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While clearing out the shed in the Very Smallholding, we found this lantern. Getting it back into working order without blowing myself up is somewhere on the never-ending jobs list, but it may take a while.

Time is rather short at the moment however, because on top of work and family it is exam season. To add to the usual stress, we had a modular test last week where I completely failed to understand one of the more important questions. Feeling low at my lack of ability with maths, I consoled myself with the thought that at least I could relax for a bit before the next exam, but then on Sunday night I got a phone call saying the question had a typo and we’d have a new one this week (ie. today) which would be graded and the score added to the test. Back to endless maths problems every evening, hence lack of blogging. Still, at least it wasn’t my bad German that caused the problem this time…

Any happy thoughts, prayers, et c, for this test are welcome…


…the world isn’t going to be saved by technology, I kept working on a couple more low-tech projects this week.


For some strange reason we  hardly used the balcony for growing anything last year, which meant we had to go across the village every time we wanted a lettuce. Towards the end of the season someone I met on a permaculture course sent me a link to a pallet garden and I decided this was the answer to our narrow balcony. I scrounged a pallet from some people doing a house renovation, painted it liberally with wood preserver, and put this together.

The cardboard is to hold the soil back: the original plan says you should plant the pallet lying on the ground and then lift it up when the plants had grown a bit but I didn’t have space or patience for this. I’ll cut holes in the cardboard and push seedlings in as I go along.

The tomato plants were not part of the original plan, but you can never have too many tomatoes.

We turned the water on again, mildly surprised that none of the pipes had frozen in the meantime.


And while weeding the veg beds I found this mystery tree which I’m embarrassed to say I can’t identify. Does anyone know what it is?

Our state government has decided it wants to investigate sustainability and tell us all about how to have a small carbon footprint.


The best way to do this is with a big truck, so we can see they are really, really serious about sustainability. As long as it doesn’t mean changing anything.

Remember: Infinite growth is possible with finite resources. We will discover a cheap recoverable energy source to replace oil. Technology will save us.


This is my Raubank, or jointer plane. It’s 600mm (about 2 feet) long. We don’t use this sort of thing in the carpentry industry today: we have machines that can plane wood almost as well as by hand in a fraction of the time, so it would be too expensive to pay a carpenter by the hour to hand plane wood any more.

I prefer hand tools to power tools because they are simpler, easier to maintain and last longer. In the UK and USA, hand planes are usually metal, but in mainland Europe still use these simpler wooden planes, where the blade is positioned by tapping it with a hammer and secured with a wooden wedge, which I prefer as there are no moving parts to go wrong.

I’m slowly building up a set of basic carpentry tools, and I’m trying to get as many as possible second hand, partly because it appeals to my inner tree hugging hippy (Less damage to the environment and no money to the evil corporations, et c.) and partly because I’m broke. I got this plane for a fraction of the price of a new one, even though the base is Guaiacum wood, instead of the usual (and much cheaper) beechwood. Probably it looked a bit too tatty (It was described by the seller as ‘Looking like the Titanic’) for most people to be bothered with it.

The Real Carpenters at work think I’m very strange to be excited about a tatty old jointer plane, but as I repeatedly turn up to the workshop on a Bakfiets, it’s just another eccentricity to add to the list.

Besides, when the inevitable collapse of civilisation comes, I’ll at least be able to make nice shelves.

One of the most common plants in our garden is the ash tree, Fraxinus Exclesior, a fast growing native hardwood. The owner of the garden loathes them, but I’m letting them grow just about wherever they chose to self-seed, or wherever the bird poo carrying them lands. I’m doing this because I like them, and because they grow fast and give good quality wood which I may be able to use in three years, but also because recently a fungus called Chalara fraxinea has come from goodness knows where and seems to like eating them. Alarming numbers of ash trees are dying off all over Germany.

Until February this year there was some hope that the UK would be spared: as long as no ash trees from the continent were brought in the fungus may not make it over the channel. Unfortunately no-one told the politicians this (or if they did, the politicians didn’t want to hear it) so they allowed the trees to be imported and exported, and Chalara fraxinea turned up as well. In several places.

The brilliant minds of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formed  ‘Emergency Committee Cobra’ which has come up with such gems as “everyone should be responsible”. and advise people visiting forests in the UK to “Wash your hands afterwards“. Thanks for that.

According to this very comprehensive post on the Ubiqitous Blog this is nothing new: scientists have been repeatedly ignored when their concerns may inconvenience some corporate interest, and one who was asked to investigate a similar fungal attack on trees in a park had a gagging order placed on them to prevent them saying where the outbreak may have come from.

At the same time, the  Environment Secretary (who supports a third runway at Heathrow, a badger cull and fracking, but dislikes wind farms, just as an aside) has suggested that the current outbreak of fungus causing ash dieback is ‘possibly just wind borne’, which is interesting because two weeks ago a forester in Germany old me no-one is sure how the fungus spores are transported.

Which would mean that in the UK, a scientist commissioned to investigate an outbreak of fungal based dieback cannot publish his or her findings for fear of legal repercussions, but a politician known to support corporate interests over the environment can make statements which happen to match up with the desires of the industry to keep going as usual, and that’s okay.

Is this a very strange situation, or am I  missing something?

[Edit: Check the comments. It appears Ash seeds are wind blown rather than carried by birds. Thanks Kim.]

It’s the slug hunting season, which means that I’m cycling over to the Very Smallholding every evening. This is fine when the sun is shining and the birds are singing but I’m less enthusiastic about it when the rain is coming down at a rate that would have put Noah off, as it was last week.

Last year the slugs found our tiny veg patch and demolished the only three Kohl-Rabi which managed to survive my ham-fisted gardening. On the first night of this season we lost three pumpkins in the Cow Poo beds (I offer no prizes for guessing why they are thus named). We tried putting cylinders of plastic around the plants but these were Special Ops slugs: they bypassed our defences by going under mulch and following the stems up above ground.

Fortunately Disgruntled has passed on a method for making traps which seem to work: the second night we found sixteen very dead slugs, and no plants eaten.

We fed the slug remains to the slow worms in the garden and for a couple of weeks an uneasy peace reigned with a couple of slugs a night falling into the traps, only one courgette getting chomped and a yeasty smell pervading the garden, but last night I discovered a skeletal potato plant far from the original incursions, and three very fat slugs, still on the leaves. These were quickly ejected and emergency extra slug traps laid. I’m taking salt tonight…

Any other ideas for repelling slugs?

I’d given up any hope of getting anything eatable* out of the Very Smallholding this year, so you can imagine the delight when we discovered that the green stuff emerging from badly cut holes in the cardboard was not celandine and brambles but celandine and brambles and some actual potato plants.

Encouraged by this blistering success I planted our mid-season spuddies. These had been correctly chitted, by which I mean they’d got bored waiting in the bag and started growing, so they had something of a head start and we’re now several potato plants better off, which we can add to the three tomato plants that a neighbour left outside our gate one morning and which are actually producing tomatoes, and never mind that a certain small person who shall remain nameless has eaten the first red tomato.

The weed patch formerly known as the seedbed was also re-dug and planted up with leeks, kohl-rabi and something else I have yet to identify which the Greek grocer was throwing out, although they are currently in a life-and-death struggle with the slugs (note to self: take salt to garden tonight). All of which makes up for the fact that after carefully tending more than fifty spinach seeds to plants and then transplanting them, a total of one weedy yellow spinach plant is still alive.

*Except blackberries: we’ve lots of those.

A friend has asked for ideas on ‘how to start cycling’ for someone who owns a car but wants to cycle more for transport, especially commuting. Now, I’m not terribly well qualified for this as I never owned a car and only got my driving licence when I was twenty six because we were in a rural area and I mistakenly believed I ‘needed a car’. Here are my paltry suggestions, I hope more experienced people can add others:

  • Don’t panic: the streets look scary, but they looked pretty scary on your first driving lesson too, and you made it.
  • Get a decent bike: Yes, I know supermarkets are selling ‘bargain’ bicycles, but how much are you really going to use a bike to get around if you have to pedal to get downhill with a following wind? Especially if it doesn’t have lights/mudguards/luggage rack. And your ‘expensive’ bike will still work in ten years time: your car won’t.
  • Get at least one good lock.
  • Freeze your car keys: put them in a margarine tub full of water and put it in the freezer: that way you can get at them if you need to, but it’s a lot less convenient than having them by the door.*
  • Put your bike keys by the door.
  • If you feel the need for a helmet, get one, if the idea (or cost) of a polystyrene lid puts you off, don’t.
  • Explore: bikes can go places cars only dream of. Find regular routes you are happy with. In six months your mental map of the town will look different to a motorists, so you’ll send drivers down dead end streets.
  • Always hide after giving drivers directions.
  • Learn how to ride safely. learn about blind spots, door zones et c.
  • Please, stop at red traffic signals.
  • Wave at other cyclists.
  • Learn which sort of car to watch. Locally it is Taxis, old men in big cars (especially Mercedes) and young women. Other places are different. I don’t know why.

And of course:

  • Enjoy yourself, smile and wave at drivers, even when they are swearing at you. It’s nicer than shouting back and it makes them madder than anything else you could do.

*maybe not if they’re one of those new-fangled electronic keys…

Water supply in the garden, with the all-important privvy in the distance.

The dustbin lid-like object under the tap is apparently a steriliser for use with an open fire. I’ll experiment with that later. I need to get the privvy working first. To do that I need to make a compost bin, for which I need wood, which I’ll salvage when I clear out the shed. After I’ve emptied the Shed of Asbestos…

Some people manage to do all this and keep livestock. I can’t even find my tools.

Much physical and mental activity this week was concerned with digging a potato bed in the garden (so we at least have something growing, even if it’s a bit late) and getting the area around the slowly collapsing summer house in our newly available garden from this:

To a slightly more organised state, without the ancient kitchen appliances which were colonising it:

This involved digging out the patio, removing all the logs, and hauling several bucket loads of rubble and concrete, a dodgy gas cooker, the rotting remains of a kitchen unit, the oldest fridge I’ve ever seen and assorted large and useless items of broken garden furniture to the recycling centre. I also spent a rather unpleasant afternoon in a protective suit with face mask and gloves sorting a lot of broken asbestos sheets. I could have done this somewhat faster except that with my usual brilliance I carefully placed half the asbestos into the bag provided before realising that the bag was too heavy to carry to the road.

This has not left much energy for things like blogging.

I’ll be back next week, after some sleep…

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