Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our first winter volunteers arrived this afternoon, all the way from Holland. We’ve a busy week planed for them, which starts very early tomorrow morning when I take this year’s pigs to slaughter. I’ll pick up the carcasses on Tuesday, so Tuesday evening we’ll be eating devilled kidneys and making sausages.

Despite advertising in two magazines and on the Permaculture Association website, they found us via our blog. I realised that I haven’t blogged for over a week. I’ve been even busier than normal and have also been bogged down writing a blog on a particular bugbear of mine, the (false) idea of carbon offsetting. It’s taking me longer than normal as I check my facts and learn more.

In the meantime, here is a carbon-neutral tale of another exchange of fine art for firewood (from our little wood- land). I say another, as Alastair painted us a man sharpening his scythe on the side of our house last year, for a similar barter. This year, he’s given the farmer a wife: seated and plucking a chicken. We found it remarkable to watch how he brought the bare wall to life with broad and fine brush strokes. Thanks, Alastair!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fresh wild parasol mushrooms, hand-picked, fluffed in organic flour, basted in free-range eggs, rolled in breadcrumbs and then fried until crispy, served with garlic mayonnaise.

Don’t you just love the way that restaurants and gastro-pubs big up their fodder with flowery over-the-top descriptions? But aren’t you also tempted? Have I suckered you in to parting with your cash? You’re going to order this starter, aren’t you? Here’s the good news: it’s free!

I popped round to see Sébastien and Jeanne today to pick up a couple of trugs of fallen apples to feed to our pigs and ask if Jeanne (a pig vet by trade) had organised the borrowing of an animal trailer (from a pig farmer she works with) so that we can take our own pigs to the abattoir in a weeks time (after eating those apples). Sébastien was sanding the floor in one of their children’s bedroom and asked me to shout up when I’d collected the apples, so he could descend and drink a beer with me. I said that I should return home and tell Gabrielle what I was up to (my father had terrible previous for popping out for five minutes and reappearing hours later having bumped into friends on his travels). I could also pick up a thing I have to clean his sander’s belt, reducing the need to change belts.

After I’d done the rounds of the animals, explained the beer thing, picked up the cleaning block and got back, we sat round their kitchen table talking mushrooms and drinking beer. As I came to leave, he said that he’d seen a big parasol mushroom that morning and that I should drive him up the road, past the lake to see if it was still there. It was. He picked it. I fried it. And Gabrielle and I ate it; it was huge, delicious and free!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We will remember them :
I was back in our woods yesterday, with my super sharp Japanese pole saw carrying on with the task of taking off the side branches of a hectare of Corsican pines, part of the first thinning of this parcel, for which I’ll get an EU subsidy, that is IF I get it done by the end of January. To that end, we’ve asked for volunteers. We quickly got our first offer from a chap called Simon but rather put him on hold as we were expecting a deluge of prospective helpers once the two magazine adverts hit the newsstands and would then have a logistical exercise in dovetailing everyone’s dates. We waited and when the anticipated deluge turned into a drought, we called him back. He apologised—for that is what English people do, even when it’s not their fault—but, having not heard from us, he’d gone on and made other arrangements … bugger!

The proverb comparing birds in hands and bushes comes to mind; I think we learnt a lesson there. We hope to see Simon in the future but we have had one other enquiry from Graham, who has his chainsaw qualification and wants to come for a fortnight … phew! The more side branches I cut off before he arrives, the easier the selective felling will be, that aside from its main reason of reducing the size of knots in the timber when they are eventually felled.

As it was Remembrance Day, I kept an eye on the time and at 11am, I stood quietly with my hands clasped in front of me, bowing my head, my eyes closed for two minutes silence. It’s precisely at moments like these when you realise how noisy “silence” actually is. The raucous whine of a distant chainsaw, several reports of a hunter’s shotgun (evocative but hardly appropriate as this is the moment when the guns of WW1 when silent) and, more pleasantly, birdsong and other rustling sounds of the woodland.

For the two minutes, I thought of my maternal grandfather,Arthur Swan (pictured in his fire watchers uniform for WW2, with the medals he got in 1918) who spent just twenty days in France before being shot in the cheek, losing a couple of teeth, thereby obtaining a rather dashing scar and home leave. I brought to mind other images and pondered the words of the Ode of Remembrance.

On my way out, I checked a stump of a sycamore tree I felled a couple of winters ago and inoculated with pearl oyster mushrooms. It’s already given us its first flush of succulent champignons and I’m happy to report that it’s started to fruit again, see photo. The round things in the top of the cut surface are the tops of the pre-inoculated carpenter's dowels that I hammered in soon after felling. I shall keep an eye on it over the next few days, hoping to catch it when ready and ripe and before either a the maggots or a Frenchman with a keen eye and a wicker basket does.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Neighbours : On Halloween we had some small neighbours come knocking, dressed as witches. We hadn’t quite understood “Trick or Treat”, so Gabrielle’s idea was to dress us as a bigger and scarier witch and give the children "Tricks and Treats", i.e., scare them, then give them sweets! Camille seemed to warm to the idea but poor old Tess (on the left) was left very bemused, grappling for Camille’s hand for reassurance.

Our immediate neighbours have done us proud today. I’m being slightly disingenuous as I’m referring to the current holidaymakers staying in our gite. Soon after arriving and looking around our permaculture smallholding, Carolyn and Kent offered to help. With a break in the clouds and a hint of blue sky today suggesting a break in the weather, we spent the day working together in our woodland. They were a real help and even professed to having really enjoyed it.

As we emerged from the wood at lunchtime, I was hailed by David (French, so read it as “Dahveed”) who lives in an old presbytery at the entrance to the wood. Some time back he’d come round to our house to ask for my help navigating some Anglophone pages on the Internet and making a few phone calls in English to sort out a technical problem on a depth sounder on his sailboat. He insisted on buying me a bottle of wine to say thanks and very kindly presented me with a 2000 bottle of Cotes de Bourg today. Cheers, chum!

And that’s not the first bottle of wine I’ve been given this week. Marie Laure’s parakeet escaped last week as she opened the cage to feed it. The shape of a parakeet in flight and its call are very distinctive, oh, and it’s bright green too, certainly not your average wild French bird. It stayed around the area until, after three days, it dropped down into our willow bed. (The photo shows it in the new rods of a coppiced sweet chestnut.) I ran round to M-L’s to get its feeding tray and a cupful of grain and Gabrielle went for the fish landing net. Katerine from the local chicken farm turned up with her two boys, Eduard and Paul, out together for a cycle ride. The five of us spent a good hour trying to coo the recalcitrant bird down, including an interlude when I knocked the grain out of my hand when swatting the net and had to run down the road to get some more. At the fifth attempt, I had the beast in the back of the net and returned him home. One bottle of 2003 Margaux from a grateful Marie Laure.

Christiane was next with a 2001 bottle of St Emilion to thank me for my help in dealing with any English people who book there own 6-person gite and to celebrate their first such booking of 2010. And when I turned up at 10am last Saturday to translate at the checking out of their English guests, it was the holidaymakers themselves who had a bottle each of Moulin-à-Vent for both Paul and me as they’d had such a good stay. Perhaps there’s a worrying trend with the choice of cadeaux, they must think me a right old souse.

Postscript: if you fancy booking a holiday in our gite, please note that volunteering to help out isn’t obligatory! However, if you do fancy volunteering over the winter in exchange for cosy accommodation and meals, please have a look at our volunteer page. And if I do you a favour, I won’t be expecting a bottle of wine in return … but it’s always very much appreciated !

Sunday, November 01, 2009

After all that backbreaking work, I can now bask on the glory of the (almost) finished article. Almost finished is overstating the fact: after the mini-digger left the rest of the landscaping takes place just with the pair of us and some hand tools, i.e., slowly.

So here are the photos (top to bottom): an overall photo of how it is now, one of the waterfall and a close-up showing the overflow and how clean the water has become.

I’ve tried to reduce the landscaping to individual components rather than a scary whole and so I’d started yesterday morning with an idea that I was going to finish the pathway linking the house to the polytunnel, passing between the plant filter and the pond. Over breakfast, Gabrielle asked whether we should bury the hose linking the rainwater collection system and the polytunnel: “Yes, she had a point”. But if I was to do that, then I might as well dig the trench to bury the electric cable to the pump at the same time. A 90º turn and I’m absorbed by a completely different task to the one I envisaged: 30 metres of trenches to be dug half a metre deep in heavy clay soil with loads of stones.

I’d hoped to have this section of landscaping finished by close of play today but rain intervened and so I stayed mostly in the dry and have wired up the pond pump through a timer with the cable safely buried underground. I hope to finish the path this week, one side of which will be some broken concrete drain pipe that was dug up when I installed a French drain along our barn. The permaculture part of this is to try and reuse stuff onsite rather than taking down the tip to become somebody else’s disposal problem. We’re going to chop the bits of pipe up with an angle grinder and place then side by side like a church organ’s pipes, filling them with earth and planting pretty sedums therein.