Thursday, 31 December 2015

Plugging The Gap

I am pleased to say that I have some good news.

The Environment Agency started working on repairing the Ellerbrook bank yesterday. Although there is still lots more work to do yet I managed to be there when the gap was plugged and water finally stopped running into the field. I have to praise the E.A. team that have worked on the bank. We will have had over 200 tonnes of clay poured into the gap so far together with a few tonnes of sand bags.

The Ellerbrook bank consists of a clay core with a compressed earth covering. The repair will be made completely of clay which is being brought in from Hambleton over on the Wyre.

I have asked the E.A. team what the cause for the breach was but we can only speculate really. You cannot get away from the fact that sheer volume of water put a massive strain on the bank. Moles or rabbits can cause holes in the bank that can weaken the structure. Another cause can be the 'topping' of water over the bank, Water that flows over the top of the bank rapidly accellerates as it flows down the outer side of the bank. It can quickly wash away the turf covering exposing the soil layer below which is then quickly eroded. If the water keeps flowing, the bank will become weak enough to loose strength and fail. There is evidence that this process has taken place in another section of our bank closer to the bridge and also further down on another field towards the River Douglas.

Seeing the flow finally come to rest was a minor 'moment' I suppose. As it happened Rob from the E.A. turned to me and gave me the thumbs up. At last. My hope now is that rain will stay off long enough for them to get some more clay in to build the bank up to full height before it all gets washed away.

Rob said that in the summer they will probably come and dig out the sandbags to replace them with more clay which they will compress down.

So, we only have to wish you a happy new year. Here is a memory of happier times when crops were ready and bees were buzzing. I am looking forward to these times again next year.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Our Bee Survival Story

As I watched the field rapidly fill with water on Boxing Day and all the things we had built over the last two years become engulfed with water from the Ellerbrook, it was difficult to imagine how anything would survive. The small pallet fenced enclosure that surrounded the beehives gradually disappeared below the water and I thought that was that.

Our beehives back in September

We had five bee hives on site, three with active swarms in them. We knew it had been a good year for honey production but we left the honey for the bees to eat during the winter as two of the hives were new colonies.

We all became excited the following day when one of our beekeepers, Andy Becksmith, said a hive had been found on the banks of the Ellerbrook. He met a couple who had seen it floating on its back in the water and had pulled it to safety. When Andy got to the hive, amazingly  bees were flying in and out.

It seems, because the hive had been ‘strapped up’ for the winter, it all stayed in one piece and floated on its back like a raft through the water. If the hive had tipped any other way than on its back, it would have filled with water and all the bees would have been drowned.

The surviving hive on the Ellerbrook bank

He planned a rescue operation the next day and returned to recover the hive.

The hive has now been taken to the garden of Andy’s father-in-law a few miles away. Andy said, “There was a good handful left, approx 200 bees. The hive has been rebuilt and dried out where possible. We fed the bees and will carry on doing so for couple of weeks. They stand a reasonable chance but will need supporting. Hopefully the queen is intact, it will come down to the weather and how long winter lasts. Hopefully they can return to the field in spring."

Drying out the hive

Andy has since managed to recover another one of his hives but this one didn’t have the same luck. Andy told me, “To put it in perspective the hive that didn't make it had 50,000 bees in it and 30lb of honey, this honey will be fed to the surviving bees.”

Like some of our chickens, it seems that the smallest of animals can also be amongst the toughest.

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Chicken Rescue Mission

A small amount of good news was salvaged yesterday though. One of our members brought two small two man dinghy’s to site. Four of us saved 13 chickens that had managed to cling onto life on top of their floating coup and other floating debris overnight. These are now at home in the garden of our organisations secretary.

Laura and Matt Brown on the chicken rescue mission.

Holding pen on the canal bank

Having a feed when they got to Gaynors

Finally, a member of the public saw one of our bee hives floating on its back and managed to drag it onto the riverbank. We found it yesterday afternoon with bees flying in and out of it and plan to move it today to a safe location. We would have done this yesterday but our bee handling kit is also floating around in our shipping container.

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What Shall We Call The New Lake?

The new one mile long lake that has appeared between Burscough and Rufford should perhaps have a name. Have you any suggestions? This picture was taken from the top of the canal bridge looking towards Rufford and Mawdesley.

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Ellerbook Bank Breach Video

I don't know who filmed this video but it ended up in my inbox, so thank you to the person who sent it. It shows how big the gap in the bank is and why the field filled up so fast and to such a great depth. This hole was blasted through under massive preasure when the water in the Ellerbrook was flowing over the top of the bank. You can imagine if someone was on the field at the time the danger they would have been in. I understand that this was shot yesterday (27th of December) and the water is keeping on flooding in with some force.

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Flood Update

The last two days have had a devastating effect on Organic Veg Club. The collapse of the Ellerbrook bank filled our farm with 5 feet of water which then went on to cascade across Meadow Lane and flood fields all the way to Rufford.

Two years ago we started Organic Veg Club, a community farm based in between Rufford and Burscough.

On Saturday at approximately 11:40am (26th December 2015) The Ellerbrook, a tributary of the River Douglas, burst its bank and flooded our 8 acre field. The wall of water filled the field to between 5-6 feet in depth. It then cascaded across the road, turning it into a 2 foot deep weir carrying on flooding fields downhill from us. There is now a mile long lake from Meadow Lane in Burscough all the way down to Rufford. Many other farmers now have crops under water, one said he will lose in the region of £150,000 worth of crops.

During the flood, 2 years hard work from Members of Organic Veg Club were washed away. We lost 32 chickens and ducks, (some of which were rare breed Marsh Daisy's and Scots Dumpys). Three beehives and all our remaining crops were washed away. We have planted over 1500 trees on site with more to go in this winter. All our tools and equipment are in an inaccessible shipping container that is sat in 4 feet of water. Yesterday we rowed a dingy into the barn we were in the process of finishing off last week as it had five feet of water in it. The top 3 feet of our poly tunnel is visible over the waves.

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Here are some images taken over the last 2 days.

Taken on the morning of the flood, notice the height of the Ellerbrook flooding in.
The breech in the Ellerbrook bank 
Meadow Lane becomes a weir
Meadow Lane

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Another Wall For The Barn

Thanks to our brilliant  volunteers another wall goes on the barn today.

Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

Red Mite Treatment

Today we gave our chickens another Red Mite treatment. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

July Update

Hello everyone

Here is a quick update for July as there is a lot going on at the moment.

Small Mammal Trapping

Words Gaynor Pickering, Images Amelia Hickson

Ten of us joined Ian and Hillary Bedford on Sunday morning to see what small mammals are living on the field. The previous day they had set 60 traps at various points along all 4 edges of the field.The traps were filled with bedding and food, and positioned carefully to ensure they didn't get too hot or cold,so that any mammal caught wouldn't suffer.

We were excited to find 7 wood mice, 3 bank voles and 3 shrews during the morning.We were taught to identify our catches by looking at tail length, eye size and ear size.

Each trap was picked up, checked to see if the door had been triggered to shut, and carefully emptied into a clear plastic bag. Any mammal caught could then be identified, weighed, carefully picked up by the scruff of the neck (which is pain free) and checked over. They were then let go next to where the trap was so that they could find their way home.

We found  a mixture of males and females, some pregnant, and some youngsters.

We found most mammals along the hedgerow by the road, and along the Ellerbrook. Unfortunately many of the traps had been triggered by large black slugs. This type are carnivorous and had been attracted to the fly pupae used as a bait for voles. This type of slug eat the vegetable munching pale slugs, so we are happy to have them.

Those who wanted had a chance to open traps, handle the mammals and let them go, so it was a great experience.


Our Broad Beans are doing really well and we have sown them sequentially so they should be around for a while. This really is such a 'giving' crop and they are very nutritious so I make on apologies for their frequent inclusion in the veg box. Here are a couple of things you could do with them. Please send in some of your favorite recipes.

Broad Beans freeze really well. Okay you may get a bit fed up of them in the summer but if you follow these instructions for freezing they make an easy veg to add to any winter dish. The blanching method ensures that they taste as fresh out of the freezer as they do straight from the pod.

You will need:
  • Podded and rinsed broad beans.
  • A large pan of rapidly boiling water with a metal basket that fits inside it (like a chip pan basket).
  • A large bowl of iced water.
  • A timer.
  1.  Heat the metal basket in the water before the beans are added.
  2.  Put the beans into the basket, bring back to the boil and time for 3 minutes.
  3.  Plunge the beans into the bowl of iced water for 3 minutes.
  4.  Drain thoroughly in a colander then mop dry on kitchen paper, pack and freeze.
The beans can be cooked from frozen by putting them in a pan of boiling water, cover and cook until tender.

A Recipe for your Broad Beans (which can be made with broad beans you have frozen too) taken from: The Boxing Clever Cookbook by Jacqui Jones & Joan Wilmot (J&J Publishing). This is a really good book that has been specially written for people who have random veg that turn up on their doorstep that they have no idea what to do with. We bought ours secondhand on Amazon and it was well worth the few pounds it cost.

Broad Bean Pate II

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 225g broad beans (shelled weight)
  • Grated rind & juice of 1 large orange
  • 4 tbsp Greek style yogurt
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. If using frozen broad beans, allow them to defrost. If using fresh pod them.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the beans, orange juice and most of the rind and 6 tbsp water.
  4. Cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the beans are tender.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and add the yogurt and mint.
  6. Process until smooth, season, then chill

Always Wash Your Veg

I thought it would be worth a reminder that all veg should be washed before consumption. We do our best to keep things clean on the farm but we don't have great washing facilities on site so always give things a good wash before eating.

Greenfest at Greenslate Farm

I have been asked to pass on details for an event taking place at Greenslate Farm in Billinge this Saturday.


Greenslate Road, Billinge, Wigan WN5 7BG
01695 229150

Balsam Bashing 2.0

We have now been contacted by the Canals and Rivers Trust who have offered to get some volunteers together this Sunday to attack the rest of the balsam growing on the canal bank side of the ditch. I am hoping that if we can also spend some time on this 'two pronged attack' Hopefully we may be able to knock the Himalayan Balsam right back . The plant is an annual so it grows from seed each year. In addition, the seeds have a life of only 2 years so we should have a well diminished stock of seedlings to deal with next season and perhaps erradicate it by the year after.

Bee Worries

As bee keepers we are now worried about the government giving permission to farmers to use Neonicotinoids despite advice to the contrary by their own scientific experts. There are many organisations putting together petitions against this, here is one from 'Some Of Us':

Despite the fact that bee-killing pesticides are banned in the EU, the UK
government just gave the go-ahead to farmers to plant these toxic-soaked
seeds anyway. Any day now, Bayer and Syngenta's toxic bee-killing seeds
could be planted -- wreaking even more havoc on our bees.

Instead of listening to us, the government listened to corporations like
Syngenta and Bayer -- sidelining its own scientists who have warned how
dangerous these chemicals are to bees and other pollinators.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have already signed
petitions to the UK government to stop harming our bees, and the government
is feeling the sting. A massive public outcry could force the government to
back down and protect bees.

Please join me in signing the petition to tell the government to save our

Thank you.

In our veg boxes this week.......

...we have had: Potatoes, Broad Beans, Mange Tout Peas, Beetroot, Fresh Garlic, Carrots, Rainbow Chard, Sweetheart Cabbage, Spring Onions and Blackcurrants.

Brilliant value at £5 or £10 (small or large); ask a friend if they would like to try one. Note, these prices are a special offer for this season whilst we continue to improve our growing skills and range of produce.
As the Mange Tout are getting a bit older they can become stringy. Here is a quick way to de-string them.

Copyright © 2015 Organic Veg Club, All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A very busy time

Now that they weather has warmed up we have been busy planting up the crops for the new season. There is still lots to do but here are some of the tasks that the volunteers have been busy with over the last couple of weeks. Click on images for a larger version.

Latest Nature Update

Kestrel on the compost bin
Since Graham Clarkson became a member of Organic Veg Club our contact with nature seems to have grown. Although our efforts to increase wildlife on the site have had their impact there is much more going on than I had realised. Taking a walk across the field with Graham you soon have all manner of wildlife, especially birds, pointed out to you, things you would otherwise have missed. We want wildlife and biodiversity on site to keep many of the food eating pests such as insects that eat our produce in balance, but they are also facinating and beautiful to watch. Graham kindly wrote us the following report of his latest findings with some great images:

It seems that excavating the silted western boundary ditch has attracted curious water voles they've dug some exploratory burrows already! It's unlikely that they'll colonise properly until the vegetation (that gives them cover and food) is established. Some of us have spotted field voles scurrying about the field and we've found skulls of them in barn owl pellets around the place. Hares are still using the site and young rabbits have been spotted at the warren on the other side of the canal. Terry and I saw a weasel running along Meadow Lane recently. A friend of mine, who works as a signalman at Rufford station, reports that he sees foxes there very regularly (just a five minute foxtrot down to the field) - so we're right with our security plans for our hens. Locals are reporting seeing roe deer grazing on Low Meadows early in the morning so do keep your eyes peeled. Bats will be active now and should be seen feeding along the canal. The frog spawn has produced tadpoles in the pond - take a look if you have a moment.

Lesser Celandine
The Ellerbrook bank has been brightened up by the lovely yellow flowers of lesser celandine recently - a real spectacle in the soft evening light. The old country name for this plant is pilewort - take a look at the roots and you'll see why....

Speedwell and forget-me-not add a dash of blue and red dead nettle that colour amongst the fast growing ruderals, especially near bare ground. It'll be great to see the expanse of ground that's be sown with wildflower seeds come into bloom during the summer - it'll be a haven for bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. Butterflies are out and about with brimstone, small tortoiseshell and peacock seen recently; look out for orange-tips once the lady's smock flowers in any damp areas.

Small Tortishell

As the seasons change their has been a great deal of avian activity with winter species that feed in the local fields and overfly the field, such as whooper swans and pink-footed geese, having recently departed north.  They've been replaced by migrants returning from Africa; swallows (they breed in the stables just up the road), sand martins and house martins all flying over. Blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler have all been heard singing in our hedgerow (on their way to the local woods and copses) and we should hear whitethroats and sedge warblers imminently.

Wheatears are passing through and eight have been spotted in the field immediately south of us.  I've seen tree sparrows investigating the nest boxes we put up and both blue tits and great tits have set up territory; as has a male yellowhammer with his distinctive 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeeeese' song. Reed buntings are also singing and are taking advantage of the food we put out for them. Blackbirds, wrens, dunnocks and robins can be heard singing in the hedgerow everyday - if you want to learn their songs please do let me know.

Oystercatchers mating
Oystercatchers, lapwings (plenty now incubating in adjacent fields - look out for chicks) and grey partridges are using the field (especially when is quiet) along with the ubiquitous woodpigeons, pheasants and released, non-native red-legged partridges. Mallards and shelducks are using the ponds - hopefully they'll leave some tadpoles.....

A barn owl has been regularly hunting the field (pellets reveal it's been eating mainly field voles) and the two regular kestrels are presumably also taking voles. Several buzzards are seen soaring overhead daily and you can often hear their distinctive mewing calls. Little owls are using a local barn so do keep your eyes peeled. Carrion crows, jackdaws, rooks and magpies are common in the area and use the field but do be alert to the local pair of ravens who are often feeding on Low Meadows at the moment. Curlews are also displaying there and you can often here them in their bubbling display flight.

We're lucky to have some amazing nature around us and it's great that we're working towards keeping it that way.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Beauty of Kale

Besides being an awsome veg that is seeing us through the winter Kale is so beautiful to look at. Click onto the images for a full screen version.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

First Seeds Up

Here are the first batches of seeds that Jane has sown; 12 trays so far, that is 2880 Sturon and Robelia onions with lots more to sow yet. I love the way that onions emerge from the seed bent double and then unfold themeselves.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Planning For The New Season

Now we have passed the Winter Solstice the daylight hours are creeping up in length, yet we still have some cold winter weeks to come, so now is the time for planning. For growers, sitting down flicking through seed catalogues is something to be savoured. All those crops to grow, all that food. Immersing yourself in all the possibilities, how many varieties, what will suit our ground, what will we be eating? Yes, seed catalogues are growers porn and reading them is a delicious pleasure. You can imagine our excitement when the box arrived from our seed supplier packed tight with seed packets. All that potential, all that food packed into one box, this amazes me and is part of the magic of growing your own food. Our secretary Gaynor winced as we opened the box and said "all that work!" She's right, what we have before us is a vast undertaking. Getting all that stuff in the ground and raising it up into mature food ready to harvest will be a massive job with many hours of toil needed to make it happen; I cannot wait to get started.

Membership is now open for our 2015 season, so if you would like to join our growing tribe and have a hand in growing sustainable food for yourself and your family the cost to join is £30.00 per household. Later in the year we should be launching our own weekly veg box. For details of the different types of membership and how to join you can go to the membership page.

Neil Hickson