Monday, 31 December 2007

Back to Work

Today was lovely here, 12C in the sunshine but frosty in the shade so I was able to get back to work on some of the outdoor things. First up was cleaning out the alpacas. Thankfully this did not take as long as I feared. Having been ill, I’d not cleaned the paddock for 4 days and as expected I had 2 full barrow loads to add to the manure heap. Best of all was that it took me less than an hour. I think I was just so overjoyed at not just being out and about again but also having finally sent off my tax form – it was quite a weight off my mind.

The afternoon was spent giving the tractor a quick service prior to use as it’s been in the barn for a month. I’ve been loaned a bale spike and had decided to move some of the old (two years at least to my knowledge) to more convenient places. Two bales have been moved closer to where I’m composting the old straw with the alpaca muck while another two are now closer to the orchard where I’m going to use them as a mulch. Any good straw in the bale nearest the hen house will be used in there when I clean them out next week. The remaining 20 will be moved and used over the coming 6 months when I should have a fresh supply after my wheat is harvested. Hopefully by then I will have a small rectangular baler as it will make moving it around much simpler for me. Not only do the big round bales require getting the tractor out, but finding somewhere level to place the round bales close to where I need them is also difficult and I wouldn’t want to be in the path of one of the round bales if it starts rolling down a slope.

I’ve also started putting a circle of muck round each of the fruit trees I’ve planted. The thought is that by the time the muck has broken down into the ground the trees will have had a bit of time to root and this will be a good bit of encouragement.

A couple of general pictures: The first is the wheat field that is still showing growth. It looks a lot greener close up than this evening sunlight picture shows. I did notice the deer in the field a couple of days ago, so I may take a walk out to where they were and see if they’ve done much damage. Near the farm the wheat is looking good, it’s not been nibbled by deer or slugs.

The second is Mr L and the Lacey Ladies having an evening root around in the leaves and fallen apples for anything tasty.

The evening sky was a wonderful sky blue and pink tonight which I’m hoping bodes well for a bright day tomorrow, as I would like to finish around the trees

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Road to Recovery

Today I finally I felt well enough to eat so I guess I must be pretty near recovered so tomorrow it will be back to work and try to catch up on the time I’ve missed. I have a long session cleaning out the alpaca field lined up for tomorrow, oh joy.

A picture from the run up to Christmas - my first attempt at baking using the microwave. The results were pretty good even if the space was very restricted. In the bowl on the right is one of the Lacey Ladies eggs and the yolks really do give that colour.

The large lemon tree in the lounge continues to flower and the paintbrush has done its work. You can just see the embryonic lemon at the top. The picture was taken in the morning and by the evening the flower bud at the bottom had opened too. There are now 6 flowers open at the moment and all being hand pollinated twice a day. It will be interesting to see how many lemons it will carry through to the summer.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Knocked for Six

I’ve not posted for a few days, as I’ve been ill. I had a wonderful Christmas meal with friends and found the dinning room table in time to have my birthday meal here on Boxing day. Come the following morning and I couldn’t even drink water and have slept for around 30 of the last 36 hours. Hopefully I will be back up and functioning properly by the end of the week as there is so much that needs to be done.

On the farm front, Noisette still hasn’t given birth but Mr L has got his Lacy Ladies in order now so they all follow him out of the hen house in the mornings without me having to chase them.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Where did today go?

I’d set aside today to put away the remaining boxes and clutter from in the living room and clear the dining room table so I can have friends around for a meal on Boxing Day, my birthday. There wasn’t much really to put away but the problem was that everything on the table was there because it didn’t have a home to go to. I got most of it sorted but it still left a pile of CDs with nowhere to go so I set about putting up the shelves I’d bought for them.

The shelves hadn’t gone up earlier because I needed one more bracket and one more shelf – they are the type where you have 2 metal runners on the wall and brackets that hinge into the runners. In typical fashion here there wasn’t everything I needed in the shop and I’ve been waiting a month now for new supplies to appear in the shop. Asking at customer service is a waste of time. You are assured that they will be in next week, and they never are or you will be told that they are discontinued and lo and behold fresh supplies appear on the shelves the following day.

Having looked at the CDs I reckoned I could get them all on the 4 shelves I had so thought I’d spend an hour putting the shelves up. That hour turned into about 5. The walls in the living room are built with terracotta lattice bricks and while they may consist of mainly air, the smooth surface of the brick is extremely hard. After 5 – 6 minutes of drilling away with a masonry drill with hammer action, leaning on the drill as hard as I could, I began to think I was never going to drill the hole. My arms began to ache with the effort and just as I was about to give up it breaks through and I‘m lurched 2 cm forward as the drill passes through the first gap inside and hits the terracotta behind. Repeat another 9 times and recharge both drill batteries as well half way through and most of the day is gone. Still they are up and all the general CDs have a home.

Having spent so much time on the shelves I didn’t get any of the food preparation done so everything will have to be crammed into tomorrow (which is actually today now as it’s just gone midnight). That will teach me to watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was on French TV tonight and I though it would help improve my French).

Now when is Christmas – I need about another week to get ready.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Is it Really Christmas?

Well that’s the question I was asking myself today as I mowed the lawn stripped down to my t-shirt. It was positively hot by comparison to a week ago. I didn’t cut much grass but ‘hoovered’ up rather a lot of leaves from the area that is euphemistically referred to as my front lawn. Removing the leaves has enabled me to see the lizard orchids that have already started growing even though they won’t flower until May next year.

There are at least a dozen showing at the moment, slightly less than the number of molehills that have appeared over the last month. Still the molehills give me some nice crumbly soil to rake into the multitude of hollows that make up the lawn. The supermarkets and garden centres are full of poisons for everything in the garden including moles but I really don’t want to kill them. I’m trying to discourage them when the tunnel in the direction of the lawn by hitting the ground in front of where they are going, in the hope of heading them in the other direction, into the field where I’m happy to leave them in peace. It seems to work for a while as does raking the molehills flat when they are trying to build them. It’s quite mesmerising to watch the molehill slowly growing and Patches sits for hours watching them too. I think she’s hoping the mole will poke it’s head up and she’ll be able to get it.

I’ve had an electrician round today to prepare a quote to completely rewire the place. As I feared, a lot of the wiring is a DIY bodge but some of it he passed as OK and doesn’t need replacing but I’m saving really hard for what I know will be a very large bill. While showing him round we ventured into the attic space and just caught sight of a cat running and hiding. One of the sad things in France is the number of feral and abandoned cats. The attitude seems to be that they can look after themselves so it doesn’t matter if you just leave them. I was pretty sure I recognised this one though. I call him Mr Tibbs and sure enough when I went back later I saw that it was him. Mr Tibbs introduced himself back in July by meowing under the study window one evening. I thought that if he was brave enough to do that he was probably hungry and sure enough a plate of food disappeared in double quick time.

Snowy & Mr. Tibbs

He called again for a couple of days, disappeared for a week and then came back for another couple of days. The last I saw of him was after he’d had his fill to eat and he walked all the way down the drive to my house. He gave a quick look back when he was halfway down and then disappeared into the field about half a kilometre away.

Having not seen him for so long I thought that he might have been shot by one of the hunters (rumour is that they take pot shots at cats if bored) or eaten a poisoned rat or mouse, so I was rather pleased to see him again. He’s not feral so I guess he’s been thrown out. He’s very wary but will let me sit 3 or 4 feet from him while he eats. The other 4 cats have no problems with him being round so I guess he’s got an invite to stay from all concerned. I call him Mr. because of his swagger but he could be a she; I’m hoping I can get close enough to find out before kitten season starts.

Snowy and Cid with Mr Tibbs this summer

While up in the attic I came across an old pickles crock and am going to have a go at making my own vinegar. Rhonda Jean posted
how she makes it on her down-to-earth blog yesterday and there are lots of other sites on the Internet too. I have some cider on the go at the moment so might start with cider vinegar, or should I use the last glass of red wine that’s in the lounge or open one of the known undrinkable whites I have and use that. Decisions, decisions. Maybe I shold try all three :D

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Waiting Game and the Windowsill Garden

Today has been spent hanging round and not really being able to get on with things. The reason? My alpaca, Noissette is due to give birth any time now. Today was her due date but they can be up to six weeks early or six weeks late. As the ground and wind are cold even if the air temperatures are just into double figures here, there is a chance of her cria (baby) getting hypothermia. This means checking on Noissette every hour.

One fat alpaca.

I thought that today was going to be the day, she separated herself from the others and also spent more time sitting down. Both are supposed to be indications of impending birth but it was not to be.

On the whole it’s widely accepted that if they haven’t given birth by 2.30 pm then they are unlikely to that day but it means that getting to the shops at the moment has become a little difficult. I hang around until 3 pm, then it’s half an hour to the shops but I have to remember to be back for 5.30 at the latest to lock the chickens safely into their house.

So I was able to make it to the shops today. I don’t want to be shopping tomorrow and there is practically no Sunday shopping here. It is getting a bit too close to Christmas for my liking so I was really glad to get the shopping done. I got all the essentials, more paraffin for the portable heater and I bought a camping gas light and burner – essential for when the power goes off. I also spent far too much on food but with luck I won’t need to do a large shop again for a month or so.

I thought I’d show you a few things I’m growing in the house at the moment. First up is my lemon. I’ve got 2 trees, the first one I bought is a small one which promptly dropped it’s flowers and small fruit when I brought it home. It’s struggled this year but I’ve now given it some specialised fertiliser and it’s responding well and starting to form flower buds. The second lemon tree I bought kept all its fruit over the summer and 2 have ripened since I brought it inside.

It’s also flowering again and scenting the whole room wonderfully. I’ve found an old paintbrush and I am pollinating the flowers as they open.

This group are the pineapples I'm growing. The one in the terracotta pot is well rooted now, the one in the plastic tub has just been placed into the coarse compost and I’ll leave to root for a couple of months while the last one is just starting it’s drying off. It will hopefully be a bit like BOGOF just a wait of 2 to 3 years between the first and the free one!

Next up is an avocado – I really would like to get it to last more than a year or so. It’s common for them to last that long on the seed store but fail to make a good enough root system to survive. The little sapling beside it is a lychee that I planted last Chinese New Year. Lychees are back in the supermarkets here ready for Christmas so I’m going to see it I can get a few more seedling.

And lastly this little group. In the bottle, the dead looking twig is a piece of willow that has rooted and I will grow on to plant down by the pond. I will probably coppice it to provide a source of willow canes. In with it is a very sad looking piece of geranium that broke off when I was putting the geraniums in the barn out of the frost. I’d read somewhere that willow water was a natural rooting compound. So far I’m not convinced.

In the little glass bowl are some date stones being pre-soaked before trying to germinate them and in front of that is a piece of ginger. I’d bought a large piece of ginger a couple of months back with the aim of trying to grow some. I've got 2 large pots currently in the cold frame as there is no room for them in the house. This was a small piece left over after cutting pieces for the two pots but as it is trying so hard to grow, I’ll find space for a little pot that can stay inside.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

A Quiet Day

It’s been a lovely day here today, there’s been a warm wind blowing up from the Mediterranean and it’s been a positively balmy 11 or 12 degrees. The breeze did get a trifle strong around lunch though. I stuck my head out to do the hourly check on the alpaca that’s due to give birth sometime around now and was greeted by the sight of the tarpaulin that protects the hay bales flapping around like a gigantic flag. It took nearly an hour to get it all back under control and roped down again. I’ve no idea the best way to rope round those large round bales. I’ve tried to get the rope low enough to be below the widest point but also found that by best Girl Guide reef knot was failing to hold tight and keep it in place.

At the same time as I was on my way to check the alpacas I noticed that I had no water in the taps. I have well water and every so often the system gets an air lock so I went down to the pump house to give everything a good kick, which usually solves the problem. This time though I was met by a whirring pump and an empty pressure vessel. My first thought was for my electricity bill. There was no on/off switch in the pump house so I returned to the house and began puling out fuses in the fuse box. I still couldn’t stop the pump – I seem to have a few bits of wiring where fuses are not in the fuse box, goodness knows where they are or if they even exist. Eventually I found that pressing the re-arm button and holding it in I could stop the pump. By then I’d guessed that the problem was likely to be a blockage around the water intake so I released the pressure from the pressure tank and waited a few seconds. I let go of the re-arm button and the pump started again and to my joy began to fill the pressure tank and thankfully it has kept working so far.

The rest of the day has been spent on finishing bits and pieces in the house. I’ve finished putting up the curtain rails, the idea being to cut down draughts by hanging curtains. The only problem with this has been that even my longest curtains from the UK are about a foot or two too short. The ceilings here are high, still while they may not stop the cold air seeping in at the bottom; they still stop the hot air going out at the top. New curtains will have to wait until I can make some.

I also spent some time chicken watching as expected, the girls have accepted the cockerel with no problems. He’s obviously taken control and it’s nice to see them all out together moving round as a flock, the girls spent their time as two groups of two.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

An Early Birthday Present

Today was a lovely sunny and warm day, reaching 11 degrees on the patio, I even made a start on mowing the lawn. It doesn’t really need doing but a cut now will mean that if the spring is wet I will have a little more time before it becomes critical then. It’s also doing a good job of picking up the dried leaves too.

I was awaiting a visit from the vet to help me vaccinate the alpacas and trim their toenails. I’m really glad the vet did the toenails. All the alpacas were reasonably fine until the last one. Her toenails were long but not overly long so they were only getting a light trim. However it turns out she has quick that go almost to the end of the nails and they started to bleed. If it had been me on my own I think I might have panicked a bit so it was reassuring to have the vet there to say that it would all be OK. A quick squirt of antiseptic spray and they should be fine. The alpacas also all got another worming shot and should be fine now until March/April although I might have to dose them again for the other worm that’s in the ground.

My friend Sandra in La Vienne organised a CamelidDynamics training day with Julie Taylor-Browne a month back and kindly invited me to participate. It was a very intensive (two days crammed into one but there were only 3 of us), and an extremely rewarding day. The principle of CamelidDynamics is that you don’t use force or strength against the alpacas to get them to do things. It interested me because the alpacas are as tall as me and heavier so I would lose in a war of strength. What you do is try to think alpaca and use their fight/flight instinct to move them in a controlled manner. There is also a technique of catching them with a pole and rope that is near enough foolproof. If you try making a grab at their necks they usually see you coming and get out of the way before you make contact. Having caught them in a low stress way they are then more likely to stand still and I also learnt a way to hold them that doesn’t remind them of a predator clinging round their neck. It sounds a bit airy-fairy but I was really astounded how simple it was to implement and how effective it has been.

And the birthday present?

There was I, sitting watching the evening news, when Ann knocks on the shutter and insist I put on boots and come out. Torch in hand and boots on feet I set off to find out what was going on. Had I had my music on, as I do sometimes in the day, she wouldn’t have got me out but she was convinced I had heard her car come up the drive. She had bought me a gorgeous cockerel to go with my Lacey Ladies for my birthday. We popped him into the hen house and they all had a little bit of a chat and then settled down. I’m not sure what I would have thought if he’d walked out of the hen house tomorrow without me knowing he was there. He is lovely and I will post a picture of him tomorrow. I can see that I will be spending a large part of tomorrow watching chickens.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Health Insurance French Style

No blog yesterday as I had an early night. The reason being that I had to get up this morning necessitating the ‘setting of the alarm clock’. I’ve probably only set the alarm 4 or 5 times in the last 8 months. So it was a real shock to the system this morning when I was woken not by the alarm but by the telephone. My friend Ann who was coming with me to Villeneuve this morning had very sensibly rung to make sure I was up. My alarm was set but due to the power cuts I’ve had over the last few days, my clock was running nearly half an hour slow. One very quick tea and croissant later and we are ready to go.

The reason; I’ve been trying to register for health care more or less since I got here. Once I’d been officially registered as a farmer I though that would be it, but no. The other week I received a letter to say that while I was now a member of the MSA (the health and benefits for farmers society) I wasn’t entitled to join the health scheme. No reason given of course, so today my friend, Ann, and I went to the local MSA office in Villeneuve to find out why.

It turns out that under the vagaries of French law, you need to have a certain amount of land to qualify. This amount is not standardised but goes by commune (parish). In my commune it’s set at 11.5 hectares. I have 11.33 hectares therefore I didn’t qualify

Well Ann and I just looked at each other in disbelief. The gentleman who was dealing with us said not to panic, as there were ways round this and asked me what I was growing on the land. Currently it’s 5 hectares of cereal. The area I want to turn into coppice/productive woodland wouldn’t help. I told him I wanted to do a small bit of market gardening and he said “No way”! His advice was never ever to say I was doing market gardening as it would mean that I would have to pay much more tax, (another of the joys of the French tax system, if you do more than one thing, and you have to be registered to do anything, you have to pay National Insurance for each thing for which you are registered). His way out of it was to register 0.5 hectare as vegetable production. I’m covered for that as a farmer and….any land registered for that use has a weighting. Each hectare miraculously becomes a nominal 3.25 hectare. So my half hectare suddenly becomes a little over 1.55 and puts me over the magic 11.5 hectare barrier. So I should be covered – but I’m not celebrating until I have the official letter saying that I’m covered.

I also got the last piece of roofing onto the alpaca shelter and hammered down with Ann’s help. Yesterday when I was doing the primary fixing I had my usual supervisor, Snowy.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

I’ve made it onto French television!

And didn’t have to blockade a ferry port with my tractor either.

Today I had set aside as a do nothing day. I do this most Sundays but invariably something comes up and today turned out to be no different. I did manage a very lazy start and then the ‘phone rang.

The next village after mine was expecting a visit from Père Noël. Like the rest of France (transport sector, legal profession, students), the reindeer had gone on strike and Père Noël had arranged to arrive by donkey and trap. The only problem was that the trap wasn’t big enough for Père Noël and the present and he needed another helper to bring the presents along in a wheelbarrow.

A quick trip via the North Pole and I’m reincarnated as one of Santa’s little helpers skipping along behind the donkey cart pushing a present laden wheelbarrow.

All the children from the village were there and after the distribution of the present under the Christmas tree by the church they all got to have a ride in the cart. Then it was drinks and nibbles in the village hall. It was a lovely afternoon – seeing the looks of joy on the children’s faces was wonderful. The owner of the donkey and cart had arranged for the regional TV station to come and do a piece for tonight’s news. It will be broadcast again tomorrow and then be on the Internet too for a week.

It was interesting to note that Père Noël and his two helpers were all English. It seems we are the only ones who willingly dress up and play the fool if required.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Food glorious food

Another frosty start to the day here so after letting the chickens out and checking the alpacas still had hay I stayed inside and cooked the remaining meat from the second pork shoulder. It’s gently stewing away in the slow cooker as I write. It started off as Chinese style pork but having checked the stored squashes it now has some butternut squash as well as half a really ripe pineapple. It should have been close to ready by now but I had a power cut for most of the afternoon.

I’m also attempting to grow pineapples. I’ve one pineapple top that’s rooted a second that I’ve just put into soil after drying it and today’s top which will be left to dry for about a week before I pot it. I found this site really helpful;

The freezing fog only lifted for a short while so the shelter roof still needs to be done. The cold spell is forecast to last until at least Wednesday along with the fog so it could be a while. Here’s this mornings view over the alpaca shelter.

One of the everyday occurrences here is collecting the hay for the alpacas and nine times out of ten I’m joined by Cid. He leaps onto the hay bale and plays chase with the hay as I try to take it off. It’s his one-to-one time with me. That is one of the joys of being here – having time to indulge in play with the cats.

The colder weather seems to have brought out the robins (or Rouge Gorge meaning Red Throat in French). I have one who’s always around the front of the house and a pair who live just beyond the alpaca shelter. I also have one I see at the back of the house but I haven’t worked out if it’s the same one from the front of the house or not.

The cats still hate having their eardrops put in and I am gaining a few more scratches each day! I wish they could understand that it’s for their own good.

Friday, 14 December 2007

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

It's been one of those days when nothing much gets accomplished. I had an early (for me) morning appointment with the vet to pick up some paperwork and book a visit from him and then it was back to the house to wait for two callers. Both were due in the afternoon but I've learnt that given times and actual times very rarely coincide here.

Sure enough the telephone engineer arrived early, I was grateful he had arrived at all! Needless to say my 'phone line hasn't failed since arranging the visit but he agreed that the line was faulty and is arranging for the line along the road up to my house to be replaced. It should happen next week.

The second appointment was a parcel delivery from DHL. I got an e-mail from them saying that they couldn't find the farm and would I call and give directions. It turns out that they don't use GPS. I'm staggered by that but I suppose it stops them being directed down forest tracks etc. He turned up at about 4:30 so I am now the proud possessor of a set of protective clothing to wear when I use my 2! chainsaws.

The weather this morning was freezing fog that kept promising to go but then rolled back up my little valley. I cut the last piece of the roofing for the alpaca shelter but the roofing that was already on had rucked up in the wind the other day and was frozen in place. When the sun finally came out there wasn't enough time to flatten the roof and fix the last piece in place. Looking at the weather forecast for the next couple of days I may have to wait a while before I can fix it.

I then tried to burn the multitude of leaves that had been covering the front lawn. Well I've been trying to burn them for 3 or 4 days now but they are just too wet to burn. Until about 4:30 this afternoon that is. I was just about to give up as there was only about half an hour before the sun dipped behind the hill here and the temperature would start to drop. I try to go in when the sun goes so as not to get chilled. Still I got some of the leaves burnt, and piled as much as I could onto the bonfire in the hope that what didn't burn would at least be a lot drier tomorrow.

It was a bit frosty this morning.....

but the alpacas don't seem to mind. They have somewhere out of the frost but prefer to stay out in the open. But seeing them with the frost on their fleece makes me feel cold.

In the house my Pork and Bean casserole spent the day in the slow cooker being poached in white wine. It was delicious and I've another 3 portions for the freezer.

I've also been attempting to make some cider.

I got a reasonable crop of apples from the old tree at the back of the house and having spent an afternoon a few weeks back mincing them, I placed them in a 40 litre container and went looking for some yeast to kick off the fermentation. Well 6 weeks later and I hadn't found any yeast (or air locks for that matter) in the shops here. Unpacking a box the other day I came across some wine yeast I'd had in the UK so set about pressing the apple mush to get the juice. I've squeezed around 30 litres of juice and am trying to get that fermenting again. It has definitely fermented a bit on it's own in the large container but I've now run out of small containers so had to stop. The rest will have to wait until I can schedule a trip into Villeneuve next week.

I'm a bit worried that the yeast starter I've added doesn't appear to have got working yet though. I'm glad I've tried with the cider making as the apples I stored have almost all gone rotten. It might have been the year - everyone here is saying how fruit isn't storing as they expect it to - but it might just be that they don't store so processed or cider will be the only way.

Highlight of the day was finding not one but two eggs in the nestbox. It looks like a second chicken has decided to start laying, so eggs are back on the menu.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Fruit Trees are In!

Well I got the last of the fruit trees in today so I’m feeling rather pleased. In my Grand Plan before moving here they were to have been planted last February. However as my purchase date was deferred a month the deadline for planting passed without me being able to get the site ready. The poor quince tree I purchased spent the summer in its tiny pot on the patio. How it survived I do not know but it made it through to the winter and I hope will relish being in open ground. Now the trees are in I can concentrate on putting in the other soft fruit I want. I’ll post a picture of the orchard in the spring, as at the moment it’s just a collection of brown twigs against a brown soil background!

I’ve also been busy dry curing some bacon again. The first time I made some, courtesy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I read as far as the bit that said – if you cure for 10 days the meat lasts longer-. What I didn’t read till later was the bit that said it made the bacon very salty if you did. Too right it did! Still it was nice as lardons. This time I’ve only cured them for 6 days and will freeze those that I won’t use straight away.

As well as the belly pork, I bought two complete shoulders of pork. The first one is now frozen as pork burgers and mince while the second one is going to become Pork and Beans and Sweet and Sour Pork. The beans I’m using are the large white variety I’ve grown and dried this year.

I’m having a lot of trouble with my ‘phone connection at the moment and have had the line fail 3 times in 4 days. Reporting the fault is quite an exercise. My friend tried to phone for me but as she has cancelled her France Telecom contract and gone elsewhere, France Telecom refused to talk to her at first. Talk about throwing your toys out of the pram. Reporting the fault also requires you to call a premium rate line – OK it’s not a great amount per minute but I don’t understand why we should pay to get them to fix their line for a service we are already paying for monthly. Even I’m beginning to get a bit cross.

The cats all hate me now. As a result of their summer long wandering through the grass, they all have ear mites and I have to put drops in their ears morning and night. To say they don’t like it would be an understatement. Lets hope they get used to it before long. Rounding up all four at the same time is quite a feat. Still it meant I got hold of Hazel and despite it being December I discovered she had a tick. Thankfully I had bought one of those twist tick removers and it worked really easily. Usually the ticks are killed by the Frontline I use on the cats but I’ve had to change to Advantage as the fleas round here are becoming resistant to Frontline. Sadly Advantage doesn’t kill ticks as efficiently as Frontline.

I’m now off to change the duvet over to full winter thickness. There have been a couple of mornings with frost but the weather forecast is for a sustained drop in temperature. Well I suppose I should expect it, it is nearly the Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Orchard Progresses

I finally managed to have a complete day at home. Over the past couple of weeks I seem to have spent at least half of each day running round to get replacement parts for yet something else that has broken.

Yesterday it was fuel for the car, I tried to fill up with fuel while shopping on Monday but when I tried to open up the flap over the filler cap it remained tightly locked. I must have spent 10 minutes locking and unlocking the car in the hope it would shift. In the end it was a trip to the garage where they dismantled the wheel arch and manually opened the lock.

Today wasn’t problem free though. Yesterday, my telephone line went down again. This was fixed by the evening but there was still a bit of noise on the line. This morning it died again and took the Internet connection with it. Trying to report the fault is a nightmare. Everything is automated so not only do you have to navigate one of the ‘press 1 for this, press 2 for that’ menus but when you get to the right place you don’t get a person but a voice recognition system that only understands a limited number of faults. My friend Ann then called France Telecom for me but initially they refused to talk to her, as she was not calling from a France Telecom line. She switched her line to another provider a while back; there has been some deregulation here as in the UK but the old state monopolies are throwing all of their toys out of their prams and refusing to acknowledge any one who leaves them – there have even been reports of people being told that it they leave, they will never be allowed to move back!

Anyway she did finally get through and my line was restored early afternoon. However my Internet connection did not return. That took me 20 minutes calling their premium rate line while they fixed the fault on their line for a service that I already pay for. Humph! Still I am back up and running again but it did waste quite a bit of time today having to check whether anything was being done.

I was hoping to burn some of the leaves and trimmed branches from the ornamental mulberries in the front but after the 25 mm of rain we had the other day they steadfastly refused to burn so I settled on tree planting. Thankfully the soil drains reasonably quickly and today my shoes stayed on my feet rather than being pulled off by the weight of clay soil adhering to them after just a couple of steps. Even so it’s hard work and I was getting one tree planted every half to three-quarters of an hour. I now have only four to plant so if the weather holds they should go in tomorrow.

The orchard will contain, 2 walnuts, one a graft which should fruit relatively quickly but not live terribly long and one non-graft which should be around for posterity, 2 different types of hazelnut, 2 olive trees, 2 nectarines, a peach, a fig, 3 different types of apple, a Mirabelle, a quince, 2 almonds, a pear and a persimmon. I already have some sweet cherries, some sour cherries, a general plum and a greengage that were here already and are dotted round the garden.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

First Blog Entry

Having dabbled with an intermittent blog on a closed site I though it was time to open up. With luck it will also double as a journal and record of my progress here at the farm. The farm is 11 hectares in the wonderful Lot et Garonne in southwest France.

I've now been here for 10 months. On down days I feel I've achieved very little but then I come across one of the photographs I took back at the beginning and realise I have actually done a reasonable amount. The blog will hopefully enable to track the progress I make and also remind me of what not to do.

I officially took over the farm at the end of February 2007. The owners hadn’t farmed it for quite a few years but the fields had been rented out to a neighbour. The farm building it's self was sound but hasn't been modernised since the 60's. There is no mains water, it all comes from the well, no mains drainage and the electricity is dodgy to say the least. It's only 9Kw which means if I'm not careful about what I switch on I trip out the mains switch. It also explains why all the lights only had 40-watt bulbs.

French bureaucracy is renown and part of the slowness in getting things done is due to traipsing round various offices getting everything you need registered. I'm beginning to get used to carrying round my life history plus latest telephone and electricity bill just to get a simple question answered. I'm also getting used to there being no such thing as Customer Service as I know it from the UK in the shops. Buying stuff can be a nightmare; I've learnt to buy things only if there is everything I need in the shop. Items come in, sell out and the shops may get more but just as likely they wont. Asking doesn't help, as invariably they will tell you they just don't know. That said, I love being here and most of the people here have been really welcoming and helpful despite the fact that they are facing a British re-invasion of this area.