Offgrid Living Ireland  from Dogs & Coe

How’s it Growing?

I am pleased to say it’s growing better thanks.

Of course it wasn’t always the case. I feel in love with our wild acres the minute I saw them. The grass – well reeds actually stood 2ft tall and the rare grassy bits stood taller than that. The land was boggy and damp and if you stood too long in one place wellies would be sucked into the ground never to be returned. We had several instances of Simon having to drag me out of the wettest parts of the land only to find that another pair of jeans and socks remained in situ, I tell you it was a miracle I survived.

May 2012 reeds as tall as me.

The land sits on a slight incline – and so the water does and did run down to the bottom corners. However years of horses and cows grazing had left the ground uneven and compacted so water pooled everywhere and the reeds had taken over. The clay layer meant the water drained down slowly hence the mud which would spring up in all areas I walked on of course.

The local guys had mixed opinions as to whether we could ever make a go of growing anything on this land but despite the huge amount of head shaking and tutting we got from them we also managed to hear some good advice. Our neighbours like to talk believe me and everyone said something different, we couldn’t do right for doing wrong so in the end we did a bit of everything and that seemed to keep them all happy.

In 2012, 3 years before we moved here we had massive ditches dug at various cross points on the fields, this broke my heart really as I didn’t like the idea of deep channels the dogs could fall into. In reality the dogs never “fell” into them, the one who of course came a cropper everytime they came within a foot of a ditch was me, Being so little in stature it meant that once in I would need to be rescued and you can never find a man when you need one. Probably as he was off somewhere laughing at his ungainly wife stuck once again in a hole.

A year after the ditches the land had dried considerably and we were able to get a local farmer to “top” the land twice that year. Whilst some neighbours were unsure whether the scalping of the reeds would really prevent regrowth Simon was certain it would be worth it so holidays that year were all about the cutting and strimming of reeds – lucky me hey.

Hey Where did all that grass go? The field after its first proper Topping.

The May holiday was in fact my favourite and when I look back now to that time I can say all the pain was worth it really -it has just taken 7 years to admit it. We arrived with 250 bare rooted trees to plant and we were on a mission to clear the boundary edges of the property. Yes indeedy – clear the 2 miles of life threating bramble and enclose the 2 acres in new fencing – we had a week- how hard could it be?

Armed with very heavy duty wire  and fence posts we came prepared to battle nature. We needed to put in some perimeter drainage ditches and in order to do that we needed to cut back gorse, blackthorn and other assorted prickly things that had been growing for twenty years plus. The digger man had been booked for the end of the week and so we needed to crack on if he was to do his job. The bushes from hell had encroached about 15ft in from the lands edge and covered each 100m side of the field and the same across the top. Using snipers and hacksaws we tackled the bush manfully, dodging stinging nettles and creepy crawlies  to clear 100m down one side. It took us two full days and I was exhausted. I couldn’t go on, I yearned for a Piña Colada and a swimming pool. On the third day, with us feeling guilty we hadn’t done more,  we faced the digger man with his big digger. He gasped and laughed, you cleared this by hand he said, we agreed and apologised we hadn’t done more. He simply smiled and proceeded to drive his machine up and down the other two sides chopping and dragging the bushes out as if they were toys. He did the rest of the field in 10 minutes flat. I wanted to cry but was just too tired, I was battered and broken but somehow managed to summon up enough energy to let Simon know just how happy I was with how this holiday was going. He got the message.

Below the Digger Man conquers the wilderness.

However holidays are a compromise and so the next day we did something Simon wanted to do! We put in the fence posts and attached the wire, about 200m of it. You can see that the posts were not quite straight but really who will see it but us? I don’t seem to have a holiday snap of the completed fencing, can’t think why as I am sure it would have been a holiday picture to savour. Anyway rest assured I have fond memories of it being a bit wobbly here and there.  It’s still standing today so we can’t have done to bad a job and as the gorse is growing back it is tightening up the wobbly bits lovely so can’t complain.

The mighty perimeter ditch cleared by me – this side anyway – you can see the gorse and bramble to the left ready to strike back at us. The fencing posts are looking wonky but happy.

We’ll definitely not get rich by starting a new career in Fencing. If we were looking to be mastercraftsmen it wouldn’t be in the perimeter fencing world. Shame really because we try so hard.

Let me tell you fencing is hard. I still shudder with dread if the fence word is mentioned and remember the loss of circulation in my fingers from pulling the wire as tight as I could but it was never tight enough. I am of course the wire puller every time, despite my protest.  I am not allowed the hammer as my hands shake, or so Simon says. In reality I have always been the tool holder, screw passer and general dogsbody. Simon calls me Noddy after Noddy Holder from Slade and that about sums up the jobs I am allowed to do. I am “The Holder”- every family should have one. So when it comes to helping with the fencing I hold the razor sharp staples, pull the wire taut and try to look happy about it. At certain points I am sure I have pondered on my Mum’s words about finding a husband who would pay people who were professionals for these jobs but I know now as I knew then that it would never be the case, not because of the money but simply because to dream of changing your life and then not being hands-on about it is just plain daft. No matter how wonky the fence or how many times you fail the joy of this life is it doesn’t matter – we made it and we love it and that’s the only thing that’s important.

I am sure there is a knack to fencing but we didn’t know it then and still haven’t found it yet. I mean it is deceptive, you think you have unrolled it without pulling it out of shape, but then you look back and the top is saggy and loose. So you tighten the top and then the middle bows and flops so you pull and staple the middle bit only to find the top is wobbling about again. All this without even considering the bottom edge. GRRRRR. We could go on and on forever, and believe me it feels like we do.

So anyway we won’t be advertising our fencing services anytime soon.

Perhaps if you are reading this and you have top tips for our next fencing extravaganza you could let me know please.

Anyway sorry back to the point – whilst holiday memories are fun I wanted to let you know where we are now 5 years after living with our land fulltime.

As I said the fencing is all still standing – the 250 bare rooted trees we planted in front of said fencing – well I estimate around half of them took root giving us a decent hedge around the plot. The reeds were challenged and subsequently defeated leaving us with lush green grass – still weedy in parts but much easier to deal with. The mud has gone so wellies and jeans have found it safe to return and the ditches that once posed risk to life and limb are still doing their job. All of which means we were able to section out some areas to begin the plans for Polytunnels and veg growing. Chickens and ducks were housed, loved but are sadly now gone (will explain more another time) and we haven’t tamed all the space yet but we continue to try.

It has I am afraid been a mixed few years of planting and growing but this year we have come back with a vengeance hence the return to my ramblings. I don’t know if anything I say will be found interesting but you never know until you take a look, I am going to try and give some back history in amongst the updated stuff as the old stories are inevitably the ones where we did it either totally wrong or took on crazy ideas that didn’t work – Simon that’s for you.

Don’t forget drop us a comment if you can help with the fencing dilemma

but in the meantime – Just Breathe

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