Saturday, 28 March 2009

A moment of reflection.

(Picture of sunrise up at my aunt's house)

I find myself up at my aunt's right now with a few moments to spare and also with the all important internet connection.

It is quite peaceful to have a moment of quiet away from the busyness of site. It is also interesting to be away from the caravan. We've been down there more and more recently and, on reflection, it hasn't been that much of a shift.

I'm quite surprised how I haven't missed tv etc and how I've got used to being in that smaller space (it is very useful at dinnertime when I can sit at the table and pass things out from the fridge without even having to leave my seat). I'm even surviving the lack of internet - well, after a fashion.

It is so ingrained in us to have access to running water, dishwashers, tv, central heating etc. I know we're only temporarily in the caravan - and very distracted by housebuilding - yet I am surprised at how easy it is. I must admit that everything does take longer to do, especially washing up (with getting the water from bottles to the jug and then the wash bowl, emptying the bowl outside, drying with the tea towel etc). It is also cold at times and breezy (you wouldn't believe how many layers of blankets that I sleep under .. but I do like to be warm).

I don't even miss my 'stuff' .. yet. I guess I'm just happy to be there, to wake up every morning to OUR view, sweet birdsong and our house to work on. The weather has been pretty sunny, which is a great help and marvellous uplifter of the spirits.

Sometimes the changes are almost too fast. It seemed that the septic tank and reedbed were there in the blink of an eye. It can be disconcerting - after planning it for so long, to actually see it done. Like planning a garden, it's always a little different than how you plan or envision it.

Quick decision making has been a big challenge for me. I love to think things through, to research options, to ponder. It's quite a shift to just 'decide'. I'm glad I decided on the spur of the moment to get a pond put in to replace the old test pit. I realise that I've never had a pond, so my teptation is to research - but there isn't really time - so I'll have to go more by my intuition! I'll also have to aquire some pond plants!

I'm back down to site today - with the cats (as my aunt is away for a while) - now that will be fun. Cats on a building site. I have missed them dreadfully, especially Elvie - our newest addition who just turned up tiny and hungry last October and has decided that I'm the knee of choice ever since. He purrs whenever I walk into the room and Sam claims that Elvie gives him the evil genious 'she's mine' look whenever he has my knees to himself.

Our other cat, Leo, is more mature and chilled out (although has entered a second kittenhood since he's had Elvie to play with). I feel he'll take a supervisory role. He loves ladders, so I imagine he'll be getting stuck upstairs a lot.

Finally, I found this yesterday in the pantry.

It really made me wonder (in awe) at nature's determination. I wonder how long that potatoe sat in the dark sending out those tendrils towards the light? Well, good job it did, as I saw it and will reward it for it's efforts by planting it up somewehere.

I wonder if I have that much trust and stamina, to keep reaching towards what I want - even if it doen't seem easy or the path is uncertain.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Sheds, chickens, water and propagators

(A picture from the good old days, when Sam and Sally could catch a quick snooze - before life got really busy on site!)

It's certainly been a busy week for us on site, with lots going on and plenty to do.

The fun started last weekend when we had to get a shed to house the pressure vessel for the water pump. I was unsure that we'd fit the shed in our small van - but Sam was ever confident that we could...but I have this photo evidence to the contrary.Enough said! (Luckily we'll be bring a bigger van down this weekend. It WILL fit in that!) We did manage to strap it on top of the van for the short trip back to my aunt's - where it awaits the bigger van.

Sam's friend Neil has come over to give us a hand for a couple of weeks (don't you just love friends that enjoy a working holiday?). They've been working very hard already putting in more roof joists and doing the high up work that I'm no use at.

They've even started working on the chicken coop, which is very lucky as we've arranged to take on some ex battery chickens in about 10 days.

We've never had chickens before and we thought that rescues were a good way to start. There aren't many rescue operations in Ireland so we were lucky to find Crann Dair Chicken Rescue. Most people seem to think we're mad for not getting point of lay hens - that have all their laying ahead of them - but we like the idea of letting these girls live out the rest of their lives free ranging with us. They will still lay, but not as much as young hens - maybe 1/2 as much. I guess it's not just about the economics of it for us - they're more like productive pets rather than 'livestock' as myself and Sam are a bit daft about animals anyway.

This week we got our well fitted with a pump and so now have running water (and it feels like a luxury after relying on bringing bottles of water to site). I took quite a few pictures of the process - but left my camera behind today (I'll add them later). It's running pretty clear already. We'll have to get it tested to make sure it is drinkable, but it's already handy for washing up purposes.

We also have our septic tank in the ground and our reedbed dug out - waiting to be planted up.
You can just see the yellow of the top of the tank in the picture and then the gravel in the distance is the reedbed.

Now I'm on site, with all my seeds, I've been getting ready to get planting. My basil and broad beans survived the trip admirably.

I have a little area by a large window ready for my seed sowing acticities (and still with those spuds chitting - definately time to get them in the ground).

So, I look at my seeds and realise that those tomatoes and chillies really need to get started. Great. Now, I knew I'd have an issue with getting enough heat to start of such tender plants - they like 24 degrees C.
It isn't really very warm in the caravan, as we only have the gas heater which we would use first thing in the morning and then again in the evening, if needed. The house still needs more insulating before it is really warm, so I needed a plan. A regular heated propagator requires constant electricity - not economical from our gennie. I haven't seen any battery operated ones, so I tried the .. hot water bottle propagator. My theory is that placing a hot water bottle under a seed tray (filled with hot water) would raise the soil temperature enough for my needs. I was worried it would raise the temperature too much, but it got it up to 25 degrees fine. Great I thought as I monitored the temperature all day.

In this picture you see the brown seed tray and the green hot water bottle below. I have it on a clear plastic stand. The bottom tier has rootrainers ready to be used.

This picture shows the thermometer in the seed tray. The tray is covered with clear plastic.
Well - all went well until night time. Once the air temperature had dropped the hot water bottle couldn't raise it enough and it was below 10 degrees by morning.

So, not being easily defeated, I'll try again - but this time with insulation around the hot water bottle and with the seed trays better covered. Watch this space. If that fails - I'll fall on the mercy of nearby friends with airing cupboards.

We're now at the end of the groundworks phase and by next week I should have pictures of the site 'landscaped' rather than covered in piles of earth. In a stroke of luck I managed to convince our wonderful diggerman to dig me out a pond (to compensate for his innocent act of filling in the old 'test pit' .. which had turned into a natural pond, full of frogs and spawn). So, I'm hoping to have pics of that next week too.

I've finally been upstairs - now that there is sturdy boarding up there - and got to look out the upstairs gable windows. Here's what it looks like up there now.

Next week we'll be busy putting up studwork that will be the walls of the rooms. We need to do this before we can put the roof on - and the palce is meant to be roofed within a month of being erected. So, the clock is ticking.

I'll remember to upload the pictures from the camera next week! I'm still working on getting internet access on site and I still miss the connection of being online. Fingers crossed I'll sort it soon.

Friday, 20 March 2009

And the award goes to ....

Well, fancy my surprise when I find myself with a wee award for my blog. Thank you very much Linzi for such high praise and for following our progress, let alone waiting out my recent internet-less times).

Being an awardee I now have instructions to pass on an award to five other blogs I like.
Here goes (remembering that I'm having enough trouble remembering my name right now, let alone remembering what blogs I like).

First up is Sallygardens Smallholding, right here in Leitrim. I went to visit Rebecca and Dan there (and even enticed them to our shell warming) and it is a great place, as well as a lovely blog of life on a smallholding. Do check it out.

Next up is Linzi's Patch. I like following her progress as she takes on the joy of gardening up in Northumberland. I think hers was one of the first blogs I subscribed to - and it made blogland feel like a very friendly place.

Now, it's been a a while since I've been online and following blogs (not that I've been a blogger for long either) so I'm a bit hazy from here on in.

A quick check out there brings up Rainbow Chard an organic allotment in Norwich. I love following the pictures and seeing what's growing - and what the allotment is like.

Veggie patch also springs to mind. Another great record of the gardening year.

Last but not least is vegetable kingdom. Another great insight into someone's veg growing antics - and with great pictures too.

Now, as my memory returns more great sites start springing to mind, such as gardening tips, live to garden (more fab pics) and squishy feet. There just aren't enough awards to go round!

Best go now - and check out how all the plants up here have been doing whilst I've been in Leitrim.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pictures - at last .. here is our house

At last, a moment of internet connection. So, as promised, here is the picture guide to the week when our house arrived and was erected to make it's mark on the landscape - and in our lives.

We had a fun start (all before 7am!) when the lorry nearly came off the road. Here it is leaning precariously - we are out of shot with fingers firmly crossed that our house wouldn't end up in the ditch. Luckily, it didn't .. and the crane helped the lorry get back on even ground.

One of the first things to get put on the pad - the loo!

The ponies watch from a safe distance.

The lorry safely on the drive, being unloaded - revealing roof trusses and interior wood (the house walls are still under the green tarp)

Me, delighted to have the house so near.

The walls of the house .. and Sam in the background.

The big moment - the first wall is ready to land.

First wall in place - as long as that guy keeps a good hold on it!

Full view of first (west facing) wall.

Second wall is flying in now (south facing)

The rest of the south face comes to join it.

Hey presto - the south face.

Now it's the north face swinging into place.

Now the east face - the final wall.

The house has now officially landed.

At this point we took a little trip out. By the time we came back (only an hour or two later) the west facing gable was swinging into place and the roof trusses were up!

Here's the view from the front (north face). Sally is surveying her new house. We hope that she approves.

Now, still day 1 (honest) the lads are ploughing ahead and getting the roof on (wood, felt then lath - boards). This is the south face.

Day 2 (well, even superhero workers needed a rest) they are busy on the north face of the roof.

They almost make it look easy.

Suddenly, it's done. One roof, up and weathertight (for 4 weeks max - then we need to tile / slate it)

Inside are all the materials that we'll be needing when it's our turn to play superhero builders.

Here's the inside of the roof - gorgeous or what? (pity we have to cover it)

We had great dry weather while the house went up, but it was very wet beforehand, so the concrete is still wet in places.

Here we see down the length of the house from the downstairs bedroom all the way across to the kitchen.

Now the roof edges have been neatly boarded.
This week, in an unprecidented few days of glorious sun, Sally the supervisor has a crafty snooze - as we move wood around.

Here are some of my lovely plants, gifted to me at our shellwarming party last Sunday. We have rhubarb, raspberry, chamomile, mint, clary sage, thyme, lavender, chives and lemon balm. What a great way to start a garden.

The fruits of our fist day's labours - wood moved from the middle to the edges, so we have clear space to put up partition walls. (I think I may be quite muscley once all this is done!)

More wood - the tall pile is where our kitchen counter will be.

Well, that's all for now. Fingers crossed we'll sort proper, regular internet access this week - so we'll be back to more frequent updates (you really don't know just how much I've missed blog and internet land). I'll catch up some more tomorrow - for now I have a bed to go to (as somehow those muscles are tired after a day humping wood about).

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

We have lift off ... and set down!

Yes, it's offical - the shell arrived this morning on the back of a HUGE lorry and already the four walls are up. We've had glorious sunshine today - perfect weather for it.
It's all VERY exciting and the team are great.

Will post pics whenever I manage to get some uploaded (am in the local library so unable to upload yet).

Best get back to site and see if the have the gables up yet.

Oh - did I mention the new arrivals? .. we have a couple of ponies grazing on the field - not ours .. long story .. will tell with pictures very soon.

Next stop - the roof .. and then a bit of a shell warming methinks.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A quiet week

(Picture: Sun coming up in the morning)

We're just briefly back up north - and in computer land - for a day for so. We've been down on site for the week and it's great to be back with the cats - I do miss them when we're away (but we'll have them down with us by the end of the month if all goes well).

When I'm down on site what I REALLY MISS having web access. I can check emails in the library - but can't upload .. so the pictures of the shell going up may be delayed. (I've tried to sign up for mobile broadband but they won't accept my northern Ireland address .. they need utility bills from southern Ireland .. and I can't get them until the house is up - catch 22. Mind you - I have a cunning plan, fingers crossed).

Anyway, it was a quiet week on site (with no house going up). Even the groundworks crew never made it to dig ditches and sort the sewage. We had a very cold start to the week down there and it was a great relief when it turned milder midweek.

I still love it down there and the stream is as magical as ever.

We also have frogs and spawn in the 'pond' ( the test pit they dug before we bought the land).

As there was little to 'do' on site (can't fence yet until our other boundary goes back on Monday) we thought we'd go out and have some fun. So, we went to see some breeders of ornamnetal ducks - as I fancy a few ducks - they're great for slug control, lay nice big eggs, are friendly and look sweet pottering about.

Our favourites were the Cayuga - a black duck which shine with green irridescence in the sunlight. They lay well, are fairly quiet and docile.
The most common 'layer' seems to be the khaki Campbell ( see below)- they didn't have any of those for us to see .. as they keep mainly ornamentals. I've just read that the Campbell integrates very well with chickens (they just need shallow water), so who knows which sort we'll choose in the end. Time now to make some pens and hen houses methinks.

I'd love to get the ducks soon - to prepare the polytunnel area. Mind you I may be moving the tunnel - as the area I'd planned for it has been levelled with clay and so now is a quagmire fit for the finest Glastonburyesque festival antics. Wellies to the ready!
I think I might re-plan and site it on some untouched ground further down the site (rather than risk it blowing away in the first wind or losing stability in the clay). Funny what you don't think of earlier!

We also managed to get out and about in the evenings (making the most of our time before we are up to our necks in plasterboards and stud walls). Thanks to all who made us welcome at the sessions in Drumshanbo.

Back here, I'll admit that I did sow some aquadulce broad beans a week ago and although there are no sprouts up I did see some roots popping out of the bottom of the rootratiners already. I'll refrain from further sowing until our overiszed cold frame (i.e. the house shell) is up next week.

I'm trying not to go into countdown mode or get too excited about the shell coming, just in case there are anymore delays, but fingers crossed we'll be all systems go next Tuesday morning. Pictures will be taken and posted as soon as I can upload them.