Tuesday 31 July 2012

I’m Still Here!


Le temps passe vite, el tiempo vuela, il tempo vola, or good old tempus fugit; however you write it, it goes past far too fast.  Tomorrow, in the northern hemisphere is Lughnasadh, an ancient harvest festival celebration.  Harvest!  It barely feels like spring has finished as the weather has been so strange this year. 

In the garden this year it’s the weeds that have definitely come out on top.  The rains made the soil un-walkable on, and then the sudden switch to 35C baked the surface to rock and reduces me to a wilted being, while all the time the weeds revelled and grew.  So guess what I will be doing for the next month!

I thought we’d got through the spring without my youngest cat, Jewel, bringing me home any of her snake friends but I spotted her outside throwing this one around.

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I’d purchased one of those long handled grabbers/litter pickers earlier in the year solely for the purpose of picking up any of the snakes she brought back.  They usually feign death so I placed it on a log and went inside to grab a camera.  I thought it would have crawled away while I was getting the camera but to my surprise it was still there when I returned.  It carried on just lying where I’d put it and I began to think that it had really died through Jewel throwing it up into the air repeatedly.

I carefully picked it up again and took it to the house where I was going to put into a small vivarium I have.  There it would be away from Jewel who was desperately trying to play with her ‘friend’ and if it was dead I’d decided to pickle it in alcohol.  No, not to flavour drink, but to preserve it!

Well I got as far as the kitchen where the change of lighting from bright sun outside to shadow inside meant I didn’t realise I’d dropped it.  Hitting the cold tiles was the cue for it to make an escape bid.  Thankfully my eyes adapted fast enough that I caught it again and was able to let it go here Jewel didn’t see it.

As with the previous snakes, April 2011 and May 2011, this was a juvenile western whip snake but quite a bit longer, around 45 cms/ 18 ins.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Anyone for Beans?



DSCF0468 tinyJust before Christmas I managed to plant a couple of rows of broad beans and against the odds I’ve just harvested them. 

The “against the odds” refers to the past winter which was the coldest around here for 60 or so years.  We dropped to –18C and were well below freezing with snow lying on the ground for over a week which I covered in the previous post. 

The beans were severely frosted. The exceptionally cold winter was  then followed by a record breaking warm March which brought out all the insects too early and then a record breaking wet April that was also 5C below average temperature too.  This resulted in a very low pollination of the fruit trees and of the beans.  Most of the plants only had 2 or 3 pods on them.  I still managed to harvest these:-

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I’m hoping that the early spring sown row will yield a few more but even they look as though they’ve been having problems.

The sunset on the 25th was spectacular with the towering clouds being coloured glowing pink and orange.  Again the camera rarely captures what the eye sees.

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A Busy Year

As ever I’m not managing to post as often as I’d like to so yet another catch-up post!

Last year was rather different for me, I had company for most of the year.  In March 2011, one of my son’s came to stay for a short time before I drove him to Aix-en-Provence where he was studying for a few months.  Due to accommodation difficulties he returned earlier than we thought and stayed here to write his thesis.

My sister then sold her house in the UK and at the end of October she moved in with me too along with all her worldly possessions and her Jack Russell terrier!  We then set about house hunting for her and were lucky to find a house that's close (but not too close Smile), soon after Christmas.

My son returned to the UK just before Christmas and thankfully he was able to find a job in the UK, while my sister’s house purchase finally went through in early May.  She has quite a bit of work to do on the house but is hoping to move in very soon.

So those are my excuses for not posting.  Actually I should admit to watching too much TV/DVD’s as well; it’s amazing just how much time can be wasted that way.

But I am still here and still working on making the farm a viable concern although in the current economic climate I’m not sure it is possible.  The price paid to farmers for grain has nearly halved over the last few years while the cost of diesel, (for the tractor) has doubled and the price of seed stock has gone up by around 50%.  Small farms are sadly being driven out of existence.

Anyway that’s enough doom and gloom, time to try and record a bit more of the work going on here.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Spring is Well and Truly Sprung

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The spring equinox has passed and life here is moving into to gear.  Just a week ago I was waiting for the first blossoms to appear and now there are trees that are alive with the gentle hum of insects. It’s as though a big switch has been on and everything has burst into life.

Well not quite everything. As I’ve probably mentioned before, the weather here has been described as exceptional everyone of the 5 years I’ve lived here.  This year is no different.

February is the usual month for the cold snap when the winter frost usually gets a bit harder and we might go down to minus 6 or even minus 10C.  If it snows it only hangs around a day or so with the cold snap lasting only 2-3 weeks.

Up to the end of January it looked like a ‘normal’ winter, then the cold snap arrived,, bitterly cold wind from the north east and the temperature plummeted to minus 18C.  The snow fell and remained for over a week and my water to the house froze.  Outside was like being up in the mountains in winter, clear blue skies, bright sunshine but bitterly cold.

It didn’t trouble the Huacayas much, they just sat down, bottoms to the wind and actually seemed to quite enjoy it as long as their hay was topped up and the ice removed from their water. 

All but one of the Suris were in the barn and the only one out in the fields, Bethany, I’m sure felt the cold more than the Huacayas.  The other Suris had been in the barn since Christmas eve when I’d realised that one of them, Pandora, was extremely thin.  She’s been thin since I got her last month and I’ve been struggling to get weight on her all autumn since she gave birth but this was even more extreme.  The decision was taken to move her indoors as she would struggle to keep warm so thankfully when the really cold weather hit she was fine.

Once the weather looked like it was improving my sister and my thoughts turned to the water system.  My sister spent a couple of days gently warming the pump and pressure vessel but to no avail.  In the end, after warming, lagging to make sure it didn’t re-freeze overnight, and then warming through the day again we gave up and decided that if the underground pipes were frozen we would just have to wait from the ground to heat up a bit.

So we waited but it made no difference; but the good point about waiting was that it gave tie to go over the possible causes as to why it wasn’t working. Then finally the pump started working -hurrah – but we still weren’t pumping water.  I’d noticed that the manometer on the pressure vessel wasn’t returning to zero even though we had the tap on the top of the vessel open.  Originally I’d though it was reading 5 bar due to expansion of ice in the vessel but that didn’t make sense now so for the sum of 17€47 I bought a new manometer we had water again. 

Once the water was flowing it became obvious that there were no leaks in the system so despite having to spend a couple of weeks bucketing water from the well – which actually makes you realise what a luxury having running water is – we were very lucky.

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In preparation for winter, I’d put up the new alpaca shelters. This is the third version I’ve made and it is by far the most successful.  It is very definitely a case of less is more.  My alpacas generally avoid the previous ones I made that were more like horse field shelters and I came to the conclusion that they don’t like what they perceive as enclosed spaces.  So for this version I’ve increased the roof area but only put up a solid side to counteract the main wind direction.  And so far, it seems to be a success; so over the summer I will convert the previous shelters.

Monday 27 February 2012

A Spring Sunday in the Sun


Sunday here was glorious; a clear blue sky and sunshine so it was time to go outside and play.  I had a pile of wood and a recently purchased climbing rose…..

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The rose tower, which is currently in the process of being painted with a wood treatment is 2m high and 40 cm square and hopefully will be sturdy enough to carry the rose.

Behind it is one of the two large fruit harvest boxes I purchased last year.  A friend of mine told me about the boxes and said they were around 60cm square and 50 or so cm high so I reserved a couple.  When I went to pick them up it turned out they were quite a bit larger that she had said, they are approximately 1m x 1m20 x 75cm.  In fact, having got them back home I realised they were really far to large.

My daughter, C, spent part of her holiday here last summer and spent part of it repairing the cases and painting them with preserver but since then they have languished outside as I had no idea what to do with them – they were to be small planters for a patio. 

I finally decided something had to be done with them before the grass started growing again and they would be in the way of the mower, and while walking round them I realised that with the addition of four more pieces of wood, I could cut them in half horizontally.  The top piece is destined to become a garden border into which the rose tower will be set while the lower piece will become a planter somewhere in the garden.  I will probably use one of the planters to give some height in a border and the other I am thinking about using as a peat bed so I can indulge in some acid loving plants in my limestone based garden.

Thursday 23 February 2012

An Early Start


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Today I was up early, I’d ordered a delivery of fuel and previously I’d been first on the delivery schedule and the tanker was outside my door at 8am.  No tanker today but I was greeted with an amazing sunrise. 

Actually there was no delivery at all today, somehow my order had been forgotten so it will be an early start again for me tomorrow.

While there was a frost this morning it’s nowhere near the –18C we got down to during the cold spell.  That day is being described as the coldest for around 50 years so it looks like 2012 will be another of those years that are not usual.

During the coldest bit I noticed my oldest cockerel, Mr L was looking a bit dejected and hiding in the corner of the chicken shed.  I didn’t think too much about it as he’s at least 5 years old and I though he might be feeling his age.  The following day he was on the floor where I could get to him and that’s when I could see that something was very wrong.  Up until that point I didn’t realise that wattles could freeze but it turns out they can and Mr L’s large wattle was swollen and frozen solid, so much so he couldn't lift his head properly.

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Once I realised the problem I brought him inside  in front of the range and hand fed him as the frozen wattle stopped him from being able to pick up food himself.  Once he had started to warm up we transferred him to the shower cubical – the only place big enough to contain him that was in the warm.  He remained there, or on the patio if it was warm and sunny, for a few days until the wattle had defrosted.  I then put him back in the chicken house as the really cold weather was over and he was missing his Lacey Ladies.  It’s taken about 5 days for him to settle back in but he’s now reclaiming his dominant place in the pecking order. 

The lower half of the wattle has withered but apart from that he’s better than he was before the cold spell.  I think Mr L had the problem because he had a magnificently large wattle and he probably got it covered in snow and then we had the deep freeze, but I now know that wattles can freeze, although hopefully I won’t need to worry about that for another 50 years.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

5 Years and Counting


I’ve just celebrated 5 years of owning my farm; I’m not really sure if the time has passed quickly or slowly but one thing is certain, I don’t regret any of it.

There have been ups and downs, the birth of crias being one of the highs and the deaths of alpacas and my lovely cat Snowy being the main lows but as I generally say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

So what about the next 5 years?  That is actually a really difficult question.  Earning a living in France can be a challenge well it is certainly one for me.  My plans are constantly evolving; what is easy to do in the UK, (where my initial plans were formulated), can be nigh on impossible to do in France without enormous expense.  For instance if I were to give up my farming status to just raise the alpacas for fleece, by law I wouldn’t be able to sell one bale of hay from my land, – to sell anything harvested you need to be a farmer and hay is classified as a harvest.  The auto-entrepreneur classification, (similar to self-employed) doesn’t cover anything that the farming departments regard as their domain.  The result of this is my plans are in a continuing stat of flux while I try to work out what I can do under which regulations and whether it will generate enough income.

All that said, and having passed the 5 year residency barrier, I’m off to the Marie today to get the forms to start my citizenship application.  Although even that is now in doubt; up until Christmas you only had to display a working knowledge of French but then the law was changed so you now have to pass an exam to demonstrate you are at the level of a 15 year old native speaker.  So anyone know what the French is for ‘What ever’?

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Well this is what I started writing on the 23rd December…. so no change here!

Well so much for trying to post more often,; in my defence I’ve had a busy year, but I think the phrase, “must try harder” applies Smile.

I think a review of the missing bits of the year is called for – who knows, I might even get round to writing it too!

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

Deborah x