I’m not quite sure where to start, we’ve had such an action-packed month and so much has happened in such a short space of time.
Money had been so tight, we were beginning to think we would never get any chickens, but Pete made a lucky find at the tip, when he came back with a van full of old chicken wire, and it all spiralled from there really. In no time at all, he had ripped out the old chicken nesting box (which consisted of a wooden crate resting on an old oil drum) and constructed a new one, using some of the wood he gets free from work. We were kindly donated some straw from a neighbouring farm to get us going, and we even found an artificial egg in the old nesting box (which is supposed to encourage the hens to lay).
For the feeder, Pete made one out of some drain pipe (thanks to a video he’d seen on YouTube) and we made a water feeder from an old chain, a bucket and some nipple drippers we got from Ebay.
Pete made an outside pen with the reclaimed chicken wire, and by mid-May, our chickens arrived at their new home, Chez TêteBlanche.
Getting the chickens was a huge milestone for us. It brought us that step nearer to having our own homestead and a step further away from our old life back in the mountains. We had originally decided on six egg-laying hens, but after reflection, we decided to go for the White Sussex breed, that are not only good layers, but are heavy meat birds. Of course, the fact we will be eating our own birds changed everything. We chose not to name them, and we got a large cockerel, so we can breed our own chicks, to continue the cycle. Madeleine wanted to name the cockerel, so as an exception to the rule, the cockerel has been christened ‘Norman Slide’, a rather odd name chosen by our 4-year old daughter but which had such a good ring to it, we could hardly refuse.
We want to give our chickens the best life possible and let them free-range, so having a cockerel offers them a bit more security from predators, as he sounds the alarm when there is danger and looks out for his girls. After some research, we went with the advised 8-10 hens per rooster theory, which is why we came home with eight hens, as opposed to the originally intended six. Of course, having a cockerel means we have to get used to a 6.30am wake-up call, but it is the ultimate countryside sound and I prefer it to any conventional alarm clock.
We haven’t yet let them out of their pen, to free-range, as we want to be sure they will come back to us, but they’ve already settled in well and approach us for food. We are now able to handle them with ease and they are quite tame around us, so if all goes well, we plan to let them out this weekend.
In terms of egg-laying, we’re averaging four eggs a day, although today we got five, in all different sizes (including the largest chicken egg I’ve ever seen – it must surely be a double yoker!). Each bird is expected to lay around 230 eggs a year. As we’ve stopped buying eggs, we have had to adjust our egg intake according to production, so some days we can all have eggs for breakfast, and other days, we have to go without. It is a similar approach to eating seasonal fruit and vegetables. Once our vegetable plot is up and running properly, we hope to live as much as possible off our own produce, and therefore adapt our diet to suit the seasons. It might mean we have to go all winter without a single strawberry, but just imagine how good those first ripe strawberries will taste in early summer!
The vegetable patch is slowly but surely expanding and a recent straw delivery means we have ample for mulching, composting and for the chickens. Here is a quick recap of what we’ve managed to plant so far this year, without any greenhouse or polytunnel, very little money, and an incredibly rainy start to the season:
- Mona Lisa and Charlotte Potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
- Heirloom carrots
- Swiss chard
- Batavia lettuce
- Butternut squash
- Spring onions
- Yellow onions
- Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
- Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes
- Cherry tomatoes
- Sweet peppers
- Cayenne peppers
- Purple broccoli
The herb spiral has really taken off and we are already enjoying fresh herbs, such as basil, fresh mint and spearmint, parsley, dill, sage, chives and coriander. The thyme, rosemary and oregano are still becoming established and not yet ready to be picked, but we’ve discovered a huge bay tree behind the ruin, offering us a lifetime’s supply of bay leaves.
For my herbal infusions, I am starting to dry out chamomile, lemon balm, mint, echinacea, verbena and red clover.
Elsewhere, the waist-high grass was finally chopped, thanks to an incredibly kind local farmer called Daniel, who finished the job in less than hour with his tractor. He literally saved us about three weeks of hard work! We are now able to cut it regularly with our ride-on mower which should turn our unkempt field into a perfect lawn in no time.I spent a good few hours, with help from my mum and brother, turning the grass to dry it out and raking it up into hay piles. Much of it was manually wheel-barrowed to the humanure compost heap, and some, we piled around the fruit trees. The chickens absolutely loved it, as it was full of ants and other tasty treats of the insect variety.
Although, it is true that all work and no play can make life seem rather dull, and what better way to relax in good company than at Rocamadour! It was one of the places I had wanted to visit last year but we just didn’t have the time, so with family coming to stay, it seemed the perfect destination for a short car journey north, to the Lot.
And, it might have taken us nearly six months, but we finally discovered the amazing weekly market at Villefranche-de-Rouergue. It really brings the town to life, with bustling people, dialects, scents and sounds. It reminds you what French culture is all about and makes you smile to know that it’s on your doorstep. A Thursday morning spent perusing the market stalls, followed by a ‘petit blanc’ in a local café might just be my ideal weekly ritual!
However, back in the real world, I have at last found some part time work, teaching English to a group of bankers in Rodez, so my Thursday mornings may not always be free for leisure time! Although it means I have to make the forty minute car journey two days a week, it is helping me to gain experience in the field of teaching adults for a change, and for the time being, it suits me perfectly.
Pete has been working hard too. In fact, he never stops! Last week, he knocked down an upstairs wall and we hope we can soon move in upstairs, even if it’s unfinished. From there, we can tackle one room at a time, and leave some space downstairs for my parents, who will eventually have their own annexe in the house for when they move in permanently next year.
With so much going on last month, here is a photo album showing what we’ve been up to:
Now I thought I’d end this month’s blog post with a philosophical thought. It is exactly twelve months since I first came to visit the house with my dad and the estate agent, and having recently looked out the old photos of the garden I took last June, I couldn’t believe the difference between then and now. It was only when I mentioned it to Pete the other night that we got into a discussion about nature and energy, which led us to a deeper level of thought. The truth is, in the photos I took back in June 2014, none of the bushes were in flower and all of the shrubs and trees were lacking love and attention. Since we’ve moved in, we may have created some vegetable patches, a herb spiral and a hügelkulture, but in reality, we haven’t touched any of the shrubberies or trees, preferring to leave everything for at least a year, to see what happened naturally. Now some might argue that it is all due to the weather and that the rain we had in the Spring led to the bushes flowering earlier this year, but a recent visit from the previous owners made us think otherwise. Having given them a tour of the garden, they were astonished to see the abundance of flowers on the bushes, and they told us they had never seen so much life in any of the plants and trees…ever! You must bear in mind that they spent many years growing up in this family house and planted many of the trees themselves.
We like to think of it like this: before we moved in, the house had been empty for at least two if not three years, since the old lady passed away, leaving the house to be sold and divided up between her five children. We feel that, in moving in, we have brought life and energy back to the house, so much so that we have passed it on to everything around us, be it the trees, the grass, the shrubs and the flowers. We feel at one with nature and a strong connection to the land. It’s like we were meant to move here! Never in my life have I felt so content as I do right now, stepping out of my very own home, surrounded by my loving family, into a natural world that is so very much alive and literally bursting with energy!