WHAT started as a family lockdown project for a Denbighshire couple has developed into a successful pick-your-own (PYO) venture with sales of flowers, fruit and pumpkins.

Siôn and Lucy Owens run a small flock of sheep, and have other jobs too – Siôn as an accountant for a firm of agricultural auctioneers, and Lucy works in the marketing and sales department at a butchers.

In the first months of the pandemic, they started growing flowers at their home near Ruthin, to sell from the garden gate.

“The children were all home, and it was a bit of a project that we could all have a go at," said Lucy.

Later that year, they were offered 1.6 acres of land to rent at Cae Derw, and their small-scale project became a much bigger one, with input and support from Farming Connect.

“It was more land than we had intended to take on, but it was in a prime spot close to a road, so an ideal position for a PYO," added Lucy.

To get a better understanding of that market, the horticulture project at Cae Derw became a Farming Connect Focus Site Project, and Lucy also registered for several Farming Connect webinars, with experts including Chris Creed of ADAS providing advice. She also received one-to-one technical support as part of the project.

“We had already decided to grow flowers, but knew we needed something else, too," she said.

“The webinars and expert support were really useful, as the advice was to keep it quite simple, to grow a few of the most profitable crops, rather than lots of things."

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In autumn 2021, the family opened their doors for PYO pumpkins, offering multiple varieties from the aptly-named Polar Bear (a large white) and Knucklehead, to the smaller squash varieties.

It was a great success, and that offering will be repeated again this year.

Cut flowers and their autumn-fruiting raspberries have been popular, too – in April, visitors enjoyed picking tulips for the first time.

They are also offering an opportunity for children to learn more about growing, to share the experience enjoyed by their three - Betrys, Rolant and Cledwyn - by launching the ‘Mini Growers’ Gang’.

“We had our first session on Good Friday, planting pumpkins and walking around the field, learning about nature and growing and doing other activities," said Lucy.

The venture hasn’t been without its challenges, though.

Pests, largely slugs, have been a major issue.

However, they are learning as they go along, and 2022 will be the first real test, to establish if the business can be financially viable to allow more of the working week to be devoted to it.

“It is hard work, there is no denying that – the tulips we have been selling recently were planted in the snow – but we will continue to juggle it with our jobs until the financial side of it becomes more sustainable," says Lucy.