Saturday, 1 March 2008

To Register as Organic or Not?

That is the question I’m pondering at the moment. I’ve read and re-read the leaflet I got at the agricultural show, as have Ann and Regis and none of us are sure what it actually offers. It could be an 80% discount on the registration fee; it could be consultations to the value of 80% of the fee you pay to register.

I telephoned the agriculture department about the leaflet and they are sending me yet another leaflet that explains things further. It’s really easy to write that sentence but it took an afternoon to get through and I was a nervous wreck worrying if I would be understood. Thankfully while I didn’t understand all the words, I got the gist and I can use the dictionary when the leaflet arrives.

In the meantime I e-mailed Scarlet at ‘The Chickens have Escaped’ as I thought she might have registered. While she hasn’t registered, she very kindly sent me a long reply covering all sorts of things to consider. Many thanks are due to Scarlet.

It highlights how amazing this blog world can be. Helping me in my French farming adventure have been people in France such as Scarlet, Mike from 'Tiny Farm Blog' in Canada, Stoney from 'Musings from a Stonehead' in Scotland and Mike from 'Plan Be' in South Africa, plus many others who through their bloging pass on tips, information and encouragement. My thanks to you all, you make this world a smaller and friendlier place.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Top Taupest

Patches has really found her vocation since emigrating here to France, she is a champion mole hunter. While I’ve not seen her catch any, she is the only cat who sits for hours staring intently at the molehills. This morning there was another velvety offering by the back door. That brings this year’s haul to four already, not bad for something that spends nearly all it’s time underground.

Spring is Sprung

It was lunchtime, there was no traffic, the pneumatic pruners were silent in the plum orchards as were the chain saws in the little wood at the bottom of the drive. I took my coffee out to the patio, the only sound was the overwhelming hum from the myriad of insects darting from flower to flower in the ornamental plum tree. Peace and quiet, it’s what rural France is all about.

Then a dog at a neighbouring farm started barking that excited sort of bark that makes you look to see why. That’s when I saw them, five big black birds heading this way. Excitement filled me, were they the storks? But there were only five and they weren’t flying in V formation; I went inside for the binoculars. By the time I got out again I fully expected them to be gone. I remember last year being amazed at how quickly the storks passed overhead, but they were still there, circling.

As I focused the binoculars about fifty more appeared and headed for the scouting party of five. It seemed to me that the five had gone ahead to find a thermal as the group now massed together and circled for nearly five minutes slowly gaining height. Finally they moved off, first as a bit of a rabble but gradually spacing themselves out into that characteristic V.

It was the first of March last year when they passed here, had this not been a leap year it would again have been the first of March. And they manage it without a calendar or PDA!

I waited for an hour but no more followed, so different from last year. About 5 pm though the sky was full of sound, the main group finally arrived. In the space of half an hour 6 – 7 groups of two to three hundred birds tracked their way NE over the farm. They make quite a racket and you hear them well before they appear as a line snaking their way across the sky.

The main group were much later in the day than last year and I don’t think as many have passed so there might be some more tomorrow if the weather hold out. It’s strange, although I’ve not been brought up with the migration both this year and last seeing them really makes me feel spring is here and all is right with the world.

As the sun went down this evening with the rain clouds passing overhead the light gave a wonderful golden glow over the fields. The green really did look that vibrant and the soil in the sunlight had a golden hue.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Back with the Prunes

Well, Ann and I thought we would be starting on the oak branches today but Regis decided he had time to prune another orchard as we had cleared the other so quickly so the oaks will wait till later. With luck this orchard will only take another couple of weeks – we only clear two mornings a week.

The promised rain tried to come down at lunchtime but after a couple of drops gave up. I took the bonus of a dry afternoon to cut the new lawn area below the house again. It was quite quickly done with the ride-on mower and I also managed to do most of the area at the back of the house and round the new vegetable field too. I’m really pleased with getting it done. I still need to use the hand mower to get in amongst the tractor implements but that shouldn’t take too long.

Twice over the last few days I’ve found an egg laid in a nest in the straw on the floor of the hen house. It’s larger than the other eggs I’ve been getting so I thought that another hen had started laying. I was still only getting 2 eggs every other day and 1 egg on the intermediate day so I wasn’t completely sure. However today it was confirmed as not only was there the egg on the floor but 2 eggs in the nest box. Spring must be on its way.

Today had a lovely finish with a girl’s night in at Ann’s with 3 other friends. Wonderful food, wine and really good company, it was a delightful evening. Somehow 4 hours passed in what felt like 2 so we really must do it again.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

February’s Birthday Boy

Happy Birthday to my son G, that quarter centaury is creeping ever closer!

Bits and Pieces II

The last few days have rather rushed by and left me thinking "what did I actually do"?

Monday was a treat and I saw some friends, S & P before they make a quick trip back to the UK. It’s always great to see them. Then, as I was more or less in Villeneuve I did the shopping trip. I have a lot of expenditure this month and next and probably through this year so have been trying to do my best not to waste money.

I read some of the blogs on the MoneySavingExpert site and put what I can into practice. The best way I have found to not spend is not to go to the shops at all but eventually I have too. I always spend more than I think I’m going to, as there is always something that’s come on offer and I will need soon. In this case it was an electric jig saw.

I’ve been pondering how to cut the new kitchen work surfaces. I can’t cut an even vaguely straight line with a hand saw. I have an electric saw but that is quite heavy and while the line is straighter it’s still not good. I hope with being able to get directly over the cutting line with a jig saw I will obtain a straight line. So that was 30€ of unexpected expenditure, still it is cheaper that a new piece of work surface.

One of the tips on the MSE site is to keep a spending diary. It’s surprising how the small amounts all add up. Monday’s shop was at two grocery shops and also included petrol for the lawn mowers and cultivator plus a tank of diesel for the car – ouch! A grand total of over 200€. And that was in addition to the spends at Gamm Vert over the weekend. Still that should be the cats, chickens and me in food, apart from a bit of fruit, for the month and the alpaca granules should last well into March. I just need to stay out of the shops for a few weeks. :-D

Tuesday morning was spent as usual in the plum orchard and Ann and I have finally finished the last one. Hurrah! We’ll now start on the remains of the oak trees; we’ve about 8 weeks or so until the fields are required for the cows. It is good to see the wood stacked and I’m looking forward to preparing my first major wood store.

Back at the farm I finally connected the downpipe to the water butt and the 2mm of rain we had overnight has half filled the butt. Work on the kitchen is also progressing albeit slowly. The first two units are made but before I can make the next run of units, I have to paint a wall in the ‘summer lounge’ (the coolest and darkest room in the house), and then pack the new cupboards in the kitchen with the things on the Ikea shelves in the kitchen. Then I have to move the shelves to the painted wall in the summer lounge and paint the newly exposed wall in the kitchen. Then the units can be made. It’s a bit like a giant puzzle but progress is beginning to show.

Well goodness knows what this will look like when published, Blogger is showing one thing on the compose screen and something completly different on the preview. It's then failing to load and resetting everything on the compose screen again.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

It’s Sunday Again

I think my idea of taking it easy on Sundays just isn’t working. I generally remember it is Sunday half way through the afternoon by which time it’s a bit late. Today was a little different, the weather is due to break from tomorrow and rain is forecast so I wanted to be outside as much as possible.

The aim was an early trip back to Gamm Vert to get the things I forgot yesterday. I’d also acquired another jeton so who knows I might win one of the big prizes this time. The early start was thwarted by a flat battery; I’d managed to leave the ignition (and radio) on yesterday afternoon. So I spent a couple of hours serping the wood on the front lawn while the battery charged.

I just made it to the shop before it closed (it is only open this Sunday morning as part of the inaugural weekend) and bought amongst other things the petrol can I needed. However by now the local petrol stations had closed so I still don’t have petrol for the lawn mowers. Did I win another prize – yes, another packet of the same seeds!

For the afternoon I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to try and that is make crystallised violets. There are quite a few growing in the lawn and they are only going to end up in the grass collector sometime this week. Additionally there are quite a few patches of them around the farm such as these growing in the ditch on the drive.

Having finished the violets I decided to have a look at the fruit I planted over last year. I’m a bit concerned that some of the trees have failed to establish, they don’t seem to be producing buds yet but I shall give them a bit longer. The poor old quince tree that spent all last summer in a pot on the patio does seem to be fine and is already to burst into leaf.

At the top of the fruit garden the alpine strawberries are already in flower, they only stopped fruiting in November. The kiwi fruit plants whose bed they share are showing signs of growing as well. Having bought the extra poles to finish the kiwi supports and to make the raspberry ones I made a start on those. They are only lightly in just using the lump hammer. I’ll get them in properly with the post rammer during the week. Then I’ll sort out the straining posts, put the wires on and plant the raspberry canes.

Finishing up the day, two more photographs presented themselves. Firstly, when I took the lamb granules down to feed the alpacas, I stopped off to get some more hay. Cid decided they were just what he wanted. Cats do have strange tastes don’t they. Snowy is very partial to Cantal cheese, but so am I so she has to fight me for that.

Then on my way in I spotted this dandelion, I counted five flower heads fused into one stalk.

Crystallised Violets

I love violets, I love parma violet sweets too and was overjoyed when I found violet ice cream here last year so when I saw all the violets in the lawn, I thought it would be sad just to mow them as they are so pretty. I though about picking a posy for the house but the stalks were not long enough for me to be able to place them in a vase. I’ve always wanted to try crystallising violets so this seemed like the ideal opportunity.

There are two methods given to crystallise violets. One requires a mixture of rosewater and gum Arabic that needs to be painted over the petals and then the petals are dipped in caster sugar or powdered sugar and left to dry. The second method is to boil them in sugar syrup. I decided against the first as I didn’t think I would have enough time plus I didn’t have the rosewater or gum Arabic either!

It didn’t take too long to pick a reasonable quantity of violets; I then trimmed all the stalks to just behind the flower head. While I was trimming off the stalks, I put the syrup on to boil for 5 minutes and then added the violets. The violets were ‘cooked’ for a minute and then I removed them from the syrup with a slotted spoon onto a plate.

This is where the fun starts, each flower had to be separated out and left to dry on a non-stick surface. It was quite difficult sorting out the individual flowers and most of them just look like purple blobs rather than flowers but then most things lose their shape if boiled. I suspect that it I want perfectly shaped flowers I will have to use the painting method so I think I will be keeping to purple blobs.

I’m now wondering about having a go with the pink plum blossom too. I’m pretty sure that they are edible and that it’s only flowers from bulbs that are poisonous.