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!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Not a weed in sight!

And oh how tidy Veg Plot 3 is looking!
No weeds anywhere!
And with the potatoes up and earthed!
.... and this is looking at VP3 from the other end.

.... and the rows of bush beans, planted directly in the ground by Lester as were the potatoes.
These little plantlings are my contribution.
They were started off in the mini raised bed greenhouse,
and this is their first day out in the big world.
They look so tiny, and I feel quite maternal towards them.
There are green sprouting broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflowers, kale, chard, and tomatoes, but no weeds!
And along the fence line are the frost battered Barlotti pole beans.
I have planted more in pots to make up for the ones that died though,
and they will be planted out later on.
We have also planted wild flower seeds amongst the beans.
And beyond the row of beans are Veg Plot 2, and Veg Plot 1.
Both are waiting to be planted out.
It might take a while, as I have not as yet managed the art of succession sowing.
In the past we have planted everything out all in one go. Job done.
But this year we are succession sowing.
So the project for today,
So,.... a very tidy and productive VP3.
However,.... this will not last, soon the weeds will peep up, and the battle between us and them will begin. But it has definitely made a difference to the seedlings I planted, because they are up and away before the weeds swamp them, which has happened in the past.
We have just had a couple of days of rain.
We shall have to hoe VP3 now.
The weeds will be on the rise!
It is a lovely morning.
The house needs my attention.
But the sun is calling.
So off outside I go!
Bye for now

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.