The Sap is Rising

Friday, April 17th, 2015

This time of year is so wonderful yet intense, isn’t it? The sap is rising, the garden is getting sorted, everything is growing, the birds are nesting, the days, though getting longer, are way too short. I can hardly drag myself in from the garden before dark but then I’m so exhausted in the morning it is hard to drag myself out of bed.

I have a wonderful commission with the wood turning so that has to take priority. When I feel I can allow myself to stop it is straight out to the garden. I can see the vegetable garden as I am wood turning which is both wonderful and can be a constant reminder of what needs to be done. And if the sun is streaming in it is even more tempting to leave the dusty workshop by early afternoon.

Flowers and Veg gardenThe vegetable garden is an oasis of order in my chaotic wildlife garden and I want to keep it so. I know without regular weeding it will soon revert to nature and be harder work for me. So the veg. garden is my priority. I have most of it weeded, where needed it has been given manure and I’ve even managed to plant some of it. I’m not too bothered about the planting – the soil is still cold and the vegetables will soon catch up if planted later once the ground warms up. When I look at my previous years’ planting dates sometimes it has been weeks later yet it always works out fine. I do like a few early potatoes though. The other vegetables which have already been planted are more so I can see where I’m going with the garden and so I don’t have to plant all at once.

Weeding the garden feels like it has taken forever. This is partly as all the Foxglove, Daisy, Self-heal, Feverfew, Forget-me-not, St. John’s Wort, Lemon Balm, Wild Strawberry (and probably a few other I can’t think of as I sit here typing) have to be carefully lifted, with a bit of a root ball if possible, and healed in somewhere in the wildlife garden. As I’m finding places to put them I am delighting in the changes in just one year. Everywhere I look there is new growth busting forth. All my little trees unfurling their leaves for their second year here, the fruit trees (bought last summer through a very generous gift from a beloved friend) are coming into flower – the Damson are blooming already, the Plum not far behind.

There are tadpoles in the pond. I have now confirmed what the rustling I can hear above my head as I am in my workshop turning. Today I saw a Blue Tit with nesting material in its beak, disappear into the roof.

A Blue tit's nest built on top of a swallow's nestI understand the Swallows are back in the area though I haven’t seen them yet. I wonder how they are going to feel when they find out what has happened to their nest! This is in another shed as sadly I can’t allow them into the workshop as they are so messy, especially the young ones just after fledging and their mess does stain wood rather badly!

Plant Cuttings and Calan Gaeaf

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

When I decided to convert my little field into a wildlife haven I knew I had my work cut out for me. Planting up three quarters of an acre is no mean feat. It was also going to involve a lot of plants. I knew I had to learn about taking plant cuttings to propagate them. Obviously they take longer than buying plants but this is a long term project anyway. Also if a friend happens to have a plant that you like and a couple of spare branches that need pruning….  My mother has always taken plant cuttings but since her stroke I was unable to ask her advice. The RHS book on propagating plants told me everything and I am a bit of a ‘give it a go and see’ person anyway.

As it was Autumn, when I decided on the wildlife haven, hardwood plant cuttings over the winter were my first. The tomatoes were out of the greenhouse so to begin with I put some plant cuttings in the greenhouse and some outside (which is what the book said for hardwood cuttings). These included Winter flowering Jasmine, Forsythia, Grisilinia and a couple of pretty shrubs the names of which I did not know. They all took root outside as well as in the greenhouse but the indoor ones grew better and bigger.

It was very lucky that I had run out of spare space in the greenhouse (I knew I’d have to leave them in over the following summer) before I took Elder cuttings so these only went outside. You are supposed to take off any flowers as these use up energy which the plant needs for root production but I had to leave just one to flower as I just thought what a miracle of nature it is.
Elder cutting in flower

I understood that I could plant the cuttings quite close together. However I did not reckon on the amazing amont of growth in one year.  Aren’t they magnificent? I find it had to believe that they are the same plants  I would have had big problems if they’d been in my little greenhouse! However, I do also foresee problems with moving them to their final growing site. We have had such a mild autumn they have still not lost their leaves.  Interestingly though, the mother plant in the hedge lost its leaves a couple of weeks ago. I do not want to try to transplant them until the leaves are gone, especially since I envisage losing a few bits of root when I have to disentangle them!

Elder cuttings
As we move more into autumn it feels like it is time for me to think about starting off some more plant cuttings as well as getting some more shrubs and trees. Today is Calan Gaeaf, traditionally the Celtic new year. The crops are all in, this year’s season has finished and the next can be planned for. I love to see the world from a different world view sometimes and I feel that this one makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Of course, there is sense in the year starting at the shortest day. However, there is a sense in the year starting with a period of dark. Life begins in the dark, after all. Seeds grow in the dark, we start our lives with 9 months (if we are lucky) in the dark of the womb, ideas grow in our heads before they are exposed to the light of day and other people’s input. When I planted my little trees last autumn, though they looked dormant to me, I knew they would be doing lots of work underground in the soil with their roots before I saw any signs of growth in the spring.

At Home, The Future

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

As a woodworker it obviously makes a lot of sense that I love wood – its texture, figuring, infinite variety of subtle changes within the same species let alone between different trees, the varied challenges thrown up by environmental factors during growth, etc…

However, does it make so much sense that I also love trees? Surely if I love trees I don’t want to see them chopped down? True, but they are not chopped down for me. In fact much of the wood I use comes from trees that will still be growing for a long time to come and I’ll blog about that in the future.

What I wanted to write about now, right at the beginning, is my long term plans for this little patch of land that I call home and have responsibility for now and in the forseeable future.

My home is in a windswept spot. Granted it has beautiful views. I can see the sea of Cardigan Bay in front of me and nearly 360 degree views looking out over Snowdonia in the distance and closer to home Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. The only view hidden from me by the lie of the land is my beloved Pembrokeshire and especially the magical Preseli mountains (which I can see from the chimney as I did when I had to re-point the brickwork!).

There are two fields making up my little smallholding. I have decided to turn the small field into a woodland and wildlife haven. This is no mean feat considering the location. Felinwynt is the name of the hamlet. This means windmill in Welsh. It is a standing joke that the mill may have vanished but the wind is still here! I have a couple of old ash trees on the north and east sides and some scrub willows and other trees I managed to plant in the hedge years ago on the north side. The west has two laburnum trees, obviously remnants of an old hedge as described in my earlier blog about the Laburnum in this area. However, on the South side which is the side of the ‘weather’ there is not one single tree or even a shrub.

Trees planted as a hedge in  my fieldBefore I can really create a wildlife haven I have to create a shelter belt. Last autumn I started planting trees next to the fence having put old pallets as a windbreak for the saplings. This meant that the sheep could no longer come into this field at all.

It has been wonderful watching these baby trees flourish this summer – growing their new pale green leaves, new shoots, some doubling in size, some shooting upwards, others spreading outwards.