Saturday, 5 March 2016

Plants, planting and gorgeous gifts

There have been some jolly useful dry spells between the downpours in the last few days and I have made the most of every moment outside that I could, I've also been quite busy inside too.

Most mornings I wake up between four and five and, given that this isn't a very sociable time, I have been using the pre-dawn hours to sow some seeds.

Once sown they are put into the boot room (which is a light and airy small conservatory), where there is no heating and plenty of light. I've sown early purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, lettuce, herbs including angelica, lovage, bronze fennel and a host of perennial flowers for the herbaceous border which is sited just behind the fence at the back of the shrubbery.

Outside we have made good progress with the shrubbery, we have one final bag of ornamental bark to put on the main part and I plan to wait a couple more weeks before we tackle the side area that will also be shrubbery. I am really pleased with how smart it looks now that we have transplanted the shrubs, laid weed supressing membrane and topped it with ornamental bark. I will add other shrubs as time goes on.
I wanted something that would greet us and friends as we drove in through the gate and parked and I feel that we have succeeded. It will be nice to watch the small shrubs grow and mature over the years. The second area that we will turn into a shrubbery is on the right in this photo, just in front of the post and rail fencing with the green windbreak fabric on it.
Yesterday we had a bit of a sort out indoors, although we have now been here for a little over three months, we are still sorting our belongings and moving things around as we create or decide on new storage places. Everything takes longer than it used to and whilst I have become pretty good at carrying things with one hand so that the other is free to hold a walking stick, some things just need both hands and a surge of energy to move. Anyway, Mr J and I managed to shuffle my sink unit into the bathroom and at some point in the future we will have it plumbed in to replace the pedestal sink. In the meantime, my sink unit is an ideal storage cupboard for all those bottles, jars and 'stuff' that we keep in the bathroom.
We also moved an enthusiastic spider plant from the boot room where it has lived since we moved here to the bathroom. I suspect it might take over entirely before the end of the summer, but I plan to move it outdoors once we are frost free and pot up some of the 'babies'.
I've been treated today as I've received two unexpected gifts. When I washed the mud and chicken poo from my wellies using water from one of the water butts, I realised that one of my feet was getting wet. My favourite boots had split and were now useless! As we had to pop to the local shop this morning, Mr J took a short detour and we went to the local garden centre to see if they had suitable footwear for the garden and chicken condo. If one has to have a welly fail, then the timing was perfect, as the garden centre had a half price sale on selected boots and so, without hesitation, I selected a new pair of boots with a big smile on my face. They are as comfortable as slippers and I will get masses of use from them.
The second gift was from my daughter who sent me some little trees for the garden as a Mother's Day gift.
There's a rowan, holly, silver birch and wild cherry and although they are small, they have really healthy, strong root systems and should settle into their new surroundings nicely and will remind me every time that I look at them of her love and care. What a lovely gift!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Muck and dark magic

There is often a moment, just before dawn, when our smallholding feels magical. Most mornings I grab my walking stick and take a walk (or hobble, on a not-so-good day) around the yard and garden to enjoy the space, listen to the dawn chorus and gather my thoughts about the day ahead. I like how the house looks cosy and comforting with the kitchen lit up.
I took these photos on Sunday as the sun came up, the sky over South Gloucestershire (across the River Severn) had just started to get light while the moon still shone over our barn and stables. I take a torch with me on these pre-dawn forays so that I can see where I am treading and slowly I am getting to know the curves, lumps, bumps and dips of the garden and paddock. As long as its not too squally, I like to stay outside until the sun has come up because I enjoy seeing the dark shapes transform into the familiar landscape. It's like a new gift being unwrapped each day.
Until this weekend, I hadn't appreciated how interesting the big piggery looks at this time of day. I don't usually have the piggery lights on, so hadn't seen how the light peeps through the slatted sides and creates a sunburst effect on the grass of the back garden.

Yesterday was St David's Day, we had a productive and peaceful day, so in my book that makes it a perfect day. This lovely card was painted by grandson number one and I thought it was an ideal image for March 1st. I am going to put it in a frame to hang on the kitchen wall as I like it's cheeriness and after all, who wouldn't want their grandchild's artwork adorning the walls?

Yesterday started with heavy rain, so it was a brief walk outside and I sheltered in the stable (which is slowly being turned into the chicken condo), watching the chickens stretch and wake up properly.

By late morning the rain had stopped and the sun and wind dried up the rain on the patio fairly quickly. Mr J and I spent a while investigating an old drain network. At the moment water runs off the big piggery roof directly onto the ground, we need to put up some guttering to channel the water somewhere rather than letting it pool on the ground. We discovered two drains but they are filled with silt and sludge and we don't know whether they are still complete and if so, where they go or whether they have collapsed over the years. As the rain was still pooled three inches deep on the ground around the drain, it wasn't the moment to get down on hands and knees and clear the drains and that is a task for another day. It will go on the ever increasing list of things to tackle. We also thought that it would be an ideal place to have several water butts that could supply us with masses of rain water for the garden, in which case, we wouldn't need to grovel about with hands down the drains (this is my preferred option for a number of reasons). I have spotted several adverts for free huge water containers that have previously been used by industries. They come on a pallet with a metal cage around them to help keep their shape and I think that a few of these around the smallholding would be ideal. Each of the containers hold 1500 litres of water which I think wouldn't be a problem in filling with rainwater collected from the piggeries, barn, stable and garden room roofs and would provide ample water for the fruit and vegetables.

After lunch I headed out to the compost heap corner to rearrange their contents. The two compost bins had each been 3/4 filled with material to rot down and after a few weeks the contents had settled, so I forked the contents of one into the other to fill it up and leave us with an empty bin to start refilling.
I am delighted with how well the compost is coming along. Much of what I put into the compost bins was already partly broken down before it went in, which gave the heaps a head start.
I now have one compost heap that is about a cubic metre in size, has lots of air in it and has been watered and covered. It shouldn't be too long before it is ready to add to the vegetable garden.
After a nice cup of tea in the greenhouse, Mr J informed me that Storm Jake was on its way and so I thought I should try to secure the last couple of gaps in the greenhouse. During previous storms we have lost panes of glass as the wind has got under them and just blown them out of their fixings.
There isn't enough glass to finish glazing the greenhouse completely, so I made use of the hours I spent watching Blue Peter as a child and found some plastic (the non sticky-back kind) and heavy duty duct tape. I cobbled together panels for the door and reinforced it with tape, I don't imagine it will last very long but hopefully long enough for us to go the a glazier and get the correct size of glass panes cut for it over the next few days.

It may not be perfect, but I was rather pleased with the strength of the patching up job that I did. I have folded up the small step ladder and chair that are currently in greenhouse and tucked as much as I could away, just in case my portcullis style patching fails and the wind rips through the frame.
From the sheltered inside of the greenhouse it was hard to believe that the wind was already picking up, I was warm and dry and would have been happy to stay there and potter for a while had the glass not started rattling under the force of the wind.

After all that activity I was exhausted, so supper was an easy affair of leftovers. We relaxed in front of the television and watched 'Back in time for the weekend', I've really enjoyed this series which has looked at how leisure time and leisure activities have changed over the last 50 years. If you haven't discovered it yet, I recommend that you give it a go.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Family celebrations and exploring new territory

Joyful! That's the very best way to describe my weekend.
Yesterday I opened the door to the chicken house and run where the little chickens have been living since they arrived with us. They weren't as cautious as I thought they might be and were very soon scratching about in the chicken condo.

We allowed the new cream legbar chickens to mingle with Jack and Diesel. I expected feathers to fly and much pecking and squawking to happen and apart from a little peck here and there from the big girls, it was a relatively amicable affair. Perhaps this was because we have had the little ones in a run for three weeks so that Jack and Diesel have got used to seeing them around.
 After a few minutes the little birds retreated back to the security of their run, Mr J and I are convinced that they have grown overnight since their excursion into the big wide world beyond the chicken wire of their run. (I had obviously just grabbed the first clothes that I could lay my hands on yesterday, if I had known that I was going to have my photo taken I might not have sported the floral, check, Christmas socks and clogs combo!)
I tidied up some more in the greenhouse which is now as fully glazed as it's going to be for a while. I can't do the final panes of glass until I have moved a small apple tree which is directly behind the greenhouse. I'm plan to move it into the paddock next to the existing fruit trees so that it doesn't shade the greenhouse or that it's branches don't break the glass as they get blown about in the wind.

Today Mr J and I put on our Sunday best (how odd not to be wearing wellies) and we headed off to Bath to attend grandson number two's baptism service. I really like family celebrations with my daughter Cecily, they are relaxed and so full of love. She has a close circle of friends whom she has known since university and they feel like family too. Both grandsons behaved beautifully, number two managed to smile and gurgle happily all the way through his baptism. After the service we all went to Cecily and her partner's house to celebrate, we even had cheese and pineapple on sticks (as no party is a proper party without them!). I find something very comforting and special about these family moments and I treasure them.