Friday, 8 April 2016

The thinking hour


Most days I wake up around 5am, sometimes it's earlier, rarely later and because it still isn't light or warm enough to head outside to the garden, I use these quiet hours of the morning for learning, thinking and planning. It's an ideal time to make a cuppa and sit quietly reading or watching how-to videos. This morning, as it's rather chilly in the house, I've lit the wood burner and have the recording of yesterday's Beechwood Garden rumbling away gently on the television. I can hear the start of the early commuter traffic in the distance. I imagine that those folks are travelling some distance to work, Bristol and beyond or that they are heading to the train station to catch a train to Reading, London, Cardiff or Swansea. It makes me very grateful that I only need to open the back door to get to work.

This is also the time of day that I am invincible, capable of doing almost anything I want to tackle on the smallholding. A time when my imagination runs free, when visualising a hedge or fence here or a group of mature trees there works best. The reality sets in when I get outside and don't have the strength to lift a spade full of soil, but right now, sitting in the warm and cosy lounge, anything is possible. And this is a good thing, because from those grand ideas come the beginnings of my plans. Once the big idea is there, I can adapt it to fit what we can achieve between us right now and as our confidence grows, what we can achieve also grows. We are learning ways to adapt to the skills and strengths that we do have (because I've discovered that digging whilst propping myself on a walking stick is impractical) and it's proved to be a good thing that we haven't rushed into putting any grand schemes into place. As we get to know the plot more, the ideas have changed to take into account the weather conditions, the prevailing wind and the quality of the soil.

Most mornings my imagination creates ways to reduce the impact of the wind that comes up from the estuary on two sides of the garden and across from the Breacon Beacons on another side. It is indeed a very windy site. The plot is large and flat which means that a simple hedge around the boundaries isn't going to be enough to provide shelter in the fruit and vegetable garden, so I have been thinking about ways to create additional wind barriers within the smallholding and in particular around the outside of the kitchen garden area. Not only do we need a wind barrier around the kitchen garden but I also need to make it chicken proof so that they don't scratch up all the vegetables as they grow or peck the fruit from the raspberry canes or strawberries from their plants. The ducks, for the moment at least, seems to be pretty good at leaving the plants alone, but they are experts at finding and eating slugs and snails.

So I'd like to find a fence of some sort that will help reduce the wind but not cast too much shadow over the crops we are trying to grow. If it was also rabbit proof that would be an advantage. I'd also like to be able to grow a hedge next to the fence, which could give me added growing area for more fruit or nut bushes.

On the other side of the smallholding, behind the piggeries, is an area that is fairly overgrown with stinging nettles and brambles and during my thinking hour in the early mornings, this is transformed into a large pond with a duck house at the side, surrounded by the hornbeam, hawthorn and willow trees that grow there now. In reality, this project is fairly low down the list of projects to tackle. We need to feed ourselves before we think about creating ponds, but that's the beauty of my morning imaginings, they don't need to be logical or totally practical.

Yesterday we went to collect the small incubator for chicken and duck eggs, I was torn between raising some chickens, which takes three weeks in the incubator and we are familiar with their handling or some ducks which take a week longer and we are unfamiliar with how to care for them as tiny ducklings. So sense prevailed and we will start with some of the chicken eggs. Jack and Diesel will provide us with some eggs for hatching and we have also bought half a dozen hatching eggs (eggs for hatching, not eating eggs from the supermarket which wouldn't be fertile). It will be interesting to see what colour chicks come from a cross between our older girls and the Cream Legbar rooster. The hatching eggs that we have ordered are of a white chicken, which by autumn should give us white coloured eggs and next year, we can look at crossing the white birds with the Cream Legbars to create other interesting colours.

We also collected a compost bin yesterday. I spotted (on Gumtree) that someone locally was kindly offering it free to the collector, so I contacted them and said that we'd love it. For the sake of a very short car journey, we now have large green plastic compost bin which I can put near the vegetable garden to pop greenery into. This is also close to the duck house, so the wood shavings, straw and duck manure can also very easily be put into this compost bin. It may seem that I am very focussed on compost bins, but I need to be. The soil here is very poor for growing crops and although I can buy in top soil when I have raised the funds for it, in the meantime I need to try to improve the sandy, stony soil that is here. The very best way to do this is with compost, so the more compost we have, the more soil that we can improve.

I've now spent so long thinking, watching how-to videos and writing that the sun is up and I need to go and let the birds out for the day.

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