Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience

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Spring Clean

This spring we’ve had a proper spring clean that hopefully will continue.

Farms and environmentalists are well known to do a spot of hording. Everything can potentially be repaired or re-used somewhere else, but also on farms there always is an enormous to do list and never any time to repair things.

In the tidy up of a container an old potato grader was found.


It took a lot of indoor space so my initial thought was to dust it off and put it as a quirky exhibit outside the café. An initial dust off, a wash and a bit of linseed oil and the result is amazing.

I spent a few evenings doing research on the potato grader online and found a wealth of information and created a summary for the sign above it.

This machine is a Cooch and Son’s potato sorter, grader or riddler.  It was bought in 2014 and was used a few times at Church Farm to sort our potato crop. It is still in working order. From the research we have done the machine would have been built between 1906 and 1937.

grader oval

Cooch and Son’s were based in Northampton and were renowned for their agricultural machinery and even won prizes at the Royal Agricultural Show of England RASE with their potato graders.

Originally the potato sorter would have been operated by turning a wheel at the back by hand, which made the conveyer belt work and move the grates horizontally.  Later on the electrical motor from SEM was added to mechanise the process even further.

There is a nice video online to see the machine in action.

Now that I know the history of this machine, it might deserve a roof over it to protect it against the winter rain, which adds another job to the job list!2017_0401_ChFm17_0215

We would like to use some of the old machinery laying around the farm as historical exhibits to add another of layer of interest and educational value to the farm. If anybody would be keen to help cleaning up some of the machinery and help with some of the research to make this happen please contact



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Saying Good-bye to Su and Darren

In May we said good-bye to Su and Darren.


Su worked for five years in the Café, cooking breakfasts, and baking cakes, and also making ready meals and jams and chutneys for sale in the Farm Shop.  Her steady presence and friendly greetings welcomed everyone.   You might also have seen her walking her dog, Sid, around the farm.  Su has moved to Derbyshire to work in catering for a wedding venue.  We wish her well!





Su & Jam

Darren, the man who fell in love with Vicars Orchard.

About 3 years ago, Darren was mainly working in horticulture and coordinating the intern program. He took a well-deserved break and went to visit his family in Australia. On that trip he decided his time had  come  to return to Australia for good. He came back to sort everything out after living in the UK for about 10 years. One evening he strolled around the farm and ended up in Vicars Orchard in bloom and witnessed a beautiful sunset.  The beauty of the orchard and the potential gripped him and he decided to stay.  The ticket to return home to Australia (not a cheap affair) was left unused and Darren started sorting out the orchard that had been mainly left to its own devices since 2008.


Darren passion for the orchard and knowledge inspired others to get involved and Vicars Orchard in 2017 is definitely something to be proud of!



The Quiet Aussie

Quiet he may have been, but his presence is missed, not least by the Horticulture Team.   Darren took over from me as Leader in horticulture last July, where he used his considerable experience in several countries to continue and improve what is grown in our tunnels and fields;  he nurtured the orchard with knowledge and passion.   Darren’s innate caring nature encompassed all at the farm, with particular emphasis on the interns for whom he felt a sense of responsibility which included  irritation at their untidy habits!

My lasting memory of Darren is our ‘walk and talk’ times when we took the two dogs belonging to Emma and Tim and my black lab for a wander in the woods.   Our conversations went beyond horticulture and we got to know each other in greater depth, and to talk about Oz where I used to live too.  Darren had to leave his lab behind when he first came here and Daisy and I hope he will get another companion soon.

This picture shows how stressful our weekly coffee and cakes meetings were!   Eva has now taken over as Leader.

Darren Mum Eva 049

Good-on-ya Darren, Eva and I wish you well.






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Dr Finlay’s Walking Stick: A Day of Wonder

Fin’s Sixteenth Adventure

Hungry Birds

May 16th 2017

National Walking Month and Dementia Awareness Week

In the middle of a small wood a nest box had been put up on a tree.

Dr Finlay was working late as usual but on this occasion he was to be rewarded in a way that money simply cannot buy.

A small movement caught his eye and looking more closely he saw the gaping mouth of a tiny, tiny bird.

Awestruck he went to find a box to look more closely and used Fin to support his clambering.

Gently lifting the lid he saw not one but eight hungry birds, their eyes not yet open and their beaks open wide desparate for food.





Retreating to a safe distance he felt the need to share this wondrous experience with people he knew and cared about whom he thought would appreciate it.

He rushed off hoping they would share his amazement.

Later he was to share the experience with colleagues and Co-Farmers, staff and friends.

Their joyful faces were something to behold almost as wonderful as the sight itself.

This would not have happened if there were no trees and he was reminded of the famous book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.

Imagine, no birds, no trees, no farms, no animals, no life on Earth.

No don’t, enjoy it.


Tomorrow as they say was to be another day.

—Dr Finlay
May 16th 2017

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Dr Finlay’s Walking Stick: Walking the Tightrope And Tripods!

Fin’s Fifteenth Adventure

May 15th 2017

National Walking Month and Dementia Awareness Week

Fin was determined to make sure that Dr Finlay had a better life and tonight it was playtime.

Off to the playground they went and tried walking on tree trunks that had been cut up into sections and put in a circle.  For some weird reason known only to tight rope walkers and physicists everywhere this becomes easier in two ways.

Firstly Fin was used as a third point of access to the ground, three points being steadier than two.

Secondly, and with no understanding of the reason why all tight rope walkers hold a long stick like Fin in front of them to stop them losing their balance.

Even the Niagara Falls can be walked over if your stick is long enough.

It works, why?  God knows, some physicists too, but all Fin and Dr Finlay knew was that it worked.

The universe is a surprising and wonderful thing as they were both discovering together.

Tomorrow as they say was to be another day.

—Dr Finlay
May 15th 2017

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Dr Finlay’s Walking Stick: A visit to the past

Back Home

Fin’s Tenth Adventure

May 10th 2017

National Walking Month and Mental Health Awareness Week

Refreshed and re-invigorated by a day of rest, the odd couple got back into their stride and set off for what was to be a beautiful trip around the Circular Walk.  It was a bright and early start as Dr Finlay was feeling a little guilty that he had missed National Dawn Chorus Day and hadn’t taken Fin for a walk at 4.30 am in the morning earlier in the week.  7.30 seemed quite early enough and the birds were all out and singing beautifully.  “I wonder if there are any birds who can’t sing, like me,” thought Dr Finlay.  It was quiet apart from the birds and the early morning chill soon disappeared as they strode out, heads up enjoying the trees and the clouds and the birds.  Things had changed so much for them both since they had met and now they were revisiting the site where their paths had first crossed.

“Is this where I used to live?” wondered Fin.  “Are all these trees my friends and family?” “Is this where I truly belong?”.

Dr Finlay too was thinking back about his past, the walks he had enjoyed through here with his friend Sid who was a dog and who loved the bluebells as much as he did if not more.

Thoughts about the past can be painful or happy and it is good to have as many happy ones as you can to help you deal with the unhappy ones.

Fin and I will be able to look back on this walk as something very beautiful indeed thought Dr Finlay although he knew it would also be tinged with bits of sadness too.

Tomorrow as they say was to be another day.

—Dr Finlay
May 10th 2017

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Bee Stings

Chicken Dave experienced a rite of passage which most would choose to avoid.  Dave had volunteered to help beekeeper Euan replace the pallets the beehives sit on in the orchard apiary.  It is a job for spring when the winter honey stores have run low and the hives are lightest in weight.  It is a job best done on a cool evening when the bees are not buzzing.  Instead, Euan chose a beautiful spring evening and the bees were inquisitive!  It cost Dave his first ever bee sting – times 2 in fact.  Everyone seems to love bees these days except perhaps when contact is too close for comfort – stings do hurt.  Euan accepts 2 or 3 stings a year as occupational hazard (but could probably exercise more caution and avoid even those).


What to know about bee (and wasp stings): 

  • Worker-bee stings have barbs, which means they stay in the skin with the venom-sac attached, still pulsing venom.
  • A bee that stings leaves behind parts of its innards and will die soon after.
  • Stings should be scraped out with a finger nail. Pulling out the sting squeezes the entire content of the venom-sac into the skin.
  • Queen-bee stings aren’t barbed but are only ever used against other queen bees.
  • Male-drone bees are stingless.
  • Wasp stings aren’t barbed and one wasp can sting multiple times (but with decreasing venom impact).
  • Bee stings are acid and should be treated with an alkali, such as baking powder.
  • Wasp stings are alkali and should be treated with an acid, such as vinegar.
  • Proprietary treatment creams and sprays work better than homespun remedies.
  • Swelling and itching from stings lasts for 2 or 3 days but there is considerable person-to-person variation in the severity of reaction.
  • People who react severely to bee stings can be desensitised by administration of tiny quantities of bee venom over a series of injections (by qualified medical practitioners).


When might bees sting?

  • Move slowly near bees (or wasps). Flapping arms will panic insects.
  • Don’t stand in the flight path of bees into and out of the hive.
  • Don’t wear strong perfumes near bees.
  • A bee caught in hair will panic and sting. A pre-emptive first strike to kill the bee is sensible, as a stinging bee will die anyway.
  • If one or two bees show too much interest then walk away slowly and stand in the shade until they lose interest.
  • Don’t run from bees. Bees can fly faster than Usain Bolt can run.
  • Bees get bad tempered when atmospheric pressure changes before a storm.
  • Bees see a different light spectrum and there is some suggestion that deep blue coloured clothing upsets them.
  • Working a single field crop (such as oilseed rape) can result in bees being less calm.
  • Bee colonies that are without a queen are more aggressive.
  • Older worker bees can be more tetchy than young bees.
  • Bees struggle to sting if they have a full stomach. Beekeepers smoke bees to encourage them to feed, in readiness to flee a fire.


It is perhaps foolish to focus a news item on bee stings when we need to embrace these fantastic, beneficial insects and besides it has been suggested that bee stings are beneficial in preventing arthritis.  Don’t let the very small chance of a sting put you off the joy bees.  It hasn’t put Dave off.  If you see him around the farm tell him he has been very brave!

Euan Brierley



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Dr Finlay’s Walking Stick: Finlay meets Kenny and … Jeremy


Fin’s Fifth Adventure

May 5th 2017

National Walking Month

Fin was beginning to get the idea now and spent his/her/it’s evenings wondering what the next day might have in store.

The funny thing is you can never quite know and today he was to witness something incredible.

Kenny had come to visit Dr Finlay and have a stroll around the farm.

Kenny is from Scotland a place a long way away with lots of sticks. Kenny works with farms and farmers and lots of wildlife and sticks.

Kenny had a brilliant secret called “Jack in the Hedge”.

Dr Finlay had intended to introduce Fin to stinging nettles in the belief that he could show that humans feel pain and sticks do not.

Kenny was to turn this on its head and show that in certain circumstances neither humans or sticks will feel pain!!!

One of the great dilemmas in life is how to explain to someone what a stinging nettle is!

There really is only one way – please touch the stinging nettle!!!

Can you really ask someone to inflict pain on themselves?

What if you had never been in love?  How could you explain the pain and heartache and the joy of this experience?

Kenny showed them a way (a sneaky, tricky, clever way) to approach this problem.

Jack in the Hedge is a plant that tastes good and looks very much like a stinging nettle which is what Dr Finlay said he thought it was.

Brave as can be Kenny rubbed his arm against the plant and then ate it!!!

Fin was amazed and he and Dr Finlay had a new trick up their sleeves and bark to surprise all the other people they would meet.

Yet this fabulous walk with Kenny would have a good follow up too because Fin also got to meet Jeremy who is a trainee shepherd who needed a crook.  No not a criminal but a sturdy stick and who better than Fin.

What a day and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

But of course…

Tomorrow as they say was to be another day.

—Dr Finlay
May 5th 2017