Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas

Christmas Day dawned brightish and fairish after the storms, wailing winds and ferocious rain of the last few days.

Chickens fed and goats milked, we headed for church, then came back to the preparation of our pasture reared turkey - we reared two this year as a trial run, we hope to produce a few for sale next year.

Neil went off to cart hay around to sundry spots where various livestock lives, and came back in a state of shock, having had a call from his brother - his mum, who was spending Christmas with them, had come home from church and collapsed with a heart attack.

He waited for news through a critical hour or so, while we managed to feed him Christmas Dinner, and then set off for the John Radcliffe Hospital and did not see home again until after 2am.

It was a near run thing a few times, but happily and with half our local town in prayer for them, she pulled through and although far from safe yet, he has now just set off to visit once again, late afternoon on Boxing Day.

In between times, falling over from exhaustion, we moved hay, checked the field - where our swale is holding water, but it seems like it is not quite deep enough, and we do need to complete the off-contour drop into the bourne, because unfortunately, the field below the swale is also holding a lot of water.  It is wet. Again.

IMG-20131226-00836back home, I got to play with my very favourite Christmas present - a brand new and very sharp pruning saw.

I may have got a teeny little bit carried away. I took down quite a lot of tree. It is awesome. I now have to cart the lot to the veg garden where I'm building a dead hedge.

Oh but the field speaks to me as well. We are in the direst of dire straits,  and yet I do know I should stop now, stop everything, and work that land. And somehow it will come right.

The native hedge we planted needs laying, the brash needs clearing, the old bits of wood and rubbish need burning, the old pen where Aaron kept his chickens needs mending and reinhabiting.

The fences need mending, the ditches need digging ...

I need to mend the land. Which will mend us. Which will make it all alright.

 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Grace

I won't pretend it's getting any easier.

For today, small gratitudes suffice:

  • Free fuel, in the form of fallen branches all around Goat Valley, following very windy weather

  • Feisty, happy goats all together now at Goat Valley - for all they are causing total mayhem, they are a joy.

  • The kettle singing once again on the Rayburn

  • Soft, herby, homemade cheese

  • Knitted mittens


Reminding myself today that, although times are as hard as they have ever been, and defeat sometimes feels close, we will never surrender.

And for anyone who is not familiar with our area, a little glimpse at why ...

[caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="314"]downs The Beautiful North Wessex Downs. Click on the picture to find out more about our wonderful landscape.[/caption]

 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Round Up

not the glyphosate product. The anthology type thing.

Another very busy day rounded off with a valiant attempt to get back into attending the local Sustainability Network's meetings, so not a lot to share and thought I'd go for a round up of sorts.

My lovely Snail friend talks about Small Steps This is so close to my heart and just what I'm trying to put across at the moment.  A thousand small steps are more sustainable than one whacking great unwieldy policy with a catastrophe potential off the scale.

Andrea, my Permaculture Design Cert buddy - boy that seems a long time ago - has new goats and considering her usual prejudices concerning all things caprine, she's got good things to say. 

What's going on at High Heathercombe - how long is it since my Diploma Intensive there? And how far have I got with that Diploma?!  Really must buckle down and get some designs sorted. The Snail of Happiness has volunteered her help on this so as soon as mid winter passes I feel I must get her on board!

Missing all kinds of Permie Gatherings, and wishing I could go ...

That's enough for one night. Tomorrow is a worky, schooly, toily kind of day and the rain is now lashing down in (presumably, judging by the temps in this house) freezing sheets, so it is past bedtime.

Not a stitch sewn for the Folksy store today, nor a diploma project updated or annotated. Did clear out one of the root beds in the house veg garden, and haul a lot of wood.  Another day in paradise. x

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ready for Winter?

Part time Farmers, Smallholders, Homesteaders, call em what you will, are never never ready for winter. In the same way they say you'll never meet a full time Farmer who admits to being either rich or happy, you'll never find a part time one who says, 'Yep, ready for winter.'

Everything seems to build up until there is a list as long as all of our arms and daylight amounts to - not much.

Today, we had day two of Rayburn replacement. It has taken  a while to convince the landlords that our only source of heat, main cooker, water heater and general heart of the household, had died.

IMG-20131118-00740Here it is, breathing its last. It's been here 38 years, since the house was built, and we've been here 6 - for none of those six years has it really been at what you might call its best, but it's been a good deal better than nothing.

Since Neil it now transpires will be without a job, three weeks before Christmas, it hasn't been practical for me to give up my outside work, it simply has to fit in around everything, and I do mean everything, else. So the plumber plumbed while Neil, who had fortuitously taken a few days off to try to catch up on that list, helped out, H, who has broken her foot, sat on the sofa in pain doing homework, and I retreated to my bedroom office to work for a living.

When I came down, our new-to-us recycled Rayburn was in place.

IMG-20131119-00743

Ta da. So excited. It's so pretty and shiny.

This gave us an  hour or two to attempt the day's next task, turning this pile of pallets:

IMG-20131119-00746into an improved and extended shelter for the goats. We have to move the other three down to 'Goat Valley' now urgently, and there just isn't adequate shelter. As usual, there is also inadequate money, so Neil scoured the trading estates and came up with these.

We were already short of time and daylight, but we got this far:

IMG-20131119-00750which was really an achievement, but as Neil goes back to work tomorrow, leaving me with work, farm chores, injured daughters and uninjured ones at school, etc etc ... it may stay like this for a day or two.

After a great deal of toting people hither and yon, Neil was out at a meeting this evening, so I set my hand to finishing up some bits and pieces headed for my Folksy store. Not there yet, but today's task was to complete some small lengths of bunting, happily upcycled from vintage linens.

IMG-20131119-00756I think this is rather festive, with its pretty stars, but H thinks it would look sweet in a baby's room.  Tonight I was hand sewing buttons on the plain flags, while bread baked in my 'new' Rayburn.

It does feel like we are a step closer to being ready for winter. The Rayburn is working, the goats nearly have a roof, and one or two items are closer to being ready for the store.

Are you ready for winter? How do you prepare?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Into the Known

[caption id="attachment_527" align="aligncenter" width="512"]P1000806 Welcome to our home ...[/caption]

TeaPigs Winter Spiced Red, a blank page, an hour of silence.

Work, routines, people’s needs, and the turn of the year mean it will probably no longer be possible for me to work for extra income for some months, now.

Fear and joy mingle as I face the prospect of once again, simply being the keeper of hearth home and farm. Simply? Heh.

I relish the ancient feel of the role. It envelops me, it is what I was born to do. In rare quiet moments when I really, truly, seek God’s face, it is the commission I hear on the wind, it is the verse which leaps out from the page, it is the voice in the dark. Go ahead. You can do it.

I won’t voice the fears that come along behind. I won’t dignify them with a space in this bold step forward.

The time is now. I have to make this isolated little people-scale farm work, and I will need your prayers, your help and your face set into the same wet, west wind as mine.

[caption id="attachment_564" align="aligncenter" width="483"]527779_3679434741732_1082022101_n Importantly, Linnie is on my side.[/caption]

Monday, 14 October 2013

#PartTimeFarmers

When you look at us, you might see any number of things. You might see a guy who works in a factory, and a woman who works taking calls for an insurance company. You could see two teenage girls who are at school.  We do have an outward facing cover.  Mostly it works.

Get to know us a little better and you will find out the truth. We - are part time farmers. There are more now than there ever were. We're closing in from both ends. As family farms become untenable under the weight of the push from the Monsantos and the Tescos,  those who were once full time farming families are joining our ranks.

At the same time, unlikely people - city people, arty people, faithful people, mummy people - all kinds of people are catching the vision and believing they can produce something.  Fresh eggs for breakfast, maybe with  home made bread to dip in them.   Salad from the garden or sun-warmed tomatoes.

Then comes the question - and go back a step to ask those families who once worked full time on the family dairy farms and market gardens which fed a country as it grew great - can we make a living?

Well. The answer is yes - and no. If you have the land at your disposal, with no mortgage outstanding and no rent to pay, and if - this is a big if - you or your forbears had 20:20 foresight and set you up to face the future, yes you can.  Farm shops and visitor attractions thrive and direct sales schemes pull in the punters.

If you are starting from scratch, or running to stand still as you struggle to keep a precious inheritance which was never future-proofed - no, you can't.

On good days, I actually relish the fact that we can't make a living from farming, just yet. We may never do it. The pride I have in my two wonderful daughters, who are up hours before most of their peers, tending to ducks and turkeys and hens, horses and goats and sheep, is priceless.

Part time farmers  are a breed apart.  At the livestock sales, the old farmers in their flat caps with their impenetrable accents and their disreputable trousers rub shoulders with the moneyed incomers who are just there to see what happens, spotless Discovery parked a good way from the unloading bay in case it gets muddy, and everything this season Joules over the Florida tan.

On the peripheries are the part time farmers. Smarter than corduroy and baler twine, but thirty quid shy of a new Joules polo shirt.  Recycled  Tattersals on style conscious teenage girls, much loved River Boots oiled and worn to death, sharp-eyed and hungry for detail, we absorb the air and claim it.

Our aged trucks - Vauxhalls and old Isuzus not the shiny bull barred current models - and superannuated Volvos cluster in the car parks of the farm stores - we are not the kind of people to buy a vacuum packed slice of hay, but we have nowhere to store a pallet of winter feed for the sheep, to get that discount. We are the ones with eight sacks of ewe nuts and two of layers pellets causing the suspension to sink on the ten year old estate car.

We will go home, having maybe sold a half a dozen ewes.  We will have paid for the feed, and treated the kids to  NoBull jeans, overalls for chores,  or chew sticks for the dogs.  We will have bought a few dairy essentials, and eyed up the brightly coloured feed buckets (a needless expense, we are still using old donated mineral lick tubs) , the pretty new hen houses (ours will survive in their 15 year old Forsham) and the shiny new electric fence components. We will have fought the demon and won, purchasing none of it.

We will pull onto the rented drive which needs more gravel but we can't afford it just yet, and re-light the 35 year old Rayburn which has twisted itself to death, and the Landlord won't replace.  We will start the chores again. By the gate a drunken blackboard will declare 'eggs, £1 half dozen' and ' honey, potatoes, half lambs for freezer' or 'goats milk for dogs/cats only'

It's far from manicured. There are way too many weeds and the polytunnel is sagging. We are the rabble the weekenders were hoping would go away.

We will be outrageously proud and happy that those eggs, that lamb, that milk, or honey is ours and we produced it. We worked full time jobs and paid the bills and kept the lights on and tried for as long as we could stand up, to find ways to save just a penny here and a penny there to reinvest.

If you're one of the tribe, you'll see yourself in these words. If you're not, why not? If your heart is with us, join us. If you can't join us, support us. Buy from the signs, spread the word, wave as you pass us.

Part time farmers rock.

sash and sheep

 

 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Away

How do you get away, when you have so many animals, so many commitments, and so little money?

We have dear friends who have house, horse, dog, sheep and goat-sat for us before, but the milking is a rare accomplishment, and combined with all the other stuff, makes it a full time job for anyone not doing it all on auto. It should be a full time job for me.

I discovered this today when the door was being tapped, then knocked, then hammered on, while I was at work. When I'm at work there's a sign on our front door that basically asks you to pretend you found no one home. This is because, I am at work. I am on my phone, on my computer, in  my bedroom - but actually, to all intents and purposes, I'm not.

I'm in an office in London, I have their phone lines, their computer system - I'm committed to working several hours, and until those hours are done, I'm not here.

I digress. The hammering on the door became insistent, and I had to commit the cardinal sin of logging off from work unexpectedly.  It's the virtual equivalent of finding the person at the desk next to you just tele-ported off to some inter galactic conference, or vapourised. Anyway, as it turned out, the person on the doorstep was the person with the garden next to one of the bits of land we rent. And she had sheep in her garden and a goat in her hedge.

I'm cross because they should have been moved. They are exploring because they're short of grass. It's on the list. But the list is long and my time is short. I should be doing this full time.

With no one to help and very limited time, my best shot was to fill the boot of the car with hay, trot down there and bribe them to stay over the other side of the field with said bounty, come back, dig some old electric netting out of the hedge, and go and improvise a fence (without benefit of fencer unit, so, in short, a fake) to keep them from wandering further.

Winter has not yet begun, and we are tired. We needed a break this summer, and we didn't get one.  The thought of another long winter, with no let up, is beginning to look like a deal  breaker.

If you are a homesteader, small farmer, smallholder or just awash with animals, birds and projects - how do you get away? Do you have any tips? Anyone want to play smallholdings for a week?!

[caption id="attachment_544" align="aligncenter" width="640"]IMG-20130919-00667 The Beulahs acting innocent. You can see the vast quantities of hay, hiding in the nettles. They were shamelessly bribed to come over this side.[/caption]

 

Friday, 13 September 2013

What He Said!

Googled for inspiration and came up with this blog I have never seen before, and this absolutely word perfect (weeeeel, OK  - apart from the Katy Perry part!) post which was just exactly what was on my heart.

Please be aware, I have not examined any other part of this blog, and don't endorse or support anything that might occur anywhere else within it. I

Stop Hesitating: Take A Step Forward (Even If You Think You Are Not Prepared)


by Ollin

We often hesitate in life because we believe that all the stars have to align perfectly in order to move forward with our plans.

And so we wait around… for what, life doesn’t know. Because life is often waiting for us.

We don’t start to write the story we want to write because we don’t think we’re good enough to write it yet. Or we feel we are “ill-prepared” to start. Or the “timing is off.”

We don’t accept a wonderful new opportunity because it does not look exactly like the opportunity we asked for, and so the door of opportunity remains shut. (Meanwhile the window of whimsy is wide open; but if we wait too long, the window of whimsy will slam shut, too, and any opportunity we could have had will have come and gone.)

We pray for assistance, assistance we hope will come to us cloaked in bright, miraculous starlight; but when assistance finally comes to us in its dull, unassuming colors, we are sure that our prayers have not been answered yet. (We think assistance is still on its way, but really, assistance has already come and gone…)

Instead of embracing our destiny we keep pushing our destiny further and further out, someplace in the future, so we can’t confront it in the present, delaying an experience that is rightfully ours just because we want the comfort of believing we are in complete controlof our lives.

What a silly thing to do.

Stop Hesitating: Take A Step Forward (Even If You Think You Are Not Prepared)


No, you are probably not prepared.

Neither was I.

But I began anyway. I took the risk, and now look at where I am at now. (And I’m only half-way through my journey: things are only just starting to get good.)

No, you are probably not prepared.

But no one is.

No one is ever prepared.

What can really prepare us for life? What can really prepare us to pursue our dream other than starting to live out of the dream itself?

What does it matter if our initial step is a stumble? What’s more important is that this initial step gets us moving.

We go forward as amateurs, yes, but it is the process that makes us experts, not inertia. We will never get better by simply sitting and hesitating.

Waiting for the right “break,” the right “chance,” the right “time,” the right “person” to show up and give you what you so desperately want is only delaying your journey.

So stop your hesitating.

Today is the break you’ve been waiting for. Today is the chance. Right now is the time.You are the right person.

Your dream is waiting for you to live it and your prolonged and unreasonable hesitation—far from making things safer or better for you–is, at this point, only getting in the way.

So stop hesa… hesa…. hessssssaaaatatiiiiiiiing and get going!

GET UP AND GO!

Set the wheels in motion. Turn on the ignition. Get that engine running.

You figured out your “Why”–congratulations! Yi-pee! Ring the frakkin’ church bells! Turn on Katy Perry’s new, catchy hit single Roar and do fist pumps in the air.

Go have a ball… but don’t celebrate for too long.

Because, believe it or not, figuring out the “Why” of your life was the easy part. Now it’s time to get working on the “How.”

No, don’t sit around waiting for the “How” to show up, because it won’t.

You have to create it.

No, don’t sit around for waiting for someone to prepare you for what’s to come next: you are in charge of your own preparation, and the only way to prepare yourself is to just move forward and learn by doing.

Take a step forward today, even if you think you are not prepared.

If your face should hit the asphalt more than once–you’re doing it right.

much “and-your-gon-na-hear-me-roooooar,”

Ollin


 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

'Goodnight, John Boy' or 'The Kids are NOT in bed'

[caption id="attachment_535" align="aligncenter" width="600"]girlsandlamb Photo: Jo Hanlon Moores[/caption]

It was always Neil's observation that my favourite bloggers, commentators, Plain Livers and Simple Livers and advocates of all things good, kind of disappeared once their kids reached double figures. Age I mean, not numbers. Although, a good few christian home edders do have large families, and still having a toddler or three even though you now have a couple of teenagers may actually make you the exception that proves the rule.

It does seem to be borne out by the evidence - Scott Savage folded 'Plain' for the last time and headed back into the real world of librarianship.  Tommy Waller lifted his family out of Amish simplicity in Tennessee and off to head up Ha Yovel and great work though that is and God's work no doubt, nevertheless that was the end of an inspiring era.

I recently treated myself to Simple Mom's sensible 'One Bite at a Time' and a worthwhile read it is too, but found myself running up against the notion that I can work up my family's Purpose Statement with my spouse possibly in those quiet evening hours -  you heard me hours! - after the children are in bed.

Parents of sleeping tots, I urge you, do all that you can to make the best use of those hours right now!

However. My wonderful daughters - above, shown lamb rescuing in a sweet and candid picture by Jo of the art of wildness - who by the way is their much loved cousin so may be a tad biased behind the shutter there - are now teenagers, and not only are they not in bed, they are 50% of the purpose in the statement.

I can't say we've got it totally right. I raised my little girls in long frocks and boots, with hairy ponies and gymkhanas, all Little House on the Prairie and Pullein Thompson with a dash of Swallows and Amazons.

They were home schooled, christian schooled, and now state schooled, and they have voices of their own, so I won't attempt to speak for them.

However, here's my shortlist for making it through to the teenage years and, I hope there will be others who will pitch in with their tips too.

  • Always engage.  They will grow into their own passions. Let them grow and co-exist. Sheepdogs wouldn't be my first choice of farm life option, but Sasha is mad on sheep and dogs and she's a bigger part of the 'farm' because of that.

  • Change. We always listen for God's leading.  Homeschoolers got sharp with us for going into christian school, and christian schoolers got sharp with us for going into state school. We went where God led. He doesn't keep people in one place, often.

  • Always tell your truth. There are times when I'm not sure they are very interested in my more with less, simple living,  Plain kind of Christianity.  They're more Phatfish kind of girls. But it won't stop me speaking my truth. That truth abides. And Harrie still calls herself a farm girl first and foremost!

  • Be incredibly grateful for the groundwork. I now work from home a lot of the time, and they are SO practical.  They cook meals, bake bread, pack lunches, take care of livestock, milk goats, and do so, so much more - I probably don't appreciate them enough. Thanks guys.

  • Move forward. We are now trying to embrace austerity principles and get ourselves out of debt, and on solid financial ground for the first time in ... erm ... ever. It's not easy. The temptation is to keep that quiet and wait til they're in bed. But, hey. They aren't.


I really would appreciate input from all of you with older children/teens/young adults.

Have you kept the simple living alive into the second generation?

Return to Rhythm

P1000803The wood has been seasoning in full sun for a whole summer - we have some older wood seasoning under a hedge which is not as good as this, so the chopping and stacking has begun.

After a season of uncertainty, we take up again the routine rhythms of the year on the land.  And we are behind with firewood.

P1000796It generally arrives in large heaps, from a tree surgeon friend, when he either doesn't have the time to process it into logs, or it's not good enough to be sold as such, so it comes free, and that's cheap enough for us.

I am often fascinated by its pictures and designs, and love the smell of it outside the front of the house in summer - though not always the look, I will admit.  It seldom has the power to shock. However rounding the corner in half light the other day, this bit did make me jump.

creatureThought we had a croc in the garden there for a minute.

wheelsNow. Can anyone tell me how to set about making an exercise cart for a very small pony?