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.
Someone asked the other day if this was our first autumn in this house, and I had to pause for a minute to think. Of course it is, because we only moved at the end of February, but it feels so familiar somehow, yet new at the same time.
I spend so much more time outside here than I ever did before. When we lived in the city, I went outside if I was going somewhere, or for a walk or a run or a bike ride, and I sat in the tiny garden if it was warm, but on cold, damp, foggy days I didn't spend much time outside if I could help it.
Here it's different.
My days start when I let the chickens out. On the days I drive to the office, I open the hen house door before I leave at 6am, and because it's still dark they just make gentle little chicken noises and stay warm and cosy inside.
When I'm working at home, or at the weekend, I let them out before I have my own breakfast, which means I often end up outside at 7.30am in my wellies and fluffy dressing gown, being thankful that there is no road past our house (there is a public footpath though, which I must remember when the weather starts to improve).
Autumn is the season of mist, it seems. Very often in the morning it's foggy, and we can barely see the end of our drive, let alone across the fields. I've grown accustomed to driving to work slowly, carefully, following the edge of the road until suddenly the fog breaks and I can see again.
We don't let the chickens out when it's foggy. Maybe we're paranoid, but the local farmer tells us the fox often strikes in the fog and I'm not taking any chances. So they stay in their run until it lifts.
I'd love it if my chicken run looked like something out of Country Living magazine, but it doesn't. It's strong, and tall, and (hopefully) fox proof. They have a cosy house with nest boxes and a perch, and clean water, constant access to food, and now they have an outdoor shelter to protect them from rain and wind. Each day I try to find something to entertain them - a fork full of compost, or an armful of leaves, or a pile of hay for them to scratch around in. Mostly they roam free for a few hours in the afternoon, and if I'm here and not working, I roam out there with them.
Having the chickens pottering about encourages me to get out and potter about too, even if the weather's not great. In the last couple of weeks I've been turning the compost, and using the finished (or nearly finished) pile as mulch in the area I'm going to use as an edible windbreak.
The chickens like to help, and are a complete nuisance. Whatever we're doing, they're there, under our feet, wanting to know what's going on. They wait until I have a fork full of compost (seemingly trying to get skewered in the process), and then stand on the fork and flick the compost off. At one point I had to shut them back in their run just so I could get something useful done.
It doesn't matter what dangerous implement I have (pitchfork, shovel, scythe) they seem determined to stand in the way of it.
But mostly we get on fine, and they rootle around in the leaves while I shift wheelbarrows of mulch, fix walls, and do a bit of light weeding.
I do love being outside, and I love having an excuse to be outside. There's always something to do here, whatever the weather. I draw the line at pottering in the pouring rain (so do the chickens), but otherwise an extra layer and a woolly hat makes everything cheerful.
At the minute my pottering is mostly restricted to weekends, as my work schedule has me driving to the city every day (which was NOT part of the plan when we moved here, but never mind). I leave in the dark, and mostly arrive home in the dark too. So at the weekend I make sure both me and the chickens are outside for as much time as possible, even if I am just sitting in their run having a nice cup of tea.
I don't often get to the seaside these days. We're surrounded by beautiful countryside here, and anyway, we've not had a proper trip anywhere else since we moved.
But last week I found myself in Brighton for work, with a sea view from my hotel window.
There wasn't much time for wandering, although I could hear the sea from my bed, and I confess I did miss one session of the conference to sit in my room and listen to the waves.
The conference itself was in a rather grand hotel, also on the seafront but we were in windowless rooms all week. But on the last day, before I caught the train home, I sneaked out to sit on the beach for a while.
We're planning a proper holiday next year - our first fortnight away for about four years. We're not sure where we're going yet, but I'm certain it will be near the sea.
I still spend a lot of my time in the city. There's not much I can do about that in the short term (although it will be a bit different next year at least). Mostly I drive in, stay in the office, then drive home again, but occasionally I meet a friend for lunch and remember to go somewhere cheery.
Last week a friend and I met in the botanical gardens. We both live rurally, and don't see each other very often these days, so it was lovely to have a catch up. We had lunch in the cafe and it was warm enough to sit outside in just a t shirt (I can't imagine ever being that warm again at the minute).
The gardens were splendid in the autumn colours.
I really should make an effort to get out of the office more often. The temptation is always to finish my work as quickly as possible and head home, but I need to remember how beautiful the city can be sometimes too.
The chickens are now happily ensconced in their new run.
It's not quite finished, and still needs a roof, but I was fed up of them being inside the stable block, so while Peter was away and I had visitors to help me, we nailed some mesh around the top to discourage acrobatic foxes and herded the chickens to their new home.
It's extremely solid, and built mostly from recycled wood and mesh we had lying around. The walls are eight foot high, and there is mesh dug into the ground all the way round so I hope it will be safe (fingers crossed). We moved their house in here too, so they have somewhere warm and dry to sleep at night, and since these pictures were taken we've added some corrugated iron for shelter during the day until we get the roof on.
We did have to add some extra impromptu shelter during the storm that ripped down the greenhouse - not exactly picturesque but it kept them relatively cosy during a day of wild winds.
We're settling into a nice routine. I let them out of their house first thing in the morning, do a very quick clean out of their coop, and top up food and water. During the week I then leave for work, and either Peter will let them out of the run in the afternoon for an hour, or I'll let them out for an hour later if I get home before dark (which probably won't happen now until after Christmas sadly). At the weekend, I usually let them out of their run in the morning, and they maraud around the garden pecking things and generally getting in the way.
Sometimes they come running when I whistle. Sometimes they don't, but they often respond to the clang of the feed tin lid. After they've been out for an hour or so, they often start to congregate near the run again, so I take the opportunity to give them some corn as a treat and shut them back in.
Three of them tend to hang around together, and never go far, but Hermione is a wanderer. She's likely to be the first to get eaten if there's a sneaky fox around. I've had to retrieve her from the top of the drive, and from half way across a field. I can't be cross at her though - it's less than two months since she went outside for the first time and there's a lot to take in.
Sometimes, to tempt them back in, I sit inside the coop myself. It often works - they associate me with treats, and will come and peck at my fingers and sit on my legs until I oblige. I talk to them, and imagine they know their names (although I know they don't really, and are just responding to food).
It's only been eight weeks, but I can't imagine a life without chickens now (although I would appreciate a lie in occasionally). We've got our first night away coming up soon, and while we'll be gone for less than 24 hours, and while I know they'll be safe in their run, and cosy in their house even if the door isn't shut, I can't help but worry a bit. We're already making plans for chicken sitters if we go on holiday next year.
Might have to make sure the visitors know where the treats are kept though.
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?
I've been spending a lot of time in this chair, drinking tea, reading, staring out of the window. It's turned pretty nippy here now, and rather than spending all of my free time outside, I've been spending more of it inside, plotting and scheming and hatching plans.
I love the way the light moves around this room now the leaves have fallen from the elm tree by the back door.
We've had visitors this weekend (they brought the delightful chicken mug in the first picture, and many other cheerful gifts). They've not been before, and it spurred us on to tidy up a bit, and to spend today doing not-very-much other than sitting around.
I also made some bread, for what I think is the first time since we moved. It felt nice to do something relatively normal and weekendy.
After they left, I spent an hour or two outside with the chickens, pottering around in the garden. I'll do a separate post about the garden, which is slowly evolving as I make plans for next year. It was cold today, and it felt quite autumnal. Definitely a day for warm scarves and woolly hats.
It's been sunny though, in amongst the hailstones. I so much love watching how the landscape changes through the seasons.
But now I'm back inside again, eating some of that soda bread and a friend's home made jam, drinking tea and making more plans. I was going to say this is the best place to be on a day like today, but the sun's come out again now and now the clocks have changed I won't get home before nightfall most evenings during the week so I feel I need to make the most of the daylight...
People sometimes ask me what we're doing out here. Not many people have questioned our sanity in moving away from the city (although a couple have), but people often ask if we moved here with a specific purpose. After all, we have several acres of fields - we must have a plan? Livestock? Camping? Being completely self-sufficient? Festivals? Rewilding?
And the answer is, I don't really know.
When we started our search for a new house, we were looking for somewhere with a bigger garden. That wasn't difficult - our old garden was 92 square feet, much of it concrete, and was at the front of the house, bordering directly onto the pavement.
As often happens, our search area got wider, we got closer and closer to the top of our budget, and eventually we found somewhere we fell for that had some ideal qualities (views, privacy, lack of neighbours) and some that we hadn't really counted on (11 acres of grassland and several outbuildings).
We did wonder whether it was sensible, but we were game for an adventure. We didn't make too many plans in advance, because the process of buying took nearly eight months (shenanigans by the mortgage broker, the building society, another party in the chain), and we spent a lot of that time thinking we might not be able to move at all. When we did finally exchange contracts, we had nine days to prepare before we moved.
Anyway, we're here now. Are we farming? No. Smallholding? I would have said no, but according to Wikipedia at least, smallholdings 'may not be self-sufficient but are valued primarily for the rural lifestyle that they provide for the owners, who often do not earn their livelihood from the farm', which is true (but I suppose could apply to any rural house). It also says 'a smallholding is a piece of land and its adjacent living quarters for the smallholder and stabling for farm animals. It is usually smaller than a farm but larger than an allotment, usually under 50 acres'. That's also true.
Other definitions talk about land that is being used for agricultural purposes, but is smaller than a farm, and this is where I come unstuck. We're not doing anything remotely close to agriculture here. I grow some of our food in the garden, and we now have four chickens - does that count as agriculture? I don't think so. So are we smallholders? I don't know.
In America this type of place would probably be referred to as a homestead, and in a way I like the sound of the word homestead better than smallholding. It's an old English word, but sadly for me it's associated with the questionable practices surrounding the 1862 Homestead Act, and it doesn't feel like a good fit.
So where does that leave us? Acreage is, I suppose, technically correct but doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. I can barely bring myself to even say 'property'.
In reality, we don't need to call it anything other than home, and describe what we're doing in any other way than living here. There are plans, both short and long term, but they're not on a grand scale, and they certainly don't involve having our own farm animals or any kind of hospitality business.
So next time someone asks, I think I'll just tell them we're hanging out. Learning to live here, to inhabit this space and have a life that in some ways is similar to our old one, but in other ways is oh so very different.
Way back at the end of August I sneaked off to Biddulph Grange, a National Trust garden not too far away.
I'm not particularly given to visiting large fancy houses with large fancy gardens, but I wanted to explore the local area a bit, and Biddulph Grange has a kitchen garden, which I thought might give me a bit of inspiration for my own.
The kitchen garden certainly was pretty, but I hadn't realised just how extensive the rest of the place was. It was laid out as a series of rooms, all very different in character.
I have mixed feelings about gardens like this. It's a beautiful space, and I loved the idea of having separate themed spaces in my own garden. I went on a week day, and there was hardly anyone else there, so it was very peaceful. But places like this come with a history of colonialism, empire, plant theft, and ridiculous levels of wealth. While I can appreciate their beauty, I can never quite separate them from that in my mind.
There are a few small things I'd like to create in my own garden though. I loved all the stone steps and little trails from one place to another. And while I won't be creating an Egyptian Garden any time soon, I think I can find space for a tiny little pond somewhere.
I really have to get back into a routine of posting here. I miss it. I've been not quite thwarted, but discouraged, by technology. I used to take pictures on my camera, upload them to the laptop, resize them, then insert them into blog posts. My new phone takes pictures that are near enough as good as the camera (which I've now stopped carrying around) - but it uploads them to google photos, and unless I'm writing a post on my phone, I still have to download photos to the laptop, rename and then upload them back to the blog again.
All rather tedious, but I will get into a new rhythm soon enough.
Not tonight though. Having sorted through my pictures from the last two weeks I'm far too exhausted to do anything with them and am going to sleep instead.
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.