Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Great White Telephone

Well goodness me, the things some folk choose to do on Christmas Day! No, Ben hasn't drunk nor eaten too much - he's just decided to REALLY clean the toilet. Now that may seem disgusting, or rather our toilet may look disgusting and many folk looking at it may think it doesn't ever get cleaned. Wrong. We just have very calcified water so the calcium gets left behind on the pan when the lovely underfloor heating evaporates off the water, and the hideous residue holds on to all the 'colours' that head that way.

Yes, there are chemical cleaners out there that will take off limescale but they will also kill off the bacteria we need to make our fosse septique sewage system work, and then flow out and pollute our land - so they are not an option here. The horrid fact is that it just takes elbow grease every week - Ben's elbow grease to be more precise.

You're probably sitting there thinking that's unfair and why aren't I taking a part in this scrubbing exercise. Well, the truth is that I want a dry-toilet in the house, a composting loo. I've said that if we have one I will make myself responsible for emptying it because it's a whole lot easier - and pleasanter - than sitting with your head down the loo scrubbing off chalk! But Ben insists (for the time being) on keeping a conventional toilet so it's his job to scrub. Lucky him!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Making Cornflour

We had an excess of sweetcorn this year so we gathered them all in, put them in a basket and brought them indoors. There they stayed in the true style of our farm! When I finally thought to actually do something with them they had withered up and looked most unappetising. I was about to give them to the pigs when I thought of cornflour. The boys helped me to shuck all the kernels off the cobs, we put them in the grain mill and Ben cycled us out some super corn flour. With that we made some delicious cornbread. We'll grow more next year with the absolute intention of grinding some up for flour.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Science Gone Mad



Well not quite 'gone mad' but B looks somewhat kerfuzzled by this crystal making experiment. Salt, water and a bit of food colour - science in the home!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Polytunnel 2

We already have our beloved solar tunnel that moved with us from Scotland to here and doubled in size in the process. However, we eat such a lot of tomatoes that this polytunnel is no longer big enough. Plus we've also had enormous success this year with cucumbers so we want to build on that too. Plus we want to grow melons in the summer and more winter salads so we decided to build another.

This one is a more 'traditional' polytunnel though we have put in a very UNtraditional watering system that we hope will ease the number of labour hours required to water it. The solar tunnel has a seep-hose installed just under soil level. Although that reduces the time spent watering, it requires mains-pressure water to go through the hose so we're unable to utilise the water in our rain-water harvesting system unless we use watering cans, a very labour intensive process.

The new system for Polly 2 was inspired by a fascinating article by Steve James in Permaculture magazine (no. 66 Winter 2010) that used an Incan technique to self water a greenhouse. Basically, water is harvested from the roof of the tunnel or greenhouse into a lined gulley under the growing space. This seeps in between small stones beneath raised beds and waters the plants from below. The soil on the top remains dry so it is no longer a slug haven and it also counteracts the nasty problem of moulds. The tank/gulley has a wooden slatted walkway above that forms the pathway through the tunnel.

Even if we don't get masses of rain, we can still divert the water butts into this tank if needs be. So the tank has been dug out, lined, the stones put in (plus some branches in a hugelculture mindset), and the earth put back in. We've planted in some broad beans to increase the fertility of the soil for next spring. Here is the work in progress, aided by our lovely WWOOFers (and children!).




Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Lesson



This is what can potentially happen when one lets a 2.5 year old play with an expensive electronic gadget!! He stands on it and smashes the screen. Ben is so gutted that he can't talk to anyone at the moment!


Monday, 21 November 2011

Autumn Bounty This Late?

Yes indeed I do love this time of year. I was wondering to myself the other day which season was my favourite and whilst I love the others too, Autumn tops my list.

There are wonderful days like today where the temperature was still 24C in the sun, the colours reflected the warm day, the children played happily in some fallen leaves and the birds chirped in the trees that were still well-clothed. The day didn't get too hot like it does in the Summer; the pace is slowing down so there aren't hundreds of other jobs to do in a race against time like in the Spring; and there's still warmth in the soil to offer a start to newly planted things unlike in the Winter. The ground was easy to work as I planted a seasonal and edible hedge of Jerusalem Artichokes on the south and west side of our potager in order to offer a little shade for some of the vegetables next summer.

I collected in the butternut squash and some more beetroot, celeriac and salad leaves. And we're still harvesting what seem to me to be Summer crops - today we had tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, chillis, courgettes and fresh basil. Tonight will be Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's recipe for Beetroot Tart Tatin with a fresh salad and maybe lemony cougettes. Oh yummy.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Damn Wild Things

Maybelline has not come on heat and we therefore assume that she is indeed pregnant by Monsieur Sanglier (see this post for the full story) - sigh. Timings mean that we'll be expecting the new arrivals along with the New Year, around 10th January. NOT a good time for little ones to be born.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

How Eggciting


We decided to hatch some Indian Runner Duck eggs in an incubator in the hope of getting some ducks that are remotely interested in interacting with humans and therefore helping us on a permaculture basis (the two adults that we got still remain elusive).

This is our new little arrival at 12 hrs old - Toots - the only little egg to hatch out of nine in the incubator. So he/she is tout seul - all alone - and hence the name Toots. The boys just love this little duckling who currently lives in our bathroom so now we have to search out some friends for him/her.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Wild Things

The day dawned bright and brilliant and I happily trundled myself and the wheelbarrow of food out to the fields to feed the pigs. The buckwheat was already buzzing with bees and above their hazy midst I could see Maybelline's attentive ears pricked up, expectantly awaiting breakfast. Beside her was an equally spiky-eared black pig and I was momentarily surprised at how big the piglets had grown now that a comparison could be made when they stood side-by-side with their mother. Until I realised seconds later that the black pig in question was not one of the piglets but was in fact a wild boar! It had breached the electric fence and was there watching me, smiling I'm sure, then I yelled at it and it vanished off across the fields and through a gap in the hedge. I breathed a sigh of relief, then a gasp of horror as I put the food buckets into the pen and noticed 'evidence'. He, as was now obvious, had left evidence of his 'attentions' and there was now a possibility that Maybelline was about to be pregnant again. NOT part of the plan!

We rushed out to buy further stock fencing supplies and Ben began making a fortress to protect our pigs from further invasions. At 10am the sanglier was back and was picking a fight with our two adult boars. Max of course is not castrated and had the full measure of male hormones flowing through his veins and he was mightily indignant that this savage had indulged with his mate. It was getting nasty. We had to go out with sticks and chase the wild boar off and move Max and Co up to protected quarters.

An internet search informed us that wild boar are crepuscular, not totally nocturnal as we had thought. This means that they are active at the beginning and end of the day, sleeping through the middle part of the day and the same at night. We waited.

Evening arrived and Ben was still fencing with the help of our expert-fencer, Sheena, but much remained to be done. And guess who else showed up? And he was not up for being chased off. Reluctantly we decided to call a member of La Chasse to see if they could take out the sanglier and an arrangement was made for them to call today. We continued fencing into the darkness, both wire fencing and electric and our Singaporean WWOOFer, Gavin, kept watch as to the whereabouts of our wild visitor whilst we ate our evening meal in a relay fashion. Working in the darkness it was quite frightening actually as that tusked beast refused to move further than 10m for the pens and could turn nasty at any point. The fortress was deemed wild boar proof at 11pm and we retired to the house. Ben kept watch until 1am when all went quiet.

It was with trepidation that I went to feed the pigs this morning but all was normal, with no wild boars in sight. And it has remained so for the rest of the day. La Chasse have been and gone, leaving a telephone number to call if we see it again as they say that once a boar knows where a female pig is he will constantly visit. Max is being driven demented as Maybelline is definitely on heat on the other side of his wire fencing and yet he can't get to her. So it's a waiting game for all of us!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Smoking Barrel

This is the kit that we use for smoking now...
And these are photographs of our home-grown ham once it has been smoked,






then slow-cooked and sliced. Boy, are we proud!




Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wholesome Food

Call it Organic.
Call it Naturally Raised.
Call it good wholesome food.
Grown without petroleum based fertilizers.
Raised without herbicides, pesticides or clones.
No antibiotic feeding, no hormones added, no alchemy.
Animals raised humanely, free-ranging on pasture.
By small family farmers for local markets.
Sustainably in an agrarian manner.
Supporting local economies.
Enjoy on a seasonal basis.
A promise of good life.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

WWOOFed Out

Right just now I have to say that we are totally WWOOFed out, wrung out, spat out and feeling a bit low.

We have recently said goodbye to our latest group of volunteers who all headed off on bicycles for Spain. They had spent ages making a wooden trailer to carry all their rucksacks etc but when the time came, due to a lack of testing (and a lack of understanding the basic laws of physics, Ben said) it could only carry the gubbins of one and the other two had to cycle with heavy rucksacks on their backs - more than 600 miles, top-heavy, dangerous and not a cycle helmet in sight. In their farewells, no thank-yous were said by any of them and indeed we haven't heard whether they made it to Spain or not. We are greatly saddened by this. To be honest, we feel it's a lack of common decency as, with one exception, they had been long-term guests here and all of our other 'long-termers' have kept in touch as they become almost part of the family.

They contributed many good things to this place and, we hope, had fun in the process. However, a trail of destruction is left in their wake, like a number of volunteers before them. There were brand new little solar lights down at the camping area but one got kicked over and smashed, no doubt one evening when too much whisky had flowed! Similarly with Ben's tamba drums, one of the skins got slashed. The list continues with a broken shower, a bedside table repeatedly burnt by nightlight candles, a smashed light holder, a burnt rug, a melted airbed.... It amazes us on a regular basis at how little respect some folk have, but perhaps more exasperating is the unwillingness to take responsibility for one's actions and own up to misdemeanors so that they can be addressed. This is something that we are trying to teach our children on a daily basis - responsibility and respect.

In retrospect however, I think we learn a lesson. To have more than 2 volunteers at the same time doesn't work here. They become cliquey and are less willing to pitch in, thinking that others will, thinking that their own personal malaise will go unnoticed in the throng of busy-ness. But it's hard for us to carry 4 or 5 extra folk at the meal table when there isn't a fair exchange of work. It makes one become grudging and that is a destructive emotion. So we're going to restrict our numbers right down, and yes maybe at times we won't get quite so much done but we think that the farm will be a happier place for all.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Day After Glorious Day

They keep on coming, those glorious days. Day after day of sunshine. And for many that seems like a good thing.... until you become a farmer or a family trying to be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. I was talking to a French friend yesterday who lives in town and she says that the folk who live in Paris and Mamers (her town) just keep saying how lovely the weather is and it's not until she comes here that she realises the gravity of such an early drought.

It is serious. We had a relatively dry winter with less than average rainfall so the water table was already sitting low. As at today's date 33 departements (of 95) are on the most serious drought restrictions with more being added weekly - interestingly not the south of France. As yet we're not on that list but we are coded as next in line. We have had 4 hrs and 10 mins of rain in 13 weeks (yes I add up every minute of falling rain) and it can only get worse as the summer moves on.

The garden looks like it does normally in August with parched brown grass and cracking earth. The fields are due to be cut for hay but there's not going to be much there - that's a big part of our animal food for the winter. We have planted seed in the fields but there's no rain so it isn't germinating - that's our animal food and our own stores. Normally I would mulch everything to keep every possible drop of water in the ground but there's nothing to mulch with as the grass isn't growing. Where the pigs have kindly tractored our fields, it's a dust bowl and our precious topsoil is blowing away. That makes me feel so sad as I fully understand the implications of that and try hard to keep as much ground as possible covered for as much as possible. The only areas that are protected to a degree from the ravages of the sun are the areas under the trees and although we have planted loads of trees with more planned, we just can't get them growing quick enough.

The farmers around here are saying that the wheat isn't putting on growth so even if it does form grain, the stalks will be short which means much less bedding/food for the cattle for the winter. And they can't go to another farmer to buy more as they are all in the same situation. One farming friend thinks that he will have to cull as many as half of his cows as he won't be able to carry all of them through the winter like normal. And that is farming, the side that all those sun worshippers don't think of. I think we can look forward to higher prices of commodities if this continues.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Another Drought?

Once again we haven't had rain for weeks. This is the middle of April and our 'lawn' looks like this....
I had to water plants in pots in March!! Unreal. I'm hoping that it's not another s├ęcheresse like the past two years but if it is then we're much better equipped to deal with it this year. We have mulches everywhere; we have drip hoses running under the mulches and they are linked to our rain water collecting butts; we have a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system (see here); we have swales out in the fields to keep the rainwater from running straight off the hill. Yes I have learned many, many things since becoming interested in permaculture. I have learned to work with nature thereby reducing our own workload and protecting valuable resources. I only wish I had known of these things earlier in life.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Farm Hands

That's what I've got now, farm hands. No that doesn't mean that I have lots of helpers here - indeed we are WWOOFer-less at the moment and will remain so until May. It means that my hands are now permanently engrained with dirt. Clean dirt obviously that I soak and wash to try to get off but the marks of my occupation cannot be removed. I don't have any blisters because those tender places have been replaced by callouses. Yes, tough working hands I have now - farm hands. But I love it and wouldn't change a thing. The work isn't hard but it is very constant. There's a compelling pressure to be 'out there'. Nature doesn't wait.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Money Back

Gosh what a surprise today - we got some money back from the French authorities. They gave us a reimbursement of 40% of our land tax thanks to 'reduction of harvests due to the drought of Summer 2010'. How nice!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Blossom


Well I haven't posted here for ages (since December last year!), yet I have lots of things in my 'waiting' file but I reckoned that if I waited to complete all those then the blog would get so far behind that I'd lose heart. The trouble with trying to write in the winter is that our little house has one BIG living area where everything gets done, and where everyone is. That means it gets Noisy with a very capital 'N' and I can't concentrate to write. Then at the end of the day when the children have finally gone off to bed I could arguably write some but then I'm so tired that I too just want to go to bed. So here we are, Spring, and I'm posting with the here and now and may go back and fill in January and February.

We have had a very mild and dry winter according to the weather reports and, with the exception of December, I'll second that. March had a couple of frosts but this last week has seen us working in t-shirts and cut-off trousers, eating our lunches outside. And since the clocks went forward last weekend we have even been able to eat our evening meal outside too as it's been sunny and still since Sunday. Right just now though there's a bit of rain so I'm in writing.

I'm glad for the rain too. We have only had two days of rain in 6 weeks and whilst it has been a sort of blessing by keeping the weeds back whilst we got things under control a bit, the ground does need it. The pigs were very happy as it must have brought bugs up to the surface for them. Normally they go to bed around dusk but since Sunday (when we had a morning of heavy rain) they have still been snuffling around at 11pm. At first I was worried because I thought Maybelline was maybe losing her piglets. She is 6 weeks pregnant, the 'deed' having been done on Valentine's Day, but she's fine. They are all just enjoying the Spring Snuffling. They have sustainably and gently tractored a vast amount of the ground on the south side of the farm and we intend to move them to a section of land that Josiah, one of our WWOOFers, top-cleared of brambles. We have an issue with rabbits there and we hope that the pigs rooting about in the ground will make the rabbits pack up and move elsewhere.

Talking of land-use, we have decided that all the animals will be moved from the south side of the farm to enable us to crop it for the summer now that it is nicely fertilised by pig and goat manure. The goats will join the sheep in the field closest to the house on the north side. This will give them plenty of browse and will also allow me to watch them closely for signs that they're about to kid. It might also give us nightmares in terms of them escaping up the drive as we can't see where the holes are in the boundary fences until they have eaten back some of the growth. We'll look forward to that. Still, it wouldn't be LPM if there wasn't some kind of escapee at least once a week! You can tell that we're new to this can't you!

Once the pigs have moved the rabbits on, we'll move them into the field to the east of the house. It's an awkward piece of land to know what to do with as it drops away from the house at a 45 degree angle and then flattens at the bottom. This is where most of the rainwater goes, the flat bit, so maybe after the pigs have been in we'll turn it into a willow coppice. That or put in some more swales to keep the water back a bit (my favoured option). It would make sense to have a forest garden there in the future, or at least some kind of agroforestry type cropping. It just seems daunting right now.

The sheep should be lambing in the next couple of weeks. I say 'sheep' - that means one! We have two ewes and a ram but I don't think our youngest ewe, Etoile, 'took' this year. Her mother, Ema, though is looking fairly round and is going very slow now. I'm sure that I saw Mr BD smiling his toothy smile mid-November last so mid-April should be about the right time. We'll watch and wait.

The birds, hens and geese, continue to lay eggs, eat and poop with not much to report.

The pear and peach trees are heavy with blossom and have been for about a week so hopefully we're in for a bumper harvest. I hope that we don't have a frost. We planted 16 new fruit trees into the orchard and an almond into the newly created area on the west side of the house. This last planting, the almond, was done out of the orchard as peaches and almonds should not be grown within 50m of each other as the almonds go bitter due to cross-pollination. So it's very annoying that I have just remembered the peach tree that is well-established at the side of the barn just 10m away from the almond - grrr. I'll have to re-site the almond, maybe into the mini forest garden that we're creating at the south end of the 'lawn'. Always work to be done!