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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!

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

 

 

 

Wood and water power

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It’s not just about gardening at Nant y Bedd – we are also very keen on living the “Green Lifestyle” to the extent that we no longer use the oil heating and rely on wood for heating, cooking and to an extent for heating water – supplemented by Solar thermal units.  That means a lot of wood, so the old grey Fergi gets put to work on hauling, splitting and cutting firewood.  Which is then stacked outside for a year or two before going into the shed for the winter.

Tractor and logs

Fergi cutting logs

wood stack

wood stack in the shed under construction

Nearly two year’s ago we installed a micro hydro electric system.  It’s only 3KwH maximum but when it rains – as it can do quite a lot in Wales – then it provides more than enough for the house.  We’ve just had the best 3 week period so far, following on from an almost completely dead, sunny summer, so Ian is often happiest when it’s raining!!

hydro

The working end of the hydro

intake

The hydro intake is under there!

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