Outdoor Work update – Summer 2020

By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work

The Summer term is usually the busiest and most rewarding; students can literally see the fruits of their labour all around them. But at the moment, certain areas of Outdoor Work (ODW) remind me of a post-apocalyptic movie. People have gone, tools have been left, a shoven leaning against a wall is slowly being choked by bindweed as it makes its way up the shaft. Yet despite the eerie silence and our missing workforce, plants still grow and animals still need tending…

Every year we time the lambing of our Jacob sheep to start at the beginning of the Summer term. This year at the black barn, we got 26 lambs from 15 ewes. Across the yard, our two sows, Bessie and Little Pig, were busy giving birth to 22 piglets between them. The barnyard was buzzing with new life and a welcome distraction for passers-by on their daily lockdown walk.

We currently have around 90 sheep on the farm. They are all at different stages of life and require a lot of hands-on work. Social distancing and farming don’t really go well together and it is at times like this that the term ‘Bedales bubble’ has been very appropriate. Without the help of students, regular jobs like weighing, treating, foot trimming, shearing and moving sheep have been a challenge. But my ‘ODW bubble’ of Kirsten, Marcella, Oscar Kingsley-Pallant, Josh Baty and my family has worked wonders!

Over the winter and early spring, a lot of work went into preparing our vegetable garden and flower beds. Without our small army of students to help tend this area, it was at serious risk of COVID neglect. Kirsten, my wonderful assistant on the farm, loves to garden and early on put a lockdown plan into place whereby residential staff and their families could volunteer and choose tasks from the to-do list. This has been an overwhelming success, both in terms of how the garden looks and the mental health of volunteers. Most have relished the opportunity to help, have a change of scenery, and undertake jobs such as weeding, planting, watering and harvesting. The community spirit continues in the bakehouse as Feline makes up to 80 loaves every week for locals and Bedales residents.

I’m delighted to say that Marcella Craven, our bee and wool expert, will be with us next term to continue the amazing work she has started here in ODW. We currently have seven thriving hives and have just taken off 144 jars of honey during our first harvest. A number of Block 4 students are busy reading and researching about beekeeping during our online learning lessons. They’re looking forward to pulling on their bee suits when some sort of normality returns.

Last Saturday we had a lovely visit from two former students, Enrica and Phin, who needed to re-home their Pygmy goats. Although Bogie and Babette are not traditional farming animals, their mischievous and fun streaks will be a great hit with all our students, from nursery through to sixth form.

We really hope to see students back on the farm soon; it’s just not the same without them! In the meantime, you can keep up with the goings on in ODW by following us on Instagram – @bedalesoutdoorwork.