Solstice to solstice in the garden

On the longest day of the year, summer was just getting going and I was trying to get my greenhouse ready to plant. Dave had been away so I’d spent two weeks in the hottest weather we’ve had here dragging in chestnut posts, digging six post holes almost 1m deep, setting the posts in position and hammering rocks in to back-fill the holes. By the time he got back the structure was up and I was proud to have built something good on my own. Even Dave thought it looked well-constructed, which was praise indeed!

The tomatoes, peppers, chillies, physalis, tomatillos and aubergines went in the greenhouse and seemed happy in their new home. The pumpkins got planted out and we were harvesting spring veggies too. It hardly rained over the whole summer and autumn and I had to water a lot. The forests and fields managed to stay green, although there was much less grass than usual and the farmers had to buy in hay for their cows.

With all the dry weather, our water supply was going from a torrent to a trickle and at one point in October it stopped flowing. After being without water for a while, we got in touch with the town hall and they sent people up straight away to sort it out. The next day it started flowing again! It turned out that there was a leak in the pipe and the water just wasn’t getting to us, which was a relief. But the lack of rain has been an issue this year, the rivers and streams held out but only just.

When we started work on the roof in mid November, we’d had our first few days of winter rain and a couple of frosts. It was beautiful autumn weather, the hot low sun bringing out the colours in the forest as the leaves turned. Then it really started to rain and it just didn’t seem to stop! It rained and rained and the paths turned into rivers and the streams turned into torrents and weak section of stone walls have been tumbling down into paths. Up at our place, the barn has been leaking and the walls are starting to fall down. All around the house is mud, mud, mud. And our poor tent is still up because we haven’t got anywhere to put everything and it’s going green and mouldy, which is awful.

When it hasn’t been raining, it’s been snowing! This has been great fun and has made for even more dramatic views of the mountains.

Autumn and winter are a fruitful time for the garden. Even though I have almost never weeded, have sometimes forgotten to water and often neglected to harvest, the efforts early in the year have been paying off. Even the greenhouse is still going strong now – I’ve still been harvesting tomatoes, peppers, chillies and physalis, although the plants are definitely looking like they’ve had enough now that we’ve had a fair few frosts and it’s almost January!

Outside, there are lots of ocas to dig up, as well as sun chokes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, red cabbage and romanesco cauliflower. Of course we’ve got a stash of pumpkins, carrots and beetroot too, so we’ve been eating lots of lovely winter soups, stews and currys. I’ll be planting garlic soon and the onions and winter cabbage that are already in the ground are looking like they’re happy to survive the winter.

It’s been great to learn what went well and what didn’t this year. I’m going to be more selective about what I grow next year and keep to a smaller, better managed area of the garden. The well-constructed beds produced a lot more food and required less watering. The star producer this year was the sun chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes but bear zero resemblance) – I dug up one plant yesterday and harvested 4kg! They were really no effort at all, I just stuck little chunks of root in the ground and up they popped. They taste so good roasted. The ocas have been great too – they are also no effort to grow and produced well, although I think they would have done better if some stray horses hadn’t eaten all their leaves right before they put all that energy down into their tasty tubers! Maybe my smaller garden next year needs a fence…

The wild boar did come into the garden once, but they only dug up a tiny patch of bare ground where I’d already harvested. In the field they have been slightly more destructive, but the farmer is more annoyed about that than we are.

Dave thinks we shouldn’t keep a garden next year because it’s time consuming and we have so much other work to do. He does have a point… We still have to build the front wall of the house, make the entire inside floor lower, put in the mezzanine level, order and install the windows, do all the plumbing and electrics off-grid, build a bathroom wall and put in two custom staircases. And then we can start to fit the kitchen and bathroom. I’m tired just thinking about it!

Having said that, I’m still going to keep a garden next year, sorry Dave! It brings me so much joy, I don’t think I can let the seasons pass me by without planting any seeds.

And so today is the shortest day. The sun came up over the hill at two minutes to ten and it will go down at exactly 5pm. From tomorrow the days are getting longer and before I know it I’ll be planting again. Happy solstice everyone!

-Anna

The roof is on!

Having thought we’d have to put the roof works on pause until January, we had a few unexpected breaks in the rain and were able to progress a little.

The first job we wanted done was to get the second corner tiled so that we would only need one tarp to cover the unfinished bit. We were busy with that one morning – as usual Duran was on the roof and we would be passing him tiles as he needed them. If he ran out there would be cries of “TEJA!” and if you brought him an old one he didn’t like the look of, he’d say it was ugly and you’d have to go and find some pretty ones instead. If you brought one he took real dislike to he’d mutter to himself “this one is ugly like a demon”, but sometimes he’d use it anyway. I still haven’t worked out what makes an old tile pretty or ugly!

That day we did a bit but then over lunch when the boys were away it suddenly started raining and Dave and I clambered to get the tarps on as fast as possible, slipping and sliding on the tarp whilst the raindrops were soaking into the chipboard. A tiny bit of water came inside – nothing major, but it did put a halt to work that afternoon.

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Last corner done

We took advantage of our rain days to go and buy a new power tool – a reciprocating saw to do the round holes in the roof! It’s great and I’m sure it will be put to good use after the roof is done too.

Then a few days later the forecast was for a clear afternoon, so we started at 1pm and managed to get quite a bit done. Dave was going to be leaving for the UK the next day and we didn’t want to do the hole-cutting without him because he’s the only one with the accuracy and patience to cut them nicely! So he was busy all day prepping and chopping and keeping the rest of us in line. We got loads done and it went very well indeed. By the end of the day, we had the sun tunnel, Velux window and chimney all in place and even got a bit more tiling done too.

Once Dave had left, I spent the weekend harvesting and processing some garden veggies before starting up again on Monday morning with the promise of sunshine – finally! Having had a glorious Sunday as foretold, I was expecting to finish the roof on Monday. But we started under a blanket of cloud, spent the morning placing tiles in the drizzle and covered it up again to stop work at lunchtime because it was raining. It kept raining all afternoon and all night and the roads and paths became rivers once again. Ugh.

But today was good. After a misty start, the sun came out and we finished the top row of tiles with a beautiful view. All we had to do was place the final big tiles on the apex and we were done by midday! Then a neighbour came over with home made pizza and hot chocolate and we enjoyed a chat and some food before doing some finishing touches and cleaning up. And just like that, we have a waterproof roof – hurray! I won’t say that it’s finished exactly, there’s still quite a bit to do, especially inside, but the roof itself is on and the workmen are done so the rest is over to us…

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Waterproof roof

-Anna

The Roof

All summer and autumn I pestered the builders about the roof to no avail. So November came around and we found a house to rent in the village for the winter, which has made our lives so much more comfortable. Then out of the blue on the 12th of November, I got a text that said, “We start Tuesday”. And sure enough, on Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock sharp, they walked down the field to the back of the house, said hello and started taking tiles off the roof. Since then, we’ve been working non-stop when the sun has been shining and resting on our laurels when it’s been raining.

The first two weeks we had good weather – and it was exhausting! But with two paid workers, Dave and I and some help from our friend Jules, we got things done pretty quickly. The tiles came off, the slatted wood came off, then the old beams were removed and the shelf above the balcony came out. Before we knew it, two huge new beams were being installed on the front corners and it was time to put the whole thing back together again.

 

 

The two main sides of the roof were relatively simple and the new beams went in fast, getting chocked up or chiselled into the old side beams as required to make them all level. Then we put a huge new beam in at the front and replaced the shelf above the balcony.

 

Next up was the front part of the roof, which proved to be more difficult. This is where the old roof used to have a steep section then a less steep section to allow it to come out further than the side corners and shade the balcony whilst still lining up with the two sides. The builders were intent on having it all come down at one angle, but still have it line up with the sides and come out as far as before. Clearly this was a physical impossibility. Dave was away that day getting the MOT and the two builders called for ‘Grandad’ (a seasoned roofer) to come and help. This meant that I was alone on the roof with three Spanish builders trying to explain to them why the beams wouldn’t sit straight with each other. They didn’t get it. Instead, they kept trying ridiculous solutions that didn’t work, then scratching their heads and saying how strange this bit of roof was. [ARGH!]

After some time, they finally agreed on a solution so bizarre I couldn’t even explain it if I wanted to, but that involved re-chocking one entire side of completed roof and setting one of the front beams squint instead of square to the front of the house. “Yes I think that’s the best thing to do”, said Duran to the other two, “even though we’ve angered the blonde one.”

And so they went about putting the front beams on and I tried to shake off my anger and help because that would be the quickest way to find out whether it was going to work or not. As the afternoon wore on, we cut and placed beams and watched the front part of the roof take on its predicted Pringle-like form as the builders scratched their heads, at a loss as to how this could be happening. [Sigh]

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The problematic front of roof

The next day I was able to approach things more rationally and could see that the new front section did in fact give us more room inside whilst still providing the same amount of shade to the balcony. Most of the distortion was minimal and wouldn’t be visible in the end, so the only problem was that the last two beams at each end stuck up a lot more than the others, which looked rather odd. I suggested that they be chiselled into the big beam, the builders agreed and everyone was happy with the outcome. Phew.

The most boring part was doing the walls. On three sides, the stone walls had to be raised up around the joists to make the whole thing weather-tight. We spent a few days mixing lime mortar, hauling rocks and building up the walls.

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Building up stone walls between beams

After that, the next step was to add the ‘sandwich’. These are panels made of three stuck-together layers. The bottom layer is wood panelling, the middle layer is insulation, the top layer is chipboard. It’s fast to put on, gives you an instant finish inside and an outside surface that’s ready to tile. Ours has 8cm insulation instead of the typical 2 or 3, which will serve us well in summer and winter.

Nobody here seems to understand why we’re spending more than is typical here trying to insulate our roof properly. We keep getting asked why we’ve opted for such fat sandwich insulation, or for triple-glazed roof windows. To me it just seems obvious! An extra 800€ now (maybe 5% of the total cost) and we will have to chop less firewood every single year. Of course if you had a big house and all those numbers got doubled or tripled, that’s a different matter! But luckily we have a small house that we can afford to do well.

Once the sandwich was on, there was a gap in the apex to fill neatly with little bits of sandwich – that was a precision job for Dave that took all day. In the meantime, the builders were fitting the gutters and nailing down waterproof under-tile material called onduline. They got one side done before it started raining and we had to cover the roof in tarps and have a week off.

 

 

 

Just when I was marvelling at how fast things were going, it was time to fit the first Velux roof window. This was pretty much an all day job. It started with the builders doing it how they always do it, us looking at it and then deciding that wasn’t how we wanted it done. Dave was getting frustrated because he found their work style infuriating and couldn’t communicate with them. He kept getting the Velux booklet out and pointing at the instructions, to which Duran would say “That book is filled with a thousand lies”, or “Oh my god if he gets that booklet out again…!” Although this was all rather amusing, I was getting tired of Dave’s attitude and on top of that, our new window looked like shit. Over lunch, Dave and I agreed on what we wanted and decided we’d ask for it to be changed.

Thankfully Duran was receptive to our request and we all got on and fixed it together. It ended up looking fantastic and Dave and I were glowing with renewed confidence in our friendly builders and our own decision-making. Hopefully the window on the other side will go a bit quicker.

Once the window was in, we could glue down tiles down all around it. We have opted for new tiles underneath for easier and more waterproof construction, but old tiles on top so that the roof maintains its original rustic aesthetic. Having spent all that extra money on insulation, the builders were very confused about why we weren’t spending a tiny bit extra on more new tiles. But still, by the end of that day, the first of three sides was complete! Yay! Then we looked at the forecast and covered it all up for another week whilst we got our first snow of the season.

 

 

The snow melted and the sun came out and we went back to work getting the front waterproof. Guttering, onduline and tiles were installed and then two sides were complete.

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Lovely view

Now December has arrived and it has been raining a lot. By the look of the forecast, I think the roof is going to have stay covered in tarps until January, which is a shame because I think with two more days of work we could get it finished. Ah well, such is life – especially if you start work on your roof in mid-November!

-Anna

Autumn renovations

I’m feeling less optimistic about having a weather-proof stove-heated building to live in by the time winter comes. But at the moment we’re making progress every day and we’re enjoying beautiful autumn weather whilst we’re doing it.

The current project is to rebuild the upstairs front wall. The old wall was made from wattle and daub and built on top of the balcony floorboards. We had a great time tearing the old wall down with help from Tarje and Ralph. Then we’d planned to build a new brick wall, leaving spaces for two windows and a door. But with the wall down, the plans had to change. Firstly, we realised that all that light and view could not be shut out behind bricks. Secondly, we realised that the top of the downstairs stone wall, which supports the balcony floor and main floor, had been partly raised. This means that the inside floor (which is about 15cm higher than the balcony floor) could be lowered to put it all on the same level. That meant taking down the top of the wall around the floor joists, then replacing the balcony joists with new wood in the same place as the old wood. And replacing the inside joists with new wood at a lower level than the old joists.

And so building a small brick wall has turned into weeks of work – mostly for Dave! But he’s having a great time measuring, chiselling and sawing each of the 14 new balcony joists to make them all perfectly level.

Meanwhile the roofer Duran is nowhere to be seen. I told him that our materials had arrived almost two weeks ago, but (as expected) nobody is in a hurry to get on with anything! At least we’re busy whilst we wait.

I’ve been making some more progress on the barn – the roof that looked like a forest floor is gradually being cleaned to reveal actual roof tiles. And I’ve been getting quotes and drawings for an off-grid heating and hot water system. We have a plan now but it’s a big job and there’s so much else to do! So on demand hot water may remain a pipe dream this winter.

The garden has been very much neglected for the last month or two. But I do still harvest things from it when I remember! We’ve been eating cauliflower, kohl rabi, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, aubergines, onions and beetroot from the garden. And we’ve collected hazelnuts and mushrooms from nearby too.

We spend time with friends, sometimes go climbing or hiking. And the puppies take up a fair bit of time. They’re four months old now and almost as tall as their mum!

Did I mention we have wifi now? Well we do, it’s very exciting. Now can’t imagine life here without it!

There is one thing I really miss. A sofa. I so miss having a sofa. Somewhere comfy to sit when it’s not nighttime. Not a day goes by without me wishing I had a sofa. Of course there are other things that would be nice to have like hot water, heating, a house to heat, an actual kitchen, but those things don’t bother me as much as the absence of a sofa. A comfy, comfy sofa….

Anna

Wall removal

Balcony floor removal

Puppies

The garden

 

House Progress

So it’s the end of August and we’ve been living here for 5 months. I can reveal with a sigh of relief that we have in fact started working on the house! Hurray! Cheers and applause all around! Here’s what we’ve been up to…

We found a supplier of natural hydraulic lime with which to make lime mortar. This is a great alternative to Portland cement because it has a smaller carbon footprint, it is breathable and although it’s got strength like cement, it’s softer than the rock around it. This means that if there’s damage to the stone wall, it’s the mortar that suffers, not the stone, and the mortar can be replaced a lot more easily. With our newly appropriated lime, we have started pointing parts of the house. This involves removing the old mortar between the facing stones, replacing it with new lime mortar then brushing it before it dries to make it look nice. The first batch we did at the back of the house came out with the stones all coated in white lime powder that can’t be removed unless you use an acid wash. So the next batch inside we have been doing with a slower but much less wasteful method that leaves the stones beautifully clean. The finished effect is lovely and some of the work is quite relaxing, but it is very time consuming and there’s still loads to do.

We have ordered our windows and front door, which will hopefully fit beautifully into the gaps in the walls when they arrive in a month or so.

We have decided how to rebuild our front wall on the first floor, which is currently a holey mix of latticed wood filled with stone and cob. We’re going to take it down and replace it with a wall made of thick insulating bricks which will then be rendered with lime mortar. The new doorway will be a normal height (we are both eagerly awaiting a future that will be head-smash free – at least upstairs) and the windows will be bigger and higher too.

About a week ago, we had the materials for this new front wall delivered. Ivan from the local building supply store brought them to the field above ours, then the neighbouring farmer / builder / handyman Duran brought them to the back of the house on a tractor and trailer. He brought the tonne bag of sand first. They laid out a tarp behind the trailer, then simply raised the trailer to allow it to cascade off the back and spill its contents all over the tarp. Then he brought two pallets of bricks down (total weight about 1.2 tonnes). As he was reversing down the hill, he shouted to Ivan “It’s not going to fall out is it?”, to which the reply came calmly “I’m not sure”, followed by sliding and crashing and rolling of bricks down the hill. Well that’s one way to get them off the trailer! Luckily the bricks seem pretty tough and surprisingly few got damaged. I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of it – the big pile of bricks strewn down the hillside with bits of plastic packaging and broken pallet sticking out.

Dave has been rescuing our little barn from its green tomb. He’s been clearing ivy from the walls and roof and is now in the process of removing tiles, putting down corrugated waterproof sheets, then replacing the tiles on top. This is a temporary measure to try and stop the whole thing falling down from water damage before we get around to dealing with it.

The roof works on our house are scheduled with Duran hopefully for September, although these things tend to start later than you expected and go on for longer. We’ll see what happens, but I feel (at the moment) that it can be done before winter.

So after months of trying to get things off the ground, it’s all sort of happening at once. There’s a lot to think about. Even when we’re just meditatively pointing the inside walls, we need to remember things like where to leave space for wiring, plug sockets and light switches. We’re also trying to get our residency application off the ground, which is proving to be as difficult, time-consuming and bureaucratically ridiculous as expected. We still have to apply for a permit to do the roof. And every day we have to do all our normal life stuff too – Dave goes to work 3-4 days a week, we have visitors, we have a garden to tend, we have a puppy to look after, sometimes we allow ourselves time to go climbing or I do yoga or we go and meet people. We have all that normal stuff to do that takes up so much of our time. I’m not complaining – I like that stuff. But the expectations are constantly getting re-evaluated and deadlines move further into the future as it becomes obvious that they were always unattainable. So who knows… maybe we’ll be in the house this winter… maybe our tent will have to see us through a few more frosts!

-Anna

Repointing the back wall outside

Starting with the new method inside

Asturian farmer delivers building materials

Dave working on the barn

Trips and visits

Charlie is growing up

Summer has begun

It’s a hot afternoon and I’m sitting in the hammock under the dappled shade of an ash tree contemplating my new life here. The breeze is keeping me cool and from the hammock I am overlooking the roof of our house, part of our field and the view of the tree-covered hills beyond. There are birds singing, bees buzzing, crickets chirping, a far away cockerel crowing, and in the distance I can hear cowbells and the occasional dog barking in the village below. Our field has turned into a beautiful meadow since the cows departed for higher pastures. The grasses are waving in the breeze and the wildflowers are blooming in the sun. The grass won’t get cut for hay until the end of July, and after that the cows will be back.

Dave is away at the moment on a natural building course in Portugal. My sister Faye and her boyfriend Iain were here visiting for five days, and yesterday evening I dropped them off at the airport. Whilst they were here, we had some nice holiday time walking along the river, having lunches in the sun and chatting over beers, but they also got to work building a fence to keep the cows out of what will be the pumpkin patch. It’s looking wonderful and went up a lot faster with extra pairs of hands! I spent this morning finishing off the fence and starting to scythe the part of the field I want to plant.

Before that, Dave’s parents were here to visit. They had less luck with the weather but we enjoyed several little jaunts including a trip around a big cave in the next valley. It contains one of the largest bat populations in Spain! You can’t go in the bit where the bats live, but we had a great tour of the other parts of the cave.

The veg garden is growing up nicely. It looks like we’re about to have quite a lot of peas to eat, which will be just great! And all my summer crops are starting to get going now. I’ve planted out my runner beans by their poles. I’ve got lots of seedlings coming up of parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, French bean, kohl rabi, white beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower. The tomato and pepper plants that I’ve been growing in small pots are all going to need somewhere to go, but I’m still deciding where that will be! There always seems to be a lot to do. I counted the other day that I have to make space for about 50 pumpkin plants, despite already having 25 out in the garden. If they all grew up to give us an average of 2.5 pumpkins each, that would be 188 pumpkins. That may be a few too many… we shall see.

As for the house… well there has been a tiny amount of progress because the stone builder came up to have a look at it. He recons that we don’t have to do anything will the bulging walls except to re-point them (i.e. replace the mortar between the stones). That was a big relief and that’s a lot of work that we don’t have to do, so phew!

We chatted to him about the work we wanted to do whilst he was here. When I said that I was keen to have the re-pointing done in the old style, using a clay-soil mix for mortar, he said “But that’s how they did things before. Now we have cement and it’s better.” I’m sure cement is stronger, but the point of the mortar is to allow the wall to breathe as well as support the stones and make it weather proof. We still haven’t decided what to do, but I think we’re both pretty strongly against using cement in our build. Cement is energy-intensive to produce, releasing a lot of CO2 in the process. I know we’re only doing a small project so you might think our contribution won’t make a difference, but imagine everyone realised that they could make a difference by doing their little projects in a more sustainable way.

Now we just have to choose roof insulation, order the materials and get on with it! Don’t hold your breath.

Even though progress might seem glacial, I don’t feel any stress or pressure about this project. It would be nice to have a roof, walls, windows, door and a wood stove before winter, but other than that we can do the internal parts later on even if the weather isn’t great.

At the moment, I’m enjoying our first summer here and regularly reflecting on how happy and lucky I feel to be here. This place is fantastic, our neighbours are wonderful and I spend my time outdoors doing what I love.

And just in case things weren’t perfect enough, Tarje and Signe’s dog Fi had two puppies a few weeks ago. They are going to keep the boy puppy who’s called Raid, and Dave and I are going to have the girl puppy who’s called Charlie. The pair of them have just started stumbling around and wagging their tails and trying to play fight with each other between falling over. It’s pretty much the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen.

So there we go – we’re about to have a dog to train and feed as well as a house to do up and a garden to tend. We still have occasional shitty days where it rains all the time or we are tired or argumentative, but on the whole, life is pretty fucking epic at the moment.

Maybe I will go and have something to eat whilst waiting for the garden to be in the evening shade so that I can carry on scything.

-Anna

The Renners braved a trip into the bat cave!

Faye and Iain enjoyed a lovely sunny visit

The garden is coming to life

We made some new friends in another valley

Pictures from home

The puppies Charlie and Raid with Mum Fi

Tent life

It’s been a month and a half since we moved, which is barely believable. We still haven’t started on the house yet, so don’t get too excited, but we have done a few things to make life outdoors a little more civilised…

Following a trip to Ikea and at least 40 minutes in the car park trying to cram everything into the boot, we are excited to have a comfy mattress, new duvet and real towels! We also have light in the tent and the wood burning stove set up, which is a lovely development and we can now enjoy sitting by the fire reading a book on a chilly night.

I moved the mountain of bramble cuttings that had been accumulating in the garden, then we dug out a little pond (where apparently there used to be one) and it’s now home to pond skaters, a toad and lots and lots of mosquito larvae. And the passing dogs like to play in it, destroying our lovely reed bed in the process.

We knocked down half of the ugly concrete water storage tank outside the house and Dave turned the rest of it into a sink – brilliant! No more on-the-grass washing up with the hosepipe.

Dave worked through snow, wind, hail and sun to put up an outdoor shower in advance of his siblings visiting, then we screened it with bamboo. So no more hope-nobody-is-coming washes with the hosepipe either. There’s a wonderful view from the new shower to distract you from the cold water! It does actually get quite hot when the sun is shining on the black hose, but we’ve had our share of cloudy and chilly days of late!

The garden continues to expand and fill with food. We’ve been eating lettuce, rocket, rapini, radishes, carrots, coriander, chives and mint from the garden. My nursery is doing alright, although I had several set-backs including mouse-eaten seeds! Already dreaming of a nice greenhouse, but I think it will have to wait.

We all spent a day building a hot compost heap! If you don’t have a garden, maybe you don’t get as excited by compost as gardeners do, so you’ll just have to take it from me that compost is exciting. The idea with hot compost is that you pile up alternating layers of ‘green’ like freshly cut grass and weeds and ‘brown’ like straw or dry leaves. Then it gets up to 55 degrees, then you turn it, then it heats up, then you turn it, etc. And after 18 days, you have a huge pile of perfect soil for the garden and all the weed seeds have been killed by the heat. Except ours got too hot and killed all the good bacteria! We’ve managed to get it going now but it is not as quick as it should be.

We have been to check out the local climbing wall with Tarje and Signe – there are loads of great routes, the views are wonderful and when you’re not climbing you can hang out in the shade of the trees, so it seems ideal! Just need to wrench myself away from the garden some time to go back.

We enjoyed a four-day visit from Dave’s siblings and nephew, which was lovely. We went to the beach, walked up to the hermitage, visited the 1000-yr old yew tree, had a typical ‘menu del dia’ lunch that filled us up until bedtime and sat outside the house drinking beer. And they seemed to be happy enough with the guest sleeping arrangements – at least we have mattresses, duvets, pillows and towels now.

Our new washing machine arrived! It’s sooooo good. When the sun is shining, it doesn’t even use power from the batteries. Dave has also taken to doing his fair share of laundry now that it doesn’t have to be done by hand.

 

Dave has been keeping busy with more carpentry projects – improving the shower with a lovely door, making more steps up to the house and digging a flat area for a new poo pit! We were told that a 1m x 1m x 1m humanure compost area would take a year to fill up, and although ours was only about half that, we seem to have filled it in less than two months! The next one will be bigger.

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We have started thinking about the house. We’ve got our first quote for materials for the roof and we’ve started the process of making contact with someone who can advise us as to what to do about our bulging back wall. So hopefully next month we’ll at least know what we plan to do, even if we haven’t started yet!

In the meantime, here’s a few pictures of the place…

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The Iberian emerald lizard – endemic to the Iberian peninsula

We had some snow and quite a good frost. Luckily the only things out in the garden were hardy enough to cope and we already had the fire set up and our new duvet.

We’ve seen all kinds of weather here now! I definitely felt a need to crack on with the house after that frost, but otherwise we’ve still really been enjoying life outdoors.

Anna

We’ve moved!

On the last day in March we packed up the car, finished cleaning out our apartment and drove over to the new house. We left Richard and Suzanne with new workaway volunteer Pablo, having spent a few days with to show him around. He works hard in the mornings and then goes for long walks in the mountains in the afternoons, so we were confident that we’d left them with a pair of good helping hands. And it’s only a week or two until we go back and visit them.

Moving day was long but once we were on the motorway, we relaxed and everything seemed to go smoothly. We arrived and put the tent up with Tarje helping us to do it without arguing. It took a lot longer to put it up on a platform than grass because you have to peg out the guy lines with screws and wooden poles and things. But it was ready to sleep in on the first night, which was an exciting development, albeit bloody freezing.

We had a chilly, rainy few days but made the most of it with a whole day’s expedition to the city’s shops with a list a mile long. We got some things to make life easier and more comfortable, and it’s already starting to feel like home.

3 Our place

Our tent and house

On one walk to the car, we met Alberto (who had previously given us three cherry trees to plant) and he offered us a mattress. It’s the smallest double I’ve ever seen at 180cm long by 120cm wide, but it fits perfectly in our tent! Of course Dave doesn’t fit perfectly in it, so we’ll have to fashion some sort of one-sided extension at some point, but it beats the camping mattress.

We found a bed frame in the house and Tarje and Signe gave us some legs for it, and we moved the big arm chairs from the house to the tent, so it’s pretty nice in there now. Just need some shelving to keep out piles of clothes off the floor and we’ll be set.

Dave built some steps up to our platform and I spent a day organising the downstairs of the house. Amongst the piles of dusty rubbish, I found a two-hob burner, a full gas bottle, a mirror, a full box of cutlery and some plates, which are all coming in handy. I put up some shelving and boxed up all our food in there and even though it’s 12 degrees and not as cold as a fridge, it keeps things pretty well.

Dave and Tarje spent several days hooking up three of the solar panels and four of the batteries that we got together (that’s only part of the system that we’ll have eventually, but the roof isn’t ready to have panels on it yet). So now, as if by magic, we have off-grid power! It’s brilliant – there’s a plug in our tent and you can power stuff from it! Signe and I are already dreaming about a washing machine. I find our small amount of hand laundry a pain, but they’ve got little Roar going through clothes and nappies every day.

Although I’m sure we will get our own wifi connection here, there is actually a public building in the next village that has great internet. Dave has been given a key to the place for 3€ a month, so he’s been working in there a few days whilst I’ve been organising the place, planting seeds and building a little plant nursery. The first three or four days we were here, I pretty much was busy from dawn till dusk, too excited about getting on with things to sit down. But that’s pretty tiring and my body is aching, so I’m resigned to taking it a bit easier, especially when it’s as hot as it has been! We’ve had three days in the high 20s and whilst it’s lovely to sit in the shade, it can get a bit hot working out in the sun. But at least in this weather, my tomatoes and chillies should be germinating!

21 Nursery build

Dave filling my newly built nursery bed with cow poo

The wildlife here is gloriously abundant. There are little lizards basking on the rocks, butterflies, bees and other insects buzzing all around and little birds chirping in the trees. You can’t put anything down without something going to live in it! I had left a bit of old carpet outside on a rock and when I picked it up, there were loads of earthworms underneath. The planting modules attract butterflies, and then the lizards that live in the wall hunt them. We put a tarp over a fence so that we could ‘shower’ in relative privacy and when I went to take it down there was a lizard basking in its folds. The songbirds dance around our tent in the mornings and sometimes you see a bird of prey or a vulture flying high overhead. There are patches of white and pink blossoms around and the broadleaf trees are starting to emerge from their dormant winter. The hillside we overlook that has been brown all winter is getting greener by the day as the ash and oak trees are first to emerge between the beeches. We have been taking walks over to those woods get down to the stream where we can cool down in the heat of the afternoon.

We’ve taken a few little exploratory strolls around the other buildings and ruins of our little hamlet. As well as our house and Tarje and Signe’s house, there’s quite a good barn between them then a small assortment of old houses, barns and ruins close by. The house that was most recently inhabited full-time did have on-grid electricity but has been stood disconnected and abandoned for about 40 years.

Everything that needs doing here is hard work to get started but it’s rewarding to see how quickly things change when you work at it. We are still showering with a hosepipe behind a gate, we do the washing up with the hosepipe on the grass and we still don’t have any light bulbs. But progress is being made! We have our tent and a place to cook and eat. We’re harvesting lettuce from the garden and my radishes are almost a good size. I can’t wait until we don’t have to buy veggies any more. Dave keeps saying ‘I thought we were going to work on the house first’, but we do need to make sure we can live comfortably whilst we’re working on it. So, as they keep telling us here poco a poco (little by little) is how things are supposed to be done – and that’s a low stress lifestyle I’m happy to adopt.

-Anna

Tent platform in progress

We’ve been over to the house every weekend for the last month. And Dave has been working remotely as an environmental consultant 3 days a week whist we’re at Richard and Suzanne’s. So it’s been a whirl-wind of driving, carrying, packing and unpacking, working at the house and trying to make progress here without Dave. I have to say, I’m bloody knackered, and I’m sure Dave is too. It will be nice to be in one place for a while once we get back from a week in Blighty at the end of March.

Our wood delivery was due on a Friday three weeks ago and we started the day by carrying some stuff up to the house in the morning mist.

1 Misty track

The start of the track to our village

Then the wood arrived and we spent half a day carrying it into the village with Tarje. Chestnut is so heavy! Tarje had already done this chore several times on his own, so could carry a good bundle. I was struggling along with three boards on my bruised shoulders and my muscles were definitely feeling it by the afternoon. One of our lovely neighbours Tivo was passing when the wood arrived and lent us a rope to drag the largest of the beams that couldn’t be carried easily. The couple that has the field above us were passing on their quad and stopped to chat. After exchanging pleasantries, they enquired “Are you accustomed to working?” Having seen the two of them, easily in their 60’s, shovelling cow shit and tending to the sheep every day, I couldn’t very well tell them that I was accustomed to working. “Well I used to have an office job” I told them, and they puffed out their cheeks, knowing I had my work cut out.

The rest of the weekend was mostly spent digging post holes. We also got over half of the wood treated and I started preparing a garden (so much for being patient until April!).

11 Working together

Me making garden beds whilst Dave is laying wood out for treatment

Luckily the weather cleared up and it was so hot that I enjoyed a garden hose shower in the afternoon sun without getting goosebumps. Bliss.

The weekend after that one, more post holes followed and we started to test out two of the beams on the posts and rocks. Oh dear. Not only were they not level with each other, they weren’t even level with themselves! Posts had to have their tops sawn off, rocks had to be lifted again to dig them into the ground further and the top slope had to be dug out where the ground was too high to allow the beam to lay flat. So Dave mostly got on with that stuff whilst I started planting a herb garden after our trip to the garden centre.

By the end of the day, his determination rewarded him with being able to screw down two of the three big beams and attach the joists on one side! It felt like real progress to get the drill out and start fixing it together.

1 Drilling

Fixing down the middle beam

Sunday was our first anniversary! We went for a nice dinner on Saturday night then spent Sunday being tourists in our local area, which was wonderful.  We went to see the hermitage, whose crosses on the rocky outcrop can be seen from our field. We went to visit one of the oldest yew trees in Spain, estimated to be at least 1000 years old. And we had lunch at a famous middle-of-nowhere restaurant, which was delicious albeit decidedly un-vegan.

1 Hermitage

Walking up to the hermitage

We’re spending this weekend at the house again with view to getting the platform finished (maybe) before heading to the UK for a week, spending a week at Richard and Suzanne’s, then moving to be at the new place all the time!

-Anna

 

 

Working weekends update

We’ve been back to the house about every second weekend. There have been some wet ones – including when my parents were visiting for the first time – and some beautiful sunny ones.  All the hazel catkins are out along the rivers, as well as some of the early fruit tree blossoms.  I think it’s too soon to be calling it Spring just yet, but as the days are getting longer, the sun feels lovely and warm when it decides to come out.

Bramble bashing has continued. Still plenty more of that to do!

We already have a small strawberry patch springing into life because the bundle of little plants Signe bought included too many for their patch. I’d love to be preparing more of the gardens now, but we can only get so much done with our short visits at the moment, so I’m trying to be patient until we live there in April.

Mum and Dad came to visit last week and we all sloshed our way up the hill in the cloud and rain to look at our little house. It was a shame to have our first visitors when there was no view but they loved it anyway and it was great to talk through various reparation ideas together. We also spent some time in Oviedo, our nearest city, which turns out to be lovely, enjoyed some restaurant meals and were treated to some cool new tools in the huge DIY store.

 

After my parents left, we had a bit of a panic that it was only a month before we wanted to have the place set up for temporary living and we hadn’t even decided how we were going to do it yet. So this weekend we got started on the foundations for our tent platform. We measured out the space, ordered the wood from the local wood yard for delivery next week and started moving the corner stones into position. We’re now three stones down with one to go…

Moving the first rock

Moving the second rock

And the third rock – hurray all level so far!

Hopefully we’ll be able to do the last rock and get started on the platform itself next week when the wood arrives.

As we count down to our arrival at the new house, time is ticking for us to get things done at Richard and Suzanne’s place before we leave. We’re still doing the pointing on the big house once a week when Jose Pedro is here with the scaffolding. And when the weather is nice, we’ve been out weeding and sowing some flower seeds in the gardens. The vegetable patch currently only contains a few rows of garlic, but I’ve started some seeds indoors. I was excited to find a patch of lettuces today that are growing by the compost pile – I’d laid down the lettuce seed heads there last summer after collecting them. I’m pretty chuffed with that – my seed saving efforts are paying off already with mid February lettuces that I never even planted! All I had to do today was transplant as many as I could be bothered to dig up, and they will soon be ready for harvesting.

3-lettuce

My zero effort lettuce patch 🙂

Even when we’re over here away from the new house, there are new house jobs to get on with. At the moment we’re planning to order an off-grid solar electricity system with Tarje and Signe so that we’ll be able to power some lights and a washing machine, as well as charge our phones, laptops and batteries for power tools. We’re also looking at getting a solar water heater so that we can have a hot shower! Once all that’s in place, maybe we’ll never bother moving into the actual house.

-Anna