Spring always arrives too soon – and not soon enough.

Too soon, because we’ve got huge amounts of work to do before the écovallée yurt camp opens again at the end of May.

And not soon enough, because only a polar bear would want to live in winter forever. Not that we’ve had a real winter – just a few months of wet weather and no leaves on the trees.

As always, we’re behind on planting, although this new feature should help extend the growing season:

seed tray

It’s a seedling warmer made from pallets I was allowed to take from the local hardware store. It was made to fit this frame that I saved from the dump a few years ago:

seed warmer

Her Outdoors made a greenhouse for it from yurt window material and the hoops were given to us by a friend clearing out their garden. The insulation’s from Christmas and the wall behind is south facing. The warming device was bought new and will hopefully last a long time. The electricity is 100% renewable from French supplier enercoop.

Traditionally, in this part of France, there’s a risk of frost until April 18th. Last year, the problem was our own rabbits who were released by Pepito (the retired working horse) and gorged themselves on 65 newly plated seedlings in the poly tunnel before heading off into the wild. Which reminds me, I need to fence the poly tunnel. Not even sure that’s on the to-do list.

The pallet pig ark has long been one of the most-read posts on this blog. It’s the first animal structure I ever made and will always be my favourite. But although I’ve shown it in place a few times, I’ve never actually demonstrated how it’s put together.

(Apologies in advance for the new, low-quality photography that will sometimes be featured in this blog – I’m now carrying an inexpensive smartphone. In the near future, you can also expect low-quality videos, but they should be worth watching if the microphone is any good. I can’t wait to record the birdsong in spring and early summer.)

Back to yesterday – as part of preparations for the 2014 glamping season, we moved the now-called pallet goose house from the orchard to its new location at the bottom of the guest field. Here it is ready to go up:

pallet house parts

I’ll walk you through the assembly and point out adjustments made since January 2008. Bearing in mind this is at least the ninth time it has been assembled, you’ll see why I’m deliriously happy with the structure. All the pieces can be moved by one person except the base and back wall. This wall is attached using two L-shaped brackets (added because the pigs kept pushing it off the base):

pallet house back

Next, a nice, light side is attached with an L-shaped bracket. You’ll notice the chicken wire holding in the straw insulation has gone. This was a terrible idea, as it broke so easily. Fortunately, I had some ply lying around and bodged these onto the uprights to make a more airtight inner layer. I didn’t bother with treating it and it seems to be fine:

pallet house side 2

Before screwing the L-shaped bracket down, the wall is fixed with long bolts through the top (we’ll come back to that piece of leaning wood in a few seconds):

pallet house top fixing

And bottom (this shot is of the second wall, to add confusion):

pallet house fixing

The front wall is then added and the leaning piece of wood at the back becomes a lintel:

pallet house lintel

Finally, the roof is lifted on from behind and screwed directly into the top of the uprights:

pallet house finished

I originally put the roof on a light wooden frame but it broke the first time it was moved. On the ground at the back of the house will be a container for catching rainwater.

All that remains now is to make a door from another pallet and we can herd the geese down the field to their new enclosure. (Could be a low-quality video opportunity there.) We haven’t kept geese behind an electric fence before, so there’s room for a bit of chaos in the days ahead. It’s basically there to keep our dogs away during the day and foxes out at night.

We were at a friend’s house a few weeks ago and noticed they’d been pruning. I went back a couple of days later and retrieved the cuttings from the compost heap. Some were long enough to turn into a new fence. Some were too short for anything and are adding to the biomass of our woods. And a few became Her Outdoors’ first garden sculpture of the year:

hazel chicken

She’s not overly happy with it. I think if I’d done it, I’d be looking for an agent.

One of the most useful people you can possibly know in this lifestyle is a builder. Not so they can do the work for you (where would be the fun in that?), but so they can provide you with FREE materials on a random basis. Like this polystyrene insulation I’ve just stuck in our bathroom ceiling:

free insulation

I’ve been wondering how we were going to insulate the ceiling for a long time. I’d considered sheep fleece and heard about a place where loads were being stored in a polytunnel and could be given away for the price of a two-hour road trip. But I was hesitant about the insects that might come with it. I’d also considered raiding the local dump for polystyrene like I did for the bathroom floor. But I never got round to it – and it usually takes a few trips to pick up odd-shaped packaging that’s not very easy to work with, anyway.

Turns out, all I had to do was wait and the insulation would come to me, in large flat sheets, in the back of a transit van. Freshly ripped out of someone else’s house. If the man won’t go to the waste mountain, the waste mountain will come to him.

A few weeks ago, theguardian ran an article on what to wear on the ski slopes this Winter. (The answer is obviously ‘exactly what you wore last year’, but instead they suggested Buying New Stuff – you’ll be relieved to know I typed a strongly worded tweet to show my displeasure.)

It reminded me to write a series of posts on Smallholder Fashion. Unlike my “Smallholder Olympics” idea which never even made it onto the blog, I am strangely relieved to introduce: The Wood Cutter look.

log man

The jacket is ex-French army and features a thermal fleece-like layer and hood. The zip doesn’t work very well, but it has buttons. (To get the look, accept the jacket as a donation from a neighbour)

Underneath the jacket is a long sweat shirt borrowed from a very tall friend for Glastonbury in the 1990s and never returned (despite repeated offers).

The next layer down is a T-Shirt. (Left behind by a HelpX helper)

Then a thermal garment. (Free, a Christmas gift)

The gloves are leather, comfortable, waterproof security gloves. (About €10 from the local agricultural supplier)

The trousers are green with only one rip. (Free again, donated by another neighbour who put on weight)

Under the trousers are thermal leggings. (Another Christmas gift)

I think we should probably stop at that layer.

The work boots have steel toes, enough hooks and eyes to stay on, and half an original lace, the other having been completely replaced with shop-bought string. (Donation from English mafia)

The socks are thermal. (Bought online, but may have been a gift)

There you have it. An entire outfit you can wear year after year, rips depending. (Except the gloves. You’ll need new gloves every few months.)

You’ll have to wait until the Spring for the next Smallholder Fashion post. I look like this pretty much all Winter.

Just put a bottle of Hobgoblin in the freezer. In a few minutes it’ll be cold enough to celebrate the end of a week that sees the caravan looking like this:

Or more accurately, half of the caravan. Because the rest of it looks like this:

No prizes for guessing what I’m doing next week.

I’ve been spending more time blogging recently than working on Her Outdoors’ studio-to-be. One of the reasons is that I had to get beyond a low-energy funk about the complete lack of budget for the project. With help from the local dump and a friend with stacks of thin polysytrene in their barn, I got it to this stage:

Which was OK. Then I cut up some salvaged bits of caravan to cover the walls, and Her Outdoors remembered a roll of carpet we were given a few years ago. When I dug out the carpet and some spare (ee-baa, ee-baa) underlay, I found some bits of wood that Her Outdoors bought in 2000 to make a cutting table, and a bit of kitchen side that will work perfectly down the short wall. So I’m feeling a lot more positive now it looks like this:

No, it’s not beautiful. But that’s not the point. It’s a clean, dry space in which to create beautiful things. And so far, it’s bang on budget.