Vegetation, fascination, imagination…..precipitation!

Today I have been totally alone at Riverside. A rare occurrence!

My youngest sproglet has been at a sleepover with her cousins.

ImageDue to this childfree time being such an unusual event I had BIG plans to use this time as productively as possible.

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The plans involved LOTS of outdoor work and gardening and general plot tidying.. and guess what, it has rained hard almost all day!   Sod’s Law!

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It is almost June and  so cold that I have had to light a fire. The cottage was really chilly this morning when I came in from milking Tansy .

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Amongst the jobs that I did complete, in the rain, were the planting out of some young vegetable plants that were in dire need of removing from their pots and trays. I have finished filling up the new wall planter! It will soon fill up as the plants mature and I look forward to having a bit more growing space.The planter replaces a rotten wood fence that fell down in the gusty wind we had the other day. So it is making use of space that was previously unused for growing. Every little helps..as they say 😉

ImageI planted out more baby red cabbages, some kale,both Tuscan Black and a red curly variety that I have forgotten the name of, plus beetroots and bunching onions.

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I earthed up the potatoes again, weeded the pea bed and planted out four courgette plants,that were getting far too big for the large pots they were in.

The hostas and ferns that fill a shady corner here at Riverside have enjoyed the rain today. No slug holes in the hostas yet. Permaculture certainly seems to keep the pest species at bay, as the hardworking hedgehogs and toads that live here keep the slug population under control.

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I have also planted out a variegated thyme, a red bergamot or bee balm, a pineapple mint, which is also variegated and some walking onions!. My first planting of those here! ….and I harvested yet more rhubarb! I am seriously impressed with the crop of rhubarb this year.The mulch of horse manure I gave the young rhubarb  plant last autumn has made a huge difference.

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So all in all a fairly productive day even if I did get wet. But I still have so much to do..

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I have started mulching an area of really overgrown land that runs beside my cottage plot.

I have been using all my spent straw/ hay and goat bedding over the last 6 months or so to deeply cover a completely wild area of thick nettles, grass and other perennial weeds.

Mulching has really helped reduce the nettles and is an ongoing process.

I have also laid some cardboard down to clear a small area ready for a deep bed, of home-made compost but to be totally honest I have a long way to go before it is anywhere near ready and I may just turn the animals out in it, for a month or so, just to eat it down a bit first, before I continue to do anything else out there.

I am feeling a bit despondent that I can’t get it sorted faster. But maybe it is meant to be a slow process, so that I get to work out where I will put plants and so I have time to save up for  the purchase of trees and perennials to fill it!

The weeds are growing faster than I can deal with them on my own  by hand. ..but still the mulching goes on…I won’t give up.

All in all it is about a tenth of an acre. It is set out in a long uneven strip..widening at the bottom as it reaches the slope up to  the riverbank.

Up by the river I aim to plant some willow for goat forage and weaving and so the roots help keep the soil in place.

ImageMy longterm plan is to eventually be able to make a mini forest garden on it.. with a meandering path.. curvy deep beds with fruit trees, underplanted with soft fruit and other edibles.

I want it to be beautiful as well as productive.. but I have a feeling it is going to take me some time to get to that stage.

Luckily I am very patient!

Thanks for reading my random wafflings. It is always a pleasure to get feedback and comments.

I always try to reply to everyone xx

Blessings xx

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Moppet makes an appearance.

I don’t usually take my camera out with me when I am milking. Goats and delicate equipment tend not to mix awfully well. Those of you that keep goats will understand. But something today prompted me to take my (borrowed) camera with me.

My camera broke a while ago and I am currently using one that belongs to my parents, until I can afford to replace my one or find one on Freecycle/ Freegle that needs a home.

So anyway, I tucked it into my pocket, inside its protective case for extra protection, and carried on with my early morning rounds.

On my way back inside the cottage, with a pail full of frothy, creamy milk, I always throw a handful of grain into the pond for Mildred. She is the wild moorhen that has chosen to make a nest here.

You can read more about her nest making and egg laying here and here. She laid 6  eggs in total.

As I walked past  today and scattered her grain for her, she hopped off her nest to hide under the ivy until I had passed, as she always does,  and on doing so she revealed one newly hatched chick!! I have named it Moppet. The photo explains why. I am not sure that you could call it beautiful haha! But what a cutie!

See there was a reason I took my camera today!

It looks like there are only two more eggs left in her nest so maybe she discarded some or a rat took them?

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Welcome to the world Moppet and welcome to Riverside.  xxx

If you’d like to  make a donation, no matter how small,  towards my new camera fund, please feel free to do so using the Donate Button.

I love taking photos to share with you all.

Thank you x

~*~*~UPDATE~*~*~

Three chicks now spotted. …and an egg still to hatch!

(Some were hiding in the reeds)

A life full of birdsong and blossom

As I walk quietly towards the milking shed each morning, I am accompanied by a chorus of birdsong, filling the early morning air. The trilling, chirping and warbling of species, unseen, yet still very present here at Riverside, accompany me as I go about my morning routine.

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High above the fields surrounding my cottage, a skylark produces a melody so fluid and harmonious that it flows through my body like liquid gold, making my spirits rise almost as high as the bird itself, barely a distant dot in the still golden sky, way up high. I look up, squinting to see it. Yet despite the distance between us, the song reaches me, in more ways than one.

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A melanistic cock pheasant shimmers. His shades of metallic emerald and deep forest green almost sparkle in the morning light. He flaps out of the hedgerow, panicking when he catches sight of me.  His cackling call “korr kok,  korr kok ” fills the air as he flies away.

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I absorb the scents, sights and sounds around me. Reluctant to go back inside. I store them in my mind to be recalled another day.

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I think our senses become keener when we choose to live closer to nature. We tend to notice the faintest sounds. The smallest rustle in the hedgerow. The merest hint of red in the sky. We grow to ‘know’ the wild creatures that visit us. We are able to identify each thrush, moorhen, squirrel or badger. Inside our minds we have nicknames for them all.  Or at least I do.

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Egromond is a pale olive-green toad that lives here. He shelters under an old  metal feed trough, now used as a planter, and he overwinters in the log shed’s dark, damp corners until Spring.  

Mildred is a moorhen, that currently sits patiently on her clutch of  six pale speckled eggs , set in a nest made of bent flag iris stems, on my wildlife pond. She is skittish and aloof. Her partner, Mervin, resides on the river here but visits her often. He is brave enough to feed under the bird table in full view of me. Mildred never feeds in front of me.  If I happen to get too close to her she shrieks and swears and flits off into the hedgerow, still telling me off at full volume for getting too close, even when she is out of sight.. but she  swiftly returns to her nest as soon I am a safe distance away.

Horace is the hedgehog  that once rolled down the steep slope that leads up to the river bank and surprisingly ( for us both) landed at my feet as I walked up to lock in my hens in one evening.

He is a hardworking hero here..eating all manner of garden pests. I  always make sure there are plenty of leafy and twiggy corners here for him and his family to nest in each winter.

Spirit is the barn owl that silently hunts the banks of the river  and perches on one of the vegetable garden’s fence posts, to eat his catch.  He once did so whilst I was milking Tansy.  His  razor-sharp beak tearing at a flaccid mouse’s body, whilst holding it with talons, curved and deadly, as I was a mere three feet behind him, sitting in the milking shed, as he perched with his soft amber  and grey speckled back facing me. He is INCREDIBLY handsome and I have a feeling he knows it!

……there are many more….and so it goes on. I feel as though I ‘know’ them all.

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Signs of spring are welcomed, rejoiced even, as buds appear, at last!….and then they burst open to reveal blossom, so perfect,  that we pray the rain holds off, at least until the butterflies, bees and other pollinators like the furry little bee flies have a chance to visit and do the most important job of all.

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I have a life full to overflowing with so many ‘treasures’ that I never feel the need to escape or have a holiday. In this day and age, a time of materialism and consumerism, that is a pretty remarkable thing to achieve I think and I have Riverside and ALL the creatures who reside here with me to thank for it  xx

Blessings xxx

Trying to use permaculture principles on my plot and in my home.

Here at Riverside everything is linked in some way, in order to benefit another thing. I work with nature as best I can.

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Here are a few examples,

All kitchen/organic waste goes to the compost bins here..I compost tea bags, coffee grounds, paper, cardboard, veg/fruit peelings, weeds, animal bedding, manure, leaves, grass, feathers, dust, hair, wood ash, straw, hay,……to name just a few… which in turn turns into dark, crumbly, nutrient rich compost and  feeds the soil here and enables my plants to grow strong and healthy. My rule: If it decomposes, it goes in the compost bins.

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Washing is washed without soap powders ( I use wash balls)  and it is dried outside on the line when the weather permits or inside by the woodstove when the weather is wet. This means no harsh detergents enter the water system from my cottage and I also have no need for a tumble drier,  which saves  a lot of energy. I allow the free wood I gather to do the job or better still the sunshine and wind does it..and oh how lovely and fresh, washing dried on the line smells!

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Bee and other pollinator attracting flowers are grown from seed here at Riverside ( it is the cheapest option when you are on a very tight budget like me)  and then when they are big enough they are planted all over the place here.  Our native bees REALLY need all the help they can get at the moment as they are in steady decline due to habitat loss, the dastardly varroa mite and of course they have to cope with toxic pesticide use. Neonicotinoids are particularly toxic to them!

I especially like to plant out lots of borage ( a firm bee favourite) ,  and other blue flowers too,  like phacelia and cornflowers , as bees are especially attracted to flowers on the blue/ purple /lilac end of the spectrum.

Rainwater is collected in waterbutts, which provides the greenhouse, veg beds and livestock with water. It is also used to top up the wildlife pond if the level drops in Summer. It makes it easy and convenient to provide fresh water for my livestock, as the water storage barrels are situated outside their housing and one is attached to the greenhouse.

Woody / fibrous prunings and trimmings are piled up, as habitat for wildlife, in tucked away corners, which in turn allow things like hedgehogs and toads to survive, hibernate and breed here and in turn they feed on any pest species like slugs and snails, which then allows my leafy greens to grow un-nibbled. I am very grateful for all the good they do.

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Nest boxes are put up everywhere at Riverside, which  helps encourage a diverse range of birds to stay here, which then breed and feed on any caterpillars and other creepy crawlies that may pose a potential problem to crops I grow.  I also have bat boxes set up and the bats that live here feast on midges and mosquitoes, which is fantastic, as we live next to a river, where an abundance of midges/ mosquitoes and gnats tend to congregate. Although the wild rainbow trout and  brown trout eat their fair share too, as do the swallows and house martins.  I have bug and bee boxes here too. There is room for everyone .

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I use wood to heat our home and our water in the cottage, which in turn makes use of waste, unwanted and foraged wood. It is cheap (mostly free), efficient, welcoming to come indoors to  after a hard day outside in the cold, smells lovely, can be used to cook on and rise bread dough etc… and the wood pile is also home to beetles and other critters. There is nothing as warming as the glow of a real fire.

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I leave areas of the garden ‘wild’ and sow wildflower seeds here and there wherever I can… and I allow nettles, meadowsweet and horseradish etc  to grow wild. This encourages more biodiversity and encourages yet more wildlife to make their homes here and again this tends to sort out any pest problems that may occur in the veg garden. I also get free ‘wild food’ from many of the native plants that grow here.

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I plant trees. Native varieties , any free saplings I find or that neighbours are discarding from their gardens…and some fruit/ nut bearing trees. As many as I can afford to buy or find for free. I accept that may not even be here to see many of them reach maturity, (this is a rented cottage)  but I plant them nonetheless as I want to leave something positive behind me when I leave, for nature and for future generations to benefit from..and regardless, they pay me back in so many ways..either with fruit/ nuts/ berries, their beauty/aesthetics, welcome shade in Summer, their ecosystems/wildlife habitats,  their deep-rooted connection to the earth and all that is truly important in my life. I LOVE trees.

I cut the ‘lawns’ here with a little push-mower..No big petrol mower. I gave mine away.  The manual mower works fine, doesn’t take the grass too short, so leaves daisies, bugle, vetch and dandelion flowers in place for the bees to forage on… and is not much more work than a petrol mower  and of course no oil based fuel  is required!! So much quieter too!

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I keep my grazing animals (goats, geese, ponies and hens etc ) on a small scale rotation system..with electric fenced mini paddocks, that are moved regularly when they have eaten down an area, and then the fences are re-erected on fresh ungrazed ground …with the geese following the goats, and the hens following after the geese .and so on…The ponies are strip grazed on some rented land in the next village and that enables me to control their calorie intake and prevent any flare ups of laminitis (a problem that many native breeds can so easily suffer from on rich pasture).

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This small scale rotation method enables the land to be used efficiently and it also enables me to rest areas for months at a time to break the worm cycle and prevent over grazing. The mixed species grazing also helps break any worm cycle that may be present. It therefore reduces the need for chemical wormers and enables the land to support a wider range of animals.  It also uses up odd corners and uneven land , like the steeply sloped riverbank. The animals can also be used to clear areas of unmanaged / wild land and of course they fertilise it as they do so. Hens and ducks do a particularly good job of removing grubs like leatherjackets etc from uncultivated land in preparation for planting out vegetables.

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The milk I get from my dairy goats provides us not only with pints of fresh creamy milk for tea/cooking  etc but also with cheese. I make cottage, cream and hard cheeses and I also use kefir cheese a lot in my diet. One of my dogs is on a special diet and kefir cheese and cottage cheese are  one of the  ingredients he is allowed in  his weekly ration. I’d love to make goat’s milk  butter too but unfortunately I cannot afford a cream separator just yet, so I am being patient and enjoying making cheeses and yoghurts for now.

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My poultry provide us with eggs..and lots of them!!!.. Goose, hen and quail eggs.. Ideal to barter with and they form a major part of our diet here at Riverside, as they are used in various recipes from frittatas and quiches to egg custards and ice creams.

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I make LOTS of compost and use a no dig method in my veg garden..I simply add new organic matter/ compost/ leaf mould/ well-rotted manure etc to every veg bed each year..usually in Autumn as each bed is harvested and emptied…. and I simply plant into that in Spring.

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I use fresh rotting manure to form a ‘hot bed’ in my tiny greenhouse which enables me to germinate seeds that require some base heat. I do not own a heated propagator..It is another thing on my wish list. The hot bed seems to work ok  for now and I am sure I can improve on the basic setup I have atm. It has helped but is not quite as efficient as I had hoped, so I need to look at ways to improve on it. Deeper beds of hot fresh manure encased more securely with solid walls and maybe with a glass lid to keep the heat in better. We shall, see what I can rustle up with junk I find this year. I look forward to experimenting.

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I accept that some losses will be had on the growing front and that some fruit and veg will be eaten or attacked by pests even here with all the permaculture friendly wildlife working hard to eat the ‘nasties’…..I plant extra plants out  to accommodate for this and try to keep everything in perspective and not get too hung up about losing a few plants here and there. After all I do not live here alone, I share this place with LOTS of other species. ……and that is how it should be.

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I refuse to use any chemicals, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides…no slug pellets will EVER be used here no matter how many plants I lose.  I love my hedgehogs and birds and toads etc  too much to risk poisoning them.

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I don’t own a car. I share lifts /car share when necessary but I walk a lot and use a bike ( actually an electric/manual pedal  tricycle with two big baskets.. The rear basket is big enough for my daughter to ride in! ) and occasionally my ponies and trap get used to get us about.

This of course means I do have to plan far more to get about beyond my village, but it also prevents spur of the moment unnecessary trips to the shops etc and therefore saves money as I am not apt to make impulse purchases. I tend to be more organised because of it!

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I know I still have plenty of room for improvement. I buy my electricity from Good Energy , which is a 100% renewable energy provider but it is my dream to be off grid eventually and use solar and wind power to provide all my energy needs…and there are lots of other ways I could improve on my setup here…I am working on it! 😉

I live without live TV ( no SKY tv, no regular channels, nothing, only a basic dvd and video player to play our  ageing and  mostly documentary collection ), no dishwasher, or microwave, or car,  or holidays abroad, hardly any new clothes (except for new undies), I buy clothes  from eBay or charity shops, I cut my own hair, I have stopped dyeing it, I rear my own replacement livestock, I barter for lots of wonderful things that I cannot produce myself, I have taught myself to knit , sew, crochet albeit on a basic level and am working on learning how to weave.  I home educate my wonderful daughter. I bake my own bread, make kefir water, kefir cheese, kefir milk kombucha tea, wines and other boozy goodies, other cheeses, yoghurt, cakes and cookies.  I have a hive and although I sadly lost my bee colony last Winter,  I live in hope of catching another swarm ..

I am always happy to hear from my readers as to how I can improve on my micro holding system, so please don’t be shy.  Suggestions, ideas and inspiration are truly welcomed 🙂

Thank you for reading.

Blessings x

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Mildred’s best nest and tantalising trout pouts….

Over the last few days I have been silently observing the comings and goings of a little female moorhen.

She has taken it upon herself to build a nest in amongst the small clump of yellow flag irises in my wildlife pond. This not only poses her the problem of how to go about doing this task and yet remain unseen, but it also means that she is quite a few metres away from the river that runs along one boundary here, her usual home, and the place she usually feeds.

But I have noticed that the duckweed we had in the pond is gradually disappearing, so I am guessing she has been eating that?

Her initial nest remains unfinished and is quite visible to passers-by. I thought she had abandoned the idea of raising her brood, especially as it is so very close to my cottage, but I was wrong.  Mildred, as she will now be known, has made a second nest underneath the overhanging ivy that tumbles down into the pond, on the side nearest to the cottage.

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So it is with bated breath that I creep past every time I go out of the back gate and occasionally I just glimpse a little black feathered bottom disappearing into the hedgerow or under the ivy.

I shall keep you updated as to whether Mildred manages to hatch out any eggs.  Fingers crossed for her.

I will try my best to get some photos and may even set up my daughter’s camera trap this weekend.

The water level in the river here is quite low at the moment. My daughter and I took a stroll down to the little jetty today. It has been a gloriously sunny day and we sat watching the trout rise to catch flies. Their pouty little mouths come right out of the water and swiftly suck in the insects that fly too close to the water’s surface and in a split second the buzzing gnats and mosquitoes become trout dinner.

We have both rainbow and brown trout here. The rainbow trout seem to be the tamest and one bravely swam out from under the jetty whilst we were sitting there today. It’s spotted body was clearly visible and even the soft blush of pink on its sides could be seen! Beautiful!

Insect life is gradually increasing here at Riverside now that the weather has warmed up a bit. We spotted yet more butterflies today. Two peacock butterflies, a vibrant neon brimstone, a small white (in my greenhouse) and a red admiral…..and LOTS of bees, both honeybees and bumblebees, which REALLY made me smile!

Some thirsty honey bees had inadvertently fallen into the river and were floating on the surface,  as we sat watching the fish rise, and so my daughter hooked them out with her little net and laid them in the grass to dry out. They lived to see another day.

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