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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

Christmas on the Beech

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No, that’s not a spelling mistake in the title.  We’re talking here about beech trees in the dingle, not lovely sandy stretches in the Bahamas.

The big snow of just before Christmas, knocked quite a few branches off trees, particularly some of the conifers in the garden, but nothing too catastrophic.  It was only when I went up to clear the pond pipe and check the hydro intake, that I saw it.  I couldn’t see what I was after, but I could see a lot of tree lying head down across the stream – as reported in the previous post.

One you’ve seen earlier!

OK, so it doesn’t look that huge in this photo but the bit where it split off the rest of the trunk is about 2 foot in diameter and it’s probably 60 foot tall/long.  It is also on both sides of the stream with a steep drop on one side.

The problem was how to make it safe in the first place.  Cut into the wrong bit and there were half a dozen spiky branches just waiting to making a horrible mess of the intake screen – which would have meant turning off the hydro just as it is starting to generate some useful quantities.

First, gain access to the site

After a couple of hours of careful tree surgery I was finally able to see the intake and get access to the pipe – after a fashion!

Much of this ‘brash’ is still there……

….. because it is acting as a fence against the forest sheep, the wire having been smashed down in more than one place.  Still plenty of useful firewood in there eventually though.

Then it was on to the ‘business end’, where once again it was holding the fence down, offering a motorway sized entrance to wildlife.

I had hoped that a cut through just above the wire would allow it to swing the main length up and away, but there were too many branches propping up the main spars so it had to be done in smaller sections until the fence was released and could be repaired.

Getting to grips with the bigger stuff…..

… which is where they still lay, pending a bit of additional muscle (hopefully in the shape of family) as I can’t move this size of log in the length I want on my own.

The smaller (relatively speaking) logs I threw into a rough pile on one side of the stream..

roughly removed..

… and then built a nice cord-wood style stack between a couple of alders.  This pile is roughly 4′ x 5′ x 6′, or according to ArbTalk about 3.2 tons!  And that is probably less than half of what will eventually be harvested.

Tidy!

All that was needed now was a bit of time and the job would be done.

But, guess what?  It snowed again and the tree next up the slope also split apart and dropped three more branches exactly in the same spot. Not quite as big, but equally tangled and disruptive.  So, like the old Flanders and Swann song about the gasman, it all started again yesterday or if you prefer “it all makes work for the (retired) working man to do!”

Still, in a year or two we’ll have a lovely big stack of my favourite firewood to keep us warm – just a lot of carrying, splitting and cutting in the interim!

 

It’s not easy being first

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Having a conversation with some garden visitors yesterday by the pond, it came to me that we have been, if not first then, early adopters of lots of things that have gone on to be far more widely accepted.

Take the natural swimming pond.

When we put ours in four years ago there was very little to base it on in this country. We’d come across the idea in France and Scandinavia, but these were really lakes in which one could swim rather than a specific place in a garden.   Now we have visitors coming from all over, who are “going to have one” and want to see what is needed, and how it works. Rumour has it that even David & Victoria Beckham are planning one – no doubt far larger / posher / etc.  Just remember we had one first!

Sitting next to the pond is our shepherd’s hut.

Built by a wonderful former shepherd in Dorset, Larry Skeates. Now we see them dotted around all over the countryside, used as holiday homes, offices and, most famously as a ‘writing room’ by David Cameron.

The price has gone through the roof and we no longer have something ‘a bit different’!

On a slightly different tack, our hydro-electric turbine was the precursor to so many more popping up that the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) took a nose dive, and virtually stopped any new schemes dead in the water – to coin a phrase!

 

We switched to cooking, heating the water and the house on wood about 9 years ago.

Great big chunks of wood that got one warm in so many different ways – felling, logging, stacking, cutting, carrying.

Then the Government got in on the act again – and got it wrong again – with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This encouraged new entrants to burn wood – nothing for us early adopters. It also increased imports, as most of the wood pellets burned by these people come from Ireland or the USA, rather than the woodland outside their doorsteps. No additional “getting warm” episodes either, just bulk delivery, vacuumed into a hopper and incinerated.

We get a nice warm feeling (as well as keeping fit) from all of our efforts and ideas and really enjoy discussing them with our visitors. If truth be told we don’t really mind the Camerons and Beckhams of this world getting to enjoy things we have been enjoying for many years, as long as they remember that we did it first!!

Fungus Foraging

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Saturday saw 20 or so people descend upon us for a Mushroom Foraging day.  Organised by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods and executed by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods, we had an amazing afternoon searching among the trees and along the river bank.

Mark’s knowledge on fungi and how to use them was extensive and amusing as well as being excellent on the palate!

The throng assembles

The throng assembles

After introductions all round, Mark got proceedings underway with a quick dash of elderflower champagne and Sweet Cicely liqueur!

He explained the different ways in which fungi operate and how they work in concert with different types of vegetation and particularly with trees. Different trees have different fungi. Some, such as the highly sought after ceps are impossible to cultivate and will only grow in the wild in the exactly perfect conditions they need.

Setting off into the forest, Mark suddenly stopped and pointed out a couple of mushrooms underneath the Cedric tree sculpture.  These were Cavaliers, edible, but not a great flavour.  The difference in appearance between the newly emerged ones and a couple that had almost ‘gone over’ was remarkable and went to demonstrate how difficult mushroom ID can be.

Cavaliers and Cedric

Cavaliers and Cedric

When doing an ID there are several factors to take into account

habitat

colour

size

type of gills

smell

There are so many types that all these need to be taken into account.

Moving on we came to a big clump of what most of us recognised as Puffballs.  Seizing a couple of older ones Mark flicked the caps and released clouds of spores.  These were no good for eating, but the fresher growths, with marshmallow like interiors are apparently really good in risottos!

Mark with Puffballs

Mark with Puffballs (and foraging cat, Smudge)

As we moved on Liz pointed out various plants like ground elder and Herb Robert which have important roles to play in herbal medicine as well as being good to eat.

Mark had picked up some shaggy inkcaps on the road up to Nant y Bedd and explained how and when to eat them.  Apparently there’s a variety called the Common Inkcap which isn’t actually that common, but shouldn’t be consumed before or after alcohol as it causes a very nauseous response and has been used to ‘treat’ alcoholics!!

Deeper in the woods we found some Orange Grisette under the birch trees, which are good to eat and are often found with birch.  The physical form of the Grisette is very similar to that of the poisonous Fly Agaric, although the latter’s bright red is a bit of a giveaway.  Mark had brought some of these with him and used this as an opportunity to explain the life cycle appearance of many fungi.

Fly Agaric and Orange Grisette

Orange Grisette and Fly Agaric

Honey Fungus is another species associated with birch, among others, and is usually found as the tree dies.  Apparently edible it needs boiling before cooking.  Not sure I’ll try that!

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Heading down to the river, someone spotted a few large mushrooms by the gate under the Lawson Cypress.  Mark had to admit that he’d walked past them twice the day before when he did a recce! It pays to look down when mushroom foraging.  It was a group of shaggy parasols, well camouflaged against the leaf litter.

Shaggy Parasol

Shaggy Parasol

Heading along the river bank we were introduced to the “Native Spice Rack” with plants such as Wild Angelica, Hogweed, Wood Avens, Sweet Woodruff and Meadow Sweet (which apparently cures hangovers – the other way of course is to keep drinking!) In the Spring the very young buds and flowers of Rowan are also useful.  Various tinctures were passed around at this point but I missed most of it as I was lighting fires for the Big Bake Up afterwards.

I did get back into the swing of it just in time to find out about a fungus that may be a cure for prostate problems.  Going by the name of Turkey Tails it is found on decomposing logs of birch and can be made into an infusion.  Mark also showed us something known as Chaga, which comes from growths on birch trees in certain places and is very highly sought after.  (Memo to self: look very carefully at all our old birches)

Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails

Finally we assembled by the pond and whilst Mark and Liz got the cooking pots on the go, we were entertained by Lottie Muir, the so-called Cocktail Gardener, who explained some of her cocktail recipes and asked us to taste them – hard work isn’t it?

Thanks to Mark, Liz, Lottie and all those who came along and enjoyed an excellent afternoon and evening.  Hopefully we’ll be able to host more events like this in the future.

PS:  By an odd coincidence the RHS magazine, The Garden, has just published it’s November issue with an article on “Weird and Wonderful Fungi” with photos by Jonathan Need, who photographed our garden earlier in the year!

PPS:  One of the participants, Ian of FoodiesHeaven blog fame, has also written about the day in more detail than above.  Find it here

 

 

 

New greenhouse

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How long does it take to remove and reassemble an 8′ x 6′ greenhouse?  In theory it should take a day or two, but 11 days??

Our good friends Teeny and Di offered us their old greenhouse which they never used as long as we took it down and removed it.  That was the easy part and took about an afternoon.

Prior to that we had agonised from a week or so as to what sort of base it would best sit on and eventually decided on using some of the tanalised timber originally cut when we were doing the pond.  This turned out to be an inspired choice as the door wouldn’t have worked otherwise.  {2 days}

It was while we were pulling it apart that we noticed that some kind soul had decided that the glass would be better stuck in with solid mastic rather than nice rubber glazing strips.  This caused a few more panes to be broken and then two full days with blow torch and scraper getting the gunge out of the glazing bead channels!  {2.5 days}

I ordered the glazing beads on Monday night and they should have been delivered on the Thursday, but dear old ParcelForce were at their worst and after three exasperating phone calls we finally got them on the following Monday.

In the meantime I set too with saw and welder to make the staging. Bespoke staging at probably three times the price of something bought but again recycling to the fore as I used offcuts of oak from the bench work and more of the ‘pond’ tanalised timber.  Steel was stuff I’d ordered for other jobs, so can be easily re-ordered. {2.5 days}

DSCF4018

The glazing strips were fine, but took about a day to squeeze into the narrow gaps all around the frame – about 60 metres all told. {1 day}

Then we started to wash and install the glass, which took best part of a day and allowed us to work out what replacement glass was needed. {1day}

Ordered the glass and picked it up the following day – unfortunately I’d measured one wrong and forgotten about three pieces – so back to the glaziers for more.  Got them home and found I’d mis-measured!  Fortunately I was able to cut them to size and all was now in place and the door hung. {1 day}

Sue then sorted out her path bricks and started to fill the space while I hunted around on the ‘net for the final bits – door seals and gutter ends that will make it a wonderful addition to the garden.  {1 day}

Hopefully these will be resolved shortly and I’ll be able to sit back and admire it!

PS Chris at Gardencraft in north Wales (gcraft.co.uk) has just identified it as an old Paragon, not manufactured since 1970!! He has the parts I need!!

DSCF4016

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