March 2013

Diary of an atypical smallholding

March 2013

It’s been hard hasn’t it, these last few months? We were so relieved to have the cold winds, and clearer skies to dry out the muddy, drowning grass and let us get into the woodland for next year’s firewood. But mid-March with more cold weather on the way feels like enough already! The poor daffs don’t know what to do, the watercress has been burnt by the frost and the Gunnera leaves that were looking so strong have gone brown.  This time last year we were basking in 20 degrees on the beaches! Still, those easterly winds and the high tides have brought us a great harvest of seaweed and we have been making the most of the dry weather to get the quad-bike down to Port Mellon and Gorran Haven beach to fork up mounds of the stuff. Some has gone straight onto the asparagus and artichoke beds; a good idea? We weren’t sure but have gone for it anyway. Adam the Gardener says in MARCH First Week – profitable asparagus bed that while sandy soil is good for drainage, a dressing of salt in April is good on an established bed. And seaweed ticks all those boxes! Apart from that, we have layered the seaweed liberally in the compost bins and also laid it on the newly cleared ground for future veg beds and covered it in Mypex to mulch and enrich the soil.

Lesson in healthy soil: we are organic here at Cotna but not officially so – in fact, organic produce can be as depleted as any other, it just means that there are no added chemicals on it. What healthy fruit and veg really need is a high mineral content, not just for abundant growth but also for the real health benefits, as well as delicious flavour. Seaweed contains ten to twenty times the minerals of land plants and an abundance of vitamins and other elements necessary for our metabolism – in particular iodine, calcium  and iron as well as Vitamin B12.  It therefore follows that plants grown in seaweed will absorb these minerals and we in turn absorb them from the lettuces, other veg and fruit grown here.  So seaweed is the best thing that can happen to our gardens really!

We have also been piling on layers of nicely composted leaf mould (many thanks to William and Arlene Fullerton at Cotna House J).  This will improve the structure of our soil, and with the vital help of the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi that are in this compost the plants roots will be able to absorb all those lovely minerals.  Nutrient rich, alive soil is what we want and first to benefit will be the onion sets we are planting out as I write.

Other jobs have included planting out new apple trees and right now we are knocking willow cuttings into the ground to extend the range of coloured willow and dogwood around the place. Last Sunday was our first event of the season; Willowcraft for Gardens with Sian Hill, a great introduction into weaving trellises and obelisks for training up sweet peas, beans and other climbers. Hopefully she will be back to do a basket-weaving course soon. Other events to follow will be the popular Forage Cook and Dine on Sunday 7th April with Rachel Lambert, and a Dawn Chorus Birdwatch walk with bird expert Martin Rule on Saturday 20th April, followed by a legendary home-produced Cotna breakfast – free range eggs, sourdough bread and other such delights! If you would like to book on any of these or future events please keep an eye out for our posters around the village or have a look at our website, mail us or give us a call.

Spring events @ Cotna

Hey guys, does it feel like spring in the air, or is that just me being hopeful? Somehow the birds seem more birdy & I’m spotting the shoots of bluebells as I snuffle in the woods … And packleaders seem busy organising stuff for the summer … yurt bases, compost bins & even some great courses. Looks like there are some good wild food foraging courses coming up with a nettle day, cooking with spring plants like alexanders, wild garlic and  pennywort. And then a Dowsing course with Alan Neale from tamar dowsers in May – how cool is that! If you’d like to know more, just have a look at our website



Hi guys, those sevilles are here again, not exactly local but certainly seasonal! Every year pack leader forgets  which recipe she used but this year she reckons she has worked out the perfect combination to make the best marmalade so far! So look at our wild recipes page while it’s not too late! Apart from that, we’ve been cutting willow & starting to make baskets again, mmm tasty. Oh and big diggin’ works down in the woods, thanks to Dom & his digger & us helping out a bit. My favourite thing :-)



Hey guys, been a while having some winter down-time, but we’re back in action now – laying some hedges. Man, they’re prickly those blackthorns but they laid well with the hawthorn & the occasional elm & oak. First you chop at the base with a sharp billhook until you can split off the main stem with some bark and cambium still attached. Then you untangle all the tangly twigs at the top and lay the pleacher over. Then you re-tangle it all, so it all makes a nice sideways wave. Cool as :-) Some nice bits of log to chew and all. Thanks for the help guys, the bees will love it!

Autumn Fruits

Hi guys, we’re definitely feeling all autumnal here, all misty & mysterious. The blackberries have been replaced by thousands of hawthorn berries, and those sloes!!! There’s never been a season  like it, at least not in my memory! Some say that shows we are headed for a cold winter, and packleader says it was such an amazing spring for blossoms & that is where they have all come from. So we have been stocking up on the sloe gin for years to come, & also making delicious spicy haw ketchup from all the hawthorns – see the recipe page. Also it’s been a record cider apple season. We have made 35 gallons already & are hoping to make some vinegar vinegar next for all our chutneys & pickles. So, busy harvesting & preserving times for us before the cold winter arrives :-)

Blackberries are back

Hi guys, it’s my second blackberry season and I am enjoying extra long walks while the packleaders  rummage in the bushes and pick breakfast. We have blackberry and apple jam, bramble jelly, blackberry wine is planned … but their favourite thing is pureeing them to have on breakfast cereal … just 5 or 6 mins boiled up with a little sugar & water, sieve out the pips and there you have it! I prefer scrambled eggs myself, but each to their own :-)

Loving sunshine!

Loving this sunshine, in the school holidays too :-) and hoping the high pressure is here to stay for a while so we can go to the beach again. The outdoor shower is definitely usable at last, thanks to the Barkers great efforts, & Rees your handrail is amazing man! The veg garden is at its best with all the  beans, peas, artichokes & great beds of salad leaves, better-than-organic of course. Charis is helping Matteo loads with the endless weeding, and there are a few mice to dig out here & there, which keeps me & Mama Kuti busy.  Our visit to Heligan’s incredible jungle inspired us to get planting in the Chilean pond slopes & bog-garden – Jesu, we have a Myrtle you will be pleased to hear :-) Missing our yoga sessions with Vasu, but hoping he will be back next year for a yoga retreat, yay!

Yoga Rocks!

Yoga Rocks says Rees, our Wwoofer from Wales :-) He’s actually only been to one class so far, but loads of other people have been loving doing Vasu’s awesome classes. I’m pretty good at the dog stretch & am working on the frog – but I especially enjoy the mint tea &  chat afterwards. Vasu came all the way from Varkala in Kerala where they do Shivananda Yoga,  & we are really hoping he comes back next year for  a yoga retreat. This time he is staying an extra few days too, yay! He even cooked us biriyani today, mmm :-)

ps you can look on our recipes page for this week’s fruit vinegar …

4th Birthday@ Cotna

Wow, so good!! (Matteo, Italy) We’ve been here 4 years already, well the others have (it’s been 10 months for me & that seems like a lifetime :-) ) We celebrated with a huge bonfire, cracked the elderflower champagne (on recipes page) and me & Mama Kuti sacrificed another little rabbit though nobody was that interested … The Chileans finished their work on clearing the pond & Carlos unveiled his masterplan of Cotna now & in the future, very cool :-)

Yoga Kerala in Kernow!

Hey, it”s all happening at Cotna! The main things we are looking forward to are the Wild Food Walk this Sunday, and THEN the packleaders yoga teacher from Kerala is coming to stay! He will be doing yoga classes twice a day, morning & evening,  from Fri 15th July in the barn, or in an Indian marquee in the garden if it’s bright & sunny :-) He’s fab, so inspiring they say … so do give us a call or mail if you are interested. Apart from that, busy busy with all the Latino wwoofers clearing the pond, building, picking the lettuces etc … phew, makes me feel like chillin’ on the sofa!