Cotna Eco Retreat

Fishermen’s Nets

What happens in Cornwall in February? The saying goes that when fishermen can’t go to sea they repair their nets, but what does a smallholder do? Well, we seem to be chopping a lot of wood these days, then stacking it in our fantastic new bays made of pallets, according to the type of wood and the year it should be burned. Plenty of light hazel for 2015, while the dense and heavy oak will be good in 2016. This means we are having long, warm evenings by the fire, on the sofa with the pups, catching up on reading and planning for the growing and holiday season to come. Of course, this new and organised system also means some good firewood for our yurt and barn guests who will start to arrive in only 6 weeks time!


It is also a time for pruning. We are cutting our brightly coloured basket willow to replant around the pond and in the yurt field. The thinner cuttings will be kept back for basket weaving –  we have a Basket Weaving Course on 29th March with the highly talented Sian from Ways with Willow. Then there are all the apple trees to prune. Dave has been getting busy on our trees, teaching our wwoof volunteers Charlotte and Doug as well as going out to prune other apple local orchards.It’s also hedgelaying time. Tom Kemp is coming to Cotna to run a Hedgelaying Course on March 22nd – have a look at our events page & do mail us if you are interested! And of course, there are the ever-present brambles to cut back on our banks and in the pond!

So there is plenty going on in the garden as well as building-based projects like building Dave’s fantastic new man-shed, repairing the yurt crown wheels, re-covering the recycling bins, lime washing the walls of the straw bale studio shower and the soon-to-be wwoofer bedroom in the barn. Seems to me fishermen have it easy if all they have to repair is their nets!

Wild Garlic Pesto

Spring is almost here and despite the rain we have been down in the woods collecting something very special… Foraging for Wild Garlic is a definite early spring treat – just don’t go overboard in the quantities or you might be overwhelmed!

Wild Garlic Pesto

100g wild garlic

50g walnuts

50g Parmesan cheese grated

About 200ml good olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

  1. Put the walnuts & wild garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped but still granular texture.
  2. Then begin trickling in the oil as the processor runs until you have a fairly sloppy puree.
  3. Add lemon juice, salt & pepper.
  4. Add the cheese & stir in.
  5. Serve with pasta or rice.

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.)  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.

Kale & Onion Pizza

Well how about kale on pizza then? We had it the other night & it was delicious … the topping is another great recipe by Hugh FW:


Prepare the pizza dough first (3 pizzas):

10 oz flour (strong white bread flour is best)
4 oz semolina flour  (makes the dough sweet & crunchy like proper pizza)
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
300ml warm water

Mix water, yeast & sugar, leave to sit for a few minutes until the the yeast has activated & the mix is frothing. Add to flours & salt, mix with your hand then knead in bowl or on a floured surface, stretching the dough to get it nice & chewy. Trickle oil into a bowl, add the kneaded dough & turn so it is all lightly covered. Cover with a plastic bag & leave to rise for a couple of hours.

Kale Topping

3 tbs olive oil
2 onions halved & sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, thinly slivered
300g kale (red russian or cavolo nero), stalks removed
100g mature cheddar (or any cheese)
Salt & black pepper


Pre-heat oven to Gas 7-9
Heat oil in frying pan, add onions & cook gently until soft & golden. Add garlic mid-way.
Shred the kale into ribbons, stir into onions & cook for 5 mins until leaves have wilted. Season with salt & pepper.
Tip out dough into lightly floured surface. Leave to rest a few minutes then cut into 3. Roll out one piece as thinly as possible.
Sprinkle semolina flour on hot baking sheet & place dough onto it. Spread a third of the kale mix then a third of the cheese on top.
Slide into oven with a little more oil on top  & cook for  10-12 minutes. Repeat with other pizza bases & topping.







Winter kale and potato curry (Hugh FW)


Lovely and warming, and great with some of our homemade chutney!

500g kale leaves, roughly shredded
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, halved and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
3cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
3 cardamon pods, bashed
350g potatoes, chopped into cubes
250g plain yoghurt
1 ½ tbsp tomato puree
small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
small handful of almonds, cashews or pistachios, toasted and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and fry until just golden. Meanwhile, pound the garlic, chilli and ginger together with a pinch of salt. Add to the onion and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Tip in the rest of the spices and stir for a minute or two.

Add the potatoes and fry, stirring frequently, for 5 mins, so that they are well coated in the spice mixture. Pour in about 400ml water – enough o just cover. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until the potatoes are just tender. Add the kale leaves, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until tender.

In a bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, tomato puree and some of the hot liquid from the curry. Remove the curry from the heat, stir in the yoghurt mixture, return to the heat and warm through very gently (if it gets too hot the yoghurt will curdle). Stir in most of the coriander.

Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Scatter over the toasted nuts and remaining coriander, then serve with rice and naan or chapattis.

Spring events @ Cotna


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 in the woods. And we all 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 events page!


Seville Marmalade


Sevilles are here again, not exactly local but certainly seasonal! Every year I forget which recipe she used but this year I reckon I have worked out the perfect combination to make the best marmalade so far! So see what you think of the recipe below. Apart from that, we’ve been cutting willow & starting to make baskets again, mmm tasty. Oh and big digging works down in the woods, thanks to Dom & his digger & us helping out a bit. Billy’s favourite thing 🙂

Tangy Seville Marmalade

At risk of repeating myself from last year, January is the time my mind turns to making marmalade. So here is what I have worked out as the best recipe so far to make our favourite marmalade! By squeezing the juice & adding it toward the end of the cooking you keep the lovely tangy, citrus taste.

3lb seville oranges

3 pints water

2 lemons

5-6lb sugar (depending on taste)

Squeeze the juice from the oranges & set aside. Scrape out the pith & seeds with a spoon & put aside for tomorrow to be used as a pectin boost. Thinly slice the orange rind & soak in pan with the water & half the juice overnight to tenderise the rind.

Next day boil the rind slices & water for 1-2 hours, along with the pulp you set aside, tied up in a muslin jelly bag. After 1-2 hours, allow to cool slightly & remove the jelly bag & squeeze out all the sticky juice (hmm, messy!) add the orange juice, plus juice from 2 lemons for extra tang & the sugar. Bring to boil & cook at rolling boil for about 20 – 30 mins. Do the setting test by a) using a thermometer & b) putting a plate in the freezer for a few minutes then spooning some marmalade onto it. If the surface crinkles it’s ready! Cool a little & fill about 7-8 sterilised jars. Keeps until at least the same time next year, if not longer 🙂




We’ve been having some good 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. Some nice bits of log for Billy & Kuti to chew. Thanks for the help guys, the bees will love it!

Autumn Fruits


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 this shows we are headed for a cold winter, but it was also such an amazing spring for blossoms. So we have been stocking up on the sloe gin for years to come, & also making delicious spicy haw ketchup from all the hawthorns. 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 🙂

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! 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 Billy & 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!