A few weeks ago I went on a short beekeeping course. We never had a specific plan to keep bees, but I've been mildly interested, and an hour-long course just a few miles from home seemed the ideal place to learn more.
There were about twelve of us, and the beekeepers decked us out in these ludicrous outfits, for which I was of course very grateful.
These bees are kept in a small wooded area, quite rural, but near some houses. There are several people who tend bees here and they run regular open days.
We were shown the hives, and the bees, and told all kinds of things, and I confess most of it went in one ear and out of the other as I was so busy concentrating on not panicking about the number of bees flying right around my face.
Of course they couldn't get at me, but it doesn't feel like that when they're an inch from your nose.
Anyway, I think I remained outwardly calm, but I can't now tell you what all the bits of the hive are called, or what the different types of bees do.
What I can tell you is that we won't be keeping bees any time soon. I loved the enthusiasm of the beekeepers, but it's not a cheap hobby, especially not when you first start out, and it's pretty time consuming.
I had wondered whether we might offer some of our space to a local beekeeper to keep their hives, but it seems that our high, exposed land would make it quite difficult to keep bees alive over the winter, and I don't want thousands of bee deaths on my hands.
So no bees for us, for now at least. We'll see how we feel a few years down the line, maybe when we've planted more trees and have more shelter. Maybe.
The poor garden has been sadly neglected this year. I may have had visions of some kind of Victorian cottage garden, but I certainly didn't have a team of professional gardeners, and so my vision has (so far, at least) failed to become reality.
Back at the start of September things still felt fairly orderly. I had beds laid out, apples growing, and we had even strimmed the grass. I'd planted sunflowers, and while yes, I'd had to plonk them in any old place rather than finding somewhere ideal, some of them had grown - not very tall, but they were looking rather cheering.
Back then (and it does feel like forever ago), it was still warm enough to sit outside with a cuppa and do a spot of plotting and scheming.
The signs of autumn were there though, and as we moved into October we harvested our first ever apple and the weather got slightly more inhospitable.
The garden has been quite disrupted these past couple of weeks as we've had to create a temporary enclosure to separate the builders from the chickens. They're not impressed (the chickens, that is - I'm pretty sure the builders appreciated not being followed round by the a hoard of pestering birds), but they do seem to forgive quite quickly (especially when faced with treats).
Now we're near the end of October, and it feels like it's been raining for weeks, although my photographs do give me a slight glimpse of sunshine here and there. Our drive has turned into a bit of a river, with a new (and inconvenient) water feature developing just outside the garden gate.
The clocks went back last night, so our chicken routine has to change slightly. I'd been letting them out later and later each morning and yesterday it was around 8am and they still seemed quite sleepy. This morning with the changing clocks, I went out at 7.15 (which would have been 8.15 yesterday) and they seemed quite content still having a bit of a lie in.
The sun was shining (for once) and if I'd been dressed, or had a pair of wellies that didn't have a hole in (must do something about that) I might have paddled up the lane for a bit of a morning wander.
As it was, I pottered round the garden in my dressing gown (one of the many advantages of living in the middle of nowhere, although I do sometimes forget that there's a public footpath running past our house).
Maybe autumn's not so bad after all.
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.
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?
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.