Thursday 25 March 2021

Hello spring

In our last post we were about to embark on the preparation work for the reconstruction of the next set of terraces down below the house. As it happens, today marks the completion of the project. It has taken us two months to do, the most part of which (possibly the hardest part of the work - although that's up for debate) was the felling of around 10 trees, the cutting of them into 1m lengths, the stripping of the bark from those 1m lengths and in some cases the splitting of the 1m lengths into two halves lengthways. And taking delivery of 100 2m chestnut posts. And moving all of those materials down to the terraces. 

102 two-metre chestnut posts delivered to the drive.

10 tractor trips up and down the drive later, 102 chestnut posts stacked in the car park.

Around 200 (at this point) 1m logs with their bark stripped.

The "before" photo.

The actual terrace re-modelling/palisade wall building has taken "just" three and a half weeks of work - doing half-day stints almost every day.

We counted 350 one-metre lengths of wood (most of which we felled, cut and peeled by hand and all of which we carried to the terraces by hand) plus another 60 two-metre posts. 

The terrace below this one (which will be the last one that we plan to reconstruct/shore up) is a daunting prospect as it's even steeper and taller so will need even more materials. Hopefully we'll have forgotten how much work this one was by the time we start work on that one (which is planned for next year)!

As with the last set of terracing we did last year, while digging we unearthed countless pieces of broken pottery, some plain, some patterned, some shaped, some too broken to tell what it used to be - we really wish we had some way of finding where and when it came from!

The "find" that intrigued me the most in this round of digging, though, was this rather perished pair of leather gloves. Of course, it could well be that someone dropped them 10-15 years ago, but to a (very) untrained eye they appear to be finer and much more delicate than gardening gloves, and look like they belonged to a petite woman.

Of course, all of this work has been done during lockdown - just as last year's terracing was a lockdown project. While there has been no blanket national lockdown in Italy this time around, it has been operating regional "zones" according to severity of infection rates, with a sliding scale of severity of restrictions accordingly. Although the region of Tuscany has (so far) remained in the "orange" zone since early February, the province of Pistoia (in which we are situated) has been in the "red" zone for the last four weeks, with higher case numbers than elsewhere in the region. Officially that means lockdown, although this time around things have felt (to us at least) a lot less strict, with many more shops open than in last year's lockdown, fewer police checks, more traffic on the road and more people out and about. Unfortunately cases are currently still high in our local area - the more contagious Kent variant of the virus has unfortunately got a foothold, but perhaps the aforementioned less strict restrictions are also playing a part. 

For us, lockdown isn't a huge hardship. We know that we are very, very lucky in that respect. We are happy here at our property and we enjoy the lack of interruptions to our daily life that means we can get stuck into our work and projects without having to stop and start. Of course we miss seeing our friends, and we miss being able to go out freely (even in a place as beautiful as this we appreciate a change of scene from time to time), but overall our lives are not significantly affected.

So aside from lugging many tonnes of wood up and down hills and building palisade walls what have we been up to? (I have to think about that one as it feels as if we've been working on the terraces for a lifetime.)

Well, we've built on a small indoor project we started before Christmas: making soap. The batch we made before Christmas we mainly gave away as Christmas presents, but since then we have upped our soap-making game a little, learning about how the different essential oils behave and how well they hold in soap, developing different fragrance combinations, and coming up with a packaging theme.

We've sold quite a few to friends locally. For the time being this remains just a small project for private/personal use (we've learned there are many rules and regulations for selling to a wider audience), but it's something we aim to build on as time goes on (something to work on when the weather stops us from working outdoors!).

In the kitchen we've had a go at making sauerkraut, oat bread and buckwheat flour bread.

Sauerkraut pot.

Buckwheat bread

Oat bread

Toasted oat bread served with red onion, chickpeas,home grown kale, a poached egg from the chickens and drizzled with our own olive oil.

For the first time since moving here, we have had veg growing over winter (previously we just weren't organised enough to get it planted), so we've enjoyed being able to pick winter veg from the garden.

Fennels and garlic.

Rainbow chard and onions.

Broad beans.

Cabbages and broad beans.

We also had a go at making some bird boxes.

Stuart was brave enough to scale the ladder to put them up. Now we wait to see who moves in!

We had about a cubic metre of cut, chopped, split firewood stolen from our storage area near the gate - the less said about that the better! - shortly after which Stuart put his electrician/mechanic skills to the test and mended the electric gate.

We've had warm days, and eating lunch al fresco has become the norm.

Some days have already been too warm for Reggie.

But we also had a spell to remind us that winter hadn't quite finished, as this video of a local water wheel demonstrates!

Since mid January Stuart has been to-ing and fro-ing to the physio on a weekly (sometimes twice weekly) basis in an attempt to help fix the very painful elbow and hip he has been suffering with for over a year. Apparently he has a very severe case of tennis elbow and the same condition (also severe) in his hip (which makes it, what, tennis hip?). The visits to the physio seem to have provided some relief in that, while still in pain, he is now able to do things he couldn't do previously. However, the physio has warned him that, without a period of rest, he can't expect to make any progress towards recovery, so although the physio has been able to prevent things from getting any worse, he hasn't been able to move things forward while we've been working on the terracing project. In addition to which Stuart has spent a few weeks doing some work for a guy we know who has been clearing land at a property further up the valley - earning just enough cash to hand over to the physio to try to mitigate the damage the work was causing... So, a two-week "rest" period for Stuart starts from tomorrow, with only light physical duties allowed. 

We now find ourselves in that time of year when the fruit trees are in blossom, daffodils, tulips, crocuses, primroses, hellibores, hyacinths and even irises are showing their pretty colours. The air smells wonderfully sweet and spring-like and while the sun is warm there is still a lovely freshness in the air. 

Of course, this time of year also means the grass is growing like there's no tomorrow, so the first round of strimming will start next week. Stuart is banned from strimming (too much stress on the elbow), so I will start to tackle the job - it takes a total of around 16-18 person-hours to cut all of the grass, and cutting it into 2h stints means it ends up being like painting the Forth Road Bridge - so I will probably be strimming non-stop until the autumn!

While I'm strimming Stuart will be coming up with a plan for putting in some irrigation, re-plumbing our rain-water collection tanks (which are currently out of action as we removed them to swap them around with some new ones), planting more seeds and tending to the veg beds.

We also plan to plant around 6 more fruit trees, and it will soon be time to prune the olive trees, which is itself quite a major job. 

So, about that 2-week rest period?!