April showers

It’s a lovely spring. The flowers are out, the grass is growing, the forest has almost completely greened up. We have a pair of redstarts raising a brood in our house. The lizards, slow worms and myriad of insects having been making their presence known – two male Iberian Emerald Lizards had a fight right at my feet as I was raking grass clippings! Lockdown continues.

We’ve spent much of our time on the land – planting, sowing, weeding, doing minor earthworks. Dave has been working on his drains. We want to channel the water to prevent giant puddles but have places where it is stored and can be used to water the land. So he’s been putting ditches in along the terraces and adjusting them after the rains. I’ve been planting water-loving plants like comfrey, mint and hyssop alongside them.

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One of the channels in the making

We have done a fair bit of weeding, although there is always more where that came from! We went around the field taking out brambles and nettles. Having done this once or twice a year since we arrived, it only took a half day this time. Progress indeed. The other areas around the garden and stone walls are a bit more tricky but still nothing like they have been in the past. I’ve been picking away at the weeding in the vegetable garden. Dave scythed around some of the beds.

Lots of mulch has gone onto the barren field. Piles of branches and cut grass have been spread across the terraces and banks to provide shade, moisture, shelter and nutrients. It makes such a difference – the cover crops come up better, there are loads more insects about and the idea is that the twigs will rot down and start to make some soil too. In the places that were sowed in September, the mustards and oil seed rape are head hight and the nitrogen fixers are making a beautiful carpet underneath them. They are all buzzing and scurrying with lovely insects. There is hope for the forest garden!

I’ve been planting out more of my nursery plants; shrubs, trees, nitrogen fixers and berry bushes have made it out into the field to fend for themselves. There is honey locust (nitrogen fixing firewood tree), wild service trees (fruit tree), black mulberry, white mulberry, sea buckthorn (berry bush and wind break), Oregon grape (berry), golden currant, Japanese wineberry, rhubarb and asparagus, to name a few of the plants I have managed to start from seed over the last few years. And this year my small leaved limes have just started to come up, 20 months after sowing!

The herb beds I sowed two summers ago are filling out really nicely. We’ve had our first strawberries of the year and the pea shoots are going mad. There are a few spring onions but other than that, it’s a bit sparse in the ‘hungry gap’ at the moment. We have been making our way through the array of home made sauces, chutneys, relishes and jams that I made last year. I’ve been making batches of sauerkraut and we just put on our first elderflower champagne of the year to ferment. I hope it works! Nothing says spring like sipping elderflower champagne amongst the wildflowers.

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Two-tone sauerkraut

We went out one day to forage some little plants from the free nursery of the woodland caminos. By the late summer they have all been cut back to clear the paths, so rather than stealing from the woods, we have been rescuing plants from the strimmer! We found wild cherry, willow, sloe, oak, sweet chestnut, small leaved lime, elderflower, broom, wild rose, lemon balm and hazel. We are very pleased with our bucket of refugees and have added them to our borders and hedges for windbreaks, future food and wildlife habitat. I also found a honeysuckle growing on one of our stone walls, which was a nice surprise since the ones I sowed failed to germinate.

The nursery has filled up again. Never takes long! I’m starting lots of stuff for the veggie garden as well as some herbs for the field. My peas have gone out into the beds but most are waiting for better weather. The slugs are quite prolific at the moment with all the rain!

Leona has been growing like a weed too. She’s five months old now and it’s amazing how much she changed over the course of the month. She’s holding herself up quite well, so we have started baby-led weaning, which mostly involves her smearing various fruits all over herself in between licks, which she is delighted by. And we’re learning to carry her on our backs, which is a great development because we can get more stuff done that way.

We have also started Elimination Communication (EC) – reading her cues and putting her on the potty to reduce cloth nappy washes. I’d heard of it a while ago and was curious about it, but we only got around to it when she was 4 months old. And now we wish we’d started sooner! I can only describe it with an analogy – imagine growing up in a place where it was normal to formula feed babies on a standard schedule. Then you heard about people in a far-away land who breastfeed on demand and you think… Hmm… That sounds like a lot of work. And how do they know when their babies are hungry? But maybe if I learn how to do it and it works out well for us, it could be less expensive, less time consuming and involve less washing. Maybe I’ll give it a try. So we did and now we’re hooked, so that’s another thing that I’m so thankful to our lovely neighbours for letting us know it existed.

We have had to make a few more trips to the hospital this month. I noticed that the vision in my bad eye was significantly worse and emailed my neurologist to ask if she was concerned about it, since it didn’t fit my diagnosis. She must have been lacking patients due to lockdown because she was very keen to get me in immediately for a barrage of further testing. I got admitted for a morning and about ten people stood around the bed whilst she performed a lumbar puncture, a nurse took loads of vials of blood and I spent an hour an a half in the MRI machine! Between each test I had to pop out of the hospital to feed Leona in the carpark where Dave was trying to keep the wolf from the door. It was a pretty stressful day for everyone. Then I got a five day headache from the lumbar puncture, which was annoying. We still haven’t got a diagnosis but I think the options are being narrowed down. She has ruled out Lyme’s disease, MS, tumours and a whole host of conditions I’ve never heard of. It is looking like an auto immune condition but since we don’t know which one, I don’t know whether it will be treatable, manageable, curable or not. I haven’t been thinking about it too much, surprisingly, since there’s not much point in speculating. But it has made us think a bit more pressingly about our priorities and we would both love to hurry up and live in our house at some point… So we’ve been doing some thinking on that front. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)

Overall I feel life is treating us exceptionally well at the moment. The lockdown is taking its toll on a lot of people, so there’s a tinge of guilt to us enjoying it, but I think it’s important to count our blessings. Neither of us are working, we’re just busy on our land with our lovely Leona and Charlie for company, living the dream. Or as Dan would say “Living in a dream, more like!”. It sure does feel like it right now.

-Anna

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