• Steven Bennett

Finding Paradise - Part 5 The Secret Revealed


Now that we had our chickens then a daily routine settled into our lives. We would arrive at the nursery early and let the girls out of the coop before cleaning out the previous nights droppings. After checking that they had enough food and water then they could be left to their own devices, either in their run or left to roam free range around the nursery while we carried on with our other tasks.

The second polytunnel had been built at the top of the hill next to the chicken coop and had gone up a bit quicker than the first as we had learnt from our mistakes first time round. Even the polythene had gone on just a little bit tauter.

As the summer progressed the UK was subjected to one of the hottest and longest heat waves on record. All of our watering is done by means of a watering can which means that in a heatwave a large amount of time is taken up with carrying water around the site.

Emma can't help but use plants everywhere.

Watering plants manually despite taking a long time does have its advantages. At the nursery there are lots of different areas which each receive differing amounts of sun and shade. Even within a polytunnel there can be huge differences in climate. Each plant will not therefore require the same amount of water. Plants towards the middle of a group of plants will have their pots in a certain amount of shade created by the other plants towards the edges. Manual watering allows you to check each plant as you go. You don't run the risk of swamping one plant by constantly watering it when its situation might not require it. We can also feed our plants to make sure they grow to their full potential. We always use organic food and have even made our own from the nettles which we allow to grow on the nursery for this purpose.

The heatwave lasted for about three weeks with daily temperatures outside of well over thirty degrees celsius. Inside the polytunnels though the temperature regularly reached over forty degrees celsius which in old money is 115 fahrenheit. Thats just too hot for most plants, which we moved out of the tunnels and into the 'cooler' temperatures outside. The chills loved it though. If you want to grow lots of big, hot chillies then you need light and heat, then more heat and more light. We weren't lacking in either. This was the first year we had grown Chillies on such a large scale and we were getting impressive looking fruits in large quantities. It was difficult spending too much time in the tunnels with the plants due to the temperature but I had to run the gauntlet regularly as the plants required lots of watering to keep them alive.

We grew a lot of plants in our first year at the nursery but as the summer faded taking its warm weather with it, Autumn arrived and brought with it the rain. It began to rain sometime in early October. Initially we were glad to see it as it meant that our rain water butts which had remained dry all summer would be filled up.

By the end of the month though the rain hadn't stopped. Our water butts were full to the brim no matter how much we used in the polytunnels. And then when the rain continued on into November our plot of land revealed its secret. That secret was that there is an underground stream which runs all the way through the plot between our potting shed and the lower polytunnel then on through where we had put our compost heap. During the hot summer months the stream had been contained underground, unseen and unknown. The amount of rain we had had since October meant that the ground was sodden and the stream now flowed brazenly overground. Our problems started slowly with first the ground becoming a bit soft underfoot. Then we had a few small puddles which over time grew and merged into one big puddle. Eventually we had standing water, in parts ten inches deep, between the potting shed and the lower polytunnel. Fortunately our shed was on a small rise so we remained dry inside but outside some parts of the nursery were impassable. It wasn't impassable for our dogs though who had the time of their lives running up and down through the water before cooling down by lying in what they had by then turned into a bog.

Other parts of the nursery were struggling as well with the rain. We regularly needed to drive onto the site to drop off compost and animal feed etc but the driveway was so boggy that even though the Landys weren't getting stuck, their tyres were churning the ground up into a quagmire. We stopped using the cars on the site except when essential, carrying all our deliveries by hand. It probably did stop raining at some point but my memory of that winter is that it rained consistently through to February. Slipping and sliding around in six inches of mud isn't much fun. The novelty wears off very quickly and the winter seemed to drag on as though time was stood still. I don't think the chickens enjoyed it much either. They seemed to spend most of their time sheltering under their coop hunched up together to keep the cold and the rain at bay.

Being at the nursery was becoming a bit of a miserable time. The dogs were spending all day wet and there was nowhere to shelter except the potting shed which with two big, wet dogs in is turned into a small workspace. It was cold as well.

So we decided to do something about it. We had put enough flags down back in May to fit another shed on the same size as the first. Being gluttons for punishment we got ourselves another shed, and threw away the instructions. We then put this shed up next to the first and screwed the two together. When the second shed was up fully I got out the drill and a saw and cut a whole in the wall where they join to create one large shed. The first shed was to stay as the working shed while the new half was to be the shed where could have a break and the dogs could stay out of the incessant rain. So into the second shed we put a big leather sofa bought cheap online and Emma even made some curtains to make it look homely. Sat behind some curtains on a big sofa doesn't keep you warm though so the next part of the plan was to put in a little log burning stove. We got ourselves a stove made locally out of various bits of scrap metal welded together. It was quite small, about 3" square and 18" tall. It had a small door on the front and air holes drilled in but it was so tiny that there wasn't anything small enough to fit in it. Even if I had raided a mouses nest for some suitably sized firewood and got a fire to start in it, it would have needed filling up every 20 seconds so it was reluctantly abandoned. Buy cheap, buy twice proved to be true as we bought another stove. The second one was a proper one in that it was actually large enough to fit a fairly substantially sized piece of timber in it and it had a window in the front so you could enjoy looking at the flames. neither of us had ever installed a log burning stove before but after doing some reading up we bought all the bits we thought we would need making sure our chimney would be tall enough to draw all the smoke up and out. Amazingly the log burner went in with no real issues. Even fitting the rubber sleeve over the top and bolting it to the roof went according to plan. Putting in the log burner has been the best thing we ever did at the nursery. We can spend many hours there with the dogs who remain dry and can relax on the sofa and we can boil water for tea on it. We have even cooked omelettes out of eggs collected minutes after being laid by the chickens which is very satisfying.


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