Friday 16 May 2008

A Productive Rainy Day

I was hoping to get the front lawn mown today, its getting on for 6 inches high in some places and plant the last of the garlic, but around 10 am, well before the grass had dried sufficiently to be mown, it started raining again. Time for a change of plan.

My son A, has finished his university course out in Singapore and is arriving at the weekend for a visit so I though I would get some bread made so I didn’t have to do that next week. I decided that if I was making up 500g of bread flour I might as well make up 2kg. It doesn’t take that much longer and the oven only has to heat up once.

I got the dough mixed and on its first rise and started on the next project when the ‘phone range. It was Ann to tell me that as Regis had been unable to get on with his work today because of the rain he’d rung round some local contacts about the fencing and hay making equipment. Ann and Regis are such good friends I would be really struggling without their help as I just wouldn’t have the local knowledge or contacts.

The guy who has the post machine it turns out doesn’t hire it out or do work for other people but he may know someone who does so Regis is awaiting a telephone call tonight about that after which he’s going to talk to someone else who might know a direst supplier for the 500 odd fencing posts I’m going to need. So nothing actually sorted but very definitely in progress.

He then contacted the guy who has one of the old style small balers sitting rusting in his field. The guy had said that he wasn’t using it any more and had received hundreds of enquiries about it but wasn’t selling it; so there it will sit and rust. So plan B was to visit a business near Villeneuve that sells second hand agricultural equipment and that Regis would be at my place at 13:30 to take me there.

The project I’d started was a cherry cake that required an hour and a half cooking time. Since it was already 12:30 the cake went on hold. I’d decided on cherry cake as I still had some glace cherries I’d made last year so it was time to use them up before this years harvest. Well I hope there will be a harvest; I found just one fruitlet on the Reine Claude and one on the normal plum, one of the sour cherry trees has no cherries this year along with the nectarine. The sweet cherries seem to have a few fruits and there is one sheltered sour cherry that has a reasonable amount at the moment.

I’d decided not to use the food processor today and set about creaming the butter and vanilla sugar by hand. I’ve not done that since school cookery lessons and had forgotten that it was reasonably hard work, well at least until the butter had softened quite a bit. Thankfully I’d not added the flour before Ann called so it could safely wait until my return. I still can’t get over how yellow the mix was using my free range eggs

The trip to Villeneuve took place in a heavy downpour which wasn’t too bad in its self, the only problem was when we were on a piece of road that was only tarmaced yesterday; it was noticeably slippery.

At the dealers, my luck was in; while he didn’t have a baler there he had one coming in next week and I have first option on that. Apparently a lot of the old equipment suitable for small farms like mine is being bought up and shipped for sale on Poland where there are far more small farms so I’m quite lucky. This baler was used last year so hasn’t spent the last 10 years rotting in the corner of a field so I’m hopeful it will be fine. I’ve also an option on what I think is called a tedder, the piece of equipment that turns and fluffs the hay. This one will also move the hay into the lines ready for baling. All I need now is the flail cutter as there wasn’t a suitable one there.

We came back via another couple of dealers, the first only had cutters that were far to big for my needs and therefore too expensive and the second was just far to expensive, quoting nearly double the others for similar stuff. The guy at the first place is going to telephone me if he gets a suitable cutter in so a very positive outcome there.

Back home and cake was put in the oven to bake, bread dough was divided up into 3 loaves and 8 large baps and left to prove again on top of the now warm cooker – what next? Well I’d also remembered the rest of the home-made pasta dough I’d frozen when Sue was here. That had now defrosted so I’ve turned that into tagliatelle to have when A is here.

Chicken Question

Having confidently written on Stoneheads blog this morning that non of my chickens were showing the slightest intention of going broody, one has spent today sitting in the nest box.

As she can only be on one egg, can anyone tell me if the eggs I've collected this week and stored in the fridge will hatch if I put the under her?

Thanks everyone

Thursday 15 May 2008

Thursday Just Went

Today just slipped by, the morning was spent going to Bergerac to get more lime for whitewash and an exterior light for the patio so I can get rid of the bare wires and normal bulb and holder that’s out there at the moment. It also tied in with a trip to see Ann and talk over things that I need for the farm.

Today it was getting someone in to put in the fence posts and getting equipment to cut hay along with arranging a convenient day for Mr Tibbs to go in for the chop.

The afternoon was back out in the garden; the dry day meant that I could get another go over some of the soil with the rotivator and break up the soil a bit more. After that I finally got some of my garlic into the ground, most of it has rotted while waiting but with luck I’ll get enough cloves for next years planting. I’ve still another 2 or 3 rows of another variety to plant but stopped because Regis called round.

He wanted to borrow the topper as his had broken down. While he was here he had a look at the ride-on mower that broke down last week. Needless to say it worked first time for him, leaving me feeling a bit miffed. He disappeared off to get his tractor and I decided to do some mowing. Would the mower start for me – would it heck, but at least I knew it should start. Eventually I figured out that the parking brake could engage in two positions. In one it activated the relay that allows the engine to be started in the other it doesn’t! So now I know another of it’s idiosyncrasies.

I’d nearly finished the ride-on mowing when the thunder spots started and that was it for the day. The thunder rumbled around for a couple of hours but with no obvious lightning from here.

So for a change I was inside in time to watch the news but fate was against me, the journalists were on strike again so it was a slightly different format news with only a few international bits, the rest coming from the regions that weren’t on strike.

All in all an odd sort of day, nothing much to write about but one that got little bits done that will make the following days easier – as long as the ground dries out again.
After the storm

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Creeping Forwards

When I got back from Agen yesterday there was a message on the answer phone, the kitchen store had telephoned to say my stuff was there. They didn’t specify which stuff and I’ve learnt from past experiences not to get too excited. I was right to be laid back; it was the replacement leg for the unit that had arrived and not the missing unit. On the positive side though, the order for the missing unit was there in the book; if it has paperwork attached it will be done - just don’t ask when!

Still the trip into Villeneuve wasn’t a total waste, I found some more sandals, having worn out my last pair as if I’m not in my safety shoes (which are nearly worn out too) I’m in my walking sandals, and I filled the car with diesel – ouch. Long gone are the days when it cost fewer Euros than litres. On the national news the other day they were showing people who were filling up every day so it ‘only cost them a few euros’. I think they are only kidding themselves, I’d rather fill up and get the shock of how much it costs to encourage me to cut out unnecessary journeys than spend the money in dribs and drabs trying to convince myself that it’s not an expensive luxury.

Back at the farm I put in the last half row of potatoes and continued with a bit more ground preparation while it tried to drizzle. We’ve not had the thunderstorms and hail we were promised for today so that was good. I also started seeding the area in the grass I mutilated yesterday. I can only say started as the seed I had has only covered about a third of it so I will be getting some more when I’m next out.

Apart from that not much else got done, as I’ve been really tired. I’ve had a problem with one of my teeth and made an appointment with the dentist but there is a three-week wait. So I’ve survived the last week and a half on paracetamol but I think it’s leaving me rather out of it so I’m going to have to cut it right down and live with a bit of discomfort.

When I turned round from the computer this evening to see if it was dark enough that the chickens would have gone to bed I noticed the unusual lighting outside, it was a sort of yellow pink light. This picture gives a reasonable idea of what outside looked like – out of focus again because I can’t hold a camera steady to save my life.

I then tried to take a shot of the sunset its self. Well they say the camera never lies but it does really depend on the camera setting.

This first one is taken with the special sunset setting

It would have been quite a sunset if that was really what was there, I think I would be waiting for the end of the world to happen if I saw a sky like that!

In actuality it was closer to this, taken on the auto setting although there was a little bit more red in the sky but nothing like the earlier shot

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Travels with TomTom

I like my Sat Nav system; it’s become a good friend while navigating me round France. I bought it in the UK before I came house hunting here and some people thought I was a bit crazy when I used it to go to the supermarket or on other local trips that I knew by heart. It was by using it for known journeys that made me aware that it wasn’t always right and that I also had to know where I was going so that I could check I’d keyed in the right place.

I’ve also begun to get to grips with some of its little quirks too; the turn right in 50 metres or occasionally turn left in 80 meters that it spurts out when it’s lost. It did that to me for the first time on a very windy road with a vertiginous drop on the right. Needless to say I didn’t follow the instruction. You also learn very quickly not to use ‘shortest route’ well not unless you really want to be sent along dead end roads, Ridgeway’s, twittens and fairy paths but the alternative ‘fastest route’ isn’t always the best option. It assumes that you will be travelling at the speed limit plus a half for the entire journey and therefore will route you via any motorway in a hundred kilometre radius of where you are. The result is a journey that adds kilometres after kilometres onto your journey (and fuel cost) and may only get you to your destination a few minutes earlier than if you’d gone by the direct route.

Over time, I’ve begun to work my way through the options and tried to gain some control over what is really a very simple algorithm used to calculate the route. I think I’ve just about got it now by using the limited speed option, somewhere around 60 – 70 kph for local routes and 80 kph for longer distances seems to give me a direct but generally fast route and I usually get there ahead of the arrival time it states as well.

So what got me thinking about the Sat Nav then, well as I said yesterday, I had to go back to Agen today and I really didn’t want to hammer up and down the main road dodging all the ‘convoy exceptionalles’ of boats and holiday chalets that storm up and down the road. This was the route it came up with, barely a car in sight and it took 50 mins instead of 45.

The car park was full as expected but there is usually a turnover of people so it didn’t take long to find a place and it’s free too. Outside the Ag dept was packed with cars today and just as last year there was a queue of farmers out the door all waiting to either deposit their documents or be seen by someone. It didn’t take too long to get through, around half an hour queuing and 20 minutes with one of the officials who went through what I’d prepared, measured out the relevant land areas and filled in the required forms for me. Most importantly she gave me the receipt for the submission showing that it had all been submitted before the deadline of Thursday. A successful morning.

The afternoon was spent starting to break up the ploughed vegetable area and the potager area. This was reasonably successful in parts but the waterlogged areas that gave problems when ploughing were still a problem with the cultivator. Unfortunately there are more thunderstorms forecast for this week so I don’t know when the soil will finally dry out. Still it’s beginning to look a bit more cultivated.

I then set off for the grass area that I eventually want to include as garden. I want to create a flower drift in the grass and someone suggested using the cultivator to brake up the soil. Well 2 passes later and I realised that it was a big mistake; it took about an hour to put all the sods back in place. The ground is broken up a bit so the seeds will go in tomorrow.

Last picture is the peony by the front of the house.

Monday 12 May 2008

Working on the PAC

It’s PAC time here in France (the Politique agricole commune, otherwise known in the UK as the Common Agricultural Policy) the deadline for returning the forms is Thursday and mine are still to be filed. Today was designated PAC day and having spent the morning trying to decipher the forms I gave up and decided a trip to the agriculture department was the only option. So around an hour later I’m at the department in Agen and this is the sight that greets me.

I knew about the holiday on the 1st of May, I knew about the holiday on the 8th of May, what I didn’t know about was the holiday today! I did get an inkling before I got to the building; the car park by the river was just about empty but that wasn’t too strange as it’s usually full of students cars and I thought that they might still be on holiday, but when I climbed the steps up to the road outside the offices and there wasn’t a single car shoehorned into every available parking space I knew I was onto a loser. So a return trip is planned for tomorrow.

The PAC took up most of the day apart from the usual animal things. Mr Tibbs is making himself at home although he is still a little nervous.

I’d just finished the alpacas and was wondering which bit of the garden to do next when a really strong gust of wind hit the house and continued. The sky darkened over the nearby town and it was just possible to hear the thunder as it started to roll in. Gardening was off the list for the rest of the evening.

I just had time to grab a quick, out of focus, picture of these. My little camera isn’t really good at close ups and in fact the normal setting is better than the close up setting.

This little group of orchids is growing on the edge of the ditch that runs along the side of the road to my farm. I’d seen one flower spike last year so went looking for the leaves earlier this year to mark the spot and hopefully save it from the commune grass cutter that cuts all the verges and clears the ditches. This year, due to the weather, very little verge cutting has been done and as a result of this I’ve found 10 flower spikes this year. Six are on the road side of the ditch and will be mown so I’m contemplating using the bulb planter to remove them and replant them onto my side of the ditch near these where they wont be mown down.

The final picture tonight is my pudding; the first 3 strawberries from the pots on the patio. I’ve only 6 plants and they were in a poor shape having been neglected last year. They really appreciated being re-potted a few weeks ago and immediately flowered. I won’t have a glut of strawberries but they should tide me over until the alpine strawberries are ready. That won’t be long as they are a mass of flowers at the moment.

I had these sliced and sprinkled with a little lavender sugar and a dollop of cr̬me fraiche Рheaven.