Friday, December 26, 2014

crisp christmas weather

Winter solstice, and the weather is beautiful.  Cold and crisp but warm enough to work in a T shirt in the sunshine, especially if there is something energetic to be getting on with.

It’s been raining loads, so the ground is rather wet to work unnecessarily, so I have been tempted to start clearing part of the ruin where my new house is going to be.  It’s the first time I’ve done any work on this area, as my priority has been the productive garden areas of the plot until now.  

I decided early on that it would be best to get a lot of long term planting done as soon as possible so that whilst building work is continuing, all the trees and shrubs can get on with growing.  Once the house is complete they will already be a decent size and hopefully the orchard will start to be productive.  All my fruit trees are happily settling in, along with thirty or so evergreen shrubs that I purchased to replace or bulk up the hedge to the windward side of the property.  The sooner there is a decent windbreak there the better.  I still have hedges to plant, but am waiting to clarify the boundaries with the neighbouring farmer before I go ahead and order the plants as I don’t want to get them in the wrong place.  Hopefully they’ll go in this season, if not next year will have to do.

newly planted fruit trees 

new raised beds (under construction)

the new drive, complete with planting, in the winter sun

no point clearing all the brambles!!!

they should grow well with this view I would have thought

So I started clearing the ruin, the safer part where the walls have already fallen.  The brambles went in a couple of hours but the next stage is going to take somewhat longer.  It’s fine, as I can’t get on with much else, there isn’t a rush to start building as the final permissions will be another three or four months in the processing and it’s great to have the opportunity to salvage as much as possible.

There are loads of whole roof tiles which I’ll add to the earlier collection.  Plenty of broken ones too which will make excellent sub base around the site when the time comes.  Hefty, solid timbers, ideal for garden structures or raised bed construction, more rotten bits for experimental projects (check out Hugelcultur, a method of vegetable cultivation that mounds soil over rotten timbers, the rotting wood releases nutrients, retains moisture and yet allows for a free draining soil.  With free materials on site, I thought I might make a couple of beds to see how it works).  Then there are all the unknown bits and pieces underneath the rubble.  Who knows what may be lurking below and by taking a bit of time, I’ll be more likely to find things in tact than if a bulldozer gets anywhere near the site.  Going on a treasure hunt.

It’s great to be working now, during the shortest days, to see how the light works its way round the plot and where the sunny and shaded areas are.  The sun is at it’s lowest in the sky and, whilst it’s strength is weak, it is of the most benefit for passively heating the inside of buildings during the cold winter months.  I checked this out and am very pleased to see that my kitchen and bathroom windows get sunshine all afternoon and till just after five in the evening, almost to sunset, maximising the effect of those warming rays.  The house won’t roast in summer because the windows become shaded by a balcony when the sun is higher in the sky.  If that isn’t enough, some climbing plants will soon be planted to give a little extra shade.

this bit of old wall is where my new kitchen window will be, it's 15:55 on 21/12/14  sunny till the end
exploring in the remains of a barn

Percy in the evening light with new 'keep clean' walkway to the chalet

just a little clearing to do

I’ll post some sketches and plans of the house right soon, so that you can all have a good look, ask questions, make suggestions and generally give it a good going over to see that it all makes sense.  I’ve been living imaginarily inside it for some time, yet still find details that don’t work and improvements that can be easily added at this stage of the proceedings.  Hopefully my next post, I just need to get some paperwork from on site.

it's caught on here too!!

to you all

So, that’s it for now.  A slightly belated Christmas to you all, I write on Boxing Day (Dec 26th) and with the sun shining am heading right back out there to carry on.  Best wishes and much love.  xxxxx

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

warmed by godin

It doesn't look much different from the last picture I posted about a month ago.  though now, it works.  All the parts for the chimney have been sourced, ordered, delivered and fitted.  I fired her up and she burns like a dream, keeping me hot and toasty for the sake of three or four logs an evening.  THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH Brigitte.  

The flue passes out through the wall directly behind the stove before rising to above roof level outside.  I thought it would be easier this way to make/keep the chalet watertight.  The home made double lined flue is insulated with perlite which is held in place with steel wool at each end of the second tube.  The flexible outer tube starts before the insulating boards inside and extends some 15cm past the wall on the outside of the chalet.  It also has a light steel wool stopper at one end to keep vermin and the worst of the draughts out whilst allowing much needed air flow close to the stove.

le conservatoire vegetal d'aquitaine

Fruit trees.  One of my major goals this year has been to get plenty of long term planting done.  Completed before construction work starts so that during the busy months/years, the trees and shrubs can establish and start to bear fruit, so that once I move into my house there will already be the startings of an orchard and some decent sized trees, shrubs and hedges to continue my gardens around.

I have spent hours and hours researching fruit tree nurseries in the region, visiting several and perusing websites when I’ve had the chance.  Then, by chance, I visited some friends who planted an orchard several years ago.  They had an old catalogue from the place where they had bought all their trees and were still excited about the memories of their visit to the nursery.  

Pascale explained that one weekend a year the nursery has a exhibition and open day to celebrate fruit trees with demonstrations of planting, pruning and grafting.  tastings possibilities for the majority of fruits that are in season, a market area for associated goods and products and, as always at such events in france, the opportunity to eat well and copiously at lunchtime in a marquee dedicated to food.  

Since August I have slowly been learning the technical vocabulary to understand this catalogue, dreaming about my orchard and attempting the almost impossible task of reducing the contents of several hundred trees to a manageable number to buy, plant and care for.  It’s not even as if I have reference from all the British varieties that I know.  Whether they be apples, pears, cherries or grapes, all the names were foreign to me.

I managed to limit my choices to four cherries, four plums/gages, five pears, three hazle nuts, two walnuts, two chestnuts and one quince, though with the apples i reduced the hundred and fifty or so possibles to twenty five and took advice from the knowledgeable  staff to finalise my selection to eight varieties.  I sent my order ahead of time, in the hope that they would all be available.

To be accurate, it’s not specifically a nursery but a conservation orchard. It’s grand name is ‘Le Conservatoire Vegetal de l’Aquitaine’ and it’s aim it to preserve heritage varieties of orchard fruits, research new varieties, care and pruning techniques in a way that helps the wider environment.  The use of mixed species plantings to reduce pest invasions, minimal pruning techniques that stress the plant less, increasing the biodiversity within orchards to aid pollenisation and attract beneficial insects, a whole gammut of ideas that lean towards a more holistic and natural way of caring for our environment.  

The date of the exhibition had been in my diary since July and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything.  

It was amazing.  As described by my friends and more.  I was able to taste the vast majority of the apple varieties that I had chosen, plus a couple of pears and walnuts. I made changes to my order without problem. Noted kiwi varieties that were tasty for later on, along with grapes, cherries and other gages that looked good either in the flesh or on posters and was awed by the sheer enormity of the event.  Photographs will tell the story .......

from afar, and already busy

one of several  demonstration marquees

nice juicy pears

small choice of walnuts

jam making demonstrations

thankfully the organisation was faultless

and more......

Between eight and nine thousand visitors from over 30 departements of france in a weekend.  Three hundred or so volunteers from all over the south west to help, advise, demonstrate and transport peoples purchases back to their vehicles.

Friday, December 05, 2014

festive preparations

Four days in the mountains, a mini break of sorts, with Pierre at Lou Rider.  Our aim was to bake Christmas cakes and make chutney, get out and enjoy the mountains for the last time before the snow arrived and enjoy being away.

I picked up a couple of crates of ungraded apples at the market, fine to eat but ideal for cooking with, though some varieties tend to keep their shape however long you cook them for.  Apples and a couple of home grown winter squash were the basis for chutney, along with two mixes of spices and other ingredients for the two batches planned.

I got to use one of my latest car boot treasures, an apple peeler, corer, slicer all in one.  It really was amazing and already paid for (3 euros) for the quantity of apples we processed.  Check out the pics.

one of my new kitchen toys

chutney in the making

peels, cores and slices in one easy action

 Pierre had been soaking dried fruit in alcohol for weeks in preparation for the cakes and we raided a supermarket on the way into the mountains for all the other ingredients.  Between us we made nine beautiful cakes of varying sizes and two cases of chutney, one of which will blow your head off!!!  I can’t wait till they’re nicely matured and ready to taste properly.

alcoholic fruit

Christmas is coming

Neither of us were on form, so we didn’t really venture out that much which was a shame.  The winter cold bugs were busy doing their thing and our bodies probably benefited from a bit of a rest.  Thankfully all the produce we made was thoroughly cooked and none of the bugs will have survived.

Monday, December 01, 2014

bramble clearing

I filled my time doing less technical tasks, like preparing the holes for the twenty or so fruit trees that I had on order.  Some were in fairly short grass, so relatively easy, others directly through landscape fabric, so not a problem, though several, for the sake of getting it right first time, were destined to be in the thick of a bramble thicket.

The thicket didn’t look too daunting when I approached it with my metal bladed strimmer.  It cuts through bramble stems like butter and the shredded plant matter creates a thick, woody, hopefully weed suppressant mulch.  Well worth the investment.  Several minutes later the task begun to morph into something larger, half an hour in, the brambles all around me were over head height and taking a whole load of work to cut into pieces.  

I persevered, doing a couple of hours at a time, whilst feeling rough with cold, then as I improved half a day or so at a time.  A good couple of days total work and I now have an impressive warren of tracks and clearings through the bramble thicket.  Several areas of freshly turned, root free soil with piles of compost await the arrival of the trees.