The Townie Farmer

Building the good life without knowing a sodding thing

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Winds Of Change

It’s the biggest hurricane the modern world has ever seen.

And my mother and stepfather are smack bang in the middle of it.


They live on the Caribbean island of St Maarten.

At the time of writing this, I still haven’t made contact with them after Hurricane Irma wrecked their island and their home.

Hurricane Jose is hot on its heels.

It’s obviously been completely devastating for all those affected.

Managing sleepless nights and calls from the British Consulate follows something of a trying period for me generally.


2017 has seen planning debacles which continue to threaten my home; family dramas and hurricanes blowing a boat load of worry into my life.

I admit I’ve had my fair share of moments of almost crippling anxiety.

But I find that – like when Oli was sick, Emily died and my whole world fell apart in 2013 – challenging things in life can either make or break you.

And it’s possible to decide which way you go.

You can emerge from tricky stuff a stronger version of yourself.

I am an older, uglier, wiser me.

Here’s what I have learned this year: there’s very little you can control in life.

You can’t control other people, bureaucracy or nature.

What you can control is your response to these things.


99% of my life is sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts.

I am incredibly blessed with my amazing family, my friends and the positive energy that surrounds me.

That’s quite a cushion when trying things are sent my way.

So while I wait to hear news about my family’s wellbeing in St Maarten, whether the council are determined to try and bulldoze my home and all the other items on my current worry list…

I’m just keeping on trucking with raising my family, growing my vegetables and trying to get Rowan Farm under some sort of semblance of order.

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Our new Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets Fatman and Spotty arrive in a couple of weeks.

We’ve been setting them up for even more luxury than Huff, Puff and Snuff enjoyed.

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The chooks have a new home too now, in which they are larging it up.

Not that they’ve done any laying yet, mind.

Idle madams that they are.

This isn’t the only way our teenage feathered ones have given us a headache recently.


Chloe’s favourite, Jessica, took herself off for a night on the tiles.

We were so convinced she was a goner, we’d had children’s tears and a full funereal memorial service in her honour.

But unbelievably Jessica evaded the feisty vixen that hunts rabbits brazenly in daylight hours here.

Jessica’s now thinking about what she’s done in the coop.


Prepping for winter has been my focus in the veg patch.

We’ve been relying on our earlier plantings to see us through our summer eating in the meantime.


Man of the match has been the yellow courgettes.

They’ve consistently produced all season and despite being really quite elderly and manky now, continue to give us loads of fruit most days.

There has been disaster too.


My entire crop of tomatoes was wiped out by blight.

In the forensic clean up that followed, I was careful to remove and burn all trace of the tomato plants.

Blight is massively contagious and I was worried about my fledgling potatoes.

In amongst this fastidious care I added new compost to the infected bed for its next blight-resistant inhabitants.



I then inadvertently pinched some of this soil to pack around my emerging winter potatoes in a neighbouring bed.

Midway through doing this I realised my catastrophic stupidity.

So far though the potatoes are miraculously blight-free.

Fingers firmly crossed.


We have planted a bee border, which is also remarkably still alive.

I’m not normally good with plants I can’t eat.

The border is groaning with bees and we will set up bee hotels among the plants for hibernation time.

Our conservation efforts with the owls have also been gratifyingly successful.

Having started with just one…


We now have at least six barn owls and tawny owls living on site.

As well as kestrels, buzzards, woodpeckers galore.

We’re treated to nightly wildlife displays.

Watching the cheeky crim kestrels repeatedly zooming in to pinch the owls’ supper right out of their claws has been a particular highlight.

The owls do all the hard hunting work before the kestrels make their mugging move.

Nature is like a lively episode of The Bill.


Which brings me back to my family’s own current brush with the indiscriminate destruction nature can bring.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my folks are among the most avid readers of this blog.

And it feels odd that they won’t be able to see this post.

But I can only hope they will be safely back here in Blighty for Christmas time.

When we can share the spoils of Rowan Farm’s winter produce together.


Teetering On The Veg

It might not surprise you to learn I am an only child.

Not only does this manifest itself in a check-me-out, big-fat-show-off, attention-seeking blog.

It also means that patience is not exactly my middle name.

I want it.

And I want it yesterday.


It’s a character flaw I am well aware of and do my best to suppress.

In particular as a mother I have had to learn to stifle this unattractive tendency, slow down and exude outer calm at all times (read – as much as is feasibly possible).


Growing your own food is similar in this regard to being a parent.

Vegetables, I have discovered, would test the patience of a saint.

Seeds rarely sprout when you expect them to or behave as the packet promises.

Little blighters.

But here’s the thing I have learned: If you plant them, they will come.


Most things I’ve grown this year took weeks to pitch up out of the soil and when they did, they looked half dead or were indistinguishable from the weeds amongst them.

Long after I’d given up on them (but fortunately had been too idle to dig them up and start again) they burst into vibrant, verdant life.

In particular I have found courgettes, sprouting broccoli, leeks and squash to be the biggest amblers taking their sweet time to come to the plant party.


But like children, provided you put in a bit of effort at the start, give them plenty time and space and feed and water them before they fully keel over, vegetable seeds will reward you.

I’m a total amateur; I’m a bit work shy; I’m bolshy with a hoe.

But look at what even I managed to create in just three short months.

Here’s the veg garden’s makeover before in March and after in June:


In our first soirée into growing our own food at Rowan, we no longer have to buy any vegetables from the supermarket.

It’s a good feeling.

And anecdotally it isn’t just our bank balance that’s benefiting.

I genuinely think you can taste the enhanced goodness.



My kale, for instance, has a different texture and flavour to the bitter, tough stuff you get in the supermarket.

A bowl of it feels so rich in iron, it’s like you’ve eaten a fillet steak, albeit a very clean, green one.


I promise you this is not rocket science. Boom boom.

My advice to any and everyone is to give growing your own food a go.

Even if it’s just the odd salad leaf.


These are some of the easiest and most rewarding things to grow because they keep coming at you even when you pick them.

In fact they love a good ding dong.

Cut ’em right down to their very bare bones and they’ll come back fighting, even more bounteous and green than before.

You’ll have more than you can eat even in a medium sized pot and will save a small fortune on the bagged stuff.



If you follow my example you’ll find you can’t go wrong.

Stick some seeds in a row, in some compost, in an old drainpipe or similar.

Water when it occurs to you.

Once the seedlings pop up – and there is NO greater, more satisfying, back patting feeling (save perhaps birthing an actual child) – wait until they get to about half a hand’s height before separating them out and replanting in a pot with a bit more space around them and a bit more soil.

Hey presto. Instant good life.



I should warn you these homegrown leaves might blow your tiny taste buds and mind.

I thought I knew rocket.

It was that gently peppery one Waitrose does.

It hung out with mild, sensible chaps like spinach and watercress.

You could be fooled into thinking rocket was a nice boy.

But turns out he’s a punchy, feisty, bad lad.

I’m not even sure I like him anymore.

You know, now I’ve met the ‘real’ him…



In The Coop

Poultry Farm.

That’s what Rowan Farm was called when we bought it.

We thought the name a tad grim and after an estate agent with exceptionally shiny shoes warned us it adversely affected the value of our future smallholding, we set about thinking up a new one.

In the end a friend suggested Rowan Farm and it stuck.

It was previously called Poultry Farm because that’s exactly what it was for many years.


Five Oak Projects HQ – with original hatchery funnels on the roof

Our office on site is the old egg hatchery, complete with funnel vents on the roof to aerate the place (also useful when inhabited by Guthries).

It’s been about a quarter of a century since they were last here…

But chickens have now returned to Rowan.


These are our new Pekin Frizzle chicks.

Despite sounding like some sort of 90s complaint rock band fronted by Courtney Love, they are in fact a curly feathered breed of chicken, who are supposedly pretty good egg layers.

About 260 eggs, each, every year.

We eat an unacceptably large number of eggs in our family.

We’re hoping having over 1500 eggs a year without packaging or shipping will help our gluttony become more sustainable.


They’ve just come out from under the nurture of their breeder’s heat lamp and been thrown into life at Rowan Farm.

We’re keeping them in the bootroom for a week or so until they’re old enough to go outdoors.

It’s fair to say they have quite an attentive audience.


Rory is not at all alarmed by the new arrivals

Right now we’ll have to sit tight and wait for eggs.

They are still babies and won’t start laying until around August.

Naming them became a family-wide decision.

So welcome Henrietta, Shelley, Wingafred, Mother Clucker, Jessica and Bob the Builder.


Now, when we got pigs I was extremely responsible.

I did loads of research.

I went on a course.

I became fully accredited in porcine husbandry.

With our chicks, I’ve got a little cocky.

I ordered a coop, six chicks and a few bits of feeding kit with very limited knowledge.

But so far they’re still alive.

This despite the fact we also have an incredibly ballsy local vixen.

Our foxy lady hunts happily in the day for rabbits at Rowan.

Let’s hope we’ve done enough to stifle her efforts to eat our hens too.


Avian Adhentures – Our new hens have their work cut out surviving my ignorance and a feisty fox

I’ll perhaps foolishly put the hens in with the veggies.

Pekins are meant to be rubbish flyers.

I’m hoping they’ll stay grounded enough so as not to get up in the boxes and eat all our supplies.


Despite a recent hard frost we have plenty food growing for the summer.

That’s not to say there haven’t been failures.

There’s not a beetroot in sight and most of my courgettes were killed off by the cold.

But by and large it’s been a fruitful season and we’re heading for something of a glut.

We’re also in the process of installing some new solar panels to take the strain off the biomass boiler in the sunnier months.

Once the panels are in we will have all the heat and hot water we need without having to burn any wood at all between April and October.

Having been told initially by the council we didn’t need planning for the panels…

Turns out we do.

This despite the fact that if we wanted to put a whopping great oil or gas tank there instead we wouldn’t need any approval.

So much for presumption in favour of sustainable development.

So here we go again with another heated planning battle.

On the plus side, it’s given our merry band of objectors a renewed sense of purpose to their border patrols and ranting correspondence.


The threat of eviction still hangs over us.

In the manner of a bad John Cleese farce our legal drama rumbles on.

The lawyer at the Council looking into the complaint – that our permission to live at Rowan Farm is illegal – has gone awol.

Perhaps our case sent them over the edge.

They’ve left us and others in complete limbo without leaving a forwarding address.

So we still have no idea whether the Council will eventually rule in our objectors’ favour.

Fingers crossed we continue to outfox the naysayers and get to stay cooped up in our heavenly patch.


I Object

It has been a long running campaign of harassment.

Ever since we bought Rowan Farm we have been in the pitchfork firing line.

This time, though, our objectors have cranked up the gears and got seriously tooled up.

They’ve launched a serious legal bid to try to turf us out of Rowan Farm.


For six years Oli and I have been accused of being “engaged in subterfuge”, of being “dishonest”, of being “ignorant”, of being “threatening” and of being like “the Battle of the Somme”.

Our business was accused in the local magazine of being involved in criminal activity.

We are regularly shouted at and surreptitiously photographed.

We regularly have trespassers and endure people lurking in our bushes, staring.

We were harangued aggressively in an ill-informed and pointless fashion at an emergency local parish council meeting.

We have had the enforcement officer called out five times during our build.

One of those times was because we had planted a wildflower meadow.


Every time we get told on though, the Council sign us off for good behaviour.

For six years, we have kept our noses clean.

Done our best not to rise to it.

We decided not to sue for libel after the parish magazine article.

We haven’t shopped our objectors for the numerous planning restrictions they themselves are currently flouting in their own homes.

We haven’t bombed their doorsteps with rotten eggs.

Instead I confess to being embarrassingly middle class.

I grumble privately.

And when really, really pushed, I send the odd strongly worded letter.

We have actually tried to understand where these people are coming from.

But we’ve drawn a blank in the face of their implacable anger.

Now they’re busy trying to evict us.

They’re claiming – anonymously – that the Council should never have given us planning permission and our home is illegal.

Helpfully, they waited until we’d ploughed all our savings and much more into finishing the build.

Fortunately, the Council appear to be wising up to their malice.

The enforcement officer actually apologised to us last month and said she was embarrassed about how much grief we have had from her department.


Nevertheless, we’re now having to find the money to fund more help from our now considerably well oiled lawyer.

It’s a total waste of taxpayer money too.

At jeopardy is our right to live in our home that we have worked tirelessly to finish.

We’re a tad scuppered if the Council legal bods find against us.

But if they do, our objectors are much more so.

If we’re booted out and forced to sell, I doubt our successors would share our positive aims for Rowan Farm.

Seven acres can fit a whole lot of houses.

Not eco ones neither.

Developers tend to be pretty keen on swimming pools, tennis courts, big returns on their investment.

Not many people are as daft about tree conservation as us.

Most see bats, owls and other protected wildlife as inconveniences.

You could kiss goodbye to the newly nesting kestrels, kites, buzzards, tawny owls, barn owls and other wildlife that have moved in since we took charge here.

Would a developer have a Barnardo’s apprenticeship scheme?

Give local school kids free carpentry lessons?

Most people don’t understand the point of spending a silly sum of money on Eco construction options.

They don’t understand why we were so open and forthcoming about what we are trying to do at Rowan Farm.

They’d bite back at their detractors.

We’re bonkers.

And our objectors don’t know how good they got it.





March Forward

Rowan Farm is being reborn.

Spring growth is setting about smoothing over the mud and mess we made with the build.

The daffodils I planted a few years ago (from bulbs pilfered from my best friend’s wedding) have returned despite our dumper truck’s best efforts to pound them into obliteration.

And there are many other exciting new beginnings here besides the flora.

I have a new man in my life.

Hugo has piercing blue eyes and is an all night party animal.


Mummy’s new man: Hugo, the Sleep Thief

You’d think my fourth baby would have been a doddle.

You’d think by now my womb would be a total pro at this.


But Hugo’s arrival came early, in theatre, via the surgeon’s knife, after slowing movements, being bum down and other complications made me and the doctors a tad jittery about him.

It was decided it was too risky to wait and Hugo was whipped out by an incredible giant of an obstetrician with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

“I don’t want to see you again,” smiled Mr Ilori the following day, with a note of warning in his voice.

“After what you did to me yesterday, I don’t want to see you again either,” I huffed.

But despite my grumpiness at having to undergo my first C section, I could not be more grateful to this grinning man mountain.

He saved my baby boy’s life.

And I know full well how this story might have panned out differently, having lost my second daughter Emily four years ago this month.

Hugo looks just like her.

They have the same nose. Same mouth. Same fingers.

The newest member of our team has taken both me and Oli back with a jolt to the little one we lost.

And Hugo now feels like he has completed our family.

Doctor’s orders.


Being sliced open rather scuppered my plans to get a jump on planting at Rowan Farm during February.

But this month I am recovered and back in go mode.

We have set up cheat raised beds in the pigs’ old stomping ground.


Our local mates who farm potatoes kindly gave us some of their packing boxes.

They make for an excellent, makeshift vegetable garden.

Rowan Farm’s first seeds are now planted up in a similarly make-do alternative.


These recycled drain pipes are next to the warmth of the house to help the seeds germinate.

Once they get going in the coming weeks, I will plant them up in the potato boxes.

We have also planted wildflower and a bee border to encourage more of our buzzy mates at Rowan.

In a couple of months time, I hope there will be a riot of life and colour emerging around us.


Beth and Andy’s Daffodils: Resilient

Our company is embarking on new beginnings too.

Working with the children’s charity Barnardo’s we’ve launched a new apprenticeship scheme.

The candidates are all young people facing challenges in getting on.

They’re out of school and work, with no skills to fall back on.

We’ve had two apprentices so far.

We thought it would take Oli and the company out of their comfort zone.

But with our latest recruit, it’s done nothing of the sort.

He’s actually rather spoiled all our do-gooder pretentions.

Our new charge turns up early.

He works exceptionally hard.

He’s polite, delightful and shows immense promise.

All this despite the fact he’s only sixteen and is in care.

He’ll challenge everything the Daily Express has to say about kids like him. And then put a cherry on top.

I urge any other company bosses reading this to take a look at what Barnardo’s are doing and get involved if you can.

Upping Sticks

It’s been a tad hectic.

The final push on any project tends to see Oli putting in 17 hour days.


Normally I’m not quite so keen for him to do so.

But two things are driving my unusual tolerance of his frantically mental final push:

1) My ever expanding waistline signifying the imminent arrival of the newest member of the team

2) We haven’t been paid since January and really ought to get back to proper paid work given we have now run out of wonga and are living off familial hand outs

A third reason is we are just excited in a really bonkers sort of way to get on with our new lives at Rowan Farm.


My favourite time of day at Rowan: the sun setting behind Emily’s trees.

So it’s been all hands to the mill to get this gaff fit for human habitation.

It finally is.

And today is moving day.

In the excited, loud melee of packing and shifting, all of us shouting almost continuously at the top of our lungs throughout the house as we drive on with final jobs…

I almost didn’t notice the small, quiet, hesitant figure in the corridor.

I nearly ran into him.

Fortunately I stopped just in time. And looked down at the huge blue eyes looking up at me with trepidation.

“Rory,” I said, pausing, “Is it fun that we’re moving into our lovely new house? Or is it a little bit scary?”

“Bit scary,” he wobbled.


Managing moving house sensitively with a toddler is not straight forward.

Oli’s response was to promise to fill his new wardrobe with toys and sweets.

No doubt it will be me dealing with the crashing disappointment when it transpires clothes and shoes are what are ultimately destined to be housed in there.

Rory and I packed and labelled a special box of essential teddies, toys and a chocolate snowman to take to the house first.


We ceremoniously carried it up to his new bedroom.

In his true independent style, Rory sets about reassuring himself by also asking lots of questions.

He needs to know his list of important people are also coming with him on the move.

Dab Dab the rabbit. Ra Ra the lion. Mummy. Daddy. Chloe. Nessie, our cocker spaniel.

We cover the list extensively.

“Where’s Granny gone?”

“She’s at her home. She doesn’t live with us, darling.”

“Mummy coming?”




“Woah-ie (Chloe) coming too?”


“Dab Dab?”


“Baby Bumpkin?”

“Well the baby is sort of already packed in Mummy’s tummy, so yes.”

(At this the baby gives a reassuring thump in my cervix to emphasise the point).

“Dab Dab?”

“Yes my love he’s already on our tick list.”

“Daddy? Mummy…?”

Rory making sure to box up the essentials

Rory making sure to box up the essentials

Rory’s anxiety is obviously fairly normal for a two year old.

But in the midst of trying to cuddle some reassurance into his little body, I am struck by a sobering thought.

How does a mummy reassure her little man when fleeing Aleppo, the Yemen, Iraq?

We’re hiring professional packers. Moving five minutes up the road. To a magical new home.

And it’s a “bit scary”.

What do parents tell children who don’t have time to make sure Dab Dab’s on board?

And who are then met with hostility when they reach their destination.

If they reach their destination.

Our objectors still busy themselves photographing us, repeatedly calling out the enforcement officer (we’re now on first name terms with her) and refusing to return my greetings as they huff past.

And I’m bothered by that in the most pathetically first world problem sort of way.

I think I need to work harder to hold on to a tad more perspective.

Someone said to me this week, “God, you must be stressed to the eyeballs…”

I completely appreciate their empathy and concern.

But how unbelievably spoiled it would be, were that to be true.


One more sleep! Floorboard picnic supper in our now furniture-free old house.




Kill Seeking

It’s time.

Huff, Puff and Snuff are fattened and ready.



They’ve spent 6 months chez Rowan.

They’ve enjoyed the lush countryside.

And every juicy apple we could throw their way.


They paid for their full board by clearing our future veg patch of all weeds and brambles.

And now they are paying the ultimate price.


The process was perhaps best summed up by my daughter, Chloe.

This is how she explained to my slightly startled mother what was coming:

“Tomorrow, Granny, the pigs are getting killed. They are going to be electricity-ed. So there’s no pain. And then their throats will be cut.”

A difficult concept.

Articulated so well in classically straight forward, five-year-old language.

We did then have to have a chat about not sharing quite so much information with her school friends.

They might be even more startled than Granny.

Chloe saying farewell to the pigs

Chloe saying farewell to the pigs

Huff, Puff and Snuff’s fate was awaiting them at our local abattoir.

The challenge was getting them into the trailer first.



Our pigs are not known for their co-operation.

They can be a bit grumpy.

They have a combined weight of 270 kilos.

Oli has been somewhat subdued by Lyme Disease and then a dislocated knee three days ago.

I’m 5 months pregnant.

Neither of us are at our physical best.


Fortunately help to shift the pigs came in the form of our friends Rebecca and Toby, and Oli’s mother, Lorna…

Who was in her best cashmere.



Rebecca tries to coax the boys in with apples

After much huffing and puffing with Snuff leading the way, all three were safely on board and ready for their final journey.


I feel very sanguine about sending the boys to their bloody inevitable.

I’m not sad in the way that many people around me seem to be about their demise.


Rebecca and Rory have one last peak

Plenty of the guys on site were determined to try and surreptitiously set them free ahead of today.

They couldn’t cope with the idea of snuffing out the building project’s porcine companions.


But I am a meat eater.

And having this sort of connection to the realities of our food, its production and eventual demise feels not only important to me, but Right.

With a capital R.



That’s not to say I am totally immune to the brutal nature of slaughter.

For me, it’s a bit like that feeling you get when you’re close to a cliff edge.

You peer over and think, “I could just leap off.”

At every stage of unloading the pigs at the abattoir I kept thinking, “I could stop this from happening.”

When I saw three noses lined up at the edge of the trailer, I thought, “I could stop it now”.

“Or now,” as we sent them down the ramp into the abattoir yard.

“Or now”, as I watched the solid metal gate close on their rotund behinds and that of the man dressed up in white wellies, blood splattered coat and blue hair net.


I confess I didn’t like the fact my pigs had to be shipped off to an abattoir.

Didn’t like that their usual Oinks and Snorts fell silent from the moment they were loaded into the trailer.

But regulations mean I can’t currently despatch them while they unknowingly trot out to their breakfast at home.

It had to be here. At the abattoir.

As second bests go, it was a pretty decent one.

These guys were firm but professional in their business of killing.

They weren’t going to fumble.

It was a quick death for Huff, Puff and Snuff.


And the point is up until now they’ve had a fantastic life.

Which is more that can be said for most of the pork, bacon, sausages, salami, ham and gammon stacked on the supermarket shelves.

The end is gritty, of course.

You can’t make slitting a pig’s throat into a nice thing.

But I think we can all learn from Chloe’s matter of fact attitude.

Be alive to the fact that eating meat means something had to die.

And try to make sure our animals have the best innings possible first.


All is not lost folks.

Thank you very much to everyone who has got in touch with suggestions for burners, solar, crowd funding…

I so appreciate all your enthusiasm and help.

Just to keep you all in the loop:

Biomass is back on.

Kevin from Eco Engineering has come to our rescue.

It looks like we can do a log boiler after all with fewer frills and a major solar element.

For a lot less wonga.

As big Kev said, it would be daft not to do biomass given our glut of wood offcuts on site and from our business.

This version will be more affordable and he can help us access government assistance.

We’re meeting him on site next week to go through it all.

How does one go about recommending someone for knighthood?

The biomass boiler set up recommended by Kevin

The biomass boiler set up recommended by Kevin

Biomass Spoiler

It was meant to be the epitome of our new way of life at Rowan Farm.

The Eco pivot on which we balanced our attempts to reduce our carbon footprint and live more sustainably.

Our plans for a state of the art biomass boiler would efficiently heat our home and water.

What’s more, all the fuel it needed was already on site in the twigs and logs provided by the maintenance our trees require.


Rowan Farm at sunrise

It was about as green as it’s possible to get.

But last week our biomass ambitions went up in smoke.

We got the final estimate.

And it’s more than three times what we had budgeted.

We simply cannot afford it.


The bad news comes at a tricky time.

The last couple of months of a project are always a bit manic.

Budgets start to get squeezed; time marches on; husbands/project managers fall really ill with Lyme Disease from a tick…


Plastering and second fix electrics underway despite our heating system hitting a roadblock

We’ve been marching on regardless with interiors and external finishing touches.

But with the boiler we hit a bit of a dead end.


Internorm windows and doors have been fitted…


…and the cladding is very nearly complete, bar weathering to it’s eventual grey colour to match the roof shingles and original barn posts

In many ways we are victims of our own success.

We have insulated the house so well that the heat a biomass boiler churns out now massively exceeds our demands.

And all the relevant green government grants that might help us are based on use rather than initial outlay for a boiler.


Here’s the maths:

A regular boiler would set you back about £1k.

We had decided to cough up for around £12k in order to have biomass.

But the bill turns out to be more like £36k.

If we’re lucky, we might get a few hundred quid from the government to help.

It just ain’t enough.


Even with the incredible generosity of our financial support system (aka my dad), we can’t make it work.

So in true first world problem style: we’ve panicked. I’ve (nearly) cried. And we’ve called on our usual Eco big wig consultant (aka Oli’s dad).

As luck would have it, Peter is the Professor for Engineering for Sustainable Development at Cambridge University.

Which is handy.

With a bit of head scratching we’ve come up with a compromise.

We can do some clever things to make a normal boiler super efficient including reducing the demands on it and generating our own electricity to power it.

But I’m still sad about the loss of the biomass boiler.

It was so out there, so innovative, so earthy.

So Rowan.

But maybe in the dead of winter when I’m not having to hand feed logs into a boiler that cost more than anything else on the build just to have a hot shower…

I might feel slightly differently.

Shingle Minded

It’s hung, clay-free and shingle.

Here’s our newly completed roof finished off with hand-crafted oak tiles.


They’re actually rejects from France’s wine barrel industry.

Once destined to contain and add flavour to a vintage Bordeaux, at some stage in barrel production they were deemed not worthy.


But for us they are the very height of worthy beauty.

And they have been reborn as a gorgeous and unusual adornment to Rowan Farm’s roof.


Like all gorgeous and unusual things, they’ve been a tad high maintenance.

Putting them up has been something of a labour of love.

Each shingle had to be handpicked, tweaked and then hammered into place.

We probably could have moulded, baked and slung up our own homemade clay tiles in the time it’s taken to lovingly place each one.

And having been let down at the last minute – on the day he was meant to start – by our original roofer, Oli was forced to do one of his least favourite things on site. Working at great height every day for an extended period of time.

But he rose to the challenge.

And with invaluable help from the impossibly youthful Danny (who is twice as nimble as us, despite being twice our age), Oli has spent the last three months, alongside all his other jobs, carefully nailing each shingle to the building.


The unique finish was worth it.

It glows golden in the sunshine; it blends beautifully with the rural setting; oak was definitely the right choice of material and it will see us through our and our children’s lifetimes.

Even one of our most vociferous objectors stopped Oli to tell him how much he loved the roof.

Just as well Oli wasn’t on it at the time or he might have fallen off with the shock.

So who knows? If a wooden roof can have such an impact, once we really get restoring Rowan Farm’s biodiversity maybe attitudes towards us might soften.

In the meantime, we’re dead chuffed with how our beautiful new home is starting to emerge.


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