Monthly Archives: October 2014

31/10/2014

So that’s the end of another October. Let’s see, what have I been up to this week? Well, on Monday I poured the first lime concrete in the barn. I was amazed to find that it took seven batches with the concrete mixer to fill each form (a form in building terms is a rectangular mould). And seven batches in the concrete mixer equalled an entire 35kg bag of lime. So as I only had two bags of lime, I’ve only been able to pour two forms! Having let the lime concrete dry for a couple of hours, I then scraped the surface level, and left it alone to set.

On Tuesday morning I discovered lots of little footprints in the still-drying mix. They’re Hubert-shaped. (Hubert is the hedgehog, if you remember). Little blighter. Just wait until he licks his paws.

A local farmer is renting one of our immediate neighbour’s fields. He’s been seeding winter wheat this week, and I found a small pile of grain which had spilled next to the road. I took a couple of handfuls and scattered them in Borehole Field to see what happens. The grain is all dyed a red colour though; so it’s obviously been treated with some sort of pesticide. If it grows, fine; we’ll have some food for the bunnies and hens. If it doesn’t, too bad!

LSS had called the chimney sweep to enquire whether he was still interested in doing the work. He was unavailable, so she left a message. On Wednesday evening he called back to say they would be doing the job on Thursday afternoon.

There’s still no news on the aged FIL’s burned-down-garage. LSS has tried calling the insurance company to get an update; but during the brief times she is available to call them, they’ve either been on holiday or closed.

Thursday dawned bright and shiny, although somewhat chilly. The temperature has been steadily decreasing recently although we have not yet had a frost. I think we will soon have to transfer the lemon tree into the polytunnel. In the afternoon the chimney sweep visited! Finally, after having promised to do the work by mid-September, we now have a chimney liner installed, together with a rain cap. The boiler stove certainly seems to be working a bit better now. And this should also mean the stovepipe will not need to be swept quite so often, due to the better draw.

The aged FIL is being transferred to a hospital in Paris on Wednesday next week, for an operation scheduled on Friday to replace a heart valve. LSS was given a few pamphlets of information regarding the operation, with diagrams and everything. Apparently the aged FIL should not go jogging for a while after the operation. I expect he was delighted to hear that. Not that he knows what “jogging” means, of course. They call it “footing” here.

We definitely have a hedgehog in the barn. Goodness knows what he’s eating. I’d gone in after dark to check something, wearing my miners’ LED head torch, and surprised him. He scampered away across the tarpaulins, and dived in between two cardboard boxes. It’s quite amazing how fast these little things can move when they want to!

So that brings us to today, Friday. I had intended to take the Renault 5 into town to buy some more lime. However, the best-laid plans and all that…. This morning I discovered that two of the bunnies had died last night. Not too sure what they died of; possibly over-eating. They had some stems of broccoli yesterday afternoon. Rabbits certainly are delicate creatures. Oh well, as I spent the morning skinning and butchering, that means we have Sunday off for the next two weeks (Sundays have become rabbit-processing days, as this is the only day of the week that LSS and I are in the same place at the same time. And she’s better at processing bunnies, as she has smaller fingers). I’ve started tanning the next batch of pelts – only four this time; hopefully the reduced number will be a bit more manageable. The last lot are complete, and I’m very pleased with the result; they’re lovely and soft!

26/10/2014

Yesterday LSS went to visit the aged FIL in the hospital in Orleans. She took him some toiletries (and smuggled in some little chocolate cakes). She managed to speak to the nurse who is dealing with him, and it transpires that the aged FIL will not be back home any time soon. They are intending to send him to Paris for an operation; he’ll be there for eight to ten days, and then will be sent back to Orleans. From there he will go to a recuperation centre called The Pines, in a nearby town. He’s not overjoyed about all this. Apart from a stint in Algeria for his military service, he’s pretty much never left his farm. But he appears to have accepted the situation.

The clocks went back this morning. So when we got up at our usual time (around six thirty) it transpired that the time was actually five thirty. Oh well, too bad. We’re completely unlike our neighbours T&M in this respect. They are not early risers at all; in fact M can stay in bed until nearly lunchtime. They go to bed fairly late though; on the odd occasion when we’re invited for dinner, the party usually breaks up at around two in the morning. The older I get, the more irritating I find this clock-adjusting becomes. And it’s surprising just how many clocks one has to go around adjusting. Only the computers and servers adjust themselves.

The poor old neglected apple tree at the aged FIL did manage to produce some apples this year. Not that many though; I gathered a bucketful. Although I am partial to a bit of apple-and-blackberry crumble, LSS is a bit too busy these days to make puddings. So I may have to make one myself. That reminds me – we’d better buy some custard when we visit the UK at the end of the year. The “Crème Anglaise” you can get here just doesn’t taste right!

The garden is looking somewhat overgrown at the moment, as LSS doesn’t have the time to look after it (and I’m busy doing other things). Yesterday I picked the last watermelon, and I noticed we still have some raspberries and strawberries, although they are looking a bit sad. Not bad for the end of October!

24/10/2014

One of the large sheds at the aged FIL was in a really decrepit state, and had started falling down. Over the past year or so I’ve been gradually dismantling it; stacking the corrugated iron roof panels in a neat pile, and putting the tree-trunks which formed the support poles and roof trusses in another shed, out of the rain – for adding to the firewood supply. As the aged FIL is currently away, I took advantage of this fact and took the chainsaw with me to cut up the longer poles and one particularly troublesome roof beam. The shed is nearly completely dismantled now. It made a nice break from thinking about lime concrete flooring and built-in showers!

23/10/2014

LSS’s birthday. We’ll probably celebrate by going to a restaurant tomorrow evening.

I have been considering using a layer of straw in the barn as insulation under the lime concrete. Research has shown that it is a fairly efficient insulator; after all it’s used in bales in straw-bale houses. However, I don’t think it would be a suitable material for this particular floor. Because there’s a fairly high water-table, the soil is always damp, so I strongly suspect it would just rot. T&M suggested putting down extruded polystyrene sheets; however these would not be breathable, so we’d have even more rising damp in the walls. I’ve decided to just pour the lime concrete on top of a layer of compacted rubble/gravel and take my chances. At least it will be an improvement on the dirt floor.

The construction of the formwork has now been completed, and it’s ready for pouring the concrete (which will be 10cm deep). It took me ages to get it all levelled up, but it’s now ready for the pour. I initially intended doing this in sections of one square metre; but I changed my mind. For practical purposes each form measures 0.8 x 2 metres. This size is a better fit for the area to be done. The width of 0.8 metres will make it easier to scrape the top surface level. I’ll probably start the pour next week, as there are other little jobs pressing for my attention. As LSS is working all hours, I need to collect some more grass and plants for the ravenous horde of beasts viz. the bunnies. I also need to cut some more wood with the chainsaw. We do have sufficient firewood for the winter, but we’ve been bringing back and stacking up scrap timber and old fence posts from the aged FIL’s place, and the pile has become somewhat large.

In the evenings I’ve been working at the rabbit skins; they are nearly complete. It’s a lot of work, I can tell you!

This morning the aged FIL was taken by the local ambulance to the hospital in Orleans for a scheduled checkup. They think the issue with one of his heart valves has become worse, so have decided to keep him at least until after the weekend so they can run more tests and possibly carry out an operation.

LSS returned home with a new nutcracker, so shelling hazelnuts is once more back on the “to do” list!

20/10/2014

Last night we had a roast shoulder of wild boar. LSS decided to try and clear some space in the freezer just in case the hunters presented us with some more meat (although judging by their lack of success on their last escapade I think this is unlikely).

Well, this was a roast dinner like no other. Not only did we have it with the customary roast potatoes, but also with some parasol mushrooms (field-picked yesterday). I had roasted a pumpkin in order to start making some pumpkin beer (which by the way smells absolutely wonderful at the moment) and we had some of that with the roast too. But that’s not the end of it. LSS had been given some chili peppers by one of her pupils, and she made a chili-and-chocolate sauce for the roast. All I can say is “Wow.” If you’ve never had chili and chocolate sauce with a roast, I recommend you try it.

I have also been busy shelling hazelnuts. Or at least I was. Unfortunately the high-quality-made-in-China nutcracker couldn’t cope, and broke in half. I have added a replacement to LSS’s shopping list.

19/10/2014

Digging, digging, digging.

The main task for this past week has been moving earth from the barn to a large heap near the pond. One quarter of the barn floor has now been excavated, which should be sufficient for the construction of the bathroom. It appears the original builders/owners simply brought in lots of clay, which they spread out over the black earth topsoil and then compacted; possibly by holding a “barn dance”! Some of this clay was rather hard so I had to use my pickaxe. Under the clay I found several shallow rabbit/mole/rat tunnels, which I filled in with gravel.

As I was nearing completion, I had a brainwave. No, nothing to do with the job at hand. But it certainly made it more enjoyable. I looked for my tiny old MP3 player, which I originally used on my Yamaha motorcycle whilst commuting. It still worked, so I finished off wheeling the final wheelbarrow loads to the sounds of Rodriguez, singing along at the top of my voice. It helps to live in the middle of nowhere!

The next task is to set out the levels for the new floor. The lowest point needs to be the shower drain; once I’ve determined where that’s going I can lay out the rest of the flooring from that point. We’ve run into a bit of a sizing issue though. We had originally intended to construct a separate toilet area, with the bathroom adjacent to that. The problem is that there is a large oak pillar in the way. This supports the roof, via a massive oak beam. With our initial proposed layout, there would not be room for a bath, shower and sink. You could have any two of those, but not all three! So LSS came up with a solution: include the proposed toilet area as part of the bathroom, and construct the toilet on the other side of the pillar. This cuts down on the size of the proposed future office space, but not by much. And it means not only can we have a bath, shower AND sink in the bathroom, but we’ll be able to fit the washing machine, a towel radiator, and an airing cupboard in there as well. I actually downloaded a CAD (computer-aided design) program and have drawn the plans using that. It enables you to see what the finished construction will look like. The program is very easy to use, so if you intend doing any home improvements it’s worth a look. It’s free, of course! http://www.sweethome3d.com

Cat is once again not the flavour of the month. For the second time in recent weeks she’s brought a mouse home and released it in the lounge. Of course Mousey refuses to follow the rules of the game and play with the cat, promptly hiding under the furniture. So we’re currently surrounded by mousetraps. The last specimen we caught was thrown into the chicken coop to see what they’d make of it. Did you know a chicken can swallow an entire mouse in one go? I think we also have one upstairs in the loft, as I heard something scampering about last night. You see, we use the loft area for drying out old bread for the chickens and rabbits. LSS buys past-date left-over bread from bakers/supermarkets; they sell it by the sackful as animal food. You get a huge bag for one Euro. Occasionally there’s some speciality bread included which is still in perfect condition so we eat that ourselves!

Friend F and her husband paid us a visit on Friday, in order to gather some chestnuts. They left with a full basket, and also bought a dozen eggs.

The tanning of the rabbit hides is nearly complete; they are now hanging up in the workshop to dry out. When they’re nearly dry the leather needs to be stretched to break the fibres; this can be done by pulling them over the back of a chair, or just stretching them between the fingers. The pelts will then be stored in a cardboard box with a bar of soap and/or a sprinkling of borax; this will hopefully keep insects away and keep them from smelling manky (technical term).

For the second time this season the hunters arrived in search of large game. It’s been six weeks since we saw them last; I think the ideal interval would be two weeks. The wild boar have been digging up the roadside verges all over the place, so the population really does need to be kept in check. In addition, the more frequently they hunt, the greater the likelihood that we’ll be given some pieces of wild boar for the freezer! Of course they didn’t find anything…

In other news: one of the three large aspens near the pond appears to have died. All the mistletoe has turned brown and the only leaves you can see on the branches are those of the ivy. So this winter I think it will need to be felled and used to fill up the remaining part of the wood shed.

12/10/2014

It’s haircut day again…

The past few days have certainly been busy. The six pelts (five rabbit and one coypu) have now been processed, and are soaking in the tanning solution. This is stirred twice a day for a week; so on Thursday the skins should be ready for the next step. This involves washing them, hanging them up until they are nearly dry, and then stretching them to soften the fibres. Just think – we need around fifty of these things to make a bedspread!

Today the second male bunny went to the great big field of clover in the sky. After some research online I used my mig-welding machine to construct a more humane dispatching tool. I won’t go into further details here, but this winter I intend putting up a new section on the website, probably titled “Husbandry” which will cover both chickens and rabbits, with relevant photos. Speaking of chickens, we have now moved the plastic chicken fencing to enclose a new area; the ground under the small chestnut tree near the courtyard was looking rather bare. They certainly keep the weeds in check, and even eat nettles – although only the young leaves!

The excavation of the barn floor is progressing slowly. Perhaps by the end of this week I’ll be able to start mixing concrete.

This year’s batch of sloe wine has finally started bubbling. Despite fitting a brewing belt to the container it’s taken nine days for bubbles to start going through the airlock, so I suspect the yeast may well be past its best. I’ve asked T&M for a small bag (500g) of malted barley, and once I have that I can try my hand at brewing some pumpkin beer. Unfortunately it looks like there won’t be any cider this year. Even T&M’s grandmother’s apple orchard has not produced very many apples. One of the trees at the aged FIL has a few fruit, but I think these will be eaten rather than brewed.

We still haven’t heard from the chimney sweep regarding the lining of our boiler stove chimney. I rather suspect LSS will need to give him a gentle reminder this week.

08/10/2014

As mentioned, the chestnut trees have been producing very well once again. But although I like chestnuts, peeling them is a pain in the proverbial. Well, I’ve found a new method which certainly worked for me. So if you like chestnuts but find that peeling them is too much hard work, give this a try:

06/10/2014

The rendering of the archway is now complete. Actually I’ve come to the conclusion that rendering (plastering the surface of a wall or ceiling) is my new least-favourite job in the world. Especially when it comes to applying lime render to a horizontal surface like the underside of the arch.

There’s a special technique for applying render in this way. I just haven’t found it yet. The surface has to be at exactly the right degree of dampness. Too wet – the render falls off. Too dry – the render falls off. It’s not the smoothest surface you’ve ever seen, but it’s done; once it’s painted you won’t notice it. I left the bricks exposed on the barn side of the wall, as I’m rather pleased with their appearance. Now I just need to clean up all the splashes of render on the tiled floor; fortunately lime render washes off quite easily.

The next phase of the project can then get under way; a lime concrete floor in the barn. LSS made a start several months ago, removing the top 30cm or so of the dirt floor in one corner. The rest of this “bathroom area” needs to be excavated. The soil which is removed is being piled up near the pond; next summer when the pond water level is sufficiently low, the soil will be used to repair the remaining side of the pond which has suffered from erosion.

With the soil removed, a sub-base will then be installed using rubble (damaged bricks taken from the archway construction) and gravel. This will be compacted manually using the aged FIL’s tamper (a short section of railway track attached to a long oak handle something like this).

Then the wastewater pipe for the shower will be installed, and the concrete mixer will be switched on to start mixing the concrete for the floor. This will be done in 1m² sections so that I can ensure it’s level. There will be no need to construct expansion joints because I’m using lime instead of cement. Once the floor is complete I can then construct three partition walls and we’ll then have the shell of an indoor bathroom!

The boiler stove was lit once again because it was another cloudy day, with rain in the afternoon. I inadvertently put a few too many pieces of wood in the fire, with the result that the temperature at the top of the thermal store reached 75° C. Fortunately my safety-feature worked! The little LCD display showing the temperature at the top of the thermal store is also a thermostat, and if the temperature hits 75°, the central heating circuit switches on, so heat is dumped through the bedroom radiator. The temperature at the hot water tap was still around 55° C though.

Because of the ecological/economical design, we had to get used to the way the hot water supply works. If you turn the hot tap on fully, the water is not hot at all because it goes through the thermal store serpentine coil too quickly to pick up much heat. But if you open the hot tap only fractionally so that just a trickle emerges, it’s very hot indeed. So you can regulate the temperature by controlling how much water is coming out of the tap.

M&O came past in the evening to drop off a pheasant, a result of last weekend’s hunting. So guess what I’m doing tomorrow!
<Sings>I’m not the pheasant plucker,
I’m the pheasant plucker’s son,
And I’m only plucking pheasants
Till the pheasant plucker’s come.

05/10/2014

LSS paid the taxes last week; the equivalent of the UK Council Tax. There are two; the taxe foncière (a tax paid by the owner of the property) and taxe d’habitation (a tax paid by the person occupying the property). These are still less than 10% of the Council Tax we were paying in the UK. Which was a nice surprise.

In the afternoon it stopped raining, so LSS washed her car. Once she’d finished, I gave it a scheduled service; changing the oil and so on. The solar panel pump did not switch on once today; the panel did not get above 20 degrees.

The first of the bunnies (a male) is now in the freezer. That reminds me, I’d better start tanning again; we now have five rabbit pelts (four courtesy of Neighbour J) and a coypu pelt taking up room in the freezer. One can freeze skins before tanning them, because it’s not really worth going through the tanning process for just one rabbit pelt.

The chestnut trees are now in full production, so there is a bowl full of chestnuts waiting for my attention. Up until now I have struggled with peeling these things, but I saw a video detailing a much easier method. One simply cuts them in half, parboils them for two minutes, and then squeezes them gently with a pair of pliers to separate the nut from the shell. I’m keen on giving that method a try. One can also make beer with them…