The Potager 2017

Months have yet again gone past without a post! In my defence I spent March in Australia for my little sisters wedding and then packing up and shipping the rest of stuff that we had in storage – it was a frantic, busy trip. When I got home it was straight into mad gardening season including playing catch up with all the seeds that should have gone in or got started in March!

We had wonderful peas but they all got wiped out a couple of weeks ago when we had a heatwave come through:

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I’ve also extended my growing area into the space under the hoop house, a new round garden, a potato bed and a soft fruit bed. I’m growing butternuts, decorative gourds and baby watermelons on the edges of the hoop house and will train them up over the hoops. Tomatoes run down the centre with ropes hanging down to support them, I’m hoping it works really well, we are also going to install a drip system to help with the huge watering job.

We have so much in: beans, melons, tomatoes, 19 strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, 3 types of basil, courgette (zucchini) – both normal green ones and a climbing yellow variety, potatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflowers, kale, rainbow swiss chard, lettuce, carrots, radishes. Lots of companion plants in too – nasturtiums, calundula, marigolds and borage. The grapes look amazing this year and the plums, peaches, apples, walnuts, hazelnuts and figs seem to be no worse for wear even though we had a late frost that sent a lot of the new budding leaves black.

I’ll get some up to date pics shortly!

Raclette for dinner!

It was my birthday earlier in the month and J and the boys got me a raclette machine – we’ve wanted one for ages and I was thrilled with it as it is an 8 person one (most are only 6), it also has a stone top for doing meat / veg etc and 2 teflon tops for crepes etc. Through a combination of forgetting to get the ingredients and us all being unwell on and off we only tried it out last night – yum!

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Wintery Winter!

We’ve had some really cold weather this winter. In January we had a couple of weeks with down to about -10c each night! Some of the frosts were so pretty. Sadly the predicted snow never arrived – even if I did rush out and buy sleds at one point.

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I have enjoyed the cold and crisp but looking forward to spring around the corner. The bulbs are starting to push up and my veggie garden plans are well on the way for this year!

 

Ta Da the house!

I have just realised after looking back through my blog posts that while there are lots of garden and children photos I haven’t actually posted any pictures of the house! So to remedy that here we go with some from the front!

This is the northern end where we live:

The big French doors go into what is currently an unconverted double height entry with the far left end downstairs being the kitchen / living, the wall separating these two areas will be knocked down to make a huge open space. There will be a new floor put in above where the French doors are to make another bedroom. Above the kitchen / living is a huge room which the boys currently share (this will be split in two as it is 30m2 so plenty of room). The lintel that you can just see behind the car is the window the the office / guestroom that is half renovated that I posted about a little while ago and the room above that is currently our bedroom and was renovated by the previous owners, we have replaced the window with double glazing but not much else needs doing (until we split it to make the new upstairs bathroom that is!). So once the boys room is split and the new room above the entry done we’ll have 5 rooms (bed or study) with four upstairs and one downstairs, downstairs shower room, upstairs bathroom (we have recently managed to find a stunning old cast iron bath tub that will be going in!) and big living space / kitchen in this section of the house.

This central section of the building is what we think would have been the original building (there are exterior windows giving onto the big barn) and the stone stairs at the front and some other details like the stone sink suggest a very old building (14th or15th C perhaps – I need to do more research). This area is totally unrenovated at present but the plan is to make the room through the door at the bottom of the stairs into a big kitchen (giving out onto the garden on the other side of the building) with a bedroom above and a small mezzanine (child’s bedroom / study) over that. The small room under the stairs is currently where we keep the bins / bikes etc but may possibly end up having our boiler in it as well and above will be the ensuite giving onto the master bedroom.

This is what we call the big barn and little barn (they are a bit separated inside by the old cow feeders). It is a bit hard to get the full impression of just how big the big barn doors are – the smaller door is around normal door height (but much wider) and I think normal person height is about where the wood line is on the door! These are currently used as storage / workspace but there is massive potential!

The photos I did of the back the other day when I took these didn’t work out because of the sun so I’ll redo them and post again soon!

June 2016 veggie patch!

The garden is coming along really well and we’ve had lots of rain through the early part of June followed by some heat so everything is growing nicely!

Early June saw a big push to get  filled all places in the EL veggie patch (get it – shaped like an E then an L – ha ha) we now have 3 corguettes, 2 chillis, 2 cucumbers, 14 tomatoes, 1 cherry tomato, various lettuces, carrots (well about 6 of them), radishes, peas, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, 100 onions, shallots, dead garlic (have given up all hope – accidentally dug one up and it was rotten ), strawberries and raspberries. Not a great pic in the harsh afternoon light but you get the idea.

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The hubby rotovated a further 2.5 x 10 metre bit on the next terrace up – the back is going to be a pumpkin patch (2 large unknown variety, 4 small unknown (Aussie variety I got from organic farmer and kept seeds) and as many butternut as I can fit. I got the 2 big ones in up the back – I thought I read do an 18 inch hill so made it big t (not 18 but pretty big) then read somewhere else 3 inches
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The front section is 2 beds a metre wide each and 4 m long with a path – OK it is a trench – didn’t mean to do it that deep but after I’d made my last paths I’d read you should put the soil from the paths you make onto the beds – I perhaps overdid it. Louis commented it looks like WW1!

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Plan to cardboard the bottom of the path for weeds then probably just put some straw for the moment and get something on the sides to hold back the soil and in effect make raised beds! Plan to have lots of basil and beans in this section.

By the end of the month this is how it was looking:

The zucchinis (courgettes) are growing really well, already had 6 lovely ones from one plant. I think I need to be a bit more careful with my watering in the heat though as there have been a few little ones that have kind of shriveled up, turned brown and died (unless there is some other unknown thing going on and if so please tell me!).

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The pumpkin patch (need to sort out the weeds – I regret not mulching straight away, it makes the most enormous difference!).

The other end has the beans which are coming u nicely – they are so big no in comparison – amazing how much growth happens in just 10 days!

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So we are eating lots of yummy fresh produce – mainly lettuce, radishes, courgettes, peas and the odd strawberry and some gooseberries.

Looking forward to tasting the rest!

Garden part IV – spring 2016 veggie patch

Back in early March I started my plans and work on the veggie garden. The original plan I was working to looked like this:

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Louis and I spent ages measuring and laying it all out:
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In the end hubby explained that it wouldn’t work to try to get all the little paths with the rotovator so we ended up just rotovating the whole thing and then I formed my paths later. The end result was a bit different from my drawing – it is basically a ‘L’ then a ‘E’. The paths are a bit messy looking but I need to re-cardboard them and I have just bought some wood chips to put on them so that should look much better!

By early May it was looking like this – lots of seeds in and small plants but not an awful lot to see!

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Peas and snow peas (mangetoute) running the 2 lines under the teeppee thing (obviously not needed yet for growth but I’m needing to build all sorts of Rémy barriers) and the shallots / eshallots doing really well next to them.
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By mid-May more wsa starting to grow and I kept on with my plantings:

The lettuce patch – the ones at the back are still my winter ones I planted in October then cos at the front:
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This first section has radish and carrots to the right then the non growing garlic through the centre then on the left is some more peas (need to put up a support). The top left is a small cherry tomato, some peppers, aubergine and perhaps something else that I can’t remember then heading off along the top row is all the tomatoes with a row of basil right a long the top edge:
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The pea house and I’ve done a little bed on the end with some nasturtiums (must get some on the other ends as well):
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The brassica area, I’ve got 6 cauliflowers at the front then some brussel sprouts,there is now also 6 broccolis in as well then along the top edge are 3 zuchinnis and there should have been a cucumber as well but I killed it (decapitated it as I picked it up  ). Then on the right hand of the L bit there are 6 strawberries and 2 raspberries (I haven’t managed to move them and decided I’ll leave them this year, I think I could cause more damage than good to move them now):
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Looking down the long edge of the ‘E’ where I have the tomatoes and a few lettuce in the centre (trying inter planting)
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We had a very wet spring so everything has grown really well – I’m so impressed with my first effort! I’m actually amazed looking back at these pics just how far it has come along!

Office / Guestroom renovation – part 2

Sorry I meant to put up the second part of this just after the first but got distracted by a quick trip to the UK to visit the family,  enjoying my mother in laws visit and not enjoying a non sleeping 18 month old!

As I mentioned in the last post we are trying to use traditional / natural building products where we can so the next step was getting the lime render mixed up and on the walls for the first coat (called in French the most fantastic word – gobbité ).

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First load mixing – love the natural creme colour that lime gives:

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While I was mixing hubby was wetting down the walls:

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This was my first effort at rendering – my excitement knew no bounds – it was covering the horrid grey breezeblocks – and it was actually staying on the wall!

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The two breezeblock walls with the first layer finished:

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The very rough wall is having a terracotta wall built at the bottom and there is a lot of building up to do so we gave it a good start but needs a lot more work to get it so some sort of straightness:
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Me exhausted and covered in lime splatters at the end of the rendering day!
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The next couple of days we worked on it was all about the wonky wall. The original plan was to build a terracotta wall on the bottom half with a little shelf on it to straighten it but there was a change of plan with the teracotta wall as he was able to get it in much closer than we hoped by only doing 4 blocks high which meant he could then build up the wonky wall to meet the new straight wall in a much gentler more organic looking way. We don’t want straight walls – we want it to have character! I’m quite pleased as while I do like the odd shelf they do collect clutter! It took ages and Josh and I ran around finding stones of the right size and shape in the garden in the various rock piles!
This is the wall after the wall was built but before we started:
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And the gradual working along.
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As you can see it is giving us a very natural look by using stones and lime original building material but still a reasonably straight wall that can have pictures / shelves hung on it when we are done!
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The completed building up of the wonky wall (and you can see the top left stone by the door where he has started cleaning off the old mortar from the nice cut stones!). Now the room is ready for the first all over coat of lime (it still needs to dry more anyway) then we’ll finish off all the room in a single coat once the door and window are in so it is all smooth and meets up. It means we’ve had to live with it at this stage the last month or so while MIL has been in there but it is now super hard ready to take the next layer.

The next job once that was done was to cut out the frame where the door is being fitted – it looked like it was straight and we hoped not much would have to be done but whoever built it forgot to use a spirit level and hubby had to cut out quite a lot of the very hard cement – the dust was horrific – 6 weeks after the job was done I still keep finding it! I sealed it as best I could with an old plastic table cloth and tape but it kept coming open and filling the house with dust. I added wood and a broom which helped it work much better!
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Here is what J had to cut out with the angle grinder, it was supposed to be ‘just’ a 3cm block off the top as the door is slightly higher than the opening, that was fine, went quite quickly and we didn’t get too much of a mess:
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Then when J went to put the wooden frame in in discovered that the sides were not straight so he had to cut out a not inconsiderable bit almost to the floor. This is when the dust really got everywhere as it was a bit wider so it was blowing more and the kids left both the kitchen door and the bedroom door open at various points (what were they thinking ) so we had about an hour just clearing up to bearable.
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The next day it all was worth it when I came home to find this:

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It has a door so it must be a room now!

The barn door type opening at the front was refitted by himself so that instead of opening inwards like a door it now opens outwards like a shutter. This meant we could install a window finally – it still needs painting finished and fascia / render over the breezeblock / foam but the excitement of having a window can’t be underestimated! We were so lucky to find a preloved window that fitted in this very strange shaped hole for a window as otherwise we would have needed to get a custom made one made.

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And the (not) carpet going in so there is a clean floor not just concrete until we tile!
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And ta da – minutes before himself came back from the airport with my mother in law I’d finished cleaning and making up the room. I think it looks pretty good considering it is only 1/2 finished and still needs the window painting, further coats of lime render and the ceiling joints doing and painting and the stone wall pointing!

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Office / guestroom renovation – part 1

We have been working on this room the last month or two (between gardening, knotweed duty, visitors, illness, car fixing etc!). It is exciting as it is the first room we have been able to get stuck into, until now there have been a lot of little jobs (new windows, insulation things like that!).

Some before shots, this one shows the door going out into the entry area where you come in from the garden:

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And looking the other way – the old barn door goes out to the front of the house. We have spoken to our neighbour whos family owned the barn and it used to be where his grandmother kept her chickens! We are going to try to keep the old door as a shutter to go over the double glazed window that we managed to source that fits into the odd sized opening! The front wall stones will be left exposed and pointed:

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Electricity starting to be run:

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This is only a temporary works light switch just in case you were wondering why we had such strange taste!

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It is quite hard to see but this wall is massively bowed so there will be a terracotta brick wall built at the bottom to help even it all out – the bonus with these is that they are breathable – really important in old stone buildings. For the same reason we are doing lime render on all the walls (including the breezeblock walls which were already there).

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It has a little damp on one side as well and had a bit of a musty (possibly animal?) smell, particularly when it is cold and damp. I read that enzymatic cleaners are good for smells in old plaster etc and we didn’t have any of that (not even sure what it is) but we figured washing powder has enzymes in it so we ended up mixing a strong dose of washing powder and water and spraying it on the walls, they came up really clean and smelling lovely! So there is a good tip if you have smelly old barn walls in your barn renovation that you want to get smelling nice 😉 .

More shots of the electricity going in:

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and Josh starting to clean off the stones on the nice wall:

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Time for the insulation to go up (horrid stuff – wish we could afford to do it with wool or wood insulation!):

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I wish we’d done this months ago as our room is above this and we would have been so much warmer in the winter!

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And the plasterboard goes up!

ImageWe are wanting to use traditional building materials where we can like the lime render and don’t want to use plasterboard anywhere if we can help it. Unfortunately for ceilings there isn’t a lot of choice if we want good insulation to go up so plasterboard it is!

 

Happy Fête du Travail (Labour day) / May Day!

The first of May is a public holiday in France and is a workers celebration day or Labour day but is also the Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley) where you give your loved ones a little bouquet of muguet. Our lovely neighbour popped in this evening with some for us:

imag3979.jpgI hadn’t really thought too much about the day until then but we did work very hard labouring all day on our current project! I really must get my head around all the French holidays and traditions around them!

Garden Part III – Winter

Winter was quite good in terms of everything dying back and allowing us to see what on earth was going on in the garden! It was such a jungle last year we really had no idea at all what plants we have or what needed doing / pruning etc.

The back section of the garden is the ‘working’ area – it is split into a series of terraces (our whole garden is on a slope from left to right as you look at it from the house). The infrastructure is there for the chicken coop, a polytunnel plus the terraces for veggie gardens and the clothes line at the top. These photos are taken from the bottom (right) panning up to the top (left) of the garden:

My winter lettuces (which bizarrely were planted in October, due to be ready mid December but are only just being eaten now – I think it it was the total lack of rain in early winter!) and lots of leaf mulching to keep weeds down and on the right to try to build up the ground level in the tunnel as it is still sloped. You can see the little stable that is now on the land at the back with two lovely horses – we are all (especially Rémy) enjoying having them at the back of the garden:

This shot is from the top of the back looking back down to see all of it:


We had such a mild winter and I knew I had so much work to do that I started cutting back and pruning pretty early in the year. This is one of the days of carnage trying to clear the beds under the big hazel that we look directly over from the house:

I eventually got there and now have a reasonably clear area in those beds but still lots of creeping tree / bushes that I couldn’t pull up so will need to dig them out just haven’t had a chance to get back to them yet.

And of course planning for the veggie beds started. I originally tried to dig it over by hand but then we realised that it was easier to deal with any left over grass roots (what I was trying to avoid doing it by hand) and do it with the rotavater! This tiny patch took me hours! You can also see the start of our bonfire, we ended up with about 6 times this and spent a whole day burning stuff as we finished the bulk of the clearing in the garden.