Scrap Happy May

I was reading a post by Lynn (see the link to her site below) who had been making a box using the French craft of cartonnage. I have loads of pieces of fabric and balls of yarn stored in old cardboard boxes which do the job but look scruffy. How much nicer my workroom would look if they were attractive in their own right.

I looked up cartonnage on the internet and discovered that the boxes are made to measure by cutting up very strong card, glueing the pieces together then covering them. Some of the examples were exquisite. But it would take forever to make enough for all my stuff. Not to mention the fact that give me a pot of glue and I stick everything in sight together except the thing I am trying to stick!

So ‘bastard’ cartonnage it had to be. Since the pet shop in Cardigan closed I get dental chews for the dogs delivered every 2 months from Amazon and they come in a sturdy cardboard box. In one of those unsightly boxes in the loft I found a set of curtains and some matching sheeting which were given to me for recycling by a friend who had redecorated. (They are lilac despite looking blue in the photo.) The curtain fabric would be strong for the outside and thick enough to obscure the printing on the carton, whilst the thinner sheeting would do well for the inside.

Et Voila! (well it is a French craft!)

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When I do another one I will do it slightly differently and if I am feeling brave I will use a bit of glue to hold things in place. At least the outside is reasonably tidy and, it is more sightly than when it was bare and it holds things! I had hoped to do a second improved version before writing this post but the weather is good and I have seedlings needing to be planted out!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun. Here are the links for everyone who joins in from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

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

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

Blessings # 6 – Family and friends

I realised this morning that now I cannot go out I have fallen back into an old routine. For many years my late husband, John, had a severely compromised immune system from all the cancer treatment he had had so we effectively self-isolated all the time. There were trips to the GP surgery and the hospital and a weekly shopping trip where he drove me to the supermarket and waited in the car whilst I whizzed round with my shopping list and then drove me home. Family couldn’t visit because they brought ‘strange’ germs and he always ended up in hospital again. Similarly any of our friends who were not local which was the vast majority. As I indicated in my last post communication was much more difficult and with such restricted lives our conversation was hardly sparkling so gradually most of those friends drifted away.

After he died I was able to have much more contact with my family but distance was still a factor with them and I knew it would take time for relationships to adjust, settle and grow. My grandchildren hardly knew me. I realised that I was very dependent on the kindness of a few very generous neighbours.

So I decided I needed to build a new social life relatively close to home. It sounds cold-blooded put like that but as I was retired and live in a fairly isolated place the world was hardly going to beat a path to my door asking me out to play! I accepted every invitation to go to events. I joined a Welsh class knowing that many of the other students would be people who had moved to the area fairly recently. I found a yoga class, signed up for craft courses, looked for volunteering opportunities…. A lot of these things proved a waste of time either because the activity didn’t appeal or because the people I met were not particularly friendly. But little by little I found places where I felt I belonged and people who welcomed me. If you have been reading this blog for a while you will have met many of them. And those of you who read and comment are forming another circle who I enjoy ‘meeting’ and who extend my horizons.

Looking ahead to my 70th Birthday this summer and how I might celebrate it I became aware of just how many people I would love to invite to share it with me. All plans are, of course, on hold but just knowing that all those connections exist makes me feel truly blessed.

Blessing # 3 – C is for Challenges

I have a low boredom threshold! To keep doing the same things in the same way drives me nuts! It is why I have accumulated so many hobbies and activities and am having to reluctantly admit I can’t do them all. But still I need new challenges.

Sometimes the challenge is to learn a new skill or extend an old one. A month ago I found a book of knitting patterns in the library – Viking knits & Ancient Ornaments by Elsebeth Lavold. She describes a whole series of interlocking designs, gives patterns for the motifs and some very elegant garments with the motifs on them. I am a sucker for celtic knots so I borrowed the book. The yarns she suggests are not ones I can source locally and before I could go into the wool shop in Cardigan market and find an equivalent we were all told to stay home. But I was itching to see if I could cope with some new techniques and keep track of a complex sequence of cables so I picked one of the motifs and knitted a cushion cover using yarn I already had. I finished the knitting last night but have not had time yet to stitch it up. I was going to make buttonholes in the back to allow me to take it off for washing – the cats drop hairs all over my cushions so they need regular washing – but dedided to make some loops on the edge instead using a technique I adapted from the hair of the glove puppets I have been working on. read about them here if you missed them

Sometimes it is a bigger or longer one like working for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I have to write up and submit ten designs I have done. In my case these are all about designing my life so that I can live as well as possible into advanced old age. The designing is great fun but the writing it all up with detailed explanations of the choices I made is proving very tedious! Why am I doing it? It has no practical use to me since there is nothing I want to do which requires me to have it. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could, that my designing skills were good enough, my understanding of Permaculture was deep enough. And now I am too stubborn to give up! My amazing, wonderful daughter found this poster to sum it all up for me and it will form the cover of my portfolio.

diploma cover quote

In praise of hedges

I spent Sunday at a field just outside Fishguard on the North West coast of Pembrokeshire. One of the members of the Permaculture group has just bought it with the intention of creating a small nature reserve with a wild flower meadow, lots of trees and shrubs, a couple of ponds and somewhere to sit and enjoy it all. He has had the ponds dug and is waiting to see what sets up home there. Some trees have been planted but one of our tasks was to plant more and in particular to put in a double row of saplings along the track leading to the field to grow into a hedge.

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Janey, Ian and I planted the hedge

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Brian and Denise stripped patches of turf off the area where the wildflower meadow will be and strewed meadow hay full of seeds on the bare ground

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our base camp!

Around here most of the farmers have their hedges cut back almost to the ground every autumn using a flail on a tractor. The flail, for those of you who have never encounteed one, is a cutting head like an old fashioned push along lawn mower – a collection of sharp blades spiralling round a central axle

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The result is a hedge which is neither use nor ornament!

No use to keep stock in, no use for birds to nest in or small animals to hide in and producing no fruit or berries. I look at the ugly, mangled stems and feel so sorry for the plants.

Many years ago, before tractors and such like machinery became ubiquitous, farm workers spent days and days in the winter keeping the hedges in good order. It was cold, hard, skilled work and I can quite understand why they would much prefer to sit in a warm cab letting red diesel power through the job! I suspect that it will also be cheaper to do it that way.

Since I have the time and have learnt the skill I lay my hedges the old-fashioned way. My trusty billhook does most of the work. I use it to sharpen posts which I knock in with a lump hammer. The stems are then partly severed, bent down then woven round the posts. I have a bowsaw (or a pruning saw to get into small gaps) to take out any stems too big to weave in or which are surplus to requirements (some of the multi stem hazels are just too dense). Those cut stems are set aside. The thicker bottoms make posts and the brash can be woven in where the gaps between trees are too big or the trees too weedy as ‘dead hedge’ to fill the space and provide cover for the new saplings I put in to thicken the hedge up.

I don’t have livestock but the resulting boundaries are very effective at keeping my elderly lurcher, Orchid, from wandering off in pursuit of interesting smells. As the trees put out new branches and the whole tangle gets thicker, wider, denser, they will provide a safe place for small creatures and food for them too.

This winter Rob has cleared old dead willows (the remains of some planting my husband did many years ago) from a section of the top boundary, coppiced the living trees and laid the hedges north and East of the orchard. I have almost finished the one on the southern edge of the orchard, cleared the brambles under the apple trees and trained the old loganberry.

There are saplings ready to plant out between the hedge and the top fence. I have chosen species which will provide fruit or nuts for the wildlife – apples (from pips), hazel, holly and hawthorn which I have weeded out of veg beds and rowan which I have bought. Hopefully in a few years time there will be a narrow strip of productive woodland that joins the much bigger wood that I rent beyond my Western boundary and the smaller one to the East.

Even though quite a lot of the material cut out has been used to dead hedge, there are still piles of wood to go for firewood. Many a small farm produced all its fuel from the hedges.

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An entirely natural and sustainable boundary, a resource for wildlife and a source of fuel – what’s not to like?!

I am looking forward to going back to Howard’s field in a few years time and helping to lay that new hedge as part of his wider plan for a small patch of biodiversity in a green desert of farmland.

What if – an update

If, like me, you rarely tick the ‘notify me’ box at the end of the comments or go back to read later ones you may well have missed the link Jasmine offered. It is a long read and not very comfortable but it is really thought provoking and, in a strange way, very empowering. It will take me time to digest it. If you are interested in pursuing the ideas I started exploring I am offering the link again here

A quick apology

If I follow your blog I need to apologise to you.

I have been using my phone to check emails, click on links, read your posts and comment. I now find that those comments have disappeared into a black hole in cyberspace and never reach you. If I just say I like the colours of your quilt or the photo of your garden that is not so bad. But some of you have recently posted about losing dear friends or other things which are upsetting you. I am so cross that my responses to you have been lost. My apologies for not realising sooner that the support I offered you did not reach you.

It seems the only way to ensure that comments get through is to log into WordPress on my laptop, but I cannot do that whilst having breakfast or stirring a pan in the kitchen. So from here on I will be slower to respond to you (though given the black hole you might experience it as quicker!) The same delay will apply to responding to comments you make on my posts. I really do value them.

Sue

The Rules of Knitting

You may remember that a while ago I wrote a post about things I had been making, including 2 cushions. (If you missed it you can read it here) One was a present for my daughter and made of fabric, the other was knitted using some wool left over from another project. I noticed that I made the fabric one during the day and the knitted one in the evening whilst sitting with my feet up. Which sort of made sense – to cut out fabric on a big table or to sew on the machine I go into my studio over the utility room. To go up there after dark when it is colder took more effort than sitting in front of the fire.

But now spring has come, the evenings are light and the weather is warm and still I only do sewing in the day! Then I realised that I had inherited this pattern from my mother. The more I thought about it the more curious it seemed. It was only when I began to remember my childhood home that it all began to make sense.

My mother kept her hand powered singer sewing machine (so no integral light!) in the tiny ‘boxroom’ which had a fold out camp bed for visitors but was essentially used for storage. To use the machine she carried it down to the living room and used the dining table so it had to be put away in order to serve the evening meal. After that she would sit with my father and watch TV – and knit at the same time.

I also realised that, like many houses of that era, there were no table lamps, and certainly nothing like the flexible task lamps we have now. In fact, I now remember, there wasn’t even a standard lamp which she could have had by her chair. Each room had a central pendant light so that to do sewing involved moving a table so that the light fell on it (but never as bright a light as I would expect to have now) or positioning it in front of a window. Another reason for sewing in daylight. Knitting, of course, can be done with weaker light – at least if it is fairly simple. Hers always was rather ‘functional’! Endless plain jumpers in sensible colours.

Now my studio is well lit with strip lights down each side of the ceiling and a choice of task lights. I have a fan heater in there so that I can be warm whatever the outside temperature.

So Why? Oh Why? can I not sew in the evening or knit in the afternoon? But I feel ‘all wrong’ if I try!

If you are still bound by old, irrelevant rules I would love to hear about them. I would feel less stupid!

A muted Hooray!

The BBC’s Welsh news carried a report this morning that ‘the UK Committee on Climate Change is advising that Wales should cut the numbers of sheep and cattle, plant more trees and encourage heavy industry to clean up’ (read the full article here) What’s not to like?

Weeeellll?

Whilst some smallholders of my acquaintance keep sheep and poultry primarily as pets not many of them keep cows. Cows, at least on any commercial scale, involve getting up at silly o’clock every morning, seven days a week, bank holidays and Christmas included, to do the milking. And repeating the procedure in the late afternoon meaning that even a day out has to be a short one. At the large organic dairy farm up the road Charlie, the manager, milks over 200 cows every day except between Christmas and Easter-ish time when the cows are dry because they are pregnant. At the moment he is calving (regular checks, helping any cows which are struggling to deliver their calf and frequent visits from the vet for the problem cases) AND milking the cows who have had their calves AND feeding the calves which are old enough to be taken off their mothers. He cares about his cows but he does it because it is a job, it keeps a roof over his family’s head and food on the table. Even if only one or two cows are kept, as Michelle and Phil do at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust (links at the bottom of this post) going on holiday is a logistic nightmare

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Sheep are just as demanding. At lambing time shepherds sleep in their clothes and patrol at frequent intervals day and night ready to intervene if a sheep is distressed. And there is hoof trimming, fly-strike prevention (Flies lay their eggs in the mucky wool at the rear end of a sheep, the eggs hatch and the maggots eat the flesh into sores. Regular trimming of the wool and vigilance are needed to prevent it) and then there is shearing…

Like most of us farmers get satisfaction from doing a job they are good at and of course there are compensations but for most it is as stressful as any other type of self-employment and physically grueling. Farming is not for whimps!

So reducing numbers of livestock would help them right? Would you be happy to take a pay cut even if it meant working less hard? No, I thought not.

The Government seems to be taking the Marie Antoinette approach ‘Let them eat cake’. Or rather ‘Let them diversify’

farm cottages

That often means tourism. Not every farmhouse is easily adaptable to B&B. Not every farm has a set of picturesque outbuildings ripe for conversion to holiday cottages and not every farmer makes a good host. Even if you enjoy welcoming people into your home and have the right infrastructure it is hard work and a precarious business. And it has implications for the community. Until Pemberton’s Chocolate Farm closed I regularly encountered drivers who were quite unable to reverse to a passing place along these single track lanes. So instead of them going back 100 yards I would reverse a quarter of a mile. An irritation for me but no joke if you are in a tractor with a trailer behind waiting whilst they panic and weave their way slowly back, or are a courier driver with an algorithm imposing deadlines on you that take no account of such things (townies all, those algorithms!) More importantly some villages on the coast have become ghost towns in Winter – they might as well put up a ‘Closed’ sticker on the ‘Welcome to..’ sign on the road in.

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Plan B is ‘Added value’. Make your milk into yoghurt or ice-cream, get your fleeces spun and sell the wool or, better still, knit or weave it and sell your crafts, sell your meat direct to the customer on-line. Animals were traditionally sold through the marts and not every farmer can, or wants to, become an entrepreneur. And as for on-line, unless there is serious investment in good broadband for rural areas, dream on sunshine. Read about my switch to a satellite based system (here) Compared with the speeds and reliability on my landline it is fabulous but pathetic compared to the service my son gets in Luton.

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my internet satellite dish

So unless the drive to reduce livestock numbers is associated with increased farm payments, or increased prices for the food they produce, or investment in alternative employment and infrastructure, the result will be even more rural poverty and homelessness.

Secondly, what about those fields which will no longer have animals in them? Left to their own devices they will become massive bramble patches with a few chest high docks and nettles thrown in. Not what the tourists pay to come and see. Give them a few decades and they will transition through scrub woodland (mainly blackthorn round here) to woodland. Of course they could be planted with trees to shorten the process. The Government could fund that and pay farmers ‘rent’ for the land. They could call it a ‘carbon sequestration services payment’. Mmm can’t see it happening somehow, not in the long term. And sitting at home living, effectively, on benefit would not be good for the mental health of the farmers. They could be encouraged to manage the woodland but that is a very different skill set from farming and one they would have to learn. Even if they did where would the market be for all that extra firewood, coppice product and timber? What would they live on until the trees were big enough to be harvested? Questions, questions, questions and a shortage of answers.

Thirdly those animals currently supply the food chain. Unless the population as a whole reduces its consumption of dairy produce, eggs and meat, the shortfall will be cheerfully filled by the supermarkets importing more. There would be no reduction in global carbon emissions because no overall reduction in animal numbers. But the animals would probably be reared to lower welfare standards according to the expert I heard on the food programme (listen to it here) Wales could feel virtuous by ‘off-shoring’ the problem.

If only life was simple!

I will welcome comments, arguments, or questions whether you agree with me or take a different view, but please keep them respectful, thoughtful and evidence based.

My pictures are supplemented by ones from my good friend Michelle Laine of Scythe Cymru – find out more about her and her family’s low impact lives here and on facebook here The picture of farm cottages for holidays is from google images.

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.

Nature is amazing

Each year I save tree seeds when I can. Mostly these are from fruit I am given or buy to eat although last year I picked up acorns that had fallen on a nearby lane and that I spotted on one of my dog walks. So by late autumn I had acorns, apple pips (mostly from fruit given me by Marie at Over the Rainbow), plum apricot, peach and cherry stones, and rowan berries from the young tree I planted a couple of years ago. I also had some bright red cherries from the tree in my daughter’s garden which are so horribly sour and bitter they are inedible but even the birds turn their beaks up at them so the tree is very ornamental! All these I put into peat or sand in recycled plastic cartons and stored in the fridge to chill over winter.

A couple of weeks ago I retrieved them to begin putting them into trays of compost in the greenhouse to see what would grow. Last year I got quite a few apples, a cherry and a sweet chestnut so I was quite hopeful that something would come of them.

To my amazement when I opened the first pot, which was Apricot stones in dry sand, there were several which had germinated! Only 2 look good enough to survive but even so! Years ago my late husband ate an apricot and found the stone had split and the seed was beginning to grow so he potted it up and later planted it in the greenhouse. It fruited well but because of his poor health he didn’t prune it well enough or consistently enough and it grew too big so had to be taken out. Maybe I can be more successful now that I have more greenhouse space and am able to prune every year. I looked in the second pot labelled Apricot and found that in that one I had used damp peat – no sign of germination there. Maybe they were a different variety of apricot or from a different orchard but I was curious as to whether it was the sand / peat that made the difference.

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Then I opened the pots of apples – some of the ones with damp compost had germinated whilst the ones with sand had not! Again I cannot be sure that any will survive but again my interest was piqued. Was the difference between the two types of tree significant or just chance?

Sadly nothing else was showing signs of life but then nothing germinated in the fridge last year. They are all now in good compost in trays and I will wait and see. I have made a note to myself to be more methodical next year about splitting batches and experimenting with different media to store them in. I still have so much to learn about gardening! One of the permaculture principles i ‘Observe and Interact’ so that is what I shall do – but in a more organised way than usual!