Wednesday 28 May 2014

On the subject of eggs and milk

....on the subject of eggs and milk: we have none, although the supermarket has plenty, so we could go and buy these necessary items, but we were producing our own, which has spoilt us for massed produced food, and now the eggs are disappearing down the throats of the local predators (including our dogs) at a time when the hens are having a rest from laying eggs so are not producing many in the first place.

Message to the self: we really need to get a proper hen house sorted out.

As for milk: Lissie is now looking like a balloon, as she continues to expand sideways (her calf is due at the end of August) Lester has been milking her for a year now, so time to let her have some rest from udder manipulation. Meanwhile, our best milking goat died a while ago, and the other milking goat is a b*******r so Lester has given up milking her. So no goat milk either.

So, no milk coming into the kitchen, and what a gap that is leaving in our larder. No pot cheese (which I use in everything), no milk for cooking or for putting in tea/coffee (although we are getting used to black tea/coffee), and no cream (although most of that was made into butter, and that we do have plenty of because it is stored in the freezer).

And that is a problem with providing one's food. No produce coming in, nothing in the larder. I hope this thought will ignite me into protecting the last of the cherries. I canned this produce last year, and they turned out fabbo. But hay making intervened when I was given a big pot of cherries and they went rotten before I could get them canned, so the pigs had them (nothing wasted here), and now our cherries are ripening but disappearing because I have not had the time, nor the energy, to get bird protection sorted out.

And neither has the mint been picked, although that can wait a day or two. And then there are the potatoes to earth up. And the veg plot to weed because we are having warm and wet weather which encourages everything native to grow rampantly. And then there are the seeds still to be planted. And we have no eggs. But I did freeze some so can still make cakes. And we have no milk. But I do still have a packet or two of goats milk in the freezer, but that is only for drinking because goat's milk tends to curdle when heated.

Apart from that, we have been busy with The Bollards, (our band) which is taking too much of our time, but seems unstoppable. I did make the decision to disband because I didn't think that the quality of the band was good enough to play in public (we are playing on the 9th June), but the other members of the band rallied, and pulled out a creditable performance at the last practice session. We do actually make a reasonable sound for amateurs when everyone concentrates. So.......onwards with the band.

We lost another goat last was a youngster who went berserk, jumping madly here, there, and everywhere, when she should have been coming in from the field with her mum. Unfortunately she chose to do that in the courtyard. The dogs were also in the courtyard. A chase ensued. She broke her leg. She has now been put back to nature in the woods. Goats and us seem not to gel. Of all the animals we have had, and still do have, the goats are suffering the most mortalities, are the worst behaved, and are the ones which try our patience the hardest.

Off to do farm chores now. There is a heaviness in the air today. Makes it hard to find any energy. The urge to lie down is strong. But need to save the cherries.

Hope you are up and doing. Hope you are well.


Wednesday 21 May 2014

Bringing the hay home

It was six days ago that this photo was taken. I have walked many a mile since then, but not in one straight line, as in going from one place to another, but going up and down and round and round the far field of Labartere.
It was haymaking time.

All we were going to do was cut the grass of the field.
It wasn't cut last  year, but I did scythe and make hay bales from in it the previous year, mostly by myself because Lester was busy working on his computer with his ex-UK employer. It took weeks. But I got it done.
However, we now have a compact tractor,
and we have a topper,
so we thought it a good idea for Lester to cut the field,
only the topper would not cut the grass cleanly unless I walked behind it and raked the piles of cut grass away from the uncut grass.
Which I did.
This was to be the start of my five day marathon.

The thing is, that tall standing grass needs to be cut when dry.
Which means that the sun needs to be shining.
Which means that it is hot, hot, hot.

And here is the view from the far field, looking back towards the house....

..... and so I marched behind the tractor until the field was cut.
Five hours was all it took. It felt much longer.
And as we looked at the cut grass it came into our heads that perhaps we ought to dry it and make hay, rather than let it rot.
We had a five day window of hot, sunny, weather, to get the job done.
And then it was the second day, and the turning of the hay, and the turning of the hay again, and the turning of the hay again, etc......
So on the morning of the third day we were wilting. It was taking us two to three hours to get the hay turned over so it could dry.....
and then the Universe sent us in people to help...
(the bodhrum player with our band, the Bollards)
and husband John (left)
(singer, and 'drummer' with the Bollards)

And together we four got that hay dried and baled.
....and the storm clouds started gathering, and the rain drops they did plop,
but we raced the weather,
and we just about won.
The first of the much needed rain fell
just as we brought the last bales in.


 Thankyou, John and Kathy, for your efforts,
we would have never done it without you!

And the new residents in the bathroom...

...four little balls of fluff!

Wednesday 14 May 2014

To the rescue!

Off out today, down to the plant shop near Tarbes to buy in tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, and chilli plants. However, feeling mildly guilty because we should have grown these plants on from seed but didn't. And oh how the guilt can rub quite a sore spot in one's head, when one sees the price of the plants (80 centimes, about 50p) in comparison to a packet of seeds from which one can get loads of plants.

But then there is the time factor. Of planting, watering, and nurturing, those seedlings and the despair when one gets up in the morning to find that all have been nibbled down to nothing. How one can get quite upset about that.

So, to buy in young plants, or to grow from seed? This year we have bought in. 30 Euros it cost us for 12 tomatoes, 6 aubergines, 6 chillis, and 6 peppers. I am still flinching at how much of a saving we would have made if we had grown from seed.

Hence: the Polytunnel Project. Will defo get a poly soon, hopefully before the end of this year so we can grown our own plants.

Next stop: the plant shop next door to the plant shop I have just mentioned. Wanted some hormone rooting powder. Had inadvertently thwacked down a young shrub that I had planted two years ago. It had become overgrown with grass, so I was trying to save it by scything the grass away from it, but oh dearie me, I overdid one of the scythe swings and chopped that little shrub down, after which I was bathed in feelings of guilt (there seems to be a lot of guilt attached to my gardening efforts), and promised the little plant that I would try to take some cuttings from it, only I forgot to put the little plant in some water to keep it going, so I found it this morning looking dismal and forlorn, but I did say sorry to it and promised to get some hormone rooting powder to see if I could help it make more of itself, only I am not at all skilled in doing such a thing as taking cuttings off a plant, although I seem to be very skilled about cutting things down.

Hormone powder got. Had a look at the fish tanks on the way through the shop. Lester wants to put a fish tank in the hole in the wall in the front room. We are also dead keen on doing an aquaponics system here, possibly in the courtyard. The fish were interesting, although I preferred watching the waving fronds of the grass in the tanks rather than the fish. I became quite mesmerized by the swinging to and fro of the plants, hypnotized even. Lester gave me a shove to move me on.

And there, just around the corner was a tank of something else. No, it was not the tanks of little white mice, (we have our own mice and rats in quantity) nor was it the tanks of  sweet little rabbits (who we know by experience are not as sweet and nice an animal as they look), it was that tank over there.......the tank which was full of little day old chicks.

Now, I have been feeding chicks for the last three months, and had only recently informed Lester that he was not to put any more eggs in the incubator, nor were any of the hens to be allowed to go broody for a while, because I wanted to lose the job of 'chief carer of chicks'. Oh but! Those little chicks in the tank! (and here I must quickly add the there was no water in those tanks of mice, rabbits or chicks, just in case your imagination was going a bit astray!) Nothing for it but to buy a few. Four. That is how many we bought, at 1 euro each, and at a day old.

How easily one is pleased when one is a smallholder. How in past times I can remember being pleased (sort of) when we purchased a huge big screen of a TV, and now our faces were all of a beam because we had purchased four little chicks, who by now were having attitude because they did not like being carried about in two little boxes. It is such little pleasures that contain the true joy of being a smallholder. I felt quite motherly and protective to those little ones.

Home, and those little chicks, now rescued from the tank in the shop, are cosying up to a little black bantam hen who has just hatched just one chick from her heap of six eggs. The good thing about hens is that they can't count, so other chicks of a similar age can be put with the chicks the hen has already hatched. The black bantam thought she had one, now she has five little ones to look after, and I have another family to feed. It surprises me, though, that we only came out of the shop with four. If we had the facilities, we would have probably bought the lot!

Tasks for today: cut the further field because it is coming into hay making time.
- start cutting and dehydrating the various patches of mint. Shoulda but hasna been done.
- plant out the plants bought earlier on today.
- get the pressure cooked leg of lamb prepped to put into bottling jars. There is an urgent need to make room in the freezers for more incoming meat. This over production of meat will not last beyond this year, it is just for now that we are over producing.

But first, time for a five minute sit down because I have worn myself out just by thinking about the list of smallholding tasks waiting to be done!

And a quick look round my Front Garden Project:

...... this patch has just been excavated from out of the rampant undergrowth.... what I have been doing is scything down the tall grass, then going over the shortened stumps with my push-pull lawn mower, which is hard work but good for the body (I think).

And here is the right hand side of the front garden, still in its overgrown state. Lots to do!

..... and even more to do on the far right had side. There some plants growing in amongst that lot!

....and here is the same patch after it was cleared of the six foot high brambles in September 2008. At least it looks better than what it did before we came here.

And now I hear the roar of the little tractor signalling that Lester is off down to the bottom field to cut the grass. We have a window, apparently, of five days in which to get the grass cut, dried, and baled. At least I do not have to scythe that field like I did last year, just rake, turn, rake, turn, rake, turn, etc, ...until the grass is dried.

Oh well, sit down time has now passed, and I must away....

You doing anything with hay this year? No? You busy tomorrow, or the next day? Want to come and do a bit of hay making with us?


Friday 9 May 2014


A bit of a sadness here. Blackie (the goat on the right) died last night, or rather, we had to help her on her way. She had suddenly failed during the day, and went down on the ground late afternoon. When an animal 'goes down' it means that they are finished with life. But she was in pain so, as I say, we helped her go.

I read somewhere that if you keep livestock and can't bury them, then you shouldn't keep livestock at all. I suppose that means that one has to have the courage to end their lives, whether it is for the kitchen or to put the animal out of pain. This is a toughie. Never, ever, do we take the death of one of our animals lightly.

The male goat we put into the freezer was Blackie's son. He was a grand boy, but was going to start procreating with the other females soon. This we did not want. We could have kept him separate from the females but this would not have been kind to him. Eventually we shall keep the ram (when we get another one) and the billy goat (when we get another one) together for companionship because all animals need this. And yes, we shall keep on with goats, but will only have three. The herd we started off with has provided us with a grand learning curve which has been priceless, but this herd is now done. We shall look after the rest of the goats, but they will go into the freezer when we have room.

Blackie was our best milking goat but, on reflection, I think she was probably not going to last for much longer anyway. We think that she was an old goat to begin with, and although she gave us a healthy billy goat, this year's goatling died within a month of being born. That was tough to deal with as well.

All in all, smallholding can be a bit of a b******r sometimes.


Tuesday 6 May 2014

Bonny takes a tumble

So everyone was being brought in for the night. Sheep in. Lissie (our Mum cow) in. Now Bonny's turn. Rope on, and out through the gate entrance she came, heading for her usual quick munch of rampant meadow grass growing alongside the driveway. Ah, but no, Lester was short on time, had had an extended nap during the afternoon while I was out, was therefore running late. No, Bonny, you are not going to stop for a munch, you must go in, this is what Lester was saying to her.

Did you know that cows can go on strike? Well they do. And how do they do it? Collapse down on their knees, that is what they do. And she did. Down she went. Only she miss-timed the 'strike' action, and instead sort of keeled over. On her back, that is where she ended up. She did not seem to realise that flapping her legs and feet skyward was not going to get her the right way up, that all she needed to do was an elegant roll on to her side, then a quick heave, and back on her feet she would be, no, she just stayed on her back, by the side of the lane, with all four feet upwards.

Lester to the rescue. With much difficulty (because she is getting quite a size now), he got her turned over and back on her feet. Would she have learnt her lesson, do you think? Would she now think twice before going into strike mode again? Probably not!

And the joy of having thousands of buttercups and other wild flowers in bloom...

....and the not so joyful task of mopping up the manky bum of our grey cockerel...

....and the mint is ready to be picked. I should wait until it is nearly blossoming, because that is when the taste of mint is at its strongest,
but the leaves get eaten by things,
so best to get the mint picked now.

I did have another bed of mint, but it was in the middle of a large patch of tall grass,
which was then mown down by Lester when he was in the mode of 'man sitting in a reverie on his little tractor' as he cut the grass.
I have to keep an eye on him when he is in such a mode because things get cut down which should not be cut down, like my other mint bed.
Not to worry, lots of other patches of mint here and there.
And it looks like I shall be making some plum jam soon....
....and the back field fencing is still standing, the pigs not having had the chance to test the strength of the fencing yet, because the gates to the paddocks are still not done. But the grass is growing strong, so the pigs are going to have a real feast when they do actually have the pleasure of a day away from their current paddock.

It is all looking very lush here at the moment, except for the veg plot which is still not showing any signs of life, apart from some potatoes peeping through.
But soon.....soon it will be time to start the battle of the weeds.
Off now to tackle my front garden project.
Love and blessings,

Thursday 1 May 2014

They're at it again!

And yet another swarm came out of the hive yesterday, which makes three swarms in three weeks. We did think about capturing the swarm which happened yesterday, but decided that we had so many other things going on at the moment, that we would let them go, and sort out being 'proper' bee keepers next year. But at least we are contributing to the local bee population, and we know the farmer who has loads of bee hives in the woods along the escarpment near to us, so hopefully our last two swarms will have found themselves a new home. But the first one which we captured, they are doing alright. (see previous two blogs)

Meanwhile, Lester continues to patch up the kitchen in between doing outside jobs, one of which was to slaughter the male goat. It was a relief. He was a gentle soul but the girls are going to come into season soon and we do not want any more goatlings from them. Our plan is to home kill most of the goats we have at the moment and to buy in two new anglo nubian females. We have learnt that we can support and manage two milking goats, plus a male, plus their offspring when they have them which would go into the freezer after they have had several months out in the fields. It looks like we shall continue with goats. It has been an up and down journey. They are not the most easiest of animals to have on a smallholding.

Apparently it takes upwards of five years to become adjusted to the lifestyle of being a smallholder. Might take us longer because we also have a home to renovate, plus we are still building the infrastructure of the smallholding. Therefore to forgive ourselves when we slip backwards and our enthusiasm for doing all what we are doing goes on the wane. Not to worry, after a day or two of slothfulness we always get back in the saddle again. We love this life, but sometimes forget that we do.

...and so here is the nettle bin. It has the remains of last year's nettle fertiliser in it. It therefore stinks. I mean, really, it stinks! I might forgo making nettle fertiliser this year. I could kick the bin over I suppose, and then head in the opposite direction tout suite. But Lester is head honcho gardener this year, and I do not think he will cope with making the soup mix of nettles from which one gets nettle fertiliser. I think that we shall leave the making of nettle fertiliser until next year. Something to look forward to.......?!

Off up to the mayor's office up in Castelnau to tell him we have two rottweiller girls. Have just been helping Lester in the kitchen. Got showered by bits of concrete when responding to his demands requests to hold a bit of wood up against the side of the window which needed patching so he could get a straight straightish edge. I think he is doing well.

Hours later: never got to the mayor's office as got involved with more concrete showers. Then lunch. Then off to a supermarket which reminded us of why we do not like shopping. Then back home for a nap to do some more work.

Right then, the day is done, and I am off to bed. Bye for now. Vx