28 April 2009

Romantic Permaculture and our Spring gardens

Califonian poppiesI've been talking a lot recently with my gardener friends about what's growing. Everyone's excited now that the earth is warming up and things are coming back to life and it's time for sowing and repotting and preparing the garden for the best growing season ever.

I'm a bit embarrassed sometimes because I want to share my joy at what's growing here and although the fruit trees and bushes and the self seeded Parsley and Coriander, the rhubarb and Artichokes and the seedlings are doing well, it's the flowering plants that give me the most pleasure.

There's no rule that says a self-sufficient gardener shouldn't have pretty flowers, wonderful shrubs or glorious climbers, so I'd like to celebrate not only the start of the growing season for the vegetable plot but also for the return of Spring and Summer colour, perfume and beauty in the garden.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I'm basically a very practical person. As soon as I decide I want to live somewhere, I plan the house, the vegetable garden and the housing for the animals. In permaculture terms I'm ZONING, that is during the design process I'm thinking of walking and carrying things to and from different areas of activity. Things that need to be done regularly like opening the chickens, feeding the pigs and goats and making sure everyone has fresh water need to be near the house to make life easier.

Once that's done though, there's time to be more creative, more exuberant and I like to bring the garden together with little walkways full of shrubs, climbers and flowers and on our daily rounds of caring for the veg plot and the animals, we have the chance to walk through a paradise.

I love growing climbers which can be seen from inside the house and examined closer up as we walk on the terrace. This beautiful Chilean Potato Vine is flowering already and it's fast-growing branches mean that we'll have shade on the terrace this summer.

I've taken about thirty CUTTINGS from this plant and used it to hide the water butts and cover screens and fences in different parts of the garden. The cuttings take easily in water and if you'd like to see how fast it grows then click on THIS link for photos or this one for a SLIDESHOW.

I've never been a Rose person. I always thought that they were sickly inbred creatures who needed a lot of attention but few years ago I started a love affair with a Rose.

Lady banks RoseI wanted a fast growing shrub to cover the BANK AT THE BACK of the cellar to keep it cooler in the summer. Our gardener friend Andrew suggested the Lady Banks Rose. I had a look at the qualities of this plant - almost evergreen, thorn-less, fast growing, low maintenance and decided to plant one. It has far exceeded my expectations for the job in hand as well as being one of the joys of the Spring garden.

I've taken loads of cuttings from an old cherished Wisteria cutting I brought from the UK and now there are five substantial plants which are in flower at the moment.

We're lucky to have a lot of wood which we use all the time to make pergolas, sheds, screens and before a shed or pergola is up, I've already started getting excited about what I'm going to plant round it.

I make gardens because having beautiful things around to look at and watch changing, to smell and to enjoy - are more important than we think.

Smallholding means that our lives revolve around our land and animals. There are very few opportunities to go out and enjoy new fashions, surprises, culture and beauty, so everything we need to nourish not only our bodies, but also our senses, has to be on site.

All the "gardens" we've made here have been from scratch. Many of them, especially at the new house are still very much work in progress. I like the challenge of gardening on a very low budget and I enjoy taking the time to find interesting bits and pieces - some of them become treasures and some are sentimental. Almost all of them have a history or an association with a person or a place.

We've 100 acres of land, with valleys and woods and water, so there's lots of scope for wild areas and experiments with big projects. Huge plants and invasive species can be accommodated with ease and used in settings where they can enjoy freedom to grow to maturity and provide food, shelter and shade for wildlife.

Nature has taken over in some of our gardens because there's just not enough hours in the day to strim and trim. I used to worry, but now I just look and see what's happened since the last time I visited.

Magical surroundings can be created with seeds and cuttings and the odd delightful purchase of new plants and I can honestly say that I've never regretted planting something beautiful.

27 April 2009

The three little pigs are growing fast

The three little pigs are growing fast

The little pigs we bought a few weeks ago are now enormous and have settled in well to their new home in the big park.

We've got sheep, goats, chickens geese and these are without doubt the easiest animal of all of them!

All pigs need is a good sized park split into two or three different areas which can be rotated. When they've dug up the ground in one of them, move them on to the next one and that helps to reduce their internal parasites. We only worm ours about twice a year.
They need a simple shelter, checking over from time to time for external parasites, for ear cleaning and to keep them friendly and easy to manage.
They love a wallow and at the moment they eat all the brambles we cut for them, tree clippings, weeds, eggs, snails, slugs, and a few heads of corn. In the summer they've loads of vegetable trimmings, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages - anything really.

These three are really good fun and are having a great time hunting for worms roots and mice and lounging around in the late spring sunshine.

25 April 2009

How to post photos in a forum from Flickr

People are always asking this question and it's a shame to miss out the fun in a forum if you don't know how to post a photo. I'm no expert but since it's raining today and I've already typed out the text for a thread in Downsizer I thought I may as well change it into a post in my blog in the hope that it's useful to somebody.

How to post photos in a forum from Flickr

Go to Flickr, click on your photos and choose the photo you want

Click on all sizes (that's the spy glass at the top) then choose the size you want.
There are two sets of code under the photo.
The first lot of code is a clickable photo that leads back to the original photo - very useful if you've a site or blog.
The second is the URL that you can use for a forum as long as you use the IMGs outside the photo - that's one of the clickable buttons up at the right in the forum posting box.

Mouse over the box for the kind of code you want and the code should change colour. On your computer click control and c to copy then control and v together to paste the code where you want it.

In some browsers you can also right click the mouse on any photo on the 'net and copy the address of the image. That's the photo URL or address which goes between the set of IMGs and doing it this way makes life very easy.

If you want to follow a tutorial in the France Forum about this subject click on THIS link.

23 April 2009

Pyke our new Border Collie herding for the first time

Shearing has started and Pyke has been helping to bring the goats in three times a day. The last day of shearing he did the job perfectly and we're so pleased that he's enjoying himself.

We've been walking him a lot with the goats since he arrived but keeping an eye on what's happening because it would be a shame if the goats attacked him and he was afraid and put off working with them for life.

The repetition over the past few days has obviously paid off. We've still not managed to get him to concentrate when we want him to but his behaviour has really improved over the past couple of weeks.

Dog in the manger - Pyke watching us shear the Angora goats

We even invited him in to watch what we were doing on the condition that he sat still and didn't stress the goats and he behaved impeccably!

18 April 2009

Early evening storm brewing in the potager

I'd just transferred plants and repotted and watered everything then I noticed those black clouds looming overhead.

The chickens have gone to bed early, the goats are in the shed, the dogs have gone back up to the house. The atmosphere is just magical and I want to savour it right to the last moment.

There's going to be rain and I've just watered

I hope the rain doesn't batter the Wisteria too much!

Just before the storm

I hope the rain doesn't batter the Wisteria too much!

14 April 2009

This chicken had 17 chicks...

....Pyke our new Border Collie ate four of them.

When we got new ducklings, Bonnie one of our Dachshunds killed four of them while we were looking on. Fabrice immediately picked her up by the scruff of the neck and shook her whilst holding a dead duck in his other hand and she never did it again.

Pyke and I have spent a while looking at the hen with her chicks through a wire cage. I thought it was safe to let the hen and her chicks out in the garden in the early evening to let them have a grub about not too far away from the chicken house before it was time for bed. While I was tidying up the garden Pyke disappeared.

I went to look for him and caught him with a chick in his mouth. I screamed at him, grabbed a stick and hit the metal sides of the chicken shed and he ran off and dropped the chick into a bucket. Fabrice came because he heard all the noise and held Pyke while I showed him the dead chick and smacked the hard plastic bucket with a stick and making as much noise as I could, screamed "No" in his face then put his face into the bucket so that he could see the chick again.

Then we ignored him for about 15 minutes and went down to see how the hen and chicks were. When we came back up he was very shamefaced but we had a cuddle and it was forgotten.

We've had 13 chicks for three days now, I'm sure he's understood that the chicks are not to be touched.

When Pyke came at first he was very strange. It took him two weeks before he looked me in the eye. When I tried to talk to him he'd ignore me and even when I held him, he wriggled away turning his head from side to side. He pulled constantly on the lead and didn't come when he's called. He doesn't seem to know any commands apart from sit and give a paw. He bullied our little Dachshund Didi and jumps up on anything he can - including people. We sorted him out about Didi by telling her that she could fight back and she did!

We knee him in the stomach when he jumps, make him sit to have his dinner. We're having to be very strict with him and the poor dog doesn't know what's hit him. He becomes extremely nervous when we speak to him seriously and he's been hit by sticks in the past because he's very wary when you pick one up.

Now, after a month here he's settling down and "smiling" more. He has more stamina because he's getting a lot of exercise and he's starting to look at us and want to be with us. he really enjoys going out and doing the rounds and he's learned a lot of simple things like waiting until a gate is open properly and we've got through before jumping over to push it open. He's not at all motivated by food but by praise and he knows when he's a good dog and understands "No".

About a week ago I had the perfect opportunity to watch Pyke and see how he reacted to Didi protecting her mole from a Cheeky cockerel. You can draw your own conclusions about his behaviour.

I was curious to see what happened after Pyke had settled down on the terrace, so I kept filming...

Commande Prise de Terre

Ajoute SVP

10 kilo de farine de blé
5 kilo pates spirales
1 bidon d'huile d'olive
5 kilo d'haricots blancs
2 kilo de lentilles
Riz demi-complet
Lait de soja

les personnes oubliés sont André Goulesque, Rauhut Elisabeth, Rauhut Laetitia, Irene


(Je vais effacer ce messae dé que la commande est passé)


12 April 2009

First Morels (Morilles) 2009

Morels are really delicious mushrooms and we found our first dozen or so this week. If you're not sure about identifying them, then this site will give you some more information on the potentially dangerous False Morels which don't look at all like Morels when you cut them open.

As always you must be very careful about gathering and eating any mushrooms if you're not absolutely sure exactly what they are.

While we're looking for Morels we also look out for a few Wild leeks or Ail des Bois Allium tricoccum which - with perfect timing - arrive just as our own onions run out.

We had a nice little piece of Deer (Cerf) in the freezer so Fabrice made a lovely main dish fit to honour any hunter gatherer's table :

Entrecôte de Cerf aux Morilles et Pommes de terres

9 April 2009

Spring garden - West of the house

I'm really pleased with this side of the garden this Spring. After the wallflowers have finished flowering there are some little roses to come and I've planted a few Echinacea and Dahlias and some summer annuals. The chickens scratch up the earth so sometimes the annual seeds don't make it but on the other hand I rarely need to weed.

This time last year this bed was just a mass of Periwinkle which was very pretty in the Spring but looked really worn out in the heat of the summer.

I used the Periwinkle because somebody gave me it when we first started building the house and they said it would cover the ground in "No time". They were right - it took me ages to dig out all those invasive roots.

Still, it was nice while it lasted but now the new planting is much more rich and colourful all year round and it's a real pleasure to look out from the kitchen or the terrace and see a more mature setting.

6 April 2009

Design on roof tiles

Design on roof tiles, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

Fabrice has almost finished doing the roof on the "L" shaped part of the extension. This diamond shape is a tradition pattern on French roofs and although it's done in new tiles it looks OK.

I'd have preferred to use old tiles really but all the old flat tiles we've looked at are pretty damaged by frost so I suppose it's better to use these because they'll last much longer. I'll make up a mix of goat compost and water and we'll spray the roof once it's finished to give the lichen on the north side a bit of a hand to grow on the tiles and give them an older look.

The rest of this part of the roof will be covered in old canal tiles sitting on top of the existing cover.

3 April 2009

We've just had a surprise lamb "thanks" to the Cameroon Ram !

His mum is one of ewes from our flock which has just finished lambing.

Unfortunately she was mauled by a dog when she was only a few weeks pregnant and she lost her lamb. We brought her up nearer the house to cut around the wounds and clean them up and it was more convenient for us to keep her up here to dress the sores and make sure that she wasn't bothered by flies.
Cameroon sheep
We put her in the same field as our Cameroon sheep and we didn't think she'd come into season for a while yet because she was in such a sorry state.

Well this little fellow is the result ! He's a first cross we've had with our Cameroons and he is really very pretty with a good strong body and lovely soft curly hair.

Cameroon sheep cast their wool and don't need shearing. They are very hardy and are out in all weathers (by choice) and help us to clean up the land after the Angora goats have been on it. It will be interesting to see what happens to his fleece if we decide to keep him for a while.

Surprise lamb - a cross with a Cameroon Ram

2 April 2009

Spring daffs with Wisteria ready to bloom and early morning chickens

The rhubarb is now uncovered and is doing well and the Globe Artichokes are transplanted.

I liked this view from the top of the potager as I walked back up to the house for a cup of tea early this morning.