If I was a bee living in Nouvelle Aquitaine I would get to the month of June and say "f**k where did all the food go". After a drive east of our home we passed through miles and miles of fields that had been cut, effectively ridding us of any wild flowers in the landscape.
Farmers make hay to feed the livestock during the winter etc etc and we are beneficiaries of that process..... But what about the bales cut by field owners, farmers and speculators who then pile it on the edge of their fields and do nothing with it year on year? What about the people who cut and bale just to make it look neat and tidy, or if they say it is a fire risk if you leave the grass long, or the local entrepreneur makes an error and cuts and bales the wrong field that was actually planned in to be part of a rotational grazing plan and is then not very apologetic because, hey it needed cutting anyway. Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately mechanisation has meant that not only is cutting grass too easy, but also the grass is cut too short, or too much is cut so there are no escape zones for flora and fauna.
One of the functions of long grass is to protect the ground from the sun and keep it cool. I am sure all of you have seen the pictures on social media comparing the temperature of tarmac, bare ground and a field with grass in. And all of you can go outside with a thermometer and see if it is correct.... Todays experiment by Alice is below, taken at 12.47 the 86 is a number I was using for poaching something.... yes it is my meat thermometer. Don't worry it will be washed.
An experiment showed that between 17 degrees centigrade and 29 degrees centigrade there was no effect on soil insect egg mortality, at temperatures from 40 degrees up, less than 5 percent of soil insect eggs survived "The effect of soil moisture and temperature on eggs: by N.P Lepage, G.Bourgeois, J.brodeur, Bioone.org 1 feb 2012.
Another graph on an experiment on aphid eggs shows that above 40 degrees there is basically no survival of eggs.
I could go on but I sense you may be getting bored.
Garden mowing fanatics do not escape blame today either. Cut it long, do not cut it all and dont have a robot mower on constant. You are effectively heating the environment around your home and killing all the insect life. And please don't get me started on paving and bad town planning.
I think you sense I might be irritated, Fed up with taking the flak for farmers being the bad guys all the time. I sat in the garden yesterday evening, in 30 seconds 6 planes had flown overhead. How come flights are still so cheap when the price of fuel is going up all the time? And if everyone is moaning about prices why does everyone still have enough money to go away on holiday? What is the environmental impact really of planes? Would I even trust the answer someone gave me when we are essentially of the soil, and what happens in the higher atmosphere is not entirely understood I don't believe. How can it be when we don't even understand the soil properly yet and we can all touch and see that.
What is the obssession with covering fields with solar panels? Why are we not just covering every roof that doesn't have them yet? I do not know whether anyone is seriously thinking long term or if we are just leaping from one bad idea to the next.
At the moment I have to decide who to vote for today in the French elections it is very difficult, More difficult than I had thought it would be. The numbers don't seem to add up. And my heart does not lie with either candidate. I will have to chose the least bad choice....
See you all soon
For the first time in some time I have been scrolling down the facebook feed to catch up with the regenerative farming and soil sites that I follow, some posts jumped out at me during the newsfeed that were concerning about the state of the world after confinement.
The first was an asparagus farmer who has had to throw away some of his production this year as he had increased his crop to cope with the local demand during covid and confinement.
The second was a small, local material facemask factory that has closed after the demand for facemasks was switched to the more convenient disposable kind, often made and supplied subsequent to the start of the pandemic by large overseas factories.
The third was a story about the lack of local support for a campaign to change the new bin system making it more user and environmentally friendly. The leader of the campaign is tired with trying to encourage people to support their efforts that she is ready to give up.
Covid and confinement were a busy time on the farm, fundamentally it did not change much for us. I enjoyed the moments of peace provided by the lack of traffic both in the air and on the ground and I enjoyed the camaraderie online. I hoped that there would be a change in the way that people interacted with the close by and far away world, both sociologically and environmentally to enable society to take a leap forward in the movement to manage what we have left to the best of our ability. However the 3 stories I read this morning made me think that we have taken our eye off the ball.
Get involved, don't sit on the fence do any little thing can you can to keep local communities strong. That strength, with any luck, will create contentment and peace and a deeper understanding of those people around you.
Please don't forget what the ultimate goal is..... "take only memories, leave only footprints" a quote from Chief Seattle a native amercian. Obviously a very wise man.
It is 10 years since we started the market at Ribérac. I have moved around the food area a little, made some new friends, met a whole pile of new people, some of whom are still around some of whom have moved on to new chapters in their lives. I am proud to say I still see my very first customers every week. You know who you are C and A. Though I doubt they will read this. The butchery has been working for nearly 11 years this summer and there are some of you out there who are still with me from my very first delivery runs around the area. It has been a delight to get to know everyone and their families. And I cannot thank you all enough for sticking with us, allowing the business to grow and improve and being willing to try all the products we make. It warms my heart that we are trusted by so many people.
We learnt the butchery basics with an butcher friend of ours who has since returned to the UK. Subsequently I have learnt through practice, practice, practice and processing products that people have asked me if I can make. Through trial and error we have come up with some goodies. By this time my apprenticeship is complete I imagine, in at least lamb and pork. Who knows what the future may bring with business developments that arrive with children becoming involved in the family business.
On Friday we had a lovely evening with some of our close neighbours for the "fete des voisines" and today we had a picnic with our village neighbours to celebrate the same occassion. A chance to catch up with the local gossip and to reacquaint ourselves with normal life. Three years have passed since the last event due to circumstances everyone is well aware of. It was very warm both in temperature and in welcome. Thank goodness for the trees around the village church or I think we may have melted. I am currently sitting watching all the clouds disappear having received about 6 drops of rain. It is going to be a long, hot night.
The sheep are consuming vast quantities of water, and for those of you who remember from last year, we still offer them salt and fresh water and they always finish the salt water before the fresh. Unfortunately the fields we graze around here are very short on trees and hedges so we have a plan of action for planting shade. We lost our rental property this month that we had developed over the last 18 years to have traditional pastures and trees, so this time we start again with a field that is actually ours. Gavin and Patricks imagination and creative skills are being tested to build a mobile shade unit so that we can continue to rotate the flock over the pasture and move the mobile shade structure with them. Farming life, always a challenge.
See you all soon
It was a busy and strikingly normal weekend at the markets last weekend. I saw people whom I have not seen for some years mainly for covid related reasons. They are getting used to coming out every week or so to have a cup of coffee and a chat with friends and then do a little bit of shopping for the week. The panic buying to avoid going out too much seems to have gone and there is more of a familiar rhythm to the mornings. It has been a challenge remembering peoples faces and also learning the new faces of people I have only ever met masked. Identification by mask covering has become second nature during the last 2 years and I have forgotten what some people look like. So if I look slightly confused next time I see you at the market then that is probably the reason why.
During my absence from blogging and social media in general we have been very busy lambing amongst all the general running of a farm and butchery. Patrick took up most of the work that Gavin had been unable to do whilst recovering from his knee ligament replacement. Happily we have had assistance from Emily and her partner and Alice to ensure all the wheels did not fall off in the last 2 months. It has been long, with a great deal of clothes washing and drying. and mountains of food has been cooked and consumed to keep the gang going.
I think Patrick has been happy with lambing. We have had many more twins than usual which we have put down to the health of the flock being so much better with the new system of once or twice a day moving to fresh grass. The fields that we graze are starting to show signs of improvement, more varieties of plant in the sward and Patrick has noticed a considerable increase in beetle life this year. The humble beetle is an important first processor of manure in the field, moving the manure around and breaking it down after the sheep have pooped, improving organic matter content in the soil and the soil structure, thus reducing affects of erosion by water and wind. In the photo to the left you can see the patchwork effect in the sward of daily moves in the background. In the foreground there are some twins following the ewe around the field happily grazing the fresh grass.
Other things we have done recently in efforts to reduce our own footprint on the planets resources is that solar panels are installed on our barn. They were turned on last September to attempt to produce enough electricity for our own use, which is substantial with 2 electric cars and a butchery not to mention the house, the lamb pens and the workshop. The predicted amount of panels we would need was 48 with a production capacity of 375 watts per panel. We are 1/6 under production for the house side and 40 percent under production for the butchery side coming out of winter. I envisage we will need more in the future to cover the yearly consumption, unless it catches up dramatically over the summer.
More projects coming in the year ahead including back to saucisson making.
See you all soon
It is already March and so much has happened both worldwide and at home. Bad and good. The bad, I know has everyone aware so lets try to avoid that line of chit chat.
Puppy Mike has grown in size and in cheekiness. Our little Mushu (teckel/daschund) has a lot of sparring to do every day with his considerably larger baby housemate, he is holding his own now that I have removed his collar so Mike does not get the upperhand by hanging on to it. After a good battle Mushu does like a long sleep by the fire. If you zoom in on the above photo you can see Mushu.
Gavin's operation on his knee has gone well and he has a lovely yellow bruise. I was grateful for the rain which made it less tempting for him to go outdoors. Some friends came over for supper last night to break up the incarceration. It was lovely. They were the last people we had a meal with inside the house since before confinement. Time has passed too quickly and we need to be careful not to forget how to be social creatures. The art of conversation has to be practiced and bigger children need to listen to other adults so they can expand their vocabulary and be exposed to different ideas. Or maybe that should just apply to all people, as communication does not seem to be practiced in the world at large very effectively at the moment.
I have been looking after the young stock whilst Gavin has been laid up and helping Patrick when he needs me with loading and moving sheep about. We are trying to get everything where it needs to be before lambing starts in April. Mostly though I have been cooking. Lots of roasts then stock making for stews, curries and soups. It is very rewarding to have the time to use everything up with little or no waste. Four big people eat alot. And six people eat even more when we have extra hands to help. The contents of the freezers are disappearing little by little.
The grass is growing like crazy and I have done some outside tidying in between rain showers. Not that it seems to look any different I think we just have too much stuff.
Patrick has decided to install as a young farmer with us and we are planning how to increase the income so that he can have a proper wage. It is impossible to remain static when you are running your own business. We have exciting and busy times ahead. Should be fun.
See you soon
So many distractions and so many things to explore, including a new puppy called Mike, preventing me from settling to actually write something that will interest you lovely people during this cold and bright winter that we are having. It is quite glorious today and I am resisting the urge to do go outside😎. I must crack on and tell you all what we have been up to.
We have been eating a cooked breakfast every morning recently including the usuals bacon egg etc, and also some black pudding that I made during January which is quite delicious. It was a real job to make and by the end the butchery really did look like the blood baths of Eygurande. My freezer is now satisfyingly stacked with little packs of rich, dark, sweet, loveliness. I will have to buy some new chickens, my geriatric hens are beyond the realms of laying, so the protein part of breakfast could be completely home produced. For the moment I will have to settle for local. I might have to start thinking about growing mushrooms 🤔
After much persuasion from some of my Scottish friends in Bordeaux I started down the path of haggis construction for Burns night and then one birdie told another birdie and it was 8 kilos to twenty kilos and then the birdies had friends, so 20 became 35kilos of haggis. What a hoot. My trusty cohort for cauldron stirring rolled up her sleeves and we went to work. They are an hillarious site when they are floating about being poached. The tying is an art I may never get the hang of but fortunately my husband is always game for a challenge. So my odd shaped pods were collected and about half have already been eaten. Happy tummies I am told. Phew 😮💨
I am returning to the markets this weekend the 28/29 January. It is a week earlier than anticipated. I will be taking time off in March. Gavin has to have his other knee fixed. He has broken a ligament in the knee that was not fixed 18 months ago. I suggest that you make the most of February, when I will be at the markets. I will also endeavour to get round all of my delivery points during February as I cannot be certain when exactly my schedule will be back to normal. I will also make sure that the freezer at the farm is stocked with the basics sausage, bacon and some joints at all times so if you want to come to the farm and collect something, then you can.
See you all soon
Helen :) x
Here we are on a grey and showery November 1st truly entering into the rhythm of late autumn. The colours of the leaves changing this year have been exceptionally beautiful and the temperatures have been quite mild with some glorious sunny days. We have been busy with preparations for the Christmas period and also the extension for the butchery.
There is still a bit of work to do repainting the old room, and finding the right sink units and tables to install all the equipment on, but we are up and working again. Many thanks to everyone who either did, assisted or cheered on from the sidelines. I can honestly say that my working life has completely changed. Below is the view from the butchery window. Project rose garden I think I will call it 🤣🤣🤣. I will add it to our list of things to do, definitely after Christmas
Patrick has been busy with a little project that we may soon be able to sample... answers on a postcard 😉.....
Our middle child has returned to France with her boyfriend and they are currently emptying boxes and moving furniture around. Back to work for them both tomorrow. I think they are enjoying the fact that there is less distance to travel to get good bread and wine. They even enjoyed a few moments sitting in the sunshine today. I am a lucky Mummy for a bit with all 3 children 20 minutes from home.
And finally so you are all up to date on the run up to Christmas schedule for deliveries I will be in the following areas....
Piegut Pluviers and surrounds delivery run Tuesday 7th December
Issigeac delivery run Saturday 11th December
Bordeaux delivery run Tuesday 14th December
Chalais and surrounds delivery run Tueday 21st December
Collections from the farm Wednesday 22nd December
The last markets for 2021 will be.....
Riberac Friday 17th December and
Sainte Foy la Grande Saturday 18th December.
See you somewhere on my travels. 54 days to go 🎄 🎅
Well it has been a while since I wrote anything. And to be honest looking out of the window today does not fill me with a great amount of inspiration to be creative. It is raining, again or still I have forgotten which would be the better choice of word after this summer in SW France. It has certainly been a peculiar season, but not unheard of I checked our old weather book and the years 2007/2008 were also quite cool and wet. One of these days I will purchase a rain gauge that does not split every year and take up the weather book again. It is a remarkable acheivement that in a world where plastics are reputed to survive forever, it is utterly impossible to have a rain guage that can survive one freezing winter. Congratultions capitalism and planned obsolescence.
My regular market people already knew that Gavin, Alice and I had been on holiday to the Pyrennes this summer. It was the first holiday of more than overnight that we have had together since 2004. A very relaxing time was had by all and it was quite difficult to come back to work afterwards. The scenery was beautiful and the weather was warm and dry for the most part. We did lots of walking and ate and drank fine food, beer and wine whilst we were away. Many thanks to our kind friends for the invite.
Also a big shout out to everyones favourite internet provider, Orange, for cutting off our cell phone signal at home by making a perfectly good system, Femtocell, obsolete at the flick of a switch. Having read their help pages I know that there are many, many people in the same position as us in France. Having had one attempt at fitting an aerial to the roof we are waiting for the next part from the radio mast people. Our signal is so weak here we have to buy a parabol and several internal aerials. Bienvenue á la campagne.
In light of the fact it is only 95 days until Christmas I need to let you know that I am taking orders. If you are after a Christmas Gammon please let me know as soon as possible. I have already had orders. The price this year is 19 euros/kilo. The last order day for gammons will be Saturday 13th November
The last order day for other orders will be Saturday 4th December
If you think you have ordered already but have not sent it in an email format, or have not watched me write it down in a lever arch file at the market please, please, please send me an email so I do not lose you. firstname.lastname@example.org
I am fully aware that last Christmas was not ideal for everyone at the market as there were some long queues. I am also aware that the last days for Christmas markets are 17 and 18 December. So I will try and come up with a plan so that there can be pick up points during the week immediately before Christmas to alleviate the situation. I will keep everyone updated as the plan develops.
See you all soon
Gavin and Patrick are often plugged in to some podcast or another about farming or politics or cooking, which supplies a never ending source of discussion. The one Gavin made me listen to the other day talked about salt in the diet of dairy cows helping to reduce the acidity of the animals. When the sward of grass available to eat, or when the diet available in feed stall barns is more acid than alkaline, then the animals can be more susceptible to pests, like flies and worms. Amongst other things, this is very abbreviated for the point of this blog.
With regard to pasture we have more fly strike, (when flies lay eggs in the wool of the sheep and then you get flesh eating maggots in the sheep not nice) with the sheep when the grass is more woody than when the grass is lush. Lignin, the stuff that makes plants woody is acid. The man in the podcast said that it was better to put the salt in the drinking water rather than as a block and then to offer saltwater and plain water to your animals so they can chose what they wish to drink. It is important to use seasalt preferably organic.
Now we have had some logistical issues with accessing wormer for the sheep so we thought well lets give it a go. I have no data for the affect on worms or pests, but we were all astounded to observe that every single sheep chose to drink the saltwater not just for one day, but every day over a period of 4 days. They still have the choice of one of the other and will always finish the saltwater before the fresh water.
This is not a randomised control experiment I am sure, but it certainly shows how much the animals require extra trace minerals that can be found in seawater, but not in the soil. This area of France has been cultivated for between 2000 and 7000 years. I have not done enough reading to be more accurate than that, but let's face it, it's a long time. I am sure that in the beginning farming was much more cyclical in nature than it is now. Fewer people, less system pressure and everything that comes with that. We have a lot of catching up to do on rehabilitation of the soil to catch up with all the losses. But it is not insurmountable.
If anyone wishes to listen to this podcast this is the link
Ep. 196 - Steve Campbell - Remineralizing Cattle with Salt on Working Cows with @TuneIn. #NowPlaying http://tun.in/tlkUI9
If you would like to see the video which shows none of the sheep drinking the fresh water the I will post the entire length of it on our Facebook page later.
See you all soon
It has been quite difficult to find the enthusiasm to post a blog, not to mention what kind of photographs I should be putting in the blog in case it becomes a gateway for knowledge for theives. The battle with stock protection from theft and getting any support from any gendarme in our area has been dispiriting. They have not been seen even once in our area for the whole month since the livestock thefts despite being told they would come out on patrol more often. Even worse I now know how little is known by the general population about livestock theft, which is rife throughout France but obviously not dramatic or interesting enough to make any media outlet. My neighbours have all sorts of items, animals and fuel stolen every single year. It is disrespectful, exhausting and just plain flipping annoying. Time wasted with paperwork, unecessary stock counting and looking for replacement items. Not to mention stress and worry due to business shrinkage.
I am sure some of you have watched Jeremy Clarkson farming show on the telly. An hillarious progamme from both a farmers and a general viewers perspective. So far he has shown a few of the battles that we experience in farming paperwork, administration, weather etc, but what I have enjoyed the most though is his willingness to give anything a go (I know he has quite a bit of money to protect himself) and his delight at being able to get something right. It is heartening that he is questioning the methods he is currently using with regard to his soil health and a joy to realise that he has understood the importance of animals within a farming system.
The shearing has been completed, apart from the rams, without too many incidents, and with some willing arms to help with wool collection and catching the sheep. Wow..! the biting flies were fierce though in the shearing pens. And mosquitos exceptionally hungry and robust.
I made my first batch of soap with mutton fat, olive and sunflower oil and lavender and it looks fabulous. Also much harder than the pork fat soap I have made in the past. I am discovering the delight of making chutney in the slow cooker, chuck it all in, bring it up to temperature then let it bubble away with lid off. It can take a while, but so much easier than standing over the stove when there are so many other things to do. Made my first ever strawberry chutney, delicious. Alice has made some more of her plum cordial this year. We have not bought any cordial since her experiments during last years confinement and hope to go through to next years fruiting season with what she makes this year. There never seems to be enough storage space at this time of year for the quantity of produce that appears from everywhere.
The family from the Netherlands has been and visited and returned to the Netherlands to work. It was lovely to see them as always and they will be missed as always.
All things being equal we should be back to normal services this coming weekend at the market. I will come laden with all things meaty and delicious.
See you all soon
I am farming sheep and goats on the Dordogne/Gironde border with my husband and our 3 children. We have an on farm butchery and sell our meat direct to the public via the markets and delivery points in our local area