A picklefest

A couple of weeks ago a tsunami of delicious fruit and veg came my way. Pottering round the supermarket I found that small hard pears were on special offer – perfect for making pickled pears or chutney. And a bit further along another offer on oranges. On my way home I called on my lovely friends John and Victoria who have a large old Bramley apple tree in their garden – could I use some? Usually Victoria cooks and freezes loads to use when they have visitors. Covid meant no entertaining so there was still a lot of apple in the freezer and, after a fall in the garden, she didn’t feel up to doing more just to stop them going to waste. I brought a huge box of them home. We had a few days of glorious autumn sunshine and each time I walked Roo (my Kelpie x Collie) I took a basket and picked blackberries from the hedgerows. Another friend, Lindy, had been given 2 red and 2 green cabbage plants by her Dad in the spring and they had grown to football size. Like me she lives alone so 4 huge cabbages were rather a lot! I suggested she make pickled red cabbage but it turned out that she had got it into her head that jams, pickles and the like were technically difficult and, if everything wasn’t sterilised to operating theater cleanliness, potentially dangerous.

So Lindy came over with her 2 red cabbages and we pickled them together. It is a 2 day process. Day 1 was to shred the cabbages and layer them with salt before leaving them overnight. We also spiced some vinegar and left it to cool. We had done that by lunchtime so in the afternoon we used some of the apples and the pears I had bought and made some chutney. After she had left to go to choir practice I boiled up the blackberries with some more apples for bramble jelly and left them to drain through muslin overnight.

The next day I was still boiling up the jelly when Lindy arrived so she got a quick impromptu lesson in ‘how to know when jam is at setting point’ and a reminder of ‘how to sterilise jars in the oven’. Then we packed the cabbage into jars and poured the vinegar on top. There was still time to make some pickled orange wedges using the fruit I had bought. A crash course in preserving! But she has some green tomatoes that she needs to use and feels confident enough to turn them into chutney (with some more of Victoria’s apples) without my help.

I turned some more of the blackberries into blackberry vinegar; I like it as a drink diluted with fizzy lemonade, use it in salad dressings and it is my secret ingredient in lots of savoury dishes.

I have been stewing and bottling more of the apples and now have nineteen 1lb jam jars on the shelf. And there are still a large bowlful left. I have plenty of jars but have run out of lids. I bought more but being a numpty I ordered the wrong size! They fit the smaller jars I have so will get used when I make more jam or things like onion marmalade but those jars are too small for bottling fruit. Maybe I will pick some sloes. Or rowan berries – I have never made rowanberry jelly. One thing is for sure – they will not go to waste.

For those of you who remember that I have 2 dogs and are wondering why I only mention one, Orchid, my lurcher, is getting on a bit (at least 11 years old) and has arthritis which is particularly bad at the moment so long walks are out of the question for her.

The Magic Roundhouse

Another thing which ha been taking up quite a lot of time for me recently but has again been great fun, has been helping to work on the Roundhouse at Dyfed Permaculture Farm.

Some years ago we were given an old yurt to provide another meeting space – somewhere smaller, more intimate, tidier and quieter than the Barn. For a couple of years it worked well although we knew that the timber was not in great condition and the canvas had been mended. Then one Autumn, just a few days before we were going to take it down for winter, a gale blew and when we looked the yurt had a very distinct lean to it! A couple who love the Farm and visit regularly but live in England offered us some money to build something that would be useful and enhance the facilities. We decided to build a Roundhouse to the same footprint as the yurt in the same spot. As far as possible we would use materials we had on the land (timber from managing the woodland, soil, straw and hay) parts of the old yurt, and reclaimed materials which we could collect.

Over the summer of 2019, with the help of a local man. Richard Sylvan, who has built many roundhouses, we got the circle of posts up and the roof on all using timber felled on site. Some of the work was done by our regular volunteers but we also advertised it as a course with people paying a modest fee to come and learn. The roof is a ‘reciprocating’ one – the radial rafter poles were laid in a spiral on top of an upright which was then knocked away – each rafter holds its neighbour up! it gives us the whole span without pillars. Very clever! The rafters were covered with the canvas from the old yurt roof, then a heavy duty pond liner (we had to buy that!), some gravel and then on the top turf which we scraped off the car park thereby doing two jobs in one. Over that winter 2019/20 even just having a space to shelter under was very useful. But building work stopped until Spring.

Then Covid struck. For a while only the 2 households who live on the farm could do any work there. Then in the summer, as restrictions eased a little our small group of regular volunteers began to have occasional workdays and we spent one of them doing some minor repairs to the yurt floor. We managed to hold a couple of management committee meetings in the shelter of the roof which kept the rain off but not the wind so we were essentially out of doors but not getting wet!

Repairing the floor pieces

This year, once things began to ease again we decided to make a push to get on with it. It wasn’t possible to run courses but having ascertained which of the regulars could make each date we were able to invite a couple of people who had been on the original courses, and lived locally, to come as volunteers for the wall building. The walls are lengths of cordwood from trees felled on the Farm land interspersed with bottle bricks (an empty wine bottle and a jam jar taped together) and all held together with cob which is a mixture of soil, clay and straw. We obtained permission to dig clay from an old pit a few miles away, Richard came back to show us how to do all this. The windows are all ‘found’ ones – donations of replaced windows or ‘wrong size’ panes. There is still a small section of wall to fill in once the fire has been installed and the flue put through the wall and there are a few other odd gaps to be filled in when we have another batch of cob made.

Then we spent a long day putting the floor down. It was originally the gymnasium floor in a girls school and still has the markings for netball! It was salvaged and cut up to become the floor of the yurt and is now laid in the Roundhouse. The hole in the middle is the original space for a stove and will be filled with a mosaic – that will be the finishing touch!

The original intention was to put doors on the three remaining sections but in the light of the pandemic we have decided that for now we will hang big curtains across there. That will encourage us and any other users to keep it very well ventilated. We had a meeting in there on Monday night and it was a magical space.

To read more about Dyfed Permaculture Farm and see more pictures go to http://www.dyfedpermaculturefarmtrust.org.uk or to their Facebook page

Things are looking up

A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.

I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.

these are cucurbits of various kinds and peppers – sweet and hot.

I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!

Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.

Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!

Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So

From this

To

One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’

I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.

On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).

On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!

At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!

The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.

Ups and Downs in the Garden

I have realised that it is quite some time since I posted anything – not because I haven’t done anything worth mentioning but because I have been too busy doing things to have time to write about them! This easing of restrictions is lovely but now I have to fit more things into my days!

In particular I haven’t posted about the garden for ages. Mainly because it started disastrously! Laura and I sowed tender things on the heated bench in mid March and waited… and waited… until eventually I realised that the bench wasn’t working. The power light is on so it must be either the thermostat or the soil warming cable. When Mr and Mrs Snail visited Mr Snail offered to come with his meter and work out which. But it is too late for those early seeds so we we tried again – this time putting them on the house windowsills. Some are coming up but not as many or as quickly as I had hoped.

In the greenhouse we diligently fertilised the apricot and peach trees with a little brush every day. Loads of fruit set. Then we had a sharp frost which I hadn’t expected and all the little apricots shrivelled and fell off – every one! The peach seemed to fare better but still has dropped quite a few. I am hoping the remaining ones will swell.

rather out of focus – my phone doesn’t like close-ups!

That frost was the first of several the most recent being Sunday night. So seeds we sowed outside are still hunkered down – at least I hope they are and that they will germinate when the weather improves. The days, of course, have been glorious which has meant a lot of watering!

I was beginning to feel pretty despondent but Jono gave me some parsley seedlings, I spotted some sweet pepper and chilli seedlings in the supermarket, Rachel gave me a couple of cucumber plants and I found tomato plants in the zero waste shop in Cardigan. Michelle was offered some surplus onions sets and there were more than they needed so I had a kilo. Now some of the perennials and some of the greenhouse plants are braving the temperature extremes and coming up so maybe it will come right in the end.

Jono’s parsley not exactly thriving but not dying either!

I have had one rhubarb crumble already. The buckler leaf sorrel is popping up in several places. Jerusalem artichokes are pretty indestructible!

The garlic went in last autumn and isn’t growing at present but is hanging on. Early potatoes in the greenhouse are doing OK. The crab apple trees between the house and the workshop were overgrown with weeds and brambles but we did a lot of work on that area over winter and they are flowering – Hurray!

Somewhat erratic germination of carrots in the greenhouse – I’m sure I sprinkled the seed more evenly than that! I managed to root some watercress from a supermarket pack and now it is growing outside in a sheltered spot. The beetroot were sown in the lower greenhouse last year and did nothing but have now come up!

I helped prune a circle of willows at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and brought some of the rods home to take cuttings. They have done very well! The plant on the right is Asparagus Kale which I tried for the first time last year. I have been picking leaves all winter and now they are producing lots of flower shoots which are just like purple sprouting broccoli. The plants being shorter than PSB fit better in my garden so the buds which flower before I can eat them I will allow to set seed for future sowings.

So a slow start but not all is lost.

And because there is no such thing as too much cuteness pictures of me with a bottle fed lamb at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and 3 baby goats born whilst I was visiting my friends Rachel and Ian.

The red light on the baby goats is from a heat lamp. They were born in the field, their Mum having refused to go into the maternity pen, but as dusk fell the family was moved there willy nilly in a wheelbarrow! By the way I have had my hair cut since the lamb photo you will be pleased to hear!

Another step out of my rut

Regular readers will know that over Christmas I realised that I had shrunk. Sadly not physically but in terms of my sense of self, my confidence and my comfort zone. To reverse this I have been pushing myself to clamber out of my rut. As part of that I decided to expand my repertoire of meals and baking. I had, as most of us do, a collection of recipes which I made over and over again. Sometimes I varied them a bit but basically I was sticking to tried and tested, fail-safe, do them without reference to a book, ones. I mentioned in a previous post that finding books by Jack Munroe in the library started the process and encouraged me to be more experimental with meals but I was still making the same bread, cakes and biscuits.

I got out my favourite bread book (The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread) and looked for something to try. I love crumpets so thought I would begin with those. Disaster! Even though I oiled the rings well the dough stuck to them. I tried adjusting the wetness both to drier and to wetter but they still stuck. Thinking about it later I have used those same rings many times for poaching eggs and I think I have scoured them too often so that they are scratched. When I chucked the last batch of glued up rings into a bowl of washing-up water to soak the dough off I looked again at the recipe and it said that pikelets could be made from the same dough without rings – just spoonfuls of batter on the pan. I was reluctant to waste the last bit of batter so I gave it a go and – success!

Then I tried Focaccia from the same book. That worked first time.

Last week the lockdown restrictions on us here in Wales were eased a little so we can visit each other. Only 4 adults from no more than 2 households can meet out of doors. The Snails and I decided that if it rained their limery with the doors and windows open was as good as outdoors so I went to visit them. Jan had made some bread and some small cookies which were more like little cakes. Both recipes were from a book she posted about a while ago – Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa. One of the reasons I have not explored sourdough much is that living alone I only need to bake bread every few days and throwing away half the starter to feed it grieves me. On the other hand chilling it would mean re-activating it before using it and in turn that means being more organised than I can usually manage! Jan assures me that the starter only needs feeding every few days and this book has recipes to use up any discarded starter. So I bought a copy and now have a starter culture brewing.

All this experimenting and learning new techniques is quite exciting! And the higher I climb out of the rut the more possibilities I can see. Thank goodness the easing of our lockdown looks like continuing – I am going to need visitors to help me eat all things I want to bake!

Little thing # 2

I have been making an effort to continue noticing the little things which make me smile and to share them with you all.

Some of you may remember that whilst I have been unable to go out so much I have been knitting chilldren’s jumpers for the collection at Studio 3 in Cardigan. Their original goal had been to send 2020 to an organisation working with refugees who had reached Greece and were now unable to move on to other parts of Europe. Last Friday I delivered the latest one and by chance Eileen, who’s brainchild it was, was in the shop. She told me that they passed the 2020 target some time ago and sent them off. After that they decided any more would be sent to charities in Wales working with families in poverty and particularly those using the many food banks. They have now collected over a thousand for Wales and more are still being donated. The charities will add them to the parcels of gifts put together for families who otherwise would have none. I only played a small part – 5 jumpers in all – but I felt proud to have helped and proud of my community for rising to the challenge and some. A real win-win. AND I met my friend Rachel to have lunch in the cafe there – delicious food and a chance to catch up with a lovely friend. A very smiley day!

My latest gift jumper

In the garden I can see crocuses and miniature daffodils beginning to emerge in pots near the house.

On the wall of the cabin a winter flowering jasmine is in full bloom. Last year it was still fairly new and only had a few flowers but it has obviously settled in.

Piling manure onto one of the raised beds I spotted a potato. I haven’t grown any for a couple of years but the ones I missed when I harvested the last lot keep coming up. I scrabbled around and by the time I had been through all the bed I had a basket full of International Kidney spuds (Jersey Royals but they can only be called that if grown on the island of Jersey!) They are a waxy salad potato so not good for mash or roast but lovely in potato salad or stews because they keep their shape.

My cooking has had a boost recently. My last lot of books from the library included 2 by Jack Monroe, a woman who found herself living in extreme poverty and blogged about how she was managing to feed herself and her small son on very little money and the generosity of the food bank. The upshot was a book deal which lifted her our of poverty but she still campaigns tirelessly for the organisations she once relied upon. I am comfortably off and an experienced cook but her simple, cheap recipes have jolted me out of a rut.

I have been making crafty things and will blog about them later but for now they are secret in case the recipients see them here first! However I can tell you that I get a lot of help from my feline friends who never fail to make me smile – how’s this for a cuddle of cats? At least they were next to me rather than on my lap which makes sewing or knitting difficult! The bony elbow top left is Orchid who also occupies the sofa.

Lastly I read a post by Cathy which I particularly enjoyed and set me thinking about how I could include more cheery-uppy things in my life. You can read it at https://nanacathydotcom.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/touchstones/

Between then and what will be

I have been feeling very unsettled, grumpy-grumbly in a vague unfocussed sort of way, fraught with unfinished to-do lists and a sense of time running out.

Rob moving out of the cabin early in lockdown left me with no help in the garden over the summer. Not that he would have been much help had he stayed. The death of a close friend and serious ill health of two close family members hit his fragile mental health hard and his usual slowness became almost catatonic. Now it is Autumn; Laura has moved in and will, I think, be a huge asset. She is intelligent, keen to learn and cheerful. But for now she has to be given time to learn where things are and how to do the tasks that need attention. That means I have to work alongside her, explaining and teaching and our speed is slow.

It is also the time when I pick wild fruit and preserve it. The time when there is an abundance of fresh produce in the shops to make chutneys and pickles. Having swapped my big chest freezer for a less capacious upright one I can no longer stash it all away until I have more time (that mythical ‘more time’!) – it has to be bottled or jammed or whatever at once.

At the same time restrictions have been easing and we all want to meet up again – I am greedy for the company and sociability. And at the same time I am alert to the risks – another juggling act. We have started to have workdays and meetings at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, a very delayed AGM – where my treasurer’s report felt like something from another lifetime – and resuming work on the roundhouse we are building. They have thrown up another dilemma for me. We are able to meet outdoors but with everyone 2 meters apart I am a long way from anyone on the opposite side of the circle. I should have had new hearing aids in the spring but of course the hospital stopped doing hearing tests. So I struggle to keep up with the discussion, often mis-hear and find the effort exhausting. Now we must all wear masks indoors, a ruling I think is sensible since masks remind us to be careful in other ways too, but it makes voices muffled and I can’t lipread or see expressions so well. I have decided that for now I will not go to indoor events involving more than 2 or 3 people and decide about outdoor ones on a case by case basis. None of this is anybody’s fault but it is frustrating and wearing.

Whilst all these practical things are demanding my attention I have been challenged by some books I have been reading. Three are memoirs written by women who chose to scratch a living in remote rural areas. Three very different personalities and stories but thought provoking. The fourth is an academic work, ‘Sitopia’, about the centrality of food to life, politics and culture and how the world might be different if we recognised that more overtly. I had already been reflecting on the plans and projects I have been working on to prepare me and this place for my older age. So now my head is full of ideas and words which roll around and, like a snowball running downhill, accumulate more and more, getting bigger and bigger. But I can’t seem to get them organised into coherent strings or know what to do with them. I will just have to wait for them to reach the bottom and the ball to break apart. Maybe then I will be able to make sense of it! Meanwhile I am wary of sharing much of it because in this mood I am likely to put it badly. Which means using energy to both contain it all and manage my impatience with not being able to organise it into something that makes sense! Another problem when meeting friends and a block to writing blog posts.

For all these reasons blogging has taken a back seat. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading other people’s posts and my apologies for the shortness of my comments.

One day soon it will all click into place again, my sense of joy will be restored and normal blogging will be resumed.

Scrap Happy February

A bit late this month – Sorry! I should have written and posted this yesterday but I chose to spend the afternoon sewing instead as I had an idea busting to get out!

A few weeks ago a local facebook friend who used to work for an International Aid Agency shared a post from a former colleague. Yaina was shortly going to visit a project in Sierra Leone where the agency supports an orphanage and she wanted to take glove puppets for the children. There was a picture of a couple she had made and the pattern. She wanted to see if other people would make some for her and my fb friend Helen said she was happy to collect and send on any people round here could make. It seemed such a simple way to help and I have scrap yarn so I set to work. Unfortunately when I took them round to Helen I was in a rush to go on to a meeting so I shoved them through the door and drove off. Unbeknownst to me it was the right house but the wrong letterbox and by the time we had sorted that out it was too late to get them off to Africa. Ever resourceful, Helen sent her friend a video of the puppets explaining that they had missed their flight but would come next time!

She tells me that the orphanage has 40 children but another 100 are fostered and attend the school – that is a lot of puppets that could find a good home. I may have to – GULP – buy some more yarn! Now where did I put those needles?

Scrap Happy is hosted by Kate and Gun on the fifteenth (or thereabouts for disorganised people like me!) of each month. Do see what my fellow scrappers have been up to – it is a great source of inspiration.

Kate, Gun, Titti, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, and Pauline

If these links again fail to work (I have had problems in the past) you can find them all by going to Kate’s post and following the links there – it will be well worth the effort!

Beginnings

Last weekend I went to visit my friends Jeni and Rob to celebrate Imbolc. None of us are pagans or druids, Jeni is a retired vicar who still takes services occasionally to fill gaps in rostas whilst Rob and I are ‘don’t knows’. It is rather that they keep poultry, sheep, pigs and, have just got some bees as well as growing veg as I do. So both households experience shifts in activities and energies as the year turns. Celebrating the eight old festivals encourages us to stop and reflect with each other on our plans, successes and failures. It is also an excuse to spend an evening together sharing a meal and a glass or two of something nice.

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Jeni and Rob live in a beautiful, tiny cob cottage

Imbolc is the precursor of the Christian candlemass – a point where the increasing day length is properly noticeable and the first green shoots are emerging. The first flowers of spring, the snowdrops, are coming into bloom to cheer us up even though winter is not yet over – there is a sign that spring will come. Actually this year the snowdrops were beaten by the first primroses and I have crocus out and daffodils showing fat buds. Maybe with climate change we will have to rethink our symbols if not our ceremonies!

In the same vein whilst winter is a time to cwtch in (A welsh phrase from cwtch = hug or a feeling of being hugged) by the fire and dream and plan, now is the time to start taking first steps to make those dreams come true. Having chosen the things we want to grow / achieve we must start to germinate the seeds. So we sat around the fire and shared what new projects we had chosen to spend our time and energy on this year.

My new project this year (just to add to all the unfinished ones from previous years!) is to explore the local footpaths. Every day I walk my dogs along the local lanes which are mostly single track with high banks either side and whilst traffic is very light a significant proportion of what there is is big lorries such as milk tankers or massive tractors which often are trailing equally large machinery. The dogs and I squeeze onto narrow verges or run to the nearest gateway. The proximity, noise and exhaust fumes are unpleasant. It would be so nice to have some off-road walks we could do.

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This may look like a useable path but after wading across the stream in the foreground I found that the old gate is tied to the posts with barbed wire.

When we first moved here 25 years ago a neighbour who was then in her 60’s told us that as a girl she had walked to school in the next village along footpaths and bridleways through the woods and along the stream. At that time there was a network of such paths connecting the various farms and cottages and other children joined her as she walked so that a whole gaggle of them arrived at school together. Of course in the intervening years rural depopulation meant that there were fewer people living here, houses became derelict, farms were coalesced into bigger units, and the people who remained got cars. A group of us tried to help her do the walk again but found it blocked – as the paths had fallen into disuse and stiles collapsed the route was blocked with brambles, nettles and then fences. What farmer would build a stile no-one ever used when a continuous fence is so much cheaper?

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This cottage was lived in when we first came here but was condemned as ‘unfit for habitation’ about 20 years ago

A check on the council website has shown me that these paths are, however, still public rights of way. So I have made an appointment to see the relevant council official to ask for advice and help in getting them opened up again. Jeni told me I was not alone – two local landowners she knows want to re-create a path that runs through their properties but that will be easier since between them they own all the land involved. I have no idea how successful I will be at persuading my neighbours to help but I will have a go. Watch this space!

Let Christmas begin!

I have just come back from one of my favourite events in the year and the one which, for me, marks the start of Christmas, Yule, Midwinter – call it what you will – The Christmas Market at C&M Organics.

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If you have been following my blog for a while you may remember that Chris and Matt run a market garden with an honesty shop which never shuts and where I buy the veg I need to supplement what I grow here. Much of it is grown by them but they import what cannot grow or to extend the season. All of it is organic and they supply a lot of local cafes, restaurants and shops. Increasingly they also stock a range of dry and canned goods and have a fridge with cheese, butter and yoghurt plus locally made sour-dough bread and some ice cream in a little freezer. They also make a point of supporting small local producers and providing them with an outlet liberally laced with encouragement. As part of that they have held markets where the producers can meet their customers face to face and promote their wares.

I arrived just half an hour after the start and was very glad I had chosen to walk there. The car park was full and the passing places on the single track road were filling up fast. Even with a marquee attached to the large storeroom the place was packed and there was a happy hum of voices. I had taken my phone to take photos but with low light levels and so many bodies gave up! Instead I took photos of the things I bought once I got home.

First stop was Chris’s own stall where she was selling home-made mince pies and mulled wine, tea and coffee to raise money for charity. Her eldest daughter works with refugees in Paris and Chris and Matt support her tirelessly. Another advantage of walking was being able to indulge in the mulled wine!

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Next was Mountain Hall Farm which was one of the first places I visited with the Pembrokeshire Permaculture group. You can read my post on that here and Alex’s own blog here. He was selling their grass fed beef but as I still have some from my friends Phil and Michelle I just had a cuddle with his four month old daughter, Ffion, and bought some innoculant for planting trees which Alex was selling on behalf of one of his friends.

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Next to him was Abby selling her dried flowers. She and her partner Josh keep ducks for eggs and rear lamb as well as developing a flower business. This year she grew things to dry as a way of extending the season and next year hopes to start selling flowers by post. I am in awe of these young people who give up secure, well paid jobs in cities to move out here and follow their passions.

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Linda was there too with beautiful fresh wreaths and decorated pots of narcissi. I visited her place this summer when they were waiting for planning permission to build a home on their plot. It has now been granted and she was bubbling over with delight and plans for the build. You can read about Linda’s floristry business here

There were 2 stalls selling hot food both of which looked and smelled lovely but to carry them home in my rucksack seemed likely to end in disaster so I opted for a savoury croissant filled with leeks and blue cheese instead. I could have had an almond or plain one or one of a range of fruity pastries. Choices! I wanted them all!

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There were stalls selling chocolates, candles, turned wooden christmas trees, hand made cards, beauty potions and all manner of other lovely things. The problem with being a crafter is that there is little point in buying what I can make myself. Plus I have just done a major de-clutter and am trying very hard (very very hard!) to be disciplined about filling the space up again! I succumbed to the temptation of sampling some pickled garlic which was delicious so I bought a pot telling myself that it would be eaten so didn’t count!

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I knew lots of the customers too. We all had time to chat and even though the place was full no-one was getting impatient or rushing – so different from bumping into someone I know in the supermarket. I love the feeling of community, of camaraderie and mutual support at these events which I am sure comes from Chris and Matt’s own value system. I hope they have one next year.