The start of August was rather soggy round here, and we developed a few new water features.
The sun did emerge eventually, but I confess the garden has been mostly left to fend for itself. Between the chickens, Tiny Hare and the local invading sheep, I've not managed to grow much other than a few courgettes.
Oh, and one raspberry (which was swiped by a passing chicken), and a fairy ring of non-edible mushrooms.
Still, I've had plenty of opportunity to sit in the garden, and even if there's not much edible growing, there is still plenty of lush growth.
The chickens are never far away when I'm outside, and if I sit down with a book they'll often come and join me to sunbathe.
The apples are developing on the trees, and at the end of August everything looked relatively peaceful. I definitely need a more coherent plan for next year though. I've planted seeds in the greenhouse and then not watered them, planted things out and not protected from the chickens, and generally wasted my time and barely grown any food. Sitting around is all very well and good, but I do want to grow things to eat as well.
I'll tidy up over the autumn and winter I think, clear my stock of old (goodness knows how old) seeds, make my beds a bit more raised, install a couple of extra water butts, and make a decent plan. Watch this space.
The sun shone over the August bank holiday and we made hay. Not really because we needed hay, but more because we have a hay field, and a scythe, and it seemed like a good thing to have a go at.
It took us all weekend, scything in the evening when the chickens were in bed (not ideal for scything, but definitely ideal for chickens, who want to stick their beaks in everything that's going on), and turning the cut grass several times each day to dry.
We made bales in the wheelie bin, something I spotted someone else doing online just as I was wondering what on earth I was going to do with all that hay.
It's surprisingly easy - peg four lengths of twine to the sides of your wheelie bin, down and back up, then pack the whole thing full of hay, stand on it to compress it, tie up the string - and that's it!
We only made seven bales - quite enough for us - and now the cows have been let into the field and are happily munching the rest of the grass.
On Wednesday I went to Calke Abbey, a National Trust house which they describe as 'the un-stately home'.
I'm not particularly given to visiting large fancy houses (as I think I said back in October, when I visited Biddulph Grange), but this one piqued my curiosity, quite a lot of it being abandoned and derelict.
It starts with several rooms which have been restored, and feel much like any other National Trust house.
So much furniture! So many patterns! And goodness me, so many stuffed animals.
After the first few rooms though, things take a more bizarre turn. Different parts of the house were abandoned at various points, and the National Trust made the decision (I have no idea whether for interest, or for financial reasons - possibly both), to keep those rooms in their existing state of disarray.
Some of the rooms made me think back to the days when, as a child, I would decide (or be told) to 'have a clear out' in my bedroom. I'd start with one drawer, empty everything out on to the bed, and then be completely overwhelmed, unable to figure out what to do next. (Actually, come to think of it, I still do that now sometimes).
If my house had been that big, maybe I would have just abandoned it all and moved into a different room instead.
The house felt a bit depressing after a while, and I was glad to get outside into the gardens. It was raining fairly heavily all the time I was there, so I mostly had the grounds to myself.
I do love a productive kitchen garden, and harbour fantasies of having one myself, rather than the weedy, chicken-ruined hare buffet that I currently have.
Of course, I'm sure that level of garden is much easier to maintain with a team of gardeners, so I'm not going to be too hard on myself.
The orchard was my favourite part, and if it hadn't been raining so much I would have lingered there much longer.
The gardeners' sheds were in a similar state of abandonment to the house.
Altogether it was a strange day, with the weather probably making it feel more gloomy than it was. In some ways it was an interesting contrast to the ludicrous opulence of many other stately homes. The National Trust have focused their attention on the personal stories of the family at Calke Abbey, and I felt myself wanting more background than just one of individual idiosyncrasies. How was the house built in the first place? I confess I'm always suspicious of so much wealth.
I was pleased to find that Calke Abbey is part of the Colonial Countryside project, which aims to get young people exploring the colonial history of some of the big stately homes in England. I was surprised too, as I didn't see any mention of this at the house itself, which was a shame. I'll follow the project with interest.
I finished the day where I started, in the cafe. I wasn't quite ready for the long drive home, and a nice cup of tea was just the thing.
When I lived in the city, I walked all the time - to work, to the shops, to see friends. Now I live out in the wilds, none of those things are within easy walking distance (well, I could walk to the local shop, but it's a round trip of an hour and a half). As a result, I barely walk at all in day to day life without making a special effort.
I'm off work for a fortnight now, and decided it was about time I made that special effort. I arranged to meet a friend (Sarah from Country Realist blog) in a cafe near her house, and set out to walk the six miles to get there.
I did this same journey in reverse, back in March I think, getting a lift over to meet my friend at her house and then walking home, so the paths felt vaguely familiar which was nice.
It rained on me at the start, but the sun soon came out again and after the first hour I was in a sleeveless top and regretting wearing two pairs of socks.
My route took me quite high up, and for a lot of the way I could see for miles.
The wild flowers aren't as plentiful as they were a few weeks ago but there were still plenty about.
I arrived five minutes late, which on a walk of almost two and a half hours isn't bad timing at all.
Cake always tastes much better when you've earned it, doesn't it?
My last 'in the garden' post was May, which feels like an awfully long time ago now.
We had rather a lot of rain throughout June and July, and also a small period of sun so hot (for round here, anyway) that I wasn't capable of doing anything for several days.
At the start of June, things were looking good. The plum and apple trees both had fruit starting to grow.
Where did it go? There are still some apples, although not as many as there were, but it looks like we won't get any plums at all this year. Did something eat them? A stray sheep, or deer? Or have the chickens perfected the art of precision jumping when I wasn't looking? They've certainly had the gooseberries off the bush - I caught Rusty in the act.
The garden is looking reasonably tidy after a good strimming session.
The chickens are doing a reasonable job of keeping the weeds out of the raised beds - unfortunately they've also accidentally dug up most of what I'd planted in the process.
The beans eventually made it out of the greenhouse and into the ground (after some rather complicated untangling), but sadly they too have fallen victim to the chickens.
I kept meaning to go and buy some kind of mesh, or chicken wire, or something, but never quite got round to it, and it seems a bit late now. One frustrated evening I wound wool between bean poles in an attempt to 'discourage' them, which worked for a few days, but eventually Bessie found her way in and the others swiftly followed.
So I don't think we'll have much veg to speak of this year, and probably not that much fruit either. The windbreak is coming along nicely though (the chickens can't do too much damage in there other than eat the gooseberries).
It looks significantly better in the other direction, and after a bit more strimming.
I have mixed feelings about strimming. I'm not one for a 'tidy' garden (as you can see...) but it is nice to be able to lie on some grass occasionally without it being taller than you. The raised beds feel much less overwhelming when you can see the edges of them. We ignore the drive for the most part, but when the grass from each side starts to meet in the middle then it's time to do something. We do some bits with a scythe, but my scything skills are not up narrow strips of grass alongside dry stone walls, so the strimmer wins for some things.
There are far too many seedlings still in the greenhouse of course. I really do have to work out some kind of better schedule for getting things outside next year. I leave it later than some people as we're so high up and exposed, but then time runs away with me, and I find it's almost August and my tomatoes are still only three inches high.
Oh well. Even if the garden isn't producing much food, it's still providing us with entertainment. We have a young hare who has adopted us, and who spends probably more time than is sensible for a hare in our garden.
We see Tiny Hare most mornings, and often in the evening too, and if we're sitting still it seems quite happy to lope about the garden while we're there. It's found a nice spot behind the plant pot to wash its ears, and often hunkers down there late in the evening too.
Between Tiny Hare, the bank vole that lives in the wall, the woodpeckers, spotted flycatchers, dunnocks, buzzards, and the young robin that's set up home here, there's always plenty to watch, and we often find ourselves sat on the swing seat with a drink in the evening. Who cares about veg anyway?
We're not going on holiday this year, but at the minute we seem to be having a whirlwind of mini adventures instead. I like a mini adventure - not too much travelling and home in time for tea. And who doesn't love a day out?
Back at the start of June I took myself to Lower Hurst Farm, which had an event as part of Open Farm Sunday. They produce organic beef, and it was interesting to hear about the way they manage their farm for wildlife as well as farming. I had a bit of a wander around their nature trail before I left.
Later in June, we took ourselves to Nottingham for the day.
Funny how all of our adventures seem to involve tea (I think that last one is Sheffield, not Nottingham).
Towards the end of June I dug my bike out of the garage. It's got a slow puncture, and I keep meaning to fix it, but at the minute it stays inflated for a good couple of hours of riding so the urgency just isn't there.
I love these old railway trails that have been turned into cycle paths.
Not all of our adventures have been quite so sunny.
Last weekend I went to visit my mother, and we went up Leasowe lighthouse. I don't think I've ever been up a lighthouse before. It was decommissioned over a hundred years ago but is being lovingly restored by a group of volunteers who run tours in the summer.
Incidentally, I think that was the first time I've seen the sea this year, which is outrageous.
The following day I drove to Lincolnshire, completely the opposite side of the country, for a tutorial for my permaculture diploma (which I will be finishing soon). My tutor (Hannah at The Inkpot Farm) raises organic free range turkeys (and sheep, cows, goats, and all kinds of other things). I'd never seen a young turkey before - these are about nine weeks old, and seemed surprised to take off when they flapped their wings.
Closer to home, we've been to Bakewell a couple of times this week, and found grapes growing in a courtyard above a cafe.
No adventures today, it's been far too hot for anything other than lying around reading. At the minute I'm reading all I can about meadows as I try to decide what to do with ours, and how best to restore it to its former glory. More on that soon when I've cooled down a bit.
We've had some glorious weather round here lately. I stopped on the way to work the other day to take this picture, which I've been meaning to do for months but the conditions have never been quite right (and after all that I snapped in a rush and got the phone wire too - oh well!)
I've been unexpectedly busy at work lately, which has taken up a lot of head space. And the garden is growing, my greenhouse is overflowing with plants that are too big for their pots, and I have slight palpitations every time I look at a dry stone wall as they all seem to be falling down in front of my eyes.
Still, we are here, and things are peaceful aside from the chaffinch that calls outside the window for sixteen hours a day.
And I now have a phone which will take photographs, and will also supposedly let me write blog posts, although this is the third time I've typed this now and it's still not let me post. So while I was going to say that will encourage me to post more often, we'll have to see whether that happens.
In the meantime, here's Bessie flouting the 'no chickens on the furniture' rule.
I heard a bleating noise the other week, and wandered outside to find these woolly menaces hanging around on the drive.
They'd obviously found their way over a bit of fallen down wall, so once they'd returned to their own field, we patched up the wall and figured that was the end of it.
A few days later, we heard bleating again.
Fourteen sheep this time, in the front garden, munching on the flowers.
Three sheep in a field is cute. Fourteen sheep in your front garden is not.
Have you ever tried to make sheep do something specific? I hadn't, and I can tell you it's not as easy as those sheepdogs make it look.
There wasn't much point fixing the wall again until the sheep were back on their own side of it, but that meant that over several days more found their way in, until we had almost thirty happily grazing their way through our fields.
I quite like sheep. In fact, we both prefer them to cows, and I don't in principle have an issue with sharing our grass with a few hungry sheep. However, we have an agreement with the local dairy farmer to use our fields for his pregnant cows, who seemed rather bemused by the sudden addition of a flock of sheep.
The advantage of the cows is that they come with a responsible farmer in tow. He checks them daily, and if we notice something wrong, we can ring, and he will check again.
With the sheep it's different. Ringing the farmer elicited no response (not even when we found one ill just over the wall into his field), and I eventually had to find out where he lived and go round. Of course, by the time they made it over here, the sheep had hopped back into their own field (after over a week in ours), ruining the wall in the process.
So now we have several sections of wall to repair, and that's still not the issue solved, as I've watched several just jump clean over the wall without even touching it.
Clearly the grass is actually greener on this side of the wall.
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?
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.