By Michelle Lainé
Dyfed Permaculture Farm was founded in 1996. The 28 acre farm includes 6 acres of traditional wildflower meadow, permanent pasture, allotments, woods and gardens, all farmed by hand using traditional tools such as the scythe. We also have a multi-purpose wooden pole barn, a roundhouse, compost toilets and solar showers.
The farm is owned and managed by Dyfed Permaculture Farm CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation). The aim of the CIO is to “….advance the education of the public in the theory and practice of low impact living, permaculture, biodiversity, the conservation of the environment, and related subjects.”
Phil, myself and our two children have lived here since 2006. We rent a wooden cabin from the CIO and have an agreement to manage the land. The group runs courses, open days, volunteer workdays and events, and hosts both short and longer term residential volunteers. Phil and I also run our business, Scythe Cymru, from the farm.
Over the years we have welcomed many volunteers. And before that we were WWOOFers ourselves, in fact, it is how we met! Here is an overview of the farm, how we work and how you can get involved.
When we first moved to the farm, we lived in a yurt and a small static caravan. We had candles for light and a wood burner for warmth. We grew as much of our own food as we could, though that did mean eating a lot of turnips before we’d got the garden into full production! Over the years our “self-sufficiency” has become more luxurious.
Dyfed Permaculture Farm has residential permission for the static caravan, so in 2008/9 we replaced it with a hand-built wooden “caravan”. It is made from locally harvested timber and insulated with 100’s of sheep fleeces (treated with borax against moths). Water comes from the farm’s spring.
The cabin is set in our extensive vegetable garden. The garden is abundant with planted crops and perennial fruit, intermingled with self-seeded plants. The extra plants provide flowers to enjoy, ground cover and attract pollinators and pest predators. It certainly isn’t “tidy” but it is fun and productive.
We make extensive use of mulch materials from the farm e.g. scythed lawn clippings, grass and hay. We use lots of bracken for winter mulching.
When we moved into the cabin, we started building an off-grid electricity supply. Initially this was just solar panels and battery storage. In 2019 we invited Jonathan Schreiber of Pure Self Made to lead a workshop to build a Hugh Piggott 3F wind turbine.
This wind turbine is designed to be reliable and effective, yet still accessible to hand-builders around the world. Construction needs a fairly limited suite of skills and easily sourced materials.
Our wind turbine is called Ginny (yes, we love her so much that she has a name). She has hand carved wooden blades, a tail made from a sheet of Birch ply and her bearings are from the rear wheel of a scrapped LDV van. We hand-wound the electricity producing coils and built the magnet rotor from scratch.
Winters in West Wales can be dull and the solar day is short. Even with winter adaptation (reducing the amount of electricity used over winter) it is hard to look after batteries well in a solar-only system. There are few days bright enough to fully charge the batteries and it is hard to stop them from getting less daily top-up charge than is used. They become more drained as the winter progresses, which is bad for their longevity. Replacing batteries frequently has financial and environmental costs.
The wind turbine has been revolutionary. Not only do we have more electricity for use during the darkest days of the year, a few windy days are enough to ensure the batteries get a full charge, keeping them in a good condition for longer.
In agreement with the CIO we aim to manage Dyfed Permaculture Farm (DPF) as a Low Impact Permaculture system.
We make as much use as possible of on-site resources and use hand tools and livestock in place of internal combustion engine powered machinery. We aim to maintain and enhance existing biodiversity, maintain areas of conservation interest (the wildflower hay meadows), produce yields and keep the land in good condition for future uses.
The farm is a resource for use by DPF and others (education, volunteers, demonstration, leisure, camping, hire).
The two traditional hay meadows are the stars of the farm. Covering 6 acres in total, they support a wide diversity of flowers, insects and fungi as well as providing us with high quality forage for our livestock. They are scythed annually for hay. Our years of managing these meadows has enabled us to refine a process that is specifically suited to hand working.
The wildflower meadows’ annual cycle
Progressive Hay Making – an overview of how we manage our meadows
The hay crop is cut gradually over a long season. We start cutting our early meadow [Cae Top] towards the end of May, before moving onto our late meadow (Cae Mari Jones) in mid July.
This “little and often” style of hay making spreads the workload, so it is particularly suitable for hand hay making.
Scythes can selectively mow around desirable plants such as orchids, which is useful during earlier cuts.
At Dyfed Permaculture Farm cutting over a long season:
1. Allows the harvesting of sothe early, high quality hay as well as late cut, bulkier but lower quality hay.
2. Prolongs the flowering season across the two meadows
3. Creates a mosaic of vegetation heights that is available to wildlife at any one time
4. Promotes a greater diversity of flowering plants across the site.
We have a small flock of Shetland sheep for wool and meat, a micro herd of Shetland Cattle for milk and meat and about a dozen Warre beehives for honey.
In our early years of mowing the meadows we used all the hay as mulch (which was, and still is, very valuable). But the 6 acres of DPF meadows produces far more mulch than we can usefully use in the long term.
Livestock eat hay, so provide an extra “yield” to the management work. We also gain a steaming muck heap every winter, which is a valuable and efficient way of cycling nutrients onto the growing areas. We use bracken (another on-farm yield!) and overstood hay as winter bedding so the muck heap is primarily home-harvested fertility.
Livestock provide overwinter grazing, which is needed to control late summer / autumn growth that would, unchecked, overwhelm spring growth and lead to an increased dominance of coarser grasses and loss of flowering plants.
The cows and sheep further help close the “wildflower meadow management circle” by aiding in the control of invasive plants. Browsing prevents encroachment by plants such as bramble. Trampling by cattle can lessen the encroachment of bracken.
Making ends meet
As you may have realised, the scythe is fundamental to the management of DPF. It is also the foundation of our business.
Our scything journey began in 2005, just before we moved to DPF. Replying to an advert in the WWOOF UK newsletter, we got a place on a scythe course hosted by Simon Fairlie, in exchange for helping out with the UK’s first ever Scythe Festival the next day.
The course was taught by Peter Vido. A Slovakian by birth, he emigrated to Canada where he made extensive use of the Austrian style scythe on his farm. He wanted to create a “Scythe Renaissance”, so took his skills and enthusiasm around the Scythe Festivals of Europe, in an attempt to make the scythe a commonplace tool once again.
After an inspirational weekend we went home with lots of enthusiasm, a scythe blade from a second-hand tool stall and the knowledge of how to get it back into working order and make a handle (snath) for it.
Over the next few years we used the scythe extensively and refined our skills. We founded Scythe Cymru and started teaching scything. As interest grew, we started selling scythes from the Schröckenfux factory in Austria, then laterly Falci Tools Italia. Phil was a founding member of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland and is part of the team that annually manages the renowned West Country Scythe Festival in Somerset.
We welcome WWOOFers for stays of 2 – 6 weeks from April to September. We value the skills and experiences we gained when WWOOFing ourselves, and now really enjoy meeting people and sharing what we have learnt about farming and low impact living.
This year we also have an opportunity for a couple or one / two single people to live, work and volunteer with us for the spring and summer season. You will get an in-depth feel for how the farm runs, plus there is paid work with Scythe Cymru to support you during your stay. (See classifieds for more details).
We’d like to say a big thank you to Michelle Lainé for writing this article; sharing so much valuable information on managing land using traditional methods with traditional tools – what a resource for the local community!