Breathing space

The first frenzy is over. Even though we’re only about half unpacked, Mike and I walked the land in the sunshine and did some basic planning:

  • The chicken area will be fully enclosed including the top to foxproof it. Within the 50′ x 25′ area will be two identical 3m x 6m fully enclosed runs with a recycled plastic smart chicken shack each, so we can rotate them and let the land rest. More than enough space for 5 or 6 chickens to start with; hope to get that sorted by the summer so we can rescue some poor girls. Going to a local poultry auction on Sunday just to have a look – I didn’t realise there were so many different types of chickens. Ours will be the basic brown hybrids, probably in a tattered sorry state when we get them. Any eggs they give us will be gratefully received, and they’ll live out the rest of their lives in freedom.
  • Part of the existing chicken area behind the garage will be reclaimed for parking for 3 more cars.
  • Mike’s woodland and pond bed will be where the old pigpen is (need to find a home for that) and will be roughly 22m x 12m. There might be a firepit. Round the road-edges of the land we’ll be planting more hedgerow stuff to bulk up the boundaries.
  • The fruit cage will be 8m x 5.5m and I will fill it with yummy things for jams. Waiting for growing season to kick off so I can properly see what fruit and nut trees we have.
  • The main veg bed area is approx 8m x 11m; there’s a second area about the same size which is currently unallocated, but could be for permanent stuff like rhubarb.
  • Back in the formal garden, the 9′ x 10′ greenhouse will be replaced with a 10′ x 12′ one, with new cold frames and a proper heating system.
  • The existing double haybarn needs to come down before it falls down. It will be replaced with a two-room building – one half for a multigym and one half as a photography studio.
  • Behind the haybarn will be an additional storage building/bike shed.
  • We’re also planning purpose-built runs for cat fostering for Waltham Forest Cats Protection.
  • A hot tub will eventually go on the patio area but probably not this year; same with a chimenea.
  • The first room of the outbuilding is currently an overflow of kitchen and laundry, and will stay that way, with possible additional use for making and storing wine/cider/jams etc. The roof is infested with ivy and will be cleared when we have better weather. Then we can gasp at how awful the roof is and sort it out. The outbuilding is really only half finished throughout and I hate the sight of breezeblocks.
  • The second room of the outbuilding is ideal for storing big gardening stuff.
  • The third room is a loo – always handy! I remember our allotment days peeing in a bucket behind the shed.
  • Mike’s huge office over the garage has had a first coat of paint on the pine cladding.
  • The workshop and garage are just full of stuff – ours and the previous owner’s.
  • We’re going to have to spend a fortune on fencing and infrastructure stuff because it’s all falling down. We’ll do it bit by bit. At this stage we’re still doing housey stuff, so it’ll take a couple of years before it’s all fully functioning as a smallholding again, but we have the beginnings of a plan.


First growing things

We’re not going to grow too much this first year, but we’ve been in the house for 6 days now, are mostly unpacked, and we’ve walked the land (through the mud and snow). I’m ready to start, so I’ve ordered:

  • Jersey Royals (aka International Kidney)
  • Tomatoes – Aviditas and Santorange (mini tomatoes)
  • Cucumber – Mini Star
  • Aubergine – Scorpio
  • French climbing beans – Cobra
  • Sweetcorn – Vanilla Sweet
  • Peas – Ambassador
  • Pepper – Chelsea (yellow)
  • Spring onions – red & white mixed
  • Maincrop onions – Rumba, Fen Early and Red Fen
  • Courgette – Goldmine
  • Spaghetti squash

Some will go in the polytunnel. The sweetcorn will go in a block outside. The spuds will go in potato bags. The climbing beans will grow up tripods of canes. The rest we’ll just wing it and see where we end up. Results may be unpredictable, as there’s a rabbit warren under and around the polytunnel (a bunny shot out the door the other day), but there’s also a den of foxes at the far end of our land (so our nice new neighbours tell us as they’ve lost breed chickens to them), so who knows. Next on the list will be a raised herb bed by the kitchen door for the more usual stuff like basil and coriander; the previous owner left us 10 types of mint, and some lovely sage on the front bank (and the gnarliest cactus ever with some sad aspidistras in the greenhouse). Might do another raised trug on the patio for salad leaves.


Finally in

Finally moved in yesterday. Got here to find the vendor hadn’t properly moved out, had too small a lorry and was trying to load huge plants on a trailer. He’s old and shaky, so we helped him. We had said early on in the buying process that we were laidback and if he needed to keave stuff, that was fine. Boy did he take the mickey on that one! He was supposed to be out by 1pm and we were still moving his stuff at 5pm. We had to pile his remaining stuff in the garage for him to collect today. He’d forgotten his meds, his glasses, important paperwork …

Then we found the shells and gunpowder in the workshop, and then his son-in-law brought down 20 guns from the loft … meanwhile the clock was ticking for our removals firm who couldn’t work later than 7pm. We had 5 cats in carriers in the second haybarn, and another 10 in the Cats Protection Waltham Forest van, who sat so patiently for 6 hours before they could bring all the  cats in. The Southend contingent also moved in their stuff. Ordered in Indian and went to bed.

Today the fun starts … woken at 4.30 by exploring cats. Finding a towel and having a shower would be a nice start!

One cat down; 4 more to go

KitKat went to the Cats Protection Penthouse yesterday after a successful vet visit to sort his teeth; CP are collecting TC, Liss, Blakey and Podrick at lunchtime. Catching Liss and Blakey will be hard and will involve putting the bed on its end so they can’t hide under it, then fishing them out from any hiding places they can find in the bedroom. We’ve never been able to pick Liss up in the 16 years we’ve had her – she turns into a petrified running thing, and Blakey’s a bit of an unknown quantity. Loves a cuddle in bed but tends to panic if picked up. TC will bite; Podrick will probably do nothing. Once they’re gone and out of the way, we can really start sorting, switching off fridge-freezer etc. The remaining 10 cats will just stay out of the way. Removals are arriving tomorrow 8.30-9.30 for the first round of packing. Will switch off and unplug the computer later tonight in readiness, so probably no more updates on here unless I can get this blog to work on my phone. Can’t believe it’s really happening.

The final stretch

Finishing work tomorrow until 26th March. One older cat having teeth out on Thursday. Major cleaning and sorting Thursday and Friday, plus final ring round of services like Sky. Some flighty cats going to Cats Protection Friday until Monday just to make things a little easier. Removals turning up Saturday to do most of the packing and loading the van. Sunday we clean in a minimalist house – not expecting much to be there except a bed and the WiFi router. Monday removals are back for the final lot, Cats Protection back to take remaining cats up to 11 in their van, and we take the 4 oldest in our car. Southend contingent start their lorry and car journey with belongings and 4 degus. And bingo – assuming no hold-ups with completion, we all move in together on Monday afternoon. Removals will dump numbered boxes in rooms. Big pot of tea will be needed, and reconstruct beds before collapsing. Tuesday will be food shopping and furniture ordering before we start properly unpacking, registering with doctor, council, new water supplier etc. WiFi should be plug and play from when we arrive. Then we look at the land and think ‘Wow – Spring is on its way; a seed spreadsheet is needed.’ The menfolk can start doing major stuff, while we women sort out food and arranging the kitchen, because we know exactly what our priority is. The kitchen will be the heart of our home, and what a kitchen it is – enough space to feed an army. The Southenders haven’t seen the house or land yet – it’s going to blow their minds. Smugness will ensue … and relief that we finally made it after 7 months.

Cat no 16

Female, black and white, 3-4 years, seems to have been abused or beaten after attacking the small child she lived with. Currently being fostered in Wales and has some character issues, but will be transported down to East London over the next couple of weeks and all sorted medically, before she joins our other 15 cats in the van to Kent on moving day. Will spend a month or so in my new study on her own with lots of TLC, then will be given the choice of living in the house or taking up residence in the open-fronted haybarn – whichever she prefers.