Doesn't time fly in the garden at this time of year?
May started with a bit of harvesting. I planted this rainbow chard out really late last year (around October I think) and didn't hold out much hope, but here it is, and still going strong. There are a few leeks out there too that need bringing in soon.
The wild flowers are starting to appear, and some not-so-wild ones too.
I've made good progress spreading manure on my raised beds.
The seeds in the greenhouse are looking healthy, although none of them are ready to plant out yet. We're 1300ft above sea level here, and quite exposed and windy, so I'm keeping them inside for a while yet.
And of course the grass is growing in earnest now, so I'm out several mornings a week with the scythe trying to keep on top of it. It's best to scythe first thing in the morning because the moisture content of the grass is higher, so it's easier to cut, and also because it means I can leave the chickens safely shut in their run til I've finished.
They object rather vocally, but given their tendency to stand under my feet and interfere with whatever garden implement I'm using, I'm not risking them being out at the same time as the scythe. They cause enough trouble when I'm raking the grass cuttings up.
I'm hoping June will fill the water butts, and see at least some of the seedlings planted outside. And maybe we'll have our first evening meal in the garden, who knows?
I've been dashing about rather more than usual these last few weeks.
First up was a work trip to Glasgow, where I met up with two internet pals (one for the first time) and ate far too much cake.
Being in the hustle and bustle of a city was a nice change, although I didn't once regret moving to the middle of nowhere when someone was busking in the street outside the hotel at midnight.
I got back from Glasgow at midnight, and at nine the next morning I was on a train to Hebden Bridge, a cheery little village in West Yorkshire, for a gathering of people doing the permaculture diploma.
I then had a few days at home before jetting off to Copenhagen for another work event. I promise my working life doesn't usually involve this much travel...
I went to Copenhagen with a cheery colleague, and so we were able to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel. Gosh it was lovely, and if I ever go on another trip like that I'd make every effort to do the same again.
We did get a little bit of time to wander around the city too, which was nice.
Sadly I was full of cold, and felt rotten the whole time we were there. And have you ever flown with a cold? I hadn't (I think this is only my fifth or sixth time flying ever), and so I had no idea of the unpleasantness of my sinuses being messed with by the air pressure on the plane. Three weeks later and my face is starting to feel normal again. Not an experience I'd like to repeat.
Still, I'm home now, and don't have any plans to go anywhere else major for a while (although there will be one or two local jaunts of course). Mostly I'm just wandering the local footpaths, hanging out with the chickens, and doing a spot of light decorating. Who needs to go far with a view like this out of the back garden?
Chickens very much love the sunshine, and given half the chance will lay about and sunbathe. They mostly seem to do this when we're nearby and, presumably, give them a feeling of safety. They lie down and spread out a wing and a leg, and look for all the world like they're dead. It's quite alarming.
We're spending quite a bit of time sitting outside with them now the nicer weather is here, and they quite often doze off while we're there. It's especially sweet in the evening, when we shut them in their run and often take a cup of tea and sit there ourselves for a while. They potter about at first but slowly settle down and often a couple will shut their eyes and have a rest.
Most of the time they're not resting though. Most of the time they're wandering about looking for treats, or lying in wait outside the back door, or marauding around whatever outdoor project we're trying to do, making a nuisance of themselves.
I wouldn't be without them now though. They give an air of cheerfulness to the place, and I do so love to see them pottering round the garden. I can hear one now squarking outside the front door, hoping to be let in to find a stray apple core (not that there are ever stray apple cores lying around our living room, oh no).
Chicken keeping is much more fun in the summer though. They can spend more time outside, and we can spend more time outside with them. Much better all round.
Poor, long-neglected blog. But we won't dwell on that, instead we'll have a little poke around what's been happening in the garden over the last couple of months.
March started with frogspawn - not technically in the 'garden' as we don't have a pond (yet), but just outside the garden in a field. However I'm afraid it came to a not-too-happy end, as the sunshine was swiftly followed by frost, and then snow.
Since then though, the garden has been progressing nicely. In mid-April it started to feel like spring and arrived, and I got to work on the raised beds. We found a giant pile of old printer paper in the loft, slightly damp around the edges, and put it to work keeping the weeds down.
Our lovely neighbouring farmer brought us a pile of cow manure, so that got dumped on top, and then the chickens had a lovely time mixing it all around.
The plum blossom came out, and then was blown away again a few days later so I'm not sure how that will work out.
I moved the raspberries that I stupidly planted in the top of a field last year, and I finally got round to planting out the apple tree that I grafted about ten years ago, and that has been sitting in a pot ever since.
Poor Mildred managed to get herself into the leaf mould pile and then couldn't get out - I shouldn't laugh but there was no harm done and it was rather amusing. She wasn't impressed.
A friend helped me put up the plastic greenhouse (it blew down in October and I'd just thrown it into a shed). I planted a load of seeds, and then went away for a week with work. Sadly, the wind picked up and the whole thing blew down again.
I liked that little greenhouse, and it was great while we were waiting to acquire a more permanent solution, but they really are more suited to sheltered urban gardens than windy hilltops. I've now put the shelves from that up inside the glass greenhouse (which had no shelves), and we'll repurpose the plastic (which is now quite ripped) for something else.
So the seeds are all planted (again), the beds are prepared, the apple is now in blossom too, I've planted a load of bedding plants, and the compost bin still hasn't been fixed. Getting there... (slowly).
I've been working at home a lot since Christmas, and I'm spending a lot of time sitting down.
When we lived in the city, working at home wasn't a problem - it wasn't every day, and there were plenty of other places to walk to. Here, we are just a little bit too far away to walk to anywhere, and so if I want some exercise, I have to consciously go for a walk.
This isn't really a problem, of course - it's just that going for a walk feels like it requires more planning than just nipping to the shops. Walking boots for a start, and maybe even a rucksack and a map.
Well, thinking like that was getting me nowhere. Instead, I abandoned the rucksack, and the map, and all thoughts of 'hiking' or 'trekking', and decided to keep things a little more simple (that's usually a good plan in life, I find).
Each morning I get up, dress quickly, make a cup of tea in my travel mug, pull on my wellies, let the chickens out - and keep going up the drive.
It's nice and simple. I'm already out of the house, I already have tea (with a lid), and there's no planning required. I have to let the chickens out reasonably early, so my walks usually start before 8am (they were starting closer to 7am until the clocks changed).
It's lovely and peaceful out there at that time in the morning, whatever the weather (and there has been quite a variation in weather so far this year).
Of course it's been more pleasant since the better weather arrived (I hope I'm not speaking too soon - the wind and rain are howling through the windows this evening).
I have a few little loops of a mile or so round the lanes and footpaths. I refuse to go much further without eating breakfast. A mile is enough time to wake up a bit, finish my tea, and arrive back home refreshed and alert, ready to start work.
Now the lighter nights are here, I'm hoping to incorporate an evening walk too as a nice way of ending the working day and getting a bit of fresh air before making tea.
Might have to fix my wellies first though - one of them appears to have sprung an unhelpful leak.
As usual, I am woefully behind on all the things I intended to write about here. I'm taking a week off work soon so will endeavour to catch up (in between finally getting round to sowing some seeds of course).
In the meantime, here's a cardigan I knitted for a friend's baby. Far too late for either birth or Christmas, needless to say, but there we are. I do love a bit of self-patterning yarn.
And yes, I did finish it off on a train. I can't even remember where I was going, it was that long ago.
I'm delighted to report that the new ladies are settling in nicely. Fences have been removed, squabbling has largely stopped, and while there are still two distinct factions (old and new), there is at least some peace in the chicken run (for now, at least).
Rusty is proving to be our new quiet adventurer. She doesn't say much. She's usually the last out of the hen house in the morning, and from what I can see is the bottom of the pecking order. But she's often the first to try something new (although she's only eaten out of our hands once).
Beaky likes to stick her beak into everything, and has an endearing habit of flicking food everywhere. Bessie is affectionate, and is the only one who will voluntarily sit on your knee.
Mildred and Maud have stopped bossing the new ladies about, and have moved largely to ignoring them. They've also stopped laying in their favourite garden bush, and have taken to laying in the coal shed instead. Mildred was even investigating the boot of the car the other day.
The new ladies have been exposed to quite a lot of weather since they've been here. Their first week the sun shone, and they enjoyed their new-found freedom to wander.
Then it got rather wet and windy, and they spent most of their time not coming out of the cosy chicken run.
Today it's snowing.
Beaky managed to fly up on to the arm of the garden bench - but then didn't want to get back down again. I've had to scrape the snow off some of the grass near the chicken run for them (yes, I'm a softie).
Mildred and Maud are old hands now. They were exactly the same the first time they saw snow (Maud wouldn't stand in it at all), but today they just strode off like it was no big deal.
They're heading for the coal shed, which they've recently decided is a more desirable laying spot than either the nest box (too many new chickens hanging round) or their usually preferred garden bush. I caught one of them in there this morning, so I must go back and check how many eggs are nestled among the coal and kindling.
As I often do at this time of year, I've started running again. Not very far, not very fast.
My running is precarious at this time. I find it very easy to give up again, and so it's useful to make it enjoyable rather than 'just exercise'.
This morning I knew I'd be driving past Tittesworth Reservoir, so I went out in my running kit and planned an out and back route up one side.
The weather wasn't as bad as I'd expected, so I ended up going all the way round. Some running, some walking, and a lot of stopping to take photographs.
It was breezy and cold, and the sun flitted in and out of the clouds, but I quite like that kind of weather for a run, it makes me feel like I'm having an adventure (albeit a very mild one).
I'd done just over 4.5 miles by the time I got back to the car, and I was cold and windswept. The cafe was open, but I saved that for another day and came home for a cup of tea and a hot bath.
I could get used to this running lark (again).
The garden is slowly starting to wake up. At the minute it feels manageable, but I know it won't be long before I'm overwhelmed by mowing and weeding and too many seedlings and Things To Do.
January was rather gloomy and snowy, and I didn't take many photographs. I did turn the compost, and spent an afternoon barrowing the almost-finished stuff to cover a layer of cardboard on the not-very-raised beds. The chickens were a menace, following me from place to place and eventually I attempted to confine them to one bed, thinking they could turn over the soil for me while I worked.
Needless to say, that didn't work, and first one, then another, then all of them escaped and went back to following me around.
I also planted an edible windbreak, consisting of damson, crab apple, blackthorn (sloes), gooseberry, blackcurrant, and elder. It's not very picturesque at the minute, but I have high hopes for a gin-filled future.
February has been somewhat brighter, although of course three weeks of that month were taken up with chicken rehabilitation so not much happened in the garden at all (apart from fortifying the chicken run). Still, towards the end of the month I did manage a few hours of working outside (and even more once I had the thrilling idea to put the table and chair inside the greenhouse.
Of course, the new chickens arrived towards the end of the month, and had their first few days here bathed in sunshine.
The snowdrops are dying off now, and the daffodils are starting to arrive along the drive. We're now two days into March, and today I spotted buds starting to appear on the willow and the fruit trees.
I'm not really prepared though. I never did properly sort out my rainwater collection plans, and when the plastic greenhouse blew down in the autumn I just threw the whole lot (including plant pots) into the garage, so that's going to be a job sorting that out.
Still, the rosemary in the greenhouse has flowers on it already - I'm delighted as I raised it from cuttings from the rosemary in our old garden (which never had flowers - perhaps this one is drier and warmer). That will need planting out somewhere at some point.
But not now. We're forecast rain and strong winds for the next few days so we've battened down the hatches in the chicken run, and I intend to stay inside and cosy by the fire (a real fire, now that I've reclaimed my study from the chickens).
I bet the garden will look very different by the end of March.
Yesterday was a big day.
I collected three new hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who had intervened to prevent them becoming pet food (or baby food, or soup).
The new ladies started enjoying their freedom straight away. Bessie immediately lay down in the soil and started flicking it under her feathers, and Beaky rapidly followed suit. They've been in cages for around 18 months so they'll never have dust bathed before, so it's lovely to see them enjoying themselves.
Bessie is the largest, and has the most feathers. She was the first to dust bathe, and the first to jump the temporary fence into Mildred and Maud's territory. She was the first to try the food, and the first to try flying up on top of the temporary shelter to roost.
Beaky is the second largest, with a bare patch on her chest. She's the scruffiest, and like Mildred (who was the scruffiest of the previous batch), seems to be making up for her lack of feathers by bossing the others around. She quickly followed Bessie across enemy lines and started a fight with Mildred and Maud.
Rusty is the smallest and quietest hen. She's darker than the others, with a bare patch above her tail. Beaky keeps pecking at her whenever she passes, and I've made sure there's three bowls of food so they all have equal access (although when I was there earlier, Rusty did nothing but eat whenever she had the chance). She's clearly at the bottom of the pecking order, and I'll keep a special eye on her.
Mildred and Maud don't seem too impressed with their new pals so far. They've done a lot of shouting, and a good deal of glaring through the fence. They didn't take kindly to this afternoon's accidental invasion into their space, and engaged in quite a dramatic battle with Beaky and Bessie which involved two pairs of chickens flying into the air and dramatically bumping chests, and Mildred ending up with a mouthful of feathers.
Mostly they're ignoring the newcomers though, and just delivering an occasional peck through the fence to show who's boss.
We only have one hen house, so they're all sleeping in together, which took quite a bit of arranging last night. I had to wait for Maud and Mildred to go to bed, which was later than usual as they were pacing up and down complaining about the intruders until long after dusk.
Eventually they went to bed though, and once they'd settled, I gently placed the new (rather confused) ladies into the hen house with them.
There was quite a bit of fidgeting, and a bang and a squark - one of the new hens had perched on the partition between the nest boxes, which wasn't really designed to take the weight of a large hen, and which had collapsed onto Maud who was sleeping the other side of it. When I opened the door, Maud looked very bewildered, so I evicted the new lady from the nest box, put Maud back in next to Mildred, and waited til all went quiet.
When I peeked in again, all five ladies were on the perch in a row - and the same happened this evening too.
So I'm hopeful that they can learn to live together, in spite of initial squabbling. I'll be in the chicken run in my pjs at dawn again tomorrow to make sure there's no fighting in the hen house and to supervise breakfast, but I hope they'll settle down soon. The new ladies need to be kept in the run for a few days to learn that it's now home, but Mildred and Maud can come and go as they please, and I hope that by next weekend they'll be showing Bessie, Beaky and Rusty where the best dust bathing spots are.
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.