Getting to grips with two gardens

July 2021 (from Issue 36 of House Sitting Magazine

How many house sits have you done in the last three months?

I think we’ve set a new personal record... for the lowest number of sits we’ve done over such a period since we started full-time house sitting at the end of 2015.

In the past 3 months we’ve done one house sit... well, maybe two, if we count the house we’re currently living in, which sadly doesn’t have any pet care duties.

In May we drove from Burgundy across to the French Alps, where we had a week long repeat sit booked in the shadow of Mont Blanc. We were looking after the same two dogs and two cats we had cared for over Christmas, but this time there was a lot less snow, so we could get out and about on longer walks in the mountains.

On our return to Burgundy spring was in full bloom, and we’ve had our hands full looking after the large garden here at our “home” house sit.

We divide our responsibilities fairly evenly... Vanessa looks after the garden beds, does lots of weeding, and keeps the trees, shrubs and rose bushes in check, while I take care of the large lawn.

The property has a large swimming pool which has been closed and covered since we first arrived here in November last year. In fact, because the owners couldn’t come here last year the pool hasn’t been used for almost 2 years.

They said it was up to us if we wanted to open the pool for summer.

We peeked under the cover nervously, and discovered the water level was still correct, but it was very green and murky. The local pool guy took a look and said that it would clean up fine, so we went ahead and had him start the de-winterizing process.

Maintaining the pool has also been added to my list of responsibilities, but I don’t mind at all. On a hot summer’s day, a dip in a cool pool is a lovely treat.

The property we purchased earlier this year (see the intro to the previous edition of House Sitting Magazine) is just 4 kilometres away, and we’ve both been doing quite a lot of work up there too.

Our first priority at was to get the overgrown land into some sort of order, and to make some of it productive as soon as possible.

The final signing off on the purchase took place at the end of April, so it was early May before we really got around to doing much. The previous owners had said we were welcome to start work before the sale completed, if we wanted, but our last minute dash to the UK in April meant we hadn't been around for the whole month to do anything.

The place had become a bit of a jungle by May. Things seem to grow quickly here once spring gets into high gear.

My neighbour lent me his chain saw, as one of the two big walnut trees on the property had died, and was looking a bit dangerous. Down it came, and it's now been chopped up into logs, drying out for use in winter 2022.

The other walnut tree is in great shape, and will hopefully be productive this year.

Our first purchase was a strimmer - I think this is called a “weed whacker” in the States, and a whipper-snipper in Australia. It took a couple of days of concerted effort to re-clear the area that had been clear when we viewed the property in late January.

We also cleared out some more areas which had obviously been neglected for five years or more, as the previous owners had done little to develop the place, and had had someone doing just the minimum of garden maintenance.

The area of land we own, including the barns, garage and little summer house totals 2,425 square metres - for those that use other measurements of area, that's about 0.6 of an acre, just under quarter of a hectare, or about 26,000 square feet.

After our first major week of clean-up, which involved cutting and burning huge piles of bramble bushes (blackberries), wild wild roses and nettles which had taken over everywhere, we reckon we'd cleared about 60% of the land.

Much of what was revealed underneath was mainly grass, with quite a lot of deep moss too, but the moles have been busy, so a lawn mower would only be useful for certain areas.

It looked like the strimmer was going to be well used.

With a large area cleared it was time to make a garden bed for some vegetables. We already had potatoes growing in pots back at "home", which is just 4 kilometres away.

I had become intrigued by the concept of "no-dig" vegetable gardening, and had been watching lots of videos by UK-based no-dig guru Charles Dowding. You can find his YouTube channel here if interested in the concept:

So I began the construction of our first plant bed by laying cardboard, setting up planks to hold soil and compost in place, and sourcing the necessary materials.

Over a couple of weeks the beds took shape, and the plants started going in.

The other priority was to sort out a way to water the plants. There is an electricity connection to the property, but no service is currently active. Unfortunately there is no water connection. However, there is a huge concrete slab near the entrance of the property, and under that is a large water tank, which we estimate holds about 4 or 5 cubic metres of fairly clean rainwater.

Initially we could just pull this out with a bucket on a rope, but I had plans for a better system, involving one of the solar panels I had ordered, and a little 12 volt pump.

So, by the end of May we've got a fairly clear plot of land, a decent sized vegetable patch starting to grow, and a simple water system to see us through the summer.

During June I worked on getting a better solar system up and running, as well as keeping on top of the endless strimming and mowing.

As we enter July things are shaping up nicely, lots of vegetables are growing, we have plenty of power, and an automatic watering system.

Not a bad start to our current adventure...

Best wishes for a productive year.

Ian and Vanessa

(long term house sitting and property developing in Burgundy, France)

Here's a video of the latest projects at our newest project (slightly nerdy tech warning!):

  • July 15, 2021

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