Where did it go?

Did you notice I had not blogged for a while? Did you fantasise that I was soaking up the sun somewhere exotic? On a retreat where all access to the outside world was banned? Nope! Nothing so exciting or unusual. Just busy. You know what I mean – one minute it was early July and then the next it is October!

So where did Summer go? I actually had to check my diary!

There have been visits. I went to stay with my daughter for a weekend so we could go to IKEA for inspiration. I want to turn the old utility room into spare bedrooms. It was originally the garage so is big enough to attract a lot of ‘might come in useful one day’ clutter. 18 months ago I had a new shed built on an existing concrete slab to make a replacement utility space and am waiting for a local builder to come and fit it out for me. Meanwhile I am going through the old one getting rid of things – there is space on the shelves no as you can see in the picture! – and will eventually turn it into 2 spare bedrooms. I wanted to see what ideas I could pick up and knew that IKEA has a reputation for clever small space solutions. The nearest to here is Cardiff which is a long haul so I decided to visit my daughter and go with her to the one in Reading. To make it more of an adventure we got the bus into Basingstoke, the train to Reading and then another bus right to the door of IKEA. No navigating, no parking, we were able to look out of the windows and enjoy the journey whilst chatting as much as we liked.

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My son brought his 3 young foster children so there was an excuse to go to the beach and picnic in his camper van. And we went to a friend’s smallholding to pick damsons and see the animals. No pictures because as looked after children I am not allowed to publish their pictures.

My daughter came to stay and we visited another smallholding where I had a go at milking a goat. A bad idea that – now I want one!

And of course there were meals with friends – at their homes, in cafes and here. The deck really came into its own this summer.

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The utility room is not the only space to be de-cluttered. I am on a roll here. The house has been purged and now needs decorating (if only to get rid of the marks where I have taken down shelves!)The workshop is next.

There have been visits with the Permaculture networks which will get posts of their own in the next few weeks. And a lot happening at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust which I will also write about separately.

I went on a course at Stiwdio 3 in Cardigan (find out more here) to learn how to make a pair of espadrilles with the lovely Nia Denman and had a fantastic day. C & M Organics held another market – just one this year – where I spent more than I should have but got some really good plants as well as food. The Golden Thread Theater Company, normally based in Cardiff put on a performance at the Small World Theater in Cardigan which was a fascinating evening. They invite members of the audience to share very short stories of moments in their lives which the players then turn into improvised performances. The theme of the evening was ‘belonging’ which resulted in a huge range of stories and emotions. (you can find them on facebook)

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In between all those things I have tended the garden, continued to write up my Permaculture Diploma and foraged for blackberries, elderberries and sloes which I have bottled and made into jam. Now the weather has turned wet and windy, the nights are drawing in and hopefully I can get back to blogging.

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Scrap Happy August – a gate

It was too wet to work outside and I was struggling to think of something useful for Rob to do under cover when it occurred to me to offer to teach him how to make things out of green wood by us making a gate together. The one to the veg patch was an old one made out of slate lath and whilst it did the job it was not as beautiful or interesting as I wanted it to be.

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When we cut firewood last winter we had stacked some straight logs on the North side of the greenhouse where they would stay cool and slightly damp as material for just such a project.

We selected some pieces that would give us the right lengths and split them with the fro. Half rounds for the frame and eighths for the slats. (And yes the fro is the origin of ‘to and fro’)

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The side axe cleaned them all up a bit and roughly shaped the tenons on each end of the top and bottom rails. More detailed shaping was done with the drawknife on the shave horse.

The only powered tool we used was an electric drill to cut 2 holes for each mortice in the side uprights (which were then chiselled out to make oval holes) and pilot holes for the nails that hold the slats in place. I have since bought an augur bit for cutting the mortices by hand. The skill is in cutting the joints so they all go together smoothly even though the wood is curved and twisted!

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By the end of the day it was all put together. The only money spent was on a pair of new hinges. Not a bad result for a load of firewood!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and we all share our projects on the 15th of the month. You can see all the posts by using these links.

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, Pauline and Sue L (me!)

Scrap Happy July

Or how to be inspired by some-one else’s rubbish!

My neighbour has been doing a lot of work on his house and a large pile of rubble built up on his driveway. Some was taken by builders working on an extension to another house nearby which had to be built up over a slope so they dumped it under the floor. Someone else wanted some to put in a field gate that was very muddy but they never came for it. So most of it just sat there.

Meanwhile I was fed up with the area between the garden around the conservatory and the slope down to the lower garden. It is full of bindweed which makes walking from the deck to the workshop and woodshed hazardous. I found myself detouring through the garden and greenhouse to a better path. Plus the bindweed jumped the timber edge (or tunneled under it) and came up to strangle my plants. I scythed it down but what I needed was a hard path to give it some serious discouragement.

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Brainwave!

I got Rob (who lives in the cabin and works 2 days in place of rent) on the job. First we needed something to contain the rubble. Many years ago John and I bought some heavy lengths of treated timber to build raised beds and there were a few left over. One was still in the car-port. To hold it in place he used some fence pins put aside because they were bent which he cut up into shorter straight pieces. Then I found 2 rolls of mulch fabric in the garden shed which were more than enough to cover the space and be stapled to the sides.

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The next day we scoured the garden for abandoned concrete blocks left over from other projects. There were two stacks on the veg patch smothered in ivy, a few beside the path through the fruit garden, another stack in the old pig sty and several others dotted around the car port and drive area. Those we laid to make the main path. (There are still a few left in the pig sty in case another scrappy project comes along!) Then we filled in with rubble barrowed down from the neighbour’s heap.

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When (When..) we get some rain it will all settle but we did not use all the rubble so we can top it up. And when it finishes settling I will buy (yes, sorry, buy) some sand or gravel to finish the job neatly.

So not quite a totally scrappy job but almost!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate who blogs as ‘Tall tales from Chiconia’. You can find her and links to all the other happy scrappers here

A Quick Update on Trees from Seed

If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember I posted about growing trees from seed (read it again here). None of the Apricots which had germinated in the fridge survived but 3 more sprouted after I put them in compost in the greenhouse and they seem to be thriving. And a cherry picked from a tree in my daughter’s garden has germinated too. The fruit on her tree are so bitter that they are inedible and even the birds leave them alone! It is therefore very ornamental with spring blossom and beautiful crimson fruit which hangs there for ages.

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What has been really impressive is the apple pips. I have no idea how many I had saved but so far I have pricked out 138 plants, no that is not a typo! And there are lots more still in the trays but ready to go into pots. These are, of course, unknown crosses so there is no way of knowing whether they will be crabs, cider, cooker, eater or just horrible. Not all will survive but they will fill quite a lot of space and as I have chalara on the Ash trees they will be welcome.

A Little Bit of Magic

Regular readers will know that I belong to both the Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Permaculture groups and am a regular at their meetings. (You can read about previous visits here here,here,and here

Last Sunday I was the host. The sun shone so we were all able to sit out on the new deck (more about that here). With 16 adults and two small children it felt comfortably full but not a squash. After cups of tea and coffee plus cake (my nickname is Sue cake!) and a chance to meet up and chat we spent a few moments remembering one of our group who had just died suddenly and sending loving thoughts to his wife. Linda from The Woodland Farm (the woodland farm)had brought a beautiful bunch of her flowers and I lit a candle for him.

Then I explained my how I was going about the designs for my Diploma in Permaculture Design which focuses around planning how I can continue to thrive into advanced old age despite living in such a rural place. We toured the garden so they could see how I had begun to implement those plans and the changes since their previous visit.

Everybody brings something to share for lunch and it was laid out on my kitchen table. What a spread! Almost all the dishes had been grown or made at home – beautiful salads, home made breads, fermented veg from Phil and his partner Lauren at Parc y Dderwenfind them on facebook here. Most people also remembered to bring their own plate, mug and cutlery so there was hardly any washing up for me to do later.

Usually everyone helps the host with a job in the afternoon – a chance to have a lot of hands and, in my case, some younger muscle on one of those big jobs which are daunting for one person on their own. This time I decided that what the garden needed most was appreciating! I work on it but do not make enough time to just sit and enjoy it. So I invited everyone to wander, sit, enjoy and chat. I am so glad I did because watching them relax and find pleasure in what I have created was hugely rewarding – a little bit of magic indeed!

My grateful thanks to Brian for taking photos whilst I was too busy to manage a camera and to Phil for the picture of my mindmap.

Wilderness to Wonderful

The area immediately south of the house has always been a problem. Originally two tied, farm workers’ cottages and a cowshed were built here but they were abandoned in the 50’s, bought in the 70’s for a song then renovated and extended as one dwelling. The old front doors faced south with a path of massive slates all along that side to allow access. They were picturesque but lethally slippery when wet. From there a steep bank dropped to the more level gardens next to the stream and when we arrived there were faint traces of steps down to them. The door into the living room was very heavy, solid and difficult to open. Around it a porch had been built of reclaimed wood and windows but it was rotting away and although lino (also disintegrating) had been laid over the slates weeds were coming up in the gaps. Something had to be done – but other things such as plumbing and wiring took priority.

After a few years we had the remains of the porch demolished, the slabs lifted and a concrete path laid in its place. Our plan was to replace the solid door with a glazed one and build a lean-to greenhouse over most of the south face for solar gain and insulation. Sadly John died before that phase was started but eventually I got those jobs done. The sitting room went from gloomy and chilly to light and comfortable.

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That left the bank! I planted shrubs but they were no match for the bindweed, nettles and brambles which had infested the ground and got their roots deep down into the stone. On such an uneven slope crawling around trying to chop down the weeds with secateurs and shears was backbreaking and it really needed to be done several times a year. In addition the double doors of the greenhouse opened onto nothing and cleaning the glass involved teetering on a narrow strip of ground. There was a tiny area outside the kitchen where I could sit with a cup of coffee or eat lunch but if one person came it was a squeeze and with two visitors impossible. There had to be a better solution.

Using a digger to remove all the material back to a vertical below the path risked de-stabilising the path and house and I would have to build a facing wall. Terracing the slope would give very narrow terraces and the same problem of undermining the house. To build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope and fill in behind to create a terrace would be prohibitively expensive.

It was when I went to visit Jono and Pamela Gaunt that the solution stared me in the face! In a similar situation they had built a huge curvaceous deck which appeared to float above the valley. With their permission I explored underneath it and worked out how it had been built taking lots of photographs of the construction. Could I do something similar? Did I have the carpentry skills and physical strength?

A chance conversation reminded me that my friend Martin had worked for a local landscaper building garden structures so I sought his help. He came, he looked, we measured and we planned. He was happy to do the job and, like me, favoured a design with curves, built of solid local timber rather than off-the-shelf decking boards. The Gaunt’s deck was one level with space for an outdoor kitchen underneath but I didn’t think I would use such a space. Should we create a shed under there? My experience is that sheds get filled with clutter. So Martin suggested that we make two levels. Once the sides were blocked with trellis or shrubs there would be very little light for the weeds which should give up.

The first job was to clear the bank rescuing the better shrubs and replanting them somewhere else then cover it with old carpet to discourage regrowth until the deck could be built. As I had broken my wrist Marie and Rose did that job for me. (You can read that post here)

To a large extent the detail of the design had to be made up as we went along since the posts had to go where blocks could be placed to support them out of the wet without too much digging out. At the end of day 1 I realised that although it was pretty much as we had agreed it was too small for a really big, sociable table. Luckily Martin and Pete had had the same thought and were very happy to extend the lower level. That meant there were not enough planks to finish the job and more had to be ordered. I was able to use the top level after only a couple of weeks (Martin and Pete could only work here 2 days a week and some weeks Martin was away so nothing happened. They were so good and so nice to have around I was happy to wait) The lower one was only finally completed in the autumn.

Now I step out of the sitting room into the greenhouse and then through the double doors to a beautiful level area where I can sit with my coffee or lunch and enjoy the view of the stream, or down easy steps to the bigger level if I am having friends over. The big, self-seeded Ash gives dappled shade to the big table in summer and the small sycamore does the same for the top deck in the evening. We even managed to incorporate a small pond and there is a long, curving bench to fill the gap betwen the levels. Bliss!

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One Good Turn…

My friends Marie and Rose come over during the Christmas break each year to help me in my garden for a day and twice a year, when they have a ‘slash and burn’ event I go to help them. Some years ago when Marie bought her guest house the garden was a jungle. At the time she was working in an office to pay the bills and work on the house was her priority so a group of her friends offered to visit and spend a weekend working on clearing the garden and described it as ‘slash and burn’, a name which has stuck!. This became a regular event every early spring and autumn and the garden is now beautiful. It also provides a lot of the food (all vegetarian) she cooks for her guests and a surplus which she sells at the award winning St Dogmael’s produce market. You can find out more and see pictures of the house and garden here

Two years ago the opportunity arose to buy the adjoining walled garden which used to supply the house with vegetables and fruit. It too had been neglected for many years. The box hedges were tall trees, self-sown ash and sycamore were growing in the beds and the stone walls were covered in ivy. The apple trees still produced an amazing crop of fruit every year and seemed to be very rare old varieties. The chance would not come again for many years so Marie took a deep breath, borrowed some money and bought it. And so another slash and burn project began!

Over last winter, with the help of next-door neighbour Andrew and one of Marie’s friends who was staying with her the entrance was repaired, the self-sown trees felled, the box hedges cut down and the beds dug ready for planting. When I arrived on the Saturday morning to join the group of volunteers the space looked so much bigger and the apple trees seemed to be breathing freely again!

The job we were given was to clear the base of the back, south facing, wall of ivy and dig out the roots at its base to clear a bed ready for planting with soft fruit which would be trained up it. Pulling the ivy off the walls was a painstaking job but fairly easy; getting the roots out was hard work and Andrew set up his winch on the biggest ones. Molly couldn’t resist having a go with it!

I was not able to go on the Sunday when planting began but I was thrilled to see that some blackcurrant cuttings I had taken off bushes in the main garden when I pruned them at a slah and burn a couple of years ago were ready to be put out in one of the big beds. When I went to one of Rose’s events on the following Tuesday I took some rooted cuttings of Worcesterberry from my garden and a couple of grapevines, also grown from cuttings off my seedless white desert grape. I can’t wait to see the garden when all the clearing and replanting is finished and I love the thought that I have played a small part in bringing it back from dereliction and propagated some of the new plants.