Posts Tagged ‘Trees’
It’s the end of December and so the next calendar year is almost upon us. For me the new year really begins at Winter Solstice and I am already enjoying the lengthening of the winter days. We are having a wet and warm Christmas season in Ireland, quite a change from last year’s extreme winter weather and a welcome change for most people I think.
I have to admit I really enjoyed last years cold and bright Christmas and I miss the cheer of the snow, this year didn’t feel as festive to me and I have to also admit that I am becoming very tired of the mud that the almost constant rain has brought around my door.
Despite the unseasonal warmth (warmest Irish Christmas on record apparently) we still need to keep our fire lit. I have spent the last hour in the timeless chore of cutting kindling, emptying the ashes from our small stove and laying down the fire-start, I am sure every stove owner has their own way of setting the fire-start depending on what fuel they burn. We burn a mixture of peat briquettes and our own white-thorn wood, cut from the overgrown hedge earlier in the year. My partner and I even have our own ways of setting the briquettes, kindling and paper to start the fire and each is equally successful.
Some days my favourite part of starting the fire is cutting the kindling. At the moment we have a few wood-piles lying between the sitting room and the kitchen in our new house. We have a pile of saw-mill cut timber there which we have used for framing the walls, this pile is dwindling as we run out of wall framing timber (because happily it is in the walls) and the pile of cut-offs has grown. Some of the cut-offs will still be used in various jobs about the house however some pieces are destined to become kindling.
Every few days on of us goes out and picks a piece of wood that looks unsuitable for anything but kindling and we chop it up with our small axe. The chopping block is currently in the bathroom, incidentally that’s also where this year’s Christmas tree is. Doesn’t everyone keep their Christmas tree in the bathroom? Perhaps not. Our tree actually consists of a few Pine boughs that I cut the day before Christmas Eve and tied in a decorative fashion to a framing timber on the wall. I then decorated these with our small stash of Christmas decorations, I couldn’t find the stored box of decorations from last year so it was a bit improvised, none the less it is very pretty.
So the bathroom is very central to our activities this Christmas. The chopping block is a 2foot length of wood, 9x3inches, a cut-off of a roof beam. I enjoy chopping kindling. You really need to focus as your fingers are never far from the axe blade when you make that first incision that grips the piece of wood before you proceed to split it by hammering both the wood and the axe together down on the chopping block. It’s a very satisfying job, mark, split, gather the pieces into a basket.
Ever since axes have been used people have performed this task of making kindling for the fire. Perhaps it is the time of year that made me think of the generations of people, across the world, that tend to the cooking or winter fires, to warm and feed their families. Gathering and cutting firewood in some places or cutting turf, drying it and bringing it home as generations of Irish people have done over the centuries. Storing the winter fuel to keep it dry, ensuring it is not too far from the door especially in snowy or wet winters. For some people now the fire is no longer a necessity, whether or not it is essential the hearth has still a special place in many homes.
Now at the turn of the year I wish you
the warmth of a brightly burning fire
as these lengthening winter days pass.
I wish for you health and contentment in the coming year.
Over the last few weeks I have been slowly doing the almost yearly job of moving compost from one bin to the next. Our compost gets turned twice before it is considered ready for use. We have five compost bins and of course there is a system for how we utilise them. We use a sawdust bucket system for our toilet, we’ve been using this system for ten years now and it works really well for us. We make our own sawdust using our power planer, it costs us nothing to make as we have the timber on our land and we have all the electricity we need for using power tools.
We put both cooked and uncooked kitchen waste into buckets until we have two or three buckets filled, then every time we need to empty the compost toilet bucket we also empty the kitchen-waste buckets, covering everything with a layer of cut grass and rushes. We use one compost bin until it is full, the bins are roughly 4foot square. When the bin is nearly full I start the process of moving the compost in the other bins.
Imagine that all the bins are full and that the bins are A, B, C, D and E in that order and they are all built in one row. Bin A is nearly full so I begin by emptying bin C and putting the soil around trees, creating a new fruit bush bed or topping up a fruit bed. I keep some of the soil to close the bin which is almost full. I then shovel the contents of bin D into bin C and then I shovel the contents of bin E into the now empty bin D. Now we are ready to finish filling bin A and when it is full I close it up by covering it in grass and then topping with soil. Bin E is now ready for use.
It takes roughly nine months to fill a bin, sometimes longer depending on settlement in the bin. So every year I get to play Compost Tetris.
We always keep a pile of cut grass beside the compost bins which sometimes needs replenishing. Sometimes this requires cutting grass and rushes however today I was able to move some which had been cut over a year and half ago - quite a workout!
When I was resting between runs with the wheelbarrow I was struck with the beauty of the sunlight glinting in raindrops hanging from the bare whitethorn (hawthorn) branches in a nearby hedge. Such beauty is never far away here and I am always grateful to receive it.
Today was just magical outdoors. It was a cold and frosty start to the day with strong sunshine at first which quickly gave way to freezing fog. I had planned a walk today however the fog put me off a bit and I took the easy option of staying in by the stove – after all it had been a very busy week and I was happy to do very little.
In the early afternoon I decided to take a trip into town to get some groceries and get some more peat briquettes for the stove – the weather forecast is for more cold weather. I was glad to be out and about and was enjoying the fresh air with the window open, hat and gloves on.
Everything looked very pretty as I drove downhill and I was surprised to find that the hedges and fields were more heavily frosted the further downhill I went. It was so beautiful that I had to often stop the van to admire the view – unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me so you will have to take my word for it!
Every now and then I would come around a corner and just gasp at the beauty of the frost rimmed trees standing so white against the backdrop of pale green fields or hedges of startling white with the strong green of ivy spotted throughout.
I really wished that I had my camera with me so that I could share the images. The advantage of not having the camera is that I will remember these sights better myself. I know this from previous occasions on which I wished I had a camera, looking at the scene as though planning a shot, wondering about the best angle, breathing it in. Somehow I find that I can be more present without the camera and I do remember the scene better.
The snow is softly falling now and tomorrow is another day filled with beauty to be discovered just around the corner…
We had good weather to work on our house building project today after I got back from getting some building supplies.
The first floor joists were put in this afternoon and it is really satisfying to see them sitting on the beams that span the “stilt” style foundations. We have a very sloping site and so the southern face of the house will be close to six foot off the ground on sturdy stilts which are on concrete pads. The concrete pads are set about three foot into the very solid clay subsoil.
We really would have liked to avoid using concrete however we really could not afford the alternative of cut stone and there is no stone naturally occurring on our site. There are some compromises which we find we are making, mainly due to budget constraints – our budget actually being almost non-existent!
Our floor design will be a little unconventional - quelle surprise! We are fixing galvanised chicken wire between the tops of the sturdy beams and on top of this we will spread a breathable fabric which will in turn be fastened to the tops of the beams. The floor joists will then sit on top of this fabric, nailed to the top of the beams and the spaces created will in time be filled with insulation and the floor boards screwed down to the joists.
We will not be adding the insulation just yet for two very good reasons – firstly we need to get the roof on in order to keep the insulation dry and secondly at the moment we do not know what sort of insulation we will use.
The second consideration will depend on budget – if we win the national lottery – highly unlikely but not impossible – if only we remembered to buy tickets!! I digress – if our budget changes we would love to use sheep’s wool or something similar.
What is more likely is that we will source some local timber and use our free electricity and an electric planer to create wood chips which we could mix with lime and maybe some hemp hurds and a little water to create a sort of woodchip insulation.
Any suggestions about alternative, easily sourced, environmental insulation will be most welcome