This time of year always reminds me of the Brambly Hedge stories by Jill Barklem that I used to read to our children when they were little. Particularly, Autumn Story with its evocative descriptions of harvest time and the beautiful illustrations of delightful mice gathering berries, seeds and roots to be stored away for Winter.
In that story, old Mrs Eyebright says: “Bad weather’s on its way, I can feel it in my bones. We must finish our harvesting before the rain begins”. Right now, it feels just like that at Upper Cefn-y-Pwll… we are preparing ourselves for Winter! The weather has really turned autumnal and I am aware that our attention is turning to tasks on the theme of gathering, bringing in, harvesting, storing and general preparation for the colder and wetter months ahead.
The hedgerows in our lane are abundant with wild berries and nuts. I seem to be competing with the squirrels for hazelnuts as they are also very good at gathering - and they win! I have picked blackberries, which guests have appreciated with their yogurt and granola for breakfast. The sloes are plumping up, the elderberries ripening and the rosehips ready to be picked. I was kindly given a basket of damsons which I have turned into damson gin and damson jelly, all stored in the pantry for later. We have dug up our maincrop potatoes to dry them up – a large proportion have unfortunately been damaged by slugs as the second part of the Summer has been so wet. So we have sorted them so we keep for later only those that are unaffected. We have had a good crop of carrots; the rabbits have got a little too close this year and have nibbled all the tops. So I am bringing them in too. I have made several batches of soups for the freezer: courgette, potato and cheese, carrot and almond, leek and potato, leek and carrot. Isn’t homemade soup the ultimate comforting food on cold and wet days? This weekend has been very wet and windy so no doubt there will be a large supply of apples fallen to the ground, which will need picking up. We have a good supply of crab apples too and this year, we have decided to leave these for the birds. We still have some pots of crab apple jelly left over from last year!
Next Monday, we are taking two of our lambs to the abattoir and we have been making practical preparations for that like booking the lambs in, gathering the required paperwork, making sure the trailer is ok etc. Mentally, the preparation for saying goodbye to the lambs is on another scale! It will be painfully hard and my stomach is in knots already! We will need to return to the abattoir around a week later to collect the prepared meat. I have decided that I will be bringing their skins back to turn them into rugs. The process will involve me salting them here for a few weeks to cure them and then I will send them away to be tanned.
We have started organising our wood stores, our only fuel to keep us warm in Winter. We have kindly been offered some cedar wood which Peter has collected and chopped into logs. Throughout the year, we are always on the lookout for wood that we can store and season ourselves. Just last week, we collected a large supply of freshly cut wood which will need to be seasoned for at least a couple of years. We are now beginning to accumulate several years worth of wood, which is really useful! Our experience is that the logs we have been buying, supposedly seasoned and ready to burn, have not always been seasoned long enough and come with a level of moisture that is too high. By building a supply of several years worth of wood, we will ensure that the logs are well seasoned by the time we get to use them. Woodburners are much happier burning well seasoned logs!
We have given the wooden weatherboards around the house their annual treatment with preservative and when there is a dry spell, I shall oil all the oak window frames to both nourish and protect them from the harsh elements of Autumn and Winter. On Peter’s list of jobs to be done at this time of year is also sweeping the chimneys and repointing some of the brickwork. Last week, in an effort to ensure it is in good working order before we get more wind, Peter serviced the wind turbine and replaced some of the springs. It was a mammoth task that required a lot of muscle power to winch it down then back up! I was too scared to even watch the operation!
There we are, like the busy mice in the Brambly Hedge stories, we are busy preparing for the changing season in the hills of Mid-Wales. The flip-flops have now been put away and the slippers came out of the cupboard this weekend! A sure sign of Autumn.