People sometimes ask me what we're doing out here. Not many people have questioned our sanity in moving away from the city (although a couple have), but people often ask if we moved here with a specific purpose. After all, we have several acres of fields - we must have a plan? Livestock? Camping? Being completely self-sufficient? Festivals? Rewilding?
And the answer is, I don't really know.
When we started our search for a new house, we were looking for somewhere with a bigger garden. That wasn't difficult - our old garden was 92 square feet, much of it concrete, and was at the front of the house, bordering directly onto the pavement.
As often happens, our search area got wider, we got closer and closer to the top of our budget, and eventually we found somewhere we fell for that had some ideal qualities (views, privacy, lack of neighbours) and some that we hadn't really counted on (11 acres of grassland and several outbuildings).
We did wonder whether it was sensible, but we were game for an adventure. We didn't make too many plans in advance, because the process of buying took nearly eight months (shenanigans by the mortgage broker, the building society, another party in the chain), and we spent a lot of that time thinking we might not be able to move at all. When we did finally exchange contracts, we had nine days to prepare before we moved.
Anyway, we're here now. Are we farming? No. Smallholding? I would have said no, but according to Wikipedia at least, smallholdings 'may not be self-sufficient but are valued primarily for the rural lifestyle that they provide for the owners, who often do not earn their livelihood from the farm', which is true (but I suppose could apply to any rural house). It also says 'a smallholding is a piece of land and its adjacent living quarters for the smallholder and stabling for farm animals. It is usually smaller than a farm but larger than an allotment, usually under 50 acres'. That's also true.
Other definitions talk about land that is being used for agricultural purposes, but is smaller than a farm, and this is where I come unstuck. We're not doing anything remotely close to agriculture here. I grow some of our food in the garden, and we now have four chickens - does that count as agriculture? I don't think so. So are we smallholders? I don't know.
In America this type of place would probably be referred to as a homestead, and in a way I like the sound of the word homestead better than smallholding. It's an old English word, but sadly for me it's associated with the questionable practices surrounding the 1862 Homestead Act, and it doesn't feel like a good fit.
So where does that leave us? Acreage is, I suppose, technically correct but doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. I can barely bring myself to even say 'property'.
In reality, we don't need to call it anything other than home, and describe what we're doing in any other way than living here. There are plans, both short and long term, but they're not on a grand scale, and they certainly don't involve having our own farm animals or any kind of hospitality business.
So next time someone asks, I think I'll just tell them we're hanging out. Learning to live here, to inhabit this space and have a life that in some ways is similar to our old one, but in other ways is oh so very different.
Way back at the end of August I sneaked off to Biddulph Grange, a National Trust garden not too far away.
I'm not particularly given to visiting large fancy houses with large fancy gardens, but I wanted to explore the local area a bit, and Biddulph Grange has a kitchen garden, which I thought might give me a bit of inspiration for my own.
The kitchen garden certainly was pretty, but I hadn't realised just how extensive the rest of the place was. It was laid out as a series of rooms, all very different in character.
I have mixed feelings about gardens like this. It's a beautiful space, and I loved the idea of having separate themed spaces in my own garden. I went on a week day, and there was hardly anyone else there, so it was very peaceful. But places like this come with a history of colonialism, empire, plant theft, and ridiculous levels of wealth. While I can appreciate their beauty, I can never quite separate them from that in my mind.
There are a few small things I'd like to create in my own garden though. I loved all the stone steps and little trails from one place to another. And while I won't be creating an Egyptian Garden any time soon, I think I can find space for a tiny little pond somewhere.
I really have to get back into a routine of posting here. I miss it. I've been not quite thwarted, but discouraged, by technology. I used to take pictures on my camera, upload them to the laptop, resize them, then insert them into blog posts. My new phone takes pictures that are near enough as good as the camera (which I've now stopped carrying around) - but it uploads them to google photos, and unless I'm writing a post on my phone, I still have to download photos to the laptop, rename and then upload them back to the blog again.
All rather tedious, but I will get into a new rhythm soon enough.
Not tonight though. Having sorted through my pictures from the last two weeks I'm far too exhausted to do anything with them and am going to sleep instead.
I did mean to write another post before joining in with this week's Six on Saturday, but somehow time just slipped away. Let's begin with some harvesting this week shall we? I'm delighted to see this round courgette - I was starting to think they wouldn't appear at all.
And more harvesting in and around the greenhouse - two types of tomatoes and two types of beans.
Number three is my willow dome. It's not much of a dome at the minute, but come spring it'll grow into a beautiful, swishing, swirling space to lie in and look at the view. This willow was harvested from our old tiny city garden, where I unwisely planted a willow hedge, then spent several years cutting it incessantly. These wands spent five months living in a bucket of water, so I hope they appreciate their now unlimited space.
Number four is the chicken run, which seems to get both closer and further away from being ready with every passing day. It now has four solid walls, is entirely fox proof (I hope) round the bottom with a two foot skirt of wire dug into the ground, topped with heavy stones. It's painted on the inside, and most of the outside, and just needs a roof. We have all the materials - and we also have 'light rain and a gentle breeze' which turns our corrugated plastic sheets into sails. Sigh.
Still, let's have number five as the chickens, who seem perfectly happy in their temporary home in the stable.
And finally, number six is the teensiest butternut squash I have ever seen. I'm delighted with this too - like the round courgette, I thought it would never happen. Still, it'll have to get a bit bigger before I bother cooking it.
So there we are, a glimpse of my garden this week. Do pop over to The Propagator's blog and see who else has joined in.
This week I'm joining in with Six on Saturday, a weekly cheerful game where people post six things that are happening in their gardens that week.
So here are my six.
This is by far the most exciting thing round here this week.
I've had them six days now and we're all settling in nicely. Mildred is a bossy boots, Luna isn't far behind, Hermione is being stoic down at the bottom of the pecking order, and Maud has a sore foot. Someone keeps kicking over the feeder, and nobody's got the hang of sleeping on a perch yet (although they are now going into the house themselves which is a start).
They're temporarily living in the stable block, which leads us neatly onto...
2. A not-quite-finished chicken run
All the pieces are finished now, we just need to make a few adjustments to the levelling of the base, fit the pieces together, and put enough wire and stones round the bottom to stop the fix getting in. We'd planned to do that this weekend, but sadly it's raining so much it's like being in the shower out there.
3. My sorry looking greenhouse
Oh dear. On the left are nine cucumber plants in too-small pots, which I didn't manage to keep watered enough throughout the heatwave. They still produced plenty of cucumbers though, and we've pickled quite a few. I had to remove the mesh they were growing up to use in the chicken run, and I don't think they're going to recover.
On the right are tomatoes, four I grew from seed and the two larger were given to us by a friend. I clearly haven't got the hang of tomatoes yet, as apparently hers are prolific and glorious, and mine are few and far between. We have had a few yellow ones though. I need to start my own earlier next year.
4. Purple basil
I grew this from seed, and I love it. I like to eat basil, but it's also a beautiful plant, especially now it's flowering. I've put some of the leaves in the freezer but never got round to making pesto. Oh well. I'll definitely be growing plenty of this next year.
I'm growing two types, a red and white speckledy type given to me by my auntie, which has cheery orange and white flowers, and some climbing french beans, which have beautiful lilac flowers. I have nine of each, and they've been reasonably prolific. I've eaten them almost every day but not really had enough to give away or freeze. I'm planning a veritable bean forest next year.
6. Rainbow chard
I love rainbow chard, but mine has languished in too-small pots all summer and only got planted out a couple of weeks ago, after slugs decimated the kale. So far it's holding up.
So there we are, a swift wander round my garden on a soggy autumnal day. If you'd like to see Six on Saturday from other people, head over to The Propogator's blog.
I can't tell you how excited I am about this - we have chickens!
I've been fond of chickens for as long as I can remember, but living in a terraced house with no back garden I had to set my chicken dreams aside. We looked after a friend's chickens for a couple of weeks, and I went on a chicken keeping course, but for many years my main chicken interaction was visiting the local city farm.
When we started to think about moving house my thoughts turned to chickens again - in fact suitability for chickens became one of my requirements for our new home.
Finally, after living here for six months, my chicken dreams have come true.
We collected our girls on Sunday, from the British Hen Welfare Trust. They rehome hens who have been in commercial farms and who are about to be sent for slaughter. Our chickens haven't been in cages, but they have lived in a large barn with thousands of other chickens, and have never been outside.
We're just putting the finishing touches to our outdoor run and making it fox proof, so our ladies have taken up temporary residence in the stable block. It's big and airy, with plenty of natural light, places to hide and hay to scratch around in. It's not ideal, but it's more room than they've ever had, and it's only for a few days. They seem happy.
I've been spending quite a bit of time just sitting with them and they're slowly getting used to us. Today is their third day here, and this afternoon I had them eating out of my hand. Two of them found their way into the hen house at dusk tonight (the other two were huddling on the floor in a corner but it's early days yet).
They're establishing a pecking order - perfectly natural although it's tempting to intervene to stop Mildred going out of her way to chase Hermione (they're named after witches in kids' books...). My current pecking order prediction is Mildred, Luna, Hermione. I'm not sure about Maud, she seems to do her own thing and neither chase the others nor be chased herself. Sensible Maud.
I'm sure one day chicken ownership will become second nature but for now it's still Extremely Exciting.
August has been rather soggy in comparison to June and July. The garden has flourished and it's been a month of harvests - cucumbers, yellow courgettes, green beans, basil and a tiny bit of rocket.
We've not had a glut of anything yet, and I don't think we will this year. We eat courgette most days, but I've kept a watchful eye on them so none of them have grown too enormous. We've grown plenty of cucumbers, but we've been picking them small and pickling them (none of the jars of pickles make it past the end of the week though so this isn't a winter storage strategy).
There are plenty of things that haven't done so well. None of the other squashes have even fruited yet, and we've only had a few tomatoes ripen so far. The cucumber plants are looking decidedly yellowy (although still producing plenty of cucumbers). And the kale was completely decimated by caterpillars.
I didn't get round to planting out my poor pot bound rainbow squash until this morning, and I imagine they'll have been munched by slugs by tomorrow.
There's plenty I haven't told you about in this whistlestop tour of our garden in August. The shrivelled tomato plants that never made it past the seedling stage, just stood slowly drying out in the little greenhouse. The tiny woody beetroots, that also never made it out of their seedling pots. Piles of sticks, empty plant pots, tools not put away.
But let's not look back - let's look forward, and with great excitement, because our chickens arrive on Sunday! We're rescuing four ladies through the British Hen Welfare Trust, which rehomes hens who have come to the end of their commercially productive lives and would otherwise be sent to slaughter. Our hens have been producing 'barn eggs' - they've not been in cages, but they also have never been outside. We're daunted (having never been responsible for anything other than ourselves for more than a few days at a time), but we'll do our best to give a few hard worked ladies a cheerful retirement.
Best get on with finishing building their house...
I'm lucky. My job gets easier in the summer, and while there's still lots to do, I can slow the pace down a little and work at home a lot.
I do still like to take a couple of weeks conpletely off work though, and this year I picked the last two weeks of August.
It's a shame I missed the heatwave, although now it's a bit cooler it's easier to get things done outside. Or at least it would be if it stopped raining.
The sun has shone a little, and we've had friends round for blackberrying, had a couple of days out, and some general pottering. My sister and my three nephews came for a camping trip - we managed a fair bit of playing outside and an hour in the tents before camp was transferred into the living room.
I always have a feeling that I should be doing significant with my holidays. I 'should' be going on grand days out, conpleting epic projects, hey, even getting to the bottom of the washing basket.
But somehow much of the time I take off work is spent just breathing, expanding into my space a little more. Catching up on the watering, digging an extra bed in the garden, sorting out storage in the bedroom, lingering over breakfast in a cafe with a book.
I've still got a week left. A friend is coming over today to help me dig the foundations for the chicken run. I've made lentil soup for lunch, because somehow it seems like we might need warming up. I'll spend some time helping on her allotment later in the week.
I'm planning a trip to Biddulph Grange gardens one day too, and a couple more days will need to be spent in the garden preparing for the chickens, who we're collecting on Sunday. Can't wait. Shame I haven't got next week off too to play with them.
Six months ago today we moved house. We were exhausted after two years of decorating, cleaning, packing and bureaucracy, and the night before moving day we only had two hours sleep. We both cried. We tried to sneak to our favourite cafe for a last consoling cuppa but it was full, so we got drinks to take away before driving, in two separate cars, over the hills to our new house.
The removal men were already here, and had unloaded one van into the garage already, as instructed. We opened the house, and as the sky turned grey and a few flakes of snow started to fall, they (rather hastily) unloaded the other two vans into the living room while I rang the plumber and tried to turn the heating on.
I can't say that first night was fun, and being snowed in for the next few days was adventurous rather than pleasant, but it gave us a chance to unpack, and to move all our possessions from the one warm room (which we'd intended to use as a temporary store) to a rather colder room (which we'd intended as a living room).
So much has changed in six months, so I wanted to look back a little on the progress we've made.
We moved on February 26th, and from then on through March, there was quite a lot of weather.
We did some necessary work - filling potholes in the drive, and making a path across the lawn to the door - and the snowdrops arrived.
March was a month of early mornings, sunsets, and not quite believing how lucky we were.
We did some more practical things - started on the never-ending task of fixing our dry stone walls, reclaimed some of the stone from the collapsing old barn, put up a greenhouse, demolished an outbuilding, and spent yet more time staring at the view. And I finally achieved my dream of hanging washing out on my own washing line.
In April it snowed (again), and then got rather soggy (again). I optimistically planted seeds (and rebuilt the greenhouse after it blew down), and we spent a lot of time taking wellies on and off in a futile bid to not have the house fill up with mud. Crocuses arrived, and then a parade of daffodils lined the driveway. I went on a dry stone walling course, and we acquired a proper glass greenhouse from a friend. We ate breakfast outside wrapped in blankets in the middle of the month, and by the end I was gardening in a t shirt.
May was a month of grass and wild flowers. I acquired a push along mower, and a scythe, and we opened our fields to the cows from the neighbouring dairy farm. I planted raspberry canes and made raised (ish) beds and it was finally warm enough to take my socks off.
June was lush. The garden grew faster than I could keep up with it, but by the end of the month the second greenhouse was up and stocked with tomatoes and cucumbers, and the courgettes and squashes were in the ground. We had our first salady harvests, I finally finished rebuilding my first dry stone wall, and socialising was done mostly outside. Oh, and we started dismantling two of the bedrooms on the first floor.
July was hot. Too hot really. The surrounding grazing land turned brown, and the local farmers were feeding last year's hay to the cows. I traipsed back and forth to the greenhouse with watering cans, cursing myself for not plumbing in the water butts properly before the heatwave arrived. We dug in our first home made compost, and had our first harvests of raspberries, courgettes, cucumbers and beans.
And now we're in August! The weather has turned a little - we've still had some hot days, but it's more like a normal English summer, and now I'm off work for a fortnight it's been raining rather a lot. We've been picking blackberries, harvesting more courgettes than it's sensible to eat, and our first calf arrived (and several more since). We had the excitement of scaffolding as the local farmer kindly removed our chimney from the roof, and Peter has been dismantling the chimney walls inside. We're also building a chicken coop ready for the arrival of our own mini flock next weekend.
I don't think we've done too badly for our first six months. This was a big change for us, and we're finally starting to feel like we live here (probably a good thing as we've started dismantling walls).
I wonder what the next six months will bring?
Im off work this week, and while I'll be spending most of the time catching up on things that probably should have been done weeks ago, we thought we should probably have a bit of a day out too.
There are lots of touristy places around here, but we wanted one we hadn't been to before, and we also wanted a cafe with a view, as the sky was looking rather grey.
When we moved we switched our old wildlife trust membership to our new local one, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, so we thought we'd investigate one of their visitor centres.
We walked round the lake first, and through a little maze.
Eventually we made it into the cafe, and I confess the food wasn't great but the view was cheery and we stayed for a while before wandering around the local market town.
I'm not sure it'll become a favourite haunt. It's a bit too far away, and the cafe wasn't good enough to tempt us through quite an industrial drive too often. But it's good to investigate these places, and now we can get on with ticking off all the other local Wildlife Trust reserves (which reminds me that I never did finish the ones in our old wildlife trust...)
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new forray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.