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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!

Starting the new garden year – on video!

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We were very lucky last week to have a wonderful documentary film-maker staying with us. By some sort of serendipity she phoned us looking for somewhere to stay in the area whilst she did some film editing and looked at a property she was interested in.  So we offered her the use of the garden room in return for making a short video for us.

Sophie Windsor Clive, for that is her name, has done a super job, despite having only one day when the weather wasn’t dull, windy, rainy, snowy and what ever else the elements could throw spanners into the works. Thanks Sophie!!

It is, of course, a view of the garden that most people wouldn’t see – the garden in January.  This is an important time in the gardening cycle.  The work done now sets the tone for the rest of the year.

We hope this insight will arouse your interest in visiting us later in the year.

Just click on the arrow button and enjoy!

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!

 

Our woodland management plan

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We do have a woodland management plan for our 3.5 acres of forest which, as those who have visited know, is a very special part of the mix of habitats and experiences that our garden has to offer.  The problem is that aforementioned management plan is in my head…

So having been invited to host a visit on the 18th June for members of the Small Woods Association is an excellent prompt for me to commit it to paper.  It will also have the benefit that Ian and I will have, hopefully, a common understanding of what it is we want to achieve with our bit of forest and how we are going to do it!

The intention has always been to write a management plan since we first bought the ex-Christmas tree plantation adjoining our garden 4 years ago.  However, actually doing the management (and gardening) tends to fully occupy the time that would otherwise be available for writing the plan..

We have been gardening here with trees and amongst trees for nearly 40 years and now over the past 4 years, managing the adjoining 3.5 acres of conifer woodland, opening up the canopy, allowing natural regeneration to occur and light to be cast upon the hazel

Part of the hazel coppice

and willow coppice and garden. The forest provides firewood, construction timber (for example for the natural swimming pond), coppice products, foraging opportunities, woodchip for compost making and paths and biodiversity and public access (on days when the garden is open to the public).

So without further procrastination here are a few photos (in no particular order of priority) of work in progress/challenges to be sorted/success stories so far which will inform the issues to be addressed in THE PLAN.

First issue to be addressed was fencing the area to keep out the semi-feral forest sheep and immediately, instead of having bare ground and conifer needles, we now already have, in the Spring, swathes of wood sorrel

Wood sorrel makes a come-back

cowslips,

Cowslips

golden saxifrage,

Golden saxifrage

bluebells, wild raspberries, flowering currant

Early Flowering Currant

and lots of natural regeneration including cherry, holly, ash (all desirable) but also bramble

Bramble

sycamore and Western Hemlock

Western Hemlock – a weed!

which are not so desirable – more detail and explanation in THE PLAN.

Letting in more light is a key to managing what we have – mostly Norway Spruce planted as Christmas trees before I came here – nearly 40 years ago – and having received no management during that time.  The trees are now  70-80 feet tall (some bigger).  There are 2 stands of magnificent Douglas Fir

Magnificent Douglas Fir and a little Elm

which are even taller.  Having acquired a felling licence to fell 5 of them to provide timber for the construction of our natural swimming pond we know that they are even bigger – some were 150 feet tall.  These need a bit more than Ian and his chainsaw.

Matthew Corran in his office

There are also a few Sitka Spruce and Grand Fir, a couple of mature Ash and a huge Sycamore

Potential for a tree house

(in which this Summer we will be building a tree house for our grandson).  So another project to be flagged up in THE PLAN is to check out exactly what we do have in terms of species and label them so that visitors are able to appreciate that they are not all ‘fir trees’.

Not content with what we have we are also planting new….

.. Christmas trees..

..and…

..oak trees – in a fairy ring

Firewood – lots of it – we are not exactly ‘off grid’ but we heat the house and cook and boil the kettle on wood.

Firewood production -part 2

Coppice products for the garden – the usual pea sticks

pea sticks

wood chip for paths etc.

Future path

Biodiversity – standing dead wood

Fallen dead wood

and eco-piles

What’s living in here?

for the bugs and beasties and woodpeckers and badgers…

Introducing other stuff like wild garlic,

Wild garlic competing with wild raspberry

watercress and other species of elder with longer flowering periods.

Foraging – we hosted a fungi foraging day in Autumn 2016 and now know a little bit more about what we have and what is edible.

Turkey tails

Puffballs

The moss garden.  In January and February through into March mosses come into their own.

Lovely mosses

Cherishing what we have and protecting from invasion by other species such as grass and adding to the diversity is a project in itself in one special area in particular underneath the big sycamore next to the stream.

Fixed point photography.  We have noticed big changes already as we have fenced the area and started thinning out the trees to let in more light.  We must record these changes.  We are very good at doing stuff and taking a photo after.  We are not so good at doing the ‘before’ photos and recording what’s happened in response to our intervention.

And of course

Cedric, the seed king

Then just outside the forest, along the river bank we have vistas such as these

Swathes of wild daffodil

and

Our ‘borrowed’ waterfall

Watch this space.  We will have THE PLAN before the 18th June.

Bringing the garden indoors

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Bringing foliage, berries, cones and seed heads indoors from the forest and garden is a tradition which sometimes gets forgotten amidst the flashing, multi-coloured lights, revolving (revolting?) Santas, talking reindeer and other “bling” which so-called Garden Centres seem to wish upon us.

Not at Nant-y-Bedd.

Seasonal seed head - allium

Seasonal seed head – allium

I like to trim our own holly trees just before Christmas to provide sprigs for a traditional holly wreath – cotoneaster berries this year as the birds have stripped the holly before I got there.

Trimmed holly

Trimmed holly

Poor postman, can't find the letterbox!

Poor postman, can’t find the letterbox!

The trimmings from the bottom of the (Grand Fir or Noble Fir, as they don’t drop their needles) Christmas Tree get recycled into a swag which hangs above the mirror in the sitting room.

Raw material for the swag

Raw material for the swag

Starting the production

Starting the production

Nearly there

Nearly there

Finished article

Finished article

And I always select a lichen and moss covered twig from Jeddah’s tree (so-called because my dog is buried beneath it), a Field Maple, to hang over the fireplace.

All lichen and moss

Seed heads are allowed to stand over winter in the garden to provide some structure and interest, as well as sustenance for the birds.  Some get bashed down by the wind, rain and snow and are harvested for both seed and for indoor decoration.

Some gardeners feel the need to adorn their Christmas windowsills with early flowering spring bulbs – narcissus Paperwhite and Hyacinths –  but I prefer to leave that until the short, dark days of January, when I’m glad to be reminded that Spring isn’t far away.

Windowsill display

Windowsill display

Christmas for me is enjoying candlelight and crackling log fires with the cedar / pine aroma of a real Christmas tree.

Add to that home-made tree decorations and it is more “hygge” than “bling”.

Home-made

Home-made

Garden booze

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It’s the booze making time of year again.  It all seems to need to be done at once, so this year I’m splitting up the cider making with a bit of grape pressing.

We have had an excellent crop of Tom Putt apples (as recommended by the Marcher Apple Network) this time round – it all depends on the weather at pollination time – but we have also been given a load of what look like mainly cookers by our friend Linda.  The Tom Putt’s weighed in at just under 100lb, though it might have been a lot more if the badger hadn’t spent every night nicking the windfalls.  Linda’s weighed about the same, so we should get around 7-8 gallons in total.  I’ve also done a small amount using just crab apples, either to blend in or as a probably very dry cider.

To do it in this sort of bulk a few bits of kit are preferable.  Firstly a press and secondly a scratter.  Many moons ago I made a wonderfully efficient press, but unfortunately it got lost in the move from Kent to here – I think it got sold erroneously at the farm sale.  So this set up is from Vigo Presses.

So first set up the scratter on the press:

The full works

The full works .. with accompanying H3 tasting vessels

In go the apples, just as they come off the tree or the ground:

...not too many at a time

…not too many at a time

Turn the handle a few (well quite a lot of) times:

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

.. and this is what you get

ready for pressing

ready for pressing

Apply some serious effort to the screw thread and the juice flows.

Bootiful!

Bootiful!

After the juice has finished running, remove the pomace (technical term for this stuff)..

Solids 'cakes' of apple

Solid ‘cakes’ of apple …

…  which then go onto the compost heap

No waste in this process

No waste in this process

Take the pressed juice into the house and place beside the Esse for a week or so until the fermentation  (from the natural yeasts on the skins) has died down.  Depending on quantity now bottle it or store in plastic polypins which deform as the cider is drawn off, keeping air out.

Now comes the final and most difficult bit.  Sit and watch it for a month or six whilst it clears naturally and the flavour develops.

Then, as the old Wurzels song says, “Drink up ye zider, George, there’s still more in the jug”.

Grapes go very much the same way, except for killing off the natural yeasts, which are unreliable for wine, adding fresh yeast and sufficient sugar as there is rarely enough in home grown grapes to make a sufficiently robust wine that will keep.

Another great crop this year of the red, but virtually nothing on the white again.  Its days may be numbered!

Plenty of low hanging fruit

Plenty of low hanging fruit

just over 35lbs ready for the press

just over 35lbs ready for the press

Iechyd da!

Stringing the onions and other seasonal tasks

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We had some lovely garden visitors today who were very interested in my method of stringing up the crop of onions to store them for use over the winter – so here’s how…

I’ve been using this method since coming across it in John Seymour’s book (the organic gardening guru of the 1970’s)  entitled the Self-sufficient Gardener, dated 1978 – how time flies when you’re enjoying your garden.

The finished strings look like this:

2016 strings of onions in the kitchen

2016 strings of onions in the kitchen

This is how to do it.  Knot together the ends of a 3 foot length of string (depending on how big a bunch you want to make) and hang the loop from a hook.  I find that the Sheila Maid clothes airer which is above our wood-burning cooker is perfect for this.

onion strings hanging from the Sheila Maid clothes airer

onion strings hanging from the Sheila Maid clothes airer

Weave the dried stem of the first onion through the loop and then add the second onion, weaving it in and out of the string.  The weaving must be tight and the second onion should finally rest on the first.  One by one add onions, weaving first to the left and then to the right.

Adding more onions

Adding more onions

Strung in this way, and hang up in our kitchen, our onions usually last us through the winter.  Needless to say, they must be thoroughly dried before stringing.  Ours have been on the windowsills since they were harvested to ensure they were properly dry.  They store best if they have a good couple of days baking in the sun after they have finished growing.  It wasn’t that sort of summer this year.

Now that the windowsills are onion-less and we’ve had the first light frosts, it’s time to harvest the pumpkins and squashes, so that they can finish ripening indoors.  Just about plural – 6 pumpkins and 2 squashes.

Pumpkins and squashes on the windowsill now

Pumpkins and squashes on the windowsill now

Varieties this year are Tom Fox – nearly always reliable even in a cool summer like this one – from seed saved in 2015.

Pumpkin Tom Fox

Pumpkin Tom Fox

Squash Crown Prince – again from saved seed.

Squash Crown Prince

Squash Crown Prince

And squash Turk’s Turban which I haven’t grown before and was hiding under a leaf so I didn’t know it was there until we had a frost.  We’ve already eaten this one in a lovely mixed root vegetable roast with lots of herbs and fennel and cumin seed.

Turk's Turban squash

Turk’s Turban squash

I find that pumpkins and squashes keep perfectly well on a windowsill – just need to keep an eye on them and as soon as they show signs of going soft then they need to be made into delicious pumpkin soup and/or chunked up and put in the freezer.

Other seasonal tasks have included raking up autumn leaves to make gorgeous friable leafmould to add to potting mixes or use as a mulch (despite dire warnings from Special Plants Nursery guru Derry Watkins).

raking up autumn leaves

We have 2 sets of 2 leafmould bins in different parts of the garden.  This year’s leaves won’t be used for at least a year.  One set of bins takes mostly sycamore which breaks down quickly, whilst another takes beech and oak, which take longer.  The leaves need air and weather so the bins are open and made of chicken mesh, whereas the compost bins shown here (which take weeds, lawn mowings, straw and muck from ducks and chickens, kitchen waste such as outside leaves of cabbages, carrot tops etc – but nothing cooked – are wooden and always covered.

Some people (non-organic gardeners particularly) might think I have a sad life but I love making compost and leafmould.  It’s very satisfying turning a ‘waste’ product into a resource.  Might run workshops on the subject next year…

But I have also had a bonfire – there are some things you don’t want in your compost heap.

bonfire

bonfire

We all know that it’s important to move the material from where it’s been sitting awaiting the right time to burn it, to another place.  The photo above shows bare soil in the foreground where the material had been moved from.  I disturbed a frog and a slowworm which I moved elsewhere, where they can happily feast on our multitude of slugs.

Celery

Celery

Started harvesting the celery.  Terrific crop this year – probably because I spent all summer carrying cans of water to it from our extensive rain-water harvesting system.  Even though the summer has been cool we’ve had very little rain for months and celery, and celeriac, really prefer to have their feet wet.  Makes lovely celery soup.  Yum.

Yummy celery soup

Yummy celery soup

Thinking ahead to Christmas, I have been collecting and drying cones for use in Christmas holly wreaths.

baskets of Sitka spruce cones

baskets of Sitka spruce cones

And then there’s planting Spring bulbs.  We are about half way through.  Planting lots in pots this year because we appear to have a resident badger which visits nightly and likes eating them.

baskets of Spring bulbs still to be planted

baskets of Spring bulbs still to be planted

 

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