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!)

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Each year I aim to cut trees on a different part of the garden to provide fuel for future winters. Following the tradition of coppicing I cut right to ground level which allows the roots to throw up new shoots and after 5 – 7 years they are ready to harvest again. By this means I am always cutting fairly slender stems which are fine on my small woodstove and easy to handle. In addition I cut some of the bigger trees around the place to bring them into the same management system. Hopefully it will not be many more years before all the big ones have been brought into coppicing – before I am too doddery to manage to fell a large tree safely!

This year my chosen plot was the second half of the bank below the vegetable patch. I did the first half 2 years ago but last year was unable to finish the job because of my broken wrist. I also decided to lay the ones right on the bottom edge as a hedge – it made me feel safer!Because I did not cut much last year stocks are lower than I would like and with Rob in the cabin needing his stove alight all day in the winter it is important to cut a lot this year.


This are bank will look like the photo on the right in 2 years time

I had made a start and when Rob arrived to we finished the job quite quickly between us especially as he has, and is happy to use, a chainsaw whilst I stick to handtools. Then we moved on to clear the trees which were growing out of the stream bank. I had been wanting to get them down for some time but as they were growing out over the stream they were very difficult to do with an axe. Rob donned wellies and cut them whilst I stayed on the bank to take away the debris. It made an amazing difference to the light! unfortunately it also makes the garden less private for now but once the new shoots grow all will be well and the new growth can be managed more easily.

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One tree, though, defeated us. It was an Ash which had been cut back at some point in the past. The result was a massive trunk leaning over the stream with a tall, not insignificant diameter stem rising from it but also twisting and leaning. Neither of us could work out which way it wanted to fall and there was no way we could get a rope high enough to guide it without climbing it. What we needed was a tree surgeon. So Rob rang his friend Richard and asked him to come and help.

As tree surgery is Richard’s profession I would have to pay him so I decided to ask him to do some other trees whilst he was on site. I had left several on the bottom edge of the bank where I had cut 2 years ago. They were too big to be laid, too close to the edge for me to feel safe swinging an axe and were leaning out over the car port and the lower greenhouse, so whilst I knew where they would fall it was where I really did not want them going!

Richard came, looked and promised to be back the following Tuesday. Luckily Rob used to work for another tree surgeon and has all the necessary certificates to act as groundsman so by having Richard here on a day when Rob works for me there was no need for me to pay for another man to come and help. The weather that day was foul! Sleet, snow, rain and very cold. I had set off to the Welsh class and turned back when the snow started to settle (I don’t mind being snowed in but object to being snowed out!) Nevertheless the two R’s got on with the job telling me politely but firmly to stay out of the way – as an amateur I was simply another risk. Because of that the photos are rather ‘long distance’ and it was too cold to stand around waiting for the perfect shot. The last tree came down as the light started to go. By the last hour they were willing to let me help shift brash away as they were running out of time, getting tired and only had a few small ones on the bank below the veg patch to do.

Because Rob and I can clear up the brash piles and carry the useful wood to the shed at our leisure the brief to Richard was to just get everything down and tidied as much as was necessary for safety. So on Wednesday we spent the day sorting out the tops from the big Ash by the stream. We haven’t started on the pile on the veg patch yet! And there was no way we could carry all the usable stuff to the woodshed until we have sawn and stacked what is already in there. I have made a start on that but it is going to be a l-o-o-o-n-g job! But there is a very real primitive satisfaction from seeing a well stocked woodstore.

Unfortunately Richard recognised that a lot of my Ash trees have chalara which is apparently now endemic in Wales. I cam manage the existing trees and if they fall there will be no catastrophic damage now the leaning ones have gone. The dilemma is to do with planting more. I have been saving seedlings which come up in the veg patch and replanting them in woodland areas but maybe this is a waste of time since they are likely to be infected too. Maybe I should only replant hazel, sycamore and oak but there are a lot fewer of those and what if some of the deedlings are a resistant strain? Thought needed!

Many Hands

Having volunteered at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust and with the Pembrokeshire Permies at Rhiw Las the previous weekend it was my turn on the 11th to host some of the Carmarthenshire group. So 10 adults and a toddler came to see my place and help me with some jobs where extra hands and muscle power would be useful.

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We gathered in the wooden cabin in the garden which I am in the process of upgrading to make it more useful. It is some way from finished but with the small woodburner lit and an improvised kitchen it was a good place to gather to talk and share lunch.

In the morning I explained the theme for my Diploma in Permaculture design (planning for 2050 – more posts on that to follow) which I am just starting then took them on a brief tour of the garden. Some had been before and were interested to see progress, particularly how things they had worked on in the past had worked out. Others were new to the group so there were lots of questions and picking up of tips and ideas. I rarely go to someone else’s patch without learning something new and am very happy to share my experiences (and mistakes) with others. Grape vines seemed to be of particular interest this time.

It was a chilly day with occasional wintry showers so we were all very pleased that Peter and Alison had brought soup to share for lunch! With Chris’s bread rolls, some quiches, salads and tasty nibbles followed by 3 – yes 3! – types of cake and more tea and coffee, we were well set up for the afternoon. My daughter Carrie and grand-daughter Georgia were here for the weekend and Georgia had made 2 of the cakes on Saturday afternoon whilst I got the cabin ready and found the tools we would need for the jobs in the afternoon. They also took charge of making drinks and washing up which was a great help to me as it left me free to talk and organise the activities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust after lunch there was a shower so we spent a short time thinking about a problem area in the garden, the muddy and shady ‘Cinderella’ patch behind the house. The advice to concentrate on drainage plus ideas of how I might achieve that so it is less wet were very useful. There may even be another visit to make it happen! They also encouraged me to stop worrying about it and just let it be a rough grass area for now.

Then when the sun came out again we divided into 2 groups to tackle the jobs I had chosen.

One group created an area of hard standing outside the French doors of the cabin as a sitting area. I had made a frame the right size from timber left over from building a new outbuilding. I had a roll of mulch material bought donkey’s years ago which was more than enough to line the base. Then all the off-cuts of blocks from the building work were barrowed down the path and put in, followed by stones which I had dug out of 2 ponds I am in the process of making on the veg patch. Left over sand made the surface level and slates broken when the flue for the woodburner in the cabin was installed were smashed as a top layer. Unfortunately there were not enough to finish the job. I had hoped to use only waste stuff but maybe I will have to buy a small amount of slate waste to finish it! It would have taken me a long time to do the same work especially as I could only carry about half as much stuff in the barrow on each journey as the younger ones.

The other team cleared the path from the veg patch to the boundary where my garden meets the woodland I rent from my neighbour. Then the cut away brambles and low branches to make a path through the woods that follows the top boundary for a spell before sloping down to the stream and returning to join the path past the woodstore and workshop to the house. To my surprise and delight they managed to get all the way round, arriving back just as the last of the slate was put down. Now I can take the dogs for a circular walk round the garden and wood which should mean I get to know both more intimately. Observation is key to Permaculture design as I explain here Permaculture Principles 1 – Observe

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Melting Moments

More tea, cake and biscuits and they even had enough energy to walk up the hill to the farm where they had parked (there is very little space here to park without being in the way) and they were still smiling!

MELTING MOMENTS (from a Bero flour booklet circa 1971 hence the imperial weights!))

Cream 8oz butter with 6oz caster sugar. Work in 10oz SR flour and about 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Form the mixture into walnut sized balls and dip these into first water then either rolled oats or dessicated coconut (I used oats). Place on a greased baking sheet well spaced (they spread), flatten slightly and put a small piece of glace cherry in the middle of each. \bake at 325 – 350 deg F (about 175deg C) for 15 – 20 mins. Allow to cool slightly and firm up before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

 

Well spent Idleness!

Having been prevented by my broken wrist, aided and abetted by a lot of cold, wet weather, from doing much, I have had more time than usual for reading. Some (well quite a lot if I am honest – it has been holiday time) has been undemanding novels of the bed-time reading variety. But 3 have been non-fiction, all obtained from Cardigan Library, and have proved very interesting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first was ‘The Secret Life of Trees’ by Colin Tudge. I have a copy of his ‘Future Food’ which I enjoyed very much so I was looking forward to this one and was not disappointed. The first and last sections were particularly fascinating. The first grapples with the question of what makes a tree a tree not a shrub or other plant and how they came into existence. The third describes how trees communicate with each other, share resources thanks to collaboration with mycelia and why we should value them more. As I have a small area of woodland here, rent another few acres from an adjoining farm and did the 6 month, part time Woodland Skills course at Coppicewood College to learn how to manage them, I loved learning more about them.

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The second book was Adam Rutherford’s ‘A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived’ which describes the discoveries about human evolution and genetics which have been made possible by the advances in genomics. The Mendelian inheritance that I learned in school and at University turns out to be far too simplistic! It seems that each new discovery adds to the complexity of the mechanisms involved and throws up new questions. Given the vast amounts of data each research project generates and the computing power needed to make sense of it, even if no more sequencing was done there would be plenty of new discoveries to be made. I suspect that the book was going out of date as it went to press but it was mind-boggling even so. And because Adam Rutherford is an academic geneticist turned journalist he writes well and no previous knowledge is required.

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The final one, which I have not finished, is Waterlog by Richard Deakin. As I don’t particularly enjoy swimming, and especially not in cold water, this is not an obvious one to appeal to me! But the writing is beautiful and, like Charlie Connelly’s ‘Attention all Shipping’ and ‘And Did Those Feet’, it uses a journey of exploration, in this case to to wild-swimming places, to scaffold a travelogue. I am enjoying the sensations he describes so sensuously of immersion in rivers and lakes – but only by proxy!

Axe work

Most months I go up to Dyfed permaculture Farm Trust to help with their workday. The trust owns a 20 acre smallholding in a small village just outside Drefach Felindre. Whilst their tenants Phil and Michelle manage the fields, traditional wild flower rich hay meadows and a large vegetable garden, and the allotments are rented out, the Trust is responsible for the infrastructure and for maintaining the planted areas round the barn. You can read more about the Trust, Permaculture, and the scything courses Phil and Michelle run here. 

Since one of the aims is to demonstrate sustainable living on previous workdays we have worked on the water supply which is pumped from a spring by ram pump to tanks in and near the barn, then gravity fed to the cabin where Phil and Michelle live with their children Eva and Fergus, as well as to the fields where they graze a couple of cows, some goats and a small flock of sheep. Other days we have painted the barn, erected the yurt which is rented out for meetings and events, weeded the gardens, repaired the compost toilets, maintained fences and laid hedges.

The most recent day was spent felling laburnum trees beside the track which runs through the holding. The shade from these trees was preventing grass growing on the track which was making it muddy. Whilst there is only occasional vehicle traffic through here to the old farmyard which is separately owned and has another vehicle route in,  it gets a lot of foot traffic as it is the access to some of the fields where the animals graze and Phil keeps his bees. We did a stretch a year or so ago and the track then recovered well and the trees have begun to re-grow. In line with the sustainability aim we work with hand tools so Phil, Michelle and I set to work with axes to fell the trees whilst the others, who did not feel competent to use big axes, sneded (dismembered) them and sorted the wood into piles for different uses. Laburnum is a very hard wood so when, by lunchtime, we had still got several stems to fell, we were not sure that the job would be finished in the day. But fuelled by our usual excellent ‘bring and share’ feast we set to again and got the job finished before dusk.