Catching time

spring flowers

Last week apparently it was the beginning of spring, and although we had one day of glorious blue skies and sunshine, it still feels very much like we’re stuck in the mud and droll greyness of winter. The only clue that spring may be on its way are the vivid yellow daffodils bravely poking their heads above the rain-soaked soil under the fruit trees, and a few slightly gnarled tulip leaves that have also begun to emerge.

My life has been so work and pregnancy-centric for the last few weeks that I feel like I’ve been living in a bubble. I just get through each day and I long for a bit of quiet time at the weekends. Our time as just “me and Rich” (and a small mengarie of fluffy companions) is getting shorter and shorter each week. Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited about what the future holds but I also want to make sure that Rich and I make the most of being able to just take off whenever we feel like it, without the need to coordinate this and that. OK, so the reality is we still need to make sure everyone is fed and watered and OK here, but before our world is turned upside down I want to enjoy it.

I’m not quite there at the moment.

I think we need to book some time out for ourselves. Everything feels so relentless and it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore all the things that need doing. I wish so much that I could just afford to stop now and take a big rest, catch my breath and have the time to work through this huge long list of house renovations, garden jobs, baby prep and everything else in between that needs sorting out.

I’ve been so focused on work and trying to get prepped financially that I feel like I’ve neglected the most important thing right now; staying happy, staying positive and being healthy. To do that, I need time and I need head space. I don’t know if it’s the hormones but sometimes I feel like bursting out crying because I feel like I’m so unprepared and overwhelmed. It quickly passes because I know deep down that I can do it. I just feel like I’m running out of steam and I just want some quiet time, just for us, to do what we need to do and at the pace we need to do it. So I can bring this baby into the world and make sure I don’t lose myself.

Wishful thinking?

Spring Clean Begins Here

purple crocus

A few days ago I started prepping the veg plots for spring – cutting down our Autumn fruiting raspberries, taking out runners, turning the soil over, – just forking through the detritus of autumn and winter before Spring arrives. If it arrives. I didn’t get too far with the preparations – if truth be known, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’m somewhat of a fair-weather gardener and vegetable grower, and it has been bitterly cold here for weeks. So not a lot has been done over the winter at all. I have done some shopping though… there’s something very satisfying about building a larder of seed packets and bulbs for the next growing season.

But despite the weather forecasters warning that this cold spell is set to continue into March, I’m trying to steel myself and get on with getting my house (or Smallest Smallholding) in order before spring arrives. Daffodil shoots and crocuses are poking through, the days are perceptibly longer, and the blackbirds are staying up in the evenings to sing – all of which gives me hope that the new season is much closer than it feels right now. I’ve had my fill of long, dark evenings. I crave the warmth of the sun on my skin, and when its out and shining, I feel revived again.

What doesn’t help matters is that the jobs that we need to get on top of before Spring are neither interesting or particularly motivating. The greenhouse needs repairing after three panels were smashed during the recent windy spell, and my greenhouse needs gutting, cleaning and organising before I start the new sowings. That is a job I would gladly pay someone else to do. We want to get a new compost heap up and running as our current one is overflowing, and then there’s the usual weeding, digging, soil conditioning. None of which I am inclined to feel like doing when my hands and feet are numb with cold (bad circulation), my hair is stuck to my face due to persistent drizzle (long hair), and my feet are clod with mud (big feet). Le sigh. Yes, winter, I’ve had enough of you. Please leave soon.

So for now, I’m starting a spring clean inside the house. Turning out clothes that have sat in my wardrobe for a couple of years untouched, getting rid of ridiculously high shoes that I can’t wear for more than 10 minutes without acute pain. In the utility room, getting rid of those tins of paint that have gone hard, rusty tools – all the bits that for some reason, we keep hold of, but  never use. All that can be sent to the charity shop and recycling centre will find their way there. We try to minimise what goes to landfill.

Part of my pre-spring prep has also involved I’m also on the lookout for a small but sturdy steel or aluminium-framed polytunnel to fix in over one of the plots – but having just forked out for my self assessment tax bill, and with a payment on account looming in July, I’m having to watch the pennies very closely. So there’s no telling whether that particular plan will come into fruition this season. Let’s hope so. I’ll keep researching and let you know how it goes.

Finances, Greenhouse Staging and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Well I’ve gone and done it. After three or more years of waiting for Rich to have the time and inclination to build my greenhouse staging, I bit the bullet and ordered some online, just to get me started. It’s three tier staging – 4ft long and 2ft wide and about a third of the total staging I need, but it’s all I can afford (well, I can’t even afford that at the moment) right now. But hey ho, when needs must. And I really really need it this year to get me growing properly. I didn’t want to fill up our conservatory with seedlings that get zapped in the intense heat in there.

So there. It’s a UK company, and it should arrive early next week. And I can do a little bit of rejoicing.

But back to business. And I kind of mean, literally business. If you remember, one of my resolutions that I made earlier this year was to tackle my debt. A lot of this is credit card debt, the sum of which is a result of irresponsible spending, lack of income and more stupidity, a means to an end when at uni and unable to work due to crippleness from working hours on computers (long-time readers will understand the problems I’ve had), all spread over 10+ years of trying to make my way in the world. It’s a horrible big black hole that sucks your earnings, but it’s mostly my fault (although I will lay a little blame on credit card companies that up their APR by 10% with little warning) and it’s just the (heavy) price I have to pay for relying on credit for so long.

I’ve made a spreadsheet of the balance of what I owe on each card, what I’m paying each month, when it’s paid and the interest I’m paying. I managed to switch one card onto a 0% interest card which will help hugely. I’m determined to beat this debt. Thing is, it’s really hard when I’m simultaneously saving up for next year’s tax bill. But there we are, I can’t complain really. It’s my own doing and I’ll just have to live with it until it’s paid off.

In the meantime, my spending is under much tighter control. I’ve never been particularly good with money. I tend to forget how much I’ve spent and then bury my head in the sand and deal with it later. But as I’ve got older, wiser, or just more world-weary I’ve come to realise that this strategy is, of course, a lot of pants and that I need to be much more organised. So I’m reigning in the spending and although Rich and I still have to live a little, things like non-essential clothes and books (waahhh!) and wotnot are on hold. Or at least, I have to work out if I can really really really afford them.

OK, so the greenhouse staging cost me over £80, plus delivery. But I reckon that’s an investment – it’ll last for years (hopefully), I’ll be able to use it to grow my food, and maybe if I sell a few plants out the front, even make a little money back on it. I’ve been seriously fed up with losing plants because the growing conditions in the conservatory aren’t right and I feel like it would be stupid to go yet another year making the same mistakes and getting the same results.

But that’s enough bleating about my finances. I’ve got a LOT of work to be getting on with in the Smallest Smallholding. I only just got around to pruning my Autumn fruiting Polka raspberries (although, last year they fruited for MONTHS on end, fantastic!) under the direction of my mother. It’s good to learn from books but nothing beats practical demonstration. I still have a big buddleia to prune back, and the trees… oh the trees… I think we’ve missed the boat this year on getting them pruned but I might just chance it. The sycamore is a beast and I’ve been posting on the Self-Sufficientish forum for some advice. Seems they’re virtually indestructible so we might give it a go, and then perhaps if it dies plant something a little less thuggish in its place. Birch, maybe.

This weekend I have got to get a few things sown – leeks and more garlic mainly. Between us, Mum and I have a ridiculous amount of seed as we have a penchant for going mental when there’s 50% off. Growing space is definitely going to be a challenge this year but I’ve decided that the flower borders can give way to some veg. I think I may have to get some special growing bags or large pots to house garlic, onions, potatoes and the like. I’m going to get a couple of straw bales in for tomatoes and squash, and then of course there’s the hanging baskets for strawberries and more tomatoes.

Geesh, I’m excited about it all. But still slightly “ARGH!!!” because after a wander around the garden and plots yesterday it’s dawning on me how much I have to do; especially since we’ve vowed to get the overgrown wasteland at the bottom of the garden (where the soil is virtually sand-like) turned into a Mediterranean bee/butterfly/insect-friendly eating area. And then there’s the house.

But you know, I’ll just keep rolling with it and do what I can do. It’s not a competition. And I have my permaculture book to re-read. After all, the Smallest Smallholding is going to be under management, not a dictatorship!

Clearing, weeding, planting, mulching, sowing, clearing, weeding, clearing, clearing, clearing is what’s on the agenda for the next month or so. Spring is definitely on its way, although the wind still bites and I’m not out of my thermal vest just yet. But the crocuses are up, the daffodils are looking promising and everywhere I see buds. Buds!

It feels like it’s been a long slog of a winter, but I’m just as prepared for a long slog of a growing season. But I mean that in a good way!