After 5 weeks away in Australia, we’re back and ready to face the (over)growth of spring!
The wisteria welcomed us home with its best show of flowers yet. This made me extremely happy because I had spent several hours hard-pruning it in late March. Pruning is always a worrying task for me because I’m never sure if I’m doing it ‘right’.
But it would appear that I did something right this time!
The rest of the place was wild…but just over a week after landing we’ve managed to tame it again.
The chickens were locked up in their predator-proof enclosure for the entire time we were away so were slightly mistrustful when we opened their gate…but it didn’t take them long to make a dash for freedom, their first priority being a dust bath in my garden…
We have an area along from the fienile that is terraced. This space used to be a vineyard that was once full of productive moscato vines but it is now simply a grassy stairway that demands rather a bit too much attention in terms of maintenance.
After falling in love with the shape and blossom of our friends’ almond trees, we decided this terrace would make a perfect almond grove.
In early spring last year, we planted 7 almond trees in a row. We wanted to plant more but we first needed to be sure that almond trees would survive our frosty valley winters.
But it became immediately apparent that we first needed to help them through a particularly hot and dry summer! Last year we saw no rain for months and had to deep-water our new little trees twice weekly to make sure they survived!
Then winter was upon us and it was also harsh. It was wet and cold, with temperatures plummeting to -6 degrees for extended periods of time.
Now, after a long year of waiting and caring for our new trees, spring has arrived and a close inspection of our trees reveals that tiny white-tipped buds have emerged from the waking branches. They will give us a lovely blossom show in a few more weeks.
So…a couple of weeks ago we purchased another 7…and planted them immediately…in a parallel line.
Now we can finally say that we have an almond ‘grove’ rather than an almond ‘line’…
I mentioned last week that we have been loitering busily behind the fienile…
There is no drainage behind the fienile, so the fallen earth from the bank that has been building up against the rear wall of the building stays wet and heavy long after rain and creates a constantly damp environment.
Since we have limited flat space around the house and it would be nice to utilize this area more we have decided to remove the build-up and install proper drainage.
Stu has been digging…rather a lot…possibly over 200 wheelbarrow loads.
He has been tipping the dirt over the edge of the bank near the chicken coop where the land falls away steeply. At the same time, I’ve been identifying rocks unsuitable for stonemason work and tipping them into Stu’s newly displaced dirt.
This is our version of reclamation / retaining and it has been very effective! The rocks will provide support for the dirt and the dirt will provide beauty (once the grass grows on it!).
This week, Stu had removed enough of the dirt to install the drainage.
Now the pressure is well and truly on me to finish clearing the rubbish pile so that Stu can continue the earth moving process between the fienile and the bank and create the nice dry useful area that we dream of…
Since we started the renovation, we’ve been gathering all sorts of demolition and construction detritus and ‘hiding’ it behind the fienile.
But now that the upper fienile has been renovated into our entertainment area, we find that our guests are peering down over our monstrous rubbish pile!
Something had to be done…
“You’ll need a bobcat to move that amount of rubbish!” said one friend.
“Pay someone to do it!” said another.
Well, funds are limited and we have the time…so we started to sort through the mound ourselves in autumn.
We established fairly quickly that the pile contained various like-items that needed to be sorted into different piles. This involved handling thousands of individual bits and pieces.
After a few days of this back-breaking work, we had reduced the pile by half and created several more piles: a pile of rusty steel, another of broken tiles, another of broken bricks and yet more of rocks!
Then winter came and we stopped…but with spring now just around the corner we have again focused our attention on this area.
Stu has been removing fallen earth from the back wall of the fienile while I’ve been playing in the rubbish pile.
We plan to build a dry rock wall behind the fienile to keep the earth back in the future. To do this, we need a methodical approach to rock-sorting. So I’ve been dividing the rocks into 4 piles: one pile for large rocks, another for medium rocks, another for small rocks and yet another for rocks that are completely unsuitable for stonemason work.
So now I have a total of 7 piles: steel, tiles, bricks, rocks, rocks, rocks and more rocks…
Once I have finished sorting the rubbish, I will start to build the rock wall across the end of the space while Stu will continue to remove fallen dirt from the larger flat area.
When the area is finished, it will be a wide and well-organised storage place for garden machinery and construction materials.
The sun is out (albeit very spasmodically).
These late winter days always act as a warning to get pruning and tidying before it’s too late and the Spring growth is upon us!
So I’ve spent the last week obsessively pruning everything I can see. I started with the blackberry, then moved on to the plum trees, the apple trees and finally the wisteria.
It is exhausting work because a pair of clippers, a pair of loppers and a rather awkward ladder has to follow me everywhere. And of course that ladder has to be moved, stabilized and climbed up and down hundreds of times!
Arms raised, heavy tool in hand, neck stretched back, eyes up.
I certainly feel every bit of the pain today…but when these beautiful plants show off their fruit and flowers in another few months it will have been worthwhile!
Three years ago, we had a trauma…just one of many challenges we’ve experienced here…
I wrote about this particular trauma in a blog post dated 29 October 2013.
It involved wasps, or more to the point, a massive wasp nest in the wooden beam above one of the windows in our bedroom.
For some time, I’d been noticing that the plaster above the window was a different texture. I’d regularly poked it wondering what was going on under the relatively smooth exterior until finally one day I poked too hard and made a hole!
I’d had a quick look into the hole. Several wasps were crawling around inside in a slightly agitated state. But more worrying than this sight was the sheer volume of the buzzing that emanated from the gap. The noise promised numbers in the hundreds.
I’d grabbed something to plug the hole with (a sock?) and screamed for Stu.
When Stu arrived, he’d delayed assistance until he’d interrogated me as to why I’d been poking holes in the plaster. Luckily he realized fairly quickly that the situation was urgent and discussion (or argument?) could occur later. After all, I was standing there with my arm extended plugging a hole full of hundreds of wasps that wouldn’t be too happy to be even more disturbed!
He’d run downstairs and returned with a piece of foam, a flat timber plank and a piece of timber post and somehow erected a seal/support against the plaster.
We’d been able to sleep easy knowing that we wouldn’t be stung to death during the night.
A few weeks later, a pest controller had arrived to eradicate the wasps. He discovered quickly that our temporary arrangement had been gradually eaten through by the wasps and we were again in danger of a deadly wasp attack! He quickly did what he had to do, then blocked the hole with silicon to discourage further infestations until we were able to properly restore the window.
But it’s very easy to be distracted with other jobs here and somehow we’d managed to leave the window like this for 3 years.
Suddenly in September last year, I noticed new changes in the plaster and started using my finger all over again!
You guessed it…more plaster fell down…but this time without the buzzing noise…
I called Stu and after a short discussion we decided that the rest of the plaster was going to crumble if we didn’t make a proper repair to the window.
First, Stu jack-hammered the plaster off to reveal the original stonework. He exposed some fairly large gaps in the process and jammed steel wool into these holes. We didn’t want to be woken by any animal or vermin that might deem our bedroom to be an ideal winter nesting spot!
We slept in our newly holey but stuffed up bedroom for a few weeks before Stu shored up the wooden beams above the window and I pointed the rocks.
We now sleep in a bedroom that is fully sealed and far more beautiful. The previously plastered window was nowhere near as attractive as the newly exposed stonework and somehow the bedroom looks more balanced than it used to.
Some jobs just take time…but the wait is always worth it…
This week we buried the ravaged body of one of our chickens.
When we first brought our chickens home, we had determined that we would give them a life of free ranging freedom. For 2-3 months they have been free ranging almost every day. We’ve been keeping a very regular eye on them; usually just to check that they were safe and at other times to observe the dynamics of our little extended family.
The single most amazing thing we’ve learned about our chickens is that they have such individual personalities!
We learned that Omlet was always the first to lay, then Yolko Ono, then Drumstick. Three eggs every single day, even during our dark winter.
We noticed that Horris was possessive of Drumstick and that Drumstick was arrogant and comfortable in her favoured position. We saw that Yolko Ono’s broken beak meant that she had to work harder to eat as much as the others. We learned that Omlet was an adventurous rebel, full of hope for what lay just beyond the fence. We observed that Yolko Ono and Omlet were inseparable: Omlet would invariably find an escape route from the area around the house, then call Yolko Ono to follow her. Yolko Ono always followed her.
In recent weeks, we’d watched Omlet become more and more adventurous, until one day this week she encouraged the family to reach yet further away from the house and deeper into the forest.
As we always do, we ventured outside several times that day in search of them.
But after lunch we heard a strange noise, and when Stu went out to investigate he returned with the news that ‘one of the black chickens is dead’ and ‘I disturbed a black and white animal’ and ‘Horris and Drumstick are really stressed’.
At first I wouldn’t believe him…but his face, which was dark and angry, told me that he was speaking the truth.
I found Omlet lying in the grass, one wing ripped off, her eyes closed and her body cold. I patted her gently on her neck and apologized for allowing her to venture into danger.
Then I carried her home.
Stu dug a hole in my flower garden and we placed our little casualty to rest.
We coaxed Horris and Drumstick out from their refuge under the car and back to the safety of their coop, then went off in search of Yolko Ono.
After multiple search attempts in the forest, we finally decided that Yolko Ono also must have been killed or taken.
But just before dark, she returned home. Several of her large tail feathers were missing and she was crying a strange and lonely lament. She let me pick her up.
We have learned the hard way. Chickens are innocent. Free ranging can be dangerous for them.
But as I write this my mind returns to the forest, where a large patch of disturbed ground can be found. This patch contains more than simply the enthusiastic scratchings of a family of chickens. It contains the spirit of Omlet: always hopeful, prepared to push the boundaries, wild and free.