About the Smallholding
Millers Farm is set in Brains Green, a hamlet on the edge of the Statutory Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. We manage the gardens, woodland, orchard and pasture using organic methods and permaculture design principles aiming to lead a sustainable way of life.
Since the derelict property was bought in 1994, all renovations to the house and barn have been done with sustainability in mind, using on-site Forest of Dean stone, locally grown green oak, reclaimed timber and roof tiles. Hemp and warmcell insulation and chemical free paints are used throughout. New outbuildings are of timber frame and clad construction, one with a turf roof. A compost toilet is used by campers. Dave coppices enough firewood, all grown on the farm, to supply the ceramic stove and woodburner in the house and the biomass boiler for the barn. Three large solar thermal panels supply hot water to both buildings, and PV panels have been installed to supply electricity. Rainwater from the roofs is harvested to use in the vegetable garden.
Sue’s interest in permaculture began when she moved to Millers Farm in 1994. Then in 1996 she went on a Permaculture Design course led by Jude and Michel Fanton at Ragmans Lane Farm. The layout of Millers Farm grew from the principles as they were taught at that time and, since then, has developed according to need and circumstances. The land has been divided into small fields and has a track running round the edge to minimise compaction. Each field has a gate onto the track. A Woodland Grant Scheme enabled the planting of about 500 mixed native broadleaf trees, adding to the piece of ancient woodland, tree lined brook banks and farm boundary. The new planting has increased the coppice areas and shelterbelts. Tamworth pigs and chickens helped to dig what became garden and geese grazed the orchard. Shetland sheep and a couple of Gloucester cows grazed the pasture with a working horse and an arab. For a few years, Sue sold meat and eggs. Then in 2001, the Foot and Mouth calamity struck, with an enforced slaughter of the Shetland flock, even though they tested negative, being within a 3km infected zone. Luckily, the pigs and cattle had just been sold on to unaffected areas. Since then, grazing is let to a local sheep farmer. Rotation round the fields means no worming, and following sheep with horses ensures even grazing.
Together, Dave and Sue spent the spring of 2009 with Patrick Whitefield at Ragmans Lane Farm on his Sustainable Land Use course, a hugely inspiring and informative experience. The course covers all aspects of land management, including permaculture and lasts for nearly 3 months. For Sue, the updated permaculture module was especially helpful. Inevitably, the course has thrown previous plans into the air and new plans about food production, woodland management and orchards are being hatched as we write.
In the garden, a variety of vegetables and soft fruit are grown in raised beds and polytunnels, ensuring all year round crops. Compost and manure from chickens, geese, sheep and horses maintain fertility organically. Several varieties of top fruit, edible berries and nuts are grown and a larger fruit and nut orchard is planned. Production has increased year on year, despite mixed weather, thanks to Jo Newton's teaching on the SLU course.
Large oaks, small-leaved lime and alder grow along the boundaries of the farm and Forge Brook which runs through the valley from Soudley to Blakeney. In spring wild daffodils cover the lower fields, with ransoms and bluebells in the 2 acres of woodland. Ash, hazel, sweet chestnut, alder and willow are coppiced for firewood and fence posts.
Dave keeps bees, maintaining around 10 hives and producing large amounts of honey. His interest in bees stemmed at first from a search for a supply of wax for his bronze cast sculpture. Sue rides her horse in the forest and is breaking a Welsh Mountain pony to harness to haul firewood and hay around the farm.