26 September 2008

Opened the chickens early this morning

The sun was streaming on to the garden and everything was covered with dew - it was just beautiful. This black Marans chicken looked amazing with her red comb glowing in the sun and that long shadow.

No doubt she was waiting to see if I'd brought anything tasty for her.

Ready for the chop

Ready for the chop, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

At this time of the year I pick my vegetables quickly because they rot easily later in the season and get them eaten or chopped up and cooked as quickly as possible. Now's the time to get everything ready for winter so these vegetables were sterilised to conserve them.

I made five .35 litre and two .75 litre jars from 8 kilos of veg. I reduced the sauce a lot to thicken it, (That way I use fewer jars and there's no point in storing water!) then when I open each jar I rinse it out with some water and add that to the sauce.

The smaller jars are enough for two people and make a quick meal poured on to pasta and sprinkled with cheese or used as a sauce to complement a small amount of left-over meat. The nice thing about having loads of these jars in stock in your cellar is you know they'll taste great, you can feed a lot of people quickly without too much stress and to prepare a good meal all you need to do is heat everything up - this is the nearest we'll ever get to a take-away.

I've posted a lot about conserving food in this way, if you click on the "storing food" link below, you'll see other posts where the process is described in detail.

21 September 2008

While I was away on my Permaculture Design Course, somebody cleaned my woodstove with soapy water!!

In the summer we tend to use the woodstove as a work surface. It gets filled up pretty quickly - as do all the other surfaces in our house.

As we were expecting a lot of visitors this weekend I gave the house a dust and when I cleared all the pots and pans, gardening gloves, scissors and other stuff off the top of the cooker I realised that it had started to go rusty!

Woodstoves are made of cast iron and they need to be kept dry and over the years we've just got into the habit of not putting anything damp or wet on the cooking surface. It doesn't matter when the cooker's lit - the heat soon causes the moisture to evaporate but in the summer the stove is vulnerable unless it's covered and checked regularly or unless everyone is aware that moisture can be a problem for the metal.

When the warmer days come in spring and the stove is on its last few firings, I coat the surface with oil and rub it into the joints and round the handles to protect them.

To start getting the top back to it's former glory I rubbed gently with a bit of wire wool on the areas which were starting to bubble, then scrubbed beeswax into the top and joints. I need to light it soon to make sure the wax seeps into all the joints and the rust doesn't spread. I'll do that while this warmish spell keeps up because I'll have to keep the windows and doors open to get rid of the smoke and smell of the burning wax.

Once the stove's back to normal I'll start dying some yarn, bake a bit of bread, and do some sterilising because I'm just too mean to use gas for those sort of things. I can't wait to get on with it!

17 September 2008

We got some new piglets on Saturday!

12 September 2008

I've totally lost control of all this growth

Everything's everywhere - and this is just the way I like it!
These are some photos of the new bit of garden I started about two years ago. There are also some photos looking towards the older part of the garden where most of our summer veg is. I've replaced potatoes and onions with marrows for the pigs and I might get a decent crop if the good weather and rain keep up.

Loofas growing on a tent frame
Annual climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love-In-A-Puff, Balloon Vine, HeartSeed, Winter Cherry

My weird jungle garden, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

Building our extension - the progress in September

This is looking east to the pond which we dug for the rainwater from the house. When we've finished building the exterior of the house and using the space as a workshop area, we'll extend the pond and use the clay for covering the straw inside the house.

This is what the extension looks like at the moment. It's very square and chunky and even now I can see that the idea that we had of making something which is big on the inside and looks small from the outside is going to work.

Once this face of the house has it's own terrace and has been clothed in plants and the existing trees around it are underplanted with shrubs the mass of the building will disappear into the undergrowth.

The next important step of the work is tying the top of the building together ready for covering it before winter then making sure that the roof is constructed in exactly the right shape to fit in with the rest of the building - respecting the style of other old farmhouses in the region.

We're been trying for months to find a good roofer to help Fabrice do this part - but here in rural France that's easier said than done of course !

11 September 2008

Bags of Angora goat fleece on the terrace

We'd just sheared a friend's Angoras.

These bags are a constant reminder that we have to get on and do ours while the weather's good....

7 September 2008

Damp and drizzly garden update


I meant to do a posting about the Permaculture course I was on a couple of weeks ago but of course, life's not like that. It took me ages to "reclaim" my kitchen, sort out the garden, catch up with paperwork (Did I ever tell you that I'm Fabrice's secretary?) and just spend time with the animals. We've had loads of visitors and lots of late nights and laughs and spending time on the 'net just hasn't been possible.

I also seem to have lost the knack of taking photos, maybe it's because by the time I feel like getting out my camera the light's gone and this rainy weather hasn't helped a lot either.

One of my delights when I came back was to see how fast the loofahs have grown up the tent frame and when I looked closer I realised I have about eight which are already a good usable size. My plan is to use them as scrubbers for the kitchen and bathrooms instead of buying those spongy things - one less thing we have to buy when we go out shopping ! I can even dye them different colours and if I've enough they'll make lovely presents.

The other thing in the garden which is doing really well is Sweet Peppers. I bought a few plants early in the season and sowed far too many seeds all of which have been keeping us in peppers all summer and there will be enough to do quite a few jars for winter.

The Aubergines are ripe and we've been eating them for a while too, but they really need more heat to produce a second crop - like the tomatoes which are taking too long to ripen, although we usually manage to get a handfull every day for a salad and when there's more I make a meal based on them.

My prettiest Peppers are these black ones which I bought as young plants - they're so shiny and even black and unripe they taste quite sweet.

I also have two bought plants of another very early variety which must have produced at least 40 fruits per plant and they're still growing well. (The photo below was taken in mid-July) I imagine they're both F1 hybrids though and the seeds will be sterile - I must find that out from our neighbour Yan who sells spices on the markets and was kind enough to bring me back these very early plants as soon as he saw them for sale. I really miss my little greenhouse for starting off things - I'll sort something out for next year I hope.

Let's hope it stays fine for a while tomorrow...

This is an update to let you see how our Loofahs turned out.

I finally got about 13 decent sized Loofahs and gave some away to friends to let them clean the loofah out themselves - that way they get to keep the seeds.

Cleaning them out takes time and patience. It consists of cutting the ends off the loofah, then wetting it and squeezing it gently to get the fleshy insides out along with the seeds - pushing them gently to the ends until they plop out.

Some people wait until much later in the season when the loofahs are completely dry but I was very impatient and I've still got a few hanging on the vines which I'll experiment with after Christmas.

After they were empty of all the stuff inside them and the seeds were all removed, I washed them well and left them to dry naturally. You can bleach them but I like the natural colour and my septic tank doesn't like bleach!

I dyed a few but I've misplaced the photos and given the ones I dyed away as presents.

I'm very pleased with them and have a few around the house for wiping around the bath and washbasins and scrubbing myself with in the shower and a good few left over to last me for quite some time.

I intended to use them to do the dishes but after a couple of weeks they tend to collect bits of food and rot quite quickly so I think I'll give up on that idea.