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I suppose I must view it like the Ingalls’ grasshoppers, massive setback at the Welsh Hovel

Tom Winnifrith
Saturday 16 October 2021

Joshua and I are now almost at the end of On the Shores of Silver Lake the fourth of the books by the great libertarian author Laura Ingalls Wilder. My old babysitter, DD, is also re-reading the series, just for her own pleasure, and is now a book ahead of us in The Long Winter. She says I must store up well at the Welsh Hovel as tough and cold times lie ahead. However, on that front, today saw a gut-wrenching setback.

The larder is now well provisioned and the piles in my wood-shed grow taller by the day. In the last of these sunny October days I am still bringing in and chopping wood and there is still plenty to do in the garden. But, as I took some bought in bacon to put in my freezer kept in the food shed today: disaster. Some bastard of a workman had pulled the plug on the freezer to power some sort of device and not bothered putting it back. Naturally, everybody who might have done it blames somebody else.

My spring onions frozen only a few days ago were still crunchy and survived. Some of the packs of beans at the back of the cabinet had survived but most of those beans picked, topped and tailed and carefully blanched before packing and freezing have “gone West” as had all the peppers and spinach. My rage was absolute. So much effort, so much time and then this …

The Mrs teases me about my homesteading but even she was brimming with sympathy as I took a wheelbarrow full of bags up to the compost tip to empty.  I must think that my hero Charles Ingalls had to walk through the snows to go work back East when the grasshoppers took his crops at Plum Creek.  I do have some beans and peppers stored in oil. My carrots are stored in sand, and the apples on the apple rack so all survived. The shelves of the larder are packed with jams and pickled vegetables. Vodkas, gins, onions, squashes and garlic are stored there aplenty.

And my summer spinach has had a second spurt so I can harvest and store afresh tomorrow and on Monday while there are also still beetroot and radishes in the ground for autumn harvesting and preserving. Meanwhile my winter sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach and leeks are racing ahead and should be ready by Christmas while the winter spuds might also come good. Tonight, I make chutney with another crop of windfall cooking apples and the plan tomorrow is to sweet pickle a batch of radishes.

So all is not lost. I am working in my head how I can increase the fruit yield in the vegetable patch — so will be planting a stack of bushes over the next eight weeks — but also to increase the yield of vegetables next year. After decades of being the jungle, an area where the soil was nourished by rotting plants each winter, the soil will still be productive next year before next Autumn it gets the benefits from the compost pits.

It does, however, also make me look forward massively to the day when this place is free of workmen, other than my good self. The annexe, the newer part of the house built in the 1700s and 1800s, is now just a day or two from being finished. In late November my study roof will be repaired and A, a bit of a star, will work with his son and brother to strip, restore  and redecorate the hall, stairs and upstairs landing and then the inside of the house, apart from its attic, is done. 

Meanwhile brickie J is now three days away from finishing repointing the barns. He will then move onto the house and to dealing with three fireplaces, where the work of others needs “correcting” and an internal wall which the Mrs wants polishing up. So there is light at the end of the tunnel. J will be done by March.

Of course, there is also the inside of the barns and of my office and the food store and the doors and windows of the barns and some guttering but those are tasks for which there is no great rush and where I really can pitch in myself and where progress will be made over a winter where we are still, notwithstanding today’s setback, well provisioned for fuel and food and, fear not Olaf, booze.

By Easter this place will by free of workmen for a while at least. The garden will be expanded and humming and I shall be working on expansion plans for both orchards. That is an excitement to look forward to rather than raging about today’s upset.  

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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