dressing all our beds with our home-made compost, and the chickens are helping by going over the beds, having a good scratch around to eat up remaining plants and weed seeds and eat all the slug eggs they can find.

Over the last year we have received £2150 in donations and sadly we had to pay £430 tax on this. Seems a bit daft, so we are also beginning to investigate the possibility of setting up a charity alongside the co-operative to support the farm and to receive donations.

Looking back on December
There is a report on what we achieved in December here.

Christmas Open Day

Saturday 2nd December 2017 – 10am to 4pm

Our first Christmas open day was a great success. During the day we had 106 people visit. About 15 were new friends, the rest had been to a summer open day before. We even had two people keen to join in our volunteer sessions on Fridays and Saturdays.

Thank you to everyone who came and enjoyed themselves!

The main attractions were:

  • making wreaths from holly, ivy and other greenery from around the farm
  • sitting by our outdoor fire place, making pizza on a stick and toasting marshmallows
  • drinking hot mulled apple juice and other hot drinks
  • eating the lovely cakes provided by volunteers, including a marvellous Christmas cake
  • buying our range of wooden decorations and candle holders
  • walking round the farm and feeding chickens (and it wasn’t just children who kept coming back for ‘just one more’ cup of seeds).
  • buying our plum jams and chutneys and spiced green tomato chutneys.

Here are some snippets of action from the day:

Themes 2017

Below is a high-level view of our efforts for 2017 and what we hope to achieve. We use themes to give overall guidance to our day to day planning. We have some themes that relate to our maturing as an organisation and others that we would like to explore if we have time and resources.

Maturity themes

As an organisation we are entering our third full year. We have identified themes around our maturing and use them to describe our core activities and the things we want to achieve this year.

Scaling up sales of produce

2016 was like an apprenticeship in growing vegetables. In 2015 we had been clearing the nettles and brambles over the majority of the site. Then last year we identified our growing beds and had our first go at growing significant quantities of annual plants like beans and lettuces. This year we are planning to produce a significant range and quantity of fresh produce and develop markets for it. We will be selling directly to local residents from our own covered stall (built summer 2016). We will also be selling to local green grocers such as the Veg Shed, who bought a significant quantity of beetroots from us at the end of the 2016 season.

Increasing staffing levels to support growth

In order to support this scaled up production of fruit and veg we need to ensure we have sufficient staff resources to plan and oversee the work. The development of the farm over the last 2 years has been made possible by our staff members Adam and Richard who are each paid for 0.5 day per week, totaling 0.2 full time equivalent (FTE) but who have voluntarily worked an additional 1.5 days and 4.5 days each week respectively (total of 1.4 FTE). Due to changes in Adam’s family commitments he needs 3 days paid work per week from March 2017. This increase in his availability fits with our increased need for his time. As our income from produce and on-site activities is growing we are seeking to pay Adam and Richard for the days they each work on the farm (total of 1.6 FTE)

Developing team leader volunteers

Since October 2016 we have been opening the farm every Saturday to sell produce and to facilitate volunteer sessions. Before this time we were only open for sales during the day on Wednesday and Friday and for volunteering on Thursdays and Fridays. The Saturday sessions are gaining in popularity, with good turn out even in January 2017. This is increasing our customer base and gaining us new volunteers. Because we are open on Saturdays we have also been able to host Bike2Basics, a social enterprise offering a bike doctor clinic. Besides giving us a small venue hire income this is adding to the numbers of visitors to the farm and providing a very good service to local residents. It is Richard who takes the main responsibility for staffing Saturdays. For Saturdays to be sustainable we need to develop Team Leader Volunteers who can take charge on Saturdays when Richard is not available.

Improving basic amenities

We want to increase involvement on the farm – to do this we need to provide better toilets, hand-washing and social spaces on the farm. We need our own electricity supply and drinking water supply. We want to make our own compost-based toilet system rather than using the outside toilet on the house next door. We need a hand-wash area that can cope with groups, rather than using the outside toilet on the house next door. We need to increase our solar panel and battery system so we can have comprehensive lighting in the barn that is reliable on darker days. We would like to have a washing up facility for clearing away our tea and coffee and lunch crockery (currently Richard takes it back to his home and washes up there in the evening).

Encouraging more local involvement

We will continue reaching out to the local community to increase the number of people benefiting from the farm. We will continue to welcome visitors when the shop is open. We will hold open days on the bank holidays throughout the year. And we will start a new weekly group for parents/carers and pre-school children.

Providing educational opportunities

We are going to create opportunities to encourage local residents to learn from activities on the farm and develop their own food-producing skills at home. We will devise a range of workshops where people can come and try their hand at growing food. We will provide practical support for growing at home – such as seedlings and containers to take home. We also want school children to visit us and learn first hand about sustainable food production.

Bringing all the site into use

We have three spaces still to be cleared for use. First there is an area of scrub earmarked for our second compost bay area. Secondly there is an area of old pig sties with willow and laurel growing out of it that we want to clear so we can use it for storage. Finally there is a large mass of concrete hard standing at the heart of the site which we would like to remove to make space for growing beds. This is a considerable undertaking.

Exploration themes

These themes describe the things we are hoping to explore in order to develop our future capabilities.

  • Office. Richard and Adam do not have a permanent dry and warm place to carry out the administrative and planning tasks necessary for running the farm. We will evaluate alternatives for creating this space on the farm.
  • Learning space and kitchen. Central to our plans for increasing income is the need for a teaching space for workshops, which would include a kitchen for preparing refreshments and a place to eat lunch. We would also use the kitchen for preserving produce, preparing food for volunteers and for serving refreshments at the shop.
  • AquaponicsIn September 2016 we had a Business in the Community day which included some investment in purchasing equipment for growing fish and plants in an inter-connected system. We are modifying and developing this system and will see how productive it can be.
  • Mushroom logs. We can grow mushrooms on logs. When we get fresh logs we can inoculate them and leave them in a damp and cool place and after a few months we get a harvest of mushrooms to sell. This is something to start doing this year.
  • Extra land. We are at the stage when we could consider using more land. We will be looking into what could be possible regards using more of the land in the valley.

Action List

These are the headline actions arising from our themes.

  1. Plan and execute vegetable production.
  2. Develop our budgets to pay Adam 3 days per week and Richard 5 days per week.
  3. Recruit and train Team Leader Volunteers to lead Saturday sessions.
  4. Get quotes for electricity supply and mains water connection; develop a plan for toilets, hand-wash, lighting, washing-up and seating for groups of 15-20.
  5. Plan open days; plan a parent and toddler group.
  6. Develop a plan for hosting workshops at the farm.
  7. Clear second compost bay site and make compost bays; clear willows and laurel from old pig sties; break up and remove concrete from the main yard.

Richard Pitt / Adam Brown
01 February 2017

Volunteers work hard!

Here is a graph of the hours put in by volunteers on the farm since we started in April 2014.

There are 51 people who have come along to help out at least once – together they have provided a total of 1,461 hours of work on the farm.

We have some people who have really taken an active part in the development of the farm. There are 16 people who have been 3 times or more and of those, 6 people have been over 20 times.

We would not be were we are without all this working together. And it’s been fun!

ACF Volunteer Hours June 2015

In case you are wondering, these volunteer sessions have been complemented by the voluntary work of our supervisory team, Richard Pitt and Adam Brown, who have together put in 1508 hours to run the volunteer sessions and do other general work on the farm.

The greatest mistake

I have today been energised by a visit with Stephen and Julia Hayes who since 1992 have developed an orchard in Durley, Hampshire. I was blessed deeply by my time with them; they are affirming and generous. They have achieved much, but share their knowledge in an open and gentle way (more details…).

The object of my visit was to dig up 15 young trees surplus to requirements. These are now planted on Aldermoor Community Farm, standing in a row near the north fence. We have no ground cleared yet so I thought it best to keep them at the edge. I struggled with rope-like nettle roots to get the trees planted and now they stand looking nervously at the ground cover of stinging nettles that have recently woken up from their winter sleep mere inches away. By the time next winter comes I hope to be ready to move them into their final growing position. I hope they survive this year!

apples in a row

Touring the orchard with Stephen I was surprised how often he pointed out the mistakes they had made over the years. In every corner of the 9-acre site lurked something they had done that they wished they had done differently. Stephen looks around and is reminded of mistakes. I looked around and saw success, success, success. Hundreds of trees producing apples, pears and plums. I saw harvest, achievement, experience, abundance. I saw true wealth – a range of biological systems up and running, producing a crop. They have transformed rough pasture into a wonderfully productive and beautiful place.

If I took you on a tour of Aldermoor Community Farm this week I would show you an acre of bramble, nettle, willow and a number of self-seeded oak trees. I would talk very excitedly about all the possibilities. But I don’t have any stories to tell – I haven’t started anything yet. I haven’t even been much of a gardener in the past and all I can tell you about is my experience with last year’s accidental tomatoes (a story for another time, perhaps). What I’m getting at is I don’t have any of my own mistakes to report on.

Winter King apple - just planted

Now I have planted the 15 various apple trees. Now I have done something. Maybe I put them in the wrong place; maybe I planted them too deep or too close together. Maybe the deer will get them. But now I have some experience to learn from.

Stephen and Julia share their experience through their website and videos, and they never hide their mistakes. But they have not made “the greatest mistake”. And me? Me neither. I came home and planted the trees. I have begun to do something.

The greatest mistake? The greatest mistake is to do nothing.



You can read Stephen and Julia’s interesting story at and there is a wealth of experience shared in over 500 videos on Stephen’s YouTube channel.

Starting from nothing

I am at the beginning.

Starting from scratch isn’t easy. No one is giving instructions. There are no routines. We have nothing in the ground growing.

I always said I’d never run my own business, and here I am doing just that. In addition my business partner is my wife and I always said I’d never run a business with family. It is all new. We are starting a community farm. We are designing a permaculture small-holding. We are designing a scheme to help people who are out of work. I have never done any of these before.

The site we are acquiring is thoroughly overgrown. Nature is very busy covering everything with brambles, self-seeded oak saplings and willows. It is shelter to roe deer, badger, fox and many, many birds. In terms of farming, it is a blank sheet.

Looking across Aldermoor Farm

Everywhere I look I see a blank sheet.

But I am not without resources.

  • Faith – God is breathing life and joy into me all the time as I think of what Aldermoor Farm will become. The steps we have taken to get this far are in themselves a great comfort and example of His involvement and guiding. His promises are ultimately the foundation we are building on.
  • Friends – the ‘community’ part of community farm is evident already. So many people offering moral and practical support.
  • Permaculture resources – an equipping methodology and body of knowledge. I have courage to go on because those who have gone before freely share their knowledge.
  • Time – I no longer have the commitment of regular paid work.
  • Co-operative company – we have a registered organisation to carry things forward.

So I am not at the very beginning. I can see that we have begun.

Starting from scratch isn’t easy. There are no routines telling us what to do. There is nothing in the ground growing. But we are growing something. We are growing our own organisation. We are telling ourselves what to do and building a vision, a dream. We are building it as we want it to be.

If you look across the farm now, you don’t see anything growing, but we are already growing something, and we are growing that from nothing.

Better go and get on with it then!

Slightly overwhelmed (but with a way to make a road map)

We’ve now completed our Permaculture Design Certificate. It was an action packed 14 days taught by Aranya and hosted by those lovely people at the Sustainability Centre. (excellent lunch and dinner every day at the Beech Cafe – seasonal and tasty).

Richard's certificate from the Permaculture Design Course The design course is comprehensive – for me it’s like doing my 3 year Environmental Science degree all over again, but in 14 days. It’s a wide body of knowledge, but it’s held together well by the design principles and basic ideas that keep coming up.

I’ve returned with a full notebook (it’s actually a full 2012 diary I bought for 50p – feels like I did a whole year of work in two weeks!!) We have loads of new knowledge and ideas for how to pursue our sustainable small-holding dream. And we’ve got some ideas for how to process it all and focus on what we are going to do first.

Here we go then!

Knowledge is meant to be acted upon

This is the third week that Kathy and I have BOTH been working part-time.

Many questions remain about how we will realise our dream, but real things are taking place in the real world:

  • 22 July – Our registration as a co-operative came through.
  • 26 July – Kathy’s last day on a full-time contract.
  • 27 July – We heard that an offer for the land had been accepted – and the new owners plan to lease it to Aldermoor Community Farm.
  • 10 Aug – We had permission to visit the land and had our first planning meeting.
  • 16 Aug – We became members of Cooperatives UK.
  • 23 Aug – We finished the lecture section of our on-line permaculture course.

The permaculture course teaches that information, knowledge and understanding really are useless unless applied. Unless you take action.

And as we take action I am experiencing many moments of joy.

There are moments of apprehension and many unanswered questions about the future but greater than these is my growing experience of joy in what is becoming reality.

Not dreaming alone

Cake wrapped in tin foil with bowsWe had some wonderful news this month.

An offer to purchase the land at the heart of Aldermoor Community Farm has been accepted. Soon there will be a way for us to have access to this land.

I can’t begin to tell you the difference this makes to us.

We’ve been pursuing our dream of a community farm for 18 months without any land to our names. A dream.

Our dear friend Thelma, when she heard the news, made us this very nice cake and dropped it round to celebrate. She has been dreaming with us.

It is wonderful not to be dreaming alone.