apron fence

As we prepare for keeping chickens, fencing our garden is a critical task. Late winter is an excellent time to take care of this, on the coast, as the plantlife is still bare enough to allow for building, and other tasks in the garden can wait. To keep our lovely neighbour’s dogs from simply walking right under the existing fence, where they pose a cute but deadly hazard to our future hens – if only because chickens can be chased to death – I put together a simple apron fence.
apron fence, before.

An apron fence bends into an L shape where it meets the ground, and the fencing that lies along the ground is covered up with a bit of earth or rock. It is ideal for discouraging digging creatures. Being inexpensive and easy to install, and requiring only wire, gloves, a staple gun, and basic eye-protection, makes it quite appealing.

Attach wire along base of the fence. I used heavy staples. As you go along (or before you begin if your ground is predictably even) bend the wire into an L-shape where it meets the ground, so that it lays away from you, stretching out several inches beyond the fence. The wire mesh outside your fence is best buried under the earth somewhat, but our land is so rocky, instead I laid some large rocks over the apron to hold it down, and put a few on our side too. Chicken wire isn’t as long lasting as I’d like, but we had it to hand. Most animals will try digging in places along the apron and eventually give up.

apron fence, after.

Not a pretty thing, but the ferns promise to return with spring and mask it beautifully.

galvanised bucket

Having grown up in one rainy village and moved across the world to another, I’m quite fond of any object that can emerge with grace from a wet winter. The patina on a galvanised steel bucket only improves with weathering and age. The ones I’ve found around this old cottage, and picked up for a fiver at markets nearby, are thick with stories. I guiltlessly leave them out in the wet, forgotten between the compost and the greenhouse when we’ve headed out for a walk in the hills. A couple of them are understated in such an appealing manner, they’ve been invited inside. I keep one next to my treadle to catch threads and snippets, and another stands upstairs beside the tub. Their dull, perfect grey inspired the resolution of a long-considered project, which I hope to show you tomorrow.

the old bucket © elisa rathje 2012

There aren’t many materials that age so beautifully. The stone chimney pot looks better and better, and the deck chairs are growing a distinguished grey, the terracotta pots are patterned with lichen, but most other objects acquire a distressing coat of slippery green in this climate, or worse, they sport mushrooms.

In 1742, French chemist Paul Jacques Malouin described a method of coating iron by dipping it in molten zinc in a presentation to the French Royal Academy. In 1836, French chemist Stanislas Sorel obtained a patent for a method of coating iron with zinc, after first cleaning it with 9% sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and fluxing it with ammonium chloride (NH4Cl).

Zinc-coated. Endlessly useful object, the galvanised bucket, the sort one might comfortably have around for generations without really noticing.

penny whistle

Penny whistles are fine little folk instruments, a variation on the old world wooden whistle. The tin whistle was first made in Victorian times and has a splendid story to go with it. My penny whistle was constructed very much as these whistles always were, not far from our little cottage, and it arrived complete with a sheet of Victorian singing games.

tin whistle © elisa rathje 2012

It’s a pretty little pipe, I’m quite fond of it, especially for joining in on a jig with my tall violinist.

The penny whistle is also one of the traditional instruments I like for playing the little appleturnover song I made up a long time ago. For requesting apple turnovers, naturally. If you like you can listen to it. The children helped me with the very important bit of singing.

copper polish

After a winter of hard work on the wood stove, the copper kettle needs a good polish.

dirty copper

How to polish copper? You’ve got copper to polish, and needed to know. I thought so. Like polishing silver with toothpaste, there’s an ecological, economical solution.

lemon-ash-polish.jpg

Dip a cut lemon into wood ash (wear some gloves in case it is too intense for your skin!) and scrub. This is messy, best to do it outside. Rub, rub, rub with a soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly with water. Anything left in the grooves might create verdigris, which is toxic, so clean it up well, an old toothbrush works.

polished copper

Repeat til shiny, then polish with a clean cloth. It looks so pleasing! It gives me energy for the next task. With thanks to that wonderful book, Sloe Gin & Beeswax.

copper trowel

Today’s River Cottage tried & true is from Head Gardener Mark Diacono, who led us in a delicious study of vegetables at the cookery course. He’s the author of the Veg Patch handbook, which I plan to spend the winter poring over in anticipation of spring. Mark nominated his copper trowel.

trowel.jpg

copper trowel. photograph: mark diacono

Exquisite object! Mark says it cuts the earth effortlessly, doesn’t rust, and has such a striking colour that it isn’t easily lost in the garden. (Especially as it is such a delight to use, and not inexpensive, you do take care not to lose the thing.) He guesses it will easily outlast him. I read a little about copper tools in the garden, there are some fascinating ideas about copper’s qualities. Of course I openly admit to having a weakness for shiny things.

Thank you Mark, I’m wracked with envy.

You might like to follow Mark and his copper trowel over to Otter Farm for a visit.