Finche's Soutterain

Bringing the Late Iron Age to Life

Tilling – by hand

Tilling up a new plot for growing another grain doesn’t get any easier. With the big rocks moved out of the way, you still have to break up the ground and try to remove the weeds. Mind you, this particular section of ground isn’t all that big – maybe ten feet by five feet – but trust me, you will feel it. I can only get to this piece of land in the early evening, after an already full day; and I can tell that I’m not as young as I used to be. My left shoulder, in particular, is already angry with me and letting me know that maybe I pushed it just a bit too far. I only managed to get about two feet by ten feet tilled, and I can tell the difference from one end of the plot to the other. Somehow, the soil at the farther end (nearest an old tree stump) is more hard-packed than at the other end of the plot (where it is nice and rich). This northern end is going to require more tender loving care – and cow manure – than the southern end. But, even though it takes me a few days to get it done, get it done I will. I just wish I could get my hands on a couple more Tamworth piglets – to get after the roots of the brambles I’ve come across. But, they would introduce their own set of problems, like keeping them penned in on that particular plot. There are no convenient rock walls, and currently, there is no fence up; just the corner posts marking out the area.

The work goes on. Oh, once the ground is ready for planting, I will be planting a new crop – buckwheat. Once that is ready for harvest, the plants will be tilled under and the rye will go in (with some red clover). Then, hopefully by mid-autumn, I will be able to plant the barley I’ve been waiting on!

Time flies as seasons change

They say that time and tide wait for no man. Nowhere is that more true than when you are wanting to get a whole slew of projects done before the weather turns for the seasons.

In this instance, getting all the trees taken down was the easy part. The point where I didn’t delegate enough time in my schedule, was in getting the trunks moved so that the wood could dry and season out of the weather. It really is a case of “I need to remove the trees so that I can have the wood so that I can build the things where I can store the wood from the trees”. There’s just no easy way to do it, and get the land cleared to plant the new field for grain for the year. The philosophers say that it is a classic “chicken and egg” problem, with no easy solution.

As I said above, getting the trees down was no real problem. Not only did they get cut down, but the trunks were cut into roughly four foot sections. The trouble arose when my body decided that moving the tree trunks, uphill, by myself, was a foolish thing to do. So that set me back quite a bit as far as time goes. Now I have tree trunks lying about in the space where I was planning on expanding the garden – which of course can’t be done because of the tree trunks lying about on the ground. If only I could get them to walk themselves up the hill and into the shelter so they can cure. The smaller trees were no problem, or rather, were not much of a problem to move on my own. Sure their lengths were a bit awkward (some were almost nine feet if they were an inch), but they were manageable. It’s just the larger trees (with their denser wood) that have proven themselves to be difficult. I’m still mulling over the idea of letting a few woodworkers I know of that I have available some tree trunks they might be interested in – if they come get them and maybe give me a bench or stool or two in return.

Mundane life intrudes

Well as a relatively new diabetic, I decided to figure out how my favorite recipe for bannocks stacked up for nutrition. Now I know…

Eidiard’s Favorite Bannocks

  • 1 cup barley flour
  • 3/4 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix the flour and salt together, cut in the butter and work until crumbly. I work this by hand, making sure to reduce all the lumps of butter as much as possible. Then, add the milk (your choice as to fast or slow), mix into the flour/butter until all is wet. The dough is quite sticky, which is what I found to be the best consistency.

Heat your cooking stone/skillet (on low heat), then turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface. You can then either press it down into a flat-ish circle, or lightly flour a rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/4″ thickness. Mark an X (or into 8s) with something (mundanely, I use a chopstick). Transfer the bannock to the skillet. Generally, cook each side for 15 minutes. If your heat is too high, you’ll start to smell “burning popcorn”, if that happens, lower the heat and flip it over to cook the other side.

As 8 servings of bannocks

As 6 servings of bannocks

As 4 servings of bannocks

As 2 servings of bannocks

Happy Harvest Home – or Mabon

(Some modern thoughts): Today, the Wheel turns and we enter the time of darkness. Today marks the Autumnal Equinox – the mid-point of Autumn when the days are now becoming shorter than the nights and the colors become more vibrant. Perhaps, because the Autumnal changes are more evident now, that is why people have come to believe that the Equinox is the beginning of Autumn, instead of it being the mid-point. Lughnasadh was the celebration of the first harvests (and opened the Door to Autumn), Mabon is the middle harvest celebration, leaving Samhain as the final harvest celebration and the opening of the Door to Winter (first day of Winter). Seeing as how most modern people are no longer connected to the cycles of the seasons – with all their attendant chores, it’s easy to see how the confusion was generated.

Anyway, my garden experiment was, shall we say, a bit less than successful this year. While I had quite a few things sprout and grow, there was just too much shade for them to all bear fruit. I did manage to get a handful of beans – not enough to really use in cooking, so they’ll hopefully become the seed stock for next year’s trial. Where I had a number of squash blooms, I only had one (1!) squash – and something from underground got to it before I could. The worst part is that it wasn’t fully ripe (or even full-grown) before they decided to taste test it and figure that it wasn’t yet good to eat. So, I am letting it go. Maybe it will mature enough (even off the vine) that the seeds will sprout for next year, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, later this autumn, I will be culling about seven or eight trees of various types: box elder (bloody weed tree), catalpa/catawba trees, and black walnut. I’m leaving the black locust tree, as it is fully mature with a height of about 90 feet. A bit big for me to tackle myself. With luck, this will open up the slope (even with the house built into the west end of the property) so that I will have a better harvest next year.

(Back to in-persona): Today is the Equinox, according to the elders. Now starts the dark time of year and we have to make sure that all preparations for the winter months are well underway. There is really no time for much in the way of celebration, since there is so much work to do around the broch and settlement. With luck, we can get the rest of the barley and oats harvested, and the hay put under cover – so long as the rains hold off. We were told that our wheat wouldn’t make it, since the winds have too much saltiness to them (and the season is too short, even with planting early), and the naysayers were right. So our wheat experimental crop did not turn out at all.

There is also making sure that all the roofs are in good order so that the wind driven rains and snows later, don’t cause any sicknesses with the animals that we’ll be over-wintering (or that the humans here don’t come down with any fevers as well!). I need to also go out and see if there’s anything left in the hedges worth harvesting. I’m hoping to find some late season herbs that can be used to bring some flavor to the pottage, as well as can be added to my cures. Must make sure my stores are ready for winter!

After Lughnasadh…

1 June 2017 Late afternoon

1 June 2017 Late afternoon

Lughnasadh has come and gone, and with its passing, autumn has begun. Still, I have to wait until after the Autumn Equinox before I can start taking out trees. While I can’t take out the trees in my neighbor’s yard, I can at least give my little patch of ground a better chance at more sun by taking out a few (bunch) of them. I probably won’t wait for the leaves to have fallen before I start preparing the area I want to grow my grains. First up in rotation will be barley, to be planted before midwinter for a spring harvest. Then, I will plant my einkorn for a later summer harvest. After they have had their time, I will plant some red clover to give back to the soil the nutrients my grain crops have taken from the earth. I will also be increasing the size of my garden, and maybe relocating it slightly.

I have not given up on either this project, or my dream of working toward an Iron Age feel to my backyard. I will admit that having a yard that is completely on a slope, with no real truly flat area, can be somewhat discouraging at times, but I will prevail! I never expected this to be easy, but at least it keeps me healthier.

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