Saturday 23 February 2008

No blog last night as I had a night out with friends to celebrate my first anniversary. The next village has a good restaurant where you can get a four-course meal with wine for 16€. That is one of the most noticeable differences I’ve found between here and the UK. There is really good, home-prepared food available at very reasonable prices everywhere. Nearly always there is the set menu with two or three choices for the main course and desert.

Where we went there is always duck, one of the joys of being in this part of France, although I chose steak for a change last night. You settle for the night with no one hassling you, and enjoy the company of friends.

Yesterday while passing the inside/outside thermometer I stopped for a double take. The sensor is against a south-facing wall but even so, this is February. In the shade it was a relatively cool 20°C

This morning I visited the new Gamm Vert in Monflanquin. The publicity material for the opening included a jeton – a small plastic disc – that you place in a box and it tells you if you have won the main prize. Needless to say I didn’t but I like everyone else came away with a free packet of seeds. It was a bit of an expensive day there too as I had just received a 10% off loyalty voucher so made the most of it by buying 24kg of cat food plus the ingredients to make up the next batch of chicken feed, 10 posts to finish the supports for the kiwi fruit and raspberries and 6 meta posts in readiness for the first of the alpaca shelters I will have to build in the new paddocks.

In the afternoon I got on with pruning the remaining branches on the Reine Claude and the ordinary plum trees. They have both been drastically reduced in height; they could do with further trimming and shaping but I am going to leave that till next year after I’ve seen what re-growth occurs.

Before and after photographs for the Reine Claude.

Once the sun went down I decided on a short walk around part of the farm. The wheat is growing well and I thought this made a nice picture with the sunlight still glowing on the top of the rise above the farm.

From there I went along the new paddocks; here it was obvious that a second grass seed had germinated over the last couple of weeks. It would be nice if the rain forecast for next week were gentle and steady as the grass could do with a bit more water. What I don’t want is one of the really heavy deluges we can get that might wash the new growth from the soil.

As usually happens when I go for an evening walk I am accompanied, the cats seem to enjoy the stroll as much as me. This is on the way back up the drive; Hazel’s got sidetracked by something that might have moved in the hedgerow, so she’s dropped back. Patches is keeping an eye on Cid and waiting for him to pass so she knows that she’s not going to be attacked by him and Snowy is leading the way and daring Cid to try and take over as top cat.

Thursday 21 February 2008

A Day Out for Work

Today it was up early for a trip to the fruit and vegetable exhibition in Agen. Unlike the agricultural exhibitions I’ve been to in the UK, such as the Three Counties and The Bath and West, this had only stands relating to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. That said I did enjoy it.

It was a bit overwhelming trying to understand everything that was there; while my languages skills have improved they are still a long way from proficient. I came away with a bag full of literature to read later with the aid of the dictionary.

I did find some interesting bits though – I wasn’t really interested in all the machines that pick and pack fruit. Well that’s not really true, I find them fascinating but they are of no use to me. I found the stand for the Agricultural Office for Aquitaine and a leaflet saying they would offer a discount of 80% against the fees to register as a bio farm. I’m not sure if it is aimed at small-scale framers such as myself but if I don’t ask I will not get.

I also found a man promoting his stone ground flour. His watermill is in a village not far from me so I now have a source of local stone ground flour and a possible outlet for my wheat. So that needs to be followed up over the next few weeks.

There were lots of stands showing packing and presentation materials mainly printed cardboard or plastic. There was one stand however that had lightweight woven wooden baskets, very bio friendly. Turns out they are made from poplar. France is full of poplar and I wondered what it was used for.

There was also a stand that was giving away instructions for producing your own bio-oil and lots of associations with leaflets on the production, prices and markets for each of the fruits and vegetables generally grown in the area. A bit mind-boggling after a while.

Having returned home I was out in the garden and noticed that the ornamental prunus had burst into flower. It has been hot here, 18+°C and the tree has gone from just showing colour on the buds to flowering in a day. The picture wasn’t taken at night; the only way I can get the camera to focus on the flowers was to use the close up setting with flash.

Looking at some of the other blogs I read it seems that the sunsets lately have been rather good around the world. Not to be outdone I thought I would show the one here tonight.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Double Anniversary Day

Today is a special day for me.

Firstly it is my daughter’s 16th birthday so Happy Birthday my darling with all my love.

And secondly, it’s the first anniversary of me buying the house. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I finally got the keys to here. The time since then has sped by so fast. There have been highs and lows but I can truthfully say that that it has been one of the best years of my life

Kitchen Progress

The forecast for today was some for showers. As it was, there were half a dozen spots of rain and the temperature remained well into double figures and was even at 15°C at 6:30pm. Because the rain was forecast I decided to continue with the kitchen unit. I’ve checked and re-checked the instructions but I still have 8 screws left over that really don’t have anywhere to go. The instructions also state that I should have 8 screws to secure the work top but only show 4 which is the number I have.

That said it has been pretty straightforward to assemble. It took me over half an hour to work out how the door hinges fit together. There are explicit instructions on how the screw each half to the door and the carcass but nothing on putting them together, you are just supposed to know. The drawer was also a bit of a juggling act.

I think the drawers will be very sturdy; they have metal sides and the base is a centimetre thick chipboard. Screwing the base to the sides requires a lot of manual dexterity as you have to hook together the sides and back then slide in the base and then screw together from underneath. Well I only stripped one hole. Now I have to make the second drawer.

I didn’t make the other, as I wanted to take it along to the tile shops to check the colour of the tiles against it. Finally deciding there is no time like the present, I set of this afternoon for Villeneuve and tile shop 1. I was really happy with the colour against the wood so got a sales person so I could order the tiles. Instead I was told to get a trolley as they were in stock. Brilliant! I now have 10 m² of my base tiles.

I decided to push my luck, and I did have the base tile and the wood front in the car, and set of for the hour drive to Bergerac to tile shop 2. The base tile was much nicer than the similar tile in that shop and the blue tile worked with both the base tile and the wood. I pushed the button and awaited another sales person. These tiles were also in stock. It must be my lucky day.

This evening has been spent ‘playing’ with different tile designs on the lounge floor. At the moment I’m happiest with the simplest design, that of a single line of coloured tiles above the work surface and a small block of colour behind where the cookers will be. I have far to many kitchen gadgets to put a fussy design on the walls as well.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

My First Ploughed Field

I didn’t get round to writing last night as I felt like I was getting nowhere. I did manage to plough another few furrows but it was hard work. What became obvious was that in certain parts of the field, the winter water table is about 4cm below the surface. Add that to the clay content of the soil and I was either having to raise the plough nearly out of the soil to stop the wheels spinning or having to stop when I saw the plough only skimming the surface despite being down and on full draft in order clean the compressed clay and grass off the plough. It was a rather frustrating day.

This morning it was back to the plum orchards. Ann had taken up an offer from another friend to come and help. With three of us we managed to serpe, collect and stack all the wood in that orchard. There is one more orchard to go which should be done on Thursday but not by me as I will be doing other things that day.

Once back home I refuelled the tractor and set off again. I was more hopeful today because having looked again at the field I was pretty sure I was getting above the water table. My assumption turned out right but it wasn’t all plain sailing as the clay content increased; it is going to take quite a lot of improvement to get it to a really good workable soil. Even so I finished the area that I wanted to plough and the rain that was forecast for today help off too.

The other good outcome, and it was a worry, the water pipe from well to the house is obviously buried a reasonable distance down, or to put it another way, I didn’t manage to cut through it with the plough. Every time I passed the zone where it was likely to be I scrutinised the latest furrow for a fountain of water. What I did see though were many large worms as in the previous post. Sadly too, the plough cut a lot of them so I do hope they regenerate.

I was accompanied in my ploughing attempt by a collection of wagtails. I tried to photograph them but they flitted amongst the furrow about 5 meters from the tractor and are barely discernable on the photographs even when blown up as far as possible.

I thought I’d finish tonight with a pretty picture. My daffodils/narcissi are now blooming and they have a really beautiful scent as well.

Sunday 17 February 2008

A Start at Ploughing

Today was the day, my first ploughing day. It took me my usual half hour to refuel and check over the tractor and then another half hour at least to hitch the plough. I am getting better though. The main problem is, as I’ve said before, I’m vertically challenged. This lack of leg length means that I cannot fully apply the footbrake or depress the clutch and look at the hitching points at the same time. This results is a carnival act where I have to try and gauge how far the tractor

will roll forward while I shift slightly forward on the seat in order to stop the tractor. Then it’s jump out of the tractor and try to attach the hitches, work out how far out they are, back in the tractor, reverse again making an allowance for the roll forward on applying the brake, out the tractor… repeat until somehow by luck, it all aligns. Then get the hitch on quick before the handbrake gives out – it needs adjusting at the next service.

The first furrow was surprisingly quite easy to do and I decided to use maximum draft (depth) on the cut. Remembering what Regis had said the day before, I circled back up to the top and cut down the field again. I was almost getting to think I could finish the field by the time I’d cut a few rows – I should never have thought that it might get finished when will I learn not to tempt fate.

Time for picture of my efforts, the furrows are even pretty straight. The problem with the ploughing is shown by the left most furrow. That was ‘cut’ not by the plough but by the tyres. Even after nearly 2 weeks of dry weather, just below the surface the clay soil is still waterlogged and I, despite 4WD, was back to wheel spin on all the wheels.

I managed a bit more my removing the draft and raising the plough but then realised that the plough was no longer cutting into the ground.

Half an hour of scraping compressed clay and weed later and the plough sheers are again visible but I have called it a day. When I looked at the furrows a bit later, some of them had filled with water. The weather is supposed to hold for a bit longer so I’ll give it another go tomorrow and see if any water has been drained by the furrows I cut today. If not, this could be a very long job with me spending more time clearing out the plough than actually ploughing.