Saturday 19 January 2008

A Quiet Day

Lack of water and lack of sleep led me to a very lazy day today. As noted yesterday, the rain stopped very shortly after I’d rigged up a collecting tank for the roof water but I did get enough to flush the loo a couple of times.

I’ve been eking out the water I have and only cleaning the bare essentials today. I did battle with the non-return valve in the pump house but again got nowhere but thankfully Regis popped round with a heavy-duty pipe wrench and the faulty part is out. Monday is now scheduled to find a replacement, if I’m luck I might get one locally. It’s a reasonably standard bit and just about all the farms round here have bore holes/ wells with pumping equipment. If I can’t get it locally then it’s down to Villeneuve where there is a very large ironmonger (as long as I can remember where it is!)

The timing of a day off has been really good though as I today received a book I’d ordered. It’s ‘The Woodland Way’ by Ben Law. I’m one of the many who came across Ben when he was the subject of one of the Grand Design programmes. You know the one, where people spend a fortune on converting/renovating a house you couldn’t even dream of being able to afford in it’s run down state. This programme was different and followed Ben building his own house, after finally getting planning permission after 12 years of asking. He is a woodman and wanted/needed to live within his wood. Planning laws being what they are it was difficult for him to get permission to build on his own land as it was green belt (but supermarkets somehow seem to get round that problem). The permission was granted on the condition that the house is destroyed if he no longer works the woods. It followed him building an eco house, sourcing the timbers from his own wood, making the wood cladding etc. It was absolutely fascinating.

Anyway, back to this book, it’s about woodlands, creating, managing, harvesting and general thoughts. I’m already halfway through it and wondering how to adapt my planting plan to incorporate a greater diversity of plants and wildlife.

The other bit of research I’ve been doing today is on rainwater harvesting. My French isn’t yet sufficient to really hunt through the French Google site and so far have only found commercial installers or a DIY chain where the only choice is between a buried tank or something that looks like a large plastic bag, neither of which are ideal for here.

The plastic bag thing is really designed to go into the under floor space which this property doesn’t have and the buried tank needs to be in an area where there will be no vehicular traffic or trees. There is only one area like that here and that spot is taken up by the septic tank. I could site it further from the house but the nearest place is probably a good 50 meters away. The only above ground tanks found so far are glorified rain butts and too small.

The roof area I have here is roughly 2 * 175m² (front and back of the house. I’ve regularly recorded over 25 mm of rain during a thunderstorm that would give me over 4000 litres or water from each side of the house. Apart from sourcing and siting a suitable container I need to work out the amount of water I’m likely to use. Thankfully I’ve recorded the rainfall for most of the time I’ve been here so I can get a bit of an idea now long a gap between rain I should plan for.

Tomorrow is going to be another lazy day too but I might be tempted to sand the newly expose beams above the new window. If I do, I’ll be hanging up dust screens this time though.

Friday 18 January 2008

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

The title is courtesy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge but is surprisingly apt today. It’s been raining, not particularly heavily down here but consistently. So today was going to be another inside day. However I couldn’t sleep last night so I was up at 11 pm when I realised that there was no water in the taps. A few choice words later and I trundle over the field to the well pump house. On the way over I realised that the ground is so waterlogged that the water was coming in over the top of my shoes and on opening the door of the pump house to give the tank a kick (it usually works) I saw that the pump was on the way to being submerged. So I spent a very damp half hour bailing out the pump house and thankfully the pump restarted.

Three thirty when I finally went to bed I noticed that the water has stopped again but decide to leave it to the morning. When I went down this morning the pump house was as I left it and I could get the pump to start but it cut out after a few seconds and refuses to pressurise the tank. Picture of the workings with the remains of last nights flood and my bailing bucket. We came to the conclusion last time that the probable problem is the non-return valve which has a slight leak. So a good part of today has been spent trying to remove the valve. Do you think it will shift? No, not a chance it’s completely rusted in place, so I expect to spend most of the weekend trying various other ways of getting it out.

Next job to attempt today was ploughing a furrow to form a ditch to direct the runoff from the 5 hectare field into a ditch so it doesn’t run into the pump house and the well. This is the proposed line where I want the ditch to go.

The well is now full again but contains a lot of silt from the run off and the ditch is now a necessity. So here is piccy of tractor with plough.

What it doesn’t convey is the nearly 2 hours it took for me to get the plough hitched. I’ve never had anything to do with the plough before. It was delivered here back in May last year and it’s sat in the yard, as I’ve not needed it yet. After about 5 attempts at backing up the tractor all of which were further complicated by the tractor needing a service including tightening the hand break I finally judged how far it would roll forward after stopping and got the side lift bars lined up to perfection. It was then that I made the big mistake. I tried hitching up the higher side first and of course the lift bars wouldn’t drop enough to let the other side be attached. No real problem, just unhitch and do it the other way round you say. Well that’s what I did, or rather tried to do. It was then that the log holding the plough upright decided to fall away and the plough decided to topple. Amazon in training I might be but there was no way I can lift that plough. Thankfully it rotated onto one of the lift arms and I was able to get a couple of props under it before it went right over on it’s side. Using the car jack I was able to raise it back closer to level and eventually get the arms and lift attached.

Next problem to surface was that I could not make the plough turn over. I’d been told “all you had to do was pull the lever and it would rotate and plough the furrow the other way”. Oh no it didn’t so I resigned myself to having to do a bit more spade work to make sure that the turned furrow didn’t stop the water entering the ditch but I would still get a reasonable ditch ploughed.

Have you watched a tractor doing wheel spin even though it’s in four wheel drive? The field was just far to wet to get any grip. It wasn’t too bad just driving across it but with a plough you’ve got the blades pusned down into the soil so the drag on the tractor is huge. So picture of start of ditch plus small ponds where the wheels were spinning.

I think the soil on this bit of land is good though which is a bonus as it’s where I intend to make the vegetable garden. Just look at the size of the worm I ploughed up. It’s a bit out of focus as even on the close up setting I can’t get my hand far enough away and I didn’t have anything else with me to give an idea of the size.

Final picture today is a little harbinger of spring. Walking round the small field below the house I found these daffodils on their way to flowering.

As for water, well Regis left a couple of milk churns here last time the pump failed and my neighbour Eric kindly filled them for me. I’ve shortened my one plastic drainpipe (all the others are soldered zinc) and put a small bin under that to collect rainwater but guess what. The rain is due to stop.

Thursday 17 January 2008

In Praise of Badigeon

Photo opportunities can sometimes be like the proverbial London buses. Nothing for ages and then they all arrive together. Today has been one of those, all arrive together days. The weather has descended into rain so it’s work indoors time. I’m still trying to tame the dust. The main problem is that as I don’t have any cupboards just open shelving at the moment, not only is every item covered in dust but so is every surface. Still after 3 days of vacuuming, wiping with a damp cloth, washing and mopping the recurring layer of dust has almost stopped.

I’ve finished painting the bit of wall where the first units are to go. The kitchen along with what will be the summer lounge are the original two rooms of the farm. As such they have rubble/stone walls and there is no damp proof course. In fact I don’t think there is a damp proof course on any of the newer build either. The walls have been modernised some time in their life by being given a cement skim. If I had oodles of cash and time I would remove the skim but it is probably holding the walls up and I can’t afford a rebuild. Because of the construction of the walls, I’ve decided to paint them not with modern paint but with badigeon or whitewash.

I have come to the conclusion that I really like whitewash. It’s relatively easy to mix up, lime powder, a smidgen of detergent to help with the wetting and water to get the required consistency.

The stick is to get the powder out of the corners and the whisk to blend all the lumps. You do have to start the mixing carefully otherwise all you get is a large cloud of white dust that will have you choking.

The other reason I love it is because I’m a messy painter but this washes out of clothing and wipes off the floor with ease. Add to that it’s slight disinfectant qualities, that it lets the walls breath naturally and it is so much cheaper than paint. It’s a winner all round for me.

The next bit to be worked on is the inner hall where I’ve started stripping the wallpaper. You can see where I’ve stripped the wallpaper the mould at the bottom of the plasterboard that is encasing the old wall, this would have originally been the outer wall of the original building. I’m hoping that by whitewashing this as well, I will allow this area to breath and therefore reduce the mould. In addition as there is no natural light , white walls should brighten it too.

As I said, it’s been raining so this next picture is for Graham. He spent a good couple of days clearing out this culvert for me. One of the concrete pipes had collapsed and the blockage lead to water backing up on the other side of the culvert and then flowing over the top of the bridge. If left it would have quite quickly destroyed the whole bridge. As you can see the water is now flowing freely, so thank you Graham.

The other day when it rained I did a tour of the fields and saw that the run off was puddling badly in a couple of places, so I set to with the spade and cut a few small channels to assist the water on it’s way to the ditch. What has happened in the fields is that the repeated ploughing has in lots of places built in effect a levee along the sides of the drainage ditches. This area here, whilst still forming a pool is smaller than it was the other day and the water was draining into the ditch.

This is Ashan and he’s soaked (picture is a little funny as it was so overcast I needed to use the flash). Like all the others he is steadfastly staying out of the shelter I built them, ah well at least it is there if they want it.

Final photo for today was this fungus I spotted in the leaf litter under an oak tree. It was a deep mauve in colour and I think it’s a blewitt. I must dig out my fungi book, oh that reminds me, as well as planting some trees with truffle fungus, I can also get them with the cep fungus too. I foresee another trip to the tree nursery.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

A Routine - maybe

Gosh I’ve almost settled into a routine. There is the daily looking after the chickens and alpacas that always takes longer than I assume it will. The chickens always take longer because I invariably stand around to watch them scratching about under the leaves and pecking away at the grass. Even though they are in a large hen house one of the first things they do on being let out is stretch and flap their wings. The alpacas take longer because I forget to factor in the time spent with Cid when he sees me at the hay bail and Snowy when she sees me clearing out the paddock. Both cats regard those times as their one-to–one time with me.

Noisette still hasn’t had her cria, which is a pity since the weather has been so warm. The weather is turning tonight and we have rain forecast for the next 3 days. The winds are due to be high as well but the weather is not supposed to be as bad as he UK is having at the present. So tomorrow is very definitely designated an indoor day.

This morning was spent back at the prunery where Ann and I made a start on heaping all the cut branches into the middle of the rows of trees. They are then ground up and turned into mulch in situ. I think that our Thursday session will be cancelled, which is a pity, as I want to try out the serpe I bought. A serpe is that machete looking thing in the foreground of the picture of the prunery a couple of posts back. I managed to find one exactly the same, with a cutting edge on both sides, and it is a remarkable efficient tool but you do need to keep your holding hand well away from the cutting area. This one set me back €26 around £18-20 I think. Not cheap but so much easier and faster than trying to clean branches using secateurs.

An inside day will also mean further cleaning of the kitchen. With the dust being so fine it flies into the air as you try to clear it so a few hours after cleaning there is another layer over everything again. Still it is slowly getting less. I may even be able to get the first coat of whitewash onto the wall where I’m planning to put the first kitchen units.

I also had the estimate for the electrical work I want done. Deep intake of breath, it’s roughly €12000.00. More than my first estimate but then it is to do a lot more than I first thought. It looks like none of the lights or sockets in the house are earthed so an earth connection is one of the extras along with replacing all the wiring.

Having started with the chickens today, I’ll end with them too. One of my Lacey Ladies excelled herself over the weekend.

And it was a double yolk too – I’ve not had one of those for years. Lunch yesterday was boiled egg and Marmite dips and it was scrummy.

Sunday 13 January 2008

The Big Clean Up

Today has consisted of clean, clean, clean. First up was the chicken house as it was a dry calm day. Once it was clear everything got a good spray with disinfectant. The bottle proudly announces that it is effective against avian flu as well. Some how I think that unless I sit there and spray the passing wild birds it won’t protect the chickens though. Apart from having a nice clean environment for the chickens there is the bonus that the new compost bin is now half full.

From the chickens I moved on to the alpaca paddock and they got their daily clean. Then as the weather was so lovely this afternoon I spent a bit more time out spreading the straw mulch around the orchard. I really do hope it will suppress the weeds after all the effort.

The major clean up though is in the kitchen. On Saturday, Regis took the old window out and you know how these jobs that sound simple but when you actually start them…………...

French windows and doors have lift off hinges so removing the opening bits was no problem. Likewise the frame wasn’t anything the crowbar wouldn’t move. However in removing the frame a bit of the internal cement rendering cracked off. It turns out that somewhere back in the dim and distant past someone had rendered over the oak lintels. Well each to their own taste I suppose. The problem was that they hadn’t killed the woodworm first. The exterior inch and a half of the beams, there are two as the walls are at least 18 inches thick, had been eaten and turned into the finest sawdust you can imagine. There was an avalanche of this dust from the lintel area. I had cleared away stuff from the immediate area but had not envisaged anything like that volume of dust. Suffice to say it filled the kitchen and has found it’s way into most of the rest of the house. I shut doors where I could but due to the lack of sockets in the rooms here, most doors have cables through them so couldn’t be closed completely. These two photos give an idea of what descended.

I think I shall be cleaning all week if not all month.