A week is a long time…

You know how sometimes time drags and at other times it flies? I can’t say that time has exactly dragged in the past 7 days but it does seem to be an eternity since last weekend because so much has happened. It’s sort of dragged and flown at the same time! Flagged?…

Some of it hasn’t been great to be honest. It seems like an awful lot of the people that I care about are having a really hard time just at present – and my thoughts are with them almost constantly which makes for reflective times. This week has continued that vein and it’s making me even more thankful for the good things I have and appreciative even when it feels like things aren’t really going your way!

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It’s also been a week where some really great things have happened too. I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with some friends I’ve not seen for a while and in one case, friends from New Zealand that I hadn’t seen for some years. It was so good to spend time catching up with them and other mutual friends – even if it does seem a bit scary to be reminded just how quickly 15 years has apparently flashed past!!!! Whether it’s an evening walk in one of the beautiful areas we have here, meeting with like-minded people or catching up with those I used to work with or live near in a different time, I’m always thankful for the lovely people I have in my life and for the laughter, love and friendship shared.

The veg garden continues to be a mixture of great success and damp squibs this year – but that’s gardening in a temperate climate for you! I’ve got a few photos but I’ll put those in a separate post I think. The main gardening feature of the week was that we decided to order a large load of mushroom compost bagged up and wrapped on 2 pallets. Having it delivered was exasperating and didn’t really go to plan and meant I had to spend most of a day carrying the bags down individually from the side of our gateway on the road which wasn’t how I’d expected to spend the day!

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The landscaping part of the gardening has sort of come to a halt but I hope to pick up with that again later in the autumn. I’ll have to change my plans around that work for various reasons but for most of the summer, what we achieved over last autumn, winter and early spring with the help of Phil, James and Gareth has given us much pleasure.

The top of the path is a new place we can now sit for a few moments to catch the last of the sun’s warmth before it slides behind the house so although it’s unfinished still, it’s been nice to have a drink or even a meal there at the end of the day. Although I think my grandparents old garden bench we’ve recently parked up there needs an overhaul too as the weathered wood seems a bit more bendy than I’d like when we’re both sitting on it!

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I’ve not got so much done on the fibre front. It’s been harder to fit in making stock recently. But I did manage to dye up some silk bricks lately and they sold very well which along with the lovely feedback was an encouraging boost to my “flagging” spirits. I do love silk!

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This week I’ve dyed a little more of my own yarn Afon Miwl spun from some of my own sheep and also blended with silk – this is for my next shop update. I’m getting low on undyed skeins of this and I’d really like to get a new yarn design I’ve been trialling spun up. A project for the autumn perhaps.

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I’ve also dyed a load of Haunui NZ Halfbred in gradients but I’ve yet to photograph them. I’ll be sending out a newsletter when the shop update is due though so make sure to sign up for these on my website if you want to be the first to know!

In my own personal yarnie fun, I’d been knitting a shawl in my hand dyed yarn – the pattern is Birds of a Feather by Andrea Mowry – and I’ve run into a glitch which must be down to me because no-one else who has knitted it mentions it and the pattern errata is for a different section not this one. I can’t work out what I’m stuck with though and even got my mother to count my stitches to check! By the time I finish work for the day it’s usually around 9pm and I just want to knit without thinking and not faff about ripping things back so I’ve not been in the mood to fiddle with it and get back on track. I’d actually cast it on for holiday knitting (below) back in July and did manage quite a bit of it until now so I do need to stop ignoring it! It’s dreamy and light and I’m really looking forward to wearing it!

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I’ve put it to one side for a few days though until I feel like it and picked up a weaving project I’d been meaning to do for ages.

I’d put some handspun yarns together last autumn to create a handwoven blanket.

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Because I have a rigid heddle loom which is relatively narrow, I needed to weave a length of cloth, cut it into sections to seam together and then “finish” or full the cloth in the usual way. Because I wanted to weave a plaid – or tartan – type blanket I needed to work out a repeat so the sections matched up once seamed. Again, as this is something that needed me to plan it out rather than sit down and do mindlessly, it also fell victim to the “I’m too tired to do anything but flop” evenings and so last Sunday I put aside my day off to move a bit of furniture, warp up my loom and just get on with it. Thus solving one procrastination by substituting it for another. Good eh?

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By the way, Marley would like you to know, he doesn’t think weaving is really his thing…

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I wove a small amount to work out my pattern repeat – a combination of planning and just winging it! – but then the “flagging” week overtook me and so I’ve only just sat down to it again today.

As it happens, I didn’t do a great job of winding my warp. I didn’t have enough spacers in it and although it doesn’t look horrendous in the photo above on the grand scale of bad warps, it could definitely be better. So I’ve just slackened it off so as to re-wind it with a roll of wrapping paper I found under the stairs. It won’t solve everything – I need to pay a bit more attention to my weaving techniques I think and also practice a lot more! But I’m pretty happy with the pattern and the cloth feels nice (in it’s unfinished state). And it’s the right balance between order and rustic ruggedness that I was aiming for. So far!

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Better crack on with it, September has started in a rather miserable way and I think I’ll be needing all the shawls and blankets I can lay my hands on this autumn!

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Bodnant Garden

Hello! I meant to come back before now to share some of the photos I took at Bodnant, I’ve been quite busy in my own garden amongst other things and had not found the time.

But I’m amending this now – this will be a picture heavy post. If you’re ever in North Wales do go and visit, it is just incredible. Make sure to leave plenty of time to explore; the gardens cover a huge area and it’s like entering another world going down into the bottom of the valley to the waterfall and mill race.

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October. The trees are not stripped bare, not yet (sorry U2). They are however turning some glorious colours that make my heart sing and I’m struggling not to turn every fibre I dye into a mirror for everything I see around me.

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Sometimes I can’t help myself though when gradients flutter from the hedgerows on my dog walks, begging to be plucked and arranged…

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Yet again, it’s been another kind Autumn. Last year the good weather went on and on into November right up until we’d done some of the hedge laying and then Winter suddenly crashed in with downpours that wouldn’t stop. However, the beginning of this month – so warm and sunny – has given way to fogs and the kind of damp chill mornings that seep into your very bones although thankfully it’s still dry. I’ve layered up on handknits and am turning over possibilities (had I the time) for new garments to cast on. Time for everyone to wrap up now…

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Almost all the apples are now picked and in the cellar waiting for me to find time to crush and juice them. There’s a lot going on just now and they will keep for a bit whilst we turn our attention to things that really can’t delay.

Before the rains come we need to tackle a job that’s been put off for some years. When we built the house the landscaping round it got left and somehow, as so often happens, just never really got finished. Grass grew over the soil and rubble areas, frosts and rains made the square edges of the plot crumble and slide in and during summer it’s a never ending job strimming the grass just to keep it from seeding and in winter it turns into a quagmire that gets trampled indoors by eager dog paws before they can be halted.

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Not to mention the fact that the temporary front door “step” into the house has been an old wooden pallet propped up on spare blocks for far too long. When it’s wet, it’s slippy. Last winter I slipped over on it myself whilst helping my elderly dog get outside and broke my big toe. It still clicks madly as a reminder that next time it might be somebody else that gets hurt and it might not just be a toe!

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Apart from being messy and unsatisfactory, it’s also not good for a house largely constructed of timber and organic materials to have earth and grass so close to it. The logistics of clearing out what has fallen in and building the retaining wall that never quite got done constituted a fairly large headache. But a headache we can’t really afford to ignore. Because access becomes impossible for more than half the year, we had to do it now or leave it for almost another year – the summer is far too busy with other jobs to contemplate it. It was now or never.

A mini-digger and mini-dumper were booked for yesterday and today along with the ever-marvellous Phil who can do anything it seems. It is no exaggeration to say that I would not trust a single person other than him to manoeuvre heavy machinery in such an awkward spot fraught with the potential for utter disaster. Having said that, even I had misgivings when I saw the size of the “mini” digger and Phil patiently pointed out that a really baby digger wouldn’t have the reach to scoop out the bottom of the pathway so we needed a larger one to do what was required.

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent an awful lot of the past two days flinching and literally holding my breath as he inched the monster-muncher meticulously around the house that took so much blood, tears, toil and sweat to construct. I trust his judgement and skills implicitly but even so, I was heartily relieved when the machinery could be sent back to the hire company.

This does mean that everything from this point on has to be done entirely by sweat and muscle though … and we’ve done a fair bit of this already today. I’ve spent most of the time with pickaxe and spade, reminding myself of upper body muscles I rarely use whilst digging out the footings for a retaining wall. The digger could only reach certain parts and so manpower – and woman-power, however feeble – was called for!!

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The pictures at the beginning of the job were taken yesterday morning just as we were about to start. By close of finish today we’d reduced it to a dusty soilscape ready to receive hard “lamb-skating” as Phil calls it. The image in my head of happy little woolly animals careening about in a carefree manner bleating joyfully puts a smile on my face that sees me through the sweat and grit.

I think I’m going to need to visualise a lot more lamb-skating in the coming weeks as we deal with this lot!

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It needs doing and it will be worth it in the end. I suspect I will be staring glumly at liquid mud if the rain comes soon though … so I hope it stays dry for me and my skating lambs until Christmas this year!

 

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

If ever a month merited that memorable line, it’s been this November so far…

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One day last week when it seemed as though the whole of the UK apart from us were in gloom and fog we basked in brilliant sunshine on our hill top bryn until late afternoon. Suddenly the fog rolled up the fields in a matter of seconds and for half an hour the world turned into a gloriously eerie bright mist before sunset.

A world between the worlds.

I stopped my work and went out to play with light for a bit…

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The light was so painterly, so Turner-esque, I played with pushing the exposure to enhance it, shooting into the sun.

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And then couldn’t resist pushing it further for a different effect.

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In the thicker mist further down the fields, you can hear the animals grazing before you can see them. Munching indicated the general whereabouts of my sheep before they loomed out of the haze… although they’d long been aware of my approach and were waiting with pricked ears.

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The slow damp mild autumn has meant the fruit ripened slowly and to a good size and the lack of winds up until a couple of days ago meant it hung well on the trees, as had the leaves. I’ve been picking apples – they’re currently stacked up in my dyeing workroom holding up things waiting for me to juice them or store them for eating. Marley and I may have eaten quite a few whilst picking them too…

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I’ve not had any success with my pumpkins this year but I did buy a few of the tasty eating sort – not the bland, soggy giant orange jobs the supermarkets sell for Hallowe’en carving. The potimarron and other small squashes are the business when it comes to pumpkin soup.

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And the sloes are massive in the blackthorn hedges this year. I’ve still plenty of sloe gin from last year but they’re too good to waste and a friend wanted some too so Mum and I picked some today.

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With a little help from a certain small person of course…

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We’ve loved our woodland and forest walks this month. I wonder what the rest of November will bring…

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And home again.

Since I was away I’ve been very busy putting together different things for my fibre shop (amongst other things, the Shipwreck Build a Batt Box and Tea Garden collection I posted about recently). But I’ve also been doing things around the farm and home and attempting to get on top of the weeds and general jobs!

If I stop and think too much about all that needs to be done I start to panic – at this time of year you never really manage to get ahead of yourself (well I don’t anyway!) so you have to prioritise and work out ways of combining things to make the best use of time and energy. But I’m all too aware that I’m on damage limitation standards mostly; the garden’s heavy clay soil is productive but the runaway growth from the sun’s warmth and the soft rain and long daylight hours means the thuggish elements have the upper hand and cultivated plants are no match for pernicious weeds.

I had a real “down” moment a few weeks back; nothing I had sown seemed to be germinating, several batches were required of some things that I normally have no trouble growing. Perhaps it’s old seed, perhaps the new compost we’re using isn’t as good, perhaps the weather was tipping things away from my favour. Or perhaps I’ve lost that “green-finger” that comes from concentrating your attention on what you’re doing – perhaps after all I’m trying to squeeze too much in…

Happily some plants seem to grow no matter how little TLC they get. Potatoes and tomatoes will self seed where they fall or have been left and the ones you plant do just as well even if you forget about them. So although it’s been dry the Cara and Charlotte spuds I planted around Easter are coming up nicely. And I’ve decided to bring permaculture into play and solve two issues with one problem and mulch with the clippings from lawn mowing to keep the chickweed down that compete with the potato plants!

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It feels as though I might have gone a little overboard planting tomatoes this year… Somehow I have to find enough room under glass/plastic to fit the full grown plants in!

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Although two successive batches of French Beans have come to nothing and I am going to admit defeat on my favourite bean this year, these runner beans shot away and are now safely planted up in one long wigwam of canes.

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and the courgette plants are also now in their final positions – the slugs and the high winds are making them look rather pathetic just now but I’m hoping with the “sheep tea” washings from soaking fleeces for spinning they will start to root and romp away.

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My super long sweet pea tunnel last year took a huge amount of time just to pick and the winter storms have battered it beyond redemption but I have just a few sweet pea plants I grew this year on a far more modest scale – far too late, they should have been planted out by now so this is a job for this week to find a corner to squeeze them in with a wigwam to grow up.

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I struggled with two sowings of both my much-loved coriander and also leeks – third time lucky and so as with other plants, ridiculously late. Normally by now I’ve been eating coriander for weeks and it’s bolting uncontrollably. Not at the seedling stage… :0(

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At least there are now plenty of leeks but they’ll be like spring onions come autumn/winter if I don’t get them grown on fast now!

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Happily, the alpine strawberries I grew from seed last year seem content in their bed and are flowering nicely. I hope to get a good amount of berries this year, I love them for breakfast – going out to pick them first thing whilst the dew is on the grass and put them straight in my breakfast bowl. Nom.

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And the larger strawberry runners I took are also growing albeit still young because, yes, again, I was late with planting these out too!

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Some things just grow. No matter what. Thankfully the scented shrubs round about can be relied on at this time of year just to do their thing so evenings in the yard and patio are very sweet just now with not just the heady honeysuckle scent but also the lilacs

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and the first roses like this Gertrude Jekyll in such a fabulous shade of pink.

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I adore scented plants; my dream would be to plant up a garden full of scented shrubs and flowers. Not sure which life that will be in, it’s probably not this one though! ;0)

The grass grows like wildfire too. When it comes to lawns and rough ground this spells hard work for mowing large areas and strimming where you can’t mow. Sometimes this feels like a waste of time and resources but it has to be done – at least I’m using the clippings to mulch the weeds now! And it does look so much better once it’s had a “haircut”. However I can tell the grass is growing in the pastures too; the sheep spend so much of their time resting in the sun, snoozing peacefully and cudding.

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When the grass is short and nutrition low in late winter they spend a lot of time nibbling hungrily to get the most from the grazing. I know when they’re stretched out lazily on the ground like Alfie in the picture below that they are happy with full tummies and all is well in their sheepy world.

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They all need shearing soon. I winter shear my sheep so as to obtain the best wool for handspinning. But the wool grows again and at this time of year it “rises” – the natural pause when the growth stops and in primitive breeds, the sheep sheds its fleece and is when most flocks of sheep in the UK get shorn (albeit not for handspinning but for welfare reasons). This means that my Gotland’s look like they have stuffing coming out of them just now as the stubs of old fleece I left behind has felted into clumps and then peels off as the new years’ growth pushes through. When enough of it has risen I will shear them clean of the waste wool to leave the body clear for the new fleece to grow.

I’m not sure when I’ll find time to do it, luckily it’s not as critical as the first shearing is for me; they aren’t as uncomfortably hot as they would be in full fleece so they don’t overheat like most sheep do at this time of year and the good wool has been taken so I don’t worry about this fluffy felted waste left behind (more weed mulching material!!) But it does need doing and so somehow this is a few days work that I have to shoehorn in somewhere.

I’m playing catch up at the moment however. I took advantage of the lovely weekend to wash and dye the last of the fleeces I sheared earlier in the year and get on top of other jobs. On Friday our local fish and chip shop reopened after a year or so of being shut. I don’t normally like fried things; I admit to having a sweet tooth and I love food generally but greasy deep-fried stuff does not appeal so fish and chips is a rare occurrence for me – I much prefer “clean” tasting foods.. But after a very long day and being on my own for a while as mum was away I decided to check out the new management as a special treat for working hard. It’s 4 miles away so you have to really want chip-shop chips to make the effort! I was a little dismayed at the queue snaking out of the chippy door and down the street but I knew they were offering free chips all day so it was reasonable enough that so many people would be happy to see it reopen and want to try it out. More worryingly the line didn’t seem to be moving but having driven there I thought I may as well join in. Sometime later a friend queueing inside turned round and saw me through the window, waved and then text me to say she’d been waiting for 45 minutes already…

At that point I should probably have walked away but I’d already been there a bit, surely they’d speed up soon etc etc and by the time I’d waited half an hour, driven back home, found something to eat… It would be a waste of the time I’d already spent being 28th in the line. Or so the reasoning went.

Just over an hour later I finally left with a rumblingly empty stomach clutching my small warm paper parcel of mini fish and chips and headed back home. They were nice. But probably not worth waiting an hour for!

So yesterday evening I hunted for a duck breast I knew I’d bought and put in the freezer as a treat for sometime when I was eating on my own. It’s not something I ever have (I like our friendly ducks far too much to go round munching them!) and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook it. I prefer a light touch when cooking meats; I am a fan or “rare” and “pink”. So I opted for pan-searing it with shreds of ginger, spring onion, sesame, lemon and a splash of tamari and our own honey.

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I had noticed whilst cutting the grass that the Swiss Chard I had left in over the winter was bolting – the new seedlings are doing well but not ready to pick but the old leaves were growing sky high but still tender. I also found a rogue coriander plant in the polytunnel path so I went and gathered some of each and served my tangy duck breast on some noodles with wilted chard and sautéed cherry tomatoes.

I found it strangely comforting that despite my “fail” on the veg plot this year that there are still things out there to eat despite my best (worst) endeavours and that they are tasty, nutritious… and conveniently close to hand. I noted how long it took me to cook this meal from scratch – 18 minutes. Which when I think of the time I spent queueing for my fry up and driving there and home it was no contest really. In future I think I’ll save fish and chips as a treat for eating beside the sea with the wind in my hair and salty spray whipping my cheeks. There it belongs and seems right; with buckets and spades, ice creams and stripy windbreaks and the ceaseless crying of gulls.

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This though; from the garden – this is my kind of fast food!