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February on the farm

hazel copse

It has been a much better winter, so far, than last year.Our neighbour did remind me that we had not had the beast from the east by this time last year, but we had had plenty of snow.  This year, in contrast, it has almost been spring like on occasions.

For us, this means we can get on with various outdoor tasks.  Nicole has been busy making felted rugs (read more here), as well as getting the garden ready for the spring.  Not to mention mucking out the sheep shelter.

hazel copse
hazel copse underway

My tasks tend to be more on the structural side.  One of the things we get through a lot of here is wood.  Our heating runs on it.  Our predecessors bought lorry loads of wood along with our two neighbours and cut it up together, something we have carried on with since we moved here.  But with all this land, I thought we should grow our own.  We have plenty willow, but it’s quite hard to access.  I will be trimming some of that next week.  But, in the meantime, I have started a 5 year plan to plant hazel.  50 trees a year.  The first 50 went in last week (you can see them in the top picture).  In 5 or 6 years, they should be ready to harvest.

Hazel actually benefits from being cut back, it’s a classic “copse” tree.  It grows back really quickly.  So, with 50 a year, we should be able to harvest enough wood for the winter while , at the same time, remaining carbon neutral.

Continuing with the wood theme, in the winter storms, a willow tree did blow down near the front of the house.  We were lucky in that it do no damage to anything.

I finally got round to chopping it up in January.  A useful supply of logs for next winter.  Many thanks to Nicole’s uncle Kurt (visiting from Switzerland) who helped me stack them.

fallen willow tree
from fallen willow tree
into freshly cut logs
freshly cut logs

I am also continuing my background task of repairing stone dykes.  We have a lot of stone dykes here and a few need attention.  This is particularly true of those near the road.  My goal is to repair them so far as I can.  Sadly, on one corner, the previous owners allowed the walls to be trashed by a tree felling company and I can’t get at the stones as they are buried under branches.

stone dyke blown over
stone dyke blown over

Nevertheless, I shall plug away.  Those same storms cause a part of the stone dyke bordering our hen run to collapse.  I hadn’t heard of storms taking down walls before, but it also happened to a friend of one of Nicole’s gardening clients.  I know this because she commissioned me to repair it, my first real stone dyke job for which I got paid.

stone dyke repaired
stone dyke repaired

Anyway, our chicken run wall was tilting a bit so took a bit of careful rebuilding. I am quite pleased with the result.  This is especially so because the stones are quite large and it can be hard to get them to align properly.  On the course, it was mostly small stones – dead easy.

I reckon I spend 4 times as long pondering which stone to use next as I do actually putting them in place.

Anyway, it’s quite satisfying work, especially on a nice, spring like winter day.


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Felted Fleece Rugs at Auchenstroan

Over the winter my gardening business goes dormant so I have some time to try out new things.  This year I’ve been working on a project I’ve been wanting to do for a while; making felted fleece rugs.  These are what I call “sheep friendly rugs”.  They look and feel just like sheepskin rugs, but are actually made by “wet felting” individual locks of fleece onto a wool base.  You may think this sounds labour intensive and time consuming, and you would be right!  However it is also a highly enjoyable and weirdly meditative process.  These days Adrian cannot find me for love or money as I spend my days beavering away in my “girl shed”, (actually, the summer house which mysteriously transformed into my workshop overnight).  The only time I make an appearance is to pop into the kitchen to grab the kettle off the aga (wet felting involves copious amounts of hot water).  This also gives me the chance to have a much needed cup of tea.  In fact, thinking about it, you could say that each rug is made up of wool, water, elbow grease and cups of tea!  So, armed with this basic equipment, here’s what I do:

making a felted fleece rug
rug making

I  take layers of “batts” (wool which has been washed, carded and teased out) and place them onto a frame to whichever shape and size I would like the rug to be.  Then I take my fleece and start selecting nice looking locks and place these onto the layer of batts.  This can take several hours as before I lay out the locks, I tease out any hay, seeds and bits of girt or dirt.  Then I stand the locks side by side to form what will eventually become the fluffy top of the rug.  Once all the locks are in place the fun can begin – the wet felting!  I drizzle very hot water all over the locks, taking care not to dislodge any.  This will start the magical felting process – the hot water will run down into the fibres and make the base of the locks start to join up with the layer of batts underneath.  Then, to really get the fibres to bond, I wrap the whole rug up and roll it using a giant rolling pin, over 200 times!  After this, I turn the rug over and rub soap and hot water over the base to make sure the bottom of the rug is nicely felted.  Finally, I take the now felted rug and place it into a tub of warm, soapy water to wash out any remaining lanolin and dirt.  Then, last but not least, I rinse it out and lay it flat to dry.  Magically, after several hours, this dripping wet bundle of wool will somehow have transformed into a big fluffy thing of beauty!  If you wish to purchase one of these fluffy delights you can find them here:   Browse felted fleece rugs

felted fleece rug - hand made
the sheep approve!
hand made felted fleece rug
"ta daa"!

You can read up more on by going to handmade felted fleece rugs.