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Tales from the Farm – The Barn Before the Storm

“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.

Serious construction work begins to build the new barn.

Regular readers will know that to date, we have had our fair share of challenges with renovating the farm.

We recently discovered that our water is not from a bore hole as previously told but from an artesian well – and has such a high iron content that it’s ruining sanitary ware and staining anything white that we wash! Subsequently we’ve had to send a sample of water off for full chemical analysis, which will result in having to install a water treatment plant.

However, work began last week on the new barn in the yard – it’s going to be a large, open timber structure with vaulted ceiling and will provide a warm training space for The Good Life Project and somewhere for us to press apples and extract honey. Warm and cosy, it’ll face onto an open courtyard and the vegetable garden.

We’ve been planning it for some time, as you can imagine. Which way should it face? How big should it be? Can we build it within the government’s permitted development scheme? As it is, we’ve chosen to build it across the width of what is currently the yard – it was a fairly unused space, so it makes sense to divide it up and it also provides me with a courtyard garden – another garden area to design, which I’m especially excited about! Monty shares some ideas in his book about growing edible nuts or unusual fruits, or even creating a willow garden. I’m creating a few designs but am leaning towards a soft fruit courtyard, with some unusual fruits like guava, or perhaps a highly scented garden with plants that have edible scents – or perhaps even a wildlife courtyard with plenty of bird feeders. So, what I’m basically saying is I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to do with the courtyard yet.

The (unexpected) deep foundations for the new barn (which the building inspector told me weren’t “deep”) – but they are.

The original intention, having talked the barn through with the buildings inspector, was to build it directly on the hard standing in the yard. However, because this is our farm and nothing goes to plan and everything costs more than planned, we’ve had to dig foundations. Deep ones. At an additional cost of £2,000 for the concrete. However, the builders didn’t have an angle grinder strong enough, so had to hire a floor cutter. The floor cutter then had an oil leak, which caused delay while it was repaired. It was during this time that we realised that the pizza oven, lovingly built last year, was now in the way and would need to be lifted, moved and the base rebuilt. Fortunately we have a very patient, very understanding and very helpful neighbour, who has every agricultural machine you could think of. A quick trip down with his teleporter and the pizza oven was cleared for us to dig foundations where it once sat. Secretly, I actually prefer its new location but I absolutely promise I didn’t put the new barn intentionally where the pizza oven used to be…

The main electric cable to the farm. In two pieces.

When all of the concrete was cut for the barn foundations, the soakaway channel and soakaway pit, they hired a concrete breaker to help lift it all. However, the concrete breaker wasn’t powerful enough because in places the concrete was too thick. Cue another (big) digger on site, this time with a concrete breaker and bigger buckets to clear the rubble. It was during this excavation that I asked if they could just quickly drag a trench between the main gates to the farm. It’s a bit dark when the light goes so we want to install a couple of lights at the entrance. Only too happy to help (we have a great relationship with our contractors), the digger driver accidentally ripped straight through the main electric cable, which feeds our house.  The electric board came out to assess. They then called for back up, who bought us a generator for the evening as by this time everyone else had gone home. The following morning the repair team arrived, who in turn called for another team with a digger to repair the cable and shortly after the original team also arrived. If you’d have driven past our farm that day you’d quite rightly have assumed there had been a huge explosion, with three electricity board vehicles, a digger, temporary safety fencing and six men all dressed dramatically in helmets, safety harnesses and fluorescent jackets.

It never rains but it pours.

All of these delays and challenges have resulted in a week delay in the build plus additional unforeseen costs. I keep expecting Kevin McCloud to stride up the drive. Short of Mrs Jez being pregnant, we’ve had all the other usual story lines in Channel 4’s Grand Designs, including Storm Doris, which caused chaos as it did all across the country. Fortunately we got away quite lightly in terms of actual damage caused, with just a broken fence and a whole lot of debris to clear up. I’ve become quite obsessed with wood (as well as compost) and any pieces of branch or odd pieces of wood I find, we store for the wood burning stove. Storm Doris provided plenty of bits of branch and I’m still squirrelling them away whenever I walk around the farm.

Now we have the barn foundations dug, once the concrete arrives tomorrow morning, building of the base and the main barn structure can begin. I’ll be ordering the doors and windows tomorrow and crossing my fingers, toes and anything else I can cross, that things just might go a little smoother from now on. I could do with a much calmer, less challenging week as the Soil Association inspector is coming tomorrow to begin the process of becoming certified organic and I’d like that to go well. Any more of this chaos and you’ll find me in the greenhouse, locked from the inside talking to the plants.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing. Ambassadors include broadcaster Kate Humble and the Soil Association. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes, visit: www.thebehaviourexpert.com

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