The milder weather has certainly given them some encouragement, along with the rest of us. No signs of snow now, just glorious autumnal wind.
Suddenly everything is so much more visible. Without the leaves to hide behind, we now feel quite exposed to both the elements and our nearest neighbours. So we buy in a few young conifers to plant at the top of the drive in an attempt to shield us just a little when everything else is stripped bare.
Landscaping has now become so much easier: the dry stone wall encircling the three linden trees now clearly shapes a terrace for spring time pauses whilst also forming a sturdy dam to encourage any excess water away from the dwellings and plantations. Stacked dry branches and old logs demarcate compost piles and leaf mulch to become nourishing soil for next season’s crops. And the flow from the drive to the house and on to the gardens is so much easier to tweak.
We have spent much of this last week collecting horse and cow manure in a borrowed trailer from a friend’s small holding and nearby plots of the local farming cooperative. We have discovered that our car is pitifully weak for such trips (another argument to save for a small tractor - I am slowly learning to accept that it will be a very necessary addition to the family!).
Yet we have succeeded in bringing in enough well-rotted manure to support the restructuring of the polytunnel as well as a couple of fresh heaps lower down, settling to decompose. The tunnel is now free of all this season’s plants, even though many green tomatoes were still hanging, bitten by frost and rendered inedible by these last few weeks of decidedly un-southern temperatures.
Inside, our new kitchen is entering into its first lease of life as a space to concoct experimental recipes whose function is aesthetic as opposed to edible: I am desperately trying to find the ultimate combination of ingredients to create the right paint for the kitchen walls.
One challenge is to manifest a washable surface of the right colour density for the space that will house our wood-fired oven.
My first experiment initially looked good, but has dried rather patchy and remains moist, even after two days. It is the basic milk paint recipe with added pigment and linseed oil. Through trial and error - by adding the oil first and then mixing in the rest of the liquid - I have rediscovered the importance of the mayonnaise principle. Needless to say, the oil never properly emulsified and the pigment came through in lumps.
Oil is purported to create a waterproof finish, bearing in mind that drying time is much extended. It is also possible to add a final oil-based finish on top of a basic emulsion. This is now my preferred route, as the quark and lime mixture that I made for the main walls has worked beautifully, resulting in a smoky, opaque finish that is subtly in tune with the organic texture of the walls. Using filler (in my case a fine plaster, but clay or chalk, or indeed any powdered stone or mineral will also do) has made a huge difference to the density of colour.
The experiments continue as our kitchen rapidly transforms into a proper looking room.
The cold spell proved to be a vital insight into the coming winter and triggered a new approach to curtains: the latest two for the living room are flat, heavy screens – made using woollen blankets lined against canvas – attached snugly to the top of the window space and hanging neatly into the edges, fixed along the bottom by a bamboo pole tucked beneath two screws. Without the air gap of the sill and the free hanging that facilitates draught, they have made a very noticeable difference to the temperature of the room at night.