The days are getting longer, the sun feels hotter, hazel catkins, primroses and violets are out, there is frog spawn in our tiny pond and buds are starting to form on the bare trees. The mountains are still capped with snow and the nights can be chilly, but there’s a promise hanging in the air that spring will come eventually. Hopefully earlier than last year, when it was still snowing in April!
It took us about a week to get the beams painted. Paint, dry, turn, repeat. We were up there when it was snowing too, which meant you could only do two hours before your fingers froze solid! By the time we were finishing the second coat, it was hot and sunny again.
Dave had some paid work to get on with and we still had to decide on a lifting mechanism, so I have been back out in the garden. My shorts and sun hat have been put to use already!
I went around the field in the sunshine removing new growth of brambles and nettles. Omar and I went to his stable to collect lots of sacks of fertiliser for the garden. We also pollarded selected ash trees that are too close to the house, turning the trunks into firewood and leaving the thin branches to be chipped (I would like to buy a chipper – keep working Dave!). We cleared debris off the roof and out of the gutters. We’ve fixed a gate to the field that came down in the snow. And put up some supports for peas because I’ve got several varieties starting to come up.
As well as tending to the veggie garden, I have spent some time preparing plants for the forest garden. I’ve sowed lots of seeds in trays outdoors that needed a period of winter cold before germinating. A few wild roses and some liquorice plants came up early, so they’re on the windowsill in the rental house waiting for spring. There are other seeds that needed a longer period of consistent cold, so those have been put into moist soil in bags in the fridge! Our house is turning into a plant nursery and I look forward to eventually getting around to making a proper greenhouse.
I have also been dividing comfrey. Comfrey is a leafy ground cover, out-competing even the hardiest of weeds, keeping the soil moist and happy, the bees love the flowers and the leaves can be used to make fertiliser. I want lots of it in the forest garden eventually, but started off with one little cutting that Signe gave me when the first spring we were here and I shoved it in the ground, preoccupied with other things. It’s spent two years getting rather large and now that it’s died back for winter, the idea is to dig up the root, chop it into bits and stick each bit in the ground to get new plants. I thought I’d get a few little chunks off it to divide again in two more years, but in fact it was absolutely enormous! I got 30 cuttings off it and could easily have taken 10 more, but I’d already filled up a whole new bed with comfrey so I thought that would do for now. They had better work because I heard that the only time comfrey cuttings wouldn’t take was during a nuclear winter, so I’ll look a bit silly if I can’t grow it!
In mid-February we finally got to lifting the beams into place. We set up our new chain hoist and some slings on the ridge beam, having decided that it would be strong enough to hold the extra 200kg per beam. We met with Omar in the afternoon and got to work. It only took three hours in the end to get them all in their holes and went very well overall. You spend ages agonising over a job then it’s done, just like that!
Once in the oversized holes, the beams still had to be set in place. Of course we want them all perfectly level and parallel for easy floor construction and a nice flat floor. This was rather tricky!
Each beam in turn had to be hoisted or propped up, the level of the lower face calculated precisely and a flat, even surface of rocks and mortar constructed for it to sit on. Then it had to be lowered into place and hammered to the right height whilst making sure it is level and the correct distance from the front wall at both ends. It took two to three days per beam to get finished because layers of stone and mortar had to dry in between and it was just so damn fiddly.
Now all three beams have been set in place. We spent the last few days starting to fill in the holes around the beam ends. We’ve also done some more pointing in the upstairs and downstairs and have started to think in detail about how to attach the wooden joists to the steel beams. It’s been a busy month! But it’s been hot and sunny, we’ve got lots done and we’re in a good mood, cheered on by our progress. I just need to forget about how I’d originally planned to have the new floor in before Christmas…!