Saturday 30 July 2011

Not 1, not 2, 3, or 4....

Up at five this morning. Troddled over to the house from the caravan. Half light. All still asleep. Not me, though. Busy day ahead. Two large straw bales being delivered from a farmer friend, who also traded one of his brown and white rabbits for one of our white and grey ones, is saving two geese for us, has promised to donate some grape vines later on and is also going to help Hubs get some maize planted next year. These bales are going into the Tall Barn so need to make space for them. Also, the escapee ewe did another escape yesterday so it is full steam ahead to get the fence sorted out, so lots of bramble cutting and fencing to be done. Also, the blackberries are starting to plumpen up, more so this year because of the recent rain, so will pick them to do something with.

So: up early to get a head start on the day. Straight onto the PC. Need to catch up with emails, and need to keep on working on my 'work' website. Heard a banging sound. Disregarded it.

Often noises here. Bits falling off the walls as they continue to dry out. Birds having a jolly in the guttering, or showing off on top of the roof, sometimes coming in through the gaps in the wall to have a look-see which was happening a lot last year but not so much this year. I think they have got used to the house no longer being part of their territory.

And then there are the rats which were frequent visitors last year, but not at the moment. Having the floor of the Middle Barn done must have pushed them further away from the house, although there is still the population entrenched in the wood pile. But there has been a cat with kittens in residence in the wood pile as well so perhaps she has done some hunting.

So was tapping away on my keyboard, and I heard the sound again. Still 'deaf-eared' it. Ah but time for some tea. Off to the kitchen. Crossing the hallway the sound sounded again. With a tweet. A couple of tweets. Chirrups. Chick!!!!!!!!!!

I had temporarily forgotten about the incubator parked down the bottom of the hallway on the tumble dryer. Day One, last day, yesterday. No hatching last night. Felt hope dwindle.

Sped down the hallway, torch in hand. No lights in the house that hang from the ceiling yet. Have lamps in the office/ lounge and kitchen. Otherwise, it is torch light. And there! Inside the incubator, just visible in the beam of the torch, was a yellow fluffy lump!

Oh so now what to do...... go fetch Hubs is what I did. Groggy any time before 8.30 in the morning, at 6 in the morning he is not do-able. But he managed anyway. Got the pig transport box from the Tall Barn, the same one as had the Buff Orpington hen in it recently when she thought she might want to sit on eggs but then decided half way through the twenty one days necessary for an egg-sit that she was bored and had other things she needed to do but had got into such a state of muckiness with her under carriage that I had to hose her under parts with a hosepipe. This same box Hubs manhandled into the house. Rigged it up with a heat lamp.

Opened the incubator to rescue the chick. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or five!!!! Out they kept coming, some already dry, some a little on the damp side but not soggy:

Oh wow! And they are so big. How could they have possibly fitted inside the egg shells:

And here is the incubator tray. The one entire egg was infertile, which I already knew but left there anyway. I hoped that one would hatch, the rest I hadn't looked inside so didn't know if they would or would not hatch.

The bees are dead. Not all. But most. Despite my best efforts, I think the weather eventually defeated them. Felt like giving up with the Bee Project yesterday. But while cutting the bramble hedge all that kept going through my mind was : giving up is not an option.

But now we have five little chicks! All hatched from our own flock. We still have one chick and mum out in the hen run, and one hen sitting on a clutch of eggs in the Tall Barn. Gosh! All that young life! The miracle of life. How fascinating it is to watch. Not so fascinating is trying to keep an eye on the would-be-escapee ewe, so off into the Side Field they go today while we keep working on the fence.

Off to have a moment with the chicks. I shall probably spend loads of moments watching them. Must make a cake, must prep lunch, must get dressed, must feed the flock, must make Hubs his morning cup of tea otherwise he will be inclined to snooze on, but first.....I must, simply must, have a moment with those chicks!!!

And we will carry on with the Bee Project. Next year.......

Thursday 28 July 2011

Strewth, but don't I feel nervous!

Two days to go. That is what it says on the lid of the incubator wherein sit six eggs, one of which I know is infertile but I left in in there anyway, just in case. So I had a look at the instructions but had to go on the Internet to read them seeing as how the instruction pamphlet send with the incubator is in French, even though it was purchased from a UK company who posted it out to us.

And I have got all of a dither. Had to get the eggs out of the incubator, remove the tray which rolls the eggs, put some paper on the base to catch sundry bits and pieces which could occur should the eggs hatch. And I am in a right flumox with it all! After all, they are just eggs. Plenty more where they come from. Um, well that is not exactly right although the hens are laying eggs somewhere but it is just about locating the spot-of-the-day where they have deposited their eggs, the 'spot-of-the-day' changing daily. But we could try to incubate more eggs if necessary, that is what I am saying.

And so why do I feel so darned nervous! Stomach churning. Heart doing a bit of a race. And all I did was carry the incubator into the kitchen to take the turning rack out, but was so tensed up with trying not to jolt the eggs - perhaps that is why I feel so nervy. Did have a look at an egg to see whats happening inside of it, but all I could see was a black blob, so put it back into the incubator quickly.

That sheep got out again today, the mum of the twin lambs. When I tried to do a super duper shepherdess-herding-the-flock stance, she just looked at me long sufferingly. Didn't take a bit of notice. So I put her back in the Sheep Barn, the piglets having vacated the area to have a doze in their part of the Paddock. Good job too. Took ages filling in the ruts and holes they had made yesterday. Anyway, the ewe has been moaning about being back in her barn for the last hour, but there she will stay until the rest of her mates are brought back in from the field.

So urgent effort now in force, and that is to get the rest of the fencing up so she can't escape again. Should have that finished this weekend. And then the piglets are going to have the space, which is the hedge copse.

Off to do battle with the brambles so Hubs can get the fencing wire up, trying to get rid of this irrational nervousness along the way - I hope!

The next morning: re: my nervousness for which there does not seem to be any reason. Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that it is because for the last nineteen days the incubator has done a twirl of the egg tray every half an hour during those days. And the sound it makes as it does so is quite cheerful, as if to say " I'm on the ball, I'm doing my bit, I'm making life".

I think hearing the incubator 'talk' has sort of involved me more than it would have done if it had been in the barn. And seeing inside the egg as well. Seeing life being created.

It would seem that this little incubator has made quite an impact on me!

Ah well, off into my day now. Hope your day is a good one, and bye for now.....

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Oh just the normal chaos!

And here in the foggy dustiness of the Half Barn sits Gus. And for why is the air fogged up? Because the floor has just been cleared of  clutter and swept, this task having been helped along by the two year old daughter and the ten year old son of our builder, their mum having spent the previous few days here helping her sister's partner to fill in the holes in the wall, of which there were a humungous amount. The wall is drying out now. It is looking good. Like it has never been touched since it was first built a couple of hundred years ago. Takes skill, that does, to make a wall look like it has never been renovated.

So last week was a busy one, with Danny our builder to-ing and fro-ing with his digging machine making trenches for the drainage pipes, which were subsequently tested during the four days of rain we have had since.

.....helped along by the flock who thought it was their task to fill in the trench....

..... and Danny's children romping around doing childreny things. It was nice to have them here, though, even if my head was nearly falling off my shoulders by the time Friday arrived with having to speak French all day. 

I haven't mentioned the Middle Barn much, but that, too, is mid-way towards completion...

......the concrete floor has now been laid, so now waiting for the roof to go on.

The Middle Barn joins up the house (centre) and Tall Barn (right). Once upon a time my plans were to have it as a winter sunlounge, with glass roof, shingled floor, and lots of exotic plants. Yes, well!!!!! Homesteading life requires that the space becomes the goat barn / milking parlour eventually, plus a place for Hubs to store stuff. Not to worry! Milking is preferable to lolloping about on a sunbed in the middle of winter: I think! 

And then there was the cock in the box...... while doing an egg hunt with the children, we came across a black head peeping from out of a tall box of sorted fleece. Upon raising up the head with attached body, it transpired that it was the juvenile cockerel. And quelle surprise! He was sitting on an egg! And a further hunt around the Tall Barn produced a pile of eggs being sat on by the hen who had been mounting the other hens who I thought was having a sex change but is obviously not because now she has gone broody.

I went indoors to have a think about all of this. Hubs said that cockerels do not lay eggs. Ever. And so why was he sitting in a pile of fleece on an egg? Hubs had no answer to that one. So I got the cockerel out of the box and now he is in the freezer because he couldn't walk because he had a broken leg. This is the second member of the flock to have a broken leg and be put into the freezer. If we have a third, then we are going to have a go at putting the leg into a splint. Apparently duck tape and popsicle sticks is the equipment one needs. As for 'his egg'..... I put that into the pig food pot. As for the hen....I counted ten eggs underneath her. She is a tiny bantam hen so no way was she ever going to keep all of them warm, so I removed three, leaving her with seven, but the following day she had abandoned two, leaving five. She is now in the dog kennel recently evacuated by the other hen who managed to raise one chick. She is now in the abandoned chicken run with her youngster. The first thing she did was have a joyous dirt bath, and boy oh boy didn't she enjoy herself!

.......she is getting along alright and they are safe, although the chick would be safer if it could stop persisting in having adventures through the wire. How it gets out I do not know, but often we have to rescue it and put it back with its mum. Hubs said that we may as well let them out of the run since the chick seems hell bent on getting out anyway, but I think that for every day it builds a bit of height and body weight, then the less likely it will be to be taken away by magpies when it is let out.  

The piglets are now being let out into the Sheep Paddock during the day so they can stretch their legs, their patch of the paddock having become confining for them as they continue to put on height and weight........

....and everyone is very friendly as they rake the bedding over. However, those two piglets are busy making the Paddock into a mud bath, but needs must. They will have to stay there until we get their Woodland Paddock finished, then we can reseed the Paddock which probably needed doing anyway.

Ah and the rain it did fall. But used the wetness to empty some seed packets into the Veg Plot thinking along the lines that those seeds were not going to do any good stuck away in a box and that it was better to send them out into the world to do whatever they could do. And blow me down, but loads have come up already and them just being three days in the ground!

And another the incubating machine. When the incubator was bought, also purchased a little gadget which lets you look inside the egg. On first try the other day, couldn't seem to 'see' anything inside the egg, but on second try this morning....Wow! First egg studied was devoid of life, but the second..........Wow, and wow again! There, in a corner of the egg, was a little being wobbling about. Crikey, but life is a miracle! Didn't look at the other eggs. I am satisfied that at least one might hatch. 


I don't say much about the rabbits. But they taste lovely. Was very squeamish at the beginning of the Rabbit Project, but Hubs said that as smallholders we needed to engage with them so I followed on behind him. I am still a step behind, but catching him up.

So our days of sleeping in the caravan are now numbered. The tiles are being laid in the Half Barn, so even at the pace that Danny goes, we should be in there soon. The piglets are busy rotovating the Sheep Paddock. The sheep are busy cleaning out the hedge copse behind their Paddock, plus eating half of the Home Field down into nothingness. The chickens remain themselves, ranging here and there, generally getting under our feet. Max the big male pig) remains irritable, but then he was irritable when Tess lived with him before she died, so no difference there then.  The rabbits continue to look cute. But I am off to cook one now.

Saying bye for now, ........

An hour or so later: rabbit off menu today, having spent the last hour or so trying to herd one of the sheep back into the field after she squeezed through a gap betwixt new fencing and the end of the hedge copse. Round and round she went. Round and round after her went the dogs. Round and round I went chasing all three. I have found that the best way to deter would-be future escapees is to show them that it really is not a good idea to move out of the field, and I do this by keeping them on the move and not letting them munch on any tasty morsels along the way, which they would do if given half a chance. This method seems to have worked with the twin lambs, and I hope it worked with their mum just now.
But Hubs has made an inspection of the break-out point, and my instructions this afternoon, as given to me by Hubs, is to clip (with the big clippers- his exact words!) the hedge line so that he can put another fifty metres of fencing up.
....and then the little chick has just got out of the run again, romping around, having fun, while its mum freaked herself out in the run. Caught it. Had a little cuddle. Put it back into the run. Have promised myself that three times more I will do this, then the hen and the chick will be let out together, and if something else eats the chick, then at least I know that I tried to keep it safe. its a quicky lunch of fish fingers and pasta, followed by yesterday's rice pudding. The rabbit will have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday 18 July 2011

Sheep naughty, bees dance.

Out in the Home Field yesterday patching up the electric fencing, which isn't 'electric fencing' anymore, because no electricity runs through its wires after Hubs inadvertently left the producer of the electrical current for those wires on the ground overnight. Then it rained. Electrical box found itself in a puddle. Melted some of its constituent parts. Gave up its life.

Anyway, 'dead' electrical fence still in use. Divides the Home Field into two. Keeps the sheep in the part of the field which has fencing wire. Or is supposed to. Because despite running the electric wire through all of the four positions on the poles two sheep, last winter's lambs, insist on going on an adventure through the wire. None of the others do.

And we don't know why this is, but when we put the flock out onto the Side Field, which has hardly any shelter and grass which is minimal, we do not hear a peep out of them all the day long. Yet when we put them in the Home Field, in which there are loads of different types of grazing habitats, a hedge to eat and go for forays into, plus they can go to and fro their barn, they are absolute nightmares. To and fro they go betwixt barn and field they go, getting into any mischief they can, shouting at each other and at us if they see us.

I might manage to make one or two more baby hay bales (as in last blog). The farmer has now cut and baled the Home Field, managing only eight grown-up bales this year from our land because of the way the weather was in the Spring. So sheep over in the Side Field during the two days this was being done. All was quiet. So we hatched a plan. Keep them in the Home Field all day and don't allow them access to the barn until nightfall. Hence the need to patch up the line of 'electric fencing' as well.

And it was when I was doing this task that I noticed the furious activity around the bee hive, where a bundle of bees seemed to be attacking each other. Gosh but they seemed to be in a jumble of little bodies, going round and round, over and under, each other.
"They're doing the bee dance" Hubs said from behind me. Oh so that is what the 'bee dance' is! A bee's way of telling its fellow mates where to find the flowers which I had read about and seen videos of, but there is nothing like seeing it happen in real life. Enchanting!

And I have noticed that the bees are flying with a lot more energy of late. Although not many of them, they are most definitely more active. I think it must be the sugar water inside the hive, (the last but one blog about the recycling of the empty pot of Sainsbury's Mincemeat). The weather has been unsettled since they arrived, often being patches of non-flying weather. Since they have no larder to fall back on, not having had the time to make a honey-store, they go hungry and eventually weaken. Should have got the Sainsbury pot into the hive sooner really. Not to worry. It's in now. The bees are obviously appreciating it as can be seen by the way they are now zooming about. It's good to see. At least they are living their lives, even we think that they are too small a colony to survive the winter.

I also noticed that the farmer had not managed to bale all of the hay he had cut. There were several swathes of cut grass lying here and there. Shame to waste them. Hence my thoughts about perhaps making some more baby bales.

So, temporary fencing put on the fencing poles across the ditch, over which the sheep do a leap to then go up the Side Path to their paddock and barn. Morning time. Sheep out. Supposed to go down the Side Path to the Home Field. Didn't. Did a sharp left turn. Went in the opposite direction. Down the drive. Out onto the lane. Hubs followed behind. Tried to turn them back. Nope. Weren't going to go thataways. Turned to go down the lane. Then turned again to go up the lane. Turned again and jammed their noses up against the gate leading into the Side Field. Nope. Were not going to move. At all. Hubs losing patience. Me standing ineffectively in my dressing gown and slippers. Bools and Gus thinking it all a good game and bouncing about round the sheep which didn't help at all.

Nothing for it. Patience now all expired, Hubs opened the gate and into the field they went. That's where they wanted to go, so that's where they went. And we don't know why they prefer that field when it is such a non-environment for them when compared to the Home Field. But we didn't hear one single moan from them all day. There was no naughtiness. No bother.

Animals are not stupid. Just because they have a different understanding of the world to that which we do does not mean that they are less than us, rather that they are our equals, just different. That is what we are currently learning as we continue to let go our years of UK lifestyle living and try to move towards a gentler, more balanced, way of life.

Nineteen sheep, two piglets, one pig, eleven chickens, two dogs. All of them 'talk' to us in various ways. Trying to understand their language, as well as dealing with the French language, sometimes, just sometimes, fogs my head up! HeyHo. At least I am not sitting soporifically infront of the telly, and can spend time chatting to you. Hope you have a good day............bye for now.

Friday 15 July 2011

Let's make a hay bale!

Noooooo!!! Not THIS type of hale bale. THIS type:

 Now what, you might ask, is that! Now I know that it looks like just a heap of straw, without particular shape or form and just a mess really. But trust me when I say that it is actually quite firm and compacted enough to hold its shape providing the string does not come undone upon which event the whole thing will disintegrate quite rapidly. But it is not such a fluffy ball as what it looks. Providing the string stays put.

But why would one want to make such a thing when one can acquire such super duper professional hay bales. They come at a cost, that's why. Either one finds a farmer with farming kit which will cut, rake, and bale, who then takes the bales away leaving one or two behind as a trade for the hay he has taken. Or one can buy the kit one's self and DIY the hay. That costs money. Therefore not do-able.

Possibilities: Leave field to go wild if uncut, making it difficult for the sheep to graze it. But if it has been cut, leave grass on ground to rot. We had half and half in the Home Field: half the field was cut, then the cutter on the tractor broke its welds yet again so is now having a sicky until it can be mended. Meanwhile, half of that section of field remains uncut. A farmer is supposed to be cutting the rest. He still hasn't turned up.

So, being trainee homesteaders, a thought came into my mind to make a hand made hay bale.

Out into the field I went, together with my trusty wheelbarrow containing a plastic box, a plastic grass rake, and a bag of string. With gusto I raked a couple of rows of mown grass, turning it over to make sure it was dry. Phew! Hot work! So off indoors to cool down for an hour or so.

Made a return to the field. Spots of rain drifted down from a now darkened-by-rainclouds sky, but the urge was upon me. Push on.

...raked up some hay....

.....laid some string across the box in both directions....

......filled box with straw, making sure not to let string get submerged in the tangle....

.....stood in box to press straw down. Stomped around in it, flailing my arms as I did so to stop myself from taking a tumble, the box having become quite unbalanced because of my weight in it and the unevenness of the ground. Shouted at Boolie to stop barking at me because he thought I was being silly.
Gus had gone off somewhere. He gets embarrassed when there are silly goings-on. Can't cope, bless him.

Put more straw in box. Did some more stomping. Repeated all until box was full. Folded over bits hanging out......

....tied up the string. Only 'lost' one strand of string. That's now interred within the bale.

Et voila!

....and may I proudly present my first bale of hay.

....and then I made another bale.

......and then it rained!

So I went indoors, dried off, felt quite saintly!

Refused to let myself think about the largeness of the field, of the amount of string I would have to use although it would be recyclable in the future, of the amount of energy to be expended although would come in useful for keeping fit, and of the glee with which Hubs looked at the bales and said, "Why do I need to buy machinery when I have such a wife as you. How long did it take you?"
"Not long, but would be quicker if there were two of us making them."
He seemed to lose interest after that, but to be fair to him he is time-poor, having to spend all of his day on his PC earning the income to keep us going, his time being interspersed with farm emergencies or people popping by.

And sexy goings on in the Sheep Barn. The little brown hen, the one who seems to have the urge to mate with others....well there she was, having a jolly good try at doing the business with one of the new big brown hens while I was putting bedding down for the sheep. I am starting to wonder if she is having something like a mid-life crisis. Do hens have such times in their lives? Will leave that one for you to answer.

Back to Hubs. I have a website of over two hundred pages. I don't mention it here because it is my 'other work' and people may not perhaps understand what I do. Anyways, links on the site were getting untidy. Hubs to the rescue. Result: a complete overhaul of the entire site to be done. Weeks of work.

I frequently say that we could do with two of me. Or three. Or four. One to do the numerous farmwork tasks. One to do the numerous domestic tasks. One to do my 'other work'. One just to be me. But perhaps not. None of us can cope with one of me, let alone several.

Off to Plaisance now. Dogs are scratching themselves to bits, so vet's anti-flea stuff urgently needed. Have managed to make do with cheaper but weaker products, but now the heavy stuff is needed. Also to buy a big role of string, in case the grass dries up sufficient for me to make more bales.

Au revoir for now......


Ahha!!!!!! No more hay bales for me to make this year! Just as I uploaded this blog, the farmer man came along in his huge blue tractor which had a cutting arm sharp as sharp could be, and spent several hours cutting the Home Field. Will be baling it up tomorrow, he said, so that's me done with haymaking for this year.

But I did manage to make two!

And thanks to Horst for posting some helpful hints about haymaking, which I will file away in my head for 2012.

Monday 11 July 2011

We've got a hatchling!

Tall Barn Maternity Wing: One little chick out of four eggs sat on by two hens,  et voila, le petit:

There is something absolutely delightful about watching a mum hen show her little ones how to feed. She clucks, chuckles and coos, then when tums are full under her they go to snuggle up for a sleep. Anyway, these two will have to be moved today, and they are going into the now abandoned hen run, the other chickens preferring to go to bed up in the fig tree which gracefully arches over the run. Well it was graceful in shape and form at one time, but having the flock, including a few hefties, clambering up onto its branches has bent it all out of shape and made it raggedy:

Eventually it will be the place for a shady hot afternoon snooze for us....

...see how the dappled sunlight seems to lend itself to a feeling of wanting to leave all activity behind and stop for an hour or so, maybe to lie down and look  up at the enchantment of the leafy canopy overhead, maybe to let one's eyelids drift down, maybe to have a quiet snooze to recharge one's batteries. Of course you have to disregard the chicken run and the rather raggedy leaves of the fig,  but I hope you get my drift of thought. This, then, is the plan for this space in the future. For now, it is chicken territory.

Hey! Look at this cool gadget!......

It's a Brinsea egg incubator, and what a fangly dangly bit of kit it is! Takes seven eggs, and acts as the hot botty of a hen, keeping the eggs surprisingly warm and in a moist environment. Presumably this moistness acts the same as does the sweaty environment of the hot hen - as I say, the temperature is surprisingly warm, so much so that at first I thought that we were going to end up with hard  boiled eggs, and I can quite see that if this is the same temperature as that of the hen's undercarriage, that indeed it would be quite a damp place.

So this incubator is the model which turns the eggs as well. Took us a couple of days to actually see the machine do this, and in fact I was manually turning the eggs  to make sure that this was being done. And the marvelous thing is that the eggs have already grown in size. But I have a bit of a bother in my head - it feels quite a thing to be actually giving life. 

An egg, you see, arrives from the hen, but it does not immediately start growing into a chick. In fact it can sit around for up to a week with nothing happening inside providing the external temperature is fairly cool. Now this is because the hen needs to sit on a few eggs to make it worth her while. And these eggs do not come out in a wadge, no, they come out at the rate of one per day.

So she lays an egg, then goes off about her business for the rest of the day, then makes a return to the nest the following day to lay another egg, then goes off, etc..., until she considers that enough has been laid to warrant her efforts at sitting in one place for twenty one days, which is a bit of marathon. Then she plonks herself down on the pile of eggs, the temperature of her bottom half increases, the sweatiness must also surely increase, and this triggers the movement of life within the each egg. All of the eggs, then, start building life at the same time. And that is what this incubator does. but I am very aware of the life that is possibly being created within these egg shells.  

We have six eggs in the incubator, one of which is a handsome size so we had high hopes of being able to hatch a good sized chicken. However...this hen has just started laying, so this is her second egg. I don't know what has happened to the first egg. I suspect Hubs 'borrowed' it to make an egg sandwich when I wasn't looking. But the third egg I cracked open today for breakfast, to find a double yolk. And a thought: what happens if there are two yolks inside the egg in the incubator. Is it possible to have twins?

And another thought: why has one of the little brown hens suddenly decided to start crowing? She, who has been one of our best egg layers. And why oh why, did she decide to jump on the back of one of the new little hens this morning and 'give her one', just like the cockerel does. Are hens able to cross-gender? That question I leave with you.

Have had a bit of a trouble with the sheep. Why are they so naughty when they are able to move between the Home Field and their home in the Sheep Paddock, but yet are docile and undemanding when put over the lane in the Side Field. What goes on in their heads, that when they are across the road, which is when they should complain, they don't. It would seem that the more fuss you make of them the more demanding they become.

Anyways, the farmer who cut the grass for hay last year visited again. Said he would cut the fields at eight the next morning. So up early. Out to take the fences down across the drive through which the sheep travel to and fro betwixt field and paddock. Sheep out in Side Field, even though the grazing is minimal due to lack of rain, but the Home Field needed to left clear for the farmer and his machine.

No farmer, cloud and showers arrive instead. Cross about having to take those fences down, as tricky to put back up again, the ground being as hard as iron. In a mood with it all, was Hubs and moi.

So we hatched a plan, and decided to make the sheep stay out in the Home Field all the day long, and would move them if and when the farmer turned up but that he would have to wait while we did so. No travelling to and fro is allowed now. 'Twas their fault we have arrived at this decision. Out in the field they have to stay until night fall.

Checked up on them a while ago. They were having adventures in the hedge, and have eaten the vegetation away in one spot particularly sufficient for them to have a hideaway. But at least they are quiet, and not busting through the temporary fencing to eat in places they are not allowed to eat from, nor are they pushing open the gate to get into the Courtyard, nor are they yelling their heads off at each other. For today, the plan is working!

And for lunch, the first pickings from the beans and mangetout:

The size of one's personal halo does quite an inflation when one surveys the outcome of a raid into the veg plot. And it might not be much, but it gave us lunch.

There is nothing, but nothing, like eating produce fresh from the garden. I will often say this, and so will everyone else who does the self -grow thing!

Now off to check on the sheep to see what they are getting up to, and to move that little hen and her littler chick, so saying 'bye for now'....

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Recycling Sainsbury's Mincemeat pot

I have a general nervousness about looking inside the bee hive. I don't think I am nervous of the bees themselves, although as a newbie I naturally feel tentative about going amongst them. My nervousness is more, I think, because I do not want to do them harm rather than being overly worried about being stung although that is always a background thought when I am near them. I so want the bees to survive. I don't know why I do but I just do. It is not about being successful so we can then tell everyone how clever we are to have a hive of bees. It is not about wanting to harvest loads of pots of honey from the bees.

No, my general nervousness about looking inside the bee hive, apart from my lack of experience, is because I am afraid of what I might find: perhaps the queen is making lots of cells (whatever they are supposed to be!), perhaps the colony has become even more diminished in size, perhaps an 'orrid thing has invaded the hive and eaten everyone up, perhaps the queen is dead, perhaps all are dead.

I have been able to put off the internal investigation this past week because the weather has been sunny. I have kept an eye on the hive and seen bees flying to and fro. Not many. Just a few.

I have kept a bowl of sugar water in front of the hive most days, so they can have an extra boost of energy if needed. However the sun tends to dry the sugar water up after a while, so the bees can only access it for a few hours. A better solution was needed. Ahha! In the local supermarket I espied a possible gadget: a budgie feeder!

Worked a treat. However, it is too small really, especially the drinking part. I made a little platform so the bees could have somewhere to sit and drink, but it was not the best solution.

Today the sun is not shining. It is very windy and overcast, so they will not fly today unless the weather stops being inhospitable for them. They will need help with keeping their energies up. They need sugar water. And they need it inside the hive, not outside.

Ah so! Project Hive Feeder!
- Had empty carton of Sainbury's Mincemeat still with attached lid. Made holes in the lid with hot screwdriver.
- Filled pot with water. Put lid on. Inverted pot. Water dripped out quite slowly. Lid stayed on and did not fall off thus making the water leave the pot in a rush.
- Got bowl as need somewhere for the liquid to settle when it has left the pot.

Cereal bowl then! Good idea but realised that the bees would probably have difficulty scrambling up the sides of the bowl, thereby possibly being subjected to 'death by sugar water drowning'.
- A plate then. Flatter. More easily accessible for their little feet. 
- Pot upright. Plate on top. Inverted pot. But.... no liquid could I see. Ah! The lid of the pot had a small rim which had created a vacuum. So raided my bag of jam jar lids, 'borrowed' two, put them on the plate. 

- can't invert pot and plate as I had previously done because of the need to keep the lids on the plate. Not to worry. With swiftness I deftly flipped the pot over. A bit of a splash ensued. But it worked! A little bit of water oozed onto the plate. Perfect! 
- Repeated the process, but with sugar water. The 'splash' bit was messier though, sugar being sticky, especially if twinned with water.
- Syrup not coming out onto plate. Found it hard to ooze itself through holes which were jammed up against jam jar lids. So made more holes in lid of pot and removed one lid. A good drippy flow then ensued.

Now all I have to do is get that kit into the hive. So am now off to don my bee keeping uniform........Be back later on....

Two days later! Yes well, didn't do that too fast did I! But I have now done my task, the feeder is in the hive, and I had a slow look round the bees, couldn't see the queen, but the bees looked busy and well.

And I am glad that we only have a small colony of bees to learn on. If we had been in the UK then we would have had the local bee keeping association to fall back on, but here in France there is no such thing although there are plenty of beekeepers around, none of who we can seem to connect with. So, as with everything here, we are on our own and having to do the best we can and a small colony is easier to learn with rather than a humungously huge quantity of bees.

It was lovely fiddling about with the bees. Took my time. They were calm. Oh a couple of bees did do a buzz around me but were not a problem. The major problem was that my beekeeping hat kept getting in a tangle with the several bramble branches which were hanging down through the branches of the small oak tree beneath which the hive sits. But there were no ants. Cannelle (cinnamon) works!

So now our bees have their own inhouse larder. This should help them when the weather is not do-able for them. And 'thank you' to Eddie and Rita who donated the Sainsbury's Mincemeat pot, fully loaded with mincemeat and carried all the way down here from the UK in their car from the UK just before they closed up their French house and left for Singapore for I don't know how long and neither do they (work commitments for them). With sadness we waived them goodbye. With sadness they left.

But the Sainsbury pot continues on as a reminder of our friendship with them.

Chicken Project: re: Tall Barn broody chickens. Not looking good. The Buff Orpington hen took herself away from the nest never to return and has trundled across to sit beneath the rabbit hutches instead. It does not seem to have entered her head that she should have her eggs with her,  or rather, one egg, the other two having disappeared. Perhaps her inattentiveness to the needs of this solo egg was because I had subjected her botty to a jet of cold water straight from the outside water tap upon seeing that her undercarriage was in quite a dire state. Being very much aware of fly strike, I picked her up, turned her over, and jetted her rump. Perhaps that is why she is going on strike with egg sitting.

So the other broody hen has the egg. However she is only half heartedly sitting on it, preferring to donate all her body warmth to the one egg she is sitting on.

In truth, we are increasingly swinging towards using our so far unused incubator machine.

Pig Project: Max continues to be his grotty self, although is not in quite such a grot as he was when Tess was alive. But to liven his day I have invented games. Like spraying him with the hose pipe, which he pretends to hate but still stands rooted to the spot. Like singing to him in a chant-like fashion: now with this activity he still does grot-posturing and grunting, but his eyes look at me as if to say, "Well I quite like this but don't want you to know that I do!" And today I found a broken branch which had a nobbly bit at one end. I used that to scratch his back and tickle his chin, meanwhile he grotted away at me as usual. Little things, these are what makes him feel part of our team, which he wants to be but pretends not to want to be.

Piglets: Aw bless! They continue to romp around the Sheep Paddock when the sheep are out in the field, and today they toddled around the perimeter of the paddock with me and Boolie, keeping stride with us and generally being part of the team. We are growing in confidence that they can be led out into the farm when we need to rehome them. However, they have a tendency to nudge. Now this is OK when done on thigh, hand or foot, but not in the back of the knee which unfortunately seems to be their most favoured spot. It is surprising how quickly one can become pole-axed when this spot is nudged.

Sheep Project: Doing OK. Still have Bot fly problem, and three of the sheep need more medication to stop the infestation. Next year we will have to find a deterrent to those flies. But the sheep love being in the Home Field, as can be seen by their general cheerful attitude. They also love being in the hedge and are busy making tunnels through the vegetation. The Jacob ram is also looking friskier now. Still small though, but by not so much. To make lambs he might now only need a stepstool rather than a ladder.

So now off to make some bread, then down to the woods to cut a pathway through the vegetation to the river bank. This we need to do so we can get some water for the veg garden, the pond we were using to pump water from now having dried up. It is Midge Heaven down there in the woods, but needs must..... And the good thing is that once one has received a few bites from one particular type of insect one's immune system seems to be able to make a faster response so that the itch-factor is very much reduced. However, there are several different types of biting insects, but one's immune system will win through in the end. I hope.

Saying bye for now.....This seems to have been quite a gabble of a blog, so well done you if you have stayed to the end.

Saturday 2 July 2011


There is something really satisfying about building a stash of food for future use. Harvest time has started, and the first onion and potato crops have been brought in from the veg plot and the first twenty two pots of jam have been made from our fruit. Gosh!

And hard work it is. Many a time we have wondered about the advisability of expending the energy needed to produce these harvests. The plod of prepping the ground, planting the seed, watering and weeding. It is a long journey and one which at any time can fail that end harvest: not watering, or leaving the weeds to grow over the young plants, or not keeping an eye on how things are going, will fail that end crop. As I say, it is a bit of a plod.

Perhaps that is why I tend to spend more time out in the front garden amongst the flowers. A flower garden, I think, is more restful, perhaps because one tills the soil, one plants the seed, shrub or tree, one waters and weeds, and then the flowers come, relieving one of the necessity of then bringing in the harvest. But then one is also robbed of the immense sense of satisfaction when one sees the produce heaped up for future use. A good balance, therefore, is to have both, which I am gradually coming to terms with. It takes time to cross over between two lives and one has to patient with the process, this is what I am learning. I have an expanding life, and at sixty four, I feel lucky to have such a life. 

Sometimes, however, I do fall out of the saddle. Sometimes, just sometimes, I do sigh.  But not today! Because I have just made some pots of jam and I feeeeelllllll goooooodddd!

Five pots of apricot. Eight pots of peach and apricot. Nine pots of yellow plum. In the midst of winter they will bring summer sunshine into us. And I will have forgotten the ages it took to prep the fruit....

....although I did have help to clean up the stickiness of the 'testing for the set of the jam' spoon, which requires a spoonful of jam being taken from the hot jam pot on the stove, taking it outside and then waving it about to cool the jam down. If it all falls off the spoon it is not done, but if it sticks then it is. This, however, produces puddles of jam on the floor / ground which is why it is best to this part outside! And it's nice to have a bit of help now and again to clean up the stickiness.

Harvesting things is good for the soul, and makes one feel in charge of one's life, that is what I am finding out. Hope you have something in your life which makes you feel equally as proud of yourself,...... and saying bye for now. x

PS: Would that one of the broody hens in the Tall Barn felt the same. Her lack of effort at keeping all the eggs underneath her at the same time tells me that we are unlikely to have any little ones hatching from those eggs. She might, I am thinking, just be regarding this 'broody' lark as an excuse to have a holiday from life!