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deborah's blog

June Review

Jul 21, 2008

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June has been a month of highs and low yet again. The low point was reached when Mr Tibbs, my attic cat died. He had finally come down from the attic and had made himself fully at home, following me round the farm and sleeping on my bed. Sadly he ate some rat poison somewhere, I donít use it and I fervently hope there isnít any left lying around from the previous owners. The vet and I battled to keep him alive and at one point we thought we were going to be successful but it was not to be, we just couldnít stop the internal bleeding.

June was also the month of the sour cherries. The late frost here in April wiped out just about all of my tree fruits but a couple of the sour cherry trees were protected from the frost and gave a bumper harvest. The trees havenít been shaped or pruned at all so all the fruit was at the top and un-pickable. Cue pruning chainsaw style and then cherry picking became a lot easier! So I now have what started as 7 lbs of cherries converted to glacť cherries, the left-over syrup from that process is bottled to pour over ice cream or stir into yoghurt, more cherry jam, some cherry jelly which is a really soft set but again is wonderful in yoghurt or crŤme fraiche and some cherry vodka in my store cupboard. The recipes are on my other blog, www.dalnd.blogspot.com

The Lacey Ladies have stopped laying; the most prolific layer went broody first and now has 3 chicks and the next two layers have also gone broody and are on a few eggs leaving only the non-layer to keep the cockerel Mr L company.

June has also been the month of my first haymaking and as expected it was not without drama. Cutting the grass went well, I found two leverets that I was able to chase to the hedge at the top of the field. They needed my presence as I was accompanied on trips round the field by a couple of buzzards, a hawk and a bunch of crows. The buzzards went away hungry but the hawk got a mouse or two while the crows were feasting on the locusts that took flight as I cut. Setting the cutter down once Iíd finished was the problem; all went well until I unhooked the blades from their transport position and tried to lower them to the ground. The hydraulics pushed them from vertical and they toppled, with only the lifting chain to break their fall Ė it failed on the second bounce so Iím now waiting for the chain to be repaired so I can cut another field.

The tedder worked fine and then it was time for the baler. The first bale that had been left over from the last time the baler had been used came out fine but after that nothing. The baler either broke the twine or failed to tie the knots, nothing we did would make it bale so the local agricultural engineer was called to come out and see what was the problem. His diagnoses after riding shotgun on the back of the baler was that he couldnít see anything wrong so though it might be the baler twine. Iíd had bought plastic twine as the local shop was out of sisal. Thankfully Regis whoíd come over to help me with the hay had some sisal lurking at the back of his barn. A change of twine and the baler worked perfectly so I now have small bales of hay that I can manage easily and the alpacas have fresh hay that they love.

There has been some progress on the kitchen as well. Iíd started on some of the wall cupboards with the help of number 2 son who came over for 10 days but had stopped as Iíd had problems with the corner cupboard. In fact both the upper and lower corner cupboards have been the most difficult pieces to fit and I would have been totally stumped if it hadnít been for Chris (another FrenchEntree person) who lives close by. He and his brother had sorted the lower cupboard on a previous visit and Chris worked his magic again and persuaded the upper cupboard to fit Ė the problem there being that the corner was greater than 90 degrees and the walls themselves are not straight vertically or horizontally. But now the cupboards are all up. Are they finished? No of course not as I have my children over for the summer and the outside things such as haymaking have taken precedence.

On the farm, the alpacas have been shorn and are busily re-growing their fleeces. Iíve given up on the vegetable area as by the time the ground dried out enough to be workable everything else needed to be done and it was to late to plant so I now need to rethink what to do to qualify for my carte vitale. But the sun started shining after mid-summers day and all seems like endless summer days again.

Posted By: deborah

Half-Way through the Year

Jun 24, 2008

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Posts can be like London buses, none for ages and than two in less than a month. The unseasonable weather at the beginning of the month has delayed everything and fighting to get the new vegetable plot usable has meant that Iíve ended up neglecting my own food growing area. That however is beginning to come back under control with the better weather and hopefully I will have something to post about that by the end of the month.

The bad weather has allowed me a bit of time to catch up on reading blogs and the like and read the siteís newsletter too.

I was really impressed to see that one of our editors, Amanda Lawrence, had just published her first book, ĎWhite Stone Black Wine Ė Life among the ancient vineyards of the Quercy Blancí. To me that is an amazing feat; I would love to be able to write and convey the sights and sounds as evocatively as she does. When Iím out working, wonderful descriptive phrases wash through my mind only to evaporate down to a few explanatory words when sat in front of a blank computer screen. Well maybe one day but then againÖ another thing to add to the ĎI might have a go at sometimeí list. That list is growing every day probably at twice the rate of the ĎStill to Doí list that never gets any shorter. Still writing for this and my other blog does mean I have a diary of what Iíve done and when.

For those wanting a copy of Amandaís book it can be purchased via her website www.amandalawrence.fr and for each copy sold via her site there will be a donation of 2Ä to either Les Amis des Chats or Poor Paws, if you enter the appropriate voucher code LADC or PAWS.

Posted By: deborah

What happened to the last few months? March, April and May

Jun 02, 2008

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Time is passing by at an incredible rate; in what feels like the blink of an eye nearly three months have passed. So whatís been happening? Well back at the end of February I had finally been able to plough the field I want to become my vegetable growing area and the kitchen units had arrived. Now at the end of May, the field is not much further forward but more of that later and the kitchen is part fitted but due to having a wrong unit delivered I am still awaiting the final unit.

In the meantime I have had the house re-wired Ė I went for surface mounted wiring in the end, partially due to initial cost and partially because I feel that I would be very unlikely receive any benefit from spending the extra to chase it all into the walls when I come to sell. This is a small farm and likely to remain so. So I now have a proper junction box with interrupters/fuses for all circuits. I also have a proper earth and earth wires running to all sockets and switches so I no longer get static shocks off the microwave door or the computer screens. I have a proper parafoudre/surge protector and I have lights and sockets in all rooms. And perhaps best of all I have hot water on tap plus my electric cooker has now been wired in and my wood burning cooker has been installed too. It is beginning to feel a little less like camping now.

All but two of the base unit in the kitchen are fitted, Iíve finally received a missing foot or one unit and as I said above I still need one unit, a terminal unit to be delivered. The paperwork is in the system so Iím sure it will arrive but when is anyoneís guess. I think it will be in about 2 weeks, that would then match the delivery time of the original kitchen and I think the units are made to order.

The first of this yearís visitors have been and gone. My friend who was here at the beginning of May helped me plant all the remaining 155 tree in this yearís section of the new wood for which I shall be eternally grateful. My son, A, has returned from a year in Singapore and came to stay for a week and we made a start on the kitchen wall units only failing to finish as I needed to purchase battening to fix one run of units where there is a cabling duct.

I have also registered the farming activity for this year, the PAC or Common Agricultural Policy registration. I understood far more than last year but still wasnít confident enough that I did really know what I had to do and once again the people at the agricultural department in Agen were wonderful so everything was deposited in time.

Weather wise it has rained, and rained and rained. Over April and May, the only 2 months for which I have comparative data there has been twice the rainfall of last year. This has resulted in me still not being able to plant my vegetables and get my carte vitale (health insurance). Explanation why planting the vegetables is important is back in the ĎHappy New Year to allí post. I think this photograph says it all.

The temporary ditch I put in at the top of the field just cannot cope with the deluges weíve had. That plus the removal of other ditches over the years here means that I have to get someone in to re-instate some of the ditches if I wish to utilise all the land here. Another project to add to the always increasing list.

My loft cat has moved in but sadly doesnít seem too well at the moment. Heís not a feral cat but I think is one of the many lost or abandoned cats that abound along with the large feral population, so he has a trip to the vet lined up. My other 4 cats who came with me from the UK are not exactly ecstatic to have to share me with him but do tolerate him.

On the alpaca front, the new paddock area has grow really well, Iíve topped it once but am leaving it at the moment in the hope of getting some hay off it. Iíve also taken delivery of 500 fence posts to fence the fields but am still awaiting someone to come with the equipment to put them in. One or two I would be happy to do by hand but 500 is just way too many to even contemplate.

Iíve also take delivery of two more alpacas, a white female called Dior and a white male called Dartagnan. They have settled in straight away with my other four but I would really like to get them out of the small paddock where they only have hay to eat and out into the new paddocks. Once the paddocks are fenced I then have to build them shelters, as there are no trees to give shade.

Iíve also bought a tedder and a small bale baler ready for haymaking but am still awaiting a suitable hay cutter and of course the suitable weather.

Other joys over the last few weeks have been making my elderflower cordial for the year and Iíve also made a little elderflower champagne as well. Iíve not made the champagne before so if it tastes good I will make extra next year but it doesnít store for long. Iíve also made marmalade with the oranges and lemons Iíve grown over the year. I bought the orange tree without realising that they were bitter oranges so they cannot be eaten as is and need to be made into marmalade. I also had 2 lovely lemons that had ripened over the winter. Being the first time Iíve ever grow my own lemons I was wondering what to do with them, using them in jam and marmalade allows me to enjoy growing them for even longer. Iíve also made the first of this yearís jam, a small batch of Alpine Strawberry preserve which tastes divine. I can only make a small batch at a time but the plants are really prolific so I should be able to make quite a few more batches over the summer as well as have lots to eat.

I wonít be getting much else in the way of fruit from the garden this year. Along with a lot of farmers in this area, my fruit trees were hit by the very hard frost at the beginning of April. I have the grand total of 2 plums on my plum tree and 3 reine claudes on that tree. The cherries are about non-existent as well. This time last year the trees were turning red, this year you can count the cherries on your fingers.

The rest of the potager is still bare as the ground has been too wet to work or plant. If I get a couple of good drying days I can get onto the soil and am trying to get plants in but almost invariably there is only one day before the next downpour and then gardening is out of the question for another week, very frustrating although overall things are progressing albeit a a slower pace than I would like.

Posted By: deborah

February Review

Mar 16, 2008

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Well if I thought January passed quickly, February has surpassed it. Just where does all that time go?

The new wood is still waiting planting, all the bare rooted trees are in so itís only the pot grown ones to go. I bought a ride-on mower over the month and am going to attach a tow bar so I can take the trees up to the planting site using the trailer otherwise it will be 2 trees at a time. I donítí want to leave trees up there as Iím not able to water them.

I finally got round to having my back Ďdoneí at the chiropractors too so I now bend again which is great. It will need another going over in the summer, I really left it too long last time and with the lifting and bending I now need to do it needs better care.

The kitchen has arrived too; well I picked it up from the shop. The store people loaded it into the car and only placed a few pieces into the trailer. The poor car was just about on the end stops and it was a very sedate journey home. It was spiced up a bit by spotting a police car at the roundabout just ahead of me. I slowed to let it depart before I got there, however when I navigated the roundabout, I couldnít see it anywhere, that was until I checked the rear view mirror. It had done a complete tour of the roundabout and was now behind me. I was convinced I would be pulled over but thankfully it turned off at the next junction. The units are slowly being built as and when the weather is bad enough that I stay inside.

Over the month I finished reshaping the trees on the front lawn. The mulberries have been cut back hard but will still provide adequate shade for the car and the washing line, the Reine Claude has been greatly reduced but will require further shaping next year and the cherries will all be done in August. It has made quite a difference and now, no trees are anywhere near interfering with either the telephone or electricity cables.

The ploughing has also been finished. The plough itself is fine, I just needed a bit more brute force to get it to turn. Ploughing the field did produce some difficulties though. It turned out that there are a couple of areas where the winter water table is just below the surface. So again I ended up with the plough acting as an anchor while all four wheels spun independently. Life is never boring. The furrows are beginning to crumble and I now need to find someone with the bit of equipment I need to break it down to the next level. After that I should be able to use my cultivator and get planting. That in turn should get me my carte vitale as explained in ĎHappy New Year to allí.

There have been signs of spring arriving all over the place, from the violets that Iíve used for my first attempt at making crystallised violets to the daffodils, emerging lily of the valley and the blossom appearing in the trees. The cranes also have passed overhead on what would have been a year to the day I saw them last, had it not been a leap year.

February also saw the first anniversary of me getting the keys to here. I canít believe that a year has passed. In some ways it has taken forever but in other ways it has flown by. Itís been quite a year for me but despite the downs I can honestly say it has been the best year of my life.

This next year will be a real test. I have the house to start upgrading which will entail spending a lot so I have to start getting the farm paying its way.

Posted By: deborah

January Review

Feb 04, 2008

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Another month has rolled by, I canít believe how fast it has passed. January 1st and I finally got my UK tax form done and in the post only to receive my French tax form the day after. Iím now trying to get my head around that.

The new coppice is ready for planting; I finally found a local tree nursery and have all 219 trees lined up and ready to go for a mammoth planting session. Iíve also been wood gleaning. The partner of my friend Ann has plum orchards all of which are being pruned (no pun intended!) This year itís consisted of more radical surgery than usual and there are a lot of burnable branches that have been lopped off. So Ann and I have been sorting out, preparing and storing the useable wood. In return for the wood we finish off by moving all the prunings to the centre of the isles between the trees so it can be cleared away easily. It taken a lot longer than we thought but weíve finished the first of 3 orchards. Doing this has introduced me to a new tool, the serpe.

The serpe is a type of billhook or machete. The one Iíve got has a straight blade on one side and a hooked blade on the other and is used to trim off the side branches from the logs. It is really efficient and I make sure none of me is in line with the swing of the blade. It lops through 1 cm branches as though they arenít there.

Iím awaiting the delivery of my new kitchen units in February but the preliminary work in the kitchen has begun. The old window, the bottom of which was below the height of the new workbenches has been replaced with a smaller one. I donít know why, but things are never straightforward. Removing the old window meant some of the cement skim on the wall came down, that in turn revealed the wooden lintels where the outer few centimetres had been converted to dust by woodworm. No the place wasnít covered in plastic sheets, up to then the debris had been minimal. I am still cleaning up the dust and still have to sand the beams too.

The clean up was delayed too by another crisis at the farm Ė I do sometimes find myself wondering how many more things can go wrong. This time, the water pump at the well failed. At first we thought it was just the one-way valve that had sprung a leak that was causing the lack of water so I replaced it but still no water. In the end it turned out that the pump motor had burnt out so I purchased and installed a replacement and after 2 weeks living on water Iíd collected from friends in a couple of milk churns I was back in water again.

Iíve also had my first attempt at ploughing too. I was aiming to cut a furrow to act as a drainage ditch to direct water away from my pump house. I got halfway across the field and the tractor just sat with its wheels spinning in the wet mud and that was in 4WD as well. The ground is just sodden. It did highlight another problem, I canít figure out how to turn the plough over to go in the other direction. I pull the lever Iíve been told that you pull, the pin releases the stop but nothing actually rotates the plough. So I expect Iíll have to get someone in to look at that and show me how to do it.

Iíve managed to keep my daily blog http://dalnd.blogspot.com/ almost daily which has surprised me but it has become a good way to wind down from the day and track how and when things have been done. Now all I need is that lucrative book deal Ė but I think thatís been done a few too many times already.

The final new thing for this month has been learning to use my electric chain saw (the petrol one will wait until I feel confident with the electric one). The mulberries at the front of the house are gradually coming under control.

Posted By: deborah

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