Wednesday, September 23, 2015

rocket stove cooking

I love my Rocket Stove.  I’d seen them here and there before, mainly home made affairs, cobbled together with old baked bean cans and old oil canisters and I’d had it in mind to build one of my own one day.  In Dorset I was caught with my guard down, at the Scythe Fair, where I saw a professionally forged, easily transportable, robust affair which I bought it without a second thought.  

How right I was.

Since getting back to France I use it most of the time for cooking meals, not just for myself but for four or five people at a time.  Mainly pot meals that require simmering for a while, but also fry ups and dishes that require a proper amount of heat.

Lighting it was tricky to start and then getting the burn temperature right.  I’ve since improved my wood drying technique and shan’t ever need to cut down another tree to cook with it.  It’s a joy to gather those fallen twigs and small branches and know that they have a serious role to play and also to be able to cook on free, easily gathered material at almost a moments notice.  I’ll need to be more prepared for when the weather turns and keep a good supply of well dried twigs available for cooking.

Thinking about how much wood I would use on a traditional fire, or the gas I would burn to achieve the same result is absurd.  A small bundle of kindling is enough to cook dinner and provide a nice cup of tea to wash it all down.  I’ll be heating my shower water with it soon and filling my hot water bottle with it when the nights get cold.  The gas stove will always be a welcome alternative for when the weather is foul, an oven is needed or speed is of the essence, but ongoing, my rocket stove cooking is becoming an integral part of my daily routine.  

The wheelbarrow in the photos is a makeshift wind deflector, self standing, easily positionable and has many other uses.  Ideal

dinner in the making

the twigs are burning within the metal tubing

a mini furnace

a near complete burn with no smoke and hardly any ash

MMMmmmmmm  lentil, tomato and nettle stew nearly done

clay render on a straw bale house

Anaig is a specialist in clay renders and I have worked along side her on a couple of straw bale build projects.  Here was slightly different, it was her project.  For years she has put her time, energy and expertise into building houses for others and now it is her turn.  I wasn’t sure how the experience was going to unfold.  Either there was going to be stress, angst and aiming for perfection or else a very laid back attitude.  Thankfully it was the latter.  A great team of volunteers, mainly there to gain experience before their own builds and some just for the sheer heck of participation and in return for the great work they have already received.  I think that once you’ve done some clay rendering there is always a hankering to do a bit more.  It gets into your blood so to speak.

I’d missed the first week, where they’d concentrated on rendering the outside of the building and arrived just as the interior was commencing. There had just been raw bales of straw at the start, which need to be promptly covered to protect them from the elements and rodent attack.  We worked at an unpressured pace, achieving a huge amount of work within the allotted time.  Just a small section upstairs to complete at a later date and a couple of patches that needed quiet, undivided attention to get right.  I got stuck in to some of the more challenging tasks such as corners and getting the two sides of doorway and window openings to match.  It was great to be given the opportunity, wonderful to have advice and guidance of a professional within the field and a proud moment to be told that my work was ‘superb’ by someone as exacting as Anaig.  

The week flew by, we never left the building site, dining in the adjacent barn or outside when it was fine, showering in a makeshift shower room with camping showers hoisted up by a pulley system and spending the evenings discussing our various projects and plans for the future.  

I’ll have to pop back again later in the year to see how work is progressing.  The site stops and starts as Anaig is still working on other projects to fund her build. 

what a beautiful setting

waiting for windows, doors, cladding and a roof

core render complete

straw walls before render

now that's a picture frame

some of the tools we used

A Fuller week

Here’s a tiny glimpse of a great week spent with good friends from the UK.  For some reason there is minimal photographic evidence, but I have excellent memories of us having a lovely time.  A lack of sunshine on certain days meant that the showering facilities were rather colder than expected and the composting loo was deemed not to be up to the standards of modern day living, a few too many flying, stinging, biting things for comfort, but all in all, I believe a positive experience.  We ate and drank well and had several tourist excursions to places that I would never have visited on my own.

A great, though much longer than expected, walk in the mountains to see the tallest waterfall in europe.  Little Emma did amazingly well having set out on a walk that we thought was going to be an hour and a half but was actually nearer to five hours.  we should have taken out picnic with us.

there were that many people we could see where to go

can you spot the Fuller family?

getting soaked

Brilliant achievement

Cirque de Gavarnie from a distance

Next time I’ll wear appropriate footwear when I have the opportunity to visit the local amusement park. Parc de Demi Lune.   Proper flying fox and tree top rope bridge experiences - they didn’t approve of flip flops as appropriate foot wear otherwise I’d have spend half the day up in the trees.  Emma thoroughly enjoyed her pony ride and we all had great fun with the craziest crazy golf ever, but the best bit for everyone were the bumper boats.  Out on a lake with ten or so other bumper boats.  Little, inner tube surrounded tubs powered with outboard motors, with their drivers intent on bumping into and splashing the other occupants, known or otherwise, for fifteen minutes or so.  It was a free for all, we all ended up soaked having had great fun.

The whole visit flew by in a moment and i was left standing in a bit of a daze, had a short moment to gather my thoughts before heading off for a weeks’ participation on a straw bale build project in the mountains.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

an untended bounty

I had always imagined that a vegetable garden needed constant attention for it to thrive, so my spring efforts were somewhat of an experiment, knowing full well that I would be absent for a good three months at the start of the growing season.    I had diligently planted a whole array of seeds and seedlings before my departure, tucking them in with a good layer of mulch and through the wonders of modern technology, 3 minutes of water each morning through fifty meters or so of leaky hose.

From the cool of the UK I watched the weather maps as a heat wave passed overhead, temperatures frequently reaching the mid 30’s and several weeks without a drop of rain.  Would my tiny quantity of irrigation be adequate?  Had the sun fried everything to a crisp?  would the deer have found a bounty of tender shoots and ravaged everything in site?  I could only wait and see.

Prior to my return, the weather had broken and a series of storms had passed over the region giving everything (left?) a good dousing.  The weather continued to be warm, but the excessive heat had passed for the time being.

Wow, what a wonderful surprise.  I strimmed my way towards the vegetable beds, clearing the thigh length grass and weeds as I went, to be greeted by an a bountiful array.  There was a massive carpet of squash and pumpkin leaves reaching the length of the plot, numerous orange and red mounds protruding through the greenery.  Spires of swiss chard thrusting up through the weedy undergrowth, hints of beetroot leaves poking through - the tenderest, sweetest beetroot that I have tasted in an age, large as a fist and without a blemish in sight.  They had sheltered well under the weedy layer.  The french bean seeds had germinated, done their thing and plump pods of semi dried beans awaited harvest.  They will do well for soups and stews later on.  A second sowing followed immediately and are now flowering several weeks on.  The lettuce had thrived and produced great flower heads of fluffy seed that was caught and blown by the breeze, I’ll not have to sow lettuce again for a while I imagine.  Four tiny tomato seedlings, had decided to stay too, planted the size of a match stick and abandoned, I hadn’t imagined for a moment anything would come of them.  Left to their own devices, without support or training, they had spread wildly, crossing paths and scrambling through the current bushes.  Garlands of green tomatoes nestled in the foliage, here and there with the faintest hint of red.  Again, they have continued well, providing a bountiful crop for over a month, unfortunately recently hit by blight after a few wet weeks, the remaining crop has been immediately transformed into jars of chutney.

There are varieties that are missing in action.  No carrots, new zealand spinach or parsnips.  I imagine that they either didn’t germinate or got crowded out by the weeds.  Many seeds need frequent watering till they become established in a garden situation, others may have been discovered by the birds, slugs, snails or smothered by mulch.  

Now that the bulk of the weeds have been cleared.  More accurately I should say reduced, a few late starters are emerging.  Not surprising really as the dense weed layer was at least waist high in places.  Brassicas are taking up the challenge and forging ahead, I remember last year, they did very little till the cool of the autumn arrived, then forged ahead to produce admirable.  It looks as if we’re heading the same way this year.  Curly kale, savoy cabbage, hopefully brussel sprouts here we come.  I say hopefully, as my random line free planting doesn’t allow for easy labeling, so it’s a case of wait and see.

As the season progresses I keep sowing a few more seeds, tucking in a few more transplants of things for later on.  It’s a never ending process, cultivating food, harvests need to continue for as long a time as possible and with as much variety as can be achieved.  The variables are enormous so it’s always an exciting challenge.

When I find the lead to connect my camera I’ll post some photos and you’ll see the transformation over the last few months.  It’s great to be back to see what has been occurring in my absence.  

Elsewhere the weeds have grown and it almost looked like it did when I first bought the property.  This time, however, it’s quick strim to get the place back into some sort of order.  Those back breaking hours of bramble root chasing certainly paid off.  I’d certainly recommend taking the time to dig out that knobbly bit of root where all the bramble stems spring from, as opposed to just strimming the stems back, relentlessly for years and years.

Friday, September 18, 2015

an untended bounty - a few photos

Still not taken a great number of photos, but here are a few of my successes in the garden:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

a dilemma

A dilemma, or as one good friend remarked, a golden spanner in the works.

After patiently waiting for many years, I have received monies owed to me from a venture that I left nearly a decade ago. Through changing circumstances my ex colleagues have managed to buy my share of a house and land that we owned together, something that I hadn’t envisaged happening for many years, perhaps at retirement age or possibly never.

Immediately after receiving the cheque, I was overjoyed to come to the end of the waiting, the uncertainty of broken promises and disappointments as their attempts to arrange finance fell through.  The relief to no longer worry that investment for repair and upgrade would become necessary on a house that I no longer wanted or needed.  

Over time the weight of this invisible burden is lifting and the life changing possibilities of such additional finance are dawning on me.  A process of realisation that has continued for several months now with more and more diverse and interesting options manifesting themselves to me as time goes by.

Needless to say, my original projects are on hold whilst I reevaluate my options and try to discover the true impact of this fortunate change in circumstances.  I shall take my time and enjoy discovering the possibilities.  There is no rush to press on regardless and the future will reveal itself when it is good and ready.