Hedge Laying – Welsh style

Despite more than half a century of living in the countryside yesterday was the first time I have actually had a go at hedge laying. My father had been taught to lay hedges as a lad but had not had the need nor felt the inclination to practise this ancient art. So it was a delight to be booked on to a one day course as a Christmas present from my good lady wife. The course was scheduled for the 15th February at Kate Humble’s “Humble by Nature” Penalt Farm, near Monmouth. A farm rescued from obscurity when the last tenant retired and in the process of being turned into a rural skills centre of excellence by Kate and her team. Humble By Nature
Hedge laying - work in progress
Hedge laying is an ancient craft going back centuries and long before fencing was used. A process of working with and using nature to create stock-proof barriers, wind-breaks, shelter and wildlife habitat with little more than a billhook a saw and a wooden mallet created from a wood off-cut. Intensive agriculture and mechanisation over the last seventy years have resulted in the practise of hedge laying virtually dying out, but with a growing realisation that our current energy intensive systems are ultimately unsustainable interest is growing again.
The journey from Ruabon to Penalt early Saturday morning, through Hereford and Monmouth was picturesque as usual but extremely wet with frequent heavy rain showers, however the weather forecast was reasonable, particularly if you are an optimist.
Arriving without incident exactly on time at 9.45 I, together with nine other willing hedge layers enjoyed a coffee and an excellent slice of flapjack and listened to the safety briefing before we were led across sodden meadows to our hedge.
A previous course had already laid a section of about fifty metres and it looked good, we were to do the next section which had a number of worrying gaps.
Tim and Paul our tutors for the day skilfully demonstrated the process of pleaching using a billhook. Thankfully we were today learning a Welsh style of hedge laying, which is in my opinion more functional and less fussy than some of the numerous other styles. The Welsh style uses significant quantities of old brush wood to create a dense thorny bottom to the hedge protecting new shoots from hungry sheep’s mouths and giving the hedge time to regenerate – and help bridge gaps.
Divided into three groups, each group set about a section, selecting what to keep and what to cut out, with posts hammered into the soil every half metre or so progress was steady. The day passed all to quickly with break for an excellent hot lunch back at the farm and at five o’clock when our sections joined and we were able to add the bindings to the top, holding it all firm and even if I say so myself, looking pretty good.
Hedge laying - ready for the binding
If you are interested in learning new rural skills or indeed can share your knowledge of rural skills please contact any of the Growing Ruabon team and lets see what we can do locally.

Soil Testing.

Soil is the skin of the earth and probably our most valuable asset but commonly referred to as dirt. As a lad growing up on a Bedfordshire small holding I was taught how important it was to look after soil and was never allowed to refer to it as dirt – dirt was a nasty substance that should be avoided.
Soil acts as an engineering medium, a habitat for soil organisms, a recycling system for nutrients and organic wastes, a regulator of water quality, a modifier of atmospheric composition, and a medium for plant growth. Since soil has a tremendous range of available niches and habitats, it contains most of the earth’s genetic diversity. A handful of soil can contain billions of organisms, belonging to thousands of species.
The pH value of soil is important as when at its optimum level nutrients required for plant growth are freed and made available for the plant to absorb them via its root system. With that in mind, yesterday I processed some samples of soil taken from my garden as a base point.
Soil samples
Four samples from different parts of the garden have been allowed to dry out on the windowsill.

Soil testing kit
Soil testing kit bought from the internet.

Greenhouse bed pH test

Long wall bed

Raised bed (ex Broad Beans)

Orchard bed
The above pictures show that even in a small garden there is variation, this is party because some areas have received more compost than others and the raised beds have been filled with soil bought in and brought to the garden. With the pH level confirmed to be suitable for growing food plants I intend to record the results and recheck in a years time to see if it improves with regular and generous mulching.

Candlemas Day – 2nd February

Today, the 2nd February is Candlemas Day and marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. The name Candlemas is associated with the Christian festival day (or mass) of the candles. It was the day of the year when all the candles, that were to be used in Church during the coming year were brought to church and a blessing was said over them.
But as a country boy growing up in the 1950’s I was more interested in the weather-lore and proverbs associated with it. People believed that Candlemas Day predicted the weather for the rest of the winter. The weather proverbs express the idea that a fine bright sunny Candlemas Day means that there is more winter to come, whereas a cloudy wet, stormy and cold day means that the worst of winter is over.
Clematis in leaf
“If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o winter’s to come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o the winter’s gane at Yule.”

Now I can honestly say that despite have seen well over fifty Candlemas days I have never remembered in summer to check. Today has been a huge improvement on yesterday with much sun and midday temperatures nudging double figures so we shall have see, we certainly have had no winter at all yet, just a very long and wet autumn.
Looking round the growing beds today there are too many signs of spring, leaves already on the Clematis and hawthorn and buds ready to burst on soft fruit cuttings
Blackcurrant cuttings taken last October. Nature has a knack of catching up and I fear winter will be hear, but late again like last year!
“When the badger peeps out of his sett on Candlemas Day,
And, if he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his sett.”
Hawthorn buds bursting into leaf
“A farmer should, on Candlemas Day,
Have half his corn and half his hay.”
Cherry buds