Sunday, 12 December 2010
I'm researching. I quite like these Zwartbles, nice compliments to our little Ouessants.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Friday, 3 December 2010
And then there's another useful piece of information on the following website that gives lots of common trees and their names in english, french, german, dutch and its botanical latin name.
This has proved very useful to me in sourcing more trees and in gaining the help of my farming neighbour when I need to know more about them.
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
It was necessary to sort out the flair fat (the hard fat for making lard) and the soft fat before rendering. The photographs show the sorted fat before and after rendering in the oven. Note the difference in colour of the fat once rendered - the finer fat (the flair fat) is much lighter in colour. Post script - next time I won't render it in the oven as it took on a golden colour and tasted 'roasted' not neutral as it should.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
On 29th October, Jason, Korey and I found ourselves suitable bags and got ready to load up with seed. Jason got accosted by children before going out and had to carry S around for a while. We over-sowed by hand almost an acre of meadow with wheat grain. It was a fun job that took us about 2 hours on a pleasant Friday morning. We all laughed as we were doing it and wondered if we were mad but now I'm happy to report that the grains are coming up strong though perhaps a little patchy. I hope that they have got their roots down into the ground as we are due some frost by the weekend. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Monday, 15 November 2010
I'm not a vegetarian.
Since I could toddle I've been an active and vociferous meat eater. Every Thursday after my cruel and heartless parents forced me to go to Silver Band practice (run by Mr Phillips, a sadistic conductor who would throw his baton at you when you made a mistake) the only thing that would keep me going was the thought of being allowed to go to Burger King afterwards to pick up a takeaway Double Whopper with cheese. However, since running the farm here in France I became aware that perhaps to hold my head high as a meat eater I needed to "man up" and actually get involved with the business end of meat production. Namely the raising and killing of the same animals I'd eaten without a second thought for the past 32-odd years.
Before this week, my "meat experience" was preparing a goose and a chicken for the table. However, in both cases the animals had died naturally. About a year ago we'd bought 2 pigs with a view to one of them being for the table. Pigs are intelligent animals. They were named (Maybelline and Rimmel) . The kids loved them. Like all the other hangers-on we had on the farm I began to think that perhaps they would become pets. However, for some reason, we also bought another 2 pigs and the combined food bill was astronomical. The hard decision had to be made. One of them had to go before winter set in. Of the two pigs, one was friendly (Maybelline) and one was a nasty bully who bit people and other pigs (Rimmel). So, nasty bitey pig was selected to "go".
Now clearly I have no background in dispatching animals, so we contacted a local butcher and discussed with him how, where and when we wanted the deed done. A date was set. We had an uneasy week. It's hard to look a pig in the eye when you know you've signed its death warrant. Alison fretted about every detail. I tried to blank the impending event out of my mind...
As the day dawned (bringing torrential rain) I leapt (well, slouched) into action and began to get everything ready. This meant setting up a big table, and starting 60 litres of water boiling. We'd set up in a bit of the barn as it was the best option. At 7.30am the butcher, his friend and another friend of ours (a local sheep farmer called Sheena) turned up to assist. The pigs had not yet been fed so basically we could lure the intended pig out of the field they lived in, and away from the others, before dispatching her.
At least that was the plan.
Nothing in life is ever simple. Although we managed to get the target pig out of the enclosure, she wanted back in. No amount of tempting her with food seemed to convince her. Perhaps she knew something was up. In the end she was penned in a corner out of sight of the other pigs, but only after slamming me to the ground by accident and narrowly avoiding a nasty "pig-trotter-in-wedding-tackle" incident.
How do you kill a pig? With a compressed air bolt gun to the head. This sounds pretty horrific, but in the scheme of things it's probably the most humane route to take. Smaller animals (like sheep) are often dispatched just by slitting their throat, or bashing them with a mallet which seems worse somehow...
So the gun goes off. It's loud, like a shotgun. Thankfully the pig falls to the floor, unconscious.
The next bit is unpleasant. Basically the pig needs to be bled, quickly. This involves sticking a knife into the pig's neck and catching the resulting fountain of blood in a bucket. That in itself is pretty grim. But once this process starts the body of the pig starts to convulse. It's a natural reaction during death. We lost one of our sheep a month ago to an illness, and as she died in Alison's arms she did the same thing. But a pig is huge. Even with four of us holding the body down it took a considerable effort to keep the pig stationary.
This moment was truly horrible. But at the same time it's the reality I think I needed to see as a meat eater. It's all very well buying a shrink wrapped pork escalope at Tescos, but ultimately something has to die to produce it. I guess I felt guilty, sick, horrified but a strange sort of deep satisfaction as well. Pigs farmed for meat are usually kept in horrific conditions. This pig had lived a decent life, free range, with company and love. She'd gone and hadn't known much about it. It was horrible, sure, but I think I had to go through it. It was sobering.
So, eventually the blood and the convulsions stop. I bring the tractor up to the top field, we load her onto the scoop and move her down to the barn for processing. First, the hair needs to be burned off. This is done with a flamegun and a scraper. In a sense this bit wasn't as horrible as it sounds. With each scrape the pig turns from an animal into a carcass. But it takes ages. When I did the chicken and the goose the plucking bit was by far the longest and in comparison to a pig both are tiny animals. I think it took about an hour or two. Once done the pig was hoisted up and the bit I'd been truly dreading needed to happen.
There are plenty of things in life I think I'm phobic of. I hate spiders. Wasps. Heights. James Blunt. But the "inny bits" going "outy" of anything is my number one nightmare. It's one of the reasons I won't watch horror films or nature documentaries. It's one of the reasons I decided not to do forensic medicine (the other being I was far too stupid).
But.... I forced myself to watch as the deed was done. It was grim. As was the subsequent decapitation. But once done the remaining bit of pig looked like.... well.... a lump of uncooked meat. As this was our first pig we decided rather than process the tripe we'd recover a few bits and bobs but bury most of it under a fruit tree in the orchard. Other stuff, like the heart, liver and lungs were hung up ready for processing and refrigeration. I was very glad that bit was over, though strangely it was possibly better than when I'd had to rummage around in a chicken de-gutting it manually by hand.
Up until now it had been raining hard. Suddenly things seemed to perk up and the clouds lifted a bit, and we began to prep the ingredients to make boudin noir. This is popular in France. Essentially pig intestine filled with the fresh blood, fat, onion and garlic and boiled for a bit to cook it. Sort of like black pudding, but without oatmeal, and a sloppier consistency. The butcher helped us make this. I tried to disappear during the tasting, but he insisted. Looking at his eager, expectant face I could hardly refuse, and I managed to choke back a few mouthfuls so Gallo-Welsh relations wouldn't be tarnished, but it was pretty horrible. Later that day we delivered it as a petit cadeau to all our favourite neighbours, who were all delighted. Many had been donating scraps and spare fruit and veg to feed the pigs through the year, so it was a fair exchange.
The last task for day one was basically to wrap the pig in a sheet, and drive the tractor under cover for three days to let the meat "hang". This isn't a very popular process in France, but basically it makes the meat less "flabby" and after some discussion with the butcher we convinced him it was something we wanted to do (weird foreigners).
So, that's where the pig remains. And on Thursday, Alison, the butcher and Sheena will all be having an ad-hoc butchery seminar as the carcass is converted into ham, bacon, spare ribs and all the other good stuff. The freezer is prepared and we are waiting to taste it (the meat, not the freezer obviously). So far the chicken we processed tasted horrible (it was crop-bound, which means it died choking on food, but this tainted the meat) and the goose was so-so (it just tasted... strange....), so we're hoping the pork will taste OK.
If not we'll have a chest freezer full of the stuff to give away/sell....
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Her life has been, and will be, honoured by our family. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are trying to be sustainably responsible omnivores and that means facing up to where one's meat is coming from. We are raising our own pigs because the pork that is readily available in supermarkets and most butchers has been reared like this...
... and this, in our opinion, is cruel and degrading. Rimmel has known nothing but freedom since the day she was born and will end her life tomorrow in the fields where she grew up with her nose in a bucket of delicious breakfast.
Vegans and vegetarians may scoff at the idea that farmers can be, or are, deeply emotional about the animals in their care, and with industrial farming as the reference, I cannot blame them. On a homesteading farm however the contradiction, the paradox, of lovingly killing animals in order to eat them is resolved in the depth of the emotion and care given to their living moments. Care is more than an activity on this farm, it is an ethic - an ethic that permits, and demands, the development of a deep bond between us and an animal that we may kill or have killed to eat. The fact of slaughter does not nullify the ethic of care.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
The thing that I am most impressed with is that it now has an earth floor (my choice). The old one had a wooden floor and was very difficult to clean once all the straw had been moved out as their poop is very watery and 'lurked' on the wood. The earth floor just absorbs it and deals with it. We can now run with a deep litter bed system. This is where fresh straw is put on top of the old and the warmth from the old straw decomposing keeps the geese warm. I cleaned it out this week and was pleased to see that the system was functioning well, that the straw was not smelly and horrible, that indeed just a fine strawy/earthy mix was forming. In the photograph taken part-way through cleaning you can see a 25cm deep layer of straw at the back, moving to earth at the front. Not a horrible wet stinking mess like the old house after just a week! This straw buildup represents 3 months of accumulated bedding. As this 'experiment' is working, we will continue with it and our geese will be healthy and warm through the winter, and we will have the bonus of less mucking out to do - truly a permaculture solution.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Then we found this beautiful shiny blue-ish black beetle (?) that was about 2cm long. We have no idea what it is so if anyone can identify it then please do post a comment.
And then we were priviledged to see this butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Once again we don't know what sort of butterfly it is (or maybe even a day-flying moth) but I'm trying to track down a name.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
To that end, we took him to the Cider Festival at L'Hermitiere today. It was good fun, not only seeing how they make the cider on a much grander scale than us but also because there were lots of local producers there at a farmers' market type thing. I bought some cold pressed rapeseed oil as they had the hand-cranked machine there converting the seeds right in front of our eyes - very sustainable. Jason of course bought some cider but only after he'd had a few tastings!
There were two lovely Percheron cart horses there with little carts that tripped round the fields mainly for the childrens' benefit. We waited for 20 mins in the queue that had formed in an orderly fashion and got to front. The horses and carts approached, slowed down, we got ready with our excited children and, horror of horrors, all these french families barged past and scrambled onto the carts before we could even catch our breath!! Jason was gobsmacked, I was annoyed but Ben was nonchalant as he said that they always do that - form a queue and then ignore it. He's the one that normally queues with the boys so he should know. He said that you had fight to keep your place so the next time we got our elbows out and barged with the best of them! We enjoyed the ride!
Saturday, 30 October 2010
Friday, 29 October 2010
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
By Wm. Henry Davies.(Wm. Henry Davies (1871-1940) is to be considered as the poet of the tramps. Born at Newport, Wales in the UK, Davies went to America from Great Britain and lived the life of a vagabond. One day, as the result of jumping a train, he lost one of his legs. Davies returned to England where he continued to live the life of a tramp and a pedlar. He wrote poetry (presumably he did right along) and, eventually, he determined to print his own book and did so with the little money he earned panhandling. A copy of this first work, A Soul's Destroyer, came into the hands of George Bernard Shaw; which, in turn, led to the popularization of the poet.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
Here is the new goat house that Ben had part constructed, due for completion 'in the field'. Ben reckoned that Little Red Tractor would be the best way to move it out there, I thought not.
In the end it was a combination of both people power and tractor power that got it out to the allocated slot. Our thanks go to Mim, Kiera, Andy and Sarah for loaning their muscles. The goats have been named after them (except we had to do a slight alteration on 'Andy' and the name became Mandy).
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Saturday, 25 September 2010
I have been agonising most of the summer over the sowing of our wheat crop, or rather, the preparation for the sowing. I look at the piece of land that we did have ploughed (see this post) and right next to it, the other half unploughed. In the 'cultivated' bit we are overrun with nasty pernicious weeds, in the uncultivated piece we have just grass and a few wild flowers. The ploughed land gave buried seeds the light of day and also gave advantage to strong weeds in the absence of grass. The more I have read about no-till farming where the land isn't ploughed, the more I believe it is the right way to go but it is brave step to take to just go out there and sow onto grassland.
Thomas left me with a copy of a BBC documentary called Farming for a Future. I watched it with R after he left and it made me cry. How can we have gone SO far in the wrong direction? And we just keep on going! I made the decision after that film that I was NOT going to have anymore land ploughed here and I feel as though a burden has been lifted from my shoulders now that I have made that choice. So, in the late autumn we will go out and sow right on top of the grass.
Friday, 24 September 2010
The roof of the barn is connected to the roof of the veranda and all water is collected via one main guttering system and downpiped into water butts. However, we have had so much heavy rain today that the water butts have filled up in half an hour and have then overflowed all through the barn, making streams of water flow all over everything we didn't want them to flow over. Ben is now working on linking lots of butts together and raising them so that gravity will hopefully feed any excess off into the solar tunnel. I'll post a photgraph when it's finished.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Of all the meals you can buy for money
Give me a meal of bread and honey.
A table of grass in the open air
A green bank for an easy chair.
The tablecloth inwrought with flowers
And a grasshopper clock to tick the hours.
Between the courses birds to sing
To many a hidden shining string.
And neither man or maid be seen
But a great company of green
Upon a hundred thousand stalks
Talk to us its great green talks.
And when the merry meal is done
To loiter westward with the sun
Dipping fingers ere we go
In the stream that runs below.
Of all the meals you can buy for money
Give me a meal of bread and honey.
And of course this is the exciting time of year for sustainable beekeepers as it's around honey harvest time. Some conventional beekeepers might be surprised at that and declare that Spring too is harvest time, in fact that any time is harvest time if there's honey in the hive. But no, I believe strongly in sustainable beekeeping, beekeeping for nature's sake and not for greed nor commercial reasons. The bees need 12kg of honey to get the colony through the winter, any extra is a gift to the beekeeper. You can only ensure that the 12kgs is there by waiting until the end of summer. If you take honey before then, there is a chance that the bees won't be able to make enough to get them through winter and many will die. Of course, conventional beekeeping will feed sugar water when they have robbed the hive clean of honey but that isn't what the bees need. Nature meant the bees to have honey to eat - maybe the humans could have the sugar water!!
There is a lot of talk in the media at the moment about the loss of our honey bees and many blame it on pesticides or virilant bee diseases but I think we need to ask ourselves if the conventional/commercial way of beekeeping is actually significantly contributing to the losses. Harvesting too much honey is only the tip of the iceberg. See this video if you'd like to know more - http://www.youtube.com/paulwheaton12#p/u/1/6MusqTKZ83I
Friday, 10 September 2010
Sunday, 5 September 2010
They seem to have settled very well and are proving themselves to be great tractors, better than Maybelline and Rimmel. As you can see, they still have to have the riot act read to them occassionally.
Sunday, 29 August 2010
Our 'lawn' was last cut in April - you can see in this photograph that it certainly doesn't need it!
Our maize has failed. Nine hundred holes were dug and planted with two seeds not just once but twice but due to the lack of rain we have but 5 plants! Not nearly enough or one meal for the pigs let alone a whole winter as planned.
I will have to look at ways of keeping the water where we need it as all of our land slopes away from the house and the only bit of green that's left is at the bottom of the hill. I have had to move the sheep to that green area and the geese now free-range to allow them to find all the scraps of weeds/grass that they can. All around us looks like brown, dry, arid wasteland. It is very sobering to go through such dry times and it makes me begin to appreciate how hard it must be for people who regularly go through droughts. It must be so hard to stand by and watch your livestock go hungry and thirsty.
It has made us look even more seriously at our household water consumption and we recycle all bowls of washing-up water, bathwater etc. I now feel angry when I see folk squandering water supplies. It makes you wonder, will it be Peak Oil or Peak Water that rocks the 'developed' world? We will try hard to get those who come to stay with us to appreciate just how valuable a commodity water is and how lucky we are to be able to just turn a tap and water is there.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
It was wonderful and I learnt so many new skills, got so many new ideas, shared thoughts with so many like-minded folk, played barefoot with the children in lush green grass (as we have none at home!), and generally just chilled out. We made felt from raw Ouessant wool, ground wheat and made bread on an open fire, went on a foraging ramble and came back and cooked the goodies (R particularly loved this), made mud bricks, helped to build a clay oven, talked for a whole morning about scythes, visited folk who were running a permaculture small-holding in arid Israel, learnt to make more cheeses, and did a workshop on forest gardening.
The most surreal thing happened just as I was getting up early on the Friday morning. Dimly in the distance I could hear pipes sounding out the tune of, of all things, God Save the Queen. I thought that I was going mad. I mentioned it to Ben. He thought I was going mad. But then, the haunting pipes wafted in again and there it was. We both looked at each other. There in the middle of very rural Belgium, in the middle of a field, at 6.30am surrounded by sleepy permaculture enthusiasts, we listened to God Save the Queen!
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Sunday, 18 July 2010
The second reason is more about animal welfare. When we had four geese, Phillipa and Gertie were a 'couple' as they were the remaining two of the original three, and Nora and Nibble were a pair, each looking out for and protecting the other. After Gertie died, Phillipa went into mourning for quite a few weeks but as she came out of it she began bonding with Nora who looks quite like Gertie. This left poor little Nibble all alone and she was failing. So we got some more goslings in the hope that she would find a new interest. Happily, she has indeed taken to the goslings tremendously well and looks after them like a mother goose. Phillipa and Nora are not so bothered. In fact Nora is sometimes downright nasty to them and pecks them if they get in her way but Nibble rushes over and protects them. It's sweet to watch. Once again these birds hold me captivated.
Friday, 9 July 2010
Thursday, 1 July 2010
We live and learn. I hated doing the cage thing. It really brought home the vile practise of caging hens for commercial gain and I really felt sorry for all the battery hens that are caged like that all their life just so that folk can have cheap eggs. The next time we will get fertilised eggs for them to sit on and hatch (we don't currently have a cockrel to fertilise ours). That would ensure only a 3 week sit and then Mrs Broody will become a happy mum.