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.