New challenges!

So, I’ve been reading some new blogs, mostly due to being bored at work (I do try to find things to do!). One of them is very inspirational and brought to my attention the idea of setting oneself ‘challenges’ instead of resolutions. I suppose this is the same idea as having goals, which is something I’ve gone with before, as it seems more motivational and positive. I took my inspiration directly from Kate’s challenges but adapted them to suit, and as I have a history of failure I have selected a much shorter list!

My challenges this year (which will hopefully increase my ‘happiness’ rating, which is currently very low) are:

  1. Reading: I am going to start with one book per month. I have no such excuse as children for my current slow reading rate but I want to start with an easy goal for now. I will also catch up with EVO magazine by the end of March (currently several months behind).
  2. Self sufficiency: I am so far behind on this one so I decided to make it real simple by challenging myself to cook from scratch twice a week. Yes, yes, this is a very unchallenging challenge but I really have sunk this low, so it sufficies for now (and can always be increased). I will also start counting wasted food by its value as motivation to reduce waste.
  3. Switch off & connect: I am genuinely happier when not online. I also waste a lot of time watching TV and negect other hobbies (such as reading!). So I shall have 2 days per week of no TV or internet (work is excluded for obvious reasons). I will also try harder to watch TV OR surf the net (very easy to (try to) do both at once which is not efficient or healthy!).
  4. Business challenge: I have BIG plans but they must remain secret for now! The future is bright…

I also plan to do the photography challenge (one themed photo per day for a month) at some point but I want to get going on the above first and re-visit this later. I may tweak the categories as some of them are too ‘samey’ for me.

Next job is to investigate why Mog started peeing in the corner of rooms this morning (strongly suspect my slightly later rising and feeding as the cause but want to rule out seasonality first!).

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Living the Good Life

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live The Good Life, much like Tom and Barbara Good, but on a larger scale. Maybe I’m being greedy but I want several acres in the countryside, not a surburban back garden! Anyway, this weekend was my first chance to try it out for real. I’m house sitting for my mum in Wales, where there are 6.5 acres housing 2 horses, 4 chickens and ten guinea pigs. There is also a house cat, who I barely saw as she is very suspicious of strangers 😦

I arrived on Thursday afternoon for my first shift – the putting to bed shift! My mum has the routine down to a fine art, including the most efficient way to gather food items from various locations and then feed things in the right order. I found it slightly overwhelming at first but after 2 days can do everything more or less in the right order without the list! The chickens and horses were most welcoming, both wanting cuddles and any attention you care to give. Not only that but the chickens also leave edible presents!

egg

It must be like a 50’s housewife in terms of travel between key locations in the kitchen before the idea of efficient kitchen arrangement ws invented. I must be a lot fitter!

Today (Saturday) my experience included the less pleasant side of smallholding, which is when one of your animals is ill. Last night on putting the guinea pigs away I suddenly noticed a patch of very watery/serumy blood on the floor in the girls’ shed. Shitshitshit! Examined each guinea in turn until I found one with a wound. My first thought was that she’d been bitten so I put her back in the cat basket (used to transport them between night shed and day run) to take her back to the house where I could examine her properly. Completed rest of routine hastily! Upon further examination it didn’t look like a bite or an abscess which meant it could be something more nefarious. It was after surgery hours and wasn’t an emergency so I cleaned the wound with salt water and left the pig in the cat basket overnight with plenty of hay and put her in a quiet bit of the house. This morning I called the vets as soon as they opened and got an appointment. The guinea (Grace) looked OK and was eating (in fact she ate a lot over night as I felt guilty…) so I’m glad she wasn’t pining or too stressed for her strange night in a cat basket. She now has a course of oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory solution and the vet will check her again on Friday to see what next steps to take (prob cell sample [FNA] or lump removal and biopsy). Poor Grace!

Today I realised I can be quite grumpy for no good reason. I went over to the yard and noticed there was only one section of hay left. I searched and searched through all the sheds and tack room/feed room etc. to no avail. Eventually I realised the obvious place was the trailer, which was probably used to fetch the bales…yes, there it was! Grumble grumble. Forgot how heavy hay was. Grumble grumble. Got the hay into the feed room and looked for a knife. Couldn’t find one. Realised in despair I’d have to go back to the house to get one (literally across the road). Realised I’d also forgotten the guinea pig medicine. Grumble grumble. Started to stomp back, grumbling under my breath. That’s when I realised. So what if I have to go back, it’s no big deal and nothing needs to be done fast here. I can take my time and not rush. I was much happier after that, and hopefully will be less grumpy when things go wrong next time! (I should also mention that when I got to the house I grabbed the medicine and went back over to realised I’d forgotten the knife so had to go back again!).

While thinking about the grumpiness I also decided that despite the grumpiness, miserableness of the almost continuous rain and sick animal stress this is the life I want to lead. Of course two and a half days is clearly not long enough to base a life-changing decision on but I might never try if I don’t just get on and do it. I just need a really really good friend to do it with me (or at least be within driving reach for when I need support!).

I’ll leave you with some photos I took while here…

 

Quick pond update

Too busy to blog but things are progressing in the garden of rampant growth. For now just an update on the pond.

Last week’s attempt to buy aquatic plants was thwarted by Catbus (my transport) having serious issues, which culminated in limping to the dealership and leaving him there until Monday when someone could look at the fault. Turned out to be just a dodgy hose so (almost) cheapest ever trip to a mechanic (Ford charged £100 for fault reading and pushing the hose back on versus local mechanic who did the above for free when Mr S’s car did the same…). Anyway, I managed to get a free Saturday again this weekend (thanks Mummy!) and went to try again. The lady at The Natural Garden was lovely and we had a nice chat about aquatic plants, horses and everything else and I ended up with…

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Water mint
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Arrowhead
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Bistort
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Ragged robin
Frogbit
Frogbit
IMAG0850
Water forget-me-not
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Marsh cinquefoil

There were several other plants on my wishlist, particularly oxygenators, but these were all she had that were native (some are cultivars). I plan to look online for oxygenators.

This is what the pond looks like now:

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And a gratuitous cat pic:

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Garden update

Still missing the rain…have used a lot of tap water on the wildflower meadow to try to keep the seeds viable (and induce them to sprout) but it’s full of nutrients as well as being relatively expensive (in water terms; in cost terms it’s dirt cheap!). Anyone know a rain dance?

The second set of peas and spring onions I planted directly into the veg bed failed to sprout and the bed had become utterly full of weeds. So today I took the plunge and dug the whole thing over by hand and removed all green things and as many root fragments as I could. Probably I should dig it over and add compost several times and try again next year but I am impatient! I had half a bag of (peat free) compost so I added that to one half and raked it through before planting:

  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Sweetcorn
  • Peas

It now looks like this:

Veg bed 4.5.15

I also planted some courgettes into two of my potato bags from last year. I also added plant food since the compost is from last year so is probably very low in nutrients now. I don’t like using artificial methods to grow anything so I need to work out if I can make my own. I do have some main crop Maris Pipers chitting but they are taking a long time and I probably shouldn’t have bought main crop as they need so much more room than earlies. I also get plenty of potatoes in my veg box so it doesn’t make much sense to grow them. I will see if my neighbour wants them.

Bags

The hawthorn suffered in the latest heavy (but short) rainfall event so I had to increase the height of the stake and re-tie it. Perhaps I need to undertake some sort of management. I hadn’t planned to coppcie it as that’s not really what I’m after but it seems to be too tall and spindly so I might have to.

Hawthorn

So it’s third time lucky with the veg! I also have some car tyres to make into pots but I don’t have any soil to put in them now so they will have to wait. I have some spare wildflower seeds from various sources which I might plant in the tyres. I want to put them around the pond but the grass is in the way! I also plan to buy some plug plants for the pond when I get time. It will help even out the levels as well as providing food, egg-laying surfaces and shelter etc. for wildlife.

The creation of a wildflower meadow

As previously mentioned, while digging the pond I also started a wildflower meadow to replace my front lawn. Well, why not? The bees need help, wildflowers are pretty to look at, it’ll be more biologically diverse and it will require less management than a lawn in the long term. Also it involves lots of digging: my fave!

My superb friends did the bulk of the hard work, digging out the turf in sections until after three days digging there was none left…

Highly recommended free labour!
Highly recommended free labour!

Sadly I failed to take a picture of the bare soil at this stage. But I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like :p

Next we tried to add soil to build up the level to equal the neighbouring concrete driveway. We did this by bashing the upside turves and breaking the soil up as much as possible. This probably generated about half a barrow load in total so we had a bit of an issue. I had some soil from the free labour gang’s old garden but this also didn’t look a lot once spread out. There was nothing we could do about that so we simply built up the pathway (see paving slabs in the pics below) using unbeaten turves and levelled these as best we could and then created a gradual slope from the edge by the driveway so falling off the edge was no longer a key risk of wandering around the front garden!

At this stage we were left with large clumps of soil, fairly dry and totally unsuitable for sowing wildflower seed. So I had to put off the sowing until I had worked the soil into roughly a medium tilth. This took a long time due to having to work (what a bore!) and both the husband and I spent an hour or two each day after work digging over the soil until eventually it was as good as it was going to get in its current dry state. Then we had to wait for rain. And wait. And wait.

The weekend just gone it finally rained (also good news for the pond, which by now had evaporated to the point of being two small puddles) and I was able to work the soil into what I am choosing to call a medium tilth (experienced gardeners would probably wince) using my homemade rake from this post.

A medium tilth?!
A medium tilth?!

At long last it was time to plant the seed! As the mix (Emorsgate EN1) contained plenty of grasses as well as wildflowers it was very easy to see where I was spreading the seed (so no need to mix with sand) although spreading it evenly was easier said than done! Once I had spread all the seed as evenly as I could I tramped down the seeds to give a good contact and gave the garden a quick water. Now I am watering every day while I am waiting for more rain (I dislike this immensely but hopefully in the long term watering will not be needed)!

Seeds!
Seeds!

Quick pond update:

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Just a quickie…

Yesterday was another fine, sunny day and so after cycling home from work I felt motivated enough to do a little planting. I finally gave up on the thyme and sowed some coriander in its place (I would have re-sown the thyme but I’ve lost it!). My peas and spring onions (I previously sowed half a row of each) never appeared – possibly due to the soil being too cold – and now I have planted another few seeds of each (a little further along the same row so I haven’t given up on them!). Same story with the lettuce and salad leaves – none came up, so I have started again (same soil). The parsley has sprouted so has gone into a real outside pot. The coriander, lettuce and salad leaves are back in mushroom pots in the ‘greenhouse’, which I also mended yesterday so it now has a cover again and may actually act as a greenhouse. Much as I would love a proper greenhouse there isn’t really room and they’re very expensive, so it’s ‘tent greenhouse’ or nothing!

There was a little rain this morning but it didn’t quite make up for the evporative losses in the pond so the level is slightly lower than when I finished! Come on rain! The single inhabitant (pond skater) has left and not returned 😦

Mr S has also just finished the second compost bin (made from old fence panels), which is another good job done. Next major job is to re-roof the shed. An easy one to put off but we really should get on with it!

The Pond

I am now with pond! Over Easter I dug a pond in my back garden with considerable help from my husband and two superb volunteers who may even one day dig a pond of their own and thus enable me to return the favour. Although I designed it myself and used various guides and forum posts to help me decide things like how deep to make it, I owe the ‘how to’ almost entirely to Dr Jeremy Biggs of Pond Conservation, and his very fine pond-digging blog post here. I missed out some steps and sometimes went my own way but generally followed his guidance and superior pond know-how*. Thanks Dr Biggs!

Thanks are also due to my lovely neighbour, who lent us a wheelbarrow and a spade (and encouragement!).

There’s not much point in me reproducing what Dr Biggs has already written so well so I have just picked a selection of pictures showing how we made progress over the 3 days. By the fourth day I was also well on my way to having a wildflower meadow in my front garden but that’s another story!

Outline marked out
Outline marked out
First cut
First cut
First ring of turf removed
First ring of turf removed
Turf removal progress
Turf removal progress
All turf gone!
All turf gone!
Levellin', levellin' levellin, we're levellin' like this...
Levellin’, levellin’ levellin, we’re levellin’ like this…
Deeper basins dug out
Deeper basins dug out
Spade deep
Spade deep
Liner
Liner (and underlay) from pondkeeper.com with 40 years guarantee
First water before securing liner with turves
First water before securing liner with turves
Adding substrate
Adding substrate
Filling it up
Filling it up
20 mins later
20 mins later
Just over an hour of filling
Just over an hour of filling
Another 15 mins later
Another 15 mins later
2 hours from the beginning
2 hours from the beginning
The next morning
The next morning – 2 whole water butts and the pond is just shy of full

Now I am just waiting for some more substrate to build up (dead leaves and such). I was excited to see a pond skater in there the second day but this has now left in high dudgeon due to lack of food! I think I will buy some plants at some point (not from a garden centre but very carefully selected species from a pond specialist). I now can’t wait for rain so the pond can full up!

*While I have a lot to do with pond management in my professional life I have never dug one myself and they are usually not garden-sized or for wildlife purposes!