Thursday, 7 May 2015

The story so far...

So how is it I find myself on a wet and windy Welsh hillside in May with two kids under 3, a dog, an inherited farm cat and a motley array of freeloading chickens?! This time last year I was an hour and a half into a two hour commute from the City to deepest, darkest Hampshire, together with hundreds of other grey suited, grey faced commuters, each one resolutely staring fixedly at the Evening Standard, reading about a life in London they have perhaps once enjoyed and now wonder upon fondly as they head back to their homes in "the country".

Now I should explain. Before my 12 years working in the City, I grew up in North Wales, enjoying a bucolic childhood complete with ponies, chickens and an endless supply of homegrown sprouts, the latter of which constituted my termly allowance when I fled my homeland to attend university in Scotland.

The statutory global jaunts to the Far East, Australia and the South Pacific ensued before I joined the hoards and masses of recent graduates in South West London, which became my home for over 7 years. Yet somehow, betwixt the crazy nights out and work all-nighters I still managed to grow a fairly healthly crop of tomatoes each year, made my own chutney and always had a selection of fresh herbs on the go. It never leaves you, you see.

And so, aged 30, I departed the Big Smoke for a small terraced house in a semi-rural Hampshire village with a mainline train station into Waterloo. The bare, small garden was soon transformed into raised beds, we invested in a greenhouse and begged and borrowed friends' fields and woodlands to keep chickens, raise a pig and forage for wild foods. Every Monday morning it was with heavy heart that I would hang up my gardening gloves and drag my laptop down to the station to do the whole thing all over again.

With baby number two on the way, the time seemed right to take the plunge. And so we quite literally upped sticks and headed for the hills, buying a farm in North Wales with 20 acres and a crumbling set of barns in various states of delapidation. This is where the 'vision' and the 'dream' have a lot to answer for. It's one thing having a vegetable garden of 25 metres. I don't think anything had quite prepared us for the huge weight of responsibility that comes with owning a load of fields and not really having a clue about how to manage them. Or the rain. Weeks of incessant rain. Less still did we have a scooby about tackling the rivers of water and mud streaming through the place and turning the lawn and the lower fields into a bog. Note to self: don't buy Welsh hill farms in January whilst heavily pregnant. It can really sap even the most optimistic of optimist's enthusiasm.

The hens were waiting expectantly for us when we moved in
Fast forward to May and the initial shock has subsided and we have now rented some of our land to the neighbouring farmer to graze his sheep. The 'bloody drainage issue', as it has now become affectionately known, rumbles on despite our attempts to lay pipes with the help of a mini-digger (much fun). We have welcomed three new hens to our family, Amber, Charcoal and Strike (somewhat confusingly all white) who join Boom-boom, Magic and Snowy (even more confusingly all black). We have sadly had to say goodbye to Rufus, who recently died of we have absolutely no idea what. Relations in the hen house seem to be improving and it no longer looks quite like 1960s South Africa when we shut them up at night.We are becoming obsessive about checking for eggs - after months with barely any, we now seem to be getting two or three a day - deep joy!  We have also seen the somewhat more abrupt departure of some unwelcome moles and foxes plus a few bunnies (the latter of which were delicious pan-fried in butter and garlic). There are new friends in the form of swallows, our resident aerobatics team who amaze us every day with the speed and dexterity with which they fly in and out of the barns, and a family of bats who apparently live in our roof. And the blossom and wild flowers have been nothing short of spectacular, not to mention the wild bird species: bullfinches, goldfinches, curlews, snipe, yellowhammers, nuthatches, treecreepers and tawny owls to name but a few. Our place also seems to be the avian equivalent of as we have a resident pair of pheasants and red-legged partridges who daily prompt slightly awkward questions from our toddler as they get jiggy with it on the lawn.
Anyone for rabbit?
Our veg plot is now visible again after a mammoth excavation effort to remove years of weeds and grass. We uncovered several gooseberry, rhubarb and currant bushes which despite a pretty brutal pruning now seem to be flourishing. Our £100 eBay rotavator has got its work cut out as we tackle the remaining beds and try and get some veg going this year. It is proving massively frustrating  to make progress whilst looking after two small kids who enjoy planting seeds everywhere but where you want them but I'm hopeful we'll have something other than rhubarb to eat later in the summer. I'm shamelessly accepting any unwanted seedlings this year regardless of what they are. We've also taken down a few trees for firewood in readiness for next winter. However we've already made in-roads into this as the spring has been so cold and we've got tucked into the green ash. Luckily, there's tons of trees and they're all OURS so we can do just what we want with them - hurrah!

And so that's the story so far. Next up: renewable energy, pigs, bees, fruit trees, the list goes on... Watch this space!

Mr Rotavator

Goodbye trees, hello firewood

Asparagus planted - now for the 4 year wait

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