25 December 2009

Season's Greetings !

Winter has really set in here in the Dordogne. We've had a few days of snow and some very low temperatures, then a week or so of constant rain and with the coming of the depths of winter some very dark afternoons - and no solar power.

Today - Christmas Day - it's a really beautiful sunny day and a reminder that at this time of the year, the passage from darkness to light begins !

Yuletide greetings to you all.

21 November 2009

Fabrice fixing the solar panels on the roof

We've been really busy recently and I just haven't had the time to blog but I just had to share this with you.

We've just added another 450 watts of solar to our array just in time for the solstice !

I'll do a longer post soon showing how we did it.

28 October 2009

The Red Cockerel had lost his tail feathers

He's been fighting - so it's time to cull the young cockerels for the pot !

8 October 2009

Chickens feasting on the Amaranthus Gangeticus (Elephant Head Amaranthus)

This summer has been another extremely dry one - with a lot of very hot days up until a few days ago when the temperature outside was 30°C. There's very little grass anywhere and we've been supplementing the sparse grazing for our sheep and goats with hay for the past few weeks. The geese are going further and further away from their normal circuit to find something to eat and we've been giving them extra corn to keep them in condition and build up their fat reserves for winter.

With the lack of fresh vegetation around, I suppose it's inevitable that the chickens have started pecking food in the vegetable plot which they normally leave alone. A week ago they started eating the remaining courgettes and then pecked away the leaves until each plant has almost disappeared.

I don't mind them eating the courgettes, everyone is fed up with them anyway and they're hard and tasteless at this time of the year especially since it's been so dry.

The chickens normally start to peck the veg towards the end of October when there's very little for them to eat after a hot summer but this year they've started early, snipping off the lower leaves of the sweet peppers and Aubergines when they're still plenty of fruit left on them. I've noticed them pecking the new growth of Globe artichokes, they've even started to peck out the Foxgloves and they've almost totally destroyed the leeks I planted a few weeks weeks ago !

Thankfully, I had a lot of Amaranthus self seed last year and this variety "Elephant head" have been really rich and beautiful this year growing alongside Cleome Spinosa which also self seeds freely. The chickens love the Amaranthus, so I've started pulling up a plant or two to let them eat the leaves and seed heads. They peck away furiously at each one for about two days until there's nothing left but the stalks.

I'll keep giving them a few plants each week to give them something to squabble over and keep them of mischief until the rain (hopefully) encourages the grass and weeds to appear - and I mustn't forget to save a few seeds for myself for planting next year.

3 October 2009

Seed saving and two of my favourite annual climbers

Seeds of the annual climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThis is exactly the right time to collect seeds from your favourite plants from your own or other people's gardens. That's what I've been doing a lot of this week.

Aren't these big seeds with a little heart really sweet? They're from a lovely annual climber with an interesting name, Cardiospermum halicacabum (Sometimes called Love in a Puff or Balloon Vine).

I got my original seeds a couple of years ago from some friends who run Rose Cottage Plants. I planted four which did really well and since then I've gathered the best seeds to give away, to plant and to save.

climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThe plant climbs to about two metres, gives a light feathery shade and the tiny white flowers produce green seed cages. I grow them in various spots around the garden especially where a dark background can show them off to their best advantage. It's classed as a noxious weed in some parts of the United States of America but here in France the plant self seeds rarely and is very easy to keep under control.

As well as being pretty, this plant's useful because it's leaves are edible and I often nip off a few to add to salads and use them to decorate dishes - in the hope that the more varied our diet is, the better our bodies will be able to look after themselves. Here are some of the medicinal uses of the plant.

The whole plant is diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, laxative, refrigerant, rubefacient, stomachic and sudorific. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, nervous diseases, stiffness of the limbs and snakebite. The leaves are rubefacient, they are applied as a poultice in the treatment of rheumatism. A tea made from them is used in the treatment of itchy skin. Salted leaves are used as a poultice on swellings. The leaf juice has been used as a treatment for earache. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, laxative and rubefacient. It is occasionally used in the treatment of rheumatism, lumbago and nervous diseases.

For more information on growing and using this plant see the Plants For A Future database.

Cheeky little Black-eyed Susan seedsAnother climbing plant which has a fascinating, cheeky little seed is the Black Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata). It's normally grown as an annual in northern climes but it's a perennial native to tropical Africa where it can grow up to 20 feet.

With regular watering, the plant grows very fast in France. If it's well supported it can climb up to two metres and one plant can easily cover a square metre, so it's useful for quick cover. It flowers from June until the first frosts and I've used it for an effective screen to hide the water butts in front of our chicken shed.

The Thunbergia is also available in white and the beautiful Blushing Susie - a lovely pinky/orange colour but I've found that the yellow is much more vigorous and produces flowers more profusely and for much longer than the white and orange varieties.

There's a lot more information about this plant in THIS African plant site. Where I got this information :

Medicinally it is used for skin problems, cellulitis, back and joint pains, eye inflammation, piles and rectal cancer. Gall sickness and some ear problems in cattle are also treated with this plant.

NB. Some people can get contact dermatitis from it.

Click HERE if you'd like to see a slideshow of the Black Eyed Susan growing on the screen throughout the year.

2 October 2009

Using Quinori - and a recipe I want to share

QuinoriIn the summer there's so much to eat that we really are spoiled for choice.

Rather than eat heavy meals with meat I prefer not to cook the new peppers, sweet tomatoes and crunchy lettuce, shallots, new carrots, chives or whatever else I can find but eat them raw tossed in vinaigrette and a little salt.

From the middle of summer until the start of the hunting season we tend to eat mainly vegetarian food. It seems to fit in with the rhythm of the seasons when the body doesn't need so much protein and the sun goes with every meal eaten outdoors.

Once Autumn comes, it's good to have recipes which use garden vegetables but perhaps we need the addition of pulses - a little bit more protein to help prepare us for winter. I'm not one for recipes, tending to just make up as I go along or use tried and tested recipes with variations according to the ingredients we have - but this is worth passing on.

I saw this packet in our local bio shop in Villamblard and although it's a bit more expensive (3.15€ for 500g) that plain quinoa it has chick peas, rice and sesame seeds in it too. I'd spent a long time talking to the owner of the shop and wanted to buy a bit more than I had, so I though I'd try it. This dish takes about 25 minutes preparation then another few minutes under the grill.
Vegetables from the garden
Stir-fry the veg, adding them to the pan in this order:
Two small carrots
1 Aubergine
2 small courgettes
small chunk of fresh ginger sliced finely
2 long small sweet peppers
1 small onion
A few cashew nuts is nice too and crushed garlic can be added and stirred in after the cooking process is finished

I used about 70g of Quinori and cooked it in water for about 7 minutes then drained it and put it at the bottom of a fire-proof dish.

While everything is still piping hot, slide the veg on top of the quinoa, dribble a couple of beaten eggs into the dish then place a few tomatoes cut in half. Top it off by sprinkling some grated cheese and a big pinch of herbes de Provence and put the dish under the grill.

Dish made with Quinori and mixed vegetablesQuick, cheap and cheerful dishes like this are useful and this was one of the best we've had. I think what makes this dish special is to not overcook the vegetables - especially the carrots and add each ingredient to a wok cooking on a fast heat.

I've since used a tiny amount Quinori with just aubergines and a few red peppers as a starter in small individual dishes and all our guests asked what it was that made the dish nutty, not too "bulky" and very tasty.

A small packet goes a very long way and should keep well, so that's another useful addition to the larder.

21 September 2009

Red Sunflowers are so pretty !

Red Sunflowers, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

18 September 2009

Life after Parvivirus - Didi is recovering well.

Apart from still being a bit tired and still a bit on the thin side, she's almost back to her old self playing with the other dogs.

13 September 2009

Didi comes home from the vets after Parvo - spaced out but OK

One of our miniature Dachshunds, Didi was was very of colour last weekend. She wouldn't eat and looked depressed so on Monday morning we took her to the vet and she was diagnosed with Parvo canine parvovirus.

She spent four days the veterinary hospital where she was on an intevenous drip while the disease ran its course. She's skinny and tired but this weekend she looks much better and we hope she'll be OK.

I've never come across Parvo before - this is the first time any of our dogs have ever been ill but in just a few hours Didi changed from being a bouncy playful little dog always full of energy with a constant "smile" to being tired and although she didn't make any noise she looked as though she was in pain.

While she was at the vet I found out as much as I could about Parvo. It's a viral disease that attacks the lining of the intestinal tract, bone marrow and immune system of dogs. The virus normally causes vomiting (Didi's was a frothy yellow vomit), diarrhoea (usually foul-smelling and often with traces of blood), lethargy, depression, dehydration, high fever/chill and sudden death. Apparently, pups are more vulnerable to Parvo than adult dogs but even fully-vaccinated dogs, can die from Parvo.

Didi was put on a drip because dehydration is often cause of death with the Parvovirus, after the diarrhoea and vomiting. We were very lucky to have called the vet so quickly because without treatment, 80% of dogs who contract the virus die within a few days.

There's some very good information about how dogs can contract the virus and how to identify symptoms and treat infected dogs in the WORKING DOGS site.

In that site I found out that some breeds of dog are more susceptible than others. For some reason, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and other black and tan breeds are especially prone to Parvo, and seem to succumb to parvo faster and with less chance of recovery than any other breed. If you have one of these breeds, it's even more important to make certain your puppy or dog gets immunized properly.

All our dogs have now seen the vet, they have a clean bill of health and their vaccinations are up to date, so let's hope that all's well on the doggy front for some time to come.

9 September 2009

The French government has approved the use of Stevia !

Good news today !

I've taken this information from Food Navigator. More detailed information is available in the link below.

The French government has approved the use of stevia sweeteners with 97 per cent purity rebaudioside A (Reb A), officially opening up the first EU market for products containing the much-anticipated ingredient.

While full EU approval for stevia sweeteners is still dependent on a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), France has taken advantage of window that allows individual member states to approve ingredients for a limited two year period.

The approval, published yesterday in France’s official journal, has been hotly anticipated by the industry since AFSSA, the French food agency, issued a positive safety opinion earlier this year.

The application for France was made by Greensweet. General manager Joël Perret told FoodNavigator.com: “This is very good news. It is the first opening for this type of ingredient in the EU market”.

The global sweetener market for food use was valued at US$1.83bn in 2007 by Leatherhead Food International. The intense sweeteners market is dominated by aspartame and, to a lesser extent, sucralose. However interest in food ingredients from natural sources has led some to consider that the stevia plant could provide ‘the holy grail’ of sweeteners.

Reb A is one of the major steviol glycosides found in the leaf of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar but has no calories, making it an attractive option for manufacturers catering to the market for foods and beverages with reduced, low or no sugar.

More information HERE

6 September 2009

Red cabbages are so beautiful

30 August 2009

The tomato blight is under control !

Sweet peppers and tomatoesWe've been lucky - either the hot weather or the Bordeaux mix has stopped the blight from taking hold and we're getting good crops of tomatoes from the plot. The capsicums and aubergines are doing well too and I've lifted my onions. So as well as eating lovely fresh salads and tasty Provençal dishes, every week we've enough veg to store in sterilised jars for the winter.

Ratatouille is often my choice because it's quick and easy. The smell and taste of it bottled is almost as good as freshly made and it's good for couscous, adding to a stew or to eat just on it's own. I simply stir fry all the ingredients in batches then put them together in a huge pan and reduce the water content by simmering then put them into Kilner or Le Parfait jars and sterilise them for 30 minutes.

Rocket stove for cooking and water heatingAt this time of the year we clear out the freezer. The ice melts quickly and the freezer dries properly ready to be filled again with our own meat and winter game. I use up all last year's meat to mix with the summer veg to make stews and curries and this week I've made a few batches of bolognaise sauce.

Reducing tomatoes and the long slow cooking needed to make a really good bolognaise sauce takes a lot of time and a lot of gas so we rigged up a cooking plate on the rocket stove with a simple chimney leading the flames towards our back boiler in the fireplace so while we're cooking we also get hot water.

We normally use tree branches as fuel but at the moment, we've thousands of light, clean, dry corn cobs lying outside. (We grow a couple of hectares a year for animal feed.).

A dozen pots of Bolognaise sauce sterilised ready for the cellarWe've been using them in the rocket stove with really good results. With one bucket of cobs we slowly reduced 7 kilos of tomatoes (four hours) and now there's enough water for a bath !

I usually to make a dozen or so jars a week of garden veg in August and September because there's not an awful lot to do outside and it's hot here in August !. So we can have "ready meals" two or three times a week throughout the year without having to buy veg or spend too much time cooking - which suits me just fine !

22 August 2009

Harvesting and storing Stevia

Ian and Luis have just reminded me that I haven't mentioned in my Stevia posts how to save the leaves for winter use. Stevia leaves can be used fresh, or dried and saved like any other herb such as one of my favourite teas Lemon Verbena (in French Verveine citronnelle).

To harvest Stevia, you can simply cut the complete branch and hang it up upside down somewhere dry and airy and within a week or so the leaves will be ready to take off the plant.

Pinching out SteviaI find that method a bit messy because the leaves can get dusty and hanging herbs seem to be favourite spots for spiders to spin their webs, so I prefer to cut off a small branch now and then and remove the leaves one by one at their base with my fingernails.

Pinching out the plant in the growing season will make it bushier as two new shoots will develop at each side of the growing point. You can then use the rest of the stalk to make a cutting to pass on to someone else. Towards the end of the growing season cut down the whole plant in the same way to prepare it for overwintering.

Dryin SteviaOnce you've a small batch of leaves, put them into an open paper bag and hang the bag up in a basket somewhere dry and airy. From time to time - about every three or four days to begin with - shake and tumble the leaves to make sure that they're drying evenly. If you've forgotten all about it and the leaves show any signs of going mouldy, throw them away.

When the leaves are completely dry they'll be crisp and can easily be crushed by hand or ground into a fine green powder. You can use a fine mesh sieve to separate the leaf stalks if you prefer. Once you're Stevia's ready it can be stored in small airtight jars. Be careful not to use too much - a tiny pinch of the powder goes a very long way !

Taking cuttings, growing, harvesting and saving Stevia isn't complicated in small quantities and for a household, just one well-grown pot plant contains a huge quantity of sweetener. It's no wonder then, that the sugar industry with their "Roundup ready" Sugar Beet and "Almost Roundup Ready" Cane sugar is nervous about the "safety" of Stevia - despite the fact that the controversial sweetener Aspartume seems perfectly acceptable for licensing as a food additive.

Lots of different kinds of food taste good naturally and there's no real need to add anything - but a fresh tomato with a bit of salt or new potatoes with freshly ground black pepper are real treats and adding some honey or Stevia to a cake or a rhubarb tart is a delightful ways of using nature's bounty to the full.

18 August 2009

The best conditions for Stevia cuttings

Stevia cuttings rooted in waterI've been experimenting with Stevia cuttings, using different mediums, taking them at different times of the year and at different phases of the moon. I must have taken over 100 cuttings over the past couple of years and the very best results I've ever had have been in rainwater, in shade, outside, in August and September.

After taking the cutting of about 12cms (4 or 5 inches) remove the bottom leaves for drying then put them immediately into water. Mist them from time to time.

This is a photo of one of the seven of my latest batch of twelve cuttings which produced roots after only 14 days in water. The photo was taken on the day of the full moon on the 6th of August. The plant is now growing well in a pot and was last seen hitching a ride to the north of France...

16 August 2009

Beautiful Araneus diadematus spider web in the garden

We rarely see big spider webs as beautiful as this one. We've has been watching the progress of it's reconstruction ever since I inadvertently broke it when I walked past it - or rather through it - when I was in the garden. Ever since, I've walked round it, encouraging the dogs to do the same because it's such a shame to destroy such a beautiful structure.

In reality, we needn't have worried, because according to Wikipedia This is an Orb Weaver spider (So called because of the wheel-shaped spiral webs they build.) and these spiders are said to eat their webs each night along with many of the small insects stuck to it. They then spin a shiny brand new web in the morning. These wonderful webs are built by the larger females who usually lie head down on the web waiting for prey to get entangled in it. The insect is then captured and wrapped in silk.

The spider isn't aggressive and will only bite if provoked but the venom isn't dangerous to humans. The much smaller male is obliged to approach the female very cautiously in order to mate as he risks being eaten by her.

There is more information about this spider and some amazing photographs (Especially the close-ups.) in Nic's Spiders

I was curious to find out a bit more about the geometry of the construction of the web as I remembered that the spider's web is a forex trading term - a golden section indicator which looks like a spiders web and is used as a key to stock market behaviour. (Presumably Peak Oil means that someone somewhere now has to do redo the whole thing!) I started a foray into economics and geometry then spotted this phrase : The epeira spider spins its web into a logarithmic spiral. ... which is composed of three bones in Golden Section to one another and takes the spiral shape of... Which led me to this this link (After a lot of barking up the golden mean tree) on the Geometry of the Epeira's Web Isn't the internet an amazing tool ? Imagine how much time and effort it would have taken to get this information from books !

It's fascinating to learn more about the world of wild creatures but first you have to identify them ! So my thanks to Kathy and Karunia in The France Forum who helped me find out that this is the common European garden spider Araneus diadematus and it's name in French is Epeire Diademe.

13 August 2009

Late Tomato blight strikes again this year

Green Beefheart Tomatoes, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

I've hardly commented on how the vegetable garden is doing this year but - apart from tomatoes - things are coming along nicely and we should have enough vegetables to eat fresh and to store to last us all year.

I say apart from tomatoes because although we've a had a few kilos of early tomatoes, I've noticed the dreaded late blight rear it's ugly head and I'm hanging on in there hoping that the precautions I'm taking help to delay the onset of the disease just long enough for me to harvest our main crop.

Over the past couple of years we've had a problem with tomato blight, a fungal disease spread by spores in the atmosphere. The disease is highly contagious and although I've noticed that some varieties like Brandywine resist blight slightly longer all tomatoes succumb in the end and there is no cure for blight.

It's so annoying because I plant a lot of tomatoes and really look forward to getting a good crop which we use almost every day for salads throughout the summer and have loads left over to purée into tomato sauce and add to ratatouille which I bottle and keep in the cellar for the winter.

Late blight is caused by Phytophthora infestans an oomycete or water mould. (Early blight, caused by Alternaria solani, is usually called "potato blight".) Late blight was the major culprit in the devastating 1845 Irish and 1846 Highland potato famines.

The spread of the infection is most rapid during conditions of high moisture and moderate temperatures. It's spread by the wind or by rain splashing the spores on to the plants. Once the blight really takes hold the leaves, stems and even the tomatoes themselves go brown and the whole plant withers and dies. It spreads rapidly, devastating a crop in a few days.

The first year I saw blight I took the brown leaves off and burned then - composting them spread the disease. That stopped it for a while and my early season tomatoes ripened well. Later into summer - with a rainy and cool August the bottom leaves of all the the plants curled and started to have brown mottled patches.

I don't like putting anything on my plants so I decided to cut my losses and ripped them all up and burned them plus their wooden stakes in the fire and sterilised the metal electric fence posts to use again next year.

To try to prevent blight, I give my vegetables a very thick mulch to stop the earth splashing on them when it rains. I always water my tomatoes at ground level and never on the leaves. I plant tomatoes in full sun. This year we made a new raised bed using a hugelkultur bed and I decided to use it for growing tomatoes because almost all my existing garden has at some time or another had tomatoes on it and the new bed is tucked away behind trees and protected from the wind.

Last year for the first time I used Bordeaux mixture and it did help to delay the spread of the disease.

This year, I've sprayed the beautifully formed tomatoes once again hoping that they won't take long to get to to the stage when they start to go even slightly red and I can pick them and ripen them indoors. The blue haze on the plant isn't pretty and I have to forgo one of the garden's treats of being able to take a perfect ripe warm tomato from a plant and pop it straight into my moth - but needs must.

Although Bordeaux mixture is deemed suitable for organic growers, if it's used excessively (Hopefully once a year isn't "excessive"!) the Copper, it's principal ingredient, can lead to the destruction of beneficial organisms and cause an imbalance in the soil nutrients that probably reduce the ability of the organisms and the plants themselves to fight off disease naturally.

In that case, the truth of the saying "You are what you eat" leads me to believe that for the good of my own immune system, I should try to allow my vegetables to grow as naturally as possible and if they can't grow without my interference then I should replace them with something else.

That's very easy to say, but trying to replace tomatoes isn't going to be easy and for the time being I'll take my chances that nature will help me to restore the balance in the soil for the years to come.

4 August 2009

31 July 2009

Still working on the extension roof....

Making progress, slowly but surely.

Roof strutts go up

23 July 2009

Harvesting rain water

We have piped "town" water but in our area it's very expensive and smells of chlorine. I hesitate to use it even on my hair or when I'm washing or dying wool. I may be wrong but I have the impression that the chemicals used to kill the harmful bacteria in the drinking water aren't good for an organic vegetable garden, so I try to capture as much water as we possibly can to use where we need it.

Collection of containers for catching rain waterWhere there's a slope on the land or a roof there's the possibility of collecting rainwater and over the years we've created swales, ponds and drains and amassed quite a collection of barrels and water butts to contain this precious stuff. Buy buying, making or scrounging anything that will hold water we now have a capacity to stock around 12,000 litres in containers. Some of the containers have lasted for years others have failed us miserably. The cheap green ones we bought in a garden centre split after two years even out of the sun but we hope the new ones will last us for some time to come.

Our vegetable garden and the planted areas around our new house have increased dramatically over the past few years. Despite lavish mulching we still need a lot of water for our new fruit trees, shrubs and windbreak plants to keep them healthy and in some cases to keep them alive until they become established. Summers seem to be getting longer and hotter and water is becoming more and more a worry especially when, like us, we really need good crops in the veg plot to be able to feed ourselves all year round. We intend to increase our stockage capacity little by little until we're collecting enough rain water to never to have to use the hose from our taps.

Rain water collection behind a pig shedWe've built the house and almost all of the sheds at the top of our south facing garden and our system is very basic and gravity fed. Our chickens, geese and the goats and sheep are watered from the roof water and we've enough pressure to clean feeders, plant pots and even the pigs appreciate a shower !

Although we have composting toilets outside (and loads of trees!) we've flushing toilets inside the house and we have a terrible job to try to persuade visitors to use the outside loos or at least only flush when it's really necessary. (If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down.) The water in the septic tank isn't wasted - it waters the shrubs and trees on the shady slope behind the goat shed but it seems a shame to use drinking water to do that. So we're planning on directing some of the water from the roofs of the extension for use inside the house so that we can wash clothes inside the house and flush the toilets without spending a penny !

21 July 2009

Thanks !

Thanks to all of you who commented in the blog or contacted me personally about the wasp incident.

I'm fine now and it's almost business as usual except that I'm a bit more careful about getting stung. We've also decided to destroy wasp nests near the house - something we don't like doing but it makes me feel a lot happier.

10 July 2009

Frightening experience after a wasp sting - Anaphylactic reaction

This was one of the most frightening experiences I've ever had so I thought I'd tell you about it in my blog to spread the message about this potentially dangerous allergic reaction.

Asian Hornet nestOn Wednesday afternoon I was stung by a wasp. I didn't see the wasp itself but I think it was an Asian Hornet because I noticed that they had started building a nest just near our back door. I spend a lot of time outdoors and I've been stung a few times by wasps and bees and although it's a nuisance it's not normally something I'd worry too much about.

I immediately applied wasp-eze to help reduce the inevitable swelling in my arm then went back outside to carry on with what I was doing. A few minutes later, I suddenly felt very strange with crackling stars blinding my vision and a powerful feeling of my brain being "squashed" and I felt faint and very ill.

I sat in the kitchen with Fabrice thinking it was just shock and would pass. I got up with an urge to go to the toilet and my legs buckled under me, so Fabrice helped me to the loo and I sat for a few minutes waiting to "go" and vomit - to no avail.

My throat and tongue became swollen I couldn't breathe or move and slipped to the floor. My vision was poor, my heart was pumping very fast and my arms and legs felt very heavy and swelled dramatically. I had painful cramps like labour pains and my tongue, mouth and eyes became puffy and red.

Fabrice 'phoned the Pompiers and they came within minutes, made me comfortable and immediately gave me oxygen to help me breathe. The doctor came a few minutes later and gave me a intramuscular shot of adrenaline and antihistamines.

After half an hour my whole body became swollen and bright red and covered with itchy spots.

The doctor stayed for about an hour until my blood pressure was almost normal, the danger had passed and I could walk upstairs to bed.

Yesterday, I felt sore all over and today I'm still a bit swollen and shocked but I feel much better and I've been spending a while on the 'net finding out more about what happened.

Apparently, according to The Allergy Site I experienced a classic anaphylactoid reaction.

This is an extract taken from the Allergy Site.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction - the extreme end of the allergic spectrum. The whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the allergen but sometimes after hours. Peanut allergy and nut allergy are frequently severe and for that reason have received widespread publicity. Causes of anaphylaxis also include other foods, insect stings, latex and drugs, but on rare occasions there may be no obvious trigger.

An anaphylactic reaction is caused by the sudden release of chemical substances, including histamine, from cells in the blood and tissues where they are stored. The release is triggered by the reaction between the allergic antibody (IgE) with the substance (allergen) causing the anaphylactic reaction. This mechanism is so sensitive that minute quantities of the allergen can cause a reaction. The released chemicals act on blood vessels to cause the swelling in the mouth and anywhere on the skin. There is a fall in blood pressure and, in asthmatics, the effect is mainly on the lungs.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

* generalised flushing of the skin
* nettle rash (hives) anywhere on the body
* sense of impending doom
* swelling of throat and mouth
* difficulty in swallowing or speaking
* alterations in heart rate
* severe asthma
* abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
* sudden feeling of weakness (drop in blood pressure)
* collapse and unconsciousness

I found a useful pdf from the Resuscitation Council (UK) which gives advice on what to do in the case of Anaphylaxis.

Now, of course, I have to be more careful when I'm out in the garden ! Some of the things I looking at are wearing less colourful clothes, no perfume (not that I do!) and I have to go to the doctors this afternoon to get a prescription for an Epi-pen or Ana-Pen (A self-administered adrenaline shot) and some anti-histamines.

I've also read that it's possible to follow a course of desensitisation. I'll look into that more and add more to this blog after I've seen the doctor.


I've now got an Epi-pen or as it's called here : ANAHELP trousse d'urgence pour choc anaphylactique. My doctor also gave me some steroids - antihistamines - to take in the event of another sting.

I still feel slightly itchy and "floaty" so I'm not quite normal yet but I feel a lot more confident about working outside. I've told friends and neighbours that I'm allergic so that they'll know what to do in the event that I need their help and I'm trying to find out as much as I can about natural ways of dealing with Anaphylaxis.

6 July 2009

Dog update - the new Dachshunds

We've had two miniature Dachshunds for some years and they really are wonderful little dogs.

Bonnie a wire haired miniature Dachshund at 8 years oldBonnie is now eight years old. She was our first Dachshund and I have to admit that I never used to like this breed because when I was a student in Glasgow my landlady had a horde of smooth-haired dogs and when I came in late they "welcomed" me home yapping and biting at my long skirts and flares. I always dreaded putting my key in the door.

I've loved dogs all my life but this particular breed makes me very nervous and when Fabrice was invited by one of his hunting friends to go and see a litter I could see what was coming.

We came home with this little creature who looked more like a rat than a dog on the understanding that she'd be sterilised as soon as she was old enough. I regret that now because Bonnie has grown into a very interesting, intelligent little dog and her main rôle in life is hunting with Fabrice and tracking animals injured by hunters or by cars. She's fearless without being reckless and when she's tracking she never gives up.

Didi a Poodle Yorkie cross with her rabbitBonnie had been with us for about five years, when her friend, our old dog Didi, a miniature Poodle and Yorkshire Terrier cross, died. Bonnie missed Didi a lot and as we had fallen in love with the Dachshund temperament we decided to look for another "mini-wire".

We asked around, scoured the small ads and lists of breeders and discovered that finding a Miniature wired haired Dachshund (In French it's Teckel nain a poil dur) wasn't as easy as we thought it would be.

Didi a smooth wire haired miniature dachshundWe eventually found our dog who we called Didi III (Didi was the name of Fabrice's first dog.) Although she's a lovely dog and a great wee hunter she isn't a good example of her breed with her shortish hair and slightly bent legs. Like many Dachshunds, she also has the annoying trait of having a false pregnancy after she's been in season, so we don't intend to let her have puppies either.

We decided after Max and Judy died that we'd look for another Dachshund and we spread the word and started looking again at breeders lists. After a lot of e-mails, 'phone calls and visits to breeders to see pups, we got in contact with a couple who live about three hours from us who have bred long-haired Dachshunds for over 30 years and had recently bred a few wire haired pups from the berlioz de ker ki douar line.

The mother of our new pupsWe visited their farm and spent a few hours with the breeder, talking and being shown around and we were very impressed by the condition of all of their dogs and the cleanliness of the yard as well as their professionalism and willingness to answer questions.

Of course, the two pups available were adorable and their mother was bright eyed, calm and friendly and as you can see in the photo to the left, looked exactly like our Bonnie! Choosing between the pups was impossible so we had both !

For the moment, Bonnie and Didi are ignoring the pups, spending more time outside with our visitors than they do in the house which gives Pyke our Border Collie the chance to show them the ropes. He's responding so well to their company and the responsibility, it's a pleasure to see him finally growing up.

Our new Miniature wire haired Dachshund pups

Hurry up there's someone coming !As Angie pointed out I forgot to say what the pups names are !

Their kennel names are Ebony and Emine because dogs born this year have a name startin with "E" but we've decided to call the Honey coloured one Jessie and the darker one Judy but they don't know that yet !

3 July 2009

Notre système pour chauffer l'eau

Comme promis, pour mes amis français qui ne peut pas lire mon blog, voici une description de notre système pour chauffer l'eau.

Chez nous, nous avons une cuisinière, allumée en hiver pour faire la cuisine et elle chauffe toute la maison sans effort.

Mais, la cuisinière ne chauffe pas l'eau - sauf en petite quantité. Donc la solution pour avoir l'eau chaude était de se servir la cheminée.

Nous avons décidé d'utiliser une cheminée ouverte. Je sais, je sais bien que ce ne pas trop efficace vis à vis d'autres systèmes, mais je l'adore.

Nous l'utilisons pour l'élimination des déchets pour le séchage des bottes, chaussettes et champignons et pour faire la cuisine à notre façon.

A coté du feu, pouvons faire toutes sortes de choses comme sculpter un morceau de bois ou nettoyer les chaussures sans se soucier de salir la maison est la communication est plus facile et beaucoup plus douce à côté d'un feu ouvert.

Nous avons construit la cheminée à une pente afin de conserver autant de chaleur que possible à l'intérieur du bâtiment. La cheminée chauffe le premier étage où je garde ma literie.

Dans le foyer au-dessus des flammes, il y a un récupérateur de chaleur qu'on appelle "Le chaudron magique" qui chauffe l'eau et deux radiateurs dans les salles de bains au premier étage. Les panneaux solaires sont sur le même circuit.

J'avais déjà un système très efficace que j'ai conçu au Royaume-Uni qui a utilisé du gaz, du bois et de l'énergie solaire pour chauffer l'eau et la maison, alors j'ai décidé d'utiliser le même système dans la nouvelle maison en France.

Voici une parti de plan de la conception du système rez de chaussé (12mx6m) indiquant l'emplacement de la cheminée au milieu de la maison, afin de minimiser la longueur des tuyaux qui vont aux salles de bains et aux radiateurs. Cliquer sur la photo pour la voir grande.

Le ballon d'eau chaude (à droit sans isolation, principalement en laine de chèvre) est placé derrière la cheminée dans une petite pièce que nous utilisons pour le séchage des vêtements mouillés, les graines et d'herbes. En place maintenant, il y a beaucoup de masse thermique autour le foyer de la cheminée (chauffée aussi par le soleil en hiver) et le récupérateur de chaleur en forme de chaudron.

Voir les trous dans le chaudron (à droit sur le photo gauche) pour maximiser le contact avec la chaleur de la flamme. Le système fonctionne très bien.

Quand il fait trop chaud pour chauffer la maison, nous utilisons un petit poêle fusée (ou rocket stove) directement sous le chaudron pour éviter de chauffer le foyer et la maison reste fraîche.

Le poêle est alimentée soit avec du bois ou des rafles de maïs. Nous cultivons environ un hectare et demi de maïs chaque année et nous utilisons les grains de maïs pour l'alimentation des moutons, les chèvres et les poules.

Une fois les grains retirés de l'épi, nous avons des "déchets" que nous utilisons soit pour l'isolation ou comme source d'énergie. Les rafles de ma
ïs sont parfaites pour un rocket stove, elles sont légers, propres et produisent beaucoup de chaleur.

Heureusement, le bois et les rafles de mais sont les deux sources d'énergie en abondance chez nous.

Grâce au rocket stove, nous pouvons faire la cuisine ou faire des conserves pendant des heures avec peu d'énergie et chauffe l'eau en même temps.

Une partie importante du système pour chauffer l'eau, surtout en été, sont les panneaux solaires qui préchauffe l'eau au printemps et en automne et nous fourni l'eau chaude durant les mois d'été.
J'ai rapporté mes vieux panneaux depuis le Royaume-Uni (La personne qui a acheté ma maison n'en voulais pas !) et nous les avons placés sur le terrain en plein sud, derrière la maison.

Comme le chaudron, les panneaux sont plus bas que le ballon d'eau, le système complet fonctionné par thermosiphon. Mais, placé sur le terrain les panneaux ont été trop vulnérables et et malheureusement ils ne sont pas esthétiques.

Donc, nous avons décidé de poser les nouveaux panneaux sur le toit de la véranda qui est en construction. Ils seront hors de vue et de danger aussi. Le toit de notre véranda est plus haut que le ballon et pour faire circuler l'eau il y a une petite pompe 12v alimenté par nos panneaux photovoltaïques.

Nous utilisons environ 8m3 de bois chaque année pour chauffer 170m3, cuisiner et sécher le linge, teinter la laine et faire nos conserves. Nous achetons aussi deux bouteilles de gaz chaque année pour la cuisine, mais une fois que nous aurons construit le poêle de masse dans l'extension (nous avons l'intention d'utiliser une partie du poêle pour la cuisson), nous allons être autonome.

Bientôt je vais commencer à faire le design du poêle et cela prendra un certain temps pour la recherche et l'expérimentation. Je vais prendre des photos de chaque étape de la conception et la construction.