Thursday, 31 August 2017

Taking a pause

To let you know that I seem to have come to a crossroads with the blog for the moment,
not closing the blog down, just taking a pause.
My reason for starting the blog in the first place was to help the family keep in touch with us as we began our new life here  in France. It has also provided a history for us of our first ten years here, and kept my writing skills active as well, plus connected me to fellow bloggers who I have enjoyed sharing time with.
Ten years ago, and here I am looking out of the upstairs window of our ruin of a house.....
............ten years on, and we now have a lovely cottagey home, a twelve acre small mixed farm, and the experience to move forward into our next project,
but meanwhile needing time out to catch up with myself.
So saying goodbye for now,

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Changing around.....

My legs are all a-tremble and my back has gone a bit creaky,
so I thought I would sit down for a minute and have a chat with you,
because if I didn't then I would lie down and have a nap,
which is something I don't want to do because then I wouldn't get back up that ladder,
which is what caused the tremble and twitching.
Why am I up a ladder?
Because we have a need to get the downstairs front room finished off.
It was supposed to be a room for paying guests but we have moved beyond wanting to do that for the moment, so the room has remained unfinished and become a dump room.
Floating around my head during recent weeks has been a growing concern about how I don't seem to be able to keep plants growing successfully from seed, which is something I need to do for the Market Garden Project. Some of this is my lack of experience, but a lot of this is to do with the ups and downs of the weather. The temperatures are not stable enough to keep trays of seeds germinating in succession. Some are alright, such as brassicas, but others such as lettuce are fussy.
 So what am I supposed to do during the cold months, when I have plants needing to be kept away from possible frosts, and when I need to get crops prepped for next year.
A poly tunnel? We are thinking not. We can have very high winds zooming along the edge of the nearby hills and we are concerned about the whole thing tipping over, which happened to a friend's poly earlier on this year. I know they can be anchored down, but we feel unenthusiastic about the work that will take.
So we err in favour of a poly carbonate greenhouse, which we are going to build when time permits.
Meanwhile, winter is on its way. We know this because we felt the year turn last week.
I began to think that perhaps I could park pots of seedlings in the hallway over winter or put them on a table in the middle of the Half Barn under the velux windows in the roof.
And so it was that an afternoon pow wow after the afternoon nap which resulted in me up that ladder painting and the problem of what to do with the seeds has found a solution.
We are going to move out of the Half Barn and let the MG Project have the space.
Lots of shifting of furniture to do, lots of painting, lots of cleaning, so lots of busyness ahead.
and hopefully a more stable growing environment for the little seeds.
Work in progress....
..... and the Half Barn which is going to have a change of use....
Little Milly is in season again, but Bonny and Lissie seem not to be having seasons at the moment, so hopefully this means that they are in calf, although during a storm last night Bonny slipped and took a nasty head over heals tumble  on the way to the barn, which left her limping on two legs. But this morning, although slow to get up onto her feet, all four legs seem to be back in working order again. Hopefully this has not damaged her expectancy.

Meanwhile, Veg Plots 1,2, and 3 are still doing well, but harvesting and preserving has slowed down because of the diversion of our time. Not to worry, I always knew we would over produce this year.
But I have managed another five pots of courgette jam, and Lester has started working his way along the rows of potatoes. He has already dug up a load which are already in the kitchen, and this is another barrow load waiting for me to sort out....some for canning, some for long term storage, and some for immediate use.

Running out of energy for bringing the potato harvest in, we decided to have a musical episode, me with the accordion and Lester with the guitar. It made a fun interlude.
Still lots more potatoes to be brought in though.
It has been a good harvest.

We are very green for this time of year thanks to the many storms we have had,
which is not so good for the holiday makers and those who like to sit out in the sun,
but good for farmers and country folk like us who have produce to grow which needs the water.....
Ah, a storm is brewing so I had best close down the computer in case of another lightning strike to the electrical systems of the house. I seem to be brewing the fear inside of me of getting blown up. Silly, I know, but the recent lightning strike did put a healthy respect for the force of nature in me.
I have come to realise that there is not much we can do about it when nature flexes her muscles,
and nature has being doing a lot of that lately.
Best to say, ' What will be, will be' and then carry on......
Bye for now,

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Lots happening in the veg plots.......

Little bundles of fluff, full of cheeps and chirrups and already trying to fly out of the box when they see us nearby. We have another twenty eggs in the incubator so hopefully we shall have some more chickens to add to our flock soon. And last night our three new hens took themselves to bed in the nearly finished chicken hut, but the two Orpingtons prefer to rest for the night in the mini huts, possibly because they find climbing the ladder to get into the new hut too much effort for them. Orpingtons are not the most energetic of chickens.
And out in Veg Plot 3...
the potatoes have survived the beetle attack, and Lester is now harvesting them.
He is bringing into the kitchen one row at a time, but he wants to get them all lifted quicker than I can process them, so I bought some hessian sacks from Amazon UK to store them in.
Total jars of canned potatoes to date: 5.
These are DIY fast food for us.
And the right hand side of VP3, and really, truthfully, while it might look like a jungle of overgrown weeds it is not. The first clump of greenery is the four rows of bush beans,
which we are now harvesting.
Total jars of canned beans to date: 15
.... and of course a lot eaten!
The empty looking strip of ground is in fact the very diminished rows of brassicas which have been so heavily attacked by flea beetles. But although looking very battle worn, the plants continue to struggle on, so all the while they are trying to keep on growing I shall keep on persevering with trying to help them.  The greenery beyond that strip of brown is full of tomato plants, bush beans for drying, and manic courgettes.
The tomatoes: we have not staked these up, and have let them do what comes naturally to them, which is sprawl everywhere. We did very well with our tomato crop last year but everyone else did not. We don't know why..... we never tied the plants up, fed them, or hardly watered them. In fact they were totally neglected! So this year we have left this patch of tomatoes to go their own way, not through intent but through not getting round to tying them up.
The bush beans: we have started eating a lot of beans..... sloshing some tomato ketchup over them gives us the equivalent of baked beans but at a fraction of the cost, so we thought we would grow our own. Beans seem to do well here without much fuss, and with no disease that we know of.
As for the courgettes: I grew four courgettes plants, which are enough for us. They are the non rambling type so are easy to get to and harvest. However we had courgette type sproutlings popping up here and there in Spring, so not having the heart to plough over them Lester transplanted them into VP3. Oh dear, The original courgette parent must have cross pollinated with something else, because those courgettes are  flinging out arms all over the place, and are producing at a rapid rate many plump, courgettes far to big to be useful. I do not want to save the seeds of these!
And ignoring Veg Plot 2 because there is not much to see, here is the right hand side of Veg Plot 1.
...... the muddle of greenery to the right of the onions is just that... a muddle.
This is supposed to be three rows of beetroot, but the beetroot were slow in sprouting and were overtaken by weeds. These were the only seeds we direct planted, and the last I shall ever do because they confirmed for me that using plant cells to get seeds going might take more work at first, but save work in the long run.
.... and the onions, which are the first we have grown from seed. Recent high winds knocked them all sideways and I thought I would to replant them, but no, I didn't have to, because they all righted themselves again. I was very impressed with the effort they made to do that.
... and next in the line are the cucumbers, which I don't have the faintest idea what to do with.
All they seem to want to do is sprawl all over the place despite my efforts to get them to grow upwards. But I did harvest a cucumber this morning. It had a prickly feel to it, very unlike the smooth, straight, shrink wrapped  supermarket cucumbers, but I now know what cues are supposed to taste like.

.... and next along are the tomatoes, and as you can see, these all have wriggly metal poles planted beside them.
Message to self: do remember to get those tomatoes tied up otherwise those poles are useless.
...... and then on to rows of newly planted brassicas, chard, peppers, and basil.
This patch also has an active population of flea beetles,
Not to worry, I seem to have found a solution to reducing their population:
I was spraying with diluted washing up liquid, but it took ages, and was tiring to my patience and my back. Then I tried diatomaceous earth powder, but apart from being expensive to buy, it tended to blow off the leaves in the wind, with the flea beetles side stepping what was left on the plants.
... then I came up with this solution.... which is to make a plastic dish out of the bottom of an empty water bottle, fill it with dilute washing up liquid, and put one down beside each plant.
I had to cut a lot of bottles up, but it was worth the effort. I fill the dishes each morning, and feel very satisfied with the amount of beetles I see floating in the water.
... the black specks are the beetles. This is one day's capture. There are a lots of dishes in situ.
And the now empty pig pen, which was getting overgrown with some big weeds.
Not now it's not. The scythe and me went to work, and half an hour later all was cut.
It was a lovely morning, me and the scythe worked well together, and all in all in was the most satisfying experience.
A simple meal, but all home grown: lettuce, crystal lemon cucumber, beetroot, and cheese on one plate, and on the other pan fried spiced potatoes and runny eggs.
The only add ons were the ingredients for the salad dressing and the spices for the potatoes.
As I say, it was a simple meal, but quick to make and delicious.
That's all for now folks,
off to the kitchen now for a slice of chocolate courgette cake.
I ate the last slice of lemon courgette cake this afternoon.
Total number of jars of  courgette, ginger, and orange jam made so far: 6, but one eaten, so 5 are left.
I remain surprised at how versatile courgettes can be!
Anyone got a courgette recipe I can try?
Thanks in advance.
Bye for now,

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Off to the market......

Just got back from a trip to the market at Vic en Bigorre.
It was going to be another grotty weather day, so best to do things which were not dependent on the weather, so to the market we went.

But I am not complaining about this bout of rainy weather because the land badly needs a drink. After the recent months of dry weather it is very thirsty.  No wind today though, thank goodness, that is something us and the land can do without. Even the sheep shearer man, who has now come, done, and gone, battled to do his work in the 90 mph gusting winds. Six fleeces this year, keeping three for spinning, the rest for composting. They were extremely clean, no dags, no mud, the recent torrential rains having showered the sheep pristine clean, but not enough to remove the lovely sweet smell which is such a delight to the senses.
Mr Cockerel is now strutting and parading like a General in front of his troops, the three new hens being very pleasing to his masculine self. They are farm chickens, big strong girls, nearly at laying age, and chatty already. Although not the prettiest of hens, they should give us a good solid base for our new flock. We shall develop some breed strains later on, probably the various types of Orpingtons, but that is not for now. Best to stay sensible and get the flock built up first.

Our new hens were purchased from a farmer at the market.
He had a van full, but we only bought three. They were put in a large cardboard box for transport. Three hens in the box is a safe number. Any more and the bottom of the box can give way. We know that it can do this, because last time we visited the market we bought four hens and the bottom of the box dropped out mid way across the main road. Fortunately there were no injuries.
While Lester concentrated on the purchasing of the hens, I wandered round the market.
And I was surprised at how much I have changed since last we visited.
Instead of looking at what was on offer from a buyer's perspective I found myself looking at the produce from a seller's perspective. It would seem that I am moving on towards being a seller of produce before we actually have produce to sell.
We have realised that this year is a year of learning the craft of being market gardeners, of learning the rhythm of planting, of learning how things grow, of combatting the various mini disasters relevant to our life here, (which happen most days), of learning to deal with extremes of temperature, of not giving up when a  plug tray full of  forty very happy and healthy seedlings, which I had nurtured for several weeks, became fried to death when I forgot to put the shade cover over them because I needed an afternoon nap on the hottest day of the year so far. I am not good in heat. I wilt. As did those seedling. But I survived. They did not. 
So what did I do?
Upended the dead bodies of the seedlings onto the compost heap, said a blessing over their carcasses, then immediately planted another tray, meanwhile fighting the urge to give up the gardening project forever, the words 'Don't Quit' rolling round and round in my head as I planted the batch of new seedlings.

The new flock, five in total now, plus nine chicks indoors.

One little visitor in the front garden this morning.
Milly, growing into a big girl now.
..... and Bonny asking why she is still indoors when Lissie is already out in the field.
Bye for now,

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Flash! Bang!

Was woken up early this morning.
Didn't want to be as had a hectic day yesterday. 
Doing what?
Shopping, that is what we were doing.
Now this is something that we are not fussed with doing,
 but sometimes it has to be done, especially after what happened the day before.
So there I was, in bed, afternoon nap time.
Heard the rain on the velux windows overhead.
Heard Lester come in through the double doors, saying he was soaked.
Flash! Bang!
A lightning strike to the house.
And did you know that when a thunder cloud is immediately overhead, that its voice does not rumble and roll like it does when far away in the distance, but that it explodes with one huge crash of sound almost sufficient to knock your eardrums out. And that it joins up with the lightning it has just sent down to you to make quite an attack on the senses.
Not to worry, at least Lester was indoors this time. Last time a lightning strike arrived here he was standing outside in the Courtyard having a man wee. It was near to midnight. All was black. The lightning connected with the ground just the other side of the Courtyard wall, so quite close.
He said it woke him up very quickly.
As for the lightning strike a couple of days ago..... the only damage was to the Internet connection box and the circuit connections.
Oh, so no You Tubing, emailing, FaceBooking, etc, then.
So I went and washed the produce kitchen's floor, caught up with the washing up, and did other things which had become neglected. It was amazing how much I did without the teasing insistence from my computer to 'come and keep me company'.
Early evening, still light, storms still about as could be seen by the rolling black clouds jostling each other in the sky overhead. Lester worried about the possible damage to the computers. The sheep shearer man arrived. Did he come to shear the sheep? No. An argument followed, the cause of which I am not going into here, then there was an almighty cracking sound, not a 'fist on jaws' sound, but the sound of  the very ancient pear tree giving up its life.

So one broken fence to mend, and one broken tree to get off the fence first.
The day was not going well.
And so indoors we went, the rain coming again, the thunder too.
Time to finish the day and start again on the morrow, which is the best thing to do when the day is not going so well.
Yesterday went better, and everything became fixed.
Tree sawn up ( making good firewood), fence line fixed, trip to Tarbes to buy new Internet equipment, lunch at a pavement café, a quick rummage through two brocantes (antique shops), and a gathering of the necessary products from a supermarket so I can start jamming, canning, and pickling the produce which is starting to come in from our vegetable garden. The computers became fixed via the magic of Lester's hands and mind, and online we went again.
And so we are now on to today, and the reason why I was woken up early.
It was by the cheepings of the ten little hatchlings who came out of the eggs in the incubator a couple of days ago, and who are sharing the side barn with us overnight. They are outside during the day.
They are the cutest little bundles going. It is hard not to keep connecting with them. But it is not a good idea to let them bond too closely with us because we have learnt from past experience that tiny little  balls of fluff soon grow in to juvenile bundles of naughtiness who will hassle us every time they get near us, which is not good for them and not good for us. 
So the chicks are outside in the Courtyard, and instead of talking to us, they are talking to the birds.
Need to start work on processing the potatoes, courgettes, beans, and beetroot, but instead I am going to make some music with Lester.  Accordion for me, guitar for him.
Can't do much outside as ground is too wet.
The shearer man might appear again soon.
Bye for now,


Monday, 19 June 2017

Comfort food......

We went shopping this morning. Normally we would buy 'sensible' products like flour, sugar, eggs (until we get our own again), and other equally useful items. Back in the UK we would have also bought items such as biscuits, chocolate, cake, crisps, ice cream, etc, but that was before we became  aware of how unhealthy that food was. Once we started growing and preserving our own produce (meat, veg, and fruit), we realised the error of our ways, and changed our eating habits.
...... but sometimes, just sometimes, we lapse back into our old ways, not often, just sometimes,
and today was one of those days.
It is still hot, hotter than it was yesterday. We knew this because we felt the heat as soon as we got outside this morning, the early morning coolness being absent, a hot wind having pushed it away.
So we were unable to physically do too much outside, other than sort the animals out, give the Courtyard a quick water, then put the shade covers over everything, which we don't normally do until mid day. Then out shopping we went...... hosepipes, bins, compost, bought in one shop, Guinness, ice cream (one tub of coffee, one tub of chocolate), crisps, ham, commercially produced potato salad, and commercially produced pasta salad, commercially produced baguettes, mass produced tomatoes (because ours are still green and teensy), and a commercially produced jar of gherkins (because ours are still at the flowering stage).
  I was not going to cook today. Yesterday we had home produced spiced dry fried lamb, a salad from the garden, an egg salad (made from eggs donated to us from a neighbour), and DIY bread. This was all laced together with mayonnaise (shop bought) because I can't for the life of me make mayonnaise. We did have ice cream for dessert, but that was allowable because Lissie has finished giving us milk now so DIY yoghurts have finished until next milking season.
Over the last ten years we have been able to produce most of the main ingredients for our meals, it is just the smaller items which we buy in and they are normally used within the structure of the meal and do not contribute towards being all of the meal.
But today they did.
No way was I going to be able to produce anything from the kitchen today.
Back to normal tomorrow!
Lester has fitted a hosepipe to the tap in the Courtyard so that I don't have to carry watering cans to and fro the nursery, but the well only gave us a third of its normal amount of water so the Veg Plots will have a minor watering tonight, and that will be by watering cans to preserve what water we have available. We also have an aversion to using the hosepipe over everything because it means the weeds also benefit.
Meanwhile the chickens are now out and about in their paddock, and the cockerel is starting to talk to Lester. Chickens do have quite a vocal range, and will make an effort to communicate with you if you take the time to start up a chat with them. There is, of course, a problem of communication because neither you or the chickens understand each others language, but then that is a universal problem with all animals including different races of man kind.
The sheep are not to be seen at all during the day now, as they are staying in the woodland to keep out of the way of the sun. We are waiting for the sheep shearer to phone us back. We hope he will do this soon.
Well, that's all for now. I have not done a thing indoors or outside today (apart from watering) as the heat is stopping me in my tracks, robbing me of the effort to do anything.
Not to worry, it won't last forever, so best to have a rest while we can!
Bye for now,

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The cock doth crow!

I am not complaining, truly I am not...... but it is still hot, hot, hot, here, and we are all cooking nicely, including the sheep who are still wearing their winter fleeces because the shearer man has not turned up to shear them yet, the cows who are besieged by loads of flies as they graze out on the field, and the chickens.
What chickens!
These two chickens....

And once again the crow of a cockerel can be heard at Labartere as he lets all the cockerels in the neighbourhood know that there is a new cock on the block. But I must say that his voice was rather crackly and weak at first, nevertheless we could still hear him indoors. His voice is getting stronger though, and this morning he did manage a full voice crow, which was nice to hear.
   They are Buff Orpingtons, a male and a female. She hasn't laid an egg here yet, but it is hot, and they are both needing to get used to their new home, and they are in temporary housing at the moment which is a bit on the small side, but not to worry, Lester is going to get the last bit of fencing wire up on the Chicken Pen later on today, and then they can be let out so they can stretch their legs.
The only thing is that Burdock City has not been cut down yet ....

...... but I scythed down the tall mass of weeds behind it this morning.
This is where horrids, like snakes, rats, and mice will be living, so I am loath to tackle it by myself,
so Lester will have to help me with this job.
Meanwhile our mini nursery is coming along....

... with lots of little plants having already gone out into the Veg Plots.
It remains to be seen how much will survive in this heat though, but I stoically carry on, as do they. 
There is no end in sight for this heat wave at the moment, and this is still early summer.
But I am not moaning, just saying, that's all!
Hope your gardens are flourishing, and that you are too..
Bye for now,


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Just chatting.......

It's 10am and I have just come in from doing some scything. The heat is just building up again, so it is going to be another punishingly hot day. Everything is holding up alright though, which is testimony to how living things will fight for life, and that includes things you want to survive and things you are not fussed with having life, such as the beetles who seem to rally their numbers just when we think we are winning.
Lester was doing his morning search amongst the potatoes, leaf by leaf, that is what he has to do. Skip a few leaves and you can be sure that  that is where the hatchlings will be. I was having a sit down on the garden chair kept specifically for that purpose, and talking about things.
My eyes were idly roaming.
And they saw that the earth itself was teeming with life. It was like London rush hour. OK, so perhaps that is an exaggeration, but there was a lot of life, the soil was not dead, and was healthy enough to sustain living things. That is why we do not use pesticides or any other types of  '....cides'. A healthy soil means healthy plants which means healthy us.
The scythe went through the vegetation like a sharp knife through soft butter, so I did more scything that what I had originally intended to do. There is something immensely pleasing to the soul when the you and the scythe are working in unison, the swish of the blade, the rhythm of the swinging arc of the blade, all this seems to add up to a very nice activity to do.
I was cutting the rampant vegetation behind the back of the house....ground elder, baby and juvenile brambles, large swathes of wild mint, large clumps of grass,  all jumbled together and growing merrily upwards. I shall not conquer all of this patch of wildness this year, but I shall win some ground this year. By keeping the area free of rampant weeds the grass should take over the space, which the sheep will be able to graze during the cooler months.
Off to Gazax et Bacarrisse this afternoon, to find a house called Guillane, to meet a lady who breeds chickens, and who has a pair of Buff Orpingtons to sell us.
The Chicken Hut is not finished, so they will have to stay in temporary accommodation for the time being. Unfortunately we have not had time to clear the Chicken Run of vegetation, mostly burdock, which has set up a very impressive group of plants which have all combined to capture a good portion of the run. They are huge, with thick stems difficult to cut. And if those stems are cut, the parent plant will then repay the damage done unto it by throwing up a whole lot of new heads from the original stem.
Lester said that the Chicken Run was secure enough to let the new chickens run loose in it, then put them away in their temporary shelter for the night. I said that that this was a good idea but might need rethinking as I know chickens well enough to know that once they see the glorious tunnels running underneath Burdock City, that they will very happily take up residence in them, and that would including nest building and laying eggs.
I would have a go at clearing those burdocks would it not be for the rather large snake / snakes which also live there. But..... I have chatted to you for long enough. I need to water the seed trays, seedlings, and juvenile plantlings in the nursery, and then off out into Veg Plot 3 to do battle with the flea beetles. Upon a quick inspection this morning my eyes were also drawn to a very pretty row of orange coloured eggs, one row on top of the leaf, one row on the underneath of the leaf. Oh so now the cabbage white butterfly hatchlings, (caterpillars) will soon be partaking of our brassicas as well!
Not to worry, this life is better than sitting in an office or spending valuable hours of the day commuting to and fro work, this I shall keep telling myself as I brace myself to go face those that would eat our food before we do.
Bye for now,

Monday, 12 June 2017

Sooooo Sorry!!!!!!!


The thing is, that I had not properly read your comments, and since they were mostly about the subject of the colorado beetle, which is very dear to our hearts at the moment, especially since Lester is spending at least two hours a day going leaf by leaf through our potato crop to squash the eggs, juveniles, near adults, and proper adults. He is steadily winning the fight. His efforts are heroic.
As for myself, I am squirting flea beetles who are busy chomping away at the brassicas. Putting straw round the plants did seem to make me the overall winner of that particular battle, but yesterday the beetles seemed to have regrouped and come out in force again. Sometimes, ....... just sometimes........

As for the rest of the farm....... the sheep are sweating their socks off in the mega heat we are continuing to have...... 34C forecast in the next few days. Still wearing their winter fleece, they are struggling. The shearer man should be coming soon.  Meanwhile, they sweat away. The flies are also out in full force, which is another discomfort they are struggling with.

As for the cows, two are out in the field and are well, but Lissie got a wound in her flank which has turned nasty, so vet called out yesterday, it is serious, she is now indoors for a few days as flies need to be kept away from the wound because of the potential of fly strike (eggs.... maggots....etc). This she does not like. Neither does her daughter, Milly, who is old enough now to be thoroughly weaned but still manages to grab a drink of milk now and again throughout the day. So Milly is out in the field moaning about her lack of milk supply, and Lissie is in the barn moaning about not being outside with the others. Lester is going over to the neighbours this morning to apologise for the endless moans. He thinks a second day might be just a bit too much for the neighbours to cope with.

Things are coming along alright with the Market Garden Project, and I am getting experience with keeping the seed / seedling production line rolling along. I love it. However, I am getting into a tangle between what the house needs me to do, and what the Market Garden Project needs me to do. But I did finally manage to clean the back and front kitchen floors yesterday, and for that they blessed me I am sure. Those floors were mucky, especially the one in the back kitchen, and I am not exaggerating.

I have also learnt that seedlings in pots need feeding. I was wondering why the little plantlings seem to gallop along to second leaf stage and then seem to come to a halt. So this morning I gave them a feed, and by lunchtime they had risen up quite a bit as if to say thank you. I was, however, not impressed to see Blue, one of the rottweiller girls,  up in the raised bed amongst those newly fertilized pots of seedlings. We have lots of small lizard type creatures here, which the girls love to do 'search and capture' activities with. Previously the lizard creatures lived on the walls of the house and courtyard, but now it would seem that they have moved in to the raised bed area. They do no harm. But having two big dogs romping over the growing produce does not bode well for a harvest of any worth.

The Chicken Hut Project is coming along, but the fierce temperatures and the demands of other farm activities are slowing the project up. Not to worry, the project is coming along and will get done in its own good time. Meanwhile  we wait in anticipation of eventually getting some chickens to put in the eventually finished Chicken Hut so that we can eventually have our own eggs once more plus have the enjoyment of having chickens getting into mischief about the place.

Hope you all had a good weekend, ..... it is now Monday morning (and oh how the weeks seem to be cracking along at a tremendous pace), Lester is on beetle attack, I have done my daily hoeing, watered the newly planted juvenile seedlings, and scythed down some naughty weeds that are soon to flower so that they can make more of themselves. I have come in to have a breather, and thought I would finish off this blog. I am hoping to have some puff left to scythe some rampant burdock plants growing in the Chicken Paddock, but to be quite honest I think I am all drizzled out.

Anyway, bye for now,
and once again sorry for deleting those comments.


Friday, 2 June 2017

Researching beetles, and cherries galore!

So over the road to a neighbours place for a light evening meal last night.
Good company, mixed, ..... English, French, and German. All three languages spoken, mostly French, which was good exercise for me. The German husband is becoming a French citizen next month, and we think we shall eventually as well. Brexit has pushed many English to naturalize, but there are also many returning to the UK, scared of what the future might hold. But for some of the long stayers becoming a French citizen seems the more secure way to go, and for us older folk it is quite easy once all the documents are in order. All I would have to do would be to have an interview to see how well my French was doing, but Lester would have to sit an exam written in French as well as speak it. But he could do that, because he is better at speaking French than I am, mostly because he is the one who has to buy all the bits and pieces we are needing for the house, plus he does all the family paperwork, including tax.
It was a lovely shared evening. I like the feeling of being with Europeans, of different cultures meeting together, ...... it makes me feel globally expanded.
And so the conversation turned towards growing food, of the way in which commercial food production is slowing poisoning our bodies, and which is why us, and others present, were growing our own food. And mention was made of how good our potato crop was this year, which can be clearly seen when people drive over the bridge beside us. (this is one of the reasons why we are keeping everything weed free in that plot, .... because it is so visible!).
 And then further mention was made about a certain insect, a beetle.......the hostess got her Ipad out to show us. Oh..... that beetle! The pretty one with stripes! Oh dear!
My haul from a raid on the potato patch just now....

Because Lester understood the descriptions of the beetle as given to him by our French neighbour, he knew what to look out for when he did an earlier investigation of the potatoes. I did not because they were speaking French too fast and I could only pick up a word here and there, so I had to do some Googling. 
Apparently, In the jar I have two adult beetles, three pupa which are ready to dive down into the roots of the potatoes, lots of baby beetles which huddle in the leaf nodes, and some patches of yellow eggs on the understand of the leaves.
And the long bits..... a spider I inadvertently picked up and put into the jar as well.
Meanwhile, the flea beetles continue to flourish on the brassicas.
I think I might have to plant some more to replace them.
It is a good job I have a tray full of seedlings ready to go out, but only when the flea beetle season ends, or we find a super duper method of defeating them before that.
Google has been very useful in helping me get to know about beetles.
I would have preferred, though, to have been researching other subjects.
Beetles mean work.... the hunting down of them is so time consuming. But....not to worry...they have their seasons and will come and go, although always will be replaced by something else willing to eat our food before we ever get to bring it to harvest!

Well done our cherry trees, because they seemed to have rallied after the string of late frosts which we thought had damaged the cherries this year. But no, the harvest has been the best ever, and I canned seventeen jars of cherries in syrup so far, and dehydrated lots more, and the harvest is still coming in.
It is hard work on a mini farm, there is always something to do, and often we get overwhelmed by the endless work. But then the harvests start rolling in, which need to be processed for storage of course, but when the shelves start filling up with stored food, ...... well.... I cannot tell you how satisfying that is. And then all the tiredness drops away, and our enthusiasm returns.
Off to do something with a rabbit.
Yesterday we had it pan fried with vegetables and spiced potato slices.
Today, I think I shall lay some spices over it, use up some celery which is slowly going 'off' in the fridge,  maybe open one of the last remaining jars of canned green beans from last years' harvest, and do a sort of spicey mix up. Add rice. Done.
And for dessert....
DIY yoghurt made with milk from Lissie,
and home grown cherries cooked in sugar syrup.
(Just in case you wondered who Lissie is.....she is one of our house cows)
Oops... time is racing by and I have kept you long enough,
so thanks for sharing my world,
and bye for now.


Friday, 26 May 2017

Cups, huts, and a stinky bin

100 plastic cups. I am making holes in the bottom of them.
For why, you might ask, am I doing that....
Not to drink out of, that's for sure, and you are right.

The Market Garden Project is requiring lots of pots.
These I can buy in bulk from the UK for a good price.

However, now am using, these insert trays I can plant lots of seeds at the same time...
 about one hundred basil seedlings in this tray,
.... and this tray is planted with celeriac, feverfew, thyme, cumin, caraway and chervil seeds.
So I have upped the production of seedlings, which I was a bit stuck with doing earlier on, but now I need lots of pots to grow them on in.
That is when Lester suggested using white plastic cups, and at less than £1.50 for 100 they are very affordable. The posh pots from the UK can be saved for public sales.
I am doing better with keeping up with succession sowing, and these little seedlings are being brought  on until big enough for Vegetable Plots 1 & 2. VP 3 is now full up. So, too, are the flea beetles which are feasting on the brassica seedlings planted out a couple of weeks ago. But although looking very ragged the seedlings are holding their own. An extra daily task now is to spray them with dish soap water to keep the flea beetle numbers down. I don't know who is winning, the beetles or me, but the plants are still alive, which is good. 
Another daily task just added to the list of 'things to do' is the stirring of the stinky bin of rotting nettles. Making nettle soup, that is what I am doing, and it is to be fed to the plantlings.
Just some freshly cut young nettles plus some water, and then mix, and leave.
You know when the mix is 'done' when the stink is really stinky.
But it will do the plants some good, and that is what I keep on my mind as I scoop jugs of nettle soup into the water can, which is not the most pleasant of tasks.
 The Chicken Hut Project

The Hut has now been started!

.... and at the finish of the day.....

So the plan is to start off with this hut, then build another to sit beside it in an L shape.
We prefer to have several smaller huts rather than one big one. It means that the chickens will be able to choose where to roost for the night, and where to lay their eggs.

It is very hot here at the moment. We seem to have gone from early spring to mid summer temperatures. Yesterday was 29 C, today was 31 C, and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter.
Lester thinks that it is going to be a long hot summer this year.
I think he might be right.

Just taken the dogs out for their last loo.
Up from nowhere sprung a gale of a wind.
Had to rescue the trays of seedlings as did not want them blown away.
They are now on the floor in the hallway and on the stairs.
They are all tucked up for the night, as soon shall I be....
Bye for now

Friday, 19 May 2017

So if you were me, what would you do if you did not have anywhere to grow a packet of onions from seed...... well you would get one of the empty maize sacks, cut it up, and make a bag big enough to put some compost in, then you would sow the seeds.
Which is what I did.
And the onions grew, but got to a point when they did not seem to want to develop any further.
I kept them watered, but found that the bag idea had a problem, which is that the compost dried out too quickly. It did not help that we have recently had a run of summer temperatures either.
And then we had a couple of days of torrential rain.
So I had a chat with the onions and came to the mutual decision that it was time to send them out into the big world of the Veg Plots so that they could start growing onwards.
So, borrowing a teaspoon from the kitchen,
I burrowed my way underneath the onions, and gently lifted them up and out.
There does look like many onions, but I counted 120.
So then what do you do, when mid way through this job, the clouds arrive again.
Well you carry on, that is what you do, despite the drizzle that is now falling on your head.
Out into Veg Plot 1 we went,
and planted four rows of onions.
I think my thighs will take a day or two to get over the exercise,
but not to worry, the stretch will do them good, I think.
And so what do you do when strong winds suddenly come along,
and you do not want the lids of the propagator trays blowing away,
well you go indoors, raid your fabric stash, tear some strips of material up,
and go tie those lids on.
..... and looking quite pretty!
Meanwhile, the propagators are doing a good job of getting the seeds woken up,
.... this tray has only been planted for six days, and already I have taken out and transplanted seventeen seedlings. They are in the mini greenhouse now, thinking about whether or not they will carry on with growing onwards.
So our first crop of onions grown from seed are out in VP1.
My hands and fingernails says that this is so!
Need to go tidy myself up now, because I am off to the Bio organisation, which are the people who organize vegetable baskets from growers to consumers.
We are not growers  yet, but we might well be in the future.
Bye for now,

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Watching the cherries ripen.......?!

So I was in the Courtyard, planting more seeds.
It was a day long task, apart from having to cook lunch and then having a nap afterwards.
I planted loads of seeds.
It came to me when I woke up this morning that if they all come up then I shall have hundreds of seedlings to prick out, but the mild panic of not knowing where I was going to put them should they all grow was pushed away by tea and toast.
(We have just finished our last pot of DIY jam made from the fruit harvests of last year, so I have bought in some oranges to make DIY marmalade to keep us going until the fruit harvest starts coming in.)
And while on the subject of fruit harvests, while I was potting away, I caught sight of the row of cherry trees, the tops of which I could see beyond the Courtyard wall.....
(you might have to make the photo larger to see them)
..... and I noticed that their branches were chock full of green cherries.
'Wow', I thought to myself 'looks like we shall have a stonkingly good cherry harvest this year'.
And so the day progressed, the sun shone, I baked, and some of the cherries turned red.
But they seemed to be ripening fast, which meant that I shall need to be in attendance in the Back Kitchen to start processing them, but I have lots to do outside, so not to worry, keep on going as is the manner of smallholding / homesteading gals, most of whom will be gaily going round in ever decreasing circles as they try to keep up with all that there is to do at this time of year.
And so the day was done.
My pile of empty seed trays was diminished, and Lester made me an extra work space on which I could keep the filled seed trays.

Re: Weeds.
In reference to the last blog I wrote about being weed free...
well, ....this only applies to Veg Plots 1,2,& 3, and  does not apply to the Courtyard, as you can see, where there is a thick carpet of clover beneath my feet, and an abundance of mallow waiting to blossom. There are also other weedlings around, but since they are putting up flowers I have let them be. When is a weed not a weed?
When it is anything but burdock, thistle, dock, ground elder, or nettles, and these are being kept in control as best we can. Unfortunately the sheep do not help us with this task. They prefer more tastier morsels, like the bark and leaves of our fruit trees, but the strategy of defending the trees by putting fencing wire around each one (about 100 fruit shrubs and trees) seems to be working.
Lester attacking / digging up the thistles in the Main Field, which are less that last year, but need to be got up before they blossom and send forth their seed.....
...and Bonny coming along to help him.
She will get shooed away, though, because she thinks that 'helping' is emptying the wheelbarrow.
She was supposed to be in calf, but she has just had a season, so is not.
This is a bit of a downer, because it will be quite some time before she will start giving milk again.
But not to worry, not use worrying about why she wasn't able to keep in calf,
just put it down to nature.

But the pasture is looking the best it has ever been now that the sheep are not grazing it down.
So today, ....I have been playing the music for the once a month church service in the next village, and Lester has been to gun club and got a lot of bullets in the middle of the 50 metre target.
An afternoon nap,
some heavy discussions about what should be planted where
(we are having a lot of those at the moment!)
and now we are off to water Veg Plot 3 by hand because the pump in the well has just done a demise.
We did have a floating thought that perhaps we should put in a bore hole, but after we found out how much it was going to cost, that thought was quickly vetoed.
The well only gives us enough to water one veg paddock,
but now it can't because of the failure of the pump.
This is another 'Not to worry' moment', as I put forth the idea to Lester that we need to get another pump toute suite.
And then he took me out to inspect the cherry trees, and no, we shall not have a harvest yet, because the red cherries which I thought were going to needing processing soon, were actually defunct cherries. What I mean is, that they had been shrivelled up by the recent series of late heavy frosts, but were still ripening nevertheless, but into tiny fruits.
It looks like the harvest will be quite minimal, but it is as it is.
No good getting into a downer over something which we have no control over.
At least we are starting to move towards the time when we shall no longer have to buy in vegetables from the supermarket, and I have found a passion for growing things in the garden, which I always knew I had, but which had been submerged by having to do other things in my life.
I caught sight of myself in the long windows of the Half Barn just now.
I had on my very floppy straw hat, a long skirt (I always wears skirts), a mucky t-shirt under which was peeping my long sleeved thermal vest, DIY thick knitted socks, and boots. In my hand I help my work bucket in which were things I needed to use when outside, and my hair was windswept and all of a straggle under the hat.
And I thought to myself, that I looked liked a Victorian gardening lady,
and that I looked like I had always wanted to look if I had but known it,
content, happy, and at peace with the world.
I thought that somehow, after numerous ups and downs in life, that I had finally arrived at who I needed to be. It was a lovely moment, and I felt very blessed.
But I dare not linger with you any longer, because Lester will be now watering Veg Plot 3 by hand, so hastening to help my other half out....
Bye for now,
..... (two hour later)..... and the good news is that the pump is not broken because the electrics had switched themselves off!