Monthly Archives: March 2016

24/03/2016

Today marks the start of year 5 in France. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? We’ve a long way to go yet until the house is complete, but it’s certainly comfortable enough. Of course, the reason it’s taking so much time is that I’m doing all the construction work myself. It could probably have been finished by now if we had paid others to do the work. However this would not only have been more expensive, but I’m not sure whether the end result would have been satisfactory. We’ve noticed that nowadays, the concept of having pride in your work seems to have disappeared.

Did I mention that we have two new hens? Black ones this time. Well, it will soon be time to start refreshing the flock. One of the oldest hens has stopped laying, so is destined for the pot. And Mrs. Bunny has produced her fifth litter; we’re not too sure yet how many there are, but we suspect there are two. Which is not much considering why we are keeping bunnies in the first place. We have one young female left from Mrs. Bunny’s previous litter, and we think it may be time to refresh the bunny population as well. This female will become the new Mrs. Bunny, and I’m afraid the old Mrs. Bunny will become a stew once her current litter is old enough.

The bathroom shelf unit is now complete. It’s not yet painted, but that will happen at one point. I’ve now moved my attention to making a panel for the side of the bath, also out of pallet wood. I think it will look rather nice if it’s varnished instead of painted.
Pallet wood bathroom shelf unit

Friend V will be arriving this weekend for a few days. She’s very good at gathering sloes or blackberries. Unfortunately there aren’t any at this time of year, so instead we’ll put her to work at gathering grass and plants for the bunnies to eat.

And as a Year 5 anniversary present (no, not really) M&O brought us a piece of boar.Boar meat

It looks a bit different to the photo shown in the post of the 21st!

21/03/2016

It’s been a fairly busy few weeks since my last post! I started doing some preparatory work for the future solar panel installation. I had purchased a small plug-in power monitor, and have been measuring the electricity consumption of the various items which could be run from the battery bank. This should tell me whether the initial installation will be sufficient for all of them, or whether some will need to remain on mains electricity for the time being. So far I have measured:
– The borehole pump. 0.11 kWh per day.
– The 12V transformer (running all the temperature gauges, central heating pump, and solar thermal panel pump). 0.29 kWh per day.
– Server. Ooh. Ouch. 1.93 kWh per day. Unfortunately it seems that this consumes too much power to run off the 650Ah battery bank in its current format.
Oh, and in case you were wondering why I don’t run the 12V items straight off the battery bank instead of converting the 12V battery power up to 220V AC and then transforming it back down again, the simple answer is: because of the distance between the battery bank and the 12V items. We’re talking some 25 metres of wiring. Voltage losses in a DC circuit would mean that I would need to run cables each having a cross-sectional area of 25mm2. This is the typical size of a vehicle battery cable. And a 50 metre length of this size cable would be horribly expensive.

We had a tremendous amount of rain a couple of weeks ago. When I was upstairs, I noticed a small puddle of water on the floor. This was traced to the point where one of the solar thermal panel pipes entered through a hole drilled in a roof tile. I had sealed around the pipe with some roofing sealant; but unfortunately this had dried and broken into little pieces, allowing rainwater to trickle through. Of course this meant I had to set up the scaffolding and roof ladder in order to access the problem area. Whilst I was up there, I also noticed that the insulation I had used on the copper piping between the panel and the roof tiles had completely perished. Obviously it’s not meant for outdoor use. I replaced it with another piece of pipe insulation, but this time wrapped the entire thing with duct tape, so it should last longer this time! I then re-sealed the holes in the tiles, this time using a bituminous mastic which remains flexible.

The next batch of beer is now fermenting away in the corner of the kitchen. This is an attempt at a clone of a Carmeliet Belgian Triple. I have enough ingredients to make two batches, should the first prove to be any good! In my last post, I mentioned we had obtained 20 litres of apple brandy. Well, as an experiment, I poured a gallon of this into a demi-john, and added some pieces of oak. These had been carefully baked in the oven, and then charred with a propane torch. After having been immersed for a few weeks, the oak sticks have now been removed, and they have turned the previously clear spirit into a lovely whisky colour. This needs to be left for a few more weeks before any tasting can commence. This is apparently a faster alternative to placing the apple brandy into oak casks for several years.

LSS has managed to re-organize the barn by sorting through some of the stuff which is still in removal boxes. The result is that half of the remaining dirt floor is now clear, ready for the next batch of limecrete. Once the weather warms up sufficiently, of course! Last week we paid a visit to the local quarry, returning with a trailer-load of sand. We’ll probably also need more gravel before the barn floor is complete.

The floor-to-ceiling bathroom cupboard is taking shape. Actually, it’s more of a shelving unit, because it won’t have a door. The entire thing is being made of pallet wood, and is looking rather nice. I’ll take a photo when it’s finished.

Speaking of bathrooms, we noticed the bath was starting to empty rather slowly. Obviously the wastewater pipes were becoming clogged with gunk. Now because we have a greywater reedbed, we can’t just pour drain cleaner down there! After some research, I found a greener alternative; namely sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and white vinegar. Some of this was poured down the plughole, followed by very hot water. Yes, but. Although it produced lots of foam, this did not have the miraculous effect I was hoping for. The process probably needs to be repeated several times. Fortunately when installing the waste pipes, I had made provision for this sort of thing. There is a push-fit T-connector where the waste pipe exits the kitchen, and it was a simple matter to undo this connector, and push the garden hose down the pipe. Turning it on flushed lots of nasty-looking debris into the sump filter. I’m pleased to report the bath is now draining rapidly again.

I’ve been cutting more wood, which has been stacked in the woodshed. It does take rather a lot of time. There’s also still quite a bit of wood (roofing timbers from the burned-down garage) at the Aged FIL which needs to be brought back here and cut into pieces. There are still two aspens which need to be cut up into firewood-sized chunks. And a couple of large oak branches which are overhanging the road between the two farmhouses.

Not much has changed regarding the Aged FIL. He developed an abscess on one of his feet, so the doctor has been visiting a bit more frequently. The abscess has apparently provided him with an excellent excuse not to get out of bed at all, so he now not only gets breakfast in bed, but lunch and dinner as well.

Unfortunately one of our hens has discovered that eggs are edible. We’ve been getting more and more broken eggs lately, and it seems one or two of the other hens are starting to copy her. This is Not A Good Thing. It’s not always practical to visit the chicken coop at fifteen-minute intervals, so we purchased some roll-away nest trays online. The idea of these is that as soon as it is laid, the egg rolls into a collecting tray at the front. This tray is covered with a clear plastic lid. However, despite the apparent good reviews of these items, there is a design flaw. The tray is not really long enough. LSS found one hen perched on the tray, with her head reaching down inside to get to the delicious morsel it contained. Annoyed, LSS disappeared into the workshop, emerging armed with a hacksaw and some small pieces of wood. She ruthlessly modified the trays, and the planks of wood have increased the length of the plastic lids. This temporary fix means that the eggs are now safely out of reach of even the longest necks. I think I need to redesign the nest-boxes though. One more thing for my To-Do list.

Yesterday saw the final hunt of this season. The hunters were moderately successful this time, and bagged a mid-sized boar. M&O will probably pay us a visit this week to bring us a piece of meat. Of course, I’m only in the photo to give you an idea of the size of the beast.Boar

LSS has received a form from the tax office. This is to do with our permis de construire (building permit) regarding the work on the barn. You see, once the work has been completed, the tax office need to be notified so that they can re-assess the charge of taxe d’habitation (housing tax) which is based on the liveable floor area of the building. (A dirt floor is apparently not considered a “liveable floor area”). Well, as we have not notified them that the work is finished, they have assumed that the work must have been completed by now anyway. LSS sent the form back with the “Date of completion” box filled in as “2017?”. If they don’t believe us, they’re welcome to send an inspector round.

Wildlife diary: Mrs Duck has returned to the pond together with the two males. She has started a nest in the reeds, and this currently contains one egg. Hopefully she has more success this year. Mind you, the nest is only a few centimetres above the pond water level; and as the pond is not yet at full capacity, if it rains a lot her nest will be underwater. Silly duck.
And the blue tit is once again wanting to visit the lounge, because it looks like it is a potential location for a nice and cosy nest. It keeps tapping on the window requesting entry. However, this time it is not alone. A pair of tree sparrows noticed this activity, and now they ALSO want to come in.blue tit

04/03/2016

So, the live trap arrived for the creature living upstairs. This was deployed straight away, using a piece of bread with a smear of peanut butter as the bait. The following morning, the trap was sprung!
But empty.
And the bait had been eaten.
I reset it with some fresh bait.

The following morning, the same thing – an empty trap, and no bait. This mouse must be called Houdini! Being extremely annoyed, I purchased a different type of trap, a Big Cheese trap. When it arrived, I placed it upstairs, as well as three ordinary mousetraps – all baited with peanut butter.
Success! It was not a dormouse after all, but a whole family of mice. To date I have caught ten of them – on one occasion three in the Big Cheese trap. But there are still scratching noises in the ceiling, so I’ll keep going.

As I said in my previous post, we were indeed given a cockerel. We named him George. GeorgeHe is extremely happy here. In my last post I was slightly optimistic about the time he would start crowing. It’s actually 03h30; but thankfully the double glazing muffles the sound, so he’s safe from the stewpot for a while.

The toilet walls have now been finished, and the ceiling is in place. Decorating has not yet occurred, of course, but it’s definitely an improvement! Unfortunately the rather small size of the room means it’s almost impossible to take a photograph of the end result. With regard to the infrared light I installed – the jury is still out. I think it gives the illusion of warmth rather than putting out any actual heat. But it’s better than nothing.
I also treated myself to a small urinal, which drains into the external Separett Ejektortank. However, it soon became apparent that there was a problem with odour; as urea decomposes, ammonia is released. This gas rises to the highest point in the system, which in this case happened to be the urinal. I resolved this by making a small duckbill valve from a length of bicycle inner tube, and attaching this valve to the end of the pipe in the Ejektortank. Problem solved.

I am currently working with some pallet wood. I have dismantled quite a few pallets, and the planks have been planed and cut to width. They are now being glued together to form wider boards, from which I will construct a bathroom cupboard. I will also be using the planks to create panelling around the bath. It’s not a straightforward job!

One Thursday last month, Neighbour J telephoned. She had seen in the newspaper that Monsieur le Bouilleur de Cru would be in the area. (This was not his name, but his occupation. He is the person who, once a year, travels around with a mobile distillery). LSS telephoned him late on that Friday afternoon, and was horrified to discover that he was only in the area for two days, ending that very evening! So things proceeded in a bit of a rush. You see, we had three 120-litre plastic barrels of fermented apples, and had been waiting for this day to arrive. It just arrived a bit too quickly for comfort. Loading these barrels onto the trailer was a pain in the … back. It was getting dark. And it was raining. And cold. And we also had to run around finding suitable containers for the alcohol we were hoping would be the result. Anyway, we shot off to the nearby village where he was temporarily based. We found him installed next to the garden refuse dump. Useful, I suppose, as all the leftovers from the distillation process could simply be added to the composting pile of vegetation. We arrived just before 18h00, and encountered a large tent, erected next to a caravan. The entire tent was filled with clouds of delicious-smelling steam, and contained a much larger version of one of these:Mobile distillery It was also extremely noisy, with the powerful gas-powered boiler going full blast. Mind you, it was nice and warm in there!

Monsieur le Bouilleur de Cru unceremoniously removed the lids from our three barrels, and plunged his arm deep into the fermented apple mash, grabbing a handful. Closing his eyes, he sniffed the pulp. He pronounced each of the barrels acceptable, but apparently the third barrel was the most acceptable of the lot.
We were informed that we didn’t have to wait but could return later. “However,” he warned, “I shut down at 20h00. So be back before then or else.”

We rushed back home to put the hens to bed, and add more wood to the boiler stove. We didn’t have much time to do anything else, let alone have supper; and were back at the distiller with minutes to spare. As we were his last customers, he was starting to relax a bit, and we discussed distilling. I did notice he was starting to lean rather heavily against the caravan doorframe; obviously as a result of breathing in the fragrant steam all day.

“Apple brandy is all very well,” he said. “But pear brandy is much better. Only Williams pears, mind you. The others aren’t much good. Here, have a taste of this.” He disappeared into the caravan and rummaged in a cupboard, emerging with an unlabelled bottle and a small glass. We duly had a taste. Very nice it was too, smelling strongly of pears. We made appreciative noises. Pleased with his receptive audience, he had another glassful himself. “Ah, that’s the right stuff. I don’t drink, you see. But I do add some to my coffee every morning. Although it’s not the best eau de vie, you know.”
“Really?” We asked.
“Oh no. The best one is – wait a minute.”
Carefully negotiating his way through the caravan door, he disappeared once more into the cupboard, emerging with another bottle of clear liquid, identical to the first. He reverently pulled out the cork, poured some into the glass, and took a deep sniff before remembering we were there. He offered it to us to taste. He was right, this one was better; it had a real taste of plums.
“Ah, plum brandy!” We exclaimed.
“Wrong!” He said in triumph. “It’s made from sloes! But the secret is not in the fruit. It’s the crushed stones which give it this marvellous taste!” Just to make sure, he had another glassful, before regretfully replacing the cork.
The end result was that we came away with 20 litres of apple brandy.
It was an interesting experience, but I don’t think we’ll repeat it due to the work involved. Besides, 20 litres of apple brandy will last us a very, very long time! After all that, we ended up having dinner at 22h00.

The good news is that we now have the double-glazed French door for the barn. Due to the size of this thing (2.4 metres wide by 2.15 metres high) we had to hire a large van at the local supermarket. We then went to BricoDepot in Orleans to get the door. And of course, more lime. Fifteen 35kg bags of lime to be exact. Which should be sufficient to finish the barn floor once the weather warms up a bit.

The bad news is the ignition switch on the ST1100 appears to have died. I had to move the bike to one side of the garage so that the French door could be stored there. Unfortunately the bike wouldn’t start, so I had to manually push its nearly 300kg weight around by manpower alone. One more thing to fix…. and the Renault 5 needs its carburettor to be cleaned. Always something!

We have also now met our new neighbour. One of the adjoining farms had been sold last year. Mr. K. dropped in to tell us that one of “our” trees had been blown down into his field during a recent storm, so if we wanted the wood we had his permission to access his property. He drives a green Land Rover Defender, so we discussed Land Rovers for a while. I was delighted to discover that he also speaks fairly good English. It turned out that he is a notaire (solicitor) and lives in Paris; the farm next door is his weekend getaway. So cutting the fallen tree into firewood-sized chunks took me a few days’ work. It’s an aspen. And as luck would have it, we have found another three aspens which have been blown down. It’s not the best firewood, as it burns rather quickly; but hey – it’s free. And I haven’t had to cut down any healthy trees.

I’ve also started replacing the tarpaulins in front of the wood sheds with more heavy-duty ones. The previous tarpaulins lasted two years but because of the wind they have become rather tattered.

Otherwise, we’re waiting for the weather to improve. It’s been raining rather a lot recently. The advantage is that the pond is once again nearly full.