Here we are at the equinox, and while there are so many things I love about autumn, this year I am just not ready to let go of the summer.
We've had a run of sunshine this week, and while my days are spent inside in front of a screen, each evening I've managed an hour of raking and hauling not-dry-enough grass out of the meadow.
It's hard but satisfying work, and lovely to be out in the field as the sun sets, but there's also a sense of despair. I so very much want to cut this whole field by hand, and I will (eventually) - but I've had to accept that the realities of the weather mean I won't make any more hay.
Instead, I'm going to be creating an awful lot of mulch, and I'll still be cutting at Christmas by the looks of things.
Like many people I'm not thrilled at the idea of having more restrictions on visiting in the colder weather. Our garden shelter has been brilliant over the summer, and is slowly being modified to deal with more breeze, but at some point it's just not going to be pleasant to sit out there.
Anyway, this is all very gloomy, and while I confess I'm not at my most cheerful right now, things aren't all bad. The garden has been producing some colourful displays.
And I've squirrelled damsons and blackberries away into the freezer, ready for gin.
There's not much more cheerful than damson gin, and this will be the first time I've ever made it with my own damsons.
So maybe instead of looking backwards, bemoaning the loss of summer, I need to look forwards and count down the weeks until I can drink damson gin. I'm told it'll be ready by Christmas (assuming I've got round to making it by then, of course), but I can't quite bring myself to count down the weeks until then.
I might try to do something cheerfully autumnal each week for the next few weeks to remind me how much I do like this season. We'll see.
The equinox is approaching, and there's a definite autumnal nip in the air. The leaves are falling from the elm tree, and I wish I'd taken a video as they rattled down through the branches the other day.
I like autumn, but I have to confess it's a strange one this year. The changing of the seasons is hitting me hard, and I'm already missing the summer. I'm not ready to be cold yet, but it seems I don't have much choice.
Normally I enjoy the 'back to school' feeling, but this year things are so uncertain. My job is stable (for the time being, at least), but so many things are up in the air that I feel like I'm turning round and round and nothing is getting finished. Maybe I need to buy some new stationery to add an element of normality.
Still, some cheerful things have been happening. We've had a few days where it's been warm enough to sit outside without being under a blanket, and there are still plenty of flowers around.
I think I need to sit still a bit more often. The more I do, the more I feel like I'm stuck in a whirlwind, and the more the time whizzes by. Maybe if I linger more, then time will slow down? Who knows.
I'm enjoying a bit more enforced outdoor time though. A friend and I had lunch in a relatively new cafe this week, with tables outside on the pavement, and it was nice to be still eating outside near the end of September.
Today the sun is shining, but there's a stiff breeze and quite a nip in the air. Not exactly a day for lingering on a blanket with a book, but perhaps a day for a woolly jumper and wheelbarrowing a bit more hay? Maybe after another cup of tea...
It's that time of year again. The meadow has gone from green, to yellow, to brown, and the farmers are out with their tractors taking advantage of a nice couple of days to make silage.
We're making hay, not silage (hay is dried grass, silage is grass that has been fermented to use as animal feed - it's easier to make around here I believe because the weather is so unpredictable and silage doesn't need the longer window of dry weather). We don't have animals to feed though (not ones that will eat silage, anyway), so hay it is.
Or not. I made a start, but it was feeling pretty hard going, more like I was hacking away at the grass than a smooth swishing motion that scything should be. I finally got round to buying this excellent 'learn to scythe' course from Beth Tilston (who I see won a scything competition while she was eight months pregnant, so I assume knows her stuff).
I wasn't doing too badly, but I've made some adjustments to how my scythe is set up, and how I sharpen it, and it turns out it very likely needs peening. I was vaguely aware of peening, and was hoping it was something I could get away without doing, but apparently not. It's the process of hammering the cutting edge of the blade, and it looks from this informative link like it would have been a lot easier had I been doing it from the beginning...
Hey ho. I've ordered a peening jig (which is apparently easier than using a hammer and anvil), and will give it a go when it arrives. In the meantime, it seems I'm going to have to make a peening log or a peening pony. Does the list of things to do never end?
While I was in meadow mode, I started hunting for some yellow rattle. This is an excellent plant if you have a hay meadow to restore (which I do), as it is parasitic on grass, so goes some way to lessening the strength of some of the stronger grasses, allowing more space for wild flowers. There's some useful information about it in this link from Magnificent Meadows.
We have some yellow rattle, but only in small patches throughout the meadow, and I wanted to collect some seed and spread it around a bit.
It's quite difficult to spot until you get your eye in. The flowers are unobtrusive, and it's easiest to look for a space where the grass is a little more sparse. After a few minutes of wandering up and down the field, I found some.
Some of the seed pods had dried and were doing their characteristic rattle, but many of the plants were still flowering, and I could see why you're advised not to cut the grass until at least mid July if you want to increase wildflowers.
I collected some of the dried seed, and once I've cut the grass, I'll rake out some areas of soil and spread the seeds around a bit.
I did have another attempt at hay making in a different area of the field, but I was only removing the dried bits of grass, and the rest of the grass was just being flattened rather than cut. Definitely a good idea to wait for the peening jig.
There's plenty going on in the meadow still though, and leaving it a bit longer will allow more of the wild flowers to set seed.
I'm enjoying the process of learning about and managing our meadow. It's quite a steep learning curve for me - before the last couple of years I'm not sure I could have identified anything beyond clover and 'grass' in this field, but I'm getting there.
We've got far too much of some things it would be better to have less of...
And not quite enough of some things it would be good to have more of...
There are several stages to restoring a meadow - and of course it all depends on what you have in there in the first place. We have enough of the good stuff that it's not worth scraping the top soil off and resowing (fortunately). Instead, each year I'll wait for late July or August to cut, leave the dried grass for a few days so the seeds can drop, then remove the hay to remove some of the fertility from the soil, which should gradually make conditions worse for the strong grasses and better for the wildflowers.
Then the neighbouring cows get let in to grass the aftermath (the grass that grows back after it's been cut).
I'm sure others would do it a different way. We don't have our own animals, so can't follow an ideal grazing pattern that some do. Some people do an extra cut early in the spring, but spring for me tends to be a time of early commutes and dark evenings, so that's not particularly convenient here.
So instead I'll cut once, remove as much hay as I can, and each year sow more and more yellow rattle. We'll see.
I've not done anything crafty for a while, so when we decided to hold a virtual Easter egg hunt for my nephews, I took the opportunity for a bit of crafty messing around.
Have you blown eggs before? I don't think I have, and it was harder than I thought. Still, eventually they were all done, and an omelette and a sponge cake made with the leftovers, and a skewered them all ready for decorating.
How to decorate though? I stumbled across a tutorial for marbling using nail varnish - I've not linked to it because I can't find the actual one I used, and there are plenty of them out there. First, assemble your nail varnish (is it just me who attracts old pots of nail varnish in colours I swear I never bought).
Next, take over the entire tiny temporary kitchen with your paraphernalia.
The process itself is quite simple. Tray of cold water, and nail varnish. You have to move quickly - the nail varnish sets within a couple of seconds. Drop it onto the water, quickly swirl, then dunk your egg.
I think in the tutorial I saw, only the front half of the egg was dipped - I tried to coat the whole thing, which was far more difficult.
The first couple I did weren't great. The nail varnish was setting too quickly, and the colours were too pale to show up properly on a brown egg.
Once I got the hang of it though, and found some more vibrant colours, things improved. Metallic seemed to work well, but not glittery - the glitter made it too heavy on the water and it just sank.
I was pretty pleased with the final results, although my hands were a mess.
Six small eggs is not quite enough for an egg hunt, but I'd had my fill of marbling, so decided to try something a bit more straightforward, and paint some cardboard egg shapes. I found a tray of old children's paints in a drawer (why do I have those?) and set myself up in the garden. After a ropey start (I'm no artist) I remembered Peter bought me a book about how to paint roses and castles, as in traditional narrowboat art.
It's actually more straightforward than it looks, although I struggled to get the required swoops and swirls with my dried up paints and cheap brushes.
I fared a bit better with my castles.
Overall I was pretty pleased with my efforts after my initial uninspired start.
Our virtual egg hunt was fun, and later in the afternoon we found ourselves on a real egg hunt - our ladies have found a new, exciting laying spot. Can I take you to the back of the lean-to, where the hay bales have all fallen in an undignified heap?
Yes, it seems the ladies have been scaling the dizzy heights of that bale, and laying in a little depression in the top.
It's probably a pretty good vantage point up there (although there are better views than the inside of this outbuilding, which is full of furniture and garden tools). Finding an egg round here is pretty impossible though - the only way we manage it is by first following the clucking chicken...
It feels like it's been raining forever, and apparently I'm not imagining things as it's been the wettest February in the UK since records began, and the fifth wettest month overall. I feel like I've spent most of the month inside, trying to stay dry. Still, there have been one or two non-soggy days, and a couple of outdoor things have been started.
Tackling the quagmire
On one of the few dry days I decided to tackle the quagmire that appears outside our front gate when the rainwater washes down the driveway and creates a giant puddle, which we then reverse the cars into, creating a muddy, soupy mess, which expands until we have to put wellies on just to get to the car.
It's interesting, this puddle, because it sits and settles and eventually the grass grows over the mud. All that grass you can see in the picture, both inside the gates and outside, is growing on just a couple of inches of mud - underneath is all tarmac. I suspect if we left it long enough (and didn't drive over it), the grass would keep expanding until it reached the top of the drive.
There would be some advantages to that I suppose, but I'd rather not wade through mud when I'm trying to get to work at 6am. So I needed a solution.
My solution wasn't complicated, or pretty, and probably won't be long term, but it's solved the immediate problem without creating a new problem (and it was done in a very short break in the rain). The chickens helped. The water now runs through my new little channel, away from the house and into the field.
Not perfect, not elegant, but good enough for now (which is my general aim in life).
We must have had another dry day at some point as I made a start on the new compost bin, which I mentioned back in January.
So far all I've done is retrieve wood from the pile of old floorboards removed during the building work, and lay them out in order to make sure I have enough. I've measured where I want the compost bins to go, and now need to do a bit of sawing and screw everything together. It's not raining today so perhaps that's a job for this afternoon.
Some things have been happening inside too - not much, I should add, but I have made a start on plastering the new bedroom.
Not a very good start, I admit. Either I let the PVA glue dry too much, or the plaster has gone off, and quite a lot of it didn't stick to the wall and had to be scraped off. What a fiasco. Still, it feels good to have made a start, and by the end of March I'm hoping this room will be beautifully plastered and ready to move in (ha, fat chance).
Not much is growing in the garden yet. Snowdrops, and I glimpsed the first crocuses the other day too. I did spend an hour clearing old ferns from the bed in the garden, so that looks a little tidier (although it would be even better if I'd not left the offcuts lying where I cut them - but in my defence it had started raining again).
The rhubarb has sprouted though and is coming on nicely. Rhubarb crumble before March is out I reckon.
Things I didn't do
I made the mistake of looking back at January's post to see whether I'd made any progress on what I'd started then.
I've started the compost bin, but other than that... no. No walling (far too rainy and windy for that), no progress on the fence, and we've not even taken that giant pile of rubbish to the tip (although we have added to it). The snow hasn't helped - it's not been constant, but every few days there's a flurry being whipped up by the wind, making me not want to set foot out of the door, let alone spend an hour lugging stones round in a field.
Even the chickens aren't impressed.
Oh well. The nights are getting noticeably lighter now, and that always makes me feel more energetic. I'm off work at the minute (we're on strike, again) so theoretically I should have plenty of time to be getting on with all these things. But somehow there's always someone to visit, or something else to do (that involves staying warm and dry).
But I'm going to declare a few things (which I reserve the right not to achieve). By the end of March I would like to have
Let's see how far I get...
Sometime last week (or was it the week before?) we woke to snow.
Not very much snow, but snow nevertheless. The chickens at first weren't impressed, then they were curious, and then in no time at all they were strutting round like it had been snowing all their lives.
Incidentally, this picture of Rusty reminded me of a similar picture of our dear departed Hermione, taken in the snow this time last year, just before her and Luna's untimely demise, which means we must have had these new ladies for almost a year now.
Speaking of chickens, Beaky isn't very well at the minute. She's been a little off colour for a few days, and has been living inside with us again, having an Epsom salts bath every morning. Some days she seems better, some worse, so she's off to the vets again in the morning for a quick check over. Poor little thing.
Anyway, I was talking about the snow.
It was very scenic, but not very heavy, and it didn't stick around very long either - the perfect sort of snow for wandering in, admiring, but not getting stuck in on the way to work. Most convenient.
I wasn't the only one who'd been out and about in the snow.
It was gone after a couple of days, and since then it's felt like we've had incessant howling wind and rain, sometimes even inside the house.
Bring back the snow I say.
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?
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.