Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This time last year...



As hard to believe as it might be, this was pretty much a year ago.

Currently, we are under water. None of it is frozen.

I wonder if it's just not going to happen this year, or if it's planning on coming down in May?


Nothing would surprise me any more.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Frugal Tuesday

Aiming to keep a monthly tally of what we're doing to cut back and save every penny.

Times are very tight indeed for us, so it's important to save where we can, and earn a little extra.

Our house was built in 1975 by the Crown Estate, from whom we rent it. It's double glazed, and we've had loft insulation fitted. The cavity walls are insulated.

The double glazed windows don't actually fit the holes they're meant for in all cases. We have no central heating - we have the Rayburn, which runs one radiator, in the bathroom. We also have a wood-burner in the sitting room.

The only other method of heating is electric room heaters, and if you've ever paid the electricity bill after heating a room with one of those, you'll know we aim to turn them on approximately never.

So far this winter the weather has been wet and windy but the freeze will surely come.

As you can see, we have blankets, quilts and comfy cushions all over the place in the sitting room. If you sit down, you wrap up.

IMG-20131231-00840We've  decided to keep out any potential heat stealing draughts by making sure the front door is also wrapped up warm. For some reason, I had a curtain - a large curtain with a thermal lining! - all on its own in the airing cupboard. I think its twin may have been used for a similar purpose in some previous house.

Anyway, not wanting to spend any money on this project, we thought around how to put it up for winter without major works.


Well, I know it's not a work of art, but it's keeping the cold out!

We'll get to the arty stage later! We discovered we had some large cup-hooks, which Neil opened up a bit to allow them to hold a broom handle.  We have a lot of broom handles. We once built a geodesic dome from broom handles, we shall do it again, one day. Meanwhile, one of them has a part time job.

IMG-20140105-00861The rings were also stashed away in the garage, so the cost of this little insulation measure was zero.  Some paint and some needlework wouldn't go amiss, but we can already feel the difference in temperature in the hall and on the stairs.

What are your latest money saving tips? Do you have any energy leaks which could be plugged with a little thought, for a low cost?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Winter Walks and Dead Hedge

Various issues and a break in the weather have made me take to the lanes with my faithful beagador. It's reminded me what a fabulous place I live in, and how grateful I am for the healing spaces, the big sky, and the great, rolling downs and the tiny, perfect details.

[caption id="attachment_618" align="aligncenter" width="640"]ditch2 the ditches are full, beneath the still bare blackthorn and hawthorn[/caption]



[caption id="attachment_617" align="aligncenter" width="640"]harepath high on the downs, Charlie's barns can be seen in the far distance, beyond them way up, our wethers graze the Wansdyke.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_620" align="aligncenter" width="640"]ivy berry Ivy berries glitter in the hedgerows.[/caption]

Meanwhile turning the problem into the solution, I've been clearing shrubs, hedges and general gubbins, and creating a dead hedge round the veg garden - well, I've done about 20 metres.  The idea is to create a bit of shelter on the windward side,  add to biodiversity, and hopefully even keep the ducks in.

[caption id="attachment_619" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedgeclose Alder stakes in my embryonic dead hedge[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_621" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedge1 filling the gap with ivy, hawthorne, and general brash.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_622" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedge raspberry canes from pruning the main raspberry plot, plugged into the soil, along with some buddleia and other ready rooters, in the hope that the dead hedge will eventually become a live hedge.[/caption]

Friday, 10 January 2014

Farm News Friday - A Bee in my Bonnet


From The Guardian, this week, here is an article about the decline in honey bees and the potentially devastating consequences.

We’ve actually got a rather precarious hive of bees, Neil took them on some years ago, they swarmed, we cleaned the hive out and left it, another lot swarmed from somewhere and moved in. We have never had so much as a teaspoonful of honey from them. He’s just not taken to bee keeping, I don’t think.

I probably should take over – that could be another new start – but in the meanwhile we’ve made a small contribution to honey bee numbers, and left them to it in peace and quiet and a choice spot on an organic farm.

This 2009 article from the BBC attempts to calculate the impact on food prices of a total collapse of the bee population. It quotes Einstein (or not):

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

An estimate of the worth of the pollination services provided by bees comes out at £200m a year, but the article goes on to project a retail value of closer to £1bn.

Monday, 6 January 2014

A New Year Guest Post

Next up on my new calendar of regular events is a Guest Blog Spot. This was scheduled for a bit later in the month ... but my first guest was so quick off the mark, and her subject is seasonal so without further ado, please welcome Andrea from Casalinho*:

It’s New Year’s Day, and it’s raining again. It’s been raining for what seems like weeks, and my waterproofs seem as wet inside as they are outside now. It’s time to get the animals fed and locked away for the night, and it’s a battle to get to the baby guinea pigs before the rats who come out under cover of darkness do. Ridiculously, the only way to get these defenceless little creatures through the first few weeks is to remove them from their hutch each evening and stash them in the truck for safety. Yesterday I wasn’t fast enough.


It’s been a tough day, with one of the goats having given birth to a deformed and stillborn little one just yesterday. She still hasn’t passed the placenta, and I’m concerned. I can’t reach the vet as it’s a holiday, so I’m watching and waiting and hoping.

I spent Christmas Eve digging channels in the rain to reroute the storm water than was pouring on us. I watched our lower fields fill with water, powerless to do anything. I picked my Jerusalem Artichokes out of the debris when then water went down. On the bright side, that’s one less harvesting job to complete I suppose.

But, you know, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. There’s a satisfaction to be had in sacrificing what could have been a lazy afternoon in favour of caring for others, even when those others are goats. In return for my efforts they supply my family with the milk that I craft into cheese and the occasional young one. Looked at like that, the give and take of our relationship seems a little one sided and the wet and the work small change.


There’s satisfaction too in knowing that tonight’s dinner, already cooking, is largely the fruits of our own labour. Later I’ll share it with my family by candlelight. Not because we like the ambience, but because the realities of off-grid living sometimes necessitate it. But it encourages conversation, and later there will be bedtime stories and pyjama cuddles goodnight, and a warm cat on my lap. The first of this year’s red wine, a new barrel opened in celebration of the season, will round off my evening and remind me of the blue skies of late summer when we brought the grapes in.

So life is good. Despite being so wet that I could wring out my underwear if I chose, tomorrow I’ll pull on dry socks and carry on like smallholders and small farmers everywhere. We don’t do this because it’s prestigious or because of the perks. I’ve not heard of anyone who’s got rich from smallholding, and for most of us it’s a financial struggle. But we love it, and we believe in it, and we know the life we’ve chosen is worth every wet pair of socks.

A happy and abundant New Year to you, and here’s hoping you’re as happy in your little corner of the world as I am in mine, despite that trickle of water running down my spine.


*I met Andrea at Ragmans Lane in 2011 on Patrick Whitefield's PDC.  We were wading round in the wind and rain then as well.  Andrea and Jeroen do amazing works of permaculture brilliance at Casalinho e Escabelado, in central Portugal. Do take a look at their website.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Year Aims and Hopes

nydWe have a big planning session on New Year's Day. That was three of us ready, we were waiting for Neil. Anyway, we ploughed away, all day and in the end, we decided that with our very limited resources, and some financial issues to face, we have a small list of aims and hopes for the year.

We want as a family to enliven our family worship time.  Pull together more. Make music. Aim high and support each other.

Despite or perhaps because of our straitened circumstances, the girls do have their animals. We have been challenged on this, a lot of people do seem to equate keeping a pony with being the Idle Rich.  In fact, to set the matter straight, we were given the ponies, the land we keep them on is a perk of our tenancy, and we couldn't afford for them to have an iPad or a wii instead.  Livestock and outdoor hobbies are part of the fabric of their lives. They have a cost, but we are blessed to be able to keep that right down. We certainly could not afford dancing lessons, trips to the cinema, or - for the last several years, a holiday.

So both of their aims for the year centre on the animals they work and play with, and consist of both leisure and potential business activities:

Harrie hopes to do some dressage, some showing, and get into making and selling some small leather items, as she's very interested in progressing onto saddlery.

Sasha wants to trial her dog, and show some sheep. Depending on Nan's success rate, she'd also like to breed from her, and retain a puppy to train. That might not be this year, though.

Older Generation Aspirations are also Ground Level!

Neil wants to get on top of maintenance, and sort out the many underused resources around here - house and land. First and foremost though, he has to sort out his precarious employment status. We are part time farmers for a reason. We can't survive on ten acres.

I want to get the garden into full production, finish my Permaculture Diploma, and do a lot more preserving - canning, freezing, fermenting - as well as declutter, sew and finally learn to spin. Oh I also *need* to lose some weight and get a tad fitter.

There are however, some big financial goals to pin on the board. Clear some debts,  create some resources -  save small amounts, make small amounts -  build some resilience into our family system. Everyone has the challenge - don't bury that talent. Make it grow. Remember the Parable of the Talents? Well the heavenly meaning of that particular earthly story has more to do with working for God's Kingdom, and that is on our To Do List as well! Like a lot of parables though the earthly story has a lot to offer too.

We all have gifts, and we need to all bring them to the table, and make them work for us.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Farm News Friday - A News Post for Small Farmers and Smallholders

I'm starting some regular posts, to keep myself up to speed, and make the  blog more use to others.  Lets see  how we go with a news post on Friday. If you want to join in, choosing a farm news story from around your way to talk about - please post a link in comments.

Today, top news for farmers great and small in the West Country of England is the weather.

The whole of the West of Great Britain is in a poor way following galeforce winds, lashing rain, burst river banks, and furious floods.

This news story in Farmers' Weekly is about sheep drowning in a flooded river in Scotland.

Last winter and spring,  large numbers of sheep were lost in snow - you can read the article here.

For us, we can mostly get around our sheep and check each one individually. However, at the moment, part timers like us find the daylight a mean resource. We're often at work or school for nearly all the hours during which you can see a sheep.

We're also caught out by our lambs being in quite an inaccessible place - they're dry, that's for sure, they're right up on the top of the Downs! But we can't move them down with our beat up old Volvo.  Tomorrow is the day they will hopefully come down with the help of a friend, and then they'll be closer to keep an eye on.  The downside? They're going to have wet feet as our lower lying fields are in fact mostly ponds.

Not as bad as this though.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Ally Hunter-Blair's Photo - Follow him on Twitter @Wyefarm for more pictures[/caption]

So that's my first Farm News Friday. Lets hope there are some brighter (and drier) stories to come.