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A Change of Direction

The weeks passed at Lakehayes, days of weeding followed days of potting, watering and relocating plants from the polytunnel to outdoors. It is still a slow time of year for the nursery, with things stalled based on competing personal and family obligations and necessary changes to the business website.

Conditions in our mobile home continued to improve with further progress made in making the place hospitable, the outstanding issue now, dealing with the nightly temperature drop. Against this we armed ourselves with layers of jumpers and jackets and replenished our hot water bottles (now affectionately termed HWB’s) every couple of hours until we went to bed and waited for the heating to make a difference during the earliest morning hours. We also made good friends with the resident canines (as we often have): Smudge, almost 8 years old and two of her litter of nine, Barney and Tinker, almost 3 years old now.

We were surprised and alarmed to realize there was another occupant of our little mobile home when we saw him/her running across the kitchen floor one night, a mouse who had apparently made it’s nest in the spare bedroom, full of things in storage. Sarah discovered the nest location by accident when she went to retrieve a box from there and the nest landed on the hallway carpet. We had previously told her of the mouse, but she wasn’t compelled to action until she realized the nesting was happening in her things in storage and she had accidentally destroyed the poor thing’s little home.

Humane mouse traps laid the following day, we then supplied the mouse with peanut butter on a regular basis, as the traps simply wouldn’t trap it. The little one even searched our things for reward, chewing a hole through R’s deodorant bottle, leaving a puddle of the liquid in it’s wake and attempting to do the same to our little glass essential oil bottles – foiled by molten sand…haha! So, every night before we could lay our heads down to sleep, we started moving all of our things to the bedroom, suitcases or a cupboard.

A few of the evenings, we even had the idea we could trap it ourselves by constructing a “Tom and Jerry“-like trap from different containers and spent the evening with one eye on our homemade “trap” with cheese or a piece of chocolate inside. One of those nights, we awoke from having dozed off on the couch to see Mousey heading back under the kitchen door to the hallway and shortly after realized he had just finished enjoying the cheese we’d placed in the “trap”. On the other couple of evenings, he didn’t even come close to the trap until after we’d went to bed and he could take his proper time feasting on our intentions of freedom.

In between the excitement of the nursery and mobile home/mouse experiences, there was always our daily walk, occasionally all the way into Chard and back in order to acquire some needed food supply and also a few bus trips to Lyme Regis or beyond. We definitely found peace by the sea and the salty air helped to clear out the allergies for at least the few hours we were away.

One day trip took us on a third bus out of Lyme Regis to Seaton, with the intent of walking the 7 miles back to Lyme Regis along the Coastal Path. Unfortunately, just over a mile into the journey, we were met with a posted notice about subsidence and were forced to make our way back into Seaton where we attempted the path the other direction for a decent walk West and back, but were met with the same issue and ended up busing back to Lyme without a lovely walk at all. Even in Lyme Regis the “coastal defences” were under repair and currently block off a beach walk from there to Charmouth. Amazing what the effects of the weather have been to the coastline of this island nation.

In mid-March the sun finally started to appear and it most certainly brought joy with it. We realized how long the winter had been and how we longed to be outside and enjoying nature once again. We started to reflect on whether WWOOFing was delivering the results we started out searching for and whether we wanted to continue down the path of living under the decisions of host after host for month after month in order to complete the longer end of the range we had planned. March marked only month seven of this adventure and we had once thought we might want to complete a full twelve.

At the end of this reflection, we decided it was time for a break and the opportunity to stay in one spot for many weeks. We started next to plan our extended honeymoon and officially celebrate the beginning of our life together.

Starting to Come Together?

When Wednesday arrived, it was time to do all we could to put the difficult beginning behind us and finally find out more about Lakehayes Nursery. After our porridge, we made our way to the polytunnel for some seed work with Sarah. The first seeds needing our attention were mahonia aquifolium. More commonly known as Oregon grape, it is a species of flowering plant native to western North America. The evergreen shrub growing to 3 ft tall by 5 ft wide, with leaves of spiny leaflets and thick clusters of yellow flowers in early Spring, followed by dark bluish-black berries.

The small fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds, are included in small quantities in the traditional diets of Pacific Northwest aboriginal peoples, mixed with salal or another sweeter fruit. Today they are sometimes used to make jelly. Oregon grape juice can also be fermented to make wine, similar to European barberry wine folk traditions, although it requires a very high sugar ratio.

The inner bark of the larger stems and roots of Oregon grape yield a yellow dye and the berries give purple dye. Certain extracts from the plant may be useful in the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis, although side effects include rash and a burning sensation when applied.

Sarah’s plants, however, have a very different and quite specific purpose. The plants grown and sold at Lakehayes Nursery, or Bee Happy Plants, are for the benefits of bees (and humans, as a result). In recent years, seed companies have been genetically modifying plants to become hybrids that don’t require pollination and, therefore, don’t produce nectar or seeds. This means that growing plants, including vegetables, requires the use of new seeds for each growth, rather than the grower being able to collect seeds for use in the next growing season. So, by avoiding the need for bees, we not only have to deal with more seed purchases, but also the rest of the effects of genetically-modified plants. By growing plants of a heritage stock which require bee pollination, the bees would return to the picture and the benefits to the grower and the rest of us, alike, would persist (or return, in some cases).

The seeds we were working with that day had just started to grow out a root and so it was time for them to get into some compost in a seed tray to take root and become little plants. Working with loose compost in the seed tray, we tucked the seeds into the soil, root down, gently and carefully so that the root would not break. We worked through six trays before moving on to the next bunch of plant seeds.

These next seeds for our attention were berberis darwinii, or Darwin’s barberry,native to southern Chile and Argentina and naturalized elsewhere. The plant is an evergreen thorny shrub growing to 3 ft tall or more, with dense branches from ground level. The leaves are small oval with a spiny margin. The flowers are orange in Spring and the fruit is a small purple-black berry 4–7 mm diameter, ripening in Summer.

Berberis darwinii was discovered in South America in 1835 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the ‘Beagle’; however, the berries of this species were consumed by prehistoric native peoples in the region of Patagonia over millennia. The species was one of many named in honor of Darwin. The edible fruit is very acidic.

We worked through 9 trays of berberis darwinii, preparing those and the 6 mahonia aquifolium into water baths for the evening as the work day ended and we ventured out to our afternoon walk of the nearby narrow lanes.

Thursday morning brought about more vacuuming and bedding washing, as well as, a planned visit from the plumber. We had thought he was due the day prior, but when we’d asked Sarah that afternoon, she had indicated it would be the following day. Thursday morning, however, she had heard back from the plumber and not only did he still not have the required part, he suggested she order it and handle herself rather than requiring a house call from him. She prepared to do this from her mobile home and then discovered that she did, in fact, have the plug that our boiler had been requiring and so the hot water was finally sorted and we would have showers that evening, at last. The WWOOF time of the day was spent taking a couple of hours to tidy the main polytunnel with Sarah and her daughter Joy, who works at the nursery, as well.

Friday was spent in full WWOOF fashion, our task for the day to pot up a whole set of hawthornes. Each small tree plant was moved from a seedling pot into a 2L, or larger in some cases, potting bag, one by one, until we’d completed around 100 of them at day’s end!

The other event for the day was the arrival of a 20m exterior internet cable to pull the access from Sarah’s home to the WWOOFer mobile home, as the Wifi was failing consistently to get to us . So, after our late afternoon walk, K laid the wire from the router in Sarah’s mobile home, along the length of and across the gap between the two homes and into our living room. Finally, internet access!

The progress made this week meant we are only left the cold and damp (and spiders) to manage through over the next few weeks. Hopefully, the coming Spring can at least help a little with that.

What Next?

Sunday arrived, the day of a visit from K’s Dad and Jan and a change in venue for our WWOOFing adventures. We were excited about our March stay, as we’d looked extra carefully for an accommodation with all of the facilities accessible to us and a significant opportunity to learn about something of interest (more details, hopefully, to follow soon!).

After a warming breakfast treat of porridge with brown sugar, so missed during the week, we returned to our pod to finalize our packing and prepare for our departure from Shillingford that afternoon. K’s Dad and Jan arrived shortly after noon and we briefly showed them around the facilities, including our shared kitchen in the office building, the packing shed where we worked on orders and veg boxes and then our lovely little pod.

They had arrived with a picnic lunch for all of us and so as the wind howled and the rain drops began to fall, we decided to share that perched cozily in the pod. K and I sat on the now bare mattress, Jan on our one chair and K’s Dad balanced on a stool. Hot chocolate cups were prepared for everyone with a huge thermos of hot water and then we enjoyed cheese and egg mayo rolls, cheese crackers and Swiss roll! After chatting for a bit, we decided it was time to make our way through the storms out of the Exeter area and Devon and into Somerset.

Buddy had given up his place in the car, selflessly, so that there was room for all of our luggage. Even then, it was a tight fit, with R wedged in the middle of the back seat between K and his big duffel bag and the boot full of the rest. Through the rains, K’s Dad made his way to Chard and then turned the car South to finally rest at Ye Olde Poppe Inn, just down the road from our new host. We popped in ( ; ) ) and all had a coffee while we waited for the auto service to arrive and repair a windscreen wiper for a safer journey home to Bristol for K’s Dad and Jan. Once resolved, they made their way back to poor Buddy, who had been stuck inside napping and listening to BBC Radio Bristol since they departed mid-morning.

After an early evening meal of veggie lasagna and veggie pasta, we walked across the street to Lakehayes Nursery, stopping to change into our wellies to get through the waterlogged driveway. Our host, Sarah, met us outside and offered to help with our bags for the last of the journey into the first of the two mobile homes on the land adjacent to the two polytunnels and greenhouse.

We arrived to find a living room full of boxes and miscellaneous things and our hosts working on cleaning the kitchen. We knew they were a bit behind based on a conversation we’d had earlier in the day when they’d attempted to delay our arrival to Monday because of a broken hot water boiler, but we didn’t realize quite the state everything else would be in. It seemed that the home had been used for storage, but also that it hadn’t been cleaned in quite some time and wasn’t impervious to the cold or the wet. That evening, we huddled against the cold, crouched in a corner of the couch we’d made by re-stacking boxes, waiting for the heat to come on at 1AM (Economy 7), and struggling to find a state of peace and comfort in our new surroundings.

We spent the entire day on Monday cleaning the kitchen, bathroom and living room, removing boxes and relocating to our host’s friend’s home in Axminster, taking two trips with a full station wagon (estate car) to clear. We removed more boxes to be placed into a polytunnel and yet others made their way into the mobile home next door where our host resides with her three dogs, Smudge, Barney and Tinker.

We were both reacting very strongly to the conditions in our mobile home, R sneezed and blew her nose every five minutes, literally, (making her way through an entire jumbo toilet tissue roll that day) and K suffered with asthma-like symptoms. In the afternoon, we were able to take a trip into Chard for food supplies and had a nice little walk along a farm track across the road to breathe in some fresh air. K did his best to adjust the economy 7 heating so it released heat when it was actually needed, but alas, that evening, we huddled again against the cold that creeps in with sunset, hot water bottles in place, waiting hour by hour for the heating to come on.

Tuesday morning the cleaning resumed, with K working intensely through the bedroom with the vacuum and R rolling up the assorted carpeting covering the living room floor and then scrubbing the floor boards with a sponge and hot, soapy water. Our host thought it best that we take the afternoon off for some time away to breathe easier, as she needed to catch up on some other things for the business anyway and offered us a lift to Axminster where we could catch a bus to Lyme Regis. So, after we finished our cleaning tasks of the morning, prepared ourselves for the outing and opened a few windows to air out our abode, we jumped in Sarah’s car to catch the 11:17 bus.

Arriving at the sea lifted our spirits greatly. We exited the bus on the High Street and immediately made our way to the water and for our walk of the day along the coast line and then up the Coastal Path to the sea cliffs before venturing back down through the gardens into the town for lunch. We found brie and cranberry sandwiches and enjoyed them on a bench looking out over the water before heading to a cafe to share coffee and carrot cake in celebration of our two month wedding anniversary.

After spending some time working through a few things on the computer (our promised internet access currently barely working in the mobile home), we made our way back to the sea for a meander before our bus back to Axminster. Our host was waiting there for us when the bus pulled up and delivered us swiftly back to the mobile home.

Hungry enough from our morning work and subsequent day out of sea air, we prepared a lovely veggie and pesto pasta and then settled into the now cleaner living room with our hot water bottles. Again, we waited for the time when the heat would be on and now for the next day when the plumber is planned to arrive to repair the boiler, so that we would finally have hot water and the option for a shower. We also look forward hopefully to clearer breathing and to what will likely be our first day with the opportunity to learn something about what and how Lakehayes Nursery works.

March On

As February and our final week at Shillingford Organics come to a close, we take a little time to reflect on our experience this past few weeks. An innate goodness points to the poor weather conditions and is thankful for a warm place to stay, as well as fresh organic food. However, the critical, analytic side also has a few things to add.

Overall, the work week activities passed similarly to the previous. Monday being slow, we ended up doing more weeding in the polytunnels, not an unpleasant place to be on a cold blustery day. When Tuesday arrived there was an announcement of an “all hands” project – prepare for a new herb garden on the edge of one of the “no dig” areas. Our spirits lifted at the news of working on this new task as we made our way through the bright morning sun to the designated space. Our heads filled with questions to ask, we were certainly ready to absorb some new knowledge, our minds seeming to have been preserved in a vacuum, free from any first hand explanations or transmission of gardening expertise for some time.

Upon arrival, we headed to the group and surveyed the scene before us . This was it, a day of learning. We listened carefully to the instructions. ” …Move a large pile of cuttings , etc … cut plastic sheeting … “. Soon it became apparent, that “helping to set up the new herb garden” actually translated to ripping away plastic matting that had been laid several years ago, which was thoroughly attached with large quantities of roots and grass, and relocating a large pile of gardening debris. Whilst we dragged large sheets of plastic away, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the heavens opened. As we doggedly pulled, strained, teared, cut and lifted, nobody had the energy to talk or transmit any plans or information, and we had given up any hope of hearing anything that day. After this intriguing interlude, the rest of the work week returned to the standard cycle of orders and veg boxes, picking and packing.

Our understanding is that the WWOOF principles are supposedly based on a fair exchange- a person’s work in exchange for accommodation, food and knowledge. All too easily, it seems, WWOOFers just become regular employees, which by anyone’s estimation, are paid much less than regular staff by way of sub-standard accommodation and basic food supplies. Especially for us as a couple sharing sleeping quarters, in this instance going further to augment this already skewed trade. Both K & R coming from English speaking countries and having little interest in “practicing ” our English on people ( the vast majority of WWOOFers seem to be from non English speaking countries on a university gap year to learn the language) means the exchange is by no means sweetened as it may be for others. Perhaps it’s no surprise that from what we hear the UKBA (UK border agency) are increasingly stopping non-EU citizens from entering the UK to WWOOF.

Out of hours, as with the previous week, our time was mainly spent walking back and forth between facilities, trying to find a warm place to get an internet connection and the usual daily chore of cleaning up after the paid workers before we could begin to make our dinner, unfortunately not a quick job . After the first few days of the third week, we decided it was probably better to remove the pile of dirty mugs, bowls and plates from the sink and place it all in a corner for them (or the local wildlife) to get round to washing in their own time and to leave the rubbish which delicately decorates the floor around the base of the bin for them to pick up and place in the bin when they can find opportunity in their busy schedules.

We were thankful to have met Martin, the previous head grower here, who now has a smallholding near Okehampton and supplies for a market stall, so only working at Shillingford on Thursdays. He truly seemed engaged in teaching us, having become aware of our desire to learn and it was a shame not to be able to spend more time with this experienced and thoughtful person, only being able to pick up a glimmer of WWOOFing sanity here and there as we moved through the daily schedule. After talking for a little while we found his smallholding was one we had actually contacted for October placement – unfortunately he had had no room.

We were also lucky to have another canine friend here, Tilly. She often “helped” with our evening meals, especially concerned about the cleanliness of the floor at all times and overly interested in our eating techniques. She came to collect us in the morning a couple of times, as well, waiting patiently on our little porch until we would pop out, at which point she would walk us to our destination, leading the way. One day we were even graced with her presence on a tractor trip to the upper fields, an excursion which extended to digging for something near the spinach and helping herself to some sprouts. She is a sweet friend that will most certainly be missed.

Our third WWOOF week at Shillingford having finally elapsed, Friday afternoon we treated ourselves to a tub of chocolate ice cream, as a reward for having completed our time here. We look forward to the opportunity lined up for March and trust that we find a better scenario, one that works for both sides of the arrangement.

We also look forward to our visit from K’s Dad and Jan this weekend and to the Spring, now so very clearly on it’s way. The birds in ever more vocal chorus, the new blossoms and flowers everywhere we look, the longer hours of day and the plaintive cry in the dead of night of a newborn lamb, all stand as testament that we are entering the season of hope and new birth.

A Lovely Day

Saturday morning! We awoke to bright sun and joyful songbirds, the grey dullness of the week already a distant memory. Not only was today a break from the monotonous routine that has come to pass for our WWOOFing experience, but the opportunity to have a day by the sea with K’s Mum and Step-dad, David. First things first, though… a morning walk.

With all the facilities being over 200m away, we have become used to a stroll for food, washing or computer access. On this occasion, it was time for all three. Our work clothes had become quite dirty over the past couple of days, so K made his way to the washing machine. After going through the rigmarole of unloading someone else’s washing, which had been in there for over 24 hours (a most unsociable habit to have in a shared washing facility) we were able to wash our clothes clean whilst preparing our favoured winter breakfast!

Starting work at 7am, we don’t usually feel like eating so early and have no time/opportunity to cook on our tea break or lunch hour, so a warm satisfying breakfast is, for now, a weekend treat. After large bowls of steaming porridge and brown sugar, we caught up with a few things on the computer until it was time to hang the washing in the warm sunshine to begin drying.

Now it was approaching 10am, time to return to our pod to prepare for the day ahead. A quick pack and spruce up later, the phone rang and K’s Mum announced their arrival. We walked to the main car park to welcome them before giving a short tour of the farm, taking in the polytunnels, packing shed and our homely little pod. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to offer tea, so we decided to push on and head for the sea.

First stop was Brixham – a small fishing town to the south end of Torbay. This was where Dave remembers his first holiday, so thought it would be lovely to visit again. After parking the car just outside the town we started to make our way along a small lane towards the harbour. As we walked, present and past came together and it was soon clear we were standing at the actual location of the holiday park they stayed at on that first holiday. We stood for a moment letting all the memories flood back before walking down the steep slope to a small cove which he and his sisters would run down every day to make their way to the turquoise sea. Now, as the sun shone overhead and the waves gently rippled up the beach, it was time to reflect on childhood memories.

We made our way along the coastal path into the main town, the harbour looking splendid in the morning sun and providing a bright contrast to the days which had preceded it. With Mum and Dave not having eaten much that day, it was time for a snack and in true hobbit style, we were ready for “second breakfast”. With a beautiful view of the harbour, we sat outside a lovely little cafe, warm enough in the February sun, and enjoyed a full veggie breakfast as Mum ate a cheese panini and Dave a sausage sandwich. Yum!

We finished our meals and spent some time soaking up a few rays and chatting before continuing with our walk of the harbour out towards the lighthouse. On the way, we passed the full-sized replica of the Golden Hind, the ship which Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the world.

Drake had official approval to benefit himself and the Queen as well as to cause the maximum damage to the Spaniards. Setting sail in December 1577 with five small ships, manned by 164 men Drake’s flagship, Pelican, which he renamed Golden Hinde, the expedition took over 2 years, sailing into Plymouth Harbour with only 56 of the original crew on 26 September 1580.  A pirate to the Spanish, but a hero to the British, Queen Elizabeth I herself went aboard Golden Hind and personally bestowed a knighthood on him. Her share of the treasure came to almost £160,000 – enough to pay off her entire foreign debt and still have £40,000 left over . Her return and that of other investors came to £47 for every £1 invested, or a total return of 4,700%!

After another brush with history, we continued our walk out towards the sea, the wind grew stronger and the day grew overcast, so we pulled coats tighter as we made our way catching up with news and relaying our WWOOF experiences. As always, when one is happy, the time passed quickly walking and talking and before we knew it we were back at the car, ready for the next part of our weekend adventure.

After a quick tour of Paighton, we made our way to the English Riviera, Torquay, birthplace of the famous writer Agatha Christie. Keeping our eyes peeled for Basil Fawlty, we again went for a walk of the harbour (with K & R picking up a few essential WWOOF supplies on the way). On the return journey, Mum, K and R took the steps (189 of them according to Mum’s count) through the Royal Terrace Gardens to take in the view of Torquay and the bay.

After meeting up with Dave in town (although he did give us the slip once 😉 ), we made our way to a Wetherspoons pub for a late afternoon/early evening meal. As England beat Ireland in the Five Nations Rugby on large TV screens, we enjoyed our meals; Mum and Dave had burgers, R a “superfood” pasta and K a five-bean chilli with Quorn.

All too soon, it was time to make our way to our temporary abode and so we drove back through the early evening darkness, the sights and sounds of the day still vivid in our minds. We exchanged gifts – for us a selection of clothes including some warm winter tops and for Mum and Dave some fresh farm produce and it was now time to say goodbye. After a warm shower in the peculiarly-perched shower shack, we settled in for the evening and a good film.

Sunday was a low key affair, including a few chores and old TV shows under the again grey Devon sky. The weekend soon came to a close. As we rested in bed, we held tightly onto the happy thoughts of our weekend and prepared ourselves for our last week WWOOFing at Shillingford Organics.

Loving Simplicity