A quiet week before solstice.  Gales have dropped. Mizzle is the main weather pattern.

Pantry is full up.

Hedgelaying continues:

Good article on the economy of energy (but crap on poliitics)

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-12-11/brexit-stage-one-in-europes-slow-burn-energy-collapse/

'Gilet jaune' protests in France.  Thereasa May facing 'no confidence' vote in UK.

The Month of Apples is upon us.  Some early varieties (Beauty of Bath, Exeter Cross ...) have been and gone but the cider apples and most of the cookers and eaters are just beginning to ripen here.  One variety that I've never known to fail is the cooker Bramley's Seedling. It seems that the 180 year old original tree is still surviving

Its genetic makeup seems to make it particularly vigourous and productive.  Bramley has a triploid chromosome structure. This means that it requires at least 2 other pollinators in order to be fertile. The fruits are usually very large compared to the standard dessert apple.  Bramley cooks to a fluffy texture that works well in many dishes. In a way it's a shame that other variety of cookers are not better known as they surely have their own quailities, particularly those that have a 'waxiness' that keep them more solid when cooked. 

My favourite recipe is the upside down French Apple Tart (Tarte Tatin). Always a bit tricky and certainly a recipe that benefits from a more waxy apple than a Bramley.   One recent arrival at home is the apple cake shown below, coming from my neighbours 2 doors down.  This is the result of a bit of barter - I think I gave them some potatoes when they had somehow run out.  I generally approve of barter.  It's particularly good when you give away something that you have in surplus or glut (and is therefore effectively worthless) and receive in return something that you don't have at all.

There are other fruits on the trees - acorns and cobnuts being reasonable plentiful this year locally.

I like to grow a few of these each year - for planting out in hedges locally or where I am working. Acorns do not ned any stratification or other special treatment to get them to germinate.  I think they send down a tap root as soon as they can.  I plant acorns and cobs in 3 inch deep seed trays.

It's essential to protect against mice because these trays are just going to sit in the polytunnel and their contents would be a welcome feast for winter rodents.  Mice not only eat acorns and nuts they create potential new woodlands by making stashes of nuts to store. In spring there should be a tray full oif seedlings which can be planted into a nursery bed next autuimn.

I was recently amusing myself chopping up some lovely wood by seeing how little force was needed.  If you get the axe right on the pith or some other weak point the wood seems to fly apart.  It almost seems sometimes that with some sort of mental preparation you can command the wood to split - a strange feeling about what appears to be a very physical task.  So I wondered whether there was any link between meditation and woodchopping.  A quick question to Mr Google produced this result.  The author writes : "The axe must be balanced carefully in the hands, the feel of the wooden handle transmitting itself to the woodchopper’s mind, as the sight of the chosen piece of wood transmits itself to his brain. He must see every line of grain in the wood, try and separate them with his mind, before entering them with the axe. As the axe is lifted over the shoulder, ready to swing, the woodchopper, the axe, the wood, must all come together as one. As the axe swings through the air, the woodchopper must drive all thoughts from his mind, save the one thought of splitting the wood. He must see the axe passing right through the wood, he must feel it as the axe head feels it, slicing hard through the splitting wood, he must feel it as the wood feels it, split asunder by the cold hard metal of the axe, split and free with three as one – man, axe and wood. The woodchopper frees his mind of frustration, removes all obstacles to clear thought and action with this meditation."   The phrase about separating the wood in your mind, before using the axe, puts my feelings perfectly.  Maybe there is something to this meditation malarkey.

 

September is here.  Autumn is the new season and brings its own sights and sounds.  I always find September sad because summer has gone but in January I will look back on September with envy for the length of its days and its warmth.

Ripening is happening everywhere.

The red berries of Hawthorn (May - Crataegus monogyna) in the hedge are striking.  It occurs to me that the hawthorn shrub doesdn't mean much to townies.  In the countryside, though, hawthorn as a major component of stockproof hedges has had enormous importance.  No other tree or shrub has the same characteristics that allow it to be 'laid' as a thorny hedge.  It also very easy to establish a hawthorn hedge from small plants ('quicks').  The striking berries in autumn follow the strking flowers in spring, in May, a month or so after the flowering of the other thorn - blackthorn.  Hawthorn is said to be a good medicine for heart problems. In harsh winter weather the berries will be quickly stripped from the bushes by birds such as redwings, starlings and fieldfares.

Another berry in the hedge is that of the Spindle (Euonymous europaea).  Spindle is a very inconspicuous shrub in a summer hedge but its berries are very obvious and, unlike hawthorn berries they are toxic.

Spindle gets its name because its uniformly round cross-section twigs were used as spindles.  Spindle is supposed to favour chalky soils but seems surprisingly common on the slightly acid soils of central Devon.

The ripening fruit that everybody knows is the blackberry, which sems to be very productive this year.

This is perhaps the most commonly foraged wild food in the country.  There are various legends stressing the importance of picking blackberries early (before various dates in September and October) because the 'devil' spits (or worse) on them.  This seems to recognise the fact that flies get at the berries and make them disgusting to eat.

 That most important of trees - the oak - is also fruiting and it looks like a reasonable year for acorns hereabouts.

 Probably not many people know that England has 2 native species of oak, the English Oak (Q. robur) and the Sessile Oak (Q petraea) that are difficult to tell apart.  The English Oak bears its acorns on stalks whereas the Sessile Oak does not.   Sessile Oak prefers hilly country whereas the English Oak favours the southeast.,  The 2 species also hybridise.

It's a relatively quiet time of year for our native birds.  The young have fledged, adult birds take the opportunity to moult and the territorial songs of spring and summer gives way to a very watery, thin chirping that lasts till about February.   An ever-present in my garden is the Robin.

 Like many other birds, Robins are less conspicuous during the mouilt but they still keep up their habit of always being around when there might be some chicken feed or worms available.  They seem to have a special relationship to human beings and will often come into my kitchen and eat from the dog bowl.  They are supposed to be aggressively territiorial but my garden seems to support an awful lot of them.

Autumn is a time of decay as well as of fruting and fungi are becoming more obvious in the woods.

 

Many weird and wonderful fruting bodies appear and disappear overnight.  Fungi have the obvious role of helping to decompose dead material and release nutrients for more life but they have a less understood role in supporting the life processes of plant life on which we all depend by their actions in and around plant roots.  It seems that their medicinal potential is hardly understood at all.

Meanwhile for farmers the weather recently has been very frustrating.  The main cereal harvest is being brought in by fits and starts as days of torrential rain alternate with blazing sunshine.   Thoughts of a late hay crop have passed with haylage or silage being made instead. 

Middle of September.  Summer seems a long time away.  Weather over the past 2 weeks has been tediously wet and windy.  Now it's clear but chilly at night.

In the garden...

Ripening fruits continue to be interesting.  This is a crab apple - John Downie.  Very pretty this time of year.  It's also pretty - briefly - at blossom time.  Blossom time is important because it provides food for insects but also because it allows cross pollination of apple trees. The apple flowering season is weeks long and different varieties flower at different times.  Some varieties might require cross-pollination so it's a good idea to have a few varieties in the localiity.  (I'm sure there's some sort of permaculture principle involved here - of having 3 reasons to do something).

Also doing well in the garden are peas...

Peas are a cold weather crop.  They are one of the first things I sow in spring - in the polytunnel first of all.  (Make sure you keep the mice off them). Sowings continue through spring.  I sow again in late July and August and I'm harvesting that crop now.  They are eaten 'mange-tout' style, giving a tasty, crunchy edge to stir-fries.  They fix nitrogen in the soil too.

I'm building up beds of parsley too. Generally I plant flat-leave French or Italian parsley.  I eat loads of it and like to have lots of plants.  Need some in the polytunnel too for all-winter picking.  These summer sown plants will last till spring, when they will grow coarse and flower.

Runner beans are doing well... as are leeks, a very useful crop since they last throughout the winter and are always there to be made into a leek and potato soup (with plenty of parsley).

I'm about 15 miles from the nearest supermarket so a source of fresh food just outside the back door is important.

In the polytunnel there is a glut of tomatoes.  I've been unambitious this year and grown Gardeners' Delight and Alicante.  They are beginning to get a bit blighty now but meanwhile I'm enjoying walking into the polytunnel and eating sweet tomatoes like grapes.   It'll all be over in a couple of weeks time but the process will start again at the end of next February when the first tomato seeds are sown again.  Maybe some heritage varieties this time?

 At work I've been processing some more firewood - some beech and oak that a contractoir left last year in large lumps.

I made certain the chainsaw was sharp - oak heartwood gets like stone.  Fortunately it's very straight-grained and it's turning into the best firewood I've ever seen.

This is so lovely.  It's a joy to work with and will keep someone very warm in a year or two's time.

Local wildlife is reacting to the changing season.  House Martens are still around, but in smaller numbers.  Bats are flying at dusk, but maybe I notice them because dusk is earlier.  Owls hooting across the valley.  There is a very noticeable late brood of Red Admirals.  They are big and perfect and dry themselves on sunny walls.

 They love feeding on ripe fruit and there's plenty of that about.

It's the autumn equinox this week and light and landscape are changing.  Nothing ever stays quite the same.  Always something of interest. 

Here sunset creates the impression of fire in the pine woods.  So this weekend I managed a rather delayed seasonal job.  I cleaned the main flues in the hoiuse.  I was really pleased because they turned out very clean, with just a little soot and some inert clinker.  That's a  lot better than the oily deposits of some chimneys.  Having a good flue lining is really important here.  I lit the Rayburn and it roared nicely.   It's such a  beautiful feeling to have that little patch of warmth resisting the gentle chill of autumn.  Perfect.

It's also good to know that if the electricity goes down I've still got a source of warmth, cooking and hot water and no gas cylinders or oil tank in the front yard.  I immediately put some herbs to dry in the cool oven and got some clothes off the line and on to the drier above the stove.

And so we have the autumn kitchen.  It's a place that is never tidy - because there is always something going on and that's how I think it should be.

Just now I'm listening to...

Jiggy - Silent Place

Shush - Jim is snoozing...  don't wake him.

 

 

 

 

Instead of 'Keep Calm and Carry On' my T-shirt reads 'Chop Wood and Carry Water'.

 

Apparently it's a Zen Buddhist saying. The interpretation varies but in my mind I know that, whatever else I do, if I don't chop wood then I'm going to be cold this winter.   My central heating runs from a wood-stove.  This means that the details of growing, harvesting and processing fire wood are crucial details of my life and very much follow an annual cycle.  I need to burn wood at about 12-15% moisture content and I need about 3 tons a year, I think.  I'm conscious of being at the mercy of the natural environment and I'm also conscious that not many other folk have this consciousness!  The other factor that is very clear is that harvesting and processing fire wood is very physical.  Someone once remarked that using firewood 'keeps you warm at least twice' - work it out!   It also means that I find it hard to take seriously any politician or punter who has a view to the future but doesn't understand the overriding importance of energy.  Wisdom and enlightenment demands a knowledge and respect of our dependence on these natural resources, otherwise all is just empty pride. Naturally many of my close friends have read the book 'Norwegian Wood' and we compare notes on woodpiles.

This year, for one reason or another, I feel that I'm a month behind.  I like to shift, process and store last year's harvest of wood in July and not August.  This week I finally got things moving.  Generally I aim to season wood for two years.  I've finally got it together to fill the wood store outside my front door.

 This is mainly wood from my coppicing work with Sustainable Crediton - hazel, with some Ash, Cherry and Willow.

Also in my front yard is a pile of pine logs.

They arrived there shortly after I mentioned to a neighbour that I was short of kindling wood.  It's always good to have the right stuff to get the fire going.  As it happens I'd recently brewed 25 litres of Best Bitter, from the grain, for this neighbour and since he has an area of woodland and is clearing pine it seemed like good barter to offload some of his surplus.  Who needs bitcoin!?

I don't usually burn pine as it doesn't last long enough and I'm worried about it depositing resins in my stove flue, but some nice dry split pine kindling will be good.

I often get asked to clear fallen trees and this provides an assorted selection of woods for fuels.  These are being processed near my main wood store.

They are sawn and chopped and stacked of the ground on an old pallet, to be covered with wriggly tin to keep the rain off.

At one point the stack looked almost 'arty', with the different bark of cherry, ash, willow and so on...

 Another completely separate harvest is that wonderful product of the orchard... nothiing added, nothing taken away.  100% organic, low food-miles, probably bursting with anti-oxidants...

 

I have 3 batches of 2016 cider from the orchard where I work; one a fruity, tannic, full-bodied one, another is light and sharp and the third is limiited amount of single-variety Kingston Black. All are good, both draught and bottle-conditioned and I'm really enjoying them when I get back from working outdoors on hot days.

Meanwhile in the wider countryside some ripe wheat stands waiting for some dry weather and availabiliity of contractors...