Our Bubble Summer
Today has been a glorious pivot-day in the seasonal cycle here – our 4th and final hay cut has been brought into the barn, and our first main crop potatoes, harvested by horse and hand, are in the root store. We’ve been glad of this last flush of full summer to get the grass dry and both barns comfortably full, even as autumn’s whispers grow louder. It is harvest time; time to celebrate our abundance, whilst dashing around collecting and tending and doing the myriad jobs of summer’s departing. Many of us are looking forward to a wintering – the textures of autumn leading inward, gathering-together into the hearth-space and the expansive dark. Winter’s jobs beckon – attention shifts towards apple pressing and woodland work. For some of us, this summer well-lived sets us up for a glad winter, just as a winter properly tended naturally flourishes into spring.
Last spring was an unusual time here, with the departures of Pedro, Charlie, and Nick allowing for a re-calibration of our community. That process is still ongoing, and the learning curve is steep in places: recently it feels that we are growing into it more healthily each week. We are in the constant learning of land-work, which for most of us is fairly new. And we are learning to communicate in ways that invoke our collective and individual care.
This summer has welcomed two new residents to the Bubble. Wren is now four weeks old, the child of Laura and Phil, and seems to be settling well into the world. It’s been lovely to witness Phil and Laura take to parenthood so naturally, and to feel the Bubble community support them in their space-holding around Wren’s birth. It excites me to see a human born into this context of community, and the support that is possible. Megan has also joined us, from Plotgate community farm, and brings with her an enthusiasm for living well on the land, a natural affinity for community-building, and a desire for more expressive creativity here.
We’ve also had two cows and four goats born here, which is one cow more than we had anticipated! Daisy has been in milk over the summer, giving between 8 and 12ltrs a day, and so cheese making is a regular and increasingly successful activity. The grass came on late this spring, after a winter of being over-stocked, and then suddenly shot away with the warmth in June. The rapid change caught us out, and has meant that we’ve been playing catch-up on our weed control (all by scythe and rotational grazing), which has opened up discussion about what pasture should look like. We want lush grass for Daisy’s yield, but most contemporary grazing is sugar-rich monocultures – green deserts – that are not supportive of a wider wellbeing. So how do we respond to the diversity of nettles and docks? Or the herbs and clovers and flowers that compete with, or complement, our grasses.
It has been a joy to scythe our Swarm Hill meadow this week, as we stop to encounter slow-worms, toads, and crickets, and cut our swathes through flowers and varies leaves. It feels like a healthy feed for our livestock over the winter, and the field seems to be ecologically abundant, and more diverse for its bi-annual haircut, without which it would revert to brambles and scrubland. But, in the context of low-input re-wilding, that scrubland may be favourable, and the new government land subsidy package is encouraging scrubby field margins. There is no single right answer for how to manage the land, once we broaden out our goals, and the Bubble can be a place of experimentation, whether by design, necessity, or neglect. Much of our rich diversity of habitat exists because we don’t have the time to ‘manage’ every corner of our land thoroughly. That is perhaps the main way that nature wins here: it is always more abundant that our fossil-fuel-free resources can cope with!
In the good ol’ fossil-fuel-free days of yore, these challenges of land management were met by whole communities of people. In rural England, most people’s energy would have been expended in land work and associated homemaking. Greg, Meg and I have been particularly glad to be hosting occasional local volunteer afternoons, in which people’s spare energy and time meets our abundance of work, out of which emerges something meaningful for us all. In our relatively de-monetized way, we can come away from the transactionality of ‘jobs’, and instead grow community. So I feel the boundaries of our land soften, as we enact our most radical political statement: we build connections.
The prolonged absence of the steam engine has freed up our time to focus on other things. Most of us have used that time for gardening and animal care, as we learn our way without Pedro and Charlie’s expertise. We had white rot in the allium bed, and the potato harvest is very early after a damp and cool July, which has blighted our main tomato crop also. Other crops are doing well, including Abigail’s experiments with Gourds and Quinoa, and we eat extravagantly at this time of year. We’ve been talking about the benefits of no-dig and permaculture inspired approaches to gardening as a response to the onslaught of weeds, and Greg and Meg are wondering what happens if we come away from the rows-of-root-veg image of cropping. Our visits earlier in the year to East Devon Forest Garden and to Plotgate helped expand our understanding of what is possible, and we feel more confident to experiment next year.
Phil has been bringing the cider production up a couple of notches, and we are entering this apple pressing season with two viable businesses to squeeze juice for. He and Laura have also been spending a lot of time with the horses Shandy and Wiggy, as we try to get them trained for working the land. It is a delicate and exacting process, which I don’t begin to understand, to teach a horse that what it really wants to do with its life it pull logs out of our woodland, or walk in plough-straight lines. Our horses remain unconvinced, but there is some progress.
It is tempting, when writing of our news, to look for where we have made progress: things achieved, jobs done. Less newsworthy, but far more important, is the steady background hum of soil and compost, the comings-and-goings of birds, the board games agonised and celebrated over, the movement of light and shadow through these woods, bovine contentment, songs or emotions shared, and the annual surge and retreat of this green tide that we live amongst.