A lot has happened since I last wrote about buying a van and getting new doors and windows.
Namely, that the van has been bought and the door and windows are in.
As the seller said, it took a little while to adjust to her, but little old LE (that’s her number plate) has definitely changed our lives.
The neutral, or punto muerto, isn’t exactly in the middle of the gearstick as it was on the newer car I’d practiced in, so the hardest part was actually getting the van into first gear. Having celebrated gleefully with coffee and cake somewhere just outside Oviedo on an unusually hot February day, our smiles faded into confusion as I could not move the car out of the parking spot.
Nik started to text the seller who lived nearby to come and rescue us when I finally realised that the punto muerto was just a little bit lower down. A tiny thing, but huge at the same time. There are lots of little things like that with her, but it’s nice to learn a bit more about the mechanics of a car than one might with a very new car. Though I use the term ‘mechanics’ very loosely. Anyway, she passed her MOT (known as ITV here, but definitely nothing to do with the broadcasting company), and we have another 6 months til the next one.
There are so many difficult things about driving: going the right way, hillstarts, parking, people driving 2 inches behind on a no overtake road, little roads, big roads, sun, the dark. But despite all that, and even considering fuel expense, it has undoubtedly enabled us to do so much more.
After the carpenters came and put in the windows, there suddenly seemed to be so much to do. Suddenly the long, cosy, indoor winter days of cooking on the fire morphed into task-filled summer-like days ended with an exhausted flop into deep sleep.
But no complaining, the tasks have been very fun. The installation of the doors and windows wasn’t really what we had expected, and was finished off with bright yellow expanding foam, so today I’ve been using a lime plaster to seal the windows in more permanently.
It should have been done a lot sooner than this, but it turns out that making a chicken tractor takes a lot longer than one’d think.
Raising chickens was on the ‘to do this year’ list, along with preparing to sell fermented foods at markets and cultivate a new piece of land. As we acquired the new piece of land at almost exactly the same time as the car, the doors and windows, everything came at once.
The new piece of land is situated in a part of the town called La Vega, a space traditionally used for agriculture by locals. We’d been asking around for a long time about getting a piece, since around October last year, and finally our prayers were answered by a lovely woman named Jeli. Who asked her Mother to ask her aunt who’d ask her nephew to clear some brambles and see if we could get the space. Eventually, they said yes.
The piece is around 2.5 metres wide and 80m long. It’s overgrown with weeds but refreshingly flat against the steep scramble of the land behind our house. Our plan is to use the no-dig method to make vegetable beds, layering compost on top of ground picked clean and fertilised by chickens and planting with seeds or seedlings, therefore not disturbing the thick layers of fungal undergrowth as happens with normal digging.
We made the chicken tractor to suit the exact measurements of the piece of land, it’s 2.5m wide and about 1m in breadth, with a built in coop and secured by chicken wire and a waterproof roof. It won’t be their home forever, but the chickens will do the lion’s – or chicken’s – share of the initial garden work by weeding and fertilising just by being their happy, hungry selves.
The idea of the chicken tractor is to move it on every few days once they have eaten all the weeds and it’s ready to use.
Simone, Shiva, Ñang, Reishi and Giddens are our new flock of ladies. They are all a different breed which is said to be a bit risky for first time chicken owners, but I only found this out afterwards, and anyway they seem to be getting on swimmingly.
Simone has black and white striped feathers which ombres into brown around her head, Shiva is a beautiful shiny black with streaks of bronze through her neck. Ñang is the obvious leader, straight to the feeder in the morning but also quite a lone hen. The first night she sadly slept alone because she couldn’t figure out how to get up the chicken ladder, the second night she still seem baffled and so distraught when suddenly all her friends disappeared. We took action and Nik kindly put her in to nest with her new sisters, at which she immediately stopped cooing fearfully.
It’s so sweet how they pile on top of eachother for warmth in the night, and pick bugs from each others feathers to groom. I still haven’t picked one up but am sure that will come when we move them down to La Vega. Right now they’re outside the house, getting used to eachother and the surroundings. La Vega is about 10 minutes walking from the house so this means we can observe them a little bit before we leave them more alone.
Reishi is red, she’s the quietest hen, though instantly adept at ladder climbing. Leaving Giddens, who’s cosy, grey and always looks like she’s tucked up.
They are so mesmerising to watch. Chickens only really need 20 minutes of attention per day to change the feed and water, check up on everything, but it would be so hard to only spend 20 minutes with them. I love watching them exploring new territory and scratching up the earth to find insects and worms.
Obviously there is also the bonus of eggs! But they will come later, not sure when. We’re feeding them an organic grain mix on top of the weeds, food leftovers and slugs from the garden. Ah, finally a humane, cyclical solution to the cabbage-eating pests that plagued so many of last year’s plants!
Aside from this, it was Nik’s birthday last weekend which was very fun. On Friday we drove to the local reservoir, unbeknownst to Nik, to picnic with some friends from the valley. Everyone brought food, and the free cava that was thrown in during the car purchase came in handy. It also happened to be International Women’s Day so Nik was gifted some fresh mimosa by Irina & Pedro’s children as it’s a symbol of the feminine.
The next day we abode a now 3 year strong tradition of walking up the Jesus mountain in Oviedo, a mini version of the statue in Rio de Janeiro. It was so hot I got sunburned, which felt strange the next day as it was wet and cold. On Sunday we went to Cave Buxu near Cangas de Onis, where there are still remnants of paleolithic people in the form of paintings and etchings on the stone.
With just us two and the guide explaining everything in the dark, low ceilinged cave, it was captivating to imagine how people lived there so many years ago, making fire, hunting, in a totally different climate to what there is now. Fascinating still, to ask why they painted those images. The guide told us that all across Europe the same figures would appear; boar, deer, horses, animals. Etched or painted in the same, simplistic way. What were they trying to say? If anything?
Was it for entertainment, a warning, instruction, or perhaps spiritual – we may never know. On leaving the cave, the light and forest around suddenly seemed so different to before. Imagining that this wasn’t just a place of historical interest, but a place to live, to use as a means of survival. Those people were so strong.
We will look back further to that time, of eating locally and seasonally, living naturally and harmoniously with the earth, and try to apply the appropriate principles to today. Home grown vegetables, eggs, foraged nuts and cultivated mushrooms. A vegetarian diet made possible by the diversity in plants now available to us, plus the ease of having a fixed residence rather than nomadic.
The garden is growing well and the hens are settling in so hopefully a stronger sense self reliance will develop, as well as connection with the earth and local surroundings.