Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year Everyone

Thank you to everyone who's been kind enough to comment on my blog over the last year - I missed my first anniversary on the 11th of December as explained in the post below. I do hope that 2009 will be a good year for you all although I fear it is going to be a tough one for us all too.

See you next year.

Catch-up Post

It's been a while since I last posted about the farm. As ever 'things' rather took over, the main thing being that my beautiful PR alpaca, Ashan, died. I went out one day and found him in the field unable to get up. I rushed him into the house and called the vet; his temperature was very low but apart from that there were no other clues as to the problem. He had an antibiotic and IV fluids and I packed hot water bottles round him and covered him with a blanket - thankfully my kitchen floor (the warmest room in the house) is glass tiled on concrete.

He seemed to recover and the following day his temperature was back to normal and he was up and wanting the others. One fast clear out of the animal part of the barn and Ann came over to help me walk all the alpacas up to the barn so that I could keep an eye on Ashan and he would have the company and the warmth of the others.

The following afternoon he was down again, again the vet came out and his temperature had plummeted again. He'd had another shot of antibiotic in the morning and seemed fine. This time he was obviously suffering but with what?

Sadly he died in my arms at 9:30pm, I'd gone back into the barn on one of my regular trips to collect and reheat the hot water bottles.

The next day the vet came over to do a post-mortem. I was expecting it to be due to worms or coccidia again. I'd had a long talk with Robin at Utopian alpacas and discovered from him that the Panacur I had been given for the alpacas was not strong enough and I had been told to give a far to small dose. None of the treatments used on alpacas have actually been tested on alpacas by the drug companies and it seems my vet was giving me the treatments designated for sheep. So I was given 2.5% or 4% Panacur when I should have been using 10%. The vet nearly had a fit when I administered nearly 5 times the cattle dose to the alpacas but that is what it takes.

The initial examination showed that Ashan had a full set of stomachs and that there were no lesions or ulcers so it looks like the gut was fine. Liver and kidneys looked OK too - I had to hold the body still while the vet cut, I don't think I would ever make a vetinary nurse but it was interesting all the same. She took away the lungs and heart to be examined my the main vet and I heard back later in the day that they felt there was congestion in the lungs and around the heart.

This diagnosis, and after discusion with Robin the fact that Ashan was dribbling before he died, has thrown up the posibility of Blue tongue. I've only been trying to get my animals vaccinated for the last 3 months! There is no official confirmation as it's been the holiday period and I don't think I'll hear anything until after the 5th. I've been told that there isn't enough vaccine, that I would get the vaccine when a larger herd of animals was vaccinated as the vaccine comes in doses of 100 animals and the vet wouldn't open a bottle just for 6 animals but I think I may have been given the real reason this time. While I'm registered as a farmer with alpacas, I'm not registered as a breeder of alpacas so I don't have a breeders number. This being France, If you can't fill in all the boxes on a form, which in this case would be a breeders number, you just don't get.

If I'd been told this was the problem back when I first asked I would be registered by now. As it is, that will be another job to do when the agriculture department opens again on the 5th.

On the plus side, I how have all the alpacas in the barn where I can keep a close eye on them and they have had a decent dose of wormer and I've also given them a dose of anti-coccidia treatment, one recommended by Robin. I really need to give them another type of wormer, Ivomec-D to work on any liver fluke that may be present. I have lots of the snails that indicate the possibility of liver fluke and the field they were in was very wet. However the vet won't order it for me. As I said he was horrified with the dose of Panacur I gave and has said I can't give another worming dose for at least 4 months.

I would normaly be in agreement on that but for the fact that I have lost an alpaca and I know that despite me giving the alpacas the treatments recommended by them I cannot get the alpacas to put on weight, in fact they are very under weight. If it's due to them having really high worm counts (oh and the vet doesn't think it necessary to have worm counts done) as they've not had the correct formulation or amount of wormer then I want to get them properly wormed as soon as possible.

This may sound a bit hard against my vet, it's not meant to be. He's probably the best vet around here but as alpacas are not common here and they don't appear in the dosage charts for the various medicine he plays safe.

So a bit of depression and a lot of work - Ann has been coming over a couple of afternoons a week and we've been pushing on with the fencing and nearly have the first field fenced - and I've not been posting. However, tomorrow is a new year.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Interesting Article on the BBC Web Site

It's what a lot of us have said for a long time but will it happen?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas to Everyone

Monday, 8 December 2008

France Is So Different To the UK Sometimes!

This has been really brought home to me today. Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading about the dioxin contamination in Irish pork at the moment, due to contaminated feed. It’s been the main story in the newspapers, the TV and the on-line news. I would think that unless you lived the life of a hermit it would be impossible to live in the UK and not know about it.

Today I went to spend my ‘loyalty’ money at the other supermarket I frequent and was in a lovely relaxed mood as I wandered through the arcade. So laid back that I actually stopped to read the notices that were pinned on one side of a board at the entrance to the supermarket; the other side was advertising a spectacular that you could book through the supermarket.

I’m glad I did and what I read, and it was only in normal size print (10 or 12 point) on an A4 sheet, stopped me in my tracks. It was a notice advising people that a product, strong chorizo, that they sold could possibly harbour listeria.

Now as you probably realise it wasn’t just that a product could contain listeria that stopped me in my tracks but that the product had been on sale in August and was a product I was pretty sure I’d purchased and my son G had eaten, (rather a lot in one go too). He had also been rather violently ill afterwards and we’d put it down to it being too much spicy stuff.

I still had the remains of the packet in the refrigerator so I took down the details and hurried back to check. It was basically the same product but a different batch number. That would normally have reassured me but I had a small amount of it a little while back and I too have been feeling ill for a while. I’d put my stomach upset down to the cough medicine I was taking but despite not taking the medicine for a week I’ve still not recovered from the stomach upset.

A bit too much of a coincidence I think but the difference in reporting a possible health risk couldn’t be more marked; full scale coverage so no-one can miss it or an insignificant piece of paper that was pined above my head height, (OK I am a bit vertically challenged) and I just happened to spot as I had time and walked past the relevant side of the notice board.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Tree Toppling Time

Today was the day the three poplars by the house came down. Sunday night had been quite windy causing a lot of damage a little to the north of me. I’d had a really bad nights sleep listening to the wind and wondering what direction it was and if any of the trees was likely to come down. I was really very pleased when the tree surgeons telephoned on Monday morning to say that weather permitting they would be here first thing Tuesday.

I got up early to await them and then realised that I hadn’t taken a before photograph. Outside was really foggy but it was last chance so here it is.

The three poplars can be seen and it’s also just possible to see another of the branches has started to fall in the poplar to the rear of the house, it’s hanging out to the right of the tree. The oak in the foreground and the ash tree behind and to the right of the oak were also to have the branches that overhung the telephone line trimmed.

Tree number one comes down; this one was in reach of my bedroom should it have come down in the gales.

Tree number two; this was the tallest of the three but was in danger of knocking down the new fence posts.


And it thankfully fell about 6 inches short of the post line.

Those two trees were relatively simple, Kevin and Steve the two tree surgeons spent a bit of time getting the mouth cut just how they wanted and the two fell exactly where they were meant to. Even if they had been a bit out there was plenty of space for them to land.

Then it was tree number three. This tree at the back is the rotten one that dropped a branch a while back. It also has a distinct lean towards the house. Kevin and Steve had decided to put a wire on the tree and using my tractor put on enough tension to persuade the tree to drop ninety degrees to it’s lean.

Kevin very gingerly climbed the tree: he had to be very careful as this the branches were just breaking off in places. Eventually he found a place for the sling to attach the wire where it sounded less hollow than the surrounding bits. The lower branches were then cut off to stop the weight of them from swinging the tree round or even catching the corner of the house when the tree dropped.

Sadly I couldn’t get into a suitable safe position that wasn’t facing directly into the setting sun to photograph this one coming down but it dropped in the perfect position.

This photograph show another of the problems, once the mouth was cut out it was this rotten bit that was holding up the tree and it could have gone anywhere had they not been so thorough with the preparatory work.

One of the things to come out of the tree was this beautiful bracket fungus, I know there was a larger one on the tree but it may be beneath the trunk. I now have a rather large clean up job to do. The trunk has been cut into about 2 meter lengths that I should be able to tow with the tractor and the rest can be cut and moved by hand. I expect I’ll be cutting and burning for a month or so but I was surprised how quickly I was able to clear some of it already.

So final picture taken this evening of a rather naked looking but unthreatened house.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Pork Processing – Belly Pork

Above are my pork purchases; the ham and two belly pieces. I also bought from the local farming supply shop the salt, the cotton sack and the 30 litre bucket ready for my few days of pork processing.

I was very pleased with the two belly pieces, as they were both quite meaty. The one on the left was earmarked for the rillettes while the one on the right for green cure bacon. The piece on the right also had the ribs too. Since neither piece was longer than 50 cm, I would guess that the right was the front half of a belly while the left the back half.

First of all, I cut out the ribs from the piece for bacon and then cut it into pieces that would be convenient for me to use. I then packed the pieces into a bowl and covered with a brine solution for 24 hours. The bowl was places out the back where it is very cool and the pieces held under the brine using a weighted plate.

Once the 24 hours was up, I dried the bacon pieces and wrapped then in pieces of the cotton sack, which is like cheesecloth and hung them up to dry for a day or so. They will only stay fresh for a week or so in the refrigerator so they will be transferred to the freezer although I might invest in a slicer and slice them before freezing.

The second piece of belly I skinned and then cut into thin strips. In the picture, the bacon pieces are at the bottom left: at the top left is a bowl containing the pork ribs and the skin from the belly. In the wok at the top right is the skin from the ham (processing in another post) and any fat I trimmed off ready for rendering.

I packed the slices of belly into a casserole along with lots of ground black pepper, some garlic and herbs. More pork fat is then added – since I make this quite often I had the fat drained off from a previous batch that’s already flavoured too. I then place a piece of the skin I remove over the top of the meat to protect it from drying out before the fat has liquefied.

The casserole is then placed in a very slow oven to let the fat flow and the meat is p
oached in the fat until it is falling apart. About 24 hours in my case as the wood range runs cool on plum wood.

Once the meat is cooked it’s placed in a sieve and the fat drained off. As I said above, I save the fat for next time, separating it from any meat juices that can be used as a base for gravy or stock.

The meat is then shredded; I have used a food processor for this but I prefer the more labour intensive method of using 2 forks, I just prefer the rougher texture. Before I’ve cubed the meat as suggested in a couple of recipes I have but I did find the shredding a lot easier this time after thinly slicing the meat first.

A final check on the seasoning and then the meat is packed firmly into jars. The top of the rillettes is then covered with a layer of melted pure pork fat. This is why I save the skin and fat I trim off; I render my own pure fat. Again the fat I was using was the fat I rendered for the last batch I made. This years is currently in the slow oven as I write. A word of caution though, remember that liquid fat is slippery especially when trying to hold a glass jar. The one in the picture was pretty near full when I tried to put it down onto the work-surface; it slipped and tipped over and it’s taken about half a day to try and clear up the mess!

This time I also heat processed the jars; not necessary if you are going to eat it over the next week or so but I make larger quantities and want it to last. I cooked the pots for 15 mins at 15 lbs pressure, which I hope will be sufficient.

While the meat was cooking I turned the ribs into Chinese style ribs. The recipe is just so simple.

Chinese spare ribs
2lb spare ribs
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 onion peeled and quartered
3 tbsp wine.

Put all ingredients in a pan with 1 1/2 pints of water, bring to the boil, simmer for 45 minutes, turning the meat occasionally. Turn up the heat and boil for 20 mins (uncovered) to reduce the sauce, it will become thick and sticky!!!! Serve.

You can freeze them like this once they have cooled.

That’s it for the pork bellies, I was thinking about other ways to use up the fat I get from the rendering as re-using the flavoured fat means I use very little of the fresh fat and my mind wandered to soap making. I also have large quantities of wood ash with the wood-burning cooker so that will be another project to think about. Who knows maybe I can come up with a recipe to use the squeak too.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Snowy’s Operation

Thank you all again for your concern over Snowy and sorry for the delay in this post, life took over for a bit again.

Five o’clock (Friday) came and I was at the vets as arranged; Snowy was brought out in the arms of the vet. She was still not fully awake from the anaesthetic, but she was awake enough to meow and growl all the way home though.

There is a saying in the UK, “the lights are on but there is no-one at home”, which described Snowy perfectly. Her eyes were fully dilated but she had no real idea of what was she was doing. She did think she needed the litter tray but once she got in it she did her customary turn a rounds, slightly lost her balance and basically gave up and fell into a sort of sleep. Thankfully apart from some mud on the rim where I'd moved it with my boot, it was clean.

She also wanted to walk round the house but her back legs were not really holding her. She’d come up to an object and attempt to go round or over it and just collapse, quite often on her back with her paws in the air unable to figure out how to get up.

I had been due to go out that evening but had cancelled; I’m so glad I did. There was no way I would have been happy leaving her even if she was caged. She spent from 5 to gone 11 pm either being held on my lap until she fell back into a sleep or with me following round after her if she decided she just had to go for a walk. I had to be there, ether to pick her up or to stop her trying to jump up onto chairs and more importantly to stop her falling down all the steps in my house. It may be essentially a bungalow but nearly every room is on a different level and some of the steps are deep.

Come 11 pm I needed to sleep so I put her back into the pet carrier, much to her disgust, and placed her next to me on the bed. She was not happy to be caged again but did fall back to sleep.

I was awakened by her at about 5 am when I heard her grooming herself so I got her out for another drink etc. She was still very unsteady on her back legs so after about an hour, we both went back to bed for another couple of hours.

By the morning I was happy to leave her in the house for an hour and a half while I went out and now, Sunday morning, she’s more or less back to normal although she does know how to play the ‘I’m hurt, I need more milk’ look really well and has really relished the extra attention she has been getting.

I was really pleased that the vet didn’t have to take off as much of her ear as I feared and I was also surprised that she wasn’t given an antibiotic injection either. Instead I was instructed to bathe the wound three times a day with iodine but to bring her back immediately if I felt there was an infection. I’m quite pleased about that really, partially because it reduces the cost but mainly because it should mean that if she does need an antibiotic shot the chances of resistant bugs should be lower and she’s also quite happy for me to dab the iodine onto the ear.

She goes back to the vet in a fortnight to have the stitches out but she’s now sitting on my lap purring as I type this, back to normal, and as a bonus, I can touch her ear without her protesting, something I couldn’t do when it had the growth on it.

Friday, 28 November 2008

A Free Meal?

I know I could be accused of being cynical but I fully believe there is no such thing as a ‘free meal’. This is doubly so when venturing to the supermarket. I have loyalty cards for each of the supermarkets I use as they all offer money back. This money is of course not due to the supermarkets generosity; I pay for it with every purchase I make. So if I don’t collect and use this money I am just adding to the supermarket’s profits, and Tesco alone made £2.5 (4.9$) billion profit in 2007 all from it’s producers and customers.

Here in France the money you accumulate over the year is wiped out at the end of the year so now is the time to use it up. So when the supermarket had an offer of grain-fed, free-range, non growth hormone pork I cashed in my total. Well for Leclerc Villeneuve at least. The credits you accrue are shop specific so I will go to Leclerc Bergerac over the next month and us up my monies from there.

It turned out that I had 58.96€ to use at Villeneuve and I bought 2 entire bellies at 17.44€ and 11.52€, and a leg of ham for 22.61€, making a total of 51.57€ so I even had a little left to use against the rest of my shop.

I try not to go to the supermarket too often as I always spend far more than I expect to but when I do go it’s because I’ve gone through the publicity material we get each week listing the various offers. Sometimes the offer is just a straight forward reduced price item they don’t usually sell but other times it is a cash-back offer onto your card so I stock up on items when they are on offer. Of course it only makes sense if you would buy the item anyway but even little amounts add up over the year and I’m sorry but I really don’t see why the supermarkets should get even more from me than they already do.

Anyway, enough waffle I have pork to deal with and more posts to follow showing what I’m doing with the meat.

PS Thanks to everyone’s kind thoughts on Snowy; I just want to get her back and cuddle her – only another 4 hours to wait!


It was -3°C this morning, Snowy is now at the vets awaiting her operation and I'm counting the seconds until she's back. After 12 years she's like a part of me, I keep expecting to turn round and trip over her :-D

I can't think to post what I've been doing the last couple of days until she's back so hopefully normal service will return this evening.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Vaccinations and Operation

Today, apart from being a dry and sunny day was also vet day. I’d left the cat food low last night so all the cats were hanging round me this morning. The cat-flap was then locked and the cats loaded into the baskets. Cid and Hazel are playmates so they are put together in the double basket while Patches and Snowy are in individual baskets. For various reasons; those two would be very upset to have to share a basket with any of the others. Patches because she’s attacked all the others due to her nerviness so they all attack her now and Snowy because she is top cat and doesn’t see why she should have to share with anyone else.

Today’s trip was for their rabies vaccination. It’s not that we are travelling anywhere but there have been a c
ouple of cases of rabies both north and south of here where people have illegally brought animals into the country that have then turned out to have rabies, plus while there might not be many foxes about they too are carriers here.

While none of the cats were that happy about being bundled into the baskets they didn’t complain much so it was a very trouble free trip and Cid, Hazel and Patches all got a clean bill of health.

So what about Snowy; well I’d been watching a lump on her ear and as I feared it is a cancerous growth. She’s 12 years old and a white cat that loves the sun. I’ve tried sun block on her ears but she hates it. She puts up with it for about a week then she disappears in the mornings and only returns home in the evening. I could put, and sometimes do put, the block on in the early morning but by the time the sun is hot, I know it will be well past effective.

She’s going back to the vet’s on Friday to have the growth cut out so she will lose about half her ear. The growth is unlikely to grow much over the winter but would start to grow again when the sun is back but I though that if I get it done straight away then the scar tissue has the winter to heal. Apart from that she has a clean bill of health too which I’m really happy about.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

To Brest and Back

Well not quite but pretty nearly. A 10 hour drive north through the rain and spray and then a 9 hour – I’d beaten TomTom into submission and stopped him from taking me cross country - back the following day, complete with the animal trailer.

No I didn’t just do it for fun, it was to pick up the latest male in my life. So without further ado let me introduce you to Theo:-

Theo was unfortunately left behind in the UK when my other alpacas were shipped over 18 months ago. On shearing just before departure he had been found to have a bad case of mites and wasn’t passed fit to travel. Since then he’s remained in the UK until there was an opportunity to ship him with some others, which finally occurred at the beginning of November. He’s spent a few days with Robin and Linda of Utopian Alpacas in Brittany who are a wonderful couple. My thanks go to them and everyone else who helped in Theo's move to France.

Mother of Vinegar

Since the summer I’ve had a couple of bottles of wine with the dregs left in sitting in my kitchen waiting to grow a Mother of Vinegar. Today I looked in both bottles and this is what I found in one…

The wine has turned to very nice vinegar. I’ve now transferred the mother and the small amount of vinegar to a bigger crock and have added a bit of the cooking wine. From now on, any red wine dregs will be added so I have a supply of home-made red wine vinegar. I’ve followed the in
structions on Rhonda Jean’s blog, down-to-earth, if anyone else wants to try.

In case you are worried you won’t know if it’s formed a ‘mother’ or if it’s gone bad, this is what came out of the other bottle. No problem deciding which one worked I think.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Ill Again

It's getting beyond a joke; I have yet another head cold so nothing much is getting done at the present. I was hoping to regail you with pictures of my newly tiled workbench and wall but I can't see properly to finish it at the moment.

So currently I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself. I think it calls for a whisky and green ginger wine to make me feel better. Hopefully I'll be posting those pictures soon.

Monday, 10 November 2008

A Few Dry Days

The rain finally held off again – we’ve had well over last November’s rainfall already this month – and I was treated to the wonderful sunrise above the other morning.

A day and a half of dry weather meant that I could venture out to put the last panel on the new shelter. I really should read the packets better, this lambris was only 7 cm wide rather than the 15 cm of the previous I’d used. I was really thankful for the nail gun since the narrower pieces were more warped than the wider. Even so it only took an hour or so to pin and screw it together.

When G put the hay into the hayloft he brought down some roofing sheets that were there. I’d seen them from a distance but not paid them much attention but I think I’ll use them for this shelter. I need to get some smaller sheets to span the roof with an overhang but once I’ve got those it shouldn’t take to long to get the roof on.

I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the sunny weather yesterday.

I spotted this stripless tree frog by the front door, I hear him quite often but he usually is well hidden.

I also have another companion in the garden; this is the Sussex cockerel who’s decided that he’s not to enamoured with the small world of the chicken run and pops out for an hour or so each day before returning to the flock.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tree Trouble

With all the leaves falling I was able to take a good look at the large poplar tree that’s on the edge of the chicken pen just behind my house.

This tree had partially come down during the small hurricane that went through here in 2006, in fact the day before I saw the house for the first time. It’s also the tree that had a hornets nest in it and G, after bravely spraying the nest for me had looked into the hole they were in and said that the tree was really rotten at the base as well.

What I saw this time rather worried me, a large piece of branch had broken off the top and wa
s hanging in the tree caught on another branch. It was raining and very overcast so I didn’t bother with a photograph.

Overnight we must have had some more wind because the branch came down. I must have some guardian angels because the branch fell in such a way that it missed everything it could have hit, like my roof or my animal trailer.

To give you an idea I managed to put this composite photo together.

The fallen branch is about 5 metres long (15 ft). I’ve been debating over the future of this tree and the two other large poplars planted alongside the house and this has sealed their fate. Today I had a tree surgeon round. There was much intake of breath so I think the quote is going to be rather high but then you wouldn’t find me climbing a rotten tree to take it down piece-meal. The other two can probably be felled in one piece but there is a possibility that one of them might take out some of the new fencing posts. Needless to say I won’t be racing to put the fencing up along that stretch.

As you can see the weather yesterday was lovely and the evening sky was a treat too.

A Sunny Day Again

It’s been rather wet here for the last few days but out of the blue yesterday was lovely, sunny and warm. C and S from the next village popped by on their way back from the bank. We’d arranged to try and put up the new alpaca shelter on Monday as C thought he would be busy on Tuesday. Monday morning the weather was terrible so no shelter. Happily the bank visit passed quicker than expected so did I want to start the shelter that afternoon? You bet I did.

While C went home to change I raced round and collected together everything we would need. Rail spike sledge hammer, drill, screwdriver, metaposts, the kit of parts I’d started last week, dumped it all into the trailer and set off for the field.

It took C about an hour to get the meta posts hammered in and the basic frame screwed together. It was so much easier with the two of us; it’s the little things such as when you are on your own drilling the pilot hole and then fixing the screw requires going up and down the step ladders to change pieces of equipment and pick up the screw where as I was able to pass things up, and hold onto the tools not being used. I swear that if we were really meant to do DIY we would have been born with at least one other pair of hands.

After that it was on with the cladding. C zoomed off round the shelter leaving me a bit redundant so I grabbed the lasure (wood treatment) and followed him round painting as fast as I could.

It turned out that I’m three pieces of cladding short to complete the shelter so rather than put up the wood we have and then find I can’t get similar we decided to not put up the last section, which will be at the front right. I’ll buy more cladding this afternoon and when we have the next dry spell I’ll pop that on – yes it’s raining again today.

Hazel, as you can see came to check out the new building. The piece of wood on the ground at the front is part of the roof. I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to use for the roof and it’s final placement will depend on what I choose and how long those roofing pieces are but once I make the decision it shouldn’t take more than a day to finish.

It’s so kind of C to come and help out with this as it took the work from what would have been a long day for me down to 4 hours to produce what you see above. C will be back sometime, as long as the weather gets better to saw off the overlapping edges. The panels are constructed in situ because the ground isn’t level and it allows for that and any twist that may occur as the metaposts go in. It may not be the best looking structure but it’s not something that’s supposed to stand for centuries and as I’ve remarked before my alpacas have yet to use the one I made for them a year ago. However I think they will use this one as there is currently no other shade in these fields and it will take a bit of time for trees to grow.

Not Much Sleep

I like quite a few people am rather tired this morning having decided to watch the results of the American elections. I managed to stay up until the west coast declared and the magic 270 was passed, 5 am here. What a night; trying to get my head around the voting system in the States. It’s so different to the UK system and I couldn’t believe how long it took to vote.

In the UK you can nip in and vote before or after work while in the States you needed to take a day off work, some queues had a wait time of 5 hours or more. After that the ‘calling’ of the states based on exit polls; I think if this was done in the UK there would be quite a difference between what people said they voted and what they actually did in the privacy of the voting booth and that’s if they did tell you. I for one wouldn’t say as I believe in the right to a secret ballot. Add to that the fact that people have been able to vote for the last month and that in some states some military votes wouldn’t be counted at all unless the populous vote was tied:- it is just such a different system but then it is a vote carried out over a much larger area and with so many more people voting than anything I’m used to. To put it in context, President Elect Obama won nearly as many votes as the population of the UK, 61.5 million.

I’m glad I watched, as the TV endlessly said, it was history in the making which ever way it went and I hope it will enable a fresh start in the way the USA is perceived by the rest of the world.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Wood-Fired Cooker

With my continuing colds and the deterioration of the weather here, I decided it was time to light the ESSE. This is the first time I will have cooked using wood, barbeques apart, and the first time I’ve burnt plum wood. My neighbour had a lot of problems getting plum wood to burn although Ann and Regis use it all the time with no problems and have a blazing fire.

So it was with great trepidation I lit the first fire; it barely caught. It did produce a lot of smoke to start with, which was great as I took the opportunity to check there were no leaks in the chimneystack where it goes through the loft.

The basic building here can be a bit ‘interesting’. The chimneystack is a stack of hollow square bricks. Fine so far but the path from the kitchen to the roof is not vertical so my chimney has a curve in it. Add to that, when I went into the loft area on moving in, I discovered that the exhausts for both the extractor hood and the propane water heater just passed through the kitchen ceiling and vented into the loft! Hence why I wanted to check out the integrity of
the chimneystack.

All was fine and I went back down to keep an eye on the fire. I reasoned that I needed to build up an ash bed. My neighbour who had the problems with the plum wood insisted you don’t need one but somewhere in the depths of my mind I have the recollection that wood fires need an ash base while coal fires don’t.

After about 4 hours the fire finally caught properly and the oven temperature gauge began to rise. Encouraged by this I started some bread. I still couldn’t get the oven into the hot zone but did manage to bake 3 large loaves and some buns.

By now it was evening and the next test presented its self. Could the fire last overnight? I added a few logs and closed all the dampers and went to bed.

Yesterday when I got up the cooker was cool but the
re was still a good glow in the ashes so I added more wood, opened up the dampers and waited. After about an hour I had a good blaze going again and this time the cooker heated to the top of the hot zone.

Time for more baking and yesterday it was buckwheat pancakes (because I had the flour and it let me see how well the ‘hot’ hotplate worked); some spice biscuits and some gingernuts. All were great, cooking times are a bit hit and miss, generally baking seems to be quicker. I’ve also put a casserole in the slow oven that’s looking good and should be perfect by tonight – the original slow cooker.

So I’m really happy with it, not only do I have hot water all day, it has a back boiler, I have a source of heat in the kitchen, I can cook more or less whenever I want (the other cooker is electric and takes quite a time to warm up as well as being expensive) and it keeps my cup of tea warm too. And if all the above wasn’t enough it can iron too, I think I’m in love!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Colds, Colds And More Colds

Having got through my depressed spell I’m raring to catch up on everything. I even started a healthy eating regime, making sure I did take the time to get my 5 a day and not opt for a burger or egg sandwich for my main meal just because I was tired and couldn’t be bothered to cook for myself.

So why, oh why, have I had a cold ever since? I’m just getting through my 4th cold in 4 weeks. Just as I think I’m getting over the cold, I start sneezing again. At least the last 3 have only been head colds and not gone to my chest like the first. On the plus side I should be gaining immunity.

I think I should go back to a chocolate and chips diet and see if that gets rid of the colds, this healthy eating is killing me!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Wheel Turns

One lovely thing about working outside is that you get to see nature happening around you. Back at the beginning of March I was lucky enough to see the storks migrating northward and it triggered the feeling of spring arriving. Today as the sun began to set I heard that call again. For the first time I have seen them on their way back south.

There was a group of 30 or so that flew overhead, their calls can be heard before you see them. I had to run to the house to get the binoculars as they fly so fast and pass overhead in a few seconds. A little while later I spotted another small group on the horizon. Having been out all day I knew that these were the first groups. Finally just as the sun had set and the light was fading fast I heard more and turned to see an arc of a couple of hundred birds passing overhead. It’s amazing to watch the continual movement in the group as it appears every so often, possibly every 15 – 20 birds, the one at the back pulls out and moves to the front of each little group, taking over the head position. I know it’s done to allow each bird to rest in slipstream of the others but watching how effortlessly they do it is a marvel.

As I watched them disappear into the distance I wondered if I’ll see more tomorrow or if they will fly over during the night but it also occurred to me that I felt the end of the season happening; the end of summer and in some ways the end of the year. It also dawned on me that in the pagan or Celtic calendar this is the end of the year, Samhain, the New Year occurs on the 31st of October.

The Next Shelter

I had a visit yesterday from C and his brother M from the next village, which was a nice surprise. What was even nicer was that C volunteered himself to help me put up the new alpaca shelter in a weeks time. It will be so much easier having two of us to bash the metaposts into the ground and get the 4 metre posts up onto the roof.

Knowing that a date is set for the work meant that I needed to get the kit of bits cut to size and today being a warm dry day was ideal to get on with it.

When I made the first shelter I only had a small surform to whittle down the posts to fit into the metaposts and shaping the six posts took me over two days. Well I decided to buy myself an electric plane and this time it took a little over and hour, and a lot of that time was spent repositioning the posts. Well worth the expenditure especially considering I have another 3 shelters to build after this one.

After cutting all the pieces I then stained them and they are now safely stored back in the garage awaiting C’s return. With luck we should get the shelter up in a day and then I’ll get on with fencing the field.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A Quiet Wednesday

It didn’t rain today but after the 17mm we had yesterday the ground was far to wet to work today. The sky also remained overcast all day so it became a day of bits and pieces mainly indoors.

While letting out the chickens this morning I glanced over to my saffron bed and here it is…my very first home-grown saffron. It looks like I’ll double the quantity tomorrow too! While it might be one of the most expensive items by weight around at the moment, I don’t think I’ll be making my fortune just yet.

Later on in the day I was on my way back to the chickens to give them some grain and found this little chap in the grass.

He was only 15cm, 6 inches long at the most, about the same size as the hedgehog I saw last year. I’m wondering now if the hedgehogs are a smaller variety here than in the UK or if I’ve seen juvenile ones each time. Once he’d noticed me photographing him, he headed off across the flowerbeds towards the pile of weeds for burning. As you can see, Patches was curious but she kept her distance so I suspect she’s had a prickled nose before now.

While I love my bonfires, I never just set light to a heap of stuff I’ve left around. I always start a new heap to burn so I don’t inadvertently roast one of these delightful slug catchers. I headed him off and placed him under the bay tree behind the house, whether he will hibernate in the leaves there or head back to the burning pile, I’ll find out when I have the next bonfire. In the meantime I must dig out my hedgehog book and see if there are any ideas for making somewhere for him to hibernate that doesn’t require me doing any construction work as I just don’t have time at the moment.

The rest of the day was spent doing the little things like putting bolts on doors and trying to re-fit the curtain pole on my bedroom. The walls here are a mixture of rubble, breezeblock, terracotta block and bad plaster and one of the rawlplugs holding up the curtain pole had pulled out of the wall taking a rather large piece of plaster with it. So while the filler was setting I even managed a trip to the tip to empty my trailer of all the rubbish in it. All in all a quiet but satisfying day.

More Wonderful Friends

Yesterday the promised rain came. I thought we might get away without it but by late morning the heaven opened and I got soaked. Never mind it was that wonderful fain that actually soaks into the ground rather than evaporates off the top or come down so hard it just runs over the surface. So it was an inside day after all.

Just after lunch D and S from the neighbouring village called in. They’d been to the local dechetterie (waste disposal site) and D had told S to bring his tool kit with him. I had one wall cupboard in the kitchen that wasn’t level. The screws are perfectly level so I thought it would just be a case of fiddling around with the level adjusting screws until it was right but with the arrival of guests and the summer work outside it had remained undone.

S spent a while trying to get the adjusters to bring it level but to no avail. The great thing about having three of us here working on it was that D and I could offer the cabinet up to the wall and S could get into a position to see exactly what was happening with the wall fixers – all designed to be completely concealed so you haven’t a chance to see what you are doing on your own.

Eventually the penny dropped; the wall plate has two screw holes to attach it to the wall. On the right hand plate, which was causing the problems, the screws were perfectly level but A and I had when putting it up originally managed to make the left hand screw hole position the right hand one resulting in the fixer being just to the left of where it needed to be. The cabinet was therefore hanging by the top rim and not the hanger on that side. One new screw hole later and it is now hanging beautifully an I will be able to put the final end piece on when I get back to the kitchen work.

Such a simple job in many respects but so much easier to do with a little help. Even so it took a couple of hours because it is so fiddly and I’m so grateful to D and S because it would have taken me ages to sort out on my own.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Winter Preparations

The tractor still isn’t back so I decided to make a start on some of the outdoor preparations for winter. First up was cutting back the mulberry trees. Last year I made the mistake of leaving it too late and there was a sharp frost. All the leaves dropped in one go and the rain and frost of the following couple of days turned them into a ghastly slime that coated the grass. I really didn’t want to have to deal with that again this year so out came the long handled loppers and the pruning saw and I set to work.

The trees have done what they were planted for all summer; they provided shade for the car and the washing line. Now that summer is over, the car doesn’t need the shade and the washing needs to be able to see the sun to have any chance of the washing drying. After a few hours of pruning (it always takes much longer than I think it will), voila –

One reason for the slowness today was the heat. It may be autumn, heading for winter and the overnight temperature may have been 5°C but by the afternoon the temperature in the shade was 25°C and in the sun it peaked at 44°C. Working outside requires two sets of work clothes, a winter type set for the mornings and a summer type set for the afternoons. Tomorrow however we’re forecast rain and a drop in temperature despite the lovely red sunset out there tonight.

Once I’d finished the trees and then dealt with the alpacas I turned my attention to the wooden garden furniture. A had very kindly painted it with a special hard wood oil when he was here back at the beginning of summer, looking at it after a summer in the dappled sunlight it hadn’t fared any better than the doors C and M painted with linseed oil for me and they spend a large part of the summer in direct sunlight. The special hard wood oil cost around 18€ for a litre, my linseed mix works out at about 2€30 a litre so guess what I will be using from now on.

The home-made oil is a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine (as a carrier). The book I got the recipe from states that for soft woods use 75% oil, 25% turps and for hard wood use a 50:50 mixture. Half the time I’ve no idea what sort of wood I’m treating so I make up a general mixture of two thirds linseed oil and one third turps and use it for everything. By the time the sun started to go down I managed to do the upper surface of the table and three of the five chairs.

The other two chairs will get done as and when and I will also be treating all the wooden handles of my gardening implements.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Back From The Twilight Zone

As quickly as my lethargy descended it has evaporated, life has started again. So what’s happening, well not much over the last month but the last three days have been busy.

Friday was day one of the recovered me and I set about finishing some to the things I’d started over the last few weeks but been unable to do. So the lawn has finally been mown and with the grass collector on as well for the first time this year. It's been on my to do list for ages and with the leaves now falling I wanted to add the mix of leaves and grass to the compost bin. At the beginning of the week I could only manage a couple of rows before having to give up, Friday there was no stopping me.

After the lawn I decided to get the rotivator out and make a start on the area Sue and I had cleared. After that I thought I should stop and make sure I didn't overdo it.

Yesterday was also a full day although I spent most of it sitting down and reading a book. Ann had her 'car boot in the garden' sale to raise fund for the cats she looks after. I help by manning the stalls and helping with the putting away – it’s a nice way to spend the day, meeting other people and reading when there are breaks.

So round to today when I was looking forward to a lie in but was rudely awaken by the sound of the hunting dogs close by the house. A lot of the dogs are not well controlled and I fear for the cats, chickens and alpacas so it was dressing gown on and outside to see exactly where they were and which direction they were going.

Earlier in the week I took a walk down the garden towards the pond and around the ‘wood’ field, leading to the picture at the top of the post. In the basket are the last tomatoes of this year. I then found a couple of mushrooms lurking in the field below the small alpaca paddock. I was hoping a light shower of rain the other evening would have persuaded some more to appear but sadly not. I also found some rosehips and after my double cold I am going to prepare some rosehip syrup to see me through the winter, although I think I will have to go on some walks with Ann to find a sufficient supply of the hips.

After doing nothing all summer, my mangetout peas have finally bloomed and I’ve just started picking some as the first ground frosts are occurring. In a similar vein my cape gooseberries bloomed too. The fruit is still green and I’m not convinced they will ripen but I’m really hoping some will.

Back to today, I decided to add a little alpaca manure to the ground I’d been rotivating. The soil itself is reasonably fertile but when I lifted the potatoes, which I’d planted on a shallow bed of the droppings the worms had loved the addition and the soil texture had improved. Digging out the old manure heap I discovered it was full of mycelium and beneath the couch grass that had covered the heap I found these.

I’m hoping that I will be able to get a good crop of mushrooms next year now that I know they will grow here and where to look.

Finally for tonight, a picture of Sick Chick. She’s still looking OK but I will be checking her again tomorrow or Tuesday. Her tail is still up and she’s moving round happily with the others and her diarrhoea has stopped as well. I still think she will have at least another maggot attack before the hole is fully healed but I am far more hopeful about her long-term prospects. She’s the chicken in the foreground.

Thinking of Food

My list of blogs I read grows longer and longer as I follow links from blog to blog. I can’t remember where I came across the Contrary Goddess but it was a while back – I think it was when I was researching how to dispatch chickens. I love her outlook on life and the simplicity she strives to bring to it.

This post I love, it shows the love she feels for the food she grows, her local food.

Monday, 13 October 2008

No Posts and No Pictures

I’ve been getting very lax with my postings of late, so what’s up? As with many things, it’s not due to anything in particular but a mix of things. Over the last three weeks or so I’ve had two colds, one on the back of the other. The first cold went to my chest and the second one to my sinuses so both managed to slow me down a bit.

On top of that I got a reminder from the UK Tax Office to say that the date to file the taxes and get them to work it out had change and was no longer January but the end of this month – time to panic.

Having got the data together I got round to reading the accompanying booklet and discovered that the form they had sent me shouldn’t be used if you are resident abroad as I am. So I duly telephoned the helpline;

“No idea why we’ve sent you that then, but fill it in and send it anyway”

was the comment. So I have, along with a covering letter to say that I was resident abroad and I had queried the form but had been told to submit it. Now all I have to do is wait and see if they accept it.

The other thing that’s reduced my time in front of the computer is that I’ve discovered BBC 4. I found an episode of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, a programme I watched with my parents back in 1969. Re-watching it only confirmed that a lot of documentaries today are pap in comparison. It’s sad that in an age when we are all supposed to be better educated we are treated like children when back in 1969 you were treated as an adult.

Tonight’s offering is the second part of ‘The Story of Maths’. When I watched the start of the first episode my heart sank when it announces that it was going to make wide use of computer graphics – I have to admit I have a loathing of CG being used as a time waster in documentaries having watched Horizon going from an informative hour long programme to a quarter of an hour of content padded out with flashy but superficial CG and the content repeated four or five times to make an hours programme. However I was really pleasantly surprised that the CG was not intrusive so I’m looking forward to that. Maybe it will diminish my cynicism of what we are fed on TV – but I will take note of what Lord Clark said:-

"It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs."

Sick Chick Back With The Flock

Sick Chick still has the hole beneath her vent but it’s much smaller. I followed Debs & Bob’s advice and have given her a dose of Dectomax (Ivermectin) and today she was looking better but pining for the company of the other chickens.

While I can keep her isolated I can’t keep her totally fly free. In the house she’s in a cat box which is fine when she’s feeling poorly or for transport but is really too small for long term containment and the house is not fly free either – especially not this year, the flies have been really bad
Outside I have the concrete rabbit hutches which give her more space but again they are not fly proof so having checked her again I decided that it would be better for her to take her chances out with the rest of the flock and I will catch her at least once a week and check her.

So after a final dose of iodine I put her in with the others. Her tail went up to the highest I’ve seen it for ages and she was clucking away for all her worth. She’s been really quiet for ages so that was a real surprise. She came over as a really happy chicken and overjoyed to be back on the grass and foraging. She still has diarrhoea but it doesn’t seem to be bothering her, maybe the Dectomax will deal with that in time. In the meantime, she appears to be happy and I will be watching very carefully for any signs that she’s not doing well and will deal with her as and when she needs it.