Saturday, 31 January 2009

Growing our own and gardening over time

Now I'm away from site for a few days my mind turns to growing stuff. There is just so much that I want to grow. I relish the idea of eating our own home grown veg. It isn't just the taste factor, it is the thrill of seeing the plants grow from those first tiny sprouts into full grown beauties.
I get awestruck whenever I stop to think about the abundance of nature- how one plant, one fruit even, such as the tomato, provides us with so may seeds, so we can keep growing and always have some to spare. That image always helps me feel supported by nature.

The thing is - I want to grow EVERYTHING. I know that we'll be busy building and I keep saying that we'll start with a few things in pots around the house this first year, but I'm desperate to really get started. I'm not sure if we'll have time to make the raised beds this spring (and it is good to have time to really plan where they are to go) - but we could try a couple.
To ease my desperation to 'get started' I've decided that we'll get a polytunnel this spring. That means that we'll have somewhere to start plants off (Sam is very adamant that I won't be using the windowsills in the shell of the house for plant propagation - how well he knows me!). Actually, I think the polytunnel will be great here in Leitrim for keeping the rain off and giving shelter to the plants (and any washing - I've seen many a polytunnel with a line of drying clothes down the middle. I guess that is 'cos we get a lot of rain showers here - but sometimes sun inbetween them).

I haven't always been obsessed with growing veg. In our last home in Cambridgeshire, England, we had a sweet garden mainly full of shrubs and flowers.

We had a small potager, but never really used it enough. It was our first owned garden and I just loved pottering round it. I wasn't bothered if it got a bit wild and weedy, I just adored wathcing things grow, flower, self seed etc.

Since then, the obsession with growing our own has grown within me. It isn't in a 'lets reduce food miles' way, it is more a fascination that I CAN do this myself and that I'll know my food will be of good quality and well loved. It pleases me to be a part of the growing process - part of the natural cycle in a way.

I haven't grown much in the past two years since moving. I could have made an effort (we live with my aunt and she is happy with us doing some planting in her garden), but I feel like saving my energies for our own garden. That being said, I did try a few things last year, the most successful of which was our tomatoes (bought as plug plants), which despite the rain and lack of sun thrived in my aunt's glass roofed barn. I also tried sweetcorn and squash but they got washed out. I grew garlic in pots and the next generation of them were sown in December in pots, to take down to Leitrim. Some of them already have tips showing (see below - garlic and strawberries).

I have also started a few tomatoes from last years seed. This was by accident as I left the seeds to ferment for too long (you ferment the seed for a few days in the pulp to remove the inhibitor for sprouting) and a few had already started sprouting. I couldn't dry them so thought it best to plant them. I also started a batch of basil at the same time - both pots are on the windowsill (while I'm still allowed to have them there!) and I use an old cheeseboard with a clear plastic cover as a propagator.

I'm not sure how I'll whittle down my wishlist of veg to grow this year to a manageable size. I have visions of trying grains, such as quinoa and amaranth, as well as the staples like potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, cabbages, herbs etc. and I still need time to help build the house .. unless we go live in the polytunnel for the summer :-)

Over the past couple of days my love of growing flowers, shrubs etc for scent and wildlife has been re-kindled, so it will be interesting to see how I marry productivity and beauty. There will be flowers in the veg beds, but also wildlife areas. Eventually, I'll have have a wooded area - and a forest garden (with edible plants). That is one of the perks of having such a big plot that backs onto woodland .... I can give a sense of the woodland extending into the lower field and then, as we get nearer the house it becomes more intensely productive.

Permaculture books call this zoning - having the things that need most attention nearest the house, for example the veg beds, rather than having them tucked away at the end of the garden where they're easily out of sight and out of mind. I like that idea - and it makes it easy to use produce when it's ready - as you can see it out the window of the house!

Anyway, it's time to go buy some seeds before I'm sucked into the build again.

Weather .. and groundworks week 2

What a difference the weather makes. We seemed to make great progress this week and I'm sure that the glorious weather from Monday until Wednesday helped. It certainly raised our spirits.
When I stop to think, it amazes me just how much of a difference a bit of sunshine makes to everything. The landscape takes on a new dimension, the treetops glistening, the soft colours intensifying. Even being in the caravan was more fun again (well it can be a bit challenging in the cold weather) and everything seemed more homely somehow.
Anyway, the lads did a great job of the groundworks. Here is the progress.

Our new boundary has been tidied up.

The sides of the drive are being landscaped.Best of all, we have our main area for the house / garage / driveway stoned and the area for the house is specially prepared with stone to be ready for the scanhome team to come and pour the concrete next week.
Here's the view from the road.

Also, in a moment of sheer inspiration I got the lads to spare us some stone and lay it as a path up to the caravan from the new drive - that will save us from the mudfest that has been growing outside the caravan door.
For enatertainment this week, Sam has mainly been playing the mandolin.
Poor Sally (the dog) is a bit pahsed by the mud, but is much happier now that there's a path up to the caravan. We're hoping that the wet weather at the end of this week won't have done any harm and that it proves fair again for the scanhome team next week. Once they have been we can once more see exactly where the house is going to be and I can go back to my favourite pastime of sitting in the different 'rooms' and imagining what the views will be like from the windows. Then, in early March, the erection crew come, the house comes and then I'll get to look out the windows for real!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

In the beginning .. to groundworks starting

In the beginning there was a field. Then, we bought the field - and that's really when the adventures began. We bought it last summer and now we've just started getting ready to build our house (our home) there.

I thought it would be fun to blog our adventures in our new land (our wonderland), so prepare for tales of self building and attempts to grow veg and whatever else happens as we get settled on our slightly damp 3 acres.

This week, things actually started to happen. The diggers came in, the boundaries went back and the field has become a 'site'. That feels huge to us. Having plans on paper is one thing, having the vision is another, but actually breaking ground - that makes it real in a new (and exciting) way.

Now we have a driveway emerging and a level area for the house (and eventually the garage).

Luckily, the snow and rain didn't stop progress much and all is going well,
despite it getting a tad chilly in the site office (aka caravan).

Actually, the site looked lovely in the snow, especially the trees in the distance and the stream, which is always beautiful to me.
Even with the diggers busy up top, near the road, I can escape down to the stream for a few minutes of pure peace and tranquility. The stream is the boundary between our land and the woodland behind, so there is always plenty of wildlife activity.
We're back down again tomorrow for a few days while the digging is completed - not that we're actually doing the digging. We're happy to do most of the work inside the house, but even we know our limitations, so for now we sit back and 'supervise' i.e. keep out of the way!

Mind you there's always a bit of entertainment with
Sam around, and we'd better make the most of playing now, while we have some time to spare.

Our house is a Scandinavian timber 'near passive' house from Sacnhome in Galway ( and will
arrive on a rather large lorry in the beginning of March. The shell is up within a week - and then we get to work!

Until then we're busy enough sourcing materials, sorting out logistics and hopefully planning what veg we'll try to grow this year. Ideally I'd like to get a polytunnel up this Spring - to give me somewhere to start things off and also to give a bit of shelter from the rain. With that and some raised beds we should be in with a chance of success on the damp clay soil.

Watch this space.