27 December 2006

Christmas comes but once a year....

Christmas trees, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

We had a real Jack frost winter scene this morning!

It's so beautiful to see the trees like this - especially when you don't have to go anywhere. We've been cracking the ice and going up and down to the animals with buckets full of hot water all day for three days now. Our neighbours with cows are really struggling to get enough water to their animals.

It's really beautiful though!

Jack Frost 1

20 December 2006

Basket of socks for Christmas

Basket of socks 1
Originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.
The cold snap has arrived just in time !

I've just finished knitting enough socks and shawls for Christmas (I hope !) the first batch went off to the UK on Monday and these are for local people who call in here to buy things.

These socks are the best I've ever worn and most of our customers come back for more.

I'll post instructions of how to make them on the machine ( A pair takes about an hour.) when I've finished knitting.

16 December 2006

First Lamb 2006

First Lamb 2006
Originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.
Our first lamb of the season has been born and the weather's fine enough to let him go out with his mum.

I love black sheep !

Update on the piglet...

We're really sorry to say that the little piglet died today.

When I tied his unbilical cord, I flushed it out and cleaned it with anti-bacterial solution, but the septicemia from his mother must have got into his bloodstream and he just faded away. We're planting some fruit trees tomorrow, so hey ho, life goes on... (I want to scream really - life's so unfair...)

Peggy's perking up just fine.

Thanks for all your supportive comments and advice.

15 December 2006

Here at three days old, the piglet might make it, so we started toilet training.

Peggy's only surviving piglet.

We had a terrible day yesterday when Peggy was farrowing.

One of her piglets had died inside her a few weeks before and had infected her uterus.

All the piglets were born dead or were really weak and died within minutes of their birth - except this one.

Peggy's comfortable but on antibiotics to control the infection and her milk is infected too, so this wee fellow had to come inside for the warmth because without brothers and sisters to cuddle up to he'd die of hypothermia.

It was touch and go with him last night, but he's plumping up and he screamed the house down to be fed at 5 this morning, so he might pull through.
Peggy's piglet 1

14 December 2006

Peggy's only surviving piglet.

Peggy's comfortable but on antibiotics to control the infection and her milk is infected too, so this wee fellow had to come inside for the warmth because without brothers and sisters to cuddle up to he'd die of hypothermia.

It was touch and go with him last night, but he's plumping up and he screamed the house down to be fed at 5 this morning, so he might pull through.

I've been worrying about him not feeding well, but I found this out thanks to Google: "The sow has an exceptionally strong control of milk ejection and a number of studies have shown that the duration of milk flow is only 10 to 20 seconds. The average nursing interval is less than 1 hour, so that the suckling piglet normally receives more than 24 feedings daily. The nursing frequency tends to decrease with the advance of lactation."

19 November 2006

Adding an extension to the house.

Now that we've finished the terrace around the East and South part of the house, we've started to build the extension. This will give us more space (finally!) for storing our fleeces, sorting and packing and enough room for me for knitting in comfort. We'll also use the room for seminars and workshops.

House extension going up

The tower above the main part of the house will have two extra bedrooms.

Building phase 11 at Sourrou BourrouThe framework goes up, the stone will be added to match the existingExtension from the pond

The stone cladding will be added after the walls have dried and once the roof is on we'll insulate the interior with goat and sheeps' wool.Using bottles as insulation
In the original part of the house we used straw bales under the floors for insulation. This works well, but for the extension we're using a layer of empty bottles which should provide us with a good sound surface and the insulation values should be about the same.

17 November 2006

Our vegetable gardens.

The first time we had a mini-digger on site at the new house, we used the water retention plan we'd worked on to shape and terrace about a half acre at the back to make a potager and cut the chestnut poles from the trees there to make the raised beds. The paths followed the lines we'd made with an A frame to act as mini-swales to help water retention in the beds.

At that time I had only just started using my computer as the solar panel installation had to wait for the completion of the roof. I only had a little digital camera, so all the photos I took at that time are very poor quality. But you can see in the photo on the right how our sloping land was terraced to slow down the loss of water on the site and to create the terraced vegetable beds.

We used all the branches of the trees at the base of the beds or smaller branches as a wood mulch to improve the condition of the soil and to improve the drainage. Every time the beds are harvested I let the chickens clear it up, then rake the stones and wood from it to the bottom of the bed near the poles to improve the drainage and help the retaining poles last longer.

We clean out our goat shed once a year and leave half of the dry manure to rot down for compost, and the other half we use to spread over the wood mulch or between established plants to keep the ground clean and keep in the humidity. I never dig, but rake the earth gently to clear out any big stones and turn the rotted manure over the first 10cms of the earth to make a flat planting area.

Our 50 odd chickens roam all over the garden, but have to cover up salad and all the cabbage family with wire cages to protect them.The birds to a brilliant job of keeping the weeds down and spreading the mulch when it rots, spreading their own contribution in small doses at the same time. We have to put sticks into cover anything newly planted, but as soon as plants are established, the chickens leave them alone and the sticks rot down easily after a year or so.

With good planting schedules, storage, drying and bottling we eat mostly our own veg all year round.

We've recently restarted using our old garden at the cabin because we've run out of space here, stream water is on tap and there's enough room to put up a polytunnel for early veg. We also grow plenty of fresh veg for the pigs and share all the the space with two sets of gardenless neighbours.

5 November 2006

Some of our marrows stored for the pigs

This is last year's crop which lasted well up until Christmas then the humidity rose and we had to lift the remaining pumpkins gently and give them all to the pigs.

This year, we've grown a lot of different varieties of marrows and pumpkins but none of them have lasted as long as the big orange ones do.

1 November 2006

After about an hour in their new park, the pigs started playing!

We bought these two from a commercial unit a few months ago. We decided to use our dog pound for them to begin with before we introduced them to Peggy.

In the little run, they get used to being outdoors and the electric fencing and as it's near the house and they can get aquainted with us and our animals and we can feed them regularly and easily check everything's OK.

When we released them, they immediately went in to the shelter to hide, but they came out about half an hour later and started exploring and running around. This probably the first time they've ever been free to go outside.

31 October 2006

It's Cep time, and they can be bottled, dried or frozen for keeping all year round !

Click on any of these photographs for more information about Ceps.

28 October 2006

Some of our chickens having a dustbath.

I've kept chickens ever since I've had enough garden to give them a good life.

They're well worth the work because they are just so beautiful to have around, clean up the gardens and 50 or so can keep us in meat and eggs all year.

Three curious kids

Three curious kids
Originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

Angora goats are really useful animals.

As well as being a very affectionate, friendly, curious and easy to look after goat, they provide good meat and a lovely yarn.

Their fleece is really fine and warm and very shiny and the kid fleece has a drape like silk.

They are the most important animal on our smallholding - not only financially but also to keep the land and woods clear of brambles and provide lots of manure for our vegetables and fruit trees.

18 October 2006

Starting to build our house.

This blog was born only a few weeks ago, but we've been building our house for seven years and one day I'll get together all the photos, notes, drawings and ideas that we had while we were building and put them on a website. ...One day.

The ideas for the house at Sourrou began about 14 years ago when Fabrice and I were living in the cabin and negotiating buying the land here. I've always been interested and involved in building and renovation and one of the Open University courses I did to develop that interest was Design: Processes and Products. (T263) The course content was invaluable in structuring my ideas about the "Perfect House".

Fabrice is a qualified stonemason and like me, is fascinated by sacred architecture, building techniques and the harmony in nature of buildings and objects. So although we come from different worlds our ideas merge and our skills are complementary.

My original idea was to build the house in straw. When I broke that news to Fabrice, I was surprised when he said "Great!" and showed me his sheep shed where a straw bale wall had been built more than 30 years before by his grandfather - unrendered and still in good condition.

So eventually, the difficult and very stressful negotiations for the land right next to the cabin (How lucky is that!) came to a close. We got the CU and the Mayor got his hectare with the springs on it (but that's another story...) We then applied for planning permission for the house which would be in straw, off-grid, built for solar gain, using basic geometric principles, with materials sourced from our land or nearby and as energy efficient as possible.

That all sounds pretty sensible to me, but I suppose my appearance and the way I have of rabbiting on about things that I find fascinating give the impression that I'm a bit of a hippy and the original flowery plans which I drew up (Complete with French spelling mistakes!) didn't go down at all well with the Mayor or the local planning department.

Our fireplace in the finished house phase 1Getting planning permission took almost 2 years of refusals, reapplying, waiting for results, redoing the drawings, and referring again and again to my "bible" at that time from the collection Concevoir et Construire : Les plans de votre Maison.

Finally, planning permission was granted and we started work.

There are some photographs of the building process in this link:
Construction of the first phase of our house at Sourrou

16 October 2006

Our chicken shed

Our chickens free-range everywhere, but we protect our vegetable plot by caging some of the produce or by simply putting sticks around newly planted things like courgettes.

Our chicken shed is simply a huge cage, clad with wood offcuts, and chestnut poles and to make it pretty, I've covered it with climbing plants and planted round the edges with shrubs and flowers.

We use empty gunpowder barrels with the lids cut in half for nesting boxes and when the hens start to go broody, we put them into the cage inside the henhouse to make sure that the others don't try to lay their eggs in a sitting hen's clutch and to ensure they has peace and quiet for the 21 days it takes for the eggs to hatch. The shed's in the woods at the back of the house, hidden behind tall trees and bushes and banked against the last terrace of the vegetable garden. The water comes from the roof and is stored in three barrels at the back of the shed. We rarely run out of water.

15 October 2006

The men busy getting the maize in before the rain

We had a glorious day for the cornpicker, which works its way round all the plots of corn owned by the people in our village.
By the time the harvest had almost finished, the skies started to look pretty dark and we had to work fast to get the maize into our "crib" where it will dry out and be used for feeding our animals in the winter.

The cobs are big and full - apart from those nibbled by badgers and wild boar !

We haven't had too much damage this year by animals. We've been using a scarecrow with a radio in his pocket - shame it didn't scare off some selfish devil who turned his or her car round in the maize field, probably while they were looking for mushrooms in our woods.

9 October 2006

Video - Our new pup Didi playing with Judy

Didi our new Daschund pup (she's a wirehaired/smooth haired cross) is settling in nicely with our other dogs.

Max the Border Collie was great, but bared his teeth a bit when Didi got a bit too silly. She's now started to behave and he's her big best friend. Bonnie our other wire haired Daschund was jealous at first, snapped at Didi and sulked in her bed for two weeks, but they've started playing together and it's great to see them scrapping. Judy is a big Griffon Vendéen and totaly ignored Didi up until a few days ago, when, much to our delight, they started playing!

All our dogs work. Max is a fine example of a keen and intelligent sheepdog and thankfully he's great with our Angora goats too. Didi is being trained by Fabrice to hunt rabbits and she'll join Judy and Bonnie in the Wild Boar hunt when she's ready.