Results for category "Strawberry Hill"

Onward to Minehead

Wow, 5:30 certainly does come earlier than I remembered! But, today it came with excitement, too. Today we packed up our things and said goodbye to Strawberry Hill, Rupert, and Lilly. We caught the 8AM bus in Fairy Cross into Bideford where we had to stop for a bit to take care of our laundry sack that had accumulated and pick up a couple of things that had made it to a “need” list.

After our laundry found it’s clean way back into our luggage, we caught the bus to Barnstaple and then another bus to Lynton. From there, we had a lovely walk down an insanely steep hill, 25% grade, into the twin town of Lynmouth. Both sit at the coastline and in Exmoor National Park. Here we shared a lovely lunch by the sea listening to the waves and enjoying the sun and sea breeze before catching our last bus of the day on to Minehead.

Near the end of our 50 minute bus ride on a packed bus, a splattering of raindrops created a beautiful rainbow to welcome us to the city of Porlock, near where we will be for the next couple of weeks. A few moments later, we hopped off at city centre in Minehead and checked into our room for the evening before fairly quickly setting back out to explore Minehead.

We popped into several of the shops on The Parade and found our way to the seafront for a brief walk along the beach. On our way back we found some lovely Indian curry for tea and tucked into our hotel room early to enjoy a conventional hot shower, some correspondence with loved ones and a nice quiet and peaceful evening together before heading to our next WWOOFing smallholding tomorrow afternoon outside of Minehead.

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.

The Great Water Shortage of Strawberry Hill …day 2

After a hot days work yesterday we were able to shower and rest peacefully in our cosy caravan, today however was quite a different story. Greeted by a grey muggy conditions we began our day.

One of the most important aspects for any small-holding is it’s water supply, as water is obviously integral to life. In more isolated areas relying on mains water is unrealistic,anyhow, and if we want  to fulfill our dream of being self sufficient then we will also need to make other arrangements too. I don’t necessarily think mains water is a bad thing. It is wonderful to have flowing water whenever one wants it! However it also seems dangerous that we are so far removed from the system and have no understanding or control at what arrives through our tap.

During our stay at Strawberry Hill we’ve had the opportunity to see one alternative to the the regular water supply that we have all become so dependent on. There are a number of ways to collecting water including: Making intelligent use of rain water, using a water source that flows through your property, digging a well, or making a bore hole. It is the latter which has been employed here, and at the top of the property a 60 foot hole has been dug into the ground to tap the groundwater.

A solar panel supplies power to a pump which then draws the water out of the ground and into a huge storage tank. Pipes were then inserted under the ground to the main house and caravan allowing water, free from chlorine, fluoride and many of the other chemicals that seem to find their way into our drinking water, to flow from the taps. This water is filtered before being drunk using a ceramic filter.

This system does rely on someone being aware of how much water is left in the tank so as to switch on the solar panel, which in turn relies on there being sunlight to pump the water out of the ground, and of course reliant on the mechanism of the pump working. Unfortunately on this occasion, the pump had been off on previous days and now we need water the sunlight wasn’t strong enough to work the pump.  So bottled water was brought in and we spent a night less comfortably than the previous ones, dreaming mostly of mountain springs and hot baths.

Perhaps if we were to implement such a system we would allow some way of bringing the water to the ground manually, such as a well, as being so reliant on the sun, solar panel or pump mechanism does seem to bring with it it’s own set of issues.

Westward Ho!

It’s Saturday, and time to see a bit more of the surrounding area! After a week of hard work, we decided to visit Westward Ho! , a little town with a very interesting name (and the only one I know of with an exclamation mark!)

The day’s start brought further reminders that summer is now fading to autumn, as it began with a biting chill in the air. We arose and were thankful to be able to enjoy a hearty warm breakfast before we set out to catch the 11AM bus to Bideford. Soon, we were in Bideford and took the opportunity to stock up on a few essentials that are sometimes overlooked (chocolate…etc) before beginning our hunt for supplies to take with us on our adventure. A shop selling homemade pasties looked particularly inviting and soon we had a couple of hot pasties tucked under our arms along with a few other tasty morsels we picked up along the way and were starting our walk on the Coastal Footpath towards Appledore.

After a good hour of walking (and half hour of munching tasty treats before they got cold), we arrived at Appledore. Continuing through the quaint coastal town, we were soon walking around the Northam Burrows Country Park and and into Westward Ho!

After a brisk walk and some lovely views, not to mention avoiding the golf balls which seem to ping through the air in that part of the world now, we made it to our destination.

Westward Ho! practically owes it’s existence to the book after which it was named. Before that time, only a single farm and a few scattered cottages existed there. Charles Kingsley wrote his famous adventure story whilst staying at the Royal Hotel in Bideford, thus making the area more attractive. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything for the potential visitors to see, nor anywhere for them to stay. A company was formed with the purpose of creating a resort described in the book and what better name than the title of the book.

After a little more exploration, we then took a couple of buses back to Fairy Cross and were soon tucked up again in our cozy little caravan.

Fence Removal

The end of the week is now upon us and time for one final job before the weekend.

The grey sky and persistent drizzle form the previous days had lifted and a brighter day greeted us. After a good breakfast it was time to set our mind to removing the now redundant fencing around the nut trees part way up the hill.

The trees themselves are hazels, chestnut and a few walnuts, and were planted over five years ago. They have grown at substantially different rates with some flourishing whilst others have done quite poorly. Only now is there some return being seen , and not a particularly encouraging return at that.

In general, walnuts, hazels and sweet chestnuts are trees and shrubs of great versatility.

Hazelnuts (often known as Cobnuts) are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, and hazelnut trees are an easy and valuable addition to any orchard. They will grow successfully in most temperate climates, but nut production is likely to be better in sheltered areas. Pollination of hazelnuts is complicated! Although planting at least two different varieties will allow them to pollinate each other and having wild hazel bushes nearby will also act as pollinators.

All walnuts species grow best on fertile soils that are well drained.  Gentle slopes near the valley bottom are optimal because cold air is drained away from the trees and water availability is high.  They will grow into large trees given the right conditions and space. Trees can grow up to 25 metres or more, and can have very wide, canopies.

The sweet chestnut is now an adapted native in the UK , but is thought to have been brought by the Romans. It is said that Roman soldiers were given a porridge made from sweet chestnuts before going into battle. It is a broad crowned tree and can grow to 30 m or more. Unlike most nuts, which contain relatively large amounts of protein, sweet chestnuts consist of up to 70% starch, between 2 and 5 % fat and only 2 to 4 % protein.

Tree’s aside, the main focus of the day is the old metal fence put up whilst the trees were in their infancy to protect them from sheep. Such a job could be pretty swift work using a tractor or Land Rover to pull the fence out, and would have saved an awful lot of physical energy (and a few cuss words too), however if we were to save the fencing for later use, a more manual approach was required. So with a scythe (to clear the grass that has tried to reclaim the fence), a “slasher”, pliers and our positive thoughts we set to work.

Once the main supporting poles had been pulled up and the fence unclipped we began the unenviable job of trying to pull the meshing from the  ground, which had quite overtaken it. In many places the only way to do this was to lever it out of the ground and this would often take the both of us. Clump after clump of fency/soil hybrid was pulled up, then cleaned and rolled to be used another day. After a hard morning it was time for lunch and all but the most “uncivilized” fencing (which was now 5 feet behind nettles ) had been removed. – A job for another day!

The afternoon was dedicated to tidying up after the mornings toil before moving on to some more chutney making (a process you can find out more about under the post Chutneyfication), which was a nice contrast to the mornings activities.

We settled down for supper with many more jars of Chutney to add to Rupert’s growing collection, tired but happy and looking forward to a little rest and some more exploring over the weekend.

Loving Simplicity