Thank You – and an Update on my Veggies

I just wanted to start this post by saying thank you to everybody that left me comments after my last post. I do take the time to read them, and although I may not always reply individually, I am so thankful that there are people out there that take the time to say kind, thoughtful and supportive things. It means a lot. I often read out comments to Rich or phone my Mum to tell her what people have said. It’s partly what my blog is about – sharing my experiences with other people so that they can decide whether doing whatever I do (I guess you could call it a stab at The Good Life) is for them. Whether it’s writing to inspire others, to help people by sharing my experiences, swapping tips and advice, spreading awareness or just providing someone with a bit of mindless ramble to read on their coffee break – it’s the comments that keeps spurring me on to do this.

So thank you to each and every one of you. And thank you also for sharing your experiences too – as henkeepers, united we stand, divided we… eat our eggs!

ANYROAD…

Yes. Things have been a bit odd around here. The hens were such a focus for me and now it’s a bit strange having all this time where I’m not having to think or worry specifically about something else. I’ve now got the time to go for an evening walk in the nearby woods – we skirt the fields as the sun dips in the sky and then take the main path back through the woodland itself on the way back. The wild bluebells are starting to appear, and yesterday I found some wild garlic growing. I really wanted to plant some in my ‘woodland’ garden but I won’t be taking it from the wild. I need to find a supplier.

Speaking of which, at the weekend, being hen-less I decided I couldn’t just mooch around. So I tried to make the most of some reasonable weather and got sowing. I managed to put in some more onion sets, although one bag had been left out in the warm conservatory and had withered and gone soft. Bah! I also divided up some Cristo garlic cloves and plonked them. OK – I know – completely wrong time of year. But to be honest, if I don’t get them in now, I don’t know when I will.

I also sowed some Autumn King carrot seeds and a parsnip seed blend that Victoriana Nursery Gardens had sent through late last year. I know by now that the parsnips will take what feels like an age to germinate, so I’ve laid a load of chicken wire over the big veggie plot to stop the cats digging and the birds scratching. I WILL keep my seeds in rows this year!

I also mowed…or was taken for a walk by the mower, aka The Beast That Walks. Big job. Crap back. Rich had to take over halfway through.

Then there was the woodland garden seed sowing. I’d bought a woodland seed mixture (ragged robin, oxslip et al) and, running out of daylight, was a bit lazy in my sowing. I roughly raked over some bare soil, sowed the seeds, raked them over again and gave it a quick water. Who knows whether it’ll work. It hasn’t in the past, so I don’t know why I did it again. I’m hoping with perhaps a little more attention (like watering the seeds at least once more) and the fact that many of the plants are suited to dry shade, perhaps Lady Luck will do her thing.

Next on the list is sowing a mountain of sunflower seeds along one of the back borders. We want to encourage bees and hopefully, if we have a good summer, the sunflower heads will provide the birds with some ‘free food’. We’ve got the archetypal Giant individual sunflowers, as well as a dark-red and orange mix that grow around three foot tall. But before I can sow, I’ve got to clear a whole lot of nettles. I hate that job.

So what else?

Early potatoes are starting to get going now, but I’m erring them on to grow faster. Hopping from foot to foot and gesticulating at them and hope they’re taking notice.

My Cosmos are looking leggy because the rabbit keeps going on sitting on my seed trays and making them grow sideways. Rich, please can you make my greenhouse staging now? Cosmos = lots of bees.

Victorinia Garden Nursery’s Calabrese (Cabbage? I can’t remember!) selection are sowed and germinating nicely. Romanesco broccoli have done fantastically well in germination, and primo cabbages are super-fast at growing. Only 5 runnerbeans germinated, but seeing as I don’t really like them, and Rich only likes them raw, I think 5 plants are fine.

The butternut squash have been crap – the packet is a year old and I don’t have a heated propogator, so I reckon its a no-go. I might have another go, but I think I might just give my Mum some seeds and ask her to do the honours. Then later I’ll transplant them into some straw bales (stay tuned for more!).

My leeks look utterly unimpressive – like frail bits of thread, but as it’s early days I’m hoping they’ll come good. I’m also growing rosemary to add to my herb garden…the herb garden that I haven’t even started sowing the rest of my herbs for. Oh geesh. So much still to do.

THEN there’s my assortment of chillis and peppers. These are just growing in the conservatory and being complete buggers. But I seem to do this every year – forget that they too take an age to germinate. Patience, Lucy, patience.

All this food. I just can’t wait to start EATING it! That, I think, is possibly the best part. Or the bit where you pull the carrot/parsnip up and it’s huge and it just smells so good. Or where you take a look at your cabbages and are so surprised by how much they’ve grown in just a few days. Or you come back to the house with a trug stuffed with fresh food for tonight’s dinner. MMmmm.

I’ve still got so much to do, but am fast running out of space. So this is it. this is where I start telling you about my attempts to make the most of less space. This is, after all, the Smallest Smallholding. Even if we do currently lack any bi-ped, feathery residents. Later this year. I promise. After I’ve had a holiday. Good grief, I need a holiday!

I’m feeling a bit stressed – oh, there’s a surprise!

Wow. Sunshine. Quite a lot of it. Am I actually in England? Yes, I think so. And I reckon Spring has arrived.

On the way to work, I manage to catch a glimpse of spring lambs gallavanting around the fields. I see buds everywhere. I’ve already seen a multitude of bees, butterflies and nesting birds. Yep, definitely spring.

I’ve been busy again. Very busy in my Smallest Smallholding. We’ve almost finished cutting all the hedges, clearing out some of the borders (although there’s still a lot of nettle removal to do…mehh!), cutting back and digging up brambles, bindweed, ivy and a runaway honeysuckle, and even managed a preliminary grass cut. All looks a little bit neater and I feel like I’m actually making some progress so far this year.

I also managed to get my Charlotte potatoes in, using the last of the compost from our what-was-gargantuan compost heap. My tent cloche has been put up on one end, just in case we have frosts. I’ve heard that we’re expecting colder weather again next week, so at least half of my crop will be protected…unless I can dig out some thermal horticultural fleece from the depths of the shed.

And, shock horror! I managed to get down to the allotment this weekend too! Another small plot dug out, another ten tonnes of twitch removed, and the red onions are in. I hoed around the leeks and autumn onions (which are pretty small and don’t look like they’re going to seed anytime soon), and marvelled at the fact that we’ve made it over the halfway mark in clearing the allotment. Mum was down there earlier this week and had a friendly visitor in a blue boiler suit. One of the “old boys” came over for a chat (and some advice…”you wants to get them there’s onions out before they go to seed!”) and informed mum that “old Bill”, our allotment’s previous tenant, used to continually rotivate the twitch to get rid of it. Which explains why a large portion of our plot is now like an underground spaghetti junction. Thanks, Bill!

So what’s up with me? Well I’m still contracting full time, and I’m learning a heck of a lot on this job. Which is great. I am struggling to make ends meet though, and am having to take on freelance work in the evenings. It’s really hard. I feel constantly “on” and I can’t just come home and switch off. And it doesn’t help that Maureen has been diagnosed with kidney disease, and is now only interested in eating round lettuce and grapes. Nothing else really. So we don’t expect that she’ll be with us for too much longer. She had a good day on Friday, beetling around and generally looking ok. But this weekend she’s been very quiet, nodding off quite often and generally keeping herself to herself.

Yoko is also proving difficult. Whilst, in herself, she seems to be getting more and more investigative and loud – almost going back to her ‘old’ self – she’s started internally laying again. Yoko has to be seen to be believed. She’s massive underneath. So we’re at a bit of a crossroads with her. We’ve heard about hormone therapy to stop her laying (Suprelorin, for those of you that are interested), but that doesn’t solve or even attempt to solve the problem of her big mass. Her walking isn’t great, and she is very warm. She wouldn’t cope in hot weather. So what do we do – allow her to go on, pretty content with things as she is, and then say goodbye when she just can’t cope with it anymore, or attempt to do something now in the way of surgery (draining), and risk her life…because she’ll probably die anyway. It’s making my head explode. Almost literally. We have a lot of difficult decisions coming.

With work, extra freelance work, family things, sick chickens…I’m literally sitting here with fizzy arms and major tension headaches. At least that’s what I hope they are. When I get stressed, I get pains, aches, and funny symptoms. And then I think there’s everything in the world wrong with me, which stresses me out even more. It’s a stupid Catch-22 situation. Those of you that read this blog will realise I’m a pretty anxious person, and right now I feel like I really, really need a break and a holiday. It’s not possible at the moment though.

OK, so I’m a lucky girl in many respects, and I understand that. I’m thankful for a lot of the things in my life, because I’ve had it pretty damned good compared to a lot of people. But I seem to have had this constant stress in my life since about 2005, and I just want to feel a bit carefree and ‘normal’ again. Not be worrying about the fact that I have a pain in my head/neck/chest/back/arm, or that I don’t know how I’m going to claw my way out of constant debt, or worry about my relative’s illnesses and conditions, or worry about my perpetually ill chickens, or worrying about family issues that I have no control over…I’m still reeling a bit from losing Nannie last year, and all the impact it’s had on me. Like I said, it tends to manfest itself in concerns about my own health. I am going to start a bit of grief counselling soon I think. I have a referral, so I think it’s something that I need to do to help me get back to a healthy state of mind. And I could also do with a weekly massage – hmmm, bit of a pipe dream (unless I can persuade Rich!). I thought I would feel ashamed about admitting about going for counselling on the blogosphere, but you know…it’s just the way it is. I had stress. It was intense, and I just need to work through making sense of it. No shame in that, I don’t think. I think my main goal is to break out of this cycle of being used to worrying and stressing about things in my life that I can’t necessarily control. To reach the end of 2009 having achieved that would be a massive step for me.

I also didn’t realise when I took on the ex-batts how attached I would get, and how much illness I would be dealing with. I guess with their health, it’s just pot luck, in a way.  There are many people that have ex-batts that are relatively unproblematic. Others that lose their hens within days of rescuing them. I’m SO glad I got my girls, and I’m glad I could give them a life they wouldn’t have known otherwise. But it’s been a struggle at times (a lot of times!), and just because of the person that I am, it’s been stressful to feel out of control when they’re ill and there’s nothing I can do to ‘fix’ them. Which begs the question, why am I planning on having more in the future? Well, because I feel a responsibility to give them a home, and a retirement they deserve.  In some ways, I wish I didn’t have to. I wish there wasn’t a battery system. I wish they weren’t seen as a kind of ‘machine’ that can be produced, used, and spent as if pretty worthless.

If my remaining girls go within a short time of each other, we’ll have a break from keeping hens for a while.  That I know. That I need. It’s been a hard decision to come to, as keeping my ex-batties has become a huge part of who I feel I am, and how my life has changed into this attempt at the ‘good life’ over the past two or three years. I’ll feel strange without them, but I just think if things go a certain way, I’ll need some time to just take a breather from it.

But if Maureen goes before Yoko, and Yoko looks set to go on (and blow me, being the stubborn bird that she is, she probably will), then we’ll have to get a couple more because Yoko goes beserk whenever Maureen is out of range.

It’s just a waiting game at the moment. And I’m trying to relax and be philosophical about it. Trying!

But I’ll tell you what. Sunshine has magical, medicinal and spiritual properties. A few narcissi that I shoved in the ground a few weeks ago have popped up and are in bloom. That was a nice surprise. And my Oxalis that I planted in my mini woodland garden are flourishing. Mr Bee is very happy. And I’m glad that inbetween work, freelance work and stressing, I’ve been able to either disappear in the world of Harry Potter, or escape outside.

Bugger. I think I have an ear infection.

See?

Anyway – personal rant aside – I think I am starting to get set to do some sowing next week. I’ve almost had to bully poor Rich into making some of my greenhouse staging, so I have somewhere to put the seed trays. And when payday arrives, I’m off down the plant nursery via the glass shop, where I’m finally going to replace the missing rood panels in my greenhouse.

Despite how things are at the moment, I have to keep in mind that there are so many things to look forward to. That, I know.