Monday, 30 May 2011


With regards to the Bee Project:

March 2010: And here is Hubs with half of one of the two bee hives we managed to buy second hand from the chappie who sold us the flock of sheep. He said that all we have to do was put them out in the woods, put some stuff on them (couldn't quite catch the name of this 'stuff' but didn't like to ask because we were already feeling like noncies), and the 'bees would come'. 

So: this pile of frames......

.....had to have wax sheets put them in....

......but being learners this is what happened......

....we got in a mess is what we did! Oh so anyhow, after a few trials we managed to find a method to get those wax sheets stuck to the wires of the frames. The appliance you see is a heat gun. 

With great enthusiasm the frames were loaded back into the hives. And there the Bee Project came to a full stop. The hives were left in the hallway of the house for a year, after which they were transferred into the Hut / ex-office. 

And so it came to Spring this year year, and the Bee Project raised its head again. But where to get them? I tiptoed around Internet sites. No-one in the UK would ship bees out to France. France would. They speak French in France. Trying to find one's way around a  French beekeeping-site when one does not know the foggiest thing about bees in the first place, plus the language prob.....well, the experience was a tad on the trying side. as far as logging on to a French site, then my energy flagged. French websites do not give out much info in regards to their stock. The USA and UK do. France doesn't. Other things got in the way as well, like sheep and their desire to bust through the electric fencing, piglets trying to bust out of their pen, chickens laying eggs in discrete places which were hard to find, and veg plot stuff, and so on.....

Two days ago: an email arrived. 'Bees for sale. To be delivered end of May'. Now the best time to buy bees is early Spring. I thought we had missed the opportunity for this year. Apparently not. And so my finger pushed the button, and I think we have some bees arriving soon. But they are in a bunch, in a box. I presume they will have a Queen with them. And I think that they originate from Corsica. 

I have no other equipment other than those hives. I have to get that bunch of bees into the hive. I am going to make a beekeeping hat from a net curtain, and cut up an old sheet to make top and pantaloons. I will post a photo. I will look very silly. Not to worry. At least I will have some protective clothing. 

Of course I could buy this clothing, but money is needed for other things. And I am not afraid of bees, and expect to get the odd sting or two, and also expect to be able to become friends with them so I will not have to worry so much about protective clothing. 

Bbbeeeeezzz! The French website said that my money had been accepted. That took them three days. They said that they had been overwhelmed by the response to their emails. They didn't say if I will definitely get some bees, nor the expected date of delivery, this being done by a special Bee Delivery Van. 

Now I must be off out into the field to cut some vegetation down along the line of poles which we are fencing. I tried strimming the vegetation yesterday but the little strimmer has died, and we only have the big strimmer left which has to have a harness because it is too heavy to hold just with the hands. And that harness does not allow for bosoms, and the straps kept falling down my arms like old bra straps tend to do, which is irritating if one has also to hold a brute of a strimmer going at full pelt while one tried to hoist the straps back upon to one's shoulders. I was also left all of a tremble with the effort of it all, so have gone joyously back to shears which are becoming bluntened by the cutting effort of moi. Not to worry, the effort is getting the underarm bat-wings of mine into a firmer state of being. 

Now a thought to end.... do I go ahead and make my home-made bee keeping gear, or do I wait until the Apimiel website tell me that the bees are definitely going to be delivered this year, because one thing is for sure - if I am prepared, bet your bottom dollar that the bees won't arrive, and if I am not prepared, then bet your bottom dollar that they will! And God bless Hubs for putting Google Chrome onto my PC, because it has the most wonderful translation capability and helped me very much with pushing the appropriate buttons on the Apimiel website. 

.....just making a note: message to self: look for ideas and patterns on the Internet for beekeeping hats and clothing, look on YouTube for helpful hints about how to get a bunch of bees, all glued together in a mass, into the tidy environment of the frames of a hive, remind Hubs not to keep cutting down all the weeds which have flowers on and upon which our bees (should they arrive) will forage, order the hive tools from the UK because the French websites even with the Chrome translator do not explain what each one does, perhaps to make two outfits for bee keeping so Hubs does not escape the task of transferring those bees into their hive only he seems to have transferred the entire Bee Project onto my shoulders just at this time!

Au revoir.......

"You don't need to bother with getting that gear done" Hubs has just said, "All you do is open the hive, open the box with the bees in, bang them down into the hive with one thump, then shut the lid to the hive 'f**********g' quick".

Apimiel have just emailed me: I have been given a tracking number, so presumably they will be on their way soon. 

Yipppppeeeee! BBbbbeeeeeezzzzzzz!

Seven hours later: Oops! Got it wrong. The bees are from Sicily! 'Packages of bees are formed from Dadant hives in organic livestock production at our friend and partner  Ermanno De Chino and his wife Michela  in Sicily' is what a translation of the original email says. Crikey! 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Fly strike, & I'm done with the electric fencing!

Electric fencing is good. Plastic poles, laced up with electric wire,  give a sharp warning that to venture to the 'no-go' area beyond the wire is not a good idea.

This has worked a treat for the last seven months. Now it doesn't. For some reason the sheep, particularly the six month old lambs, have taken it into their heads to go adventuring. At first they did it discretely but then they became bold. On the day before the shearing they must have bust out big time only I didn't realise this until the evening when one of the sheep became tangled in a mangled mass of wire.

So I spent two hours sorting out the tangle. Fence intact, sheep let out, sheep went through, more tangle. Two more hours sorting it all out. Repeat of the same. Meanwhile Hubs was sympathetic, enthused as he was with getting the proper fencing sorted out though, this task was still being kept on the to-do-when-we-have-time-and-money list.

Until the night of the choir. Out I went, to return several hours later to find a very upset Hubs:
"I want a word with you...." he said.
"So what have I done now?"
"The sheep got out again."
"But I fixed that fence again lunch time."
"Well not good enough, because they got out". The drama of his voice suggested a big time stampede with the flock heading out down the lane. "Two were eating the grass by the pig pen, and two were just about to eat my fruit trees" Ah, the fruit trees! Those much hallowed and looked after trees. Those pride and joy trees. Those trees watered tirelessly throughout the last two summers. Those trees which are patrolled every day by himself. Those trees.

So I am done with electric fencing. The sheep are now grazing the Side Field across the lane, which they shouldn't be because the grass is still to short, the lack of rain having delayed its recovery from last year. It also has no shelter since the farmer in the next field has finally killed off one of the shade trees with his pharmaceutical spraying, which means the sheep are looking a little sunburnt now they are minus their woollen coats, which at this moment residing in a heap in the Tall Barn. 

Meanwhile, we are fencing the Front Field. The poles have already been put in by a local farmer, all we have to do is get the wire up.

Which means: cutting the vegetation in between the posts first, a task which has fallen on my shoulders. We have two strimmers. Neither work. But we do have hand shears. They are blunt. It is a long way along those fence lines. But I remain driven on by the thought of not having to move those damn poles again! 

A bit of a sadness: One of our main egglaying hens has suffered a very unfortunate demise. As Hubs and I were sat outside the other evening, prepping ourselves for the evening feed, we noticed our bare-neck hen had something stuck to her rear. Looked like a red lump. Looked like her insides. She had laid an egg that morning. Perhaps she had tried too hard and evacuated her insides as well? Must be painful. Very regretfully will have to be help her into chicken-heaven. Have a cup of tea first. Inside we went. Ten minutes later... loud going's on amongst the chicken fraternity we heard. Outside we hurried. The bareneck was being chased by the others. A short string of entrail was hanging from her rear upon which the others were wanting to feast. We intervened. The hen was sheltering beneath the caravan. Hubs prodded her to one side of it. I picked her up. Gave her a hug. She was a good hen. She was one of our first hens. I could not let her suffer. Over to Hubs I gave her. Within seconds she was quiet. No more. Pain free.

Fly strike. That is what had happened. Hubs saw this as he started to pluck her. We would have buried her, but Whitey, our previous cockerel, had been interred beneath the oak tree upon his demise only to have been dug up again recently by something or other, and presumably eaten. So our intent was to keep her in our food chain, hence her being plucked.  Only no. She was put into the woods to be put into the food chains of the 'something or others'.

So what had happened? Well the hen had become a haven for the lava of the fly. In her rear end. Her feathers had covered up this catastrophe for her, meanwhile she was being munched upon until such time as the munch-area became so enlarged that her insides started falling out.

It took a while to get to sleep that night. We put distance between the event and bed time, but yet my mind remained imprinted with the event. But most of all my heart went out to that hen, who kept on laying eggs despite the other activity happening to her body. She kept on going on and her efforts at doing I shall never forget.

Friday, 20 May 2011

So there we were....

7.30 this evening. All was quiet. No sound came from anyone - sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, all outside and not a peep out of any of them. Oh joyous quietness! Lying on the settees with our feet up and discussing the weekend, that was what we were doing. A quiet couple of days we decided.

Then the phone rang. I answered, but quickly handed the receiver over to Hubs as I  heard the Frenchman spiel forth his French words.

"He's coming tomorrow morning at 8", Hubs said.
"Who is?"
"The man who is going to shear the sheep"
".....but it is still too cold at night......."
"Don't start that! He offered to come tomorrow. I accepted. So we are having them done. How many sheep are there?"
"Come on then, we've got to make a paddock in the paddock so we can fence them in ready to be sheared, so they can be easily caught."
I could feel my bonhommie mood evaporating, but grabbing my cardigan I hurried out to be Hubs' go-for.

He was already out in the sheep paddock, hammering in the first of the metal poles. "How many sheep do we have?" he said.
"I told you, nineteen..."
"Well I have only counted eighteen"
"Rubbish!" I was by this time getting uppity, made more so by the mild panic with with Hubs marched his way round to the electric-poled grazing area. Thinking that he was doing an unnecessary panic, I followed, only to find him bending over midway down the grazing area and loads of electric wire all of a tangle hither and thither, and poles in just the same mess. Strewth I felt guilty. Always I check on the sheep several times a day, but today I had an 'off day', shopping, the storm last night, and Friday-itus having clouted me good and hard. But my spirits were high, having just fixed the drive band to my spinning wheel I had had a merry hour or so spinning away out in the sunshine and I had also managed to finally sort out my third book for publishing.

However, as I approached Hubs I could see the 'lost' ewe and was glad that he had had the foresight to count the sheep this evening. He normally doesn't do that, just assuming that all are present and accounted for. She was tangled up in the wire, and had given up. Storm clouds started rolling in above our heads as Hubs struggled to release her, but when he had managed to do so she just laid there, forlorn and empty of all spirit. If we had not found her until the morning she would have probably popped herself into sheep-heaven, but the dogs soon snapped her out of her 'giving up' mood, and off she trotted.

So, back to the paddock, where the piglets were freaking out about not being fed.
"Can you get their food?" Hubs said. He always prepares the next feed in advance. But not today.
"You haven't done it."
"You do it."
"I don't know how to....."
"Oh for ****** sake. How are you going to manage the farm if I have to go back to the UK"
"Veeeeerrrrra!" He was getting cross now.
"Look, just show me what mix you do....."
"But  you should know by now"
"Yes, but you haven't got a clue about what I do around the farm when you are sitting on your PC working all day."
"Yes I do. I've lived on a farm before"
"Big deal! And you DO NOT have a clue as to what I do".
Meanwhile we were at the food bins, and Hubs was graphically describing what scoops from which bins were needed to make the feed.
"Can you get those piglets something to eat, they are going to break the fence down" Hubs said, the proper feed now having had hot water on it so it could soak. He went back to his emergency fence in the paddock, I went into the kitchen to do a raid, knowing that there was a pot of pasta languishing away on the stove.

But it had vanished. I yelled at Hubs "Where is that pasta?"
"I gave it to the chickens"
"Oh ****. Why?"
"Because they like it. And don't shout at me. I am only a little guy trying to do his best"
Back to the kitchen I went. Found some bits and pieces, not much really, but raided the apple store kept for the big piggies.

"You were a long time" Hubs said, red faced as he furiously tried to hammer in a metal pole into rock hard ground. Only another six or so to go. "Get the piglets some water will you?" Cripes that had been another job which had been overlooked today. Their drinking water trough is a plastic bowl which they like to tip over so they can roll in the spilt water. Good job it wasn't hot today, and another cringe inside of me at my lack of effort. Normally they would have one bucket of water in the food trough to drink, and one bucket of water on the ground so they could have a wallow. Also one bucket of thinnings from the veg plot. As I say, I had an off day, so they really were hungry. Anyway, chopped apples seemed to quieten them down.

"Now all you have to do is grab the wire and hold it taut for me". This was Hubs issuing instructions to me. Half heartedly I complied. I was really 'off' by now! Not miserably, wretchedly 'off'. Just a bit tired with the effort of it all, and I could see that Hubs was feeling just the same.

He grinned at me, friends again, so I pulled the wire as taut as I could to help him. Gotta go that extra mile for your partner sometimes!

So now the sheep were one side of the new fence, the wrong side. Not to worry, a bucket of maize into their feed trough and they all came through the gap he had left in the wire. All but three little ones.  Round and round they chased, with Hubs now angry with frustration at them, but he managed to get them through the gap eventually, with me acting as rear-guard lest they decide to go in the opposite direction.

And so, at eight tomorrow morning we are supposed to have the shearing done. The electric poles will have to be sorted out before that happens.
I said "I will have to be up five to do all those jobs"
Hubs looked at me, " I will have to be up early too. Seven thirty probably"

Sometimes, just sometimes, I could give him a clout! Just a playful one, mind you!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Onions, onions, and more onions! Oh and more hens.

They were alright, tied up as they were by the lady's stockings. Two together, making foor feet bound round. Two bundles. Four chickens. Hens. 

They didn't look too shocked when untied, considering that they must have been bound up for several hours, plus they had fallen out of the bottom of the box twice while Hubs was trying to get them to the car. In the middle of a zebra crossing this happened, the evidence being seen by the pile of feathers which were left as witness to this event.

So why would did we have those tied-up chickens? Because Hubs had decided that it was necessary to build up our flock again, after having lost three hens somewhere, possibly down the throat of a fox, and the other three (the hens sitting in a cluster underneath the rabbit hutches sitting on one egg between them) were now off-broodiness but not laying again yet. For all of our flock, we are managing to get two eggs a day, and that only if they can be found before the magpies nesting in the nearby tree don't get to the eggs first. A continual patrol is therefore needed, done by moi. The chickens watch me. They watch the magpies and crows. They skulk, finding corners to lay eggs where none of the egg robbers, me included, can find them. I watch the hens. I watch the magpies and crows. The magpies and crows watch me. And they watch the hens. But at least they have given up with trying to eat the two remaining chicks, preferring the less difficult task of eating the eggs.

Anyway, the four hens, with stocking- tied feet, where sitting on the floor of the market. A huge place it is, and very French. We only wanted one hen really, but the lady was elderly and desperate. Just a country farmer, trying to get by. We  felt sorry for her. She needed the money. So we said we would have two. Then somehow we found ourselves with all four. Didn't know that they were bound up with her stockings. Didn't know how we were going to transport them back home. But got a box from a nearby commercial chicken seller, and into the box they went. Only to come back out again, but from the bottom of the box rather than the top, mid way across the main road. Apparently, so Hubs said, the women nearby gasped with surprise. 'Oopps' they said but in French, with hands flying to their mouths in shock.

But Hubs managed to scoop the chickens back into the box, only to have the same thing happen a few yards on, the situation not being helped much by Hubs' insistence on also carrying back to the car two five kilogram bags of apples, one in each hand. I, meanwhile, was oblivious to his dilemma, and remained waiting for him in the market.

So there I was, standing in the middle of a huge under-cover French market, and I thought of our first visit to this market over a couple of years ago, and of how 'green' we were at that time. Could hardly speak French, tried to avoid doing so if possible and were very hesitant at striking up a conversation. Bold now we have become. With sureness we ask our questions and make conversations. Our French may still not be all that good, but we have more confidence to have a go. We have come a long way.

It was decided last winter that we would not grow many veggies for ourselves this year, and that we would focus on getting crops in to feed the pigs, which are our biggest financial outlay in regards to the animal feed bill. With that task as a focus, Hubs managed to rotovate some land, into which went fodder beet. And then along came the family for a visit, the plough was fixed onto the tractor, and off Hubs went, plouging up another small parcel of land into which has gone zillions of squash and bean seeds, some for us, some for the pigs.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Sunday saw us planting out onions and leeks bought from the market. Four packets. Supposed to be one hundred in each, but were nearly double in quantity. So: over three hundred young onion plants and over one hundred young leek plants have all been planted.

And suddenly our veg plot looks up to small holder standards. And so I had better do a quick sign-off because I can hear thunder nearby and we have to switch off the PC's here so they don't get fried by the lightening should it strike. I think it is something to do with the fact that none of the electricity cables are underground, but are gaily looped across poles so are open to any visits from lightening strikes.

But the hens are doing well. They couldn't walk for the first day, but are now stepping delicately about the place having integrated well. And I am glad that we rescued them, because they will have a good life here, being totally free range. However, we have bought an egg incubator, having decided that trying to source hens from elsewhere is just too much like hard work. And expensive!

So, with loads of onions planted, loads of leeks planted, and sundry other crops all planted, we are feeling quite virtuous. Now all we have to do is weed, thin, water, etc! Singing gaily as I sign off......'I luv weeding, I lurv thinning, I lurve watering, I do, I do, I do!!!!'...Oops, and another thunder clap! BYYYyyyyyyeeeeeeEEE!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

What to do with sheep fleece

The days here have been very hot of late, so hot that the sheep can hardly walk to and fro betwixt field and barn. They didn't even evacuate the barn when I was cleaning it ready to put fresh bedding down for them. Builds up muscles that does, cleaning the sheep barn floor: scraping up the soiled straw, then shovelling it into the wheelbarrow to be then taken up the Paddock, down the drive, through the Courtyard, and down to the Woodland Veg Plot, there to be unloaded.

A goodly pile of sheep manure I managed yesterday: two barrowloads. Chickens haven't managed to find it yet but when they do, they will eat the poo and scatter the straw all over the place.
Message to self: remember to cover the manure before those chickens get at it! If they want sheep poo then they will have to stop being lazy and go into the barn and help themselves, which they used to do before they decided it was too much effort. Great teamwork, I thought, when they were scratching about in the barn. Helped me no end because they fluffed up the straw as well. Then they stopped becoming team players and left me to do the job myself, hence my attitude towards that fresh pile of manure I made yesterday and my intent to cover it so they can't get to it.

Anyway, there I was, scooping up the manure watched by the sheep who were as hot as I was, and breathing just as heavily. So we had a chat about this and that, and it came into my mind that they really ought to be divested of their coats. After all, I had now disrobed from thermals and loads of layers, and was now wearing shorts and t-shirt so it was only fair that they should be equally as disrobed.

But although the days are hot, the nights can be chilly and when out in the field the other day moving the electric fencing in preparation for the day's grazing, I saw drifts of frost along some blades of grass signalling that there had been a snatch of coldness.  So not time to shear them yet. Nude skin plus a cold night would not be good for them. I can put an extra duvet on the bed if I am cold, they can't!

And as I scooped and shovelled, it came into my mind that sometime in the next few weeks I am going to have a humungous pile of new fleeces to do something with. This made me ponder for quite some time because I have only managed to spin three of the nine fleeces we got last year from our sheep. This year we will have fifteen fleeces. OOoppps! What to do!

And another ponder: that we really could do with three of me. One to do the farmwork while Lester continues on with the day job which robs him of farmwork time, one to do domestic duties including spinning, and the other to carry on with my other work which is writing.

Ah, great.... wheelbarrow loaded, emptied, then on to the task of pulling out hay from the hay bale. Good for my back and arm muscles, but makes me even hotter and now wet from sweat. Put the hay on the floor. Sheep still standing down one end of the barn, looking dozy, and less hot. A couple of them walk over and lay down on the new bedding. There is some space left. I almost, really almost, nearly couldn't stop myself almost, lay down on that lovely hay as well! But I didn't, because the piglets were shouting at me that they needed attention as well. Ah the joys of homesteading.

So: If my maths are correct, I will have nearly twenty fleeces soon. Oh, and plus one coming in from a neighbour which is dark brown in colour so will be useful to have when I finally get around to knitting with the yarn I am spinning.

Ideas already gathered from experience, some Internet searching and my head:
- Use the fleece as insulation in the house. Probably not.
- Use some fleece as a mulch around the roots of the two kiwi plants that are suffering from the heat and wilting, one of these plants is unfortunately the male. The three other kiwis are doing well, and have made lots of flowers. They are female and need fertilizing by the very reluctant male who is still undecided about whether he wants to live or not.
- Keep some cleaner but still unwashed fleece, to one side for rubbing onto my skin in the dry spots - the lanolin contained in the fleece really does soften these bits of me.
- Keep some unwashed fleece for dusting the house. It picks up dust wonderfully well, and once full of dust can be put on the compost heap.
- Try getting the lanolin out of the fleece. This requires a big pot of boiling water and cooking the fleece apparently for hours.
- Use some fleece as a weed barrier for going under gravel paths.
- Use some washed fleece as a filling for quilted work.
- Put some fleece on the compost heap. Good idea if one didn't have chickens who have a tendency to dispatch the compost heap into nothingness.
- Continue with the Spinning Project and building a stash of yarn to knit, crochet, and possibly weave with at some point in the future when one is not so furiously busy doing homesteading stuff.

......and now I have run out of ideas, so have you any? Many thanks if you do.

Strewth! Me in my pinny again! And at the spinning wheel! And with that hat on again! That pinny makes me look far rounder than what I actually am, although I suppose that it does make me look like a homesteader / smallholder / trainee petite fermier should look like!

And here is grandson Joshua and his mum, showing his absolute delight at having found his first chicken egg. However, there was some discussion as to how to cook it: boiled or scrambled. Couldn't decide, so had to go find another one so he could have one of each. Fortunately the hens had complied and another egg was found!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ploughing a furrow

With all the machinery on the farm unwell or dead, Hubs / Erstwhile Petit Fermier has suffered a despondency about getting things done here. He needed a lift to his spirits, and this had been given to him by the Plough Project.

With the tractor came the topper(which cuts the grass but is mortally wounded), and a fearsome looking cutting wheel (which has been donated to someone else). That left the half-plough, 'half' being because half of it had been cut off in its previous lifetime.

So: Sons visit, providing two extra pairs of hands plus some muscle power.

Now all that had to be done was get the plough up from the ground somehow:

And then aim certain things on the tractor to certain things on the plough.....

......which took some fiddling about and toing and froing of the tractor... 

.....meanwhile being supervised by the young apprentice........

......and by several family pow-wows.......

......and looking good for go.....

Et voila!

Well it seems to plough. Maybe not as efficiently as the super duper lumps of equipment that most of the farmers have around here, but at least it churns up the earth which means we can plant things. Whooppeeee!!!!

And thanking the helpers on that day who helped us take another step forward....