Over the last few years I've been doing an 'in the garden' post every month or two, trying to keep track of progress and seasonal changes. You can see some from the last couple of years here, and from the last few years in our old garden here.
Now we have more space, I want those posts to reflect the fact that our outdoor activities often take us beyond the garden, and I'd also like to bring in discussions of what we're doing inside the house too.
January has been rather bleak. The weather has been grim, and both of us have been ill at various times, so we've not made as much progress as I'd like. Still, some things have got done.
We are deep into dry stone wall territory here. I have a love/hate relationship with walls. I love the way they look, and the idea of them. But ours are old, and they fall down, and I don't find it that easy to rebuild them. However, I'll mostly be repairing them myself, so I'll probably get better over time.
This gap appeared last summer, and I started dismantling it properly at new year. There was one day in the middle of January where the sunshine coincided with a weekend and I spent a happy couple of hours shifting stones and looking at the view. You can see my new space-age knee pads in the photograph - I can't be doing with soggy and sore knees and these are far more convenient than shifting a kneeling pad every five minutes.
This sort of work, while being difficult and taking forever, does remind me why we moved out here.
I've nearly (but not quite) finished dismantling the wall far enough that there's a solid bit to rebuild on. I want to finish it before the cows come back in May, which feels like a long time away, but I know it will come round quickly.
I built our existing compost bin from old pallets and breeze blocks when we moved in. It's served us well, but it's rather inconveniently sited in a field rather than in the garden, and now it's somewhat collapsed, it seems like a good time to relocate.
I shifted all the mostly-rotted compost over onto the edible windbreak to use as mulch, and started pulling bits of wood out of the pile of old floorboards to build a new one.
I've identified where it's going, and broadly what it's going to look like, and when we get another day of fine weather, I'm going to start building it.
Fencing in the vegetable garden
I didn't grow much food last year, partly through idleness, but also because everything I did plant was either eaten or dug up by a succession of chickens, hares and sheep.
This year I've decided to fence around an area of the garden to (hopefully) keep them all out. I think it might also make the garden seem more enclosed and manageable, more like a little allotment than a vast expanse of wind-blown grass. You can't quite see in this picture, but I've started to put pegs in to map out where I want the fence posts to go.
We've got some fence posts, and I'll be filling in between them with chicken wire. Fingers crossed that will be enough.
Rather a lot of what we've done this month has involved collecting rubbish and piling it up around the garden. I've noticed that piles of 'stuff' seem to be a staple feature of gardens out here, and I can very much see how it happens.
This pile is ostensibly waiting to go to the tip. It's been waiting for several weeks already, and I confess it's a bit of an eyesore, both for us (it's right next to where we park) and for people walking on the footpath down our drive. We'd been waiting until it dried out a bit to put it in the car, but might just have to get on with it as I'm sick of looking at it now.
Fluffing up the chicken run
One regular part of our outdoor activities is cleaning out the chicken run. We pick the droppings out of the house each day, and once a week or so we clean out the hen house and put in fresh bedding. Every few weeks we rake the old bedding from the floor of the run and replace it.
For the past few months we've been replacing it with hay. The advice about using hay for chickens is mixed. There's a general consensus against using it for bedding in the hen house - it's dusty and can harbour mould, and so can cause respiratory problems. But in the outside area of the run, where there is plenty of ventilation? Some people still advise against it, for the above reasons, and also because they have a tendency to eat it, and eating too much of it can cause problems in the chickens' crops.
I don't know what the answer is, but we do have rather a lot of our own hay, and nothing else to do with it, so for now we throw a few handfuls in there every few weeks for them to root about in. They love it, and it stops the ground getting quite so muddy for a while.
The last time I put some in there, I lay down on it myself, and was surprised how warm and comfortable it was. I reckon I could sleep a night in the chicken run if I had to (providing the hay was fresh, of course).
So there we are - a round up of homestead-ish activities in January. Looking back it seems like quite a bit, but everything I've written about here was done over one weekend in the middle of the month when it stopped raining for a few short hours.
There's been no DIY progress from me this month. Peter has acquired tools for kitchen renovations, and has fitted blinds in the living room and the bathroom, which have made such a difference to the feel of the place, especially after dark. We didn't have any curtains, and while there's not much chance of anyone looking in out here, once the sun set the windows became inky-black voids which didn't help with a feeling of cosiness.
I'm hoping February will bring some nicer weather. I'd like to get the new compost bin built, and the vegetable garden fence, and to make significant progress on my field wall. But if all else fails, I can always start plastering...
I started a new project on New Year's Eve. Well, technically I suppose I revitalised an old, neglected project, but that sounds less cheerful. This bit of wall fell down over a year ago, and while I'd started stripping back some of the mess, I kept putting off dealing with it properly. First of all because the cows were in the fields, and I do NOT like being closely watched by a herd of curious (and large) faces. Secondly because there were just so many other things to do, and fixing a wall between two of our own fields never got to the top of the priority list. And finally because I just couldn't figure out how much wall to strip out.
I'm certainly no expert, but I've done a little bit of walling before and I know enough to know that when a gap appears, you strip out some of the remaining stone until you have a strong surface to rebuild the gap.
This wall is higgledy piggledy for quite a long way either side of the gap, and I felt like if I started, I'd end up taking half the wall down before I could rebuild it.
Of course, that meant I did nothing at all, so this week I decided to just get on with it - to strip away as much as was needed, and rebuild properly, however long it takes. So on New Year's Eve I spent two hours out in the sunshine taking down stones and laying them out ready to use again.
I got quite a lot done in that time, which gave me hope (although I'm well aware that rebuilding takes far longer than dismantling of course). There's still quite a bit to dismantle either side of this gap, so I'll be at it for some time, but I'm hopeful that I can rebuild the whole thing before the cows come back in May.
It's interesting seeing inside an old wall - this one has gradually spread at the bottom, leaving a lot of unfilled space (generally not a good thing in a wall). I'm trying to observe how it's been built to see what I can learn as I go along.
I've got plenty of walls to practice on. We have about a mile of them here, in various states of disrepair. Occasionally next door's sheep spot a weakness, jump over, and make the whole thing worse. I do try to fix these smaller gaps as they happen, otherwise we'd have the entire flock of sheep in our fields (again).
It's not always the fault of next door's sheep - this wall is between two of our fields, and has been rebuilt far more recently than the others, but a bit still fell off the top in the autumn. Much easier to fix when the rest of the wall is reasonably intact.
I see fallen down walls in my dreams now. Whenever I'm travelling around here, I catch myself looking at walls, noticing gaps and repairs, wondering how long a dodgy-looking bit will last.
My wall dreams will probably last for as long as we live here, if not longer. Walling is a part of my life now, and I'm encouraged by knowing that with so much practice, I will get better eventually.
How is it nearly the middle of December already? The weeks are running away with me. I often say that, but this autumn has been a whirlwind, mostly of work. My schedule usually allows for a fair bit of time working at home, but the last two or three months I've had to head into the city every single day. Not ideal.
There has still been a bit of time at weekends to potter around in the garden with the chickens.
The weather has taken a decided turn for the worse in the last couple of weeks. Cold and rainy and windy, and the chickens are not impressed. We've fortified their coop as best we can and it looks ridiculous.
The chickens themselves look quite ridiculous too, as they're currently moulting and soggy rather a lot of the time which makes them look pretty bedraggled.
They seem happy enough (when it's not raining), and have plenty of shelter in their run, so I'm sure they'll be ok.
They do like to join in with whatever we're doing in the garden - this is Hermione 'helping' to rake some leaves.
They're still not much good at dry stone walling though.
The sun finally came out this morning, but I confess it was still quite cold and I've been watching the cheerful weather from the sofa.
I really must clean the windows...
I did take a little trip out briefly this morning, and the stream was up and running over the bridge again - there's been a lot of rain lately.
The rain is set to start again this afternoon. I want to clean the chicken house out before then, and by the look of the sky I've not got much time. I also need to do some washing, order some Christmas presents, and we might even put the tree up. Then I think crochet and a nice film is in order.
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?
The local lanes are lined with bilberries. We've been watching them ripen over the last few weeks and in early July we finally got round to picking some.
Bilberries are tiny, and they don't really taste very nice raw. It takes a long time to pick a worthwhile crop. But it's a pleasant evening's work pottering up and down the lanes in the sunshine, and it gave us a chance to inspect some of our dry stone walls.
Eventually we picked a couple of tubs full and headed home.
This lot went into the freezer, and then into a couple of batches of scones, which I seem to have neglected to take photos of.
Next up is blackberries, and I've already spotted a few ripe ones while out running, so I must pop down the field and check ours at the weekend. There's something cheery about eating food that just grows without being planted.
Hooray! After much digging and carrying and swearing, the greenhouse is finally up!
I already have the plastic greenhouse of course, but with the amount of outside space we have now I'm planning to grow as much of our food as I can, so I began to hunt for a second hand glass greenhouse.
Fortunately, a lovely friend offered us hers, and we went to dismantle and collect it a few weeks ago. Since then, it sat in pieces in the garage while I pondered where to put it and dug a base.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a fiasco and took far longer than expected (and two panes spontaneously cracked in the garage), but we're finally there.
My other triumph took rather longer and rather more head-scratching - I have finally finished building the section of dry stone wall that collapsed not long after we moved in.
I had to dismantle a fair bit before I got to a section stable enough to rebuild on.
Slowly, over the last few weeks, I've been adding a few stones here and there, often late into the evening. This bit of wall catches the evening light, and I've often found myself out there at nine or even ten at night as the sun sets.
Slowly, the wall grew, and the farmers next door said encouraging things like 'it's a good start' and 'I've seen worse'.
Finally last night it was time to put on the top stones.
I'm laughing now, looking at how short the grass is in that first picture when it collapsed - it's now nearly up to my waist and I had to trample a load of it down searching for the top stones which had all but disappeared.
Already there's another gap in one of the fields, and several more places seem in danger of imminent collapse.
Still, that's the way with dry stone walls - they stand for a hundred years then one day you wake up and there's a hole. It doesn't so much matter in between our fields, but I wouldn't want any of our cows escaping onto someone else's land, or to find someone else's sheep in our fields. So every day when I'm out, I cast my eyes around to make sure everything's still standing (the cows aren't helping by rubbing their chins on the top stones, pesky beasts).
I could easily fill all my days, and several other lifetimes too, with pottering round here, although things feel slightly more manageable now we have the cows to keep the grass down, and the seeds planted and in the greenhouse, and some veg beds prepared, and wall fixed.
I'm not even sure what the next job is. Possibly fixing the collapsed wall between the fields (it's good to practice on unnecessary walls, I feel), and the beans will need planting out soon - I've been hardening them off for a few days now, inside the greenhouse at night and out during the day.
And chickens! I have promised myself that I'll be ready when the announcement comes for the next local rescue day, and I've decided where they're going, but I'm still being indecisive about hen house design. I'm leaning towards something simple and temporary which can be made more elaborate once we've established a bit of a routine.
In the meantime, we're pottering about in the fields before and after work and at the weekend, becoming weather beaten and sore, and still vaguely like we're on holiday in someone else's life.
What a glorious weekend we had! This is the view from the little terrace where we eat our breakfast and it has been like being on holiday. A whole weekend of warmth and being outside. Just perfect.
I even started mowing the lawn. I say 'started' because I bought a push mower, and the grass is rather too long, so it's taking a while. I'm hoping the arrival of an Austrian scythe today will speed things up considerably. In the meantime, the grass is at appropriate lying-on levels, and that's just what I spent quite a lot of time doing.
It wasn't all lying around. One morning we went for a little wander round a nearby village,
I even did some work! The people who sold our house hired some people to clear out the garage - which they did by selling what they could and setting fire to everything else. Such a shame - there was so much that we could have used. It seems they started the fire over the top of the overflow to our well (they weren't to realise as it's buried underground), it was polluting the spring feeding the cattle trough in the neighbour's field.
It took me quite a while to dig out the debris, as they'd set fire to all kinds - including glass, metal, ceramics and all kinds of nails. But at last I'd got rid of the residue, although it took a fair bit more digging before I found the top of the well itself. Fortunately, the farmer reckons just removing the fire debris is enough so I can stop digging now. Phew.
While he was here, the farmer had a look at my dry stone walling efforts and pronounced them 'a good start'. High praise indeed! He's going to come and spend an hour walling with me to give me an idea of what I'm meant to be doing (I'm spending too much time trying to get the perfect stone apparently, which is what the guy running the course said...).
My sister was here for a while, and we measured out ready for some veg growing beds, although I'm waiting until I've scythed the field to lay them out properly.
This was taken just as the sun was setting behind the hill at about 8.45pm - it really does get a lot more light than this normally.
My little seedlings are starting to sprout in the greenhouse, although I've lost most of my kale to the mysterious 'damping off' it seems. It feels like I shoud be further along in my growing, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that it was still snowing!
Unhelpfully, the permanent pen I used to label my seedlings has vanished in the sunlight, so now all my seeds are unlabelled mysteries.
This weekend is forecast to be a bit grey and rainy, which is a shame. I'm planning to get some more walling done, plant some more seeds, scythe the field, and lay out my growing beds. Oh, and finally plant out the willow.
I went on a dry stone walling course today. It was just an introductory day, run by the local authority. The wall was limestone, same as ours, but the stones were more irregular and blockier than ours, and the walling style described as 'random'.
The wall we were working on looked rather dilapidated when we arrived.
The first job is always to strip out the stone, and in this case, it was so higgledy piggledy we took it right down to the foundations.
We found a couple of fossils, although perhaps not as many as we expected as limestone is often full of them.
Finally we got down to the ground, and rebuilt the foundations.
We were a small, inexperienced group, and by the end of the day we were pretty chuffed with the short section of wall. I'm used to the more regular blocks of limestone, so to my eye this still looks a bit like a pile of stones, but I'm assured it's an actual style of walling.
I was pretty tired when I got home, but after a couple of hours on the sofa, and after planting out the rest of my raspberry canes, I took a deep breath and started to tackle my own bit of collapsed wall.
Hmm. My wall is both taller and wider than the one we did on the course, but I was heartened by my stones being easier shapes to work with. It's always a bit of a challenge knowing how much to strip out though - you're meant to get to a bit that's sturdy enough to build on, but my entire wall feels like it's about to fall down. This might be a long job.
Yesterday was lovely, a brief respite in a week of gloom and perpetual mist (which has descended again today). I was delighted, and spent most of the day outside, rebuilding the greenhouse.
The frame itself was still mostly intact - a few poles had come out of their sockets, and I had to fix one of the connectors with some electrical tape, but that didn't take long. The frame is so light I can move the whole thing myself standing inside it, which makes it easy to find the right position.
It's not too far from where it was before, but is a bit more protected from the prevailing wind by that dry stone wall. Of course, the wall itself is a source of potential danger - if you look carefully you can see part of it has collapsed a bit further back. I left enough space so that another collapse wouldn't actually hit the greenhouse (hopefully...), and plan to rebuild that entire section of wall soon anyway.
I wanted to make the foundations somewhat more secure, so I dug them into the ground.
Looking at the pictures, I'm not sure I've left enough space by the wall after all... although it seemed like plenty when I was out there. I'm not moving it again, so it'll have to take its chances.
It was actually quite warm yesterday, and I'm full of cold, so I kept breaking off my digging to have a sit down. I'm very much appreciating that folding stool/kneeler that I picked up in a charity shop before we moved. At one point I decided it would be fun to get the storm kettle out to make a cup of tea outside.
I managed it eventually, but it took about five times longer than just going into the kitchen (and I had to go back into the kitchen several times anyway, for tea bags, milk, and a mug, and then matches to replace the useless lighter, and then some dry kindling, as everything outside was too wet. Good job there wasn't really a storm...
Eventually the foundations were ready, and the greenhouse moved into place, tent pegs hammered in round the frame, and the turf put back upside down.
I'm hoping the turf will all compost down nicely and be a nice crumbly soil to plant some tomatoes in.
The plastic cover had acquired a few tears in the previous incident, and I had to sew a couple of the tags back on.
It was ready eventually though, and, having made a muddy mess out of the grass down the middle, I raided the outbuilding we demolished recently (I use the term 'we' very loosely) to start making a path.
Finally I weighed down the cover with breeze blocks, and I hope all that will be enough to keep it in place.
Of course, because I've dug it into the ground, the door is now lower, and I have to duck to get in, which is rather irritating - I'm quite short and not at all used to having to duck. I think I'll dig myself a step or a little ramp.
I didn't actually plant any seeds yesterday. Instead, I stayed outside in the sunshine, and started dismantling the collapsed wall ready for a rebuild. I've been reading a book about dry stone walling (and trying to remember the course I went on about twenty years ago). You're meant to lay out the different types of stones in different places so you can see what you've got to work with.
I got tired after a while. I'd been out for hours, and my sniffly cold was taking its toll, and there are an awful lot of stones to shift. Once the sun dipped below the horizon I finally packed up my tools and went back inside.
I was hoping to get my seeds planted today, but it's been so gloomy and drizzly that I only ventured as far as the car for a little trip to the cafe for pancakes.
I'm working at home tomorrow though, which means I'll have plenty of time before and after work to potter about. Good job, as I've spent most of today sitting down reading a book.
We're deep in dry stone wall territory here. Dry stone walls are the main field boundaries, and I love them.
Good job really, as we have rather a lot.
The one above belongs to a neighbour, and I noticed today that it seems to have been repaired recently. Ours, on the other hand, are looking a little worse for wear.
This one is next to our drive, in what I'm now thinking of as the veg field, and it collapsed this week. We've also had a couple of collapses onto a nearby green lane.
This must have only happened in the last week or two as well. I wonder if it's partly the weather, and the sheer amount of snow that has been blown into drifts up against them. But they're also just old, and looking round I'm starting to see the places that are likely to go next.
I've had a go at walling before, a long time ago. I can't even remember why now - I think I was doing some conservation volunteering at the time, and maybe it was part of a job, or perhaps there was a training course. At any rate, I have a (very) vague idea of what goes into building a wall.
From what I can gather, it's basically a really big, heavy jigsaw, where you're not sure whether you've got all the pieces.
I've ordered a book, and if that doesn't illuminate things enough, there are a couple of local courses I can go on in April.
In the meantime, I was out until it went dark last night, stripping back enough of the collapsed stone so the wall feels stable again, and therefore is unlikely to fall on a passing rambler.
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.