A Very Small Holding

The Elliffs journey into the good life

By

A very lucky cat

We expected that once we had established ourselves in our small-holding that there would be several hours each week of necessary general maintenance. The outbuildings may need a lick of paint or the boundaries to the land in need of repair.

Initially we knew that there would be a great deal of work required to get the small-holding into a productive state. After reviewing the various features and assets we had been left with we established a rough plan of action. It would evolve over time, but there were quite a few areas we wanted to get right before we jumped headlong into planting vegetables and acquiring livestock.

With our second child on the way there was going to be a necessary delay in our evolution of the small-holding. We decided to postpone any food production until the next spring, when our family would be less demanding on our time and when we hoped to have the allotment constructed to our liking.

In the meantime I would be largely maintaining the status quo, while taking opportunities to progress our grand plan for the small-holding. Katie would be tied to producing and then feeding the new member of our little unit, until some time earlier next year when we hope to begin enjoying development of the land as a family.

Tree branches, vines and weeds in three separate piles waiting to be recycled

This week I spent a couple of hours each day removing weeds from the allotment area. The stones that surrounding the allotment beds were being invaded by a number of weeds, mostly grasses and thistles. Most of the stones sat on a weed suppressing material, but this did not stop the weeds from sprouting up and the root of the thistles spearing through the material to the earth below.

As I moved around the allotment digging out the weeds with a trowel I was amazed at how many insects and small spiders lived among the stones. They ran for cover as this giant beast shuffled towards them on his knees, like a small crowd escaping an erupting volcano.

I was aware that in all probability my efforts would be futile, but as I have stated previously I did find some satisfaction from the manual task of clearing an area of weeds. Perhaps I have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder, that Katie would point out does not extend to cleaning the house.

A month after the move our elderly cat developed some very strange behaviour. She had been a house cat before we rescued Tabitha and her brother from the RSPCA. We introduced them to the outside world at our last house. Jake loved roaming the streets and scrapping with his neighbours. Tabitha had not been so keen and this meant we were still required to keep a litter tray close by.

The moment I found Tabitha curled up in her litter tray we feared the worse. She seemed physically well, but had a withdrawn demeanour. When I encouraged her out of the litter tray she found other odd places to make her bed. Previously she had been happy either on the sofa or in her own bed under the dining table.

Tabitha, our twenty-one year old cat enjoying the sunshine in the safety of our lounge

We knew the old wives tale regarding how a cat will find a comfortable place to rest when they are near death. Katie called the vet fearing the worst. The conversation with the veterinary nurse confirmed our fears as Katie described Tabitha’s recent odd behaviour. We packed Tabitha into the travel basket and drove to the surgery expecting to return empty handed.

The vet surprised us by diagnosing a simple case of fleas. We were unsure how they had been transmitted. Neither of our cats had ever had a flea infestation, and due to Tabitha’s agoraphobia she never mixed with other animals. We therefore suspected that the previous feline occupants of our new house had left Tabitha a welcoming committee. Tabitha was treated by the vet with a simple ointment, while we purchased some flea spray to rid the house of our unwelcome guests.

The next day I spent a couple of hours fumigated the house and then retreated to the allotment to trim more branches from the troublesome vine roots. Katie and Matilda had left that morning to visit a friend, accepting an invitation to stay for the night and avoid breathing any lingering fumes. I consoled myself that evening with a trip to the pub for a seafood platter and a few drinks.

By

A very invasive vine

The largest allotment bed took a little longer than the first to clear of weeds. I repeated the process of the previous weekend, progressing along the length of the bed pulling the weeds out of the soil. I completed three separate shifts removing the weeds and wheeling several dozen barrows to the temporary compost pile.

The three allotment beds after they had been cleared of weeds

Like many gardeners I found the act of weeding therapeutic and good exercise. We had not bought a home with land to satisfy a theological principle. We were seeking a more natural, peaceful and local way of life. There would be no need to join a gym; the land management would provide all the exercise we needed and save money instead of costing us money.  There would be no need to travel by car to the country park; we had the countryside on our doorstep and several bridleways crossing our road. We felt there would be no need to take a holiday; we had moved to a location that was far removed from the rat-race.

We had already discovered we were watching very little television. Our free time was used more productively, maintaining our new home or investigating the local area. A difficultly we could see on the horizon that would interrupt our progress was the imminent arrival of our second child. How much time two children will occupy would have a bearing on what we could achieve and in what time.

Most of the initial tasks involved maintenance and restoration. In our back garden, to avoid any unnecessary injuries to myself, my family or any visitors, I trimmed all the low hanging branches. There were more than twenty trees dotted around the garden and it was apparent that more radical maintenance would be needed to make the garden a more usable space. The trees hid the bottom half of the garden. It was dark, damp and a mess. I lacked any tree felling equipment or lumberjack experience, so I decided to postpone tree management to another day.

The dark cattery interior on a summer’s day before the vine covering was removed

I moved my attention to the old cattery. It had been constructed twenty years ago and appeared that it would be able to serve its purpose for twenty more. However, the cattery was being consumed by vines that had been intentionally planted around the perimeter. The vines covered the roof and protected you temporarily from the rain, until the rainwater began to drip down long after the rain had subsided. The cattery was dark and damp as a result. The paved floor green and slippery under foot.

I decided to cut down all the vines and bushes surrounding the cattery. The vines served no real purpose and would only get in the way of any improvements to the structure. The task was made complicated by the growth of the branches weaving in and out of the steel mesh. I cut all the visible branches that wove under the mesh roof enabling me to pull most of the vine structure from the roof. I had to cut the branches in many places, every two inches in some cases, to separate the plant from the wire.

The cattery enclosure during the removal of the vine branches from the main structure

Several days of cutting, pulling and sawing removed most of the vines. I left part of the vine structure in place to maintain the structural integrity of the cattery wall. The wooden supports had rotten away in places, or had been eaten away by the insects living in the vine architecture. If we decided to keep the cattery in its present design we would need to replace several of the wooden pillars and finally remove the main trunk of the vine plant.

There were smaller maintenance tasks I slowly chipped away at over the passing days. Each time I left the house or returned from the croft I kept an eye out for weeds growing through our gravel driveway. My neighbour had commented the first time I pulled at a lone weed among the stones that it would be a futile task removing them. He had abandoned the idea long ago. I thought I would give it a try. The weeds would never be eradicated completely from the driveway due to the nature of its construction, but I hoped I would keep the worst of them at bay.