It’s a very good job the clocks have changed: even with the extra hour, there is not enough time left at the end of our day at this time of year. Our middle-aged bodies are finding the hectic activity has us thoroughly drained most days, but it is terrifically pleasing to see the progress we are making on the land.
The bonfire license has expired now, but while we were able, we cleared a lot of the detritus from the orange pruning and I gave one of the levels of olive trees a much needed and long overdue haircut. The big branches are logged and stacked, the knobbly branches get burned on a glorious bonfire and the straight ones we chip for mulch on the flower beds. It is all very satisfying.
With the rain we have had this winter, the land is a riot of wild flowers, but we shall need to get down to some serious weed chopping and rotavating soon. The old boys around us have already been busy, but we are awaiting the arrival of an industrial strength brush cutter. That is our excuse and we are sticking to it!
The torrential rain (and possibly the earth tremors we get here from time to time) caused the ground near the septic tank to move. This in turn disturbed the footings of the Chicken Palace, causing it to lean at a very Pisa-esque angle. We have spent an interesting couple of weeks doing our first ever underpinning. This involved me digging a HUGE hole. I probably shifted between two and three cubic metres of soil and rocks the day I did it. My body thanked me by going all jelly-legged and uncooperative, but I had dug down to some impressively solid rock and felt it was well worth it.
There followed days of building block ‘legs’ at the ends of the vigas and jacking the vigas up gradually until everything was back to where it should have been. The tower, which was an add-on, separated from the main body of the Palace and the gaps between the two were very reminiscent of the gaps in the walls of the house when we first bought it. Fortunately, the tower had simply got pushed out of line and a piece of fallen render held it in place until I knocked it out with a lump hammer (I did count my digits before, during and after the exercise. All remained present, correct and uncrushed.) A quick push from Geoff and the tower settled back onto its base.
The twisting of the Palace had deformed the window-cum-door the ladies use to go in and out, so that had to be detached from the metal frame of the run. We then had to prop and jack the roof up while I installed a hefty lintel. This was an incredibly awkward job, which involved me sitting inside the ladies’ bedroom with my legs dangling outside, while I patched up the internal render with a plastic sack of mortar in my lap. I live such a glamorous life!
While all this was going on, the ladies spent a great deal of time in the newly constructed duck pen. The Chicken Palace and run were vulnerable to local wildlife, so I rigged up a hefty pole as a temporary roosting perch for them. They seemed to like it, so I have shifted it back to their own enclosure for them, now they are back at home full-time.
The underpinning and remedial works are almost completed now, and the Chicken Palace is looking more like I originally envisaged, with the undercroft almost twice its original size and the garden end of it enclosed with mesh so we can see and be seen by the ladies when they are furtling around underneath. Bebe and Cecille have been very curious while the chain link and weld mesh have been being attached. You have to smile when you have a pair of chickeny voices giving a running commentary as you work. The sun shines, the insects hum, birds tweet and twitter in the trees – it is a lovely time of year.
The duck pen is a thing of beauty (almost) a little larger than the chicken pen and boasting a small pond, reincarnated after a previous existence as the water tank on the roof of the hideous bathroom when we bought the house. Installing it involved the digging of another large hole, but thankfully the ground was soft, devoid of rocks and only about three quarters of a cubic metre. It was a good introduction to hole digging for me.
The tractor the Chicken Ladies had when we first moved to Fuente Amarga has been re-purposed. I will not even attempt to describe the shenanigans involved in moving it from the chicken run to the duck pen, but anyone who has tried to move a sofa around a corner that was half an inch too tight for it to fit will know the frustration and anguish involved.
Once the wretched thing was in the duck pen, I turned it on its side, cladded it with some discarded brush fencing from Dave and Lesley next door and hey presto! a fabulous shelter for them to get away from the wind and the sun. (The ducks, not the neighbours, obviously.) I don’t foresee them being too troubled by any rain we may get.
Today, we are off to order some ducks. It will be a couple of weeks before they arrive (assuming the duck ordering shop is open when we get there) and names are already being discussed. I think the drake is likely to be Ducky McDuckface, but other suggestions for the ladies will be taken into consideration. Below are examples of the types of ducks we propose to order. What we ask for and what arrives may not be quite the same. Watch this space!