Making haylage whilst the sun shines

It’s a busy time of year for all farmers everywhere, getting their hay and haylage cut, spun, baled and stored for the winter. Here at Churchtown Farm, we’re no different – checking the weather forecasts even more religiously than usual, looking for that three-day window of opportunity when it’s warm, dry and sunny!

Haylage being but in our fields. We use smaller Alpine equipment, great for our small fields

Haylage being cut in our fields. We use smaller Alpine equipment, great for our small fields

After a May that didn’t behave as advertised – we hit one of Scilly’s notorious fog patches that just seemed to swirl round the islands for days making any drying impossible – our window finally arrived a week or two back. So our Outdoor Team got out to the fields without delay to get our first cut of haylage sorted.

In case you’re wondering, the main difference between hay and haylage is that to make haylage, the grass doesn’t have to be 100% dry – which makes it all the more suited, and less risky, to Scilly’s maritime climate. And unlike silage, which can be made from wet grass, it doesn’t need treating either.

Small bales are better for us at the farm as the cattle only need it as supplementary feed.

Small bales are better for us at the farm as the cattle only need haylage as supplementary feed.

Our first cut this year yielded a pretty impressive 290 bales – the wetter spring bringing on the grass nicely. And of course, we’ve honed our skills since last year, having got more to grips with our rather over sensitive Alpine farming equipment. (There’s still been some colourful language, mind you, when it’s not played ball!) We use Alpine gear because it small – fitting into our tiny fields and making the small bales we need. Small bales are great as the haylage is used only to supplement our cows’ diet in the winter so we don’t need much in one go. These bales can also be handled by one person with a quad and trailer, easier than having to take out a large tractor.

Hay ho! Nearly there with the last of our 290 bales.

Hay ho! Nearly there with the last few bales.

So a huge thanks goes out to the members of our team who stayed on in the fields for more than a few hours to help get the job finished.  We hope to get a second cut off some of our fields later in the year – which means getting out there all over again. Let’s just hope that there’s no more fog and that the machinery keeps going! We’re also thinking of using some rather fetching pink wrap next time an initiative which originated in New Zealand, but which is now supported by a number of UK and Irish farmers to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the Breast Cancer Campaign.

We’re sure our Red Ruby cattle appreciate everything we do for them. They will of course be well catered for, come the winter months.

St Martin’s: a festival isle

This weekend hosts the Scilly Folk Festival – four days of folk music and fun across the islands, including St Martin’s. On Bank Holiday Monday, the Sevenstones Inn will host an afternoon session from 12 noon. Everyone is invited to bring along his or her instruments and voices to join in.

folk fes

The event pretty much coincides with Emily and Dom’s first anniversary of the pub re-opening its doors – and what a year they’ve had! They’ve made the pub a fantastic island hub once more, and clearly relish the festival atmosphere. Since their arrival, they’ve hosted (in association with island event company, Torn & Frayed) St Martin’s inaugural film festival last October and the Day Mark Music Festival over the Easter weekend. Both are set to be regular fixtures in the island’s calendar. In July, too, they’ll host the (unsurprisingly) popular cider festival…. barrels of flavours just waiting to be sampled!


St Martin’s is becoming quite a festival isle on Scilly – what with the ever-popular Walk Scilly event every April, and in June, we will welcome a comedy night, part of the Scilly Laughs event. In October, too, we’ll welcome the second Walk Scilly Weekend.

There is, of course, still plenty of opportunity to pass these events by on St Martin’s – to get away from it all and come simply to enjoy the ultimate peace and tranquillity that the island has to offer. But if you’d like to keep in touch with What’s On St Martin’s, take a look at our new island website.

Why daffodils on St Martin’s remind us of our farming heritage

It’s funny where you find random clusters of daffodils on St. Martin’s. At this time of year, it’s especially noticeable when you take a walk around the island. Rather than spotting any blossom trying to cling haplessly to trees as the westerly breezes blow through, the presence of Spring makes itself felt by the arrival of numerous clumps of daffs poking through the short grass – having survived unattended for years. It makes you wonder, who planted them all those years ago?

Clusters of daffodils found on St Martin's - probably where bulbs were once dumped.

Clusters of daffodils found on St Martin’s – probably where bulbs were once dumped.            

Daffodils were once grown commercially on the islands – but that’s not really the case today. Scilly-based flower farmers switched from growing regular daffs to the more familiar scented “tazetta” style narcissi we grow today when it became evident that farmers based on the mainland were able to produce ordinary daffodils far more efficiently than us here on the islands. Why? Because unlike “tazetta” narcissi, daffs need a cold period before flowering and this is why they prosper so well in places like Lincolnshire. The scented narcissi we grow don’t need a cold spell – in fact they need a warm spell which is why we put polythene over the crop in the summer and enjoy harvesting from as early as Halloween.

Fields of flowers you see these days are orderly planted in rows

Fields of flowers you see these days are orderly planted in rows

Despite not growing them commercially any more, we do still love to see all the haphazard daffodils across St. Martin’s. The flowers pop up all over the place in rows in fields and amassed in places where bulbs have been dumped. The market must have been lucrative in the early years as some of the fields where people tried to grow them were really exposed…. you can tell because you can still make out the formation of planted rows.

Daffodils are found in many exposed places

Daffodils are found in many exposed places

There are all sorts of different varieties that appear around and about – from the delicate Campernelle narcissus to the heavy double-headed varieties. You can also spot an Ice Folly which, as the name suggests, has very white petals compared with more common bright yellow and orange daffs.

So as we approach the end of our scented narcissi season here on Scilly, we can still savour the abandoned clusters of daffodils, and the colourful past of our farming forefathers.

Check this link if you want to find out more about the difference between daffodils and scented narcissi.


Ben is currently working as a ShelterBox response volunteer in Malaysia following  the intense monsoon flooding. ShelterBox was founded in Helston in 2000 and sent the first consignment of 143 boxes to earthquake victims in the Indian state of Gujarat in January 2001. They now respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, volcanoes and conflicts around the world. Ben got involved with Shelterbox in 2012 and this is his second trip with the charity after working as a response volunteer in the Philippines in 2014.


What do ShelterBox do?

Essentially ShelterBox delivers vital supplies and support to communities around the world overwhelmed by disaster and humanitarian crisis. As the name suggests this support literally comes in a box. A ShelterBox typically includes a disaster relief tent for family, thermal blankets and groundsheets, water storage and purification equipment, solar lamps, cooking utensils, a basic tool kit, mosquito nets and children’s activity pack.

What do ShelterBox volunteers do?

Some volunteers perform the essential task of packing every single ShelterBox that leaves the UK warehouse whilst others assist in other departments including Operations, Training, Fundraising and Communications, Reception and Supporter Care.

The ShelterBox response team volunteers help to physically deliver the aid and provide support to communities. To become a response team member is no easy feat and each individual has to undertake rigorous and intensive training before they are qualified to deliver emergency aid.

How did Ben get involved?

A ShelterBox representative came, complete with box, to visit the St. Martin’s school children to tell them about the charity’s work. Ben was asked to give them and their box a lift from the quay to school; he got talking and ended up applying to join the response team.

What is he currently doing in Malaysia?

Intense monsoon flooding has left thousands of people in Malaysia without habitable homes. Ben and the other volunteers are on the ground assessing the need for shelter boxes and making sure that any help that ShelterBox can provide goes where it is most needed.

How can you help?

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, fundraising or making a donation to ShelterBox then pop across to their website.

A sneaky peak at our new illustrations

Over the past year we have been working on our Scilly Flowers branding. You may have noticed in some places our logo has changed slightly, nothing too dramatic we have just been tweaking and updating what we already had. One of the ideas we have been working on was commissioning some illustrations to go alongside our photography in our adverts and on our website but how do you go about finding an illustrator that can do the job? – We certainly didn’t know where to start.

It turned out that there was a rich seam of talent just over water at Falmouth University which has a very strong tradition of art and design. We were put in touch with a number of recent graduates who were all starting out as illustrators. Choosing the right person was a daunting task as we didn’t really know what to expect from the process and all of their work looked excellent. In the end we took a leap of faith and chose Rachael Horner an illustrator whose work has a strong botanical theme and a simplicity we thought would work for the small ‘motif’ type illustrations we were looking for.

After studying in Cornwall Rachael has now based herself in East Yorkshire to start her illustrating career. Her way of working is very unique, combining painting and collage. We were concerned that it would be hard for Rachael to get a feeling for ‘Scilly’ having never visited and rather bombarded her with photos but we needn’t have worried. Rachael has been a real pleasure to work with, she rose to the challenge and more than fulfilled the brief. The only problem we have now is choosing only one or two to use in a project as we love them all! Below are a few to give you an idea of what you are likely to be seeing on our Scilly Flowers branding in the very near future.


Grey-BasketBrown-WelliesBrown-Tractor Brown-Narcissi-YELLOW


And We are not the only flowery people to have spotted this burgeoning talent, Rachael has recently completed some work for the Royal Horticultural Society, you can have look at that work on Rachael’s own blog.

On the farm- Pulling out the pinks plants

Whilst we have very much enjoyed the hot weather this summer it has meant an earlier end to our pinks season. Our fields and tunnels have started to look a little bare now that we have begun pulling out the old plants.

Clearing the polytunnel

Clearing the polytunnel

Each crop of pinks flowers for two years and then the plants are disposed of. This ensures the flowers are of the best quality for sending to our customers. The way we clear the pinks has recently changed now that they are grown in coir tubs as opposed to grow bags.

The coir tubs are reusable

The coir tubs are reusable

Clearing the grow bags was a more arduous task as each plant had to be cut and the bags opened up. With the coir troughs the plants can simply be tipped out, this is much quicker and less labour intensive. The troughs also have the big advantage that they can be reused again meaning there is no plastic waste, unlike the excess polythene of the grow bags.

The coir used to grow the pinks plants in is a sustainable and renewable by-product of the coconut industry. Once the coir has been used for two years it can be used as a soil conditioner, adding organic matter to the soil.

The fields won’t be looking bare for long however. In a few weeks next seasons pinks will begin to be planted.

On the farm- preparing for the narcissi season part 2

We are patiently waiting for the first of our narcissi to start poking up through the ground. This is always a rewarding sight as it means the hard work of the outdoor team over the summer months has paid off. In our previous blog post we looked at how burning the fields helps our narcissi crop. However we also use another method that involves covering certain fields in polythene at strategic times of the year.

Once the drier months of May and June arrive we start covering some of our narcissi fields with polythene. Covering the fields at this time of year helps to advance our narcissi crop by heating the soil. In many ways this is more effective than burning the fields as it occurs over a longer period of time, usually three or four weeks. We also pump smoke under the polythene to help assist the process artificially. As well as heating the ground the ethylene gas in the smoke also has a beneficial effect on flower quality and yield.

The result of this process, along with favourable weather conditions, means that we should be able to start picking narcissi by the end of October.

Covering fields in polythene in August can also help us to prolong the narcissi season. Keeping the soil dry will retard the later crops.

We will keep you posted as to when our beautifully scented gift boxes of narcissi are ready to send.