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  • Writer's pictureAlex Toogood

Summer Update - Aug 2022

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

The seasons drift and wallow, and with the breaking of the heatwave recently I feel the foretaste of autumn, as clouds move back into the trees here and the familiar damp re-enters my clothes. The summer drought brings a particular gladness to the changes, but anyway I love the creeping return of the dark, and the textures which come with autumn. With the changes comes a return of words, and time to write them, so here we are again with an overdue Bubble update.

From the outside, or at casual glance, we Bubblers are happy Hobbits, padding around our forested home, laughing together and sharing a cabbage-flavoured life. That has felt almost close to the truth at times recently: with good volunteer support and holiday-brochure weather, we have actually been what people picture when they think of running away to the woods. The larger part of the truth is that we are mad ducks; past that serene veneer there is plenty of furious paddling. Or rather than ducks, the image which feels closer to our experience is perhaps that of an iceberg: more is revealed as we plumb the depths of Bubbledom, and Hobbits are notoriously uncomfortable around water.

The tensions of the day-to-day of things were telling on us back in early summer. At one point all the residents were considering whether being here long-term is actually a good idea. But before we all made rash plans, we actually talked about it (!) as a community (!) and found that solidarity of survivors, which has given us a place to work from. It is a gratifying re-discovery of community when we find the space to voice individual experiences of discomfort, and find that these experiences are shared, and are thus communal. It is in the power of that naming which can allow the sense of crisis and tension to be instead a turning point, and we find ourselves feeling hopeful and excited about the ongoing wellbeing of the Bubble.

The capacity of the Bubble is growing again, as existing residents mature into our roles and Richard and Nina settle into being here. We are also preparing to welcome two new arrivals who already have experience of community and a passion for land work. Finch will be the first to join us, from Voltairs Wood in Stroud, and we’re looking forward to his enthusiasm for apple-pressing and coppicing, and his healthy suspicion of houses.

Alongside the arrivals, Abigail has recently left, to return to her family home in Bermuda. The goats, which she cared for, have also left – some to goat heaven (or to our freezer, depending on your faith) and the luckier ones to Charlie and Pedro at Little Valley Veg. The learning from the goats is that they can work if you’ve got good fencing. We don’t, and goats are good at getting under, through, and over it, and they have passed on their enthusiasm to the calves.

A Hay Cut - in June, when grass was still green

Soldier, helping gather hay

We’ve had horses join us this summer, borrowed from neighbours. Whilst they’re not big enough to extract logs, we have had a few trap rides, and delivered our wares to local markets. The cows are still being cows, as you might expect – the unbelievably docile Jersey Daisy is giving a little milk, and is pregnant again, whilst her Angus calves are increasingly troublesome and making a strong case for a trip to the abattoir. It would be a help for us to be feeding less mouths over the winter: the dry spell means we’ve got little grass and didn’t manage a 2nd hay cut this summer.

We’re still awaiting the return of the steam engine: repairs are progressing at their own pace. The specialist at Shaftsbury Steam now has all the pieces machined that are needed, so all that remains to do there is the fiddly re-assembly before we have to work out the logistics of getting it back on site. The promise auction back in the spring was a success, both financially and socially, and moved us a long way towards our fundraising target. We’re probably still a few thousand short of the final bill, but that’s close enough not to hold things up.

The gardens seem to have coped well enough with the weather, and crops such as tomatoes, melons and chillies have relished the heat. A few things have struggled and been lost, and some brassicas have taken their chance to go straight to flower, but the drought was late enough that many plants had their roots established and didn’t need too much delicate tending. At this time of year food pours out of the garden and we’re set to making jams and chutneys.

A Summer Veg Garden - All sorts of green things, plus flowers everywhere!

The weather extremes that we’ve experienced may be more telling in the winter when we’re reliant on a smaller range of crops, or in future years as perennial plants struggle to adapt to the stress, or key insect cycles are disrupted. Whatever the fallout, it is another reminder from our world that we need to have resilient food systems. I’m thinking very little in terms of yield and much more in terms of diversity and relationship. Our growing spaces can be ecosystems built on networks of reciprocity – insects, vegetables, flowers, soil, canopies and ground cover all talking with each other, and with us as embedded humans. Monocultures are too risky, ecologically and economically.

Alongside the gladness for melons and courgettes, my main excitement this summer has been seeing the Bubble participate more actively again in some wider communities. We set-up the Green Scythe Fair (and won ‘fastest scyther’ in the main competition whilst we were at it), hosted a humble Q&A at the Land Worker’s Alliance’s Land Skills Fair (about us), held tours of our land for groups from the South West Growers Group and South Somerset District Council, and gave a talk at the inaugural Communities Conference, and well as putting on the promise auction back in April.

We’ve got one more event to go – you’ll all welcome to our Open Day on Saturday 1st October. After that we’re into autumn-proper. Fire up the scratter, light the burner, and dust off the board games: we welcome again the glory of falling leaves, crispy mornings, and the inward-turning, deep-diving return of the 10,000 things (including us). Our nests are lined with chutney (in jars) and the dark abundance of winter is drawing us on…


Summer Harvest Chutney Recipe: Bubble Style [* = grown/made at the Bubble]

1 – Caramalise some onions* with a little sugar

2 – Add some (or all) of tomatoes* / marrows* / apples* with enough vinegar* (we recommend Tinkers Bubble Cider Vinegar for best results) for them to simmer in

3 – Add some (or all) of ginger / cinnamon / cloves / cardamom / chilis* / garlic* / pepper / black onion seed*

4 – Add a heap of salt

5 – Simmer for 2 hours

6 – Towards the end, add sugar to taste

7 – If it’s more liquid than you want, mix up a paste from a few spoons of cornflower and a bit of vinegar*. Thoroughly stir this into the chutney.

8 – Whilst it’s cooking, scour the mould/mud/grease/cobwebs off some jars and find lids that might fit them. Sterilise the jars in an oven (heat to a minimum of 85°C), or with boiling water.

9 – Keeping the pan at/near boiling, messily jar up the chutney and tighten lids before it cools.

10 – Cool upside-down, label, and leave to ripen for a month or two.

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