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Ian’s Review of the Year – Part 2

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We left off in Part 1 just as June came to a close.

From July until the end of September is our “Open Season”, so not only lots to do in the garden, especially from my point of view trying to fit in noisy jobs like lawn-mowing (fortunately the prolonged dry spell had kept grass growth to a minimum for a few months), but also loads of wonderful conversations with our visitors – just over 700 of them this year.

We really do enjoy chatting with them and discussing all aspects of gardening, old tractors, chickens, pigs and bikes!  Yes, all of these were raised on more than one occasion during the summer!

One of the first things that happened in July was the arrival of this year’s two piggies. Oxford Sandy & Blacks again from Sarah and Ian in Llangynidr.  We had a male and a female this year as the second male we wanted proved too difficult to catch!  It worked out OK and our first visitors after they arrived named them, rather topically, as Harry and Meghan!!  (I haven’t dared put this in writing until now in case I got hauled off to the Tower!)

Harry & Meghan get to know their ‘patch’

In the natural swimming pond we had to share our space with lots and lots of newts, busy getting fat on the tadpoles.

Not Great Crested – honestly!

Then we had a very unusual visitor on the table outside the Shepherd’s Hut.  A fledgling (just) cuckoo.  After the dragonflies earlier in the year, this just emphasised to us how fortunate we are to be surrounded by all these amazing beasts.

Who’s a pretty Cuckoo?

As the sun continued to shine we hosted our NGS Open weekend.  Numbers were down on last year, but this appeared to be a nationwide problem.  Apparently it was too hot to go out!  Talking of the NGS, at the end of the month we helped out at the Royal Welsh for them – hope you like the pinny!

No comment!

Of course as it was Royal Welsh week it rained!

The week after our NGS days we had a group visit from the Professional Gardeners Guild – thirty of them – so no pressure there then!  In fact they seemed to really enjoy the afternoon and didn’t want to leave, even though some had travelled quite long distances.

Early in August we took delivery of some new ducks.  We had managed to hatch out one egg from the previous lot – who laid about a dozen then disappeared on day – and decided he (as we can now confirm) needed some friends.  So big thanks to Linzi for 5 new ones, who incidentally are so much larger than the original ones.  They performed for the visitors admirably during the summer, but have recently taken to getting down to the pond, which has to be stopped!

Quackers behaving

August passed by in a blur of visitors and trying to keep on top of the amazing growth that the long hot dry spell, coupled with recent rain had set in train. So by early September we were harvesting furiously.

From my point of view the two most important crops were the Sichuan Peppercorns and the hops.  I planted Fuggles and Goldings hop varieties about ten years ago.  Every year they romp up the strings and occasionally produce a few flowers, which invariably turn brown before they are properly ripe.  This year the main patch was so full of flowers that they bent two metal 10mm square supporting poles.  This is no mean feat and a full carrier bag of flowers weighs about five ounces.  You get the idea of how much there was.  Eventually I managed to pick and dry enough for about 7 or 8 homebrews, but it is slow, tedious work and there were other things requiring my time.

Just a very small part of the Sichuan and Hop harvest

The Sichuan was also amazing and took several days of picking which yielded 6 spice jars full.  Doesn’t sound a lot but that should do us a year of ‘Chinese’ stir-fries.

Around the same time the forest was humming with odd sorts ferreting around for mushrooms.  Apparently the weather was perfect for ceps and chanterelles.  Spotting a car that had seemingly gone straight on at a corner, I was about to enquire if they were OK when the window wound down and it was our friend Bruce, mushroom hunter extraordinaire. He stopped and took Sue mushrooming around the back of the house – and we are still here to tell the tale!

Edible ones – thank goodness

I mentioned earlier how we enjoy all sorts of obscure conversations with visitors. Sue was in the yard one morning when a car pulled up and the occupant (a gentleman of advanced years) got out and said “ah, yes, just how I remember it”.  It turned out that he had spent some time working here for the Forestry Commission many years before Sue arrived in 1980.  To cut a very long story short he recommended a book (published in 1952), which we managed to source via the dear old Interweb.  There on the front cover is our house, surrounded by fields rather forest – though marauding sheep do feature!  There’s a short bit about the local office inside as well, so that was a wonderful chance meeting.

“Mum, we’re on the cover!”

The middle of October brought our, now annual, invasion of the ladybirds.  As with most things this year, a larger number than before, but still (mainly) in the one corner of the bedroom window.  I even managed to get a letter about them published in the  Daily Telegraph  to go with my (previously unpublished) one that made their annual book of the “Best of the Rest”  Fame at last!

Hibernation time

We held off harvesting the grapes as long as possible and were rewarded by enough to make over 30 bottles of wine – and all without having to add too much extra sugar.  Colours are excellent; tasting in a few months!

Chateau Nantybedd

As October drew to a close we had some amazing evening skies. Difficult to get good phots with basic cameras, but this will give you an idea.  Of course the leaves were falling by now so much effort was in raking and refilling the leafmould bins.  But where they fall on water they do make for a pretty picture.

Outside the small greenhouse

Into November and the first key task was to work through a few of the (much admired) woodstores and get them cut to length and into the shed.  Looks a lot but I reckon March might show a very different view.  This rapid turnover of firewood means that more trees have to be felled and split to replenish the outside stores.   I was well into this with about a dozen reasonable size conifers felled, de-branched and cut to length when I awoke early one morning in absolute agony.  Six weeks later, its a bit better but despite blood tests and X-rays the Docs still don’t know what the problem is or how it might have been caused. Very frustrating.

just a few sticks of firewood

We had our first real frost on 22nd and were wondering if we’d be under a foot of snow again in a few weeks, but so far, so good.

Jack Frost arrives

We finally managed to get the few days away at Stockwell Farm that we were snowed out of in March, but I wasn’t exactly the life and soul of the party! But id did do a lot of good raining, so at least the hydro was finally making some money again!

December has passed in a bit of a blur of Doctor appointments and Ibuprofen and getting ready for Christmas.  Sue made her annual Holly Wreath (in fact she made an extra one for the gate) and posted a picture on Instagram.  Two people responded by asking if she did wreath making courses.  She will be now!

Make your own Holly Wreath in 2019

On the matter of courses, we have a full 2019 programme of Liz’s Foraging Days and Sue is in the process of finalising more Compost Making, Wild Gardening and Organic Vegetable Growing (as well as Wreath Making) days and these will be published here very soon.

A somewhat eclectic, and certainly one-sided, view of 2018 but occasionally I’m allowed to witter on about things I like!

Happy 2019 and good gardening to all.

 

 

 

 

Harvest time

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The hot weather at the start of the summer has definitely had a big effect on many of our crops.  Without going into the usual veggies, spuds

onions

beans, beans, beans ….   we have had maybe our best ever returns from a number of different sources.

Let’s start with the less well known.  The Sichuan Peppercorn tree has yielded six spice jars worth of dried peppercorns, three times more than the last good crop.  This might not sound a lot, and in purely monetary terms is only about £15 worth – but ours are organic and come from a happy tree! Very fiddly to pick and even more fiddly to separate the husks from the seeds (it’s the husks we need) the resultant spicy stir-fries make it all worth while.

Sichuan on the left

In the greenhouse, I’ve just picked 30lb of white grapes which have yielded 2 gallons of pure juice

and it looks as though the black ones

will yield at least double that, so there’s going to be a few bottles of wine in the racks in the not too distant future.

Outside, I’ve collected about 240 pounds of our Tom Putt apples , most of which is now either casked up as cider

 or in the freezer as pure apple juice.

Staying on the ‘booze’ front, the Fuggles and Goldings hops overwhelmed me this year.  It takes a lot of hop flowers to make any weight at all.

Hops on the right

One needs about 4oz of dried hops for a five gallon brew of beer.  To get 4oz dried needs around 30oz of fresh hops. Doesn’t sound a lot?  30oz fills a full sized carrier bag to almost overflowing – that’s a lot of hop flowers!  Two brews are already drinking nicely and there’s enough dried and frozen for the rest of the year!

And now it’s time to ‘harvest’ some firewood!

It’s all go at Nant y Bedd!

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!

 

White Christmas comes early

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For those “dreaming of a white Christmas”, the dream came true rather early this year, and for us even earlier than for most.  It was Friday 8th when when woke to about 3″ of snow on a gloomy looking morning.

Looking up the dingle

I decided to try to get a few shots before it all got messed up and dirty (not knowing what was coming a couple of days later!).  Those of you who also follow us on Instagram will have seen this pic before – it’s now our all-time top-ranking photo on that site.

Another one from the same day.

What’s that white tree down by the pond?

Saturday was snow free and the weather forecast for Sunday was either ‘heavy snow’ or ‘heavy rain’ depending on whose forecast you believed.  Well here’s the answer. On Sunday alone we got about 10 inches, which a couple more overnight into Monday.

Bird feeder with added insulation!

Post box proves it is a colour photograph

Wonder why we couldn’t get an internet connection!

Even where there wasn’t much snow the patterns were still interesting.

patio by the tearoom

.. but mostly the snow lay thick and spectacular

Another Instagram post – teazles looking like cotton wool balls

This one was hiding something – see later!

 

Comfortable looking chairs – but not much room to put your cup of tea

Fluffier and fluffier!

Even down in the Spooky Forest things got a covering

Dear old Cedric looked most dignified with his white ‘tache and beard

Blue skies and deep snow – could be Switzerland

But then it began to thaw – but still froze overnight

Turbine icicles

The souffles are going down – looking more like wedding cakes now

But with every silver lining comes a cloud – this huge (you don’t get the scale from here, but the hydro intake is somewhere in the middle of all that ) beech tree split apart just above ground level fortunately without doing too much damage.  Plenty of firewood and lots of exercise will be the result.

This was what was behind the pretty conifer earlier

“our” waterfall benefits from the thawing snow

Finally most of the snow has gone and last night we had this beautiful sunset.

Red sky at night ….

White Christmas?  Doesn’t look so likely now, but we can dream!

 

 

 

Thank you, dormice!

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About a month ago we had a phone call from our friend Mick (he of pond and Cedric fame) asking if we would be interested in hosting a chainsaw course.  Intrigued we asked why.  It turned out that he needed to get his certificates up to date and the original venue for the course was now off-limits.  The reason: dormice!

To cut a long story short, Tom, the tutor, came and had a look and two days later Mick and Mark were being given their instruction.  As you would probably expect I’d laid down a few ground rules:  all brash to be neatly piled up; all felled trees to be cut to exact 4ft lengths (to accommodate 2x 18in for the Esse cooker and 1x 12in for the Handol woodburner).

Over the two days they dropped about 17 trees of varying sizes – most of which they seemed to manage to get ‘hung up’.  All good practice for the future I suppose.

The log piles sat there for a couple of weeks whilst I cleared space in the outdoor woodsheds, then we set to work to get it all up and drying. Most of it went into the lean-to sheds, but there was a significant amount still in the forest. At which point Sue had an “idea”!!

If our experience is anything to go by, pretty much everyone has now got a copy of Norwegian Wood by Lars Myttingwhich must have been last Christmas’ best seller by far. If you haven’t seen it, it is all about cutting, stacking and drying firewood.   One chapter is about different stacking techniques, one of which is the Holzhauzen. Sue decided that we should have a go at making one.

Looks simple on paper!

Looks simple on paper!

First all the cut lengths had to come up from the forest in the transport box on the Fergie.  Fortunately I was able to get close to each stack in turn as there were some chunky bits of timber amongst them.

Some of the cut logs

Some of the cut logs (in the foreground)

In all the Holzhauzen was constructed out of about 95 x 4ft logs of varying widths.  I saved the biggest till last!

This one made the Fergie grunt a bit (and me putting it on the splitter!)

This one made the Fergie grunt a bit (and me, putting it on the splitter!)

It looked a big pile.

Ready for cutting

Ready for cutting

……at which point a couple of 60-somethings had a short rest.

Two old codgers at rest

Two old codgers at rest

Discussions were then held as to the best length to stack them at, and therefore the size of the finished circle.  After trying 3ft lengths, we felt that 18in would be better, with the foot long pieces thrown in the middle.

With me cutting….

.. with the trusty, scary Ferguson saw bench

.. with the trusty, scary Ferguson saw bench

…. and Sue stacking, we soon got into a rhythm and the sides began to rise.

It's on the way

It’s on the way

At this point we got joined by a cat.  Normally, as regular readers will know, Smudge can’t ignore a good work opportunity.  But this time it was Emily who decided to come and check out the quality of the work, departing only for yet another turn at the food bowls, she spent most of the afternoon slowly getting higher off the ground.

Quality control from Emily

Quality control from Emily

Bad light eventually stopped play – the chickens didn’t get their corn again – with just the ‘roof’ to do.

This turned out to be possibly the trickiest bit, but I think we finally got it about right, even though a bit more timber had to be found and another tree dropped.

So here it is.  Not as tall as some in the book, but a bit different from just putting the wood in sheds.

Our own little Holzhausen

Our own little Holzhausen

Thanks to: Dormice, Lars Mytting, Tom, Mick and Mark, Fergie and all his hangers on and Emily for Quality Control!