The grass in the field is being cut, with our very own hay bales to follow shortly. With no rain for the past couple of weeks, the process was very dusty, but lovely to see the shapes the tractor makes while avoiding our willow beds and elders. The hay is being cut by, and going to, the cattle farmer just round the corner, which feels good and local. The local birds of prey were out as soon as the tractor had finished...
And this is how it looks now it's finished (before being turned) with the lovely lines of drying grass/hay that I remember from childhood. The grass ridges proved to be great hiding places for the red legged partridge and her 9 chicks as they made their way up the lane. Our attempt to seed yellow rattle seed in the field didn't work, so once the hay is baled, we'll dig up some of the plentiful daisies from the goose paddock and transplant them into the field. There are good wide margins round the edge of the field, with plenty of vetch (and in spring lots of cowslips and primroses), which we'll hope to encourage further into the field. And we've spotted lots of lovely red field poppies locally, so it'll be time for a seed collection outing soon.
Nick and I emptied an old water trough and shifted it so that it's positioned close to the yurt pitches at the top of the field, in a spot with plenty of sun. It is now filled with ericaceous compost and 4 different varieties of blueberries, the first of which is already in fruit. We've covered it with a thick woodchip mulch from the leylandii, which hopefully will help to keep the blueberries nicely moist throughout the summer months. Our plan is to move some of the raspberry canes across to the field from the garden, so that throughout the summer there will be a good range of blueberries and raspberries available to yurt guests, as well as the blackberries we planted in the hedgerows over the winter.
The yurt is up, and the sun is shining! As we didn't have the instructions for folding the roof canvas when we dismantled the yurt last time, it took rather longer, and was a more unconventional assembly than it might otherwise have been. But there were no rows! The wood-burning stove is fitted and working - it's recycled from old hub caps and other assorted metal, and looks both rustic and oddly elegant at the same time. And with the cold nights we had over the summer solstice, the stove proved its worth in heating the inside really effectively. I think we might just leave it up for the summer...
I have to get the plant identification book out in order to be sure, but I think this is an orchid, growing under one of the apple trees in the orchard. And once I've identified it, I need to work out how to encourage more. We've had great fun over the spring and summer, identifying various flowers that have emerged, as well as mushrooms and assorted fungi. They love the compost heap, and I've put a whole load in a box full of the best local manure and tucked it away in the dark of the tool shed, hoping for a bumper crop. We've had some St George's mushrooms, and last year we enjoyed horse mushrooms, and it looked like a good crop of field mushrooms growing on the compost heap. It would be great to have someone with local knowledge on tap for some of the more exotic looking ones; our Collins guide is useful, but sometimes it feels as though bravery is required
This is the first of many bonfires. We're getting rid of the various cuttings from last autumn, when we stacked them up to provide habitats for hibernating and then nesting creatures, very successfully in some cases; the mallard found our big heap of brambles a secure site for a nest. Friends Sarah, Laura and Alicia helped cut down some of the cherry tree saplings in the Goose Paddock, and once the fire was going well, they piled them on and we spent a happy Sunday morning poking and adding on whatever we could find, including an old horsehair mattress.
The willow is loving all the rain! This is Salix Alba, which came as part of the "basketry" collection, so we're hoping for great weaving opportunities. Freddy told me - quite spontaneously, having read up on willow sometime last year - that Salix Alba particularly likes the damp, so we're on to a good thing. This bed is sitting on a clay seam up by the top entrance to the meadow, so it should be happy. Since this photo, Nick's been slashing away around the edges of the bed (which is covered with wood chip from our own trees - it would be zero carbon footprint except for the petrol powered chainsaw) with a lethal hockey-stick type implement, sharpened on both sides. Jet the dog had to stay indoors.
Whilst the clay soil may be good for the willows, it's not quite so good for "grey water" drainage. We've been talking to a water consultant about the best way to manage showers; getting water to the showers, heating it, and then ensuring it can run happily away. As part of this process, Freddy and Kim had to dig 3 holes, 60cm deep, and 30cm by 30 cm wide. We then had to complete the "percolation test", filling them with water overnight, and once the water had drained, had to refill to three-quarters of the depth and then measure the rate of drop. I think our time of 7 hours means we need to find another place for the showers, where the clay is less dominant!
And finally, Nick is celebrating the near-completion of the yurt decking and base. All the planks on the decking are now fixed, the yurt base (made of marine ply and therefore fully weather resistant) is in place, and once we've joined and sealed the base and finished the skirting of the decking, we'll be done and ready for the yurt, if the sun decides to return.
We had a great time at the "setting up a yurt campsite" course in Wales, learning lots and inspired by others planning similar ventures. And staying in the Mongolian Yurt was fantastic - so much so that we've ordered it, for collection in October. They are wonderfully snug, with thick felted wool lining and a cast iron stove (you can see ours here, puffing out wood smoke in the early morning). Our group of 6 spent a couple of hours putting up a large yurt, as a practise run; I just hope we can remember how! Amanda and Peter advise that they come with full instructions and illustrations.
The bluebells are out in the woods at the end of the field, though I think it'll be necessary to take a scythe to the cow parsley, which is jockeying for position (and threatening to win). There are still celandines out around the pond, and with the occasional burst of sunlight, it's looking beautiful. Our challenge over the summer will be to identify the trees and work out a management plan - not as onerous as it sounds, as the trees are 4 rows deep, and about 30 years old, from what we know of the past ownership of the farm. We found a hedgehog sunbathing here earlier in the week (do hedgehogs sunbathe?) A male pheasant was doing something similar over by the gate - completely flat to the soil, and still as a statue until I'd gone past with Jet, our small black dog.
The willow cuttings all seem to have taken, and this one is sprouting really well. The rabbits have had a go at a few of the rods, but even those seem to be putting on growth. We planted 134 rods in all, in 6 different beds, grouped by colour or use (basket weaving; autumn colour; flower arrangement etc) and can't wait to see them shooting up. We continue checking on what we hope is our yellow rattle seed, the bedrock of the transition from field to meadow. Some of the squares where we removed turf and sowed seeds are looking promising, but it'll be a few more weeks before we know for sure that it's the yellow rattle growing rather than random weed seeds.
We spotted what we thought was a marsh harrier hunting in the field behind us on Friday; we checked with Minsmere, and they confirmed that marsh harriers can be spotted a few miles inland (we're probably no more than 6 miles inland from the coast and even closer to the Blythburgh estuary area, which has plenty of marsh harriers). Simon Barnes says that we have buzzards in the area too, so we're keeping watch...
Our English yurt has been delivered (a marathon trek across country from Bodmin - thanks Tim), the raised decking and plywood base are almost complete, we've been on the "how to set up and run your own yurt campsite" course in Wales, and plan to place an order for our first Mongolian yurt within the next few days!
The yurt looks beautiful inside - all steam bent ash poles and beautifully crafted. We're really looking forward to getting it set up properly and having people to stay (after we've had a go, of course). It comes with its own log burning stove and oak front door! The skies here are beautifully black at night, so watching the stars through the crown will be a delight.
We've begun the process of evolving the field into a meadow; the first stage was to sow the yellow rattle seed in squares where we've cleared the top soil. The field hasn't been used for grazing or stock for quite a few years, as far as we can establish, so we're hoping that the soil won't be over fertile and that we can get the basic meadow seeds and flowers going within the next year or two.
We are lucky to have masses of cowslips and violets (including some white ones) in the adjacent Goose Paddock, so we're hoping to encourage those to spread to the field. I shall be out with my trowel as soon as the flowers have set seed.
We're working to encourage a range of wildlife - we've already got barn and tawny owls visiting the field, and the resident ducks and moorhens on the Goose pond and moat. We're hoping to spot some great crested newts one day; we should have the ideal environment, with nice damp ditches, a pond without fish and plenty of places to hide. We stacked piles of shrubby stuff against the out-building walls at the beginning of the winter to encourage hibernation. One of our mallards made use of this for a nest, and we've seen what looks like a weasel dashing into another stack (collective nouns for weasels includes "a confusion" and "a sneak" - it would be great to have a family - a confusion of weasels!).
The elders, rowans and blackberries are now planted in the field, along with the crab apple (Dolgo) and damson (Merryweather). We've got groups of willow cuttings dotted around, in theory acting as elegant dividers between the plots we plan to use for the yurts; we hope that they'll also double up as raw material for basket weaving and flower arrangements, either for courses that we might run in the barn or to inspire creative craft activity on the part of our yurt guests.