Friday, 21 April 2017

A frosting, and Jakie plays dead........

Had some beans growing in pots in our mini greenhouse, but they were not looking happy so I put them outside yesterday, and did not cover them up. Thought that they would succumb to the cold / frost but this morning they are standing very upright like bold little soldiers.
....but this morning they aren't, because we had a severe overnight frost which left an overlay of whiteness across the fields. It is now the afternoon of the day, and yesterday's little soldiers are looking very sick and wounded.

Ah well, always lessons to be learned, this one being that we need to make some more covers on the raised beds, like this one......

...... which is working very well. I did have difficulty in lifting the panels on and off at first, but with a bit of encouragement my arm muscles are now able to rise to the challenge. In fact all of me is rising to the challenge of being a trainee market gardener, and I am finding a strength and energy that I thought had slipped away from me when I was not well last year.
You will probably have to enlarge the above photo now, because I have a sunbed, and it is up, and I have laid on it, and it is in the background, behind the plastic covered raised bed, the very same plastic I took and folded away the other day because it looked untidy. However, because the sunbed is white it got troubled by flies, as indeed I did when I laid on that very same sunbed. So there I was, having a doze, meanwhile the flies were buzzing me, the dogs were giving me kisses in the hope that I would make a fuss of them, which they could do because I was at the height they could get to, and yet still I managed to visit dreamland. It is surprising what one can do if one puts one's mind to it!
So the sunbed is now folded away until I get time to make a dark cover for it. Not to worry, at least we have the table and chairs to sit out on. Meanwhile, Lester has finished fencing most of the trees so the sheep are free to wander round again, and now he is working on the watering system for the Veg Plots.
I continue to tend the seeds, and have found a delight in starting to plant those raised beds. And did you know that sheep have dreams too.......This morning Lester say Jacob, our ram, lying with his back legs dangling out of the doorway of the sheep barn, and with his head all bend backwards in what looked like a very awkward angle, just as he would do if he had crumpled himself down in a heap on the floor. He looked dead, that is what Lester thought. So Lester went to ask him if he was indeed dead, and no, he wasn't, because he suddenly sprang up, all of a daze after having obviously been somewhere else in himself. So, for today, Jakie is alive and well.
Am off to talk to the poorly beans to see if I can encourage them to keep with life, but I fear that a few will not as the frost has given them quite a singe.
Bye for now,

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The bread dough that rose up and over......

Message to self:  
You must remember to use the timer on your desk when  you have things heating / cooking on the stove otherwise you will likely end up with another mess like this. When will you learn that you get so absorbed in what you are working at on at the computer that time flies by, and what you think is only five minutes is actually half an hour.  Meanwhile you think that you are waiting for the pot / cake/ etc to cook but what you are actually doing is letting whatever it is you are waiting for to overcook / burn.
Which is why you have a timer on your desk.  
So this sorry looking pot was supposed to be yesterday's bread.
I have got into the habit of speeding up the rising of the bread by putting the pot of dough  on a cake rack which is then rested over a pan of warm water. It is an efficient method of getting the dough to rise, although if the water is too hot it will start cooking the bottom of the dough, but not to worry, all I do is scrape off the partially cooked bits, split the dough into the two bread tins, and carry on.
However, the other day I got involved with writing the previous blog.. The words were flowing, and it was easy to write. Sometimes I hit word blocks and the blog will then feel stilted when I read it through, but the other day I was rolling along, so I kept going as indeed the bread did, rising up and rising up until it fell over the sides of the pot.
Not to worry, I was able to salvage enough dough to make one small loaf!
Message to self:
It is best not to eat toast which has runny jam on it at the same time as trying to finish off a blog, because it is in the nature of runny jam to like to travel off the slice of toast it is supposed to stay put on, which is your fingers first, then on to the keys of your computer keyboard. Stickiness will then happen. Licking your fingers will not help. So best to eat the toast while you are reading blogs, and not writing them!
 Meanwhile, we 'lost' the sheep the other day, but not to worry, they were having adventures in the woodland. As for the three cows, Bonny is milking down now, so soon we shall have to buy in milk because there is no room in the freezer to keep a stock of our own frozen milk. She is in calf now, but it will be at least six months before she will give us milk again. We don't know why she is lessening her milk yield to us as she should have kept going for another five months or so. She is even being unhelpful about moving into her milking corner, so perhaps she is just getting fed up with having her udders messed about with.
Onwards, then, into another day. Oh I forgot to mention that Lester had a big fright yesterday. Opened the barn doors, and nearly trod on a humungously big long snake sunning itself on the concrete step. It slid away though, but into a mess of nettles and brambles which are currently growing at the back of the house, which was one of my ongoing projects to get rid off, but I think not now. I think that me, my scythe, and my secateurs, will remain away from that spot!
So off out into my day I go,
think I might scythe down the nettles which are vigorously growing along the River Path so I can get to the River Beach without getting stung to pieces. This is the roaming territory of the sheep but they are over in the Side Field for the moment while Lester continues the Save The Fruit Trees Project. so me and the Rottweiller Girls may as well take the opportunity to get those nettles cut down.
So saying bye for now,

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Seedlings, weedlings, naughty sheep, and pristine spoons....

Throwing a few seeds in to some pots is not a good idea for trainee market gardeners....there has to be order, otherwise there can be no progress forward, this I have learnt. For instance, that every tray of plantings has to be labelled. This I have done. I used plastic spoons for the labels, and what a jolly look it gave to the rows of trays. However, ........... what I did not know was that sunlight fades the marker pen ink used to write on the spoons. So........ what did I plant in which pots? ...this, then,   became the panic of the moment when I went to have a look at our pots to see if the seeds planted in them had suddenly magicked themselves into  six inch high plantlings, but no, most had not even woken up yet...... and all the label spoons were still sparkling white but minus any writing on them.

Not to worry, though, because I write down everything I do in a note book, and because I had started off organised I was able to label the pots again. The cardboard strips I cut up for labels look nowhere near as smart as those white spoons though, and of course the cardboard will go soggy quite quickly if I can remember to keep everything watered.

It feels an awesome task to organise what to grow, how much to grow, and when to grow. Growing for ourselves is different to growing to sell, this I am learning.

One of the things I have come to understand is that seeds are not inanimate objects that somehow grow into plants.... if you are lucky. Each day I go out to our little raised bed greenhouse to say 'hello' and 'good morning' and 'how are you doing?' to the seedlings, and 'come along, wakey up' to the seeds still asleep. And I am coming to understand the magic of new life, especially the climbing beans (of which  there are 100 pots so far) which are starting to show their shoulders as their  seed bodies wake up and thrust their first roots down into the compost. I am aware of the surge of new life. As I say, it is magic.

I have always had an affinity towards growing things but they have always been away from me. Having the raised beds close to the house has helped me keep connected to our growing plants. At the moment the courtyard is looking quite empty of things but I anticipate that soon, within a matter of weeks, every bit of it that can be used for pots and things will indeed be used. And I love that the tractors are also in the courtyard, and that bits of hay and straw are drifting all over the ground. It gives a very country, folky, look to the place, and is very much in keeping with our rural way of life.

A quick word about the sheep..... in previous blogs I have been oh so pleased about having them roaming around, but it was a grim faced Lester who came into the Music Room the other night after his early evening walk with the dogs. I think I have mentioned before that he is having to put a fence around all of the fruit trees because the sheep have taken a liking to eating the bark of some of those trees, the plums and apples in particular. There are about seventy trees of varying ages to do. Some will be left to their own chances, but most have been done, except for the line of fruit trees running parallel to the lane and the back of the veg plots.

So it came to be a hot afternoon, and we were having a musical jamming session with the original members of our band, The Bollards. Time passed, and soon the music session came to an end. Meanwhile, the sheep were doing their usual walk up and down and around, but unsupervised by us because of the distraction of playing music. This, then, was the afternoon when our best, and gloriously full blossomed, apple tree received a severe munching of its bark from the sheep. It was in that last line of unfenced trees, and was the best tree on the farm. Lester was not happy.

What to do.............

1) Shoot all the sheep. But this thought only lasted a split second.
2) Sell all the sheep, and just raise pigs, rabbits and chickens for our supply of meat. But this thought only lasted a few minutes as we realised that we would miss having sheep here.
3) Persevere with getting the trees fenced, but time is racing on and the veg paddocks need to be tilled ready for the coming growing season, and the potatoes need planting as well as the first of the green beans. Plus there is the never ending Chicken Hut Project, plus the Produce Hut Project, plus the Greenhouse Project which all need to get done before the end of 2020 2017.

So what we did was this: we halved the walking area of the sheep, so that now they have the River Path, the River Beach, and the Far Field to roam in, but they are banned from the Back Field  which is where the Veg Plots, the Pig Paddocks, and  the majority of the fruit trees are, including the badly damaged apple tree. This has now been severely pruned in the hopes that it will decide to keep on growing and not give up on life.

There are still fruit trees along the River Path, but Lester has now double fenced them, and soon they will have a bucket of cow poo each, into which will be planted fennel seeds. The idea about planting fennel came to Lester after he saw a lamb try to eat a sprig of leaf from a robust fennel plant which had self seeded itself close to the roots of a young plum tree. The lamb launched himself towards a fennel leaf poking through the fencing wire of the tree, but did a sharp withdrawal as his mouth engaged with the delicious tang of the plant. It is hoped that by growing fennel round each tree will act as a natural deterrent to any other wandering mouths.

Over the next few weeks, when time permits, we shall continue fencing the rest of the trees so that the sheep can come back into that area to graze.

So a solution has been found. We keep the sheep, have forgiven them because they are only being themselves, and have gained time in which to get the other projects on the way. For myself, I am plodding on with getting the seeds sown, but all in pots except for the potatoes and green beans which have been planted straight into the ground.

The Seed Planting Project.

Us gardeners know all about the weedlings, that they tend to outpace the speed at which the veg seedlings grow. That if the weather is too cold, then the weedlings will still romp away with joyful vigour, but the veg seeds will stay asleep. Of course they will wake up eventually, but by then they will have to battle with the entrenched weeds, and us gardeners will join in with that battle by having to do the unlovely task of weeding.'s the plan. All of the seeds are to be sown in pots first, then grown to a good size, then planted out into the Veg Plots. This is making a lot of work now, but we think that it will save a lot of time later as it will be easier to hoe around the veg plants because we can see them, rather than leaving everything to grow into a jumble of weedlings and seedlings.

This would be a simple method to use if we were growing just for ourselves, but we are also needing to think about the produce required for the Market Garden Project. We are also mindful about the need to supply our cows with fresh greens as often as we can.

And so now I have emptied my head of things to write about, so I shall wander off into my day, and say bye for now!


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Morning break, me with a cup of coffee and a scone sitting in the courtyard,
and the sheep gathering for their mid morning sit down under the oak tree.
Lester, meanwhile, is out fencing.
But it is not perimeter fencing he is doing.... it is tree fencing.
Now this is a task which is an annoyance for him because it is taking time away from other things, plus it is an unexpected extra expense.
It is the lambs which are doing the damage.  They fill up on grass, have a drink of mum's milk, then have an investigation of this and that, and unfortunately this is including nibbles of bark from the fruit trees, and the leaves of any  fruiting shrubs within their reach, so Lester is having to put wire cages round all the trees and shrubs to protect them.
As I say, this is an irritation to us, but on the whole the sheep are doing  grand job with keeping the place tidy, although I did notice that the wild herbs I was intending to harvest this year are also getting eaten, but on balance this is not a bad thing as the pleasure of seeing the flock walk about the farm is greater than the loss of that particular harvest.
We have also noticed that the sheep have become a family rather than a collection of individual animals and will wait for each other when they are trekking from one part of the farm to the other.
So....... they start the morning off by the oak tree, then start moving along the woodland by the pig paddocks, perhaps pausing to graze in the unfenced and uncultivated Veg Plot 4, then moving onwards to the bridge over the river, whereupon they turn left along the fenced perimeter of Veg Plot 3. Turning left again, they continue wandering and grazing along the fenced perimeters of Veg Plots 3, 2, and 1. Through the open gate and into the Chicken Run, which is minus chickens at the moment, so is still green with growing things.
Then out of the Chicken Run and along the path between Veg Plot 1 and the back of the house.
Turning right, along the side of the Half Barn and the Oak tree.
Pause at tree. Have a rest.
Then maybe go round the previous walk again,
or continue along the path between the woodland and the Main Field.
Maybe make a left turn half way to munch the grass growing on the river path, and maybe even to go on to the river beach to see what there is to eat there, and perhaps to have a drink from the river.
Back to the path by the Main Field, continuing along to the Far Field, where  they will eat their fill. If it is a hot day they will spend the afternoon in the shady far corner of the field.
When it gets cooler they will start retracing their steps until they finally end up by the oak tree, waiting for Lester to call them in to their paddock for the night.
If the weather is cool, then they might do the entire route several times during the day.
On the whole, I think that those sheep are having a grand life, one which is full of interest and good food, including morsels of our trees if they can get to them.
But we still keep in mind that they are part of our meat supply, so while we enjoy seeing their activities close up we are mindful of why we keep them.
They are part of the farm, but we do not see them as pets, but respect them for the meat they give us and for that we are glad that we are able to give as good a life as we can to them.
Meanwhile, we continue on with the Farm Shop Project,
..... feel like spinning round in circles for most of the time as we wrestle with what to do first, but we are making headway of sorts, which is why it is good to stop and watch the sheep and lambs going about their daily activities!
Off to see what the day is doing...
Bye for now,

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

What we did with the camel poo and the supermarket table

The onward movement of the camel poo:
First the camel poo had to be made, and this was done with enthusiasm by the camels down the lane at Sarah's place.
Then the camel poo laid on the floor of the camel barn for months on end, becoming compacted into an earthen floor by the camels, the feet of which are very big and do a grand job of bringing the poo into a hardened mass.
So it came to be a day in late November when the barn needed to be emptied of the poo because otherwise the camels would lose head height room what with the poo flattened floor now being quite deep.
So we were asked if Lester would help clear the barn out, his 'reward' being the keeping of the poo.
"Yes", we said, although in truth I did little to help ... it was Lester and Paul (Sarah's husband) who dug out the poo,  wheelbarrowed it into the trailer, drove the car and trailor up the lane to our place, then deposited the poo in a heap in our courtyard.
The work took several days.
But a heap got made.
Then it got covered over.
Then Lester made the raised beds.
Time for the poo to be moved again, this time to its final resting place, which was in the raised beds.
This work again took several days, bless him.
Meanwhile, he had made a hat for one of the raised beds.... is the frame made out of old metal poles

.... and then made removable panels to put on it.
This is our first greenhouse. It might be tiny, but it is a start!
Now all that needs to be done is for weed control membrane to be put on the ground in between the raised beds, and then we are going to put stones down, which are to be 'harvested' from our river beach. This might take a while.  
It remains to be seen whether or not the camel poo will be adequate enough to support the growth of plants, but Sarah grows all her vegetables in the poo, and does well. The crown of rhubarb we planted in camel poo is also romping away, so hopefully we shall get a good harvest out of those beds.
Now you might have noticed the table with a green umbrella over the top of it, and here is how it came to be here....
Since we came here I have wanted an outside table and chairs, but the courtyard was always full of building stuff, and then the chickens came to live here, taking over any flat surface to roost on, which would have included a table and chairs.
But nevertheless I kept looking for a table and chairs when out shopping, with frequent discussions (often quite heated) about what sort of table it would be, with Lester preferring wood, but myself preferring plastic, mainly because they were at least half the price of the wooden ones.
Anyway, time rolled on, the building work became finished, then the chickens were rehomed, and the courtyard space became ours to do with as we pleased.
Originally I had thought of a Victorian type garden, maybe with a fountain  birdbath, a gazebo with trailing vines over the top, maybe a 'proper' BBQ (Lester's idea), a small lawn, some curving paths, an ornamental patio in front of the door. What a lovely vision!
So out shopping in our local supermarket last summer (2016) and on display were outdoor tables and chairs.  Idling along the display...... and ten minutes later we had bought a set, plus an umbrella. And it was a plastic set, but we were in joint agreement. Back home the boxed table and chairs were put upstairs. We still had the chickens. We did not want them to claim the table and chairs as their new roosting spot, which they most surely would.
Our plan was to put the table and chairs in front of the house, and that we would entertain people around it. That the courtyard would be a pretty garden, as in the 'vision' I had mentioned. I planned to make some pretty tablecloths, the umbrella would shelter us from the sun, and oohh la la, how swanky we would be.
Then all change. The Market Garden Project had arrived, and poof! out of the window went the 'vision'. But I am not disappointed about losing it, because it has been replaced by something better, something prettier, and something which better suits Labartere.
It came to be late morning of yesterday, there was a light drizzle in the air, the day was dull as a result, but it became time to get the table and chairs unboxed.
It took a while. Pictorial representation of the instructions to assemble the table still seemed complicated, but it got done in the end.
And wow, what a surprise....the table was huge, too huge to go in front of the house, so here it went, by the raised beds, and it will be shaded by the fig tree to the left, and the elder to the right.
As for that green umbrella.....well, we thought we ought to see if went up alright. It did. But then it was boxed up again. I doubt we shall be using it much. It looks a bit too 'bling' for Labartere. But a thought...... it might be useful to shade plants  under during the summer, so perhaps it will have a use.
As for our new 'dining out' set, it is unlikely that we shall be fulfilling that vision I had of using it as a social gathering hub, because the table is to be used as a potting table, and will probably always have plants on it, with a small area down one end at which we can sit and have a sandwich.
And you know what?! This is a better use of the table!
And it already feels like a quiet, meditative corner.
Just to mention, that I have also, finally, bought myself a sunbed. Just a cheepo one, plastic, nothing special, is not intended for roasting myself to a brown frizzle, but I do love lying under a tree and watching the sunlight playing with the leaves of the canopy overhead. It is an occupation I could indulge myself in for hours on end, and is very soothing to the mind.
It is a sunny day today.
The sunbed is still boxed, which is probably a good thing because I have tons of things to do,
but I shall be definitely be sitting at the table,
probably potting some seeds, maybe drinking coffee, possibly doing some knitting / crochet / patchwork, but definitely enjoying this new outside space even though it is still in its infancy.
And here is another photo of our new mini greenhouse, but without the frames on it.
There is still a lot of the courtyard which has to be left empty of plants and garden things, because the tractor and car has to have their turning round room, but the ground is greening up now that the chickens are no longer scratching at the soil and making the place look like desert.
Ho hum.... need to go and make friends with that table and chairs.
Cup of tea / coffee anyone?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Potting time!

Le Jardin de Salade Project

This arrived last Friday, with three hundred of these inside:
Bought from the UK because I could not find a source to buy from here in France,
this package took six days (including a weekend) to get here.
I was impressed.
The pots are 9cms square, and quite sturdy, not thin and crumbly but not thick and heavy duty,
but they are substantial enough to last for quite some time, and at 9p a pot are well worth it despite the cost of postage. If that was included in the cost per pot, this would come out at  14p per pot, which I think is still worth it. We shall be buying more of the same. We have a lot of seeds to get planted.  
We have been rethinking the purchase of a poly tunnel, and are thinking about building one with poly carbonate sheets, whatever that is, which means that we can have a greenhouse which will fit the space rather than having to have major clearance work done.
We have also had a re-think about the 'shop' environment and think that instead of buying a chalet type hut, which is going to cost upwards of 2000 euros, which would look attractive in itself but would not blend in with Labartere's rustic farm look. So thoughts are travelling towards building a  sort of rigid market stall, with rough cut planks of wood at the back and on one side which will give shelter to rain and sun, and will be in keeping with the farm. It will be quite a size, not small as in the stalls found in local markets, and will give a good display area.
The downside is that the area would have to be emptied out after each day because there is no way of locking things up, but if we do alright with this market garden project, then Lester is going to build a lockable shed behind it so we can put things in there at night instead of bringing them back into the courtyard. 
We like this new plan, because passing cars will be able to see what produce we have for sale, rather than everything being inside out of sight.
Most of all, it will fit the look of the property, and be more people friendly.
I have also started looking into getting some signs printed for our little van,
and we shall also need signs for the fences, plus flyers, leaflets, etc
Plenty of time to do this, as we haven't got anything to sell yet!
Lester is also on the move with getting the chicken house built, and I have sourced some young chickens which we can buy in when the chicken house is ready. We have been frequently asked if we sell fresh eggs, so feel encouraged to get our egg production started. One thing, though, and that is that we do not want to look like a commercial operation, which would not suit us or our thoughts about how we want to live at all.
I have been slow in ordering the seeds for this year, mostly because I kept dithering about what to order, but I have finally got the order done and sent off. Ordering for ourselves is easy, but ordering with a view to sell to the public is entirely different.
We think that we shall focus on herbs and baby salad vegetables, if possible on a year round basis, with some standard type vegetables when available, but we do not have enough land to do large crops of potatoes, cabbages, etc..... and neither do we want to grow main crops because there are plenty of people doing that already here. We don't have an interest in that type of produce anyway, apart from growing for ourselves. But what we do have an interest in is the baby veg, salads, herbs, and eatable flower, so this is what we are going to grow. Time will tell if we are on the right track in regards to selling to the public.
Anyway, enough of my rambles,
there is a huge hunk of cooked pork waiting to be cut  up and put into the freezer,
there is milk waiting to be canned / made into butter,
the cheese fridge needs attending to,
and Lester is trying to mow the grass in the courtyard with my hand mower so I need to go and rescue him. Bless him, he has such a lot of infrastructure work still to do, while all I do is stand by and wait to get planting!
Bye for now,
just going to give my husband a hug and take over the lawn mowing task,
PS. the sheep are continuing to do a most efficient job of keeping the grass mown, but the cows are moaning because they want to go out into the field but must stay in because the grass on the fields is still too slow growing.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

View from my kitchen window


The sheep are enjoying the new spaces they can roam in, and I am enjoying seeing them so close up. I can now share their family life, which is something I couldn't do when they were out on the fields all day. In the top photo you can see the two pig paddocks, and we have left the gates open so the sheep can graze the grass which is now growing there in the absence of the pigs.
The lambs are running around in a gang now, which they do when they have eaten enough grass and drunk enough milk. It is a fun thing to see them playing. They don't skip about much now, not like they did when they were newborn, they just play fight, and get up to general nonsense. So a couple of days ago the gang discovered the pig houses. And what a delight it was for them, such a secretive place, but only for the bigger lambs of the gang, the younger lambs being excluded from the club. And I don't know what was going on in the secret den but whatever it was it they were enjoying it.
Yesterday, though, all are not happy. Lester let the flock out as usual, but they just stood by the gate complaining at full voice about something or other, we knew not what. Normally they go off to graze, happy to enjoy the thick grass which is growing along the paths and down on the far field, but not yesterday.
Now when the sheep go into complaining mode, it can test one's nerves, so I got hold of the broom and shooed them away from the gate, and told them not to be so irritating, that there was plenty to eat and that they were to go and fill their tums.
It worked for a while, they did quieten down and wander off, but half an hour later they were back.
And they were complaining again.
And I felt myself getting irritated again.
And they were climbing over the big heap of rubble that was down by the oak tree,
so now 'why were they doing that', I though to myself.
And then like a blast of sunlight in my head it came to me that they were bored, just bored.
That after having spend the last three days eating themselves silly,
that they were still full up and not hungry enough to graze.
That after having spend the last few days walking here and there and everywhere, even going down on to the river beach, that they had become mentally and physically saturated with all the adventures they had had.
That you could see their tiredness at the end of the day because they could hardly walk up the short incline of the side path to get to their paddock to go to bed.
So Lester called them all back to the paddock, and there they were to stay for the rest of the day, with only hay to eat. I thought they would do more complaining, but they didn't. I think, in truth, that they were glad to stay in one place and to have a rest.
The plan is to keep them off the main field, so that the grass can grow to a longer length which will be better for the cows to graze. The sheep are to graze on the paths, far field, and river path, which should give them plenty of grazing. But it also means that we shall not have the abundance of wild flowers that we normally have because the sheep will eat them, but it also means that Lester will not have to spend time mowing the paths, and I shall not have to spend time scything down what can't he can't be cut by the tractor. It also means that the cut grass will not be wasted, that it will end up in the tummies of the sheep rather than being left to rot on the ground.
The upside: the place will stay tidy because the sheep are fantastic lawn mowers, and save us time, plus the fields get a rest from their grazing, plus it is nice to see the sheep wandering around the place.
The downside: we lose the prettiness of the wild flowers, and some of the young fruit trees are going to get eaten. Not to worry, we shall be planting flowers in the courtyard this year, so we can offset the loss of the wild flowers.
The sheep are out again today, and all is quiet. No moans, no complaints, so all is well with them!
  Off to see what they are up to,
so bye for now,

Sunday, 12 March 2017

In the zone........

And here we are,
himself and myself,
zoned out, playing a set of jigs and reels at a friend's open mike evening.
We were in a French bar somewhere south of us, about 40 minutes drive away.
It was a fun evening.
The sheep have had fun today as well.....
they have been in the chicken run, (no chickens yet though)
... in the veg plots....

.. in the pig paddocks, (no pigs at the moment but hopefully sometime this year)

.... with an occasional stop for a drink of milk...

So what we have done is put a temporary fence across the side drive so that the sheep can graze the paths and everywhere else they can get to. Seemed a better idea to make use of the grass rather than mowing it and leaving the cuttings on the ground to rot. However, we thought that they would take at least two or three weeks to get the grass mown, but it looks not to be so because today they just did not stop eating. At this rate they will have the grass cut by the end of the week. They will also make themselves sick by overeating, so tomorrow they will have to stay in their paddock and have hay.
They will complain all day about this injustice.
But then the cows were complaining today about the injustice of having stay indoors after a day out in the front garden yesterday.
They had to be supervised though as they had several naughty moments.
So everyone has had a taste of the new spring grass which is starting to grow, which means that there will be grumbles galore when they have to stay in. We try to tell them to be patient, that the grass has to grow before they can eat it, but they don't listen.
And now I have a grumble.
Stink bugs.
I have nothing against the creatures, in fact they are quite funny to watch.
What I don't like is that they to like to land on me when I am working on my computer, and sometimes even on me. And they do not land elegantly like a fly would, but sort of crash down in a 'here I am' manner, which is startling enough, but even more startling when they land on me.
I must admit to not liking that, especially after one dropped down into my roll necked jumper, decided that it did not like being there, and then decided to squirt.
Now the smell is not that bad...whether that is because they are still in partial hibernation mode so are not at full aromatic force, or whether that is their natural squirting smell,.....however, I find it offensive because I don't want things landing on me, and then getting cross because they have got themselves into a predicament which is not my fault.
Plus I get edgy waiting for the evening visits...... at least one a night, if not two.
Lester would swot them with the fly swot, but I don't want squashed bodies everywhere, after all they are not small things and they would leave a mess, plus they might have a squirt just before they became deceased, which would then start making me sneeze.
So, I collect the evening's visitors in a jar, screw the lid down, and then down the loo they go.
They do not bite, and do not breed indoors.
All they are doing is waiting for the spring to arrive so they can go outside to eat the plants and breed.
I just wish they would not keep coming in my direction!
On the subject of veg growing..... I have just finished my seed list, and have placed an order of 300 plant pots. Nothing planted yet. Raised beds still not finished. Not to worry, we shall soon be in the full force of the growing season, so are just enjoying the feeling of still being in the slow time.
Going to go away from my computer now as do not feel up to being bombed by another stink bug,
so, bye for now,

Sunday, 26 February 2017

First escapee of 2017!

We had an escapee today, the first of 2017.
I didn't know of this until I saw the rottweiller girls trotting briskly down the side path. The sight of the wagging tails on the rear ends of the girls and the sound of a ewe calling out for her missing youngster made me think that I ought to go see. Just as well I did.
This is where I was....

.... out on the front drive, and starting work on getting the hedge cut.
(This photo was taken last November)
It does not look very overgrown from here, but it is, especially where the cars turn to go out into the lane.
This is the other side of the hedge ( on the left of the photo),
and this is where the poly tunnel is going to go. It is going to take up the whole space, and the hedge needs to go because it is untidy, has brambles growing through it, and takes up space.
So back to what I was doing..... My target was to get 300 snips of the hedge cut with the secateurs, and  100 swipes of the scythe done on the ground vegetation.
It was on the 53rd swipe of the scythe, that I looked up and saw the rotty girls trotting at a good pace down the side path.
I used to be able to run, then I trotted for a few years, but now I sort of do a fast amble. It does not look very elegant, but it does get me over the ground.
.... the black and white lamb on the left, this was the culprit. He is six weeks old now and is almost the height of his mum. He is also leaving behind his cute behaviour, and is spending most of his time grazing or sleeping, which means that his mum is not giving him as much milk. I don't blame her. I have seen these twins of hers lift her off her feet as they barge their heads into her udder to encourage her milk to flow.
This, then, was the lamb who was being shepherded up the side path towards me, with both dogs up his rear end. They couldn't get closer.
And Lester? He was out at the Sunday morning Gun Club.
No problems though, just call the dogs off, and get the lamb to go into the sheep pen which was just behind me.
But no, that was not to be so easy, because as soon as the dogs heard my voice they went into a 'must catch' mode, which had Blue dancing frantically around Maz to encourage her to 'catch the lamb', which was easy for her to do because the lamb kept barging himself into the fence wire, thinking that it would evaporate away which of course it didn't. All Maz had to do was catch him on his rebounds from the wire, which she eventually did. I meanwhile, kept calling the dogs off. Blue, bless her, came away quickly, but Maz did hesitate for a few seconds, just long enough to almost get the back leg of the lamb in her mouth but not quite.
It was at this point that Lester arrived home, just as I was chasing the lamb back into the paddock.
And the mum of the lamb? Oh she had lost interest and wandered over to the other side of the field with the other lamb.
So we have had our first escapee. We are well fenced but they will always find a way out. Once the other lambs grow bigger they, too, will start escaping under the wire. We have had nine lambs born this year, nearly all males. 
We expect plenty more breakouts.
Males tend to want to be naughtier than the females.
Meanwhile, I have at least made a start on the hedge.
At 300 snips per day it is going to take me quite a long time.
Not to worry, a little bit each day will contribute towards it getting done.
Off to bed now,
so bye for now,

Saturday, 18 February 2017

One done...then more....

It has been warm spring weather these last few days, so Lester has been on the move with the Courtyard Project.
The first raised bed made, and it is to go here.....
And then he made some more...

And then we spent ages moving them about to see what were the best positions to put them in.

Eventually the job was done.
It took a lot of fiddling around to make it look like they were randomly placed.

They tuck in nicely to that part of the Courtyard, and there is still room for the tractor and van to have their turning circles, and be driven out of the back gates.
Two or three of the raised beds are going to have hats on them so they will become mini greenhouses because we have not got the poly yet and we need somewhere to start the seeds.
I thought that the beds would dominate the Courtyard, but it feels like the Courtyard itself has stretched itself to accommodate them.
So we have made a start on the Market Garden Project. It feels a long way to go before we are ready to sell to the public, but it is comforting to know that we shall have a good amount of vegetable produce for ourselves, which is something we have been lacking over the last year or so.
One thing, though, is that planting for ourselves and planting for the public require different mind sets,
Planting for ourselves means throwing a variety of seeds into various pots, probably hoping to empty the seed packets so therefore planting too many, and then having to find room out in the veg plots when the seedlings are ready to go out there. There would not be hardly any planning, just hope that everything would grow.
For planting for public sales, this has to be different. There has to be order. There has to be a plan.
Lester is a random man when it comes to seeds and planting outs.
I tend to be more organised.
He is excellent at harvesting the produce.
I tend to forget about produce waiting to be harvested.
He is the one who tends the soil, and tills it with the tractor.
I am at the other end, and jam, can, freeze, and dehydrate all that comes in.
In other words, we are a team, which we have to be if our Market Garden Project is going to work.
Lester has designated me as The Planner.
We are going to measure out the approximate space of each of the three veg plots,
then make a list of the vegetables to be grown in each one.
Then to apportion out parts of each plot on graph paper to represent what space we shall have for each vegetable.
So for Purple Sprouting Broccoli we would designate a space, work out how many plants we would put in that space, and from there we would know how many seeds to plant in the pots.
Sort of working backwards, that is what we shall be doing.
Instead of thinking 'oh we shall do a few pots of broccoli' and then find we have too many, we shall have worked out how many seedlings we need and then plant the necessary number of pots.
It sounds like a faff, but we would only need to do this for the first year, after that we shall be experienced enough to know how many seedlings to plant.
Lester is excellent at planting seeds and looking after them, so that he will do.
How are we going to sell the produce? Not sure. Got plans though, ...maybe markets, veg boxes, or a shop here, but the decision  will have to wait until the time comes. Sometimes you have to take one step at a time, concentrate on doing your best while you on that particular step, and have faith that the next step will appear.
It always does, that is what I have found in life.
It is another sunny day here, so I need to get out and do things.
Hope you have a good day.
Bye for now,

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Reverse rejection miracle!

This is ongoing from the previous blog about the lamb whose mum forgot about him.
Lester on bottle feeding duty. Gave the lamb a 6pm feed. Lamb's tummy expanded to almost bursting, which was good. 10pm feed. Tummy now all gone down. Should have been hungry, but only took a couple of sips of milk then lost interest.
Despite being a warm day, the night air was chilly. Lester expressed concerns about the lamb making it through the night. We both went to bed with thoughts about that little lamb on our minds.
Morning came. The lamb had made it through the night. Lester offered the lamb the bottle. He took a couple of sips.
Then he raced over to his mum, dived under her belly, and launched himself on her udder, obviously preferring her milk to the bottled milk. She did not refuse him.
What to do....sometimes situations need to be left to mother nature, so that is what Lester did. Off out into the field for the day went the lamb with the rest of the flock. He was going to have to fend for himself. Lester was not going to go chasing him with the bottle, that is the decision we made. 
Evening came, and everyone was stood at the gate, including the mum ewe with each of her twins snugly tucked into her side, giving them instructions to stay close for the mad dash across the lane and into the paddock.
So all was well. The lamb was bonded again with his mum, and Lester could stand down with the six times a day bottle feeding.

And Milly giving Lester a hard time this evening....

She is going to be a big cow because she has been on Elise's milk since birth. Normally she would have been put on once a day feeds at about a month old, and by now would have completely weaned. But Bonny, our other cow, has been giving us an exceptional amount of milk this season, and since we have no pigs or chickens at the moment to give any excess milk to, we decided to let Milly stay with Elise. We are not sure if we are going to sell Milly or not at the moment. We are waiting to see how the year goes.
Meanwhile, Bonny has been magnificent in providing us with lots of milk, most of which has gone into making cheese, which is an excellent way of storing the milk.
I would show you a photo of the cheese I have made, but the cheese fridge is in a jumble and I was too ashamed to take a photo which I could show you!

But I have started canning the spare milk.....
I did a few jars last season, and they kept very well. The milk will be used for cooking, so will be heated again before we eat it. All the canned goods I heat before use, just to make sure that the food is safe.
And while on the subject of my canned goods larder....
I love that I can get an entire meal off these shelves..... meat, potatoes, green beans, and fruit.
I have just tidied these shelves up. Like the cheese fridge they were in a muddle too!
But..... canned potatoes? Absolutely yes. Open the jar, have a sniff to see that they smell alright. Slice them, then into a frying pan to heat through. Sprinkle with herbs, salt, pepper or any other spices you fancy, or grate some cheese on top which will melt. Takes fifteen minutes, or twenty five if you want crispy potatoes.
But.....canned green beans? Absolutely yes. Definitely do not taste like tinned green beans from the supermarket, and definitely do not taste like fresh green beans either. But they are alright providing they are not boiled, just gently heated. We shall definitely be doing them again this year.
The canned tomatoes are keeping well, as are all the canned fruit, and jams.
All in all, it is at this time of year, when the hard work of the previous harvest is but a shadow in the memory, that we appreciate the effort I made at filling our various larders. Gone are the ungracious moments when Lester brought yet another box of fruit or vegetables into the kitchen for me to process even though I still had not processed what he had brought in the day before, and I showed irritation rather than joy. Well, on a warm sunny day, one does not want to be stuck indoors sorting out the harvest! One wants to be outside lying on the sunbed.
Message to self: you have promised to buy yourself a sunbed every year you have been here, but for some reason don't. Therefore, do it.
I would have used the sunbed this afternoon. Even though it is only mid February the sun was so warm that I could have cheerfully laid myself out on it and had a roasting. I would not actually sunbathe on it in the summer though. I do not want to get my skin all wrinkled and brown. I did think I would like to sit under the shade of the fig tree and watch the sunbeams through its leaves, but the fig tree has been heavily pruned so that is not a possibility, so I shall have to find another tree to lie under. We have plenty of those. But first I need to buy that sunbed!
Bye for now,

Monday, 13 February 2017

Rejection is not nice......

So what do you do if one two day old lamb, one of twins,
toddles alongside a ewe just about to give birth.
That it is the middle of the night,
that the ewe takes herself off into a gated area of the sheep paddock,
an area which should be kept shut because a hay bale fell over the fence into it when Lester was trying to lift if off a pile of hay bales which a farmer had kindly delivered to us a while ago.  But he had a 'big boy's' tractor so could stack the bales two high, a task which was beyond our smaller tractor. Not to worry, Lester managed to roll the other ones down, but this one took a hike over the fence in the opposite direction to the others.
Not able to shift it from its position in the sheep pen, the gate was shut so the sheep would not reduce the hay bale to pieces, which is something they would have joyfully done within a few days.
We had big winds.
The gate was blown open, which we didn't notice, but the ewe did.
The little lamb must have mistook the ewe for his mum, so in his sleepy night time state must have followed her into the gated paddock.
The ewe had her lamb, and tucked him up beside the hay bale.
The other lamb must had tucked up beside it.
And so the next day arrived, with Lester noticing the ewe with the two little ones
But straight way saw that there was difference in size between the two,
picked up the bigger lamb and hurried it back to its proper mum.
But alack and alas, the night time sleep had been upon the mum sheep, and she had forgotten about having two lambs at foot, so she refused to give any mothering services to the little one, and she roughly head butted him away.
It is not nice to see little ones rejected in such a manner. Makes one want to shout out at the ewe, demanding that she do her duty. Of course she does not understand, because she speaks a different language to us.
So what to do.
Go and do something else in the hopes that a miracle happens and that she changes her mind, that's what we did. She didn't. A few hours later and he was curled up forlornly all by himself in the barn.

Lester to the rescue!
So the little lamb will now have to make his mind up whether he wants to carry on in life or give up life altogether.  His choice. All we can do is keep feeding him and hope that he gets through the night. We have not separated him from the flock though. We find that it is better to let orphaned lambs stay with their family of sheep rather than separating them away. They need to have the company of others, this is what we have learnt from experience.
Meanwhile, I have been tidying up the dehydrates cupboard in the front kitchen. Was most surprised to only have to throw out one bag of mouldy beans, everything else was staying perfectly preserved. Most times I use the dehydrated produce for soups, flavourings, and tea infusions.
But they do look pretty in glass jars on the shelves!
I made curtains for the doors of this old cupboard I bought last year.

This is our dry goods cupboard. We have just gone shopping so it is full.
This will last us at least for a couple of weeks.
The dehydrates in the front kitchen, the canned jars of meat and vegetables in the back kitchen, and the three freezers full of meat and veg in the middle barn, all of these are feeding us, which is why the dry goods cupboard does not have a lot in!
It is good feeling to know that we have enough here to feed ourselves, despite not having any fresh veg growing out in the garden.
Off to see how the little lamb is doing,
so saying bye for now.

Monday, 30 January 2017

My bike ride, and why....

Been for a bike ride this morning.
I thought I should make the effort to get myself moving again.
All my working life I have been sat down,
and being a writer and browser of the internet I still sit down for many an hour.
This has made my legs unhappy with me.
I have disregarded this unhappiness though,
and just carried on with what I am doing.
For years I have had a health condition, or thought I had, but again disregarded.
ME, (not MS), Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Failure, all these names have been assigned to this condition, with the medical people not knowing what causes it, some even disregarding the symptoms as imagination.
There is no cure.
Anyway, in the back of my mind early on in my adult life, I thought that I had something wrong,
but carried on nevertheless with my hectic and chaotic life.
Years passed, the symptoms persisted, getting stronger but I still ignored them as my life continued to bounce along.
2008, and France arrived.
June 2016, and down I went.
Together with the ME/Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Failure condition, I had also gathered to myself the condition of Fibromyalgia.
So what happened was this:
If you are me, when life is difficult and hectic, you fight on, that is what you do.
You do not give up, you keep on striving to overcome whatever difficulty is in front of you,
and you do not turn around and go in the opposite direction,
never will you do that.
Whatever challenge is set you by the Universe, then you do your best to conquer it.
And if you are me, you would look back and marvel at the amount of life learning you have absorbed as a result of rising up to meet these challenges.
You feel the growth of self, of the fullness of self, of those long years behind which were full of things happening, some good, some not so good, but nevertheless done well.
The cost, though, it is the cost that brought me low last year, because if you were me you would have been too busy, and not had the time, to have listened to what was happening to the body.
Then finally your body gives up on you, and says 'Enough!'.
What happened for me was that I was consumed with a heavy tiredness of which there seemed to end, coupled with the chronic muscular stiffness of Fibromyalgia, which had me taking half an hour to get out of bed because nothing would work, then moving about at the pace of a sloth.
So I slept for hours and hours, and worried, because I thought that this was the end, that I was on the downward path, because at that time I did not actually know what was wrong with me.
I just knew I was sick.
And if you were me, you would refuse to run to the doctor, but instead would find out what was actually wrong and get it sorted out yourself, which is what I did.
 God bless the Internet, because I embarked on hours of research, listing first all the symptoms I had, and then seeing if they fitted known illnesses. They did. It was scary. I now had names to put to the condition I had, and reality bit deep. As I say, this was a scary time.
But hey ho, if you were me you would refuse to give in, you learn to accept what is wrong with you, then you find ways to help yourself get better, but knowing in  your heart that it is going to take many months before you can say that you are well again, and trying to stay patient when the dark days happen, which they will, when you feel like you have taken a dozen steps backwards, that this is 'it' for the rest of your days, that life is not really worth all this effort. But you get up the next day and fight on. Perhaps it will be a better day, perhaps it won't, but you give it a try anyway, that is what you do if you are me.
I am not going into the exact physical symptoms, nor how I put myself back together again, but I have gradually improved. What is a bother, though, is that this period of ill health has left me with less physical strength than I used to have, and I need to get some of that back. I don't suppose that I shall ever be as fit as I was ten years ago, but I need to be fitter than what I am otherwise I shall not be able to live the self sufficiency life I want to live, which requires all sort of physical effort.
If you were me, you would need a target to head towards, and the Market Garden Project has arrived at just the right time. Not for me the slowness of retirement, of watching the days dwindle away, and of allowing the illness to settle over me like a blanket, oh no, not at all.
So, two bits of me need helping legs, and my upper arms and shoulders.
On Burns Night (25th Jan) we were invited to play for our supper at a friend's party, which needed me to start playing the accordion again if we were to respond to her request. I did, and we played. This has given me a thirst for playing the accordion again. I have trouble even lifting if off the floor at the moment. Not to worry, I can just about manage to do so, and the movement of the bellows in and out will stretch out my upper arms and shoulders. I would be satisfied if I could lift my left arm higher than the tope of my head. The right arm is happier.
As for my legs.....
I have got my exercise bike from out of its corner,
and have started pedalling.
100 light pedals
100 light pedals with upper arm stretches
100 pedals on the next level up.
Once a day, in the morning.
OK, so I have to do something gentle for half an hour afterwards, such as play exercises on the piano, or knit, or sew, but I definitely find myself moving better.
And here is the view I see as I cycle:

...out in to the courtyard, which is waiting to be made in to the first stage of the Market Garden Project.

... and here are my legs, waiting to be helped in to better physical shape.
I have another matching pair of socks somewhere,
probably snitched away by Blue, our sock and knicker stealer.
So if you were me, what you do now?
I would say 'thankyou' for reading this blog,
that if you have anything wrong with you healthwise, then you can always improved that condition if you want to, but that you need to have something to focus on to stop your head from moaning to you about how unwell you feel, this I know from experience.
And I did get to walk with the dogs round our Side Field last night,
which is the first time I have walked so far for months.
Bye for now,