500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Nature’s potting compost

February4

Often during the summer months, the old lady who lives opposite can be spotted in her garden frantically spearing the ground with a fork. Every time a new mole hill appears, she’s out trying to kill the creatures in her own vindictive whack-a-mole game. I’m not worried about them as I have a feeling that they hear her coming a mile off. As with the “weeds” which grow plentifully in our veggie beds, I decided to dig a bit deeper – Moles, friends of foe?
In nature, mole hills provide a rare opportunity for weeds to seed into fresh, loose soil. Without this opportunity, the ancestors of plants like carrots would have had no place to evolve. As well as creating these little hummocks, the moles dig around looking for worms, creating uneven surfaces – they’re the natural enemy of the perfect lawn.

Eggbox seedlings

Eggbox seedlings

When I mentioned seed trays in the kitchen the other day… of course I didn’t mean actual seed trays… the sort bought in garden centres… I meant egg boxes, old cat food cans and old tetra packs cut in half.  The egg boxes take the place of peat seed pots – as you can put a single seed into each pod, and after the last frost date, cut up the box and put these out to grow. The cardboard egg boxes will fall apart when transplanted into the garden. This means that you don’t disturb the roots of plants that don’t like to be transplanted.

Mini greenhouses for our seedlings - made with half a milk carton, a supermarket tomato tray and a bit of egg box.

One litre Tetra packs – the sort used for milk or juice make a nice, waterproof base for six pods from an egg box. Neatly, you can use the plastic containers which tomatoes are sold in as a lid to keep in heat and moisture – they are exactly the right size and even have ready made air holes. This is particularly useful to stop them drying out if you’re going to be away for a few days.

We’ve used the cat food cans to plant sets of onion type seeds – those that can be separated and planted out when spring arrives, as well as for cut herbs which we will keep in the kitchen for the time being – coriander, basil, cress, chives etc.

cat food tins with seedlings

Glad we saved all those old cans

It’s simple to make some cuts in the bottom of the container with a can opener so that they drain well. I’ll use them in the garden as well – I’ll remove the bottom of the can completely, but I hope that the metal tube will protect delicate seedlings from various predators such as our toilet trained cats, exuberant dog, worm seeking moles – and wasn’t there some rumour about slugs being deterred by copper because of an electrical reaction with slime?

Now – potting compost – given the womblesque nature of the operation – can you really see me popping out to buy bags of peat from a garden centre. Of course not. And – given that there is a foot of snow out in the garden – where can I find nice, loose, stone and root free soil? Maybe in convenient piles above the snow? Mainly consisting of worm-casts, nutritionally rich digested vegetation? My friends the moles set it all up for me.
So, make use of mole hills – nature’s potting compost.

egg box seed trays

Rubbish made useful

Looking forward to Spring

February3

It’s now early February & the end of winter is in sight. Evidenced by the sudden proliferation of seed trays in the kitchen. The sight from the window where I sit, however, does not evidence the same thing – drifting snowflakes float in an already primarily white scene. According to averages – we should see temperatures go above freezing point in just three weeks time – with the last frost date just before Easter (the last week of April). Now that we have the amazing luxury of a heating system keeping some rooms at a constantly warm temperature we can start the growing season earlier.
Our plan for 2011 is to be more self sufficient in terms of food. We can buy potatoes and wheat which are inexpensive and locally produced (if not organic), so we will concentrate on growing things that would normally be transported from further afield. We had little luck with tomatoes and aubergine/eggplants last year – our seedlings were destroyed when a roof fell on them, and those we replanted didn’t fruit in time – leaving us with a tray of green tomatoes and nothing else. We use onions and garlic on a daily basis. Other staples include herbs & peppers. We also use a lot of lemons – but are clearly outside the zone for these – I wonder what the most pragmatic solution is for lemons in cold climates. How does the energy calculation stack up with heating versus food miles?
Experiments with drying seeds from tasty tomatoes mean that I have rather a lot of tomato seedlings at the moment – but a glut of tomatoes would mean that I could bottle a tomato vegetable sauce to use with home-made pasta and pizza when they are out of season. We do use rather a lot of tomato paste & cans of chopped tomatoes after all.
I now have 35 varieties of seeds to plant – and a plan to convert the area in front of the house into a spiral bed. The idea is that we will keep a grass path, the width of the lawn mower, in a spiral surrounded by beds for growing herbs and vegetables. This will cut down on the amount of grass which needs cutting, but keep it tidy at the same time. From last year we learned that interesting, angular beds are a pain to mow around, so a single row circling round will be better (with a mobius join perhaps). We can use the back field for football.
We’ve also placed an order for Walnut and Hazelnut saplings for the spring, and will, of course, replant the strip of Willow – which didn’t take when planted in the autumn of 2009. We couldn’t tell till it was too late to replant in 2010. The willow is for coppicing for fuel. Some of the hazel will be for coppice, but the rest, along with the walnut, will be to fuel us humans, eventually.

snow scene of Novy Mlyn

Imagination needed to view the garden

What will we be?

February11

Our experience of living at Nový Mlýn so far has made us realise that it is essential for the house to have visitors. It’s way to big for two people, and we are happy to share our good fortune. We are only going to be able to invite multiple volunteer visitors if we can find a way of covering costs, and we need to begin to think about how the house can be income generating in the future. Initially we thought that we would eventually have some kind of hotel or guest house. When I think of a hotel – I think of strangers visiting and not interacting with the house or the community, and who really feels ‘at home’ in a hotel?

When we have volunteer visitors, Nový Mlýn feels very much like a fairly tightly organised house-share. Everyone contributes to the running of the household in terms of cooking meals & clearing away afterwards , as well as other household chores (we have discovered that this works best with a timetable).  One great thing about the workaway visitors is that they make themselves at home… anyone can have a look in the fridge for something interesting, bake a cake or make a round of tea –  when we have paying visitors, I don’t want to lose this feeling of house-share rather than service, though how to make it work?

Well, how about it being available as a short term house-share for long term travellers?  People can rent a bed for a night (including simple breakfast), with full board available for a slightly higher fee. We can build up to the vision of a sustainable country house hoštel in time, now that we’ve realised that we’d probably never want to run Nový Mlýn as a hotel.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.

February8

At it’s deepest, the winter has given us the experience of twenty five degrees below zero.   I have fond memories of the days when I thought ten degrees c was cold… I noticed myself thinking when I saw this temperature on the thermometer on my bedroom wall –  “oh good, it’s not too cold then.”  Luckily, manual labour is very warming.

The week in which we experienced minus twenty five was rather catastrophic. Over the weekend we lost drainage, and then a chimney fire on Monday night meant that we had no heating at the house until we had a certificate to say that the chimneys had been swept.  A couple of weeks before the chimney fire we had texted a chimney sweep, but had not chased it up when there was no immediate reply. Next time we will know that when the fires start to burn less strongly, it’s time to get the sweep to visit.  I’d thought it was just because of damp wood. Anyway, the net result is that the core temperature of the house has fallen dramatically. We are down to zero. Read the rest of this entry »

Chamomile Tea

February9

Home grown Chamomile tea with local honey… what a lovely reminder of the summer during the long, dark months. I’m enjoying the cold, sharp days… the snow is beautiful and the ice & snow great fun for skating and sliding, but Chamomile tastes of summer.

Chamomile grows like a weed in the fields and on the roadsides during the summer. The flowers are like large daises but with feathery leaves (which look rather like dill). You need to be careful not to pick May Weed by mistake – which has very similar flowers but very different leaves.  The Chamomile flowers are ready to pick when the flowers turn ‘bug-eyed’ – with the petals turned downwards and the yellow centre rounded.

Once gathered it needs to go somewhere in the sun – for example sprinkled on paper and covered with muslin. When it’s completely dried out it will be crumbly and can be kept in an airtight jar.

Chamomile flowers at the same time as the cornflowers and poppies. This year I will also gather poppy seeds so that we can have wild poppies on the roadside by the house.  I didn’t gather any seed heads last year because of a reluctance to pick from the wild… however the roadside mowers taught me that it’s fair to take seeds from the wild a metre from the road. I guess it’s more important to have safe roads than beautiful verges…

A new roof for Nový Mlýn

February8

We had visitors at Nový Mlýn yesterday, a family firm of wooden roofers. I’m made up. They’re friendly, and professional and have provided a value for money quote. This is a complete contrast to last week: an installer arrived, swore in Czech when he came into the house (thinking I didn’t understand), assumed he didn’t understand what I said, grumpily shook hands with me while staring in a different direction and gave us a quote for a simple one week job which would cost me 4 months of my teacher salary.  Read the rest of this entry »