16 July 2007

Summer is upon us, and it's taken me ages to find the time to blog.

These courgettes are for Peggy our sow.We've had non-stop guests, made more hay, had lots of farm visits from families, associations and lots of gate sales for people buying wool and knitted things which inevitably turn into walkabouts to see the animals.

We had one young couple who stayed for just over two weeks. They were really keen to learn as much as they could and when they arrived, the first thing they asked to do was looking after our chickens, letting them out in the mornings, cleaning and filling the water and feed containers, collecting the eggs and closing the chicken shed up in the evenings. They soon discovered out that looking after chickens is easy and a lot of fun. They found out about chickens' needs and preferences, what to do when they start going broody, about illnesses and parasites, about the effects of the weather, keeping them and the henhouse clean, what to do about introducing new stock, how to prevent them from eating each other's eggs, laying in each other's nests and loads of other things about poultry which you can learn by just observing them and asking questions. It was great for us too to leave that job to somebody else and have a bit of a lie in for a change !

Another regular job they did was gathering the courgettes and French beans, keeping the little tasty ones for the table and giving the bigger ones to Peggy our sow, or to the goats - a nice job which we to did together in the early evening as we checked the livestock to make sure they were all there, and that everything was as it should be.

They were very interested in learning about organic gardening and of course the best time to do that is in early spring, because there isn't much work to do in Summer apart from sowing a few more beans, transplanting lettuce or putting in a few more rows of carrots. So, we spent most of the time just looking and talking about what was happening, tying in plants, digging up a couple of rows of new potatoes, gathering vegetables ready for the table and preparing and sterilising anything with enough of a yeild to make it worthwhile.

Pots of Rhubarb sterilised and ready for putting away in the cave.The rhubarb was ready to pull, so we took about 8 kilos and a few stems of Angelica and spent a morning sterilising about 30 jars for storing, which means I can make rhubarb crumbles for pudding throughout the year. We use exactly the same technique for bottling fruit, veg and meat in Kilner or Le Parfait jars as the one described in THIS article.

I've since gathered the last of the rhubarb, more green beans and peppers and added to another few dozen pots to the cave - so we won't starve this winter!

Jon and Holly were thrown in at the deep end with the tagging and vet visit - where their help was invaluable, but we didn't want them to think that keeping goats and sheep was always so stressful. So when it rained, we did a lot of inside work with the animals, relaxing and playing with them, clipping toenails and cleaning teeth, checking the new tags were OK and generally giving them a lookover.

Suzie our Saanen/Alpine cross was called upon to teach our guests how to milk a goat. Although she hasn't kidded for two years, she's still very milky and loves the attention she gets when we're teaching people. She helps people who are nervous by standing well and letting her milk down. This is a short video of Jon's second attempt at milking a goat. He's getting milk out - but his technique needs refining.

Once the rain stopped, we took the opportunty to add more mulch from the goat shed to the garden which will help preserve the moisture and reduce the amount of watering we'll have to do once the really hot weather hits us. Although there's been a lot of rain this spring, the earth is still very dry. Water is becoming more and more of a problem here in the Dordogne, and we want to dig a well near our new house.

We've dowsed the area ourselves and we've had two experienced friends dowse who've helped us choose the best site. While we were talking one evening about the house and our ideas for storing, finding and saving water, our guests had a shot at dowsing themselves.

I show people how to dowse with some copper rods which were made for me by a friend. They are very responsive and the effect when you can feel them moving is quite dramatic.
They'd never used dowsing rods before and John lost interest when he got no immediate results, but Holly soon got the hang of using the copper rods and refined her technique with a hazel twig and within an hour, she'd located the exact spot where we plan to dig the well!

Dowsing for water with a Hazel stickFabrice used the digger to level the space and we spent the rest of the morning dowsing around it in more detail.Once we've finished using the area as a storage space for the stones which for the house and the roof is on, we'll start digging the well - taking a chance that this ancient way of looking for water will work for us.

Watch this space for more details.

We're very fortunate here to have some wonderful mushroom woods and after the rain there's usually something nice to be found. So we went out foraging and got a nice little haul of very late Girolles. (Spring Chanterelles.) Apart from Morels, these are one of our tastiest early mushrooms and there were more than enough to provide us with a decent lunch.

One of the other things we had to do when Jon and Holly were here was to fix the water heating solar panels. We had disconnected them when we were working around the area with the digger and they were covered with weeds.

Jon and Fabrice cleared around them and when we opened the stopcock to fill them up, they leaked. (Never be tempted to buy cheap copper piping in France.) So we fixed them one more time, which will have to do for this summer until we install our new vacuum system.

We're running out of south-facing roof space and these panels are not very efficient. So, we intend to replace the pipework and use them as demonstration panels for visitors. We also spent time discussing the layout and design of our solar and wind systems and living with renewable energy. I'll be very interested to find out if Jon does eventually put in a small system of his own...

Towards the end of their stay, Holly asked to learn to knit on a machine. After a bit of struggle, she produced a great big mohair and silk scarf to take home to impress her family, who strangely enough, run a knitwear business!

11 July 2007

Courgettes and pumpkins

Pumpkins and courgettes are like a watched kettle, the less you watch them, the quicker they grow! So, while we were busy with other things, the pumpkin patches we have all over the place have been doing very nicely. Here are some lovely Potirons called White Boer which store well and are nice roasted. Fabrice planted these on a huge compost heap he made while he was clearing up the waste wood, chippings, sawdust and weeds around our wood pile.

We've only grown a few varieties from bought seeds. The ones kept from last year or swopped with friends will grow good food for the pigs. The little plants I put in the first photo below have turned into a huge mass of green as shown in the photograph underneath it.

Reclaiming more planting space
I only put in a few plants - honest !

We've also grown some Vegetable Spaghetti - not one of my favourite squashes - but Marie-Jeanne, one of our neighbours, gave me lots of seedlings and it's another good storer. I like covering the whole garden with just about anything that will grow, not just for the produce, but also to reduce the loss of water by providing shade and these plants are ideal for use on a new plot like this one, because the chickens spend a lot of time under the leafy canopy scratching for insects and fertilise it after it's been mulched.

I put the knobbly Potiron in the straw bale "cold frame" to try to avoid cross-pollination

This is the knobbly Potiron Galeuse d'Eysines that tastes great, planted in the cold frame to keep the flowers away from the others so they don't get cross-pollinated. That way, I can keep the seeds and be sure of getting the same plants next year.

The ones in the new part of the garden are probably hybrids from last year's seeds, but the pigs will love them and they're coming on nicely with all the rain we've had.

This non-stop rain is pleasing to some plants

9 July 2007

Hay making, tagging and dagging, sheep shearing and the vet

The time's passed so quickly over the past week or so.

This is the latest we've ever made hay - it's quite nerve wracking waiting for the rain to go off. We were lucky and got the hay cut, turned and baled on the only two consecutive dry days this month.

We've also been waiting for the shearer for our sheep - he finally came this morning, and in the afternoon the vet came to take the yearly blood samples from the goats and sheep. If only he'd come in the morning the sheep would have been easier to catch !

We'll sleep well tonight.

5 July 2007

Collection of limescale from the inside of a water heater we used to make a meat smoker

Pretty aren't they?

The whole of the inside of the electric water heater had a build-up of at least a centimetre thick, in some areas there were three to four centimetres so the volume of water heated must have been reduced by about a third !

2 July 2007

Herbs & Spices and Dordogne markets

You can buy a wide selection of herbs and spices by mail order from our neighbour Yan, or by visiting his stand in person at these markets in the Dordogne:

Wednesday:....... Périgueux
Thursday:........ Lalinde
Friday:...........Vergt (Riberac also has a market on Fridays)
Saturday:........ Ste Foy la Grande
Sunday: ..........Issigac

Enquiries and orders for spices (in English or French): 05 53 81 79 40

Or contact Yan through this blog.

Blue Moon June 31st 2007

I just couldn't resist taking photographs of the blue moon last night. The sky was so dark, and the moon was really red. The atmosphere around midnight was wonderful, with crickets chirping, dogs howling and male deer making that strange barking sound.