Saturday, 21 December 2013

the shortest day

It’s the shortest day of the year in this part of the world; the watery winter sun rose and crawled lazily along the top of the trees, before retiring to bed early for the last time this year. The leaves are gone and the ground is full of winter rain – time to stay off the veg beds and catch up with some clearing and tidying. When I do my wreath making sessions I end up with a bunch of half made ones from where I have been demonstrating the technique. Secretly, I like the undecorated ones best; the subtle colours of the bark and buds, the way the stems have twined obediently under my hands. I usually hang a few in the orchard for keen eyes to notice among the branches.

It’s also a good time to raid the hedgerows around the museum for bean poles and pea sticks. While cutting brash to plug some holes in the hedges, I came across our resident Celtic wildman getting ready to do his ‘Iron Age celebration of the solstice’ demonstration sessions. It seemed rude to turn up empty handed to such an event, so I quickly whipped up a ‘no basis in historical fact or evidence’ Iron Age solstice decoration, using one of my stash of wreaths. I think it’s my favourite out of all of the stuff I’ve made this year – the hazel catkins are so delicate and pretty.

So here’s wishing you all goodness and light on this darkest night



Sunday, 15 December 2013

i had a little quince tree, nothing would it bear..

In between all the Christmassy stuff this week, a quince tree that I had ordered turned up. There is already a mature quince in the orchard, but it hardly ever bears any fruit. I looked at it in blossom this year and there was plenty of flower, but the rest of the pears had long finished doing their thing. If you look in the books, quince are supposed to be self fertile, but everybody needs a friend, right?

The tree that I had ordered was bare root, which is by far the cheapest way to buy trees. They are available here between November and March - as the trees slumber gently, they are lifted from the ground, root-washed and posted off to their new homes. They are light as feathers compared to container grown trees so the postage is cheap too.

They're just a little bit more challenging to plant if you're not used to them, and they don't like to hang around. You've either got to plant them straight away, or give them a temporary home in a pot if the ground is frozen or waterlogged. But as it's been mild and dry here for the last couple of weeks, I decided to summon up our two trainees for a quick lesson in bare root fruit planting.

It's important to plant the tree at the same level as it was in the field 
- the soil mark is visible just below the graft union.

We staked it and tied it and mulched it

and pruned the leader back to a nice healthy looking bud 
(in case the tip of the shoot had been damaged in transit).

Then we wrote down what we had planted so we don't forget!

Now all it has to do is grow...

Monday, 9 December 2013

chuck out the tinsel and head for the hedgerows

This weekend I ran a couple of Christmas wreath making workshops.  It’s a very popular activity and we could have filled the sessions several times over. I buy in a couple of bundles of craft willow and cut some hazel from the hedgerows. To decorate the wreaths I gather a few baskets of greenery, coloured stems, herbs and seedheads from around the gardens at the museum. 

Here’s one I made earlier.

Everybody gets to make and take home two wreaths, one of which they decorate.

The speedy workers also get to make stars out of the apple prunings from the orchard.

The sessions always start in a great twitter of nervous excitement and self doubt - proclamations are made of impending failure and lack of talent. But with a few simple techniques and a bit of support, calm concentration descends. Okay - so not everybody’s work would necessarily make it to the front cover of ‘Homes and Gardens’, but I have never done this session without everybody being delighted with what they’ve made. They leave with a spring in their step and an armful of Christmassy loveliness.

It confirms that thing we all know; that reconnecting people with their craft skills and giving them space to play and create is very powerful. It doesn't matter what you make/bake/build - it's the doing that's good for the soul. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

the only ffactor with a tractor

It's the final of Fferm Ffactor* this week and we're all very excited in our house. Some of you may be unaware of this farming task based, reality show on S4C (Welsh language telly) - but take my word for it, it's the greatest show on TV. The contestants compete in various farm based challenges, to win a prize of a pick up truck, and the title of 'Best Farmer in Wales 2013'.

This year there's a woman in the final 3 - Go Gwenno!

So in honour of the occasion I thought I'd show you some pictures of our tractors at work! 


Now my boss may not be very supportive of my idea for 'women's chainsaw group' - but as we are in the same dept as the farmers, we are encouraged to be competent with the animals and the tractors.

Mostly, that means pootling around after a few sheep or cattle on our little red 'story-book' tractor.

But sometimes I get to drive the big one...

Usually at haymaking time, when my ability to drive like your grandma in the supermarket carpark, is appreciated by those perched on top of a trailer full of hay bales. But this weekend I got an impromptu extra lesson in how to use the loader bucket at the front, and the PTO plus winch on the back. We have had some new fencing done, and the contractors had put in a gate that was blocked by some huge old, fallen oak trunks. Rather than chop them up to move them, we used the winch to drag them under the trees, where they will make great wildlife habitat as they decay gently.

Unfortunately I didn't get any pics - I was too busy pulling levers and being scared.

I'm not generally much of a petrol head,
but the chance to drag enormous bits of stuff round with a tractor and a winch was too good to miss. 


*'Ff' in Welsh is pronouced the same as a single 'f' in English. 
(A single 'f' in Welsh makes the English 'v' sound)