Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: garden (page 2 of 2)

Stairway to Heaven

So, behind our house there is a courtyard (currently a weed-yard, soon to be a beautiful flag-stoned eating area), and from that the ground slopes up steeply into the Dingle.

Then, the bank on the right-hand side slopes steeply up to the main garden and orchard.

Steps beneath a honeysuckle arch

Steep slope on the right

It’s slippery in the wet and quite tough for our parents (and for us, to be honest!) So, we decided to build some stone steps into the bank. We want them to look like they’ve been there forever, and they will do after a few weeks I think.

It was much simpler than we thought it would be in the end, and took us only just an afternoon in the hot sun. Powered by dandelion and burdock and chocolate cake. We started by working out how many steps we’d want to make it a fairly easy walk up the hill. We didn’t want the space between each stone to be too big, or the step up or down too large.

Then we laid the stones out where we wanted them, and started digging around them. We removed wedges of grass around the same size as each stone…

Joe digging a hole for the stone

Diggin’ an ‘ole

And dropped the big lumps of stone into the ‘oles…

A hole and a lump of stone

An ‘ole

We did go to a reclamation yard just up the road, which is filled with all manner of amazing treasure and we will be going back… but when we found the stone, here’s how the conversation went:

Joe: “How much for a pallet of sandstone?”

Man at yard: “£100 a square metre”

Joe: “You mean a cubic metre?”

Man at yard: “No”

Joe: “…”

So then we remembered all our garden walls and actual house are made out of stone, so we figured there must be some lying around in the garden. Happily, there was! Some in the courtyard (some of which is huge and will be turned into a BBQ) and some languishing under the Bridge of Death.

So we rescued it all and carried on building…

Joe building steps

Not a builder’s bum in sight

And this is the result. We’re pretty bloody chuffed with it, all things considered. And Noodle definitely approves, so that’s alright then.

Noodle cat sitting on the top step

Finis! And it has the Noodle Cat seal of approval

Next garden building project: the bank up to the Bridge of Death*. It’s very picturesque (covered in buttercups and all manner of English country flowers) but very steep. So we’re putting steps in there, too. Although we’ve run out of stone…

*Now known as the Bridge of Significant Peril, because we’ve since repaired some of the slats.

What’s This?

In our garden, just before you get to the orchard, there’s a mahoosive patch of nettles. We started obliterating them last weekend, and found this:

What's this?

What isssit?

Buried under the many nettles was a large piece of corrugated metal. We’re hoping for some kind of a bunker filled with buried treasure, but we’re being realistic. We’ll settle for just an exciting bunker.

It’ll probably turn out to be Mr G’s method of killing weeds, but we’re keeping our hopes up.

Any thoughts?

Tales From The Septic Tank

We’ve never been responsible for a septic tank before. In case you’re not familiar with such a beast, it’s basically a big hole in the ground into which goes everything that goes through us. Plus the washing up water, laundry water, shower water, etc.

It’s a bit grim. Well, it’s not, because luckily our tank is healthy… but it is.

Normally, your waste will drain away into your septic tank, then the septic tank will do its thing (more on that shortly), then it drains away downhill into a soakaway.

But here at The Dingle, things are slightly different. Of course :)

The house itself is in a dip at the bottom of the rise of the garden, about 12 feet off the road. So there’s no downhill for our waste to soakaway to. It’s highly illegal (thankfully) to drain effluent into public water courses or drains. So what’s going on here?

Good question.

Our tank system is pretty old, and a bit awkward: there’s a mechanical pump operated by a switch in the Rayburn Room, which means we have to remember to pump the tank every few days. We’re obviously going to replace this with an automatic system in the next year or so, but for now it’ll do fine.

Because we’re at the bottom of a hill, the grey water has to go uphill. So there’s an awkward arrangement of pipes at the front corner of the house that, frankly, is a bit unsightly. See:

Old-style septic tank

The poo hatch!

The metal hatch is the poo inspection lid (lovely). The brick contraption houses the mechanical pump. The black pipe that disappears into the bank takes the grey water away to…

…who knows where? At this point, we’re not entirely sure where the soakaway is, but we have our suspicions. The good news is, there’s no horrifying, B-movie-style bubbling and no smells, so wherever it is, it’s healthy.

The bad news is, we really will need to replace the system – or at least upgrade it – at some point. Preferably sooner than later. We heard a rumour we may be able to claim it on the buildings insurance, so fingers crossed.

The tank itself is pretty cool though. We had a chap out to empty it and take a look, and according to him it’s in good condition and healthy. We have nothing immediate to worry about, which is somewhat of a relief.

Since then, I’ve been learning about septic tanks. Many, many homes in rural areas rely on septic tanks because it’s just not possible to hitch us up to the public sewage system.

Newer tanks are bottle-shaped and made of plastic, buried underground; older ones (which we have) are usually large rectangular boxes of brick, stone, or concrete, buried underground. It’s a simple waste water treatment works.

Waste material – charmingly known as “sludge” settles in the bottom of the tank for natural bacteria to digest. It builds up, so we have to have it emptied every year or so to make sure it continues to work properly and to prevent the soakaway becoming choked.

Then the grey water drains off into a soakaway, usually a pit filled with gravel. They tend to be quite big, so are a massive pain in the backside to replace or work on. Also, it’s very expensive.

We need to find where the soakaway is to check the discharge is light grey and doesn’t include any solids.
I’ve discovered that expensive, posh toilet roll is a no-no — it doesn’t break down easily, so can block the tank.

Bleach in anything but tiny quantities is also a no-no, as is antibacterial cleaning stuff, because it kills the friendly bacteria in the tank.

And chucking cooking oil down the sink is a bad thing, because that can solidify and cause blockages.

We need to keep all this in mind when we build the new kitchen extension… but for now, everything seems to be working beautifully.

Happy days!

And lo! There was an egg

There has been great excitement at The Dingle this week, for on Thursday lunchtime, Granny Featherwax gave us our (and her) first ever egg. It’s a tiny wee egg, about half the size of a “standard” supermarket egg – but it has a good, strong shell. We’re going to eat it later.

A small egg lies nestled in the straw in a nesting box

Granny Featherwax’s first egg!

The girls are doing splendidly. They love grapes and bananas, and I truly believe there are few things in life as funny as watching a chicken steal your banana skin and legging it up the garden, with two other chickens in hot pursuit.

We’re just learning to pick them up at the moment. They don’t like it, but they do like the treats they get. Apparently they’ll get used to this, which is good because we need to be able to pick them up so we can inspect them and make sure they’re healthy.

If you’ve ever considered getting chickens, but weren’t sure – do it. They’re easy to look after and they’re endlessly delightful. And very fine-looking animals to have pottering around in your garden.

Three chickens in the sunshine and the coop in the background

Enjoying the sunshine

Clucking Bell!

The chickens have arrived!

3 chickens huddling in their coop

The girls arrive!

Meet Amelia Egghart, Granny Featherwax, and Nanny Egg.

Amelia is so named because she is missing a toe, but she was the first intrepid chicken explorer to make her way down from the coop and into the little covered run. She’s an explorer, and undaunted by the challenges presented by being slightly toe-less.

Granny Featherwax and Nanny Egg, well… they just look a bit witchy. And very capable. And a little mischievous.

The girls stayed in their top coop for the first afternoon and night, to settle in – then we opened their ramp the next morning and tried to coax them down into the run with a little corn.

It took them a while, but by lunchtime they were all pottering around. Here’s what we’ve learned in the first couple of days of chicken-keeping:

  • They’re very chatty – every time we wander over, they chuckle at us and follow us around, which is delightful
  • They love dandelions – I mean, they proper love dandelions
  • They poo a lot
  • They drink a lot of water, too
  • They’ll eat almost anything we will (apparently they go mental for cooked leftover spaghetti – watch this space)
  • Checking for eggs is just about the most exciting thing to do ever (I’m hoping this won’t wear off)
  • They’re very clever – took themselves to bed without needing any prompting or encouragement

They’re staying in their little coop and integrated run for a few days, but next week we can let them out to free range around the garden when we’re around. I’m a little worried about the fox that lives at the back of the woodland, but we’re hoping all will be well if we’re there and if we encourage them to be out in the orchard rather than under the tight bushes.

We’ll get some better pictures up when they’re out and about and they’re more used to us.

In the meantime, here’s their posh house:

Pyramidal chicken coop, house on top, run below

The Ark of the Chickenant

Imminent Chickens!

So, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to keep chickens – and now we’re in The Dingle, I can finally do it! Hurrah!

So on  Saturday just gone, we headed over to Wynne’s of Dinmore, which is just a few miles away, and wandered around their farm.

They have, as well as everything chicken-related, alpacas for sale. Look at this dude! They look like 80s pop stars, they’re ace. But they’ve got batshit-crazy eyes and they just kinda stare at you, so we’re not getting alpacas.

A ginger alpaca and a blonde alpaca giving us the hairy eyeball

A ginger alpaca and a blonde alpaca giving us the hairy eyeball

We might, however, get a couple of pygmy goats because you’ve never seen anything so cute as a baby pygmy goat.

Anyway – we’ve ordered a chicken house, all the gubbins to get us started, and three Calder Ranger hybrid hens. I’m expecting a call today and I’m ridiculously excited. We’re hoping they’ll all arrive before the bank holiday weekend so we can get to know them.

In other news, here’s what else we’ve accomplished so far:

  • Settled in nicely
  • Cooked two meals in the Rayburn, which were delicious (lasagne and a tagine)
  • Let the cats out for their first explore (nervous, us?)
  • Taken out a dead stump and a dead apple tree
  • Planted our three trees: a Victoria plum, a conference pear, and an apple
  • Mowed the lawn many times
  • Got broadband sorted
  • Planted a miniature herbery (mint, oregano, curry, parsley – we’ll see if the mint goes mental)

We’ve not done much in the way of, well, anything yet. We’re going to live in the cottage for a couple of months before we make any big decisions… but we are going to start stripping wallpaper and Getting Stuff Done over the bank holiday weekend.

Watch this space…

Tagine in Rayburn oven

Our first Rayburn meal – a bean tagine. Delicious.

Stone planter containing parsley, curry, oregano, and mint

Our miniature herbery: parsley, curry, oregano, mint

What’s Next? Where Do We Start?

Both of these are good questions. Neither of which we can really answer yet.

So here’s what we’ve done since we pottered around on the mower:

  • Planted a Victoria Plum tree in the orchard
  • Crafted a compost heap out of sycamore poles and sycamore twigs (see below)
  • Removed approximately 3,265 stinging nettles from the steps up into the dingle
  • Tidied the front flowerbeds and admired the tulips
  • Disturbed two disgruntled bumblebees
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Plotted the death of the courtyard weeds
  • Ripped all the benches and train set remnants out of the attic
  • Taken a delivery of wood
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Drank some beer
  • Wandered around the woodland with our ecologist friends, who pointed out all the interesting flora and fauna
  • Erected a slackline in the orchard

Compost

And we’ve done a lot of thinking. And taken advice from other denizens of the village, who are a few years further on than we are in the house project arena, which includes living in the place for at least a couple of months before making any big decisions. I think that’s a good idea.

So, we’re going to plant a couple more fruit trees and start laying out vegetable beds, then get the place ready for the chickens. I’d like to do that this coming weekend, but we’ll see how we get on.

Now the attic is empty, that’s looking like a less scary project, too – so we’re going to start up there before too long, taking the cladding down from the ceiling, inspecting the roof, and making the walls a bit less gappy. Oh, and putting another window in up there, because although the space is huge, it’s a bit dark.

We haven’t got any decent pics of the attic yet, but I’ll take some tomorrow then upload them here so we can see what’s what.

Oh, and when the Rayburn is fixed (we met a chap in the pub who’s doing a proper job on it) we’ll sort out the stone bedroom. Which means putting the original window back, putting a new floor down, and stripping all the shite off the walls and plasterboard off the ceiling.

Watch this space…

And smile at our cute little plum tree :)Plum tree

Buttock detection devices

I found myself wandering aimlessly on what could be described as the lawn, but in reality would better fit the word ‘meadow’.  Long grass tickling my knees.  Hidden lumps and dips to stumble over and into.

I find a shed. In that shed is a shiny red motor mower.  It hasn’t moved for at least 18 months. I fancy myself a bit of a practical chap, so I take the battery out of it and I put it on charge in the shed for a couple of days.

It rains. Then there is sunshine. Then more rain. The grass starts looking long and luscious.  We either need to get some sheep – really soon, or that mower needs to start working.

Yesterday, there was some more sunshine, and an opportunity to see to the grass.  I remove the ignition barrel from the mower, and take it inside, to see if I can work out how to hotwire it. I’m amazed to find we actually have a key that fits. Back to the shed.

The battery has enough life to turn the motor over, but it won’t start.

I take the cover off the engine, check fuel and oil.

I try and pull-start the thing a few times. Doesn’t work.

I take the sparkplug out. It looks clean, fresh, and smells of petrol.  There’s no spark though.

No spark. So, it’s the battery, or the coil, or the HT lead.

I pull the battery out of my motorbike – I know it’s ok. I jump-lead that to the mower, and while the engine turns, it’s still not starting. Dammit.

The coil and lead look nice and clean. The air filter is fine.

A friend on facebook said “are you actually sitting in it when you try to start it?”

I look again at the wiring. There’s a lead that goes up under the seat. The mower has a buttock detector.  With jumpleads attached and actually sitting in the thing – it starts!

For the next hour or so, Vicky and I take turns pootling around the lawn drinking beer in the sunshine.  A thoroughly splendid way to spend a spring evening, away from the dust and heavy lifting of cottage renovation.

I might mow the lawn again this evening. Possibly tomorrow as well.

Motor Mower

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