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While working in the Very Smallholding this week, I noticed lots of small plants growing in the middle of the Throne Room, in a space which last year was taken up almost entirely by brambles and one very horizontal tree. Spring is coming, full of the life and growth. This is all very well, but I’m way behind on planting, or in fact getting ready for planting, and judging by the mess in the picture, tidying the place up generally.

Probably should stop taking pretty pictures and do some more digging.

There is a lot going on other than wandering about in the garden and taking pretty pictures of the plants, I just can’t blog about it just yet. I’ll get back to you on that when I can…

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I don’t usually go to the Very Smallholding in the evenings because after dark you could be attacked by trolls, but I took the compost down just as the sun was setting on our picturesque (ie ‘tatty’) shed.

Note compost bin and bucket ready to go back up the hill. Try to ignore shadow of inept photographer.

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This is the big bench in the Throne Room.  I posted the picture already, but I needed it to show why I was drilling holes in the thing last week.

If you look very carefully you may notice a slight lean towards the left hand end of the bench. This, despite being covered in a variety of plastic sheets, still managed to flood when it rains. The simplest answer was to drill a drainage hole in the flooded corner and let the water escape.

Predictably, this job proved too much for our normal rechargeable drill which made two turns and started letting off blue smoke. The professional quality cordless I borrowed from work did little better, and my attempt to use a a heavy-duty chorded drill failed miserably because I couldn’t get a cable to reach the bottom of the steps, let alone the bench itself.

It shows the effect of the power tool propaganda machine and my bad organisation that it took a week of fretting before I remembered my Grandad’s fifty year old crank drill, found it in the living room and took that to the garden, more in hope than expectation.

The drill went clean through the wood in less time than it took to unravel an extension chord. Even better, being slimmer than an electrical drill, it fitted into the corner and I could make a hole exactly where I needed one.

Then, of course the drill bit jammed in the hole and it took fifteen minutes of persuasion and not swearing* before I was able to extract it, and watch with some satisfaction as the lake on the seat slowly drained down the outside of the bench.

Hand tools rule.

*Small children have an uncanny ability to be within earshot when things are going wrong.

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This is now the view from the bottom of the Mighty Steppe.

The Throne Room is the result of some pretty creative thinking on the part of our chainsaw wielding friends a couple of weeks ago. They decided it was a waste to let all that lovely wood burn, and it would be much more fun to make a circle of benches where we could invite friends to come and hang out on summer evenings.

The invitation part was mentioned several times. I suspect an ulterior motive.

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The Throne itself was cut from the trunk of the tree and simply turned sideways: there was no way it we could move it any further. It took three of us about twenty minutes to get this into position, so I’m not worried about it moving.

It still needs some work, mostly sanding and oiling so it is waterproof and doesn’t lose the lovely colouring in the wood. It will also need drainage holes and/or a roof or the seat will stop being a bottom rest and become a water feature.

Still, it’s a bit more interesting than a standard garden-centre bench.

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I can’t oil the bench until the wood has dried out, which could present a problem. Observant readers will notice the original trunk and roots lurking in the bushes behind.

I’ll need to make a fire hole in the middle of the circle. When I’ve finished digging the veg beds, chopped all the new firewood, cut more of the brambles…

And people ask why we don’t have a television.

rocket

The boys were given a foam rocket to play with in the garden: it works when you push a tube into another tube and fires the rocket out uing air pressure.  No batteries or silly noises.

Youngest Son is seen making a test shot across the valley. Note rocket at extreme right.

It worked well until he realised that bracing the tube against the ground meant you could fire the rocket much higher. It now resides near the top of a holly tree and will remain there until it finally falls down again.

Since I discovered the monster tree at the bottom of the Very Smallholding, it was clear that I’d need a chainsaw and lots of expertise to remove it. To the surprise of no-one here I possess neither, so I spent the last year alternately fretting about it and trying to find someone with enough patience to use up a free Saturday cutting up my wood for me.

This weekend it finally came together, when friend and horrendously competent carpentry student B turned up with two Stihl chainsaws and another equally competent chainsaw operator.

They dealt with the massive tree while I made encouraging noises, pretended to help by cutting away brambles, and generally got in the way taking photographs.

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Small boys and noisy machines being inseparable, the lumberjacks soon had an audience.

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After all the fretting and organising, it took about four  hours to reduce most of the tree to lumps of wood. It is remarkable how much space we have down here when it isn’t full of reclining tree.

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I had originally harboured ideas of cutting the wood into planks, drying it, and using it in my graduation project for the carpentry apprenticeship. Unfortunately we very quickly decided there was no chance of getting the wood up and out of our very steep garden, even after construction of the Mighty Steppe.

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This was disappointing, but the chainsaw wielders were also keen that the wood didn’t all end up on a bonfire so they got creative and made it into something useful.

Unfortunately I then forgot to take any photographs of this. Will do so soon.

Because of their competence, I had the afternoon to go and help fit windows in another friends house and fret about the modular tests coming up this week.

In completely unrelated news, many thanks to the Ubiquitous Blog for reminding us that Saturday was the World Day of remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

portage

At the Very Smallholding there is very little shelter, apart from a small section of the patio which is under some overhanging trees. So naturally when the rain started while I was doing some gardening I carried the Xtracycle down the steps from the gate and put it under cover.

Then went back out in the rain and carried on gardening.

It was only later I realised this may be considered slightly strange.

I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.

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The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.

I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).

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Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.

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This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.

People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have  car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…

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Things normal people get excited about: cars, cell phones, or YouTube videos.

Things I get excited about: Finishing the steps all down the hill to the tree which fell down last year.

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As you may guess, I don’t get invited to many parties.

I made 32 steps over two weekends and a bit more. I even managed to scrounge all the wood, which makes me happy.

It doesn’t take much.

The steps give us a reasonably safe way to get the monster pear tree out of the bottom of the garden, and make it possible to actually use the bottom of the garden. This would be very nice as in summer the top is baking on even a slightly sunny day while the bottom is cool and shady. Admittedly a little less shady now the biggest tree has fallen over of course, but there are at least two Ash trees and an Acer trying to take its place.

I’ll need to get someone with a chainsaw to come and cut the tree up, and then do some serious bramble bashing before I can actually use the garden, but for now I’m just enjoying the novelty of being able to get to the bottom of the garden without heavy boots, climbing gear, and a message to Beautiful Wife telling her where to find me if I’m not back by tea time.

Sometimes it feels like the Very Smallholding is fighting back.

I’d managed to get the remains of the cherry tree to ground level without damaging anything, and I’d found a friend with a wood stove and importantly, a chainsaw, who came to cut and haul them out. While he was there we decided to remove a branch from a plum tree on the other side of the property: it was healthy enough but growing into our neighbours airspace, and it is Not Done to allow your tree to extend over the property line.

If we let the branch fall where it was, it would land on the fence, so we hooked a rope around the offending offshoot and two of us pulled on this while the third climbed up a ladder and applied the chainsaw. The idea being that as it fell we’d pull it clear of the fence and onto a patch of nice empty grass.

The moment came: there was a cracking noise, we pulled on the rope, the branch bounced off the fence, landed on the cut end, bounced up and tipped over on me. As the world filled with foliage I received a text message from Beautiful Wife asking how we were doing.

 I told her I’d been attacked by a plum tree.

She didn’t laugh. Much.

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