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 (https://goingbattyinthewoods.wordpress.com/2022/04/07/a-last-hurrah) 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 (https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/the-power-of-a-good-planning-policy). 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 (http://www.seedhub.wales) 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.

Building Resilience

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that a few years ago I started planning to prepare for my old age. Yes, I am in my 70’s but I don’t feel old yet (well not most days!). I am planning for my 90’s and later and anticipating maybe less robust good health. But I have no wish to move to somewhere ‘sensible’, a bungalow in a village with a bus service. I like it here, I have brilliant neighbours but to stay here for the duration means planning for problems.

Amongst those problems were the things over which I have no control like pandemics and climate change. And lately two things have shown up a hole in that resilience.

The first is that here in the UK elctricity prices have soared. They are predicted to rise again in April when the Government allows companies to charge more. That will mean the price has doubled in a very short time. The problem is that although there has been a huge increase in renewable generation the National Grid still needs to have gas powered stations on stand-by for the times when demand surges – the early evening when everyone gets in from work, breakfast time when showers, kettles and toasters all go on, even the ad break in a popular Soap Opera when lots of people make a cuppa. And Gas is sold on the global market with a current shortage of supply. Several electricity supply companies have gone bust recently because the price rises to them caught them out. Their customers had to be transferred to other providers which has given headaches to both the customers (they lost a good price deal and went onto a higher tarrif) and the companies that had to accept them. The upshot is that as I have an Air Surce Heat Pump to heat my home my bills have increased dramatically even though it is a pretty efficient system. I can pay them but it means cutting back elsewhere and losing some of the fun things. Petrol prices have risen less dramatically but filling my car takes more money than it did a few months ago. And transport costs going up means food and other things go up too. What is a girl to do?

My Heat Pump works well – but at a cost!

In the long term everything will even out, gas prices will stabilise, but I cannot imagine that energy in any form will be much cheaper. Except wood which grows happily without any cost to me and which I can, and do, cut without recourse to fossil fuels.

I have a small woodstove as back up to the Heat Pump but it is not very powerful and certainly cannot heat the whole house. Time for a rethink.

The second sign of trouble has been that we have had two major storms this week and a third is forecast for tonight. The Met Office gives storms names only if they pose a threat and we have had Dudley and Eunice so far this week and Franklin has just been named and is expected tonight. Warnings are issued to help us prepare – yellow means a low risk but that damage cannot be ruled out, orange that damage is likely and red that it is pretty much inevitable. Eunice warranted a RED warning which is very rare. On Thursday I had an email from my home insurer reminding me how to make a claim, giving me my policy number to make it easier to identify myself, and telling me they had arranged for extra staff in their call center; and another from Western Power Distribution who manage the power lines telling me they had cancelled all routine work, had all their engineers on stand-by with helicopters to move them if flight was possible and they too had extra call center staff to deal with queries. They were clearly putting their contingency plans for a major incident into operation! In the event my house was perfectly safe and my garden suffered very little damage – one dying Ash tree fell but hit nothing important and one door blew off one greenhouse. This morning there were two fairly short power cuts and as I have been writing this I have had a message that there are problems with the water supply in my area. Other people fared much worse.

Apologies for the poor quality photo – it was blowing a hooley and the rain was horizontal!

Whether you believe in climate change (I do) or not it is clear that extreme weather events are becoming more common. Which means power cuts will become more common. Understandably when there is widespread disruption to the electricity network the first jobs tackled are those which get most people reconnected. In this remote rural place we are at the end of the queue. I have a couple of advantages – Because I am old and disabled I am perceived as vulnerable (I can hear you laughing – I do too!) but they can deal with that by passing my details to Social Services or the Red Cross to check on me and provide help if I need it. My big scret weapon is cows. My neighbour at the dairy farm up the hill milks over 200 cows twice a day and no way can that be done by hand. So if the power goes off it is an emergency and, to be fair, Western Power always get them reconnected quickly even if it means bringing in a generator or other temporary equipment. And that usually means I get power too. But at present in a power cut I have no heating and no means of cooking.

So I have decided to invest in a bigger wood burner in my sitting room. Which means having the old liner in the chimney removed and a new one put in. Apparantly the old one will be coming to the end of its life and it is better to have all the disruption in one go. It has taken me weeks to decide on the best stove and firm and it will be May before it can be installed. I was dismayed that most of the firms I contacted just told me to choose a fire and then they would fit it for a fixed fee. Their advice on how big the new stove should be seemed to be plucked out of thin air. It was Mr Snail who pointed out that for most people these stoves are nice accessories for the sitting room, lit on Christmas Day and maybe other high days and holidays, nice to have in a power cut but very much an adjunct to the central heating. How it looks is then the crucial factor in the choice. Only one firm understood that I wanted to use one as my main heat source. And I wanted to be able to boil a kettle or simmer a stew on it on a regular basis. My Heat Pump will still be there and will be maintained. In very cold weather the fire may not provide enough heat to keep the chill off the bedroom or kitchen and I may want to supplement it with the radiators. Or if I am too ill to cut wood or keep the fire going I need another heat source. But for the most part I will heat my home on free wood and do some cooking with it too. That should reduce my elctricity bills to a more manageable level and restore my capacity to have money for fun.

A permaculture principle is ‘Every function should be supported by more than one element and every element should serve more than one function’. That is a definition of resilience. I am getting there.

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

hedge cutting

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.

Egos and Gaia

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the nature of work and what work we value (if you missed it read it here). Another idea which has been buzzing around in my head was sparked first by something Cassandra Lishman wrote on the Lammas facebook page.

For those of you who have not come cross it before Lammas is an eco-village which was established on an over-grazed sheep field just over the hill from my home. Each household has its own plot and has built (or is in the process of building) some kind of dwelling on it under  the One Planet Development planning policy (read my post on that here) of which it was a pioneer. The access tracks , community hub building, water and hydro-electricity supplies and some other things are held in common. You can read more about it here.  You may even have seen the building of  Simon and Jasmine Dale’s home on ‘Grand Designs’ or read about the fire which destroyed it on New Year’s Day 2018.

Anyway, like all villages Lammas, being full of people, is not always all sweetness and light.  There have been disputes over all the things neighbours fall out about fueled by the passions and dogged persistence that enabled the project to happen in the first place. The point Cassandra made (as I understood it) was that much of it came down to over-inflated egos – my truth is the truth and so you, with your truth, are wrong.

Then Jasmine (now living locally in a rented home and planning to sell their plot and do something different) sent me a draft of an article she had written for an on-line magazine, Dark Mountain, for me to critique before she submitted it. It was about the life journey they had taken and which had led them to Lammas and now to uncertainty about the next stage. Like many of us they had seen that humanity has damaged the earth and had thrown themselves heart and soul into trying to do something about it. So much self-denial and striving had left them battered, bruised, dispirited and having to re-assess.

The third strand was a novel about an alcoholic who eventually achieved sobriety with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous but only after she had reached rock bottom and admitted that she could not do it for herself. Inevitably there was a lot of detail about the AA programme and how it works with the word ‘ego’ occurring frequently and being seen as the block to progress.

Mmmm!

We call this era the Anthropocene. We have changed Gaia in ways we never planned, never anticipated and we have only a vague idea what the consequences may be. Probably we did so because we came to see ourselves as separate from, and vastly superior to, everything else. It was all there for us to benefit from; to use and abuse as we liked. The problem has been our over-inflated egos, our lack of humility.

But maybe, just maybe, our next mistake will be to think that we should / could put it right. Like some heroic surgeon, god incarnate with a scalpel, we want to make it better (and make a name for ourselves in the process?). We will look for techno-fixes which we hardly understand and the consequences of which we can barely guess at. We will fall out over the best strategy – No more plastic straws, permaculture, organic, sylvo-pasture, vegan, extinction rebellion… My truth is the truth. Egos again!

My experience of living on this plot of land for 24 years tells me that if Gaia could speak she would probably tell us all to get out of the way. She is perfectly capable of healing herself if we would only stop interfering.

So.. I stop cutting down trees for firewood? Get rid of everything with a plug on it (even solar panels have high embodied energy)? Eat only what I forage? Socialise and exchange ideas only with people who live within walking distance?  No thanks!

But I can try to live ever more lightly on the land. I can ask myself what impact my choices are having on the world around me. I can stop imposing my ideas, designs and will on my land and ask what it wants to be – then we negotiate. I am a part of nature. I do not need to abase myself or deny myself the things I need (need not want). Hair shirts are not sources of joy. There is no need to actively deflate my ego.

Will I ever get the balance right, my ego its correct size? Who knows. Probably not. Or is this whole piece a load of arrogant nonsense?

 

The Gift Economy

I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks picking fruit and vegetables from the garden and hedgerows and preserving it for winter. Most of the mushrooms I picked in my neighbour’s field were dried, as were some of my cooking apples (the first crop off the tree in years!), and some apples and other fruits were bottled or made into jam, some of the elderberries became Pontiack sauce to enrich casseroles, and the eating apples my friend Marie gave me from her hugely productive orchard went into the steam juicer with a cinnamon stick to make a lightly spiced juice for winter nights, whilst most of the tomatoes were roasted with slivers of garlic and a dribble of olive oil before going in the freezer. So this

Became this (plus lots of boxes in the freezer!)

 

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But I was also able to give lots of produce away. Most people had more than enough courgettes and green beans but tomatoes, mushrooms and grapes were welcome.  In the days before freezers everyone in the neighbourhood feasted when a pig was killed on a farm because with only limited means of preserving the meat it made sense to share it and, in return, be given some of a future supply. The same ethos applies to garden crops now – anything surplus is shared out. But I realised I was making choices about who got what.

It set me thinking (there is lots of time to think whilst peeling and coring apples or waiting for jam to reach setting point!) about the amazing people in Todmorden (and other places) who plant unloved or underused public spaces with edibles and invite everyone to help themselves. I think that if I was one of them I would start with a pretty rosy picture of the benefit I would be bringing to the community. I would imagine helping those elderly or disabled people no longer able to tend a garden and missing having freshly picked fruit and veg. Those parents struggling to feed their kids and relying on the food bank could have freshly plucked salad for tea. They are the deserving poor.

But what if I see that lad from the rough end of town, the one who has never wanted, let alone had, a job picking ALL the strawberries I carried water to when the weather was hot and dry? Do I tell myself that at least he wants to eat fresh food and they will be good for him or do I worry that he will simply trash them and curse him? The ?underserving? poor.

Or what about that couple with two good salaries and a big house saving a bit on the Waitrose shop – is that OK? The ‘too lazy to grow their own’.

Maybe this is why Community Supported Agriculture and Community Farms are so popular – only those who put in cash or work benefit.

But that begs the question – Those parents using the food bank may be unable to put money upfront however economically advantageous in the long run, and may not have time or energy to volunteer. And the retired or disabled folk may have the same problem. Community agriculture and Community Farms can easily become middle class enclaves however worthy the aspirations.

All this linked back in my mind to a conversation with a friend earlier in the year. We were talking about birds taking our black- and red-currants. To net or not to net was the dilemma. My choice, because I have plenty of space, was to not net but to increase the number of bushes until even the most voracious of flocks cannot eat them all! Not so easy if all you have is room for one bush I know.

It all seems to me to be part of the same questions: How generous should I be? When am I being greedy or overly self protective? At what point do I give so much stuff away I am not being properly caring towards myself? And how do I cope if my generosity feels unappreciated or even abused? Despite reading a number of books recently on our attitudes to money and possessions I have no answers to these conundrums – but I would love to hear your thoughts!

Permaculture Principles 4 – Every element should support more than one function and every function should be supported by more than one elemnent

I will have to try and think of a pithier way of putting that! Though doubtless others have tried and I have no reason to suppose I am better at pithy than they were.

Permaculture is about designing efficient, resilient systems. The efficiency comes from elements which earn their keep or their space in our cupboards. Probably all of us have been given gadgets such as waffle makers, sandwich toasters as gifts and found that we do not eat many waffles or toasted sandwiches! So they sit in the cupboard getting an occasional outing until we decide they can reasonably be got rid of. A wooden spoon or sharp knife on the other hand…  Resilience is characterised by elastic in the system – if there is a failure at any one point there will always be a ‘Plan B’. Think of a road layout. If there is one road from A to B and it gets blocked no traffic can move but if that road is part of a network then everyone can divert around the blockage. The diversion may be less direct or convenient but it is still possible to get from A to B.

I have been rather forcibly reminded of this principle recently. Over a month ago my broadband connection failed (Why it has been down so long is another story) and I have discovered just how dependent I have become on that one element. Partly that dependency has arisen because of where I live and the lack of infrastructure in the remoter, rural parts of the UK; but I had also failed to notice how many things in my life were becoming wi-fi dependent. That one element supports many functions; the problem is that too many functions were supported by only that element!

The most obvious is communication. Because my hearing is poor I find emails easier than even a special phone. So I have been visiting my friends Jeni and Rob most days to collect emails and reply to anything urgent. Lovely to see them but…. I have also been using the free connections in the Library and at the Welsh class when I am in Cardigan but neither of those is secure. I know one of my neighbours uses a mobile phone connection in preference to a landline one but I get no signal at home so a smart phone is not a good use of money.

I also do research for my Permaculture Diploma online, use the web-based resources for the Welsh course including listening again to audio tapes, bank for myself and in my role as treasurer at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, read the news, check the weather forecast, play games and do puzzles, manage my electricity account, listen to radio as podcasts and occasionally watch TV, join Skype meetings, keep up with friends on social media, shop for things I cannot get locally and, of course,  write this blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor some of these there are alternatives. I can phone people if I need to, Radio reception is poor at home because I am right down in the valley but it is good enough to listen to a news bulletin. One of my bank accounts is available by going into the Cardigan branch. The hardest to access have been the Welsh course, Skype meetings and this blog. The audio on the first 2 is anti-social and headphones plus hearing aids is not a good mix! Blog writing has to be done online and takes time.

Well – lesson learned! Even if my broadband is restored tomorrow when the 5th Openreach engineer has a go, I need to have a better back-up plan so I have asked my very tech-savvy son to come over when he can and review the whole system with me. He already has some ideas using gadgets and gizmos I have never heard of. I anticipate a cash boost for Amazon (no local shop is likely to have all we need). Watch this space!

 

A feast of growing and growing a feast

Regular readers may have noticed that it is a while since I published a post. After a particularly cold and wet winter that felt as if it would never end it did – spectacularly! We have had a long spell of lovely warm dry weather. So I have been spending every available moment in the garden.

When, a few years after we moved in, we bought the steep slope behind the house from our lovely neighbour we had it terraced. But that meant the new veg garden was just compacted stone so we built raised beds and filled them with any bio-degradable material we could get. As anyone who has a compost heap knows a mountain of material breaks down into a little hump. So every year we added loads more. Until John was too ill and I was too busy looking after him. When I got back to the garden after he died the beds were very low again and by the time I had pulled out the worst of the really nasty weeds like bindweed and nettles, lower still. Luckily I had access to chipped wood from a local firm so I covered the annual weeds with cardboard then filled the beds with that – and it rotted down and I refilled them – and… This year the stash of material is already well rotted so hopefully from now on it will not go down much more. However I still had to do some barrowing up the hill before planting out seedlings and doing some direct sowing. But at last the bulk of the filling, planting and sowing are done. Which is just as well as this morning normal service was resumed with showers. Actually I am quite pleased because watering so many small things was quite a lot of work and the water butts were getting low. I should explain that I chose to go on water meter so that I would be more aware of my usage (which worked) and I do all the watering with cans from butts which collect rainwater from the roofs of the greenhouses and sheds.

Anyway things are growing and trees and shrubs are in bloom so it all looks much better.

 

By way of a change and some company I spent last Sunday at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust where we weeded one of the forest garden beds. We left some ‘weeds’ which are liked by bees but grubbed up the creeping buttercup and nettles. It was such a lovely day we had lunch outside around the firepit in front of the yurt. Michelle accidentally dug up some Babbington’s leeks, a perennial leek and offered them to me rather than put them back.

I am trying to increase the number of edible perrenials and self-seeders I have because they take much less work and come earlier. On Monday a friend came over for lunch and I picked small leaf lime, hawthorn, vine leaves, buckler leaf sorrel, jack-by-the-hedge, orpine, wild garlic, chives, chive flowers, oregano, corn salad and purslane with a few early leaves of newly sown chard and beetroot to make a big bowl of salad to go with hard boiled eggs from Jeni’s ducks and some home-made cheese scones. Delicious!

 

The consequence of reading books

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of years ago Mark Boyle, Guardian columnist and author of ‘The Moneyless Man and ‘Drinking Molatov Cocktails with Ghandi’, put into words a discomfort I had been feeling for a while. When John died I claimed the life insurance originally intended to pay off our mortgage. In the event it we had paid down the mortgage every time we had a windfall or an extra piece of work and no longer had a debt. Unsure what to do with the money I contacted an ethical investment firm and let them take care of it. It did rather well. Suspiciously well. Mark Boyle’s books made me look more closely. Ethical is a vague term – some of the money was invested in property funds. There was no reason to think this was unethical was there? Then I thought again. Were these buildings constructed using the most sustainable designs and materials? Maintained to the same high standards? Were the tenants vetted to ensure they were running ethical companies? Hmmm. I decided it was time to stop being lazy and shuffling the responsibility onto someone else’s shoulders. But what should I do with a sum of money which, by my standards, was quite large? I waited for an answer to present itself.

My first 2 attempts to buy pieces of woodland came to naught. Then, last year, the farmer who owned some land adjoining Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust let it be known that he was having a bungalow built on one corner of his land, retiring and selling the house and fields. If the Trust wanted to buy all or part of the land he would be happy to sell to them. The Trust did want to buy 2 fields because it would improve the balance of grazing fields to old hay meadows, but it did not have the money or the capacity to raise funds in time. So I offered to buy them on the understanding that the Trust would look after them and finance any fencing and so on that needed doing, in return for being charged only a peppercorn rent.

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My money is no longer earning interest in money terms but I am happy it is being put to good use and I am enjoying the interest I am taking in the land and its progress. The dividing hedge has already been planted with fruit trees and bushes during a workday (see a post about this here More than just a hedge) and new fencing is being put up to allow the hedges to be protected from grazing so that they grow thicker and fuller. Eventually they will be laid to give a good stock-proof barrier that is natural and sustainable. With less intensive stocking wild flowers are beginning to emerge

 

IMG_0240Last Saturday we had the Trust AGM and once the business part was over we had a celebration of the new fields. The furthest one had been called Cae Cornel (Corner field) because ofits shape and the nearer one Cae Gwaelod (Bottom field) because it was furthest from the farmhouse and the lowest. But in terms of the Trust land it was middle-ish. So I renamed them Cae herc (lopsided field) its older name found on old maps, and Cae Novello after the lady who, with her husband, sold it to us.

Led my the inimitable Pamela Gaunt, storyteller, celebrant and psychotherapist, in her dragon costume, and Dafydd, partner of one of our neighbours, with his bagpipes, we sang our way round the fields washing our feet in the water of the West, playing natural percussion instruments in the earth of the North, blowing bubbles in the air of the East and lighting candles in the fire of the South. Then repaired to the barn for tea and cake! A lovely afternoon! Thank you Mark Boyle!

Permaculture Principles 3- Obtain a Yield

I have mentioned my Mum before in these posts. She trained as a Domestic Science teacher during the second World War – the end of an era when the object of Domestic Science in schools was to train girls (only girls) to be good housewives and mothers and / or good servants. It had not been uncommon for Secondary Modern schools in particular (grammar school girls would be employing the servants!) to have a small flat where girls could learn to clean, wash and iron clothes, bath a baby and light the sitting room fire; as well as a separate Cookery room where they learned to cook. I have this amazing (if grainy) photo of the cookery room she worked in as a teacher in a school near Bolton, Lancashire in 1941.

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Thus when she left teaching to get married she prided herself on her housewifely skills and kept the house immaculate. Things she did daily are lucky to get done here weekly, her monthly jobs are my attempt at spring cleaning and so on. In many ways it was an example of Parkinson’s first law that work expands to fill the time available. Her justification for all this activity was that she wanted the place to look nice if someone came round. However she was so locked into her regime of chores that her only outings were to the shops. She belonged to no groups or clubs until I was well into my teens when she started going to an evening class in cake decorating. As a result there were very few visitors to the house – one next door neighbour came for a cup of tea quite often and relatives or old friends came occasionally but always by arrangement as they lived to far away to just call. And all that cleaning and polishing meant the house never felt homely or welcoming and everyone was afraid of making a mess or spilling something.  And to be honest any impending visit caused so much work and worry and baking that Mum too was happier not to see people.

So what has all that got to do with obtaining a yield? Well the idea of this principle is not to waste time and energy doing something just for the sake of it.

Of course what is wasting time for me might not be for you and vice versa and we will each value different yields differently. When I go to a meeting of one of the Permaculture groups it is not because I want to ‘earn’ a visit to my place and the work that will get done but because I enjoy the socialising and learning and get ideas for my own place. Most of the ‘yield’ is intangible but nonetheless real to me but someone else might think I am stupid to give my labour for free getting  wet and muddy into the bargain.

Another thing both my Mum and my dad were keen on was being sensible and that very lower middle class idea of ‘deferred gratification’. So I dutifully went to University and for want of any better idea became, to their relief,  a teacher. A nice steady job with a salary and prospects and with a pension at the end. John and I got married, bought a house with a mortgage, acquired wills and insurance policies. Actually I quite enjoyed teaching most of the time (though I was a bit creative and whacky for some of my colleagues even then! None of the other Maths teachers illustrated their lessons on fractions with chocolate cakes or used mind reading to introduce algebra!)). blog260418-2But having fun, experimenting, taking risks, chasing dreams were very low on the agenda and I regret that now. The yield was always ‘later’, when the children are older, when they leave home, when the mortgage is paid off, when you retire… H.E. Bates puts it rather well in ‘The Darling Buds of May’ “The word pension made Pop laugh…. ‘You mean sit on your backside for forty years and then collect four pounds a week that’s worth only two and and ‘ll only buy half as much anyway?'” I am not suggesting here that pensions are a bad idea – I have 2 very small private ones that top-up my state one and I am relieved that I own my home; I am grateful for the security those things give me. But I wish there had been more balance, more ‘yield’ of fun and adventure whilst I was young enough to take risks and bounce back if they failed as well as ensuring a ‘yield’ of security now.

Meanwhile writing this blog records events, gives me pleasure in writing the posts, has taught me new skills such as taking and loading photos and the comments are allowing me to meet a new group of people. A good investment – I am obtaining a yield.

Permaculture Principles 2 – Catch & Store Energy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Mum trained as a teacher of Domestic Science in Liverpool during World War 2. It was not good timing for her training because so many things were in short supply and I have to say that her deeply ingrained habits of frugality could be quite trying in the relatively affluent 60’s! Food was, of course, rationed and to throw away leftovers or scraps was literally a crime. Since she was never particularly imaginative or creative this made for some slightly bizarre meals in my teens! Coal too was in short supply as miners became soldiers to be replaced in part by Bevan Boys. But also because moving all those troops around involved trains which ran on coal. Power stations were coal fired too so everyone was encouraged to use all power sparingly. To put the oven on for one dish only was frowned upon – it should be filled by making other things in advance or baking a cake. I still have some of her old books and have acquired reprints of some of the government leaflets of the time. Why? Because they are an interesting historical record but also because they are useful and illustrate this Principle of catching and storing energy.

When permaculture began in Australia a lot of thought was given to catching and storing water before allowing it to move around the holding slowly, seeping into the ground as it went thus avoiding needing well, bore hole or mains water for irrigation.  As someone recently remarked to me, here in West Wales where it rains a LOT we are more concerned with getting rid of water without it causing damage! Instead we often concentrate on catching solar energy using PV panels or the wind with a turbine. Excellent examples of Earth Care but what about the other Ethics. And what if you live in a rented place or expect to sell up and move on? Or if the capital outlay is more than you can afford?

Over the years, thanks to some windfalls, we were able to insulate this house extensively, put up solar PV and solar thermal and have a heating system powered by an Air Source Heat Pump. Lovely. But the single most cost effective improvement was to make thick linings for all the curtains at the windows and put the same system over every external door. Because the curtains are all made of unbleached calico (it comes in wide widths and is cheap) I bought a lot of seconds quality fleece fabric also in cream. It needs no hemming though I did do zigzag stitching all round to make sure. A single header tape allows me to hook them to the back of the curtains in autumn and take them down in spring. They make an amazing difference to the rooms and feel cosy.

So far so good but this principle applies to energy in all its forms. I can think about my own energy and how I use it or waste it. Because my Mum HAD to give up work when she married (women teachers who had a husband to support them made way for men returning from the services – though how many ex military men would have wanted to teach Domestic Science is a moot point!) she was a bored housewife who therefore devoted too much time to keeping the place spotless. It led to a mild form of OCD against which I reacted by becoming very messy. However I now realise that I wasted huge amounts of time hunting for things I had put down ‘somewhere’. I now try to have better storage and put things away, if not as soon as I have finished with them at least having a good clear up fairly regularly.

Having workdays to help me complete big projects in the garden is a way of catching and storing other people’s energy. In fact I usually find that the socialising and camaraderie make group work more efficient than a lot of people working singly. And if someone has a special skill they can use it to the benefit of all. Then I go and help someone else at their workday and the energy flows on and we all get cared for.

The final ethic is fair shares. I have a big garden and can easily, often without meaning to, grow more food than I need. Instead of putting the surplus on the compost heap I can give it away or take it to a local food bank to help others in need. I have been changing my light bulbs for the new LED ones which use even less energy thus reducing my carbon footprint and my use of the planet’s resources.

All these are cheap, simple, little examples which individually do not make a big difference to the Earth or anyone on it. Collectively and if done by many of us they could have a huge impact. They are not glamorous, bring me no kudos, make no waves. As we shall see in a later post ‘Use slow and simple solutions’ is another of the Permaculture Principles.