I have been thinking for a while of doing another blog about my woodland adventures. Today I published the first post on ‘Going Batty in the Woods’. You might want to take a look! There will be some cross posting particularly for scrap happy but mostly this blog will stick to my musings and more ladylike pursuits! https://goingbattyinthewoods.wordpress.com/2021/08/25/getting-ready-1/
Only a few weeks ago Laura and I were finishing the main tree work for this year tackling the trickiest jobs which I had left until last so that we built up our skills on the easiest first. We cut some trees growing right on the edge of the high, vertical bank behind the greenhouses just before snow came.
The two which are still growing out of the bank are too far down to be reached from above and as I do not want them to regrow we will cut them from stepladders behind the greenhouses later.
Then we laid a hedge in an almost equally awkward place!
By the time we had done that we were joking that we were fully qualified as Mountain Goats!
But now spring has started to appear. The snowdrops and daffodils are out in several parts of the garden.
The wild garlic is reappearing on the path by the stream
The crown of early rhubarb is leafing.
I made a bird box over winter and hung it opposite the end of the deck so I can watch it from the house. I have seen blue tits investigating it – will they move in?
The black elder near it is breaking bud and living up to its name.
And in the greenhouses the 2 apricot trees and the peach are in full bloom.
It is too early for many insects to be flying so to ensure a good set of fruit one of us must tickle each of these flowers with a soft brush every day. So now we are no longer Mountain Goats but Busy Bees!
Last time I posted I was feeling rather glum as I had been limiting myself to essential trips and then Wales went into National Lockdown just as I would have been able to go out again! At least ours was only two and a half weeks whereas England has just started a four week one. I can go out on Tuesday! And I will – I have an appointment to have my hair cut and plan to do some other errands whilst in town.
After writing that last post I decided I needed to get things in perspective. I am not ill, frightened or hungry. I have plenty of friends and can email or message them. So I took myself off to one of my favourite spots for a good talking to! It is in the woods I rent from my neighbour. There is a small clearing next to the stream and on the hill above it a huge Oak tree which most have been part of a hedge once upon a time as there is a noticeable bank running down the hill to the stream – an old field boundary. The stream chatters away as it rushes to the sea and the tree stands majestic and solid. Both have seen it all before; pestilence, famines, wars (I am told that the Home Guard trained by shooting across the stream into the hillside opposite during World War 2) as well as good things like the farms thriving, children playing, lovers meeting. I tell them my worries and grumbles and I can almost hear them telling me to stop whingeing!
But (isn’t there always a but!) the path from my garden into the woods had become overgrown with brambles so I had to take a pair of secateurs with me and cut them back. As I did so I uncovered a tiny nest – I assume a wren’s. Two tiny birds did all that work to build a home and raise their chicks. They don’t care who wins the American election, who gets Covid 19, whether I am happy or sad. They just get on with their lives and do what their instincts tell them.
I realised that I needed to stop fretting about things I can’t change and focus on the little things that bring me joy. So as well as that nest…
I finished a jumper for the collection at Studio 3. This is plainer than I usually do and to the pattern they provide. That makes 5 I have done for them to different designs. I have enough yarn in my stash for at least one more which I will try to get done before the end of the year. A group of refugees have recently been moved to a disused army base not far from here causing quite a lot of controversy – some protesters unhappy with the decision especially as it all happened suddenly with very little consultation, and some people organising to try to help and support them. What must it be like to be dumped in the middle of nowhere with hardly any resources in the middle of lockdown? I know my jumpers will go to a different group but if knitting helps people worse off than me I will knit!
A couple of days ago I found this little fellow in the car port. I have seen newts in the garden before but it is nice to know they are still around. Once I had taken the photograph I moved him to a safer spot. I know there is a lot more wildlife here than I know about – they keep well hidden. What a priviledge to share my space with so many other creatures.
I was weeding the bank next to the deck and found these dahlias. They were facing away from the house and as I hadn’t staked them were hanging down below behind their pot. They have taken a battering in the wind and rain but add a splash of colour to the kitchen table. I have never succeeded with dahlias before but will definitely grow them next year to brighten up the Autumn (and next year I will stake them!)
I also came across what, at first sight, looked to be a HUGE toad but turned out to be my son’s drone. Over a year ago he was here and playing with it (He’s moved on from the radio controlled car he had as a child!) and it got caught in the big Ash tree next to the deck. We tried all sorts of things to get it down but to no avail. It must have eventually blown down and landed under some self-seeded raspberry canes where it hid. Finding it reminded me of spending time with him, his 3 small foster children and my daughter, who took the opportunity of lift to come with them. That brought a big grin to my face!
What is making you smile at the moment?
I have been quiet for a while – more about which in another post – but I have not been idle. An Afternoon in the workshop with some poles purloined from the pile of wood felled but not cut up and a throne emerged. Shame I have no crown or courtiers let alone peasants to do all the work but maybe it’s a start!
Scrap Happy is a group effort curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. We post about things we have made entirely from scrap. Not everyone posts every time but all the blogs are well worth a visit – follow the links below for inspiration on how to do a lot with a little.
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
I decided it was time to take a walk around my garden and enjoy it instead of just working in it!
Along the roadside the wild cow parsley is doing an excellent job of hiding the taty remains of the daffodils.
Outside the conservatory a pot of aquilegia is flowering
On the way up the hill to the veg patch I pass a rhododendron
At the top is a copper beech tree. As a child living on the edge of Manchester we would often go into Heaton Park where there was a huge copper beech which I loved. So we planted one here.
In the greenhouse most of the apricots I so lovingly fertilised with a brush fell off! But the peaches are hanging on so here’s hoping.
In another part of the greenhouse nasturtiums overwintered and are flowering again. I love them for their beauty but also eat the leaves and flowers in salads
In the veg beds I couldn’t bear to pull up these forget-me-nots and the peas don’t seeem to mind!
This apple tree is extra special because I grafted it myself. (The less said about the others which didn’t take the better!)
If I carry on into the woods the bluebells are flowering.
I am so lucky to have all this.
I enjoy working in my garden. I enjoy eating what I grow, the flowers that bloom, sitting on my deck with a cup of coffee but the most magical areas are the pieces of woodland. If I get fraught and frazzled I take a walk through the veg patch and past the soft fruit into the rough, self-seeded woodland area and then through a gap in an old hedgebank into the planted woodland which I rent from the neighbouring farm. Apart from cutting back any brambles which grow across the path those spaces require no work. They are always peaceful and quiet. Although the planted section was only put in just over 20 years ago there are some much older trees which must have been in hedges when even this very steep slope was grazed. There is something about the solidity and calmness of trees which I find settles me. I walk down to the stream where there is a small clearing and sit there watching the stream tumbling over stones and burbling its song and all the worries fall into perspective. In a few weeks time it will be carpeted with bluebells!
I like trees and woodland so much that I am planting more. The field on the opposite side of the stream from my garden is abandoned. The farmer who owns it has effectively retired but refuses to either sell up or to rent out his grazing. Ungrazed for about 12 years the grass is getting very coarse and brambles and blackthorn are creeping in from the edges. I keep pulling tiny seedling trees out of my veg beds and decided that instead of just putting them on the compost heap I would pot them up and then plant them out on the field. It wants to become a wood so I will help it! I also grew some apples from pips (you can read about that experiment here) – rather a lot of them! So they are going over there too. I have no idea whteher they will fruit, whether the fruit will be nice to eat or sour, but if they fruit at all and I don’t want the apples the birds will enjoy them.
I have also started to clear along my top, North boundary where John planted hundreds of willow cuttings. Most of them took and grew for a few years but they were left too long and most have fallen over and died. The soil is very thin so I am planting trees in pots with the bottoms cut out. That way they start in good compost but can send roots down into the stonier soil as they grow. That’s the plan anyway.
I will never see these new woods in their full glory – they are a blessing paid forward. I have so many blessins it only seems fair to ensure some for those who follow me.
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.
Janey, Ian and I planted the hedge
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
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
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.
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.
Last weekend I went to visit my friends Jeni and Rob to celebrate Imbolc. None of us are pagans or druids, Jeni is a retired vicar who still takes services occasionally to fill gaps in rostas whilst Rob and I are ‘don’t knows’. It is rather that they keep poultry, sheep, pigs and, have just got some bees as well as growing veg as I do. So both households experience shifts in activities and energies as the year turns. Celebrating the eight old festivals encourages us to stop and reflect with each other on our plans, successes and failures. It is also an excuse to spend an evening together sharing a meal and a glass or two of something nice.
Jeni and Rob live in a beautiful, tiny cob cottage
Imbolc is the precursor of the Christian candlemass – a point where the increasing day length is properly noticeable and the first green shoots are emerging. The first flowers of spring, the snowdrops, are coming into bloom to cheer us up even though winter is not yet over – there is a sign that spring will come. Actually this year the snowdrops were beaten by the first primroses and I have crocus out and daffodils showing fat buds. Maybe with climate change we will have to rethink our symbols if not our ceremonies!
In the same vein whilst winter is a time to cwtch in (A welsh phrase from cwtch = hug or a feeling of being hugged) by the fire and dream and plan, now is the time to start taking first steps to make those dreams come true. Having chosen the things we want to grow / achieve we must start to germinate the seeds. So we sat around the fire and shared what new projects we had chosen to spend our time and energy on this year.
My new project this year (just to add to all the unfinished ones from previous years!) is to explore the local footpaths. Every day I walk my dogs along the local lanes which are mostly single track with high banks either side and whilst traffic is very light a significant proportion of what there is is big lorries such as milk tankers or massive tractors which often are trailing equally large machinery. The dogs and I squeeze onto narrow verges or run to the nearest gateway. The proximity, noise and exhaust fumes are unpleasant. It would be so nice to have some off-road walks we could do.
This may look like a useable path but after wading across the stream in the foreground I found that the old gate is tied to the posts with barbed wire.
When we first moved here 25 years ago a neighbour who was then in her 60’s told us that as a girl she had walked to school in the next village along footpaths and bridleways through the woods and along the stream. At that time there was a network of such paths connecting the various farms and cottages and other children joined her as she walked so that a whole gaggle of them arrived at school together. Of course in the intervening years rural depopulation meant that there were fewer people living here, houses became derelict, farms were coalesced into bigger units, and the people who remained got cars. A group of us tried to help her do the walk again but found it blocked – as the paths had fallen into disuse and stiles collapsed the route was blocked with brambles, nettles and then fences. What farmer would build a stile no-one ever used when a continuous fence is so much cheaper?
This cottage was lived in when we first came here but was condemned as ‘unfit for habitation’ about 20 years ago
A check on the council website has shown me that these paths are, however, still public rights of way. So I have made an appointment to see the relevant council official to ask for advice and help in getting them opened up again. Jeni told me I was not alone – two local landowners she knows want to re-create a path that runs through their properties but that will be easier since between them they own all the land involved. I have no idea how successful I will be at persuading my neighbours to help but I will have a go. Watch this space!
Last week I decided it was time to start cutting trees to refill the woodshed. Rob, who helps me with the garden wanted to use his chainsaw; I wanted to do the felling by hand with an axe. “But the chainsaw is quicker and easier” he argued. I am not sure about the easier because I have hardly ever used one but he is certainly right about it being quicker. I am the boss so it happened my way. I have been musing on why it is that I am so reluctant to let him do it his way and the more I thought about it the more layers I found to my pleasure in doing the job the old fashioned way.
Perhaps fortunately for someone going deaf I enjoy being quiet. I love being in the garden and it being peaceful, being able to enjoy the birdsong, the wind in the trees. The noise of machinery irritates me even at a distance and to me the whine of a chainsaw is particularly unpleasant. It also smells bad and the smell impregnates my clothes, skin, hair so that I feel dirty even if I have not actually been operating the machine. So much of the sensual pleasure I get from being outside is taken away.
Special trousers, helmet, visor, ear defenders and gloves shut a chainsaw operator off from the world around.
Even Rob tells me that the chainsaw drives the work. I have no idea why, but once it is started up whoever is using it goes hammer and tongs at the job. Once the tree is felled the branches have to be cut off and then the smaller branches until the brash is quite small and will decompose fairly quickly (a process called snedding) and the temptation is to use the chainsaw for that as well, get it out of the way quickly and on to the next tree. Often the speed and the bulk of the chainsaw means that this is done quite roughly leaving snags protruding.
God snedding leaves a clean pole
but sloppy work leaves snags like this one.
By contrast the energy needed to use an axe means that it is normal to stop periodically to have a breather, take a look at how the cut is going, adjust position to get a different angle, notice what is going on nearby. And since the only protective clothing needed is a good pair of workboots with steel toecaps, I can move and stretch, hear the birds, see the flowers. Large branches are taken off with the axe or a bowsaw whilst smaller ones are cut with a billhook. If the tools are sharp and the worker reasonably skilled the cut is clean against the main stem which makes them easier to stack or carry. I have time to look at each piece and assess whether it would be useful for making something or best put for burning.
I treasure my axe. It is a thing of beauty. Hand forged in Sweden by Gransfors with an Ash handle which I treat with boiled linseed oil every year, it is a Rolls Royce of axes. One of the lightest they do, it is technically a limbing axe for chopping off branches but it suits my height, weight and strength. I could use fewer cuts to do the job if I used a heavier one but I am in no rush and the heavier ones make me tire more quickly. The details may have changed but it would be instantly recognised by a stone age person – a tool design which has stood the test of centuries.
Learning to use it was not something I found easy. As a girl born in 1950 I was not expected to master manly skills like woodwork, engines or, in fact, anything physically demanding other than housework. My father was a woodwork teacher but although he taught me the names of all his tools, where to find them in his shed and what they were used for, my job was to fetch them and then hand them to him to use. It never occured to either of us that I might have a go with them. Luckily for me when I did the Woodland skills course at Coppicewood College Martin Aughton took me under his wing and with enormous patience insisted that I could and would learn. In the end his persistence paid off. I am still not as accurate as I would like to be but that is because I don’t get enough practice. It would be so easy to let Rob get his chainsaw out and just tidy up after him but that would feel like a cop-out – I would be saying ‘this is hard to get right so I won’t bother’. Having finally understood what I am aiming to do and what it feels like when I succeed I am not going to give up now.
I also rejoice in the fact that I can be this physically active at my age; that I still have the strength to do manual work. To use the axe or billhook efficiently I have to use my whole body not just the realtively puny arm muscles. The power comes from the big muscles in the thighs and backside moving the torso and out through the arms. Thanks to Rose Thorn’s brilliant yoga teaching I now have pretty good balance so I can safely make big, powerful movements even on an awkward slope. And she has also helped me to feel the different muscle groups working. Feeling my power is exhilarating. And as long as I keep relaxed (helped by stopping, breathing, checking myself for tension) I can work for several hours without feeling stiff next morning.
Why would I give all that joy up for the sake of speed?
A number of my friends in the blogosphere have been posting about their goals for 2020. It has set me thuinking about mine.
Well I said a while back that I want to redecorate the house. I did it shortly after my husband died as we had not got round to it as a joint project. But 9 years on it is looking shabby, not helped by two dogs and three cats trailing in mess and rubbing against the walls and furniture. I got one wall in the sitting room done and a small area of the kitchen turned into a blackboard before Christmas but that was all. So finishing the job could be my first goal. As usual I only remembered to take a photo of the change after I had started!
Orchid, the lurcher, believes the sofa is entirely for her benefit. She would like to take over the comfy chair as well but I have drawn the line at that. She finds it necessary to ‘nest’ before settling down and as the sofa is old she has shredded the covers on the seat cushions. I know I have the skill and equipment to make new covers so that can be goal 2.
If I am repainting the kitchen I need to move everything off the shelves and out of the cupboards so I might as well take the opportunity to put it all back in different places and make it more efficient. And in the process I will have a clear out of stuff I no longer use and maybe buy a couple of gadgets I have had my eye on. So that would be my third goal.
I planned to finish my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design over the Christmas and New Year break with a view to it being marked and finished by the Spring. But I sent the first 5 designs for interim assessment at the beginning of November and apart from an acknowledgement that they arrived have heard nothing since. What better excuse could I have to put off the tedious job of writing up the last 5? However I guess I should really have it as goal 4.
Outside there are all the usual jobs; cut firwood, grow veggies, keep the place reasonably tidy…. But I would like to finish clearing along the top boundary where the willow we planted 20 odd years ago for coppicing as firewood grew and then died before we got round to cutting it. I will replace it with a shelter belt of trees which produce fruit or berries, not so much as food for me as food for wildlife. Where does that bring me? Oh yes goal 5.
Ages ago I had a building put up on an existing concrete slab with the intention of moving the utility room into it. It needs to have the walls and ceiling insulated, electricity supply put in, plumbing done, shelves put up.. I am hoping a builder is coming soon but I will have to supervise, buy a new freezer and transfer all my jars of preserves and little used kitchen equipment across.At present I use the old garage for laundry and as a food store but it is too big and attracts clutter. Once it has been cleared out I could turn it into two extra bedrooms for when family stay. So that would be Goal 6.
I also have the wood for a compost loo for the veg patch.It is in the car port and in the way. Errrr Goal 7.
My daughter and her husband are divorcing so she will be moving soon. As she works full time and is doing an Open University Degree in her spare time I have offered to do any decorating and to be there to let tradesmen and deliveries in. She lives about 4 hours drive away so that will take up some time. I am up to Goal 8
There are friends I have not seen for ages. My spinning wheel and wood turning lathe gather dust. The patchwork cushion covers are falling apart and need replacing. When did I last make myself some clothes instead of buying them? I keep thinking of walking some sections of the Coast Path. I haven’t been to the theatre, cinema or a concert for too long.
Who am I kidding? It would be lovely to do any, let alone all, these things. If I am not careful the pressure to get everything done will destroy my pleasure in them.
So my goal for 2020 is to get to the end of the year well and happy having achieved some progress on some of those things and to have had a lot of fun. Oh and to celebrate my 70th birthday in style!
I hope you will keep me company on the way and share the fun with me.