A new year?

Right before Christmas, we received a letter from the Crown Estate, or at least their agents, giving notice of the end of our Farm Business Tenancy on the land - a notice to quit. Or not. There is a paragraph which says, it may be up for renegotiation (trans: a rent hike) - it isn't clear to us whether that paragraph is standard or bespoke - in other words, we don't know if they want us off, or just want to take more money off us.
We had a beautiful, quiet Christmas, with much joy and laughter, prayer and gratitude.
Yesterday, we took the dogs and walked up on the high downs, went to visit our rams, and generally wondered ...
We can't know anything more until the proposed meeting on 5th January.
Should we fight for it? We've had it nearly seven years. We have a year's notice. When we look at it, although once it held a lot of promise - I ran the box scheme from there for two years - it is now pretty unkempt and provides some sheep grazing, and a LOT of hay. The hard truth is, we haven't done what we intended to do with it.
A harder still truth is that we have knowingly or not, offended, upset, and generally peed off a lot of people in the last decade, living here or hereabouts.
The psycho nutcase who got Neil chucked out of his last farm job down in the village, and threatened to rip his head off if he showed it around the farm again (because I did not run Brownies the way his wife liked!) is only the part of it. We started life at the school, Neil was a governor. We left the school and homeschooled our children for six years. That went over not so well.
We started life in the village CofE church, again, Neil was a church warden. Then we realised things were wrong, moved churches, found God, and received the greatest gift of all. It did not come with local approval.
The people over the road don't like us. Because our cockerel crows.
The family Neil used to work for who, when he was friends with the psycho nutcase, he was hoodwinked (by the p-n) into leaving without notice - they're not over fond of us.
The guy in the village who made an official complaint because I told his Brownie daughter to 'shut up' (in jest, we say 'shut up' all the time in our house! apparently, she had never, ever been told to 'shut up' in her entire life (which was actually self evident) and it destroyed her self esteem totally) whereas, I had no redress for the fact that she blasphemed almost continually, and I was pretty offended by that.

Is this really the place for us to try (yet again) to launch a community project?! Is this not maybe time to move on?

I have just begun with my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design - and as part of the process, the Learning Pathway, I am going to have to figure out where I am going. Where we are going. Are we staying here? Or moving onto new horizons? What do you reckon?

For those who are standing in the shadows with me.

So this is how it goes.
You have a vision. A very real commission in this life.
And you try a little. Just a very little. To make it happen.
Then the problem is, all the people you know don't GET your vision, and in fact, they think other things matter a lot more. You begin to feel you're worth nothing. Because you don't tick their boxes. No well paying job. No this. No that.
So you wander away from the vision and you try to get a this or a that or two, and you get a job ...

... then the job makes you sick. And you are lame, and full of tears.

In the end, you remember. You had a vision.

Today, I am in a quiet, dark but peaceful place. Afraid, I will admit, hiding from the people who see only failure. Wanting so much to step out into the sunlight of my own success. Too scared to do that.

Just needing to take baby, baby steps towards doing just what I am meant to do. Needing to draw the map, sketch in the compass, and take a step or two down the first path. Again.

This place was a gift from God - how we came to be here not much short of a miracle - and now I need to seal the deal - I need to turn it into the precious teaching learning living breathing fabulous resource it can be.

Takes deep breath, makes vast mug of tea, and sets bread to rise. Here we go then.


I went out to the new job today, to get the hang of it - it's ok. It's a nice quiet little yard, straightforward work, nice horses.
I am really, truly fortunate. I'm not going to earn as much money ... but we're back to home made sourdough bread, with thick slices of home made garlic and herb raw goats cheese. And I got some knitting done!
And I'm looking forward to Christmas again.

God is good!

I have been quiet awhile, while struggling with the learning, qualifying, and beginning of a new job. I hated it with such a passion it made me ill. My head ached, my back hurt, I got rsi in one arm - this is what happens when you sit at a computer for four hours a day doing something you loathe.

On Tuesday, I decided to go and look in the feedstore for ads, and found someone advertising a job I'd applied for before, and not got - feeding, rugging, turning out and mucking out four or five horses five days a week. I gave her a ring and she's offered me the job - tomorrow I'm off to see her and on Monday, I'll start.

The relief is unbelievable. I gave up the hours on the phone immediately. What's better is that it allows me to take the goats back, which means Neil doesn't have to do them before an already too long working day. And I can do the sheep as well.

Never was a person so overjoyed to be stepping out into the heaving rain and cold. And then someone's facebook status this morning assured me there'd be snow by Saturday! Never mind! It could be worse. I could be back on the phones.

If winter comes

I was saddened beyond words to say goodbye to sara at farmama . It seems as if bloggers come and go in great waves of loveliness and intentionality, and in the end, lap onto the beach and are gone.
Sometimes, we are just not here because LIFE takes over.
Our world right now is totally different than anything we have ever done before, and I don't quite know how I got here.
Neil drives endless, sorry hours in a taxi. I sit at a desk and take phonecalls.
Outside, the garden fills with weeds, the goats amuse each other and love life but miss their human firends, the ponies stand hairily in the field - ridden at the weekend, but merely cared for in the short days of the week.
The children are at school - a sentence which still does not sit quite right with me - and hard, economic facts of life have at last invaded the idyll which was our God-given gift of a life.
Each day, I try to do one small thing - I even created a blog for it -but even if I get time for the small thing, I don't get time to blog it.
We dream that in the spring, we will try again.
I walk the dog for his diminishing minutes before the work day begins, and I believe that one day, I will be setting out in this rain dashed wind to work once again on the land, among the animals. Many is the morning, the tears dry on my face in the head wind on the way home.
Sometimes I see my playful goats, and their growing babies, but mainly, that is Neil's job, before the taxi shift. Rarely, I see the jacob sheep, and I dream of spinning and knitting their wool less now, as it becomes a distant hope. I can still throw corn to the bantams, and my big daft dog still sits at my feet.
If I feel like a fight, I can find carrots and kale to eat in the garden, and the garage is wealthy with potatoes, and onions and garlic.
On a good day, I believe spring will come.

A small thing every day

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Here is my new little corner of websville:

My Daily Half Hour of Change

and I'd love for lots of you to join in.

If you're taking tiny steps towards a new you, post a link to your latest mini achievment.


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Two weeks from the equinox, and walking the dog down leaf swept sombre lanes, I can barely stand as I turn the corner on the way home from the dairy. I love autumn. It has a therapeutic, healing quality, perhaps drawn from its sense of being the home straight – nature’s last burst of housework before a well earned rest – the washing and airing of summer worn hedgerows.
It seems though, that the world and his weatherman don’t acknowledge this preference. Wet weather is ‘bad’ and dry weather is ‘good’ – regardless of how much we need the rain. Winds and showers ‘clear up’ and ‘should be gone by’. It is expected that we should love summer.
What if we don’t love summer?
Oh, this is interesting too. It is expected, that we should want the same things. We all want a 52” plasma tv, apparently, and designer trainers, and rising house prices.
I don’t want any of those things. Hmmm. I don’t like TV much at all, and I dislike anything that sits as big as an extra person in a room and demands equal or greater attention. I don’t like trainers much and when I wear them, I am unbothered by their brand – except in that I would like them not to have caused suffering to anyone. I can’t afford to buy a house, and although I would like to be able to buy land and build a house, I would then not need it to go up – just stay up.
After the recent riots, it has been affirmed that the problem is, there is a sector of society which feels unable to obtain the same things as everyone else. Obviously, they want the same things, and they need to be helped to get them. They are frustrated by their inability to obtain all those things which we all, obviously want. Exactly the same.
Maybe that’s true. But what about those people who just don’t want the same things, yet are constantly judged, graded, remarked upon and generally patronised as if they do? What if the biggest frustration is not, not having Nike and positive equity, but not flipping well wanting either.
Instead of making it possible for us all to be more alike, maybe we should try harder to allow each other to be different.

How many return trips to the drawing board?

I spent spring and summer trying to make the box scheme happen.
To understand what that means, you have to understand that starting the box scheme, did not in the first place involve growing much veg. I entailed signing up members to the scheme, which we would supply this year mainly from a wholesaler, and as we gathered steam, it would be worth planting the crops to supply the scheme next year.
So when I could have been planting and tending, I was handing out leaflets and writing promotional material.
We have had not one single person even make a serious enquiry. Members? Zero.
I have organsed an Introduction to Permaculture in October, and as yet, we have no takers for that, either. And what's more, it may be just as well, as I haven't been keeping up the gardens, and the field's a blooming disaster area. The polytunnel is weed jungle. And what's more, dislike it as I may, it looks as if I may well have to go right back to the telephone sales work. In order to survive.
I do wonder, sometimes, how many trips back around the drawing board it is going to take to get it through my thick head...

Today, we spent too long with accounts and calculators and lists - and discovered that due to some changes coming up - we are going to be £450 a month worse off, until April when that will become £550 - or possibly more.
In our desire to make something big happen, we have forgotten the original game plan - which was self sufficiency first and foremost, and now, when we most need to be able to live on nothing and a bit, we can't, because we're just not set up as we know we could be.

Somehow, in a short space of time, we have to get as much of the garden and other land as we feasibly can, up and running to support us. We're going to have to abandon plans for green businesses and community supported agriculture - unless we move somewhere where people actually give a darn - and just get our heads down and survive.

We've had a great year for kids - 6 females and only 2 males, and they are all adorable - but it looks as if we will have to sell some mummy/baby combos, as that many goats - well, is just too many!

We are this close to losing everything. Which kind of focuses the mind. Most of the sheep will be sold next week. Which will buy us some time.

I wish I'd planted more onions *


*not bad for last words. I hope they're not. My last words I mean. At least, not this time.

A Sewing Kit


Latest Lidl purchase - a cracking sewing set for £6.99.

Now, if all those bobbins fit my sewing machine, that's a bargain.

If not, it's some pricey sewing thread and pins.

I'll let you know.

We're back

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from Guide camp, in which 10 girls aged 10 - 13 ran wild in the New Forest and did awesome things, made promises on zip wires and crate stacks, changed, grew and blossomed, were amazing and brilliant and also sometimes just a little bit cross making.
Without my awesome daughter Harrie, I couldn't have coped, she is my tower of strength, not to mention the best camp cook in the world.
Now a deep breath and a prayer that we can get the hay in during the next week, because we need the girls to do the job really, and the following week they are off on church camp.
Three goats have now kidded - four girls and one boy the tally so far - and so, so SO much still to do!
Then there is a brief last gasp of summer, our two favourite horse shows, and then it will be September, and H will take a breath and start her GCSE courses. How can that be my baby?
Boo was twelve on the last day of camp and got balloons delivered to her campsite, and came home to balloons and streamers and chocolate cake!After church today we went and bought her a new crash hat as her old one is a bit squashy, and she had lovely clothes from Granny via Fatface!
Tomorrow it's back to the real world!

Catch up with our antics

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on www.chestnutsfarm.com

We spent most of the day today at the Devizes Food Festival, and despite an early soaking had a good day, handing out information about our Permaculture project and Veg Box Scheme.

The girls got their photo taken for the local paper, and I had a chat with our local MP about sustainability and Transition Towns.

We're running an Introduction to Permaculture course in October, and all the goats are about to kid.

More in depth thoughts when I've recovered from today!

Back to the plough


Shortly after my last post, I gave up training for a job which could have earned us the extra money we so desperately needed. What, am I mad? Yes.Probably.

Four hours a day training meant I hadn't time to keep up the garden, milk the goats, take care of the house or support the children fully. That's reason number three. Neil wasn't at all convinced the whole scheme was a good idea, and wanted me to focus more on getting the family business up and running. Reason two.

Reason one? Praying about it all week, and feeling totally not led and totally in the dark - I was very concerned about the nature of the work. Working inbound calls on home shopping doesn't sound too bad at first - after all, they 're calling you, right? They want to make the purchase.

True. However, the target audience is neither the wealthiest nor yet the most savvy. And the compulsory pushing of extra items drives up the bill quite quickly. And then comes the killer - cut the payments, extend the term, and accept the high interest credit deal. As someone who has suffered, long and hard, and is still suffering, from falling into just such a trap - Oh boy, it didn't feel good. But we have bills to pay, right? And needs must ... I'm not going to finish that sentence, but you know how it ends.

On Thursday, I opened my Bible to the readings on my calendar. And there, in Isaiah 48 only on that day in big sparkly letters standing out from the rest of the page were the words:


If you're of the not christian persuasion, you may want to skip this bit, but fellow believers I'm sure you've had the days when a phrase or verse takes on that sparkly neon characterstic, and you sit down rather hard and think. OH.

Just in case I hadn't quite got it, the day's other Rev 18 did a quick rundown for me on the whole Babylon thing.


So. After some consultation, on Friday, I stopped. And forfeited a certain amount of money invested, and some time, and the chance of a bonus for completing the course, and a way to make money not from the farm.

Now I'm a bit cast down. After a day or two of euphoria, the reality set in - the only chance I've had in over a decade to add to the family budget, and I've just given up on it. It's the harsh part of living half the life - my children aren't homeschooled any more, and I can't use that as the reason for my being. I have to contribute. Somehow.

The impetus I'd felt to get the gardens under way, and get the grant applications in and the courses organised suddenly deserted me. I spent yesterday cleaning upstairs. When I was tied to a desk for four hours a day, the chance to get into the gardens and work was precious, and I was working on admin late into the night. Take away the restrictions, and suddenly I can't work.

Sometimes that's how it is. But this morning, reading Bethany Vaughan's great post about despair in the garden, I have pulled myself up again. I've been letting the weeds in- not just out there in the veg plot, but in here, around my heart. Rooting them out is hard, back breaking work, but the benefits are great.

The work will be therapeutic. In my heart, I know the real battle is to choose to be content. To look at all the incredible blessings we have, to go out among them, and to choose to accept and glory in them.

Just a now post

It's good to be eating from the garden again. Cooking dinner with freshly picked veg - and yes we did rear the pork as well! - is what it's about.
Just trying to keep going at the moment, having started training for at home call centre work, and finding myself short of hours in the day.
But here's the thing, I've been thinking - on my feet - always on my feet - about what to do about blogs, and I've come to a conclusion.
This blog has become depersonalised and less intense, because I'm trying to start a business, and I've tried to avoid writing stuf which will upset or offend anyone. Well, that doesn't work for me on my personal blog.
It has become less about my faith, my relationsipe with God, the raison d'etre behind our whole lifestyle, the core of what we are. Less about how I'm feeling how I'm doing, what's for supper, how'd I save some money, what's the latest in the sewing room, and shall I make more soap - and because of that, I've become less interested and engaged with the whole thing.


I have the farm blog www.chestnutsfarm.com which I am attempting to keep more updated. It really is a farm blog, it just deals with what's going on on the land, and the business side of things.
This blog is going back to being my personal journey - and if you are uncomfortable with that, I'm sorry, and I hope you'll stay, and bear with me, but if you really don't want to know, there is always the farm!

I realised I was avoiding saying things, because I have non christian readers, non English readers, politically different readers, readers even with different attitudes to food and farming - and then I realised I read their blogs, often - and I'm interested, and I love them dearly, and I gain from what I read, and I don't expect to agree with every last view or relate to every belief or idea.

And dull as it may have been, I want to go back to my everyday farming homestead blog, with the soap and the sewing, and the prayers and the principles. My family is battling at the moment, as I know many are - I want to share our journey and look into yours. If they're different, that's fine. Please stay, please bear with me!

I only ask that you are kind, not contentious, if some bits irk you, skip 'em. If it all irks you, I hope you'll check in with the farm blog.

Now, knowing me, I'll not say anything more for a month!

Stranger in a Strange Land

I haven't been here for so long, I wanted to stop by and say hello.

It's been a madly busy time for us, and it's not letting up.

Two weeks ago, my beloved little horse, Archie, died of acute colic. It was the most horrid thing, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to both my husband and my vet, who dealt with the very worst part, while I wept uncontrollably with my daughters.

Money is tight, and as of Tuesday, I am beginning training to work from home taking call centre calls. I am praying that by the time the training is finished, God will have clearly shown me there is another way for me to contribute to the family income. A massive upsurge in orders for veg boxes would be one favoured way.

We have bantam babies, and pregnant goats.

We had no rain for like, MONTHS. Last night we had a huge (OK, US friends, it was not huge by your standards) thunder storm, and we made up a little of the rain.

I want to change everything, and find that I can change little.

God is in charge, and He knows what's going on. Which is good, because I so don't.

Hey, how are you doing?

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I have been away awhile.

I needed to decide where I was going, and what was going to be my purpose, here.

Since I've been gone, the lovely Nathanael Rhody has been with us for two weeks, I have signed up for call centre work from home, I have restarted at the fabulous Country Markets (Pewsey, in case you're in the area!), I have started the relaunch of the box scheme.

My fabulous older daughter has completed the Baden Powell Award (the highest award for a Guide) and chosen her GCSEs (9, with a focus on going to Agricultural College, altough if she can set up her own yard without Uni, that is her first preference) and my fabulous younger daughter is practising for her Grade 2 piano and riding that little oik of a pony of hers.

Our lovely church has continued to nurture and support, and we have tried to find the time to be a bit more involved.

We have had no rain. That is something of a problem.

I am going to be concentrating on the farm website for a bit, but I want to keep hedgerows as my whimsical, friendly, livey dreamy place, and I will do some stuff just for this place.

How are you? Love to hear from you.
Last weekend, Boo got sick. She got very very sick indeed, and it turns out, though I didn't know this until Tuesday, that she had Norovirus. She is finally on the mend, but still a very fragile, unknown little girl, who can just do a little maths, or walk down to the barn with the dog, before needing to rest.
Our family has an unhappy history of post viral disasters, so this is one little girl who will not be rushing to get back to full performance. It will take as long as it takes.
It's been a time of concern for me, because having been away on the course, it was necessary for me to hit the gardens with a very big bat indeed when I got back, and I haven't been able to. Boo was more important.
I've done some seed sowing and a little planting out, but by and large, I've just worried about it. No one has yet set foot on the field garden, and I can see yet another delay in plan A taking place.
As well, our neighbour once again complained about the cockerel, and we had a woman from the council round for over an hour (this would be the council which can't afford to mend the roads or keep the libraries open) 'discussing' the issue. It seems if matey boy wants to lie in til 10 at the weekend, then that's his right and his privilege, and the bird's volume is the only deciding factor in whether he lives or dies. Sound monitoring equipment (think: roads, libraries) is to be fitted in his house to ascertain whether Professor Bhaer is too loud, or not.

It's been interesting though, because it's forced me to look life in the face, and tell myself the truth about the situation.
We are living through a depression, I do believe it will come to that, we haven't seen the half of it yet, and if peak oil and climate change pull together to fulfill as much of Revelation as they can, we will be mired so deep for so long - should the Lord tarry - that this little spot of bother will seem nothing.
I call myself a farmer out of sheer defiance. We rent land, we grow food, we feed ourselves and sell some surplus. I can call myself nothing or I can call myself a farmer. I choose farmer. At Ragmans, I told someone - you lost your job, and now you grow food for your family, run a community farm, and a transition group - hold your head up! You're not unemployed! You're a farmer. If you can't put it on your passport, at the very least, put it on your facebook profile!

Not long ago, I was married to a shepherd, but he lost his job in the vilest of circumstances, and now he drives a taxi. Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of work, and money to pay the rent.
Life is a struggle.. It is incumbent upon me to run our little farm, feed us all on very little, make do and mend, bring up two children, whose education through our own choice is not free, and keep a brave face on it.

The goats are hopefully all bred, albeit very late in the season, so we pray for a good crop of babies, and maybe one or two sales. There are one or two green things in the garden, and we have not run out of last year's canned things, yet. There is yet some pig and some hogget in the freezer. The winter has been so cold and dry, potatoes left in the ground by mistake and discovered now, are still edible! The mint will soon be up, and tea will be free!

Counting my blessings, one by one. And tonight, I made sourdough bread with spelt flour, and I realised I will never again make bread without having Ciara and Olivia with me in spirit! I undertake to teach people this summer, and to pass on the starter - it's a precious thing to do, and I can't recommend it well enough!

My lenten reading is Scott Savage's 'A Plain Life' - re-reading after a good five years - and memorising the beatitudes with him. My bedside reading is, for the umpteenth time, 'Miss Clare Remembers' - contentment is a boiled egg for breakfast, a good cardigan well pressed, the song of a robin, and the promise of another day.

What I learned at Ragmans - Part One

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The title has a ring of 'What I Did in My Summer Holidays' - one of those first day back at school essays which my mother swore were just a not very subtle way of checking out your family circumstances, and spying on your parents. My sister once spent an entire summer doing the most exciting, stimulating things she could think of with her youngest daughter, to give her some real fuel for the fire, and come open evening, opened her book to find she had written 'we went down the pub and I played on the swings'. You can lead a horse to water, and all that.

This was no holiday. What I learned on site was one thing, and what I have learned, having sat back and thought about it over not quite a week, is another.

Ragmans Lane Farm
is in Gloucestershire - I referred to it as the part of Gloucestershire that should be in Wales and nearly got shot for such a political statement - what I meant by 'should' was not in any sense meant to trigger a border conflict. I didn't mean politically. I meant logically - in other words, it's the far side of the Severn Estuary, where almost everything is Wales, but the Forest of Dean isn't. It's England. Which is OK. Breathe!

The Permaculture Design Certificate course I was attending was tutored by Patrick Whitefield with the assistance of Sarah Pugh. If you're asking, 'what is permaculture?' - well, that's a huge question, and you can find some answers here but the real answer is to go on an Introduction course, and find out for yourself, what permaculture is to you - because it's not a dogma. It's easy to condemn it out of hand as 'not for you' because it can appear to belong to a 'tribe' - a converstion I had with Ciara Cullen all too briefly as we were leaving Ragmans - but it doesn't. The more diverse the people who become engaged with permaculture, the more possible things become. If you think permaculture is not consistent with christianity, you and I will have to agree to differ. Unless perhaps by reading this you can see where I'm coming from?

So rather than the actual course material, I'm thinking about what I learned about myself, I suppose, and what I'm thinking now.

Firstly, living in community. This has been something of an obsession of mine since I spent the briefest time with Marthe Kiley Worthington probably 30 years ago on Mull. Although the experience of actually living in community at Ragmans was halved by the fact that in the end, Patrick asked me to take the caravan as extra accommodation for the first three weeks and my own for the last two, it was still a taste of what it is like to share all your meals, your bathroom, and all the living spaces.

I think, as I have said earlier, that the time has passed for me to do this - my community now, is my family, and living in it is at least as complex as an intentional community. I thought about how, when we are sharing our space with non-family, we consider at great length how we will get along together, how we will make decisions, how we will respect each other's differences, how we will capture a vision, come to concensus, solve disagreements, put plans into action (framework shamelessly nicked from the above-mentioned Sarah Pugh's communications session. Thanks, Sarah!) and yet, in our family home, we fail dismally to think these things through. We simply expect that because we are tied by blood, all will be well. Big food for thought.

I also learned, finally, how to make sourdough bread by the really wet method, with a long lived starter shared by Ciara and skills shared by the lovely Olivia Heal - which in turn I shared with my daughters, of an evening, upon my return. Again, we share skills consciously, and with care, among strangers, but as our children grow older, if we are not careful, we just expect them to absorb what we do, and we lose the pleasure of sharing, as much as they lose the joy of learning, traditionally, from mothers and fathers, the sustaining skills we value so highly.

We visited Royate Hill Community Orchard as well as St Werberghs, Eastside Roots and Easton Community Allotment on a day field trip to Bristol, and it got me to thinking - the city can be a vibrant and wonderful place. Towns can be good. We still live quite an isolated life, in the countryside, which, on balance we prefer. We have considered of late, moving into the small market town where we go to church - because of the ages of the chidlren, and because, you know, sometimes, a change is a challenge, and a challenge wakes you up and gets you going all over again. We've thought about it all quite long and hard, and it seems maybe we won't do that (always worry when I commit such things to black and white ...) but the experience of the hidden green spaces and brilliant community feel of Bristol, made me view the idea quite positively, rather than with fear and dread, as previously.

Well, this has lumbered on long enough, and has earned the extension 'Part One' to its title. I hope there will be a part two - I certainly feel like I learned a lot!


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first week nearly over, and tomorrow, I get to go home for a couple of days.

I'm now concentrating on taking so much in, I find everything else is on auto!

The course appears laid back, seems low key, feels comfortable, and then you look back and you have vertigo, realising how much you have learned, and how much you are changing your view point. I keep sending Neil texts like 'stop, don't dig that ditch, we need a pond'

We've been surveying a site on a sloping, undulating field. It's deceptive, you stand at one point and decide you're looking at a level piece of land, and then you walk to the top, turn round and feel like you 've walked a long way uphill. Looking up, the incline looks gentle, looking back down, it looks intense. It's a perfect allegory for learning about permaculture - the process is gentle, but the view from the top is awesome.

Ciara Cullen who is on the course with us, gave a yoga session this evening, which I found fascinating - and also extremely good for my back! We've also been looking into the ethics, sustainability and practice of using horses on the land, as well as covering energy in building, water on farm and domestic scale, and of course the continuation of the site survey.

I'm still not getting pictures transferred, in fact, I'm not remembering to take any, unless I am in the same group as Camilla, who's from Norway, and remembers to photograph everything!

The experience, on a trial level at least, of living in community continues to be challenging. I think for me, now, the time has gone for total community living, as my family is really the unit I'm happy with, but some kind of opening up during WWOOFing season might be something we would like to do. Of course, it depends on everyone in the family.

For once this update has been typed in relative peace in the bunkhouse, with current wireless connection, so I can click send, and it will be with you. Good night.


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So much to take in, and so little time to document it!

I did take photos today, but am as yet unable to upload them – will give that a go later.

Yesterday and this morning we covered Permaculture principles, and this afternoon, go onto the practicalities of surveying the land – finding contours with a bunyip, and an A frame.

The range of people here is quite surprising – you expect to find a pretty homogenous group, and I certainly expected to be the outsider, which I am to some extent, but nowhere near so ‘far out’ as I thought I would be.

It’s interesting to work through material which you may have read, and thought you had learned, but actually, when you come to discuss it and do it in a hands on sense, in a group, you find you didn’t actually learn quite what you were supposed to.



So here I sit, in a caravan, in the Forest of Dean.

It was dark and it was still, I was cold and I was knicky knacky noo. Sorry, that part was just for Jo.

I don’t have wireless connection in the caravan, only in the bunkhouse, so I am writing this in Word and hope to post it sometime tomorrow.

The Permaculture Design Course here at Ragmans, has been a goal of ours/mine for years. One way and another, we’ve never been able to do it, but this year, the doors opened, and I find myself about to embark on a pretty intense learning experience, all the while fretting for my little family – when I booked this there was some confusion, and I had no idea the first week would be the girls’ half term holiday. So they’re at home, holding the fort, tending the polytunnel, and even cooking Neil’s birthday cake for tomorrow (yup! Another oversight!) and generally being heroic. We texted and gmailed this evening. They are so fabulous. So capable. I’m really pretty proud of them.

The first part of the Sustainable Land Use course ran for three weeks previous to the half term break here in Gloucestershire (which was last week) so some of the students know each other well already. There are about four or five of us joining just for the Permaculture module.

We all sat around a huge table, and ate Cari’s excellent vegetable and lentil stew, piles of roast root veg and peppers and cous cous (the course is catered vegetarian for simplicity’s sake) which was extremely filling, and drank Ragmans Lane’s famous apple juice.

There are students here from Poland, Italy, Belgium, Norway and Ireland – as well as from all over the UK. They all seem so lovely – they are all people who want to make changes for the better. It was interesting to see that as a group, although they are not by any means all christian, if any of them is, they ‘say grace’ before their meal –simply giving thanks for the food. Of course, we always give thanks before food at home, but I love that this practice pops up in such a situation – it shows there really is something of God in everyman.

Well, although it is night time as I finish this, it will probably be morning before it makes it onto the blog, unless the wireless network has a sudden moment! But I’ll say goodnight, and crawl into my sleeping bag, in the back of the caravan, and pray that I sleep!


It's raining. That's a classically minimalist statement. True, but far from telling the whole story.

I actually don't mind rain - I suppose I grew up with it! - but when you farm, garden, grow, or graze it seems to be permanently an issue. Either you're praying for it, or wishing it would stop before everything goes very very pear shaped.

Of course, we need rain. Nothing grows without rain. At the end of a long summer, the dusty, brown verges and world weary hedgerows almost cry out for rain. We've had a dryish winter, too - well until all that snow melted and slithered down the glorious Downs and into our field.

At home, the garden benefits from good drainage, the soil, green sand tends to dry out a little quickly, but is otherwise beautiful, and the only places which are really awash are the paths, where our feet and the wheelbarrow have compacted tracks.

I'm thankful for the polytunnel to work in when it really is heaving down - today I finished constructing beds, put up a second 'mini greenhouse' to shelter tender seeds, and loaded up the half a ton of part dried couch grass roots I dug up yesterday.

Then I came in and made bread - piles of rolls for lunches, a loaf for toast, and a huge round cob of onion bread with cheese on top for just generally making everyone feel better.

There are some things you must do when it rains. Baking bread is one of them.

The goats all stay indoors when it rains - they have access to the out of doors, but hate being wet, and crowd together indoors like a bunch of bearded matrons at a quilting bee. The sheep get under the hedge, but run to meet me when I open the gate, carrying their bucket of food.

The chickens cause trouble in the barn. The bantams drip like the wrong choice of hat.

It's still raining. I am aiming for a curl up in front of the woodburner late in the evening, even if it has to be with forms to fill in and bills to pay.

Farm in the rain. Dripping barn roofs, muddy wellingtons, steaming jackets by the Rayburn. What strange little details make up a life.

Herb Garden 101

OK, so I've been asked if maybe I'd like to put up some posts about herb gardening.

I will start by saying, I have no qualifications, and there is no reason at all why I should be telling you about growing herbs. Other than that I've grown a few.

I thought I'd go at it one topic at a time, and see how far we get.

So I'm going to make a start with what kind of herb garden do you want?

There are probably a million computations, but I reckon there are four basic reasons for having a herb garden, and four types of herb garden, and then you can combine bits to get where you want to be.

The types I'm going with are
  • Culinary
  • Medicinal
  • Natural Dyes
  • Contemplative

Assuming you have a fairly adaptable site - you start from here. In fairness, I've got to say that culinary herbs, or at least some of them, tend to be mediterranean, and therefore need some sun and some good drainage, so if you're in deep shade and there's nothing you can do about that, you may need to think round your situation.

Culinary Herb Garden

Well, here's the simplest one.

Culinary herbs are, as I say, more often from the Mediterranean, and want some sun, and richer soil than most herbs. So a line of pots on your window sill is not as daft as it might seem.

Do you cook, and if so, do you want to use fresh cut herbs from your garden? Will you make herb vinegars, or oils? Which herbs do you like? That might seem a dim question but honestly, some of them are pretty strong flavoured, and people either love them or loathe them. Dill, or fennel, for example.

Some culinary herbs: Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, obviously. Basil, oregano, marjoram, dill, fennel, coriander (called cilantro when it's leaves) bay leaves, chives, and garlic chives ... it goes on and on. There are a lot of culinary herbs.

Medicinal Herbs

Now, the first thing about medicinal herbs is all the warning stuff. You're not supposed to use this stuff if you're sick. You're supposed to consult your GP. I very often go with the herbs, but then, that's me.

So if you're wanting a medicinal herb garden, you are going to need to be careful about labelling, and make sure you learn as much as you can about every herb, and be sure you know you've got the right thing!

You also want to be growing them as naturally 'wild-like' as possible, and of course to be sure they're not getting polluted in any way.

Aloe Vera's a great medicinal herb to grow on your windowsill, but if you're looking to plant up a full on garden, you'll be thinking about: fever-few, chamomile, mint, comfrey, valerian, st john's wort, dandelion, garlic ... ooh, you could go wild out there!

Natural Dyes

I've grown some dye plants, but never enough, and it's something I really want to expand into. Dying wool, or other natural fibres, with your own plant material is fantastically absorbing (ha!) and although a lot of the plants tend to grow wild, they probably won't conveniently grow wild where and when you want them - so why not plant a dyers' garden?

You'll be looking at: Chamomile, coreopsis, weld, tansy, dyers' greenweed, madder, woad ... don't they all sound fantastically ancient? These are wild flowers, plants that grow largely on poor ground, so don't go beefing up your soil yet.


I'm counting in this one, all kinds of herb gardens for contemplation, meditation - all things metaphysical in fact -and leaving the interpretation up to you.
Scented herbs like lavender will probably feature, and you may choose other herbs that mean something to you.

Aloe, Coriander, Cumin, Mint, Garlic, Hyssop, Mustard, Rose, Rue, and Wormwood, for example, are all found in the Bible.

So that's a bit about choosing what kind of herb garden you want. You're probably going to want to mix it up a bit - but know what you want out of your herb garden before you even measure up.

If I can stick with it, we'll look at site, soil and planning sometime soon.

Where in this wide world ...


photo: DHB Photography

The pony known on here as Smartie - not his real name, due to his difficult past.

He changed her life. My confused complicated little girl, found her life because of him. He taught them both to ride, with his wicked sense of humour and his ancient wisdom.

He's been retired for just over a year, has COPD (kind of like asthma in horses) and is blind in one eye. Over the last few days, it has been becoming apparent that the sight is going in the other eye, and he is beginning to feel nervous about things - he's also bumping into his wall and his waterbucket - unless we can help him to adapt, it can't be long now.

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England's past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs, he our inheritance.
~Ronald Duncan, "The Horse," 1954

Made a Start

It's not February yet, but I've made a start on my attempt at uber frugality.

My bread usually comes up at 35p a loaf - or 25p if the flour's on special at Lidl - but it's white, remorselessly, tastily, but not very healthily white. Bread flour at Lidl was 60p - after a brief spell on special at 50p (during which we bought a lot!) to confuse us, it's just gone up to 69p. A 1.5kg bag makes 3 loaves.

Today I bought some wholemeal - I really think it might be worth reordering from Shipton Mill - at £1.59 and tonights loaves were a 50/50 mix. So I reckon they come out at 50p -55p each. Extravagance!

However, I did have a brain wave. I generally make three loaves at a time - a bit wasteful unless there's freezer space. The main waste however, comes when I have to slice the bread for daily sandwiches. I'm rubbish at slicing bread, and I waste too much, as well as making lumpy sandwiches.

So tonight, I've made two loaves, and 12 rolls, which is sufficient for three lunches (girls one each, Neil two) and there is no WAY one of my loaves, sliced in wobbly wedges, would have done three lots of lunches.

Simple, but I think it will make a real difference.

So, who's up for a challenge?

OK, I am way out of the loop, the last to know about anything.

Only just found the fabulous Shirley Goode via Frugal Queen's blog - and have already waded in to join the February challenge.

What a lot of good, solid information there is on there!

I'm back for another read to and to get some recipes tonight. It would be fun if lots of us were joining in.

Haven't done a MeMe for ages ...

1 comment
Taken from here

I Am
...........struggling - but prevailing.

I Want........a little house of my own.

I Should........go to bed earlier. Really.

I Wish..........that I could have had five more children. At least.

I Hate.........washing up. No, I do. Really.

I Fear.........God. That is only the beginning of wisdom.

I Hear.......the silence of late at night - husband out working.

I Search.......for all the answers.

I Wonder..........how to put it all right.

I Regret.........selling Dragon Cottage.

I Love...........my family, my dog, my goats ...

I Always.........believe the mail will bring good news.

I Usually.........find junk mail and bills!!!

I Am Not............a number. I am a free (wo)man.

I Dance.........like an elephant with gout.

I Sing............ but only at church.

I Never.......go in lifts.

I Rarely......have a plan.

I Cry.........when I remember Sam - our working sheepdog who died just over a year ago.

I Am Not Always.........entirely coherent.

I Lose........blooming everything.

I'm Confused........yes, that's true.

I Need........the outdoors.

I Have............the most beautiful daughters in the world.

One Good Idea.

If you're very, very short of money, and you have any garden available to you, which you can in any way utilise - give this a thought.

A packet of Suttons or T&M or similar seeds costs around about a couple of quid. There are some cracking varieties available, and some tempting descriptions to ponder, as well as beautiful pictures, a fabulous catalogue, and Alan Titchmarsh or his like (is there such a thing?) grinning at you from the depths.

This lot cost under ten pounds.

I bought Lidls seeds for my Dig For Victory garden last year and the yields were fine. Some of them were exceptional. Yes, I'd love to meander back through the hallowed halls of the Real Seed Company or even my old faithful, Edwin Tucker - but beggars, it seems to me, can't be choosers and we are in a corner here.

29p, one of those smaller packs at the front costs. If you grew a dozen of those lovely lettuces, or a pound of those tomatoes, you'd be quids in. No, it's not ground breaking horticulture. Yes, I'd love to stick to heritage varieties (the germination rate and yield of which have often been woeful, to be honest) but you know what, I can't afford to.

It's seeds week in Lidls. If you have a patch of bare earth, or a patch which could be bare earth, do yourself a favour and spend ... maybe even 87p:

to supply yourself with good, solid, staple food - vitamins, minerals and real flavour for a fraction of the cost in the shops. And it's going to go up more, believe me.

And yes there are one or two flowers in there - I treated myself. I do however eat sunflower seeds and calendula flowers!

Now, moving on, I have finally finished batch one of the marmalade, six pounds of pure tangy bittersweet joy.

And what's interesting is - either of those would qualify for a 'Choosing Contentment' slot - simple things that can fill your life with joy. Homemade marmalade - minimal cost, maximum flavour. Cheap seeds, that nevertheless hold God's promise, and really can feed a family. All that's required? Sun, rain, earth and hard work.

As the very wonderful Jonathan Brain would say (you'll have to shout to get the feel): WOW! HOW AMAZING IS THAT?
1 comment

The little things that we can choose to allow to make our lives special.

Freecycle {smile}

If you decide to join in, please post a comment and link back!

This Moment


A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

Joining in with Soulemama for the first time.

Into the teeth of the wind.

One of my aims for the year, is to use what I have. It's part frugality, and part shedding of un-needed stuff.
I've always wanted to grow herbs, and this is one of my big things this year, but I had an entire Ziploc bag full of seed packets - some of them a decade old! - and each year I've thought, they may be too old to germinate ... oh wait. They may not.

So today I sowed thirty herbs -each of them in a small square 7cm pot - thus chancing only a handful of compost, one small pot, and a few minutes of time for each herb. They will grow, or they won't. I've got 15 hardy perennials in a tray in the polytunnel, roughly speaking all these need some cold and will pop up when they're ready. I've also got 15 mainly annuals who might need a bit more warmth, and are probably really waiting for spring, on the kitchen window sill.

In the garden, despite a bitter cold wind, I decided to tackle the black plastic - roughly half of my open ground has had silage plastic over it this winter, and now needs to be open to the frost and the cold for a bit, before I want to use it. The other half has had plenty of frost and snow, and is growing a coat of weeds, so it needs the black plastic, to kill off the weeds and warm it up for planting.

A half hour onslaught on the woody nightshade, now dead and needing to be pulled up and burned before it starts up again, provided some healthy exercise and actually warmed me up a bit! Still a lot to do out there, and tomorrow which is usually one of my house and paperwork days, may have to turn into a work day.

This evening -marmalade preparation really had to begin! Got them juiced and the peel shredded ready to go tomorrow.

Tired but pleased at progress. Just now need to get this sorted so that I'm done before 10pm ! This is winter. I should be knitting by the fire by then!
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