water in the barrel

It works!!

Which isn’t quite the same thing as whiskey in the jar, but made me very happy anyway. All the water in it now is from storms in the last week or two. Hurricane Irene (mercifully) must not have visited my land. (Compare with coastal NC which was badly hit, and whose communities are still trying to recover. There’s recent coverage of that here.)

Sunday’s visit was supposed to be quick: deposit veggie kitchen waste in the compost bin, and then come home. But as soon as I walk off the road and onto the trail to the homestead site, I’m blown away by the beauty and peace of the place. There’s a mosaic of lichens and mosses on part of the trail. Toadstools have bloomed in the last week, although the heavy rains have rotted most of them. I need to walk through the forest soon and look for mushrooms. My dad’s an expert on edible fungi in Britain, but I need to do what he did starting out, and collect what’s growing to identify it properly. I’m hoping there’ll be porcini and chanterelles (I’ve seen forests carpeted with these in Georgia), and will those wild boar lead me to truffles?

Anyway, what else has changed? The “crop” – the plants I and my friends spent so much time trying to control in early August – are now, what’s left of them, in full yellow flower. If anyone knows what this is, I’d love to hear from you:

crop/weed in flower

The flowers were swarming with bees, which made me feel a little guilty for chopping so much of it down. They have probably enjoyed this late summer food for years now. I’ll leave some clumps of it alone. As for their own bee garden… Not too bad, I reckon. I did a bit of weeding round the edges, but the paper weed barrier, or more probably the mulch, are holding up. The lavender hyssop is doing very well, but another five or so types of plant have made it too, just in slightly smaller numbers (i.e. only one plant in some cases). You can make out most of them in the next photo:

lavender hyssop rules!

To do next: rescue the Cow Barn from the dead wood that’s fallen on it this summer. Some of it might be dry and seasoned enough to use in my wood-burning stove over winter.

And camp on the land again! No ticks – yay!! Fall Break is coming soon…

the Old Man in early autumn

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late summer update

I can’t believe it’s been two months since my last blog post. Lots of traveling in July – for work, and to visit family and friends back in England. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had visitors staying, so there have been quite a few visits to the land, and a bit of progress.

Still no deer fence because the ground has been too hard to make post holes deep enough. We needed more rain! But I’ve replotted where the fence will go, and the modified route has been completely strimmed and for the most part cleared of obstacles (dead branches, barbed wire and the like).

With the use of a larger car, and then a colleague’s truck, we took some bigger stuff up there as well. The posts for the fence… Now let it rain. Speaking of which, the rain barrel is now installed, hidden away in the old cow barn. We bent a bit of the broken, sloping roof to channel the rainwater into it.


spot the hidden rain barrel


But even without a lot of rain this summer, the bee garden has done quite well. When I saw it again earlier in August, many of the plants looked like something had snacked on them, but they’ve nearly all sprouted up again. And some – the lavender hyssop? – are flowering, so the bees should be relatively happy.


ten weeks after planting, and looking quite good

We also installed a compost bin (selling them at Wholefoods). A little easier than installing a deer fence, it has to be said…

compost under control


And finally, a couple of pictures of the work force in action. I’m reversing the truck!


helpers in tick-proof gear


truck on a trail

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midsummer bee garden

My bumble bee garden kit from the Xerces Society arrived a few days earlier than I’d hoped it would (being so behind with everything), but having those poor plants sitting in my study, desperate for a permanent home, provided the incentive I needed to get back out there and start a garden.

Day 1) Select a site for the garden, and then machete your way towards it.

sunny, and as close as possible

The plants will thrive best in full sun, and the sunniest areas are to be found to the south of the Old Man. I needed to cut my way through more of that crop…

a likely site

On the other side, in full sun, this patch of land looked very promising… after I’d cleared away more of the crop, brambles, and some tiny saplings (sorry saplings, but you had to come out). What was left was mostly grass. I called home later that evening, and enjoyed the benefit of my parents’ decades of gardening experience. Mum gave me tips on how to do what I needed to do next…

Day 2) Get rid of the grass.

first turf

Here’s the start of the operation… I love my loppers, by the way – excellent for slicing through the large roots criss-crossing their way beneath the surface. But I’m getting ahead of myself. On the right, in the picture above, is the start of my upended-turf compost pile. Fast forward a couple of hours and I had cleared maybe a little over 12 square feet. Not bad, but not enough.

half-way there

Time to take a break and feature some of the companion insects flitting around me as I worked.

insect companion 1

insect companion 2

Day 3, morning) Clear more grass.

This seemed to go more quickly than yesterday, and by lunch time I had over 30 square feet of garden bed to play with (3.5 X 10 roughly). The plants would cover 60 square feet, if I could give it to them, but they will just have to make do with less for now. Here’s the bed, ready for the next phase. To try and help the soil keep some of its moisture, I ripped up a couple of bin bags I had with me and weighted them down with stones from the fire circle:

should have brought more bin bags...

Day 3, evening) A trip to Home Depot for some top soil and mulch. Heavy heavy heavy, so I rediscovered a set of wheels I once bought for suitcases before I invested in wheelie luggage. Wasn’t 100% certain they’d survive the trail to the garden site, but one can but try these things. Hint to Home Depot: if they’d had a collapsible wheel barrow, I’d have bought it like a shot. We don’t all drive pick-up trucks. (Although don’t get me started on my pick-up truck envy… or my tractor envy… or my desire for a John Deere riding mower… )

Day 4: The Summer Solstice!) Plant the garden.

But first, improve the soil. I don’t have great soil anyway, but I was also a bit worried about removing the top couple of inches when I de-turfed it. (Can’t wait for that to compost down…) So I worked in a few bags of top soil, and a large bag of organic garden soil, mixing it with what was already there.

an inviting bed


The instructions that came with the plants recommended planting through a weed barrier. Last night I taped together 30 square feet of newspaper and marked it out in a grid pattern, cutting holes in the paper at the points where the plants would go. Here it is in situ:

recycling my Independent weeklies

And finally… (collecting rocks, bottles, bits of iron and even a horse shoe on the way = “archaeology”)… 38 plants* plus three pepper plants… all mulched and watered… my midsummer bee garden! Solstice greetings to all!

the garden, with "archaeology" in the foreground

* Blue Wild Indigo, Yellow Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Purple Prairie Clover, Wild Bergamot, Lavender Hyssop, Bottle Gentian, Ridell’s Goldenrod, New England Aster, Prairie Dropseed.

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