Thursday

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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.

Tuesday

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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.

Sunday

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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!

Rain

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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

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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.

Contemplative




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 ...

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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

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