Coronavirus is great for Gardening

Rooky in the Garden

We have had a staggeringly sunny May 2020 and instead of weaving or spinning away the Coronavirus Lockdown I have been able to move the garden forward at an astounding rate.  In the last pictures you will notice the black plastic is still down. As you scroll down you will see the garden being revealed.

The original plan was to grow exclusively dye plants, but it soon became clear that I would have enough room to sneak in a few items for the farmhouse table and luckily I worked this out before the lockdown and had already ordered my seeds from and they arrived before the stockpiling of toilet roll and other essentials started.

Like all new gardeners I planted “loads” of salad seeds at once, and soon needed to build another set of cold frames to protect my seeds from the Lake District cold and frosts of spring.  I made rooky mistakes of planting the courgette and butternuts too early, but luckily only lost 1 plant.  They look so beefy and large that it never occurred to me that they could be damaged by frost.  I felt intimidated by “Brassicas” and the use of fleece and netting, and watched many You Tube hours of how to sow in seed trays, how to prick out, how amazing plug trays are.  I even taught my green-fingered biological science majored friends how easy the no dig method of gardening is and she is going to try it on her new allotment.

The day I took up the first plastic covering was so exciting to see I had real, crumbly, rich, healthy looking soil.

I planted the Woad seedlings Katie (Wwoofer)  had brought with her, transplanted the Madder from the buckets into the beds and filled some gaps with Onion sets, figuring that they are edible and useful for dyeing.  Again though I bought too many and am looking forward to them maturing so I can use the space for something else.

Every week I have revealed a new bed, pulling back the plastic, full of trepidation for the weeds coming back.  I am still having to pick out  individual bind weed stems, which are now very weak and give up very easily, but on the whole I am weed free.

Happy Learning Curve

I have lost the fear of “Killing” things as lots of plants are actually growing – to my amazement!  I am no longer overwhelmed that there is so much to learn, as the activity of practical application and learning at the same time seems to be making the knowledge stick. And the best thing about no dig is that if the weeds do come back, or I don’t have time to spend gardening, I can cover the beds with cardboard, manure and or plastic. I never thought I would enjoy gardening so much.  The views and the blue-sky sunny days are helping, but also the success and the feeling of nurturing the baby plants is so rewarding.  We are already on our second bucket of cut and come again salad leaves, we have added Chard to many dishes and I am looking forward to harvesting my first full lettuce.  I am even dreaming of the possibility of entering some of my produce in the veg category in the local show. Sadly not until next year as due to the virus the 2020 Ennerdale Show has been cancelled. By then I may even consider myself more than a beginner.


Since writing this I have also learnt that using the No Dig method you may not even have to use the black plastic.  If you are starting in a flat area of the garden the use of cardboard, compost/manure and wood shavings are all you need.

Check out the Charles Dowding video below.


The Saga of the Snowdrops

How Far Have We Come?

My Wwoofing blog posts are few and far between as that is the nature of my Wwoofing /gardening project.  The Wwoof visits have to fit around the availability of the accommodation and in rhythm with the growing seasons.  Spring and Autumn. Luckily Ane’s visit in Summer last year and the dormant Autumn and Winter season had left the garden as I left it last year.

Kate applied to visit in March enthusiastic for spinning and dyeing.  Using the “Immediate Availability” posting on the Wwoof web site I tried to gather together a 1 week working party.  However the list of jobs was “bitty” and involved mostly clearing and tidying, so I was cautious about hosting too many willing bodies with not enough to keep everybody meaningfully occupied.  I generated quite a few enquiries but mostly for the wrong dates, so Kate and I created a working party of 2 for a week on some perhaps surprising projects.

Preparing for the Hen House

Next to the raised-bed garden is that area at the back of every garden which gets neglected.  It housed a shed at one time which fell down and blew away, but the hard standing was still good, if a bit mossy.  The wooden crate that housed the old plant pots was rotting away and the flower arch which once held the climbing rose was bent out of shape.

Whilst Kate transplanted the snowdrops to protect them from the planned chicken run I finished the edges of the raised beds in efficient Italian Wwoofer style learnt last year (no more tape measures, brackets and screws but a good dose of ratch in the shed, chop it up and shove it in).  Hey presto a functional path and raised beds that will hold lots of cardboard and horse manure.

BUT who would have thought there were 3 wheel barrows of snow drops.  I had estimated about 10 clumps.  By the end of day 2 we had re-planted 25meters of snowdrops and 12kg of daffodil bulbs, which will make a great display along the whole wall and provide heaps of yellow dye from the heads next year.

Shit Shovelling

Every Wwoofer to the Wild Wool Barn has the privilege of gathering bulky manure.  Sorry it’s just a fact of organic gardening!  We spent a fun morning firstly in the co-op topping up the stores (there was a Coronavirus epidemic to plan for and shelves empty of toilet paper to view in disbelief) 1 bag full of shopping was all we could purchase (no panic buying here) as it had to be carried on the passenger/Wwoofer’s lap.  The back of the car would be full of smelly stuff.

Last year I found the manure gathering exhausting.  Not sure it was worth all the effort I mildly resented doing it and certainly did not enjoy it. However in Storm Ciara in February one of my beds was exposed when the plastic lifted to reveal a beautiful bed of fine soil.  I am now so excited to plant and can really see the point of the bulky manure…but a gardener must be patient.

Day 3 finished with piling on the cardboard accumulated over 6 months, topping it off with the manure, and covering the layers with the plastic.  One more bed had now been conditioned to mature over this winter.  2 more to go.


Heath Robinson building

Kate’s final day and an exciting build.  Using everything we could scrounge from the sheds, we built a cold frame. I just love learning from the Wwoofers’ experience. The frame was made from old roof beams and Celtex-type insulation left form the barn conversion and windows removed from the house 20 years ago (so glad to see the back of them!) and kept for this purpose.  Oh! and parts of an old loom – how appropriate!  Katie suggested the  insulation would reflect the heat and keep the plants warm. So now I can’t wait to plant but with snow on the ground this week it just feels tiny bit too early.

Of course it sounds like we worked outside all the time

But don’t forget this is the Lake District and it rained, was windy and sub-zero most of the week.  We also combed wool, made some posters for the Workshop, played Risk (Captain America Version and Dungeons), shared lots of tips for dye plants and enjoyed some lovely family meals.

Progress and Success in 12 Months

So from this time last year with ground that was just a weed bed and having no gardening experience whatsoever the Wild Wool Dye Plant Garden now has:

A Cold Frame

7 Raised beds with conditioned or conditioning soil

12kg of Daffodils  planted ready for spring 2021

Woad plants in their 1st and 2nd year (not many plants but it is a start and the seeds are as important as the leaves)

Madder in pots going into year 3 some ready for harvesting

Weld plants  – just a few but with the knowledge that they should not be covered when germinating

Alkanet – identified by Katie

Flower beds full of perennials and other Dye plants like Coreopsis and Genista Tinctora bought at Wool Fest last year

A stack of experiences and memories from hosting our Wwoofing friends.


Oh! and we have a Wwoofing family booked to visit in June when those pesky weeds return and we are ready to build the dyeing kitchen.

We have come a long way already and look forward to the plants growing and providing brilliant colour to dye the Ennerdale wool.

Weeds will Grow

Summer in the Garden 2019

Spring seemed a long time behind us when Ane from Denmark turned up.  I had not intended to host Wwoofers in the summer months as that was peak season for our accommodation business, which is also used to house Wwoofers off-season, but Ane was so enthusiastic about the textile aspect of the project, being a spinner herself I could not say no and already I was learning that despite the huge strides we had made in  the weeds just will not wait! In a scene reminiscent of the red weed in War of the Worlds, the bind weed had invaded the whole garden, sneaking out anywhere the plastic let in the light, except where the Rhubarb was growing.  In the delightful Wwoofing way I had learned to love Ane took on those weeds with enthusiasm and determination until they all had been defeated.

Inevitably  August is the rainy season in Cumbria, so Ane spent many happy hours in the studio combing and carding wool.  She also drunk in the view of the Ennerdale Water and encouraged me to spin al fresco and revisit the view it is sometimes easy to take for granted. There was just one fly in the ointment, or should I say “wasp” in the Rhubarb.  The 3 huge plants were buzzing and crawling with a whole nest/colony. Never one to back down from a challenge I used the opportunity to try my hand at making a wasp trap or 10.  Initially I thought I had made the holes too large as the wasps seemed to just fly in and feed on the sugar/jam/honey and fly out again…..3 days later……

X 10


The Four the Merrier

I am quite a solitary person, and although we were hosting Wwoofers for just 1 week at a time, having a relative stranger full time in your life was quite exhausting. We do provide a separate building for the Wwoofers, but when they arrive alone, we want them also to feel part of the family,  but cooking and heating separately all have a cost.  It was our Romanian Wwoofer who suggested that instead of waiting for the Wwoofers to find us and host them one at a time, we should put an urgent request on the site with specific dates for specific tasks and host a group for 2 weeks.  So we did. Within 3 days we had 10 offers of help for 2 weeks in Februay/March.  Some not so practical as they maybe had not read the dates we required or wanted to stay too long.  It was at the time the new Wwoof website was launched and my chosen 4 were a result of their patience with the glitches,  a friendly approach and enthusiasm for the project. A Canadian, a French couple and an English lad.

My 2nd exciting discovery was the No Dig Organic Home and Garden Book by Charles Dowding.

Picture 1 of 1

This was a revelation. No fights with weeds, no constant hoeing, NO DIGGING!! just tons of lovely bulky manure and brown cardboard.  I became obsessed, stopping in the dead of night to pick up cardboard left by the side of the road or near recycling bins. I become a connoisseur of Midden Heaps.  Dry and layered or decomposed and squelchy.  I was happy to collect from any.  Layering like a strange lasagne, those weeds were going to be suffocated into submission.

And so with a variety of abilities and life skills The Fabulous Four, worked initially in strange Cumbrian February sunshine and then in very usual Cumbrian Rain, to tame the old chicken run, and renovate the hen house (more bulky manure) chop back the devouring perennials, remove weeds from the cobbles (by hand), move and use the 10 year old household compost to fill buckets ready for planting, move paving slabs from the lawn, create paths, fill bags and bags and more bags with manure and layer it with cardboard and when rain truly stopped play, to process wool ready for dying.  The only thing we have not yet done is plant some seeds.

They worked and lived together, sometimes we all ate together, sometimes I cooked and sometimes they did.  Everybody had companionship and their own space. It was a perfect arrangement, and new bonds and friendships made.  It felt more like a university field trip than a working party.

It Feels Like We are on Holiday

Winter is the best time for us to work with the Wwoofers as in summer our accommodation is needed to rent to tourists to pay the bills.  Winter is not always the best time for gardening, but despite the snow and the rain the messy RH bed was transformed in a morning into 4 raised beds, and the view was revealed by a day of dilligent hedge trimming.  Not only had we forgotten how breathtaking the view from the garden could be, but what it felt like to be a gap year student again.  The house was filled with Italian words, cooking from life experiences as a Bistro owners in Milan, before Viviana and Vincenzo dropped into the slow lane to Wwoof around the world. Plans were made to Ski in Romania (or the Ukraine because that is where the Romanians now go). Bheinn learnt how to do magic tricks, and everybody got beaten at Mario Cart.  But like all travel Wwoofing comes with the need for a lot of adaptability.  None of the Wwoofing stays have finished/started as planned.  A day late for a broken bicycle, an early departure for paid employment, struggles, to find a next host, or the public transport to accommodate that need on a budget. And none of us have finished a Wwoofing host or assignment without learning and becoming more than we were at the beginning.  So for today

Sogni D’oro, Noapte buna vise placute, Goodnight and Sweet Dreams

The First Wwoofer

Suilvan the “Naked” Frenchman

Our first Wwoofer arrived by bike in terrible Cumbrian weather having cycled from Portugal via Wales, Scotland and on this specific day from Dumfries.  He was travelling light, with everything (including his Ukelele) on the back of his bike.

No surprise he was very fit having cycled all that way, but his big surprise was his adherence to Barefoot running (and gardening).  As a running family who have spent many hours with massage therapists and physios we had many hours of conversation about the health benefits of the barefoot philosophy.  Our first Wwoofer was a brilliant English speaker and very hard working bringing about a huge transformation in the garden in just 5 days and joining in with our family life. I think the late autumn sunshine helped.  As we waved him goodbye both Bheinn and I had a tear in our eye. Our first Wwoofing experience had been a great success.

The Garden Begins

Gardening is not my favourite thing.  It is messy and hard work and we have a very large garden.  Mark, my husband had a go a few years ago when his mid-life crisis kicked in, but after the polytunnel had blown away 3 times, the last time permanently we both gave up trying to live off 2 beetroots, 3 peas and a large handful of Chard.  He bought a camera and I bought a guitar.

5 years later in 2019 and the barn redevelopment project is turning like a juggernaut from a building project to a money-making scheme and dream come true as far as being able to spin, weave and teach is concerned for me. I then realised the garden had been totally neglected and would require yet another large effort for it to complement the accommodation we were offering.

The penny dropped that many spinners and weavers I know dye their own yarns and a natural dye garden could be a fantastic add-on to the back to the earth philosophy of the spinning with wool from the sheep we can see from our back window and the idea of the dye plant garden was born.

So why go down the Organic route you may ask?  To be honest I was possibly persuaded by the notion of volunteer labour to help with the project in the form of Wwoofers.   Wwoof  means:

WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, UK (WWOOF™ UK) [and] is part of a worldwide movement linking visitors with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange thereby helping to build a sustainable global community.(

As a student, many years ago I had travelled and volunteered around Europe and loved the idea that we could host volunteers from all over the world to help us develop this garden and share our incredible location.

Also I have always tended to reduce, reuse, recycle and help the planet as much as I can. So having read the information on the web site about the Henry Doubleday Research Association’s guidelines of how Organic Gardening began taking care to love and nurture the soil avoiding chemicals rather  than force change with artificial additives I was hooked.

Wwoof Organic Dye Plant Garden Project at Wild Wool Barn

Organic Dye Plant Garden

This is a new fledgling project supported by WWoofers.  Watch this blog for future posts to find out more about our Organic Dye Garden at Wild Wool Workshop and see the web site.