Thursday 25 September 2014

A pile of photos, sharing my world....

Our river, the Adour,
all quite and gentle,
lazing her way through the last of the summer days....

...and our river beach, 
which is soon to be taken away again
by men in machines.
But it will return as winter weather pushes water down the river,
the force of which plays with the stones on the river bed,
which will eventually make a new beach.

And the back of the house,
with Lester busy feeding the pigs....

..... and a little while later,
carrying on with getting the gates done in the new paddocks,

..... so that these hooligans can get out onto grass,
which they will hopefully dig the roots up of,
to make for us next year's veg patch.

...and Max having a strop about the noise Lester is making with his grinder..

Sometimes it is hard to think that just over six years ago we didn't have a roof, and we didn't have pigs, or any of the other animals, nor did we have a veg plot, nor fenced fields and paddocks. 

Sometimes it is good to look back to see how far we have come...

Winter 2008

September 2014
The fenced areas  in front of the house are the new paddocks which Lester is making the gates for,
the lighter green on the right is the Side Field,
and the lighter green towards the horizon on the left is the Home Field,
which is our main grazing area.


Tuesday 23 September 2014

Welding, dervish cows, yog making.

We are not continuing on with painting the kitchen,
because we need to get the pigs out onto the back paddocks,
so we have been learning to weld.
Which requires that I sit, watch, and keep Lester company,
while he does the job.
Only he couldn't get his new little welding machine
to even raise a spark,
so a phone call to friend John saved the day.

Two leads, one clipped onto the  metal
(and not attached to the cement mixer as Lester had thought)
and the other attached to a clip thing which held a rod.
(if the rod is upside down it doesn't work, hence 'no spark')

...and then there was the hat to sort out,
which Lester had assembled,
but not in quite the right way,
and then on to the making of the gate.....

.....and the raising of a spark,
and the gluing welding of the parts,

..and the megga patience of friend John,
who hardly raised his voice at all,
as he patiently passed on his welding skills to Lester,
who equally as patiently accepted his teaching.

And so L has the basics now
and can make a simple gate. 
Only nine more to do!
He also needs a proper work bench,
and a proper work shed,
so he is going to take over the goose house,
which used to be our office,
which used to be the original chicken and pig lodgings
when Labartere was a farm in the olden days.
He has grand plans for that space.
I think it will turn into a 'man only' zone.

On the subject of cows:

When a cow comes into season she is difficult.
Her milk yield will go down,
she will put her foot in the milk pail when being milked,
she will fidget when being milked,
she will not allow herself to be calmly led from field to barn,
but will slip the lead,
and go for a gallop round and about the place,
with calf galloping along behind if she still has one with her,
both of them thinking it a grand lark to be chased,
both kicking up their heels to show their delight.
This is what happened yesterday.

For months she has been docile,
strolling along betwixt field and barn with calm dignity,
apart from having an occasional urge to munch greenery along the way,
which sometimes has Lester suddenly going from this way to that way.
He had forgotten what a howling dervish of a cow she can be
when she is having a season.
She is a fiend.

On the subject of DIY yoghurt:

It is delish!
Try it!
I used probiotic yoghurt culture from The Cheesemaker

but here in SW France you can buy sachets of yoghurt culture,
not sure if you can do the same in your part of the world,
wherever that may be, bless you.

All you do is heat the milk slowly in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring occasionally to stop the milk from sticking to the pan. When the milk is just starting to bubble around the edges showing that it is just about to start heading towards a boil, then shut off the heat and let the milk cool down until just slightly warmer than tepid. Then into a container, (I use a canning jar). Cover with a cloth to stop flies, etc...from swimming around in the soon-to-be-yoghurt.
Put into a warm place. I put the jar in our bathroom which is always warm.
I have used a thermal flask before, and that worked as well. You do not need a fangly bit of kit like a yoghurt maker to make yoghurt, just a warm place. Even a working kitchen will do, or a dehydrator.
Leave overnight, and in the morning, done!
It tastes far better than shop bought yoghurts, and you can add whatever flavourings you want, although the particular culture I used makes for a calm, creamy, less tangy tasting yoghurt to the ones you buy from the shops, so I mostly eat it plain. 
Anyway, passing this on to you. DIY yoghurt is easy and tastes real good.

And thanks to...

 for being so patient and for being L's best buddy
 Thanks for letting us borrow J for the afternoon.

One nearly finished gate,
one very enthused man now he can do simple welding,
and two happy hens who were just about to be fed.

It is good to learn new things,

Sunday 21 September 2014


All was quiet in our corner of the world,
no guns sounding,
no dogs howling,
not today.
For it is now the hunting season,
when men with guns and dogs go merrily shooting.
They shoot anything which moves,
so it is best to take care.
Their aim is better in the mornings though,
but not in the afternoons,
when they have had a drop or two of wine.
But today, they were somewhere else.

'They're back'
'I've got another one!'
'....And another.....'
could be heard coming from our corner,
from time to time,
throughout the day,
and the previous day,
and will be heard in the days ahead....
because those horrid giant hornets are back.
And they have killed off one of our bee hives.
But we did not realise that it had happened
Because our attention has been taken up with other things painting the kitchen...

and getting the shelves in the larder filled up....

Bless me, but I have remembered to label every single jar this year, something I learnt after spending ages trying to remember what the jars held after last year's harvest. 

....So back to the beehives:
We had two, one is now done for,
one is just about functioning.
But we counted six hornets yesterday evening,
waiting to pounce on the homeward coming bees,
armed with our fly swats we went onto the attack.
And thwack again!
And today the same.
And we shatter the peacefulness of our corner of the world
by yelling our enthusiasm for the hunt.
'There's one! Get it!'
' missed!'
...and so on.
And the hunt for those hornets has become a passion,
such that I can understand why the French menfolk
like to go a-hunting over the woods and fields,
except that they have guns instead of fly swats.
It is the way here.

And this is what Lester found inside the dead hive:


A pile of wax,
which he has put into a bucket with the instructions to
'Melt and strain', he said.
Anyone know what I can do with a pile of wax?

And here's a strange thing....
that beehive was empty,
we know this because Lester had a look inside it,
as he was removing the top box.
A couple of hours later.....
And so why were there a bunch of bees flying around it
and going inside,
and not coming out again,
as if was their home.
Where did they come from?
Not from the other hive surely....
but the hornets were gleeful,
because they now had two hives to attack again,
and so we spend another hour or so fly swatting them,
and killed quite a few.

Apparently about one hundred French farmers torched their local tax office the other day, after dumping a load of rotting veg in front of it first.
They were complaining about the cost of living.
I think we can all identify with their concerns!

Friday 19 September 2014

Courgettes, painting, then courgettes again......and figs!

The plod through the harvesting is what I am doing, plus I am supposed to be helping with painting the kitchen, but the demands of trying to cope with our huge pile of courgettes is overcoming my will to paint those walls. 

I have already dehydrated lots of courgettes. Not sure how they will rehydrate, but it doesn't matter if they turn out not so nice because I can grind them up and use them to flavour and thicken soups and casseroles, which will save me having to buy stock cubes. But, thank goodness, I am coming to the end of the fig harvest. I didn't make as much fig jam (15 jars) or fig chutney (9 jars) this year, but I have dehydrated loads. Those slices of dried figs are our most favourite snack to munch on. Ok, well, they do tend to make us windy, but on the other hand, eating them does keep our food transit systems marching along at a goodly pace. 

Courgettes: Have also thrown together a courgette and apple chutney (5 jars). Yummy, that's all I can say. Didn't have a recipe, but just did about a kilo each of chopped up courgettes and apples. Sweated several onions first in a drop of oil in a pan. Added the courgettes and apples, added in about 400 grams of brown sugar (the last I had) and just under half a litre of vinegar. Couldn't be bothered with fussing about putting spices into a spice bag (I normally make my spice bags out of muslin but didn't have any made) so I threw some this and thats (cloves, fresh ginger, bay leaf, cinnamon, and can't remember what else!)  into my spice mill, and then put the now ground up powder into the chutney. Two hours later, and wow, but I could have eaten the lot there and then and not saved it for a few weeks for it to mature, which is what you are supposed to do chutney after it is made. 

And it just proves that keeping things simple really does work. The reason why I didn't make more of the fig chutney was because I use a recipe which was given to me by a friend, and it is such a complicated list of ingredients that it fair tires me out by the time everything is cooking in the pot. Next season I shall probably invent my own recipe for that chutney as well. This is my fourth year of jamming and chutneying and I am finally getting into the swing of it. Be bold and have a go, that is what I have learnt. 

I am going to do the same with courgette and apple jam. 1 kilo of each plus one kilo of sugar plus a good quantity of grated fresh ginger. If it doesn't turn out alright, then I can always use it for cooking with. 

Got a huge pot of courgette, lentil, and potato curry on the stove. No recipe again, just frequent tasting to see what else I can add to the mix. So, curry for supper, and the rest is to go into canning jars. 
The rest of the courgettes will be going to the animals. The seeds and fibrous innards go to the chickens. The flesh is cooked up for the pigs. Winners all round, nothing is wasted!

All this food......, but our actual meals have been minimal and uninspiring of late because I am too busy with getting all this produce stored up for the winter. Plenty of food coming in, but no time to cook meals!

.............and I still have not started on that huge pile of squash that I photographed in my last blog! 

On the subject of milk: Lissie is milking very low at the moment, with falling milk yields every day. Her boy calf is with her all day, but at night he goes into Bonny's pen so we can have the overnight milk for the kitchen. But I don't mind not being swamped by milk because I don't have the time to make dairy products at the moment, so any excess would have to go out to the pigs, which they would love. The  satisfied grunts as they slurp up of the 'divine nectar' says this is so. 

The boy calf can't stay with us, neither can we sell him. It is a sadness that we shall not be able to keep him until he is a juvenile (which is the age we keep all our animals who are destined for the table) because of the lack of winter grazing when the floods come. Neither can we bring ourselves to put him into our own food chain, so he is to be dispatched here and then donated to a local farmer who is going to BBQ him. The day that we have to do that is going to be a hard one. But it is the life of a farm. It is the way. 

On the subject of painting: It is slow going, but all the walls of the kitchen now have their first coat of paint. I have to take over the task of getting the other coats on the walls because Lester needs to finish off the paddocks out back. The piglets are getting bigger. MumSow has almost weaned them and now they need to go out onto the paddocks so they can start turning over the grass and digging up the roots. Earn their keep, that is what they are going to have to do. We did think about selling the seven but think that we shall keep them for our table. Males will be done first, so will be quite small, then the four girls will be given time to grow bigger. Hope to explore ham making. Can do bacon although have not made any for ages, but I think that DIY ham would be a good addition to our larder.

Has anyone out there in blogging land made ham? Would appreciate some helpful hints if you have.

Meanwhile, off to cut up some more courgettes to dehydrate overnight. The painting will have to wait until tomorrow!


Monday 15 September 2014

Into the jungle

And I am re-enthused about indoors, as we now, yes, yes, yes!!! have started painting the kitchen walls. 

Tiles laid on the floor after that, although there are a couple of slight bumpy bits in the concrete which Lester says will have to be smoothed off first. 
But, wahhay!!! Paint. On the walls!

The beans, neglected after being strung up on the support wires, the poles of the wires going rickety and then collapsing some time during July. 
So, no green beans were picked, 
but after a rummage about in the heap of bean plants,
I harvested a bucket of these goodies....

....and there are still more to come!
Dry them, shell them, and we shall have a harvest of dried beans for the winter.

And from this tangle came....

...and there are still more to come as well!

The onions are nil.
The beetroot is still to be found. 
The kale is now doomed after Lester scythed it into oblivion,
thinking that it was dead anyway,
it wasn't
it just needed freeing up from the weeds.
The tomatoes never happened.
The potatoes, however, did happen.
The big green brassica type plants are still growing strongly.
The cabbages have been picked and eaten.
The green peppers were fantastic.
The aubergines are still trotting along.
The green chillies were OK.
The courgettes, well....what can I say!
They have romped away,
and I have a load to get processed.
The parsley and coriander were overcome.
The melons never got going.
The peanut plants were zilch.
The big green brassica type plants are still growing strongly.
The cabbages have been picked and eaten.

Not to worry, from out of the veggie and weed jungle we did get a harvest, and we have paint on the walls, and some on me as well because I always get into a muck when I paint. Not to worry, it washes off, and we have paint on the walls, and I am sorry to keep going on about it, but, well, we have started painting.....and we have got a harvest of veg, and we like being smallholding / homesteading folk, and we have started painting........


Sunday 7 September 2014

Time out

Sometimes even we have to have time out even though it has been lovely weather, the fields are green and sprinkled with the prettiest of white flowers, the animals are plump and happy, and our petite ferme looks everyone's dream of what a smallholding should like, this having been said several times by people who have visited us lately. It does not always look so lovely, not when winter and the flood arrive. Not to worry, even then prettiness can be found somewhere if we try hard enough to look. Or I can look back at the blogs and be reminded that it is worthwhile to keep persevering at learning to be a smallholder's wife, reading about how far we have come, what I have learnt, what I need to do better with, etc........ And then I can go visit my fellow blogging friends, and read about what they are up to, how they are managing their farms / smallholdings / homesteads, and then I feel that I am not my own, and that there are other people out there doing similar to us. But we still need to have time out sometimes.......

And so we organised a trip out with friends. A concert at Aire sur l'Adour is where we went. Listening to a band playing Irish music is what we did. The French playing Irish music is not the same as our DIY band playing Irish music which is nothing at all like a proper Irish band playing Irish music. Nevertheless it was a grand evening. Listening to other people playing similar music, well you can two things. You can either be highly critical of their playing. Or you can listen attentively and absorb what they are doing, how they are doing it, and what you can do to improve your own playing, which is what I did. 

Where we were....

Aire sur l'Adour

La Chapelle de Ursulines

Who we were going to listen to....

Two bands, Etceltera and Salicorne,

Inside the chapel where the concert was being held....

And the good friends we went with......

Mike, Valerie, Lester (Hubby) and Ann

It was treasure of an evening, 
and today we are going to take time out from farm and renovation work to sort out new music for our little band. 
But first I need to make bread, gather some more fennel seeds, ask the pears in the fridge waiting to be put into canning jars if they can wait another day before being processed, explain to the broom that there is no need to sweep today because moi is busy elsewhere, tell my head that it is better to stay awake and do things because napping stops me from having a good night's sleep, tell the lawnmower to stop moaning about not being used and that perhaps tomorrow it can go for a run over the grass, convince my sewing machine that I do love it and not to worry about my lack of effort in switching it on, tell Labartere (our farm) that I do love her but that sometimes, just sometimes, trying to do the best for her can make Lester and me feel that we are pedalling a bike which is going nowhere, but this is only when we are tired and need a change of scenery, just for a while, not for ever, because we could not think of living anywhere else at all.
So with batteries recharged I go off into my day, 

Hope you have a lovely Sunday,
and hope your batteries are getting recharged as well,

Thursday 4 September 2014

Changing fields.....

 Here is our new ram, Jakey Boy.....

.....handsome he may be, but happy he is not,
because himself could not  understand why he was in one field (the side field) while the girl sheep were in the other.
 So for many a day he had moaned, despite being told that he would have to wait a while before he could get to be with them, but that one day he would.
 Still, though, he kept up his persistence about having his rights with them. 

And so we gave in, and opened the gates so the girls could go across the lane into the side field ....

....but the girls hesitated. 'Do we or do we not' head towards that sheep with horns who looks like trouble (but that is only because they are not in season, they will soon change their minds when they are requiring of his services)

Ah, but they haven't been in the side field for a few weeks. It is their favourite field, and so they slowly moved towards the gate towards the side field entrance, this being the field which Bonny and the goats graze in every day and in which Jakey Boy has been staying
...but where was Bonny, who would normally be in the side field?

Bonny was racing up and down in the big field. Having not been in this field for many months, she was romping about.....

....going thisaway and thataway....moaning all the while about being on her own, or so she thought......

..... and then she saw her mum, 

...... and everyone else, so everyone had a mad gallop together....

and then off to have breakfast....

Meanwhile, over in the side field,
the sheep had gone through the gates alright......

..... but then all became not so good as Jakey Boy romped his way over to the girls to say hi, only they weren't fussed....

.... so everyone went thisaway and thataway, which JB found annoying because all he wanted to do was say hi and sniff their bums....

.... but gradually everyone came together,....

... and off they all went, and on into their day.....
I am sure that if sheep could smile then JB would have a grin from ear to ear!