A new addition

Cat no 16 has been rehomed to us via Cats Protection. She was being fostered after being dumped for allegedly being vicious; we suspect she was beaten, poor little love. She’s about 3ish, black and white with a burglar’s mask, and we’ve renamed her Bandit. Currently ensconced in the dining room until the new doors and windows are done in a couple of weeks. She’s very sweet and is instantly on our laps but hates being on her own, so is frantic for attention. She sometimes nips and slaps when you leave the room, but only halfheartedly. We sit in and stroke her whenever we can. She’ll be able to hold her own against all the others. One of our half Maine Coons Bonnie is desperate to get in there and be friends.

Land plans

We’re slowly pulling together our ideas for the land. The formal garden is my pet project and will be based on the writings of Beverley Nichols. The original ‘bright young thing’ in the 1920s, he was a prolific and successful writer on numerous topics. My favourite books of his are the house trilogies about how he reclaimed three separate houses and gardens. I fell in love with ‘Merry Hall’ at a very young age, as my Mum loved his writing, and I love the idea of a 1930s/1940s relaxed country cottage garden, where plants rather than hard structures are the centrepiece. It helps that he adored cats.

A Pagan friend who works as a gardener has walked the land with us this morning, and shared his knowledge with us. A bonus was finding several pots of lovage with their gorgeous bitter-aniseed leaves. He and his colleague will be helping with priority jobs such as removing all the pyracantha and ivy from the house itself. That has to be Number One, and then the beds there will be used for perennial kitchen herbs. The bamboo has to come up as well as it’s getting thuggish and may well be pushing up the paving slabs in what will be the hot tub area. He’s promised us some hazel and other hedgerow whips, and in turn will be taking things we don’t want to keep such as all the phormiums. He rehomed one of the huge aspidistras in the greenhouse, identified some plants and trees for us, and will come back with a work schedule. A really nice time this morning.

Apart from an initial burst of ‘that must be done now,’ the garden and land will be a longterm project. We will learn how to prune properly. He thinks the orchard is wonderful – we have cherry trees in amongst the apples and pears, but it’s too densely planted, so everything’s starved of air and covered with lichen and moss. He did say the best way to clear the agricultural land is to borrow a couple of goats, which was music to my ears – I wanted goats but we couldn’t manage them permanently, so maybe someone local will lend us a some for a couple of weeks to eat all the weeds. Otherwise the veg bed will need two years under membrane to kill off the weeds and sterilise the soil. We’ll still have the polytunnel and greenhouse in the meantime for veg. We’ll be calling on the Pagan community to see if anyone wants to be part of a work party under direction in exchange for hospitality.

Leaks and onions

Specifically, gas leaks. The installation of the new range cooker didn’t go as planned as they detected a gas leak. A week without heating and hot water except the one remaining dribble of an electric shower, but 3 gas leaks were repaired, and the cooker is being properly installed next week so we can actually cook again.

Got the water board out to try and detect the water leak that next door said they could hear, but nothing found so water is go at the moment. Next phase is – get in a plumber to fit two new showers, replace the kitchen sink which is cracked, and fix a leak from the washing machine. Also need to get the cesspit emptied as it seems to have filled rapidly with all the rain and extra human water usage.

More infrastructure stuff but a later phase – the patio doors are being done in a couple of weeks. Once they’re sorted, we can extend the patio, move the whirligig dryer there, and use the existing enclosed whirligig courtyard for the hot tub. May not happen for this summer, but you never know. The two windows at the front of the house (study and bedroom) are also being replaced as the current ones aren’t designed to open at all, and are rotting wood and yuck. Next door said there was a bee swarm in the chimney last year that the old owner refused to sort. He shut the floor and hoovered up dead bees, but they went down next door’s chimney and badly stung people, so we reassured them that if it happens again we will get it professionally sorted. That resulted in another homemade cake from Mrs Next Door.

Need to get an electrician round to check the wiring, because lights are blowing and switches are tripping. Really hoping we don’t have to rewire the whole house.

Internet remains an issue; we’re on a fixed package (the best we could get for this rural area), so we’re all using phone data and not streaming any TV. Husband’s office will be hardwired next week as the WiFi is not working there. We’re thinking about a NAS – a home network which won’t use data on WiFi – but I’m leaving that the resident IT geek.

On the greenery front, we have our first onion set sprouting in the polytunnel, and Jersey Royals chitting in my study. In the orchard, the first apple and pear blossom is coming out. Found some random things which may be lilies, so they’ll have to go as they’re poisonous to cats. We’ve marked out the area for veg beds, with an additional fenced area with extra chicken shed to become more veg beds for a really good rotation scheme. More than enough land to grow enough veg for 4 people for the year – about the size of a decent allowment. An extra wildish open area will be a mahoosive soft fruit cage. The 3-bin compost thing has been built, and scraps are going into it.

Back in the formal garden area, bamboo is being hacked bit by bit, and husband has started removing all the ivy and cotoneaster from the side of the house and the outbuilding roof/wall. The pig area will be husband’s woodland area with pond once we get rid of the pig ark. Also need to get rid of the huge smoker from the chicken area behind the garage, as this is designated for extra parking. The main chicken area needs completely new fencing including roof fencing, and splitting in two with two new chicken sheds. Then we can think about rescuing some chooks; next door have a Pekin cockerel they’re giving us.

I have lots of herb and salad leaves seeds to sow into standalone plastic trugs. We get through mounds of basil and coriander, and there are some perennial herbs I want to start.

We’re starting to see some shape to the project. Nice and sunny – enjoy your weekends!

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.