Oh dear, I'm not doing very well at keeping up with these monthly garden posts, am I?
Never mind, here we are at the end of October (I'm still not quite sure how we got this far through the year so quickly). We've been here eight months now, and the garden is winding down for the winter. I've pulled up the courgette plants, and the beans have now finished so last weekend I pulled them out too.
I'm making plans for either a small forest garden here, or an edible windbreak. I need to sit down with a scale map of the whole garden (which I made a few weeks ago) and test what each will look like. In the meantime, I've removed the wood from round the beds (which were only ever temporary) and am laying cardboard and covering it with compost.
The compost has been a real success. I made the bins quite soon after we moved in (although they've since been partially dismantled to pilfer materials for the chicken run), and I've had plenty of good compost from them already. I'm currently emptying the bin on the right to use as mulch for the forest garden/windbreak area, and I'll turn the middle bin into the right one. It's filling up even faster now I've got the chicken bedding going in it too.
The chickens are extremely nosy and like to stick their beaks in whatever is going on, especially if it involves soil or compost being turned over. It can make gardening rather difficult at times, and I've been known to shut them back in their run when they're being a bit too pesky.
Elsewhere in the garden, when my mum was here last weekend we collected a load of leaves to make leaf mould.
I also had a minor, but expected, garden disaster when my plastic greenhouse blew down in the wind. It happened before when I first built it, but after digging it into the ground, the foundations were much firmer and it's lasted the summer nicely. However, it was no match for Storm Callum a couple of weeks ago, and while the foundation remained in the ground, the rest ended up in an untidy heap, scattering plastic pots around the field.
Surprisingly most of the poles aren't damaged, so I've stored it in the garage in case I decide to rebuild it in the spring. Fingers crossed the glass greenhouse doesn't go the same way.
My other project this month has been rebuilding this wall which collapsed behind the garage.
It's just a small gap, and hasn't taken long, but I've not had much time so I've still not finished. There are a couple of gaps that have appeared in the walls between our fields, but this one is next to the footpath so I thought I'd sort it out first for the sake of neatness.
Fortunately none of ours that have collapsed are holding animals in - although these two wonderfully cute sheep did appear on our driveway a couple of weeks ago.
After herding them up and down our drive a few times, I confess I abandoned them when they ran off into a nearby field (not the one they came out of, but I was running late for work and they were nowhere near a proper road so I figured they wouldn't get too far). I'm glad to see they're now back where they belong.
It tried to snow for the first time yesterday. There wasn't much, fortunately, but the biting wind has taken me right back to when we moved in here. I'd got complacent over the summer, forgetting just how icy cold it was. We've been on the phone to the plumber trying to sort out putting radiators in our three rooms that bizarrely don't have them.
The autumn weather is giving us spectacular scenery though. The valley fills with mist sometimes in the early morning, and sometimes I'm even up early enough to see it (although I confess I'm usually outside in my dressing gown letting the chickens out - thank goodness we don't live on a main road).
It's such a pleasure to watch the garden change through the seasons. I wonder what this winter will bring?
I've been spending a lot of time in this chair, drinking tea, reading, staring out of the window. It's turned pretty nippy here now, and rather than spending all of my free time outside, I've been spending more of it inside, plotting and scheming and hatching plans.
I love the way the light moves around this room now the leaves have fallen from the elm tree by the back door.
We've had visitors this weekend (they brought the delightful chicken mug in the first picture, and many other cheerful gifts). They've not been before, and it spurred us on to tidy up a bit, and to spend today doing not-very-much other than sitting around.
I also made some bread, for what I think is the first time since we moved. It felt nice to do something relatively normal and weekendy.
After they left, I spent an hour or two outside with the chickens, pottering around in the garden. I'll do a separate post about the garden, which is slowly evolving as I make plans for next year. It was cold today, and it felt quite autumnal. Definitely a day for warm scarves and woolly hats.
It's been sunny though, in amongst the hailstones. I so much love watching how the landscape changes through the seasons.
But now I'm back inside again, eating some of that soda bread and a friend's home made jam, drinking tea and making more plans. I was going to say this is the best place to be on a day like today, but the sun's come out again now and now the clocks have changed I won't get home before nightfall most evenings during the week so I feel I need to make the most of the daylight...
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.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.