Monday 28 March 2016

Buona Pasqua!

Having decided to take the whole of the Easter weekend off our 'normal' work routine, Friday morning started with a trip into Pescia and a coffee at Franco's bar in the square. Franco's is our favourite place for coffee - in our opinion they make the best cappuccinos around (and the cheapest at that), but we don't often get the chance to go in, whether because we have Reggie in the car with us or because it's a Saturday and the market is on in the square, or because it's a Sunday when the bar is closed, so this was a rare treat for us. We didn't linger over our coffees though - we'd made use of the special button on the car parking meters in the square that gives you 10 minutes' free parking. It seems we've now been in Italy long enough to have started to adopt the local coffee-drinking practices, and while we're a little way off downing our caffeine fix while standing at the counter sorting through our change, we're rarely seated for much more than 10 minutes these days (and we definitely don't drink cappucinos beyond lunchtime!).

Next on the to-do list was to fill the car with fuel, so we headed out to the methane station at Chiesina. Before we could get there, however, we were being pulled over by the police (Carabinieri) for a document check. This is now the fourth time we've been stopped for a document check - which is very routine here. We had a quick chat with the friendly policeman, and once he'd satisfied himself that our documents were in order, we wished him a happy Easter and went on our way. We refuelled, made a quick stop to pick up some chicken feed from 'Mr Chicken', then hit both the supermarkets for the weekly food shopping.

We made it back home in time for a quick lunch before taking Reggie out for a walk. We headed up to the quarry track above Vellano and gave him a good run around before heading home to roll up our sleeves.

The afternoon's work started with Stuart handing me the pneumatic drill to continue taking up concrete floor while he went to Frateschi to buy some more cotto tiles and bags of concrete. I discovered that it's a lot easier to bear the noise of a pneumatic drill when you are the person using it than it is when you're in another room trying to do something else (as I had been last week)!

After an initial period of terror - convinced I was about to fall through the floor and land in a heap in the apartment - I soon got into the swing of things and it wasn't long before most of the floor between the kitchen and the office/utility room was gone. I was slightly perturbed to find that Stuart was at that point outside with his chainsaw cutting acacia stumps on the terraces - certainly a job that needed doing, but with the noise of the chainsaw (and some distance from the house at that), I wondered how long it would have taken him to find me had I slipped through the hole and been calling for help from the apartment below... Thankfully that didn't happen, of course, and after I'd finished taking up the concrete floor, Stuart came in to make a start on the next step in the process.

State of the art air conditioning?

Next, Stuart cut some new lengths of beam from the old, varnished beams that had run through the false ceiling, and while he worked on cutting out some of the rotten beams above, I set to work with the grinder with its wire brush attachment to remove the dark orange varnish from the lengths of wood.

With the new beams stripped, we were just about ready to start laying down tiles when David and Sarah arrived, popping in to say hello on their way back home. It was almost 6pm by this point, and we were both covered head to toe in dust and dirt, so the arrival of our friends was a welcome excuse to stop for a well earned drink and break.

In fact, the quick hello ended up turning into a really lovely impromptu evening spent chatting, drinking and relaxing with our friends. It's often the unplanned evenings that are the most enjoyable and this was certainly amongst those. By the time we bade goodnight to our friends it was 10pm and there was still a very large hole where the floor used to be, so Stuart quickly laid the cotto tiles down to create a covering that would prevent dogs/cats going flying through to the apartment below, and after much needed showers and a quick bite to eat we retired to bed.


We woke up on Saturday feeling the effects of both the previous day's hard work and the previous night's good time, but we had an appointment to keep at 9am, so there was no time to linger in bed or hit the snooze button.

The 'bee man', Alain, who had been planning to come and visit us last weekend but who had to cancel due to illness, had re-scheduled his visit for 9am on Saturday. To re-cap, Alain is a guy known to our friend Mara (who lives in a farmhouse on the hillside directly opposite us), who used to keep his beehives on her land before she and Franco bought the house, but since she and Franco have their own bees, this is no longer an option. Knowing that we were interested in bees/bee-keeping, and that we might have suitable land, Mara had suggested that we might be able to offer a spot for Alain's bees.

Alain duly arrived at 9am, greeted by Reggie's unstoppable barking. After a quick chat with Stuart and a look at our Flow Hive, Stuart took him along to the end of the drive to inspect the area we'd decided to offer - the clearing adjacent to our gates that was once an old quarry. He was impressed with the spot and thought it would be perfect, although said it would need a little more tidying first, and said he'd also like to put some hives on the other side of the drive (which will also need some tidying). He left, saying he'd be back in about a month with his 30 hives.

Bee meeting over, it was time to get on with the rest of our day, so with Reggie in the car we went for a coffee at Nerone's bar before heading up the valley to the track that leads from Vellano to Macchino. We had a lovely walk along this track - it's a really pretty walk, especially at this time of year - the weather was beautiful, and Reggie enjoyed himself immensely, despite trying to deafen a walker with his scary barks (the same man we met the last time we walked this track - he joked with us that one day he and Reggie will become friends) and trying to chase (and eat) three mountain bikers.

By the time we got home, there was still time to get into some work before lunch, such had been our prompt start to the day today, so while Stuart mixed concrete to pour onto the tiles he'd put down last night, I put the backpack strimmer on my back and headed down to the vegetable terraces to start strimming the long grass down there.

By the time I'd run out of fuel, Stuart had finished laying the new layer of concrete and it was time to stop for lunch in sunshine. By this time, the sun had really got quite some heat in it. Reggie took shelter in the herb garden while we soaked up the warmth of the spring sunshine on our faces.

Once lunch was finished though, it was time to get back to work, so I got the strimmer on my back again and headed down to finish strimming the lower terraces while Stuart worked on some more modifications to the gates - the latest Reggie-proofing measures combined with Stuart's latest upcyling wizardry which uses the springs from old washing machines to act as very effective gate closers:

When the strimming was finally done, it was time to swap the strimmer for the hedge cutters and we both headed for the end of the drive to do some more work on tidying the areas that are now officially earmarked for bees. We spent about an hour cutting back brambles behind the gates and at the top of the donkey track that leads downwards from the drive.

We finally called it a day after we'd cleared enough to open the area out a bit, and headed back to the house to put the tools away, close the poly tunnel, collect some firewood and finally relax on the patio with a glass of wine and the fire pit for an injection of extra spring-evening warmth.


After the busy and productive two days preceding, Easter Sunday saw a change in gear. With the combined effects of the clocks having changed overnight and having felt the need for a bit of a more leisurely morning, we weren't ready to leave the house until nearly 11am - I had to keep reminding myself that it didn't matter! We stopped for a quick coffee at Nerone's before heading to Sorana to walk Reggie in the woods beyond the village.

We were having a lovely walk until Reggie pulled me over flat on my face. We had heard the sound of an engine approaching, so had put him on the lead and waited for a man on a motorbike to come very slowly up the dirt track past us. Reggie waited patiently with me until the man had just passed, at which point he lunged after him, taking me with him until the lead slipped out of my hand, leaving Reggie snapping at the wheels of the motorbike and me on my hands and knees in the mud and leaves. We decided to call time on that particular walk at that point, and headed back to the car.

After our walk, we made our regular Sunday morning stop at Amanda's shop. Today, however, rather than buying something home-made to take home and heat up, we had asked Amanda to get a raw free-range chicken in for us that we could take home and cook ourselves. We were slightly shocked when Samantha handed said chicken to us in a plastic bag and we realised it was entire (that is, complete with head, legs, feet and innards), but Stuart was up for the challenge of cleaning it, and after collecting homework from Samantha, we headed home to make a start on cooking our Easter lunch.

There then followed a couple of hours of chopping, prepping and cooking. After finding and watching a YouTube video on cleaning chickens, Stuart duly cleaned the chicken - it might have taken a little while longer than someone who is used to doing this somewhat gruesome task, but he did it expertly and cleanly, and I was impressed! Florence and Reggie were the lucky recipients of the offal, while the neck and other bits went into making a stock (although I couldn't bring myself to put the head and feet in). While the chicken, carrots and potatoes roasted, Stuart decided to attempt to make aioli (garlic mayonnaise), but despite our combined best efforts, our first attempt at a home-made mayonnaise was considerably less successful than Stuart's first attempt at the cleaning of a chicken, and it ended up being more of a sauce than a creamy mayonnaise. It tasted good nevertheless.

We finally brought everything together ready to eat at 3pm: roast chicken, roasted potatoes, roasted carrots and pan-fried Brussels sprouts, all eaten in the fresh air and sunshine on our patio.

With the food dispatched, we lit the fire pit to give us a little longer outdoors, and spent a nostalgic while looking through the printed version of our blog that my Mum sent us last year. The 'blog book' only covers the first month or so after we moved here, but it was amazing to spend a while looking back at the way things were almost two years ago and how much things have changed.

When it finally got too chilly to sit outdoors any longer (the clouds had come over during the course of the afternoon), we headed indoors to light the fire and spend a quiet evening watching Spectre, which Stuart's Mum kindly sent us on DVD this week - a fitting end to a relaxing day.


Easter Monday is Pasquetta here in Italy. It started out wet - the rain had started before we went to bed last night and had been going on and off all night. After another slow morning without getting up to an alarm, we had a late breakfast before heading out with Reggie. It may have been wet, but the upside was that we could be almost certain that no one else would be out walking in this weather!

We headed straight to the chicken-run walk and even made poor Reggie wear his raincoat, such was the heaviness of the rain when we set out. It wasn't cold though, but pleasantly fresh and with lovely spring scents in the air.

We met a group of three joggers out in the rain, but once we'd let them pass, holding Reggie on the lead to make sure he didn't try to eat them, we didn't see anyone else and Reggie happily ran around in the long grass getting himself soaked from head to toe, the water running off his raincoat in mini rivers.

When we'd done our walk, we headed home via Amanda's once again. Amanda doesn't usually open on Mondays, but with today being a bank holiday here, she made an exception today and we called in to collect the loaf of bread that we usually pick up on a Sunday, as well as a friendly chat with Samantha and Amanda.

By the time we got home it was time for lunch - delicious roast chicken sandwiches, but eaten indoors today as even though it had dried up by that point, it was still a tad too cool to be outside - and a bone for Reggie.

After lunch we spent a couple of hours in front of the computers updating the blog and doing various other chores, and by the time we'd finished all that the sun had come out!

We therefore headed outside, but with only a gentle afternoon's activity planned: planting seeds. We spent a very chilled out hour and a half in the gentle warmth of the poly tunnel planting up more seeds and checking on what was already sprouting into life.

When we'd run out of both plant pots and labels we decided to call it a day in the poly tunnel and returned to the patio, where we made a start on weeding the herb garden. We're undecided as to what to do with the herb garden - Stuart would like to get rid of it altogether, whereas I would prefer to keep it (as would Reggie, who enjoys lying in it in the shade of the rosemary bush) - but either way, it was in desperate need of some weeding, so we made a start on the job.

Come 6pm, however, we decided we'd had enough of chores and, keen to make the most of the new longer daylight hours, we lit the fire pit and sat on the patio with a bottle of wine and our planting notes, writing up notes on what we'd planted and when, and attempting to draw up a planting plan for the coming year. This turns out to be a little more complicated than it might seem at face value, as some plants like (or don't like) to follow on from each other year on year, and certain plants like (or don't like) to be planted alongside each other at the same time. By the time we'd finished a bottle of wine and the temperature had sunk low enough for the fire pit to not quite cut it any more, we had formulated a pretty good planting plan for the year, although there's still more work to be done!

Feeling chilly, we retired indoors to light the indoor fire and reflect on a long weekend that has been the perfect combination of hard work, productive and relaxing.

Four seasons(almost) in one week

Monday started with rain which we'd been surprised to see on the forecast after such great weather up until Sunday evening, but as promised it had arrived later that night, casting doubt on the plans for the start of the week before it had even started.

I was planning to head up to Vellano to do a bit of strimming with Dave after breakfast, but at that time it was still raining - not heavily, but earnestly enough to make strimming potentially unsafe if not unpleasant, so we postponed for a couple of hours to keep an eye on the weather as it was meant to clear up sometime around midday.

I then dashed off to Maionchi, which was always the plan as I needed to replace the drive shaft on the strimmer regardless of weather - without it I wouldn't be doing any strimming at all.

By the time I got home it was just before ten and still raining, so Dave and I checked in and said we'd talk again around 11. With that, I decided to head into Pescia to buy some wood to make a new dining table. The gate leg on our existing table had given way (thanks to some broken dowels) last week when Helen and I were working on the laptop (the laptop thankfully survived the fall with the exception of a broken SD card port), so this seemed like a good time to put my plan for a new dining table into action.

When I arrived at the wood yard the ever helpful Elena rolled her eyes as if to say 'what now!?' but I explained that this particular project was simple and gave her the list of what I needed: 3 planks and 5 lengths of timber, all planed. After paying the €69 I waited outside for the guys to get and plane the wood and cut it to length before loading it into the car. Despite the damp start it was a pleasant morning, which meant the 40 minutes I had to wait for the wood was easily passed by looking around at the neighbouring fruit trees and at how they'd been pruned - not a bad way to spend the time, pruning fast becoming a new interest of mine with our very young orchard now behind the house.

With the wood on board I headed home getting back around 11 - there wasn't much time until lunch, so I decided to make a start on the table, having just agreed with Dave on the phone that as the weather seemed to be drying up and getting much brighter, we'd start strimming after lunch so long as it stayed this way.

With my trusty mitre saw set up outside I started putting the table together, having pretty much decided exactly how it was going to be constructed.

A happy hour and a quarter was spent chopping wood in the now sunny morning and as lunchtime approached I'd finished the table ready for our first meal of many on it.

After we dispatched a plate of farm fresh scrambled eggs on toast, Helen went back to the office and I loaded the car to head up the valley for a couple of hours of sweaty strimming in the sunshine before heading home to ease into the evening with a fire and dinner, pleased with the day's efforts despite the damp start.

On Tuesday I took Reggie for an early morning walk as he'd missed out completely yesterday so as Helen had gone to the apartment to make use of her bike and turbo trainer I loaded Reggie into the car and headed for the chicken run, discovering along the way that Pescia does indeed have a rush hour and it is at 7:45am. This took me a little by surprise as I had assumed after almost two years here I would have known if there was a rush hour - it just goes to show that we've never been through town at this time of the day before and won't be planning to again if we can help it (not that it was anything comparable to a UK rush hour).

I got home just before 9.30am in time to pass the car keys to Helen so that she could head into Pescia to meet with Sue for coffee while Chris came here in their car to spend another session in front of the laptop working on the Pescia Rugby Club video.

As lunch time approached, Chris packed up and left, shortly after which Helen returned home. I'm sure there must have been a better way to plan this logistically, but that's how it fell into place and we did little to think it through.

It was a beautiful day, allowing us to have lunch outside on the veranda, which we didn't rush, before finally retiring indoors to make an attempt at tidying before Samantha arrived.

After Samantha had given Reggie one of his twice-weekly bread snacks she came indoors to kick off the lesson, which began with me having my homework checked - homework that I confessed to finding a real struggle. Having gatecrashed this lesson of Helen's (unintentionally, I hasten to add), Samantha has been giving me homework without fully understanding what level I'm at. Having only taught Helen she understandably had been making the assumption that I was of a similar standard to Helen, but that was proved wrong this week and after wrangling for over an hour with the homework, I left Helen and Samantha in peace with a plan for some easier homework, involving a couple of backwards steps, for me next week.

I then dashed up to Vellano again to meet David so that we could build a couple more garden steps at the property we're working on. However, on getting out of the car I realised that in the panic to get to Vellano I had forgot not only the concrete we needed (from Frateschi), but also my wallet to pay for it, so I left David removing the old steps in readiness for new ones while I dashed back home for the wallet, then into Pietrabuona for the materials, then back again to Vellano.

As David and I worked away in the warm afternoon, the wind started to pick up, getting stronger and stronger as the afternoon went on. As the evening went on the winds continued to strengthen, bringing back memories of the big storm the region endured last March - so much so that Helen barely slept.

Thankfully, it turned out that despite the strong winds here we had been sheltered somewhat by the hill behind us and there was no damage to report in the morning. There was less good news from Donatella though, who'd suffered the worst with the storms last year - there were no trees down this time, thankfully, but her poly-tunnel had been uncovered, the rood of her wood shed had partially come off and her pergola had been damaged, so together with David and Sarah we arranged to all descend on her after lunch to help put the place back together.

Before that it was our group Italian lesson in Vellano - even on getting out of the car up there we could feel how much windier it still was just another couple of miles up the valley and how cold the wind was here, - it felt like the coldest day we've had yet this year.

After a lesson on the uses of the word 'da', of which there are many, Helen and I headed home for lunch which today was definitely NOT outside - what a difference a day makes... just 24 little hours...

After lunch, I left Helen at home - despite wanting to pitch in and help at Donatella's, she had yet to turn her computer on today to check emails and work, so I headed off with a boot full of tools and screws to see what David, Sarah and I could do to fix the place up.

Fortunately the damage was not as severe this time and we soon had the place back in order and were sitting down for coffee under the pergola before we all headed home for the evening.

There was another complete change in the weather again on Thursday - back to beautiful clear skies and sunshine - and with such a lovely sunny start, I managed to persuade Helen to join Reggie and me on a walk along the river.

After getting home, Helen went into the office and I dashed to Frateschi for another car load of cotto tiles, concrete and steel before going home to make lunch - which was most definitely eaten outside on a day like today, it was glorious and felt almost like summer.

As we finished lunch David and Sarah arrived, having been out shopping for compost to get their seed planting started. We sat out on the patio with coffee for a while chatting before showing them how our seeds were doing in the poly-tunnel.

Once they left for home I spent the remainder of the afternoon in the utility room getting ready for the next section of repair before we settled into a bottle of wine to herald the start of the four-day weekend known as Easter...

Sunday 20 March 2016

Spring waits for no-one

The blog for last week is still a work in progress - somewhat like the state of our house/apartment - so we are going to confuse you all by blogging about the weekend first (with last week's blog hopefully coming to you in the next day or two). 

With this weekend heralding the official start of spring, and promising some fine weather to go with it, we planned a weekend of fresh air, sunshine and good, wholesome productivity, giving ourselves a break from the mess and chaos of the dusty, dirty, partially deconstructed house (more about which you will have to wait for in.. er.. last week's blog).

As promised, Saturday morning was glorious, so after a quick breakfast we headed straight up to the quarry track above Vellano for a lovely morning walk. The air was fresh, the birds were singing, we saw two deer skipping off into the trees, the sky was blue and the sun was shining - we really couldn't have wished for a more perfect spring morning (on what was actually - officially, at least - the last day of winter). The beautiful clear day gave us views all the way to the mountains of Abetone, with a heavy covering of snow. It seemed strange to us that just as our weather seems to have turned a corner into spring and the temperatures have ratcheted up over the last week or so, the hills in the distance have had their first really thick white covering.

After our walk, we dropped Reggie back off at the house before heading out for a shopping trip. Thankfully not of the supermarket kind! After a cappuccino each at the Cafe Delice, we headed to our closest garden centre 'Natali', where we loaded up with six 80-litre bags of compost, two fruit trees (a cherry and a plum) to add to our baby 'orchard', and 7 more packets of seeds.

By the time we'd got our gardening supplies, it was lunchtime, so after hanging the washing out on the line, we sat at the table on the patio and enjoyed lunch in the warmth of the sunshine.

Before we got down to any gardening (of the vegetable bed kind, at least), we had a job to do. Some weeks ago, our friend Mara (who lives across the valley from us with her husband Franco) called Stuart to ask if we would be interested in having someone else's bees on our land. Keen to get a toe-hold in the local bee-keeping community, we'd said yes. Mara's contact and owner of the bees in question, Alain, had called last week and asked if he could some and see us this weekend to check out the suitability of our land.

Having given it some thought, we had decided that the perfect spot for a collection of bee hives - for bees in search of acacia flowers and (later on) chestnut flowers) would be in the small clearing (previously a quarry) just inside our gates. However, over the course of the last 18 months, the area has become rather less of a 'clearing' and rather more of a brambly mess. Since we were expecting Alain this weekend, we needed to go and sort the brambles out, so Stuart loaded up the tractor with the chainsaw and two sets of hedge trimmers and headed to the end of the drive, while I followed behind, taking the opportunity to clear out the drainage channels along the drive as I went.

Since about a week after we moved into our house, the clearing we were heading for has been known between the two of us as the 'Dead Deer Head' enclosure - way back then we'd found a dead deer in the clearing - or rather, we found its just head, two hooves and some ribs, the rest of it clearly having provided a good meal for some other wildlife. Anyway, as I went in with the hedge trimmers and started cutting bramble down I stumbled across what must have been the remains of that - finding just a skull and a small part of leg bone. So Dead Deer Head enclosure retains its title, for now at least.

Stuart's plan had been for us to go in with a double-pronged attack with hedge trimmers, but just seconds after starting his up, the drive shaft broke, so the hedge trimming was down to me, while Stuart came in with the chain saw to cut a tree that had fallen across the clearing in last year's big storm.

It wasn't long before we were happy enough with the state of the clearing to leave it - it still needs some tidying, but enough of it is visible and accessible for Alain to get an idea of whether or not he thinks it will be suitable - so we loaded up the tractor with the tools and the logs Stuart had cut from the fallen tree and chugged our way back down the drive, this time with me riding shotgun.

By the time we got back to the house, Stuart realised he'd missed a phone call from Alain, and it transpired that he was calling to say that he wasn't going to be able to come this weekend after all, thanks to having gone down with the flu. Still, the job is done now, so we are ready for whenever he wants to drop by.

Having unloaded the tractor we headed down to the veg terraces for an afternoon's gardening. Stuart set about moving the cold frames to a new spot just behind the poly tunnel so that he can extend the vegetable beds on the top terrace, while I headed down to the rather neglected bottom terrace to have a go at finally getting the flight of tyre steps finished (in the hopes that the bottom terrace will be a little less neglected if we can access it a little more easily). I eventually got enough tyres in to make it a usable set of steps, but this set comes with a disclaimer! For some reason, partly due to the shape of the bank, partly due to the number of stubborn roots and large rocks in the bank, these steps have been particularly hard to make and have ended up somewhat haphazard and wonky. Still, they work as an efficient way to get to the bottom terrace without having to scramble down the bank, so I count that as a positive.

By the time I'd called time on the steps, Stuart had moved the cold frames, extended one of the veg beds and put compost on half of the bed. I helped him rake out the compost of the rest of the bed, before helping plant out the garlic plants that have been happily growing in the poly tunnel.

After watering the newly planted out garlics and tidying up, we decided to stop our work a little before 5pm so that we could enjoy the last of the afternoon sunshine on the patio. At the moment, the sun is disappearing behind the hill opposite us at about 5.20pm, at which point the temperature drops, and it becomes too chilly to sit outside (well it is still only March, I guess). We therefore sat on the patio with a glass of wine and the fire-pit lit and really started to look forward to the warmer, brighter seasons to come.

Once the sun dipped, we headed inside to light the log burner, finish our wine and relax after productive day.

Sunday was not only the first official day of spring but also my Mum's birthday. Happy birthday Mum!!!

The morning was bright and fresh, not quite as sunny and glorious as yesterday had been, but definitely mild and spring-like. Our first activity of the day was a stop at Da Nerone for a coffee and a breakfast pastry, before heading up the valley towards Vellano for a dog walk.

The lovely spring weather really seems to have brought out the flowers, the birds, the insects... and the cyclists. As we made our way up the hill in the car, we passed cyclist after cyclist, toiling up the hill with varying degrees of huffing and puffing. Today seemed to be a cycle club outing as most of the cyclists we passed were wearing matching sets of lycra. Reggie watched them all through the window with great disdain, giving a fierce growl to those he took particular dislike to. I was thankful we were in the car and not attempting to walk along the road with him!

We eventually stopped the car a little way beyond our regular quarry track and instead took another track - one we've walked only once before. This one heads uphill, eventually ended up at Macchino, the village above Vellano. We didn't follow the track all the way to Macchino, but we got a fair way along it. It's a very pretty walk and made a very pleasant change for us. We met only one other person (who was treated to a good barking at from Reggie), and were otherwise accompanied by just birdsong.

Spot the foot!

After our lovely walk, we loaded ourselves back into the car and headed for our weekly Sunday stop at Amanda's shop. As usual, we bought lunch, picked up homework, and Samantha came out to the car to give Reggie some bread before waving us off on our way.

We had an early lunch - on the patio once again, although today it wasn't quite as sunny as yesterday had been - before setting to with our afternoon of gardening jobs.

We started with potatoes. Stuart had decided some time ago that this year he wanted to try something slightly different with our potatoes and after finding an idea on the internet, he set about creating some potato boxes.

Initially, these are small wooden frames with tall corner posts - the idea being that as the potato plants grow, you add more height to the sides of the box along with more compost.

So, while Stuart produced boxes, I positioned them on the terrace, cut the ground fabric out beneath them, dug over the soil, positioned potatoes and then covered them with their first layer of compost. We ended up with four potato boxes. Two of them contain shop-bought compost, and the other two contain our own compost - the race is now on to see which ones do best!

Today's treasure from digging over the soil.

Once the potatoes were all in place, I turned my attentions to planting up more seeds (melon, two more types of bean, nasturtiums, passion flower and a type of marigold), while Stuart had the somewhat less enviable task of rodding the septic tank to clear a blockage in the drain-off pipe. It wasn't the worst we've ever seen the state of the septic tank, but it's never a pleasant task!

After that, he put his skills to altogether more wholesome use, building version 2 of the chicken compost container. The compost has gone down brilliantly with the chickens - they absolutely love it and get visibly excited when we go in each day with a fresh batch of food scraps - but version 1 of the container had suffered somewhat under the weight of the heavier chickens (Colombo the cockerel in particular), and without a solid frame, the sides had become bent and misshapen. Version 2 is altogether sturdier, with a proper wooden frame, so we await to see how it stands up!

That all took us up until 4.30pm, at which point it started trying to spit with rain, so we headed indoors to change and reflect on our weekend's efforts.