LES GUIS - THE PHOTOS FROM 2009
The first task of 2009 was to deal with the drainage. You may remember from 2008 that I laid a drain in front of the verandah that descended down the field. The idea is that I will have some kind of junction box where the drains will meet and will connect with the "other" kind of waste when I build the bathroom extension. From there, a large waste pipe will carry everything away to the first of the lagoons that I will be building.
In the meantime, to remove the water right away from where I'm working, I've developed a temporary drainage system.
Once the temporary drain had been installed, the next task was to remove the overhanging trees. These were stopping light getting to the grass and so everything here had turned to swamp, and they would also prevent sunlight from reaching the lagoons.
Another good reason is that they would provide me with a huge supply of firewood to burn when I install myself and a pot-bellied stove up in the attic of the house. I reckon that if I slowly work my way all round the perimeter of the field during the course of the next few years then by the time I arrive back up at the top on the other side, the trees here will have re-grown and I can start to give then another cut.
Over the last year or two I've grown quite a pile of wood, what with one thing and another. But it's no good sitting in piles around the place and getting in the way. So while the weather is too dry to work inside but too cold to dig in the garden, I can make a start on cutting it up.
I've nowhere really to keep it for now though, so loading it onto a pallet or two will at least keep it off the ground and give it a chance to dry out. I can move it somewhere else at a later date.
With clearing up the first pile of wood there was some residue left - decaying leaves and the like. It wasn't worth picking up to put on the fire so seeing as it was a nice day and the weather had been dry for a week I decided to light my first garden fire of 2009. It spluttered into life quite nicely and I was really impressed. But as usual, it coughed and spluttered itself to a standstill after 20 minutes.
I don't know why it is. Whenever I want to light a fire I can never do it. But when I'm tryng my best not to set anything alight, such as when I'm welding in a seat support for a Ford Cortina, I can conjure up a raging inferno without even trying.
And if you had been carefully following my adventures from last year you'll remember that I had a mini-disaster in November when the inverter shorted out and took a huge pile of battery voltage with it.
I went into carefully energy-husbanding mode but nevertheless, who would have thought of this for the 10th of January? I've 370 watts of solar energy in only a temporary siting, charging up 1200 amp-hours of battery. And here we are, all fully-charged again.
This winter has been really cold and damp and where my head is where I sleep is right up against the chimney of the house. It's cold and clammy there and down at ground level the damp is worrying. I'll get pleurisy if I'm not careful.
What I've decided to do then is every week, late Sunday afternoon, burn all of the week's accumulated rubbish in the fire in the house. This will warm up the house, dry out the chimney and I can also cook some baked potatoes to have with my vegan pizza.
This is another sign of progress.
There is also the garden to attend to, and I want to do better than last year which was a bit ad-hoc. I've sat down and made out a sort-of planner for this year showing me what I've got in the way of seeds and when and where I can plant them. You know that my garden is a series of raised beds on some waste land. You can see them on last year's pages.
I need to keep the brassica, the roots and the others separate from each other and not replant things where they were planted last year. There's also something about symbiotic gardening and I need to track down a book on that from somewhere.
I don't really have much of a clue what I'm doing in the garden so if you have any helpful advice, please . I appreciate all the help I can get.
Now this was something of a surprise to me. If you look very carefully at the bottom margin of the photo just to the right of the copyright logo, you'll see a red arrow painted on the roadway pointing down the track at the back of my house.
I had a word with the new mayor back in April last year about a project I had in mind that needed some intervention from the local council in the track just here. I wonder if this might be it. It'll be really exciting news if it is.
Just in case it is what I think it might be, I reckoned that I ought to anticipate their arrival by making a few things easy for them. I had a good go at weeding my plots of land that border the track at the back of the house.
All the weeds are nicely piled up ready for burning but I dunno what it is - I can never get outdoor fires to light properly. A heavy fall of snow and then some torrential rain put paid to everything later.
Clearing up also involved removing the debris from the trees that I cut down ready for my parking spaces once the road has been built. And in one of the decaying treestumps I came across this mega-beastie.
I've absolutely no idea what it might be so if you have any ideas please . But one thing is for certain - now I know why it is that we have so many woodpeckers knocking into the trunks of trees round here. This thing would feed a family of four for a week.
One natural catastrophe that we had to contend with during February was a hurricane. And it didn't half blow! The large AIR403 was going round like the clappers.
But you can see that the hurricane caused some damage. The scaffolding tower blew down (good job there was no-one on it at the time) and the solar panel that powers the house twisted round on its mounting. This called for a working party and George and Gilles bravely rallied to the cause. There's no doubt that this interaction by the Anglo-French Community Association that we have started is worth its weight in gold.
No sooner did the wind drop then the snow dropped too. This was one of the heaviest falls of the winter to date, and in mid-February too.
You're probably quite fed up of seeing all of this snow on my website but not half as fed up as I was of seeing it "for real". It just went on and on and on.
You can see what kind of day it was too - dark, overcast and miserable.
From another angle you can get much more of an idea of how much snow we actually had. It didn't quite make the 16cms that I recorded earlier in the winter but it was impressive none the less.
Even worse, it just hung around and hung around showing no signs of dispersal. and it wasn't until we had a heavy overnight rain that it finally went and of course I was back up to my ears in the morass yet again.
Driving out to a football match in Chapdes Beaufort a week or so later, there was still heavy snow hanging around up there. In places it was there for a fortnight.
But all of that pales into insignificance with what happened next. My hunch was correct, and I was woken up one morning in late February by a contractors' van that parked itself in the lane.
This can only mean one thing - my request for a road has been accorded and the contractors have arrived to finally set matters in motion.
And I can't wait.
Shortly after that photo above, a much louder noise from up at the top meant that some other primeval beast was on its way. They've sent for a JCB or whatever the local equivalent is and it certainly looks primeval from this angle, poking out from behind Lineke's barn.
Mind you, it's having a good go at demolishing my Parisian neighbour's dry stone wall. Now my Parisian neighbour is not renowned for his calmness and equanimity and he is likely to have something to say about this. Who can blame him on this occasion
And they weren't going to leave him the stone so that he could rebuild his wall either. I wandered round to the front of my barn to see them dumping it into one of the two lorries that they had parked round here.
These lorries disappeared with the stone and soil, presumably to tip it into a dump somewhere and then come back for another load. It's a good job that I didn't have any plans to go anywhere and that it's a day when the boulangère doesn't come round.
They knocked off for lunch at about 12:30 so I reckoned that I would go round and see what they had done so far. And I was quite impressed with what they had accomplished. They had dug out most of the soil and weeds that were in the roadway and had reached a layer of rocks. They'd been really quick at this.
And as you can see, it is in fact a JCB. Old and battered, but a JCB all the same.
It was even better from the top end of the lane as they had got as far as tipping down some stones onto the track that they had dug out.
What they must be doing is that each time a lorry disappears off with a load of rubble and earth, it dumps it off somewhere and then wanders off to the quarry near Montaigut for a load and then comes back and tips it. The JCB can spread it out with the blade and with driving over it, it will compact it down.
One thing that they have done, which has pleased my Dutch neighbour very much, is that they have dug away the mass of earth that surrounded her barn and replaced it with a nice hard roadstone surface. As the commune never sent anyone down here to cut the grass, she used to have to do it and it took her a considerable amount of time.
You can see exactly what I mean by looking at this photo from 1999
I was pretty much impressed with the speed at which they worked and it was still only mid-afternoon by the time they cleared up and cleared off. You can see that the job looks quite reasonable, although I reckoned that it could have done with much more tamping down.
And I was right too, for I took a little drive down the track that evening and bogged down before I'd gone 10 yards. That was disappointing.
Nevertheless, compare this pic here with this photo from 1999.
You may recall that through the deepest part of the winter I cut down a large number of trees on my property in order to prepare the ground for my car park and, of course, to provide wood for burning in the winter.
You can imagine my surprise when I noticed that even though some of the wood has been down for several months it hasn't dried out fully and there's enough sap in the tree to enable it to push out buds in the early part of spring.
And while I was preparing to come away and doing some (but not much) tidying up of the wood that I'd cut down through the winter. I noticed with even more surprise that those offcuts that had sprouted buds were still blossoming along.
As the soil was still quite soggy from the winter rains, I stuck some of the offcuts into the ground. They have two choices - either they will push down roots or they won't. But they certainly won't if I don't put them into the ground so I have nothing to lose by trying.
And the final piece of excitement before I was due to leave - in fact on the very morning of my departure - was the arrival of this beastie.
You may remember me complaining that I was sinking into the sand and stones that they had laid down on the road that that had built for me (thank you, M le Maire). Well, not any more. This machine squashed down the stones and the sand and made something like an acceptable surface for me to drive on down to where I'm going to be putting my parking space.
After a spell in Brussels and then the UK and then Brussels again I made it back home for the beginning or April. This is the sight that greeted me on my arrival. In fact as you can see, nothing much has changed since I left although my brussels sprouts have now run to seed.
Somehow I find that rather symbolic. After all, Brussels is quite a seedy place if you ask me.
The weather is nice though.
While I was away, Claude was watering my plants in the greenhouse, and they seem to have gone berserk.
Now before I left I sowed some mustard and cress seeds. But these don't look anything like mustard or cress to me. The opinion of everyone who has commented on this pic is that these are tomato plants. And I don't see any reason to disagree with that.
I've no idea what's happening there.
One of the things that I purchased in the UK was a new Rutland 910 wind turbine. This one, in fact, and I bet you are wondering why I've taken the side panel off.
Tha answer is that I wanted to see what it looked like inside and to photograph the internals for posterity before I erected it. Having had all the adventures with the old one, it's important to know what's what before you do anything.
Surprisingly there's no maker's plate on it - just a stick-on label that won't last too long in the weather we have over here. So what I did was to write all the information into my Permanent Notes book (I have a huge "indexed book" - a thick A4 notebook that has an alphabetic index and in here I record absolutely everything of any use about anything concerned with the farm) and then copied it in indelible ink onto the inside of the inspection panel so it's there for posterity.
Actually, you've seen something very similar to these internals before.
And there's always gardening to be getting on with. I'm going to put more of an effort into it this year than I did last year. I've decided that already.
One bed has already been dug over and I've planted some cabbage and cauliflower in it. Not all, I've merely thinned out the seedlings. I'm half-expecting many of them to peg out before they establish themselves and meantime there are others developing in the seed trays in the greenhouse that can take their place.
I've now dug up all of the brussels sprouts that had gone to seed and that's where I'll be putting my tomato and lettuce plants.
And you can see all the rocks I pulled up. You wouldn't think I cleared out these beds last year.
Back last spring I planted some broccoli in my garden. And from then on I never saw it again. I had no idea where it went to.
Once the snow and the frosts cleared earlier this year, I noticed that a nice greeny plant had established itself in the garden and was looking quite healthy even if it was a bit leggy. I had no idea what it was, so you can imagine my surprise when I peered inside and saw the broccoli heads developing. So that's where it went.
Keen followers of my mighty organ will know with sadness that Liz Ayers, who features prominently in these pages, died in March 2009 after a short illness. She always wanted to be a tree so I asked everyone who remembered her to plant a tree in her memory.
Liz was also a keen fan of LIDL and so when LIDL announced a special delivery of fruit trees, I decided that I would create the Liz Ayers Memorial Orchard. That way, whenever I get my hands on a nice juicy pear I shall think of her.
So now that I have my trees for Liz, they need to be planted. But I'm a long way from actually having any clear space for this as the orchard is overrun with scrub right now and it all needs to be cleared out.
The answer seemed to me to buy a load of buckets, pierce holes in the bottom with a heated blunt instrument, and put the plants in there. Then put the buckets into some plastic boxes and keep the boxes well-watered.
You saw in a pic above the new Rutland wind turbine that I bought for down here on the farm. It's no good of course sitting on a workbench, so as Terry had a free morning and the weather was nice we took the opportunity to take down the Air 403 that had stalled, and fit the Rutland.
We haven't quite got it right though. It's not pivoting on its axis in the wind so we need to take it down and refit it - probably grind off a couple of millimetres from the top of the pole. But when the wind is blowing face-on to the blades it goes round quite impressively.
When we do the roof it's going to be mounted right on the apex on a 6-metre pole so just imagine what it's going to do when it's 5 metres higher up and pivoting into the wind.
There's lots of rubbish that accumulates around here. If it's vegetable matter it gets composted; if it's glass or metal it's recycled; if it's soft paper it's shredded and used in the composting toilet. But there are still things that need disposing of otherwise, and burning is the option for that.
If it's clean rubbish it's burnt in the house and I use the heat for cooking baked potatoes and for making the dough rise for my breadmaking experiments. But dirty rubbish and weeds are burnt outside in the galvanised steel dustbin that I bought in Hawick and with which I am really impressed.
Whenever I need to light a fire the blasted thing never ever seems to take. But if I'm doing my best to avoid setting things alight, I can conjure up an impressive conflagration without any effort at all. That's why whenever I get a good blaze going when and where I want it, it's worth a picture for posterity.
It went out just after this.
Meantime the gardening continues apace and I now need somewhere to sow all my peas and beans which have been quietly pushing out shoots in a damp environment in the greenhouse.
This bed had the potatoes last year but I dug all of those up (I hope). There are still a couple of leeks left behind that I need to eat sometime soon. In the meantime this is as good a place as any to do my sowing.
From the reverse angle you can see that the garden is taking shape again and looking quite nice. And if you look in the foreground slightly to the right of centre you will see that my garlic is now going berserk. That's impressive. I quite like garlic.
You can also see my LIDL greenhouse, which is also impressive.
I'm pleased that my idea of raised beds for the vegetable garden seems to be working so nicely. It's much better than having endless rows of plants that you can't remember what they are and trampling on everything that you have forgotten that you planted.
I keep a careful note of the statistics about the farm and mid-April saw a period of many records being broken. Some time in May 2008 I had a record figure of 83.5 amp-hours generated by the three solar panels on the barn. I didn't think that that would be beaten because I have a decent set-up in the house and I'm drawing much of my current from there. This means that the batteries in the barn stay pretty-much charged up.
However a brilliant sunny day during which I did two machine-loads of washing and had a mega-charge-up of the battery-powered tools saw a phenomenal figure of 90.1 amp-hours generated.
When I went out at the end of the night to take the statistics that figure had increased to 90.8 amp-hours.
Last year I made myself a heat exchanger out of bits and pieces. I use this as a test-bed to see if my theory about solar water-heating holds good. You can see from this shot that the figure for the temperature inside the heat exchanger on this day reached 55.0 while the ambient temperature was 32.0. This was a record and justified my optimism.
But the record didn't stand for long. The temperature sender that is fitted to the thermomenter has a maximum of 70.0 degrees. As I type this on the 2nd of June I notice that the temperature has gone off the scale on 7 days. It's clearly working.
It was so warm here for a spell that another thing I tried out was some solar water heating in some glass jars and putting them in full sunlight.
I found a couple of big glass jars and filled tham with water, and then wandered off to look for my temperature probe. I was then sidetracked and the whole project slipped my mind. But never mind. I'll try it again.
I have to say that two things happen when you reach my age. The first is that you forget absolutely everything and I can't remember what the second thing is.
Keen readers of these pages will recall that on the side of the house I had an AIR 403 wind turbine that I bought in Arizona in September 2002. It was this that we took down to put up the new Rutland.
I cannot recall it ever having turned a blade in all the time that it was up there, so I was interested to see what was going on with it. The hub was a little loose but there was no apparent reason why it shouldn't work. I have a wind turbine to install at someone's premises in June 2009 and I know that it is terrifically windy there. I'm going to put it up there along with the other one and see what happens.
When I went shopping with Liz-at-Fournial the other week we bought some strawberry plants between us. I put mine in the greenhouse while I debated where to put them.
You can imagine my surprise when I poked my head in there at the end of April and there was already one strawberry fully-developed. This is quite a major achievement for me and I am so impressed. My garden is going to do me proud this year, I hope.
One afternoon I encountered this beastie on the pathway to my house. It was about 20-25cms long, I reckon and just lying there taking in the sun.
I've no idea what it is but I described it to someone and they reckoned that it might be a slow worm. But if you have any ideas as to what it might be, please .
Talking of slow worms, I did hear a story about a lady friend of my acquaintance who discovered a snake in her living room. I asked her if she threw it out and she replied that she couldn't catch it. It slithered away much faster than she could run after it and it led her a merry dance all around the house. She described it to me and asked me if I knew what it was
"Ahh yes"I replied. "it's called a Calculator Snake"
"A Calculator Snake?"
"That's right. A very fast adder"
You may recall from the photos above that back in April I noticed my very first strawberry. But that was nothing like as exciting as being able to pick a large handful from my own garden and eat them.
Smothered in vegan soya cream and eaten cold after a vegan pizza and garlic bread, it was one of the nicest meals that I could remember. There's no doubt at all that gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies that exists. Especially when you can eat strawberries like these.
We had a few days of real heatwave here in the latter half of May, and no day was hotter than that of the 20th of May when the outdoor temperature reached 35.1 degrees Centigrade.
And if that wasn't hot enough, it reached 48 degrees in the greenhouse (although that was subsequently improved upon) and went off the scale (i.e. over 70 degrees) in the heat exchanger.
And if you look back to some of the earlier photos above you'll recall that I planted into the wet soil some of the tree offcuts that had sprouted buds whilst lying on the floor.
I now needed the bed for my plants so I pulled them up and much to my surprise, several of them had grown roots. These I put into little pots ready for when I need to plant them as part of a hedge.
On some of the others, the buds had developed into leaves even though they had not set down any roots. These I put into jars filled with very muddy water. It will be interesting to see if they manage to put out some roots (which they didn't, unfortunately). It'll be nice to grow my own hedge from these offcuts.
We're still having excitement with the weather and one of the football matches I attended was interrupted by one of the most impressive storms I've ever seen here. We had a tempest that lasted about 10 minutes with gusts of wind that even registered on my recalcitrent wind turbine.
You can see how big the hailstones were by looking at the damage that they did to my parasol. It's totally wrecked, which is a shame because I rather liked it.
What was ironic about all of this was that at La Cellette just a couple of miles down the road from Pionsat they had had no rain at all yet the road back up to my place from Pionsat looked like a whirlwind had passed by.
You may remember that in order to celebrate the life of Liz Ayers and in remembrance of her we all decided to plant some trees. I bought some fruit trees but as I don't have the space for them as yet, I drilled some holes in a pile of buckets and put the trees in there.
Some of them blossomed which was a surprise in itself, but if you look closely at this pic you can see that some of the blossom has transformed into apples. This is really wonderful news. I'm ever so impressed with that.
If you look in this pic you'll see one of the neatest bits of soldering you are likely to see with the set-up that I have here and me soldering it. That's because I have 3 soldering irons
i....a 12-volt one that never heats up enough to do anything at all if I'm outside
ii...a 30-watt mains one that takes forever to heat up and then dissipates all the heat down the cables instead of melting the solder
iii..a 180-watt mains soldering iron that takes not quite as long to heat up and then immediately sets fire to the cable insulation before the solder has had time to melt.
so I'm lucky if I can ever make a decent connection.
but I found a roll of solder that I bought about 15 years ago, from the days when lead solder was quite permissibl€e, and so I used that.
So here are the control boxes finished in the back of Caliburn.
There's one with sockets for mains and for 12-volt power (you all know by now that I use American plugs and sockets for 12-volt fittings as they handle thicker cable) - that one is powered from the ignition circuit. If the ignition isn't on, this isn't live. It saves flattening the battery.
The other one with a 12-volt socket and a cigarette lighter socket is permanently live to the spare battery.
This one is the principal one with the charging relay, situated just behind the driver's seat and with the spare battery below.
What impressed me most is that all of the circuits are good and thet everything worked - without any rectification. That's a first!
Well, almost everything. The mains current isn't. You can't actually see it but on the bottom of the box is a small LED that tells me that mains current is getting to the back of the printed circuit board on the inverter but it's not getting out to the other side. It's probably a failed solder joint or a failed component.
But at least I know that my theory works and I'm happy with it from that point of view.
The whole system is powered in two ways. Firstly there's a split charging relay that works when Caliburn's engine is running. But there's also a solar panel fitted on the roof.
This was ordered by me for someone but she never paid me for it and so now she can't have it. It's now found a little home up here on Caliburn's roof. It's a good demonstration tool.
A big fan of brocantes, me. Especially if you can find piles of interesting stuff. There was one down at Menat today advertised in the English-language newspaper so I toddled along to see what was what.
i....A pair of carriage lights looked interesting. With capless halogen bubs and fittings thay will go nicely just outside my front door working off the dusk-to-dawn controller
ii...A halogen desk-light. I always buy them when I see them cheap. I bypass the transformers and run them off my 12-volt circuit
iii..I don't have a decent tray either and this one with sides to stop tnings falling off seemed like a good idea.
And when I got back home I found that I had a visitor - right in the middle of the track where he risked being run over. They are good at slug control, are hedgehogs, so I fetched my shovel and transferred it into the vegetable patch
Unfortunately it didn't last very long there and a week or so later I found it dead by the side of the path. I've no idea what happened and it was rather a shame, poor thing.
Learning from experience, I've redesigned the suspended floor in Caliburn. There's some 125x25mm planking down the sides to reinforce the beams and legs and to give extra support to the cross battens. And in a breathtaking piece of joinery that took even me by surprise, I made a cross-batten out of a demi-chevron and put a double mortice in on both sides of the horizontal and vertical planes. As it's made to the exact width of the van, it holds the beams and legs perfectly in position and in the vertical.
I've also resited the hot water tank to the opposite door so that it isn't in the way when you open the first door.
What with having to go back to the UK for a while and leaving my plants to their own devoces I built myself a really good framework for my beans and peas. It's an improvement on last year's - after all, you learn by experience.
Tidying up the bean and pea bed made it look better too.
Another thing was to plant out the leeks which had now grown to manageable size.
This is a tip that Carole gave me. In her youth she lived on campsites and washed her smalls by putting them in a plastic box with water and soap powder, shaking it all up and letting nature do the rest via the heat of the sun.
White boxes are good but the darker the box, the more solar heat it absorbs and so the warmer the water becomes, and that is even better. And it worked a treat!
I also had a play with my heat exchanger. You will recall that it's made out of an old air conditioning radiator wired it up to a heat switch so that when the temperature reached the relevant amount - 70°C - it set a pump working.
I cleaned it and put it on the roof with a clock wired into the circuit. Now, when the temperature reaches 70°C it starts the clock and I can see how long the temperature within the box has remained at over 70°C.
The first day I tried it the temperature reached 70 before lunch and stayed over the limit for 6:15 hours - I was quite impressed with that. At knocking-off time, which is usually about 18:30 in summer I took a quick photo of the clock. 5:35 hours it had been running by then and there was still some heat left.
There has to be some mileage in this and it's something I shall be working on.
It was on this point that I closed everything down and set off for a visit to the UK. But there's just time before I go to take a pic of one of my new solar panels that I bought for the house roof in the UK in March. These are 130-watt panels and I have 8 of them - just over a kilowatt of theoretic energy.
In practice of course they won't ever produce that or anything like it. If I can have 30% efficiency on a good day I will be delighted. And with the wind turbine too, I shall be well-set up for electricity.
Back home from the UK ....
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