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The Little Devonshire Victory Garden & Farm Animal Utopia Project is a member of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association which was founded in Great Britain in 1929 to promote biodynamic farming derived from Rudolf Steiner’s pioneering lectures in 1924 through which the whole organic movement began.

We use biodynamic methods on our smallholding, rejecting chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GM ingredients, while embracing everything that influences healthy growth. So, we plant, nurture and harvest every seed with love in harmony with the seasons, surrounding plants, insects, birds and even planets by making use of astronomical planting calendar to enhance health and vigour for farm and garden. Once it is harvested, our produce is processed in such a manner that its natural vitality and indigenous flavour is retained.

Recognising that biodynamics is one of the most sustainable and ethical forms of agriculture in existence, we are striving towards demeter certification for our expanding Utopia range of produce by 2012 growing season.

The practice of biodynamic farming and gardening is a continuing journey of discovery. Surprises and new ideas mark the route as we learn from nature and further develop our understanding of the symbiotic relationship between people, animals and earth.

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On our smallholding we are making biodiesel on a small scale, experimenting with a couple of oil drums, a pump, filter, copper pipe and plumbing fittings.

Oil is mixed with alcohol and potassium hydroxide (KOH), which acts as a catalyst. When the mixture settles the biodiesel is poured off the top, leaving a layer of glycerine (which is used to make soap and other useful products). The biodiesel is then finely filtered and de-watered, fueling the tractor and our field generator.

Our biodiesel is only made from used cooking oil. We don’t think it’s a good idea to take up more land to grow crops for vehicles when there are so many people in the world who don’t have enough food.  Some companies are now producing biodiesel from palm oil grown in huge plantations in West Africa or SE Asia. We think that biodiesel from these sources is environmentally damaging where orangutans and other species face extinction as their habitat is destroyed. For more information on this, see Biofuel Watch.

If you make biodiesel in the UK you have a responsibility to declare the usage to HM Revenue and Customs and to pay duty to them. The duty on biodiesel was reduced by 20 pence per litre in April 2002. The government hoped that this reduction will encourage the use of biodiesel on a larger scale. The duty was removed completely for small producers (2500 litres or less per year) from 30 June 2007, thumbs up!

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It was a busy and difficult spring (I won’t mention the summer, as it seems it has not yet arrived here in North Devon!)… The terrible sadness of deaths and of infuriating fox visits, mixed with the joy of new arrivals and of all the many chores as well as copious amounts of new learning that comes with our young project, has kept me from writing as I would like. I know with running a smallholding I will have to come to accept the good with the bad sooner or later, but it is hard I must say; Ralph and Gisela both having had a much longer experience of this hard fact of life, with the many, many, animals they have given sanctuary to, previous to Ralph & I starting The Little Devonshire Victory Garden & Farm Animal Utopia Project.

It’s just heart wrenching when they become ill and we can’t save them. And then there’s the fox which has become very bold. It’s especially daunting since we already have several safety measures in place… We’ve been letting the chickens free-roam most of the “warm season”, but more recently have had a few bouts with a couple of girls go missing each time. So after the last attack a couple weeks ago, we finally decided we had to kept them in their enclosure (an area of field around their house made predator safe by a 100 metre electric fence),  letting them out only when we were nearby. This is actually a hard decision, because even though they are still free ranging inside their enclosure, the whole thing of getting *ex-bats is that we want them to have their liberty. They really, really, enjoy themselves when they are allowed to roam all over wherever they like – sadly it has come to “their freedom, or their lives”.

A few days ago after everyone was fed, I let the chickens out and sat under a tree reading a book, just a little way up the hill from where the chickens usually congregate. I was imagining a Rousseauian landscape for a moment, when I heard one of the chickens make a short, not unusual cackle only a few meters away. Not thinking anything the matter, I only casually looked down past a few bushes to see instead of my chicken, the small furry ginger animal (!!!!!!!!!). Fox?! Jumping up, I screamed at the predator as loudly as I could, hoping to frighten him. My chicken was now making alarmed calls and I saw her dash past through the bush. The fox was so bold. I really thought he would run away as I advanced, but he didn’t flinch. I thought surely my chicken had escaped with the fox being surprised, but as I came closer I saw he had something in his mouth. My heart sank. It seemed as though it was a small greyish bundle – one of our defenceless young call ducks!! “Oh my gosh I must have left the waterfowl enclosure open!”. (Later I found it was indeed one of our chickens and that I had locked the waterfowl enclosure thank goodness, or it may have been carnage.) It happened so quickly. He didn’t have the slightest worry about me running toward him, somehow he grabbed my poor girl and was off up the steep hillside in plenty of time, leaving me screaming bloody murder far behind him. I chased him in vain through the hilly woods, screaming and screaming at the top of my lungs, what I would do to him if I caught him; the alpacas standing at attention, looking quizzically as I rushed past gasping for breath.

I can’t believe he was not put off with myself right there, Conrad the cat nearby (a sweet but merciless rat hunter)… OK I know foxes are not afraid of cats, but Conrad is TOUGH and he was bigger than the fox; not to mention 5 Alpacas who inherently hate canines standing above. Alpacas are actually known to attack and trample foxes that threaten livestock, so are kept on some farms as guards. Ours certainly become quite agitated when Gisela takes her harmless geriatric dog Mausie on walks. However, they have not stopped the fox, at least on the several fatal run-ins we have had. A new lesson.

Ralph is more philosophical about it: “the fox needs to eat”… I am categorically in the other camp: let the fox dine elsewhere. Now I love foxes, they have a right to live and I am certainly not in the hunting camp. I cannot stop him from eating wild animals and how could I begin to want to if I believe he has a right to life? In fact our dear little friend Albert, a wild pheasant has disappeared and I am sad as I feel certain Albert has been eaten – but I do understand it is part of life. Yes, I love all animals with a strong unshakable devotion, but I love MY animals more. Part of my strong beliefs on domestication of animals is the responsibility to those specific animals we keep, to protect them from harm or hardship (at utmost cost), in return for the products they give us – which of course make our lives easier and more pleasant. Yep, it’s war!

*all of our chickens are rescued Ex-Battery hens from the commercial egg industry – bar “Georgette”, an absolutely huge white meat chicken saved from our builder’s dinner plate during a moment of weakness; both his and ours… and “Walter” a leggy white cockerel {with too long a story of how he arrived here}.

♥ Tatyana

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So we can reduce our electricity cost on the smallholding, we are evaluating some small wind turbines with initial test installation of 800W Falcon wind turbine on the roof of one of our barns located in the valley area of our smallholding.

Many of the small wind turbine suppliers will try and impress you by showing you graphs and videos of their turbine’s voltage, or amperage when the wind gusts, or how fast the blades spin. From our experience there is only one performance metric you need to be concerned with which is power output (watts) vs. wind speed (mph). You need to establish what the average wind speed is in your location and only then can you decide if a wind turbine makes sense. You don’t need gusts of wind, you need steady wind to enjoy free and clean energy.

For more information on this, see green spec small wind turbines.

In the UK, static wind turbines need explicit planning permission so it is advisable to discuss your plans with your local authority before committing to the project. However, in July 2006 the Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper announced that from 2007 changes to planning laws will allow householders to install small scale wind turbines without planning permission – as long as they do not impact on neighbours. It seems that since then, guidelines published through government planning portal for England and Wales is just producing hot air.

It makes sense to develop a certification scheme for micro generation of renewable energy that covers both standards for wind turbine products and their installation but the government needs to step up and create real incentives and not burden the industry with confusing rhetoric.

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Launching relic greeting cards from UTOPIA product range, designed by Tatyana Valda Belinda Hill.

More charm & good looks with a great purpose. These darling greeting cards are one of the alternative ways we have found to keep our flock nourished on the expensive organic feed and protected by equally pricey vet visits we provide them, while supporting ourselves too.

FEATHERS on our cards are naturally discarded keepsakes from our little flock on our beautiful smallholding in Devonshire, England. Each one in our group is loved and valued as an individual. * Feathers are also occasionally from members of our resident wild flocks. Regardless of origin, all the feathers are dropped naturally from live birds.

*we are considering printing a health warning on all the greeting cards for people with feather phobia (pteronophobia:-)

Cards are blank inside and come with a white envelope, direct from our Tiny Little Farm Shop.

From our honesty shop people can select their own produce and paying accordingly, leaving their payment in the box provided. The shop is stocking a range of fresh produce and preserves from our smallholding.

ALL NATURAL produce & HANDMADE things
Organic & Homegrown or Local where possible.

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Spring is here and we are building up our family of animals on our project’s smallholding. Hopefully we will soon have our 1st 5 Alpacas to start our herd. Last spring/summer we started with the 1st individuals of our poultry flock – made up of two separate flocks of rescued ex-bat chickens and waterfowl (ducks and geese). It has been a learning curve and sadly we have occasionally lost birds to foxes, but it is rewarding to know that they have a much better chance at long, healthy, happy lives than they normally ever would otherwise.

ILL FATED ROMANCE: Henry The Duck and Ingeborg The Goose. We had to take Ingeborg to the vet the other day and when I returned all the other geese and Henry came running – honking and quacking at the top of their lungs! They looked so happy and relieved to see her. It was very touching. I was elated Ingeborg was OK – for myself, but especially for Henry.

Being animal lovers it is also so heartwarming to see our animals personalities develop. Just like people, some are rather shy and unassuming, while some are in the “popular group” and some have GIANT egos.  All of our waterfowl are mixed together, so they don’t discriminate among species – or even size as you can see in the photos. Initially they curiously segregated themselves according to colour which was startling (and perhaps a bit concerning to our human sensibilities) to see: the dark colours together, the whites ones all together and the two bi-colours left by themselves. Now it’s two groups according to personality: the very large geese plus very-small/big-personality call ducks in one group and all the normal sized ducks forming the other group. They still more or less come together though and apart from our gander Johannes being a HUGE BULLY, I doubt any see themselves as different to any of the others – excluding Taylor our tiny call duck drake, who thinks he is a giant goose and certainly believes all ducks are second class citizens. Poor thing, he often gets tread upon by the excitable geese, but I think he would rather die than be separated from them.

Taylor enjoys a treat with the “other” geese (meant for all the flock).

the two privileged ducks come to take a share of the treat (the little brown one was meant to be Taylor’s girlfriend and is loved by all the other birds – except Taylor)

Taylor tolerates the others for about 10 seconds and then shoos them away.

“ahhh more tasty seeds for me”.

Taylor does everything the geese do. He runs wings out when the geese run. He rampages when the geese rampage. He eats first, because the geese ALWAYS eat first. He swims in the fresh drinking water too small for the geese to get into and nips the larger ducks if they dare take a drink – because he can… He thinks he stands a chance with all the girls, ten times bigger than himself and is pound for pound probably more of a bully than Johannes is – except the larger ducks will only put up with his knavish behaviour for so long. I sometimes see Taylor taking a comic running jump at the back side of our girl geese and always spectacularly missing (he does have a lovely little call duck and other ducks to focus on, so it’s his choice). Ralph also told me he saw Taylor joining-in in a “foursome” with the geese and I didn’t necessarily take him seriously… until sure enough a few days ago I walked past the very peculiar sight of Johanes on top of Hildegard, with Ingeborg helping to balance Johannes and petit Taylor in front kind of stroking Hildegard’s beak… ermmm sorry if that’s too much information for you all, but it was soooooo funny… although maybe it’s one of those things you kinda had to be there for.

Spring Fever…

Even as early as February the whole flock started developing amorous tendencies in anticipation of spring. Our 4 boys have been “romancing” the girls, who all seem quite happy about this development (even the Campbell ducks – up until now confirmed lesbians)… Our Legarth goose Ingeborg appears to be the supermodel of the flock as far as the ducks are concerned. She is actually a very beautiful goose to be fair. All the girl ducks are in love with Henry our star drake, but Henry fell in love with Ingeborg the moment he saw her and has been courting her ever since. He doesn’t care if she is a different species. He waits outside her house every morning and launches himself at her as soon as she steps foot outside; following her around incessantly for a long while. Sadly not unlike many youthful infatuations, the object of his attention is totally oblivious to him, so poor Henry pines away in vain. Doesn’t she realise he could have any duck he wants!?! Funnily enough our gander Johannes is not as interested in Inga and prefers the less attractive (but nicer spirited) Hildegard. That doesn’t stop Johannes from biting Henry – or anyone else who gets within 5 meters of his harem.

Henry and his troup, with the loner campbell ducks in front.

Poultry are known to bully weaker individuals – our chickens all live happily together for example, but they don’t hold any punches if another chicken down the pecking order gets near their corn. We did have some problems in the beginning, but it’s lovely to see how they’ve all become one family. Even the geese who took a long time to settle in – and being quite clumsy and at the same time highly excitable, they can sometimes unintentionally squash the smaller ones when startled – are nevertheless happy with the other birds. Also all the birds are and fairly protective to the weaker ones, always being patient and watchful for our runner duck Kaycee who was born with a spinal problem and defensive of our littlest duck Katya. OK, OK all except for Taylor perhaps… So there it is. I wouldn’t say all our animals are angels but they are a joy to be around and we do love them dearly.

– Tatyana –

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White Chritmas

IT WAS A GORGEOUS WHITE CHRISTMAS HERE AT KIT HILL

It has been so, so, beautiful here that it looks almost magical. Picture post card perfect. However, there is a price to pay for all this loveliness…

 

The 1st few days of snow: Henry, Dieter and Stacey. Our shy & elegant runners, worry me the most because they are so slight. We’ve covered the ground with straw to try and keep their feet warmer.

 

A few of Gisela’s sheep M & M on the first few days of snow. They were reliant on us giving them hay every day, because the ground was completely covered for 2 weeks.

 

The growing pile of ice blocks emptied out of out animal drinkers each day.

The heavy snow and ice is very unusual for us here in this part of the world. So no one is very prepared, including our poor animals which have all been suffering from the cold. A few of our flock have fallen ill and passed away, or have been taken by the fox – resulting in us putting them to bed VERY early at present. The water is frozen each morning, making it difficult to fill their drinkers and foxes are more of a danger because they are so hungry. Our darling ducks, chickens and geese probably suffer the most with their delicate feet. I am amazed that they can walk barefoot as they do in the rough elements, when our feet are still cold even in heavy boots! We have put straw down to help keep their feet warmer and the birds – normally very independent and quite adventurous – all stay close to the house, huddled together on their makeshift straw beds.

a few days later and there’s really a lot of snow. My sweet Hildegard getting more than her fair share of breakfast (as usual).

The poor wild birds are so hungry. At any one time there are about 60 of every size and type, crowding the front garden for supplemental food… I can say “poor birds” now; now that it’s started thawing out, I can afford to feel sentimental. The truth is, although we all love all animals here – it’s pretty hard for me to feel generous when my animals need to keep their weight up and most of their food is all being devoured daily by the visiting population, who also seem to intimidate my poor little ones by their overwhelming numbers (even our geese, the supreme bullies of the smallholding won’t stand up to them)… and the feed store is closed… and the little bandits are pooping in all the feed trays to boot!

wild birds seen from the kitchen. This is only showing about half as many of the little monsters that spend the day surrounding our poor birdies’ food trays. One of the feeders just for the wild birds (and always full) is just out of sight on the right – but they eat the ducks food first.

No one was able to get up the hill – or easily down – which was totally slushed for several days. Everyone who is lucky enough to have one, has been on their quad bike and cars were abandoned by several locals and visitors (including ours), who would have to return the next day with friends and families to give tows. It was difficult to get to the store and other local services have really suffered. We’ve been out of oil for two – almost 3 – days now. That means no baths {horrors} for THREE days! We ordered oil over two weeks ago and it’s still not here; the supplier is so backed-up from the weather, he’s said “maybe today”, or “maybe the end of the week”! The coal shop nearby is shut. The post and deliveries have not come many days, no rubbish or recycling collected, many of us are sliding off the road. It’s been a total knock on effect to everyone… This is all very odd as TORRIDGE COUNCIL (local government) likes to charge (& charge) exorbitant rates, but somehow we don’t benefit from the services expected in return. And they’ve just added an EXTRA £1,000 to our already high local tax bill for our 3m x 3m one room “annex” (office/guest room with toilet) that they are somehow(?) legally(?) entitled to consider as a separate abode… But I digress.

the chicken coop and “tack room”. The straw looks like a little island.

On a brighter note we’ve had some great bargains on lovely food at Waitrose, who are shuffling to sell perishable food items. Apparently they haven’t had the normal levels of purchases, with people having had difficulty getting out to do the shopping for the holiday season (ourselves included). Not so fortunate for Waitrose though ; (. I should mention that we loooove! Waitrose; so immediate gratification of getting 9 uber delicious juicy tangerines for 25p!!! and a litre of goats milk for 10p!!! +++ aside, we don’t want them to have to mark things down 90% – because we want them to do well and stay in Holsworthy. (*this Waitrose plug was unsolicited by the way).

OK, I realise this post has been pretty depressing, but it’s the reality if you have a small farm (or home) in a northern, rural region… Moving on with the jolliness: We’ve had several burst pipes. Even as late as yesterday a fixing cracked, totally flooding the smallholding kitchen. Luckily the builders’ merchants were finally open today, so that Ralph could make an emergency repair

…Yes thank goodness it’s finally warming up in Devon.

frost on the ground before the big snow

The only problem is I really, really, really (yes really), want to make a temporary ice rink in one of the fields!!! {Yes Torridge council, take note: I said “t-e-m-p-o-r-a-r-yyyyy”}. Eden Project’s rink is an hour away, so it would be soooo much fun to have our own private rink! (have a look the links for the fabulously simple & sooo cheap rink system this kid in North America has invented – cleverly making it out of 4″ plumbing pipes and a tarp). Now that everything is defrosting, it looks like I will sadly have to wait till next year to get my skates on. Oppfh.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-cheap-backyard-ice-skating-rink/

Tatyana

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