Welcome to my blog, where a 30-something couple from the UK renovate and extend an old cottage, build some outbuildings, raise some hens and grow firewood trees and vegetables on our Acre in Hampshire. It's a bit like a smallholding but without too many animals, so we call it a homestead - living within our means, relying on ourselves and having a wonderful life!


Monday, 21 July 2014

D -1

Excuse the cryptic title - as a belated nod to this year's D Day anniversary we are marking today as D-Day Minus One - the day before battle!

Tomorrow, the groundworks start. I still can't quite believe that we are here. Richard the Groundworker dropped this beauty off this evening, and we had a very positive project management meeting with the rep from the sewage treatment plant company.

Kristy and I spend a rather amusing (looking back on it...) half-hour this morning arguing discussing where the Barn should go. We are restricted in the north / south axis - we can't go any further south owing to the restrictions imposed by our Permitted Development, and we can't go any further north as we would block out the evening sun from the house. Our east / west orientation was rather fixed by two nice mature cherry trees which would make parking difficult if we were too far west, and the potential for a loss of useable garden if we were too far east. Our discussions concerned 'yaw'. Kristy thought it should be absolutely parallel with the house, whereas I thought it should be slightly skewed to allow ease of parking. We laid out each version (without measuring...) and discussions went back and forth - until we realised that 'absolutely parallel' was closest to my preferred layout anyway! We had been arguing towards the same outcome from different directions... what a waste of time that was!

So tomorrow, the guys start digging the footings for the extension (7 metres wide, under the chimney in the pic above) - the barn is next, and the concrete trucks for the footings arrive on Thursday. All go at AnAcreInHampshire!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Felling the Cherry Tree

I filmed a bit of video footage of the moment the Cherry tree met it's fate.

You will notice that I jumped out of my skin as it finally fell - watch the stump in the moments leading up to the big 'crack' you can hear. Something inside the trunk gave with a huge crack which reverberated right through the ground. There is a huge amount of force in a falling tree!

A Tough Weekend

Wasn't it a lovely weekend? Quite humid, I grant you, but more than our fair share of sunshine, lovely warm temperatures and blue skies. Well, we would have paid good money for a stiff breeze, temperatures in the low to mid teens and even a bit of drizzle. What, I hear you say? Why on Earth?

We have spend the weekend doing every version of heavy exercise that is possible in an English Garden. We've lifted, strained, pulled, levered, hammered, chainsawed, bonfired, rolled and carried. I'm sure I've missed out another half-dozen verbs as well.

The (only) good thing to come from this intense activity is that we are now ready for our ground workers to start.

Here is a slightly grainy pic taken with the GoPro as I started on the cherry tree - the orange paint is to make sure I got the angle and direction of the wedge correct, as this determines which way the tree will fall. I had a fairly narrow target, between the phone line into the house and our eucalyptus tree. Fortunately, I managed pretty well. The small orange spots marked where nails had been hammered onto the trunk - these would wreck the chain so are best avoided...

This is the tool-of-the-trade, my marvellous Stihl MS180. It needs a new bar pretty soon - I've turned this one over which extends it's life a little, but it's starting to cut off line now. Only a 14 inch bar, but that's plenty for a small saw like this - any more and the engine would struggle. I've considered a larger saw but this little chap is so light that I can use it all day and not struggle with the weight.

And finally, a before-and-after shot of the land that we've cleared over the last three days. All the wood over wrist thickness has been logged, and the rest has gone on a huge bonfire that has been burning for 36 hours.


And after....

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Great Oil Tank Move

We find ourselves five days from the start of the groundworks, with an 1850 litre oil tank and two trees in the middle of the building site. I had built a new base and walls for the oil tank - http://anacreinhampshire.blogspot.co.uk/2014_05_01_archive.html - but the actual relocation was left to the last minute. I drained about 300 litres of heating oil from the tank into a 55 gallon drum we bought from eBay for a tenner, and a collection of yellow plastic jerry cans our neighbour lent us.

Our neighbour has a farm manager who visits once a week, and we bribed him with beer to bring the tractor to lift the oil tank and set it on the new base.

Firstly, some site prep was needed in the oil tank's new spot. I had hoped that there was just enough space to get the oil tank in. To maximise our chances, I slackened off the tensioner for the telegraph pole and tied a rope to pull it out of the way.

Our little John Deere mower took the slack of the end of the rope...

...while the big John Deere took the weight of the oil tank!

And in it goes! There was only just enough room - and the tractor couldn't get in far enough to drop the tank perfectly square on the new base. Mark the tractor driver suggested a sheet of plywood would let us slide the oil tank on the concrete lintels - this worked amazingly well, and I was able to slide the 300kg tank alone.

Here I am checking for level - I must have a haircut this weekend!

Finally, here is the (almost) cleared site. Regrettably, the large Cherry tree has to come down, along with some of the smaller Ash. The odd tunnel - the last reminder of the previous occupant's pet wallabies - will also be dug up. In a fortnight, I'm confident there will be a picture of a lovely smooth, flat concrete base for my Barn in this spot!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Chicks and Pegs

Tomorrow may be D-Day for our chicks - we currently have five fertile eggs donated by one neighbour under a broody hen loaned by another neighbour, in a chicken run and being fed by a third neighbour! Not wishing to tempt sod's law, we dashed to Scats for a bag of Chick Crumb - I had a feeling that if we hadn't bought any, they would have arrived on Sunday morning when the store was closed! Fingers crossed - we may have some new arrivals this weekend!

I also started on the first bit of work for the Barn - I've done a lot of prep work, but this is the first time I've worked on actual components of the barn. Starting with the smallest parts, I made 48 blanks for the oak pegs that will hold the structure together. I estimate I need about 150 - so a few more to go! They will need planing into octagons and tapering yet - but this feels like a real start to the project...

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A good day - but a sad day...

A day of mixed emotions today. A great early morning (Kristy leaves for work shortly after six am - she is marvellous enough to bring me a cup of tea before she leaves...) saw Monty walked by the river, a hearty porridge breakfast and on with my dirty clothes to finish the block walls for the oil tank...

Amazingly, the two walls ended almost exactly level with each other - only about 2mm out, which I can easily account for with the concrete lintels that will span the walls and support the oil tank. Note the radio on the right - Test Match Special makes wonderful company, even when England suffer the beginnings of a thrashing by India.

The second half of the morning was spent re-pointing the lower edge of the external wall that will soon be encased in the concrete slab for our garden room extension. The corner of the wall in this picture was in very poor repair, and a number of bricks came out in my hand. Hopefully this repair will last a good number of years. I'll finish the job tomorrow.

I also poured two concrete parking bollards in 99p buckets I bought from Wickes. Part of our land is an access track to our house, and also two neighbour's houses. The track is about twice as wide as it needs to be, and we often find that walkers and fisherman park on the verge - fine in the summer when the ground is hard, but a real problem in the winter. I used cooking spray as a release agent, and the set concrete bollards should come out easily enough - fingers crossed!

Then onto the sad part of the day. We were really shocked and saddened to hear that a neighbour of ours had died suddenly of a heart attack last week. Trevor Burgess really was larger than life - he would always stop for a chat and put the world to rights, and was a great wind up merchant - specialising in the false telling off, leaving his audience quaking until he couldn't keep a straight face!  I often saw Trevor walking the dogs as I left for work at 6am, or on my return from a night shift shortly after 7am. He leaves his wife Denise and three lovely Irish Setters.

I will really miss Trevor - although we didn't know each other well, I genuinely wish we had spent more time together. Indeed, a few days before he died we had arranged a trip into a local wood with the chainsaws to clear a fallen Ash together. I intend to take on the duty that Trevor felt - that of cutting the wood for his home - and I'll make sure Denise is well stocked with seasoned and split logs  for the winter.

As a tribute to this lovely man, I plan to speak to the owner of the woods behind Trevor's house with a view to carving the stump of the Ash into a seat. I will carve Trevor's name into the back, and hope it will provide a nice spot to sit and enjoy the birds and the trees.

Trevor William John Burgess; 19th December 1954 - 2nd July 2014. A Proper Chap.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A two month hiccup - lots to catch up with!

I suppose all bloggers go through lean times - when the weather is too nice, the day job too demanding and the jobs at home too pressing - and a 'secondary' pastime like Blogging falls by the wayside.

Anyway, after a gap of just over two months, I suppose we'd better catch up! What has happened?

1. We had some EPIC lightning - quite amazing, and like nothing I've seen in many years in the UK. I set up my DLSR and tripod, and took some long exposure shots...

 2. We have had some amazing sunsets...

3. Monty is still a deranged lunatic, despite recently celebrating his fifth birthday. He loves this time of year - the garden is full of wagtails and swallows / swifts / martins (I've never been able to tell the difference...) which he loves barking at and chasing.

4. The workshop move is finished! Part of the reason for a lack of blog updates was that we found a ground worker who can start on 20th July, which means that our site for the barn has to be clear and ready to break ground. Emptying the workshop and stripping the roof was quite an easy job, and then the walls came apart without much protest. It took five of us to carry the long wall sections the 30 metres across the garden, where they were plonked into position on the new dwarf walls. At this point I realised I'd made a moderately serious error - the concrete blocks I'd used for the new dwarf wall were a different size to the old ones, and therefore the external dimensions of the wall were incorrect. Not a huge problem - it just means that the walls were about 15cm too big! A bit of sawing, screwing and nailing later and everything is fine.

Here is where the workshop used to be;

 ...and here it is, partially finished, in it's new spot. The roof was re-covered in reclaimed slate, and the rafters reinforced with new and uprated wall ties. I added a pedestrian door on the other end (closest to the house...) and have since clad the gable end. It's marvellous! Note the sprig of Cherry from the unofficial topping-out ceremony...

 5. Kristy had her birthday - and I bought her a great cyclocross bike (hers is the silver Norco...) We had a superb day out in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, visiting HMS Victory and Warrior, with an amazing Wagamama lunch.

6. Our neighbour's pigs have arrived! Three sweet saddlebacks (one gilt, two sows) who have done a great job of turning over the land. They are destined for the table, so are unnamed. In other news, one neighbour has lent us a broody hen and another has given us some fertile eggs! Clever Mummy (as she is known) is sitting diligently, and I'm having to rapidly come up with a plan for a hen house and fencing. They should hatch in another 7 - 10 days, and they will stay with Clever Mummy for another few weeks.

7. I've designed our garden room! The ground worker is going to be a busy man - he is laying the slab for the barn (6m x 12m), installing our sewage treatment plant and laying the slab for the garden room. The latter is a 'one day' project, but it makes a certain amount of sense to have all the groundworks completed at the same time - get all the mess over and done with! It will be 7m x 3.5m, and another green oak frame with bi-fold doors, heaps of windows and a glass gable.