Tag Archives: smallholding

So tired. Also, a badger sett.

The highlight was a badger sett, but today started with a discussion of cows and their rumen over breakfast, but I am almost too tired to type more, and besides, Bob has promised to show me the cud as it is brought up and travels down again. So really, I will start with the bottle-feeding of the animals:

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I was licked by a calf for the first time — people promised it would be sweet and it really was, though also the tongue was rough and also very saliva covered. I still have not taken a picture of the calf. We fed the lambs, and then the goat, and then saw to some ewe complaints (conjunctivitis and a bit of lameness). There are lots of babies around here:

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Goslings soon, hopefully.

Then off down to another field in the village, to use the strimmer on loads of nettles and docks and spreading thistles, and to dig out some bow thistles and cut off at the roots more spreading thistles and docks. I missed the scythe.

It was a beautiful large field split in half by a little stream, very beautiful. This is some of the carnage we left behind after hours of work on this very warm sunny day.

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The top of the field and its lovely marshy bit:

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And the view down to the other end of the field.

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Apart from how beautiful this field is, it has another curious characteristic. It is mostly sand. A rarity in this limestone district, and Bob thinks deposited here by glacial activity. Because it is sand, there is a lovely long sandy bank along the edge of the field facing the pub. All along the bank you can see these dug into it:

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This one was even more impressive:

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The trail of grass shows that it is now in use — there is even a larger sett behind the houses across the road. While this group used always to be an auxiliary sett–with one dug then left to go out of use and then used again and more being dug–it now seems it is no longer auxiliary.

This one even had tracks pressed into the moist soil:

Badger Sett

They are wonderful. Bob said he saw two young ones playing about on the top of the bank and he approached slowly and got close enough to just put his foot on the back of one them — just to see what it would do. It wasn’t terribly impressed and just ambled off, like he couldn’t be seen. I was jealous, I have yet to see a badger. But I have a feeling you could see them sitting in front of the pub opposite.

After lunch we did some hot dirty work sorting metal recycling, and then I pulled nettles and more nettles from the path to the caravans.

I finished reading Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne this evening before dinner. Sitting in a chair in front of the caravan, listening to the birds and staring up the field and nodding off from time to time. I felt for a moment that I should do all of these blogs in his epistolary style, but was too tired this evening.

A blackbird did, however, today fly into K’s caravan where her dog was understandably surprised, and put no little effort into catching and killing it. I have known blackbirds to fly into caravans no less than seven times, generally in May and June when…

But no, effort.

I might go to sleep soon, but it’s only just gone 9.

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First day on the new farm

It is beautiful — they have all been beautiful but this is absurdly picturesque and scenic and also messy due to being a working farm, so I love it. It is very close to Wirksworth, funnily enough, where last year we had some terrifying apocryphal adventures, and some incredible real adventures, cementing my love for this area just south of the Peak District. I think it will only grow here, this farm has:

Cows
Sheep
Goats
Ponies
Ducks
Geese
Chickens
An awesome dog
a couple of cats I have only seen from afar

We are bottle feeding lambs, a goat and a calf.

This farm also has barrows and a quarry and an old lime kiln, I took a walk up through the fields today with the little guide, and I shall write more but here are a few pictures, a view from the top of the mounds with all the hawthornes in bloom:

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The quarry:

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Herefords! I learned lots about these guys today, but am too tired to share

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Coming back up the lane:

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Home for the next month:

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And the view from my door:

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Happiness.

Walking through a permaculture garden

Permaculture as a way of life and process for design is quite amazing. I asked Alex before he moved on to the next farm what his favourite thing about working here had been, and that’s the first thing he said — the incredible thoughtfulness of the design. I would agree with that with one addition — how beauty has been incorporated as part of that design for usefulness, this is an extraordinarily beautiful place. I think I have pictures from each section of the garden to do a quick walkthrough to share and remember its scope and design.

It’s hard to imagine that when they arrived here twenty years ago it was just one enormous field, bare and windswept, though with some quite beautiful and fertile soil. Everything you see has been built and grown over this period.

You walk out of their door, past the washing line, and you see this:

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Three greenhouses (all recycled before they were torn down in other places and the third finished the second weekend I was there with the help of Julian, who had wwoofed with them before). These are full of seeds to be planted out into the garden, and have become ever more important with global weirding, as the weather has been more and more unpredictable over the past few years. I mentioned this with the runner beans, but it’s such a visceral way to understand climate change in counterpoint to everything else I am reading.

To the right you can just see the top of the caravan, and somewhere there is also a giant underground water cistern that collects rain and water run-off which is used to water the polytunnels and the beds when there is a bit of drought. This was constructed with a small grant.

The flower bed closest to the path is full of flowers and herbs, lots of beautiful aquilegias, some old roses, valerian, ornamental grasses. Here it is after our weeding efforts, and beyond it a bed of onions, also weeded on my last day with the use of the splendid English hoe:

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Continuing forward  you walk into the square we actually spent most of our time — you can see the tracks of our feet marking the grass. The hedges are of beech, and very beautiful — this once giant field has been divided up to create sheltered micro-climates that plants can better thrive in. The differences between this beautiful hedged squares and the open bit of meadow that has been left as a piece of the wild is quite amazing.

There are three sheds here, all very beautiful. Rob & Diana had been considering straw bale or cob, but received a small grant to build these on a very short time frame, so they are wood. I have completely failed to take a good photo of the shed to the right but here is a piece of it — it is where veg and boxes are stored in three different sections, and has a most wonderous wisteria climbing across the front of it. There is also a porch to shelter timber, and you can see the wheelbarrows.

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Here are the others (or is it just one long one with two entrances? I somehow don’t know, I should have finished this while I was there):

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The entrance on the left leads to two rooms, one containing the beautiful collection of old hand tools, which we carefully cleaned every day and oiled with WD-40 on wet days to keep from rust, and another where I prepared the salad bags and Diana dries the herbs she uses in her practice.

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The other entrance leads to the room where Diana carries out her practice.

Continuing straight ahead through this square we come to two polytunnels and a line of grapes and berries recently mulched.

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The polytunnel on the right, where I was collecting salad leaves:

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Polytunnel on the left:

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Behind this polytunnel could be found the very sheltered and warm area perfect for the herb garden — with the terribly overgrown bed we weeded and the one we began to create:

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You continue straight ahead on the path between the polytunnels and arrive here, the stack of willow poles we used for the beans in sight (everything is used once, twice, three times — nothing wasted is a key permaculture principle):

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To the right, the Szechuan pepper and the willows we planted my first day, here almost hidden by their mulch donuts:

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Continuing straight through you arrive at the orchard and chickens and geese:

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There is one main henhouse and a couple of smaller ones with runs, to separate mums and chicks from the others and give them a little more protection against foxes and the magpies and jays and crows that regularly predate eggs — Rob was checking down here several times a day to regularly collect eggs before the birds got them. The geese are kept in a separate enclosure with their own house just behind me here.

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So back up to the sheds, towards the house (meeting Biddy as she stalks down the paths of gravel laid just last winter),

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Turning right here you would come to the main outdoor vegetable beds, looking straight ahead:

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Left — I realise I actually have no idea what this shed was supposed to be for, but we never did use it

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Looking to your right (this closest bed is before we weeded it and where we created the willow wigwams for the beans) towards the bog garden and flower meadow, Rob’s little writing shed in the distance (he never did have energy for writing at the end of the day — something for me to remember):

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Continuing straight down the main path you can see the duck enclosure (again they have a secure house within a secure fully covered pen, these are within a much larger pen with just a low fence surrounding it where they spend their days — more pics here)

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And looking to the left, the rest of the beds and the berry enclosure, to protect delicious fruit from birds. There are, of course, lots of berries planted outside for the birds, because this is a smallholding to encourage all kinds of life.

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Turning right you head down to the wildflower area and the writing shed — Rob has just been down here with the scythe to start to reclaim the bog garden, but I failed to take a picture of this, or the lovely yellows of the buttercups being dug up all over the rest of the smallholding.

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Looking further down the wildflower meadow to the end of the property, the Hawthornes blooming beautifully:

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To the right is the old veg bed that had been plasticed over to help kill the couch grass and nettles that we partially reclaimed for more runner beans:

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Beyond it more fruit trees (Rob has over 60 heirloom apple trees and myriads of others), here is more of Alex’s amazing mulching work with the grasses and nettles scythed down from the forest garden path you can see beyond:

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We walk down it and see the little crossroads:

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Turning left we come to the far polytunnel

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A bit battered from last winter’s storms but still very serviceable, this held most of the spinach and chard we’ve been harvesting for market, all now run to seed so in the process of being cleared and replaced with tomatoes dying to get out of their little greenhouse pots.

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Back to the crossroads we turn left now

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Newly cut grass and poles coppiced and left here to cure

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Looking right we’re back looking at the area behind the two polytunnels that we were working to weed and clear for the herb gardens proper

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We can keep walking straight past more poles

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and down to the open area just in front of the chickens and orchard (to your left here):

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Back up this little path of flagstones we have traversed before to the polytunnel

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And then back between the two heading towards the house.

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I haven’t really even started on describing the contents of the beds or the rotations — as much thought goes into that as anything else, but it is all in Rob’s head. So impressive. This smallholding is hovering at the line at which it can be maintained by Rob and wwoofers using hand tools and learning the great arts of permaculture and gardening, earning almost-but-often-not-quite-enough income through sales at Tavistock market (Rob is looking for another outlet as he has excess veg at this point) for true sustainability. It definitely feeds them exceedingly well. To make an income it needs to be a bit bigger, but that would require mechanization and more outlets — hopefully we are moving more towards a world in which a smallholding like this one, as well as Ian and Tania’s, become more viable propositions for those working in ways that leaves the planet better for their work here.

As you can see, it is a wonderful place that reflects the wonderful people who have created it. I learned so much but there is clearly so much left to learn here…not least the great wisdom of Diana around herbs and their uses. You can see her website here, she runs day courses as well as her practice, and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough based on our little session on dandelions.

You can read some of the theory and thinking behind permaculture here.

Off to the next farm on Monday! Peak district, here I come.

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Last day at the permaculture market garden

I am quite sad actually. It has been quite an unexpectedly climactic day as well. I was sent out in the morning to pick Hawthorne for herbal preparations, I had to weigh into some nettles but I was down in the wilder bit of the garden and it was lovely. The trees are large and covered with white blossoms.

It turns out I am rather violently allergic to these blossoms — or it could have been the plumes of pollen I saw floating in the air from the grasses.

They have kept me company all day.

Mrs. Grieve in her A Modern Herbal writes that ‘Many country villagers believe that Hawthorn flowers still bear the smell of the Great Plague of London.’ Maybe I’m allergic to the plague. But it has been terrible all day and I feel done in.

Still, they were lovely blossoms. Some of the trees were covered with lichens:

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I also found an aerial snail.

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After that I was excited to use my first traditional English hoe — they are quite awesome slicing through the earth to cut baby weeds off from their roots. I love all the traditional old hand tools here, they are amazing and perfect for the job.

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Still dripping and sneezing with my little microscopic pollen friends, I spent the time after lunch picking lettuce and making up salad bags.

Still fairly miserable I got a last good shot of Neave and Foxy, I shall miss her. Mostly. She does a little too much licking for my peace of mind. In addition to my failure to withstand pollen, I also have an inherited failure to tolerate licking and smacking noises very well. It’s a thing, or so I learned on facebook. But I mostly withstood it, she is a lovely dog and it is my own failing.

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And still the hayfever continues, despite medicine and a shower and prayers and a light exorcism.

I am now going to try the pub for a farewell dinner.

My last day.

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Hens aren’t always good mothers, and planting beans

Long day today, but a very nice one. There has been some drama around the chickens that I haven’t yet written about. Two of the broody hens were given eggs to hatch, and on Friday the chicken eggs started hatching. Not the duck eggs the second broody hen was sitting on — the ducks here are terrible mothers apparently, not surprising given the traumatic scenes preceding the laying of eggs. Though apparently it has more to do with the domesticated nature of the breed. Though it doesn’t look too likely that they have succeeded with the duck eggs either.

The hen started with 12 I think, broke three, and only 2 of the remaining 9 hatched. On Monday afternoon we thought that both chicks had been smothered or predated because they were not in the secure house with the mother. But a few hours later we found one chick with the mum who had incubated them, and another with another of the broody hens. So this morning, we had to set up two (rather than one) secure little houses with runs to allow mums and babies a little privacy and extra safety from jays and foxes.

The calm and competent new mum who rescued one of the chicks:

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I couldn’t even get a good picture of the nervous not-so-good-but-trying mum, but her chick is very cute as well and heads this post.

Then it was back to weeding and beans. We planted two more circles of french beans in the broad bean bed. These are white flowering heirloom beans — Cherokee ‘Trail of tears’ and Sarah’s Old-fashioned black beans. I am pretty sad I won’t be harvesting and cooking up these beauties to try them out.

The afternoon was spent digging a new bed for some scarlet runner beans. Two months ago they covered these two beds with plastic as they had been overrun with couch grass and nettles.

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We peeled back the plastic enough to plant a new row of beans crowding their seed trays. These are usually just planted into the ground, but the weather has been so strange and changeable the past few years given climate change and all, Rob planted a bunch in trays — and May’s snow and hail I discussed in earlier posts proved he was wise.

The couch grass had died back enough we didn’t need the azada, just a rake to peel it off the top. The nettles though, were well entrenched and required spade work.

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We put a line down with this brilliant victorian contraption that I forgot to get a picture of but I will, and then dug out a trench a spade wide and deep

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A sprinkle of seaweed calcium balls, some cut up comfrey plants, a layer of rotted horse manure, the old soil raked back over and we were ready to plant. We put in sticks using the trowel as a spacer

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In the bean plugs went, mostly scarlet emperor, one per stick.

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We planted out the seedlings most in need. Alongside them we also sowed one heirloom borlotti bean which will prolong the crop yielded by this bed as they will be ready for harvest weeks later. When we ran out of seedlings we continued sowing seed directly into the ground, two for each pole rather than one.

I learned that beans climb round the poles counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere, so that is how you should wind and tie them. That is quite cool.

I also learned how to make dumplings — a heaped tablespoon of self-raising flour per person, half that amount of suet, parsely is quite nice though not necessary, salt and pepper, water until it looks like dough, and then just drop them on top of your covered stew for ten minutes.

Yum. Imagine that, with scones and clotted cream and fresh strawberries for desert. A good day.

Bean wigwams, Bude, seaside and a dogfish

It was hot today, hot and sunny and somehow I am twice as tired as usual — possibly also because we got to leave off a little bit early and go to Bude and I walked barefoot in the ocean. Sea breeze, hard work, sun.

I got a sun burn! Amazing. Less than a month ago I was working in hail and snow.

Today started off picking strawberries in the polytunnel, which was already so so hot. I love strawberries but picking them, so so many of them, is such hard work.

A toast to all those who have ever picked or continue to pick strawberries at any kind of scale around the world.

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But look at these beauties. Unlike supermarket strawberries, they taste every bit as lovely as they look.

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I was at market on Friday — look what happened while I was there:

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Alex did this truly amazing mulch job as his last task. I’ve been a bit selfish only showing you my own work, but these were things of beauty. Under all this grass piled high from the scythe work is a sprinkle of lime and some lovely fairly well-rotted horse manure, and this hopefully will be the fruit trees happy the whole of the summer.

After strawberries was weeding (to a few more episodes of Welcome to Night Vale, I love it more with each one) and creating space for some beans in a not-entirely-successful bed of broad beans killed back a bit during the weird cold weather earlier this year and also populated by a handful of volunteer potatoes. We dug circular pits the depth of the spade, cut up some comfrey to lie in the bottom (comfrey is amazing), covered it with more horse manure then raked the soil back.

The wigwams are built of old willow coppiced from the back of the orchard. The sticks are left to dry — they have to cure a while before you can use them as poles, or they will simply root themselves again. These are about a year old, and have another year of life to them really.

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With them we built cages, setting the poles about a foot apart and tying them at the top with a bit of string. Then we planted out the beans, one at the foot of each pole. These have been dying to be replanted, and I love these starter packs that open up like books when you pull them from the trays. It makes all of this so much easier.

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I quite love the effect — nice to look at, practical, and of course, free.

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Then we dropped all of the tools and hightailed it to Bude — a seaside town rather full of families on this Bank holiday Monday. You will notice I never take pictures of beaches covered with children and sunbathers, I spend my time at beaches pretending no one else is there. They are more beautiful that way, and god are Cornish beaches beautiful.

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These consisted of great fingers stretching into the water, I loved them. Yet these are the same rocks so devastating to any boat washed up on these shores.

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This lovely view opens up as you walk along the beach away from the clusters of families.

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Some of the coolest stuff, though, is at another scale.

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A dog fish washed up on shore, of razor sharp teeth and skin like sandpaper.

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And fascinating things lining the rocks.

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There is a canal that ends here as well, right at the seaside. I have cropped an atmospheric scene of stone and old wood and a view of the lock and kept it free of holiday goers for you.

You’re welcome.

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Old iron tracks line the track up the hill from the beach, built for the carts that once carried seashell/calcium-rich sand up to be distributed to farms for improving the soil. This early canal once ran to Holsworthy, the idea was to create an alternative East-West passage for goods to the dangerous sea route around Lands End. It never really worked, though they did make canal boats with wheels and attached to counter-weighted chains, which allowed them to navigate the steeper bits without the slow process of locks.

Canal boats with wheels! Pretty awesome. I am glad Rob is a fount of knowledge.

Another beautiful day, I can’t help but feel I am leaving too soon.

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The Terrible Truth About Ducks

Yesterday started with ducks. They get shut in at night, to protect them from the fox. When released, they erupt from their prison with a joyful waddling quacking, leaving their little wooden hut in a waddling quacking line of joyfulness.

I thought to myself, how wonderful ducks are! They headed straight for the water.

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I don’t know if it was the waddling or the quacking, but I really loved ducks at that moment.

After feeding them, all of their water gets emptied out and refilled — the three of these and a large almost -paddling-pool size one in the larger enclosure. They’re allowed into the larger enclosure where they can hunt for slugs and snails (the main practical reason you want ducks possibly) if they’ve laid eggs. They had laid two eggs. Out they went. More waddling and quacking. More joy.

We were refilling the water here and a sudden splashing made me turn around. I am sorry to say that possibly the most violent sex scene I have possibly ever seen was being enacted in the paddling pool. Apparently this is just the way it is for female ducks. More than one male was involved, and I would not be surprised to find that more than one female ends up drowning in such encounters.

Lady ducks of the world unite, is all I have to say.

It was a bit anticlimactic, but realising I personally wouldn’t be able to organise the lady ducks effectively to overthrow patriarchy, I agreed to continue to rescue the herb bed, and when done we used hazel from the hedges to build cages to support the great sprawling valerian

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and the soon to be sprawling elecampane, which will soon send forth great yellow flowerheads.

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If you build the cages early enough, they will disappear into the foliage as it grows ferociously in the spring and summer. The valerian was my hazel weaving work, but because these branches were cut from the hedge which has been lopped many times, they were quite unideal for such a weaving. Still, they were usable. You use all that is usable, and most things can serve multiple purposes over the course of their development, this is the philosophy of permaculture.

We had weeded these beds while Rob was mowing the orchard with the scythe — necessary before the docks flowered and seeded. So we spent some time raking up the leavings, which we will at some point use to mulch the apple trees. This is where the chickens live, along with Gandalf the Grey (gander) and Galadriel the white (goose).

I have stared my gander fear in the face and won.

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Today we weeded a different bed full of herbs and flowers, transplanted some comfrey, and began work on a new bed using a brilliant tool called an azada, which scrapes the root-matted tops off of the earth infested with the terrible cooch grass, allowing you to turn over the earth and rid it of the deep clinging roots of said grass. It went from this (we’d started a bit here):

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To this:

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You can see how the roots infest this beautiful soil. This is the grass that makes no-dig permaculture gardening impossible here (after reading Masanobu Fukuoka I was so excited about that, but ah well). You have to turn it over and over and pick it through, and still you know it will be returning. I did most of the azada work, so I am happily tired.

I quite love hard work.

Also, yesterday, we picked a huge amount of beautifully ripened strawberries — the lovely varieties you can’t buy in supermarkets because they bruise and don’t last forever and will make other strawberries pale in comparison.

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So today we made some jam. Well, I watched Diana make some jam. I think I will be able to make jam in future. A kilo of strawberries, a kilo of sugar (yep, half and half), some lemon rather than pectin for it to set. Boil, stir, get it up to temperature. Boil a minute or two more. Let it sit a minute and the fruit settle. Fill jars sterilised with boiling water. After a little while, turn the jars upside down. A few hours later turn them right side up and that creates a seal.

Also today I sent off yet another job application and made dinner which people actually enjoyed. A good day.

To end by continuing the herb lessons from Mrs. M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, here is some awesome info on valerian and elecampane:

Valeriana officinalis – Valerian

It was afterwards found to be useful in certain kinds of epilepsy. The plant was in such esteem in mediaeval times as a remedy, that it received the name of All Heal, which is still given it in some parts of the country.

The drug allays pain and promotes sleep. It is of especial use and benefit to those suffering from nervous overstrain, as it possesses none of the after-effects produced by narcotics.

During the recent War, when air-raids were a serious strain on the overwrought nerves of civilian men and women, Valerian, prescribed with other simple ingredients, taken in a single dose, or repeated according to the need, proved wonderfully efficacious, preventing or minimizing serious results.

Though in ordinary doses, it exerts an influence quieting and soothing in its nature upon the brain and nervous system, large doses, too often repeated, have a tendency to produce pain in the head, heaviness and stupor.

Inula Helenium – Elecampane

The herb is of ancient medicinal repute, having been described by Dioscorides and Pliny. An old Latin distich celebrates its virtues: Enula campana reddit praecordia sana (Elecampane will the spirits sustain). ‘Julia Augustus,’ said Pliny, ‘let no day pass without eating some of the roots of Enula, considered to help digestion and cause mirth.’ The monks equally esteemed it as a cordial. Pliny affirmed that the root ‘being chewed fasting, doth fasten the teeth,’ and Galen that ‘It is good for passions of the hucklebone called sciatica.’

Elecampane is frequently mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon writings on medicine current in England prior to the Norman Conquest; it is also the ‘Marchalan’ of the Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century, and was generally known during the Middle Ages.

It was formally cultivated in all private herb-gardens, as a culinary and medicinal plant, and it is still to be found in old cottage gardens. Not only was its root much employed as a medicine, but it was also candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. Dr. Fernie tells us, in Herbal Simples:

‘Some fifty years ago, the candy was sold commonly in London as flat, round cakes being composed largely of sugar and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling by a river, to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exalations and bad air. The candy may still be had from our confectioners, but now containing no more of the plant Elecampane than there is of barley in Barley Sugar.’

In Denmark, Elecampane is sometimes called Elf-Doc. Here one sometimes comes across the name Elf-Dock locally, also Elfwort.

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From Mines to Market Gardens — The Tamar Valley

Sovereigns, Madams and Double Whites: Fruit and Flower Pioneers of the Tamar ValleySovereigns, Madams and Double Whites: Fruit and Flower Pioneers of the Tamar Valley is a wonderful book I found in the library here. It emerged from a 2001 project to uncover the market gardening landscape, and is full of oral histories and quite wonderful photographs. It is the story of the long-gone smallholdings up and down the Tamar valley. They were built up and down the steep south-facing hills for the earliest flowers and strawberries.

Almost all of them have now become grazing and farm land, or woods.

There is so much here of England’s industrial and agricultural history that is long forgotten. It is so strange to think of this area as a centre of copper mining, much less arsenic refining, but so it was:

For a brief period of twenty years in the mid nineteenth century the Tamar Valley became the copper centre of England, the river crowded with shipping carrying ore to be smelted in South Wales. However by 1868 the largest mine, Devon Great Consols, was nearly exhausted and metal prices slumped putting hundreds of families out of work. Arsenic refining took over but in turn was abandoned. By the 1930s mining was dead leaving a strange and dramatic landscape of waste tips and ruinous buildings half hidden in lush woodland and intricately mixed with villages, farms, riverside quays and market gardens. (1)

Apart from copper, the Tamar Valley was known for cherry and apple orchards, and had the earliest strawberries in the country — that was where the money once was. Early strawberries and the famous Tamar Double Whites, a lovely fragrant daffodil planted here by the thousands and their remnants now left forgotten in hedgerows and bordering fields. But the market gardens along the slopes here reached their height in the 1950s, when they supported an industry of 8-10,000 people, more than the entire population today. Special tools to work the hillsides were invented (a special dibber!), and diggers to move soil up slopes.

It is amazing to think smallholdings could provide so much work, and that they once sent flowers and fruit all over the country. Somehow it pleases me greatly to imagine early daffodils from Devon arriving to bring joy in Birmingham.

Also fascinating is the role that changing transportation links played in this story. In many ways this agricultural revolution was due to the arrival of the Great Western Railway. It reached Plymouth in 1849 and bridged the Tamar to Saltash in 1859 — before this, the river Tavy had been the main way of transport. But the trains allowed a much faster movement of fruit — allowing it to be sold within 24 hours of picking. Because of the warm micro-climates here in Devon allowing the very early growing of fruit, the possibility of transport opened up new possibilities just after the waves of lay-offs from mining.

In the change to market gardening, many followed the pioneer James Lawry. On a visit to Crystal Palace in London in 1862 (I do so very much love accounts of Crystal Palace), he heard of Covent Garden market. Visiting it, he discovered their earliest strawberries arrived in June, while back home in Tamar Valley their crop was much earlier. Upon learning the  difference in price for Strawberries in London as opposed to Devon, there seemed little to lose. He started sending his fruit to a Mr. Israel in 1863.

Lawry helped establish not just strawberries, but also punnet-making, and thus began a thriving networks of smallholdings and associated employment for the whole family.

In 1966, Beaching’s cuts to train services and closure of multiple stations ended what was left of this industry as transportation costs became too high, fruit could no longer arrive to markets within 24 hours at a low enough price. I already felt like spitting whenever his name is mentioned. Of course, globalisation, and the flying in of fruit from countries around the world did not help either.

In 1971 there were still 250 viable holdings, by 1979 only 140 growers left, and the extreme slopes fell out of cultivation for the easier flats where mechanization could be brought in. Now they are all but gone.

We probably won’t be able to fly in strawberries forever, so perhaps this shall be full of smallholdings once again. Interesting thought.

The oral histories are short–a few paragraphs of key memories–but so interesting. Alan Rickard’s father had been to Canada to work in the mines there, then returned to work five acres growing cherries, dahlias, rhubarb, irises, strawberries and daffodils. This was apparently true of many families, John Snell’s father went to the mines first, then Ford’s Detroit plant and then returned home. Almost all of the gardens sold a similar variety, though most seemed to specialise in one or two. There are a few fishermen, who gardened on the side. Others seemed to be more gardeners who fished. A few German POWs who remained after the war. A number are still in the business, generally where their children and grandchildren have taken over — though in large modern greenhouses or polytunnels.

One of my favourite quotes from Alan Langsford:

When I was a little boy I wanted to be a Dutchman when I grew up. [The bulb-salesmen] all wore suits, drove nice cars and didn’t work outside on the land! (142)

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Herb gardening, and I use a scythe

Today we worked clearing out a bed of herbs that had been sadly overrun, hard work but most satisfying. The lemon balm smelled most divine. It was a beautiful day today, mostly sunny and warm.

Honestly, there may be nothing I’d rather be doing than working in an herb bed on a day like this.

An overall view of this afternoon’s progress.

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I wanted to learn more about herbs in this place, so here a few of the herbs I was working to clear around, the pictures probably give an idea of how much weeding remains to be done. These descriptions are all from Mrs. M. Grieve’s herbal, which I quite love.

Myrrhis Oderata – Sweet Cicely

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Sweet Cicely is very attractive to bees; in the north of England it is said that the seeds are used to polish and scent oak floors and furniture. In Germany they are still very generally used in cookery. The old herbalists describe the plant as ‘so harmless you cannot use it amiss.’ The roots were supposed to be not only excellent in a salad, but when boiled and eaten with oil and vinegar, to be ‘very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.’

Tanacetum vulgare – Tansy

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It is connected with some interesting old customs observed at Easter time, when even archbishops and bishops played handball with men of their congregation, and a Tansy cake was the reward of the victors. These Tansy cakes were made from the young leaves of the plant, mixed with eggs, and were thought to purify the humours of the body after the limited fare of Lent. In time, this custom obtained a kind of symbolism, and Tansies, as these cakes were called, came to be eaten on Easter Day as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at the Passover. Coles (1656) says the origin of eating it in the spring is because Tansy is very wholesome after the salt fish consumed during Lent, and counteracts the ill-effects which the ‘moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people . . . though many understand it not, and some simple people take it for a matter of superstition to do so.’

‘This balsamic plant,’ says Boerhaave (the Danish physician), ‘will supply the place of nutmegs and cinnamon,’ and the young leaves, shredded, serve as a flavouring for puddings and omelets. Gerard tells us that Tansy Teas were highly esteemed in Lent as well as Tansy puddings.

Culpepper says: ‘Of Tansie. The root eaten, is a singular remedy for the gout: the rich may bestow the cost to preserve it.’

Prunella vulgaris – Self-heal

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The Self-Heal holds an equal place with Bugle in the esteem of herbalists.

Cole, in Adam in Eden (1657), says:

‘It is called by modern writers (for neither the ancient Greek nor Latin writers knew it) Brunella, from Brunellen, which is a name given unto it by the Germans, because it cureth that inflammation of the mouth which they call “die Breuen,” yet the general name of it in Latin nowadays is Prunella, as being a word of a more gentile pronunciation.’

Cole further explains that the disease in question ‘is common to soldiers when they Iye in camp, but especially in garrisons, coming with an extraordinary inflammation or swelling, as well in the mouth as throat, the very signature of the Throat which the form of the Floures so represent signifying as much’ – an instance of the doctrine of signatures of which William Cole was such a ready exponent.

‘There is not a better Wound herbe,’ says Gerard, ‘in the world than that of SelfHeale is, the very name importing it to be very admirable upon this account and indeed the Virtues doe make it good, for this very herbe without the mixture of any other ingredient, being onely bruised and wrought with the point of a knife upon a trencher or the like, will be brought into the form of a salve, which will heal any green wounde even in the first intention, after a very wonderful manner, The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth. To be short, it serveth for the same that the Bugle serveth and in the world there are not two better wound herbs as hath been often proved.’

Melissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

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(My favourite)

The word Balm is an abbreviation of Balsam, the chief of sweet-smelling oils. It is so called from its honeyed sweetness It was highly esteemed by Paracelsus, who believed it would completely revivify a man. It was formerly esteemed of great use in all complaints supposed to proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system. The London Dispensary (1696) says: ‘An essence of Balm, given in Canary wine, every morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing nature and prevent baldness.’ John Evelyn wrote: ‘Balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory and powerfully chasing away melancholy.’ Balm steeped in wine we are told again, ‘comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadness.’ Formerly a spirit of Balm, combined with lemon-peel, nutmeg and angelica root, enjoyed a great reputation under the name of Carmelite water, being deemed highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgic affections.

Many virtues were formerly ascribed to this plant. Gerard says: ‘It is profitably planted where bees are kept. The hives of bees being rubbed with the leaves of bawme, causeth the bees to keep together, and causeth others to come with them.’ And again quoting Pliny, ‘When they are strayed away, they do find their way home by it.’ Pliny says: ‘It is of so great virtue that though it be but tied to his sword that hath given the wound it stauncheth the blood.’ Gerard also tells us: ‘The juice of Balm glueth together greene wounds,’ and gives the opinion of Pliny and Dioscorides that ‘Balm, being leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drunk, and the leaves applied externally, were considered to be a certain cure for the bites of venomous beasts and the stings of scorpions. It is now recognized as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants make excellent surgical dressings: they give off ozone and thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Being chemical hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen that in wounds dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of disease are starved out, and the resinous parts of these balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up and effectually exclude all noxious air.

John Hussey, of Sydenham, who lived to the age of 116, breakfasted for fifty years on Balm tea sweetened with honey, and herb teas were the usual breakfasts of Llewelyn Prince of Glamorgan, who died in his 108th year. Carmelite water, of which Balm was the chief ingredient, was drunk daily by the Emperor Charles V.

I used a scythe to cut grass for the first time this morning as well! It’s harder than it looks, and although using a scythe I wasn’t actually scything but ‘mowing’ in the proper terminology.

I also did more weeding on a bed of broad beans and some volunteer potatoes, and got one and a half episodes of Night Vale in.

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And to finish it all off, I milked the goat once again. I was better this time. Exciting day…

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I milked a goat!

I don’t have much to add to that, and no pictures. But goats are SO much better than sheep, and OMG baby goats are the most amazing things ever. So much better than lambs (though lambs are still pretty cute). Intelligent, curious, they come right up to you for a scratch, they are brilliant, calm, well-behaved things. And their milk is delicious. As is the yogurt and keffir you can make with it.

I’m not brilliant yet at milking, but I hope to improve.

They will, of course, if let loose, forage widely and eat everything. They like willow and strip the bark from it like nobody’s business. Which is why these particular goats are shared with neighbours and away on their land, not on this smallholding anywhere near Rob’s precious trees…

I didn’t get any pictures of today’s goats, but here is the beautiful tiny baby goat from Sweden.

Stockholm

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