So at the beginning of October it was both my and my daughter’s birthday. Then we were away for the weekend and life just got in the way for five minutes. I knew I hadn’t blogged for a couple of weeks although I’d started to write a couple of posts but never finished them so I decided instead of trying to catch up that I would have a month off blogging. I did post the odd picture on instagram but I stayed away from my blog. And do you know what? It did me the world of good. Let me explain what I mean. I started my blog back in April for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to have somewhere to record the work we were doing in our cottage as I had been taking loads of photos but not really actually doing anything with them apart from just keeping them on my phone. My second reason was as a way to share with friends and family who don’t live nearby what we were up to. I found I was becoming a bit of a bore with updates every time I saw or spoke to people. I’ve really enjoyed writing on my blog but it had sometimes got to the point that I was feeling every time we did something I had to immediately write up about it. Which is a bit silly really as the blog was supposed to be enjoyable and not a burden. So instead I’m going to try and write once or twice a week and not try and talk about everything we do. But first, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to this past month.
Both C and I had our birthdays, she was three and I was 32 (again, I decided that I liked the age 32 so have decided to stay there for a while). C was so much more aware this year about her birthday and was ridiculously excited in the build up to it. Her actual birthday was on a Tuesday and she had her party the Saturday before which actually worked really well as it meant we could spread out the present opening. And boy she really got excited about presents this year. And I have to confess that I did too as she’s reached the age of Playmobil and Sylvanian families and Disney princesses, all the toys that I remember fondly from my childhood. As her party was a pottery painting party I did a multi-coloured layer cake covered in pink icing. I’ve started writing a post about it but for now here’s a sneak preview.
We are now the proud owners of three sheds which fit nicely onto our concrete slab next to the garage. Currently they are fairly empty but the plan is that when we do our big house rennovation next year we will use them to store our house contents in. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste as they are plastic, they suit us perfectly as they need no maintenance at all.
So we’ve spent our first weekend away in the caravan and I have to say we have, thankfully, made the right choice. It was lovely to have all our stuff already packed in it, with food in the fridge and cupboards ready for the weekend. Although I played no part in the actual hooking up of the van once we arrived at the campsite (that was all J’s role) it was a relatively quick process and it really felt like a home from home. I’m not naive enough to think that it’ll be a breeze living in it, but I think it will be manageable with the added bonus of having a take along holiday home when the house work is done.
We have the sheep back in the field and they are living in relative harmony with the chickens (although I think that’s mainly down to the electric fence). We do have one of the chickens currently not laying but as it’s one of the ‘normal coloured’ egg layers then we don’t know which one it is and we don’t really know what to do about it. They all seem fairly healthy so we’re just letting them get on with things as normal and are hoping that it resolves itself in time. Jessie is getting on fairly well with the other animals. That it she doesn’t try to chase them too much although she has been very curious about the sheep. She’s going through a phase of wanting to chew everything as she’s losing her baby teeth (we haven’t found any yet but I think she’s eating them) and is a right old scamp when it comes to helping in the garden – she loves racing around the recreation area and jumping in the raised beds.
We have just come back from a week away in Rhodes, our first time going away in October half term, and it was just what we needed. We stayed at an all inclusive resort on the south of the island in a lovely suite with a private pool and were blessed with weather that was very warm but not too hot and we all had a relaxing time. I’ll do a write up soon about our trip and suggestions for anyone thinking about visiting Rhodes but for now here are some sneaky pictures.
There are lots of other things that have happened over the last month which I’ve probably forgotten, but for now that’s it. The cottage garden trio are still here and still surviving life in the countryside slowly working on creating our dream family home.
So our asparagus crowns went in in April and for the first year you are supposed to not harvest them at all and let the foliage grow wild so that the crowns can really develop and establish. It was lovely to see the spears appear from the ground but as they grew into foliage the bed looked a bit messy.
So when it comes to Autumn and the foliage starts to turn brown and die back you can cut the stems back to about one inch above the ground and them mulch the bed.
The bed now looks so much neater and hopefully we will have a good crop next year. One of the crowns does look a little weaker than the others but fingers crossed it will still produce well. It may seem a pain to have to not harvest it in the first year, but as crowns can typically last for 20 years, leaving one years worth of harvest in order to have 20 years of excellent harvest seems a small sacrifice to make. Hopefully it will pay off next year.
So after we had the hedges and the grass all cut back recently we decided to move the chickens out of the orchard and into the field. There were a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly the grass in the orchard needs some time to recover from the girls pecking at it and creating dust baths so we’re going to reseed it and give it a bit of tlc. Secondly, it was a right pain trying to mow around the chicken pen as there wasn’t really enough space to move the electric fence easily so you had to mow a bit, then move it, then mow a bit then move it etc. If they are in the field then we can just mow half the field, move them permanently and then mow the rest. Thirdly, we were actually missing having the orchard as a place to spend time in. We really liked the orchard and had a couple of barbecues there last summer and wanted to get back to it being more of a social area to spend time in as a family. So our plan was simple, move their Eglu and then remove the fence and herd them into the field. We figured that the chickens would follow their home as it moved. By gosh we were wrong. So first we moved the Eglu, the chickens were mildly interested in what we were doing but mainly focused on pecking at the area where the Eglu had once stood. C and I tried to bribe them to come out of the gate in their fence using meal worms. No luck. So we started taking down the fence, again they showed a mild interest in what we were doing but then just decided to explore the rest of the orchard.
So my father in law began to mow the orchard to even up the grass where the fence had been removed. Admittedly they did move away from the mower, but only a little bit and still stayed determinedly in the orchard. By now they were getting a bit more confident and were exploring the full reach of the orchard, but still stopping short when it came to moving towards the field. Now we had kept Jessie inside whilst we did this as we thought she’d be a bit of a hindrance (I did want to keep C away too as she was equally a hindrance but you can’t really lock a toddler in a cage) but we then thought we could use her to help encourage the chickens into the field. She has only seen the chickens from behind the electric fence before and so we figured she would relish the idea of chasing them. If only we could manage to get her to chase them in the right direction. The result…she had a mild interest in the chickens but was more interested in exploring the orchard. We tried leaving them in the hope they would go by themselves but we were worried about them not managing to get home before it got dark and we know there are foxes about (hence the electric fence). Eventually we used all of our resources (me, my husband, my father in law, the dog and some netting) to try to trap one or two at a time so we could then carry them to the field. I don’t have any photos of this because I didn’t have a free hand to take photos! We managed to get five up there but Dorothy (remember her, the elusive let’s hide our eggs chicken) decided to hide in the hedge between the orchard and the field (which she couldn’t get through because of the fence). We ended up leaving her and coming back a couple of times and we eventually managed to pick her up and get her there but it was hard work. This is their new home in the field.
They seem to have settled in quite nicely. Once they’ve been there for a couple of weeks then we’ll give them the chance to free range even further into the field.
So although I have debated about whether to plant more things in the raised beds to try and grow them over winter, I have decided not to and to leave them empty and ready for Spring. Now there are three reasons for this. Firstly I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest from the gardening over the winter, not that there won’t be things to do but there certainly won’t be as many. Secondly, I want to make sure that I can start my planting for the summer as early as possible and don’t want to have to wait for other crops to come out. And thirdly, and possibly most importantly, I’m not a big fan of many of the crops that you can put in at this time of year. So I’ve decided to leave some of the raised beds empty for the summer. I will try to do something to build up the nutrients in the soil possible, but otherwise they will be empty. The asparagus and strawberries stay in their beds (read how they’ve been prepared for winter in a forthcoming post or two) but the pumpkin bed is currently empty as is the bed which had housed baby corn and broad beans. The other two beds should be mostly empty shortly apart from my experimental leeks which will be there through winter. But for now I’ll start with two beds.
So the beds have been emptied of any plant matter including as many roots as I could pull up. I then forked them over using a hand fork so that the soil was loose. I also ensured that any weeds were removed, especially important that the roots of these are removed as well. I have decided to add some more compost in the Spring as part of my bed preparation so for now I just want to prevent any weeds growing. So what I’ve done is covered the bed with cardboard and weighted it down with left over bags of compost/grit/manure/anything lying around. Hopefully that means that at least some of the weeds are kept from appearing and it should rot down enough just to be dug into the soil in the Spring. At least that’s what I’m hoping, I guess time will tell if I’ve done enough to keep the weeds at bay. What does anyone else do to prepare their garden for the winter?
J thinks I sound very poncey (no idea if that’s how you spell it) for calling this the recreation area but we did originally call it the grassy area and that name doesn’t really apply anymore. So this was the area when we moved in.
Now this area was originally a substantial vegetable garden with a bit of general garden space as well. That was of course at a time when everyone had substantial vegetable gardens as they had to grow their own. The area was completely overgrown (can you see a pattern here with the cottage) and the ground was very uneven. So we arranged for the area to be completely stripped back to bare soil and then we seeded it ourselves (wasn’t that fun). It then stayed as just grass for all summer and into winter.
Then come January we began finalising what we wanted the area to look like. So we had the random bits and pieces of hedge and bushes removed from the corner by the apple tree as the tree wasn’t really accessible and it all looked a bit higgeldy piggeldy (again apologies for the total lack of spelling knowledge here). Then the plan was to install six raised beds and a climbing frame for C into an enclosed bark area. This was brutal and pushed both J and I to the limit at times but we’ve created an area we’re really happy with. You can read about it here, here and here.
We have also created a patio as an eating area, our bifolding doors will eventually lead out here. This has a lovely lamppost on it and electricity so I can have my patio heaters here if required. You can read about that here and here.
We also have a patio at the back of the garden for a greenhouse (still to be purchased) and of course we have the craft cabin.
This is my little space for being me. It still needs some finishing touches to the paintwork inside and out but it is the only place where a can put things in their permanent place as the cottage is going to be totally ripped to pieces. The recreation area is something I’m really proud of. J and I have worked together to design an area which really enhances our lifestyle. It’s the area which most people comment on, even our Tesco delivery guy said he could holiday there! For this area there is very little still to be done. A bit of finishing of the border of the bark area and probably topping up the bark. The greenhouse needs purchasing and installing. Longer term we want to put some decking outside the craft cabin and create a nice relaxing area with sofas. Next week I’ll have a look at the changes that have gone on in the field in the past year.
So next Spring we are going to do some massive renovation work on our house. And when I say massive I really do mean massive. We have to do a single story extension, move the staircase and remodel upstairs, install a new roof, install a central heating system, new windows and doors, rip up and replace all floors (not just flooring actual floors) and walls. So obviously we can’t really live in the house whilst this is going on. So we are going to hvae to move out. We did lots of thinking about where to live for this time. One option was to rent a flat for six months but that would probably cost a fair amount in terms of removal costs, rent, council tax and bills on both properties so we dismissed it as we’ve both always felt rent was dead money. Another was move in with J’s dad who lives just down the road which would be free but after consideration we decided that we would all end up killing each other and that actually it would be best to manage a big renovation project from on site. So we looked at getting a second hand static caravan in the field to live in which seems to be fairly common for large renovation projects. However, we hit a snag as static vans are 12 foot wide and the gap between our garage and the neighbours hedge is about 10 feet. So it wouldn’t fit up the drive into the field. The only way to get one into the field then would be to have a crane lift it over the hedge. Which would cost seriously mental money so we dismissed it. So our only solution really was to get a large touring caravan which we could drive into the field. A major advantage of this is that we can also use it for holidays in the future so extending it’s useage beyond the build. We made this decision quite some time ago hence why we had an area prepped for it in the field (I’ll give more details on that another time).
So anyway, we had thought for ages about when to buy our van. We won’t need it until next March/April time but didn’t want to wait until just before then in case we couldn’t find the van we were after (as we were planning to buy second hand). As I had never stayed or even been in a touring caravan before (J’s family had one when he was younger), J said it was essential for me to look at a good few to be convinced that I would be happy to live in one and to holiday in them. For some reason my husband seems to think I’m quite fussy, I don’t know what gave him that impression. So early summer we had gone to a few caravan shops (pretty sure they’re not actually called shops as it just doesn’t sound right) and I had made sure that I went into all different types and sizes of caravans. It was a really useful exercise as I was immediately able to determine what were must haves and what were no way in hell will I live in thats. So my must haves were a decent sized bathroom. Not only do I have a toddler but neither J nor I are exactly small so we needed a big enough space to move about in. Ideally I also wanted the bathroom to be at the back of the caravan out of the way. Even though there are only three of us (and are planning on staying a trio) we wanted a good sized van, big enough so that if C ever wanted to bring a friend on holiday then she could do so we were looking at probably a five or six berth van. As we are planning on living there we need some kind of central heating system and a decent sized kitchen.
Now the sleeping arrangements in caravans tend to have a few distinct options. You can have a fixed double bed at the back, or you can have either fixed twin or bunk beds at the back. Then most vans also have the option to convert the front sofas into either another double bed or twin beds. Some also have a small table somewhere at the back that can convert into another bed. We wanted to avoid as much as possible having to convert a bed every day when we’re living there so after lots of looking in different vans we have gone for a set up where there are bunk beds at the back and a small table which converts into another single bed (which we will probably keep converted at all times when living there). There is also a decent sized bathroom at the back. That whole back section can be closed off its a curtain/door thing which will be useful when we put C to bed early. We’re also getting a large awning which we can have as extra outside living space. I’ll post some pictures of the inside etc when we collect it this weekend as we’re planning to spend a night in it on Saturday to see how Charlie settles into sleeping in it (and because J is ridiculously excited about us squeezing in some weekends away in it before the weather gets too cold. For now I’m just trying desperately to think what kind of essentials I need to get to in, what are the kitchen essentials for a caravan? How many games and toys do I need? I’ve never been massive on camping so I don’t really have a clue what kind of things to get for it? I’ll try and write a post on Sunday to let you know how our first night went!
So our toddler is going through a girly phase. A very girly phase. Everything needs to be pink. She will only wear dresses (referred to as Cinderella dresses) and prefers party type dresses (i.e. the most impractical ones for everyday life, especially when you live in the countryside). I can very occasionally persuade her to wear leggings but it is a battle and generally involves some kind of bribery. So we do have a fairly sizeable collection of non-dressy clothes (barely worn) which she is rapidly growing out of which is a bit of a pain. Every time there is any kind of option she goes for the pink one; the pink colouring pencils, the pink socks, the pink pants, the pink playmobil princess (even though she preferred the purple one, it wasn’t pink). As a result, pretty much all of Jessie’s toys are pink, her collar is pink, C’s shoes are pink. Now I have no idea where this phase has come from, it just seemed to appear from nowhere. I’ve not tried to make her girly on purpose; she has a good number of very unisex toys, she spends lots of time outside in wellies getting dirty, in fact both J and I imagined she would end up being quite tomboyish. But recently I’ve noticed her doing more playing with figures and trying to do dress up (with things that aren’t really dress up things but never mind). I’ve kept wondering whether I’ve done something to encourage her and worrying that she’s becoming too girly. There does seem to be a feeling out there (I’ve noticed a few stories in the media about it recently) that it is wrong to gender stereotype children, that all toys should be gender neutral, clothes for girls shouldn’t be too girly etc.
Then I had a bit of a moment. When I remembered that there is nothing wrong with my daughter being girly, she is a girl after all. That I shouldn’t be worried about what someone else thinks I should and shouldn’t do with bringing up my daughter. That I’m not a bad parent for letting my girl be girly. That I’m just a parent letting their child be themselves. And how that ever be a bad thing? And whilst I agree that we should encourage our children to be anything they want to be, there is something to be said for biology. Is it wrong that my girl wants to be a bit girly? According to my parents, I went through a very girly phase when I was younger too. It hasn’t made me obsessed with makeup and wearing pretty dresses for life (in fact when not at work I rarely wear makeup except for special occasions). Just because she likes wearing dresses and is obsessed with princesses (she refers to herself as C Scampy Pants B Princess) doesn’t mean she won’t grow up to be a doctor or a scientist. It just means she likes wearing dresses. So I for one have decided to embrace her just being a toddler and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks as long as she’s happy!
It is now just over a year since we moved into the cottage and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve in a year. Both J and I have moments when we just want to walk away from the cottage as there is so much to do and it can feel stifling at times. Sometimes it seems as though what we have to do is unsumountable and that we will never get to the end of it so I thought it would be quite cathartic to have a look back at how far we’ve already come to help gear us up for the next phase of our work. I had originally planned this as one post but having started to write it there were just way too many pictures for one post so I’m going to spread it across three or four weeks. So this week we have the orchard.
The orchard before:
The orchard after:
When we first moved in the trees in the orchard were looking a bit sorry for themselves and the fruit trees hadn’t been picked properly for years so weren’t fruiting that well. The big pile of rubbish next to the garage was the furniture that we cleared from the house, totally filled with woodworm or infested with mice. That went on the fire.
When we came to empty the solar (the building behind the pile of rubbish in the first picture above) it had a wasps nest inside and the floor collapsed so it had to come down too and onto the fire it went. The horse chestnut tree (centre of the second picture above) was diseased so has been removed and the stump is now a climbing frame for the chickens.
Where the pile of rubbish was now stands a concrete slab large enough to fit three sheds (due to arrive in the next few weeks) and there is a gravel drive leading up to it (excuse the chicken in the middle of the drive).
The massive composting pile of garden waste (picture three at the top) had to be removed and we had another fire or two. That took a long long time.
Now the far corner of the orchard is where I’m planning on building C a cafe/shop thing out of old pallets as its a nice shaded area. The rest of that cleared space is mainly occupied by the chickens, you can see the behind the fence of the photo below where I have a nice space for C’s cafe.
I mentioned earlier that the trees in the orchard needed some serious pruning. J has taken charge of this even though he really has very little knowledge on the subject. The two apple trees in the orchard had a number of lower branches pruned back although I confess that was mainly to make it easier to get the mower round as the branches hung very low but it was also quite overcrowded. The plum tree also had a bit of a prune too. This has given us much better quality fruit yields this year.
J has built two pens to store leaves and create leaf mound.
The pampas grass that was in the middle of the orchard has had to be hacked back a bit after the chickens starting using it as an alternative nest. That still needs some work doing to it.
There is obviously still a bit to go in the orchard. The trees will get another good prune soon and hopefully will keep improving as the years go by. The pampas grass needs either cutting back and tidying up or digging up. There are a number of damson trees which have grown up in the centre of the pampas which need removing as there are too many crowded into a small space. I need to create a nice shaded play area for C in the corner and build her a cafe/shop. We have another couple of trees to plant in the orchard, another plum and another apple, in line with the existing apple trees. The sheds have to be bought and assembled on the concrete slab and the edging to the driveway needs to be finished. That’s probably about it for the orchard for now although that may change in time. Not bad work for year 1 in the cottage. Next week I’ll have a look at the recreation area which is the area I’m probably most proud of. Be sure to follow us to make sure you don’t miss it.
So this week we have been away on holiday in Ruda (watch out for a future post about my week and recommendations for things to do in North Devon) with some of our extended family and whilst we were away my mum had kindly volunteered to stay at ours and keep an eye on things. I asked her for a midweek update that I could share about what’s been going on at the cottage so far and what she’s found the biggest challenges and successes which I’ve included below. It sounds like she’s been having a good time (I hope) and she’s used to having a dog and doing bits of preserving so she’s well placed to keep an eye on things.
Ok………so here I am, left in charge of chickens and a ten week old puppy. The chickens are a doddle and have reliably given me six eggs a day. The puppy, lively at times but manageable and great fun (her rash has cleared up nicely but I’m still finishing her course of antibiotics). The problems are actually with the inanimate objects around here…..namely fruit and veg! Apples and plums just keep needing to be harvested and used as I hate waste, but before I did anything major with them ( apart from eat them or give bags of them to J’s Dad ) I thought that I would do an easy job with with some beetroot that Laura harvested before she abandoned me……sorry, went on holiday.
There are many different options out there when it comes to pickling beetroot but sometimes the simplest can be the best. I’ve used some Kilner jars which were pre-washed and sterilised. Simply cook the washed beetroot in salted water for about forty minutes until they are soft when pierced with a knife. Then drain and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Try and find some plastic gloves so that you can peel them without your hands looking like you have just committed murder (disposable gloves like the kind that dentists and doctors are ideal), then slice them, pack them into warm sterilised jars and cover with pickling or white wine vinegar and seal (a clear coloured vinegar is best to allow the colour of the beetroot to shine through). It needs to mature for about a month……can’t wait! Next job plum and apple chutney.
So here at cottagegardentrio, we tend to do lots of things which save us money but it occurred to me the other day that we have no real way of measuring this. Yes our food shops might be smaller sometimes or our electricity bill slightly lower, but I have no real way of seeing how much of an impact what we do has. I know some gardeners will often weigh all of their produce and try to price up what it would cost in the supermarket, but I don’t feel like I have the time for this really in amongst everything else I want to do (I tried this and spent ages looking for exciting potato types at Waitrose before giving up). So instead I’ve decided on a different approach. Every time I make or use something which I would have otherwise spent money on, I’m going to transfer £1 from our current account into a specially created savings account. Whilst some of the things we do (like drying our washing on the line instead of the tumble dryer) won’t have saved us £1, some other things we do would have saved us infinitely more (how on earth do you put a value on 12 jars of organic, high fruit, plum and rum jam?) So a set value of £1 makes it much easier to manage. I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep it up, or if the end of summer is really the time to be starting this when most things have already been harvested, but I really fancy trying it for a spell to see.
So far my list of things I think we do include:
- Collecting eggs from the girls
- Growing vegetables in the raised beds
- Collecting fruit from the trees and hedges
- Making jams and chutneys
- Baking cakes instead of buying them
- Sewing and knitting some clothes/gifts/household items
- Using a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
- Eat in/have friends over instead of going out (we do still eat out way too much, but we keep making efforts to reduce this)
- Shopping around online for bargains (I’m including this as it’s amazing how much you can save sometimes)
I’m sure there may be more but that’s all I can think of now. My big struggle is whether to put money in when I harvest goods, or when I use them? And do I put money in for when we collect eggs everyday? I’m going to put any money saved towards our trip away for our five year anniversary next year (as yet unplanned though we’ve had lots of ideas). Does anyone else do anything similar to keep track of money saved? Any better ways to do it? How much money have people actually found making small changes can save?