Wassledine – Our Farming Year

Guy Lambourne spoke at our meeting on 16th October about his farm in Gravenhurst.  Gravenhurst lies between Clophill and Shefford in an unfrequented part of the County and few of the people at the meeting had ever been there.  For most of us this is likely to change as Guy drew a picture of a lovely area of countryside rich in wildlife which obviously owes a lot to the stewardship of the farm provided by Guy and his wife Jane.

 Wassledine is taken from the ancient name of a large field on the farm but nothing is known about its meaning.  It is a small farm of seventy acres rescued by Guy and his wife and sister-in –law from the sale of a much larger farm held by their family for two generations.  They acquired it in 2003 and then began to wonder what they could do with it – 70 acres is a tiny area for commercial exploitation by today’s standards but the farm needed to be run for profit.                                                                                                                                                                           There was the added complication that no-one in the family knew anything about farming. The answer, learned over the past twelve years, has been a three pronged business, selling Red Poll cattle for beef and growing hazel and willow for sale and for making things that gardeners can use. Guy also works in a salaried occupation for two and a half days a week so that his time on the farm is limited.

The farming year traditionally starts in autumn at Michaelmas.  For Guy this is a time for planning the year ahead, for giving talks to groups like our own, for cutting firewood for family use and general maintenance jobs.  It is also, importantly, the time for selling the cattle for beef.  Guy explained how he and his wife have come to terms with the need to have animals slaughtered after they have cared for them and called them by name, quirkily using characters from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Winter is the busy time for cutting hazel and willow, switching from secateurs to a heavy powered scythe according to the thickness of the stems.  Before the age of plastics people relied heavily upon baskets as containers and basket making was a widespread craft, using hundreds of named varieties of willows and hazels.  Guy grows twenty-eight varieties some of which he had brought to show us.  He spoke enthusiastically of the range of colours and feel of the different varieties and how he loved their different smells.  Growing willow is, apparently, quite straightforward apart from problems caused by weeds, rust, muntjac deer, hares, rabbits, willow beetles and drought. During the winter months the cattle are brought into the barn to be fed on home-grown hay and locally grown straw.  This is deferred as long as possible because of the cost of winter feed but it is usually necessary by the end of November or beginning of December.  Spring brings the excitement of letting the cattle out once again into the fields.  It is exciting for Guy and exciting for the animals.  He makes sure no ramblers are around before he lets them loose as a gambolling cow is unstoppable.  Spring is also the time for calving and for the emergence of the abundance of birds and flowers encouraged by the deep concern of Guy and his wife for the environment.  He said that one of the challenges of his very busy life is to take time to look and enjoy and appreciate what is around him (A challenge for many busy gardeners too.)

The hazel is largely grown for poles and peasticks for sale, and it also makes excellent firewood.  Guy often spends time in the summer making things for gardeners.  He makes a range of obelisks for climbing plants and specialises in ornamental willow balls.  He makes arches and living fences and trellises in situ as bespoke commissions.  He runs courses in making obelisks and he is also developing a business of visits to the farm where groups can see the cows, enjoy the beauty of the area and see the range of products and materials for sale.

This was an informative and entertaining evening enlivened by Guy’s enormous enthusiasm for the world he has helped to create.  The interest he generated was obvious from the numbers who gathered round to talk and enjoy his samples.

Our next meeting will be on 20th November when Dr Henry Oakeley, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Medicine Garden will talk on Medicines from Plants.

 Jeremy Arthern

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One Response to Wassledine – Our Farming Year

  1. Thanks for the lovely write-up. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to your association and meeting some of the members afterwards.

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