The old weather rhyme goes

If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak“?

Well here is the Ash tree which shades my deck in summer

And here is the Oak in my woodland

They look to me to be neck and neck. So I predict we are in for average rainfall! But given the way the weather is changing I suspect it will come as downpours interspersed with long dry spells!


Scrap Happy March 2023

I am joining Kate, Gun and the other Happy Scrappers with another project made entirely from Scrap. The links below will take you to an inspiring group of people who work in a range of materials to make something out of waste.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, Edith
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol, Preeti,
Amo and Alissa

My offering this month is another garden project.

I can see in my mind’s eye a gallery of confused faces and hear a chorus of ‘What the….?’

Last year we almost ran out of rainwater on the veg patch. I only water the greenhouses and newly planted stuff outside. I had 2 IBC tanks (one out of sight in this picture) each holding 1000 litres and 3 waterbutts but it was only just enough despite careful rationing. The tanks fill from the greenhouse roofs and the shed roof and they plus one butt are linked by syphons (hence the tangle of hosepipe snakes on top of the tank on the right) so that I can dip the watering cans easily but the butt refills automatically. This year has been very dry so far and the stream is at its summer level. Of course the tanks are full and we may have a very wet summer but there is already talk of hosepipe bans ahead so storing water is important. At house level I had another tank collecting from the workshop roof which was hardly ever used. So Laura and I decided it would be better to move it up to the veg level and join it to the system. That is the one on the left ogf the picture.

Each tank is surrounded by a metal cage to hold it in shape and tank plus cage together are very heavy. Two metal bars at the top hold the cage together and the bolts which hold them in place on the one to be moved were seriously rusted. So the first job was to use the angle grinder to cut off the nuts from the bolts. Then we syphoned all the water out, tipped the whole thing on its side and slid the plastic tank out of the cage. Each, in turn, was loaded onto a trolley and roped on then towed up the hill. We got to the top and discovered the gateway was just too narrow so out came the gatepost!

The only place the tank could go without being a nuisance and narrowing the path too much was on the end of the compost bins. Which meant it was on the opposite side of the path to the greenhouses. A hosepipe across the path would be a problem so it would have to be raised up. Another of the tanks is on the wrong side of a path – it collects off the shed roof – but I was able to attach the hose to the gable end of the greenhouse. This latest tank had no such useful structure. Time to get creative!

Luckily I already had a very long syphon tube which was not in use. All my syphons need to be longer than that so have had to be extended. They start with what Amazon sell as a ‘gas syphon’ (gas as in petrol) for emptying fuel tanks. But they are only 1m long. I tried attaching hosepipe with the standard garden hose connectors but they allow air to seep in breaking the syphon action. So I use a short piece of copper pipe taken out of the house at some point (hence the plastic joint in the middle of this one), heat the end of the syphon tube in a jug of hot water and stretch it over the copper, securing it with a jubilee hose clip. Ditto the hosepipe. And now I have a really long tube. The gas syphon has a ball bearing and spring in the end which you jiggle fast in the water of the sending tank leaving the other end on the ground until water runs out of the open end. Then you put a thumb over that open end and put it into the receiving tank. As long as the open end is below the sending end it will run. And once both ends are under water you can do what you like with the middle and it will keep working – as long as you don’t pull on of the ends above the water in which case it stops! It is fiddly but I have learned the hard way to tie each end of the pipe to the tank cage before moving the middle! Three lengths of left over slate batten ( yes, the same stuff as I used for the doors in last months post) fixed together and to the cages made an arch. Then more cable ties to attach the tube to the arch, adjusting the pip[es so that both ends were at the bottom of the tank in case they run very low, and the job was done. I have to confess that the cable ties were not exactly scrap – I buy large packets and keep them in stock. But everything else was.

Ashes to Ashes

For a couple of years I have been watching 2 large Ash trees in my garden develope signs of Ash Dieback disease. They were mature when we moved in 30 years ago and about 25 years back we had the crowns thinned to reduce the weight. They gave welcome shade to the workshop in summer. But this winter I decided they had to go before they got any more dangerous.

Both were too big for Laura and me to handle and they were on steep slopes which made the job even harder. Luckily one of Laura’s friends is married to a tree surgeon so I asked hm to take on the job. The tree on the left could be dropped across the stream but the one on the right would have to be climbed. So James would have to get the help of his friend, also called James, for safety and James 2 would have to bring his winch so they could pull stuff across and out of the stream.

By lunchtime the first tree was down and winched into the field. I asked them to cut it into manageable pieces but then leave it for us to clear up. They did but were a bit bemused at what I thought we could manage! If I have been over-confident Jmes 1 will come back with his chainsaws and do some more cutting up.

Then in the afternoon they got onto the second tree which James 1 climbed. It was amazing watching him!

This photo is taken from the terrace above the previous ones – there is another 3 – 4 metres of trunk below what you can see. We agreed that they would cut it down to the main fork but leave the trunk. It may regrow as a pollard in which case it will be a long time before the branches are any danger to the workshop. Or it may die but that is another habitat for wildlife.

As James cut away at the branches some of the pieces fell in the stream. They were big and heavy. At that point the water is about a foot deep and the bank about 5 feet above that so the winch was used again to drag them up to ground level.

By the end of the day we were left with this on my side of the river as well as all the wood in the field

We have made a good start on clearing it all – stuff that is too small or rotten to bother with goes into piles to be chipped, long lengths of thinnish stuff are snedded with the billhook and stacked up ready to cut to length in the woodshed and bigger lumps cut with the 2 person saw into roundels for splitting. I had to re-learn how to split with the maul! Because I knew that I would miss sometimes I chose to do the splitting in the lower garden where the soil is fairly deep. Missing the log and hitting a stone does a lot of damage to an axe.

All this wood will be seasoned for 2 years before it is burned so 2024/5 we should have plenty of fuel and the Ashes will return to the garden as ashes.


For the last 2 years the Apricot trees is the greenhouses have not produced fruit. We have diligently hand pollinated them, fruit has set but it has all dropped off before swelling. The Peach which grows between them has yielded luscious ripe fruit. After much head scratching Laura and I concluded that it might well be that the greenhouse doors were disintegrating and late frosts had dropped the temperature in there too low. As the peach flowers slightly later it might have been affected less.

The orignal doors were in the gable ends of the houses but John decided it would work better to have more doors and added some in one long side. Double doors so that getting a wheelbarrow in was easy. But the greenhouses are raised up on a low wall so the height of the wall is not standard. He made some wooden doors which had started to fall apart and eventually a winter gale got through the gap and they literally fell off.

A couple of weeks ago Laura and I were walking round looking at what was happening in the garden and realised that the buds on the Apricots were begining to show pink. The doors got put to the top of the urgent list!

In the workshop was some slate battening bought to build frameworks for climbing soft fruit such as loganberries. I had to buy a bundle and there were some lengths left and some offcuts. My son had left behind some bits of plywood from fitting out his camper van and some screws he had used but then replaced. Also in the workshop was some twin wall polycarbonate sheeting bought donkeys years ago to replace glass panes in the greenhouses as they broke. It turned out that the houses are imperial, the sheeting metric and the sheets were just a fraction too narrow. I used some of it as makeshift secondary glazing in the cabin in the garden until I could afford to have double glazing in there. The only materials I had to buy were a fex extra screws and the hinges – the old ones were too twisted and rusty to reuse.

I have also bought some hooks which I will put on the door frame each side and in the middle of the doors with a bar of slate batten to keep the doors shut. That is today’s job. I just hope we get some Apricots this year!

Find the rest of the Scrap Happy crew by using the links below

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
Jill, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, Edith
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol,
Preeti, DebbieroseNóilinViv and Karrin

How does my garden grow?

I have noticed that my garden has not been mentioned for quite a long time! Not because it hasn’t taken up much time but because it has looked rather unkempt and nothing dramatic has been happening. However just before the rain came I took some pictures to share with you all along with an update.

2 years ago I grew 3 dahlia plants to see if they grew OK here and if I could keep them overwinter. By bringing the pots into the south facing lean-to greenhouse that adjoins the living room and wrapping the pots in bubble wrap they survived so this year I bought more. Unsure which flower types I would prefer I bought a ‘collection’ of each. There were no labels to say which tuber was which colour so they went into the pots randomly and placed out ditto. They have thrived and although some of the colour combinations are not great they look pretty and colourful. I will try to find a way to label each tuber so I can do more artistic arrangements next year.

The roses have done well too. Most are either over or have got badly scorched in the heat but this one on the West facing end of the shed on the veg patch has bloomed consistently for months. I actually know the variety – danse du feu!

Without a heated propagation space my tomatoes and cucurbits have been slow but at last there are tomatoes formiing and I am just beginning to pick cucumber and courgette

I have picked over 7kg of blackcurrants and made jam, vinegar and bottled them. There is about 1 kg of raspberries in the freezer on top of those I ate. Rhubarb did well too and I could still pick more if I chose. The grape vines are heavy with fruit and even the apple trees, whoch have not produced for several years have some forming. Apricots formed but dropped off whilst still very small – a late frost combined with a broken door on the greenhouse? But the Peach will give us fruit.

I have been able to keep myself in salad leaves for months by using a mixture of foraged and grown. But now there are also sugar snap and maincrop peas and dwarf french beans.

I bought 3 types of carrot seed and Laura planted some of each in a big tub in the greenhouse so we could see which did best. The biggest are almost ready.

In addition to our efforts Nature has helped by self seeding. A large patch of parsley materialised and 3 beds have had a generous crop of volunteer poatoes! Way back I grew some purple skinned ones and discovered the hard way how difficult it is to see them against the soil. The tiny ones particularly escape me and grow again!

So there it is. Untidy, disorganised but generously productive.

Sadly the raised beds are beginning to rot so over the next few years I will need to gradually remove them. They were built for a 6 foot tall man and on the assumption that he and I would work on them for half the week. I am finding it hard to reach the middle of the bed and my energy is not as great as it was then. Even with Laura helping me 2 days a week it is hard to keep on top of things so I will redesign the plot so that it works better for me.

Kelly to the Rescue

We had three power cuts last week on three different days. None of them lasted more than about half an hour but all 3 coincided with me stopping for a cup of tea or coffee. As everything in this house is electric apart from the woodstove that meant no way of boiling a kettle unless I lit the fire and it was far too hot to do that. Luckily I have a Kelly kettle. These cunning devices were reputably invented by an Irish fisherman as a way of brewing hot drinks on a wooden boat in the middle of the sea. They are sometimes called Storm Kettles because they can be used in any weather.

The top part consist of a tube which is the chimney inside another tube enclosing water. This stands on a base which holds the fire. You fill the jacket with water through the spout. The bung keeps the water clean until you are ready to use the ketle but must then be removed or the steam fires it like a missile!

Put paper in the base with a bit sticking out through the air hole and cover it with small pieces of dry wood, stand the top on it and set a match to the paper. Then you feed more bits of wood down the chimney until the water boils. I always have plenty of shavings lying on my workshop floor which are perfect for this but and small dry twigs or kindling will do. Once you have a proper boil lift the top off the fire (an oven glove makes it easier) and use the bung on its chain to tilt the spout so water pours into your teapot or mug. Simple but very effective! I could have boiled just one mugful but I chose to fill the top up to the spout as it is then easier to see that it is boiling and put what I didn’t need into a flask in case the power was a long time coming back on.

Llama, Moo and an Awful Lot of Windows

Last weekend there was a workday for the Carmarthenshire Permaculture groiup at Llama and Moo’s plot in the South of the County. And, No, neither of them had really weird parents who gave them those names – they are nicknames which have stuck. Llama’s came from something on the radio which he and a group of mates were listening to and Moo’s is a shortening of her surname. They are a really lovely couple and if you also read my blog ‘Going Batty in the Woods’ you will have met them here ( making gates and a shavehorse for their plot.

A few years ago they bought a gently sloping field graced with 2 dilapidated static caravans and a lot of grass on the outskirts of a large village and began the process of applying for One Plant Development Planning permission, a planning consent unique to Wales which allows for a house to be built in an area not designated for housing if the owners can demonstrate that they will build and live sustainably including obtaining a lot of their needs from their plot. You can read more about it here ( Permission was finally granted just over a year ago. Whilst they were waiting for it they did a lot of work designing what would go where, planting trees and a garden, and accumulating scrap materials with which to build a home and outbuildings. They also clad the better of the 2 caravans with wood to make it less of an eyesore and they use it as their ‘site office’ – somewhere to shelter from showers, have a cuppa or their picnic lunch, and to store materials which cannot tolerate rain. For now they are living in a house in the village until they can build their dream home.

The advantage of being near the village is that there are a number of industrial units in it and these have proved a fruitful source of waste materials. One double glazing firm must have had a contract to replace all the windows in a big building or housing estate because Llama and Moo relieved them of over a thousand UPVC framed, single glazed windows and some double glazed ones which would otherwise have gone to landfill! The best ones will go in their new home. There were several huge ones with blinds between the panes which will make a wall of windows on the South elevation. Some have been carefully split apart to glaze a huge greenhouse on the back of the wood clad static – the greenhouse frame is made of scrap wood too. And some have been joined to make raised beds – now that’s a new one on me! They have also discovered a lot of materials in skips outside houses which are being refurbished. I was quite envious – around here I rarely see a skip and if I do all that is in it is rubble!

I missed the tour because I had to walk Roo before setting off so that when we arrived she was less energetic. But I was in time for the first task which was to form a human chain and move timber from the poorer static which Llama uses as a workshop to another shed and then sort stones, which will form the base of the greeenhouse walls, from lumps of concrete block which will be saved for another job. Then it was time to stop for lunch. We always have a ‘Bring and Share’ lunch and we take our own plates, cutlery and mugs so that our hosts don’t have to provide them or wash up. It always proves to be a feast with masses to eat and time to sit and chat so a lovely social occasion.

In the afternoon we laid cardboard around newly planted Kale which is being grown primarily for seed although any poor specimens will be eaten! A group of smallholders have organised themselves to grow different types of seeds and sell them through a co-operative organisation. You can find them here ( The cardboard was then covered with a layer of chipped wood – the way they use any scrap wood not worth saving and deadwood from their field. This mulch will reduce the amount of weeding required and eventually rot down and enrich the soil.

We all left at about 4pm, tired, but having had a lovely day with friends and with plenty to show for our efforts.

A touch of normality

My friend Marie runs a beautiful guesthouse near the coast between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. A very old farmhouse had a new Front added in Georgian times and must have been quite something with its day with its walled garden, stables and huge pleasure garden. But by the time Marie bought it its was in serious need of an upgrade inside and the garden was badly overgrown. A group of her friends volunteered to come for a weekend to help clear the brambles and ‘Slash and Burn’ was born. Twice a year until Covid intervened anyone who felt like a weekend of hard work but in a beautiful place with great (vegetarian) food was invited to help. I have been going for several years but as I live locally and have the dogs and cats to consider I just go for one of the days. It is huge fun working with a team some of whom I know from previous years and some I have never met before. The house is now warm and comfortable and the gardens beautiful but still with plenty of wildness. Take a look at the website

The house had been in the same family for generations but one by one parts of the estate had been sold until the last surviving member had only the gatehouse lodge which he used as a holiday home and the walled garden which was next to Marie’s vegetable patch. A few years ago he decided to sell the walled garden and Marie took the chance to buy it. In amongst the old apple trees were self seeded Ash and Sycamore which were, by this time, mature. The box hedging which edged the original beds was 20 feet high. The archway in was crumbling and the walls covered in ivy.

So for the last few years each ‘slash and burn’ has included work on the walled garden and this, the first since Covid struck, was no exception. Of course, Marie, her partner Rose, their indefatigable neighbour Andrew and their friend Hannah who volunteered throughout one winter, have done the bulk of the work. The self seeded trees, have been grubbed up, the box cut back severely, the ground cleared, the arch repaired and it is now a fruit garden. An old polytunnel frame has become a fruit cage, the box is recovering, and the bottom picture is not a graveyard but supports for raspberry canes!

In the meantime Marie and Rose took over a local business Fox Hill preserves making and selling jams, marmalades and chutneys so a flourishing fruit garden is exactly what they need. You can find them here

Being there has been like being inside the children’s book ‘The Secret Garden’!

Signs of (a rather confused) Spring

There are hazel catkins out everywhere in the hedgrows and my garden but these on the purple cobnut are particularly spectacular

The snowdrops under the trees at the entrance are out – a few days late but very welcome. There are crocus in the stream garden but very bedraggled so I didn’t take a photo.

In the protection of the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house the daffs and narcissi are cooming into bloom. The ones outside are well in bud.

The early rhubarb is coming up. It has tried before so I hope this time we don’t have a cold snap to set it back again.

A rather blurry photo – sorry – and it is too wet outside to go and take another! But I hope you can see the colour beginning to show on the Apricot in the top greenhouses.

The calendula and feverfew have kept blooming all winter in the top greenhouses though the plants are very straggly now.

The birds are tuning up too. Definitely the start of Spring!

Cinderella’s Carriage?

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.

You can just see the second one at the back – orange on top but still green at the base.

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.