Hello again from Loch Doon, and it's a rainy morning here! Though I can't complain, I've pretty much got a day off and I'm sitting writing this with a fire going and a cat next to me, purring contentedly in her sleep!
So, you may have noticed that I have not been very good with my blog updates...there are a few reasons for this. One is that I'm usually heading to bed at around 8:30pm as I'm so tired! So it doesn't give me much time to do anything. Plus, when I do finish for the day, I'll be honest, I rather prefer sitting down to watch Heartbeat with a cup of tea and some tapestry, than writing this!
So...what's been happening here since I wrote last? Well, I actually had to go and check my last entry! It's been a whole week since I updated...bad Liz! On Wednesday and Friday I was lucky to join Geoff at a school that he was doing some work for. It was so much fun and a really good chance to experience working with the willow, rather than just cutting and cleaning it! The school wanted a dome with a set of tunnels and then a twigwam and a 'fedge', (mix between a hedge and a fence....so a living willow fence) that went around some benches that had been installed by BTCV, (link here).
I initially helped by marking out some of the willow that would be used to make some of the tunnels. To plant willow, black woven plastic is dug in and marks out the area to be planted. Throughout the time at the school, possibly all the school children were brought out to help with the weaving. This was really good as it gave the chance for the children to have a "hands on" experience. It also meant that as Geoff was working, I often explained to the kids what we were doing and why. Back to teacher mode for me! I started by asking if they knew what the material was that we were working with: most got it correct, though we had a few bamboos in there! I then asked them, (or they asked me) why the black plastic was there. I asked them what plants need to grow, and they all knew that it was sun, water and food. I explained that the plastic was woven to let water through, but not sunlight. I then explained that willow was very clever. Most trees, (though not all!) need a root ball to plant, but willow is special in that you can place just a stick of it in the ground and it will grow roots. We put the black plastic down to stop the grass seeing the sunlight and it gives the willow a chance to grow. In a few years, the plastic isn't needed. I then would show the children the planting bar. This is a slightly heavy metal pole, with a bar across for your hands and half a bar about 6" from the bottom. You stamp on this bar to make a hole in the ground, (and break through the black plastic) and this makes it so much easier to plant the willow! (Hard boots are an advantage though!). When the children were helping, I had already created the tunnel 'uprights' and tied them together and willow has a habit of unbending! We then worked together weaving in diagonals to the frame. This creates a lovely pattern and adds stability to the tunnel. After we had placed diagonals both ways, Geoff would come and weave in the tips of the shoots into the tunnel. This is quite complicated as willow won't usually grow back on itself. Imagine a shoot filled with water...if the water is pouring down into the tip, the tip won't grow. This is how I thought of it anyway!
After I had done the diagonals for the tunnels and helped Geoff a bit more, he said I was ready to do my own 'twigwam'! I have never seen one before so I was quite nervous! Geoff showed me what to do at every stage though, so I was ok! First, we selected the spot where the twigwam would go. I then used two planting bars tied with string to mark out a circle. I used some willow shoots to plant into the ground, and used my foot and a bit more as spacing. I then laid out the plastic and tried to make a small circle. Not easy on strips of plastic! But I got the hang of it by the end. Digging in the plastic is easy once you've had a few go's. After years of experience, Geoff and Jane know that digging in is the most reliable way of secure it down...staples come out, rocks don't work. All it takes is a spade to 'tuck' the edge of the fabric back down and slightly underneath in the soil. As I went along, I made a hole and replaced the willow on the top of the plastic. This done, I replaced the shoots with slightly larger ones, having cut a small section from the bottom to 'wake up' the shoots. If the base dries out, there is obviously less chance of it growing. Geoff then showed me how to attach all the uprights at the top and make an inverted cone shape. I then did the usual diagonals going both ways and started to weave in the tips. Geoff added some more shoots to make an entrance and then tied the top with some softer willow. Then it was finished!
On the Friday I helped Geoff put up the fedge and worked with more children! The younger ones were impressed when I measured a year old shoot of willow next to their five year old bodies! It was a good visual comparison! Hopefully the structures should grow well and put out lots of shoots which can be trimmed down or woven into the frame. Geoff is always very busy this time of year as he is dependent on the seasons....Plant after the end of March and the shoots won't root. Willow seems to store it's energy all along the shoot, so even if it's planted later, and if there are no roots, it will use the stored energy to push out lots of leaves. However, this is it's 'swan song', in effect, and may not last. Hence Geoff has had a lot to do in these recent months!
I was really grateful to Geoff for letting me help. It was a nice change to work directly with the willow and now I can make my own twigwam and maybe have a go at tunnels and a fedge! It was also great to be working with children again, and seeing their excitement as the work was created. It was also wonderful to be outside all day. We left the farm around 6:45, (gulp!) and arrived at 7:45 ish. We then worked until around 5/6ish and I just enjoyed the outdoors. Obviously we were lucky in that we had great weather, but sitting and eating lunch outside, and all my breaks outside...it made me realise that I want to be doing a job that is....wait for it....outside! I've even started to get freckles now, in March! And I feel much better overall, (though I am fighting off a cold...I'm blaming children and their bugs!). I'm sleeping incredibly well, due to the combination of fresh air, lots of physical work and getting up early!
Talking of the great weather...on Thursday I even got sunburnt! I was on the farm with Jane and in the morning planted a plum tree. You can see in the picture that the tree is surrounded with rocks...They were in the soil...it's very very rocky around here!
I then did some pruning on Jane's fruit bushes, putting to use what I'd learnt and Jane and Tony's in York. I tried to shape up and thin out the bushes, removing any branches that crossed, but taking care not to remove the paler shoots, as they are the ones that produce fruit. I enjoy this as I like shaping the plants and predicting their growth. The little details, like making sure that the buds are on the outside to where you cut, so they will grow out rather than in, I find interesting. I'm a simple girl!
After that, I went to help Connie who is building a sweat lodge in one of the fields here. She explained all about them, but it would take up too much space here! They are however, used for all sorts of things, and she was taught by a native American, so she knows her stuff!
I'd planned to have Saturday and Sunday off as my boyfriend was visiting, and I was pleased that the weather held, and was sunny both days! I showed him Ness Glen and Castle Douglas and took him on a little tour of the area. We both agreed that this area of Scotland is beautiful and by the end he didn't want to leave! We also cooked a roast for Geoff and Jane and another wwoofer, Peter, who was staying over the weekend. It was tasty and went down well! I was glad to have done it as a thank you to Geoff and Jane, as they are so welcoming and they feed me so well!
This week so far I've been helping Jane. Monday I was quite tired, I think with the clocks changing, and so we did some gentle weeding! We also planted a quince near the house. Again, some more rocks! I also started sorting the cut willow behind the polytunnel as the larger longer pieces can be used by Geoff for garden borders and various other things! Tuesday Jane and I set to work on the willow field, with me digging in the plastic that's been laid down for about 10 months, and Jane planting willow. The only problem is that the field is full of clumpy grass! So compared to the previous digging in of plastic...this was A LOT harder! Luckily the weather was nice and we managed to get some done, with Jane going ahead and forking up large bits of grass. Hopefully it should mostly stay in. Fingers crossed. There was some excitement at the end of the morning, as I came across an adder sunning itself in the grass!
It gave me a huge shock as I've never seen one before, but like most things, it was more cautious of us that we of him. When we came closer he slithered off under a clump of grass. It has made me stamp about now when walking near there so they have chance to move!
In the afternoon, we started a bonfire in one of the fields. I also finished trimming the willow for Geoff to use, and there's even more to sort! I nearly forgot, I was back on polytunnel mending with Jane, as there were three large tears. This time we used brown tape which seems to work well! It's not water tight, but it will stop the wind ripping it even more.
It was lovely sitting outside in the sun, watching the bonfire burn, and feeding it occasionally. Being more in touch with the elements is very healing to the soul I think. Having said that, as soon as it rains, Jane and I stay indoors! We are both feeling under the weather though, so a break is good for us. Plus it give me chance to update this!
Right, think that's all I can possibly write for now! This entry's been a bit of an essay, so sorry about that, but I hope you've enjoyed catching up with what I'm up to!