This is the first winter that we have been self-sufficient in wood. The trees we planted last year will be many years before they can be harvested, but in the mean time the old ash on the north side of the barn and the surrounding fuchsia hedges have provided us with the perfect size logs for our little wood burning stove, although we have bought in bigger logs for the open fire in the Croft. We debated about putting in a wood burner in the Croft too, but the open fire is so lovely, even though it doesn’t make eco-sense, we have left it for now. Instead we have had a wood burner fitted in the Gallery. Here it has proved really successful as the tall chimney heats the air in the high ceiling very effectively and there’s also a hot plate to boil a kettle.
February has been a very industrious month getting the garden ready for the coming year. Once again we are extending our vegetable patch. Originally we had thought of spilling over into the orchard, but then I had the great idea of getting rid of the grass paths between the terraced beds, which really are a nuisance to keep cut and we have virtually doubled the size of the vegetable garden. It was hard work lifting the turfs, but the soil is so rich and deep on this south-west facing slope, that it’s a shame to waste any of it. The turfs upturned were used along with the soil from the excavations for the greenhouse to create a long border either side of the drive. There are still a few veg beds to attend to, but whilst they are still providing us with leeks, broccoli and brussel sprouts, even though they look ragged from the frosts, I am loathed to dig them up.
The chickens and ducks enjoyed all the activity in the garden, following us as we dug, feasting on the vast numbers of worms in the rotted horse manure. That’s the great advantage of living in the country – no shortage of manure! At one point as I was digging I looked up to find myself surrounded by the 5 ducks, 2 chickens and 2 kittens. The chickens have proved to be wonderful characters. There’s a cockerel who can’t hit the last note on Cock-a-doddle-doo and a pretty blond hen with yellow legs. They have a routine and are often found sitting on the top of a bench in the mornings, followed by a trip down to the greenhouse if it’s cold and visits to the duck’s pen to steal the duck’s food, which causes a great fuss amongst the ducks, who quack about it, but do nothing. Then the chickens end the day by knocking on the back door for their evening meal. If they don’t get a reply sometimes they try the doors of the other cottages. It’s very amusing especially as we have stable doors and we’ve been caught out a few times thinking there’s someone at the door, opening the top half and finding there’s no one there, then looking down to see its the chickens!
The ducks aren’t happy at the moment, once again we got it wrong and the ducklings we bought in Bantry market last June have all turned out to be boys. Rocky the leader is enormous he looks like a cross between a goose and a duck and unlike our previous ducks he has turned out to be a bit of a bully. We haven’t decided what to do about it yet, maybe we’ll separate them and keep the three smaller Khaki Campbell drakes at the back of the cottages and Rocky and his second in command a Runner duck called Lenny in the front garden. It’s a shame because up until Christmas they had all got along so well. It’s probably lack of female company that’s the problem!
At times its tiring work preparing the garden, but with the antics of our animals to amuse us and those wonderful moments when we pause for a second and watch nature happening around us, it makes everything worthwhile. Sitting against the old stone wall behind the Croft, feeling the sun on our face and watching great flocks of crows quarrel with even bigger flocks of starlings for the roosts at the top of the bare trees – the whooshing of their wings as the starlings sweep overhead, like a black cloud constantly changing direction and form. It’s those moments that make us thankful that we have the time to ‘stand and stare’.
‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.