Thursday, 29 April 2010

Mason Bees

During the last couple of weeks we have had some frantic activity by some bees, noteably in the Wood House, a play den for the boys and where they store all their toys and books on large shelving units. It was indeed these shelving units that were seemingly the focus of all the bees' attention and on closer inspection we could see why. The supports were drilled down their entire length with holes of about 5 or 6 mm and the bees were 'nesting' in these holes. We could see that some of them were completely plugged up and other were only half full. So the quest began to find out if we needed to move the shelving units for the summer for safety purposes.

Fortunately we found out that they were Mason Bees 'harmless to pets and children' (presumably to adults too) and that they are extremely good pollinators. So we decided to live and let live and watched fascinated as they came and went so many times filling the holes with granulesof soil after laying their eggs in them. At the back of the hole they lay a female egg that takes longer to hatch, and at the front a male one. Then they bung it up. Mesmerising.

Then we realised that the same activity was taking place in the drilld holes under our outdoor eating table and benches, but gain they troubled us not and just went about their business. It was good for the boy to experience this as they now know that bees, especially Mason Bees, are docile creatures that just want to get on with their job.

For more about them see

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Plants on the Move

Finally my plants that came over with us from Scotland are about to make it out of their pots and into the garden. I have been creating flowerbeds using the no-dig technique of laying down cardboard (old packing boxes of which we have loads left from the move) where I want the beds and then loading on a thick layer of manure. I have also added sand as the ground here is very clayish and hopefully this will improve drainage. In the photograph you can see my new herb bed on the left,the Clematis Walk through the arches at the back, and a large flowerbed for perennials in front of that arch. Obviously you can also see lots of the permanent mess that is nearly always strewn about our garden. I'd like to blame it wholly on young children but sadly their parents are tardy in tidying also!

It was good in a way to have the drought last summer as I was able to see which beds dried out the least, and this is where I have located the flowerbeds. I do feel a little bit guilty as my flowers are for pure pleasure and are not really countable as part of our self-sufficient aim and yet take up some of my time. I am reasoning that they will feed the honey bees and this in turn will feed us.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Things About Spring

It's a wonderful time of year. I love being woken by the dawn chorus and getting up around 7am to greet another lovely day beginning. There are just the walnuts and late apples in the orchard to break bud. The blossom is heavy and the sound of the bees even at that time of the morning is one of life's great treats for me. The trees are well on their well to being fully 'leafed-up' by now and this year it was the oak before the ash (summer's a splash - ash before oak, summer's a soak).

With that in mind, we haven't had any rain since 25 March and yet there's still a goodly amount of dew first thing. The ground however is becoming cracked and dry and watering seedlings is a big job in the evenings.
In the evenings after the watering job, when the air is warm and still, one of my favourite senory delights is to sit and breathe in the heady aroma of my wallflowers. The ones at the front door are a stunning deep red/brown, a variety known as 'Blood Red' but this year they are a bit leggy so I'll sow seed of some more in a couple of months and renew the stock. Nearer to the barn are a mixed bag of happily jostling yellows, oranges and multi-coloureds and they too pack a punch. It's amazing how far the scent can travel. After these will be the lilacs that are just about to break into flower, and then will come the mexican orange blossom (philidelphus) and tht will continue right into June. The philidelphus makes putting the washing on the line a true pleasure, such is the intoxicating perfume!

That's the plants, but then there's the wildlife. The swallows always bring a smile to my face with their swooping and screeching. Last year I saw the first on March 23 but this year was later due to the cold and the first was seen on 10 April. Last year they did not nest here at LPM and that makes me sad as it's said that they return to the place of their birth to nest, meaning that ours didn't survive the long voyage of migration. This year we have had a few swooping about so maybe they are having to prospect for new sites as our neighbour's barn is full. I hope so.

The late evening brings the toads' chorus and it is SO loud, starting off as single bleeps and moving into full zither mode around 10pm. We have lots of toads (and newts) at the mar as they love the wildness of the long grasses surrounding the water. Last night the boys and I went to bed and left the window in the bathroom open so that we could listen to them whilst we fell asleep. B says that it makes him smile because he knows that the toads are happy.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Let the Cropping Begin

A week ago, one of our kind farming friends came and ploughed up half of one of our fields for us (we exchanged for goose eggs and cake!). Sadly we don't have a horse and an old style manual plough so the job had to be a mechanised one - actually not sadly but gladly because even the tractor took a while and two passes to turn this uncultivated meadow into workable land. But workable land it now is and we hope to grow the food needed for our animals here. The boys and I have now planted up 5 rows of potatoes - that's 100m of manual hole digging - and yesterday I got in two rows of pumpkins and butternut squashes. The last items are an experiment as they were saved seed from last year and the squashes at least were from an F1 hybrid. Still, they cost nothing so we'll see what we get. Here's hoping for some rain!

I have to say that working a field is SO different to working a little vegetable garden. The field area is 20m x 40m, almost quarter of an acre, and seems like MILES when you're making seed drills. Then there's watering. At the moment the water supply other than the heavens is a fair distance away and we don't have enough hosepipe to reach so I have to do it all by watering can. An arduous job. I'm only going to do it at the planting stage, then mulch them, then leave it to nature. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Signed Up for WWOOF

On 22 March we officially became hosts for WWOOFers - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (see and since then have had 16 requests to come and help/stay with us. What a staggering response!

I am excited and nervous in equal amounts. Excited because it will be great to share time, knowledge and experiences with other folk but nervous in case we don't live up to their expectations.

Lots of them want to come to improve their French and I'm not so sure that LPM is the very best place for that in that we don't speak French within our family, only to teach odd words to the children. I'm not the best person to teach the children, or anyone else, more than this as my school French is very rusty, plus I'm not a native speaker and they would be better to learn from a native. Having said that, quite a few of the folk who are volunteering are actually from within France and are French speaking, wanting to improve their English, so maybe this is a good mix for other folk who want to come to improve their French. Plus we obviously have to live our lives outside of LPM on a day-to-day basis in French so there are opportunities, and neighbours sometimes call in. I'm just honest in my replies to enquiries and folk can make their own decisions based on that.

Equally, we are not far into our journey of making LPM the sustainable place we'd like it to be. So many things still need to be done, and yet more need further research. We are learning here through trial and error and those WWOOFers who only come for a short duration may only get to see the errors! Whilst I have years of experience of running an organic garden in Scotland, the plot including the house footprint only extended to 0.5 of an acre - here we have 17. Plus the climate is different, the sourcing of materials is different, working a field is different to working a garden - in fact, at times, it seems as though *everything* is different! And those differences need to be learned and worked in.

Ben says that I'm worrying too much about it. I guess that folk will just have to take us as they find us. Those that love it will maybe honour us by coming back, and those that don't won't.

I'd best get out planting or the WWOOFers will wonder what we do with our time!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sleep At Last

At last, 3 good nights' sleep in a row. S has had a long stream of illness, basically since we got back from the UK, the last of which was a perforated eardrum. At the beginning of March he had bronchiolitis accompanied by the barking cough and difficulty in breathing and that, unbeknown to us developed into an ear infection. So the cough went but what a whinging litte boy was left behind. He wanted to nurse every hour, day and night, cried almost constantly and was generally wearing to be with. Poor wee soul. Finally, almost 3 weeks ago, his eardrum finally gave in to the pressure and the nasty gunge made its slow and yucky exit. He had antibiotic eardrops from the doctor but he was allergic to them so we just had to ride it out with paracetamol. But, halleluyah, no gunge now for 2 days and a happy little boy has returned to us. And at last some relatively undisturbed sleep. I feel like a human being again instead of feeling like a sucked and spat out pastille! And here is our happy little urchin, 'fresh' from rolling in a puddle, then climbing up onto this table....

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Passing of a Friend

As those of you who have visited us here already know, I truly adore my beloved geese. They are not like the hens or the pigs (or the cats) who see us a walking food dispensers. No, they are more like dogs and truly want your company. My girls wait at their gates for me and then will 'work' with me in the orchard, or if we let them out to swim in the mar, they will then seek me out in the garden or sit and wait at the patio windows for me. And they are very close to each other, very 'in tune'.

It was therefore with great sadness that one of them - my favourite, Gertie - died last Thursday due to a prolapsed oviduct laying an egg. Bless her. Rowan let them out first thing and said that he'd noticed red bits on some of them. I immediately went out to see if there was a problem and 3 were out but Gertie was on the nest laying an egg and we don't disturb them if they are egg-laying. True, there were some blood smears on 2 of the geese so I decided to check back in a little while. An hour later I went back and Gertie was off the nest having laid her last egg but sadly had passed away. I was devastated. I cried and cried as I moved her and cleaned out their house and the other geese were noticeably subdued as I ushered them off to the mar for a swim and clean up.

And now I take a deep breath to tell this, as I did at the time we made the decision. We decided that it was a waste of a beautiful life to just discard her and that we would honour her in death as we had in life and that she would grace our table and live on as nourishment in our bodies. We hadn't taken her life, but rather had been given a gift. I cried as I asked our neighbour to help us prepare her but he was very respectful about it. I prepared all the necessary equipment and Ben helped to pluck and eviscerate.

I didn't want to look at the intestines but I forced myself and I have to say that I was glad that I did. I was amazed to see all the eggs in production - loads of yolks in a line ranging in size from laying size down to very small. I felt priviledged to see that piece of nature.

Then it was over to me for cooking. So we had roast goose with forcemeat stuffing, and I rendered all the fat, and made lots of stock from the bones. Oddly, this was kind of healing. We did enjoy the meat but not enough to think of going into goosemeat production. Our remaining girls will continue as our organic lawnmowers.

I have learned a lot from this experience and moved my life on one step.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Treat

Yesterday I took 7 mins to boil these eggs (goose eggs take a little longer than hens) and for my efforts I was rewarded with 2 hours of relative peace and quiet as two happy children coloured patterns on them. Plus another 2 hours today as they played Hunt the Egg, each taking it in turns to hide the eggs. Plus another hour when they vanished off to the bottom field to roll the eggs down the sledging hill. Finally the well-travelled eggs became treats for the piglets and everyone was happy. What a good return on time spent in preparation!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Egg Stash

Our girls have been at it again - hiding the eggs - 18 eggs found at the back of the barn under the bicycles.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Sunshine and Showers

Well what a mixed bag of weather we have had recently - torrential rains, gale force winds, and yet in the same day we can sit out and eat our evening meal in the calm and relative warmth of the setting sun. "April showers" it might be known as in the UK though here it is called "the winds of March" even though we have now left March behind. Locals are saying that it's a very late start to Spring.

It's not just the weather that's sunshine and showers, it's life in general here. We have so many jobs that need to be done
Fencing for the goat pasture
Fencing for the 'field hens'
Goats house to make
Chook house to make
Beehives to make and site
Plants to get out of pots and into soil
Veg to get planted up
Mulch to make and spread
...and so little time to do them. Now you may think that that's odd when both Ben and I are at home all the time, on the farm, but there are three little children that also need to be cared for, meals to cook, shopping to be done, animals to feed, crops to plant etc etc. The day looks like this.

7.30am - my day starts
7.30 - 8am - I get up, let out the fowl and feed both them and the pigs and change all the water bowls.
8 - 8.30am - R and B get up and need breakfasting help, getting dressed etc.
8.30 - 9am - S wakes and needs changed and fed, then breakfast of porridge.
9 - 9.30am - I get my breakfast (finally) and get washed and dressed.
9.30am - Ben gets up (sometimes at 9am if I'm lucky)
9.30 - 10.30am - I make bread, hang washing out, tidy some work surfaces
10.30 - 12noon - Chance to do jobs on the list for one of us whilst the other plays with children
12 - 1.30pm - Nurse S and get him off to sleep. Organise and eat lunch.
1.30 - 2.30pm - Collect eggs and change animal bedding. Get ready for afternoon outing
2 - 5pm - out doing something 'educational' somewhere other than LPM
5 - 6.30pm - I prepare the evening meal and do general house stuff plus feed the animals and birds. If the boys are settled, Ben gets chance to do another job on our list.
6.30 - 7.30pm - Eat meal and tidy up
7.30 - 8.30pm - Chance to catch up on emails, internet etc
8.30 -9pm - Get the troops ready for bed
9.15 - Go to bed.

So you see, in a whole day we maybe get about 3 hours in total to do 'jobs on the list' and it's only ever one of us at a time and some jobs would definitely be easier if it were both of us. That's the difficult bit about home-educating - that it always needs one of us to be on hand for the children. That's the 'showers'. But the 'sunshine' is that the boys are becoming interested in helping us and learning new life skills. In fact R is becoming an invaluable helper and indeed loves doing the animal related jobs.