Category Archives: Uncategorized

November

Coppicing weekend! It’s an annual event where we host 10 to 15 visitors and teach traditional coppicing skills – how to healthily (for the person and the tree) fell a coppice stool and protect it from deer nibbling which hinders straight growth that is much more useful. The materials we harvest get used in a variety of ways: gads for thatching spars, poles and weavers for hurdles, bean supports, wigwams for sale and of course firewood. We had a great team over the weekend! Finishing over 35 stools, thanks to everyone who made it a great weekend 🙂 For more info or to book on for next year visit our Events page.

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To protect the new hazel shoots primarily in their first and second year of growth we weave ‘baskets’ or ‘fairy rings’ using stakes and weavers from the material we have just cut.

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The steam powered bandsaw mill has been running twice a week this month (more than our general once-weekly rhythm), lots of wood being cut for building the sparkling new apple press building! Other current millings go towards the new Harness shed and wood cladding of the Badger house. A lot of this has been made possible with extra energy from the Badger Boys – Alex, Rich and Fred who are here for the winter and devoting time to land craft including various structural work (and yes, they’re living in the Badger house, so called because of the beautiful road kill badger skin that covers the door). In addition to timber for the community, we mill for orders outside the community so if anyone local would like some quality and lovingly produced timber then get in touch.

Our wonderful cob horses Charlie and Jim extract logs (mostly our Douglas fir and Larch fir) using a logging arch down to the mill where the logs are maneuvered with a Cant Hook and a heavy iron bar onto runners that lead onto the mill bench. Our steam engine is from the 1930s and is powered from off-cuts from the mill, the band saw dates back to the 1940s. No built-in obsolescence back then!

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Coordinated by Pedro, the apple press building will be online for housing the existing cider in the spring and ready for pressing our apples into cider and apple juice in the autumn – the last 10 years or so we’ve pressed apple juice off site so this is a momentous point! In keeping with the rest of the Bubble’s ethos, the juice pasturiser will be wood fired and the apple scratter will be either hand- or bike-powered. The health and hygiene certified building will be a multi functional building for selling other produce such as preserves and cake.

The harness shed is coming along! (Below)

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Fred safely wielding a hatchet

November and December are times for Christmas stalls, along with summer festival stalls they’re important times for the ongoing publicity of Tinkers Bubble and what we stand for in the movement towards voluntary simplicity,  low impact living and the promotion of traditional, heritage land management skills. And of course any wisdom we can offer in the beautiful complexity that is community living!

And to finish, has anyone been following this last series of Blue Planet II, looking at our magnificent oceans? The final episode, Our Blue Planet has some beautiful, encouraging and potent messages. It finishes with a couple of ecologists’ thoughts:

“I still think we have the capability to change the manner in which we’re wasting resources and we can look to a future with healthy oceans. It comes down to us each taking responsibility for the personal choices in our everyday lives, and it is those everyday choices that add up.

“We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet and never before have we had such a power to do something about that.”

Love from the forest x

Octoberrrr

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Hello hello!

Lots has happened since last July – people have moved on and off, babies have been born, livestock have come and gone (aka eaten), hedges have been laid, successful events have been hosted… We’ve had about 100 wonderful volunteers come and help us, made about 250 jars of preserves, found ingenious ways to cook many swedes (as in the veg, not the people), sung lots of songs… If you need more filling in book in to volunteer and we’ll tell you more then 🙂

Ed has got a new flock of Jacobs sheep! Starting small with 6, he’s setting up a business selling beautiful sheepskins – perfect for presents or cosying your floor… In the pics below Ed is bucket training which is handy as Jacobs are well known escape artists. This was especially useful when we had to retrieve the sheep from the village after someone left the gate open… when Ed was away!

 

The new apple juice and cider press is very much underway along with loads of volunteer help and being coordinated by Pedro – in the pic are lovely volunteers Harry, Tim and Dan. It’ll be a stud frame building with facilities for making preserves as well. We might have a hand apple scratter or it might be steam or bike powered! That would be cool. The pasturiser will be heated by wood, being an off-grid farm and all. Talking of which, check out a lovely film about our off-grid forestry business.

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Lady, our Jersey milker (in the foreground) gave birth to a little Jersey-Angus calf we named Buttercup in early summer so we’ve had loads of milk and cream since then! Enough to make ghee and freeze some for less butter-abundant times too. Pedro doesn’t always look this crazed when churning butter… As a volunteer you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make butter and perhaps even make cheese and milk the cows 🙂

 

As we turn towards the winter there are many things still growing on the land. Hanging shelves are ideal for growing things in the bean family as the mice love tucking into germinating beans in the colder months!

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This is Jim. He’s great. He’s one of two of our working cobs and along with Charlie they help us prepare our veg cultivation ground, are vital in the timber business for extracting logs, and transporting things around the land and off the land with our cart and wagon. This evening he was taking us for an autumnally fresh trap ride around the quiet Somerset lanes.

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Apples apples apples!!! That’s been super theme this last month. Jim and Charlie carted our apples to a local farm (we press offsite at the mo 3.5 miles away) where we pasturised 3000 bottles of delicious organic apple juice which we sell to Bristol, London, Glastonbury and various local shops. We also sell apples to local juice businesses and a couple of shops. Ped’s also been doing cider pressings with our heritage fruit varieties, you can’t not have cider on an apple farm.

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And to finish – this is the beautiful view from one of our compost loos! Great place to spend some time…

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p.s. if you’d love to visit but can’t commit to at least a weeks volunteering then consider joining us on our forestry weekends. They’re free and full of learning and meeting lovely folk. It’s also the way we produce most of our logs for milling. Delicious cake, fireside company, singing and playing games if you’re into that and the rich smell of earthy Douglas Fir forest guaranteed (especially if you faceplant). We currently have space on the Jan Feb and March ones but they book up fast!

Juicy July!

Half a year later and we’re into the throngs of summer – the wild plums are ripening on our laid hedges and gooseberries, blackcurrants and blueberries dangle from deep green as they approach their ripening apex.

We now have sheep! 6 beautiful Jacobs and Jacobs-Suffolk wethers (castrated rams) from a local organic farmer. This is to help with the excess grazing in the summer months – we’re plopping them in the rotation behind cows and ahead of horses.

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Also added to the Tinkers family is a thicknesser planer for adding value to our timber – winched precariously and successfully off a beam in the barn!

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Wetheuncivilised film screening

We recently hosted a screening of wetheuncivilised, a thought provoking and inspiring documentary that was partly shot at Tinkers Bubble, bringing a full house to  our local sleepy Chiselborough village hall. Check out a local screening near you!

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Website launch

Created craftily by Pedro, we now have our own website. Who would have thought it! Visit www.tinkersbubble.org for news and details on upcoming events as well as more information about our businesses and general info. In particular look out for more info on our annual open day on the 1st October… Well done Ped 🙂

Draught Animal Power Network event

In April we excitedly held our first DAPNet (Draught Animal Power Network) event, demonstrating and offering participation in horse work such as long reining, logging, field work and carting. The event was a success with over 30 (twice our official limit) aspiring, beginning and established agricultural and forestry horse workers. Linked to the Landworkers’ Alliance, DAPNet is an idea seeded from the States where the use of horses and other animal in powering agriculture has had a welcomed renaissance.

In the UK exists far less but still holding the fort the presence of few experienced practitioners, as well as beginners hoping to take up the reins (excuse the pun). We hope the glimmers of inspiration and action murming around our small country will catalyse  and hasten the movement of horse-powered land work to return to the British Isles. We may have to wait, but our feet are firmly and stubbornly in the ground.

‘Horses’ – Wendell Berry

When I was a boy here,
traveling the fields for pleasure,
the farms were worked with teams.
As late as then a teamster
was thought an accomplished man,
his art an essential discipline.
A boy learned it by delight
as he learned to use
his body, following the example
of men. The reins of a team
were put into my hands
when I thought the work was play.
And in the corrective gaze
of men now dead I learned
to flesh my will in power
great enough to kill me
should I let it turn.

I learned the other tongue
by which men spoke to beasts
—all its terms and tones.
And by the time I learned,
new ways had changed the time.
The tractors came. The horses
stood in the fields, keepsakes,
grew old, and died. Or were sold
as dogmeat. Our minds received
the revolution of engines, our will
stretched toward the numb endurance
of metal. And that old speech
by which we magnified
our flesh in other flesh
fell dead in our mouths.
The songs of the world died
in our ears as we went within
the uproar of the long syllable
of the motors. Our intent entered
the world as combustion.
Like our travels, our workdays
burned upon the world,
lifting its inwards up
in fire. Veiled in that power
our minds gave up the endless
cycle of growth and decay
and took the unreturning way,
the breathless distance of iron.

But that work, empowered by burning
the world’s body, showed us
finally the world’s limits
and our own. We had then
the life of a candle, no longer
the ever-returning song
among the grassblades and the leaves.

Did I never forget?
Or did I, after years,
remember? To hear that song
again, though brokenly
in the distances of memory,
is coming home. I came to
a farm, some of it unreachable
by machines, as some of the world
will always be. And so
I came to a team, a pair
of mares—sorrels, with white
tails and manes, beautiful!—
to keep my sloping fields.
Going behind them, the reins
tight over their backs as they stepped
their long strides, revived
again on my tongue the cries
of dead men in the living
fields. Now every move
answers what is still.
This work of love rhymes
living and dead. A dance
is what this plodding is.
A song, whatever is said.

 

 

September and October

Sorry I haven’t been on it in the last couple of months. Let me update you now on what we have been up to.

September

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In preparation for the open day we did a lot of tidying. This included: taking everything out of the tool shed… and putting it back in again… Tom and Mick found many tools we didn’t know we had and many things we don’t want. It all went back in very neatly with proper places for things. What a revelation.

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Rosie, Fin and one of our volunteers making elderberry wine.

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My daughter Anyi on a shetland pony. Our enterprising young neighbors were offering pony rides on the open day.

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Our stall selling home made produce, delicious discovery apples, apple juice, cider vinegar and Sophia’s beautiful homemade baskets. We managed to get rid of some of our leek surplus too! It was lovely to chat to so many people from the local area who had come to see what we get up to on our secluded hill. It is particularly nice to have regulars who come every year and show their support by eating cake and er drinking tea. We held a few small workshops, I held a scything demonstration which quite a few people were interested in. I hope some of them were convinced that they don’t need a strimmer, a scythe will keep them slimmer!

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Mike doing what he does best…IMG_1083

And at the end of the day we had an impromptu ceilidh helped by enthusiastic embercombers. Then we all went to the pub… Thank you to everyone who came, your interest and support means a lot to us. We look forward to seeing you next year.

October

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Jim and Charlie in the Long Bramleys

October is apple time. We have been blessed with mild weather which has made the picking a lot easier. Climb a tree, shake the branches, climb down, pick the apples, shoo the horses away.. Repeat…

Its good fun and the children come down and sit in the trees or eat Bramleys. We pay ourselves for apple juice work so it is a great way to earn money in a short space of time. We have pressed enough for two years so if next year is not a good year we will have enough juice to see us through. The trees tend to yield well every other year as they are around 50 years old now.

We sent our last remaining dexter cow Rhubarb off to slaughter three weeks ago and the meat came back this week. After much deliberation we decided to buy a freezer which is powered by a solar panel. We are also salting some of the meat and making jerky. In the past we have had to sell the meat straight away as we couldn’t preserve it all but this way we can enjoy meat raised on our land by us. We know it is organic, we know she was well treated. We will miss her… chasing her around the woods and down the lane, her moody temperament…

Lady is still giving us milk and her calf is getting very big now. In chicken news; we have eaten all the old ones and they weren’t even that tasty, and we now have brand new ones. Lets hope they like it here and lay lots of eggs.

The harvest has been great this year, bumper apple crop as you may have noticed where you live. Lots of squash, carrots, beetroot and potatoes to store. Parsnips can stay in the ground and be harvested when needed as can kale.It is time to cover the beds with some manure and let them snooze the winter through. I sowed some overwintering peas to be ready in the spring. Sophia and Ed have sown winter salads and peas in the polytunnel, Rosie is doing broad beans. There are still lots of leeks. It is a tasty abundant time of year. We have made lots of jam and chutneys, rendered the fat from the cow. Now it is time to give the forest some attention.

At the moment though with this grey weather we are not getting enough sun to charge the solar panels much. We are having to be very sensible with electricity. I am cheating, using my laptop whilst i am away. Interesting though how (without films etc) you end up going to bed pretty early in the dark months, storing your energy in a semi hibernation.

Also we welcome our newest residents; Mick, Jen, Mia and Teo to our community. We love them a lot.

August on the roof

We decided to fix our kitchen roof this month. It was done about fifteen years ago with planks of waney edged board from our sawmill. We have started to experience rain on the breadboard so it was about time. Now the sawmill is happily churning out wood again we can continue the essential repairs.

First we took everything out of the kitchen. Which made it a challenge for those residents on domestic (day of cooking, cleaning, wood sawing duty). Some of us carried boards up the hill and baton. Some prised old board off the roof, and we took it in turns having the children. We put a layer of canvas down once all the old roof boards were off and swept all the cobwebs off he beams. Then we fixed the baton running down the beams to attach the new boards to. Getting the boards straight was not easy at the building is shall we say rustic and has slumped in places since it was built. Still sturdy though.

We also now benefit from a skylight above the rayburn in the kitchen which is truly life changing. When cooking you can now see what you are stirring. Good…or bad, depends i suppose.

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Raising the siege towers

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Rosie the cob mistress at work. She led volunteers in touching up the roundhouse walls (our communal living area) and re liming them. It looks very shiny, and just in time for the open day in September. She also took on the liming of the new guesthouse walls which are dazzling.

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Carnage in the roundhouse as walls are patched up and repaired.

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As promised a photograph of Ed and his Harris hawk Maya. He has been taking her out and training her and she is learning fast. She was unfortunately kept in a dark shed for many years without flying and so he is having to start from scratch really. Pardon the pun. First he flew her short distances on the rope, enticing her with meat, and then gradually longer and longer distances. Now she flies above while Ed walks down to the orchards to train her.

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Sometimes harrowing is. Harrowing, that is. But not this time. Charlie working hard with Sophia, Jake and Pedro.

We are clearing a bit of land that has been occasional pasture with a number of apple trees on it. It has been garden before and is right next to the poly tunnels so it makes sense to turn it in to garden again. We want to have enough space to grow oats and wheat. We are going to have to trim the russets a little though.

In the gardens… we have been busy sowing over wintering vegetables and salads. We are back to having to consume ten leeks a day. Green manures like crimson clover have been sown. The first succession of winter salads are getting there. Us gardeners have discussed ways of trying to thwart the hungry gap by over wintering things in the poly tunnels and sowing things very early. Will let you know how that plan works out in May and June next year!

My daughter has been snipping caterpillars in half, which is very useful but slightly disturbing that shes killing things already ( aged two and a half)! Those foul smelling cabbage whites. The children have been devouring wineberries, blackberries, plums and apples but also helping to make cakes and crumbles.

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Tinkers Bubble had a stall at the Ham Hill Woodland Fair last Saturday. Ham hill is the high hill we live on and is also a country park. It has a vivid history, having been quarried since the roman times, home to an iron age hill fort and medieval village.

We had a stall and did some horse logging and crosscut sawing demos. They also had chainsawing there, kids crafts, meat, sweets and some interesting wood carvers including traditional bow makers. We sold some juice, discovery apples, cake and vinegar.

Our Open Day is on the 19th of September. If you are local come along! I promise there will be cake.

Fly in July

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It is an abundant time of year. It is a joy to cook in July! There are so many fresh ingredients to choose from. I wander from garden to poly tunnel with my basket picking courgette, beans, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, basil, rosemary, parsley.Also in season potatoes, carrots, beetroot, kale.

I have been making lots of jam this month. Bottled redcurrants, blackcurrants and black currant jam. It is easy to preserve fruit without sugar. You just need to pasteurize it. For example when i make bottled fruit i just put the berries in sterilised jars, pour boiling water over them, close lids and pasteurise in a massive pan of water. You know the jars have sealed when the little disks make a popping sound as the vacuum is created. In my opinion the amount of sugar needed to make proper jam is quite mad and you end up losing the flavour of the fruit. So you can just add sugar to your taste then pasteurise afterwards. The fruit will still keep at least a year from my experience. Although i wouldn’t recommend the sugar free method for rhubarb or gooseberries!

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Me and Sophia have been seed saving from parsnips, crimson clover and phacelia. The picture above shows parsnip seeds being harvested from the umbels (seed heads). The main umbels (the largest and central)provide the most vigorous seed so we took the seed from these. We also collected seeds from secondary umbels, these will be kept separate as a back up! The seeds will be dried further to make sure they keep through the winter. We only need enough for the coming spring as parsnip seeds rarely last more than a year. So we will do the same process again: at least 30 of the biggest and most healthy parsnips are left in the ground. It is best to grow as many as you can for genetic diversity as parsnips are outbreeders. The rest are harvested and eaten in the autumn. The plants still in the ground are left until the following summer when they send up flower heads which are pollinated by insects. Different varieties of parsnips need to be separated or they are likely to cross. Unless you want to experiment with this! By late July the seeds should be ready. They will be dry and brown on dry brown stems. Harvest during dry weather for nice dry seed.

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I am pleased with the 125kg potato haul from my small garden. Straight in afterwards is tobacco, another experiment. It is another Solanacae (nightshade family) so it was not so great to put it in after potato. It will only be in a month or so, we should have planted it months ago, but food was obviously a priority. We will see what happens, I understand it is complicated to process, you need somewhere dry to dry it, which can be tricky in England. Although this year has been exceptionally dry, at least it has here in the South West.

We sadly lost our Dexter calf this month. We don’t know why she died. Poor rhubarb was calling mournfully for a few days. Lady and Luna are happy and healthy. We are getting 10 litres a day on average and still making lots of butter and cheese. Now the calf is weaned there are no more problems with her holding back milk and she willingly walks to the shelter. What a relief after the first couple of months being quite challenging when we were training her to be milked.

We did our first sawing with the new band saw and it went really well. There is still some tinkering needed but it was a good day. We have enough boards now to renew the kitchen roof. Woop woop no more drips in the kitchen. It is great to get the horses logging again as they need to be regularly worked and during the summer we are away more and we aren’t always able to work them.

In other menagerie news we have a new lurcher puppy and a Harris hawk called Maya. Yes there will be pictures. Try getting a puppy to sit still, or a hawk…

Hay making in the hungry gap

We made our first hay in mid June just before we all went off to the Green Scythe Fair. More about that later.

Hay making involves an early start (5am) to beat the heat and to make it easier to cut the grass as it is still damp in the early morning. It is beautiful to be in the meadow at this time in the morning as the sun climbs higher in the sky while you work. We cut all our hay by hand with scythes. As you cut a swathe through the grass you leave a row of cut grass on your left. The hay is left to dry until afternoon, then turned. In the evening we come down and pile it into long rows to stop it from getting too damp in the night and the next morning we are down to spread it out to dry, turning it when needed until it is dry enough to store.

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Our horse Charlie carting hay with Ed and John

This meadow alone is not enough to feed our animals through the winter and we will have to cut more hay. We have more mouths to feed now with the two calves, and Jerseys are a bit more high maintenance than the hardy Dexters. Our hay meadow was looking in a lot better shape this year compared to last year though which I was really pleased about. Most of the field isn’t grazed because the animals would damage the young apple trees. This means it has the potential to get very weedy, with a lot of nettles, docks and a few brambles creeping in. With regular scything of the weeds at the right time we have managed to control them a lot better this year.

Tinkers Bubble again had a stall at the Scythe Fair, a one day festival near Langport, Somerset. Both horses were used to take things to the site, as some of us are involved in setting up the festival. Jim took Pedro the 10 miles pulling a cart full of tools, electric fence, tent and bicycle. Once there he was able to help cart things about, much more sensible than a landrover for going back and forth across a field.

We sold our apple juice, cakes, plants, baskets and hand carved bowls, spoons and jewellery. We also have info boards with photos of our land and talk to people about why we live on the land and what we are doing. It is great to have feedback from local people about our place in the community.

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The communual garden is full of a variety of things, some brand new crops are being trialled this year like quinoa, oats and wheat. There is a beautiful strip of phacelia with lots of other self seeded flowers like borage, violets and poppies. The bees love it.  We have tried to do more of everything that we usually grow. We have a block of 120 sweetcorn plants. Last year they were all stolen by the badgers, just as they were about to be harvested. Better keep an eye on them this year!

We are finally eating our own potatoes again and the first courgettes and cucumbers. The strawberries have come and gone. The first gooseberries are ripe, just as we have eaten all the jams and conserves from last year. Oats on their own for breakfast for a short while only! There are lots of herbs and the garlic has been harvested and tied into plaits to hang in the kitchen. We have lots of butter at the moment as we are weaning the calf, Moon from her mothers milk. She is old enough to eat only grass now so we are getting all of Lady’s milk. All the better to make cheeses with.

Work continues on the sawmill and it will be ready for a sawing again very soon. It is vital to have it up and running as we are always in need of timber for building, fencing and repairing and of course much of our livelihood comes from selling sawn timber.

May it bee

Sorry, i couldnt help it.

So, bit of a slow news month really. At the beggining of may we were planting out lots of seedlings; squash, brocolli, cabbage. We have quite a few squash left over so we have been squeezing them in all over the place.

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My garden at the end of may

All the plants in my garden have shot up. From the left rhubarb, broad beans, onions, potatoes, carrots. There is a healthy row of comfrey which we use for a fertile mulch and make a stinking ‘tea’ to water plants with as it is high in nitrogen and gives plants a boost. The herb garden is looking amazing, flowering chives, rosemary and salad burnett and borage.

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Eds polytunnel, which is mostly tomatoes with basil, coriander, parsley, chilli peppers, aubergines and capsicums.

We ate our first few broad beans the other day from plants in the polytunnel, they were amazing to have them so fresh, i haven’t eaten them in years. They popped in your mouth like fresh peas. Ohhh yeah…

Rhubarb, our dexter cow, had her calf on the 11th of may. The calf is another hiefer and is strong in healthy. We haven’t named her yet, some suggest Snowy (she is black). Please comment if you have a better suggestion! Rhubarb is not the best mum but she is getting better, when the calf was born she was headbutting her when she was trying to feed but recently i have seen her giving her an affectionate lick. Lady is an excellent mum, she was very concerned about the new calf and checked up on her when she was lying under the apple trees. Rhubarb was off stuffing her face with grass postpartum understandably!

Many of us were away during may setting up and organising a small gathering called Green Earth Awakening in the blackdown hills in Devon. A buddhafield camp with strong skills and land based workshops as well as beautiful shared live music, childrens activities, drop in crafts, shared meals, meditation. See the article on http://www.foodforafuture.wordpress.com (which i haven’t written yet on 1 june but will in the next few days)

Regarding the sawmill, we have a new bandsaw but it needs some work to install. For a start it needs to be perpendicular to the steam engine. Annoying, to put it mildly as we have spent the last five years building the new barn to house the sawmill in. We are going to build a new extension on the barn to house the engine now, but a roundwood frame for obvious reasons. There is some serious tinkering to do. But when it is all ready it should all run more smoothly than before.

To excuse the title pun, we have some bumble bee squatters. I noticed a week ago a hole where badgers had gone after the bees nest in the ground and now they have moved in with Ed and Sophia.

April, warm, dry and leeky

The strong smell of the lovely  laurel flowers drifts through the forest in early April. A big group of us started to cob the outside of the new badger house so dubbed because it now has the old badger house door.

The cob was made with a mixture of sandy soil and lime. Six buckets of sandy sub soil to one of lime. We mix it all up with wellie power in a big tarp. Then it is smoothed out over the walls. We did two layers during April. The lime is added to make it easier to apply the mix and help to weatherproof it.

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cobbing the walls with a lime and cob mix

Some parts of the wall needed a bit of chickenwire to give it integrity, there can be cracks between the bales or gaps under the eaves. These get stuffed with straw, the chicken wire goes over the top, held in with long staples made of metal fencing wire. The cob is smoothed over and you would never know.

The walls cracked quite a lot in april as we had virtually no rain. They have been hosed down a few times which stops them drying out to quickly and cracking.

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Saving the piano from the wreckage

In other news, we took down the old badger house, which was a big old ‘slug’ bender hybrid. It was about 15 years old or so I think. It had cob walls in some places, pallets with bottles and cob, big recycled windows and a bender roof of bend hazel and hornbeam branches. We spent a day dismanteling it together. The bottles were all taken down the hill to be recycled. The wood will be burnt in the steam engine and rayburn, some of the straw is good enough to use for mulch. Windows were taken down to be used in the barn and any new structures. And the piano… is in the new badger house. The site now is just a flat piece of land with a tidy stack of straw bales. All the materials were organic (or recyclable). A beautiful demolition.

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Finley in the kale forest

Food wise, april was a month of leeks, kale and yes! purple sprouting brocolli which is such a treat when it is first ready but then we ate it every day for a month. We are still eating bought in potatoes at the moment to supplement our brassica based diet. We unearthed some stray carrots too, tiny ones that are a pain to wash. That was a treat.We did have a couple of cauliflowers and a few calabrese. We have got lots of milk and some hard cheese so lots of leek and potato bakes and leeks with mashed potato and roast potato with cheesy leek bake, leek and potato soup with kale… Supplemented with nettles and the first salads, sorrel, chives and tons of wild garlic.

I planted out quite a few things in my new beds, asters, dahlias, poppies and a little wildflower patch of seeds that i have saved from hedgerows whilst walking and hitchhiking around in Devon. I miss the meadowsweet and blue alkanet which grew everywhere where i lived before. I also did a resowing of my carrots in places where they were looking thin. The wonderful thing about having a dry spring is that there have been virtually no slugs or weeds. But we have had to water our seedlings as there was almost no rain at all.

So many beautiful wild flowers coming out, red campion, white dead nettle, ground ivy, winter purslane, herb robert, cow parsley, wild comfrey, lungwort, phacelia, borage, blueberry, currants, gooseberries, rocket, kale, chives,unfurling ferns, buttercups, daisies. And of course, the apple blossom. Here is hoping for an abundant apple harvest this year.

March milk madness

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Kiwi entwined around a plum
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Lady, our jersey cow

March has been the super milky month. Ladys calf luna was born on the fifth of on the full moon hence the new age name. We stood outside the cow shelter like kids excitedly peeking at the calf and giggling at her cuteness whilst trying to be quiet and not disturb the new mother and baby.

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Luna, born on the fourth of March

After a week of the calf taking all the milk we started to milk the cow. We started off only taking a small amount of milk so the calf could have most of it but now a few weeks on we are getting about six litres a day and milking her out to increase production. We have started making butter and cheese and having lots of white sauce potato bakes and putting whey in everything. The evening milk (which is more creamy) is poured in a cream separator which is just a massive kilner jar with a tap. The milk is used for cheese making and the cream is used for butter making. To make butter all the cream is poured into a butter churn which is a another big jar with a handle on top which turns wooden paddles that churn the cream into butter. Sometimes it is quite quick and sometimes it takes 45 minutes. You churn it for ages then there is suddenly a golden lump of butter in there. There is also some buttermilk left over. So you sieve the butter and squish it with the scotch hands (to get all the liquid out)which are wooden paddle things which have grooves on one side. Then you can roll it into a round or squidge it into a brick. The first cheese i made was a simple cottage  cheese. This is very easy to make. I used milk that had had the cream separated. I added a few drops of rennet and left the milk in the hay box with a hot water bottle over night. The next day i heated it on the stove until it curdled. This is when the curds (used to make cheese) separate from the whey. The curds look like white lumpy bits that gradually all stick together. When I thought it had separated as much as it was going to I took it off the heat and strained off the whey which is kept for cooking. Traditionally it would be given to pigs to help fatten them up. So then i just added some salt and chopped chives and you have an easy soft cheese.

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The greenhouse full of our precious green babies

During the forestry weekend in March we  did some more felling in the area we are clearing next to the communual garden and also some tidying up here around our houses. Some trees are a cause for concern if they have a large crack inthe trunk and are right next to someones house for example. Fortunately there was only one casualty…a wheelbarrow. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and will be sorely missed.

In the garden this month we are mostly eating leeks and kale. We have had to buy in potatoes as we had a bad harvest last year. So lots of leeka dn potato soup and leek and potato bake with the occasional rabbit thrown in. We are eating the last of the parsnips now and the purple sprouting broccolli is just starting to come through.  Winter purslane is a great wild green to put in salads and it grows in profusion up in the woods around our houses. We also have rocket, chard, spinach, sorrel, parsley to add into salads.

The plum and sloe blossom is starting to come out and is a beautiful welcome into the warmer part of the year. Daffodills and primroses have sprung up all over the woods and the yellow celandine is everywhere too. I have seen the first red campion and the birds seem to be singing their more upbeat spring songs.

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Roundhouse frame in the wild garden

Sophia and I have been tidying an abandoned garden which got pretty overgrown as no one has been working in there for a couple of years. Earlier this year we scythed the brambles and nettles and discovered that it is full of fruit bushes. Gooseberries and blackcurrants, also a fig, a kiwi, a mulberry, a japanese wineberry. Sophia has planted willow in there for her basketry and a bed with some salads. We are going to continue rennovating the wild garden when we get the time, but in a way it is nice to have a garden that is a bit mad and does its own thing. It is full of self seeded rhubarb and garlic and comfrey and hazel and oak and some bamboo someone planted and lots of fruit trees.

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piles of brambles after clearing the wild garden
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Tiny greenhouse and polytunnel in wild garden
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New little beds in my garden

I have dug some new beds in my garden with the help of the lovely wwoofers as always. This year I am growing some flowers in addition to all the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions and broad beans) and  I am very excited about growing woad to use for dying. Woad is a plant from the brassica family (cabbages) and produces a beautiful blue dye from its leaves. It was thought that the celts used it as a body paint but this now seems unlikely. It does dye cloth though and although it isnt native has been used in this country for thousands of years. I am sure when i harvest it the temptation to paint my self blue and run naked up to the valley to the hillfort will be overwhelming.