Saturday, 2 February 2008

Feeding Yourself

Yesterday was a trip to the town day. I’m trying to limit these for two reasons, firstly because I always spend more than I think I will and secondly I find that more and more I dislike the artificial lighting and the overpowering noise of the large shops. Thankfully the shops aren’t generally as crowded as in the UK.

I got most of what I wanted which is always good. It is coming up to Chinese New Year so the supermarkets are full of Chinese and Thai foods and sauces. I haven’t found a Chinese supermarket anywhere round here so have to rely on the main supermarkets for any Oriental seasonings I want. There are usually very few in the supermarkets and they are very expensive for most of the year. For example a bottle of sesame oil (150ml) is a bit over £3.20 (4€50). However this time of year they have special offers so the sesame oil is 1€30 around £1.80 (they were out of stock though). They also had tubs of Thai red and Thai green curry paste that I’ve not seen in store at any other time. So it was time to stock the store cupboard.

I also bought a water butt. This is really an interim measure since at 300 litres it won’t supply the house but it will ensure that the alpacas and chickens will have water for a week or so should the pump fail again. Eventually I will get a larger storage vessel for the house and this one will then be installed on one of the planned field shelters to save me having to transport water over the fields. I’ve started to put it together - that is fit the tap - but a big problem has arisen. I can’t be both inside and outside the butt at the same time (it's about 3/4 of my height) to hold the tap still and be able to tighten the nut on the inside. So I’ll have to wait until Ann comes over sometime to finish that. I then have to fit it to the down pipe. I have one of the those diverter kits and am puzzling on how to fit it and whether it’s worth fitting it. If it only diverts water when there is a heavy rainfall, I’m going to miss the gentle runoff that we frequently get but it will also reduce the debris getting into the butt. If I direct fill the butt, I will collect all the moisture but all the debris too. Any thoughts anyone? The picture shows the new butt and what I cobbled together when without water.

Today’s main work was to spray where the trees are to be planted. I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering whether to spray or not. I had thought about running the cultivator along the rows instead but the ground is still wet and the clay content would lead it to compact under the tractor. The cultivator is only a meter across but with a planting distance of 2 meters it would still mean that all the land between the trees would have been worked and that would have destroyed the fauna that had built up over the last 2 years. The rows I’ve sprayed are only about half a meter wide to give the trees a head start once they go in.

While wandering past last years vegetable bed I noticed that the spring onions were beginning to mature – I thought they were spring onions because you planted them in spring :-D, so these have been in the ground quite a while and I’d more or less forgotten about them. One rocket plant had also over wintered so I picked a few leaves along with some spinach. So tonight’s supper was homemade goulash including onions I’d grow last year with homegrown potatoes and homegrown green beans and a mixed salad including the spinach, rocket and the spring onion from the garden today.

I know that for many of the people who read this blog, sourcing their own food is the norm but for me, it was the first time I’ve really stopped and looked at the change I’ve made over the last year. Sometimes we do have to take stock and appreciate how far we have come, even if we are nowhere near where we want to be eventually.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Back Again

It was back to work in the prunery today despite the overnight rain and the morning fog and we finally finished the first orchard.

There are two more orchards to go and this was the smallest of the three. Regis has promised Ann and I that now he knows someone is going to pick up the usable wood he’s prepared all the larger branches while he’s been cutting. This should mean that we only have to serpe off the side branches, collect and stack the usable wood and then move all the trimmings to the middle of the avenues. In theory it should be easier.

Sadly my back hasn’t taken kindly to the work today and last Tuesday. It’s been beginning to niggle me for a while and I’ve been meaning to book a session with a chiropractor. Today’s aches have been enough to make me get on with it so I have an appointment booked for Friday next week.

I’m really pleased at how well my back has held up to all the work I’ve done in the last year. My last trip to the chiropractor was in December 2006 before I moved here so I don’t begrudge it a bit of TLC.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Playing Catch-up Again

I’m not sure why but if I miss a day on the blog because I’ve not much to write, the next day seems to be overfull! So here goes. This first bit got missed out when I got distracted by the kitchen floor being under an inch of water.

I thought one of the cats had moved the mole that I’d found the other day but no, there were now 2 dead moles on the lawn. I can’t say I’m not unhappy about their departure, as a look at this picture of the lawn will explain why. Sadly it isn’t just this area but another couple as well, but there is no way I could put down one of those hideous mole traps that are in the garden centres or the smoke bombs that guarantee poisoned moles in 48 hours.

I’d also picked up one of these patio greenhouses when buying the potatoes on Monday. My house has small windows – keeps the cold out in winter and the heat out in summer – and no windowsills as the windows all open inwards. So nowhere to grow my seedlings until I get a poly tunnel sorted out. This can then move into the polytunnel as extra shelving. I won’t be putting the plastic cover on it until I need to. I learnt in the UK that tensioned cold plastic just disintegrates if you have a hailstorm and while the weather is OK at the moment I can remember back to last year when it was snowing and hailing.

The tree pickup was quite successful yesterday. I’m still 58 ash trees short and will be picking them up next week. I’ve now been told that sweet chestnuts don’t grow round here, but I’ve seen some in a wood close by, so am revising my planting plan to include Field Maple. If the chestnuts fail to establish then I’ll replace them in future plantings by the maples.

Today it was back up to the planting area to mark out a couple more rows and I spotted these fungi on the way. The first was in my neighbour’s wood and is about 15cm across.

The second lot are growing in the middle of the field on the rotting remains of the maize harvest from two years ago.

On the way back down I saw this wonderful mullien on the bank of one of the ditches. It’s at least 2.5 ft across if not a bit more so I’m expecting quite a flower spike on it this summer.

And last but not least I have to show you these. My first attempt at growing leeks. I should have earthed them up a bit more but the soil is a bit clayey and once the first rains started it wasn’t really possible (my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Leek and potato soup is on the menu for the week. So very many thanks are due to Sue and Jeanne who very kindly planted out my seedling leeks, along with many other things, back last spring.

Monday, 28 January 2008

What a Day

You know the saying, ‘It never rains but it pours’, well; I sometimes feel that it is describing my life at the moment.

Today started reasonably well, the planned trip into Villeneuve was only delayed half an hour while I cleared the car windscreen of ice. The trip was a bit slower than usual as visibility in the freezing fog was down to 20 metres in places but overall no problem. Exchanged the pump with no problem and got a lovely apology from the owner. All going well so far.

I then went to Gamm Vert (a townies version of the agricultural merchants Terres du Sud but I get store points on the same things they have in Terre du Sud – makes sense to me). I needed to go there to get a matching shelf to the ones I purchased before Christmas. To my great surprise they had the new stock in. Then over to the display of seed potatoes, well most of the variety names are completely different to the ones in the UK but, never fear, I’d downloaded a list of French potato varieties along with their characteristics. Hum, they still had varieties that weren’t on my list but never mind I decided on 3 varieties to try - Charlotte, Elodie and Rosabelle. I looked at and wondered about the purple fleshed variety they had, but didn’t find the plate of purple mash they showed on the front of the packet at all appealing, so gave it a miss. I then went looking for garlic but they only had the white variety.

From there it was back home and time to look at wiring the pump. Thank goodness my Internet connection was not playing up. I now know what L1, L2, L3 and U1, V1, W1 refer to plus the wire colour codes too.* Then it was down to the pump house to install it. After a bit of jiggling, wriggling and finally hitting it with the pipe wrench, everything mechanical fitted together. The wire too eventually succumbed to what I wanted it to do and bent round all the nearly inaccessible places it had to and was wired into the mains. Back to the house to switch on the mains power. NO bang, no shorting out of anything so back to the pump house to switch on the pump. It started and even turned in the right direction and proceeded to fill the tank with air.

I was wondering if this was the time to start crying. I’d primed the pump and the pipe to the tank but no water was arriving, then I thought to open the tap on the tank. This resulted in no back pressure and the pump was able to draw the air lock up from the pipe from the well. Yes I have water again, and yes I am over the moon. I have loads of cleaning to catch up with; the water I was getting from friends was far to precious to fritter away on that.

Also this afternoon Ann and I found the local tree nursery and I’m picking up the rest of the trees I want tomorrow, so the first stage of the wood is progressing too. On the way back from the nursery I was able to get the garlic I wanted, a purple type and a pink type. So all in all a very successful day.

So what about the 'it pours' bit? Well after taking the photograph of the potatoes and garlic (and don’t you just love my kitchen floor), I came to the computer to download the image and write the blog. For some reason, and I’ve no idea what it was other than sixth sense, I went back to the kitchen to find the floor under an inch of water. Something I’d put in the dishwasher had managed to block the filter and it responded by continually pumping water out of the door seal. It’s enough to drive you to drink.

*L1 L2 L3 refer to the 3 phases, U1 V1 W1 refers to the 3 windings on the motor and the colours for L1 L2 L3 here in Europe are Brown, Black and Grey respectively.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

You Have To Laugh

Or you would cry…. Today was lovely and frosty but bright so I enjoyed a leisurely get up and set to stripping the wire I’d bought yesterday. It was solid cored and it was only the way it had been cut that made it look multi-strand. So far so good.

I then opened up the pump to attach the cable and realised I’d been sold a mono-phase pump not a triple-phase one. No chance of water until I go back to Villeneuve and exchange the pump (if they have one), or order the correct one.

So with unexpected time on my hands, what to do? I could go back up to the field and mark out some more planting spots but it’s Sunday. Sunday is when all the hunters go out shooting anything that dares to move and I have no wish to be in the firing line or anywhere near their dogs, most of which run round doing what they want and disregarding their ‘master’s’ calls.

In the end I decided to do a bit of pruning.

OK it is a bit of a sever prune otherwise known as my first attempt at chain sawing. I ended up buying both an electric and a petrol chain saw. The idea behind the electric one was that it would be easier to start and would have a quicker emergency stop time and I could get the hang of using a chain saw before using the petrol one.

I have two mulberry trees at the front of the house. They aren’t the type that silkworms eat, nor are they the fruiting mulberries. They are the coppiced trees you see all over France that gives shade in summer. The new growth from the coppicing point is not as strongly attached as the original branch and should be cut back at least every two years if not every year. These trees have been left for a while and the ‘new’ growth has got quite large and I’m worried it may break off in high winds. The tree is also beginning to encroach on to the telephone line so some major work was called for.

In the foreground of the cut wood is the protective gear, gloves, leggings, helmet with ear defenders and steel capped shoes. Working in that lot was hot but the most difficult bit I find is that it’s not designed for 5ft tall women. I eventually managed to turn up (the leggings), squish round (the gloves) and adjust helmet so I could see and still be able to move enough to work the chain saw. I’m pleased to say that I only got the blade trapped a couple of times and that was only lightly and that the only casualty of the day was one strand of the washing line. The knot on the line was far to tight to untie and there was a possibility that the branch would miss it - but it didn’t. Still I do have spare line for when I have water and can do some more washing.