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So for the past few weeks I have slowly been building shelving for the polytunnel.

My friend, the very talented Richard T, helped start me off, my sister kept me going and now I am on my own.

It is slow, not because I’m a novice carpenter, and now that I have this little beauty, with all the bells and whistles I have no excuse.

No, it’s just that every time I run out of timber I have to wait days for Paul to get the time to mill up a wee bit more. Meanwhile he is busy milling sleepers, cladding and timber for the builds Larch Wood Timber have been commissioned to do , planting Xmas trees, cutting firewood etc. etc.

Maybe my next new skill should be timber milling.

The shelves are for the cell trays of tree seeds.

Seedlings are just coming through that were planted last year and I need to get started on planting hundreds more this Spring.

They give me great joy. It’s amazing that these vulnerable, delicate little shoots can, one day, be big strong trees…. If I look after them properly.

While I’ve been concentrating on the miniscule, Paul, and

his Larch Wood Timber team have been concentrating on the monumental, felling and peeling these tree trunks for their next building project.

It has been very wet and windy here, but, yay, the caravan is now bone dry.

With my new Makita I can’t wait to get going remodelling the interior…when I’ve finished the polytunnel shelving it ofcourse.

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Sun and sparkles

I realised, too late, that some people found my last blog post a bit sad, and were concerned that I was feeling negative about our life here.

Sometimes it does feel as though we move two steps forward and then go three steps back…. but I guess that’s just life.

Then, however, you get a morning like today’s. Surrounded by birdsong and everything sparkling and glinting in golden sunlight after last night’s downpour.

I took myself off for an early morning walk to remind myself why we are here.

I left the house and at the gate I saw in the distance Dartmoor. I walked down the lane and saw Exmoor

I walked through some fields and saw the Quantocks,

Turned round and saw the Blackdowns

I walked back through gorgeous light, through the spruce trees to our home, that we built ourselves.

I know why I’m here, and yes today I do feel as though I am living, if not “the” dream, then definitely my dream.

Oh and no more leaks in the caravan. Definitive…

Living the Dream

So many people tell me how lucky we are and how amazing it must be living how we do.

I don’t want to dispute this nor disabuse anyone who holds on to a fantasy of living off grid.

We live completely off grid, with solar panels for electricity, a bore hole to provide our own water and heat is a wood burning stove using our own logs.

We can have a meal of ham and eggs provided by our lovely chooks, and dear departed pigs, without having to go to a shop.

All this is amazing, and I realise everyday how lucky we are, and what a privilege it is to be able to have some land so that we can live this way.

However, (there is always an however) , some days I think about all those people who say “wow living the dream. I’m so jealous” and chuckle.

Does anyone dream of shovelling shit on a Sunday morning in the hail?

I certainly didn’t , but when the time comes for the compost loo to be emptied , the compost loo is emptied. No need to go into any more detail

The other joyful task I have been undertaking this week is peeling off rotten, wet plywood from an old caravan floor.

Said caravan is the only accommodation we have for Woofers, volunteers and guests. Not all together obviously, it’s only a two berth, or was until I pulled out all the insides. Now it’s a no berth.

I discovered a couple of weeks back that it has been leaking slowly. We were in blissful ignorance of this and have no idea how long water had been seeping in. I reckon, by the look of it at least 30 years!

Hence me on my hands and knees, peeling back layer after layer of rotten ply, when not slopping on some horrid grey gloop on the outside that is supposed to seal any gaps. Everyday I have to face the bitter diappointment that there is still a pool of water somewhere in the caravan, after finishing every evening convinced that finally I have found THE LEAK. I have, it is just that another one pops up. Talk about (no) hope springing eternal. It really is in our caravan.

Fingers crossed that all is not lost. We have a spent today, in the snow, constructing a roof over the whole thing. Let’s hope that keeps the bloody water out.

It doesn’t feel too much like Eden when there isn’t enough daylight to feed the solar panels and electricity is rationed. Especially challanging when the days are so short and the nights so long. So tempting to use the noisy, diesel burning generator and at the very least, after a hard day in the cold, get to watch re runs of really old Grand Designs, but that would be cheating….. wouldn’t it?

Winter

The sunrises and sunsets have been really incredible for the past month or so at Heydon Hill, at least incredible on the days when we have actually seen the sun.

Most of December felt like living in a tupper ware box with the lid on

and we didn’t see alot of the wood for days on end, nor hear birds, only the drip drop of moisture falling from the trees.

No sun, or rather no real light at all, also means no energy going into the solar panels and limited power for us.

So in the shortest days of the year, with days that never really became light and hardly any actual sun we are being so careful with our electric usage and the very few appliances that we have.

Luckily it is cold enough to go without a fridge, and who would want to drink chilled red wine anyway? However I am on the look out for a small chest freezer to convert into a low energy fridge.

In the evenings we get to eavesdrop on what could be described as long conversations between the tawny owls, calling from one side of the wood to the other.

Bring on the sunny, clear, cold frosty days that we need to kill all the bugs that like to eat my PSB, and more importantly that we need for our mental wellbeing as the short days of winter plod on.

Happy New Year!

The new polytunnel

At last the unbelievably huge tunnel is up and skinned.

It is as amazing and we were working against the clock all last week to get the frame up so it could be skinned. If it hadn’t been for our amazing Woofer, Hanne, who worked above and beyond, it might not have ever got finished in time.

She swung from the bars applying the hot spot tape right up to the last minute.

Then …. the amazing Nick and Caroline turned up at 08.00 to skin it all. It was amazing to see professionals at work.

Now…I’ve got somewhere to hang my washing when it’s raining…

Torn between growing trees in it or turning it into a banqueting hall. How about themed nights? Roman, Medevil, middle eastern?

Look out for a web page. Decided it is time.

Biochar

We have just bagged up our first lot of biochar ready for Wivey Farmer’sMarket.

Biochar is high quality charcoal that has been finely ground.

We make it in our ring kilns, and it is produced in the same way as our barbecue charcoal, from wood produced as a result of sustainable woodland management.

It can be added to compost or any growing medium or dug into the soil at a depth of 30cm to improve the quality of the soil, therefore increasing crop yields.

Biochar traps carbon for thousands of years.
It has a molecular structure that retains moisture and nutrients, which are then slowly released into the soil.

It is completely organic, and made from renewable sources, providing a great replacement for peat based composts, and 100% organic.

We had a really successful burn, which was just as well as we had loads of orders to go out before the weekend.

Charcoal burning is a mixture of alchemy, pure science and dare I say luck. It is awaiting game. So much effort in processing the wood and loading the kiln. So much time and valuable timber invested, so many times checking the burn through the day and night,and you don’t truly know how successful it has all been until you open the kiln twenty four hours after shutting it down. Far more nerve racking than baking a cake!

The unloading of the kiln and bagging up is far less onerous now that we have hot water. It was really horrid, getting charcoal dust ingrained everywhere.It really can get everywhere and is so fine that is seems to penetrate whatever clothing you are wearing. Sluicing ourselves down with water from the kettle wasn’t really very satisfactory, but now we have a working shower it feels like blooming luxury.

These are the very last of the stumps being burnt, at last. It is only about three years since they were dug up. The huge pile did get smaller but they were always looming over us. They looked like the remnants of some huge, ancient pachyderms that may have thundered over the earth millions of years ago.

I am not sorry to see them gone and the conflagration lasted three days and was quite impressive, as the stumps where so dry after these amazing summer months we have been enjoying. Even up here at Heydon Hill Wood, over 1000 feet up, it has been too hot to work unless in the shade after midday. That is incredible for us, when usually we are at least three degrees cooler than down the hill. Often we have gone down the hill of a summer evening in sweaters,socks, and fleeces to find everyone else in t.shirts, shorts and summer frocks. Not this year though. Lovely… perfect for cooking and eating outside. Barbecue anyone?