On a Hot Tin Roof

Just over ten years ago, Roger and I tied the knot, performed our nuptials, embraced matrimony.  In other words, we married.  The tenth wedding anniversary is special, and appears to be celebrated with a gift of tin.  Why tin?  Tunafish comes in tin.  I absolutely do not want to receive, nor give, a can of tuna as a gift.  Are we certain it is tin and not gin?   But, keeping with tradition — and we are nothing if not adherents of certain traditions — we are embracing this tin thing.

We elected to celebrate our anniversary by booking a weekend in Cornwall with the dogs.  Cornwall has a rich history of tin mines dating back to the Bronze Age, so it seemed an appropriate choice for our get-away weekend.  Explorations of new villages and towns, walks along the coast with the dogs, and some yummy food awaited us.   Pack the car and let’s go!

Whoa!  Hold it right there.  Nope, rewind.  Can we really leave?  Wasn’t the generator recently playing up?  And if it doesn’t charge the batteries, all manner of disaster might befall us in the form of the boiler or water pumps not functioning.   For the dedicated reader of this blog, the answer is an easy “yes”.  Roger managed to get it mostly fixed, but we were still having problems with consistent voltage and the support team of batteries charging properly.  What this meant was that Roger continued to manually hand crank start the generator each day to charge the storage batteries.  This is no way to live and so we did have to call in our generator expert, Paul.  As it transpired, there was a problem with the AC diode…..blah, blah, blah…. I stopped paying attention and went to town to run a few errands.   While I was out, I received this text from Roger:


Our weekend away was back on track and our generator was functioning as it hadn’t in years.  Happy Anniversary to us!  And now, a confession:  our hard working, thirty-plus-year old Lister lives in conditions which would raise alarm bells in the Geneva Convention for Generators.   The tin roof above is rusted and leaks.  The entire building needs some TLC as the stone walls need repair and reinforcing.  There are no supports for the rusty roof either, so it is a matter of time before the entire thing comes crashing down.   Standing within this falling down shed sits a temporary structure which Roger built during our first month of being at Crockern, bravely protecting the generator from the elements and the failing roof above.  It works, but it is most certainly not a forever solution.

When we arrived to Crockern, the generator was being rained upon and we could have repaired the roof then.  But the roof to the house was leaking, we had water running down a wall in what is now our bedroom, the boiler was either on or off, a fuse box lived below a copper water tank, and we had no insulation, so we had other fish to fry.  Faced with all this, our emergency, short term fix was Roger’s sturdy, moveable cover for the generator.  That was five years ago.

When I walk past this outbuilding, I can’t help but think of that famous line from the B-52s “Love Shack” a place where people of all shapes and sizes, stripes and colours head for a groovy good time. It’s Kookie’s Mad Pad filled with multifarious crowds of hipsters.  It’s state of mind.  But not at Crockern.  Our shack is just that, a shack.  Home to muck and mess, and a hard working generator.

With our bags packed and chicken care sorted, we were nearly ready to head out for our mini-vacay.   With the generator working splendidly we were departing with peace of mind.  I headed to town for my piano lesson.  Just as I was getting in the car to return home, I receive the following texts:

For about a year now, we’ve known we had to address this on-its-last-leg-water-pump.   We’ve been waiting as there is a larger project at hand regarding the water system in the house, and when the water tank got its bulge (Can’t remember?  See:  https://crockernfarm.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/old-stone-cottage-renovation/ ), we had to begin this project.  For the most part, the pump worked, but typically on a stormy night, just as we were brushing our teeth before heading to sleep, it would stop and we would have no water, whereby Roger, not I, would head outside into the wind and rain, making his way to the shed where the pump is located, giving  it a little tap, tap, tap.  Inconvenient, but in the triage of projects, not a high priority.  That is until the latest failure and death of the pump.  And Roger covered in shower gel and standing outside in his bathrobe.

As luck would have it, the plumber arrived within the hour and quickly replaced the pump.  As he left, he mentioned that we should consider a new shed for this set up.  Did we hear him correctly or was this our tin ear?  Another shed?  This is not part of the plans for the outbuildings.

We hadn’t yet set out and already this anniversary celebration was becoming an embarrassment of riches.  Tin roof riches.  We will be getting a tin roof for the shed.  Not just getting, but installing.  As quickly as the plumber left, we loaded the car and headed west to Cornwall where there was no tin in sight.  Instead, we settled into the B&B and ordered two glasses filled with gin & tonic.  Happy anniversary to us and don’t we know how to just do things in style.

Let the Good Times Grow

I’ve got a case of the winter blues watching spring battling it out with Ole Man Winter, as there seems no end to the onslaught of bitter cold.   The icy winds roll through unimpeded and every venture outside puts us in the teeth of an arctic blast, yet we carry on with our gardening efforts.

That’s gardening, not farming.   Sure, the place we live is called Crockern Farm, but that dates back to by-gone days when there was more land attached to these buildings and the people living in them knew something about farming by grazing livestock and growing their produce somewhere else.  The land here is exposed, soggy, and rock-filled with poor soil.  Even with our raised beds, our high elevation results in more rainfall, wind and cold weather than other parts of the country, making for a growing season of less than 175 days.   In short, we’re up against it.

Crockern Farm

This sort of weather can make growing vegetables challenging.

I like farmers and romantically think if I had been born some twenty years later, I might have become one.  Though, likely not.   I grew up in Ohio, surrounded by farming communities and in my early adult years, couldn’t wait to leave for the lights of the big city.  In the 1980s, you got your degree and went to work on Wall Street, or in my case, some underpaid-but-feel-good option of public service.  Living in an urban setting, I planted window boxes, longing for a bigger patch of land.

Thirty years later, and I’m glad to consider myself a gardener.  Farmers have to be serious and work very hard for food growing success, employing tried-and-tested-grow-it-in-proven-ways.  I don’t.  Roger and I can experiment with all sorts of unusual things like trying to grow corn on the cob in Dartmoor!   To earn a living, farmers must grow enough to feed hundreds of people.    Unlike us, they can’t be seat-of-the-pants about their crops.  We can spend hours browsing the catalogues looking at heritage seed options and when the time comes, scatter said seeds on our well-tended soil and hope for the best.  Since we are just growing enough for ourselves, we can be casual in our approach and smile with joy when it works, briefly frown when it doesn’t, and record our progress in our little black gardening book.

When we moved to Crockern less than a year ago, we set about clearing an area of nettles and stones, building up some wind breaks and constructing four raised beds.  We built our compost bins and armed with determination to grow something in an exposed, windy, cold, and wet environment, we planted a winter vegetable bed in September.  We had successes — mostly the lettuces — and a few failures:  Tatsoi and Turnips were sacrificed to the slugs, and the Kales, Cabbages and Spring Onions made a slow and somewhat shy appearance, nearly ready for harvest, when in a single afternoon they were destroyed by the chickens.  Disaster!

Crockern Farm

Success! Lettuces from our winter garden.

It’s these sorts of notations that separate our efforts from those of farmers.  Losing crops to chickens having dust baths?  Really?  That’s the stuff of amateurs.  In other words, us.

I do not wish to imply that gardeners are not skilled, knowledgeable, and very capable.  It’s just currently we are on a steep learning curve.  As a devotee of Gardener’s Question Time on Radio 4, and those delightfully named Brit celeb gardeners, Bob Flowerdew and Pippa Greenwood, I listen in hopes of inspiration and insight, but alas, they never address growing vegetables in the middle of Dartmoor.  That leaves us with a bowlful of trial and error, seasoned with a healthy sense of humour as our strategy.  Roger and I may be a bit haphazard, casual, and mildly frustrated by mistakes and oversights, but now know a farmer would never have let those chickens anywhere near vegetable beds.


Before you say Potato, and I say Potato, we are busy getting ready for our spring plantings.  We stand strong in the face of weather, chickens and slugs.  We have started to chit out seed potatoes for planting mid to late April.  Our tomato seedlings are underway.  And, we’ve put fresh compost on the garden beds.   This is a busy time, even if the garden looks somewhat destroyed.  Layered up in multiple fleeces, hat, and gloves, Roger and I set about to repair and create the infrastructure:  Little and often we work to maintain the stonewalls; we regularly turn the compost and collect manure; we’ve recently built a new raised bed for the asparagus crowns we will soon plant; the discovered stone path is complete; fencing, gates and drains are all repaired; and, when the ground isn’t frozen, we’re pulling up the nettles to prevent them taking over.

Crockern Farm

Bundled up for our current spring temperatures.

Looming large on our to-do list is the building of our greenhouse. When we had it delivered as a flat pack kit in October, we understood we could put it up in a weekend.  Nearly six months later, we’re ready for growing and finally have the foundation and the frame complete.  We need to install the toughened glass, but the weather once again turned cold and wet, delaying our progress.  It is invigorating to be outside in a light drizzle at about 10 C, but rain, snow, sleet, hail and stiff winds just drive us indoors to sit by the fire, read, write, and sip a gin and tonic.   In other words, the stuff of gardeners, not farmers.  As soon as the temperatures rise preventing our fingers falling off as we hold glass in place, we’ll complete this project.  In the meantime, being indoors means we can fuss with seeds and hope the ground will warm up sometime soon.

Crockern Farm

Roger readying the greenhouse

Crockern Farm

Chitting those spuds.

Crockern Farm

Seedlings coming along.

Despite the trouncing this extended-winter is giving us, we know warmer days are around the corner.  If we do more now, our early spring will be free of a mad scramble and we can enjoy the reverie of birdcall and with it the return of summer migrants like Swallows and House Martins.  If farming is for those who make their living growing food, Roger and I are content to be gardeners whose efforts yield enough to feed us.

We are delighted  — and relieved — that while we are working through the challenges of growing in this climate, we can still support the local farmers at markets in town.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!