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.