To Pastures New

Field of sheep

When I first started writing here, I wanted to tell some of the story behind the food we eat; to show the journey from a grain of wheat planted in a field, through the growing process to a loaf of bread on your table. If I’m truthful, I also wanted to shout that farmers are good and we care about the land to counter some of the misinformation in the media about pesticides and destruction of the countryside.

Over the years, the posts have deviated slightly from my original mission. The next generation have grown up and returned to the farm to set up their own enterprises, which have given me different things to write about. There turned out to be more recipes on here than I first envisaged and I’ve dragged you through my various (sometimes short lived) ‘phases’ like natural dyeing and sewing.

My enthusiasm for blogging has waned in recent times as other bloggers have moved to Instagram or simply disappeared, which has made it a different place to be. But recently, I’ve noticed a resurgence of interest in blogging. Perhaps the gloss of Insta is wearing a little dull with the proliferation of “Look at Me and My Wonderful Life!” feeds and people are returning to the more community based blogging.

A few years ago, we brought together all our websites and social media channels for the different family businesses on the farm and put them under the Slamseys umbrella. Ruth suggested that this blog was included too, but I was a little precious about it and wouldn’t include it. At the time, I was mildly obsessed with the notion that everybody should own a personal domain name (we’d had a bit of trouble with one particular domain name) and having set up, I was determined to use it.

But, recently I read an article about online consistency for businesses and realised that Ruth had been right and it made sense to make this a Slamseys blog rather than in my name, especially since I rarely use my personal Facebook or Instagram accounts and have Slamseys Farm as my twitter name.

As a result, I’m moving my blog to pastures new. From now on, you’ll find me at writing about  printmaking and country life at  Life In Mud Spattered Boots.



Nature printing with summer plants

wildflowers in field corner

My daily walk usually takes me down the track that runs through the middle of the farm through Little Forest field and Great Forest field into Grove Field and down to The Ley. The hedgerow next to the track is filled with many different species as well as trees such as oak, ash and field maple. A ditch runs beside the hedge and a margin of native wildflowers and grasses separate it from the crop. This green corridor links up with others, providing a network through the fields for insects and animals and also acts as a wildlife larder with nectar supporting butterflies and other insects while berries and seeds providing food for birds and small mammals.

This green space is also a great resource for humans too. Throughout the year, I look for flowers and berries that we can eat from the early spring violets to the sloes picked in the winter, there’s usually something I have my eye on. We make wreaths from the willow trees that line the ditch and use some of the plants for natural dyeing.

My attempts at natural dyeing have been mixed, with rather too much beige, but as I like the idea of extracting colour from plants, I decided to see if it was possible to get any colour from them onto paper by trying some nature printing.

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant
Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

We started by laying our leaves and flowers on an old drypoint plastic plate over which we laid a piece of damp paper and then ran them through the press. There were some successes but several were a bit disappointing and you may not be surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of beige. Lavender heads, marjoram leaves, ladies’ bedstraw and mayweed flowers all printed a dingy brown.

fat hen leaves nature print
Fat hen leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from plant

Soft leaves like fat hen squished out colour in all directions though walnut and sweet chestnut leaves yielded no colour but left a beautiful imprint. Flag iris flowers and buttercups printed yellow while rose petals and red poppies printed purple. Raspberries, even in miniscule quantities, squirted juice in all directions and the pips made deep imprints in the paper.

Mayweed leaves nature print
Mayweed leaves printed with ink, though the natural colour still comes through

It was all a bit hit and miss, so we decided to ink the leaves to see what effects we could get. I tried inking with a roller and dabbing on with a sponge but didn’t find it very satisfactory so resorted to my good old jelly plate. I found the easiest way was to roll out the ink on the jelly plate, lay the plant material on top and then smooth over a piece of newsprint. The inked plant could then be lifted from the jelly plate and laid ink side up on the plastic plate before running through the press using dry paper.  It turns out that if you put it ink side down then you don’t get much of a print. But at least I only did that once.

vetch leaf nature print
Vetch leaf printed with ink with a little natural colour showing

Inking the leaves is far more reliable and of course you can use a variety of vibrant colours (no beige). Using  fresh leaves means the plants still release a little colour when they go through the press and anything too delicate can’t be re-inked because it just falls to pieces.

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page
Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

It was good to play around with the leaves but the uninked prints are a little insipid and the press rather flattens the plants, even if does add depth when the stems and veins leave an imprint so I think I shall probably carry on making my nature prints with my jelly plate.

Whichever technique you use, the good thing about nature printing is that you don’t need any great skills. There’s no drawing or painting, you don’t need to cut out lino or a stencil. At its most basic, you just need to grab a leaf, add some ink with a bit of sponge or press it into a stamping ink pad and then lay it on a piece of paper and apply pressure. At this time of year, there’s so many leaves around that it seems a shame not to give it a go.