What’s in a nap?

So here’s an insight into our life (with a baby!) on the smallholding…

Yesterday, Jules was busy doing scrub-clearing in preparation for hedge-laying (one of those dastardly jobs that must be done before the spring and leaves you looking like you’ve had a fight with a cat). Nowadays, of course, if one of us is busy the other is on Melinka watch and so their ‘productive’ time is limited to nap times or doing things one handed or with a a baby on your back.

As a snapshot, yesterday I managed to clean out the chickens and Dimple, feed the pigs, collect and stack straw from a local friend and make a small dent in some house jobs during Melinka’s 3 hours of naps. It’s a race against her waking up that most parents must be familiar with but perhaps a less usual mix of jobs and we have more reliance on the range of the baby monitor!

Anyway, apologies for the slightly outdated photo – that’s one thing that we don’t seem to find enough time for…

New Year’s Resolutions

We are just taking the Christmas tree down and I am  making some belated New Year’s resolutions. One of them is to try to update this blog every Sunday night in case people are interested (I hope that, on Mondays in the office, hearing about our muddy shenanigans might make people smile?!).

Our progress has slowed (thanks to a little bundle) for the last six months, but we are still slowly ticking off jobs and here is a little summary of the most recent projects:

  1. We have put down membrane and gravel between the vegetable beds to try and help with the war on slugs and weeds.
  2. We have demolished our old corrugated iron shed and we have builders currently building a replacement. This project is not as environmentally friendly as we would have liked thanks to time and money, but at least it will be a sturdy structure that will be there for a very long time and is sorely needed.
  3. Tree felling, hedge laying and general clearing and tidying outside is an ongoing winter project.
  4. Jules got a butchery course and lots of knives for his birthday and Christmas so when we slaughter a pig next week, Jules will butcher it himself for the first time!
  5. On the animal front, we hope that this year will bring us a new calf, more piglets, more chicks goslings and hopefully ducks too.
  6. Renovations inside the house will be the main focus for 2013, in particular the bathroom and kitchen as well as beefing up the insulation and battling the damp.

Well, that’s all for now folks. We  have added loads of baby photos to the gallery for those who are interested and we leave you with this photo of Jules bringing Barbara back from her little walkabout to the neighbours’ house!


Ash Dieback – a slow motion catastrophe

To those in a nice flat in the city Chalara Fraxinea, or Ash Dieback as it is commonly known, is probably a (brief) discussion point over a gingerbread latte before returning to the truly important topic of ‘Strictly’. For those with a few trees it becomes at least relevant but for people like us it is a huge huge disaster. We have over 2 acres of mature woodland that is roughly 90% ash. The aim is to coppice the woodland to provide us with all of our heating and hot water needs. If we lose our ash trees not only will we have a decimated woodland which will take 10 years to restore but we will have to buy in wood to heat the house over that time, which we can ill afford.

Ash is my favourite wood – so much so that it is the logo of our website. This is due to its wonderful burning properties, beautifully light and open canopy that encourages undergrowth and clean subtle grain, strength and workability for furniture and building. Not only would we be in trouble from a self-sufficiency point of view if we lose our Ash but, in a truly tree-hugger way, we would be very upset at the loss of some graceful, powerful and, not to mention, old trees.


So a quick update on the facts (thanks wiki):

  • -The disease is characterised by leaf loss and crown dieback in the infected trees
  • -First discovered in Poland in 1992… yes, 20 years ago!
  • -By 2008 the disease was also discovered in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • -By 2012 it had spread to Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Britain and Ireland.
  • -The number of sites has doubled in the UK within the last month
  • -Young trees will usually die in their first year. Older trees may survive a few seasons but will succumb eventually
  • -A proportion (<5%) seem to have a genetic resistance to the disease


The reason for the title of this post is that I have rarely been more annoyed at the government for such ineptitude and slowness to react to an impending disaster. As the disease has spread across mainland Europe it has been clear that there is no easy way to stop it…  but we have one clear and obvious advantage – we are an island. So when, you might ask, did the government stop the import of ash trees from Europe knowing, as they did, that the disease was progressing inexorably towards us (And that we could quite easily produce enough of our own ash saplings)?…October 2012. WHAT?!?! That’s 8 months after the disease had already been found in the UK at sites that had received saplings from nurseries!!
Now we have to watch a farcical show as various committees discuss strategies on how to close the gate after the horse has bolted, had a few foals, retired to the seaside and written a postcard to the committee about the new extension to the stable and how glad they left that gate open so many years back. The government is being sued for its lame response – but that doesn’t do us small-fry much good. And most strategies now being discussed are focussed on how to replant all those woodlands that will undoubtedly be ravaged over the coming years.


Here at Penybanc we are keeping a close eye on our small-leaved friends and trying to form our own strategy to manage it but, needless to say, the outlook is bleak…

Washable Nappies

nappiesOur life now revolves around baby stuff so we thought it was appropriate to do a very short post about nappies. This will be very boring to most people!

We have opted for washable nappies most of the time (we sometimes use biodegradable disposable ones, but worryingly there are no 100% biodegradable nappies, so we try to avoid them). There are about a million types of washable nappy on the market and we did a LOT of research before investing a few hundred pounds in these bad boys. Our requirements were: 1) fast drying above all else; 2) one size from birth to potty in order to keep the cost down; and 3) that they be easy to use and reliable. We ended up buying Nature Babies Big Softies in cotton, which also have the advantage of being made in England so they haven’t been shipped around the world. The nappies have to be used with a waterproof outer layer (a wrap). The ones we use are the Nature Babies Essential Wraps. We also use washable wipes rather than the usual baby wipes and a flushable liner so you can just drop the poo in the loo!

It is all actually very easy once you get used to doing a load of washing every other day. It is not only better for the environment but they also cause less nappy rash and we’ve heard that it is easier to toilet train babies that use these as they can actually feel when they have wet themselves since they don’t have those gel balls that suck the moisture up.

There really is no excuse for using non-biodegradable nappies that take 200 to 500 years to decompose….