Saturday, 9 February 2008

Trees – Day 2

Although my back is still a bit achy from it’s pummelling on Friday it is generally much better today so the tree planting is top priority again. As I walked up to the planting area I noticed that there were still small patches of frost wherever the sun had failed to reach. It was now about 10.30 and the air temperature was steadily rising, the air was still, the sky blue and I stopped by the pond, as it looked so tranquil.

The line across the middle is a fallen tree, I was thinking of removing it but it does provide some shelter for the creatures in the pond. As last year, the pond looks totally devoid of life but over the course of last year I realised it was home to assorted frogs and newts, I found water snails and small bivalves there were a multitude of various coloured and sized dragonflies and damselflies, there were a pair of moorhens that bred a single chick, ducks flew in a couple of times a day and even with the ducks I did spot a shoal of about 6 small fish. There is also my resident coypu family. My coypu have been given an extension on their stay. I did think I was going to have to get them trapped by the local hunt as I was going to farm around the pond. Coypu tunnel into the banks and they tunnel a long way back from the edge too. They pose a danger because if you take a tractor near the edge of the pond, the tunnels can collapse and you and your tractor end up in the pond – very dangerous. However since I have decided to plant the wood at the top of the field, the rest of the field will now be used to plant crops for me, such as sunflower and barley for the chickens. I can give the pond a wide berth and leave it as a wildlife area.

One thing I need to do during the summer is some work at this end of the pond. Either the tree falling or the coypu have breached the end wall, reducing the capacity of the pond. The extra escaped water has created a large marsh area which I would like to keep so I spent a bit of time working how to deal with the two contradictory problems – closing the breach will dry up the marsh but not closing it lets the pond level drop to the point where it is very low in the summer. I think I have a possible solution though. By creating a ditch running from just to the right of the tree and running straight back I can collect the water run off and some that seeps down from the hills around and that should supply the marsh area while at the same time remove the stagnant puddles that form across the field behind. The marsh area is full of mint and wonderful to walk through. Between the tree and the little post you can just see to the right and behind the tree I’ve just planted my willow cutting.

I’d picked a piece off a willow tree at my friends Sandy & Pete’s and have kept it in water for the last 4 months. It had produced some roots but was looking decidedly dead but when I took it out of the bottle it was in I spotted a green shoot sprouting; so into the ground it has gone. I’ve been deciding whether to pollard it or coppice it. In the end I think I will ‘stump’ it (my own description), so somewhere between the two.

I got another 20 trees in this morning and then came back for lunch and to give the chickens their daily treat. After the combine harvester had been through my sunflower field this summer I went gleaning and picked up lots of fallen seed heads. I don’t know how many hours it’s taken to strip the seed off but I have a large box of sunflower seeds (and very sore fingers too). I’ve not winnowed the seed so that’s what the orangey bits are.

During the afternoon I got another 10 trees in before I decided to call it a day as my back, while not hurting as before was beginning to ache a bit. So only 8 more of the bare rooted tree to go and then it’s onto the pots. The weather is set to stay fine for the next few days at least. The temperature hit 25°C in the sun today – so Martin, the hat is back! It’s really hard to believe that it is only the beginning of February.

Friday, 8 February 2008

‘Day of the Chiropractor’

Today has been the ‘Day of the Chiropractor’. My back has been pummeled and clicked back into alignment. The most immediate effects are that I can again rotate my head more than 90 degrees to each side and that I can sit up straight again and the ache at the base of my spine has gone. It doesn’t sound much but believe me it is.

Back pain can take many forms and have many root causes. I placed the cause of mine back to my childhood. I was running down a slope to see a steam train (that dates me!) when I caught my foot in a small bush. I ended up on my back, head pointing down the hill, while my foot was still facing forward stuck in the bush. Being young (8’ish) I hobbled home and the sprained ankle soon recovered.

I didn’t think of the incident again for nearly 30 years. Around then my hip started to ache and quickly got to the point where when I got up in the morning I was bent double in pain and thinking I would be in need of a hip replacement before I was 40.

An X-ray of my back at a chiropractor’s showed the cause immediately. My pelvis was canted and to compensate for that my spine had bent and twisted to the point where the knobbly bits that should run down the centre of your back performed a quarter twist on mine. All the twisting and deformation puts strain on the attached ligaments and muscle, which then get tight and pull more and so it goes on.

It took a few years of treatments getting progressively longer apart but my back was more or less straight. Apart from losing the pain I had two additional benefits I wasn’t expecting. I was always someone who could twist my ankle standing still; I put it down to having weak ankles and was always reticent to walk on uneven ground or jump across things as I usually fell if I tried. With my back in balance I very rarely (she says touching wood just in case) twist my ankle now. I also used to wear through the soles on the inside edges of my shoe heels within 5 weeks. They barely wear at all now and the wear that does happen is even across the heel.

So I am a fan of chiropractics, it might not work for everyone but it certainly does for me. It been over a year since my last treatment and I’ve shifted a lot of boxes and heavy farm equipment since the last time so my back deserved some attention.

The rest of the day has been spent taking it easy doing the minimum I need to today. Animals are fed so they’re happy and by tomorrow I should be fully up to tree planting – only 200 to go.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The New Wood Begins To Take Shape

Most of this morning was spent at the prunery where Ann and I made a start on the second orchard. We’re tackling this one slightly differently. This time we are serping the wood clean and throwing all the brash into the middle. We will then collect the usable wood after the brash has been cleared (unless we think we can get the quad bike and trailer between the brash and the trees). It was a lovely warm and sunny day and it did seem to be a quicker way of working through the orchard.

The only downside was my back, which after four hours more or less seized up. Still my appointment with the chiropractor is tomorrow so with luck it will be fine after that. I still need to plant the 58 bare-rooted ash tree I have as soon as possible so despite the back I set off up the field to make a start and managed to get 20 in. The rest will have to wait until Saturday because I won’t be doing any digging tomorrow although I might be able to mark out a few more planting positions if I take it carefully.

While wandering up to the hen house I spotted this lovely celendine, it’s so large that when I first saw it last year I thought it might be a marsh marigold. They look so lovely and spring like.

Final picture today is the poplar tree after its trim round the edges. I don’t think I’ll save these branches for the fire though as poplar has a high water content and doesn’t burn that well. They will however eventually burn on the bonfire and the ashes will be added to the compost heap.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ready to join the B-Society

Having found it really difficult to get motivated this morning I mooched about the house doing some general tidying. Come the afternoon, the sun was out, the temperature was into double figures and I busied myself cleaning out the alpacas and getting their hay. There was no way I wanted to go back inside so I set to finishing cleaning up the branches I’d cut from the mulberry trees. They’re all done now and as I’ve bought the extension lead for the chain saw I can now cut out the remaining branches as the base of the trees are again clear.

While I tidied up below, Snowy decided to inspect the tree from above

After that I cleaned up the trunks of the large poplar trees. I’d started on this last year using loppers. It took me the best part of a morning to clear one tree, as it was so difficult getting the blade of the loppers around the branches, which are almost parallel to the trunk. This year I used the serpe and it was like grease lightning. Fifteen minutes later and the tree was clear and better still, because the serpe is used with one hand only, the other hand can hold the branch so tidying up the branches was quicker as well. Using the loppers was a two handed job so the branches fell to the ground and had to be picked up separately.

Clearing up some of the dead wood that had fallen I found this wonderful fungi which I think is ‘Tripe fungus’.

By now the sun had well and truly set but it was only just getting dark so I tried out the serpe on preparing the new bamboo canes. Yes it was far easier with that than the knife I used last year – I am becoming a fan of my serpe.

Finally it was too dark to see but while I was out I was rewarded with my first sighting of a bat this year. If it had stayed light I would have quite happily worked on and it reminded me of this article I’d read. I think I’m definitely a B-person. Roll on summer and the long, long evenings.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Mardi Munch

Nothing got done on the farm today, as I became a lady who lunched. I use lunch in a very liberal sense as this is France and this lunch lasted from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm.

Mal, who I’ve come to know through Ann, is another lady who picks up stray cats although unlike Ann she doesn’t re-home them. Because of this she now has a collection of 37 cats, yes 37! To raise funds for their upkeep and veterinary costs she hosts a cookery demonstration and lunch once a month. I’ve been told how good it is many times but this was the first time I’ve been able to attend.

To say it was good was an understatement. The demonstration beforehand was wonderfully interactive with two cooks, Mal and Silvia providing a comedy double act where they demonstrated the meal we were going to eat later. The meal its self was superb. Being Shrove Tuesday we had pancakes, not as a sweet but as a savoury starter, filled with Chinese style stir fried vegetables. The main course or should that be courses, was boef bourginone and 2 chicken dishes served with red cabbage cooked with wine and prunes (also demonstrated) 2 other vegetables plus mashed and roasted potatoes. And after all that we somehow managed to fine just enough room for the sweet that had been demonstrated, a wonderful chocolate, orange and brandy mousse. It was absolutely wonderful.

Somehow I found it rather difficult to go back to work after all that food so just sorted out the animals and collected the eggs. I think an early night is called for so I can sleep it all off and be ready to do some serious work tomorrow to work off the excess calories of today.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Even More Trees

I picked up the last of the trees for my wood for this year. 20 Field Maples and 58 bare rooted Ash whips. All I need to do now is get on with the planting. With luck that should be Friday as the weather looks like it will be kind to me then.

I went out this morning to see if there had been any damage from the winds yesterday. Thankfully nothing really. The new greenhouse had been blown over even though there was no plastic on it and there was a small rip in the tarpaulin on the hay which I’ll mend with duct tape on a warm dry day.

Cleaning out the alpacas was fun. We had 11 mm of rain over the previous day followed by another 4 mm just before I went to feed and clean them. The result was akin to an ice rink, except I think there is more friction on ice than in the field. The top centimetre or so of the field was just liquid mud, yuck. Still the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue by then but I did move round very carefully.

The smaller of my two lemon trees has burst into bloom this week, scenting the study for me. Each day I’m there with the paintbrush pollinating all the flowers so hopefully this tree will produce fruit this year. The feed supplement I’ve given it really has made a difference; while it was significantly cheaper than the other lemon tree, it has required a lot more TLC and not yet produced any fruit.

And a final picture for the benefit of my children. I’ve been a fan of the virulent green Pisang Ambon liqueur for many years and while I was shopping I discovered it had a mate. This one is a beautiful purple and it tastes OK too.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Busy Doing Nothing

It was difficult to get started this morning; I just didn’t want to do anything at all. I then realised that time off is very thin on the ground here as there is always the never-ending list the ‘things that must be done’. Additionally, I don’t have a weekend, it’s the same on any smallholding with livestock. They don’t have weekends off so neither do you. So today I decided to treat myself. Today, I decided was going to be a day of doing only the things I wanted to do rather than had to do.

The animals didn’t need to worry though, they are like breathing, you have to do it but you do it without thinking about it so once they were fed, watered, let out etc. the day was mine.

It’s been really strange and very relaxing just to potter about. Strangely I got quite a bit done despite feeling that I wasn’t doing anything. I draught-proofed the door that doubles as the window in my bedroom. As I wasn’t racing around from one job to another I had time to see the net curtain blowing around when the wind blew outside, and it has been windy today. I had time to notice the light shining round the edges of the back door so that has had extra draught-proofing put round it to. Soup has been made for next week’s lunches and magazines that have been hanging around have been read.

One of the magazines, Permaculture, turned out to have a wealth of information in this edition that is relevant to what I want to do here so I’m really pleased to have sat down and finally read it.

Going down to feed the alpacas I noted that the tarpaulins over the hay were blowing about badly. They hadn’t blown loose but the wind had got between the join where the two overlapped. I certainly didn’t want to have to undo them to get at the hay as I would probably never see them again. Thankfully there is a large bale in the barn that was put there in case of bad weather. I was thinking that the bad weather would be snow or ice mind you. So alpacas were fed and have hunkered down, bums to the wind with their noses in the hayrack. No, they still haven’t dained to use the shelter. I thought about moving the hayrack in there but there wouldn’t be enough room for the alpacas to stand both sides. This is necessary because Silver thinks that everyone else has the best bits to eat so she pushes them away and takes up the whole of the 2 meters of the side she’s on. Also, some days they finish the hay before I would normally go down to feed them. Where the feeder is at the moment I can see it from the front of the house and if it’s getting low I can top it up.

To finish off my relaxing day I’m going to watch a film, one of my favourites, Waking Ned. It’s a lovely understated British comedy about wining the lottery. It’s been a favourite of mine for a long while and when I was a film extra I was luck enough to go to the Isle of Man, where Waking Ned was filmed, and find all the locations.

I hope everyone else has had a wonderful day too.