January / February 2018
It’s the end of February and like many, we are experiencing extremely cold ‘Beast from the East’ temperatures. On a day like this, there’s only one thing for it…sit at the computer, in front of a roaring fire with a warm cup of cocoa and tell you what’s been going on over the past two months.
First of all, I’ve decided to change the way I write my blog posts and from now on, it won’t be done on a monthly basis. Rather than time dictating what I write, I would prefer to write when I have the time, providing more detailed accounts of the goings on at Chez TêteBlanche. More often than not, during the quiet months, I tend to have loads of free time to write very little, while some months are so jam-packed with activity, I don’t have time to write at all. I’m sure you get the picture.
If the freezing temperatures have dominated this month, January must have been the wettest month for a long time. The small, outdoor chicken run was quickly transformed into a slippy mud-bath, which can’t have been a very appealing playground for our chickens. Last year, we got some new neighbours on the hamlet and with them came their two, beloved English setters, who quickly decided that chasing our free-ranging chickens around the garden was their ideal afternoon entertainment. It made us more hesitant of letting the chickens out and as the colder weather set in, we tended to leave them in the safety of their small, now muddy pen. Our main project for January was, therefore, extending the chicken run.
Here are some photos taken before the extension:
Despite this extra space, we noticed that our cockerel, Norman was getting hen-pecked and his comb was starting to bleed. We can only assume the hens were bored and so we put an old tractor tyre to good use and filled it with what the French call ‘BRF’ (Ramial Chipped Wood). The chickens love taking a dust bath in it, as you can see.
By increasing the size of the pen, the number of eggs has subsequently increased from one or two eggs to three or four a day, despite the cold weather. The extended pen is also large enough to provide the chickens with shade from one of our hazelnut trees and the plan is to plant an ornamental Buddleia tree just outside the pen, which will attract butterflies to our garden and make the chicken house more appealing to the eye. Apparently chickens tend not to eat Buddleia leaves or flowers so it seemed an obvious choice. It’s amazing how many common plants and flowers are actually poisonous to chickens when you do the research. Check out this page from Backyardchickens.com for further details.
At the last chicken count, we had one cockerel and five hens. One poorly hen didn’t make it through to 2018 and died in a box of straw in our living room on New Year’s Eve, and a second hen died of old age only last week. This week, we introduced five new Rhode Island Red chickens to the pen. They are a different breed to our White Sussex and despite a little rivalry to begin with, they seem to be settling in just fine. You can spend hours reading forums online looking for answers and you will always get conflicting ideas. Some people say you should avoid putting chickens of a different breed and age together…we say we’ll give it a go for ourselves and see what happens.
So why the change from White Sussex to Rhode Island Red? The latter are undoubtedly the best egg-layers and we primarily chose the White Sussex as they were a good all-round bird for both eggs and meat. As yet, we have not killed nor eaten any of them and it is highly unlikely we will in the future. What? A homesteading family that won’t eat their own meat? Incredible as it sounds, there has been a dramatic change of ethos Chez TêteBlanche of late. Pete has taken what I consider to be a huge step and become a vegetarian. A positive consequence of this lifestyle change on the children and myself is a considerable reduction in our meat intake (although we are far from going the whole hog, pardon the pun!). Pete is paving the way for our family to live without causing animal suffering, with our main agenda here being love and compassion, Buddhist principles that tie in considerably well with those of permaculture:
Care for the earth, Care for people, and Fair share.
To explain briefly, through meditation, I believe Pete has established a deep connection with our planet and beyond and I hope that we, as a family, can follow suit. Pete has been meditating for over two years and our two children already meditate for 10 minutes each evening. I strongly believe that if we combine everything we initially set out to achieve through permaculture-living and take it to a spiritual level, we will, ultimately, find the right place and balance in life. If you want a quick reminder of our permaculture objectives, check out this old post of mine from April 2016 : The Here and Now.
Elsewhere in the garden, spring preparation has been starting to take place. During the rainy January days, I took shelter in the poly tunnel, washing out old plant pots, preparing the soil with humanure compost and building frames for peas and mange-tout.
At the end of January and throughout February (before the deep freeze), I sowed the following seeds in pots:
- Big Daddy tomatoes
- Italian cherry tomatoes
- Bird Eye demon chilli
- Devil’s tongue chilli pepper
- Black Beauty aubergine
- Brussels Sprouts
Peas, mange-tout and radish, I sowed directly in the soil. The cold February temperatures may have delayed germination but I have had some successes, notably from keeping the most delicate seeds (such as tomatoes) indoors, on the south-facing bathroom windowsill to be precise. A smart move, I assure you.
In the garden, I used some more BRF wood chippings to finish the garden area I started last year:
And I am currently doing a rockery, although it’s a slow process as I have to dig out loads of nettle roots and unearth buried bits of iron and metal (left by the previous owners). I’ll show you some photos in the next post when it’s hopefully finished.
Other ongoing projects of mine include the illustrations for a children’s book I wrote almost two years ago, which I intend to self publish, and trying to find a part time job. My English lessons are still going well but some months are busy, some less so, so a reliable monthly income wouldn’t go amiss.
Other February news includes a local newspaper article we featured in regarding life in Aveyron for English people and the Brexit (click on the below link to read the article…in French, of course) and I couldn’t possibly leave without telling you that the four of us have recently been granted French nationality, after a long long wait! We are now learning the words to the Marseillaise as we await our invitation to a naturalisation ceremony and a letter from our President, Monsieur Macron! Vive la France!