Home and Shop Companion 17

With the world slowly and cautiously starting to discover the new normal, we are going to ease up on the emails, but that isn’t the end of the Home & Shop Companion. It will continue on Thursdays.

Home and Shop Companion 17
Home and Shop Companion 17

letter from a small corner of far away

Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,

It has been a quiet week here, at least until the wind blew up two days ago and fetched down a good number of pinecones and plenty of fresh young leaves off the deciduous trees.

We had a branch fall off the big oak on the roadside too, but that happened three days earlier, on a quiet night when there was no wind. The culprit was rot, the weight overwhelming the healthy wood in the branches’ cleft. Inevitably, it landed on the fence and into the track round the outside of the field, giving me an unexpected job to do when I went out that morning to check on the horses. So I came straight back home, found my glasses so I could see to sharpen the chainsaw, filled it with chain oil and fuel, and went back to the field. Although I know well how to use it, I don’t like using a chainsaw much though I appreciate the work it can do. Compared with the other tools I use regularly it is the Tyrannosaurus of tools; big, powerful and vicious if it gets anywhere near you. So armed with appropriate helmet, gloves, boots and trousers, I sawed the small stuff into logs, and then harnessed Lucy to drag the big piece home.

The logging chain was easy to find because a few days earlier I had been in the wood to drag out the last few logs felled a couple of months ago. I could have done that job all at once a couple of weeks back, but with a job that is new to a horse, especially when it won’t be repeated soon, I like to divide the work between different days. Admittedly, this isn’t as efficient, but it does give the horse another experience to help make it feel ordinary. One of the downsides of working horses on a part time basis, and the more part time you are, the more of a downside it is, is that they often have only just settled down nicely to a job and then it’s all finished. For some horses this matters less; Molly, my older horse for instance, only really needs to do something once or twice to quietly lodge it in her brain as a part of normality, but with Lucy it takes longer, and I have to pay five times the amount of attention. So whenever Lucy has harness on, I like to do anything or everything with her; this time, after moving the logs, I yoked her up to the sledge and drove along the edge of some of the hay ground to clear some old half rotted posts and fetch them home for firewood. The posts were still in piles from when my son and I had replaced them in March. This is one of those jobs I should have done sooner, as the grass had already half hidden them, and they are not something I want to meet the first time round with the mower. For the same reason we also moved the chain harrows, still easily visible on a bare patch of grass, but they too are now out of harm’s way.

As to the growing, the good news is that the parsnips are finally showing through. They’re still only getting their first true leaves and are hard to find in amongst the weeds and mustard I sowed to mark the rows. By this time, I usually would have gone between the rows with the horse and cultivator, but since the plants are so small the rows are still very difficult to see. But because I have been regularly watering the rows to make sure that I will at least have some crop, I have used the opportunity to knock out some of the weeds between rows by scuffing my boot through the soil on my return journey. This morning I went along the parsnips and beetroot pulling weeds out by hand, and sometimes making a hole with my pocketknife and transplanting tiny seedlings from where there were multiple plants. They say that you can’t transplant root vegetables very well, but at the two to four leaf stage it can help to fill in gaps, though considering the extra effort, I would have preferred to have had good germination at the beginning.

With the mangels, the ‘take’ has not been good either, but there were a number of self-sown plants growing in amongst the broad beans in the garden. These had come from the roots which I transplanted last spring to grow on for a second year to save the seed. Clearly, I was late in collecting the seed and some of it must already have been shed, but on seeing the seedlings this spring, and aware of the dry ground and slow germination at the field, I purposely didn’t hoe them out. Then late last week, I dug up the little mangel plants, keeping as much soil as I could, and took them in a bucket to the field. Because these plants were a bit bigger than the beetroot, I pinched off half the leaves to minimise transpiration and give the roots time to establish, and it seems to have worked.

And that’s pretty much the news for this week. Next week there will be no letter because in the new year we made plans to go away at the end of May. I know many farmers and smallholders don’t take vacations, but for me, being away from home means I am away from work, and have a proper rest because I am not tempted to ‘just go and do’….whatever it is. Equally important, it is a chance to get some mental distance from home and work, to get a back-seat view and renew my motivation. Having said that, none of us can go anywhere now, so we are staying here. But noticing how my brain and body seem to be functioning more slowly this week, next week I am only going to do what I need to, and, if I feel like doing something else, I am going to try and stay still until the feeling goes away!

Have a good couple of weeks, take care,


William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.

Home and Shop Companion 17