Albert

Today, I finally squeezed the truck down the steep, scary, narrow drive to Greystones Farm, where Ralph’s old friend Albert sold me his lifetime collection of salvaged oak, pitch pine, meranti etc. perhaps a ton of odd bits including some nice doors and, allegedly, a complete corner pew.

Monica has gutted the Drawing Room now. The floor boards and joists have come out and she’s debating what kind of floor to replace them with. The options for the structure are limecrete slab or bearers and joists; the finish will be second-hand boards or parquetry that we will make in the joinery. One item that was removed today was the curtain rod: Albert handed over a four-inch rod that will do the job, complete with pineapple ends. I guess I’ll have to turn the rings!

I keep the chippy, Shaun, interested by trotting out tools he’s never used. Today, I left him a small adze, side axe and draw knife so that he could cut the beams back, through the long-dead woodworm, to sound oak. He loves this exploration of traditional woodwork. He’s a really nice bloke, so it’s a joy to work with him like this.

So, here’s where Tony’s guitar will get to live!
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My weekly cruise was around the upper part of the farm, last weekend. All is well apart from a hundred or so coppice oaks. The sweet chestnut are very happy so, when I reclaim the neighbouring third of an acre that got left outside our fence, more of these useful trees will go in.

I’ve just taken delivery of some water-glass and aluminium oxide powder. With a sack of Perlite, we’re going to try out making our own refractory plasters like this guy: https://youtu.be/uIRTcmR6sSk. If we succeed, the material will be useful for many of our pyromaniac projects such as forge, bakery, masonry stove, pottery stove etc.

Albert is a top electrician who has a vast collection of metalworking and other industrial goodies that he’s invited me to look over, though I couldn’t afford to give him what they’re worth. Still, at 92, with 85 years history in his farmhouse, it’s worth spending the day to hear his stories. Cousin Chris and I certainly enjoyed our day there, today, sharing yarns and pies.

Renovation

Whenever Barry Cooper was faced with a project problem, he always said, “Let’s have the argument now”, and that’s our approach to renovation. The ceiling, where we thought there’d be trouble, is fine but under the floor boards they found a complete schamozzle of half-joists and botches. The end date is mid-December so that we can bung the Christmas visitors in there or withdraw from them in there ourselves.

I’ve just returned from a brief lecture entitled How to Research Your Building. Didn’t learn a lot but the lecturer is keen to visit the farm, perhaps as a case study for his students. Term starts in three weeks, so I should send off my sales pitch soon.

About to assess the hayloft for wood storage: what can come down to make room for Albert’s stuff and the arisings from the Drawing Room. Any ideas for creating lumber racks without any materiel, effort or time?

I’ve started using the word “materiel” as a tribute to RR, even though few there knew what it meant. It has almost faded away.

Just remembered: another bonus from Albert’s hayloft was a bundle of scythe snaths and pitchfork handles. Treasure, indeed.

Oops! That wasn’t in the jobs list

Our mallows—the ones Tony helped me promote to bigger soil blocks—have pushed their way out of the clear seed tray covers and are now hardening off and heading for the light. I must get onto the rest of the seedlings, soon.

We’ve had a pair of buzzards playing around the farm over the past fortnight, even perching in the pigsty window. I hope they decide our vole population is enough to warrant a nest, without disturbing the kestrels too much.

I’m having a bit of a low, feeling overwhelmed by the stuff I’ve got on. I was happy enough last week but Monica diverted me into clearing the Withdrawing Room so that it can be renovated, starting next week. That involved unpacking and re-packing a big area of the Shippen loft to make space for the furniture from the room. We ditched a lot of rubbish and the end result is better organised but I now need to get my head back into Project Pigsty. Of course, that room is also the music room so I’ll be the main beneficiary of her efforts. It would be nice to get away from the telly.

Monica has gone to stay in Manchester, to keep her mum company overnight and to visit her dad. The Social Services experiment, to support Kitty with just three visits a day so that the family can take a break, is also part of this trip. She’s also clearing out their cupboards, at his request, to simplify life. A couple of days ago she handed back to me a small, ebony hand plane that I gifted to her dad on his first visit to Australia, probably twenty-five years ago. It has never been out of its box nor used on any timber. It’s a high-angle smoother; the blade is set at 60° to cope with, in theory, difficult grain. With a 30° bevel, the iron can be flipped to create a 90° angle of attack, becoming a stout scraper, which is why I chose it for Kevin. He used to have a hobby of digging antique furniture out of skips and removing layers of paint and varnish with broken glass shards. The oak, barley-twist table in our bay window is one example and you can still see the cross-grain gouges from his method. Of course, he never believed he was worthy of a decent tool, as so many people seem to think of themselves. Me, I know I’m rubbish but I hope to grow into my skills and tools. When I’ve done, someone will have the great delight of taking them up after me. 

My Aunt Sylvia came to the farm last week and my cousin Debbie this week. Both very pleasant first visits, with everyone very complimentary about the farm and its environs. Sylvia was brought by her daughter, Vicky, whom I haven’t seen since I was sixteen and she, about ten. Monica and I were pleased to find her quite delightful: good sense of humour, straight talking, polite and caring. One of the better prospects for a solid relationship from amongst the family that are re-emerging. Sylvia has now invited us to her eightieth birthday party, soon, at which I can reconnect with Vicky’s two older siblings and, horrors, try to learn the names of about twenty from the next generations. Perhaps I’ll meet someone worthy to inherit my tools.

Autumn approaches; my favourite season. I always look forward to the dark evenings and the glow of the fire. I have a ton (literally) of scrap wood to burn in the Joinery fire so I hope to be able to stay out there longer, when the weather rules out external work. This winter is about finishing the walls, to control the environment, and setting up the machines for accuracy. A worthy pursuit.

Baling and sorting

A long day, today. After the morning sun came round to the meadow to burn the dew off the windrows, I stepped out to continue baling the hay. There were already four dozen bales made but showers had slowed the process. By eightish, this evening, we had about a hundred under the aqueduct; a large stack under another tarpaulin that would allow baling to start ASAP; and all the rest in tight stacks.

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It’s not a bad task, bringing in the hay. Monica commented that I should have my beer cooling in the canal, which made me realise that I was taking it too seriously. The only reason to bother is to take the grass off the field, rather than letting it’s goodness back into the soil as autumn withers it so that other species, especially wild flowers, have a chance. Almost no-one wants the hay, preferring to feed their rabbits and horses on bought stuff. We use it for mulching around plants and hedges; Monica tried planting spuds and strawberries directly into bales with some success. I think I’m going to use hay-making as my summer break from the pressure of project work. When the coppicing starts, that can become my winter break.

This year’s Irish holiday was a débâcle. Had the Campervan not been double-booked, we’d have had the joy of sitting outside Sligo hospital, day after day, waiting on her Dad as he recuperates from his emergency hip operation. Probably more expensive than a hotel; and a good example of why on-farm holidays would be better.

In between the baling, I’ve managed to sort through all of Ralph’s bits and pieces. The card stock arrived so I could make stouter, colour coded origami boxes. Monica found them perfect for sorting her mother’s sewing tackle, too. As usual, M had a valuable idea to improve upon mine: coat the card in wax, as she had seen in her grandad’s workshop, which will make the boxes less damp-sensitive but probably more incendiary. They’ll be better able to keep rust away from their contents so, on balance, it’s worth trying. Did you have any idea for a Perspex alternative for a drawer dust cover? I think a roll of stiff plastic sheet, like folder covers, would work just as well and not need to be hinged, given most of its life will be spent inside a cabinet. Must see what’s available.

We’re enjoying the first fruits of our planting, now. Well, mainly vegetables, actually. Monica’s allotment is producing peas, kale, spuds and shallots with the help of regular doses of nematodes to eat the slugs. Turnips, beans and sprouts are also on the menu. We have had some fruit: strawberries, of course, plus jostaberries and blackcurrants off the bushes I was supposed to be growing for cuttings (should have pulled the flowers off). My Keswick Codlings have three apples on them, which is great because they were declared the best-tasting on a BBC programme lamenting the demise of English apples.

I wonder if the hops will flower?

My peaches and almonds almost succumbed to leaf curl but seem to have been saved by a spray with copper solution. Bordeaux mix has gone from “organic” status to being banned altogether and now there is little easy protection from this fungus. RHS recommends covering the trees in the spring and, as a roll-down greenhouse to protect the early flowers was on my to-do list, the peaches might not need the copper. Perhaps, when the dense grass is replaced by forest garden species, the fungus’ role in the eco-system here might diminish. While I was mowing and musing, today, I realised that my hastily-composed slogan for Warland Farm, “Growing together”, is very apt for a forest garden. Also for damp logs attacked by mycellae (fungus rule!).

Apart from one family visit, here, on the 24th of this month, my calendar is clear until the winter solstice. Perfect. Another few days of my “holiday”, then it’s back to Project Pigsty and the start of surveying the barns.

Baling and sorting

Yesterday, I took delivery of four large oak logs and some hefty planks. Two of the logs are sized to support my anvils: the big one at smithing height; the small one at bench height for fine work. I got the small one onto its new stand this afternoon using a ramp and a back brace, trying to look nonchalant as Monica went past. The planks are the first attempt at milling by the firewood folks. They weren’t very successful in their selection of timber or their drying so these are “character” pieces that will need special thought and preparation before they can become furniture. Ideas welcomed. There are four, three-inch beech planks and two, two-inch oak planks. I had to pay for these—probably too much—but it’s good to support local enterprise and I’ll be very happy to incorporate indigenous timber into future projects. They have quite a stack left and need to move out of their yard so I hope they’ll think kindly of me when they realise no-one else wants their stained and knotty wood.

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I also recently obtained some four-foot lengths of stout aluminium extrusion—the sort they use to prototype CNC machines—to use as rip and crosscut fences on my big table saw. This stuff is accurate to within a couple of thou over its length and has slots for t-nuts in each side. I should be able to slide it onto the saw’s own fences quickly and then attach stops, finger boards and hold-downs as required. I hope to make a large auxiliary table out of the same extrusions so that I can safely and accurately cut sheet goods. Now I will have to knuckle down to checking the machine for squareness and greasiness, which is good because I feel a fraud for buying a super-accurate saw and not properly fettling it since its journey here.

Today, the well in the Shippen came as close to overflowing as I’ve seen it. If it did spill, the water would just flow under the timber floor and out the same way but it was good that the system coped. The waterfalls on the hill opposite were loud enough to drown out the traffic noise. 

I hope it’s still wet tomorrow because I have yet to complete the tool kit I promised Ralph’s widow when I took away all of his gear. That was today’s job but, by the time I’d sorted his BA nuts and bolts and cleaned up my anvil, there was only just enough time to loaf about looking at the rain.

Forest Garden idea

I had an idea for our FG today: following our success with the wooden beds that Tony helped populate, plus a YouTube video about ginseng agroforestry, I considered whether raised beds would be useful. After trying my idea out on Monica, I think I have to start building some.

The idea is to make some large, shallow frames, 6ft x 3ft or bigger, out of the 12″ boards I salvaged from the hayloft plus some hooped, netting clôches to match them. By setting these out around the FG, they can be used as nursery beds for specific plants; to kick-start different eco-systems; and to protect tender cash crops. Movable, they can even be deployed in Monica’s allotment or the orchard.

When they’re first set out, cardboard mulch will be covered with compostable layers. This gets me past the problem of mulch blowing away. The soil can be tailored to the plants without digging and, in addition to the clôche’s defence against voles, moths etc, specific protection like slug nematodes or fungicides can be focused on the beds that require these.

Nursery beds will remain in place, some in each shade type, until no more plants need to be raised. The eco-starter beds will be lifted off each guild of plants when they’re strong enough; corner braces on the top should make them resist collapse during the move. The cash crop beds might stay in place or not, depending upon the plants’ needs.

If I can make the beds and clôches in sizes that stack inside each other, they won’t even take up too much room when stored.

Self-watering beds

The new seedling bed is working, after a bit of a false start. My experiments have shown that you don’t need soil on top of the mat for the cardboard pots to wick up moisture but there’s no chance of water rising through a seed tray or plastic pot. The beds Tony helped me populate have been winners from the start and the other one in the alley now has seed blocks on schlooping
mats™ in the same way. I still need another bed to allow promotion into bigger blocks but mowing is my priority now. The little blocks should air prune until I get to them.

Cleared out Ralph’s tiny work area on Wednesday. It was sad how little he had been able to keep. His son, Ashley, now wants the collection of old instruments in cases, such as brass pressure gauges, Lightometer, rev counter etc. and I was glad to hear that. There were surprisingly few decent tools: Ralph was your man for chewing up a screwdriver tip. So far, it’s all piled on a bench here but, after mowing each day, I’ll slowly work through and triage the hundreds of items. I have already assigned his old compressor to the Joinery, to drive a finish nail gun that will make beehive assembly quicker.

The Hebe is covered in snowy blossom and insects. The lane looks splendid with its cottagey, summer tumult of wild and garden flowers. The balsam is ready to flower so my next job, today, is to mow it wherever I can get to it. Just hope the bees can still make honey.

More about self-watering beds

I made another, broad but shallow self-watering bed. Now all the seedlings have a home in the sun and will probably survive while we’re in Ireland for a week. With another big pallet, I may make yet another bed so that I can promote some more tiddlers to bigger soil blocks.

Something which gives me the irrits at this time of year is the purple bird poo. Not because it stains things but because it shows that the bilberries are ripe and I don’t have any. Last evening, I got into the big quarry for a an hour or so and picked a pint of the precious fruit. There is a large bed there but in the first year the rainy weather resulted in no fruit and, since then, that quarry has been camped in. I was in bliss to spend a sunny hour there. Monica promises to make muffins. 

I used to joke that I could make life Utopian for any of my business victims in Adelaide. The town plan is, in fact, based upon the Platonic design: four squares surrounding a fifth, parkland and river encircling, slave quarters across the bridge etc. I even have an old engraving that can be overlayed onto the Adelaide map. Difficult to implement here but worth revisiting. Oddly, those slave quarters are now the poshest suburbs, as often happens.

Back to normality

Glued up some boards to make a case for my slick—the huge chisel—and had a go at cutting and polishing a small piece of jet. First attempt was with grades of wet and dry but, after getting the feel for it, I was confident to try a quicker method: the bandsaw did a reasonable job of cutting, though a water-cooled diamond tile saw I have somewhere would do better; the belt sander took out the saw marks; the Tormek grindstone took out the sanding scratches and its strop created a first polish from that. The only glitch occurred when I tried to grind out a slate inclusion: broke the piece in half.

Mallows are still alive. I’ve decided to make extra potting benches with trestles and pallets, where the growing volume of seedlings can be accommodated until next spring. Where to put them is the next question: almost everywhere is scheduled for projects sometime in that period and they’ll need to be sheltered.

Today is road-repair day, when I have the joy of working very hard with our neighbours to achieve a very temporary solution to the problem. Still, the exercise will be fun as long as no injury arises.

A cart for my tart

In Dublin’s fair city there’s a statue of Molly Malone and her barrow, nicknamed “The tart with a cart” by the locals. As today was belting hot, I hid in the joinery and made a handy barrow for Monica.

The basic box is the crate I made to send Peter Thomas’ loudspeakers back to him in Australia. It didn’t get used because I realised, at the last minute, that the wood was not going to make it through quarantine. It’s done duty as a scrap box and project table in the shop but now it’ll have a much better purpose.

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This is much narrower than Humpty so that it can be taken through the Mickle Barn and work in the allotment and back yard. Because of its short base, it should get through the bumps easily and can be tipped forward to disgorge its contents.

It also has two secret uses. First, when completely upside down its base can become a work table. Second, tipped forward so that the handles are in the air, if you sit on the box the legs become armrests and the crossbar becomes a backrest: a throne you can take with you!

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