Back on the farm(s)

Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of France  , Limousin,
Sunday, September 19, 2010

And so, seven weeks ago, we set sail again from Dover; our destination France. We had spent three months in England; three months that passed very quickly and were full of wonderful visits to family and friends but it was time to climb into Brian and set off again! 

We were heading straight down to Peter & Julie's, carrying their new indirect hot water cylinder. This beauty took up the floor space so we didn't want to dally. 

We've spent a fun seven weeks back with Peter, Julie and Eva on La Forge farm. The French sun has been searing at times. Laura told me off for getting red arms and then she burnt her back so badly she couldn't lie down. Oh the irony!  In fact, some wet weather is needed here as farmers are getting concerned about the hay harvest for winter fodder. It was a sad moment, yesterday, to see the cattle farmer in the adjacent field putting out hay for the cows. There is so little grass due to the dryness. Hay shouldn't be needed for a couple of months yet.

To combat the heat during the day and to enjoy the cooler evenings, we have been working hard on an outdoor hottub/plunge pool built with permaculture principles.  Water from the well, cob made from clay and sand from the large hole in the field (we're getting good at digging), support walls of stone from the new doorways in the house, etc. When the water is changed, it empties into a labyrinth of channels to feed the polytunnel. The wood fire underneath generates heat and the smoke goes round the u shape under the 1250 litre tank, bounces over a speed bump to rotate the smoke and ensure as much heat as possible is given to the water and then up the chimney.  The book for the inspiration is Lying back in a hot tub, drink in hand, looking up at the Milky Way on a clear night just can't be beaten!

We've been here during harvest time and we were very excited to return with hopes of seeing the rows of beans, peas, spinach, carrots, potatoes that we had planted in April. We were disappointed to see that only the carrots and potatoes had made it through a cold spell in early May, and that the plants we've been cropping were from rows re-sown by Julie.  

But the harvest was in full swing and we have eaten courgettes in every form; fried, stir fried, sauce, roasted, baked, relish, chutney, and even courgette cake (lovely). Tomatoes, plums, spinach and beans are all peaking at the moment.We've shelled beans, rubbed flax and winnowed the chaff to release the linseed, harvested and weeded. We've learnt to tie onions, the French way! Produce has been bottled, sauced, frozen, chutneyed, relished, salted, dried, sun dried, lacto fermented, and of course jammed!

Two lots of farm sitting have added to the adventure of our time back here.  

We looked after Jenny's farm, a few miles from La Forge, for a week back in August. She has rare breeds of goats, sheep, and cows, as well as donkeys, cats, dog, puppies, pig, chickens and geese plus a kitchen garden. It should have been a simple, straightforward regimen of feeding and watering the animals and moving them between fields and feeding points but it didn't go quite to plan! One hitch was that neither of us have any musical talent and these animals have been lovingly reared and respond to Jenny's singing. Anyone who has heard my voice can imagine that the response may not have been as hoped... I tried singing the ewes and cows in from the field as demonstrated by Jenny but they actually moved further away, much to Laura's mirth. They did come in at feeding time though, possibly lured by a change from off-key singing to a yodel of "come and get it!". 

The Tamworth pig, Tam Tam, went into season for a couple of days and misbehaved on a regular basis. We found her in the orchard feasting on apples, and sought to improve the gate latch thinking she'd shoved her way in through there. We were then confused to find her once again consuming the windfalls in the orchard, which were right next to the tantalising veg patch! We found out that trying to manoeuvre a pig is best done by running ahead with a full feed bucket - just don't get caught by the pig! Further forays were thankfully thwarted by some fence repairs.

 A week of looking after a big little-farm and all the excitement there gave us the experience to feel rather comfortable about babysitting half a dozen goats and a dozen sheep with Eva whilst Peter & Julie had a mini vacation. All went smoothly!

 Whilst we were here, we spent some time with Austrian neighbours Karina and Bernhard. Laura learnt to knit with Karina (yes, seriously), and Bernhard taught me some woodworking skills. Before becoming a farmer, he was a carpenter and their house is full of his work. I joined in to help make windows and doors for the veranda. It was an incredible process, starting with rough sawn over-sized planks and transforming them through complicated joints into professional products.

So, we've had a fantastic time again here at La Forge and we hope you enjoy the photos showing what we got up to. We've done vide greniers (car boots), been to a festival of wood, swum in lakes, checked out a local organic fair, marvelled at tractors and bulls at an agriculture day, chased after magnificent bugs, played in the woods in the rain, and basically had fun! It has been great to meet Eva and other helpers (Amelie, Ozric, Carolyn, Olivia and Pablo), and marvellous to catch up with Peter and Julie again. Good times with all! We hope that we've worked hard enough :-) We will really miss everyone here. 



 And some excellent news was received whilst we were at La Forge. My little brother and his wife have had a baby, Isla Grace. We received a scan photo and as I opened the image, I asked of those near me if anyone was any good at interpreting the black and white pixels. Totally unnecessary, it was incredibly clear. Before and after photos:


We have two more French hosts to help before we head off to Italy around the middle of October, and will try to keep the blog up to date (internet connections permitting!). 

Recipe: When you're wondering what to do with surplus courgettes, try this is delicious cake! Courgette cake recipe:3 eggs, 1 cup of oil, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 1 tsp of baking soda (bicarb of soda), 1 tsp of salt, 3 tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp of baking powder, 2 cups of grated courgette, 1 tsp of vanilla, 1/2 cup of nuts. Heat the oven to 325F, 160C, GM3. Grease and flour a bundt pan (a ring shaped tin). Mix eggs, oil & sugar until light & fluffy. Sieve & mix flour, baking soda & powder, cinnamon, salt. Add to egg mixture and beat well. Add courgette, vanilla & nuts. Pour into tin and bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan for 10 mins then turn out. If not using a bundt pan, then separating the mix into two sponge tins is likely to be better than cooking the whole lot in one tin which took two hours and fiddling with the temperature.
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