Logs and Frogs

The year at Trewen has its own rhythms, which one way or another we choose to live by. All our heating and much of our cooking is fuelled by wood from our own land and all that wood has to be felled, logged, moved, split and stacked undercover, ideally two years before it is used. A warning to all those romantics who would love to live ‘off-grid’ – the wood might be free but the energy it takes to process it is definitely not.

This winter we have been working our way down an overgrown hedgerow of straggly sycamores and there is a rhythm to this too. We work one tree at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the amount of work (for some reason trees seem to triple in size once they have been felled). We usually manage to log up two or three trees in a day and when things go well and we don’t get rained off. We end the day with a bonfire of brash and tea made on our Kelly kettle and some homemade cake, which goes a little way to ease our aching backs.

Once the frogs and frogspawn appear in the pond (often on my birthday) we know the year has really started to turn, the sap will be beginning to rise in the trees and it’s time to end felling for another year. ‘All’ that remains to be done, is somehow move all the wood down from the field, hire a log-splitter, split all the big logs and saw the wrist-sized branches to length and then stack them undercover in walls that will not fall over sideways by next winter. Easy! 

Apples Apples Everywhere

A few weeks ago we picked the last of our apples and it was clear we had a problem, the problem being that we had simply had run out of storage space. We have a dozen or so trees in a young orchard with about half of them eaters and half cookers and each year they yield more than the year before and all my attempts at slatted shelving and stacked boxes in the pantry just didn’t hack it this year.

And, although I like apples and can manage two sliced up with my muesli each morning and a couple more during the day, it became clear that I would not be able to keep ahead of the rot! Sadly, even stored carefully, one by one they shrink and wrinkle and eventually rot away.  

Some friends who were visiting were astonished at my capacity to consume so many apples and suggested we bought a fruit drier to give my digestion a break. We did, it’s an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, a nine shelved unit about as big as a big microwave and so far it seems to be just what we needed all along.

Apples in the drier.jpg

Each shelf takes about six medium apples, cored and sliced and there are nine shelves, so that is about fifty apples. Once they are died they shrink down to one medium sized food bag and according to the book they should last at least a year if not two.

Coring and slicing fifty apples is a bit of a chore but not so bad once you get into the swing of things and when the drier is working it fills the house with a lovely fruity smell and I don’t feel under quite such pressure from the spirit of the orchard to eat my way through the crop before it rots, though I can foresee a time in a year or so when I will be looking at several bags of dried apples in the pantry and an orchard full of fresh ones and wondering about a plan B….. A cider press?      

Bees and Abundance

The bees this year have thrown away their text books and decided to give beekeepers a run for their honey. New queens (which are produced in May, June and July) should stay in their hives for a year or so before swarming. Swarming is just what beekeepers don’t want because basically about half the bees in the hive fill up on (your) honey and sod off with the queen to the far side of beyond, pretty much guaranteeing a poor honey crop and forcing the colony to start again from scratch. This year, probably because of the unusually long and warm summer the queens have been swarming out after just a month or so, which is, to say the least, very annoying.

Never the less, I’ve managed to take off about 70 pounds of honey which is a record for me. All this abundance reminds me of childhood harvest festivals and I mentioned to a beekeeping friend that as I am no longer religious I have no one to give thanks to for such a harvest. He answered with a wry smile that I’d missed the blinding obvious and that I should give my thanks to the Bees, which I hereby do!

This month’s words have been ‘too much’ or even ‘much too much too much’. It is great to go up into the garden and simply pick your breakfast/lunch/dinner and it seems a little churlish to complain but there are times when I want to go up there and holler at the top of my voice ‘For God’s sake ease up a bit’.

Having waited for months for signs of life we are now in a position where we are exhausted and can’t keep up with all the produce. Getting home after an evening out and having to go out again and crop the next kilo of raspberries (and hull them and get them on a tray in the freezer) before they go off gets to be just a teensy bit trying. Mind you, having seen the price of raspberries in the super markets I am tempted to invent a new category of worker who could be described as ‘fruit rich but cash poor.’