Post Archives from the ‘News & Updates’ Category

2016 into 2017

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 by
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Oh my goodness. A perfunctory look at this blog shows that I didn’t write any posts at all in 2016. Whoops. So not only is now a good chance to share what is on the horizon at Cae Non in the year ahead, but to recap on what happened in 2016.

2016 was the year that Cae Non matured in a lot of ways… the trees are all well established now and areas of the site are starting to look more like a wood and less like an open field. Though young, many of the alders and birches are now between 12 and 16 feet high, with trunks thicker than my arm.

Alder & Birch

The Alder and Birch trees that we planted are now forming a young, dense wood…

Unfortunately, in some places the trees are too thick and will need thinning as they grow. In others we planted the trees far enough apart to create a light, open wood that will be lovely to relax or work in.

Light Airy Wood

Most of the trees are planted to create a light, airy woodland – dense enough to kill the grass but open enough to walk through and explore!

Willow Beds

The Willow Beds have grown up amazingly – we will soon be ready to harvest our first willow for use in green structures.

In terms of the herb garden, last year didn’t see too many new developments. The raised beds I built and planted a couple of years ago are now mature and giving their gift of medicinal herbs to my dispensary. I didn’t have much free time to build or plant any more raised beds… but I did decide to try something different.

Instead of building raised beds, I made beds out of mulching membrane held in square frame which looks like a raised bed but is held against the ground and is a no-dig system. The three I built last year have done amazingly well so far and I have built another 6 already this year. I have also started vlogging (video blogging) and one of the videos deals with building these beds – so I will share that here in the coming days.

Mulch Beds in Use

The beds on the right of this picture were build and planted in 2016 – so far they seem to be working really well!

2016 marked the second year I taught my short course ‘a year of herbs’ down at Cae Non. This time with a bigger group and nicer weather than 2015. It is always lovely to share this place and what we do with it and our way of life with others – and such a privilege to be able to inspire others to heal with plants and herbal medicines. The course is running again in 2017 and there are still places – take a look at the prospectus here and facebook event here.

2017 will bring more posts on this blog and video blogs from Cae Non as due to starting my vlog, I will be making regular videos at the Cae Non herb garden. The priority at this time of year is to get as much planting area as possible to accept the plants that are already sprouting in our windowsills. This means that there will be more beds full of medicinal herbs at Cae Non and Cae Non will contribute even more to my dispensary than before.

In addition to the smaller herbaceous plants, there are many medicinal trees, and my attention is starting to turn towardsplanting a medicinal arboretum. This will be a large grove of medicinal trees, planted in three dimensions, a bit like a permaculture food forest but medicinal in nature. I have a shortlist of at least 10 trees to go into this new grove and will be posting about it shortlist. Well, that’s about all from this post – keep your eyes peeled a I Will post more soon!

In the mean time, have a flick through this wee gallery:

2016 into 2017

Arrival of Spring

Posted on: March 14th, 2014 by
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Unfortunately, we haven’t made as many posts to this blog for a while – mainly due to me being tied up with university commitments. But Spring has well and truly sprung here in North Wales, and this makes a great time to write about our successes from work over the winter, what we are doing now in the busiest season of the year, and my plans for the summer ahead.

Stone Pathway 01

Stone Pathway

Stone Pathway 02

Spending a penny without getting your feet muddy!

Over the winter during the dead time of year, Holger invested a large effort in getting some of our most used paths up to snuff: He has been spreading hardcore on the muddiest paths and topping it off with quarry stone from our local quarry. This makes a really big difference to the path from the gate to the Hafod, and from the Hafod to the loo cubicle. Even at the wettest times it means dry feet at the end of your walk. They really do look lovely, and much more clearly defined as ‘paths’ than the muddy stretches of ground we had before! I didn’t have much time to spare, given that I was only in the area for two weeks over Christmas, given the poor weather at the time, and limited slots of time during the days of a family holiday, I put my (somewhat basic) knowledge of woodworking into practice: I made a new beehive. This is different than my existing hive – it isn’t a National beehive, it is a long-hive of the top-bar design, and is supposed to be healthier for the bees and easier to manage for the bee keeper. Whether this proves to be the case or not, we’ll see. It certainly looks lovely, and I will post more about it in time. Speaking of the bees, they came through the winter very well: they were still out and about foraging up until November, and were pretty much dormant until March. 6Ag4BDI had worried that they would run very short of stores of food, given that they swarmed so late last year: Not to worry; they were absolutely fine. I did supplement them with two pound boxes of Fondant, which they slowly ate, but on the first inspection of the year in March, they still had two brood frames of honey stores. I added another brood box to the hive, and the colony should keep on growing. I may very possibly split the colony later in the summer (either into my second National, or into the long hive). The herb garden is just starting to grow for the new season: It is looking a little grey, but healthy. Some of the larger perennials didn’t actually die down this winter because the weather was so mild: this has also given them a head start. The biggest concern for the present time is to build more raised beds; expect an update on this very soon!

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

And the trees are coming into leaf… The Alder trees have catkins on them, which is precocious as they were only planted 3 years ago. The Willow beds are romping away, and even the Oak trees are coming into leaf. It’s heartening to see that individual trees are noticeable above the sea of grass as they are growing larger. Another step in the birth of a woodland. We hadn’t planned on ordering or planting any trees, but ended up planting almost 100 trees that we had waiting in pots from various sources. Cae Non is really starting to feel like a working project now, rather than just the birth of an idea. Gillian has been running her Earthwalking course at Cae Non over the winter, and it is heartening to see the place used for learning and spiritual succour. I am looking to run some day-courses on medicinal plants and growing herbs over the summer, and using herbs at home during the autumn. All in all, it feels like things are in a much better state now than they were last spring!

Arrival of the Bees

Posted on: September 1st, 2013 by
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Arrival of the Bees 1This last couple of weeks has brought a real blessing to Cae Non – we finally have a bee colony in residence! It is amazing news and marks the fulfilment of a long standing desire of mine to have bees involved in our project. Yes that’s right, involved. I don’t cultivate bees, I look after them and the live here. I consider them like I would a person or an animal.

So, the back story. Back at the end of July, I was asked at work how ready I was to be able to take a swarm. As some of you know, I have all the equipment anyway, and bought a hive last year. So I said ‘Now’ to the offer, and a week later I housed the bees (which had been housed and looked after by a friend/work colleague) in my own brood box/hive.

Arrival of the Bees 3

Now, there is a saying on the viability of swarms of bees at different times of year… It goes something along the lines of :

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly

…And my swarm was housed in July. Not that this means they are worthless to me, they are worth a great deal. But it does mean that I’m having to look after them very carefully and feed them 2 – 3 times a week on sugar syrup. Now this isn’t something I like doing as it isn’t the bees’ natural diet, but it will support them in establishing a viable colony.

We moved them down to Cae Non in the second week in August… and they have been there for just over two weeks now. I have fed them about 5 times and they are doing really well. There is still a lot of Balsam and Heather about and they seem to be off out in the surrounding area foraging. They had their first visit from the Bee Inspector last week and he was happy that they are healthy and if I keep on doing what I’m doing, should make it through the winter. So let’s have a closer look at them:

Our healthy nucleus

Our healthy nucleus – taken today. They are on 5 frames, but have capped honey on 2 more

It should be mentioned just how gentle the bees are – I’m not certain I even need to wear my gear when I have the crown board off the hive, though I do of course wear my veil at all times, especially necessary if I have the frames out! They are really placid, but have laid down a lot of honey and grown in strength quite a lot since they were housed. We started off with bees on two frames and honey on another, making three frames in total. That’s more than doubled.

Arrival of the Bees - Brood Frame

Brood frame with capped honey, and uncapped honey (Balsam (yellow), heather (Dark), and syrup (almost white/clear))

So, the start of another exciting adventure for us – I’m really enjoying the company of the bees so far, and will of course post updates when there is something to report!

Raised Beds – Building the Herb Garden

Posted on: August 20th, 2013 by
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Raised Beds 1

Building Raised Beds

The year is flying round at quite a pace, and it has been quite a while since I posted updates with progress on the herb garden. But we haven’t been idle…

Unfortunately, due to ongoing renovation work at our house, we have rather a lot of reclaimed timber at the moment. It has been absolutely ideal for making raised beds for my herbs, and so far, I have made 4 largish (7 x 3′) beds that are about 18” deep. As it happens, the hard work was not in building them, but filling them with soil; each bed took about 25 sacks of topsoil to fill. As the soil at Cae Non is so heavy with clay, we have bought in a ton of topsoil, and these beds have used most of it.

Planting up

Planting the first set of herbs for 2013

The soil is enriched with some good quality topsoil/compost we found on site, this has generally been used to top the beds as it is of better quality than the topsoil we bought in! I have also added layers of grass clippings to try to introduce some organic matter into the soil. The one different thing that I have done with these beds that is entirely new to me is the addition of bio-char. Bio-char is the introduction of small charcoal pieces into soil – it serves two purposes: firstly it locks up carbon in the soil in a very stable form that is stable for thousands of years, thus sequestering carbon. But it is the second remarkable property of bio-char that we are interested in in these beds: It greatly enriches the soil. It improves drainage as it is porous, acting as a growth media for beneficial bacteria that will put life back into the soil. It will also directly fertilise the soil too as it is rich in potash and some other minerals. This idea originates with the South American tribes who use this process to make what is known as ‘Terra Preta’ – the foundation of their crop cultivation for millennia. For those interested, more information is available here on Wikipedia.

The first bed to be constructed had the most bio-char in it as I’ve been enriching it for the longest time: It has also grown the best herbs as you can see from the photo below:

First raised beds finished and in bloom!

First raised beds finished and in bloom!

The planting list for the four raised beds so far is:

Bed 1:
Eschscholzia californica – Californian poppy
Matricaria recutita
– Chamomille
Achillea milefolium
– Yarrow

Bed 2:
Borago officinalis – Borage
Silybum marianum – Milk Thistle

Bed 3:
Althea officinalis – Mallow
Leonurus cardiaca – Motherwort
Digitalis purpurea – Purple Foxglove
Arctium lappa – Burdock

Bed 4:Valeriana officinalis – Valerian
Verbena officinalis – Vervain
Inula helenium – Elecampane

Many more raised beds are planned, but this is a good start for this summer, and we should soon be reaping the harvest of some of the herbs planted this year!

By The Stream

Posted on: August 10th, 2013 by
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The Stream 1Looking across Dafydd’s Californian poppy herb bed and the stream, with the bench just visible on the opposite bank beneath the big old gorse bush. The carving of the Owl stands guard to one side of the path.

The Stream 2

The Salmon of Wisdom stands at the other side of the path, near the steps down to the stream. In the background is our neighbouring hill, one of several low peaks which shelter us from the winds that blow in across the sea. It is easy to walk to the top and gives a fantastic view of the ocean on one side and the spread of the Llyn Peninsula on the other. Note that the balsam is in full flower, but is more valued now that we have our first colony of bees!

The Stream 3

The steps down the the stream, with moley’s little offering of tunnelled soil in evidence to the right of the bottom step!

Midsummer Solstice

Posted on: June 22nd, 2013 by
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Midsummer Solstice

All set to celebrate the midsummer, only the weather was proving a bit fickle and moody so to be on the safe side, we erected our teepee tent and prepared to celebrate under-cover if necessary. Here everything is set for the festivities to begin. It is good to know that in summer we can also use a similar arrangement to shelter us from rain, wind or sun if we wish to hold some of the workshops and discussions outside when the weather is a bit too potent for our vulnerable human condition. As it turned out, we never went inside the tent; chilly and a bit wind-blown we gathered in the grove of baby oak saplings where we also later lit a blazing bonfire around which we sat, sucking on delicious lollypops purchased from the old fashioned sweet shop in Harlech.

Midsummer Blessings

Posted on: June 21st, 2013 by
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It is hard to believe as I sit here in the hafod at Cae Non, with rain lashing the window and wind howling down from the mountain, but today is misdummer… The height of the sun’s potency and the peak of the year before the downwards run towards winter. We are sitting taking a rest after a frenetic few days of work sprucing up the domestic area of the field, and planting raised beds with herbs. Tomorrow we will hold our midsummer celebration and have a weekend of communal festivities. But now we sit in near darkness, hot tea in hand and sore feet in gum boots, and light a small clay lamp; made from the sodden clay of this very land and we bring light from darkness. A more midwinter than midsunmer activity.

Either way, we honour this light peak of the year (and it is light too… half 10 at night and still grey light over the hills) and celebrate its bounty and abundance (gardeners trying to get things to grow will know what I mean!)

Deepest blessings of midsummer to you all wherever you may be… may this time of year give you the growth, nourishment and light that our trees take from the sun!

A Long-held Dream

Posted on: June 12th, 2013 by
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Tripod 1 It has long been a dream of mine to be able to have a camp-fire with a proper tripod (the kind I used to see in pictures of Gypsy encampments in my childhood storybooks). This one was imported from America where outdoor camping and cooking is a lot more widespread and popular. The cast iron cooking pot (which can also be used to bake cakes by playing hot embers on the lid) is also from America. I would ideally prefer a plump little black Welsh cauldroun, but I suppose that one has to move with the times – but that really would be the realisation of a dream for me and after all, Cae Non is the sort of place where dreams really do come true. If anyone knows where I can purchase a traditionally-shaped cauldroun which can actually be used for cooking in, please let me know in the comment box below!

Tripod 2

The contents of our first pan to be heated was Meadowsweet from which Dafydd attempted to make beer. I cannot say that it was an entirely sucessful experiment, but it was certainly good fun and interesting.

Have Trolley, Will Travel

Posted on: June 9th, 2013 by
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Have Trolley, Will Travel 1How can one man on his own carry/move an exceptionally heavy picnic table with built in benches half way up a field? No, it isn’t by levitation, although we had considered just about everything else! Holger managed to balance it on our little two-wheeled trolley which we normally use for transporting sacks of coal and logs, cylinders of gas and that sort of thing at home. With some judicious balancing and the use of a couple of pieces of string, he succeeded in pulling it all the way from behind the hard standing (where it had languished since January) to its new position outside the Hafod. Now we have somewhere permenant and stable out of doors to prepare food, eat meals, wash up, or simply sit in the sunshine!

Have Trolley, Will Travel 2

Here the table is already in use – preparing for a barbecue; note the Bratwurst brought by Holger’s relatives from Germany and infinitely superior to anything you can buy here.

A goodly sight

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 by
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A Goodly SightA comforting sight at the end of a long day working outside in the bightingly cold air of this long delayed early spring! Hot water in the kettle for washing hands, coffee ready in the perc, keeping warm, savoury stew in the pan ready to be eaten, and a bottle of wine for afterwards – mostly courtesy of our wonderful little wood-burning stove, with lots more logs ready to go into it and blaze up to toast us nicely. What more could a body ask?