Saturday, 31 December 2016

Emergency rations

 
It looks cold, and it was cold.
 

....which is why Lester was having a bowl of porridge.
 

 
Now you might think it strange that he was standing out in the cold eating porridge,
and I would also think that if I were not his wife,
because I had taken the porridge to him,
so that the chill would keep out of his insides.
 
 
.......So what he was doing was keeping an eye on these:
 
 
..... our flock of sheep, who had been let out for an hour of grazing
on the back field, around where the veg plots are.
They can't stay there all day because they would eventually take themselves out on the lane.
They do like to roam.
But they do need some green grass to supplement the hay they are now on,
so this is the first day of the 'hour a day of back field grazing'.
 
This morning we had to bypass breakfast because unfortunately we were running late.
My fault.
I had gone back to bed instead of staying up,
which meant that 'tea and porridge' had not been handed out to Lester
before he went milking, and then on to his morning chores.
 
What to do to squash my guilt about going back to bed.....
aha.....I know, ..... take him out a bowl of porridge!
 
 
.... by which time the sheep had grazed their fill, and were headed back to Lester.
 

Job done.
Back to the main field they went,
and Lester came indoors to defrost.
 
A couple of hours later we were in bed for an afternoon snooze,
with the electric blanket on of course!
We can do that because we are hibernation mode!
Well it is winter,
and we are still getting over the flu.
(PS. How long can I use 'getting over the flu' as an excuse to be slothful?)
 
So, taking the opportunity of wishing you a happy and successful 2017,
bye for now,
 
Vx

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Tiptoe-ing back to Blog Land!

So OK, I am soooo sorry for not posting up a blog for a while, but lots has been happening, some in my head, some to do with what we are planning for next year, and some to do with me and Lester having a jolly hefty dose of flu which very efficiently flattened both of us. Even now we are still quite weak, which is a good excuse for going to bed and having a lovely long sleep in the afternoons.
 
Anyway, I hope you had a good Christmas.
Ours was excellent.
Spent most of it in bed.
 
But I did manage to put together a Christmas dinner.
Fortunately I had seen a pair of cockerel legs sticking up from amongst the piles of frozen meat
when I was on the hunt for something else,
so he was cooked up.....boiled first, then roasted.
 
 
 
He doesn't look very elegant, but he was delish.
I felt a fondness for that lad,
and blessed him profusely as he was cooked and eaten.
 
The things that are going on in my head are mostly to do with writing a new website for my work,
which is taking me an age because I don't have a clue what to put on it.
Actually, that is not true, I do know what the website has to carry,
but it is the lay out, graphics, and topic content, which is scrambling my head.
Not to worry, I shall persevere.
 
It has not been helpful that the flu has robbed us of any energy to keep motivated with our plans to open a market garden shop next year.
The poly tunnel still has not been ordered, and the land it is supposed to go on has still not been cleared of hedging along one side. The three vegetable paddocks have been tilled by the now deceased pigs, ( will tell you about that another time), but will need some ploughing over which can't be done because the soil is too dry.
The raised beds in the courtyard have still not been started, although progress about clearing the space has at least been done.
The Chicken Hut has still not been done, so we still don't have any chickens, but we have finished the fencing of the chicken run, and the two gates have been made although not painted.
All in all, the Market Garden Project is likely to have a very slow moving start in 2017!
 
..... and back in October, here is the fig tree in all its glory...
 
 
(sorry about the photo not being very good, but the fig tree is the green lump in the middle)
However, very disappointingly, it has deemed it beneath itself to give us a harvest of figs for the last two years, and instead has converted its energy into growing bigger by the day.
 
This is not good, so......
 

....with chainsaw in hand, Lester has severely pruned the fig tree,
and would have dispatched it altogether if I had not said that we need the figs from it
so give it a chance.
 
The area around the fig tree is where the raised beds are going to be.
I also hope to have a bit of space to put a sunbed up so I can lie in the shade of the fig tree on hot summer days.
This has been a fantasy of mine for the last nine years.
 Preventing me from doing so thus far has been the fact that the chickens have been in residence in, on, and around, the tree, filling the area with chicken paraphernalia  such as feathers and poo,
making it not an area one would wish to spend any time in,
especially when temperatures are high.
Perhaps this year, then, I shall get to indulge myself.
I can only hope.
 
Anyway, nice to have a chat with you, and hope your Christmas is proceeding gaily along.
 
 
And our Christmas Day supper.
It was all DIY produced apart from the bread flour and yeast,
all the rest...the jam, cheese, butter, were DIY.
 
 
Not very festive, but blame the flu for that!
 
Bye for now
 
Vx

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Oh, just a day in the life of us.....

Up early. Needed to get going with the day because we are off out to a small dairy nearby to see their milking operation, and we need to be there by 9am.

Everything going well. Cows out in field. Last one left in the barn was the little male calf. Lester went to fetch him. Put the rope on him to lead him out to the field, which he doesn't like. Resisted all the way, pulling backwards, sideways, and every ways, letting his upset about the rope be most thoroughly known. Nothing for it but to put a hand behind his rump to chivvy him along, something which Lester often does.....sort of pushing him in the direction he needs to be going in. So, hand behind rump, Lester still clean and tidy, calf does a squirt of milky poo from his rear end, Lester's hand deflects poo, ends up getting covered in a spray of poo, Lester now not clean and tidy. Not to worry, a quick change and off out to the dairy we went.

24 hours later:

So there I was, in the old Mercedes, driving up the lane from Sarah's animal park, following Lester on the big tractor which was towing the trailer carrying the blue wheelbarrow and spade. And I found myself marvelling at the experience of following my husband home along a very long lane in France, and felt a rush of gratitude towards the Universe for presenting the opportunity ten years ago to make the lifestyle change needed to release us from our old UK lifestyle. I also had a moment of feeling in awe at the courage it took for us to take up that opportunity. I remembered Lester going off to work in the time before we came here, smart shirt, tie, polished shoes, and suit, looking very pristine and shiny. I looked at him now on the tractor in front of me, and know that he is covered in manure, has yesterday's work clothes on because he had to get dressed in a rush, and that he is fretting about getting the tractor back home, because............

........ we are tired. We had a broken night's sleep having been woken up in the early hours by the rottweiller girls barking.  Heard another bark from outside, quite close to the house, sounded like it was coming from the sheep pen. "There's a dog in with the sheep" Lester shouts as he hurtles out of bed. I follow on, but much slower. Outside now. Very dark. Very cold. I am glad that I thought to put my dressing gown although my feet are slowly freezing because they have my indoor sandals on. "Here, hold this|" Lester says as he hands me the rifle. I do as I am told. I am, after all, his right hand man woman. Then he is off with the torch, after saying that the dog is chasing the sheep. I can hear the dog barking. I feel of rush of affection for our sheep. I hold the gun carefully.

Lester returns after a while. Says that a chunk of the perimeter fencing has been damaged. Looks like the sheep barged into it as they were being chased. Said he could only count six pairs of eyes. We have eight sheep, so there should be eight pairs of eyes. The dog keeps barking  but seems to be further away.

The rifle was not used. But if had needed to be then it would have been.

Previous to that.....

Back at the dairy yesterday....seeing four cows being milked by a portable milking machine, each milking taking all of five minutes individually which is so different to the thirty minutes (at least) that it takes Lester to milk one of our cows. Plus the milk went straight from udder to milk churn, whereas  the bucket placed under the udders of one of our cows being milked risks having a mucky cow hoof put in it, or being knocked over as the cow fidgets. We were also impressed by the serene and patient look the cows in the dairy had during milking. Ours often have a 'oh do get on with it' look when they are being milked, which is why they can get fidgety.

Lester is enthused about getting milking machine, but is not so impressed with the price of them, so he is thinking about building one out of the spare parts you can get online. This project, therefore, will be put on hold for the time being.

And then it was on to see where the cheese is made. I was very impressed, but not enough to want to invest in the equipment they had. I am perfectly happy using a two gallon stainless steel pot to make the cheese in, and have no inclination towards having a seventy gallon container, nor a curd table, nor huge great fridges. I shall potter along with my cottage industry style of cheese making because it is a more interesting thing to do.

A good visit though, and it was nice to see Lissie's mum again. (Our first cow came from this farm)

Back home, a quick coffee, and then off down the lane to Sarah's place, together with the tractor towing the trailer carrying the blue wheelbarrow, and spade. I followed on in the Mercedes..... it is due to be scrapped any day soon but still has half a tank of petrol on board so it is sensible to use it for short drives to use the petrol up.

What were we doing going off down the lane? Sarah's camel barn is full of the most scrumptious and
 crumbly camel poo, which is of such a good quality that it can be used immediately to grow things in. The barn needed to be cleared so that the winter bedding could be put down, and we shall be needing to fill the raised beds in the courtyard when they are made. So the task of the day was to use the tractor to dig out the poo in the barn, dump that in the trailer, and then bring the trailer back up the lane to our place, unload the poo in the courtyard, and then make a return to Sarah's place to reload.

I, meanwhile, sat and chatted in the glorious sunshine with Sarah, leaving our two husbands to get on with the work. Time to get the animals in for the night, and still three quarters of the barn still left to do. Tractor and trailer and blue wheelbarrow and spade all left down at Sarah's so work on the poo shifting could carry on tomorrow. Nice pile of poo up at our place though. Very satisfied.

And then the dog came to harass our sheep. If  it came once, then it will come again. It is worrying to think that this might happen when the ewes have their lambs, which is around the middle of December. So all plans changed. Need to have the tractor and trailer back here so the fence can be repaired, which is why I was driving back up the lane with Lester in front on the tractor. The perimeter fencing needs to be sorted out, that is now the urgent task of the day. The poo collecting will now have to wait for a while.

This type of lifestyle certainly requires us to be adaptive, that is another thought I had as we drove up the lane this morning, and 'hooray' for that!  Meanwhile, sending out thoughts to the owners of the dog to keep it under control. Meanwhile enjoying this lovely weather while we still have it.

Bye for now,
Vx

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Some 'firsts'........

First butter made this season. That is now in the freezer. Experience has shown that butter that has been made, then frozen, seems to keep fresher than if used directly after it is made.

First buttermilk cake made, not yet eaten but looks good.

First cheese made this season.... but not looking good. Turned out half the size as normal, and took forever to set. Don't think I shall age this one. Either will let the wheel dry for a few days, cover it with olive oil and leave another few days, then see what it tastes like.  Either us, the dogs, or the pigs, will eat then eat it.

Bonny has had her calf. He is definitely a male, and has the attitude to prove it. Milly, Lissie's female calf, is showing girlish ways, prancing and flirting round the male calf, practising for when she is older and needs servicing.

Both cows are being milked in the evenings now, and are producing nearly eight litres of milk per session. This will reduce as the calves drink more during the day, and when this happens then the calves will be separated for one of the feeds. Already Milly is nibbling at grass, which is supplementing the milk she is still getting from Lissie. Milly might be staying with us, eventually to become our third milking cow. Now investigating milking machines and cream separators. Off to visit a small diary near us to get further info tomorrow.

The udders of the cows are astonishingly big this season, presumably because they are getting older. I am in awe of the size of them. I was a mum too, a long time ago. I have memories of being in a state of milk production.

The Chicken Project is coming along, with the wire now up on a section of the chicken run. It seems to have taken an age to get this project moving, but then we have been busy with doing other things.

The Poly Tunnel Project is also on the move, but more about that in a future blog. Just to say that we have stopped the dithering about whether we need one, or not, and if we do then what size to get. It was a relief to get this finally sorted.

The Rayburn wood burning stove is now lit, although only in the evenings. And the delight of having the vague smell of wood smoke hovering in the air, of feeling that magnificent warmth oozing into the bones and chasing away the slight damp in the air which you get when you live in an old farmhouse, of being able to festoon the Rayburn with washing to dry overnight, of hearing the singing sound which wood sometimes makes as it burns, of feeling the live energy which the living fire in the Rayburn brings to the house. Of not panicking over much when the pump refused to work when the Rayburn was first lit. Of hearing the alarming sound of boiling water whizzing up and down in the pipes, ending with a loud whoosh as it finally ended up in the over fill tank upstairs. Not to worry (actually I did!), Lester quickly damped the fire out, the water cooled, no more bubbling. Off came the pump. Wasn't working. This confirmed by our friend down the road. Off to Tarbes to buy another pump after first ringing a French plumber. New pump purchased, to be picked up in a couple of weeks time. Plumber arrived. Undid a little grey knob on front of pump. Stuck his screw driver into the hole. Twiddled screw driver. Said pump was working, and was not dead. Put knob back. Said to Lester that he was to put the pump back on to the Rayburn system and that he would come along the next afternoon to see what was happening when the Rayburn was running. Rayburn lit that night. Pump behaving. Must have got stuck during its summer sleep, as indeed we all do.

First bread made in the Rayburn. Just threw the bread mix into the mixer, gave it a whizz through, did not knock the bread back to give it a second rise so put it straight into the loaf tin,  into the Rayburn oven when risen, did not expect much of a result but wow!!!! That bread was delicious, best I have ever made. Now not fussed with using the SMEG oven. Now enchanted with the Rayburn oven, and will start experimenting with cooking other things in it.

First batch of Greek Yoghurt made with our milk. Lots of investigating now as to flavourings, and freezing possibly to make ice cream. This is something we may sell at a later date. I am researching wholesale containers, probably pretty glass ones, to put the yoghurt in. This is another interesting project.

Have sourced the 'shed' for the shop, and thankfully the source is in Plaisance, which is just along the road to us. All the other potential sources were a distance away, and now we do have not have the pulling power of the Mercedes to pick up one of these 'sheds' in our trailer, we must rely on it being delivered. Have not yet decided on what style of 'Shed' we are going to get as there is quite a good range to choose from, all expensive of course, but not to worry, we need it so it must be got. Lots to do before we get to the stage of getting the 'shed' up, so time yet to keep looking at the various styles.

First drive our in our new little white van. Love it. Lester says that it drives like a boat. I have not driven it yet, but will soon. It seems to exactly fit our characters, and to exactly fit our farming lifestyle.

It is a lovely morning here. Lester has just come in to give me this news. The birds are singing, and the sun is shining with such a force of heat that it is making things steam. The calves have been romping together out on the field, with Bonnie and Lissie chasing after them. The sheep are quietly grazing. The dogs are sitting beside me waiting for breakfast. I need to go and make a super duper fruit crumble because we are off to  lunch at a friend's house today, and I promised to do the dessert. It is a roast dinner, venison probably, so we thought a crumble would sit nicely for the dessert.

In anticipation of a happy and joyful Sunday, and hope yours will be / or was, the same.

Bye for now.
Vx

Monday, 17 October 2016

Last harvest of the year........

We now have seven ewes and one ram. A week ago we had fifteen ewes plus their lambs, and one ram. The difference in the numbers between then and now is because we have now put eight of this years lambs into the freezer. We did two a day, but spread the work over two days for each two sheep. It was tough going. Not our most favourite task to do, but it had to be done if we are to have enough grazing for everyone this winter. We were going to put ten in the freezers, but we ran out of steam with the effort of it all.

It is not that it is dreadfully hard work, but working with innards and things does tend to sit on the mind after a while, which is why our minds could only manage eight. But I like that we are sensitive to the task we are involved with, as it stops us from being hard hearted, and helps us feel respectful to the animal who we have come to know over the previous few months. All the lambs were nearly a year old, and would have lambs themselves next Spring, which is why it was urgent to get the flock numbers down now.

But the job is done and the freezers are full, so my task this winter is to get as much of the meat canned as possible. Finally, after eight years of working to get a functioning house and smallholding up and running, it would seem that we are starting to get into the rhythm of farm life. It is a priceless way of life, but perhaps not for the faint hearted, especially if you are also providing your own meat.

Short sleeved t-shirt on today as I went out and about scything here and there in the lovely warm sunshine. Then some spinning. Then some patchwork. And all outside. Some people have had their wood burning fires on in the evening, but our house seems to be holding its heat, and anyway, our training with coping with cold weather when we were living in a caravan when we first arrived here tends to encourage us keep putting on warm clothing before we get fires lit.

Last task of the year in regards to the animals is getting the two adult pigs dispatched. With no signs of piglets at all after over a year of them being together we cannot but presume that they have finished procreating, which is not good seeing as how they are the most expensive animals to keep here. We have to watch the budget. The pigs can't be thought of as pets. So, just waiting for inspiration as to what to do with them. Either way, this will be another one of those heart string pulls, especially for Lester, who is very bonded to his Tamworth pigs. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Off to visit Lester in the cow barn. He has started milking Lissie in the evenings although Milly is still with her mum all the time, so two to three litres per milking at the moment. I am too busy with getting the recent meat harvest processed so don't have time to make cheese, so this is enough milk for us for the time being.

Bye for now.
Vx








Friday, 14 October 2016

He? No 'She'.......

So what do you do when this little one arrives.....
 
 
...... just born, still damp, still dazed by the world.....
but it is a male calf, what do you do?
Well immediately your mind shifts gear, because he cannot be sold or kept here,
because we could never manage the energy of a bull in full rut.
It's enough to have a ram and a boar when they have testosterone streaming through them,
but a rampant full sized bull.....no.
So his eventual destiny is to provide us with beef.
 
But then 'he' changed his destiny himself,
because Lester must have misread the geography of his undercarriage,
this being brought to his attention when the calf squatted to go to wee.
A male calf would stand upright to wee.
A female calf will bend her back legs into a squat.
This he she did in front of Lester as he was ushering her out into the field with her mum.
 
So no beef for us next year, but a little female cow,
who may be sold on, or perhaps may stay here.
As I was watching her come into the barn yesterday,
the name 'Millicent' arrived in my head,
so 'Milly' it is.
 

And here she is trying to get up on all fours for the first time.
 
Lissie's udders were expanded beyond what we thought was good for them,
so Lester drew off a few litres of milk to take the pressure off.
Lester said that Milly was most intrigued.
Said that she was almost cross eyed with wonder about what the hell he was doing to the teats which she was previously drinking from!
 
Bye for now,
Vx

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Not doing, just dawdling......


So here is the front drive, looking quite tidy, apart from the heap of hay bales. The first heap is where the hut for selling our home grown produce is going to be. Lester will move the bales when we get nearer to the time of getting the hut assembled if they have not been used up meanwhile.

 
And here is the other side of the drive, with the rampant bay tree / shrub on the right, followed by general bits and pieces of hedge along the rest of the drive, including brambles, wild roses, and blackthorn, all of which looks very overgrown and untidy. Knowing that we need to get the place presentable if we are to hopefully be able to sell our veg next year, it has become my mission to get that hedge under control. At one time I was going to pull it up and plant flowering shrubs, but I have come to recognize what a silly idea that is, and that perhaps to cut the hedge down to half height, and trim in back to half width, might be a far more sensible option to take. And yesterday was to be the start of that project.
 
However.....well, it was not my fault, because for the last few days it has felt very much like Spring has arrived, which has encouraged the birds to sing at full voice, and encouraged a sense in me of needing to stop and enjoy this delightful weather while we still have it. I was also waiting for Lester to come back from the two year inspection of our old black Mercedes, and so this is what I was doing.....
 

 
.... at least I had sharpened my scythe even if I was not actually using it, and at least I was thinking about what I ought to be doing even if I wasn't doing it.
 
And then Lester arrived home with the news that the Merc was now to be no more, after it had horrendously failed the inspection. We had expected it. But now we urgently needed to find another car, but not from the UK as originally planned but locally. By the end of the day we had settled on a little two seater Renault Kango van, which had shelves in the back so we could take produce to the local market if we needed to. This is not something we want to do, but we have to keep our options open as to where we can sell our produce, and we thought the shelves would be very handy if we needed to do that. The van is much more appropriate for trainee market gardeners, rather than a tatty old beaten up Mercedes.
 
The van is very small, cosy, and cute. It will do.
 
Meanwhile, nothing much done here again today other than sorting out the paperwork for the van and then having a really super lunch to celebrate the outlay of yet another chunk of money! And then back home for a nap to recover from the nervous energy we have had as we endlessly discussed what the hell we were going to do about getting another car. Hopefully I shall be scything tomorrow.
 
Bye for now,
 
Vx

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Rain!!!!!

So what do you do when you hear the pitter patter of rain on the velux windows overhead
when you are trying to wake up to start the day.
Well you acknowledge the joyful thought that perhaps today might be a good day to stay indoors and do some sewing, that is what you do.
So then what do you do when your dearly beloved husband lurches into the house a while later in a bit of a mood because the farmer man who we ordered hay and straw from decided to deliver it today, in the rain, and was not really paying much attention to where he was putting the bales.
Well you get dressed, put wellies and rain mack on, and go have a look at what is happening, that is what you do.
 

And look at this whopper of a tractor!
 

.... and Lester now taking charge of where the bales are to be put....
 

 
....and Lester tidying up the bales once the farmer man and his fancy blue tractor had left.
It was raining very hard by now.
The bales of straw and hay were getting a thorough soaking because there was no time to cover them with tarpaulins to keep them dry. Rain and hay / straw are not a good mixture, not unless  you want nicely rotted down manure in a few months time, which the animals would not appreciate either eating or sleeping on.
 
..and just so it does not feel left out, here is our little tractor, tucked up and nicely dry...
 

..... and the two rottweiller girls, who have just been told off for playing 'let's hunt for mice' in the hay bales beside them, which has become their favourite pastime now that they can no longer amuse themselves by herding the chickens and geese hither and thither.
 

Despite the gung ho attitude of the farmer man, this was the only bale which suffered any damage.
 

And it elegantly fell apart when Lester tried to shift it, but fortunately it was a straw bale,
 

 
so we scooped the loose straw up and put it into the sheep and cow barns.
 

I am sure that the sheep and cows will thoroughly enjoy their new bedding.
A few sunny days forecasted ahead, which should give the bales time to dry out after the soaking they had today.
And saying 'bye for now'.
Vx
 


Friday, 30 September 2016

The last cheese......

Upon observing the rather large tummy and 'tight like a drum' udder of Lissie this morning, it came to me that I really ought to get myself moving with sorting out the cheese making equipment. Days are passing, and soon her calf will be here and then I shall be awash with milk. OK, a  bit of an exaggeration, but once Lester starts milking then I shall once again feel two steps behind myself as I try to keep up with the processing of that milk. 'I can do it' I keep telling myself, and of course I can because this is my third (I think) season of milk.
 
 
So in an effort to make a start with the Milk Project, I plucked up the courage to look inside the cheese fridge, whose door had not been opened for many a week / month. I was expecting much mould and whiffy odours, but no, the interior looked quite clean and there were no odours at all.
But sat forlornly on the middle shelf was this:
 

Now I knew that there was one last cheese wheel left, but thought that by now it would have gone 'off', but I had to have a look anyway, so I unpeeled the lard and muslin wrapper, et voila!
 


One reasonably pristine wheel of cheese, but shame about the state of the work surface it is sitting on, which is covered in flour and pastry. Now all I needed to do was get the cheese cut in two and have a taste. Now when a cheese comes out into the air after being wrapped up for a long time it tends to have a strong, sharp, taste, which is almost acidic which immediately has me thinking that it has gone 'off', so Lester has to be the tester for first time tasting. His verdict? That it was a nice cheese. As a reward I then made him a sandwich out of the DIY cheese, DIY butter, and DIY bread.
 
So this is the last cheese from the last milking season. It would seem that lard and muslin work as a good wrap, so nor more fussing with salt brines or cheese wax which should make cheese making less complicated for me.
 

Both cows are due to calve in the next week or so. Meanwhile, Lester thinks that he will have to go to the UK to get another car as ours is due for its French MOT and will probably fail miserably. The cars in the UK are vastly cheaper than the ones here in France, although the steering wheel is on the 'wrong' side. He will be away for at least a week. I shall be in charge of the farm.
 
Bye for now,
Vx

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Jus de Raisins

 
 
So what do you do if you are driving along a country road in SW France,
and the road does some twists and curls,
and then you see a warning sign saying
'Jus de Raisins'
.....you quickly slow down, that is what you do,
  because you don't want to drive into a sludge of grapes (raisins in French) lying on the road,
just waiting for you to do a grand skid on,
which will do neither your nerves or your car any good at all.
 
The annual wine harvest is underway, and motorists in the wine region of south western France, which is our region, have been urged to take precautions
due to the unusual hazard of spilled grape juice.
We often come across large spillages of maize grains during the maize harvest,
as the over filled trucks take the maize from the fields to the grain silos,
but they do not present a hazard,
but I do know that driving into a spillage of mushed up grapes from an overladen truck going from vineyard to the wine presses of the domaines, does not bode well
because I heard of someone who did actually drive into such a spillage.
She said that it was not an experience  she would never want to have ever again in her life.
 
And another lovely day today,
and starting to get an idea of what we are going to be doing on the smallholding in the future.
I had a sort of flash of inspiration this morning when I woke up,
which has made us quite enthused about the future here.
We need to earn a living here, but we do not want to be swimming in lots of money,
just enough to pay our way, but we need to be motivated.
Drifting about from day to day is all very well,
but it can become a habit if it goes on for too long,
so the inspiration I had this morning has quite woken us up to new possibilities,
.... a sort of feeling that pieces of a jigsaw were falling into place.
 
Simply put, the inspiration I had was to open a 'Produits de la Ferme',
or 'Farm Shop' here.
 
Feeling excited, but dazed at the same time because there is a lot to do,
I am going to have a little nap to recuperate!
Bye for now,
Vx

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

View from from my kitchen window........

 
River mists, not cold yet, nor frosty, just gently chilly, telling us that the year is marching on. Yesterday I sat outside on the front door step and did some spinning,
and watched the weather starting to change. It was fascinating to see the minute by minute changes as autumn crept closer. It was nice to take time out. Not that I have been particularly busy anyway, just pottling along at the moment, enjoying the still warm weather, knowing that soon  I shall be wrapped up in woolly winter clothing.
 
And straight from the grape vines......
 
 
........ of the man who provides us with the wood for our Rayburn stove.
We are OK for wood this winter now, but the store for next winter needs to be bought in so it can dry out. We shall be cutting some dead trees from our woodland, but not yet, other things to do first.
So our wood man took us round his vineyard, snipping bunches of grapes here and there, several different types, the smallest grape being the most meltingly sweet grape I have ever tasted.
We were never going to eat all these grapes before they rotted because they do not have preservatives sprayed on them to keep them fresh, so I thought I would a go at dehydrating them.
 
Trouble is, that these grapes have pips in which have to be got out first, and gosh but this was a fiddly job. Took ages, .... had to slice open the grape and then search out the pip (sometimes one, sometimes two) with my fingers. I haven't been playing the piano or accordion lately so my finger nails were quite long, which came in handy for fishing around in the pulp of the grape for the pips, but this was only for the larger grapes. The very small grapes I gave up on. I had spent enough time on the project, and needed to go do other things. In other words, I was getting bored!
 

Into the dehydrator over night. Got up in the early hours to make a visit to the loo, did a side track to visit the dehydrator to see how the grapes were doing, took a morsel of grape to see what it tasted like, was so bowled over by the explosion of taste that happened in my mouth, that I then spend another hour getting the fiddly little  black grapes, which I had given up on, into the dehydrator as well. I eventually ended up will all nine trays filled, after which I went back to bed. It was four o'clock in the morning.
 
I have broken my rule of not using any canned, frozen, or dehydrated produce from this current season until the clocks change in late October. This means that there can be a 'down' time when I don't have much to variety in the larder, although there is a fully stocked larder which I ban myself from using. So the other day I needed to make a cake. Didn't have time to rummage in my cupboard of stored dehydrated fruit and veg ( I am waiting for a rainy day to sort that untidyness out!)
 
A jumbly cupboard of dehydrates!
 
 
..... so I did a raid on the nearest dried fruit I had on hand, which just so happened to be the cooling trays of now dehydrated grapes, thereby breaking my rule of not using newly processed produce until the seasons had changed. Of course I could save the rest of the dried grapes but that is unlikely. They are delicious. They will be used up quickly.
 
Ah, but now the sun has broken through the mist, and the day is calling me. Lester is brimming with frustration about how he is supposed to fix the gate to one of the cow pens, the one which Bonny broke last year, and I had better get on to making the goat meat curry which I was supposed to get going early on this morning so the flavours would all mix and mingle, which they won't now because it is now only an hour away from lunch time!
 
Bye for now,
 
Vx

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Thoughts about rabbits......

Before 2008, and still in England:


Little rabbits, my oh my but how cute they are, with their long velvety ears, and fluffy, cuddly bodies, that is what I thought when Lester first mentioned that we should keep rabbits,
but not as pets but as meat for the table when we eventually moved to our smallholding in France.  And oh what a fuss I made, no, I did not think it a good idea at all.
'Rabbits are for pets, not for eating' that is what I said.
 
2010, and now in France:

So what do you do when an English neighbour comes calling, together with the two rabbits that she said that she had mentioned to Lester a few days ago as needing a home.
Not wanting to put a downer on things, if you were me you don't say anything,
but neither do you take much interest, that's what you do.
 
 
And then you become sensible and supportive to your husband, because his belief is that rabbits would make a good supplement to a homesteader's food table, and you are a team, so you stop making a fuss and accept his decision.
 
But, where to put them, and here is where they went....
against one of the courtyard walls....
(the fig tree is on the right)
 
 
...and what to put them in....
Concrete clapiers, that is where rabbits are housed here in France,
so Lester went and found one from somewhere or other,
and then had a grand time trying to assemble it.
 
 
.... and finished!
 

 
The Rabbit Project then took off,
and soon we had another two clapiers the other side of the fig tree,
 
 
plus lots of rabbits to put in them.
 
 
 
..... but eventually we made our first rabbit tractor so that the rabbits could be put out on to the field,
which we felt was a more natural environment for them. 
 


Unfortunately all our rabbits died of myxomotosis just as the tractor was finished, and that ended our enthusiasm for keeping rabbits for a long time.
 
'Taken from the blog of Sept 2012: And a sadness:
Of the fourteen original rabbits, thirteen have now succombed to myxomotosis. One, therefore, remains. She has just had babies. She also now has myxi.
Don't know whether to end her life, or not just yet. It is quite heartbreaking to see the squirmy little ones who will no doubt have been infected by their mum. Ending their lives is going to be very, very hard. So we do nothing at the moment, just watch, hoping for a miracle which we don't really think is going to happen.
Such is the life on a homestead,
the heart sometimes works overtime coping with it all.'
 
Although the smallest animals the rabbits are the ones most prone to fatal diseases, and then there is the tendency for the female rabbits to tear their young to pieces for no reason that we could ever see. Picking up little bits of legs, heads, and bodies, is not the most pleasant of tasks.

But on the whole, we missed having rabbits on the farm and so December 2015 saw us with another couple of rabbits, although we did not expect much from them. But surprisingly they quickly became parents and, as is the nature of rabbits, by May 2016 their numbers had multiplied to twenty.

However, a change of plan, mostly because we did not like having to keep the rabbits in the concrete cages, and thought they were more deserving of a better environment in which to live.
The plan was that the clapiers were to be broken up, which has been done, and a new set of runs, taller and longer that the concrete ones, will be built, but that is a future project, as is the  making of new rabbit tractors so they can be put out on the field during the day. 
One thing we have learnt, though, is that rabbits breed better during the winter and spring here in France, possibly because of lower temperatures and the lack of flying insects, so we shall encourage winter breeding in the future.
 
Meanwhile, we are gradually putting the rabbits in the freezer. Slaughtering animals is never a pleasant task to do, but the reality of life on a farm is that it has to be done if meat is to come on to the table. But the animals are loved and cared for, they are not pets, but are part of the cycle of life here, and therefore have our deepest respect for what they give us.
All the rabbits are now in the freezer.

September 2016

So, our thoughts on keeping rabbits, are:
- they can be prone to fatal diseases, but the possibility of that happening seems to have lessened after having successfully bred rabbits during winter and early spring.
- rabbit meat is the best meat we have had here, even better than chicken.
- I would probably not keep rabbits if I was on my own. They might be lovely to look at but the nature of the animal is something else.
- Lester was right in that rabbits are an excellent way of providing meat for a family living on a small farm. They breed fast, and come to a good size faster than chickens. They are quicker to skin and butcher than chickens as well.
All in all, we shall keep on having rabbits here at Labartere in the future.
They are worth the effort even if their health can sometimes be delicate.

Meanwhile, the courtyard is now free of rabbits, geese and chickens. It does feel like we are taking a step backwards at the moment, but sometimes you have to do that before you can move forward.

 
Next step is cutting back the enormous fig tree,
and then we can start working on the ground works.
A potager is intended for this area.
 
Bye for now,
 
Vx 


Saturday, 10 September 2016

It has rained!

Rain!
Delivered by a long thunder storm yesterday evening,
which eased so much tension from the air that I suddenly felt a million times better than how I have been feeling over the last few days.
And it has got chilly enough at night for the rottweiller girls not to want to go outside during the night. Last night Maz wanted to go to the loo, Blue followed her as far as the front door but got no further as the cold night air wafted over her. They are such ladies, these rottweiller girls. They like their home comforts, as do the cows who will  have to start being brought back into their own overnight accommodation because they have taken over the sheep barn and will not let the sheep into it,  horning them to keep out should they try to get shelter. The cows and sheep have been out in the field all summer, with access to the sheep barn during the day if the flies or heat are a bother to them. But cooler nights have meant that the cows want to stay under cover, which is why they are bullying the sheep in to having to stay outside, which has been alright during this long dry spell, but now the rain is hovering around something has to be done.
 
Lester's job today is to clear out the rest of the manure from the cow pens, and put new straw down ready for the cows to be brought in tonight, and so the winter cycle of their care begins, which reminds me that I need to have a look at my supplies of cheese and yoghurt cultures as another season of cheese making is on its way.
I think it is a good idea that we have the calves at the start of winter. To make cheese and manage the processing of the vegetable and meat harvests would, I think, be just a little too much for me, but now the vegetable harvests are finished, which only leaves the meat harvest from this years lambs still to be done, which should leave space in the day to get the cheese made.
 
But a problem with the cheese....I have found that it is difficult to store it long term, especially the hard cheeses like Cheddar and Parmesan. This may be because I refuse to use animal rennet which help sets the milk into curds and whey, but instead I use vegetable rennet. The animal rennet comes from the stomach of new born calves. It is the traditional and commercial method of making cheese, but I can't bring myself to use it. There must be a difference between the two types of rennet which is giving me a problem with storing hard cheese. Not to worry, the solution is that I don't make hard cheese! But the semi hard cheese does alright, providing the cheese wheels are not allowed to mature beyond six months at the most. I am also thinking I might have a go at Brie and Camembert this season.
 
Meanwhile, I have been making some underpants for Lester, himself preferring the wide soft floppiness of DIY underwear to that of the commercially made pants, which, he says, confine him too much and scratch him in places he does not want to be scratched. I personally would prefer to be making some patchwork curtains for the kitchen, which is I think is far more creative.
 
Onwards with the day,
and hope it is a good one for us all.
 
Bye for now,
 
Vx

Friday, 9 September 2016

We are still in slow mode here......

We are still on slow down here,
with the hot and humid weather encouraging us not to want to do much.
In some ways this is good, as it is giving us a much needed rest,
but we are getting fed up with not being able to get things done.
No rain for a long time now.
This has been a very long hot summer.
 
But the tomatoes continue to flourish.
They seem to like being neglected even though they have not been watered for a long time.
I skinned and dehydrated these.
 
 
Meanwhile, Lester has been putting away his Kubota tractor and implements for the winter....
 
 
... and been bringing in to the courtyard four hay bales which a neighbour had kindly donated....
 
 
They are now under cover, and should last until late November.
The cows are getting bigger udders, and will have their calves soon,
so they will be brought in each night rather than being left out in the field all the time.
It has been a good summer for them, but grazing is non existent at the moment,
so Lester has started giving them hay. They have been also having a grain supplement for several weeks. They are looking good, our house cows.....
 
 
.... and one of the old bales of straw being moved round to the veg paddocks...
 

 
....... it just about stayed in one piece until it got there!
Not to worry, the dogs enjoyed rummaging through the straw for little things,
like rats, mice, etc....
 
And the log pile, covered over and done for this year,
 
 
One of these years we hope to get a better storage facility for the wood,
but for the moment tarps will have to do,
they might not look very pretty, but they do the job of keeping the wood dry.
All that is left to do is getting the kindling cut up and stored.
And already we have to be thinking about the 2017 winter supply of wood!
 
Saying bye for now,
Vx
 
 


Friday, 2 September 2016

Chickens: O Geese: O

And so it came to be the day when we no longer could cope with living so close to the geese and the chickens. For eight years we have shared our immediate outside space with first the chickens, and then the geese, but that was alright because the courtyard space was also full of builders stuff, of piles of bricks, wood, and general buildery messiness so the chickens and geese sort of fitted in with the general chaos. This was also reflected in the house, which at first was just walls...no roof, windows, or floors.... and then this work was done and we moved in but still the house was as chaotic as the courtyard space.

And it was an enjoyable experience learning the ways of chickens. Living so close to them gave us an opportunity to learn that every living being has their own characteristics, and therefore must be respected and not thought as less than us because they are 'just animals'. The chickens taught us about the cycle of life, that it takes but just a minute for life to end....memories of accidentally dropping the food bowl on a little chick which moved underneath it just as I was putting it on the ground comes to mind. Life to death in just a instant. And the delight of putting eggs in the incubator and watching them hatch, which forever changed my way of thinking about what is inside an egg, and also gave me a healthy dislike for commercially produced eggs. And the even better delight of watching hens with their young chicks, fussing and cooing round them, teaching them about what to eat, and how to get up into the fig tree to roost for the night. There was a temporary chicken hut but most of the chickens preferred to roost up the fig tree, which they would do even in the harshest of winter weather. I remember giving them some porridge one morning so they could warm up, their backs being covered over with a light frosting of snow.

And the 'honour guard' of hens which stayed close to a well loved cockerel as he died. And the endless habits and attitudes which cockerels had towards each other and the hens, and the way in which hens can be vicious towards each other, but can also be kind. All of this we learnt in the time of having chickens in the courtyard.

As for the geese, these were different because it was Lester who bonded to them rather than myself. In the beginning they were supposed to be for eggs and meat, but he could never bring himself to slaughter them so none went into the freezer and we never had many eggs from them either because they have short laying seasons, and they also tended to lay out on the smallholding and  we kept forgetting to get the eggs in, so overnight the local predators would take them. But they were great characters as well, and it was a grand sight to see Lester calling in the geese and chickens for their evening meal, when they all came charging towards him in a fluff of flapping wings and feathers. They gave life to the courtyard, despite the mess they made, but that was alright because the builders were also making a mess, so the courtyard generally looked a busily chaotic space of things happening, and everyone was happy, the chickens and geese because they were out foraging on the smallholding all day, us because the house was getting renovated and we were finally getting settled into the homesteader's way of life which does take a while to get used to after years having lived

2016, .... the major building to the downstairs of the house was now done, the courtyard was now empty of builders stuff although still looked untidy, and the chickens and geese were still in situ overnight but still out on the smallholding during the day. But as the months rolled by the chickens started refusing to go outside the gates, preferring instead to stay in the courtyard all day. The geese were still were out all day, but were spending more and more time hovering outside the back and front gates of the courtyard as well as the double doors of the middle barn during the day, leaving lots of poo to as evidence of their new habit, which we had to walk through before we could leave the house and courtyard.  
 
We have had a successful year with chicks this year. We didn't want to, we wanted the eggs for use in the kitchen, but the hens eventually found so many secret dens to lay their eggs in that we couldn't find, that most of them went broody. I am not saying that it is not a charming sight to see a hen suddenly appear with a clutch of chicks, it is just that we wanted to keep the hen numbers down while we sorted out the Chicken Project, which was going to give the chickens and geese new living quarters away from the courtyard so that we could then concentrate on getting the courtyard tidy, and eventually planted out with shrubs and flowers.

When the builders were here the hens used to take their chicks out of the courtyard during the day, so the chicks learnt that this was the thing to keep on doing when they were no longer dependent on their mum, but with the building work done everything quietened down in the courtyard, and the hens started preferring to stay close to the house instead of going out and about, so that as the hens raised their chicks they stayed inside the courtyard all the day long. This taught the chicks that this was their world and that there was no other beyond it.

Meanwhile, try as we might, we could not get ahead with building the new chicken run. Other things kept interfering which kept pushing the Chicken Project down the To Do list. Meanwhile the young chicks were growing up, other hens were suddenly appearing with more youngsters who then started growing up. Every time we went out into the courtyard we were besieged by chickens. We started feeling overwhelmed by them, and the chickens started to get stressed because their numbers were starting to get too many for the courtyard to comfortably handle. The young cockerels started fighting with each other and gang raping the hens, who would scream their way round the courtyard to try and get away from them. Chickens are vocal creatures, and it is a pleasure to hear them talking to each other and chuckling away to themselves. It is not nice to hear constant arguments and battles. And then the hot weather hit us, robbing us of the energy to get the Chicken Project done as the need to get the wood sorted out for the coming winter took top priority. Meanwhile, the courtyard was starting to feel stressed....... the atmosphere was often loaded with tension as the chickens battled with each other.

And yet we still coped with living with the chickens, until we found the ground of the courtyard being littered with chicken poo, which was increasing daily. This meant that whenever we walked across the courtyard we would inevitably pick up bits of poo on our shoes. We were already used to the huge squirts of goose poo, but they were big enough to avoid unless one was lazy about looking where the feet were going to go, but the chicken poo is smaller, and anyway there was too much of it to easily avoid.
 
It took a while to realise why the courtyard was suddenly getting so messy underfoot. Boolie was no longer with us, and it was he who used to hoover up all the chicken poo. I used to try and stop him, but it was no good, he would sneak out into the courtyard when I wasn't looking and have a quick hoover up of any recent droppings. The goose poo he never touched, just the chicken poo. And now he was no longer with us, the job had become vacant.
 
It was only for a few days that we could cope with the state of the courtyard. The cockerels had all been despatched so at least the gang raping had stopped, as had the noise of several cockerels crowing to each other from early dawn to late evening, but still the hens were arguing quite a bit with other, and there were a couple of batches of growing chicks who were steadily becoming restless and unquiet. Try as we might, we could not encourage any of them to stay outside of the courtyard, which would have been better for them, but no, they would not. Roosting space was also becoming at a premium, with the younger chickens preferring to spend the night sleeping on Lester's tractors and tractor implements, and anything else they could sit on which did not involve climbing a tree. For some reason they would not roost up in the fig tree, unlike the older hens who did. 
 
And then another hen appeared out of nowhere with a couple of chicks trotting along under her feet. We looked at the sea of feathered beings, of all ages and sizes, laying siege to us. We looked at the big and small tractors and their implements all covered in chicken poo. We looked at the hay bale which was being shredded to pieces by the chickens. We looked at the couple of plastic chairs we occasionally sit on and they, too, were covered with poo.
 
All it took was a phone call to a neighbour down the lane who has an animal park. The geese went first, then the chickens, all of them. Boxed up and put into the back of a bright yellow Citroen 2CV, they were taken to their new home within the space two hours.
 
It was a relief. The geese will have a river to swim in, and not a bucket. The chickens will roam at will and have a better life than being cooped up in the courtyard, although they always had the option to go out on the smallholding if they wanted to. And we have no chickens, and no geese, and all is quiet, and I can sit outside without feeling besieged up chickens, and we can finish the Chicken Project at our leisure, and we can get the courtyard tidied up so it does not look such a rough and untidy space, most of all it is peaceful.
 
Looking forward to having chickens again next year as I already miss their shenanigans.  Looking forward to starting work on the courtyard now the chickens and geese are gone. Glad that we put a stop to the situation between us and the poultry, and glad that a solution came to us which was of benefit to us all.
 
It would seem that is a year for sorting things out, as the next to find a solution for are our two adult Tamworth pigs, who refuse to breed, and who cost us a lot of money to feed and provide water for while they laze their days away in the sun!
 
Bye for now,
Vx

Monday, 29 August 2016

Singed tomatoes, and wood piles......

Should you have popped round for quick visit yesterday at five o'clock in the morning, this is what you would have found me doing......



...... holding a fork with a tomato impaled upon it,
which was being singed in the flame so the skin could be easily removed.
It took a few seconds, that's all, and is much faster than the other method I have tried,
which is to bring a pan of water to boil, plunge some tomatoes in it,
rescue them after a moment or so, then plunge them into cold water to cool down,
after which the skins can be removed.
I don't get on with this method of skinning tomatoes,
finding it difficult to get the timing right for each tomato,
so that I tend to end up with a portion of over cooked mushy tomatoes,
which is a waste.
 
It was this pile of tomatoes which I was needing to sort out,
 

..... lots of elongated Amish Paste tomatoes, lots of little round ones, and a few bigger round ones.
It was the Amish Paste which I was going to skin.

 
Not looking forward to this season's tomato harvest because of the skinning process,
I had been putting off starting the job,
but the onset of ripeness pushed me into a search on the internet for alternative methods of getting the skins off the tomatoes, and I found this gas flame one.
Thought I would have a try.
It worked.
Put a fork in to the top end of the tomato,
hold the tomato in the flame with the bottom end presented to the flame,
Hold for a second or so, then turn the tomato on its side and start  slowly rotating it.
There will be a pop as the skin breaks, and there might be a sizzling sound, which let you know that the job is nearly done. It does not take long.  
Then put those tomatoes on a plate to cool down,
then on to the next.
Working on two tomatoes at a time, (separate forks of course!), I whizzed through the tomatoes quickly, had no waste because the time in the flame for each tomato could be varied with its size,
and I did not get soaked, which was something I tended to do when using the boiling water method.
 
Then on to skinning, coring, chopping, cooking, and preserving.
Twenty minutes at 10lb pressure in my All American Canner,
and job done, giving us seven more jars for the larder,
making seventeen jars of chopped tomatoes in total.
(9 tomato, celery, and onion, 8 tomato, courgette, and onion
in 0.7 litre jars)
 
This is my first year of canning tomatoes.
Did wonder if it was worth the effort when tins of tomatoes don't cost much to buy from the shops,
but the first taste of our own processed tomatoes forever changed my mind.
So, is it worth the work?
Absolutely.
 
So what to you do when you feel like coming to a full stop mid way through a food prepping session,
when the road feels long, and you would like to be anywhere else except here.
When a bar of chocolate feels vital to have, when a cup of cocoa will not substitute.
So what you do is down tools, and go lie down on the bed for a quick nap,
after which the energies will surge up again, hopefully, and the pace of food prepping will begin again. If it doesn't, then there is always tomorrow.
I blame the hot weather, which makes me slothful.
But it is cooler today, which got me off to a good start. Mid morning I felt the urge to sit down for a minute though. Two hours later I woke up. Lunch was late. Another quick nap afterwards, and oh dear, another nap late afternoon. Must be the hot weather catching up with me. As I say, the temperatures have been silly.....mid 30's....
 
Lester, though, manages the heat quite well, possibly because he was born and raised in South Africa,
so he has been plodding on with the gathering, sawing, chopping and stacking of the wood .......
 
 
.... and a pause to give the cows a morsel of greenery,
 
 

..... and our homestead, with the field waiting for the rains to green it up again...
 

And back at the house, the wood pile is growing....
 


...... and this pile still waits to be chopped and stacked...
 

 
Like me and the tomatoes, this is his first year of getting the wood pile done.
I think I have the easier task.
Standing over a hot stove making jam, canning tomatoes and other veg, and doing all the other smallholdery wife stuff does seem an easier task.
I don't think I could even lift the axe  off the ground, let alone swing it up in the air and over my head, hoping to aim for the chunk of upended wood to split it in two.
 
Saying bye for now,
Vx