• Steven Bennett

Finding Paradise Part 3 Preparing the Ground


I should have known really, but putting up our potting shed was a lot harder than I anticipated. We had gone for quite a large, tall shed so the panels were consequently quite heavy. The first thing we did was to read the instructions. The second thing we did was to follow the first few stages of the instructions. And the third thing we did was to realise that the instructions were rubbish and throw them away.

The instructions tried to get you to put three pieces together to form the top of the gable…and then balance this 10 foot wide piece of timber 7 feet up in the air while it was screwed to the end of the shed. This was supposed to ensure that everything fitted nice and snug. But as we were on a tight budget, this shed came from the cheaper end of the market so however you put the shed together it was never going to fit nice and snug. Anyway, we got it up and then tried to felt the roof. I reached as far as I could but the only way to reach the apex was to throw Emma up on the roof. Up she went and amazingly the roof held. I didn’t let Emma know at the time how unsure I was of my workmanship (but now she knows). We must have done a decent enough job because despite the budget nature of the shed, nearly two years later its still up and water tight. We finished the shed off by putting in a workbench and a load of shelves, which as well as providing storage hold all the walls together really well. It was then painted a nice crisp black to protect it from the rain.

Outside we began the task of preparing the ground for the polytunnels. We knew how big they were going to be so marked out the area with a small fence and covered the ground with a weed proof membrane. We got a few tons (about twenty) of wood chip to cover the ground around where we were going to be working. This was delivered to the front part of the site by a large truck which managed to get bogged down following a downpour. The Land Rover was duly hooked up to the lorry and despite the misgivings of the driver, who didn’t believe that a little Defender 90 could pull his vehicle and its load of several ton of soil, he was dragged back to solid tarmac with no dramas.

A Land Rover really is the most essential piece of equipment you will need when taking on any outdoor project. We wouldn’t have been able to do most of what we did, without one. To move the bags of wood chip from the gate to where we needed it, instead of shovelling it onto wheel barrows and pushing it 100 yards, we simply dragged a few bags at a time with a Landy. It looked stunning when it was all freshly spread out and we could really begin to see it all taking shape. We needed to see results though because without seeing something tangible for our efforts it would have been easy to become disheartened.

At this point we were getting to the nursery at dawn and working hard until it was going dark. It was mentally and physically demanding and looking back I’m still not sure how we did it. We had several different projects all running at the same time. As well as generally clearing the site and building the shed we started to create an allotment area with raised beds to grow fruit and veg. We turned over the soil and found it was mostly clay. We’d read that a good tip for improving clay soils was to spread old, used hops onto the soil. So off we went to a local independent brewery and came back with the car stinking of stale beer. The hops were spread out and dug into the clay and then we put in some good quality top soil, and mixed that with horse manure from a neighbour who runs a pony sanctuary. For those of you with a similar clay soil, the hops seem to have helped. We now have a lovely soil with loads of worms creating a really good structure for our veg to grow into.

We'd had the site for about a month and at this time in the project my mind began to wander towards chickens. I’d wanted to keep chickens for many years but as our plant collection at home grew and grew, the space available to keep a few chickens had diminished. But now we had loads of space, and I could see the perfect area where I could put some hens. On the top of a hill next to where the second polytunnel was going to go was an area covered mostly by grass and 6 birch trees surrounding an old multi-stemmed oak. It wasn’t as though we didn’t have enough to do already but in my mind I could already see the chickens wandering around.

I got some canes and string and fenced off an area around the trees and then when Emma wasn’t looking moved the fence line out further and further to claim more space for my chicken project. Eventually I had moved the fence out as far as I could and so set to work on my project by starting with the gate. A mere four days later the gate was accompanied by a 40 metre length of 5 foot high fencing complete with fox resistant tops and bottom. The crowning glory to my new chicken run was a lovely new chicken coop sufficient to house 15 hens.

All I had to do now was wait. I had all the gear but no idea. We had invested quite a large amount of both time and money in my chickens but I didn’t know anything about them. I had bought books and read vast amounts of conflicting advice about how to care for them and what to feed them but didn’t feel ready to actually have a chicken. How for example do you pick up a chicken? So with that in mind, I had booked us both onto a one day course in how to keep chickens at a hen keepers who also sold the birds. I could therefore learn all I needed to know and get some birds at the same time. The next course wasn’t until early July so I had a whole month to kill. Not that I would be bored, we'd just ordered our first 2 polytunnels which was extremely exciting as the structure of the nursery was now coming together. Soon after they arrived the level of excitement dropped significantly as it dawned on us that we'd just opened the largest meccano set you have ever seen.


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