Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A walk in the Western Beacons

This Autumn has been the best I can remember. The combination of great weather, very little rain, no big frosts (yet), and no big storms (yet)...have all made the trees unusually bright, and allowed them to retain their leaves to give us an amazing show of Autumn colours.

The warm(ish) and clear weather also encouraged me to take a hike in the nearby Western Brecon Beacons. We can see Fan Brycheiniog (2633 feet - just over 800 m) from the orchard. So a short drive to Llanddeusant, then a 4 hour hike up and down this beautiful mountain was a must do.

This part of the Beacons is very quiet compared to the crowds at  Storey Arms/Pen y Fan, but just as spectacular...oh and you can see Mumbles head from the top !!

....our house is somewhere in the distance :)

Llys y Fan Fach lake

Monday, 17 October 2016

Inglenook room - ceiling solution

The ceilings at BCB have been a challenge for me.
In the (finished) attic room, I bisquit boarded, limed and lime-washed the angled roof. It was very hard work, frustrating (when the lime would fall off in swathes), but the finish was ok.
In our bedroom I limed between the joists, which was really hard work, and the finish was ok, not great.
On the main landing, and in the hallway, I completely limed the small areas (8'x8'), horrible job, and not really a great finish.
So when it comes to the remaining rooms (second attic room, second bedroom, Inglenook and library), I have been contemplating other options.
I have started work inthe second attic room and decided to board the roof with ply and 4" to cover the joins, and although still hard work, the finish is good.

So when it comes to the Inglenook (which is finished except fo the ceiling), I thought I would do the same. Except for 5" joints, to line up with the panelling on the wall.
The finish is good so far, when Jan has painted it (white). If it is still as good, I may consider this for the second bedroom above, which similary doesn't have exposed joists

That leaves the ceiling in the library. It has exposed joists, but I dont fancy limeing between. Boarding with ply will probably not give as good a finish as elsewhere as the gaps are variable and it will be tricky to get a good may have to think of another strategy...maybe just paint the exposed under floorboard boarding, and see how that looks.

I am at least making progress on ceilings at last

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The perfect Autumnal weekend for a family cider day

As we pass from one season into another, the transition can be dramatic, subtle or even imperceptible. Saying farewell to Summer, can seem hard, but not when Autumn delights surround you. A few weekends ago we picked plump blackberries and drooping elderberries, and made a few jars of unctuous jam. This year Summer seems to have drifted in to Autumn on a still warm evening. Late September and early October has been one of the best I can remember....that is apart from a few very windy days when we feared for our very full apple trees.

We have been planning a cider weekend for a while, but family commitments delayed the day until this last weekend (8th October)...we really should have harvested last weekend or even the weekend before. Thankfully the lovely warm and dry October days have really benefited the apples, but we watched the windy storm blow through from the East with trepidation.
We feared not...Saturday came with family descending to help along (cider making is labour intensive)

The workforce was divided into teams (mostly migrant and of course all on zero hours)
  • pickers&washers ...happy amongst the branches, laying out blankets, shaking trees, gathering windfall. First wash in dilute Milton, then rinse in fresh water
  • choppers....somehow all the women seemed to congregate to this chore, and spent most of the time chatting and laughing together (see pics below!!)
  • mincing and pressing...the chopped apples were pushed through a (cheap) garden shredder, into muslin bags, and into the press.
The first flow apple juice is a magical moment and it is traditional to share amongst the team....a very precious liquid, and ensures that no-one will every buy shop bought apple juice again .....DELICIOUS...doesn't do it justice
But.enough of wasting juice....start filling the buckets with juice for CIDER !!!!!

and so the production line sings along.....literally when the music starts..Otis Redding, Gladys Knight and the ......

Pick, barrow, wash , rinse, chop, pulp, press, store...over and over again

A moment to discuss year I mashed whole apples...the first tasting was distinctly almondy.....a little research alerted me to the content of apple pips.......Cyanide.
Probably not enough to poison you, but enough to taste the from now on we chop and de-pip.

Five hours work - 8 people on hand... and 60 litres of juice produced.

We have about 6 different apple varieties, which I know the names of none, but I know the taste , productivity and texture of all.
My favourite 3...on the left a big juicy and sweet apple...produces lots of juice
in the middle, the purple, crispy, dry apple, with the fur of wild yeast
On the right, my favourite, a wonderful russet with a crisp, juicy, slightly sweet taste

When we press, we mix all together, but this year I decided to experiment with using the purple apple and its wild yeast to make a single tree brew, without adding yeast, hoping that the wild yeast will do its job. It's a gamble.
Our son Thomas, is doing a degree in Bio-Chemistry, and is studying yeast DNA. According to Thom commercial/industrial yeasts are grown to produce one thing....alchohol, but wild yeasts may produce other CO2...oops !!!    we will see.....its an experiment.
5 litres of the single apple..55 litres of mixed apples with added , cider specific yeast.

This sounds like an industrial enterprise, but it is nothing of the sort....The cider is just the end product. This is primarily a family/friends/community event.
Acknowlegding and using the fruits of these wonderful trees.
Working and laughing together
Tasting the produce of your efforts
Storing.processing, brewing and storing the cider
And finally months and years to come enjoying thefruits of this labour, with friends family and neighbours.

Monday, 5 September 2016

How to cover up chimney smoke stains...

So we have been struggling to deal with old smoke stains in the inglenook (and in the bedroom above).
When you lime render/limewash in these areas where smoke has been getting into the walls for years, it just leaches through the lime and produces a brown stain. No matter how many layers to add, it always comes through. Advice online talks about covering the areas with cow dung first, then limeing....but we aren't up for that !!.
so we decided on the "hide it with another colour" approach. This may not be suitable for the bedroom above (still ruminating on that one), ,but we thought it could work well in the Inglenook.
We have always liked "burnt umbre/dark red" as a traditional cottage colour, so we tried the "strong Red" limewash from Ty-Mawr lime..
Looks pretty amazing...
This is it still wet, and where it has started drying, it seems to dry lighter(hopefuly not Pink!). Another couple of coats should deepen the coulour and soften the texture.

Hope you like it as much as we do :)

A wet weekend, and lack of materials, meant I couldnt carry on the work in the top room, and couldn't work in the orchard, so did a few small jobs in the workshop.

I have had Jan's fathers old ladder in the corner waiting to be repaired for ages (three broken steps and a broken leg). So took out the broken bits and replaced with pieces of old floorboard. Reduced the height a bit too, so that Jan can finish, and decide what to use it for.

I think a towel rail or a stand for blankets&throws....what do you think?

Recognise it Roy???

Sunday, 10 July 2016

an orchard transformed...and starting work in the last bedroom

Well we knew it would,  and the ride-on lawnmower has made a huge difference in the orchard.
It now takes half a day of easy driving, versus the previous whole weekend of pushing lawnmowers to try and keep it under control. The effect is lovely especially this time of year, when we cut the main paths (wider than before) and leave swathes of wild grass and flowers for the bees, and butterflies (and the damned horse flies!!) looks great.
It also helps keep the cleared brambles from re-establishing

Every year we try to take out a few dead (or un-productive) trees, so this year we've taken out 2 and planted gain of 4. We planted 2 flowering cherries (I was convinced I had ordered fruiting varieties). These are for our Daughter-in-law Jessica, and our Grand-daughter Evelyn. Elsewhere we have planted a Ginko Biloba, to replace one which has been struggling for a few years and finally gave up last winter. It is such a beautiful tree, and matches other "prehistoric" plants we have  (a Sequoia, a Monkey Puzzle, and a HUGE Gunnera). We also planted 3 Cob nut bushes, to balance the decorative versus, productive plantings.

The Ginko...
One of the Cherries
 The 3 Cob nut bushes

A view West from the orchard with the Western Brecon Beacons in the distance

oh...and yes I made that bench of two, the other is down by the Bonfire area
Both made for £100 :)

We have also been finishing off a few other jobs...
Finally replaced the crappy basement window.
I made a frame, fitted a double glazed unit. Installed a solar powered fan, which empties approx the contents of the basement every hour it operates, also has a built in battery which helps it keep going a little while after the light fades.....this all adds up to a DRY BASEMENT...which is frankly amazing
At least this time of year, but will help enormously during the winter too.
The Louvre's are aesthetic, but help keep the basement dark & cool...and Jan potted some Sempervivums, and a rescued Maidenhead Fern from the garden

Another job was to improve the area around the gate and steps to the workshop. This was originally grass, and because of back-and-forth, was getting very muddy (especially in Winter). There was also a step down from the parking decided to lay a herringbone brick path.
Painted the gate ...lovely job....might consider it elsewhere.

All of this fiddling around the edges is fine, but needed to get back to the bigger jobs, so this weekend, I started work in the final attic bedroom .
Cleared out debris, stored wood etc, and started framing in the sides. These will be boarded and lime rendered. The walls will be boarded with old backing-boards, i don't want tongue&groove...I just need to find somewhere to source them. The pine end wall needs a fair bit of repair work, and there are shallow shelf areas that will be capped with slate (when I can source some). There are two small holes(10inch x 4inch) either side of the chimney breast, which will need filling somehow...I am sure Jan will come up with a design.
White-washed and repaired it should look nice....lots to do !

So there may have been a gap in posts, but busy as usual, and gradual progress.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Spring in the orchard

After a few weeks away, and not much progress, spring has arrived and the annual war on brambles has begun !
I have opened up a new front in the top of the orchard, which has been allowed to get overgrown over the last few years, and almost completely covered in bramble bushes. With my trusty scythe (and a new Styria blade, shorter and better for thick brush), it has taken the last few weekends, but have finished clearing this Sunday. A big bonfire next weekend will tidy up the job.

Also this weekend we took delivery of our new toy..... at long last we have a ride-on mower. Bought second hand from JGW in Cross Hands. A wonderful company, so friendly and knowledgeable.

Jan had her first driving lesson, and was off and running....

A beautiful clear day, with snow on the western Beacons.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The latest project...a logstore !

Now that the Logburners are up and running, I thought it would be useful to have a logstore.

Unfortunately the prime location (just outside the back door) was occupied by a large pile of rock. The remnants of a half built extension on the back of the main house, that I took down a few years ago. The extension was part original (rock and rubble), and part breeze block (it was a right mess), so the breeze blocks have been utilised around the garden...mainly as the base for the workshop. However the rock from the original extension walls was thrown into a corner of the yard, and has remained there ever since.
But now that we have the nice back window, and needing a place for a was time for the rock pile to move.
That took a few weekends, thankfully I didn't have to shift them very far, but it was still a big job.
When that was done, layed out a concrete slab, then made a logstore frame.
This weekend we took delivery of a load of logs from Welsh Logs who provide excellent quality wood.

Meanwhile Jan has been painting and sealing the floorboards on the first floor.
The landing is a lovely square area, so Jan's creative side found an outlet.....