Life Around the Woods - August 2019

August is a busy month here with delicious harvests from the vegetable garden, lots of happy guests running wild in the long meadow grasses and our roundhouse project coming along nicely as we make the most of the longer days. Read more about all of these below!

When you run a glampsite it can seem like everyone else is forever on holiday at this time of year and whilst we get great joy from providing a beautiful setting for our guests to enjoy their downtime it can also be a reminder that it's not easy for our family to enjoy a holiday at this time of year.

Mid-summer is however a great opportunity to check in with our priorities for this warmer season. It helps us to make sure we're on track with our goals, those related with work, the smallholding and also for our family and our own self-care. This process ensures we spend time together in amazing natural spaces right on our doorstep that act as mini retreats to reconnect and recharge us. So we'll be heading to Wells-next-the-sea this Saturday for a beach day! In this month’s blog post I’m sharing about a part of our smallholding life that I'm not finding as much time for as I wish I could and how I'm learning to accept that this cannot be a priority at the moment

Woodland Wandering

Hidden in the long meadow grasses

While the wheat and grasses all around us are being harvested at the moment we’ve recently made a decision not to cut our glamping meadow and have hay bales made. There are a multitude of reasons for this and one of them is aesthetics - we absolutely love watching the long grasses gently blowing in the breeze and a childhood glamping holiday feels more complete if kids can enjoy the feeling of running freely through the meadow.

It also provides amazing coverage for our local wildlife to live amongst: hares, rabbits, voles, mice and who knows what else. Last winter the meadow remained long until we cut it in early Spring (after we were let down by a local farmer who had promised to mow the field in late summer in exchange for the hay bales), and the Kestrel and Barn Owl had an amazing opportunity to hunt amongst the grasses, it was quite a spectacle to observe. This year for the first time the Kestrel nested and raised a chick on the edge of the meadow which has been a real highlight for many of our guests to experience. And so it might seem like the lazy option to just leave it but it feels right this year to give as much benefit to wildlife as we possibly can.

Seasons on the Smallholding

Delicious fresh homegrown tomatoes - smallholding produce

Harvest time on the smallholding is however in full swing with chard, peas, courgettes and carrots all being enjoyed. The greenhouse jungle now contains lots of ripe and ready juicy red tomatoes which have become a staple with every meal.

Our orchard is however looking pretty sad with hardly any apples growing at all this year. Is it something to do with the weather? Did the wind blow too strong when the fruit trees were covered in blossom? We had hundreds of bramley apples last year and this year I can’t find a single apple growing! We’ve heard that others also have fruitless trees and I’d love to hear if you’re also experiencing this? It really is a time of year we look forward to and as our young trees have grown bigger we anticipated a more bountiful harvest not a pitiful one! This season for fruit picking from the orchard will be disappointing.

We have a pretty large vegetable garden, with 2 greenhouse and 10 large beds plus our potato bed and aim to feed 6 people with as much organic home-grown produce as we can but sometimes ambitions can be challenging to realise.

I have to admit that each year I have grand plans to find more time than the previous year to spend in the veg garden planting seeds, tending to new shoots and the constant task of watering. I get excited in the Winter when we plan what we’ll be planting and order seeds and I start off the Spring committing to everything that I want to find time for. But the reality is that we run a busy small business for most of the growing season and with young children that we home educate, an ongoing roundhouse project and a campervan renovation there is never as much time as I hope to fit everything in.

I’ve been trying to give myself a break and be kind in admitting that not everything on my wishlist can be a priority right now. I still absolutely love spending time in the veg garden, it’s truly relaxing for me and I do feel slightly guilty that a lot of the physical work falls to my parents but this mid Summer point in the year is an opportunity for me to reassess where I’m focusing my energy and ensure that my priorities are aligned correctly.

Food growing is something that i fully intend to continue with (and it’s so great that our children are involved in the growing of our food) but I’m gradually getting more comfortable with me making time for it when I can rather than it putting additional pressure on me to find time where it realistically doesn’t exist. Food growing is a key part of our vision for our life here but that doesn’t mean that it has to look perfect right now. How much healthier is it if something you want to enjoy doesn’t add additional stresses to life and can truly be an opportunity for slowing down, grounding and reconnecting with the seasons. And maybe as our boys grow older they might want to take on some of the food growing responsibility? I might be being hopeful but maybe?

Do you have any regular prompts in your year to think big picture and look at where your time is best spent compared to what you’re actually spending your time on? To reprioritise your life? To take advantage of new opportunities if they fit in with your goals and to drop things that are no longer serving you?

Life on the Glampsite

July and August are our busiest months on the Round the Woods glampsite with families and couples all enjoying their retreat amongst nature. This keeps our family pretty busy with changeovers, guest arrivals, laundry and keeping everything looking and working perfectly for all our guests. We take great pride in ensuring that the last guests of the season have the same experience as the first ones and really with us nothing is too much trouble.

Somehow amongst all of this busyness Seb has been finding time to keep chipping away at our great big Roundhouse project! It’s been slow and steady for the last few months with the building site not being the most child friendly space (I guess not many building sites are) and so Seb has spent a lot of days recently working alone on the build.

My June version of Life Around the Woods talked about the wonderful Douglas Fir window frames Seb has handmade and he’s now fitted all of the window boxes (I’m not sure if this is the technical word but it’s how we’ve been differentiating between the frame that holds the glass and the frame that the opening window fits into) to what were previously just holes in the straw bale walls! We can already imagine what the fully completed windows will look like as the chunky Douglas Fir frames look beautiful against the natural curves of the walls.

My dream of a round window is actually a reality now too, it’s without glass still but Seb has cleverly layered plywood to create a window frame that is exactly what I had envisaged.

I’m so grateful that this epic project has brought previously unexplored creativity from all of us. By taking our time and working with the natural materials in the most sensitive way we’ve had lots of opportunities to toy with different ideas as they present themselves and to problem-solve along the way. In fact we’ve discovered just how great 5 year old Elliot is at suggesting solutions when problems present themselves.

Because our structure requires building control approval we hired an architect and structural engineer who were both familiar with designing natural buildings. This process was very different to any that we’ve previously been on whilst setting up our glampsite as it meant that before any building work could begin quite specific details had to be decided and the order of things needed to be carefully thought through at the drawing board stage. This didn’t come very naturally to us at first as we are used to having a vision and tackling each problem as we come across it but I think it has actually enabled us to be more creative. We’ve been able to hold true to our vision and find creative ways to ensure that we’re not settling for compromises that don’t hold true to that vision. We had the time at the design stage to research new techniques and products to enhance the structure and now that those elements are all finalised we’ve had the headspace to explore creative solutions to the finer details. Some of the creative pursuits that I’m looking forward to having a go at are a stained glass window and pebble and tile mosaics, none of which I’ve ever tried before. Sure we could find a way to pay someone to do this professionally for us but when else am I going to have an opportunity to put my personal stamp on such a beautiful structure. I’ll be sharing with you the process of these crafts when it comes time to have a go at them so look out for updates in future blogs!

tarpaulins protecting the straw bale walls

The window construction really feels like we’re coming out the other side of a rather tedious stage of stuffing straw and getting cut with wire mesh, which has been a large part of the build since the winter. It means that we’re looking to begin lime rendering the straw bale walls next month which is an incredibly exciting stage for us! To be able to remove the flapping green tarps that are currently protecting the walls and to have a watertight structure is really a turning point for the build.