Pen Y Bonc

We finished yesterday at Pen Y Bonc, a half a hectare smallholding near Bangor, North Wales. They have a fantastic website at Busy Bees where you can read about them in their own words.

We spent a very lovely two weeks with Jonathan and Lisa learning all sorts of things from them. They have chickens and ducks, a large pond teeming with wildlife, areas of their land given over to nature, many beehives, a huge polytunnel, a small orchard and many raised beds. They are close to self sufficient in their fruit and veg growing, obviously we were there at the right time to be eating many things freshly picked from the garden but throughout the year they eat frozen, pickled, preserved food grown themselves too.

Our tasks included: helping with the bees (we assisted in moving a colony from one hive to another ready to be passed on to a new beekeeper), bottling honey, bottling wine (mead, made with honey), picking off dried herbs and jarring them, picking soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, loganberries, red, black and white currants, gooseberries, jostaberries, loganberries), salad leaves, thinning carrots, grapes and apples, sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, weeding, strimming, mowing, mulching, feeding and watering plants (including a diluted wee feed and a diluted seaweed extract foliage feed), treating the ends of some wood for use in building, harvesting garlic and onions and a bit of building work. Some helping to keep the ducks in the area they were supposed to be a mucking out their house and the chicken shed, collecting eggs and feeding the birds, setting a squirrel trap and a bit of moving firewood about. All hugely diverse and very educational.

It was a very enjoyable WWOOF experience, Lisa and Jonathan are interesting, inspirational people only too happy to share their knowledge and skills and everything we did was fully explained and had an obvious reasoning and purpose. We really enjoyed spending time with them and their children and the little community of their friends and neighbours around them. Our days off were spent walking into the local town, driving a short way to enjoy Anglesey and we loved spreading ourselves out of an evening and making use of the static that they had as WWOOFers accomodation.

pruning and thinning grapes

bottling honey

mmmm honey

I put that in there (with a little help from those bees!)

grading and trimming carrots

checking apple tree grafts

corking the mead

corking the mead

treating the cordwood

digging up the garlic

elephant garlic!

blackcurrant harvesting

onion harvesting

Bad: The hosts were vegetarian and I really missed eating meat while we were there. It did make me realise that meat is a luxury food though. We used to eat meat most days at home so not having it at all was hard.
Good: I enjoyed the time we spent doing beekeeping stuff. I got to have a go with the smoker which was fun, it worked differently to how I expected it to.
Learnt: About bees, about winemaking (sterilising and corking the bottles).

Bad: I found the beekeeping suit really uncomfortable. Daddy had zipped my hair into the velcro which pulled and I really needed to blow my nose!
Good: I liked the ducks and the chickens and that I got to do lots with them.
Learnt: About bottling honey, we used a special container with a tap to fill the jars and had to skim stuff off the top and bottom of the honey.

Bad: The return to suburbia! Despite having land and beautiful views there was traffic noise, helicopters overhead landing at the nearby hospital and a huge retail park very close by. There was loads of light pollution too.
Good: The innovation behind the planning of their land. Everything was well organised, the hosts were very close to self sufficient with their fruit and veg growing on a really small space. Every area was being used for something whether it was growing food or given to wildlife. It was a very efficient operation.
Learnt: About thinning fruit; apples, grapes and carrots. The irrigation system and use of the polytunnel.

Bad: Hogweed! Ady and I both have scarred arms and chests from strimming the hogweed. We had no idea it was dangerous but a combination of the sunshine, damp skin and the sap caused phytophotodermatitis. This caused itchy red spots, which blistered and have scarred. I’m hoping the scars will heal or fade.
Good: Pen Y Bonc was a great place for seeing a less extreme version of the lifestyles we have previously experienced. They are not off grid but do use a green energy provider for their mains electricity, they are using mains water but conserve water where possible and work with nature and the elements as much as they can to have as light an impact as possible. It was heartening to see that on a relatively small plot of land, in a pretty urban area it is feasible to lead the lifestyle we hanker after.
Learnt: A great taster in beekeeping – still loads to learn and I’d like to be around for some of the ‘other end’ stuff like honey extraction. I learnt lots from Lisa’s very organised approach to planning her entire calendar of events; sowing, transplanting, harvesting, feeding, mulching and thinning, crop rotation, companion planting and more.

This post is brought to you by a Mifi, from Three.

4 thoughts on “Pen Y Bonc”

  1. It sounds like a great, varied experience with lots of opportunities to get involved in new things. The smallholding sounds like it’s managed very efficiently for optimum output.

    I hope you and Ady recover from the phytophotodermatitis soon. Sounds horrible! And I hope Dragon appreciates his next sausage all the more for eating vegetarian for a week. (I just counted and realised I’ve been vegetarian for almost half my life!)

  2. I’m loving reading about your year! Can recommend Bio Oil once your blisters have dried out. I had a similar problem with parsnips that had gone to seed and huge big blister has left no trace.

  3. Thanks Helen – I did have some bio oil (obviously it’s packed up in boxes at home currently! Will have to buy some more) and it worked well on scars, I’d forgotten that.

    Dragon is definitely appreciating all the meat he’s eating this week 🙂

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