I’m Busy

Yes, as usual, I’m busy. And I don’t think it is just a case of Parkinson’s First Law which states that work expands to fill the time available!

Since Steve Jones of Chapter 39 in Newtown, Powys challenged me to think about, and plan for, the year 2050 I have been doing so. And one of the results is a decision to have the chalet in the garden, originally built as consulting rooms for our Counselling business, refurbished as somewhere someone could live rent free in return for helping me in the garden and woods. Time was John and I would have done the work between us but he is dead and I am older so I have employed a builder to do the work that I feel unable to do. But he still needs me to make decisions, source things like the small woodburner that will heat the place and to pay the bills. And I am doing the jobs I can manage like decorating and building the carcasses for the kitchen units. It all takes time.

Because I am doing so much thinking and designing (the chalet is only the start although probably the most expensive  item on my list of changes) it seemed only sensible to get some credit for it and in the process have someone else to look at and comment on the plans. Therefore I have signed up for the Diploma in Permaculture Design which is a self directed course of study in which I have to submit 10 designs for land, house, lifestyle or whatever. I get the support of a tutor to guide me so that I meet the criteria for standard of work. Unfortunately there is no fixed time scale so I can prevaricate to my hearts content! And all those ideas, thoughts, musings have to be transferred from my head to paper in a form which makes sense to someone else. I must be mad! Why do I do these things to myself?!

Now in my dreams all that work would result in a house so easy to manage that I could drift round in dolled up to the nines, nearly tens, whilst the ghost of my mother beamed approvingly. I should explain that the greatest compliment she could pay another housewife (always a wife in those days – men did manly things not housework) was ‘You could eat your dinner off her floors’. Even as a child I wondered how she would react if that was put to the test! And my garden would look like those the National Trust runs – thriving plants, no weeds, tidy paths… Meanwhile my woodshed would be bursting with neatly stacked logs from the acre that was coppiced each year, my car would be valeted after every journey and my outgoings would be minimal because of my reduced energy and water bills, the volume of garden produce and my general thriftiness. Undobtedly only in my dreams!

In the real world 2 dogs and 3 cats help me trail in mud. They rub dirt on the soft furnishings as they pass and leave hairs everywhere. I am convinced that old spiders use this place as cobweb building boot camp for the youngsters and it is ideal for the purpose being old, wonky and full of nooks and crannies. In the garden it is jungle warfare and the jungle always wins. I clear, mulch, plant and before I can get back to the beginning the weeds have gone mad. I have couch grass, nettles, brambles, bindweed, rosebay willowherb and himalayan balsam in abundance and some of the banks between terraces are so steep that working on them is well nigh impossible.

I have given up writing ‘TO DO’ lists – they are too depressing. Partly that is because jobs like housework or gardening tend not to have defined finishing points – however much I have done I could do more or do it again. Instead I write lists of what I have done and often it is quite a lot.

One of my favourite definitions of stress is that it occurs in work when demand outstrips capability. Both those things are ultimately a choice for me. I have no boss telling me what I must accomplish by the end of the day, week or year. I decide what I want to get done and what, realistically, I might be able to manage. I can choose whether or not to give myself a hard time if I fail. And I can choose to say ‘I can’t do that. I don’t have the skill, knowledge, experience..’ or to say ‘I can’t do that YET but I could learn’. It is true that as I get older I tire more quickly and I have less brute strength than I used to. But I also know more, have more experience of doing things or watching others do them, and am more willing to ask for help or advice. One of the advantages of grey hair and wrinkles and going deaf is that people feel good about helping me.

So, yes, I am busy. At the moment I am particularly busy. And, you know what? I am loving it because I CAN be busy and it certainly beats being bored and reduced to watching daytime TV! Next time I grumble about how hectic life is you can remind me of that!

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Rhiw Las

Last weekend was a busy one! As well as going to Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust I joined the Pembrokeshire Permaculture Group on a visit to Rhiw Las on Sunday to see the straw bale house Chris & Erica Thompson are building as part of their One Planet Development.

One Planet Development (usually shortened to OPD) is a planning system which is, I believe, unique to Wales. It was pioneered by the group who formed the Lammas eco-village just a few miles from here in the next valley and then established as a national framework. Although there have been tweaks to the regulations in the light of experience the basics remain the same. An individual, couple, family or group can acquire a few acres of agricultural land which has no dwelling on it and apply for planning permission to live on it within certain constraints.  The house must be low-impact, they must have a plan to meet at least a certain (high) percentage of their assumed needs from the land within 5 years, and be prepared to submit detailed annual returns to demonstrate progress towards this goal. If they fail to meet the percentage in the time frame then permission may be withdrawn. It allows people like Chris and Erica to buy a piece of land at the agricultural price which is much lower than land with planning consent and, particularly if they are willing and able to do a significant amount of the work themselves, build a home fairly cheaply. But of course there is a risk that planning will be refused or later rescinded if the business fails. Often there is an agricultural tie which affects the resale value of the property and plot – not a consideration if what you want is a home but not a rock solid investment. I have great admiration for those who are willing to negotiate the planning process then put blood sweat and tears into building a home and holding with no guarantees of success.

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Another of the houses goes up

Rhiw Las is a smallholding of about 20 acres which was bought by 4 households. It was then divided into 4 freehold strips running down the hill from the road so that each has a road frontage, 2 steeply sloping sections and a flatter bit in the middle where, not surprisingly, each has decided to site their house! The trackway and an existing barn are owned by a company with 8 shareholders – the 8 resident adults but to avoid possible squabbles the barn has been divided into 4 units. Each household has chosen to build their home in a different way and each will run a different business and report separately. They hope this structure will help them avoid some of the disputes which have arisen on previous developments. Groups are tricky things and typically go through a stage of ‘storming’ when assumptions about each other prove incorrect and it is often painful. By living as neighbours but otherwise independently the folk of Rhiw Las hope to minimise the friction between them.

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Lime render makes the straw waterproof

Erica and Chris have chosen to build a roundwood timber framed, strawbale house. Other OPD families have, in the past, chosen to build a roundhouse or other small building to live in temporarily whilst they establish their livelihood and build a ‘forever’ home – only to realise that by the time the ‘forever’ home gets built their children will have left home and it will be too big! So all 4 households in this group have built a permanent home straight away and will then concentrate on establishing their businesses. Since the Thompsons have a toddler, Tanwen, they felt that a caravan or yurt would be untenable and are renting a house in Carmarthen whilst the building goes up. It is a great incentive to get on with it!

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The beautiful roundwood frame was made off site then erected onto pad foundations by Ty Pren, a local firm with an excellent reputation for this kind of work and who source the timber locally.  That provides the structural support for the roof meaning the strawbale walls do not have to be load bearing. They are lime rendered externally and will be clay plastered internally. It had been hoped that clay dug when the site was levelled could be used but it may be too stoney. A large stove will heat the double height living space and its back boiler will feed radiators and a hot water tank.

Outside there is a newly planted apple orchard and there will be a veg patch (home grown produce counts towards the percentage of needs in the return) and bees. Other businesses on the whole site will include a micro-dairy, musical instrument making from home-grown timber and forest schooling.

After the usual bring and share lunch – delicious as always – we cleared a polytunnel left behind by the previous owners of the holding. It had been used to store straw bales, roofing sheets and other building stuff in relatively dry conditions but will be planted up this year once a new cover has been put on. With lots of people helping we made short work of the job. Whether Chris and Erica will ever find the things again remains to be seen!

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I took the second Bara Claddu I had baked and it was very popular. I keep being asked for the recipes at these events and Cara suggested I put them in my posts for everyone so here goes.

BARA CLADDU – My daughter’s recipe

Line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 160 deg.

240g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

240 g sugar white, demerara, muscovado or any combination

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 egg beaten

milk for mixing

Mix all the dry ingredients together then add the egg. mix and add milk a bit at a time until it all comes together to cake batter consistency. Bake for 1 – 1 1/4 hours until the top is nicely browned and a skewer comes out clean. Once cool serve sliced and buttered. It freezes well.

More than just a hedge

Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust has just taken the tenancy of 2 fields (outlined in red) adjoining the land they own. Cae Gwaelod on the right of the plan (bottom field because it was furthest down the hill from the farmhouse of its original owners) and Cae Herc (lopsided field because of its shape!). The Trust has 2 ancient hay meadows rich in wildflowers and fungi which are never tilled and only grazed briefly in autumn or winter to maintain the species rich sward. That leaves too little grazing land for the amount of hay which has to be cut (leaving the meadows uncut would damage them but once cut the grass has to be used). The plan was to improve the balance by acquiring the use of more grazing fields.

hedge DPFT030218-2The new field have the old hedgebanks around and between them but the hedges themselves have largely gone and been replaced with stock fencing. Our plan is to fence each side of  the banks leaving a generous space to allow the hedges to regenerate naturally where possible and fill in gaps as necessary. Hedges provide shelter for stock, habitat and  wildlife corridors. Once established they can be laid to make a self-sustaining stockproof barrier and if some trees within them are allowed to grow on these are a source of firewood. Many a smallholding or small farm has had its house heated by hedgerow!

We had a workday scheduled for last Saturday and intended starting on the fencing but the posts had not arrived. Instead we cleared some fruit trees and bushes from one of the allotments.

DPFT has an area set aside as 4 plots which local people can rent cheaply to supplement their gardens. Until now take up has been low and some of the people who started to cultivate them have given up for various reasons. So Phil used one as a nursery for the apple trees he grafts and for rootstocks for his grafting courses plus some cuttings of blackcurrants and gooseberries. Recently 2 people asked to have a plot so the nursery had to be moved! Some of the trees will be kept by Phil and Michelle, some went to one of the residents of Rhiw Las (more of Rhiw Las in a future post) and some were looking for a home. The solution was to plant them as a hedge between the 2 fields where the bank was bare. This turns a problem into a solution (very permaculture!) and hopefully the hedge will provide lots of lovely fruit in years to come.

Phil set out the bigger trees along the bank, then the smaller ones and finally an infill of bushes. Jono, Allison, Phil, Michelle and I then dug holes and planted supervised by Allison’s little boy. It was a cold day with occasional short, but very sharp, showers of rain and sleet but we got everything in before repairing to Phil and Michelle’s cabin for very welcome tea and cake.  Their daughter Eva had made banana and chocolate cupcakes and I had taken Bara Claddu so we were well supplied!

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It might seem that working on someone else’s land in cold wet weather is a masochistic thing to do! Actually I learn a lot by doing jobs with the support of other, more knowledgeable and experienced, people and at the same time it is a social occasion with plenty of opportunities to lean on a spade and chat and we have a ‘bring and share’ lunch break if it is a whole day event or tea and cake at the end as we did this time.

Permaculture Principles 1 – Observe

How often do we notice what is going on within and around us? How much attention do we really give to our lives, our environment, the people who share our space whether long term for a while?

I don’t know about you but I am often trying to do two or more things at once. I am eating breakfast and listening to the news or writing a list. I am walking the dogs and composing a blog post or my Welsh homework in my head. I may be timing one cake in the oven and mixing the next one to go in and stirring a pot of soup on the hob. I am listening to a radio podcast and knitting and enjoying a glass of wine. It is only if a news item is especially interesting, or the dogs misbehave or the timer rings or the knitting pattern is fiendishly complicated that I give all my attention to one thing – for a while!

Of course we are all busy and eating a piece of toast, walking a familiar route, stirring soup or doing plain knitting are hardly exciting. They do not demand my concentration! But maybe this multi-tasking becomes a habit with unintended consequences. Maybe I should, just sometimes, discipline myself to pay attention to just one of the things I am doing and see what I learn

Maybe I should sometimes just eat breakfast and savour the flavours and textures, think about the where, what and when I eat. Even though I love watching cookery programmes by Nigel Slater because he really does seem to revel in the process of cooking and savours the completed dishes I rarely follow his example. I have no idea how many times I walked past these snowdrops and primroses (no I don’t know what the primroses are doing flowering this early in the year either!) before I realised they were there and delayed the joy of finding them.

This first principle of Permaculture encourages us to pause, observe and reflect from time to time in all kinds of situations and to see if there are things that could be improved. If I ate something different for breakfast, ate it in a different place, from different crockery, at a different time would I enjoy it more or feel more positive about the day ahead? Paying attention whilst making a cake may show me that I am wasting time, energy and patience fetching ingredients or equipment that could be stored more efficiently. I know that I always end up working in one corner where the light is good even though I originally thought I would use another worktop and put the flour jars on the shelf above it. I bought a kettle for the hob instead of using the electric one and had to move the tea and coffee jars. Looking at the hedgerows as I walk would show me where edible things like salad leaves or sloes will be found later.

At a yoga event a couple of years ago I heard the quote ‘Do not ask what the World needs, do what makes you come alive. What the World needs is people who are coming alive’ and was shocked to realise that I had no idea what made me feel alive! I did what I did because it was what I did. Some was for pretty obvious reasons like cleaning my teeth or changing my bed. But why is toothpaste almost always mint flavoured? Why did I change my bed on that day of the week at that time? Did either make me feel as alive as possible? And what of gardening, baking, reading, sewing? Did they make me come alive or were they just habit?

IMGP0001I am a fairly confident person and am told I can be both powerful and bossy  even though I don’t always feel it. I have to try to remember to check that I am not saying too much and dominating a group. If I notice that someone is being quiet or lacks the confidence to say their piece then I can try to think of a way to enable them to speak out. 

In the wider community I can, if I choose, look out for people who are disadvantaged. Not just in terms of income – I can do very little about the job market or benefit system – but in more subtle ways. Are there those who struggle to access good fresh food and might welcome surplus from my garden or a home made cake? I can notice when someone moves in to a new home here and try to make them welcome and offer to answer questions about the area. Whilst I have been unable to drive I have been very grateful to those who have offered to take me to things or have visited and have offered to bring shopping or something for lunch with them and I will try to be alert to opportunities to pass that kindness on.

Designing a better future for ourselves, other people and the planet means knowing where we are starting from so it begins with Observe.

 

Getting Ready for Spring

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The arrival of my seeds and the compost plus reading some other bloggers’ lists of jobs to do at this time of year set me thinking. I have 5 greenhouse – yes, I know, greedy! 3 are end to end on the veg patch and replaced a polytunnel, one is the lean-to on the South wall of the house built primarily to give solar gain and protection without the expense of a conservatory, and the 5th is near the West end of the house beyond the conservatory and is where I raise seedlings which then get planted out elsewhere. It has staging which includes a big trough filled with sand and heated by a soil warming cable. With surrounds of twin wall plastic and bubble wrap this acts as a big propagator. But I have never got the storage of plant pots right and the workbench is too small. Time for a rethink.

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Some years ago I wanted to make a secure area for poultry behind the house so built a small shed for pots outside the greenhouse with a tall gate hung on it. Because it was constructed from bits I had lying around the gate opens the wrong way and makes access difficult. The walls are not solid and there are trees on the bank above so water and dead leaves get in and make the clean pots dirty and slimy – something I had not thought about before I built it. I could rebuild or modify the walls and rehang the gate but as I no longer keep poultry this whole assembly could go if I could find another home for the pots.

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Before I built the shed some were stored in the shed on the veg patch which was where we originally did sowing and some were under the staging, but I got fed up of having to traipse up the hill to fetch ones from the shed or bend down and scrabble underneath the propagator to find ones there. However that space under the staging was wasted – could I find a better way to store pots there? My first idea was to buy some of those plastic boxes on wheels. They proved expensive and did I actually need the lids? If they were hinged they would mean I had to pull the box right out to open them and if loose they would end up knocking around somewhere being a nuisance. Hmmm. Creativity required!

A good rummage in my sheds (I have a lot of those too which panders to my hoarding instincts!) revealed a rectangular plastic washing basket discarded because of a cracked base but OK for holding light things, 2 plastic boxes from when Safeway experimented with self check-out but discontinued it (They sold out to Morrisons years ago so goodness knows how old those boxes are), a stack of bakers trays bought as a job lot at auction donkeys years ago and used to store potatoes or apples, and some 10 litre canisters (bought with contents and saved when empty) which are actually too heavy to move easily when filled with liquid but could be cut down and given a makeshift handle. A bit of sorting and almost all the things in the shed are now under the staging in containers that should be easy to pull out when I need something.

 

What struck me was how much of my equipment is recycled. I buy refurbished tools from the Eco-shop in Cardigan or ones made for Tools for Self Reliance. Instead of plug trays I use a collection of cut down probiotic drink pots and old waste pipe inside mushroom punnets. Those pots and pipe have been in use for at least 10 years and whilst a few get lost or broken every year the majority soldier on. The pipe was taken out when we refurbished the house. Because we were doing the work ourselves, and living in the house whilst it all went on, we had to install the new kitchen and bathroom before the old ones were taken out so got left with lots of odd lengths of used pipe. Beans and peas are sown in newspaper pots in mushroom trays from C&M organics who cannot return them. Small pots are cream or yoghurt cartons or gifts or ones which came with plants in. Only some of the larger ones were actually bought!

That leaves the workspace problem but in my excavations (yes it did feel like an archeological dig!) in the sheds I found a small drop-leaf table which could go at the end of the central bed and give me extra space – one bench for filling pots and another for sowing and labelling. Moving the table will have to wait until I can use both hands but there is no rush. Only time will tell if I have now solved the problems but I am optimistic!

The Ethics of Permaculture

perm ethics

Whichever book you read or course you go on all permaculture is based on these 3 ethics – that we should care for the earth, the people on the earth and share its resources fairly.

 

 

 

Because Permaculture originated as a system for designing gardens, farms and the land around communities, a lot of attention has been paid to caring for the earth (in Welsh y tir) beneath our feet and enabling it to grow more and better crops in a natural way rather than with chemical inputs. But it also means the Earth, (Y Ddear) our home planet. After millenia of rubbing along together happily, taking only what we needed we have been trashing it for decades. The result has been climate change, coral reef bleaching, plastic in the oceans, traffic pollution…. Permaculture encourages us to think about our choices and their impact on the world. Whilst plastic is not a bad substance per se the use of it to make vast quantities of disposable coffee cups might not be the best idea. Living where I do being without a car (or cheating and getting stuff delivered in some-one else’s vehicle) would be almost impossible but combining journeys saves me money and the climate from yet more pollution.

Why do we worry about the state and fate of the planet? It is a self-regulating system. If we cause damage it can and will change and adapt, as it always has done, and go on spinning in space. The problem is that those changes and adaptations may mean that is no longer habitable for humans and we will go extinct or, if sci-fi is to be believed, take to spaceships and decamp to another, less hospitable planet somewhere out there. We care about the planet because we care about ourselves and other people; the future well-being of each of us and of our children, grand-children, great-grandchildren…

 

 

Each of us belongs to a family and / or a local community which functions within a wider society , which is part of nation state. Do you remember as a child writing your address as ‘Susan Jones, 5 Freshfield Avenue, Prestwich, Manchester, England, UK, Europe, The World, The Universe’? Permaculture design invites us to think of the impact of our choices on each of those ‘Russian Dolls’ including how I care for myself (us caring types being very good at looking after everyone else at the expense of our own well-being!).

 

 

There is plenty of evidence that for each of those ‘dolls’ too much inequality is a bad thing. As it grows the ‘have nots’ will eventually rebel and either cause political and social instability or become economic migrants, or both. Permaculture asks me to think about the fairness of my use of the world’s resources and to take only my fair share. This is not easy. Partly because it is not straightforward to calculate how much I am using and what a fair share would be. I have, voluntarily and just for interest, started using the calculator provided as part of the ‘One Planet Development’ planning system. It requires me to keep detailed records of my consumption, mainly measuring it by how much I spend and on what. However it cannot distinguish between vegetables grown organically on a market garden and sold direct to me and those imported from the other side of the world and bought from the shop in the same village.

 

So far any Green thinking, left wing, liberal, Western European would agree wholeheartedly. What, for me, makes Permaculture useful is that it encourages me not only to envisage a time when I care for the earth – the bit I live on and the Earth as a whole, and the people who share it with me – those I know, those I relate to and all the rest – and try to live within my rightful share of its resources but also to plan a journey from the life I live now, whatever that is, to that place. Then to make that journey, stopping from time to time to review my progress. As with any journey there may be changes of plan, detours, ‘going back to go forward’, pauses to rest and re-create, as life happens and circumstances change. But it will be a journey to a goal rather than an aimless, well meaning wander and I will be less likely to get caught up in the latest ’cause celebre’ or fashionable angst. And to help me it gives me that set of principles which should help me to construct a map and plot a route. That is where the next post in this series will take us.

A Day of Visitors

Yesterday was a busy but hugely enjoyable one. It is becoming a tradition for my friends Marie and Rose to come over for a day in January and help me in the garden with jobs that are daunting or just impossible for me on my own. Marie runs a guesthouse, Over the Rainbow, (find out more here)  with a huge garden near Tanygroes and grows such heea lot of fruit and vegetables that she has a stall on the St Dogmael’s produce market to sell the surplus. Rose is my yoga teacher but also works as a counsellor and in theatre productions. So that I am utterly spoilt they bring something for lunch and as Marie is a very gifted cook that is a real treat!

 

Given that my broken wrist restricts me a lot they did most of the work whilst I tried not to get in the way too much. They finished clearing around the roses, a job I started ages ago (see Roses ) and even did the bank above them. Then moved on to clear the steep slope down from the south facing lean-to greenhouse. I am hoping to have a deck built out level with the greenhouse floor but there were some large shrubs on the bank. I had marked the ones I was hoping to move and these were cut back to reduce their bulk and height, then dug out and moved to spaces between the roses to take over if / when the roses die of old age. As the soil is shallow we mounded well rotted chipped wood around them then mulched with cardboard and more compost as I had done lower down the hill. In case they did not survive the move I used some of the stems we had cut off to take cuttings. If the originals grow AND the cuttings take I will have a lot to put on the share table at future permaculture gatherings!

Whilst we were indoors eating lunch I had a phone call from Ted and Sue who keep their bees in my garden. They wanted to come and treat for varroa mite. Although they know they are welcome anytime they always phone to ask if it is convenient and to check if I am planning to go out and need to avoid them blocking me in. It is always nice to see them and we usually have a quick chat at some point. The bees are no trouble to me and it is good to have their work as pollinators whilst for Ted and Sue it allows them to keep more hives and in a place where there is good foraging – win win.

The rest of the shrubs and the weeds on the big bank were cut back to ground level. There was some Welsh Box and Marie dug out some of the smaller pieces to take for her garden.

Ted and Sue had left and we were just about to start covering it with the carpet taken out when I had new flooring (read about it here Flooring by McHarg )when the order of compost arrived on a quite large lorry. It was too big to back into the drive so stopped on the lane and in no time at all there were 2 cars stuck ahead of it and one behind. This happens on these narrow lanes and almost everyone takes it in good part. By chance the first people to have to stop were my former neighbours Nick and Wendy who keep sheep a few miles away and make the most delicious cheese from their milk. (find them on facebook  here )

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So another chat whilst the pallet was unfasted from the sides of the lorry and readied for unloading. At one time Nick worked in the offices of the local haulage firm Mansel Davies so he knew how to help the driver control the dolly truck. Once it was safely off the lorry we loaded my share into Marie’s van and whilst the assorted vehicles sorted themselves out on the lane she drove it the few yards to the top of the drive where I had put a small pallet ready to stack the bags onto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe managed to get the carpet moved and rolled out onto the bank before the light finally failed. It is a rather odd looking, untidy patchwork but it will suppress the weeds. We had earned the cups of tea and chocolate biscuits we had before they left! Rob came this morning and collected Jeni’s share of the compost in their trailer so now all I have to do is tidy the car port where the carpet and cardboard were stacked. But that is a job for another day.

First signs of Spring

I woke this morning to a heavy frost. The grass was white and every puddle on the driveway and paths was ice. there has been a gradual thaw but the ground is still white with hoar frost in the shade. I decided it would not be a good idea to walk the dogs on the road because the run off from the farmyards and fields would have frozen – another fall is would not be a good idea!

But the dogs need a walk each day so mid-morning I took them over the bridge that Rob (my son-in-law), Carrie (my daughter), Sam and Georgia (grandchildren) built with me over the stream at the bottom of the garden, and into the field on the opposite side of the valley. (These photos in the field were taken a couple of days ago – I didn’t risk carrying my camera over there this morning)

On the way through the garden I realised that things are beginning to grow. Daffodils are pushing through the grass near the gate and in pots in the South facing lean-to greenhouse. I bought some climbing roses to go on the chalet in the garden, to cover the rainwater butt outside the conservatory and for the end of the carport. Because there is only thin soil by the carport I put that one in a pot with the bottom cut out. Hopefully I will surround the pot with an old tyre full of soil before the plant gets too big. That system has worked well in the past. Today I saw that it is starting to shoot! And at the other end of the house some of last year’s wallflowers have a few blooms coming. I may still be hibernating but the garden, it seems, is made of sterner stuff!

However I am thinking about emerging from my nest. My order from Real Seeds (find them here) has arrived. I have saved quite a few seeds from my own harvest but not of everything plus I wanted to increase the range of varieties I grow. Actually I would have loved to buy a packet of everything they offer but common-sense prevailed! At the weekend my friend Jeni, who lives a couple of miles away,  and I put in a combined order for compost and that will be delivered on Thursday. We opted for Dalefoot Compost  (here) which was highly recommended by Mrs Snail (find her here) and since we needed rather a lot between us it will be delivered on a pallet which means we do not have to carry it home a few bags at a time in our cars. Hopefully Jeni will be able to collect her share in a trailer so only one short trip. When we put up the greenhouse near the conservatory my late husband, John, built staging which includes a large, sand filled trough with a soil warming cable buried in it. Surrounded by sheets of twin-wall plastic and bubble wrap it acts as a huge propagator and allows me to get seeds off to a good start. It is, though, quite expensive to run so I only switch it on mid to late February and start sowing a week or two later when it has reached the set temperature. Any earlier and I not only get a big electricity bill but the short day length is not good for the seedlings. Hopefully my cast will come off before the end of this month and I will have more dexterity before starting to sow – with a big plot it is a big job but one I love.