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 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.
This is one of my favourite photos of Hermione, taken just last Sunday when she picked up a shopping list I'd dropped in the snow and carried it around for a while, before deciding it wasn't quite to her liking.
On Tuesday morning, the ladies were uncharacteristically quiet when I went to let them out. Normally there's a kerfuffle, jumping off the perch, squabbling about who will come out first.
That morning when I opened the door, none of them came out.
Fearing the worst, I stuck my head in the hen house. Hermione and Luna lay dead on the floor, and Maud and Mildred cowered at the back with blood on their necks.
I tried to tempt them out, but they wouldn't move, so I ran back to the house for Peter to bring a box. We brought Maud and Mildred inside to see how injured they were, and I went back outside to see if I could figure out what had happened to the other two. The hen house was still locked - the only gap is the air vent, which is less than an inch high. Surely nothing could get in there that could kill a chicken?
I spotted the culprit as soon as I went back outside - the white stoat I'd been excited to see the week before was sneaking around the two ladies I'd left on the bench. I chased it off, and brought them inside too.
Not many vets know about chickens, as it turns out, so we trekked for 20 miles to see a lovely man who confirmed that Maud and Mildred, while badly shaken, only had superficial injuries. He advised us to keep them warm and comfortable, and try to get them to eat and drink something.
Birds in general are quite vulnerable to shocks - you often see them keel over if they fly into a window. But apparently chickens (and pigeons, as it happens) are quite resilient, so the vet was hopeful they'd recover in time.
We set up a temporary hospital wing in my study - and you have no idea how grateful I am that we have that room available. We plied the ladies with treats, but they mostly just stood and stared. It's awful seeing them like this - they're normally so inquisitive and pesky.
The following morning they were still alive, and the room was unsurprisingly beginning to smell. We shifted the makeshift hospital, removed the old curtains we'd thrown down the day before, rolled up the rug, and put down several inches of chicken bedding. Things are a lot more fragrant in there now (although I won't be working in there while they're still using it).
Each day the ladies look a little brighter, although they're a long way from normal. They mostly just stand still, usually next to each other. They will eat out of our hands, but don't seem to touch food when we're not there. Maybe we've become honorary members of the flock (or maybe they just think we'll be on look out duty).
I don't know how long they'll be living in there for. As long as it takes. I can't in all conscience put them back outside while they're still like this. If the weather clears over the weekend we'll take them out for an hour, to see if they regain some enthusiasm for scratching and pecking, but if they're just going to stand and stare, they're much better doing it inside where they can be safe and warm (apparently warmth is the best thing for a bird in shock).
Longer term we'll have to get them some friends - chickens are much happier in a flock. But we won't be doing that until we've fully stoat-proofed the hen house and run, and until these two are showing more signs of life. Initial chicken introductions can be savage while they work out the new pecking order, and that isn't what these pair need right now.
We buried Hermione and Luna among the fruit trees. They were out there just last week, making a nuisance of themselves, scratching around in the mulch and jumping into holes as I dug them to pull out the worms.
We knew there was a chance they'd be eaten eventually, but always figured it would be when they were out roaming free, which they did most of the time. These ladies spent the first 18 months of their lives locked in a barn with thousands of other chickens, and had never even seen daylight when they came to us. They'd reached the end of their commercially viable life and were destined to become pet food. We didn't want to fence them in.
It never occurred to us that they'd be killed overnight while shut 'safely' in the hen house. We'd seen stoats, and knew they might take eggs, or even chicks, but even the local farmer said he'd never heard of one killing a fully grown chicken (although now we know it does happen we've seen other accounts of it too). At any rate, we didn't think anything would be able to get through the tiny air vent.
At least they had five months of freedom and sunshine. RIP little feathery pals.
Strangely enough, I haven't done much walking since we moved out here.
I was never much of a one for just going for a walk, but I used to walk several miles a day, back and forth to work, into town, to friends' houses, to the shops. Here, the nearest shop is two miles away, work is almost 30 miles, and most of my travelling is in the car.
I don't like it.
I'm going to be mostly working at home for the next few months, so I won't even be walking to and from wherever I've parked the car near work.
So I've started making more of an effort to go for a wander each day. Not far, just a mile or two, out to the road and back across the fields, or up the track to the top of the hill.
This week the weather has been eventful, with a flurry of snow at the start of the week, followed swiftly by ethereal mists.
I love wandering about in the snow, especially this sort of minimal snow that doesn't really cause much disruption but lets you see the tracks of the animals that have been roaming around overnight.
The sun came out later in the week, and on Thursday after lunch it was had to believe that two days earlier everything had been covered in snow.
I didn't make it out at all today, partly because yesterday I got carried away and stayed out for over an hour in the middle of the afternoon when I should have been working. It's difficult to make yourself come back inside sometimes.
But I think the distraction of a walk will help me over the next few months when I'm working at home most days, staring at a screen, with no colleagues to have a cup of tea with. Peter is here of course, working on his own projects, and we regularly nip out to a cafe for tea and a scone, but I do need to make myself stand up and go outside each day.
The challenge will be timing. At the minute, it's dark by 4.30, so if I want to walk I have to do it during the working day, and then there's a risk I'll find myself half way up a hill somewhere thinking about trees when I should be typing.
As always, I'm sure there's a balance - I'm just not sure I've found it yet.
It started snowing yesterday afternoon, and we woke up this morning to the first proper snowfall of the winter.
The chickens were not impressed. Hermione was brave - first out of the house and after breakfast headed off into a field, but the were a bit more cautious. I had to dig a path from the door of the chicken run before Maud and Luna would come out at all.
Eventually they learned to walk on the snow, and finally, after about four hours, Maud realised she could scrape the snow off the grass with her feet. They found a sheltered patch behind the shed and stayed there for most of the rest of the day.
I went for a bit of a walk to see what the road was like.
I walked back from the road across our fields, a route I'm ashamed to say I've not taken before. It was quite foggy, and it took me a while to find the stile.
We put the chickens back in their run and popped into town for supplies. When we got back, I opened their door again but they refused to come out, and I don't blame them. Cold, damp and foggy - not good weather for a chicken.
Much better for both humans and chickens to get cosy inside (not in the same house) and look at the view.
Goodness me, a lot happened in 2018. I've found myself quite overwhelmed with the thought of looking back. However, I've done summaries of the year on my blogs for several years now, and I didn't want to have a missing year, so here goes.
I started 2018 on my old blog, with a look back at 2017 - a year of DIY and bureaucracy as we finished decorating, sold our old house, and waited for the paperwork wheels to turn. I went for a nice snowy walk in the woods, and visited some local nature reserves.
I made my own lip balm (which I'm still using, that stuff lasts a long time), contemplated learning how to identify trees in winter (something I've still not done), and started running again (for probably the 100th time).
February was exciting, although it mostly didn't feel like it at the time. I started a series of trail races with my sister, and took her for a walk past our new house (which we still didn't own at that point, and which I was starting to feel quite daunted by). I cocked up and then rescued a knitting project (no change there then), and pondered what I'd been reading lately (I'd forgotten I used to do that).
Finally, in the middle of the month, we exchanged contracts on the new house, and celebrated with an almond croissant in our favourite cafe (which has since closed down, sob).
We finally moved on Monday 26th Feb, and by Tuesday 27th we were snowed in for several days.
March was a flurry of snow and moving boxes, and also moving blogs. I started this blog off by rambling about how we'd got here, then did a tour of our (rather soggy) fields, and our dilapidated outbuildings.
It snowed again, and we got stuck in the city for a couple of days.
I fell into a pattern of getting up early, and started trying to fix some of our tumbling down old dry stone walls. And we sneaked off and got married without telling anyone.
April started with yet more snow (yawn), a little bit more running, and some rather soggy cycling.
I built a plastic greenhouse, which then blew down, so I rebuilt it in a different place. I had a surprisingly crafty episode, knitting dishcloths and making my own shampoo bars.
I went on a dry stone walling course, and finally the sun came out and it started to feel a little bit like spring (we also started our mouse-eviction-programme) which lasted most of the month, fortunately with no casualties.
In May, the sun shone again (on a bank holiday no less!) and I acquired a push-along lawnmower and spent quite a bit of time lying on the newly mown grass.
We got a good view of a hare, and I bought a scythe and started making space in a field for growing squash. Big excitement at the end of the month as the neighbouring cows arrived to hang out in our fields for a few months.
June was a month of flowers. I could barely keep up with the growth in one greenhouse, and started to build another. I had a minor celebration as the second greenhouse went up, and I finally finished fixing one of the walls that had fallen down. I went on a very flowery bike ride, and the garden was abundant and beautiful.
I ignored my blog for the first couple of weeks of July while we had visitors, day trips, and started demolishing walls. I started running again and entered an ultra marathon. We had a lizard in the living room, and visited a local fair. July in the garden was super hot, and we let the cows into our final field as they were running out of grass elsewhere.
In August, we picked bilberries in the local lanes, and went for a day out to our nearest Wildlife Trust reserve. I recapped half a year of living in our new house, and took a fortnight off work, during which it rained rather a lot. The garden was lush and abundant.
In September, the chickens arrived! So very exciting. A cow got into the runner bean patch, we harvested a lot of courgettes, and nearly finished the outdoor chicken run. As usual, I went through a phase of getting out of the routine of posting here.
In October, I visited Biddulph Grange, pondered what on earth we were doing out here, and pottered around in the autumn sunshine. The chickens marauded round the garden as I laid compost ready for an edible windbreak. Work got rather busy, and I spent two weeks here on my own while Peter jetted off to the other side of the world, although I don't seem to have mentioned that here.
In November, I waffled a lot about chickens. I met a friend for lunch in the botanical gardens, and had a little trip to the seaside. I spent quite a lot of time outside, some of it in my pyjamas. It felt like it was foggy a lot.
In December, I lost track of time again, and caught up with myself by waffling on about the chickens (again). I finally finished a crocheted blanket I'd started in the summer, and we had an exciting day of freezing rain. I ended the year feeling rather poorly, but festive.
What an eventful year! It feels like it's flown past in a flash, and yet I also feel like we've lived here forever. So many things have happened that I haven't written about here too, and I've got a stack of photographs I've not shared.
There's no chance of me catching up now - here we are more than half of the way through January, I've not posted here at all, and the Christmas tree is still up.
Oh well. I'm planning a rather less eventful and more settled 2019. Right now the snow is falling, and I'm settling down to a bit of knitting (which I hope to finish before the summer). A friend is due to arrive tomorrow, but given the snow she might not make it. We'll see.
The weather round here lately has been rotten. Soggy and grey, with a nice bit of freezing rain thrown in for good measure.
I don't remember having experienced freezing rain before. It freezes pretty much as soon as it lands, meaning ever-growing icicles, sheet ice pavements, and cars that seem to have been entirely dipped in glass.
Not pleasant, but fortunately short-lived, and back to normal rain plus early morning fog, which I'm slowly getting used to driving to work in.
We did have a bit of sunshine at the weekend, although I've had a rotten cold all week and couldn't really appreciate it. I did get outside for an hour though and tried to do something with the tatty flower bed in the front garden.
This bit of the garden is strange, as there's actually not really much soil. The area under the grass is asphalt, all the way up to the house. The 'lawn' is just what would grow down the middle of your drive if you didn't walk on it for a while - the soil underneath is about an inch deep. The bottom terrace is just filled with stones, and the top one only has a few inches of soil.
I'm not sure what my plans are for this space next year - it already has ferns, roses, a few herbs and some flowers so it may just get left as it is for another year. But it's had a bit of a tidy up in the meantime (no 'after' pictures as I got too cold and went back inside and it's still not quite finished).
The chicken enjoyed marauding round while I was out there pottering.
It's quite difficult to get a decent photograph of them as they move around so much. They're slowly regrowing their feathers, and have created a nice little dust bathing area in a corner of the garden. Of course it's more mud than dust at this time of year, so they generally look a bit grubby.
In other garden news, some more of the barn fell down last week.
Fortunately we weren't anywhere near it (and have been steering clear for a while as it looked like it was about to fall). Such a shame, but without complete rebuilding at this stage I'm not sure what else we can do other than let it fall.
Walls have been coming down inside too - deliberately this time (thank goodness). Our kitchen is finally one room made from two, and while there is still a long way to go, it's pretty exciting to have a table in there (a ludicrously enormous table, but it's solid oak and beautiful and was free and who am I to say no?)
There's a lot of work still to do, but it won't be done before Christmas. Very little will be done before Christmas, in fact, as I'm full of cold and feeling rather sorry for myself. I've hardly bought any presents, and have made barely any plans (other than another attempt at an ultra marathon on Thursday 27th - how did that happen?)
Hey ho. The Christmas tree is up, although I have so far failed to take a decent photograph of it. I've booked a fortnight off work, which I am VERY ready for. Some of my fruit trees have arrived, which means I'll be out with a spade, probably on Christmas day at the rate I'm going. And I've already started thinking about plotting and scheming for next year - my favourite thing to do over this wintry fortnight. Especially now I can sit at my new kitchen table to do it.
Someone asked the other day if this was our first autumn in this house, and I had to pause for a minute to think. Of course it is, because we only moved at the end of February, but it feels so familiar somehow, yet new at the same time.
I spend so much more time outside here than I ever did before. When we lived in the city, I went outside if I was going somewhere, or for a walk or a run or a bike ride, and I sat in the tiny garden if it was warm, but on cold, damp, foggy days I didn't spend much time outside if I could help it.
Here it's different.
My days start when I let the chickens out. On the days I drive to the office, I open the hen house door before I leave at 6am, and because it's still dark they just make gentle little chicken noises and stay warm and cosy inside.
When I'm working at home, or at the weekend, I let them out before I have my own breakfast, which means I often end up outside at 7.30am in my wellies and fluffy dressing gown, being thankful that there is no road past our house (there is a public footpath though, which I must remember when the weather starts to improve).
Autumn is the season of mist, it seems. Very often in the morning it's foggy, and we can barely see the end of our drive, let alone across the fields. I've grown accustomed to driving to work slowly, carefully, following the edge of the road until suddenly the fog breaks and I can see again.
We don't let the chickens out when it's foggy. Maybe we're paranoid, but the local farmer tells us the fox often strikes in the fog and I'm not taking any chances. So they stay in their run until it lifts.
I'd love it if my chicken run looked like something out of Country Living magazine, but it doesn't. It's strong, and tall, and (hopefully) fox proof. They have a cosy house with nest boxes and a perch, and clean water, constant access to food, and now they have an outdoor shelter to protect them from rain and wind. Each day I try to find something to entertain them - a fork full of compost, or an armful of leaves, or a pile of hay for them to scratch around in. Mostly they roam free for a few hours in the afternoon, and if I'm here and not working, I roam out there with them.
Having the chickens pottering about encourages me to get out and potter about too, even if the weather's not great. In the last couple of weeks I've been turning the compost, and using the finished (or nearly finished) pile as mulch in the area I'm going to use as an edible windbreak.
The chickens like to help, and are a complete nuisance. Whatever we're doing, they're there, under our feet, wanting to know what's going on. They wait until I have a fork full of compost (seemingly trying to get skewered in the process), and then stand on the fork and flick the compost off. At one point I had to shut them back in their run just so I could get something useful done.
It doesn't matter what dangerous implement I have (pitchfork, shovel, scythe) they seem determined to stand in the way of it.
But mostly we get on fine, and they rootle around in the leaves while I shift wheelbarrows of mulch, fix walls, and do a bit of light weeding.
I do love being outside, and I love having an excuse to be outside. There's always something to do here, whatever the weather. I draw the line at pottering in the pouring rain (so do the chickens), but otherwise an extra layer and a woolly hat makes everything cheerful.
At the minute my pottering is mostly restricted to weekends, as my work schedule has me driving to the city every day (which was NOT part of the plan when we moved here, but never mind). I leave in the dark, and mostly arrive home in the dark too. So at the weekend I make sure both me and the chickens are outside for as much time as possible, even if I am just sitting in their run having a nice cup of tea.
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.
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.