Results for category "Ceridwen"

Keeping the Home Fire Burning

Our caretaking duties officially began just after 10AM on Thursday morning. Rob and Diana started off a bit later than they’d planned, but were so very happy to be on their way to a long weekend in Pembrokeshire, as were Kai and Nieve (although Kai knew why and Nieve was just thrilled with the new, happy Kai). The cats were also quite happy for the change. With the house puppy free, they were able to place themselves wherever their heart desired, including perched or napping in front of the Rayburn 🙂 .

The Rayburn was a new task for our days. We still cared for the birds morning and at dusk, but now there was also the need to keep the fire in the Rayburn going at all times, tending it regularly, but mainly at breakfast, 5 PM and just before bed. This entails cleaning out the ash and loading it up with wood and coal. A different type of coal is burned during the day than at night, Anthracite is used during the day and Molacite (a manufactured briquette made from anthracite by the company Rob and Diana purchase from, Mole Valley Farmers) at night for a smokeless and slower burn. There’s also the need to make sure the fire doesn’t grow too large for the chamber and that the air doesn’t draw too deeply.

The Rayburn provides not only warmth for the kitchen area and the animals that frequent it’s presence, it also provides heat to the fermentation jugs sitting in front of it since juicing weekend, speeding fermentation for the cider and cider vinegar that will be produced from the raw apple juice in time. It also contributes a hot surface for cooking and extra heat for drying things, like laundry, wet gloves and even harvested beans. More officially, although all of the benefits are quite important, it heats the tap water for all of the faucets in the house, kitchen and both bathrooms, the only backup for which are a few solar panels that don’t yield much return in energy in winter or in North Devon, in general!

In fact, we awoke Friday morning to the first frost of the season, which returned Saturday morning, as well. This wasn’t too much of an issue once the sun came out, but the morning care for the birds couldn’t include fresh water until the hose pipe thawed out! Poor things. The water comes from a catchment system Rob built that collects the plethora of rainfall that falls here. He even collects from his neighbor’s shed roof. Large barrels are visible outside each polytunnel, but there’s also a very large basin buried under the ground just outside the caravan. When it rains, we can hear the water drip-dripping into it.

The waste water from the washing machine also feeds down into the system, which we contributed to with our opportunity during housesitting time to catch up on our laundry. The sun and breeze of the days helped to almost completely dry our things outside, as well. It’s such a nice effect that the fresh air and the sun have on drying clothes. It can’t be recreated by a conventional dryer.

We also had time in our caretaking days for a walk to Holsworthy to pick up some essentials, including a gift for our hosts. We had decided to make them a lovely batch of homemade brownies, since they seem to love chocolate almost as much as we do. (OK, it’s really not even close…we love it way, way more). We are looking forward to their return on Sunday evening and hope that they appreciate and enjoy the gift as much as we’ve enjoyed our time here in their home and on their land, Sunday marking our last day at Ceridwen, at least for now.

Taking Care of Ceridwen

Wednesday was another chilly and blustery day here in Pyworthy. Notherly winds and passing squalls rounded off a dismal picture, at least in terms of the weather. As the caravan shook and creeked, stoicly maintaining it’s resistance to some of the less desirable facets of mother nature, we awoke warm and dry, looking forward to our final day with Rob before his and Diana’s well earned break.

After a couple of days of hard but enjoyable woodwork, today was to be a gentle winding down of activities, ensuring we have all the necessary information and skill to keep the smallholding ticking over in their absence. Whilst Rob busied himself making his final preparations, under the protection of the large polytunnel, we got our fingers back in the soil and began the day with a bit of weeding and tidying.

As noon approached and after some time in front of the Rayburn, we braved the weather and took a trip into Holsworthy to get some much needed supplies, including duck feed and chocolate. Lunch was soon upon us and a hearty stew helped to thaw cold bodies.

As the afternoon began, brighter skies temporarily prevailed so Rob decided to take the opportunity to run through all we would need to do over the next few days, doing his best to prepare us for every eventuality, including looking after the two Ceridwen cats, Biddy and Bridie. After a final tour of his domain, he headed back indoors to pack and round off some work, giving us the rest of the day off and a now rare opportunity to take a walk in full daylight.

As day turned to night, we returned to the smallholding accompanied by more high winds and hailstones, very much ready for our supper of pizza and chips. Soon after, we were making our way back along familiar the path to our temporary abode ready for a cozy evening and looking forward to taking care of Ceridwen over the next few days.

Creating Winter Warmth

Monday morning began particularly chilly and we attempted to warm ourselves with our usual yummy porridge before heading out into the day to care for the birds. The ducks were pleased with the drizzle in the air, although several of the chickens stayed perched in their house even when set free for the day. On returning to the house, we learned the next couple of days would be mostly dedicated to increasing the winter wood supply for Rob and Diana.

We began our smallholding tasks by breaking up twigs into wood burner-sized pieces and placing them into boxes to be dried for later use in the fires that warm Ceridwen. After two boxes full, K started to work with Rob out at the front driveway where a pile of large logs nested. Rob was wielding the chainsaw as K helped to place the pieces on the sawhorse and then relocate them for splitting.

Once R had completed two additional boxes of twig kindling, she moved in at the sawhorse for branch and log placement while K moved on to swing the axe at the log pieces to split them into wood burner manageable sizes. Exposing the flesh of the wood will also speed the drying process. Some of the wood cut and split is oak, which takes up to two years to dry thoroughly.

The drizzle persisted throughout the morning cutting, as we finished the branches of the pile in the driveway and we were damp by the time lunch arrived. We stopped to enjoy our jacket potatoes and a few minutes of rest before the customer and neighbor of Rob’s stopped in to pick up the 17 bags of apple pulp that would make feed for her pigs.

In the afternoon, K resumed splitting the last of the oak log discs and pieces of ash branch with the axe to dry faster and all was stacked into the wood shed at the side of the drive.

The day not quite at a close, we moved on to one of the polytunnels to continue weeding the middle bed that we’d started several days back when the weather had driven us inside. In this bed, we also removed beans and their plants and boxed the pods for drying in near the Rayburn, as well.

After the evening care for the birds, we ventured out for our Pyworthy lane walk before returning to a warming veggie stew spiced with a Hungarian wax pepper and then returned to our little caravan, happy to have the electric heater and some time to rest.

Tuesday morning we awoke to the sounds of pea-sized hail falling onto the caravan. Our first inclination, of course, was that the day’s weather would be even worse than the previous, but not long after, the sun appeared and the day became bright and fine, albeit, with a bitter northerly wind. Nevertheless, we were happy to be out in the sun as we moved to another pile of logs ready to be cut for the wood shed, this time piled by the duck enclosure.

The time soon passed and we made quick work of the pile, R setting up the branches onto the sawhorse and K manning the axe once more, his skills now even more precise and effective than the day prior, splitting the toughest of the logs after lunch and leaving none in his wake. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of split logs and cut branches made their way to the shed at the side of the drive and by day’s end, we had stacked three and a half rows floor to ceiling.

Rob was much happier having gotten in plenty of wood to dry and use in the coming months as the days grow colder. We put the birds into their evening spaces and were able to walk in the remains of daylight, a rare treat as the days grow shorter.

As we dined on our veggie stew, Rob shared the weather forecast with us, a cold, cold day is coming tomorrow, and one with gales and rain, as well. It would be a day for the polytunnels and we were ready for it. We settled into the caravan for some rest as the cold started to creep into the night.

Juicing Weekend

Saturday morning was soon upon us. Immediately after breakfast we concluded the bottle cleaning activities from the previous day. Milton was used to sterilize the bottles, so they were completely ready to hold the combinations of the sixty or so varieties of apple which are grown in the orchards, before they were moved up to the “juicing” shed.

Crate after crate of apples including Russets, Sunsets, Bramleys, Ashmead’s Kernels and Edward VII, were pulled onto the grass next to the chopper and sorted by variety. Apples can vary greatly in the length of time they can be stored, the general rule being the later in the autumn the variety is ready, the longer they will last. Many of the first apples in the orchard need to be eaten/sold within a week of being picked, whereas other varieties, which are harvested later, can last and indeed sweeten, throughout the winter.

After a little more organizing and sorting, we were ready to begin the processing. The first step is to pulverize the apples in the chopper, creating a juicy pulp. The pulp was then transferred into the press, taking two of batches of pulp to fill the press. After a couple of press tightening sessions, the juice would finally slow and eventually cease, ready to be bottled and the pulp to be cleaned out.

The bottles are filled just into the base of the neck and then inserted into the cooker to be heated. In order to pasteurise, the juice must be heated to at least 72 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Once this is completed, the bottles can be cleaned up and then capped for storage and future sale at the market. Fortunately, this year the pressed pulp won’t go to waste either. A lovely treat for pigs, it will be picked up later on Monday by a local pig farmer and customer at Rob’s Market store.

Batch after batch of amber bottles appeared out of the cookers and the boxes of empty bottles were replaced by full bottles of various custom juice blends. As dusk approached, R cared for the birds, while K continued to work the press. After a few more batches, almost all of the bottles were full and ready to be pasteurised.

With only 27 bottles being able to fit into the cookers at a time, they had become a bottleneck in our process, (no pun intended). Earlier in the day there was great hope we could finish everything on Saturday, however, we would need to resume the next morning with the pasteurisation of the rest of the bottles whilst pressing the last of the apples for a batch of cider that Rob and Diana are keen on making. We had pressed 10 batches of juice already, with the pulp bagged for pig food to prove it.

After everything was rinsed of apple pulp and juice and stored back into the shed, we headed out into the night for our Pyworthy walk. As we sat in our little caravan after enjoying another lovely evening meal, we looked forward to the possibility of a Sunday afternoon walk to be the capstone to our weekend.

Sunday morning brought a slightly later start to the day, being the only day of “rest” for the week that our crew would have. After breakfast, we set about completing the task before us, the rest of the apples to be pressed and bottles to be filled and pasteurised.

Six more batches of pulp pressed, we were finally through all of the apples. The last of the bottles had all been filled and 56 litres of juice remained in fermentation jugs, two 20 litre jugs left to become cider and the third jug of 16 litres would become vinegar. We had bottled 203 bottles of juice over the weekend, as well, all together requiring a total of 17 presses.

Pleased with all that we’d accomplished, we sat down for a brunch meal just before 2 with plates full of egg, beans, tomato, veggie sausage and toast. Afterwards, we headed out on a slightly longer walk through the country lanes, about 4 miles round trip, although as we returned and dusk was falling we found ourselves longing for an an even longer walk.

All in all, it was a full weekend and Monday was coming all too soon. After our evening meal of homemade pizza, oven chips, salad and coleslaw, we settled into the caravan for some precious down time before the work week began again.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!

Long before the first rays of light had crept to Earth, Sparky was bellowing his early morning call, no doubt much to the dismay of his hens, and Rob was in his car ready for a full day of market in Tavistock. There was also much to be done on the smallholding. A bed of wheat was to be sown before the cold sets in and things to be made ready for the weekend of juicing.

After steaming porridge and squawking birds, we collected tools and made our way to the veg plots. The bed we were to work on had been cleared several weeks ago but still needed some general weeding, transplant of a few plants and also a reshaping of one of the corners that had been overtaken by weeds, grass, and the walking path. Working steadily throughout the morning the bed was soon ready to be sown. K set about forming shallow trenches for the wheat to be spread throughout and R raked over to lay the grain to bed.

After a lovely salad lunch, we moved to Rob’s market garden shed, soon to become the juicing shed, to help Diana clean and prepare for the weekend of apple juice making. Rob and Diana borrow a chopper, press and cookers (to heat for pasteurisation) from a local farm so that their harvest of apples can be made into apple juice, which is then sold at the local market.

After much cleaning and tidying, we made our way to the kitchen to conclude our day by thoroughly washing one hundred or so old bottles used in previous years. As darkness fell, the hens, ducks and geese were fed and shut away safely for the night and Ceridwen was almost completely ready for it’s day of juicing…

Loving Simplicity