28 November 2007

Introducing Tolcarne Puck

Tolcarne Puck Angora goat
Introducing Puck , originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

This is Puck, a male Angora goat we're using from Eddie and Carolyn Gowen Angora breeders new to the south of France. He was imported from the UK in August and his bloodlines include the Corrymoor and Ballytrim flocks - both great breeders of sound Angoras.

So far he's been a real gentleman, easy to handle, kind to the girls and very good-looking.

La Ferme de Sourrou AngorasWe're a bit late breeding this year, it took me a long time to find the buck I wanted - ideally one new to France because the choice of good male Angoras here is very limited. It took me even longer to find the time go and collect him from near Tarbes - a round trip of almost ten hours!

La Ferme de Sourrou hardworkinghippy's favourite Angora goatsWe've chosen six of our best females to mate with Puck and so far things are going well. We also hope that Puck will cover Suzie our milky Sannen/Alpine cross who is getting on a bit, but is in great condition. That will give us (hopefully) a couple of kids for the freezer and plenty of milk for cheese and colostrum and milk to share with any Angora kids who need it. Normally, we kid in March, but next year the kidding will be in April. I'm really looking forward to having kids again.

The woodburner's lit for winter

Godin Woodburner and home made
The woodburner's lit for winter, première mise en ligne par hardworkinghippy.

The house is toasty warm and I love cooking on this. We keep it alight 24 hours a day throughout the winter. I put a bit of chestnut in it in the morning on the embers from the night before and let it blast a bit to clean the flue, then if we're around we fill it with chestnut and close it right down until we start cooking lunch when it gets opened again either to use the top fast plate for fast cooking or the oven - the hottest oven I've ever had.

Godin woodburner being used to it's maximum !I can make a lovely flakey quiche from start to finish in under half an hour, boil a kettle while I open the chickens and geese and give hay to the goats in the morning. A casserole can be left on the cooler side of the cooker to simmer all day and I dry socks, wellies, pots and pans, and all our clothes around the cooker.

If we're out all day I use oak which stays in well, and just before going to bed, we fll it up with mostly oak to make sure it stays in all night.

18 November 2007

A jambon keeps well for a year - normally !

Jambon made in January - opened in November 2007

A couple of weeks ago we decided to start the new ham that's been hanging outside since January and it's in perfect condition and much less fatty than any we've done before. We've never managed to keep them from one year to the next - they go fast because the meat is great - but we just might do it with this one.

I was a bit worried about this one keeping well because we had a very damp summer, but we took it down in September, dried it out a bit and rubbed more pepper into the vulnerable areas around the bone and it's in great condition. We'll start it now so that by the time Christmas comes it will be at it's widest and easy to cut in pretty slices.

We've still got some pork chops and some of the fattier pork cuts which I'll use for Saté and making bean stews so I'll have a look in the freezer and make some casseroles from whatever I find there for bottling because now that the cold weather has really set in (It was -8° this morning) we've lit the woodstove.

15 November 2007

The good news and the bad news...

Well the good news is that our 450 watts of solar panels and the 2kw wind generator have arrived.

The bad news is that Guy, Fabrice's uncle died yesterday morning.

Those of you who know us well know that this is news that we've been expecting for some time, but somehow when it finally happened it was a bit of a shock.

Guy has been completely dependant on us for a number of years. He survived cancer of the colon but he never really got his appetite back and he had a lot of problems associated with his digestion. He was blind and unable to walk, talk or feed himself and had Alzheimer's disease which made his behaviour more and more difficult to manage.

We cared for him in his own home a few minute's walk from us, where he lived with his sister who is slightly mentally handicapped. Although they were brother and sister they acted like an old couple and Christiane is going to miss Guy a lot.

The past few years have been a real roller coaster for him health-wise - he's been in and out of hospital dozens of times. The last time was for a lung infection and unfortunately he stayed immobilsed for about ten days and developed bed sores which became infected and ironically, finally, that's what killed him.

Yesterday morning he looked so peaceful.

We're all very sad to have lost Guy but we know that his going is a blessed release.


8 November 2007

Rutland wind generators and reliability - our experience

Two little windgenerators on the hill at BourrouAt the moment, we've 2 small Rutland 910s wind generators. One is 15 years old. I bought it as a winter back-up to four small solar panels I used when I first went off-grid. The other (A Furlmatic) is 7 years old. They're rated at 75 watts each, but of course when the wind's really blowing they give us more - up to about 250watts.
The first Rutland I bought has been through hell – re-sited three times and damaged twice. The first time was my fault - I dropped the head (It was heavier than I imagined.) and damaged the bit the pales push into. It was easy to fix, but left the unit with a slight rattle. Rutland wind generator in the snow

The second time it was damaged was during a terrible storm in 1999 which destroyed homes and forests all over Europe. The Furlmatic sailed through the storm with no ill effects, but we had twenty four metre roofing sheets stacked and covered and weighted down in front of the generators and the wind was so strong that it whipped them off one by one. Several sheets were forced around the mast of the old 910 and pushed it to the ground. When we went out to see it the next day three of the pales were broken and the head was bent and the back fin was damaged.

We got replacement blades and a new fin from Marlec – delivered in under a week – and we unbent the head and pulled the mast back up with the tractor and the bloomin' thing still gives the same output as before - but rattles even louder !

One of our Rutland 910 windgenerators

For the money (around 700 euros each) and the reliability and availability of spare parts, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Rutland 910 series as a small low cost wind generator - especially as a complement to photovoltaic solar power.

This is an update to this post in the blog. I've just come across a PDF of a Rutland owners manual so HERE's the link.

I’ve been looking for a larger turbine for a few months now. I’d love to be able to have a washing machine here. We’ve 600 watts of solar (450 more coming on Sunday !) but I need at least another 1000 watts to ensure that on a sunny windy day I can get my washing done without leaving the house and still have the luxury of a computer, television and good lighting for the evening.

With "Make your mind up time" looming nearer, (We're going to need lights for working on the inside of the extension this winter and we need to get the cabling done and decide where to site all the material before we go any further on the east terrace outside) I was watching the price of some windchargers on Ebay and the sale of one of them finished around 4pm. At 2.30pm, we had an unexpected visit from a man who stopped off here once - to see our windgenerators - about two years ago.

He's a very shy geeky little man who asked Fabrice technical questions that I answered and undaunted, he kept up the conversation on that basis. His general manner takes a little getting used, to but we stated talking about his system and I showed him and explained the working of ours and little by little he and I started making contact.

With electricity, Fabrice leaves all the design and technical stuff to me, but he'll help me wiring and lifting which is all that a girl can ask for really. It's very exciting having someone who lives nearby like this man, he knows about the things I know about and want to learn more about, that I've never, ever talked to anyone else about in person.

He suddenly stood up to leave and asked if he could take our old 600 watt inverter away that I'd mentioned earlier, adding that he might be able to fix it. Now, I'm desperate to see his workshop and learn more about fixing and making generators, it would be great not to have to worry about getting spare parts.

I smelt serendipity and this felt like an omen. He left just minutes before the Ebay sale ended, so I got on line quickly and bought the 2000 watt windgenerator and it's coming with the panels on Sunday - if all my plans work out OK.

I'm very excited - Fabrice is even showing signs of anticipation, but there's still a lot of work to do digging trenches, wiring, putting the panels and generator up and humphing around batteries, controllers and making things to keep things in etc. before we'll be able to try it out.

I've spent about six months researching which generator to buy and how to buy it (There are grants in France for Renewable energy projects). I'd like to share that information with other people thinking of doing the same thing, but I'll have to do some work on getting it all together before it's a presentable post in the blog...

I do miss having a secretary.

7 November 2007

We've eight new Geese

Geese 1

These were intensive breeding geese, past their useful lives and sold cheaply (We paid 24 euros for eight) or discarded because they're not worth selling for their meat.

Their feathers are growing back in and they look much cleaner than they were when they came. Two of them have Angel Wing probably caused by over-rich feeding and not enough exercise, but they're all healthy and we'll save the best ones for breeding in the Spring.

Tonight they went into their shed with just a little coaxing from me and Max.

5 November 2007

Fiddling about with 2D 12v low energy lighting

I love nice lighting, but unfortunately, the choice of fittings and decor in low energy consumption lighting is still quite limited.

12v 2D Leisure lights from MarlecI bought three of these units from Marlec Engineering eight years ago, along with several replacement tubes which I haven't had to use yet. They do the job and can light up a whole room, but last week I decided to buy covers for them which give off a nicer diffused light and are much prettier than the original utilitarian square plastic box.

12v 2D innards by hardworkinghippyI took a chance and bought them without measuring the lights and fortunately the 2D tube plus the electrical components fit, but I had to cut off the edges with a hacksaw to get the square box into the round cover.

I rewired the unit, replacing the wires (2.5mm cable which is very difficult to work with and guaranteed to break nails!) with slightly longer pieces long enough to enable them to go round the outside of the box. When you're working with DC (Direct Current) you must ensure that the cable size is big enough to prevent losses along the length of the cable. Here is a Cable size Calculator to help you determine the size you'll need for your own installation.

Rewiring a 2D 12 volt unit powered by solar energy Then I made some small holes with a red hot screwdriver in the plastic to correspond with the fitting holes in the cover unit, so the screws supported the two together.

Up the ladder again, I screwed the unit into place securely and pushed the feed cable through a side hole so that everything laid flat to the ceiling and connected the wires using a "chocolate" block. I tested the light, then went back up the ladder with the glass cover and gently fiddled with it until it slotted into place then I tightened up the last screw and it was done.

hardworkinghippy and 12v solar lightingLights on again et voila!

We have three of these lights - one in the kitchen, the hall and the main bedroom. They consume only 12 watts and give off enough light for working and looking for things. Most of the other lights in the house are low consumption LEDs which don't give off a lot of light, but they "open up" a room and are lovely for mood lighting.

This week, I'm working on another old spotlight which I've bought LEDs for to replace the 12v halogen, so I'll post some information on that, plus some other examples of our LED lighting soon.

THIS site will tell you how and where - depending on your post code - to dispose of your low energy lights (220W or 12v) safely.

4 November 2007

Me at Home Farm with one of our rabbits and a red bra

I've just been looking through some old photographs of rabbits, keeping my mind off the bigger issues around me and simply amusing myself classifying my life.

I've had a lovely day planting bulbs, watering the cuttings and newly planted bits and bobs and helping Max herd round our new geese. We got eight mature layers for 24€ and we'll make sure their last days are happy ones.

We've kept them inside their pen (my toolshed comes in handy again!) for two days and I let them out this morning for the first time - alone. Fabrice left early to hunt deer and on hunting Sundays, I do whatever I want - which is exactly what I do most of the time to be honest.

Normally, we manage new stock together because animals are often confused and stressed coming to a new place and it's easier and safer if there are two of us. Frankly, I felt sorry for the geese, so I opened the door, Max panicked when a goose attacked him and within seconds they headed straight into the pond. They must have read my mind.

These geese have never seen a pond before and they were in a terrible state - but after spending almost all morning in the pond splashing and cleaning themselves, they looked great outside in the field - but I forgot to take my camera...

Rabbits - I used to keep rabbits.

I had about forty or so at one point - too many really, but they are easy to breed but really like to be clean and you have to manage the males and move them around a lot, but if you've enough food for them it's well worthwhile.

One summer it was really hot and over a period of about a month all of them died. I was heartbroken.

3 November 2007

Some of the shelters we've built for our animals - with slideshow

This show takes a little while to load, but it's a nice way to show you some of the animal shelters we've built over the past few years.

We both love building small projects like this and we're very lucky to have all the wood we need on site, so sheds don't cost a lot - perhaps a favour for some old chicken netting from a neighbour and some hard cash for nails, screws, roofing and guttering.

Where there's a shed there's compost and at the end of each slope we put a gutter to catch water which we use for the animals and for the plants nearby. So around each shed there's potential to use these resources without having to move them too far and the areas around the sheds become very rich and fertile. The chickens clean up wonderfully around the sheds and people don't really believe me when I say hardly ever need to weed - but it's true.

You can change the speed of the slideshow on the top of the screen...

I can hardly wait until a shed's finished to start planting round it. Climbers are lovely to soften the edges of sheds and they also provide useful shade for the animals and shelter and nests for the wildlife around. They are also very beautiful and the perfume from the Star Jasmine on the West side of the chicken shed has to be the most wonderful reason ever for digging a hole and putting a plant in it.

2 November 2007

A dead Barn Owl's feet

The feet of a dead barn Owl

This poor thing was probably hit by a car, he was too beautiful to bury straight away so I looked at him a lot to get to know him a bit better. I've never seen one up so close before.

I took a few photographs too - macabre maybe, but at least he had a decent burial.

Knitting socks with wool from our goats on a single bed knitting machine

This is a pattern for a size 5 (38) pair of socks made on a Singer Chunky machine. They can also be made on a Bond or a Superba machine. They take about an hour to make - with no interruptions.

Starting angora socks on the machineKnit 60 sts in rib either by hand or on a ribber machine.
Knit both socks at the same time

Put 36 of the stitches from each rib onto a chunky machine folding the rest over as in the photo
Tension 5 knit enough rows to cover a foot and an ankle
Tension 6 add reinforcing yarn - cotton or acrylic

Angora socksKnit two rows
Push one outside needle out on each side and knit back and forth
Repeat until you've pushed in six needles on each side

One by one, start pushing the needles back in again knitting back and forth before pushing in the next one.

Angora socksRepeat until you've all the needles back in place.
Knit 38 rows
Then repeat the same process, but this time for only five needles

Then turn your tension to 2 and knit two rows
Turn your tension up each two rows until it’s back to 6
Knit enough to match the rest of the rib

Turn the work round (for a really professional finish)

Put the rest of the rib on.
Do one row at tension 12 then cast off.
Knit up the edges of the socks by hand.

Really comfortable and hard-wearing angora socks from hardworkinghippy in France
Here's the finished sock, brushed to bring out the soft hairs of the angora wool on the inside. (Toe wriggling becomes something approaching heaven!)

I also brush on the top part for boot socks because it looks nice and keeps your ankles warm.