We’ve been quietly renovating our little welsh cottage for the last few months, drinking water from a spring, rainwater from the sky, gas from a bottle, electricity from the sun. Situated right on the roadside we have few passers-by and little reason to read or listen to the media. We’ve been repointing the inside of the little cottage, hoping one day to move on from the caravan parked up outside. 

It’s a tedious job, sitting or standing in the cold, dark interior, wearing a head torch and staring at the same square metre of wall whilst the rain falls gently or gusts vigorously in that way only welsh rain can. Rake out the old mortar, or mud in some places, brush the wall down, brush the dust out, sweep up, sweep out, mix mortar, press mortar by the kilo into the gaps in the wall. Slowly working our way through our joint collection of CDs played on an old ‘jog proof’ personal cd player plugged into the tiniest un-powered speakers. Exploring our separate pasts in the music we each choose, from Fields of the Nephilim ‘Last exit for the lost’, those tragic pre-grunge days of Temple of the dog’s ‘Hunger Strike’ “I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence, but I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled”. 

This week snatches of the media caution us that we should prepare, going out for our regular shop we find toilet roll aisles are still empty, baked beans are still out of stock and we can only buy 2 cartons of oat milk while the lady next to us has 6 litres of cows milk. Over the road to the garden centre and there seems to be a rush on for compost and see potatoes, we stock up on first earlies, a bag of main crop that have started chitting already, compost for the seed trays and head back with ten more tubs of lime putty from the builders yard.

Back to the re-pointing and we came to ‘The Lark Descending’, not put to one side but played three times over. ‘Albion’ – “Albion I’m homesick now though I live in the town I was born”, reminiscing of the festival gigs where we watched people get up and walk out when Chris Wood came on. Even at his level there are people that don’t like him, don’t like his music, don’t like his songs or don’t like his message. still Those moments we savour, that we are all different and yet all the same. We vow not to take it personally next time it happens to us.

Re-Pointing With Lime Mortar

Lime mortar is a magical thing, one part hydrated lime putty to three parts coarse sand is all you need to make this ‘old-fashioned’ version of cement. Add half a part of horse hair and it becomes base coat plaster, use water and lime putty and it becomes paint – whitewash. Put it in an airtight bucket and it’ll keep indefinitely as it only ‘goes off’ when exposed to the air.

This week we have mostly been re-pointing, this involves scraping out the mortar joints with a hoof-pick and then brushing down the wall and the joints ready to accept the mortar.

That pin-prick of light is the daylight from outside!

A lot of the joints in the bottom half of the wall appear to be mortared with mud – was the work of tree roots or rodents or a reaction to the rain coming in from the leaking roof? Strangely it was a work of fiction that answered this question rather than the old building reference books we had been looking for the answers in:

When their tender was accepted it was he who superintended the work and schemed how to scamp it, where possible, using mud where mortar was specified, mortar where there ought to have been cement…

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressall

Sometimes re-pointing turns into re-building where we find stones loose or missing or, as in this case, whole sections of wall loose. what happened to the mortar? Did it wash out from years of rain or damp? Did someone else rake it all out years ago but never get around to re-pointing it?

It’s a long slow job, but it’s getting done.

Coppicing Willow

January and the last of the willow is ready for harvesting. The magic of willow coppicing is that it will grow back again just as vigorously next year. Coppicing all the stems off a stump will give you willow for weaving, these will all grow back again and more in a year’s time. Here I am cutting off all but two or three stems / whips which will encourage the tree to put all its growth into the remaining stems. At between one to three metres growth a year these quickly become trunks and can be harvested for firewood in five to seven years. And then the magic still doesn’t stop, the bottom 10cm of the coppiced stems can be pushed into the ground where they will take root and become new trees, and the older trees when cut for firewood will shoot out 5 to 20 new stems and the whole process starts again.

Once I’ve finished coppicing, I’m then cutting off all the lateral branches to encourage growth upwards instead of outwards. Finally I push a bunch of the cut off whips back into the ground around these willows which will hopefully take root and expand the bio-fuel supply in future years.

”The soundtrack is a Pony Folk acoustic cover of an old electric Dogs D’Amour track ‘She Put It In Her Arm’. It only has three chords repeated throughout Em, C and D but the lines are short and the the timing of each chord is critical and It still catches me out sometimes. Ok, a lot.” ~ Pony Folk

Lampeter Seed Library

Lampeter Seed Library was launched in Autumn 2017 after two introductory public seed saving workshops, and is open twice monthly at the People’s Market in Victoria Hall, Lampeter, Ceredigion. It is a free public resource run by volunteers who are all keen growers. Our aim is to build a stock of seeds for vegetables and cereals proven to grow well in our local climate and conditions, which anyone can use to grow their own food and hopefully learn to save the seed.

Our hope is that this will introduce more people to the fun of successful food growing and seed saving, broaden the range of food we know we can grow here, introduce people to new veg they haven’t tried before, and generally increase local food resilience and biodiversity.

This is a short film I put together to help spread the message, please feel free to share it on again:

The Robin

When we first came
To the place of the high oaks
He was nowhere to be seen.
The turning of the soil
Summoned him, as if
The lifting of the first morning’s eyelid
Summons the sunrise in the East.
His sweet song serenaded us
Amongst the fallen trees
And I knew that he had come.

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