Wednesday 30 November 2016

Just about on top of November!

As the month of November races away we are working hard to stay on top of the jobs that need doing as the weather cools down as well as those we need to have done before next spring... it's not a short list.

After adjusting the first two beds in the veg garden last weekend, I headed back down there on Monday to plant the kilo of garlic we'd bought as seed for next year's crop. As the weather was dry and pleasant it was a chance not to be missed as we were technically already a month late for planting garlic - not a huge disaster, as we hadn't missed the window completely, it will just mean smaller bulbs next summer, but seeing as this year we only planted our garlic in February and still achieved something approaching supermarket-sized bulbs, we feel we have gone in the ground early this time!

It turns out a kilo of garlic (in our case at least) is around 147 individual cloves of garlic. It took longer than expected to dib all the holes at the required spacing, break up the bulbs and plant the cloves before covering with soil and then fetching about a dozen trug tubs of compost from the bays made this autumn to put on top of the beds.

All being well, and anticipating a few losses to rodents and the weather, we should have more than enough garlic for ourselves next year. In fact, using about a bulb a week ourselves on average, we should have around 100 bulbs to sell next summer - we had better start practising our plaiting!

After lunch I headed out to buy some bits and pieces to extend the electric fence around the veg garden and on the way home stopped at Frateschi to buy some more lengths of steel re-bar to act as posts.

While I was in there, I noticed a large parcel covered in 'GLS' tape - the courier company that I knew were handling the shipment of the 24kg of sweet potatoes we had ordered (for both ourselves and some of our friends in the valley) from Umbria. On closer inspection, the parcel did indeed had my name on it AND our house address... not that of Frateschi! It would have been nice for the courier to call and ask me if he could deliver the parcel there instead, or at least tell me he was doing so! Luckily, we're still in a phase of making regular visits to Paolo at Frateschi, so they hadn't been sitting there for long.

In the little that was left of the fast-diminishing daylight, I dismantled the existing electric fencing by clambering around the terraces, coiling up the electric rope (there are currently 3x200 metre lengths of it) that circumnavigates the veg plot before darkness got its way and I headed indoors to light the fire.

Tuesday was another day, and with it came the chance to tick another job off our to-do list. Having had a small taste of the impending winter last week, with our first frost (albeit a light one), we decided the "winterising" of the citrus and other frost-sensitive pot plants needed to be pushed to the top of the list.

Last year I over-engineered an over elaborate take on an orangery, which surprisingly withstood the weather that Tuscany's winter threw at us but was far from ideal. This year, I was determined to make something more robust, maybe dare I say it, a notch up on the attractiveness scale and something we could easily re-use each year without costing much money.

Fortuitously, I had recently seen in an online market gardening group a post from a guy who had built his own large poly tunnel using polyethylene water pipe as the frame structure... that was all I needed for an idea for our own little tunnel.

Now this project took me all day, because I needed three different trips out to buy materials as I was making the whole thing up as I went along, but I think the end result was rather satisfactory and something that we can dismantle in an hour and store for next winter.

Water pipe forms the frame.

While I was getting the plants under cover this particular afternoon, Helen disappeared up the terraces with hedge trimmers in hand to make yet more terrace discoveries in what we think will eventually be a large orchard. We are in danger of getting distracted with the clearing up here yet again as we uncover yet more ground that is not only new to us but that hasn't been on close terms with direct sunlight for decades. For now, at least a few hours here and there are satisfying our craving, but we're mindful that our big project for the winter is to get the veg garden whipped into shape and made much bigger as we push towards a much higher level of food self sufficiency and maybe even a weekly market stall in Pescia from time to time next year... there you go... I've said it. As Tim Smit from the Eden Project said, his success and driving force was to tell 'future truths' so here is one of ours! Gulp!

Clearing further and further up the hill.

On Wednesday it was back up to Vellano for the morning for a morning's work with David for me while Helen toiled away in the office, no doubt dreaming of terrace clearing while doing so.

After lunch, Helen indeed refuelled the hedge trimmers and climbed the terraces to rescue more long forgotten olive trees while I put the finishing touches onto the grandly named 'orangery' well... it does have oranges in it!

Welcome to 'The Orangery'.

Thursday was an altogether different, but no less busy day.

After messing around a little in the morning I decided to dash out for more fencing supplies before too much of the morning vanished. While in the agricultural shop I had a call from our friend Susan up the valley who wanted to collect her portion of the sweet potato order we'd had delivered. She was in Pescia, so it would be a race for me to pay and beat her home as Helen had a conference call at 11am and would not thank me for having to deal with a barking Reggie when Susan arrived and pressed the gate buzzer.

I made it only as far as the main traffic lights in Pescia before Helen called to say that Mara and Franco had just turned up at the gates ready to come and give our beehive its second treatment for the varroa mite! I wasn't expecting them until late afternoon, but it seems I had misread Mara's message and my brain had ignored the word for morning and replaced it with afternoon.

I sped home as quickly as the speed limit would allow me, to find Mara, Franco and Susan all waiting for me on the driveway. Helen had managed to find the extension cord for Franco, sorted Susan her spuds and even made a coffee for everyone before dashing off in a panic to the office just a couple of minutes late for her conference call.

After Franco had administered our second varroa mite treatment, Mara, Franco, Susan and I had coffee and chatted for ten minutes or so before Susan left and I sent Mara and Franco home with a handful of sweet potatoes to try, thanking them yet again for their huge help in keeping our bees healthy.

After a very quick lunch, the next visitor to our house today was Samantha for our weekly Italian lesson. As usual she got the full-throated bark from Reggie when she arrived, and as usual, he was soon eating cheesy flavoured treats from her hand - as long as she didn't look him in the eye.

After Samantha came the second Susan of the day, this time though it was Mrs Phillips with a delivery of olive oil from their week's pressing for me to pass on to our builder, Angelo.

We sat and chewed the fat in front of the wood burner for an hour or so before she had to head home to make ready dinner for the hungry gang of olive pickers.

A crazy busy day full of visitors - that's just how it seems to go on our hill sometimes!

Friday was due to be wet, the first wet day in a while actually, so I was quite looking forward to getting back to work on the built-in wardrobe I've started building in our bedroom - except that, by the morning, the forecast had changed and all the rain had gone elsewhere!

Despite this, I decided to plug on with the wardrobe to try and claw back a modicum of order to the now disordered bedroom.

The plaster boarding was slow-going, having to cut around everything but straight level edges. As the morning wore on, though, it was starting to take shape but work was halted at lunch time to eat and then head into town for the dastardly but necessary weekly food shop.

With the shopping in the boot we headed home, deliberating over how to spent the last precious hour or two of daylight, eventually deciding to make a start on raking the latest heap of leaves from the driveway that come down in the recent cold snap.

After unloading the car, I headed to Frateschi again, this time to buy two new rake handles so that I could join Helen in the raking fun, and also to fill the car with some more free pallets - soon we'll have more than Paolo, I'm sure!

After squeezing nine pallets into the boot and slinging one on the roof, I headed home to make some new leaf bins in strategic places along the drive so that we can make yet more compost for the growing veg garden.

Fallen leaves make a great compost known as leaf mould, which not only feeds plants but adds excellent organic material that conditions the soil, giving it a lovely structure for veg. As we have an abundance of leaves here, not only on the driveway but on the two donkey tracks as well, it seems like now is the time to stop wasting this free natural resource and put it to good use rather than allowing it to deteriorate into a slippery sludge that makes the car lose traction (on the driveway at least).

Leaf mould in the making.

So with the first bin built we raked until darkness fell and we couldn't literally see any more, then ambled wearily back to the house to light the fire and ponder on whether to start any food prep for the following evening's dinner party with Mara, Franco, our geometra Andrea and his wife Patrizia.

As it was we could barely be bothered to cook a meal for the evening but after a glass of wine found the motivation to get three lumps of cheese out of the fridge and make a bowl of humus, which together with some bread constituted dinner.

Saturday was the second busy day of the week that despite being hectic was devoid of any "progress" - progress outside that is, or what we would call 'farm work'.

After breakfast we both took Reggie out for a lengthy clamber around in the woods before heading back to the house to start on the real work for the day: cooking and cleaning!

While Helen started on the edibles, I started on the dust and disorder, gradually working my way down from the gypsum-covered bedroom floor to the kitchen below.

That is pretty much how the day went - cooking, tidying and cleaning on repeat until around five o'clock when we could do no more and found ourselves in that annoying void before guests arrive - what on earth are you supposed to do in these moments? If we hadn't have been waiting for guests at this point we would have put some salty snacks into a bowl and sat down with them in front of the fire with a glass of wine, but neither seemed appropriate two hours before dinner, we didn't want to touch anything and risk making a mess, we were at a real loose end! Eventually, a bit of TV saved the day and allowed us to switch our brains off for the hour and a half until Mara and Franco arrived with Prosecco and home made bread, as was the deal.

Cottage pies ready for the oven.

Ready and waiting.

Reggie, who is not yet completely comfortable with Franco, wasn't best pleased at their arrival, but found a relatively 'happy' place - that was until Andrea and Patrizia arrived fashionably late, along with an amazing cheesecake from the best ice cream shop in town for pudding.

Reggie now went rapidly into full melt down and chose to stay outside in the cold, barking non-stop at the front door and refusing to come indoors again.

Despite this we managed to enjoy an apertivo of Aperol spritz and then a starter of chicken liver pate, before introducing our Italian guests to cottage pie, sampling the amazing cheesecake, and finishing up with coffees and limoncello. There was much Italian conversation - although the dynamic meant that for a lot of the night we were listening much more than contributing, which was fine by us, as we got to hear a lot about people in the valley and joined a few more dots in the web that is our knowledge of the area and its inhabitants. The evening had gone past midnight when everyone decided to leave and head home.

Reggie, having been outside all night in the cold, ran indoors the minute the four guests had turned the corner of the house, sniffed at all of the chairs where they had been seated all evening, and then curled up on the sofa to fall asleep. It was gone half past midnight by this time, but we felt so guilty for having put him through what must have been a very traumatic evening that we sat up with him for another hour before sending him to bed.

After the late night on Saturday, Sunday was a slow start - we were not particularly late getting up, but it took a while to wake properly and build up a head of steam.

We walked poor Reggie in the woods again to let him blow off some of the previous evening's frustration, and then headed indoors for some lunch.

After much procrastination and indecision we decided that we should spend the afternoon down in the veg plot rather than clearing up behind the house so got into appropriate gear and headed out. After a beautiful clear, sunny morning with patches of mist hanging in the valley, the afternoon turned out to be our turn to be shrouded in the mist, turning it into a decidedly chillier day.

A beautiful clear morning, but come the afternoon we were in the depths of the fog.

As I walked across the drive to head for the veg garden, I heard Santa arriving - or at least that was what my brain had decided was happening for a few seconds (did I mention we were tired)?

It soon dawned on me that it much more likely to be hunting dogs with bells around their necks than flying reindeer, and sure enough two or three dogs appeared from the woods, charged right past the house below the veg terraces and disappeared into the valley to the left of us, making their odd howling yelpy noises as they went. Right on cue, I heard the Reggie open the house door, having heard them pass, and switch straight back into the previous evening's melt down of furious barking, this time his barks directed at unwelcome guests in the woods and terraces rather than at the house.

Helen and I spent the rest of the afternoon adjusting and digging over another section of terrace to create two more new veg beds to the sounds of Reggie's lungs.

Two more veg beds in preparation.

Reggie wouldn't and didn't stop barking at the hunters and their dogs all afternoon until way after it was dark and we'd all come indoors for the night - exhausted from a busy week and weekend!

Monday 21 November 2016

Raging torrents

With the chicken enclosure all ready and prepared with a sectioned off "introduction" area, the plan for Monday was to add an extra three hens to the farm - but first, Helen put in an hour or so's work in the office while I busied myself with taking Reggie for a romp around in the woods.

After a long route clambering through the lower woods below the house, I took Reggie back to the house and Helen and I got ourselves ready to head out to Pescia before Perondi (the "chicken man") closed for lunch.

As we were driving through the village, my phone rang - it was David and Sarah, who were in Pescia and had finished running some errands and were wondering if they could pop in on their way home. Since we were already heading their way, we decided to stop and meet for a coffee at a coffee bar at the edge of town.

After a round of coffees we headed back to the car park where we'd left the cars - only to find that our car was up to its old tricks again and wouldn't start. Thankfully there was enough flat space to enable David, Sarah and Helen to push the car out of its parking space and then gather a little speed along the flat so that I could bump start it. With the car running, we headed straight to the chicken man, only to find him shut - it had only just gone midday, so we were surprised to find he had already closed for lunch, but I guess he likes his lunch early.

We made an about-turn and headed straight home with Dave and Sarah following, as we had offered them a bite to eat for lunch.

Reggie was, of course, delighted to see them as it had been a while since their last visit and it wasn't long before he was demanding tummy rubs and dishing out kisses to our guests.

After lunch and an overdue catch up, our friends headed up the valley to do a few hours work cutting wood and we headed back to Pescia to revisit the chicken man, this time finding him open.

His wife arrived first and asked what we wanted: we asked for a pair of white Livornese hens and a single red hen as we find that our white one seems in general to be a much better layer than the reds. However, the Perondis were fresh out of Livornese so instead we plumped for three red hens. "Mrs chicken man" then headed off to the large shed/barn to fetch three hens.

Mr chicken man (Perondi) arrived shortly after and went to help his wife chase the hens around the barn (oh how I'd love to witness that spectacle!).

They soon arrived carrying three hens (upside down by their legs) and one cardboard box, expertly shoved all three hens into the box and weighed it - you pay by weight, as is the way for everything here in Italy.

We then loaded the car with a couple of sacks of chicken feed, then carefully put the cardboard box of hens in the back, paid for our goods and headed home.

Not really just a 'chicken man' 
As soon as we got home we headed straight for the chicken enclosure, filled the food containers with fresh grain, added a bowl of fresh water, then took the box of hens to the temporary enclosure. We cautiously opened the cardboard box, expecting a blur of feathers as they scrambled to get as far away from us as they could, but instead all three of them just sat there in the box, blinking in the daylight... so that's where we left them... and I'm pretty sure that's exactly where they stayed overnight too.

On Tuesday morning I headed out to do a bit of work with David in Vellano, before coming home for a late lunch and to check on the new hens who were now out of their box but hiding timidly in the back of their shelter, this was clearly going to be a long process!

After a long hiatus, Wednesday was the first of a fresh run of "community days" - days on which we and our little community of friends all put in hard graft and labour on one property, taking it in turns to be the beneficiary or else prioritising those most in need. This time, Community Day was up in Vellano, the aim of the day being to help David and Sarah collect, cut, split and stack some firewood. Our friends Paul and Kathy joined the community group for the first time this time, although unfortunately Donatella couldn't make this one, but six pairs of hands certainly make light(er) work!

It was a very crisp start to the day, still only 2 degrees when we left home just before nine and as we climbed up the hill it got a little chillier.

This meant the initial chit chat was quite brief and we soon all got to work as a way of warming up.

After I'd fixed three pallets to the wall to make bays for sorting and storage of wood, Paul set to work cutting the uncut wood at the storage area, Kathy started a bonfire to burn through a heap of debris left behind after some terrace clearing, Sarah stacked the seasoned wood into the first of the bays and Helen, David and I went down into the woods to start cutting and splitting the wood piled up around the place.

Chief wood stacker

Choosing her weapon while Kathy gets the fire going.
Two empty bays... but not for long!
There was a real buzz around the place!

As David and I cut the wood to length, Helen split it and so the day went until Paul joined us in the woods to help finish the last of the splitting and Sarah and I wheel-barrowed the split wood to the store.

Not a bad view from the office!
Monte Lignana, beneath which is the lost village.
After a solid and very satisfying morning's work, we had burnt through a load of debris (and safely extinguished the fire afterwards) and had split and stacked all the wood from the one heap we were working. Everyone was feeling the warm glow not only from working up a sweat in the fresh outdoors but from having helped friends get a whole heap of work done.

We all headed back to David and Sarah's for a lovely lunch of nibbles, delicious onion soup, cheeses, fettunta and cheese on toast washed down with beer and wine before we all waved goodbye late in the afternoon and headed to our respective corners of the valley.

On Thursday morning we headed into Pescia to sign and collect a letter that our geometra had prepared for us to finally placate a neighbour who, since our electric gates have been fixed and closed, has decided to become something of a pain and a bully over what was his ancient right to access an old donkey track that runs from our gates a short way along the drive before heading up into the woods and eventually arriving at his property (that is, it would arrive at his property if the section of track from our land to his hadn't long been swallowed up and overgrown by the woods). Apparently if such paths/tracks have not been used for 20 years or more, the access rights lapse, and while we are quite sure he hasn't used the track for many years, we don't have the time, energy or desire to attempt to prove it, and giving him what he wants seems to be the path of least resistance - he claims he won't be using the track, and just wants documentation stating that he has access rights.

Thursday afternoon saw our usual weekly Italian lesson with Samantha - although this week I ducked out of the lesson as soon as my homework had been checked so that I would be available to help Mara and Franco who were coming over to administer a treatment into our beehive against the dreaded varroa mite that is wiping out bee colonies across the globe.

I ran a 50m extension cable up to the hive for Franco so that he could plug in their expensive bit of kit, and after he had donned all his bee-keeping gear plus a serious-looking gas mask, he headed up to the hive to do the deed - which took all of 60 seconds. The treatment is effectively fumigating the hive with formic acid (hence the serious gas mask), which kills the mites but as long as it is done in the right dosage, leaves the bees unharmed. We are very thankful to them for doing this for us - it might only take 60 seconds to administer the treatment but it's a 15 minute drive either side of the visit, so not an inconsiderable chunk out of their day, and, like us, they always have something to be doing around the home or land surrounding it. The hive will need another two treatments after this one to complete the course.

After sharing a coffee with me on the patio they headed home, followed shortly by Samantha.

Varroa mites in the hive.
Friday was a wet day, so while Helen tried to work in the office, I did so too - but with power tools.

As happy as we are with our new wood burner in the living room, the office remains the coolest room in the house and when Helen is virtually motionless for hours on end in front of the computer, she is still getting very cold. We have decided, therefore, to finally sort out (re-route) the flue for the small wood burner in the office. For those that don't know, this wood burner works very well so long as it's not too cold outside (which kind of defeats the object somewhat), the reason being that the majority of the flue (- around 6m of it, which is not insulated) runs outside the house. This means that when it's cold outside, the flue gases condense before escaping and wash filthy liquid creosote back into the wood burner (and then office), leaving a vile toxic-seeming smell and making it impossible to be in the room.

So our plan is to re-route the flue, running it through the ceiling of the office and into the guest bedroom above it - which will also then act as a radiator to heat that room - and then make a new hole in the bedroom wall for the flue to exit just below the roof line.

Job one in this project was to make a hole in the terracotta tiles that form the ceiling of the office and the floor of the bedroom.

A whole lot of dust and noise later, we had a snug hole for the flue. The next job was to remove the old flue from the outside and close the hole in the office wall.

Unlike the flue for the main wood burner, whoever installed this one had glued the sections of flue together, well of course they had, because it made my life harder - what else would I expect!?!

This meant I needed to chisel out a fair amount of stone in the wall so that I could yank the flue out of the wall - so yet more noise, in the form of hammering and falling stone, followed as the afternoon disappeared into a slowly receding light. Thankfully the forecast rain had not yet arrived.

Not conducive to office work i'm told.
Letting the outside's all the rage on Grand Designs.
As the light faded I managed to get the old flue off the wall and mixed up a bucket of mortar so that I could close what was now a gaping hole in the office wall. I managed to do so just in the nick of time, as along with the darkness came the rain, which got progressively harder and harder as the evening went on, and didn't abate for the next 24 hours.

The next morning we were amazed to find that the bucket I had used for mixing my mortar - which I had cleaned out the previous evening, had been filled over night: something like 12 inches of rain in 12 hours!

Filled bucket overnight
Saturday morning started with Johnny's arrival for our second Italian lesson of the week - this week it was just Helen and me again, as David and Sarah had an important meeting to try and secure a new house for next year.

We had a very productive lesson, flitting between combined pronouns, imperfect past tense and translating paragraphs of English into Italian.

Johnny told us that the river in Pietrabuona and Pescia was very full and that the last time he had seen it like that was more than 15 years ago when he was still at school - so we couldn't resist going to have a look. We could already hear the roar of the stream that runs along the edge of our land which is usually more of a trickle, and in the distance we could see a section of the main river in the valley bottom that looked like white water rapids.

We later found out that while we were sleeping that night (well I was sleeping, it turns out that Helen didn't find the sound of rain pelting down on the roof window as soporific as I did) that Pescia and the surrounding low-lying areas were in chaos, with roads flooded and impassable for several hours.

Our own mini-raging river. Seems we need to sort out some more drainage channels in the drive.

After we got home, the rain started up in earnest again, so we busied ourselves indoors with cooking - or Helen did at least, she made a batch of chicken liver paté, then a batch of carrot and lentil soup followed by dinner of Indian spiced vegetables before we finally sat down to eat some of the latter followed by an hour in front of the TV.

Sunday proved to be an altogether different prospect: it was dry and mild, reaching a humid 19 degrees during the afternoon, which made for sweaty work in the veg garden. Before that, we had a lazy start to the day, then mustered up the energy to walk Reggie in the woods so that I could show Helen a couple of large chestnut trees that must have come down on Friday night, before securing Reggie indoors and heading over to Montecatini.

That's a load more firewood nature has felled for us!
Our first stop was the pet store to stock up on dry food for Reggie, before going into OBI to get another couple of sheets of plasterboard so that I can get on with building the wardrobe in the bedroom the next time we have a wet weather day.

Once home, we sampled some of Helen's chicken liver paté for lunch, along with a little more of the Indian veg in tortilla wrap,s before heading outside for some work in the veg garden.

As tempting as it is to head back up the terraces behind the house and continue clearing, we had a kilo of garlic in the shed that was overdue for planting, and being mindful that we need to get the veg garden ready in good time this year, we headed down the terraces.

After reading my latest book on gardening I had decided it prudent at this stage to standardise the size of all the beds - not only does this make the planning of what to plant a whole lot easier, but it means that any insect or bird nets can be used on any bed interchangeably.

So, with a tape measure and some lengths of steel re-bar we headed to the veg garden to work out the length of the beds that would be optimal. The width has been dictated by a new set of hand tools on the market and used by a lot of market gardeners in the states.

Soon we had marked out our first two beds at 10 metres long and 75cm wide in place of where one much smaller bed had been.

We spent the rest of the afternoon rearranging the landscaping fabric and digging over the new soil to remove any bramble roots before raking over to remove stones and other detritus.
Finally in the veg garden.

Re-jigging the first bed
All beds will be 10m x 75cm
As darkness approached we had completed the first two of what we estimate will be 22 beds of this size ready for next year's growing season. It felt good to finally be getting some work done down the orto and we retired indoors filthy to light the fire and wash off the day's toil before settling into an evening of blogging and dinner in front of the fire.


A monkey's tail? No, an amazingly furry ivy tendril.

Citrus, chillis and November sunshine.

Scarlet waxcap.

More November sunshine (it's not all rain!).

Wednesday 16 November 2016

New territory

After the wet weekend we were looking forward to a clear sunny couple of days Monday and Tuesday, albeit a bit chilly.

After breakfast on Monday I took Reggie out for his daily run around in our woods - we're tending to avoid going out on walks further afield these days, thus avoiding such hazards as other dogs, people, bikes, joggers, and of course at this time of year, hunting parties. We made a loop from the house to the uppermost (clear) terrace then turned left into the woods, crossing over the old fence that encircles the terracing and then going off-piste through the trees and undergrowth until we reached the donkey track, then wound our way down to the driveway, from where we picked up the lower donkey track and headed back through the woods towards the lower terraces and veg garden.

As I had brought a pair of secateurs with me I made a right turn half way down the lower track to investigate what seems to be a fork in the track. As Reggie charged around in the woods I snipped my way slowly along the new piece of track for about 15 minutes until I arrived at a more open but bramble-covered area. As I was doing so, the weather forecast for the day completely let me down and hail started pelting down from the sky, leaving me and Reggie running back up the track and along the drive for the house. We reached the house more than damp and found that the hail had left puncture holes in the polycarbonate canopy above the door!

After the wet weather had subsided mid-afternoon, Helen and I ventured onto the upper terraces to start rolling all the latest piles of bramble and debris down towards the drive and eventually to the chipper for it to all be chipped and added to our compost piles. It's a lot more effort than simply burning it on the terrace in situ, but instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere we're sequestering it in our veg garden, and in doing so feeding our veg.

On Tuesday I headed up to Vellano for the morning to join David in tinkering yet again with the water supply in the woods that supplies the house of our friends Paul and Veronica, before heading home for lunch. Shortly after lunch, the lovely weather we'd enjoyed all morning turned once again to hail, forcing us to stay indoors for a few hours - but around mid afternoon we decided to layer up and head out for a couple of hours of work before the light faded.

Helen yet again raked leaves from the driveway - not only to provide yet more compost fodder, but also in an effort to stop the leaves turning into their usual muddy, slippery, slidey sludge on the ground. Meanwhile, I busied myself with the chipping of the bramble and related detritus before shovelling it down the chute to the composting terrace so that we could build up bin number three.

Midweek was spent finishing the chipping that I left unchipped Tuesday evening while Helen worked in the relative warmth of the office. After a busy few hours' chipping (which turns out to be an excellent deltoid, trapezius and latissimus dorsi workout) we had a full third compost bin!

3 bins full, one to do..then we need more bins!
Cooling down after a few days, will need more nitrogen soon.
The rain made a return in the afternoon, which saw me joining Helen in the office, while she busied herself with the joys of the computer anti-virus world I was trialling some vegetable garden planning software from, which seems like it could take away a lot of headaches over the coming months as we plan how much of what plants to stick where - it doe, however, come at the cost of a subscription fee.

On Thursday and Friday we busied ourselves with clearing more terraces up behind the house and making ready for the arrival of three new hens by fencing off a section of the current chicken enclosure and making them a temporary home for the period in which they need to be separated from the others in a bid to ease the introduction in a week or two.

The introduction enclosure.
On Friday evening we were indoors and showered at a reasonable time as we were off yet again to our friends Franco and Mara's - this time along with our flat screen TV and laptop so that we (along with Mara, Franco, their neighbours Silvia and Fabio, and three other friends) could enjoy a presentation given by the very nice guy - Andrea - who taught Mara and Franco about bee-keeping. The presentation was about Andrea's 6-year-old vegetable plot which he created after having converted from 'traditional' growing (by which I mean digging, chemical fertilisers and pesticides) to a no-dig system inspired by the Japanese Masonobu Fukuoka who rose to fame with his (in the gardening/veg growing world)  'straw revolution' in the 70s.

It was a nice evening, but an incredibly demanding one, as we tried to follow a very lively debate between the 10 people in the room about permaculture, no-dig and other growing systems, and then were asked to take our turn to try and explain our two years here and how we were approaching our own growing.

By the time midnight came, and after packing up the TV, laptop and cables, we were exhausted and headed home and directly to bed - the weekend promised to be dry and sunny and we wanted to get some work done outside.

On Saturday morning we walked Reggie in the woods, taking our time to photograph some of the fungi around at the moment and allowing Reggie a really good stretch of the legs, almost running into a deer as we did - thankfully Reggie was busying himself elsewhere at the time and the deer had disappeared into the woods before he could notice.

Mushroom season!

As yet unidentified...friend or foe?

After lunch is was back up the terraces behind the house to make more mess - you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, after all!

Sunday was a perfect day much like Saturday: lovely weather, a long walk (or stumble) around in the woods and then lunch in front of the fire before a physical afternoon out on the terraces.

We're now at the point on these terraces where we have clawed back the space we cleared last Autumn (finally) and have actually headed into new territory - terraces that we don't believe have seen the light of day for possibly as long as 60 years. We assume this based on a terrace survey map of the area that was done in 2002 (and previously in 1954), as well as the fact that the olive trees hidden up in the undergrowth up there are tall and mature and don't seem to have befallen the same fate as the trees on the terraces closer to the house (which were cut and used for firewood some years ago). We are now beyond what was shown as in use on the terrace map in 2002, and we can see the huge olive trees towering amongst the chaos of green - tantalisingly close to being freed.

Bite me!
We retired for the evening feeling quite pooped but thrilled by the new progress, with still a few months of clearing work ahead of us we're excited to see just how far back we can push the advance of the bramble before stopping to concentrate on the veg garden in Spring - not that the veg garden doesn't need a good few man hours putting in before then, but that's for another blog...!

..and in other news!

Rigatino, it's pancetta but better!

New shower head fitted, 35% less water and better pressure!

Toasty and using much less wood!
Enjoying the toasty new stove.

November sunshine.