Smoked cow, a roof on the little guest house, things start to grow

The new guest house now has a roof albeit a (hopefully) temporary one. We hope to cover it with our own boards once we have them sawn. It was finished enough for volunteers to stay in it for our february forestry weekend.

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We have started to cob the inside of the new guest house. To start with we collected some of our handily sandy clay soil, put it all on a tarp, added water and mixed in some straw. Then we squidged it lots with our wellies to mix the clay lumps in with the sand until it is sticky. We kept rolling it up into a slug and seeing whether we thought it was ready. You can see when it is well mixed, when the different colours of the sand and clay are mixed together and there are hardly any air bubbles. The straw gives it some body, helping it to hold together. Traditionally animal dung and hair would also be used.

First we filled in the cracks between the bales with a straw clay mix, with lots of straw in. Then we wetted the walls and applied the cob to the walls. I find it fun and satisfying smearing it on with my hands, smoothing the wet sticky mud over the rough dry straw.

Houses were made from mud (cob) in this country until very recently. Where I come from in Devon there are a lot of cob homes, barns and walls, still thatched as they would have beeIMG_0332n when they were built up to three or four hundred years ago. It is a versatile material, allowing room for creativity. Walls undulate naturally, there are no sharp straight lines or unnaturally flat surfaces. I lived in a cob house before I came to Tinkers Bubble and I can say from experience they certainly keep cool in the summer (not always great in our climate!) and retain heat well in the winter. Cob walls are strong and breatheable. Which is very important in damp old england where almost every house I have lived in has had mould on the walls. Traditional plasters and paints would also have been breatheable as they would have been made with natural materials. Modern homes are sealed up with concrete holding stones together, uPVC windows, concrete beneath the floors. Finished with chemical paints. No airflow. Personally I find this stifling.

Natural materials lend themselves so much more to creativity. I prefer curves to straight lines.

IMG_0329John cobbing the walls inside our new guest house with anni helping

I reIMG_0220ndered the fat from our bullock Brisket this month.

Which just means putting it all in a pan and heating it until all the lumps had melted. You can tell it is only fat left when it stops sizzling and you stop seeing any bubbles. Then I strained it through a sieve to remove the stubborn bits that refused to melt and poured it into sterilised jars I had handily placed in the oven earlier.

This was only the beggining of project preserve cow which Rosie headed up with Eds help. We sold most of the meat as we don’t have a freezer and can’t store it, but we obviously ate as much as we could and wanted to try and preserve some.

Rosie built a smoker from an old oil barrel. The meat was threaded onto wire strung up inside the barrel. A fire was lit beneath the barrel and apple wood shavings were placed in the bottom of the barrel to give the lovely smoky flavour. The first time, the meat was left to smoke for two long and was a little on the charred side but delicious! We ate that batch as we didn’t think there was much point storing it. The second batch went a lot better. We certainly learnt a lot from it. Ed told me he had smoked meat in a filing cabinet before! Maybe we could have a go at that next time.

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Rosie also salted some joints of beef, which will be an ongoing saga.

IMG_0222 random chicken picture

February forestry was all about clearing an area of Douglas Fir next to the communual garden which was some hazel in between it. We plan to reinstate the hazel coppice by planting more hazel and caring for the existing trees. Another reason for felling in this area was to let more light into the adjoining garden.

We had ten volunteers who came for the weekend, five of whom came from Runnymeade eco village. It was interesting to find out about their experiences of land based living. We probably felled around thirty trees. Straight logs are cut to between 8 and 16 feet to be used in the sawmill. Wiggly logs are cut to 4 feet so we can cart them up the hill for firewood.

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Tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

In garden news, Ed sowed his baby tomatoes in his house in january with hot water bottles to give them a head start and they are now in the greenhouse. I sowed onions in the greenhouse in january too which are coming up now. I sowed part of a bed of onions in the autumn to overwinter but very few of them came up. I also sowed broadbeans and only one plant has surfaced! I will try again this spring. It is exciting to be planning what I will grow this year and looking forward to spending more time in the garden as it warms up and all the weeds start growing again.

There is still some apple tree pruning to be done and a few plum and stray trees to prune before the sap starts rising again, as well as fruit bushes if we get the time! We are still eating leeks, potatoes, carrots and kale in different forms every day, but with nine different people cooking, you get a good variety.

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The first inklings of springkling have arrived in the form of crocuses and daffodills following the snowdrops. Winter starts to loosen her grip.

(Also in the slightly more graphic form of copulating frogs in our pond.)

Life stirring.

and… er… humping stuff

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