If you asked me my favourite season I'd usually tell you it was autumn. Not this year though. This year autumn is filled with torrential rain and mud.
My favourite wellies sprung a leak, and I've done an experimental repair with Sugru. You can see where it's a more shiny yellow across the front. So far they're holding up well.
I've been trying to throw myself into the season, and a couple of weeks ago a friend and I visited a little local autumnal event, which was most jolly.
We have had the occasional glimpse of sunshine between downpours.
But the sun never seems to last long before it starts raining again.
Yesterday I'd arranged to meet a friend in a local cafe, and I was determined to walk there. I've been spending so much time either indoors or driving that I felt the need to move. There was a brief break in the showers, and I togged up as much as I could and set off.
Hmm, that's a small river running through one of our fields.
I did get a bit wet, but the overriding feeling was one of greyness. I took these pictures at lunchtime, and look how dark it is!
There was water everywhere, of course, and I was glad my wellies were holding up.
The sun did come out eventually (for about five minutes), and we had lunch in the cafe and then a jolly afternoon putting the world to rights over a nice cup of tea. Maybe autumn's not so bad after all.
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 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.
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?
Chickens very much love the sunshine, and given half the chance will lay about and sunbathe. They mostly seem to do this when we're nearby and, presumably, give them a feeling of safety. They lie down and spread out a wing and a leg, and look for all the world like they're dead. It's quite alarming.
We're spending quite a bit of time sitting outside with them now the nicer weather is here, and they quite often doze off while we're there. It's especially sweet in the evening, when we shut them in their run and often take a cup of tea and sit there ourselves for a while. They potter about at first but slowly settle down and often a couple will shut their eyes and have a rest.
Most of the time they're not resting though. Most of the time they're wandering about looking for treats, or lying in wait outside the back door, or marauding around whatever outdoor project we're trying to do, making a nuisance of themselves.
I wouldn't be without them now though. They give an air of cheerfulness to the place, and I do so love to see them pottering round the garden. I can hear one now squarking outside the front door, hoping to be let in to find a stray apple core (not that there are ever stray apple cores lying around our living room, oh no).
Chicken keeping is much more fun in the summer though. They can spend more time outside, and we can spend more time outside with them. Much better all round.
Poor, long-neglected blog. But we won't dwell on that, instead we'll have a little poke around what's been happening in the garden over the last couple of months.
March started with frogspawn - not technically in the 'garden' as we don't have a pond (yet), but just outside the garden in a field. However I'm afraid it came to a not-too-happy end, as the sunshine was swiftly followed by frost, and then snow.
Since then though, the garden has been progressing nicely. In mid-April it started to feel like spring and arrived, and I got to work on the raised beds. We found a giant pile of old printer paper in the loft, slightly damp around the edges, and put it to work keeping the weeds down.
Our lovely neighbouring farmer brought us a pile of cow manure, so that got dumped on top, and then the chickens had a lovely time mixing it all around.
The plum blossom came out, and then was blown away again a few days later so I'm not sure how that will work out.
I moved the raspberries that I stupidly planted in the top of a field last year, and I finally got round to planting out the apple tree that I grafted about ten years ago, and that has been sitting in a pot ever since.
Poor Mildred managed to get herself into the leaf mould pile and then couldn't get out - I shouldn't laugh but there was no harm done and it was rather amusing. She wasn't impressed.
A friend helped me put up the plastic greenhouse (it blew down in October and I'd just thrown it into a shed). I planted a load of seeds, and then went away for a week with work. Sadly, the wind picked up and the whole thing blew down again.
I liked that little greenhouse, and it was great while we were waiting to acquire a more permanent solution, but they really are more suited to sheltered urban gardens than windy hilltops. I've now put the shelves from that up inside the glass greenhouse (which had no shelves), and we'll repurpose the plastic (which is now quite ripped) for something else.
So the seeds are all planted (again), the beds are prepared, the apple is now in blossom too, I've planted a load of bedding plants, and the compost bin still hasn't been fixed. Getting there... (slowly).
I've been working at home a lot since Christmas, and I'm spending a lot of time sitting down.
When we lived in the city, working at home wasn't a problem - it wasn't every day, and there were plenty of other places to walk to. Here, we are just a little bit too far away to walk to anywhere, and so if I want some exercise, I have to consciously go for a walk.
This isn't really a problem, of course - it's just that going for a walk feels like it requires more planning than just nipping to the shops. Walking boots for a start, and maybe even a rucksack and a map.
Well, thinking like that was getting me nowhere. Instead, I abandoned the rucksack, and the map, and all thoughts of 'hiking' or 'trekking', and decided to keep things a little more simple (that's usually a good plan in life, I find).
Each morning I get up, dress quickly, make a cup of tea in my travel mug, pull on my wellies, let the chickens out - and keep going up the drive.
It's nice and simple. I'm already out of the house, I already have tea (with a lid), and there's no planning required. I have to let the chickens out reasonably early, so my walks usually start before 8am (they were starting closer to 7am until the clocks changed).
It's lovely and peaceful out there at that time in the morning, whatever the weather (and there has been quite a variation in weather so far this year).
Of course it's been more pleasant since the better weather arrived (I hope I'm not speaking too soon - the wind and rain are howling through the windows this evening).
I have a few little loops of a mile or so round the lanes and footpaths. I refuse to go much further without eating breakfast. A mile is enough time to wake up a bit, finish my tea, and arrive back home refreshed and alert, ready to start work.
Now the lighter nights are here, I'm hoping to incorporate an evening walk too as a nice way of ending the working day and getting a bit of fresh air before making tea.
Might have to fix my wellies first though - one of them appears to have sprung an unhelpful leak.
I'm delighted to report that the new ladies are settling in nicely. Fences have been removed, squabbling has largely stopped, and while there are still two distinct factions (old and new), there is at least some peace in the chicken run (for now, at least).
Rusty is proving to be our new quiet adventurer. She doesn't say much. She's usually the last out of the hen house in the morning, and from what I can see is the bottom of the pecking order. But she's often the first to try something new (although she's only eaten out of our hands once).
Beaky likes to stick her beak into everything, and has an endearing habit of flicking food everywhere. Bessie is affectionate, and is the only one who will voluntarily sit on your knee.
Mildred and Maud have stopped bossing the new ladies about, and have moved largely to ignoring them. They've also stopped laying in their favourite garden bush, and have taken to laying in the coal shed instead. Mildred was even investigating the boot of the car the other day.
The new ladies have been exposed to quite a lot of weather since they've been here. Their first week the sun shone, and they enjoyed their new-found freedom to wander.
Then it got rather wet and windy, and they spent most of their time not coming out of the cosy chicken run.
Today it's snowing.
Beaky managed to fly up on to the arm of the garden bench - but then didn't want to get back down again. I've had to scrape the snow off some of the grass near the chicken run for them (yes, I'm a softie).
Mildred and Maud are old hands now. They were exactly the same the first time they saw snow (Maud wouldn't stand in it at all), but today they just strode off like it was no big deal.
They're heading for the coal shed, which they've recently decided is a more desirable laying spot than either the nest box (too many new chickens hanging round) or their usually preferred garden bush. I caught one of them in there this morning, so I must go back and check how many eggs are nestled among the coal and kindling.
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.
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.
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.