Friday, 25 March 2016

8 Ways I'm Wealthy Without Money

There are moments in most days and sometimes whole days when I feel very wealthy. I have almost no money, no savings, no little nest egg, no rainy day fund and yet I feel rich. How can that be? Well, I am rich with things that matter to me and as long as I have just about enough money to pay for the things I have to pay for, it's these other things that are more important.

The love of my family gives me a feeling of belonging and of security. Although I don't see my brothers very often (as they live on the other side of the Atlantic), there is a constant and a grounding feeling of knowing that they are there, unseen and often unspoken to, but there all the same. My sister would be a close friend if she was not my sister, we share the same values, sense of duty, honour and compassion and we have a similar sense of humour and laugh hard at the same things which often leaves us in tears and with aching sides. My daughter is a mini-me (although she probably won't thank me for saying so!), although she is brighter, has more sparkle and is heaps wiser than I was at her age. I love her unconditionally and by the bucket-load. My two grandsons are a surprising source of love, I had heard all the sayings about grandchildren being even better than having children and not really understood what was meant, and now I do! Those two little boys evoke a gush of love every time I think about them, I can see their good and less endearing traits (and we all have those!) and love them anyway.

I have a small group of friends that have been part of my life for a very long time. We don't always see each other regularly, but we do communicate one way or another on a semi-regular basis. We've been through good times together and been there when the bad times have gripped us, celebrated our personal happinesses and supported each other through sad times.
More recent friends also bring delight and sparkle, these friendships built on shared interests and laughter and I am looking forward to making more friends in the area that we have just moved to.

Love and Laughter
These are two things that I don't want to be without. As long I feel love for others, feel loved and can find things to laugh about, I know that I am doing alright. Finding love after fifty with Mr J has been the most wonderful experience. Between us we have a little wisdom that comes with learning from the errors of previous relationships. Rather than tiptoe-ing around what could be sensitive subjects (like money, our values, our expectations) we had open and frank discussions when we decided to move in together, finding a way that we could build a solid basis for our relationship and so far it works, it works really well.
I find laughter a great healer and binder, it lifts my spirits for much longer than the time it takes to laugh, it has a lasting and lingering impact and makes me feel closer to those I laugh with.

Good Food and Health
Nowadays I know that my health is inextricably linked to what I'm eating and drinking, not just on a general level but on a minute, intricate level. I've had to change what I eat, when I eat and how I eat. We are working towards producing enough of our own food so that we will only need to purchase a few items and for those we will try to source local organically produced foods. There are some obvious exceptions, for example, I don't think there are many locally grown bananas in our corner of south east Wales. Because I am not absorbing nutrients properly, I also take a host of vitamin and mineral supplements to stave off some of the pretty unpleasant effects of under-nutrition that have appeared over the last year. Whilst some of them persist, they are now manageable. So I have come to appreciate the benefits of good food and value my health and well-being.

Space to Think
This doesn't need to be physical space, but it does need to be the time and a place with relative quiet. When I worked in a very busy office with a small call centre at one side and marketing department on the other and my desk slap-bang between the two, I could hardly hear myself think, so I used to go into work earlier than anyone else and have an hour or so on my own to gather my thoughts for the day, write plans and proposals and anything else that wasn't just responsive or reactive to the hectic office during normal working hours. I used to leave an hour earlier than my co-workers too, which I am not sure went down too well and I used my drive home (which took the best part of an hour) to think. Now I have both the time and physical space to think. As an early riser, I use the first hour or so of the day to think about anything I want to mull over and I fabulous views to look at while I am thinking.

Fresh Air
When I am outside, in the garden, at a rugby match or in the countryside I enjoy the cold air on my face or the warmth of the sun on my skin. Our new home has fresh air by the bucket-load. The breeze that constantly comes from the estuary can sometimes be overwhelming, but mostly it's brings with it a steady flow fresh, clean air that I find uplifting and refreshing. Working in the garden gives me ample chance to be out in the fresh air and even on days when it's pouring with rain and blowing a hoolie, I need to go out to feed and care for the animals. I like those blasts of cold, they blow away the cobwebs, help to clear my mind and make me all the more appreciative of the cosy warmth of our home when I come back inside.

So there it is, wealth without money. There are lots of other things that make me feel rich and I make sure that I not only notice them but also appreciate them regularly, after all, there's little point in being so wealthy without enjoying it!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Turning the compost

On Monday, I turned the compost again. Actually, I did more than that, I rebuilt the compost bins. I had originally made a compost bin using pallets strapped together, filled one with material and when that was full I made a second next to it and started to fill that one too. I rearranged the pallets to create one double size compost bin and this gave me the space to turn the compost pile. I used the metal pallets that can be seen at the rear of my new double size bin to make the front of this new larger one.
The compost is coming along nicely, it's getting darker and crumblier although there are still some materials that are in chunks and layers and are yet to rot down. I started this compost pile just over three months ago, so I am pleased with its progress. It was the first job that I did in the garden after we moved in. In this compost heap I've included
Wood shavings and hay from the stable
Fresh horse manure
Well rotted horse manure
Urine, just a little, as an activator
Autumn leaves
Partially rotted leaf mould
Turf lifted from the garden
Vegetable and fruit peelings excluding potato peelings
Tea bags and used kitchen paper towels
Wood ash from the wood burners
Washed, crushed egg shells (2 minutes in the microwave kills off bacteria)
Dried plant stems, including stinging nettles (no roots included)
Shredded paper (looks like I made the layers of this too thick, next time I'll do thinner layers)
Feathers from old feather pillows (also in too thick a layer)
Annual weeds
Grass cuttings
Green plant material from plants we have cut back
Torn up egg cartons
Poultry manure with wood shavings and straw from the chicken coops and duck house
Water, lots of water!
The chickens, Jack and Diesel were quick to lend a hand especially if that meant that they could root through the compost for a tasty morsels to eat. Whilst this was quite sweet to watch, Jack is a voracious worm hunter and I'm not too keen on losing all my composting worms to satiate her appetite.
Once I'd moved the pallets around and turned the first bin's contents, Mr J then scooped up the contents of this second, more recently created bin and added them on top of the first while mixed them into the old pile as best as I could. 
When we have located some more pallets, I will build another bin to hold the hay, straw and horse manure that I've mucked out of the stables. At the moment, the chickens are enjoying picking through it to find bugs and grubs, but they are making an incredible mess with it, scattering it all over the area and kicking it over the young hedge that is planted around the boundary fence.

I have also started collecting materials for a new compost heap on the other side of the paddock, which will be closer to the fruit and vegetable garden and I anticipate making a third composting station too. We are lucky to have access to plenty of horse manure, both the fresh and well-rotted variety and, because we have lots of trees on the smallholding, I will have lots of fallen leaves each year to make leaf mould with or to add to the compost bin. Cutting back the Leylandii hedge will give me extra shredded green material each year and as the year goes on, there will be plenty of green material from the vegetable garden. When Mr J mowed the front lawn last week, we gathered about 15 wheelbarrow loads of grass cuttings, so I imagine that we will also have a huge pile of that by the end of the year. And of course, there's a never ending supply of chicken and duck manure with the woodshavings and straw that go with it. All good stuff for making more compost with.

I am looking forward to using the first of our compost in our vegetable garden and fortunately, I think that I won't have to wait for very long.

 If you use other materials in your compost heap, please leave a comment and let me know what else I might be able to add to my compost heap. Thanks!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The great escape, a chicken's tale.

At the weekend one of the Crested Cream Legbar (CLB) chickens had an adventure. As we opened the gate to let a visitor drive their car out, one of the CLB chickens made a bid for freedom.

Now the only way that a chicken can make a bid for freedom is if they are penned in to start with. The prison that this poor little hard-done-by chicken was escaping from is the best part of three quarters of an acre. The chickens have secure housing at night that they head to at dusk and I let them out again at dawn. During the day they have free reign of the smallholding apart from the area that I will use for growing vegetables. So they have hedges to forage under, grassy areas to scratch in, huge scrubby areas that have been covered in falling leaves and are now rich with insects and worms, dust bathing areas, covered areas and so it goes on. These chickens have a wonderful life!

But, as is so often the case, the grass seemed greener on the other side. So one of the young CLB chickens thought it would be splendid to go on an adventure to the land beyond the farm gate.

I have never seen a chicken move so fast, she was the Usain Bolt of chickens, her little legs carrying her off along the lane and straight towards the main road at the end of the lane.

So off I took after her, but every time I got close to her, she ran further along the lane. Now I realise that it's only a chicken, but we have the chickens for a reason. They are to supply us with eggs and eventually with meat and these little CLB haven't started laying yet and I don't want to lose one before they have become useful. Quite apart from that, losing a chicken to the outside world is horrid, I know that she wouldn't last long at night without the security of her predator proof house and despite carefully not naming the CLB so that they don't become pets, I still feel an affection for these funny little animals that share our smallholding with us.

When she stopped running, presumably spotting something she simply had to peck at, we changed pace and we started a silly dance. I took a few steps forward and then so did she, I moved to the right, she moved to the left. And so this went on... and on. Eventually she decided to squeeze through the gap in the fence of one of our neighbours (there are three smallholdings grouped together along our lane) and I followed her in, not by squeezing through the gap, I opened the gate. We then did the dance right around the outside of our neighbour's home. I knocked on his door to apologise for the intrusion, but luckily he wasn't home so I didn't have to be too embarrassed about losing a chicken. Even if this chicken was as fast as Road Runner!

Mr J had fetched some corn, which usually the chickens will rush to us to have and he had positioned himself in the lane to stop the CLB heading further along the lane to the main road. So between us we should have been able to herd her back to her home. No chance, she was having none of it! I managed to 'encourage' her out of the neighbour's garden and back into the lane where she promptly ignored the corn offering and headed straight into our other neighbour's yard.

This was one badly behaved chicken. I suspect that at this point she was feeling pretty panicked, out of her safe home space with us trying to shoo her in one direction or another, either panicked or feeling pretty pleased with herself for evading capture. Anyway, now I needed to knock on the other neighbour's door to let them know that I was going to be running around their yard trying to catch a manic chicken. Phew! they also weren't in.

After I had chased this little chicken in circles a few times, she made a bee line for the neighbour's chicken enclosure and oooh, she was interested in them. This seemed to me to be an ideal moment to let her settle from her panic, but no, she was off again. Running left and right along the fencing that edged the neighbour's chicken enclosure. So like a demented galumphing thing, I also did the left, right, left, right chicken chase dance. Thank goodness no one  other than Mr J could see me (and he's done this chicken - and duck - dance with me, so there's less embarrassment). This little girl was becoming a slippery fish, darting between my ankles and racing around the corner, diving behind fruit trees and back over towards the neighbour's chicken enclosure. I was starting to think that I may have to abandon hope at being able to catch her. And at that point, my neighbour, whose yard I was standing in, appeared from inside their house, smiling calmly and asked me if I had a chicken on the loose. Poo! I was caught red-handed not being about to catch my chicken.

So now there were two of us doing the chicken catching dance with Mr J on guard outside my neighbours yard to stop the CLB from racing off down the lane to the main road. Of course, it took my neighbour all of 45 seconds to corner the bird, but then she tried to go through the netting of his chicken enclosure and got stuck. So he calmly, gently but firmly took her in his hands, scooped her up and cuddled her, ready to walk back along the lane and deposit her in her home territory.

I can only imagine the stories that she has told her fellow chickens about the time that she escaped and explored the big wide world outside the farm gate.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Preparing for productivity

Six Nations is over for another year (well done to England for the grand slam), which can only mean one thing, it's time to concentrate more on the garden. Over the last week, Mr J and I have been reassessing the large and established plants in the garden, checking for their healthiness and vigour. Sadly, we've found two trees with real problems.

One of the plum trees is being killed by crown gall, its gnarled trunk is all knobbly and twisted and several parts are completely dead. Mr J cut back the branches, ready to remove the stump and roots, all of which we will burn to ensure that the crown gall isn't left in the garden to infect other plants. I've read that I should grow potatoes in the ground where the diseased plant was for a couple of years as apparently this will remove the crown gall from the soil (who'd have thought?). As luck would have it, the Maris Piper seed potatoes that I had ordered from Thompson & Morgan arrived on Saturday, so I have popped them into the unheated greenhouse to chit and will them put a few in the space where the old plum tree was growing.

Right next to the plum tree with crown gall is what I think is a pear tree, sadly this too is as dead as a dead thing. It is hollow in the centre, has evidence that either squirrels or mice have been living in it and  in addition to that, it is riddled with woodworm.

This too, needs to come out, so I called a local tree surgeon to drop by and give us a quote for removing it and a couple of other tasks that need tackling around the garden.

We've also been pushing ahead with creating some raised beds for the vegetables. A while ago, I purchased a load of reclaimed timber (2 by 4 inches) which are stored away and bit by bit we are removing the screws and nails from them so that they are ready to use to make the raised beds.

On Saturday morning, I started to put them together and made the first couple of raised beds. I wish it was as quick to make them as it is to write about it.  After putting in about five or six screws, my hands had seized up and I couldn't grip the screwdriver, so I had to wait for a while for my hands to behave again and for the rest of me to regain some strength before continuing. In the end I asked Mr J to help with making them, this was disappointing as I had wanted to be able to do these by myself (not that I am bloody-minded about things of course!).

In each bed I will put a layer of cardboard to kill off the grass and then fill it up with soil, well-rotted horse manure and peat-free compost, and once our homemade compost is ready, I will add that too. I am itching to get the onion sets planted and also to plant out the garlic which I started inside earlier in the year. The planned layout of the vegetable garden can be found here. I have no doubt that the reality will be different to the plan, but it's a starting point.

The plants in the greenhouse are coming on well and before long I will need to start using the lower level of staging as more and more seedlings are ready to be moved from the kitchen and boot room into the greenhouse. I think there may be a race to get the raised beds completed in time to plant out all the young plants as they are ready. Luckily, we won't need to be constructing raised beds again next spring (I hope), so the amount of work we are tackling will be less, or at least it will be different, next year.

On Saturday afternoon, Lisa from Country Coppicing delivered lots of hazel poles that I had ordered. I showed her around our plot and we talked about how nice it is to make cordials and jams from home grown fruit and I've promised to contact her when the elderflowers are ready for picking and then again when the plums are ripe. We will have far more than we can use, after all, there is a limit to the amount of plum jam, chutney and sauce that one couple can eat in a year. Wherever possible, we are purchasing locally, this makes sense in terms of reducing the mileage travelled and in supporting the local economy. The hazel poles will be used to create support for beans and other climbing plants, some will be used to make low fences for dividing areas of the garden. Lisa told us about the work she is doing in rejuvenating a coppice wood in Newport, it's been left for fifty plus years and they are now revitalising it by careful woodland management practices. Great stuff!

Sunday was a gentler day, the tree surgeon called by in the morning to have a look at the trees that need to come down and then my daughter and her family came to visit. I had a fabulous time with grandson number one. We talked about the toys that he had brought with him and then did some puzzles. These puzzles are ones that my siblings and I had when we were small children, they are good quality wooden chunky puzzle pieces and we had great fun. These designs were new to my grandson but oh-so-familiar to me. I'm not entirely sure who had most fun doing them.
Then we headed outside to meet the ducks. He helped Mr J and I to tip out the small pond and then to refill it with clean water. He was very keen to jump about in the mud and get his boots muddy, but was very good and helped me by opening and closing the makeshift gate in the fence surrounding the duck enclosure. We did 'teamwork' in carrying buckets of water from the standpipe in the paddock (which meant I carried the bucket and he held the handle with me),. We had a really special half hour or so together, just him and me trundling back and forth from the standpipe to duck pond. These moments of shared activity are very special to me. I hope its the kind of thing that he will remember in years to come. He is very relaxed around animals and they respond well to him. No sooner had we tipped one bucket of water into the pond than the ducks were waddling over to see what we had done. Task finished, it was time for my daughter to head home.

All in all, it's been a good weekend, we have continued with our preparation of the garden, laughed a great deal and spent time with the family.