Results for category "General Maintenance"

Preparing the Borders

After a refreshing and re-energizing day off on Monday, Tuesday saw a return to our smallholding activities, now cleaner, fresher and happier. We were surprised to awaken to bright sunshine and enjoyed our breakfast looking over the beautiful hillside. Without running water everything does seem to take so much longer and it was 9:30 before we commenced work beneath blue skies and chilling winds. Today we had strict instructions to prepare the borders.

First, we went to the front of the driveway and resumed our pick axing and shoveling to make ready the bank of earth for a new dry stone wall. Dry stone walling, as the name may suggest, is a process which doesn’t use any mortar, but a method of selecting the stones to interlock. This particular wall will have to bear the load of the earth behind, which may shift with time, the elements, and growth of the trees sprouting from the hedge.

We spent a couple of hours swinging the pick axe at the hedge and the ground, attacking the smaller roots, working around the larger ones and removing stones we uncovered. Shovel by shovel of earth went into the wheelbarrow for a pile at the end of the line of stones already heaped behind us. Tired, hungry, and certainly of the opinion we were not cut out to be miners or dwarfs, we stopped for tea and a snack before moving to another task for the remainder of the day.

After a well earned cup of tea, we went down to the front field to work on another hedge line, this one in need of serious trimming of blackberry brambles. It was a thorny business. We resorted to splitting duties because of how intense some of the thorns were. R manned the clippers and climbed on the hedge chopping and hacking away, while K wore two pairs of gloves and took responsibility for clearing the brambles more safely with the extra protection.

After a few more hours of bramble clearing, we called it a day and set to preparing our standard main meal before travelling our evening path for our walk, now illuminated by the early evening stars as the nights draw in. Upon returning, we settled into our caravan with a new addition, an electric heater. We had managed the cold as long as possible before resorting to use the heater in our little space. What a difference it makes to be warm and the air to not be chilly or damp! We slept very well, warmer than we’d been since we were in Bristol with family.

The next day we awoke in our little, comfortable caravan oven and prepared to meet our host for a work day together. He closes his shop on Wednesdays in order to spend more time at his smallholding, as there’s still a lot to accomplish on his ever-growing “to do” list. After breakfast, Mark appeared and informed us that a German couple would be arriving on Friday to WWOOF for a couple of weeks.

We headed back to the bramble hedge, intent on finishing. It took a good few hours of clipping and pulling before we finally cleared the hedge from top to bottom. Mark came to inspect our work and remove a few dead trees from the hedge with his electric saw and rewarded our industrious labors by asking us to clear the bottom and top hedge lines, as well – obviously, because we’re awesome at hedge clearing!

After a very late tea break, we headed back up to the driveway to work on the dry stone wall preparations some more. This work is much more strenuous, as the earth is very compacted and laden with roots and rocks. After over an hour of this, it was time to have our main meal to replenish our energy. Today, our standard lunch finally deviated, having run out of sieved tomatoes, we decided to finally try the sweet and sour sauce in the cupboard on our veggies and pasta. YUM!

While R was preparing what had now drifted into becoming dinner, Mark showed K around his property where there is another task to perform on a future day, placing door mouse houses. The research on these little creatures and appropriate placement of the houses would also need to be done.

As K was on this tour of the hedge line borders, he spied an apple tree next to the creek, still full of ripe apples. Mark seemed willing enough to supply ingredients for us to use the apples. So, we set about recipe research and discussions for the opportunity to spend Saturday making delicious goodness from the bounty of the smallholding.

A second day of rigorous hedge clearing completed, we had our customary walk through the lanes before returning to our a now toasty caravan to resume Rs introduction to classic British comedy, this time an episode of “Some Mother’s do ‘ave ’em” before we drifted off into dreams of hedge clearing, apple crumble and farcical “harassments”.

Wet Weekend

Saturday morning brought a short break from the rain, long enough for us to get breakfast and K to start a small load of laundry. However, this process is in no way straight forward or automated here. Washing means grabbing the yellow bucket, heating water in the kettle, as needed, and adding your wash powder. Agitation is by hand and multiple rinses ensure you’ve cleared out the wash powder. Almost 2 hours from start to line for drying (if they would even dry in all this wet weather!), although that does include soaking time.

While K worked on the laundry, R started to weed the pumpkin patch. K joined shortly after and the work picked up speed with an extra pair of hands. The chickens hung about to “help”, as they call it, but most often that meant pecking at our wellies, as usual. It’s fairly constant whenever they find themselves with us. We are pretty sure that they are trying to read/learn to spell, but they pluck at the letters out of order. Sheesh! We’ve been trying to help, but, so far, to no avail…

We stopped for lunch in early afternoon, enjoying what has become our standard main meal of the day: pasta with rainbow chard, onion, carrots, occasionally courgettes (zucchini, for the American folk) – such as today, and sieved tomatoes, with one and a half fried eggs each. It’s a lot of food, but it’s gets us to the very end of the day where we only have a little snack. It takes so long to wash the vegetables and our dishes afterwards, that we decided to work on a big ordeal only once per day.

We headed out for our walk a little earlier than normal, because we decided it was time to “shower”, as it had been a few days now and we needed daylight to do so for lack of lighting in the “shower room”. But, here that doesn’t mean using an actual shower. It means heating water in the kettles (two) and mixing with rainwater, standing in the wash room that has a shower bottom and drain and washing with a cloth/dumping water on yourself. Twice, since there are two of us. As we started on the second, the rain started and persisted through much of the night.

There was a break in the rain Sunday morning, although a big storm was anticipated for Sunday evening and into Monday, or perhaps even Tuesday.  We went back to the future garage plot that had been de-stoned and de-rubbished on Friday to de-weed, de-grass (longer than a mower can handle) and de-thorny bramble. Using our hands, a pair of clippers and some heavy rakes, we cleared and pulled and yanked and clipped. After about 20 wheelbarrows full, we finally started to notice significant progress.

After several hours, we stopped for a tea break and a chat with Mark about his plans for his land. We then wheeled back over to the plot for another several barrows full of the last of the weeds, grass and brambles. The rain started to make itself known again, on and off, and reminded us that there was supposed to be a storm coming in a few hours.

The next task was clearing away earth from the hedge alongside the driveway so that the stone wall can be rebuilt there. We used pick axes and shovels to pull the earth away.

The rain started again just after five and picked up as the hours passed. We settled into the caravan to stay warm and dry, listen to the rain, and shelter from the storm due overnight, threatening strong winds and heavy rain for many more hours.

Last Day at Strawberry Hill

Today is Tuesday and it’s officially October. Yesterday we spent six hours tirelessly working on the back field we started at the end of last week, referenced in the post, Scything Makes the World a Better Place. OK, “tirelessly” is probably not the correct term to use, since it was very tiring. Hour after hour of scything , including a fairly literal hack session on the reeds that spot across the field, and raking and bending and carrying the clippings over to the edge of the field in the treeline where they will sit and decay for future use as a green mulch.

K handled all of the standard scything. By standard, I mean, following the appropriate technique. I was in charge of the reed hacking, though. Rupert has three scythes, one fairly lightweight, one insanely heavy and one in the middle. Yesterday, the middle scythe was in use by Rupert and so we were left with the two extremes. So, the heavy beast was best suited to the reed hacking. My approach was to use my strength to lift the scythe into the air and bring it down onto the reeds. This definitely would have been frowned upon by any true scyther. I realized today, though, when hacking more reeds in the upper tree orchard field, that it’s better to bring it into the air to the right and then swing it down and to the left, since the blade is curved (but really, it should barely leave the ground – this technique was only adapted because of the weight of the beast, it’s age and dullness, and the persistence of the reeds). I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday! Apparently, I thought strength and gravity could relocate the blade on the implement….sheesh.

So, speaking of today, we spent it working on grooming the nut orchard fields, including more reed hacking, clearing the large grasses from the fence line we removed several days ago (referenced in the posts Fence Removal and Hot Day in the Jungle!) and around the trees themselves, mulching the trees, general scything of the spaces in between the trees and clipping cleanup.

The other day, we started the tree care with Rupert by using a batch of humanure that had been left for about 12 months, collected from the compost toilet in the caravan. We were only able to take care of about 5 trees with that batch, however. So today we transported two wheelbarrows full of garden soil that had been removed from a previous plot and used on the remaining 15 trees. Rupert said he intends to get a load of some good compost to feed the trees, but that the soil would be better than nothing for now.

As the work day came to a close, we realized that this was our last day at Strawberry Hill. We spent some time looking over our work: pots of chutney, a couple of groomed fields, including two fences removed, maintained planting beds ready for their last growth before winter comes, stacks of kindling and firewood, the circle of scorch and ash from our bonfire, and even the chickens and ducks we regularly fed (and they fed us!) that seemed to love to follow the scythe around today in the nut orchard watching for what it uncovered by way of bugs.
We definitely learned some things about our future, and ourselves, here at Strawberry Hill. We started some of our packing prep in the evening and sat down to a nice, final fire in the wood burner before drifting off to sleep for an early rise and departure from Strawberry Hill.

Scything Makes the World a Better Place

Friday is here again. And today was scything day.

We have done a little scything on previous days, but now it was time to show what we were made of as Rupert wanted us to cut the entire back field. The two of us marched up the hill looking like something that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Halloween party with scythes balanced  neatly on our shoulders.

Now, watching someone scythe seems quite relaxing and I’m told the activity can be very meditative, however like with so many of these things , a good deal of practice is required first. The fact we were trying to cut grass that had tumbled in all directions and been very much trodden in, along certain paths, may also come to our defense.

After a while, we both got into it a bit more so we started making some serious progress through the field, and once the handles were adjusted on Rachel’s scythe, there was no stopping her 🙂 . The secret, so I’m told, is to inch forward a little at a time whilst keeping the blade close to the ground and making a very long,smooth movements. Also, sharpening the blade regularly helps immensely.

After lunch, it was more of the same before we rounded the day off by rolling some huge lumps of wood down the hill (a local tradition on the last Friday of the month?)

It was an energetic day and we certainly enjoyed a good, hot shower afterwards, our first proper one for three days thanks to “The Great Water Shortage of Strawberry Hill” .

Scything certainly seems more wholesome to us than using a strimmer (weed whacker) and all the noise, pollution and extra carnage that comes from it.  It looks like we’ll have plenty more opportunity to practice over the next week or so!

A Day on the Beach

Today it was time to reverse the trend from previous days, and instead of concentrating our efforts on taking down fencing as effectively as possible, it was time to create/repair.

The morning was filled with a thick mist making Strawberry Hill appear particularly ethereal as we ventured to the van. Rachel had prepared a good lunch of fruit, cheese, oak cakes and a thermos flask of tea, vital supplies for any day of work! After the chickens and ducks received their morning munchies, it was time to head off  to Instow beach, calling at a nearby depot to exchange Rupert’s van for a 4×4 truck.

We arrived to a moderately sunny day with the last traces of mists disappearing from above the nearby hills. The task was to repair the wooden fencing put in place to keep  the sand off of the promenade.  Apparently, North Devon Council spends tens of thousands of pounds cleaning sand off beachfront streets every year, so  fences were put in place to try to reduce the problem. Although one may wonder how a semi permeable wooden fence can reduce such problems, I was assured it does, reducing wind speed and acting as a modest barrier to wave attack increasing the growth of the wild grasses which help bind the dunes together. So with our (my) skepticism slightly abated, we set to work digging holes for the new posts which were to support the damaged fencing.

We soon improved in our abilities to dig 4 foot holes on the beach.  Perhaps if we had chosen a summer month there may have been the opportunity to encourage some of the holidaying populace that it is very important to dig a 4 foot hole when one is  building a sandcastle, and we could even have pointed them to some very useful places to get sand from. Unfortunately, no such opportunity existed, so we set to work ourselves digging, and certainly not a sandcastle in site.

After the supporting posts were in place (mostly by Rupert who must be pushing for a world record time in 4 foot hole digging) it was time to repair the smaller pieces of fencing. For this a good pair of pliers and/or a hammer to pull apart/help tie the wire are indispensable tools. We pulled, twisted and cajoled the fencing into place with as much care and skill as we could muster and the fence again began to take shape.

After a quick lunch , and more of the same in the early afternoon we returned home to Strawberry Hill start on some scything before we found out there was still not enough water for proper showers that night. Even so we refreshed ourselves before settling down in front of a blazing fire with a good meal.

Loving Simplicity