Autumn Flowers

Late October Cranesbill Geraniums

It is hard to believe that Samhain is next week when my garden is full of flowers that normally bloom in May or June.

Potentilla Miss Willmott still going

Several died back to ground level during the drought, put on growth in the rains of August, and the Campanulas started flowering again in September. They were joined by a Leucanthemum, giant scabious, candytuft, sweet cicely, sweet rocket, and now even the geraniums which I thought I had lost are having a good go. Along with the usual autumn flowers of course!

Sweet Cicely enjoying a second flush of flowers

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ still flowering in late October

Hazelnuts were so early that I missed most of them. Yet the Eucryphia tree in our garden which usually flowers in August did so at the normal time, and has carried on, and on…

Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.

And one that flowered at the normal time, a Paeonia mlokoseiwitschii I grew from seed and now producing the first of the next generation. The flies seem to like this too.

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The Hidden Gifts of Drought

England is usually a damp country. I can expect it to rain at least once a week, very rarely do I even need to consider watering the plants outside. However, after a wet spring and snow in April, we had a dryish May and a totally dry June. July has so far managed one short shower, which showed little evidence in the empty water butts.

I usually feel very connected to our weather, and help to balance it in my area. However, this summer has been something I haven’t experienced before. A completely stuck weather system, that has no interest in moving anywhere. The only messages I have received are that it would rather we took note of what we are doing to the Earth and how we use the resources available to us, and doesn’t want to change until we notice.

This has raised many issues for me, both in terms of my connection to the weather and rainfall, and in how I use water myself.

First the weather, I always remind myself that I only ask, and while most of the time my requests are answered, sometimes they are not for various reasons. The main reason I have noticed my requests having no effect is when the weather pattern is much greater than my little area. A lack of wind can be tricky as well, although this can be built into any request. But I also noticed early on how hard it is to be single minded in wanting to change the weather when everyone around me is just enjoying the long sunny summer days and clear blue skies, and when there are all sorts of practical reasons such as house building work that the sun is aiding. It is also hard to want wind when it would only fan the flames of the various moorland fires that are raging further north in Derbyshire and nearby. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there are floods, as you might expect to bring balance to the Earth. As time goes on however, I just pray for rain with no reservations – and try to enjoy whatever weather arrives here.

The second aspect is my garden. I am aware that over the past few years, with having a pre-school child with me most of the time, I have had to simply let a lot go. This year I wanted to be much more proactive, sowing and re-sowing vegetable seeds, and watering the growing plants during dry periods.

First I appreciated ‘indicator’ plants like those pansies mentioned earlier being fast to wilt and letting me know that water was required. I duly watered the vegetables and the strawberries, plus the few flowers in pots – one with pansies and one with pelargoniums. After a while I grew bored of watering every day and considered getting a sprinkler that would cover just the area of my vegetables, four small raised beds. Then there was talk of water shortages. Instead I stopped watering the fruit, leaving it to finish, and just water the vegetables three times a week. They are not exactly thriving, but they are still growing and producing courgettes and lettuces and peas with tomatoes, beans, brassicas and sweetcorn well on their way. But as each area comes to a finish, I shall cease watering and not plant anything else until the weather changes.

What amazes me however, is how much I have learned about my garden by doing this, and some of the other small changes I have made recently. To thoroughly inspect crops every day or every other day has been a valuable experience to see how they are growing, what is ready for picking, and what pests arrive and need dealing with. As is doing my hip physio while I stand with the hosepipe! Fruit has been very early and small, yet the strawberries scarcely got eaten and the raspberries had a massive crop given there was no rain damage to the smaller fruit. Alpine strawberries are very small, yet are still going much longer than usual – so many tiny fruits I made a pot of jam from them. Flowers have few leaves and haven’t filled their usual spaces, but many are managing a great display, and there are a lot more seeds than usual. Even if they don’t all survive, I’m hoping I will be able to replace them from fresh stock – after all, plants die in hard winters, this is just a hard summer. There are far fewer weeds, although there is no way I can do weeding in our solid clay soil. The pond still has water in it and is going down slower than I might have anticipated – it may need some kind of a top-up soon although I am resisting for as long as possible and just watching to see how it does. All the sunshine is of course helping the waterlilies to their best display ever. Meanwhile our grass is about the greenest of any around which has really puzzled me. I can only put this down to more shade than in other gardens nearby, and a more suitable variety of grass since I deliberately went for ‘hardwearing’ rather than the more beautiful lawn options. And the clover is still green!

Finally, an interesting ‘message’ I got this Spring about my front garden was that the gravel we had inherited in the area wasn’t doing it any good – too sterile, and too reflective of light and heat combined with the bare brick house. It faces due south, and gets very warm – or else I wouldn’t be able to grow sweetcorn there! So after much thought, I decided to leave any low growing ‘weeds’ in the gravel, and see how it developed from there. The main one is self-heal, with yarrow, pink geraniums, lavender, centranthus, sisyrinchiums and lots of early chionodoxa all having seeded themselves. Just the grass, dandelions, American willowherb and spurge I still try and weed out, when it isn’t baked too solid. Not only am I happier with it now, but so are the other plants.

Dragon Hill

I found it. Next to the White Horse at Uffington is a small, flat-topped hill, supposedly where the dragon was slain by St George. Or St Michael. Nothing will grow there now; the dragon’s blood has apparently spilt everywhere and poisoned it.

Stories of dragons being killed are not likely to induce me to visit a place by themselves; given that Fireball had said he would meet me there (see previous two posts) my immediate reaction was to try and investigate the truth of the hill. It turns out to be quite interesting. The hill is entirely natural, but its top was quarried off in the bronze age or earlier to leave a flattish wide area a little larger than the average stone circle. The reason nothing grows is because there are very high levels of potash in the soil, indicating that huge numbers of fires have been laid there over a long period of time. So I was quite looking forward to what I might find there.

A visit was planned (it wasn’t too far from where I grew up), the day booked, the forecast was good. Then as the day approached, the forecast got worse and worse – I had no walking boots or waterproof trousers with me having traveled light on the train with M, and while a small amount of dampness could be coped with, the promised day-long deluge could not. So the evening before, when everything looked impossible, I said to Fireball that if he wanted to meet me on Dragon Hill then he would have to do something about the rain!

Luckily he did. The morning started badly with one delay after another, but then I decided to trust that there was a reason for all the delays, the weather was checked again and lo and behold the front had moved much faster than previously expected and should be clearing around lunchtime. We took a dry diversion to look at some medieval stained glass on the way, and did indeed arrive exactly as the rain eased, giving us a dry picnic and afternoon. Thanks Fireball!

I visited the horse first, which having just had its annual ‘chalking’ completed the day before was looking stunning. It is amazing to think that if just ten years went by with no one rechalking the horse, it would be lost, probably forever. The horse has now been shown to be over 3,000 years old, thanks to methods of dating the soil in the bottom of the pits containing the chalk. In that time the horse has gradually worked its way UP the hill, so is now more easily seen from the sky than by people in the area – there are suggestions it once acted as a ‘flag’ for the tribe who lived there. Maybe there were once many more such pictures on the hillsides, such as the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington, but they simply weren’t cared for over the centuries.

Next I walked down to Dragon Hill, a large zig zag of a path at present to reduce the damage of walking down the steep spur of the hill. The alternative route is less steep, but doesn’t connect the two. I mention this, because once I was at the top of Dragon Hill, what really made an impression on me was the way in which each part connected. The fires of the hill, huge, held at times of passing or special ceremonies, had most of the watchers down below on a flatter area. Then the procession up, along the line of the horse, to the fort beyond. However, after sitting a bit longer I felt that for a small number of people the journey would be in the other direction. Possibly their last journey on this Earth. Most people would not have walked the line of the horse however; unless they or the event was special in some way, they probably would have taken a route nearer to the zig zag one I took, part of which was worn deep into the ground. Finally I looked down to the area called The Manger, where the horse is said to descend to graze on moonlit nights, and realised how green it was there compared to the dry chalkiness of the ridgeway. It would have been an excellent place for animals to graze, as it still is now.

I returned to the area later in a meditation journey, and realised I had already received one of the most important ‘lessons’ for me at this special place: to look at the relationships between different aspects of places, seeing a more holistic view of the landscape rather than just one key point. The shape of the land, to really feel it and connect with it, how it was formed, how the different aspects relate to each other and why this site possesses such innate power. This power was of course recognised by the bronze age tribe who lived there, and I started to see glimpses of what might have been.

Some distance away is a long barrow known as Wayland’s Smithy, or on older maps as Wayland’s Smith Cave. Legends also connect this to the white horse, who is said to go there every hundred years to be shod. (The last time he went was apparently in 1920, so a visit is almost due…) However I was surprised to feel little connection between the two sites, and unlike the similar, larger barrow at West Kennet, did not feel any strong energy flows here. My feeling was that it was used at a different time period to the fire hill, possibly also by people who lived in the fort and deliberately planned it some distance away in order that it may be quiet there. Separated by space. It does however have a magic of its own due to the trees that surround it. Beech and not particularly old, they provide shelter and protection, preventing the energies of the place just rushing out along the much used track which is the ridgeway. It is static, feminine, and a good place to connect with the Earth since the chambers are so low that it is necessary to crouch down very small.

Tadpole update

Mass of emerged tadpoles

I thought anyone who follows my blog might like to know that the tadpoles are all wriggling about the pond…

The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!

Tadpole off exploring

Water Meditations

I am in water, I am nearly part of the water. I am wishing I could come back not as a human but as a water elemental. Oh to be a drop of rain, falling through the sky, then trickling through vegetation into a stream. To be a part of that, part of a river, the sea. Waves, or deep water. The feeling is so powerful, it catches me by surprise.

Could I simply do that?

Then I see a problem. Water elementals are formed and unformed when they are needed and not needed. They live, but then disappear as the water evaporates, taking no memory with them.*

A human has memory, too much sometimes. I feel weighed down. I want to be free. Tears run down my face.

But then I remember that as a human I can follow the water with my mind. I can go into the tree with my mind, up out of the leaves. I can play in a huge stopper at the bottom of a pourover, or just drift lazily down a summer stream where ducks make their way back and forth. And I can keep the memory of each exploration, bring it into my own life – along with so many other things as well. I make a vow to go swimming again.

* On further reflection I realise this probably isn’t true. Elementals can be themselves again when they reform, or even a more developed, further advanced version of themselves, just as we are in essence ourselves again in each lifetime. Spirit, in all its forms, is conscious. But it may be just as well I didn’t consider this at the time…

——

It is two weeks later. I journey astrally to meet the elemental of the swimming pool where I have been going. I tried to make contact when physically at the pool, but just had the impression of colourful swirls of energy, the colours associated with swimming pools, of blues and whites, strangely the blues nearly the same as what I was wearing.

In my journey I was able to see her much more clearly. She is far more advanced than the simple elementals, more like a mermaid in form. I shall call her a Deva, as that is how she seemed to me. Her main colours were indeed swirls of light blue and white, with the occasional streak of dark blue. She had long blond hair, and overall looked like an Art Nouveau image of a graceful woman, but with her form unfixed and ever changing. I was surprised that when she came out of the pool to talk to me, she had legs, but they disappeared again as soon as she re-entered the water. She was young, and as bright and clear as the water. (Which is the nicest public swimming pool water I can ever remember being in.)

As the pool suddenly became busy, she excused herself and said she had to go. I watched her guiding several people to avoid collisions, and supporting anyone learning to swim – one girl of about six or seven in particular was getting a lot of help from her to float gently.

I then left the pool and came to my own garden, to try and meet the Deva of our pond. She was completely different in looks and character, swirls of greens, lots of browns, a dash of pink and red from the waterlily, dark hair, more frog-like. She had no time to stop, so busy was she trying to keep the balance of this very young pond. I thanked her for her efforts and told her how beautiful it was looking. I then returned the way I had come, for once not feeling bereft as I re-entered ordinary reality.

Frogs in the Rain Pond

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond. (Click to enlarge)

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond.
(Click to enlarge)

This is the first week that a frog has been spotted in our pond. Swimming, and looking happy.

There were two animals I really hoped to attract when building the pond – one was frogs, the other was dragonflies. From all I have read, importing animals or frogspawn is a bad idea; nature will usually turn up when conditions are right.

I have not written here about planting the pond, beyond designing a pot lifter to move the pots around in deep water. (See ‘Planting the Rain Pond’, 17 April 2016.) It has been an interesting learning curve for me, starting with the basics of understanding water plants, how many and what types are needed, what depths they like, and how to actually plant them when they arrive as bare-rooted specimens. General advice I could find was to avoid anything remotely invasive, put in more plants than you might expect, and allow time for a balance to be reached.

So I dowsed with my trusty pendulum to find out which plants would like to be in my pond, bought one of everything that said it would, three of each of the oxygenating plants that get planted in bunches, and then spent the best part of a day fitting the whole lot into pots. The weather promptly turned cold with snow, growth was at a minimum, and virtually nothing happened. It then got hot, algae grew and, with virtually no plant cover on the surface yet, the pond needed frequent topping up from water butts. Algae continued to grow, and most of the plants disappeared from view, and I feared would never be seen again…

There are probably more plants that absolutely necessary, but it has been fascinating to me to watch how they all grow so differently. Forgetmenots and brooklime have sprawled all over the place and leave trailing roots through the water that I suspect will attempt to invade their neighbours. Irises just sit there looking small. But the water hawthorn sent up flower stems very shortly after being planted, giving hope. Now all of the various plants seem to have recovered and are growing and flowering; even my waterlily, which I feared drowned for some months due to its disappearance into the depths, has sent up a flower bud. And the water soldiers have risen like a bunch of pineapples as the water suddenly cleared a couple of weeks ago.

So now I have a frog. I can’t help wondering if the fact I went swimming two days before for the first time in a few years, making new, deep connections with water and water elementals, had something to do with its arrival. I wanted to take a photograph of it, and of course couldn’t find it. Best evidence was rustling in some plants the other end of the garden, where frogs have occasionally been spotted before. I went back later at a similar time of day to when I had seen it before, mid to late afternoon, looked again in the branches of the scruffiest plant there, and this time found not one but two frogs in the pond! I guess the brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) will be staying…

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Cycling in the Nearly Rain

I don’t usually take M cycling in the rain. I don’t mind for myself, but I do like to get warm and dry afterwards. So it was unfortunate that the first opportunity we have had to go for an actual cycle ride, somewhere new, rather than just ‘transport’ on our regular route, it drizzled the whole time. Luckily M is still of a size to have a onesie rainsuit to fit her…

Since May we have upgraded the bike trailer for a Weehoo. For those unfamiliar with this relatively new tagalong, it features pedals but also a strap-in armchair seat, so is suitable from age 2-9 for children over three feet tall. The fact that M is not yet a pedal bike rider herself makes it exciting from her point of view, to be able to pedal and signal and have her own bell to ring, but I have found it rather challenging to pull!

The two-wheeled trailer we had acted as a big dead weight behind me, steadying out any wobbles from either of us, especially mine when in bottom gear uphill. The Weehoo, by contrast, amplifies every slightest error and is therefore subject to some interesting passenger-affected manoeuvres. However having only the one wheel, and the potential for passenger help up the hills (this is Derbyshire!), after a bit of practice I am finding it easier to pull despite being virtually the same weight overall.

The other big difference between the trailer and the Weehoo is starting and stopping. I have found a kickstand to be an essential piece of kit as, while I can just about manage to straddle the trailer bar to do up the straps for M, turning around without dropping my bike requires a level of gymnastic ability that I no longer possess. It also requires a very flat and stable area of ground. Luckily undoing the straps is easy and something she can almost do by herself before climbing out of the seat – provided she is awake! I have returned more than once with a sleeping passenger and have been sorry I could not simply leave her where she was, like I could with the trailer!

So for our first leisure ride, we had the opportunity to cycle the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire’s Peak District. I have walked a few sections, but a few years ago the six tunnels were reopened and cyclists have been able to ride a 8.5 mile stretch from near Bakewell to the railway junction outside Buxton, where trains still run. It is a slow ride! It can be pretty busy, even on a damp day, and the Weehoo makes fast changes in direction tricky; even with the flag flying it was pretty invisible to walkers who assumed a nimble solo rider on a touring bike could get round them easily. Also starting from the Bakewell end, the trail is gently uphill almost the whole way, with a fairly rough surface – but even on the return journey there were too many people to go at more than about 10mph. The Buxton end has a different surface, which sprayed mud and surface water a lot more – the crud-catcher on the Weehoo, which always scratches or digs into my legs when holding the bike upright, remained completely clean thanks to my mudguard, yet the pedal area and passenger still managed to get a good coating. The Weehoo’s wheel could also do with a mudguard, as it flicks mud all over the place including the back of the seat up to the passenger’s head, and onto the tiny panniers that fit it. Yet another thing to sort out for next time!

There are several potential places to stop along the trail, with benches or even picnic tables, facilities and ice creams, but sadly the weather was not conducive to us taking advantage. Instead we enjoyed walking through one of the tunnels and eating an emergency rations chocolate bar in the dry.

I would love to say M’s verdict was big smiles, and that is what she gives me most of the time, but on this occasion I had a contented sleeper for the last three miles instead – and memories of rain. I guess we will have to go back and do it again when it is sunny!

Smelling Rain

I have recently discovered that I can smell approaching rain, when I am outside, sometimes to the point of being able to work out how far away it is. This comes as a great surprise to me not least because my sense of smell is at best undeveloped, and frequently non-existent.

Thanks to my nose and lung problems over the years, I am frequently unable to even breathe through my nose. I can often smell in reverse by taking a deep breath and blowing out through my nose, or blowing my nose after drinking a good wine or eating chocolate, but smelling things through my nose is pretty variable. If I need to check the milk is okay, I get a second opinion! However maybe thanks to the work I have been doing with rain, I have discovered I can actually smell it before it arrives. So I have started to try and understand this process.

There are three possible things I could be smelling. One is from the Air above us, Ozone, particularly associated with thunderstorms. This is because lightning can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules to form small amounts of nitric oxide – which then re-reacts to form ozone. These ozone molecules, smelling similar to chlorine, may then be blown on the winds that precede a storm. That assumes a storm is present however, which I’m not sure is always the case!

The second and third scents come from the Earth and are Petrichor, the oils released from rocks formed from a variety of plant and animal sources, plus the compound geosmin, which is created by soil-dwelling bacteria. Most investigations have focused on the fact that these scents are released when rain drops hit the soil or rocks, sending spores and oils into the air and giving that fresh, earthy smell so many people love after it has rained. But this doesn’t explain why I should smell anything before it rains – especially as I have never smelt anything particular afterwards, just noticed the change in the feel of the air. A more recent theory says that as the humidity increases, the petrichor is released from pores in the rocks or soil, thus preceding the rainfall. This may be possible, and it has been suggested it is the cause for cattle becoming restless before rain. However, I don’t get the ‘smell’ of rain on a humid day! I only get the ‘smell’ shortly before actual rain.

Then last year researchers from MIT managed to film water drops landing on different surfaces and replay it in slow motion – and found that the Petrichor effervesces like champagne from porous surfaces, when the rain is light. These aerosols can then be carried on the winds in front of the rain for long distances. When you consider that a front is not just the mile or so wide it seems to us on the ground where the weather is, but often hundreds of miles wide all the way up through the atmosphere, then it makes sense to be smelling approaching rain before we can see it. It would also explain how other bacteria become airborne and cause certain diseases to spread.

However, I still can’t help wondering, given how poor my sense of smell actually is, whether there is some intuition or other sense at work rather than simply smelling. Many animals are aware of approaching rain – and from an evolutionary perspective this is a useful thing as following the smell back would lead to where it had rained and food will be growing. (Camels finding oases is one suggested example.) It helps us know to find shelter, or to put out pots for harvesting rainwater. In my own life, living in a modern world with waterproof clothes, houses, and taps I can turn on and off at will, I don’t often need these skills – and yet as the Earth becomes more unbalanced these may become the skills of the future.

Planting the Rain Pond

We finally finished the pond at the beginning of this month: emptied all the tap water out, (two hose siphons and a lot of buckets, which M loved helping with!) cemented the edging in place, and refilled the pond using rain water as far as possible over a few wet days, cleaning out a water butt in the process. So I ordered a whole list of plants online, which duly arrived this week as bare-rooted specimens ready for potting up.

It really was a joyful experience, spending the best part of a day planting everything out and seeing all the exciting new water-loving plants I was able to add to my garden. The mesh pots were filled with soil that came out of the pond (best growing media for ponds apparently, far better than expensive ‘aquatic compost’! Only wish someone had told me this before I spread most of the soil around the garden as I would have set aside a neat pile of it.) Then followed the process of working out which end of each plant was root (not always obvious this early in the season) and trying to spread them out in the soil, plunging the pots into a tub of water, and then adding stones to fill the space created. Finally putting the pots in the water at the required depth, trying to assign each plant to a shelf of the right depth. Twenty times and I got a good work out!

How to get a newly planted pot into the bottom of the pond without spilling it was something I gave quite a bit of thought to. Eventually I came up with the idea that if all the pots were the square plastic type with a lip, it should be possible to design a flat wide hook that would fit under the lip and a flat bit to stop it pivoting. (Round pots wouldn’t work as the diameters would vary.)

Pot lifter, close up view

Pot lifter, close up view

Pot lifter in action.

Pot lifter in action.

So here it is. My amazing pot lifter, made (not by me) entirely from metal scraps we already had and riveted together. The top plate has a spacer so that it tucks neatly under the lip, the odd shaped slot in the centre is to fit various size pots with webbing under the lip. I won’t say it is easy guiding a heavy 10L pot full of soil into position, but it worked, and I know I can now move pots if I need to. Hopefully they won’t need too much attention: at least this is one type of pot that will never need watering…

The Rain Pond – Part 2

The rain pond is now a pond at last… just! By doing the work slowly over a few weeks it has meant we have had plenty of thinking and reading time as plans have needed adjusting.

Rain Pond Levels

Rain Pond Levels


Here is the hole at its most visible, which has various levels for planting as well as some deep water and a shallow concrete area we plan to cover with cobbles. The concrete path luckily turned out to be not as thick or hard as feared, although being laid on top of concrete pavement slabs meant that it broke where the joints were rather than exactly where we planned. There was more concrete at a depth of 2’6”, which we considered leaving in place; however after a few days of looking at it, I decided the hole was not deep enough so a hole was punched through part of it leaving a small shelf for deep plants or for standing on if needing to climb out of the pond.

I did not plan to have the shelf along the side, wanting a greater volume of water if possible, but after reading suggestions that marginal plants would cope better with a pumped pond than deep water plants, I left the soil in place. Not as large a shelf as I first made it – again, time played a role in allowing me to feel where it was right and where more soil removal was needed. (The pump won’t be installed until a second pond is in place further up the garden.)

Many books seem to suggest that it is very hard to dig a pond and the hire of a digger is almost an essential tool for the job. I didn’t want to use a digger, I wanted to do it myself. Besides the damage a digger would cause to the surrounding garden would take months to restore. As it was, the digging turned out to be the easy bit, whereas carting bucket after bucket after bucket of soil to spread in the garden, and finding enough places to put it where I was only covering weeds not valued plants, proved a far bigger challenge!

All the soil dug out was eventually transferred to other areas of the garden. You may be able to see by the colour of the sides that most of it is good, usable topsoil. However at one end of the pond we were into stones and clay; the stones have been kept for later use while the remaining clay and gravel was spread by the side of the garage where it unlikely to support too many weeds.

Yesterday we spent the day leveling the edges, spreading sand on flat areas and smoothing out some of the lumps and bumps,laying out the underlay and finally lining the pond and filling it with water. A canoeing drysuit came in useful as the many pleats in the liner needed easing into flatness! So the pond is now ready for some edging stones, and then I finally get to put some plants in, by which time the water should have de-chlorinated itself. All future top-ups should be rainwater, either directly from the sky or via roofs and waterbutts.

Sour Grapes?

I read some interesting comments this week, talking about the way fruit and vegetables are treated:

“By spraying poisonous chemicals on our fields and gardens, we killed the micro-organisms and bacteria that provided the glue that held the soil together in its crumb formation. … Once the micro-organisms and bacteria had been killed, their work – which was to excrete humic acids that would break down mineral elements into nutrient forms the plants could use – did not take place! … Plants grown in poor, dying or dead soil were not healthy enough to withstand cold, heat, periods without rain, or the normal range of pests, fungi, and viruses that lived in any soil. … The dead and collapsed soil we insisted on trying to grow foods in was just not capable of producing either healthy plants or healthy foods. Since insects and fungus were nature’s garbage collectors, her way of cleaning up sick, diseased, or dysfunctional plants and removing them from the landscape because they were not fit for consumption, our continued use of poisonous sprays to protect worthless crops was nothing less than ridiculous, ignorant, and doomed. … Fruits, vegetables and grains that grew from dead soil were almost as dead as the dirt they came from. Even when they looked beautiful they lacked basic levels of proteins, sugars and minerals. Worse, they contained chemical residues and other poisons. Healthy, normal amounts of protein in vegetables and fruits had to be at least 25 percent to support human life. Foods grown in these depleted soils of these United States had been at 3 percent or less for at least thirty-five years.”
Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

And that is just proteins. Huge numbers of trace minerals are missing from these crops, leached out of the soil that hasn’t been taken care of, and further unbalanced by using NPK fertilisers with many of the essential trace elements missing. The effects of waxing or preserving fruits for storage, then gassing to ripen them only adds to the chemical imbalance.

Fundamentally for me was this statement:

“Most of us were paying for cheap, poisoned foods grown in depleted soils and still complaining that it cost too much to eat. No one realized that what was saved at the grocery store was being spent at the hospital.”
Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

As someone who has had major health issues in the past, this struck a chord within me. I don’t like buying overly processed food, or non-organic vegetables or fruit that may have been flown half way around the world, but sometimes I still do. I can make many excuses, like alternatives not being available, or being significantly more expensive, or that I have requests for particular things that are only available from sunnier climates, but ultimately I still have to take responsibility for the choices I make. I would like to do better, one day…

And then I ate a grape. Just one, but before any other food instead of after as I normally do. It made me feel queasy. It gave me an instant headache, something I don’t suffer from. Sure the grape taste was in there, but what else?

So I have realised I cannot carry on down the path I am on any longer. Ideally I would grow more fruit and veg, but my garden is small and the area given over to edibles is smaller still, not sufficient to grow everything we want. Neither am I a very successful vegetable grower, yet! But change has to start somewhere, and for me it is now. So I am writing down my intentions to grow better fruit and vegetables and to seek out organic and biodynamic locally grown alternatives, because what I write here has a good way of coming true.

The Rain Pond – Part 1

I have mentioned a few times here that I have great plans for bringing water into the garden. This weekend has finally seen the first of two ponds started…

It is impossible (for me anyway!) to make accurate plans for our garden. Every thing is curved, or at a funny angle, or non-definite in its placement such as the hedge boundaries. Instead I sketch out ideas roughly to scale, and then try to translate them onto what looks right on the ground by laying ropes on the grass. So it was with the pond. We now have an outline of the bed it will sit in, an outline of the water area, and some kind of a plan for depths. However it is only with a lot of head-scratching that we have managed the last part.

The first test trench was dug about a month ago, straight across the middle of where we thought we wanted the pond, which will be roughly kidney-shaped. It was dug a spade’s width at the top, down to two foot six or so which I understand is the minimum depth for a wildlife pond. The good news was that it was topsoil all the way down, so it will be very easy to use what we dig out elsewhere in the garden. (Unexpected, given other areas are sandstone and clay within a spade’s depth or less; plants there will be glad of some more decent soil.) Also it has sufficient clay to hold the sides together even if they are cut steep – meaning we should be able to reach our required depth despite the small size. On the bad side however, digging was made easier by the extraction of eight or nine bricks at the bottom of the trench – the removal of which turned the hole into an old-fashioned lightbulb shape. Since we have already dug out 4,500 bricks in our garden, which is only the size of a singles tennis court, we really didn’t feel the need for any more! (They proved very useful for our extension as they match exactly…) Worse, we found the edge of an old path about a foot down, made of modern slippery pavers laid onto a very thick (8-10”) bed of concrete. Not so helpful when its line threatens to cut right across the proposed pond. It did, however, explain why the grass down the middle of the garden always went brown in summer.

This weekend the plan was to decide where the two ends of the pond would be within the ‘pond bed’, so that I could measure up and order such things as liner, edging, cobbles etc. Marking out with the aid of a rope laid on the ground, no problem even with M’s help. Second test hole to check the buried path, not so great. The path sloped upwards towards ground level, rapidly becoming too shallow to use as a marginals shelf at barely six inches below anticipated water level, and the concrete base turned out to be three foot wide. In four foot wide water this wasn’t too helpful.

So after some more thinking, we have finally decided to: use the first section of the path we discovered as a marginals shelf somewhere in the middle of the pond; make the far end of the pond deep instead of shallow; use the shallowest bit of concrete as base for the cobbled area; and cut a hole across the middle of the path where it really can’t be avoided in order to give a second deep area.

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

The photo shows the deep trench in the foreground with some of the bricks and other rubble we dug out, a row of pavers forming the edge of the path, and a wide area of concrete, pavers removed. There are a few bits of grass and soil left to remove within the pond area… Top right is the corner of the base for my new sanctuary space, from where I plan to watch the rain bouncing up from the surface of the pond, frogs diving amongst the plants, and a pourover gently keeping the pond topped up with rainwater.

Did I mention there will eventually be a stream running into this pond? Meaning that the water also needs to be deep enough at the top end for a pump for when it isn’t raining? Raising the pond would have been an alternative solution – but then it would be too high for the stream to actually flow into it!

I am continuing to trust that my crazy, ambitious plans are all capable of being realised and will work!

A Soggy Solstice

Rain seems to be a theme of this winter – one I should be used to by now! I spent last week in the Lake District with family, where given the forecast we did well to manage a number of sunny walks and had high enough cloud cover to get a view from both of the hills we managed to walk up. Mainly we explored the valleys though, to see waterfalls. However, after a beautiful sunrise on 21st December, it was still disappointing to have a very soggy dark morning on the 22nd.

For the solstice itself, I like to have a special dinner the preceding evening, Celtic festivals usually being celebrated from sundown to sundown, then wake up for the sunrise (easier than the exact solstice moment which this year was around ten to five am UK time), followed by breakfast and sharing presents. This year with us being in the North, and waking up early, we had breakfast first and then a walk up the hill behind the house we were staying in to try and see the sunrise. It was raining, the ground was waterlogged, the sky was grey. A slight lightening in the South East was all the evidence we could see of day breaking. The next day there was of course a beautiful sunrise again…

However I learned some things on our extended walk in the rain that morning that have stayed with me. There was yet another storm, Eva, forecast for the Christmas weekend. As a follow on from my weather post of two weeks ago, I can report that I have managed to increase my consciousness from a five to a ten mile radius circle of where I am, although I am finding it incredibly difficult to go beyond that – or to know how large changes to weather systems can be made such as seems to be needed at present. But I did manage to journey one morning and had a brief conversation with the approaching storm.

I asked if it could tell me what its purpose and intention was, and if there was some way the effects could be mitigated. The answer I received was to promote cooperation! I couldn’t see how that fitted in with anything a storm might do, until I looked around me. I was staying in a village that had been badly flooded by Storm Desmond, several businesses suffering millions of pounds worth of damage, one road bridge remaining out of action with a two mile diversion in place, two other road bridges and a footbridge now reopened but with damage clearly visible. But as more rain threatened, everyone was actively clearing drains, putting up boards and sandbags, and yes, working together. I asked this latest storm if it could avoid causing more damage to those who had already suffered. On my return, this appears to be largely the case, only there is massive flooding and damage in Lancashire and Yorkshire instead – yes promoting cooperative working and huge levels of assistance, but also creating much personal tragedy at the same time. As I have said before, it needs more people than me to work with the weather, probably many more people, and some rituals and offerings to change the cycle of weather that has been created. It may take time and effort, but what is cooperation if not working together and working with our planet Earth and her weather systems, with love?

So that was the message of my solstice – we can expect more rain, and need to work together at all levels if we want to see more balanced weather returning.

Flooding

Once upon a time the land flooded. Luckily Noah and his family built an ark to take two of each kind of animal, and after forty days of floodwaters the dove managed to return with an olive branch. A rainbow symbolised that God would never flood the land again. That is roughly the story I was taught at school, and in recent years I have come to realise that most of it is true overlooking a few minor details. Except the story misses out one vital part – that we had to look after the Earth in order for ‘God’ to keep his or her part of the promise.

I have been feeling the shock of the devastation in the Lake District this week. It is an area I know well as a walker and canoeist, and in the past I have paddled many rivers when they are above ‘normal’ levels. Some rivers are only paddleable in ‘spate’ conditions, particularly higher up in the hills. But there comes a limit when nature takes over and reminds us of our insignificance. Trees are uprooted, whole sides of hills are washed down into the valleys. Man and all his construction efforts are simply swept aside. A few inches of rain spread over a wide area are usually enough to fill a river, but with Storm Desmond records were broken – 13.5” of rain in Honister Pass in 24 hours, or 16” in Thirlmere over 48 hours, after a cloud simply got stuck in one place. This is after minor floods just three weeks earlier when 6” inches of rain fell in Cumbria.

We can bemoan the fact that houses and tarmac cover too much land with most of the run-off going straight into our overworked drains. That there is deforestation at every level from the tops of the hills to the bottoms of the valleys. That the natural flows of our rivers have been interfered with to enable building on flood plains. That flood defences built in an effort to ‘cure’ the ‘problem’ of flooding meet with variable success – the water has to go somewhere, and the further downstream it gets before spilling onto the land, the worse the damage tends to be. But moaning cures nothing; these will take years to correct, even if we start today.

However these floods have been a wake-up call to me personally because there is one thing left we can do, and that is to consciously work with the weather. For over a year now, (since September 2014, see blog post on Weather, October 2014) I have not sought to change the weather for any personal desires, but tried to work with the rainfall to keep a balance. (Water being the element I am closest to; I am rather less successful at working with fire!) As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there have been no droughts and no floods in my area since that date. But when I was first asked to do this work, I was also told to gradually expand my consciousness. I haven’t done that yet – and for that I feel responsible.

Could I have averted these floods? Can I even expand as far as Cumbria, or Northumberland, or East Anglia, or Wales, or Somerset, or other places around this small island I live on, that are so out of balance devastating floods occur at regular intervals? I’m not ‘God’ in any traditional sense, I only work with the weather as a co-creator. If floods are needed for some reason, there is nothing that I alone could do to prevent them. But I can try. And by writing this I hope to encourage other people to work with the weather as well. Find your element. Winds can move storms. Fire can change rain to snow and back again. Earth can move mountains, or hold firm as needed. And if you need any reason for doing it, then I can report that it is the best cure for homesickness that I have found.

A Light Dusting of Snow

Snow on the Grass

Snow on the Grass

Winter has arrived this weekend. I was woken in the night by the change of weather, feeling unsettled, with the wind howling around the house and through the trees. Then in the morning, bright sunshine, and a dusting of snow on the ground.

This year nature seems to have worked as if there is a plan. The autumn has been wet at times, but around here there have been no floods, or even significant mud. Just a good balance between wet days and dry days. There have also been no frosts signalling a premature end to the crops in the garden. Then just as all the trees have finished removing their waste substances into the leaves and discarding them, the winds pick up. A week earlier, and there would have been trees down, but now with their bare branches free to flex, they are okay.

Finally, as if everything is ready and the timing is perfect, we have snow and frost. Winter is here, it is time to gather stores, hibernate, and curl up by the fireside. Make plans for Yule. With luck, there will be enough cold days this winter to ensure next year’s fruit crops.

But for me, there was an extra dimension to the snow. I have commented before how I like the extra light it brings in the middle of the dark time; well this snow fall coincided not with dark climate but dark energies, brought by some visitors that were stuck in a downward spiral. I was struggling to protect myself from it and was feeling brought down, until I tuned into the energy of the snow. Dazzling white in the sunshine. It was amazing how effective it was at transmuting and transforming energies and bringing light back into me, and into my home.

So this is just my simple thank you to the weather!

Rain

Welsh poppy, Papaver cambrica, in the rain

Welsh poppy, Papaver cambrica, in the rain

Today it has been raining hard, for the first time in over a month. The sky is grey, the hills are obscured by cloud, and everything is wet. I am cocooned in my warm house, feeling cosy as I watch rivulets running down the windows.

I am intrigued at the various reactions I display to rain, even over the space of half an hour of watching it. There is my initial, slightly disappointed feeling of it’s cold and wet, the sun isn’t shining like it has so often recently. Then there is the enjoyment of all the greens in the garden, the awareness of the plants and the soil soaking up the wetness with relief and I realise again just how little they have had recently. Finally I watch the spray, hear the sound of raindrops, and think about how nice it was listening to rain in a tent or under a shelter, rather than from inside brick walls. A trip outside in the garden reminds me I rather like rain, it is only the attitudes of others colouring my views. Heavy rain can be exciting to watch, and provided I’m not going to be in cold wet clothes all day, even more exhilarating to be out in. Gentle rain brings me closer to nature. I feel part of things, alive, refreshed, cleansed.

I have a whole tray of lupin seedlings on my windowsill, to fill in the gaps in the flowerbeds where I have been weeding. I used to grow them, but they have gradually disappeared while untended as the spot was too shady. I may start a rain-plant area, as they look so stunning catching water droplets in their leaves. Other favourites for rain include alchemillas with their furry leaves turning water drops to quicksilver, and Dicentra spectabile with raindrops hanging from each flower. Bulbs like tulips just close their petals for protection, and then carry on as before. Peony leaves sparkle, although their flowers are less able to cope. But the unexpected star of the show is for me Solomon’s seal, its graceful, arching stems being as fluid as the water itself.

Weather

A friend of mine recently stated, as one of a number of fixed things in life, “you can’t change the weather.” I had to reply that actually we can. Weather is nothing like as fixed as we think it is, and we affect what it does without even realising it.

Weather helps keep the balance on the Earth, and is balanced within itself. If, for example, there is a lot of negativity in an area, a thunderstorm will help dispell it. If there is a flood in one part of the world, there will be a drought in another. If everyone asks for hot sunshine, and celebrates the sun that arrives, there is likely to be more hot sunshine continuing, potentially for weeks. Of course farmers may be asking for rain, so messages become confused and so will the weather.

I first started asking for specific weather on holidays a few years ago. We had a choice of times for a week’s camping, I asked to have a dry sunny week and dowsed for which week to go. We had a dry week. Next holiday I asked to experience all types of weather in a particular area. The first morning we went for a walk and got very wet in an unexpected torrential downpour. I thanked the rain, and then said that while I enjoyed it the rest of my family did not appreciate it, so would it be possible for me to see all kinds of weather but for us to stay dry? That is what happened, to the point that we twice watched downpours from half a mile away. Two different camping holidays I have asked not only for my family to stay dry, but also for it to be dry when we put the tent up and packed it away again. Sure enough, although I got wet once or twice no one else did, thunderstorms came late in the evening after it was dark, and a dry tent could be packed away on the final morning without the need to hang it out for days on our return. Only the groundsheet needed attention. I have also asked for ‘picnic weather’ for people’s birthdays and had the requests granted, and finally this year for a Lughnasa picnic lunch I asked for dry, not too hot, but maybe a thunderstorm at 3pm when we were all safely back home. Rain threatened early, which I put down to my lack of trust as it stopped immediately on reminding the weather of my request. It was then dry until exactly 3pm, at which point there was a torrential downpour for half an hour.

I had had enough examples to know that it wasn’t just luck or chance doing this, the weather really was responding to me. An awesome feeling, and completely intimidating. I knew I could never ask again, or even think again, or else I would be adversely affecting what weather was needed. With consciousness comes responsibility. Even though all my requests have included a request to keep the balance that was needed while at the same time keeping us dry, and that mostly I was asking for other people rather than myself, it did not feel right for me to go on asking for what I want in this way. I have nothing to prove any more and any further requests would, I felt, be selfish. I started to ask on journeys what I should be doing weather-wise that would be positive and for the good or all.

Why me? is one question that has been on my mind quite a lot. I do not fully know the answer to this. I have never done a ceremony to the weather, or danced or sang like shamans often do and like I have generally read is needed; I have simply asked if such and such could happen, and then thanked the weather when it invariably has. Finding something to enjoy in all weather and not being too attached to the outcome no doubt helps, but beyond that I am not able to help anyone else do the same. You will have to find your own way! However, I did gain a few answers on a journey following my Lughnasa experiences this year. Instead of my usual drumming CD, I took the opportunity of an undisturbed bath to do a journey – to the regular beat of a dripping overflow. (Now fixed!) One question I asked was: “Should I be working with the elements more, and were there particular elements that wanted me to work with them?” I asked for a sign if this was the case. Immediately the shower above me gushed out a whole load of cold water. I asked to know more, and it seems that thanks to all my swimming, and then canoeing, I do have (to use shamanic terminology) command of water. That was why the rain stopped when I asked it to, and why it poured down at 3pm. However I do not have command of fire, hence no thunderstorm. I was then asked to use my connection with water to help heal Mother Earth and bring balance where it is needed. This I agreed to do.

I followed up with some more questions in September, after a few weeks of working towards balance (and helping to break the drought in Derbyshire). I was then asked to gradually increase my area of awareness, as a circle expanding outwards, and told I could also use wind to blow the rain to where it was needed. One day I would work with another who could bring fire but maybe not rain. We would balance each other, each having the missing element for the other person. It is important that others start to do this work as well, individually or as a group, as it will take many people working around the world to bring harmony and stability to the weather. To be in touch with the land where we each live, and work to keep the balance. This is why I am now writing about my experiences so far.

I was advised that the nearer to balance the weather is, the easier it is to make small adjustments. When a weather system gets ‘stuck’ then it takes more work by more people to shift it, such as what happened with the jet stream last winter. I merely watched on that occasion, not being sure if I should be doing something, but I was aware of three or four different people who did act (and wrote about it) and helped bring about the change in the weather to end the floods. However there is another aspect to consider. Sometimes drought or floods are still needed, for many reasons which we as humans cannot always fathom. It may be as a response to what is happening in a particular area, or to balance another area. High winds may be needed to move the rain, or even to blow ideas to a different part of the world. ‘Bad’ weather also serves to remind us of what could be; who would know colour existed if everything was shades of blue? Our politicians would not take the tough environmental decisions unless they were convinced there was no choice. So sometimes we need to ask what action, if any, is needed before we rush in to solve what we perceive as a problem. Life can be like that.

I have one positive comment to add however. I was told on a journey that I could always have a dry tent to pack away, since this saved Earth’s resources by not having to dry it later…