Floor beams are in

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.

IMG_20190227_170700 (1)

A little Rugosa rose

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!

IMG_20190214_143254

A chunk of comfrey root

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…!

-Anna

New floor beams

I really enjoyed my two weeks home alone. With the floor held up by pending decisions, it was prime time to enjoy the sunshine and the garden. Omar and I continued our good landscaping work with a bench and another stone wall for a raised bed. The brick bench took a bit of work to get right but it’s turned out looking cool, plus it was a great way to use up some of the broken bricks. I bought a cherry tree and planted that next to my bench for pink blossoms and tasty cherries.

bench and cherry tree

New bench, raised bed and cherry tree

Then Omar and I did a bit of pointing on the house and had a go at removing the smallest of the old floor beams. It was quite a task taking the beam out since we couldn’t lift it between us, but we took our time and made a good job of it with some ropes and leverage.

I also spent some evenings making the rental house more homely with some house plants and home made decorations. It was lovely to spend the long evenings doing something creative and the rental place is feeling much nicer to hang out in now.

Dave got back in mid January and we had a volunteer Chris arrive too. All together that made four pairs of hands, so we took the opportunity to get to work getting the last two beams out of the old floor. We drilled the concrete out of the walls and then it was a case of trying to make as much space as possible around the end of each beam in an effort to get it out whilst cutting as little as possible off an end. It went quite well and we should be able to reuse two of the beams for the mezzanine level if we decide to do that.

The final beam was so heavy that the four of us could barely lift it between us. It had just started to rain as we took it out the window and the slippery paths meant that we had to abandon it at the closest available place next to the house. It carried on raining for four days straight. After all that gorgeous winter sun I suppose some proper winter was about due. We still went to work on the house, but had to do shorter stints because it’s cold working up there. In between, we chatted to Chris about our plans, got some good ideas and advice and did lots of cooking, eating, reading, planning and decision making.

20190117_174953

Let’s just leave this here

Making a decision about how to rebuild the floor has been painstaking. We’ve ended up coming full circle and are going to rebuild in the same style as the old floor, except that it will be level and bounce-free. Steel I-beams are going in where the wood beams came out, then glulam joists are going to run between them. It’s cheaper to use some steel and then thinner wood joists than to use wood that is thick enough to span the whole floor.

With the new plan in mind, we spent our time at the house working on the inside walls. Where the wood beams were removed, we extended the holes to make sure the new beams will sit at the right height. Then we measured the gap and put in our order for the steel beams.

We finished pointing the inside walls down to the level that the new floor will be. It only took a few days with the four of us doing it. And all the while it just kept raining. The inside of the house was soaked from the seeping water, drainage channels were spilling over and the paths became rivers. But we made good progress in spite of the weather. And then, having helped us get the beams out and finish the pointing, Chris headed off to another project further east.

With the new beams on the way, we asked around for some help getting them in across the field. In spite of the fact that it was muddy, heavy work, we managed to get some cheery volunteers! And luckily the skies cleared slightly so we didn’t have to work in the rain.

Jorge, Omar and Nik came along to lend their hands and the five of us got started on the first beam. At 200kg it was hard work getting it off the ground, never mind shuffling across the wet, uneven field with it. We carried it across the first field (with two or three breaks) since that belongs to someone else and we didn’t want to tear up the grass. When we crossed the boundary into our field, it was a relief to put it down and drag it with ropes the rest of the way – so much easier!

Thankfully, after the first one, some more volunteer hands arrived in the form of Marina and Rodrigo. Marina was carrying their baby, so she was designated photographer, but with the extra help from Rodrigo it was noticeably easier carrying the next one. All in, it only took two hours to carry all three to the house. It all went very safely and smoothly, the only disaster being Jorge losing his shoes in the mud!

Once the beams were hosed down and stored in the house, we headed down to the rental place for coffee, cake and a chat before everyone headed home. I was absolutely knackered by the end of it but we’re pleased with how it went and it feels good to be part of a community that helps each other out.

The next day Dave and I were feeling tired and sore but it was the last sunny day forecast for a while, so we headed up to start work on the beams. We had to brush off the mud, then scrub them clean of rust before applying the primer. Even though there were three of us working, it still took four hours to do all the sanding. At sunset we cleaned them with solvent and as the night drew in we got to painting them with primer. The primer finally ran out at 8pm with just one side of one beam left to paint and we tidied up and walked back across the field under the stars.

On Sunday the rain came back and we had a much needed day off with the exception of a quick trip to animal ER for Charlie. She had to get some bite wounds stapled together after a spat with another dog from the village. There’s always something to do!

The last few days have been spent doing more painting. Two coats of grey primer have been put on and Dave and I managed to find a paint we both like and we have started painting them. It will be a few more days before they’re ready to go in their final positions.

So there we are. Things are still going slowly but I feel like we’re getting into a better rhythm with the building work. We are better at discussing options and making decisions and have accepted the slow pace so we get less frustrated. And the further along we get, the more motivated we are. We can actually see that the house is starting to come together now (although we might be the only ones!) and that is spurring us on. I’ve got a good feeling about the rest of 2019.

-Anna

December Landscaping

December started with two weeks of surprisingly gorgeous weather. The snow on the peaks melted and we had warm sunshine. We spent a few days pointing inside downstairs and filled in the holes left by the beams. Then since Dave was working again, I got excited to do an outside job that I’d been thinking about for a while.

At the back of the veg garden, the stone wall below the public path was tumbled down. It was taking up valuable planting space, was annoying to get around and mostly just covered in brambles and nettles which invaded on my vegetable beds. I set to work dismantling it and putting all the rocks up on the path. Then the three of us did some digging and moving some really big rocks out the way. After that it was ready to start rebuilding again. I really enjoyed putting it all together. Omar helped out some afternoons and within a week we had about ten meters of wall rebuilt.

Below the new wall, I decided to put up another wall to make a raised bed, since it was so much fun and there were lots of rocks left over. It looks great, I’m very proud of myself. My favourite feature is the little planting bed on the top of the wall, which is going to be adorable filled with flowers. Now I just have to wait until spring to plant my seeds!

Before

After

In early December we had our third permaculture community workday, now known as the Permaculture Roundup. This time we were on home turf at Tarje and Signe’s place digging a big old hole in the ground for a duck pond. Two swales got dug out too and loads of people came and went throughout the day, which was great. The pond still has a lot of work to be done on it before it can be filled up, but it’s off to a good start.

Dave and I have been enjoying our Sundays off taking walks around the local area. One week we went along the riverside path which is the old mining railway route. Another day we took a forest trail to get to the next village in the valley and have lunch with Omar’s sister. It’s great exploring new places right on your own doorstep.

IMG_20181209_162633

Sunset on the trail home

The lovely weather has caused a few of my winter seeds to germinate early thinking it’s already spring! I don’t think those ones will survive the winter but we’ll see. Otherwise, the garden is looking good for December. The greenhouse is still giving peppers, chillies, tomatoes, loads of physalis and the occasional late melon trying to ripen. And outside, I’ve got rapini, lettuce and stir-fry greens. The garlic I planted last month is up and my onions are looking winter-ready.

Mid December was chilly, windy and rainy. We spent a long weekend indoors with Dave working, me reading and studying. I’ve been busting my brain trying to find the best way for us to rebuild the suspended floor. We’ve also been looking after little Charlie who has been spayed. She recovered well and was soon back to her bouncy self.

Finally it stopped raining and I decided I’d better make a little more progress on the house before the year is done. Omar and I started preparing for the raising of the doorway height. Then the next day Dave and I were discussing plans again and the project went on hold a little longer due to further (albeit important) indecision.

With the house project grounded again, I turned my attention back to the great outdoors. Omar and I started landscaping the part of the field below the greenhouse. This eventually is going to be the large new veggie patch, but initially I want to use it for plant propagation whilst I prepare to make the food forest. We’re going to need so many cover crops, bushes and trees that it makes sense to have somewhere big to grow them all.

In only a few days work, we made three terraced beds. The soil in that area was better than expected but the level still needs building up, so we spent another few days adding all the compost and debris we could find. We had piles of brambles which we added then we topped it all off with dry grass that we raked out of the field.

For Christmas we went to see Richard and Suzanne and some of their family. It was a lovely few days of eating, drinking and talking to excess. Then Dave spent a hung over day travelling to the UK to see family and I headed back home where a beautiful sunny forecast was waiting for me to think of more jobs to do.

Now I’m home alone since the Danes are away in Denmark and Dave is in the UK. The weather is spectacular though so I’m having a lovely time. I’m taking long morning walks, enjoying relaxing in the sun and doing some outdoor jobs. It feels like a lovely holiday.

-Anna

November stresses

After all that snow, Vidi saw one more day of sunshine before it was time for her to go home. To make the most of it, we headed to the climbing wall with Tarje and had a great time enjoying the rock, the views and the sunshine. It was beautiful. The next morning we waved goodbye and good luck to our last volunteer of 2018. Thank you Vidi for all your help and your eternally cheery demeanour!

A few days of wind and rain followed and we enjoyed vegging out for a bit. The post-snow chaos was still not over. There were broken trees everywhere! The local council was working through its backlog of jobs for weeks. The worst of it got tidied by villagers for firewood but there are still plenty of impassable paths.

We’ve been doing our bit too, clearing paths and chopping up fallen branches and trees, accumulating a decent pile of firewood in the process.

Following the destruction of the tent, we had a very cluttered house and no space to work in. Tarje and Signe kindly offered up a space in the bottom of their house which we have filled with stuff we don’t need at the moment. That gave us space to get to work removing one of the feed troughs from the ground floor. We broke up the breeze blocks, took them out to the rubble pile, cut out the rebar that was sticking out the ground then removed the wooden beam. That gave us space to do the pointing on the side wall. And with that wall done, we put up some shelving and got the tools organised. It’s so good to be able to find things again!

After that we turned our attention to removing the second feed trough. That went fairly swiftly since we already had our technique down. After removing the upper beam, we were left with a rather large hole in the back wall, which Dave spent a few days filling in bit by bit to let the mortar dry in between.

Having removed the second feed trough, the bulging wall was a lot more noticeable than it had been when it was in the background. We looked at it worriedly and scratched out heads. Dave talked about trying to rebuild it. I had a bit of an internal meltdown. I’d already been feeling stressed and weighed down by the scale of the tasks ahead of us and this extra unknown, potentially disastrous task was too much to handle. I called a professional to come and look at it and waited out the stress until he could come out and offer his opinion.

IMG_20181119_161115.jpg

The bulging wall is looming

My Mum and Dad came to visit us for a few days. It was the first time they’d seen the new roof, let alone everything else that has happened since then! It was great to realise how much progress we’ve made in the year since they were here last. We had a great time chatting and planning. And they got stuck in for a day oiling wood, shifting piles of tiles and pollarding trees. It was so lovely to see them and show them what we’re up to, and of course they had lots of useful advice for us too.

We helped Tarje and Signe install their new roof window. Tarje had already prepared the space for it to go in so we just spent a few hours getting it in its place. It looks great! They’ve made a surprising amount of progress for parents of two and it’s always exciting to see the latest developments in their house and garden.

Our own garden has been receiving a little bit of attention here and there when I don’t feel like working on the house. Parsnips and beetroots have been harvested and put into storage buckets. Peppers and tomatoes have still been producing in the greenhouse. Garlic, onions and leeks have been planted and empty beds mulched and covered until spring.

I’ve also sowed some forest garden seeds that need to experience cold winter temperatures before germinating in spring. Some tree species like Italian alder and Mulberry and lots of berry bushes like Juneberry and Oregon Grape. We’ll see if anything pops up next year!

Good news came on Tuesday when the professional wall guy came to look at the house. He said lots of things that made lots of sense and overall made me very happy indeed. We won’t be rebuilding any walls and we have a plan to damp-proof the whole house. That won’t happen until next summer since the machines can’t get in across the wet field. But in the meantime we have a whole upstairs to build, so that’s fine. We have our plan and we can carry on at usual levels of stress – phew!

Meanwhile, Dave made a great discovery. He noticed one of the corner roof tiles was cracked, which is hopefully the reason for the leak we spotted a while back. He used the grinder to cut out the old one and put a new one in on some cement. Another stress ticked off the list.

We spent a few days moving all the bricks and wood off the balcony and onto the old tent platform. Then Dave put a tarp roof over everything to keep it dry. Now we’re busy with the last of the downstairs pointing. After that we plan to make the front doorway higher so we don’t have to duck to get inside any more. Let’s hope the weather in December is nice to us so that we can get on with it.

-Anna

Good Autumn progress

After getting so little done in September, it’s been all go in October! Autumn is in full swing. Fallen leaves are starting to carpet the paths, the days start late and finish early and we’ve had a mixture of gorgeous warm sunshine, and very wet and windy days. I love this time of year. It’s beautiful working weather, big green dragonflies are humming around the garden, the forests are full of nuts and blackberries and it’s harvest time in the vegetable garden. We’ve even eaten ripe melons out of the greenhouse for the first time, which is a delight.

After I finished the cladding in the house at the beginning of the month, Omar and I repointed the other side of the front of the house, which took about a week all together. Then we tidied up the house ready for the floor removal. I also found time to do some tidying and harvesting in the garden in between all the chipping and pugging. After that, Dave finished work – hurray! And back with all hands on deck, we’ve been making good progress.

Two friends from London came to visit for five days on a working holiday. We know Tim and Carol from volunteer workdays in London, so we knew their working holiday would mean business. No sooner had they turned up than they were pulling up floorboards and tidying out the downstairs of the house to get the scaffolding in. In three days work, we had all the floorboards and joists out and the downstairs almost empty. All our tools and things got moved into the tent until there’s a new floor down.

We also pollarded a tree that’s too close to the house ready for removal and got quite a lot of the nails out of the old floorboards. And after all that, there was even time to go out for a walk in the woods, eat a traditional Asturian lunch and head up to the viewpoint on the mountain above us to enjoy sitting in the autumn sunshine. We had a wonderful time and they’ve definitely left their mark on the progress of the project.

IMG_20181015_171922

A friend from Cantabria came to visit for an afternoon to check out the area as he’s looking for a place of his own. He helped out with some brambling and we enjoyed a bit of sunshine before the forecast rain set in and he headed home. We also found out that he found Dave’s wedding ring in the vegetable garden in Cantabria that we used to keep, which he now tends! Barely believable.

In early October we had our second community workday. This time Gerald and Noemi were having the ground floor of their house dug out in preparation for putting in gravel before putting the new floor on top to reduce damp. This was an interesting one for us because we’re planning to do the same thing in our house eventually. They had already been working on it for months with just one or two of them chipping out the floor, which is a bit of a thankless task. But on the workday, there was a good gang of us and we were able to finish lowering the level to the desired 50cm below floor level by the end of the day. We were picking and hammering the clay, shovelling it into wheelbarrows and taking it to be dumped onto a track and raked flat. It was crazy hard work but went well and afterwards we all headed down to a festival by the lake for cider and chilling.

We also had Dave’s parents to visit. They arrived to rain just like their last visit. But happily unlike last time, it didn’t rain for the entire duration of their trip! On the second day the sun came out and stuck around for the rest of their stay. Roger got to work pulling nails out of the wood that came out of the old floor. And him and Dave started taking out the feed troughs out of the downstairs of the house. I spent a few days weeding and tidying the garden, which was very therapeutic in the autumn sunshine after weeks of working on the house. We also enjoyed going up the mountain with them in the car and having a look around the city together before they flew home again.

We’ve been doing so much bramble removal and tidying. Omar has been around the paths with the strimmer and we’ve taken piles and piles of brambles out from around the vegetable garden and field boundaries. Things are looking a lot better and it was great to get them out before the end of autumn. The runners had already started rooting into the ground at the tips, but they were young enough to be able to pull out easily at the moment, so we were able to stop them spreading. The cut brambles have all been piled up along a boundary wall. The ones I put there last year have made beautiful compost which will be going on the garden to continue breaking down before the spring planting.

In late October, we had another volunteer turn up full of enthusiasm. Vidi arrived to clear blue skies and we spent some time looking around together and chatting in the sun. I knew the forecast was bad, so we also did some bad weather prep. We brought all the pumpkins in from the garden, put all my baby trees in the back of the greenhouse and put away anything that was hanging around outside. As the sun set, we headed in for dinner and awaited the bad weather.

The next day was cloudy but fine and we took the opportunity to do some outside jobs. We spent the morning clearing more brambles from the ruin and in the afternoon we did some work in the herb garden, making a nice little boundary wall around one of the beds. At the end of the day, it started to drizzle and by the time Dave and I went out for our evening walk with Charlie, it was windy and rainy.

The next morning, we woke to a dusting of snow and more starting to settle. It carried on all day and all night and all the next day until we had 60cm of snow on the ground, a power cut in the village, trees were cracked and broken, our shade sail was ripped to shreds and our tent lay in smithereens.

Thankfully Dave had been thoughtful enough to remove the wood chocks at the front of the greenhouse so that the snow could fall off, so at least that didn’t collapse. We cleared stuff out of the tent and back into the crowded downstairs of the house whilst it was still snowing. We dug out the car on the third day to go to town. And we enjoyed some time playing in the snow too. Then when it all started to melt, we dismantled the twisted tent and cleaned and dried the tattered awning. Vidi also started clearing the paths of branches and fallen trees.

It has been properly chaotic. Because it’s so early in the season for snow, the trees still had their leaves and were more susceptible to being weighed down and broken. Even the main road in the valley is covered in broken trees. The power cut initially affected the whole valley too but they started to being the main towns back online. When we’d been without power for four days, they installed a generator in the car park to supply us until they can fix the lines.

So for Halloween we decided to brave the snowy stomp to Tarje and Signe’s house with some friends to carve pumpkins, eat, drink and be scary. It was a great evening and a lovely way to welcome the start of November.

Anna

September

I can’t believe it’s been a month. At the beginning of September, I was doing the finishing touches to the sink unit and getting it plumbed in. I was also getting my stuff together to prepare to walk the Camino Primitivo. Then I got a message from Richard and Suzanne (who we lived with for a year when we first came to Spain in search of land). They were looking for a carer to help them out but needed some help in the meantime. So I packed my stuff and headed over to lend a hand. Dave followed on a week later and I stayed a total of 2.5 weeks until a new carer started working for them and their son came to visit from China. When we got back home, I had a tummy bug followed by flu, which put me out of action for a bit.

I spent a day in the garden clearing out old beds and harvesting a few things too. I put a bucket load of beetroots into storage, collected a kilo of amaranth grain and strung up some super hot chillies to dry.

Dave has been working full time on the computer the whole of September but on his weekends, he started work on some cladding above the old beam on one side of the house. Then, when I started getting better I helped out one afternoon and we developed some good techniques for cutting the awkward shaped wood. That meant I could just carry on with it when he went back to work. It was great – I spent five days measuring, sawing, sanding, cutting and trying to make it all fit as nicely as possible. We thought it would take a week or two to do, so finally we found a job that took less time than we anticipated! Now the cladding is finished and the upstairs is tidied up ready for the next job of lowering the floor.

I’m still getting over being ill but almost back to normal now. It’s been frustrating to get so little done in September. October has arrived now and although the weather is still lovely, the nights and mornings are starting to get chilly. The trees are turning, the pumpkins are ready and the nights are drawing in.

Today we just had our first community workday at a friend’s place. Everyone who is doing projects turned up to lend a hand and we’ll take turns going to each other’s places. It was brilliant how much we got done in just a few hours. And it’s really lovely to be able to just turn up and do some work without having to think and plan! Hosting will be a whole different story…

-Anna

July 30/35

The weather still wasn’t great even in July, but a few spells of summer weather started to appear. Dave took two trips to the UK and I spent time on the house, in the garden and doing some local hiking.

One day’s walk was particularly gorgeous. I headed up to the viewpoint 30 minutes hike above us to have my breakfast and saw that the cloud was started to build in the valley, collecting above the river and spilling in through the gorge towards the coast. The cloud inversion is my favourite spectacle here. It seemed a shame to go back down into the cloud when it was such a glorious morning up there, so instead of heading down, I just kept going up until I got all the way to the pass then came back down very hungry for late lunch. The hike and the views were perfection. It really is amazing to have all this on our doorstep – we just have to manage to make time away from everything else to get out occasionally!

Whilst Dave was away on one of his trips, I finished pointing one side of the front of the house with Omar. And I pulled up all my tomato plants, which had been badly affected by blight after all the mist coming in the open-sided greenhouse. I replaced them with lots of extra peppers which I bought as small plants.

But really I didn’t do that much in July. The weather was really getting me down when we were half way through what should have been the summer and it was still misty and awful. So my mood definitely hampered success until the sun finally started coming out.

Towards the end of July, I had my 30th birthday and Dave had his 35th. It was a glorious sunny day on my birthday! We went to the beach and had a wonderful relaxing day swimming in the sea, wandering along the beautiful coast and eating delicious food. The paragliding we had booked got postponed because of the wind, but we ended up doing it a month later and it was great fun.

For Dave’s birthday, we happened to be travelling to the UK so we met up with his family the evening we arrived. Then we headed to Scotland to see my family too. Then a wedding, meeting friends and so on. Dave was away 10 days but I spent 3 weeks in the UK, which meant that I was very glad to get back home at the end of the long trip.

I returned mid August with renewed enthusiasm for working on the house. Meanwhile Dave had been offered six weeks of full time office work from home, so he’s slogging his way through that whilst I’m plodding on with projects at the house.

First of all I had to tend to the garden. The three weeks we’d been away had been a mixture of sunshine and rain and the garden was a jungle! The brambles were raining down on everything and as well as weeding, I was behind on harvesting and seed saving.

On the weekends, Dave and I have been carrying on with the window between his working weeks – the top and sides are finally finished now! There’s nothing left to do now until the floor has been lowered and we know what height to make the counter tops and windowsill.

The window project from beginning to now…

Finally completed…

My current project is building a table for the outdoor sink so that I can knock down the concrete monstrosity currently housing the sink and I can repoint the other side of the wall at the front of the house. I’d used bits of old wood to cut neat timbers to make the frame. Then I bought cheap chestnut planks to sand down for the shelf and countertop.

We had two volunteers for 5 days. Sarah and Ewan took very naturally to sawing, sanding, planing and drilling and were a great help. We got the table mostly assembled and the concrete corner demolished before they headed off. Then yesterday I finished off the table. I’m pretty pleased with it actually – it’s sturdy, functional and it looks pretty nice.

IMG_20180903_200429

Finished sink unit

The farmers finally started bringing in the hay in July. I went to help Omar and his family one day, raking behind the baler, hauling the little square bales into piles to get them all stacked and covered up before the threat of nighttime rain. It was a crazy hard day out in the sun – and they do it almost every day for three months!

IMG_20180904_143326_684

Helping the neighbours get in the hay

I’m so happy summer has finally arrived, albeit at least two months late. The garden is an explosion of life after all that water and now sunshine. The herb garden has filled out nicely and my nursery is looking healthy. The baby trees have been potted on into bigger pots after I realised what was going wrong – I’d used too much fertiliser in the potting mix and having never used synthetic fertiliser before, I didn’t realise that was a possibility! Synthetic fertiliser is salt based, which means if you use too much, the plants get poisoned. So I made a new fertiliser-free mix and it seems to be working wonderfully.

It was already September when I realised how short the days are getting. But at the moment the weather is nice, the house is getting worked on and Dave is earning money. All is well for the time being.

-Anna

June projects

Things are going relatively well. The landscaping got finished in early June and I even managed to sow some of it with grass and clover, which are coming up nicely.  For the tree nursery, I made a table for the seed trays and put up a shade so they wouldn’t have to be watered as much. Lots of seedlings popped up and I have loads of teeny tiny trees – so exciting! The only problem is that when I try to move one little tree from its seed tray to a slightly bigger pot, it dies. I’ve only got so many more goes before I run out of trees to try this on. But at least now I know those nitrogen fixing trees are easy to grow, so I can always try them again.

DSC_2605

Cute little trees – but how to pot them on without them dying?

The herbs I planted from seed are coming up nicely – some in trays and pots and others were sown straight into the bed. We should have a pretty good herb garden going soon.

DSC_2600

Basil seedlings in the foreground

One fine day we went up the mountain with Omar to check on his cows with him. It was beautiful up top and we enjoyed the views and the company.

 

The kitchen window is a project still in progress. It was scary at first taking rocks out but we got the hang of it and propped up everything above the hole. Then Dave read up on how to do it properly and decided to put in some supports above where the lintels would go. That was a great thing to do and made the job way easier. But as usual, what I thought would take a few days has gone on for weeks in amongst other jobs (and still isn’t finished!).

Dave prepped the four large wooden lintels until he was happy with their smooth, shiny, oiled finish. We took rocks out of the wall by chipping at the mortar and levering them out, trying to prop up the ones above that we wanted to keep in. Before the lintels could go in, the sides of the window they would rest on had to be built up. On one side that didn’t take too long, but the other side went on for days. Dave did most of it in the end, cutting rocks with a big angle grinder, finding other rocks to fit into the gaps on top.

Then when we had enough space to put in the two inside lintels, Dave and I measured them up and mortared them in place. After that, more rocks got taken out until there was enough space for the two outside lintels. Dave, Naomi and I measured them up then Dave went back to his desk job and left Naomi and I to put them in. This proved more difficult without the wooden chock we’d used to rest them on in the rest run. The outside one (which is slightly proud of the wall) kept falling out of its place and we had to cut little wedge rocks and balance the whole thing in there, mortar it in place and hope it didn’t move until the mortar set. It did slightly come away from the next lintel, leaving a small gap, but the lintels are all beautifully lined up, so I’m still happy with the outcome.

 

 

Once the weather warmed up in mid June, the garden started to take off. We had one week of summer weather and although it’s back to its misty, stormy ways, it’s not as cold any more. The tomatoes and pumpkins are growing by the day and there are more peas than I can eat. I’ve got parsnips, carrots, ocas, potatoes, beetroot and nasturtiums all going well. The broad beans have been unhappy again this year. Last year it was too dry and they got covered in ants farming aphids. This year has been too wet and they’ve got some kind of fungus and have made almost no pods. On the plus side, we harvested 50 bulbs of garlic, which are drying in the attic and planted that bed up with amaranths that I had been growing in trays ready to go straight in.

 

As well as my plants growing like mad, all the plants we’d rather not have around are growing like mad too. Omar and I have been clearing around the garden, shower platform, tent platform, greenhouse, paths, everywhere that was over-run. We are keeping on top of it but the buggers keep growing back. I left a few nice patches of bramble flowers though, because we might as well get some tasty blackberries out of the bastards.

For the summer solstice weekend, I went to the beach with friends Nik and Ellie. On the Saturday, Ellie and I went to a course about using wild plants for food and medicine, which was very interesting. We came away with new knowledge and enthusiasm as well as some jars of moisturizer and lip balm that we all made during the class. It was utterly exhausting learning new stuff in a new language though and by the end of the day when we drove to the beach, I was desperate to just sit and look at the sea. It didn’t disappoint. The long, sandy cove was almost empty of the day’s beach-goers by the time we got there and we sat and ate packed dinner and drank wine as the sun set. Then we set up our tents and crawled in under the moonlight. The next morning I got up before the sun and had the whole beach to myself for a sunrise swim, which was exactly what I needed. During the day it got busy but we enjoyed the sunshine and the waves before heading off to another beach in the evening to have dinner and pitch up with a view of the fading sky reflecting off the waves. It was a restorative weekend.

 

After that weekend I went to collect our new volunteer Naomi. She stayed for a week and was just brilliant. She helped me with the window, lots of pointing, weeding and we also built a bench. The bench is in the same rustic style as the one that was already at the house when we arrived, but it’s a more comfortable, stable, improved version made from salvaged wood. Lots of trees fell into the paths over winter, so there are stumps galore that were just perfect for our bench legs. And we found a big plank of wood rotting by a path in the village, so Naomi sanded that down and we chopped it in half to double it up for a comfy seat. The result is a good-looking bench of perfect height that’s very comfy to sit on and will never fall over (those tree stump legs make it very heavy indeed).

 

July arrived in style. I woke up to see clouds spilling in over the mountains from all sides but with blue skies above. The sun came up and shone on the tumbling mist, lit up the deep green canopy of the forest with its morning glow and brightened up the red roofs in the village. It was like a time-lapse video in a nature documentary. The weather has been warm lately but we’ve had a lot of cloud and thunderstorms. So even though it doesn’t particularly feel like summer and the farmers are grumbling because it’s not dry enough to cut the hay, I’m still delighting in being in such a wonderful part of the world.

-Anna

 

 

 

Mud mud mud

The hard work did continue! We got loads done with Conor and Elif who were volunteering with us for a week. We could hardly get them to stop working. Even when I had a horrible cold and took a day off one particularly miserable day, the rest of them carried on spritely as ever. One of the jobs me and Elif did was to put up a balcony railing around the neighbour’s balcony as a welcome home present for when they came back with their second baby. I think it turned out well and they seem happy with it too.

Tarje and Signe got back and we got to meet baby Liv who is very cute and has kept fairly quiet so far. Roar is going to be three years old in a few months and seems to be growing up by the day. It was lovely to welcome them back on a sunny day and all be together again.

The house has been slowly progressing. More pointing has been done, we insulated the tops of the stone walls and Dave finished the outside cladding and oiling of the pine. Dave and Omar have been continuing to sand all the old beams, which are looking lovely. We did have a slight set-back that involved oiling one of the beams, then Dave not liking how it looked and spending days sanding the oily bit back off. Those kind of things really frustrate me but I know that it’s his meticulousness that’s going to make our house extra special (if it can ever get finished).

The last two weeks have been pretty much endless rain and mist, I think everyone around here is sick of it. It’s June now, we expect a bit of sunshine! Yesterday we did have one glorious sunny day and set about continuing to do some landscaping below the house. The plan is to have a hang-out area for cooking and eating as well as a small tree nursery. I’ve ordered seeds so that I can start growing some permaculture plants and when our house is liveable and our land is ready to plant, the trees and bushes will be ready to go in! That’s the idea anyway, we’ll see how it works out. I can’t decide whether it’s more likely that they won’t germinate and I won’t have any plants, or that I’ll have loads of plants but the land won’t be ready for us to put them in. Bets anyone?

DSC_2553

Muddy landscaping

Dave and I managed to have a few days off here and there in between our hard work. One Sunday we went hiking up a gorge a little up the valley from us, which was a delightful way to spend a rare sunny day. And another Sunday we went to the spa with Jules and spent a few hours soaking our sore muscles and warming up in the sauna.

The garden has been growing like mad in this wet weather. The tomato seedlings aren’t very happy in the open-sided greenhouse because they’re damp in there, but generally most things are looking good. The wildlife watching has been great too – there are slow worms under every rock you pick up, bumblebees nesting in the ground below the long grass, butterflies flitting around, blue tits nesting in our front wall and blackbirds at home above a beam in the side of the house. We even saw the resident Iberian emerald lizard basking on an old rock wall one sunny day.

Some before and after pictures in the garden (only 2 or 3 weeks apart):

Some pictures from the garden:

DSC_2575

When the clouds clear and the sun comes out, it’s paradise

Unfortunately we discovered a leak in the new roof last weekend. We were up at the house looking at the roof, discussing how we were going to clad the tops of the inside walls and we saw some water seeping through into the pine cladding. Very demoralising. Now we have to wait for the rain to stop and the tiles to be dry before walking up there, taking some roof off and seeing what the problem is. Hopefully we will be doing that with the builder if he ever has time.

Today we’re back in the mist and mud but Sunday has come around again and we’re having a day off. I’ve had a tummy bug for the last few days and I think Dave is pretty knackered from hauling giant wet roof beams around to make raised beds in the garden.

Next week the landscaping will be done and we can get back to the house. The next phase should be good – we’re going to make one little window bigger, put cladding over the insulation and start preparing to lower the floor.

-Anna

Springtime

By mid April the slow retreat of winter was truly underway. We had ethereal misty mornings filled with bird song before the sun burned through the mist and bright emerging leaves dappled the light. The woods smell warm and damp. Wildflowers have been popping up everywhere – wild orchids in purple, little violets nestled in the grass, yellow petunias at the edges of the paths. Our little village was full of people. As well as the usual five of us, we had our two volunteers and also a family visit from Dave’s sister and nephew. We had a great time with them that included a trip to the beach, a walk, an outing to a market and taking them skiing for the first time!

Then I had a week in London and came back enthusiastic about doing some work in the Spring sunshine. Dave and our building helper Omar had spent the whole week I was away chipping out the final wall for repointing. It was almost ready when I got back. With Dave back at his computer working, Omar and I carried on with chipping then started mixing more mortar and filling the wall back up again.

The following week I worked pretty hard actually because our friend Jules was visiting. That meant three pairs of hands getting to work. We spent the week rebuilding a retaining wall below our field, repointing the house, clearing away and burning the small branches and brambles we’d cleared out between the trees in the field boundary. Then after a busy week of work we headed out for a weekend of socialising and I even went out clubbing in the city with some friends (that was a first here but won’t be the last!).

Our Danish neighbours have been away for a few weeks awaiting their second baby. She was more than a week overdue when we finally got news on the 9th May that she gave birth to a baby girl. We’re looking forward to having them back here again in a week or so.

At the moment we’ve got some more volunteers here, who are hard working and lovely. Dave has just finished his computer work too, so it’s all hands on deck with five of us. Chipping, repointing, sanding beams, insulating the tops of the walls, cutting back brambles and tending the garden. Long may the hard work last!

The puppies turned 1 year old on 10th May

-Anna