Monthly Archives: May 2015

31/05/2015

The final section of limecrete has now been poured, bringing the total of cement-mixer loads to 124. The other half of the barn will need to wait for a while; the bathroom section is the important bit!

On Tuesday we paid yet another visit to BricoDepot. And guess what? We now have a brand-new bathtub. In our bathroom. All right, it’s not installed yet, but that will start next week. I made the customary blood sacrifice by slicing my finger on the edge of the bath whilst loading it onto the trailer. It wasn’t a deep cut, but it bled profusely. And of course there were no plasters to be had anywhere. As usual, LSS had her handbag with her. This thing is a Tardis in that it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. Anyway, she found some tissue, and wrapped the offending digit in this, holding the bandage in place with some sellotape, also extracted from the depths of the Tardis handbag.

Hubert the hedgehog has made a reappearance. We’ve seen him next to the hedge (unsurprisingly; that’s probably why they were called hedgehogs), and he later scurried into my workshop, where he short-sightedly bumped into a stack of wood before reversing and scurrying off under some shelving. I’ve no idea what he thinks he’ll find in there other than spiders.

LSS took me to a local charity shop to see if there was anything interesting. I actually found a brand-new pair of shoes – in my size – with steel toecaps! They were only a fiver. Now I can drop bricks onto my feet without worrying.

Another load of wood has been brought back from the pile of semi-burnt timbers at the aged FIL. The builders have started the construction of the replacement garage by pouring the foundations. Unfortunately they’ve orientated the entrance incorrectly, so they’ll need to move some of the reinforcing.

I also reattached the brushcutter to the tractor, ready for cutting the grass around the property – which, thanks to all the rain – is now waist-high.

Oh – and we’re still eating strawberries…

24/05/2015

It seems I’ve lost the habit of making daily posts. Apparently this has now become a weekly event. Mind you, I was never much good at keeping a daily diary. Perhaps it’s just a lack of discipline. Or motivation. Or both. Anyway, although I do make short daily notes, it wouldn’t be very legible to just reproduce them here verbatim. For example: “18/05. Dead bunny. Strawberries.” Doesn’t really explain very much, does it?

So instead I’ll just summarise the past week’s events.

The elder trees at Neighbour J are now fully in flower, so the fermentation of this year’s batch of elderflower champagne has commenced. LSS has also started making elderflower cordial and has produced 8 litres so far. On the husbandry front, one of the female rabbits died, so we’re now down to five. Still, looking on the bright side it means that the humane dispatcher will not have to be used quite as often. One of the youngest hens has become broody, so we’re having to keep an eye on her. If they’re broody they stop laying; and as they’re occupying a nest this can apparently affect the other hens too.

The strawberry plants in the garden have been producing abundantly, so we’ve had strawberries for dessert every evening this week. And very nice they are too. We’ve also discovered that we still have about 10kg of last year’s raspberries in the freezer, so LSS has started making raspberry cheesecakes. Other fruity news: the gooseberries are ripening nicely, and the peach tree near the kitchen has done very well, so as long as we don’t have any strange weather, we should be getting a lot of peaches this year. The tree has tripled in size since we’ve been here. We may also get some apples and pears – fingers crossed.

Although Mrs Duck was unsuccessful in raising a brood this year, she is still visiting the pond with the two male ducks. They have also taken to strolling around the garden; we’re keeping an eagle eye on the lettuces but so far they have not shown any interest in eating our produce! However, LSS has put an old saucepan near the pond, containing some pieces of bread soaked in water. They like that.

The limecrete floor is spreading slowly across the barn. We fetched another 650kg of sand and ten bags of lime this week, so all this material is obviously going somewhere! By the end of next week floor-laying operations will cease for a while; half the barn will be complete. (The other half is still full of not-yet-unpacked removal boxes.) I can then turn my attention to the installation of plumbing and electricity. By the time my sister arrives in June we should have a fully-functioning bathroom. Of course there won’t be any actual walls, but at least it will be indoors! As we’re going to be laying a limestone floor on top of the limecrete, I’d like to get the floor laid before erecting the partition walls. I’d rather install a partition wall on top of a finished floor, than install the wall and then try and lay the floor around it. It’s probably not how a builder would do things, but that’s how I want to do it. I have the timbers already as we visited BricoDepot this week. Next week we’ll be making another trip there, this time to get the bath and other sundry plumbing items.

Once the bathroom is functioning, I’ll probably stop writing this blog. Unless there is a tremendous demand that I continue, of course! What do you think? Leave a comment below.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve given any details of the limecrete mixing procedure yet. Apparently using a cement mixer is not the best procedure, but I haven’t found any problems with this method. The mix I’m using is a 1:2:3 ratio. 1 part NHL 3.5 lime, 2 parts sand, 3 parts coarse gravel, and about 6 litres of water. In order to get an even mix, I first pour about 3 litres of water into the cement mixer, and half the gravel. The mixer is then switched on, and I add all of the sand. I’ve found that with practice (and as I’ve now mixed 98 loads, I think that qualifies) one can hear whether there is enough water in the mix. There should be a swishing sloshing sound, but more swish than slosh! I then take a deep breath, and stop breathing before adding the lime (there’s a lot of airborne dust!). I then trickle more water into the cement mixer until it stops producing dust, by which time the desire to breathe is extremely strong indeed! Yes, I suppose I should use a mask. Too bad.

I then add the remaining gravel. The mixture is quite wet (which is apparently a bad thing) but it’s much easier to pour into the wheelbarrow, and I haven’t found any problems strength-wise. After all, it’s not Portland cement-based concrete. I know that if you use normal concrete which is too wet, it’s not very strong. With the limecrete though, after a week one can walk on it without leaving a mark. I believe full strength is only attained after six months or so.

On Sunday Friend L came around for lunch. In the afternoon another friend arrived with her young son, and the afternoon was spent fishing. A total of 14 carp were removed from the pond. I later put these into a bucket and took a walk to the neighbour’s pond where they were released. This had been planned previously – he doesn’t have enough fish, and we have too many!

Finally, the bill for my hospital visit arrived; a grand total of €18. We’re obviously very pleased with the French health service.

14/05/2015

Well, it’s possible that summer is finally on its way. We’ve had several days in a row without rain. Of course this means the plants in the garden will need watering, but you can’t have everything! We’ve also been able to use the solar-heated external shower again. The advantage of that is that the waste water drains into the reedbed; we don’t have to manually empty it!

As night-time temperatures are now staying above five degrees, work on the barn floor has started again. As far as the subfloor is concerned, the actual bathroom area is now complete, and LSS has started excavating the next section (to the right of the photo below). Limecrete floorIt’s hard to believe, but this little lot is what 62 concrete-mixer-loads looks like. Well, it is 10cm thick!

Earlier in the week we took the trailer to the local quarry and fetched another 700kg sand. The price has gone up; it’s now €9.50. For 700kg. Still a bargain! For storing the sand, I made a box out of pallets, and lined it with a tarpaulin. Two corrugated-iron sheets cover the top to keep the rain off:Sand deliveryWe have also made a massive stride forwards regarding what we’re going to put on top of the limecrete base. You see, it’s all very well having a floor made of breathable limecrete, but if you then slap down an impermeable covering like ceramic tiles on it, you may just as well have constructed the entire floor out of concrete. And in an old building like this one, an impermeable floor means that any moisture in the ground will rise up in the walls. So after some more research, we’ve hit on the idea of using limestone tiles, which are, like the limecrete, breathable. Now the next task is to source a supplier. For the bathroom, it may be cheaper to get off-cuts, and construct a sort of crazy-paving effect. It could look quite nice! The shower floor will still be tadelakt, but I think I’ll probably tile the wall with ceramic tiles.

Last Saturday we went to the market fair in St. Viatre, where we popped in at the bakery. LSS teaches English to the baker’s daughter, and we came away with two great big bags of stale bread for the hens/bunnies at the bargain price of €0. Speaking of bunnies, last week we took Mrs. Bunny to visit Mr. Bunny at neighbour J, so hopefully the next batch of future bunny stews has been started. Unfortunately we’ve lost two male bunnies over the past two days. This morning’s victim had a bloody nose, so diagnosis of death was fairly easy. It’s a disease fairly common here, and known locally as “the blood drop”. It’s caused by the calicivirus, and the disease is known as RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease). It only affects rabbits; the meat is still safe to eat – so both bunnies are currently in the freezer (as are the rabbit skins). They really are extremely delicate creatures.

Rabbit pelt tanning is also continuing; the latest batch of four brings the total to 19. Another 31 and we may have just enough for a blanket.

The batch of Irish Stout is now ready for bottling. I’ve decided to call it Gwyn Ness, after the Scottish loch visited frequently by Charles II. Next up: elderflower champagne.

LSS has asked me to make some planters for the greenhouse. I’m constructing these out of dismantled pallets. Four done, two to go! Pallet wood plantersOh, and speaking of pallets, my “PalletXploder” exploded. The old oak pick-axe handle split. I have now replaced it with a steel scaffold-tube, so it is operational again.

03/05/2015

It’s been raining constantly since Friday. The public road at the bottom corner of the property is now impassable to ordinary vehicles; the ditches just can’t cope with the amount of rainfall. I believe we’ve had over 80mm over the past two days.

Early yesterday evening LSS took the Renault 5 to the aged FIL in order to clear one of the ditches there. You see, when they flattened the burnt-out garage, they had somehow failed to notice the large ditch which ran behind it. The result of their building-flattening manoeuvres was that they blocked up the entrance of the drainage pipe running under the entrance of the courtyard.  Well, the water couldn’t go anywhere, and had started backing up into the courtyard: High tide at the farm
The aged FIL would probably have been all right because his medical bed is fairly high off the floor; but LSS thought it would be prudent to try and prevent the high tide from entering the house if at all possible.

Unfortunately she stopped half-way to clear another overflowing ditch (due to another blocked pipe under the road). I say unfortunately, because the car wouldn’t start again. Surprisingly, there was a mobile phone signal in that spot, so I responded to the distress call by rescuing her with the Hyundai. As it was fairly late in the day, we simply left the Renault where it was.

Today we returned with the tractor and towed the still-unresponsive Renault all the way to the aged FIL. This was simply because it was facing the wrong way, and the road was too narrow to turn it around. Once at the aged FIL, we found the water was now lapping at the sill of the back door. We cleared the blocked pipe by using lengths of chimney sweeping rods with a steel brush on one end; and the water level started dropping almost immediately. We then reattached the towrope to the tractor, and towed the Renault all the way back home along the flooded road. In the next photo I am walking along a particularly damp section with the pipe-clearing rods over my shoulder. It’s difficult to see the depth, but the water was half-way up my wellington boots. Actually the pipe under the road here was not blocked, but just couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of water. The flooded road

Back at home, I diagnosed that the Renault was, perhaps unsurprisingly under these conditions, flooded. No, not with water; but too much petrol was getting to the cylinders. I removed and cleaned the sooty-black and wet spark plugs whilst LSS returned once again to the aged FIL with the tractor for further ditch-clearing operations. I eventually managed to get the Renault to start again, but it’s still running very rich (the inside of the carburettor was completely black). Unfortunately the tuning of carburettors is not my strong point, so it looks like we won’t be using this vehicle for the foreseeable future.

Despite our raincoats, LSS and I were both soaked to the skin, so as all the outside work was complete, we each had a nice hot shower, then took the afternoon off.

01/05/2015

With the amount of rain we had last night, I noticed that the pond is now at its maximum level, so this morning I wandered down to have a look at the overflow pipe. This was partially blocked with leaves and has now been cleared. The poor hens are looking really soggy. The rain has not however stopped them from scratching around looking for more things to eat.