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June is busting out all over

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Well, it’s certainly all happening down at the pond.  The wildlife are almost taking over. After the millions of tadpoles came the newts, popping up to the surface for a breath of air then diving back down.  There seem to be more great diving beetles this year including some smaller ones which I take to be babies, or more probably something altogether different.

Then a couple of weeks ago we started to see the damselflies, red ones and blue ones. Firstly singly then more recently coupled together as they lay their eggs around the marginal plants.

But the great delight has been over the past few days as I was able to witness the amazing metamorphosis of the scary looking nymphs into that most beautiful of flying machines, the dragonfly.

These early ones are Southern Hawkers.  Later on we’ll get Gold Ringed and the magnificent Emperor, which ‘patrols’ around the pond, checking out who’s daring to swim in their territory!

So back to the Hawkers.  The first thing to see are the nymphs waiting in the water for the right time to clamber out and up an iris leaf.  We make sure there are always sufficient tall stems for them – leaving last year’s flower spikes on the purple loosestrife for instance.

Once up the leaf they somehow cling on and start to dry out in the sun.

Now the magic really starts, firstly a thin white line appears on the back of the nymph and the head and eyes force their way through the narrow opening.

First glimpse of the green head

Once the head is out, the body starts to emerge ….

A bit more comes into view

…slowly, very slowly, the body sort of wriggles its way further into view.

On the way

Almost done

Then in the blink of an eye it flips up and grabs hold of the now empty nymph case – just missed that bit with the camera!

Wings emerge

At last it looks a bit like a dragonfly.

It takes a while for the wings to fully dry out and fill their final shape

wings still folded

Apparently this is the last time those wings will be in that position.

Then a final ‘battery charging’ with wings fully extended…

Ready for take off

..and it’s gone.  leaving behind just the empty case.

All done!

A fantastic experience and one which could easily be missed.  Fortunately they emerged across three of four days so I was forewarned when the later ones were due and was poised with the camera.

I’ll be keeping an eye open for any further larva cases in the hope of seeing an Emperor emerge.

What a wonderful wildlife pond! It pays to work with nature.

“The answer lies in the soil!”

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That’s what I seem to remember was always the answer that the likes of Percy Thrower and his ilk used to trot out on Gardeners Question Time in the old days.

….. well maybe, but it’s what you put into the soil that is what makes it so good.

With that in mind Sue held the first of her Compost Making and Using courses here at Nantybedd Garden today.   A dozen trusting souls reached deep into their wallets and diced with the timber lorries to spend nearly six hours talking about … Compost!

So great was the anticipation that the ‘car park’ was full a good 20 minutes beforehand – maybe lured by the smell of Sue T’s scrumptious cake with the early morning tea.

Eventually they settled down to discuss why they felt they needed help.  It seemed to be a long talk.

Getting into the swing of it

This was followed by a presentation of the do’s and dont’s, the sources of learned composting and how ’tis done here at Nant y Bedd.

Fortunately the delicious quiches for lunch were a bit delayed as the discussion around the slides ran over by quite a bit!

Lunch included not only the aforementioned quiches, with our own eggs and some interesting foraged ingredients, a salad largely gleaned from the garden and yet more scrummy cakes, this time from that multi-talented gardener/ painter and cake maker Caroline.

The spread!

 

Chance to chat over lunch

After lunch there was an opportunity to work off the excesses on a tour of the various compost heaps around the garden and an indication of how and where to use compost, leaf mould and other such mulches.

The “FC Bin” awaiting pumpkins

Needless to say the cats got in on the act, with Smudge rounding up stragglers and Oreo hitching a lift.

With perfect timing, Sue rolled back the cover on one of the heaps and there was ….

… a slowworm, enjoying the warmth

But it wasn’t all theory.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been instructed to place piles of ‘stuff’ up in the pig field.  Now I know why!  The assembled company was asked to help in constructing a ‘windrow’, a sort of open compost heap.

Here’s how you do it!

After this it was back to the garden room to discuss what was learnt.  A Nant y Bedd Garden postcard was issued to all present, along with a pencil, to record the three things that each participant would be doing in the future to make better compost.

A bit more tea and a (futile) attempt to finish off the cakes and the assembled cast was given a sachet of QR Compost Activator to go home with – but only after they had visited the plant stall and bought a compost duvet or two.

If you think this is for you, there’s another course booked on 27th June with a few places left and one pencilled in for September.  Get in touch, now.

You can eat that??

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With apologies to our regular followers and newsletter subscribers, here’s Lucy Gaze’s report on the recent foraging day at Nant y Bedd, plus a little snippet from Liz’s blog.

 

Friday 18th May saw the first of 3 foraging days at Nantybedd, with the lovely and extremely knowledgeable Liz Knight of Foragefinefoods.

Liz waxing lyrical about Ground Elder

The day dawned bright and sunny and 6 guests (plus Sue!) turned up to a delightful treat of homemade nettle muffins with raspberry icing and topped with bird cherry blossom to fire them up for a 2 hour forage around the garden.

Nettle muffins – not at all stingy

We started in the potager, which fortunately Sue had left a couple of weeds in – for the purpose of this event of course! We sampled that ‘beast’ ground elder, discovering it was an excellent substitute for salad leaves, ate the aniseed flavoured flowers of sweet cicely and chewed on dock stems which were distinctly like rhubarb. We also sampled hairy bitter cress, a dead ringer for rocket and honesty seeds – hot and spicy! Liz provided a detailed and fascinating account of each plant with historical uses and key pointers to identification.

Rapt attention – noteboks and pencils at the ready

Stopping at Sue’s beautiful display of potted tulips, we made the surprising discovery that the petals are edible – and delicious, tasting rather like apples!

A second use for tulips

Crossing over to the house, we found other delights – sweet woodruff, which we picked to flavor our cocktails and pudding, along with apple blossom that had the fragrancy of rose petals. As we wandered along, Liz collected plants for our lunch and we continued to sample these strange delights that also included cultivated plants not usually known for their culinary delights – such as hosta leaves and sedum!

many hands ….

Basket full, we set up camp beside the wild pond, lit a fire and were then treated to a veritable feast – a rainbow salad of petals and leaves that we had collected, together with a potato salad and delicious home made vegetable frittata. Liz also sautéed hogweed, hosta and the shoots of hops and willowherb which tasted incredible! Washed down with a fruit cocktail infused with pine needles, lemon balm and fruit blossom and finished with a sweet woodruff flavoured milk pudding with pine syrup it was the perfect end to a fascinating and most enjoyable day.

Hosta, hop shoots and willowherb

All there is to say is thank you so much for a really memorable experience and can I come to the next one please??!

Sweet Woodruff flavoured pud, with pine sauce!

 

…and from Liz’s Instagram ”  … the ridiculously gorgeous Nantybedd Garden.  It’s a magical forest garden in the depths of the hills. …  Does Eden exist?  I think so, see the magic for yourselves”

Words by Lucy Gaze;  Pics by Lucy and Toni Greaves; compliment by Liz!

 

 

Beans, beans, beans

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‘Twas a strange day in the Nant-y-Bedd garden today.  We were working together! It was, albeit a bit later than usual due to the inclement weather, the time to construct this year’s bean tunnel.

A lot of ‘harvesting’ of hazel rods had been going on recently and in order to get the cars out of the yard, something had to be done.

The Runner Bean tunnel is widely admired by our visitors, but they only usually see it covered in beans.  So here you can see the skeleton and the amount of work that goes into it.

First the sticks have to be cut and brought into the potager.

Just some of the hazel sticks

Each stick needs to be fairly straight and without branches in the wrong place, otherwise they tend to break as they are bent.

Then the framework starts to take form.

the first few hoops

From here on it’s a case of getting matching pairs of hazel rods and tying them in to the the top ‘stretcher’.

adding more hoops

It is very much a two person job, pushing the rods into the soil, bending them over at the right height and then tying them into the arch position; one under, one over the stretcher.

teamwork!

Eventually we have 25 rods each side, giving 50 planting positions for the plants.

To make it more secure, and with the winds we have had in some summers this is essential, we run a further sideways set of rods to keep everything in just the right place.

Pretty much finished

By the time you visit you’ll hardly be able to see the frame for the green beans hanging down.

A tunnel of ?????

The beans are nearly ready to be planted out, and then they will be climbing faster than you can believe. Come and see for yourself.

Oh yes! the string to pull it all together is natural sisal baling twine – none of your plastic stuff!

A case of mistaken identity

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You may have seen our recent article in the magazine of the Small Woods Association (SWA) of which we have been members for a few years now.  We put a copy on Facebook and Instagram, but here’s the story behind it.

The SWA are a lovely bunch of people, both staff and fellow members, who are really interested in making the most of the thousands of small patches of woodland scattered all over the country.

Last year, a bit frustrated that many of the events in other peoples woodlands were all so far away, we offered a day here at Nant y Bedd, with woodland stuff in the morning and the chance to enjoy the garden in the afternoon.  They pretty well bit our hand off to accept, particularly after Russell from SWA came down to have a quick recce.  He was so taken with what we are doing that he arranged what was probably better than usual publicity for our event.

We were really fortunate with the weather and a group of about a dozen woodland owners plus a couple from SWA had a cracking day exchanging ideas, catastrophes, and successes before tucking into their picnics.  Sue gave them a garden tour in the afternoon which seemed to also go down very well.

SWA members cluster around Cedric

A couple of months later I opened an e-mail from the editor of the SWA magazine saying that the reports of our little patch that he’d had back from the SWA staff sounded perfect for an article.  Never ones to turn down free publicity, we agreed before he could change his mind.

There wasn’t any urgency as the article was due in the Spring 2018 edition so “sometime in January” would be fine.  Dangerous words ‘no urgency’ particularly with Christmas in the way.  Sue was pencilled in to write it, as she has the “management plan” in her head {one day I’ll get to know what’s in it}, but come the New Year and still no obvious progress from the distaff side, I sat down one snowy afternoon and rattled off the required 1300-1400 words – actually in my enthusiasm it came in at 1643 (and that’s not 17 minutes to 5pm!).  However it was liked by Derek the Editor – and not cut – so pictures were now required.

Choosing a good selection took a while and they were sent off to the Art Director (aka the Editor’s wife in the next room!). Four were chosen, although only three made it in – more on this later.  We sat back and awaited the proof.

If you were beginning to think that the title of this blog was a bit odd, now you’ll see why.  The proof landed in the in-box on a snowy March morning and immediately I noticed something wrong.  I’d changed identity.  The sub-heading called me Neal! Without bothering to read the rest, I immediately pinged a reply, to which I got back an e-mail addressed to “dear George”  signed “Winston”.

Ah,here was a kindred spirit – someone who doesn’t take life too seriously!  This simple e-mail started a raft of correspondence during which we each tried to outdo the other – Vladimir, Boris, Alphonse, Pascal, Chang, Ludwig, Sebastian and Christiano all made an appearance along with others.

Anyway here’s the finished article.

…and the picture that got away?

I can see it!

Apparently the front cover picture of the previous issue set off a lot of “elf and Safety correspondence due to the position of the lady’s legs – she was properly attired whilst using a chain saw to fell a small tree! So as not to get the safety brigade up in arms again it was decided to pull my chipper photo – which was both very safe (everything turned off) and rather humorous.  C’est la vie!

A big thanks to all at SWA, particularly Arbuthnot – or should that be Derek!

Compost Making Course

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Practical Organic Compost Making and its use

Wednesday 30th May 2018

10am – 3.30pm

with

Sue Mabberley at Nant-y-bedd, Fforest Coal Pit, Abergavenny, NP7 7LY

Composting is a key element of organic growing. Transforming waste products from kitchen and garden into microbially active compost to enrich the soil is an immensely satisfying process.

The raw material….

We will begin the day with an indoor session on the theory behind the process of successful compost making and different approaches including traditional bins and how to make a compost windrow.

Following a delicious 2-course home-made organic lunch we will move into the garden to make a compost windrow and tour the garden to see composting in action – bins at different stages of the process, including leafmould bins and compost and leafmould in use in the garden, including potting compost mixes.

… the finished product

The workshop will cover:

  • why we should all make compost
  • the basics of a controlled aerobic composting process including what materials are suitable for composting, the importance of mixing materials and temperature control
  • how to sort out a compost heap/bin which isn’t performing
  • how to speed up the process
  • how to use your compost in the garden, potting mixes and mulches and no-dig veg growing
  • how to make leafmould and its uses in the garden

Level of expertise required?

The workshop will be equally suitable for novice or seasoned composters.

 Bring with you

Sensible shoes and outdoor wear.

Go away with

Lots of ideas, free sachet of organic compost activator to get you started and loads of enthusiasm – we guarantee!

Booking a place

Places are limited to 10 to ensure maximum opportunity for discussion.

To book please phone Sue on 01873 890219 or e-mail sue.mabberley@btconnect.com

Cost £45     Special introductory offer

 The course will be led by Sue Mabberley. Sue has a First Class Honours degree in Environmental Systems, has professionally devised and delivered practical environmental training courses and most importantly has gardened organically at Nant-y-bedd Garden for nearly 40 years making fantastic compost.

 

 

Hello Yellow Chip Road!

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Apologies to Sir Elton for the title, but it just seemed perfect!

Those of you who have been here will have trodden – maybe without realising it – on many a woodchip path.  This is just a little insight into how some of those paths come into being.

It all tends to start with a bit of felling or a tree blowing over.  This produces some firewood and lots of useless branches – otherwise known as brash.

something like this

It’s too small for burning, but it’s also too good to put on the bonfire.

What we do is chip it.

Chips – not the potato variety

From some of the branches which came down in the snow I managed to chip about 2 Cu Yds this morning.  I was able to chip it straight into the trailer

lots of chips!

This allowed us to redo the path up to the sheep field from the road and from the rope bridge to the pond gate.   For the technical among you, those 2 Cu Yd equated to about 32 yards on the ground.

After (top) and before

 

Hello Yellow Brick Road – and Sid!

 

Tools of the trade – post-chipping

We have an article about our little woodland and the use of it in the next issue of the Small Woods Association magazine (publication early April).  If you have any interest in woodlands, or even own a small wood, please do become a member of the SWA (www.smallwoods.org.uk).  It helps keep our woodlands alive and working.

Postscript:  It was a case of Goodbye Yellow Chip Road this morning as the snow returned. fullsizeoutput_2105

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