Health and Contentment

Unfortunately the photos from this old post have been lost

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.

 

Compost Tetris

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.

Compost Tetris, Garden Fun

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.

 

Spring Is Here

Unfortunately the photos from this old post have been lost
It is so wonderful to look about these days and see life bursting forth everywhere. There are buds on the trees, birds are singing to attract partners, frogs are singing and have already found their partners.

We have been tending to our hedges here over the last week. We are lucky enough to have inherited some great Whitethorn (Hawthorn) hedges on our land, some of which have not been trimmed in perhaps sixty or seventy years. They had become very stringy and were looking a bit top-heavy, especially when they were covered in snow over the winter.

In order to prevent breakages due to snow or wind damage but mainly to encourage new growth we cut our top hedge down to about eight foot tall. I am looking forward to seeing the new growth over the next few years as the trees regenerate.

Right now we have a lot of thorny branches and trunks to trim, chip, cut and stack. The thinest pieces we are trimming and chipping, leaving cleaner bigger pieces of wood to deal with.

We have an electric hand-saw and an electric wood-chipper which have been given lots of use over the last week. Luckily we had plenty of power to run the tools and we only used one at a time which was also the most efficient way for us to work.

I trimmed the smaller pieces whilst himself cut the bigger pieces down to workable sizes for me to work with and we created a few different piles of brushwood for chipping which we then both fed into the chipper. The chips are then wheelbarrowed to the gooseberry bed for use as mulch.

Once we have a good size stack of timber we start chopping and stacking. The branches are cut to a size that fits our wee stove and stacked to dry for burning next year. We’ve heard that Whitethorn wood burns with a high heat so if next winter is like the one just past then we will be glad of the warmth.

When the tree trunks are left for a day or two you can see the moisture dripping out of the cuts. It’s a little sad to be cutting such lovely trees however it helps to know that the wood is all going to good use, firewood and mulch.

It’s also both comforting and promising to be building a wood pile for use over next winter and we are hopeful that we will be burning it in our new home, warm and cosy within the walls which we are soon to build.

Whitethorn, hawthorn, cut wood. firewood chopping

Whitethorn Flowers

Note: not all of my images made it through the import process, some were lost in a photo sharing program I used to use.

This spring there were really beautiful whitethorn (hawthorn) flowers to be seen across the countryside.

Our own whitethorns were not as spectacular as last year and I have been told that often happens with flowering or fruiting trees, they seem to rest every now and then.

Whitethorn

Luckily I happened upon some very lovely trees this springs and took some photos….. I hope our trees won’t be jealous!