Archive for March, 2010

Slovakian birch brooms

Ouch it’s cold, wet and windy again. It’s not like it’s been great weather recently, peak 2010 temperature in the shed has been 12degrees C. Wow! but now we’re back in wintry weather with a vengence. I left the milk on the doorstep today – not much point in putting it in the fridge, it’s colder outside.  I should have been baling birch and making a few brooms today but the sleet and hail is rattling on the windows as I write.

Instead I am going to write about them as Rich, my roving European correspondent, has sent me some photos of a Slovakian birch broom which he noticed in use in the village (near Ulm in Bavaria) over the winter.  Is this Harry Potter meets Dracula ?

At first sight the brooms are quite similar, but they are made rather differently. The Slovakian broom has a flattened head more suited to short strokes than the English (harry Potter) broom. I expect it alters it’s flying characteristics as well but I’ve not had a flight report on it yet.

To make the flat head the broom has the head tied into 3 separate bundles pulling it out into a rectangular cross-section.

A nice touch is how the ends of the tops are carefully debarked and cut at an angle before being placed around the handle (tail) and secured with wire. This photo shows that the biggest difference  with this broom is that the birch top (spray or bish) is chosen with lots of side branches – more like I would use as peasticks than the single straight stems normally used for the English brooms.  This broom has been in use all winter apparently and still looks very good, people are always surprised just how hardwearing the brooms are.  Very interesting to see such a different construction from the same materials.


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Wild garlic pesto

I am a fan of Wild Garlic or Ransomes as it is also called. It has a mild garlic flavour in the leaves, stems and flowers which are all edible. So when I was recently given a recipe for wild garlic pesto I picked some fresh leaves and brought them back from the Gower to try it out.

It is very easy to make, I used 100g of leaves – no need to wash – they were freshly doused in Welsh rainwater.

I roughly chopped the leaves and put them in a food processor, adding 50g of chopped walnuts and 50g of shallot (I used a couple of small onions) with 150g of light olive oil.

and then blitzed it for about a minute or until it became a bright green paste. Then add 50g of hard parmesan type (I used gran padano) cheese, 1/2tsp of sea salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar and fold into the mixture.

place in jars and cover with about another 50g of oil or until the mixture is covered.

Here are the ingredients again:

100g wild garlic leaves

50g chopped walnuts

50g shallots

200g light olive (or sunflower/rapeseed) oil

50g grated parmesan cheese

1/2tsp sea salt

1/2tsp sugar

It can now be kept in the fridge for a few weeks – if it lasts that long. Because it is really, really good and it goes well with pasta. It has quite a delicate garlic flavour rather than the ;in your face version’ and I used 2 tbls of the pesto with a couple of creme fraiche to a packet of tortellini.

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I have to admit that Haslemere and Green are not two words that I would normally link very closely. That is a bit unfair, but on the surface Haslemere does seem to be dominated by affluent commuters and 4×4’s doing the private school run. But under the surface all may not be as it first seems and Saturday saw Haslemere’s first Green Fair at the Haslemere Museum, run by the organisation ‘Transition Town Haslemere’.

Having been invited to demonstrate pole-lathe turning I went along partly to find out about the Green Fair and the Transition Town organisation rather than as a commercial opportunity.

Transition Haslemere has a website on wordpress which you can find at this link here. The organisation has been going a year and the Green Fair also celebrates it’s anniversary and its launch as an official Transition Town. What is a Transition Town? As best I can tell it is one where a group has created a series of initiatives to address sustainable issues  – and if that sounds like gobbledygook then perhaps you’d best read about it here at transition towns – but be aware there is gratuitous use of the words ‘Sustainable, Peak oil and Climate change’. I was surprised how few transition towns there are yet, and so Transition Haslemere has done well to get going so swiftly – well done to those involved.

The weather forecast was for heavy rain and as the gear all had to be carried over the garden I took as little as possible for a change. Despite the frequent showers the weather was ok and a surprising number of visitors kept me busy – which was a bit of a shame as I had hoped to have lots of time to look around the stalls.

Out in the garden was mainly food oriented. The frequent showers at least gave me the opportunity to chat with some of the stall holders. I loved the display of Radish on the Secretts stall. I had wrongly thought of Secrett’s as a garden centre between Haslemere and Guildford, and forgotten the large farm and nursery behind it.  You can see more of the Secretts Farm at this link here, and it’s  rich history here.

I also had a chance to chat with Lower Roundhurst Farm, which runs a herd of traditional Sussex cattle and of Southdowns Sheep and sells from its shop (and tea shop/restaurant) direct from the farm. I also heard that Roundhurst is also hosting a part of the Landshare project being developed by Transition Haslemere.

If you’ve not heard of Landshare – it’s a new concept that is matching owners of unused and undersused land wanting help with local people seeking land to grow crops on a sort of communual small-holding basis ranging from small allotments and garden sites upto small holding sizes. Landshare was launched by Hugh Fearnley-thingummybob and the site is hosted by Channel 4 here – it’s remarkable how quickly it’s taking off.

Another reason for attending is that I’ve been feeling a little guilty that I don’t get to do much in my own backyard and although I live in West Sussex just over the border, the centre of Haslemere is only a couple of miles away and is the local town. I got to meet a lot of local people and even talked with a local Landscape firm that wants to use Besom brooms in their lawn work but couldn’t find a supplier – makes a nice change from them being Harry Potter brooms.

Here the Hoy’s old and young, a local family for generations which used to run the dairy (when there was one), are introduced to Polelathe Turning and plan to build one soon!

The band was surprisingly good – although a suitable distance always helps and they abandoned their open spot for the cover of the museum verandah. Given this is a sustainable event perhaps it should be a ‘Wind band’ rather than a brass band. Sorry!  It turns out that Pete the conductor is a closet greenwood worker and member of the APT. Small world. I prefer the lumberjack uniform to that of the band though.

This has turned into something of an epic post –

…..But before I take pity on you and finish I just wanted to mention Imbham’s farm, where they now mill their own cereals for a range of bread flours, muesli’s and mixes and came along equipped with hand grinders for all the try their hand at milling.  I’ve not found a website for imbhams farm yet but there is some information on the farm here and they do have a stall at the local farmers markets so look out for them.

All in all I found it a very stimulating day with lots of interesting ideas and meeting people doing very interesting things, I hope it was a big success for Transition Haslemere.

Whatever you think of Peak Oil and Climate Change many of the ideas around sustainability seem to be common sense in caring for your local environment and economy – and can even save money. Sadly I can’t make the next one in the Autumn as it conflicts with other shows – but I hope to back next Spring and to have more contact with Transition Haslemere in the meantime – dare I say the word ‘cyclepath’ ?

Peace and quiet returned to the museum garden, with its views over the rolling countryside and it’s Ha-ha. Hard to believe it’s just a few yards from Haslemere high street.

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The other day Richard (my landrover guru) appeared at the shed with this strange digging implement.

A closer view of the business end. Any ideas ?As so often happens the chap who had it is no longer around to ask.

The view around here is that its most likely a spade for digging peat and the holes are so that the water runs off the peat more easily so the turves can be stacked.

By the remains of the markings on the handle it seems to have been Sheffield made though I can’t make out the makers name except for the &Co at the end.

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Odds and Sods doesn’t really describe it but I have gathered a number of odd items patiently awaiting my time and attention, which of course never comes – it always seems to go to something much more urgent, but not necessarily important, to me at least. A good example is this pair of chair stretchers for a friend. The old ones are so worm eaten that they are held together with sellotape but provide something of a template for the dimensions, and it’s a relatively quick job to keep a chair going for another generation.

And then the sod…I did agree to make a mallet for Robert in the style of a stone masons mallet. I’ve made them before for a stone mason and they do work very well, though they can be hard to make, and this one turns out to be an even tougher job as the ash is a little too dry and the grain a little ‘furry’ for want of a better description.

Just to make matters worse I decided to use the waste area to creat a large spinning top – and struggled for hours to finish the job.

It was a sod inded, but I got there in the end, just as my temper, muscles and the cord wore out. At the least the top seems promising, designed to spun up with a handle and cord it went quite well for about a minute just from my fingers – though I failed to repeat the feat despite many attempts.

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I’m trying to catch up on some greenwood jobs that have been waiting for too long. This ash log, about 5foot 6inch in length,  looks quite straight in the photo but is has a subtle S-curve to it which is quite annoying at first sight. Certainly if you were planning to use it for turning as I was – but on second sight the curve looked about right for some handles I plan to make and might avoid the need to steam them.

It’s a bit of an experiment as I have not made cleft handles this long before so I put the log to one side and now that its almost too late I’ve finally got around to splitting it. It’s big enough and ugly enough to need wedges to split it out. I use 3 steel wedges for this assisted, if necessary, by a couple of old axe heads.

Although it’s been lying for a year I’ve kept it out of the sun and it’s still quite green inside, though drying more at the ends and I used the existing splits in the ends to start the process. The ash is a bit ‘stringy’ and an axe is used to severe the remaining fibres -but that’s often a good sign for a handle as the crossing fibres increase it’s shock absorbing ability.

As I split out each half and then half again it should get easier, but in this case the wood seems to have a bit of wind (or spiral grain) towards the end so it needed care to keep the split from running out and thick enough for a useful handle.

The end result of the splitting is a sore shoulder from beating the wedges with the beetle and 8 or 9 useable clefts which now need to be roughed out to the shape I need with axe or draw-knife.

Here’s the rough handle or ‘snathe’ taking shape next to one of the Swiss manufactured handles that I’ve used up until now for my scything.  It’s a bit of an experiment, but it’s looking promising at the moment and I’m very pleased with the natural shape of the handle it just seems about right. As soon as it’s roughed I shall need to decide how to approach the handles or ‘nibs’.

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I had a great time away for a few days to recharge my batteries (cue one last landscape picture from the Gower) but it already feels as if I’ve been back for ages and…

……..I’ve got my nose firmly stuck to the grindstone again….

I’ve just added a web-page for links to this site. You can find it on the tabs just above the header.  There are only a few links there now but I am intending to keep adding to the links as I go along.

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