Life at The Little Grey Sheep

Fallow or Empty?

Fallow or Empty?

In September  2017 we took our harvest and contemplated the next crop. With the intensive arable management that has been followed for many years, Well Manor, the land and the environment had suffered. Throughout World War 2 every possible field was brought into food production, including marginal pastures and wetlands that traditionally were not seen as worthwhile. After the war, the political landscape ensured that these fields continued to stay in arable production, as the Government of the day was intent on maintaining food production for the increasing population. However these policies had little if any consideration to the flora and fauna and the loss of the biodiversity that had existed for centuries.
Intensive monoculture is the biggest threat to our natural world, whether livestock or arable, the complex lifecycles of both native and visiting wildlife depends on finding the right food sources and breeding places, at the right times. Huge fields of single crops provide a sterile environment for insects and those at the bottom of the food chain, combined with a lack of livestock in the landscape food sources have declined dramatically. Without those bugs and beasties, we have lost over 75% of our farmland birds since the late '70s
Continued planting of limited crops, extensively Oil Seed Rape, Wheat and Barley in our area, has meant that pervasive weeds have developed resistant to the increasing amounts of herbicides sprayed endlessly to keep the crop clean for the combine harvester. Black Grass is one such weed, also known as Black twitch, Hungerweed, Rat-tail grass or Slender Foxtail. Black Grass is a native grass which inhabits the field margins but can slow spread into the crop. Black Grass suffers from the fungal infestation called Ergot, which infects rye grasses and seed heads of wheat. Ergot poising was common in the Middle Ages with whole towns suffering from the symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, crawling sensations on the skin along with convulsions and shaking, an unpleasant experience to say the least.  It has been said that when investigating the Salem Witch Hunt evidence points the finger at Ergot poisoning in the poor unfortunate women of Salem. As with most of these fungi they have down and upsides - women used to use it to stop excessive bleeding and in modern times LSD was derived from it.
Traditionally the Black Grass as with other weeds were kept in control by crop and arable rotation, stubble burning or ploughing. Now farmers are banned from setting the stubble on fire which burnt the dormant seeds and cleaned the land. Our farm is situated on heavy clay soils and therefore we no longer plough, instead, we use Minimum Tilling to just open up the surface before planting into the tilth. This means that the Black Grass seed has carte blanche to reproduce, unhindered by the best the chemical companies can muster.
Through our Countryside Stewardship programme, we have opted to plant 40 acres of legume rich fallow. Legumes are deep rooting and gain 70-80% of their nitrogen from the atmosphere before depositing it in the soil. Legumes have a special symbiotic relationship with a nitrogen fixing bacteria known as Rhizobia, which they allow to infect their roots. The Rhizobia provides organic nitrogen whilst the plant offers protection and shelter. Clover, is not only pretty but has a deep taproot to access the minerals and nutrients from the soil whilst also being an excellent soil conditioner. With its pollen, it is a great food source for our declining bee population.
Through providing these large areas of fallow we hope we can provide a boost to the insect population and ground nesting birds, whilst improving the soil structure  and reducing the Black Grass. 
Hello Summer! - A Shawl by Heike Gittins

Hello Summer! - A Shawl by Heike Gittins

Heike has done it again! I love this stunning triangular shawl knitted in our Stein Fine Wool 4ply using a 100g skein and a mini skein pack. Inspired by "walks on balmy summer evenings through flowery meadows on the farm" it is a great summer knit.

Just the right size to throw over your shoulders in the evening or swizzle round your neck and snuggle up as the summer sun fades.

Heike has such a good eye for colour and her patterns are popular worldwide. A well known author her books include, The Little Book of Shawls, Eight cosy hugs for strong women, cowritten with Claudia Freiss.

We have put together a kit as well as some colour suggestions here or find the pattern at Made with Loops 

Summertime Cowl - A Summery Project

Summertime Cowl - A Summery Project

I first published the Summertime Cowl pattern a couple of years ago. It has been a firm favourite of both mine and my customers ever since. However with the changing of our website last summer all of the blog posts got lost in the ether and I have been trying to get myself organised to republish it.

The idea behind it is that the cowl is light weight and warm. For a summers evening or chilly morning it is big enough to be wrapped double keeping your neck snuggly warm. When working on the farm it important to not have things loose that could catch in the machinery we use. The Summertime Cowl has been designed to be  a practical length, so it can easily be tucked inside a jacket or doubled up.

Any amount of colours can be used, but I have used one of our 5 mini skein packs. There is a whole range of colours from fun and funky to a more sophisticated palette 


Summertime Cowl



GUAGE – 26 x 36 stitches on 3mm needles over 10cmx 10cm

MATERIALS – 2 x 20g skeins Stein Fine Wool Colour 1

1 x 20g skein Stein Fine Wool Colour 2

1 x 20g skein Stein Fine Wool Colour 3

1 3.5mm circular needles 29inch wire

FINISHED SIZE – 45cm x 26cm


The cowl is knitted in the round in Linen Stitch.

When working in the round, the right side of the fabric is always facing


Any number of rows as long as they are even may be used in any colours.

Linen stitch in the round

Worked over an even number of stitches.

Round 1: *K 1, slip 1 with yarn in front; Repeat from * around.

Round 2: *Slip 1 with yarn in front, K 1; Repeat from * around.

Work with colour 1 for two rows and colour 2 for two rows. Continue to

alternate colors every two rows. The two color pattern enhances the

woven effect. Cast on with colour 1 and go right to Row 2, then

switching to colour 2 for the next two rows. This keep the edge neat.

When changing yarn colour twist the new yarn around the last colour to

ensure that you do not create a hole in your fabric


Cast on loosely Using Colour 1( using long tail method) 240 stitches, join

in the round. Be careful when joining the stitches to make sure you have

not twisted the stitches.

Round 1 and 2: Colour 1

Round 3: Change to Colour 2 for two rounds

The next two rounds are in Colour 1

Repeat these 4 rounds four times

Next 2 rounds Colour 3.

Next 2 rounds: Colour 2

Next 2 rounds Colour 1

Next 2 rounds Colour 2

Continue those 4 rounds a further nine times

Change to using Colour 1 and Colour 3

Knit a further nine rounds with these two colours.

Knit the next four rounds with Colour 3 and Colour 2

Knit the next six rounds with Colour 1 and Colour 3

Cast off loosely and weave in any loose ends.


Gently block or steam, making sure to not put the iron in direct contact

with the fabric.


Hope you enjoy x