October 1, 2012

Milk on the Walls

With the recent full moon and cloudless skies, temperatures have plummeted at night. By day, bright sunshine brings gentle warmth to open spaces but anywhere under shade remains cool.

Our adjustments to the flat have come just in time. Two days ago we lit the wood burner upstairs for the first time - a small tiled oven which had been haphazardly placed with a double bend in the chimney now sits facing the living space following another section of wall being removed. The room feels much more open yet contains the heat with the assistance of the new wall enclosing the passage into Saskia's quarters.

With the warmth factor now remedied, progress on the new kitchen can continue, in tandem with the slow, painstaking process of layering paint on the new wall sections upstairs.

In commitment to our aim of renovating using found and natural materials as far as possible, paintwork is now the latest arena of experimentation. Having read up a little on milk paint, the prospect of making quark and slaking lime felt rather daunting. Then I stumbled upon an old formula dating back to 1870 that simply makes use of skimmed milk and hydrated lime.

Hydrated lime doesn't heat up when brought together with the milk proteins and is thus quite safe to use. The idea is to slowly mix the white powdered lime with the milk (just as you would blend a pancake batter) gradually adding more milk until the desired consistency is reached. It is then ready to paint with!

I began with a very runny mixture, still a little thicker than the stated formula but rather more fluid than batter. It did not appear to cover much, so I mixed my next batch a lot thicker. This created a much more opaque finish, but I found that the natural unevenness of the walls generated patches where the paint collected and then slowly dripped. Every ten minutes or so I had to follow the drips with my paintbrush to blend them in and even hours later more drips appeared than I had anticipated.

Milk paint takes a good while to dry and adheres well to fresh plaster. Both then dry together and it can take days for the colour to even out. Thin layers become more opaque over time and I learned that it really pays off to work with a more fluid mixture (more layers and a lot more patience) as the dripping is then no longer a big problem and the end result is much more uniform.

For the record, the resulting paintwork is completely odourless and you would never know that milk had come anywhere near it!

Outside, the walnuts are ripening well. We were worried at first that ours had fouled as many on the ground looked black and shrivelled. The hulls turn completely black as the nut matures. Whilst the hull still clings to the shell, the nut inside is often blackened but moist and tasty to eat.

Raspberries continue to appear even a day after combing the bushes and rose hips are in their prime. In our cultivated areas, spinach has become a mainstay, lettuce is flourishing and our chillies are turning a beautiful, vivid red. Tomatoes continue to proliferate and courgettes are still hanging on. Our pumpkins grow daily and it is clear that we will be living off them for quite some time to come. 

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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