Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Back to the drawing board.

What would you rather do? Sort laundry or spend the day in weak Autumn sunlight sorting out your garden? Well, of course, any outdoor activity is probably better than sorting laundry, but the air was warm and the sun occassionally peeped out between the clouds and I made my choice. I started laying cardboard for the second bed to go in the Potager. My lovely neighbour came over to ask if he could take some of the manure for his Potager and I gladly agreed. Any help cleaning out the paddocks is welcome. He asked me what I was doing with the cardboard and I tried to explain. There was a long pause and I tried again making hand movements to show the layers of mulch (I need to look up Mulch in French). He looked at me again for a long time, finally, 'Pourquoi'? Why? For the Potager I replied, oh no, he said emphatically! It would seem that the arrangement between the farmer and the previous owners does not extend to the new owners of our house (me). I can graze the ponies on it, but not put anything permanent on the land between the houses. It was an awkward moment for both of us. Could he still have the manure? Of course I said and helped him with a couple of barrows full.

I then had to scout around for another suitable area, which should be easy, but it really isn't! At the back of the house (which is kind of the front as it's on the drive up to the house from the road) is the orchard garden. It's mostly shrubs and edible fruit trees and a lot of lawn.The orchard garden is big enough, but right in the center is the Septic tank and it's runoff. We all agreed that we didn't want our vegetables to be grown there!  So I decided to extend the orchard garden and pinch a bit of the reserve pony paddock.
 Viewed from the side of the house is the two new beds and the ponies hay under the black plastic cover. To the right of the hay and in the center of the picture is the grassy area fed by the septic tank. It takes up a large area and isn't fit for a great deal. I may let the goats go on it during the summer (when we get the goats!) as I don't know what else to do with it. On the very far right is the driveway up from the road. We planted two of the pear trees there and then dear son broke the shovel!
I have some ornamental trees to remove as they're poisonous to animals and people, but I need someone with a chainsaw to cut them back. I only took out a couple of branches with a handsaw and was exhausted! So today wasn't a great success but at least I still have the laundry to look forward to (yuk!) :D

On reflection, I may plant clover and edible wild flowers in the septic tank area to attract bees and pollinators and give the goats a little diversity in their diet. It seems to make sense!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Doing it in the rain.

The weather here is still so mild and even though we have a steady drizzle, I've been out starting the first of the beds in the Potager. To the side of the house, between us and the neighbours, is a small piece of land that was gifted to the original owners of my house. I had confirmation last week that I may continue to use the plot. I have enough land, don't get me wrong, but it will be good to have a separate piece away from the livestock and the trees. It will have a completely different climate to the rest of the small holding and as it's been used as a potager before, I'm told the soil is great.
This is the image I have in my mind.
 This is the reality! I'm going to use the no-dig solution as I'm a good deal older than when I had my small veg plot at the ponies field in England. I wish I'd read about mulching back then, not just as a top dressing, but as a way to start plant beds from scratch without too much effort. I've laid down a layer of cardboard, straight onto the grass. Covered it with spoiled hay and then a layer of week old horse manure. It should all break down together, encouraging insects to do my work for me while at the same time minimising disruption to the soil structure. Lets see if it works. I've used the traditional method in the past and now I'm ready to try anything that cuts down effort while, hopefully, increasing the yield.  I'll make one bed a day and carry on adding to each as I clear out the pony paddocks.
 The second of my socks is coming along quickly now. I think I've actually got the hang of this :D  I'd like to try the magic loop method one day, but for now, I'm doing it old school.
This afternoon I'm treating myself to a pair of wellies. My old rigger boots are leaking like mad and while I don't mind a little drizzle, I can't stand wet feet! While we're out, we'll be buying the wood to board the loft. I'm so excited to see the house grow into it's new shape. Hopefully we'll be a lot closer to having our loft finished this week.

Edited to add:

I've also been planning Swales on our land. The article in this blog explains how the Swale can be used on a small scale. I'll give it a go in the garden before trying it in the field. I think it would be a great solution to our boggy fields in winter and dry pasture in summer. There are so many great gardening tips on this site, that I think I'll be dipping in to visit a lot. I found it on Pinterest.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

Permaculture of a sorts.

How happy am I? Finally I've found a book that lives up to expectations. Colette O'Neill has written a journal of her time creating a beautiful Eden on a neglected piece of land in Ireland. She saw the little cottage and knew how to go about turning it into a haven for wildlife and people using the permaculture principles. How inspiring is that?
I've been planning my own garden using my copy of Gaia's Garden. I've made lists of plants from my Wild Colour dyeing book to include in the garden as I'd like everything grown here to have a use and purpose. I'm bringing my lovely Magnolia tree from England and it's purpose is simply that it makes me happy.

Here is a rough sketch of the land and how it is at the moment. I've made an overlay on tracing paper to show the wind directions which change according to the season. I also need to mark any boggy or dry areas. I'll do a similar design for the gardens in detail and another for the pony paddocks.

Oooh, look, Gaia's Garden again, I must be enjoying it! I've got lots of plans for the wood that is already growing here and I've just bought some dogwood plants so that I can get back to basket weaving. I haven't done it for years and it can be a bit tough on the hands, but it's so enjoyable to have a basket from your garden. In England I used to cut long whippy stems from my Jasmine to hold bean wigwams together. It looks nicer than string and is of course, free.
I also want to have a go at whittling. I've had the knives for years from when I tried my hand at spoon making. I may even give that a go too!
Crikey, when will I fit it all in???  I'm still finishing the socks I started in February and I want to make some Christmas presents too! I need another Me to get it all done!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Share and pass it on.

This is a little idea that just popped into my head, it happens sometimes.

I'm going to share some of my favourite blogs and then ask that the owners of those blogs pass it on.
So it goes like this, I share the blogs and write why I like them, then the blog owners (if they wish) share a link to my blog and choose some of their own blog friends to nominate. Have I explained that right?

It's just a way to expand our blog friends and is totally optional.

So, my first blog friend is BB and Codlins and Cream.  BB and I have been friends online and in real life for over 10years. Her blog is about her wonderful and varied life in Wales, making lace, quilting and sharing some wonderful recipes.

Next is Kim at Thread Tales. I think we've known each other online for nearly 10 years too! Kim is an extremely talented quilter and has the most beautiful Ginger cat helpers.

Up next is 5 Acres and a Dream. I love this blog, it's so full of interesting stories and recipes. I've not been following for long, but I recommend a visit.

Pioneer Woman is another homesteading blog, filled with lovely recipes and ideas for living sustainably.

Being self sufficient in Wales is the blog of Dawn. A friend of BB's and someone who I am glad to know online. She's full of inspiration and works so very hard at everything (I mean everything!).

I was going to stop at 5, but I just have to share A New life in Wales as it's just a great blog with knitting, cooking, crafting and everything you want to read when you need some down time.

Ok, so these are only a few of my nominated blogs, all of the ones in my sidebar I love to visit and I haven't even started on my arty friends blogs! Maybe another day. So please don't feel  left out, these are just the blogs I'm sharing today, maybe I'll do more soon. Can you tell I've missed having the internet???

Oh dear, I knew this post might have a drawback! How can you nominate a few when you love reading so many blogs???

I have to add Rains Garden, not as an afterthought, but because Rain has become a dear friend in so short a time. Her blog is mouthwatering and fun :D

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Who am I?

Do other people ask this question of themselves, I wonder? The last few weeks have been so difficult and I've had down days and days when I just wake up fighting fit and raring to meet the challenges. Today is one of limbo. I don't feel low or like fighting. I feel like sitting quietly by myself, thinking, of all the things that have changed me during my lifetime and all the changes yet to come.

I've been in this house just over two months and already I feel different. I'm more aware of the weather and the season changing outside my window, I'm letting nature show me how to make small changes to use the best features of this landscape. I'm watching the trees blow in the wind and noting the areas good for planting and those to be avoided. It's another part of the journey I'm on, a good part.

The wind is building up outside and there feels like a storm brewing. It started at the beginning of the week with the strange yellow sky and that feeling of waiting, of the land holding it's breath. The days since have been unsettled but today it feels like the storm may well be here. Birds are tumbling through the sky along with the falling leaves and a few rain drops smack hard against the window.

The lake was so eerie on Monday. The birds were silent and the sky heavy.
We found rock caves and watched the leaves tumbling down the hillside.
The lake was still and the boundary between water, earth and sky was blurred.
The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

By Wendell Berry

I've posted this poem before, but today it has a deeper meaning for me.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

A full day.

What a day I've had! I started with a couple of hours mucking out the paddocks then a couple more hours pruning an apple and a peach tree. The trees haven't had much care in a good few years, so Moomin and I gave them a good dressing of hay (some of our hay got wet and went mouldy) and then a layer of manure. I didn't want to put fresh manure onto the roots, so the hay was a good way to get round the issue. Both will rot at the same time and then feed the trees. The trees have also been in need of a good pruning for some time. So many branches are crossing over and causing canker and dieback, where they rub and become diseased. I also took a few branches off the evergreen monster that I'm sure is responsible for the death of the two peach trees. I think the monster will have to go eventually, it serves no purpose and I'd love a willow hedge in it's place for basket weaving.

After some cleaning in the house and a bite of lunch, I decided to treat myself with a little arty crafty work. I made a pot of chalk paint as my expensive paint was left in England. Chalk paint here is just as pricey but nowhere near as bad as bathroom paint (£89. a tub!). I used an old salad spinner as mixing pot and put in 1 third plaster/polyfilla to 2thirds paint. I added blue, green and grey until I came to a colour I liked. The unit started out like this one, I wish I'd taken a before and after photo!
 After one coat of chalk paint and a little sanding back, the cats agreed it was good enough.
I drew on a design that I liked in a magazine and adapted it to my own style. I also added a little gold leaf to the handles. Originally this little bedside cupboard was going to be for the printer and sit in the tiny office space I've made under the stairs. Now I'm not so sure! I kind of want to show it off!!!
Just before I go, a quick word about rubbish reviews. Sometimes they can be overly harsh, but sometimes they're necessary to give a reader an idea of what a book is really like.
I've feel like I've had to post too many negative reviews on Amazon lately and I don't know if that's my fault for lack of research or the fault of people who write good reviews of bad books. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but sometimes I feel that people review a book because it's written by someone they know or because they don't want to be seen as negative. The permaculture design book is to me a prime example of The Emperors New Clothes. No one wants to say anything derogatory in front of their peers.
I guess I'm annoyed at spending £15.00 for something I'll never read again and was too complicated for the subject covered.

The Garden to Dye for has some good tips, but it seemed to be bulked out by telling the reader how to grow certain plants instead of explaining the many colour variations obtained by adding different mordants or modifiers. The pictures were lovely and there were around 8 or so very useful pages but again, I felt like I'd wasted my money.

I've just ordered the Bealtaine cottage book. I so hope it's going to live up to expectations. I'll do a review on here when it arrives. You can find Bealtaine cottage on Facebook and it's well worth looking at. Fingers crossed the book is a lovely as the FB page.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


Today, I finished cleaning out the pony paddocks, did a little maintenance to the brambles along the border and set about sorting out a composting bin. Thankfully my son was able to lend a hand as the corregated iron panels I'd found were just too difficult to bend. Moomin and I jumped up and down on them for some time before Son started bashing them with a mallet. We then bent them to form an L shape and put them together to line the inside of the compost area. A couple of pallets were staked in place to hold the shape of the bin. Then the manure from the paddocks was shoveled in along with two months of kitchen waste. Later we sorted the windfalls and threw the rotten ones onto the compost and divided the rest into eaters and pony apples. It took us nearly all day to get so much done. I had to pop out to Bricomarche at one point to buy stakes for the corners of the bin. I'd wanted to use only things I could find on the property, but all the logs and branches were too rotten and snapped under the slightest pressure.
I'm trying to approach all work on the land by using the permaculture principles, but sometimes you just have to buy something new. In the long run, I'll be saving effort and time, so a little purchase now can be forgiven.
After all that hard work, it was good to take the time to sort the laundry. The sun was going down, dinner was cooking and I only had this last job to do before a hot shower and a cold beer.
On my way back to the house, I noticed Dexter having a quiet bath in the shade of the chestnut tree.
Most of the time his tongue is out, I think because of a jaw injury. However, this face was just too good to miss :D Can you see how wet his side is? Most of that is dribble and a little licking. No wonder his coat is so clean! We adore him to pieces. It's funny how quickly he's settled in, I think he was waiting for us.x

Thursday, 12 October 2017

How much should we give away?

Sometimes it's hard to know how much to say on a blog. How much truth do we put into our posts and who reads our words other than those who comment? It's been a tough couple of weeks for sure and it's been hard not to give in to self pity. I get dragged down just as much as the next person, but living here, it's hard to be down for long.  So although I could do with a good moan about stress and difficult animals, I won't. I'll focus on the positives.

The weather was damp but warm so I set to clearing the front borders and pruned the roses back hard. I hope soon to give them some magic muck from the field and maybe I'll have a lovely rose garden above my herbs and dye flowers.

 One of the joys of this little plot is that I unexpectedly own my own tiny woodland. At the top of the field, there is a triangle of trees that border three properties. Part of this belongs to me :D
 I looked it over briefly before signing all the papers, but decided to spend some time meditating and looking for a good spot to draw and paint. There are lots of dark little nooks to explore.
 And this deep, slate lined hollow is where we could dig down to reach a natural spring. I think it would be worth putting in a bore hole so that the ponies can have fresh, free water.
 At the top of this rise, I can look down over my fields and those of my neighbours. It's utterly silent here. There were, however, many spiders all rushing away from my feet, a little like the scene from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. Thankfully I'm not scared of spiders or I may well have had a Ron Weasley meltdown!
 On the way back to the house, the new cat, Dexter, came out of the cornfield and I was surprised by Bambam's reaction. She's been a bit put out to find herself not the only Tuxedo cat in the village. She allowed the smelly boy to greet her.
Next, Finn came out of the corn to show me that ginger cats are the best, of course.

Then Cotton allowed Dexter to greet her. She's One of the Mama cats, so is pretty much boss among the others. I think Dexter is being allowed a chance because he's so young and very deferential to all of the cats. He likes it with us and doesn't want to muck up his chances. I got wormers and flea treatment for him from the vet and she said he's very lucky to have found a home. Well, it wasn't like we had a choice, he just wouldn't go away!
Back inside the house, the Shower room is almost done. Just a few more panels to be fitted and then I can paint it.

 The wall outside was bashed down
and then the boys cut out the ceiling to make room for a staircase up to the loft. Manchee was not impressed! And that's where I'll leave you. My weird little internet device is playing up and yet again our promised Broadband connection has failed to appear. I've been told that I have to pay for an Engineer to come out, so of course, I'll be giving Orange an earful as they've had two months rent from me for nothing! When I last phoned and complained, the operator suddenly developed a line difficulty and hung up! It's a pain in the behind!!!

Saturday, 7 October 2017


We seem to be already attracting the local cats to our little house. We've had visits from curious cats, greedy cats and now maybe a homeless cat. He doesn't look that uncared for does he, but his behaviour reminds me of another feral cat I met a few years ago. Sudden noises have him running for cover, he can't eat quickly enough and he seems to be starved of afection. He will do anything for a cuddle, but we can't hold him, he has to come to us.
Piper has been so welcoming to this little boy, maybe because he looks so like her baby Bambam.
He's huge though, and makes our cats look like midgets. I can tell he's young by his kittenish meow and that although he is very much a tom cat, he doesn't smell at all.
Bambam is not happy, she is the only Tuxedo cat around here! You can see that the new boy has half a tail and his pelvis is clearly stiff and not at all flexible like a normal cat's. His mouth is also a little wrong and he dribbles constantly and has trouble eating his food. He's obviously had a bad accident at some point, probably when he was very little.

I finally finished making a little wardrobe for Moomin from a shelf unit and some tongue and groove cladding. I didn't do the best job, but then I don't pretend to be a carpenter! Painted white and with the muslin curtain it looked quite sweet.

The French hooks cost as much as the original shelf unit!
Whilst we were doing our little projects, lovely BF was creating a shower room in the boxroom. It's so gorgeous in there and if we leave the blinds open, we can sit on the toilet and watch the mist roll in over the fields! Or we can watch the neighbours drive along the road and wait until it's safe to move! The wooden panels will be painted blue/green and the walls will be white, that will be my job, while BF makes a start on the loft conversion for the son's bedroom.
I also got to grips with the vacuum packer. I don't know why I put it off, because once I started, I wanted to seal everything up in plastic!!! Half of the walnut harvest is sealed and stored (this is just one bag) and the rest still have to be sorted soon. So many of the nuts have already gone mouldy that I need to finish the job quickly.
Tomorrow is Sunday and everything is shut down for the day. I love it. It's a chance to do crafts and play with the ponies without feeling any form of guilt. Maybe if we had TV we'd waste some of our time, but as things stand, Sundays are when we connect with each other and do the things we really want to do. I have more preserving to get on with and may try to do some sketching of the ponies. Wherever you are, bon weekend.x

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Sailing on stormy waters.

It's not all been plain sailing since we've been in France. People have said how lucky I am to be here. It's got nothing to do with luck, just the money from the sale of my house and a grim determination to be here and succeed at our goals.
I was asked yesterday if I had a job yet! Yes, the job of carving out a living from my smallholing, my art and Reiki courses and selling our produce. On top of that I'm hoping the Gite will bring in a modest wage and then if there's any time left after all that, I may enjoy working with the ponies/horses and mucking out their paddocks.

Anyway, I digress, the joining of two households together has not been a smooth transition and so with great difficulty we've decided to rehome Echo. She hasn't coped well with the move and has seen my dog as a huge threat. Being a dog of little courage, Manchee then became the victim which resulted in a very unhappy incident. That's all I'll say on that matter, but I've been on my own a lot lately while the situation has been managed! I daresay it will come right in the end.

As part of the small-holding enterprise, I've been able to rekindle my love of preserving things.  The food here in France is very seasonal, unless you want to pay a small fortune for something.  Citrus fruits are a good price at the moment, so I bought a couple of bags of oranges and grapefruits and decided to make marmalade, which is really expensive in the shops at any time of year.

The preparation of all the fruit took three hours, but as life is pretty quiet here in the Autumn, it's a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The house smelt delicious.

I finely peeled the oranges and grapefruit (and my finger!) and then sliced the pith away from the skin.  I also took excess pith off the fruit and removed the flesh from between the membranes.

The skin was finely chopped, but I found it all much easier with a pair of kitchen scissors, that's top tip no.1.
I then added sugar and way too much water which meant that I had to boil it down for longer than normal to get it to a set, so check your quantities, top tip no.2. That's why I think the marmalade came out dark, because the sugar had caramelised. It doesn't matter, it has a delicious, burnt toffee taste with strong bitter orange. I made 10 jars of Confiture d'orange, and I doubt it will last all winter! It's worth making another batch, but this time I'll be sure of the amounts!
After all the domestic work, we took a break and went to the Abbey Bon Repose. The sun was so hot and healing after the hard work of cooking!
They have a little reinactment village, and I hope to be able to do some spinning here when they open for the tourist season next year. It will be a good place to sell my wool and do demonstrations. It's not as authentic as the Ancient Farm near where I used to live, but the atmosphere is amazing. The peace just seeps into your bones.
There's a lovely little cafe opposite the Abbey and if the weather is good tomorrow, we'll try it out for lunch. All in the spirit of checking out places to offer our visitors, of course ;)