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.