Sunday 20 November 2011

The stonking dynamics of artichokes

Phew, but the wind did bloweth a goodly amount here at Labartere last night. Aromatic in the extreme, we were almost lifted from our bed much to our surprise because we had had a busy day out in the veg plot.

In an effort to get ahead of myself, and taking advantage of the lovely weather we are having, the project of the moment is to get the veg plot reasonably tidied up so that it is not such a manic panic next spring. Usually this has not been done. The vegetation grows itself into mini jungle, with roots a mile deep in the earth which take a lot of effort to excavate. So I hatched a plan to get it tidied up before the winter arrives. Oh I know that it is almost here, and indeed the mornings have a whiff of frost about them, but the earth is still moist from the recent drop of rain, and the vegetation is still in its settling in stage so is therefore easy to remove.

And bless them, but Max and the girls wait in anticipation of the arrival of that vegetation. Nothing is wasted here. It is not sensible to make a compost heap here because our chickens flatten it to nothing. Before they arrived last year we had a huge compost heap, but now it has evaporated away into nothing. In an effort to thwart their efforts at maintaining Labartere as a 'compost-heap-free zone', we have been putting the manure from the sheep and rabbits in a heap but covered over with a tarpaulin. And yet that heap should be twice the size that it is. I don't know what those chickens are doing to that heap, but they are definitely on a mission to dispense with that heap as well.

Anyway, so no compost heap for the vegetation pulled up from the compost heap. But what I do is give it to the pigs. What they leave will be trampled into the ground so that at some point in the future we can use the pig pens for growing produce, the ground having been fertilised by the pigs from their rear ends, and from the leavings of the food we give them. It is a good plan. Hope we can manage to achieve it. Will need to build other paddocks for them though so more expense. Setting up a smallholding does take quite a goodly amount of dosh in the early days. If we worked out how much we had already spent on the barns, fencing, and general smallholding equipment and compared it to our food bill, then the cost would far outweigh the cost of feeding ourselves from a supermarket. But that is not the point. It is the lifestyle, the fitness levels, the tranquillity of mind, the sense of having achieved something when one views a newly weeded row of veggies, the harvest, the enjoyment of the seasons, the longing for the rain, the frosts, the resting up during the winter, the manic activity of the summer. It makes one feel that one is living one's life.

It came upon Hubs / Boss Man / Head Gardener, that the Jerusalem artichokes should be lifted. They were a late in being planted but had set up a good height and had given us a good show of bright yellow flowers. I thought it a good idea that this should be done because that would tidy up another section of the veg plot.

And wow! What a good crop! A whole tub of artichokes from quite a small row of plants. "Will definitely grow these next year," said Hubs, "We'll eat these ourselves. Better than potatoes, not such hard work".

So enthused was Hubs, that as soon as we had finished the harvesting indoors he went, intent to get some of them cooked up so he could see what they tasted like.

They tasted nice, although after eating the fifth Hubs said that he didn't like them so much, but I finished off quite a few and decided that they were a go-er.

Only in the middle of the night I reversed that opinion. They were indeed a go-er, but a rear-end go-er.

For those artichokes set up an everlasting production line of wind. A wind of the sort that has to be let go off. That cannot be sat on so that it leaves the body by discrete slippings out as one lifts the buttock just ever so slightly to allow the evacuation of that wind.

No, the dynamics of this artichoke-related wind was something else. There was to be no holding it back. It was a blast of a wind. Vicious on its way through towards its exit, making cramping pains in our abdomens during its transit.

And the aroma was something else. It was dire.

Fortunately for Hubs he didn't have to go to work in an office so could f**t away quite merrily and lurch to the loo when required. However, I had choir practice in the afternoon. In desperation to contain the outflow of wind, I took some bicarb. Dreadful stuff it might be but its effect was immediate. The wind stopped. But it didn't go away. No, it just laid in my stomach like a great wadge of air. But at least I managed the entire two hours of choir practice with no outpouring. Which was a relief both for myself and all others present.

Most definitely Jerusalem artichokes will never grace our food table again. But the good news is that Max and the girls love them.

And here he is opening his mouth to be given one. Actually, in this case, this was not quite why he had opened his mouth because Hubs was with me, and he was giving Hubs his 'These are my girls, not yours, so don't you dare come onto my patch and fiddle about with them' warning.

Oh I forgot to tell you. That wound on his flank which I was so worried about because it wouldn't heal up still wasn't healing. And then a wound on his other flank opened up. He stopped eating. Was depressed. The girls, meanwhile, who were in the adjacent paddock, were doing alright. Now nearly a year old, they are almost full grown.

Out intent was to keep Max and the girls separated until early next year, when hopefully we would be ready to mate them. Obviously this plan has been demolished because you can see that they are already together.

It was when Hubs rushed into the kitchen with the news that that other wound on Max had opened up, that my immediate instinct was to say 'Open the gate between the paddocks'. Funnily enough, those wounds healed overnight. So not sure what was causing them, but mightily relieved that they are healed.

Need to go now, as have a choir concert this morning in Maubourguet chuch. We are singing a Haydn mass during the Sunday morning service. Hopefully it will be better than the rehearsal a couple of days, but if it isn't then at least we had a go and letting the voice bellow out is an almight joyful experience to have. Sort of blows the cobwebs away. The mass is in Latin. Some of it is very fast. Too fast for me to fit the latin words to. So I sing the tune but sort of diddle away with my voice, not singing any words in particular but nevertheless making sound. This choir, by the way, is the French choir.

Anyway, hope you have a good day. And may I say that it is not a good idea to eat Jerusalem artichokes unless one has a cast iron stomach or one does not mind being nearly lifted off one's chair by the resultant through flow of wind.

Friday 11 November 2011

Oh no! Not another one!

The warm weather, interspersed with heavy showers of rain, has made the grass greener, and the remaining flowers lift their heads and decide not to allow themselves to die quite yet. Everything looks all shiny and washed: the new roofs on the house and barns shine, the car (which is never washed down) does not look quite so mucky, and the fields are bright with the colour of new growth. Of the spear heads of grass upwardly pointing. Of the plethora of mushrooms making pretty white blobs amongst the green. 

And gosh! How the mushrooms have flourished this year. Loads of different types: little button ones, bigger flat headed ones, and others. 

Inspired by this possible bounty, Forager Hubs picked a dishful and presented them to me, saying that perhaps we could have them with our bacon and eggs. 

But no. There was no way I was going to put those on a plate of food. I had read that mushrooms account for more deaths in France than anything else, so definitely no! I suppose I could have taken them to the local chemist for analysis, to see if they were poison or not, but that would have been another job to add to the already long list, so perhaps next year......but not this year. 

Those picked mushrooms now languish on the compost heap. 

A phone call arrived yesterday. In brief it went: "Carole here. Don't suppose you would like to help us out only our choir leader is going back to the UK forever and I don't want to lead the choir because I want to sing and since you play the piano so sensitively I wondered if you could take over the choir because we have two concerts between now and Christmas and we have invited two other choirs to sing with us and do you think you could do this for us it is for our Cancer charity so it is for a good cause."

".....but don't think you have to do this. I wouldn't want to feel that you obligated or anything.....
Oh alright! So I said yes!

And so why do I do these things. I have never in my life led a choir, even a small choir of about seventeen. Oh I can read music, and I can sing, and I can play the piano, but I am still not experienced in leading a choir. Ho hum. Will have a go.

And indeed I did. Because I have now been to a choir rehearsal. Sat on the sidelines. Didn't interfere. But did manage to make a few tactful suggestions. Everyone said that they hoped I would come again. So I will. Only thing is that it is a mixed choir, of English, French and Dutch, the communal language being French. Not to worry. I shall have a go.
In the supermarket, though, a man approached me this morning.
"Hello, Vera isn't it? How are those pigs of yours, and are you selling any lambs yet?"
Strooth, but so many people seem to know of us while we don't seem to know who they are.
"And I hear that you are leading Carole's choir. Will be at the concert so we shall see you there then."
Ummmmmm. That put pressure on me. Didn't like the thought of word getting around that I was going to lead the choir. Would have preferred to remain anonymous!

An event last night: Hubs /Flock Master to the sheep was doing his usual night time 'gathering in' of the sheep. One missing. Got the rest up the side path and into the Sheep Paddock. Went in search of the missing one. She was in the small woodland in which the sheep take shelter from the sun and / or the rain. She was flat on her back with legs all akimbo and tummy and undercarriage fully exposed, and a large pile of poo at her rear end. His heart did a flip. Not another loss. Not another sheep to be incinerated. Having already lost two to natural causes over the last couple of months, to lose another one would really put a dent in our confidence about raising a flock of sheep.

He scrambled up the steep bank, which is to the rear of the little woodland, to have a closer look at her. It was not good. Her head was flopped over to one side. Her tongue was lolloping out of her mouth. She was definitely not in this world, he thought. So he did a shake on her tummy, just to make sure.

Crikey but up she sprang with a leap, and off she galloped, as spooked as hell. Further into the woodland she went. It was getting dark. She was amongst the brambles. Leave her for the night, that is what he had to do.

For the rest evening and all of the night it rested in our minds that we would be making another bonfire in the morning.

But no. We didn't have to. Because she woke us up in the morning with her shouts of annoyance at not being with the rest of her flock. At full voice she did yell. Maximum volume. Loud. She didn't stop until the rest of the sheep were back in the field. And only after Hubs / P******d off Shepherder had had to scamble his way through the bramble patch to shoo her out onto the main field.

So no bonfire, which was a relief. As I say, we are still not very confident about animal management but are gaining much experience along the way. why was she so 'out of it' last night? Why was she so 'stoned'?

The answer lies in those pretty white blobs sprinkled over the bright green grass. We think she partook of some mushrooms. That they made her drugged up. Put her into another world. Blissfully, said Hubs judging by the relaxed flat on her back with legs and head all akimbo state of her.

Now must close. Choir music to look at. Mangel roots to lift for the pigs. Remembrance Service in Castelnau to attend to. Sheep Arbre to be poo-cleaned. Dinner to cook. Eggs to go-find. Mushrooms to be foraged for............

Monday 7 November 2011

Shenanigans in the duck pond

OK. A bit of an exageration. We don't have ducks but we do have geese. Neither do we have a proper duck pond. We shall convert the big pond down in the woods eventually. For the moment this is what we have on offer for the geese:

And yes, I do know that it is a bit on the small side but it is the best we can do for the moment. Anyway, they let us know when the water level drops below half, and anyway, of late it has rained. Therefore there are puddles. Especially out on the front of the drive. Super duper puddles actually. Splendid for the three to go have a splash in. Am having to go fetch them back in, because the little lane runs beside the puddle. Wouldn't want them to wander off. They respond with good humour though. With a quack and a honk they waddle off good humouredly back down the drive.

It is the chickens which have led them astray. The geese regard themselves as part of the chicken flock and are often to be seen wandering about with them. When the chickens roam, so do the geese. It is lovely to see. They truly are free range, all of them.

Two males and a female, that is what we have by way of geese, not the two females and one male we thought we had. But there seems to be a problem in regard to the mating ritual as can be seen by the attempted couplings of either the male to the male, or the male to the female, or all three together having a go. And all in the 'duckpond' because that is where water fowl mate - in water. It is a bit of a squash. They make a lot of noise. It is a joyful sound.

Geese flew overhead last night. Quite low they were. Thought it was our three taking off into the night. Not sure why they don't take to the skies. They race up and down often enough, flapping their wings furiously as if getting ready to take off, and then they come to a halt, all effort expired. Thought it was a bit late in the year for the wild geese to be going south over the Pyrenees and then down on to Africa. Glad we heard them though. We missed the leaving of the swallows and wagtails. They did do a gathering around here for several days and the air was full of their coming and goings. And then they went. For the last three years they have parked up on the electricity and phone lines before setting off so I have had a chat with them and wished them bon voyage. We find it a wonderful thing that these small creatures fly such long distances. We have a love in our hearts for the effort they make.

Meanwhile, finally, we put the fire on, not because it was too cold, but because we had got all sogged up when to-ing and fro-ing with the animals, the rain being heavy and the mud being squelchy thus making us feel damp. And then there was Gussy looking misty eyed at Hubs, begging him for the comfort of heat. Bools just sat all forlorn. He is good at doing that.

So the fire was lit for the first time this year. As per usual, though, we have been too busy to sort the wood out, so most of it remains on the wood heap, the contents of the wood heap being the wood from the house when it was stripped out prior to the roofs going on. It has rained, so the wood is wet. Not to worry. Did the same last year, but managed to get through the winter with sufficient wood. We are not hot house people. I think it was that first winter training we had. When we had just one caravan with a gazebo beside it. When Hubs worked on his PC during the day with his office in the UK, with only the thin plastic wall of the gazebo between him and the outside world. When my 'kitchen' was the other end of the gazebo. When I wouldn't shut the caravan door and stay warm in the caravan while Hubs froze out in the gazebo. When I wouldn't even put heating on in the caravan because it was not fair to be warm while Hubs froze.

This was the gazebo in its pristine state. Within a month it was covered over with tarpaulins because it leaked like a sieve. Not to worry, though, because it gave us a yardstick on which to measure how cold we can become before we need to put heating on. Living in that caravan and gazebo hardened us up after the softness of the centrally heated environment of the UK. It was tough, but it was necessary. One can't run a smallholding if one is going to be a wuzz about the cold.

Ooops. The chickens and geese are telling me that it is time to pay them some attention, so off I go into my day. Hope you have a good week, ........