Friday, 1 January 2016

Still holding on

January 1st 2016. I took this photo this morning as the sun came up spreading light across the sky in a very dramatic fashion. It has been a very quiet couple of days, apart from the henhouse crisis a couple of days ago, I have avoided doing very much at all. My adrenals are still giving me a great deal of pain (it feels like I've been kicked in both kidneys) which not only limits the amount I can do, but also has a negative impact on my sense of humour.

So I have stayed indoors for most of the time, curled up on the sofa, hugging a hot water bottle, read a little and slept from one dose of painkillers to the next. All of which makes for fairly dull blog entries.

I had planned to start sowing some seeds today, so that they can germinate in the warmth of the house and be transferred to the greenhouse once it's glass is all in place. After half an hour of pottering outside this morning, I retired to the sofa and slept on and off for most of the day instead.

I am so excited about living on our little smallholding, enthused about the things that I want to do and thrilled at the prospect of creating a garden that will provide us with food as well as cut flowers for the house. It is unbelievably frustrating that I am unable to do as much as I want to. But it is what it is and there is little point in doing anything other than accepting it and making the best of every moment that I feel well enough to do something. I am sure that after a few more days of being especially gentle I will feel up to tackling some more tasks. And on that note, I am heading back to bed.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Henhouse crisis

Storm Frank has done some damage here on our smallholding. This is chicken-feed in comparison to the dreadful damage and suffering folks are experiencing as a result of floods and storms up and down the country. Our livelihoods are not ruined and our livestock is not suffering. Our thoughts are with those who are struggling with results of this winter's storms.
While I was making breakfast I heard the crash from outside, some of the panes of glass that I put in the greenhouse yesterday have been dislodged and are smashed on the floor. Luckily, it's only one section of the roof and it doesn't look like they damaged anything else on the way to the floor. Mr J and I had a quick check outside to make sure that nothing else had been damaged, thankfully everything else looked okay.

We pottered gently in the house for a few minutes, I am still feeling pretty fragile after yesterday's adrenal issues and as I wandered through the kitchen my spidey senses told me something wasn't quite right.

The chicken coop had just been blown over onto it's roof!

Mr J enjoyed a quick blast of my 'you need to come right now' call and we raced outside. I had a horrible feeling that a chicken could be crushed under the house (think Wicked Witch of the East in Wizard of Oz), I was not looking forward to having to put a hen out of pain. Not so soon after losing Archie the cat. Phew, no sign of little chicken feet sticking out from under the henhouse.

So we started to lift it upright again when Mr J paused and asked if there was still a chicken in the house. I opened the nesting box lid and poor little Diesel was indeed inside.

I can't imagine how horrid it must have been for her. Just settling down to lay an egg and your safe place gets tossed sideways with straw and wood shavings flying around. She must have been very frightened. I let her out of her upside down prison and not surprisingly she had quite a lot to say.

We decided that although the stable isn't ready to be made into a chicken condo yet, we would move the henhouse into the shelter of the stable where the wind won't blow the house around and they can be sheltered from the worst of the rain.

We struggled in the 55+ mph winds to take the house and run apart enough to carry it into the stable and all the time Diesel was squawking at us and looking very put out. The floor in the stable is uneven and putting it back together was a fiddly task. I don't know if I was more flustered by feeling sick from the adrenaline rush that I was having or by the chickens glaring at us in an indignant manner!
The girls didn't take long to realise that we had moved their house to a drier place and quickly came to inspect it's new position.
It seems to have met with their approval as they all had a good look inside the run and henhouse before going back to their business of scratching and pecking at things on the ground.
Diesel promptly disappeared into the house and settled in the nesting box, within a few minutes she was out again, egg deposited exactly where it should be. 
The girls are currently scratching about on the grass once again, seemingly unperturbed by this morning's events.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Glass Half Full Day

After what feels like weeks of wet and windy weather, this morning's sky was full of promise. There was a distinct spring-like feeling to the day and over breakfast Mr J and I made a plan of action for the day. This list was more a loose guide of the things we'd like to achieve than a hard and fast must-do list.

I headed outside to continue putting the glass panels into the green house. I've said it before and it still stands, reglazing a second hand greenhouse is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final picture is supposed to be.
I now have enough glass panes in to have a sheltered corner in which to keep a mug of tea and the fixings dry. It definitely feels like I am making good, if somewhat slow, progress. But it's not a race and I know that I can't work as quickly as I could a year ago, so I am enjoying the experience pane by pane.
The chickens came to have some company, they enjoyed being able to find breeze free corners to settle down and enjoy the sunshine. They are such social creatures and chatter away constantly, they then headed off again to find a dust bath behind the piggeries.

The glazing in the greenhouse is now more than half done and it won't be long before it completed and ready to use. I have so many seeds that need to be sown in the next three months to be ready for the garden in spring and early summer, I am looking forward to spending time in their quietly sowing  seeds and then pricking out seedlings.
Just before lunch I felt a familiar feeling that I haven't had for about five weeks, a particular pain in my back and sides. Within minutes I realised that I was having an adrenal problem so folded up the ladder, picked up my telephone and headed indoors as quickly as I could (which wasn't very fast). I went straight to bed and Mr J brought me a long drink with salt added to it. This sounds horrid but is the best thing helping to reduce the adrenal pains. I tried to take comfort in the fact that I haven't felt like this since we moved here, but lying in bed, shivering, hurting and not sure whether I was going to be sick or not, it was quite hard to find a positive. But most of all, I was frustrated that I wasn't going to be able to finish the greenhouse today.

I suspect that this episode has been brought on by a lack of good quality sleep and a change in diet over the Christmas holiday. Most nights I wake up between four and five in the morning, which means that I am losing about three or fours hours sleep per night which is not good for anyone. It's a particular problem for people with adrenal and thyroid issues whose internal systems are slower, fragile and susceptible to dysfunction.

For half of this year I have been almost bed-bound, getting more and more ill until I found ways to support my failing thyroid and adrenal glands and how to address the lack of nutrients in my system. The thyroid and adrenal issues caused me to stop absorbing many of the nutrients that we need to support our bodies, my body thought I was starving and so, no matter how much I ate, I wasn't absorbing them but I was laying down fat as a reserve. A three stone increase in weight in six months sent me to the doctor saying 'I am prepared to hear that I have a severe case of 'cake', but please could you check my thyroid?' My instincts were right, my thyroid had stopped working properly (and a later scan revealed that it is now atrophying) and I was prescribed artificial thyroxin to replace what my body was no longer making.

A few weeks after starting the thyroxin replacement I got even worse, my limbs and torso were twitching, jerking involuntarily and I was in constant pain. Mr J tells me that I looked at least ten years older than I am and that I was an unflattering shade of grey (my skin not my hair!), my skin was very dry and itchy, I had large red, sore patches of skin on my face, my gums were bleeding, my nose was bleeding regularly. I was also losing my hair, it was falling out at an alarming rate!

The NHS only recognises adrenal problems if your adrenal glands fail to the extent that it is life-threatening. Somewhere in the infinite wisdom of the decision makers, it has been decided to treat after the event rather than try to prevent total failure. I have an opinion about this but, not wanting to express political thoughts, I will leave it to your imagination to decide my views on this approach to health care.

So, I read and read, and read some more about how to support adrenal glands and my internal systems and started a strict dietary regime and starting taking supplements. I am now gluten free and caffeine free, I eat protein within an hour of getting up and don't have fruit until the afternoon. I don't eat carbohydrate on its own, every meal is a combination of protein, carbohydrate and vegetables. I drink lots of water, often with salt added. As long as I am careful about what I eat and when, avoid stress (which I had no chance of doing during the house sale, purchase and move) and get lots of fresh air and rest, I can function pretty well, I am still much slower physically than I used to be, but how I feel is so much better than I was six months ago. I am still losing my hair, still hideously overweight but I am happy that for most of the time I feel okay.

I have accepted that whilst this is not an ideal situation, it is what I have and I am going to enjoy every day as much as I can. So this afternoon I slept, deeply and refreshingly and the greenhouse didn't get finished, but that doesn't really matter, it will be done another day and anyway, my glass is more than half full!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Marking, measuring and testing the garden

It's been a fabulous day! This morning we went to my sister's home, about 20 minutes away, to collect a rooted Christmas tree to plant in our garden. We stayed for a quick cuppa and chat and then called in at our local garden centre on the way home. I found a six-pack of foxgloves and one of delphinium and also a cranberry bush to add to our soft fruit collection.
Once home I found a suitable spot in the paddock to plant the tree, not too close to the fence or to other trees, so that it will have plenty of space to grow over the years.
It's a handsome little tree, despite being very prickly and will remind me of our first Christmas here every time I look at it.
After lunch, I spent the afternoon in the paddock, measuring and marking out where the vegetable garden will be using the plans we drew up yesterday. It will eventually measure approximately 80 feet square, but to start with I am going to concentrate on one half of it so the plot for this year will be 40 feet by 80 feet. Having marked out the size and shape using canes and twine, I laid the first pathway. Every task I do outside seems to take such a long time, partly this is due to moving more slowly than I used to (as a result of being unwell) and partly because I keep getting side-tracked by the chickens. They are such funny creatures, always busy, always ready to have a 'conversation' with us, they are getting bolder and more fun every day.

Just before dusk, I remembered to take a soil sample from the paddock so that I could do a pH test to give me an idea of the sort of plants that will thrive and whether I need to look at adding specific organic matter to help adjust the soil pH.
It seems conclusive that the soil in the corner of the paddock is pH neutral, which is good news as I can adjust different areas to grow different plants if I want to.

Last night I found a great little online garden planner from Suttons Seeds which I started to use to design the garden and keep a record of what I've planted where. I will print it out and keep it in my garden plans book to refer to as and when I am ready to sow seeds and put plants in, and for reference for future years. This should help me ensure that I am using a good crop rotation, which will be essential if I want to get best results from an organic garden system.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Garden planning on our smallholding

We've been in our new home for a month today and are beginning to settle into a gentle rhythm. Today Mr J and I took a wander right around the garden and paddock looking at jobs that need doing soon, sooner and also later, and discussing ideas for creating our fruit and vegetable garden.

The paddock is a little under half an acre which is huge for feeding the two of us, but we plan to become part of our local food cooperative and to sell some of the surplus at the farm gate. The area is reasonably flat but is windswept with strong breezes coming off the estuary, so we have been thinking about our options for windbreaks around the perimeter.

My first choice is a hedge comprising native trees and bushes, flowering and nut trees, wild roses and honeysuckles. But this will take time to establish so in the meantime I will be using windbreak fabric to provide some shelter.

We've decided to draw up a plan of how we'd like the fruit and veg garden to look but only develop half of it to start with, simply because it would be a mammoth task to do all at once. We have a budget of, well, pretty much zero to achieve what we want, so bed and borders will be dug out of the field and as and when we can, we will cover pathways with old carpet and bark chippings. Raised beds can then be created around the beds and borders a few at a time when we get the wood and over the years as compost heaps give us more and more composted material, the soil levels within the raised beds will increase (or at least that's my hope).

I've suggested that we create one or two chicken or duck enclosures on the uncultivated half of the garden, which would give the chickens access to a different area from where they wander now, but keep them off the vegetable garden. Whilst we have just three chickens at the moment, plans are for more to arrive in the spring and for ducks too. This idea would also save us from an awful lot of mowing of grass, a task for which neither Mr J or I have a great passion.

Each evening I spend a little time researching, reading, watching something related to creating our organic smallholding. I thought I knew a bit about gardening having had quite a large garden previously, but creating an organic productive, functional and attractive garden on this scale is new for us both and we want to try, as much as possible, to get it right first time. How successful we are remains to be seen!