Way back in Spring many of my tender seeds did not germinate because, unbeknownst to me, my heated bench had stopped working and they were too cold. Several lovely people came to the rescue with spare seedlings including a friend of Laura’s who gave us 2 pumpkin plants. I had never grown pumpkins but knew they grew very big and liked lots of muck. There is one raised bed which is heavily infested with nettles and we had just put a thick layer of cardboard on it then a good layer of cow manure. I had intended to cover it with either more cardboard or weed suppressant fabric and leave it for a year. But needs must so in went the 2 baby plants. One died but the other thrived and not only filled the bed but migrated into the comfrey patch next to it! Eventually we spotted fruits forming but they all seemed to drop off. Then hidden under a layer of leaves on the path we saw a bigger one and then another at the end of another vine.
Last week we decided to harvest the earliest one as it was orange all over and I had visions of it being eaten by rodents if we left it any longer.
We managed to get it into the barrow and brought it down to house level to weigh it. The only way to do that was for me to stand on the bathroom scales (Laura refused to do this because she didn’t want to know how much weight she has put on!) and then repeat with the pumpkin in my arms. I couldn’t hold it for long but as best we can tell it weighs in at 23 kilos. (52 lbs or 3 1/2 stone)
There are still a few nettles in the bed but for the most part the pumpkin has out-competed them. I wonder if it works on bind weed? We will save some of the seeds and experiment.
Tidying up my workshop and woodshed I discovered that I had accumulated, for who knows where, 3, yes 3 kitchen sinks! Actually the one in the shed on the veg patch is never used so make that 4. If I put another kitchen / utility room in anywhere am I really going to use a shabby old sink? No!
The inspiration struck. Sinks are intended to hold water and I need more small ponds in my garden to attract wildlife. A small hole, some scrap wood to build up the sides a bit, a new pond liner (the scrap I was going to use was too small and had got torn) and here it is.
It obviously needs more pebbles on the draining board. Nice round seashore pebbles not the rough ones from around the garden or out of the stream. I persuaded my friend Lindy (It wasn’t hard!) to take a trip to the seaside to have a walk on the beach and collect some. Just after this photo was taken a rogue wave came in and I got water in one wellie! Walking on the beach with one wellie sloshing and my pockets weighed down with pebbles had us both in stitches. It is going to take a few more trips to get enough to finish this job – a hard job but someone has to do it!
Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.
There were some lovely comments on my last post about the blanket I was making to use up those little balls of wool that every knitter accumulates. The ‘granny squares’ are not all the same size necessitating strips and stripes and extra rounds to make them fit together and the colours are multiple and varied – yet the effect is cheerful and lively and most of you loved it as do I. Why?
Looking around my home and at the assorted handmade blankets in my cupboard I realised that the pieces I like best are the scrappy ones – the patchworks (usually fairly random) and the multicoloured. Partly this is because they will fit in with any colour scheme, adding both pattern and a hit of colour to the space. So in that sense they are very practical – change the decor? No problem!
Musing during a dog walk (as you do!) two memories from childhood came into my head.
The first concerned my childhood heroine; the woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. My Mum’s eldest, and much older, sister Aunty Nan. Nan and her husband Francis were childless (not by choice – as she said ‘In our day if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen and there was nothing you could do about it’) which meant that she had not given up work to raise her family. By the time I was old enough to remember them they were both lecturers at Alsager Teacher Training College near Newcastle-under-Lyme and lived in half a very long Nissen hut on the campus left over from World War 2. Francis headed up Rural Studies and Nan taught Craft. I found Francis slightly intimidating and when we visited he and my Dad would talk bees which they both kept. Nan would always find something crafty for me to do so that she and Mum could cook and talk. Later they bought 3 adjoining building plots where a new estate was being developed and had a bungalow built. Nan was furious that the architect would only talk to Francis even though she was the more artistic and better at design! She was even sidelined during the discussion of the kitchen! It was a beautiful home, very up to date in its furnishings and, of course, with Francis being an expert gardener, set in a fabulous garden. But what I really loved was their very early VW Dormobile.
Francis’s passion for bees meant he was not content with keeping a few hives of honey bees. He was really a thwarted academic and one of his good friends was Alan Gemmell (If you are old enough and live in the UK you may remember Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele University from Gardener’s Question Time. Prof’s passion was potatoes). So every summer he and Nan would spend the long vacation travelling Europe so he could collect wild bees and identify them. He had a cabinet of shallow drawers in his study with serried ranks of bees filed according to their latin name.
To make these expeditions easier, especially when he had exhausted Western Europe and started exploring behind the Iron Curtain, they got the Dormobile. To me it was a playhouse on wheels! And in it were blankets made by Nan on those journeys. She would take a pair of double pointed knitting needles – the short ones used for socks – and odd balls of wool so that she had some knitting to do in the evenings or while she was sitting in a field somewhere half watching Francis stalk his prey. Squares were easy to carry around or store in the van. Some were plain but lots were stripey or half and half. Sometimes the wool was thinner than she would have liked so she would use 2 colours together making a tweedy effect. Those blankets were part of the magic of the van for me. So very different from the contents of her house or of any of the other houses I knew.
The second memory was of a couple whose names I cannot remember but they were members of the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association, of which my Dad was Treasurer. The Association met once a month for most of the year. In the winter they rented a room somewhere for an evening and had ‘talks’ about bees and related subjects. But in the summer there were ‘Apiary visits’. One member would host the rest for an afternoon wherever they kept their bees. One of the more experienced members, often my father, would go through the hives explaining what they were doing, what they were looking for and why. If the bees needed extra space or a super full of honey needed to be taken away then that would be done. So winter was for theory and summer for practical. And on Apiary visits families were invited along too. There were a couple of single women who kept bees, a couple who did it jointly but most of the keepers were men. So the families consisted of wives and a few children who would sit around on deckchairs as far away from the hives as possible and chat. Everyone would take a picnic tea and once the hives were safely put back together again the beekeepers would join us and the host (or more usually the host’s wife!) would make cups of tea. It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and most of the gardens were delightful.
The couple I am thinking of hosted a visit every year but not in their garden – I never knew where they lived in winter. Every summer they would decamp to a field where he kept his bees and where they had 2 old railway wagons. One was where he stored all his bee equipment and extracted his honey – a dim space which I always tried to get into at some point to enjoy its scent of wood, wax and honey. The other was where they lived with two single beds arranged in an L shape at the end furthest from the door, each covered with a multicoloured, home made blanket, a small table and 2 hard chairs and a rudimentary kitchen with a camping stove. Outside was a compost toilet and another table with a washing up bowl on it and a tap on a post behind it. The field was on a hill and there was an amazing view over the valley. I knew of no-one else who lived like that – it was like being in a story!
I suppose that from those 2 experiences I came to associate blankets like the one I am working on with a simple life, being unconventional, having adventures but also with being cosy and self-sufficient. No wonder I like them so much – by making them I am constructing my very own magic carpet of the imagination, opening up possibilities of adventures and new ways of living!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Only a few weeks ago Laura and I were finishing the main tree work for this year tackling the trickiest jobs which I had left until last so that we built up our skills on the easiest first. We cut some trees growing right on the edge of the high, vertical bank behind the greenhouses just before snow came.
The two which are still growing out of the bank are too far down to be reached from above and as I do not want them to regrow we will cut them from stepladders behind the greenhouses later.
Then we laid a hedge in an almost equally awkward place!
By the time we had done that we were joking that we were fully qualified as Mountain Goats!
But now spring has started to appear. The snowdrops and daffodils are out in several parts of the garden.
The wild garlic is reappearing on the path by the stream
The crown of early rhubarb is leafing.
I made a bird box over winter and hung it opposite the end of the deck so I can watch it from the house. I have seen blue tits investigating it – will they move in?
The black elder near it is breaking bud and living up to its name.
And in the greenhouses the 2 apricot trees and the peach are in full bloom.
It is too early for many insects to be flying so to ensure a good set of fruit one of us must tickle each of these flowers with a soft brush every day. So now we are no longer Mountain Goats but Busy Bees!
I tried to write this post yesterday but WordPress would not upload my photos for some reason. However today I woke to snow so you get pictures of that as well!
I was listening to a podcast of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country in which an enthusiast for snowdrops – a galanthophile if we are being posh! – explained that in the Victorian language of flowers they stood for Hope and were therefore often planted in Churchyards. More mundanely they were also frequently planted alomng the edge of the path to the privy to help find the way in the dark!
The first ones are just coming into bloom in my garden. I don’t know how long they have been here but they were well established when we arrived in 1994. Despite all the work we have done shifting things around they survive. These are on the steep bank behind the Metasequoia at the entrance.
Daffodils will not be far behind. There are some very old ones from before our time here but these are ones I planted so a modern variety and an early one. I bought a mixed sack so I have no idea what variety any particular plant is!
As I was walking round taking these photos with the dogs I spotted an icicle on the old Oak tree in the wild part of the garden
Then yesterday afternoon we had a sprinkling of snow and overnight a good fall. It made this morning’s walk magical.
This board was propped against one of the compost bins and the snow formed an amazing texture which I just had to capture as inspiration for a future project
I now consider myself snowed in as the road was still icy yesterday afternoon and now with snow on top I won’t be able to see where I might slip. I don’t want another broken wrist! Or to crash the car. I actually like being snowed in! I always keep good stocks of food in the pantry and freezer and the woodshed is well filled so I can sit it out.
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!
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.
Last time I posted I was feeling rather glum as I had been limiting myself to essential trips and then Wales went into National Lockdown just as I would have been able to go out again! At least ours was only two and a half weeks whereas England has just started a four week one. I can go out on Tuesday! And I will – I have an appointment to have my hair cut and plan to do some other errands whilst in town.
After writing that last post I decided I needed to get things in perspective. I am not ill, frightened or hungry. I have plenty of friends and can email or message them. So I took myself off to one of my favourite spots for a good talking to! It is in the woods I rent from my neighbour. There is a small clearing next to the stream and on the hill above it a huge Oak tree which most have been part of a hedge once upon a time as there is a noticeable bank running down the hill to the stream – an old field boundary. The stream chatters away as it rushes to the sea and the tree stands majestic and solid. Both have seen it all before; pestilence, famines, wars (I am told that the Home Guard trained by shooting across the stream into the hillside opposite during World War 2) as well as good things like the farms thriving, children playing, lovers meeting. I tell them my worries and grumbles and I can almost hear them telling me to stop whingeing!
But (isn’t there always a but!) the path from my garden into the woods had become overgrown with brambles so I had to take a pair of secateurs with me and cut them back. As I did so I uncovered a tiny nest – I assume a wren’s. Two tiny birds did all that work to build a home and raise their chicks. They don’t care who wins the American election, who gets Covid 19, whether I am happy or sad. They just get on with their lives and do what their instincts tell them.
I realised that I needed to stop fretting about things I can’t change and focus on the little things that bring me joy. So as well as that nest…
I finished a jumper for the collection at Studio 3. This is plainer than I usually do and to the pattern they provide. That makes 5 I have done for them to different designs. I have enough yarn in my stash for at least one more which I will try to get done before the end of the year. A group of refugees have recently been moved to a disused army base not far from here causing quite a lot of controversy – some protesters unhappy with the decision especially as it all happened suddenly with very little consultation, and some people organising to try to help and support them. What must it be like to be dumped in the middle of nowhere with hardly any resources in the middle of lockdown? I know my jumpers will go to a different group but if knitting helps people worse off than me I will knit!
A couple of days ago I found this little fellow in the car port. I have seen newts in the garden before but it is nice to know they are still around. Once I had taken the photograph I moved him to a safer spot. I know there is a lot more wildlife here than I know about – they keep well hidden. What a priviledge to share my space with so many other creatures.
I was weeding the bank next to the deck and found these dahlias. They were facing away from the house and as I hadn’t staked them were hanging down below behind their pot. They have taken a battering in the wind and rain but add a splash of colour to the kitchen table. I have never succeeded with dahlias before but will definitely grow them next year to brighten up the Autumn (and next year I will stake them!)
I also came across what, at first sight, looked to be a HUGE toad but turned out to be my son’s drone. Over a year ago he was here and playing with it (He’s moved on from the radio controlled car he had as a child!) and it got caught in the big Ash tree next to the deck. We tried all sorts of things to get it down but to no avail. It must have eventually blown down and landed under some self-seeded raspberry canes where it hid. Finding it reminded me of spending time with him, his 3 small foster children and my daughter, who took the opportunity of lift to come with them. That brought a big grin to my face!
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.