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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.
Small boys and noisy machines being inseparable, the lumberjacks soon had an audience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
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.
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.
The lower third of the Very Smallholding is a steep bramble covered slope leading to a flat bramble covered space at the bottom. For the last few years I’ve just hacked a way through the bramble with a scythe every summer and scrambled down the slope, but it seems that more civilised people object to sliding down thorn covered mud on their backside. As we’d like to invite people over occasionally we need to have at least one route through the garden that people can use without getting covered in mud, which means adding ‘civilised’ features like steps on the steep bits.
It turns out making steps isn’t as complicated as I thought. The business of digging and putting the wooden support in place is in fact a lot easier than trying to keep your balance on a steep slope made of wet clay covered in bramble branches. On occasion it feels like I’m in an episode of a hilarious slapstick comedy, and the spade is less a digging implement and more of an ice pick. Fortunately it isn’t an exact science, and works more on the ‘it looks about right here’ principle, and sometimes the “I can reach this bit from the only part of the hill that isn’t either a bramble or potential landslide, therefore the step goes here” principle.
On balance it would have possibly been smarter to start from the bottom so I could stand on the steps I’d already made.
We live and learn. Photos will follow as soon as I find the bits to recharge the camera.
*This project will probably take a while and generate several more bad puns.
So, back to regular updates about our attempts to live a greener-than-thou hippy lifestyle you come to read about.
When I checked the Very Smallholding I found a thoughtful citizen had donated to The Great Pile of Junk I still haven’t managed to work myself up to hauling to the rubbish tip. We are now better off by one broken clothes dryer and an office chair that doesn’t go up or down.
I don’t want this to become a regular event, so I
hid moved the pile back into the garden, trimmed the hedge, and generally tidied the area up a bit.
The garden seems to have done reasonably well while we were off contributing to climate change. Actually, rather too well.
The vegetable beds have gone feral and there are courgettes in there big enough to club trespassers with, not to mention pumpkins the size of small boulders. The grass has become a hayfield and I can’t even get down to the bottom of the garden as the path is overgrown again. It seems Disgruntled had similar problems this year, so I’m not alone.
The cherry tree isn’t looking so happy though. If you look very carefully you can see where two large branches fell on the roof of our ancient not-a-toilet to get some attention.
Now I’ve got to figure out how to cut those logs without them falling on top of me. Then I’ll need to drag them to some point where they won’t rot and I won’t fall over them every couple of days.
Well, at least I’ll have some firewood. And I won’t be bored.
I should have been at the garden today. The beds need weeding again, and I’ve not had a chance to unleash the newly sharpened scythe on the brambles (although a trial swing in the veggie beds went through several varieties of weed and the side of a compost bin), the seedings are finally growing to a point they can be planted out and there are more steps to be dug than I want to think about, and I’m sitting in here with the rain beating on the skylight behind me like a British boarding house on a bank holiday weekend.
Usually the spring rain falls so hard the runoff on the roof pours so fast it misses the guttering altogether and pours straight on the garden below, then clears up by the time you’ve finished your bike ride*. This weekend we’ve had constant rain: heavy, light, and by way of variation this afternoon, angled. There’s no point going to the garden in this weather as the shed leaks and the clay soil will glue to the spade leaving it useful only as a club to beat the weeds with. I know I keep going on about this, but I really need some reliable, comfortable shelter in the garden. I’m working on that, admittedly painfully slowly, but hopefully I’ll soon have some progress soon.
I’ve spent most of the day helping Eldest Son with a history of Hamburg, and sketching woodwork projects. I’ve discovered that dovetails are part of the test in a few weeks and my final project in 2015, so I really need to get some practice, which means ordering some wood at work, which means working out what I need.
I’ve also been wondering -in that melancholy way you do when the rain is hitting the window- about what to write about next: I can’t go cycling or gardening and a sane person can only take so much information about woodwork. I’ve lived here and this way so long I don’t really know what is interesting to someone looking in through these web pages.
Please give suggestions below. Or expect more entries about the weather.
*Usually about five minutes before you get back…
…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.
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?
The sun is shining, the rain has stopped, the steep part of the garden is no longer a mudslide, and the seedlings are growing. In fact the only blot on the joyful horizon is that I’ve pulled my biceps on both arms. This is probably the result of suddenly going from a job sitting and typing to a job which involves lugging large amounts of timber about the place. I’m now written off sick for three weeks while they sort themselves out again. My elbows have been mummified in pressure bandages and I’m taking some pretty hardcore anti-inflammatory drugs. I’m now banned from the garden except for light stuff like seed trays and painting. Doing things like unloading trailers full of roofing tiles and building materials is out of the question.