I often refer to Tony in my posts. He is my rock, soul mate, breakfast and tea maker, solid sharer of life’s stresses and calming problem solver in a crisis. I haven’t met anyone who works as hard as he does nor with such enthusiasm. I am more tetchy and vulnerable to doubt. Hard labour in the garden seems to fix me but without my soul mate I would be very lost indeed.
We share tasks round the barn based more on habit than skill. Our work load this year is huge, but whilst away Tony has as good as completed the rear garden fencing for chickens and geese including our little forest area. All I need to do now is paint the fencing primrose yellow. Pretty colour for pretty girl geese.
Probably some much needed weeding of the wildflower bed. Planted across old nettled pasture, the ancient and evasive weeds take time to dwindle. Much hand pulling, earth and stone scuffed knees and aching back will win over I hope. We want bees to visit next year, so that’s my first job on returning. I had collected over 30 different native species but typically in our chaotic life, misplaced the tiny envelopes crammed into old packet soup boxes. So a nursery mix had to do for a start.
The grass, full of nitrogen, has been removed and the soil won’t be fertilized. This will encourage the wildflowers to germinate. They enjoy a barren home and should flourish. If you want to start a wildflower meadow be prepared for a lot of prep work. Lowering nitrogen means taking off the top layers of turf and top soil too. Hard labour of the convict type. If you do want to plant in grass, you must remove the mowings immediately as they will if left return nitrogen to the soil. Mow your wilds and in June and September give a hard mow back. It seems sad to do this but it regenerates the plants scattering their seed. Any grass, as said, rake up straight away. Leave the mowed wildflowers for a few days to ensure all seeds have jumped to safety. Planting birdsfoot trefoil will help. It absorbs nitrogen. Normally you dig this ‘green manure’ back into the ground, similar to clover, and mustard, to release nitrogen it’s absorbed from the air back into the ground as it decomposes, to help plants grow.
Wildflowers dislike nitrogen, so the trefoil successfully sucks and locks in nitrogen and suppresses weeds too. It’s a bee favourite too.
Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor is another good grass reducer. It is paracitical and will tackle evasive grass.
Sow wildflower seeds in October for the perfect spring colour splash.
Tony at the office he had next to mine. His was glamerous and had candles and drapes, mine was well, accountant efficient and full of files and tax books..yawn! But we shared a love of good wine, business and ideas.
The geese now trim the grass. A huge job removed and that just leaves a few stretches along the roadsides to manage. It’s over 32 metres in length, so annoying extension cables needed. But with farm tractors up and down I want a better solution- a petrol mower on my shopping list.
Grass for chickens
Some of the grass gets a regular cut to feed the chickens. Chopped very small to avoid them getting a blocked crop, the pouch where food is stored and ground down with grit they take in with their grain food. Chickens have no teeth and long grass can really be a problem. The crop will get infected and this causes respiratory problems too. Unhappy snuffly chickens. Geese on the other hand can tackle longer grass with their tiny toothed beaks. But short grass is nutrient rich. 6cm in height is best for goose. Longer and the grass should be trimmed. What a lot to deal with!
And Lupins…..yes those lovely cottage garden flowers, tall and bee loved in jolly summer colours.
Apparently the lupins seeds make a highly nutritious food suitable for poultry. Many farms round the UK have united to work on trials of this crop, some with success and some not so good. If I can get more land it will be a project I am very enthusiastic about. Chicory and white clover a winning forage crop too.
Compost and no digging
Tony adores chillies. In Romania they eat them at every meal, raw, as is. I can’t see the point..but us English like Yorkshire pudding, and we’ll in Romania they don’t.. So everyone to his own. Apparently it kick starts the digestion. I just get a burnt mouth and can’t eat another morsel.
So the veggie garden has some chillies, tomatoes with their new supports in place and some leeks, which I adore, raw, cooked, whatever. We have two more beds to put in place..more weeding, sorry back; and some compost to finish. The mix of weeds, grass, soil and garden cuttings have been in the compost area for some time. But compost needs tender care. It’s simple but not being at home meant neglect. I am a bad compost mother!
Ahhh shoes togetherness.
With little water or too much water, the compost fails to get to that lovely rich earthy organic matter. Lack of air too stops conversion. I am considering going over to (sorry we have to mention the dirty word) plastic bins as they hold heat and moisture better than a more open wooden box affair. I will see when I get back after a prod around. Once its as good as broken down into a uniform consistency like peat compost but with a little more texture, this will be dolloped onto all the beds. No digging in, we do the ‘No Dig’ methods of layering organic matter ontop of beds to keep moisture in and weeds at bay.
Digging simply brings dormant weeds back to daylight and regrowth. Nutrients at top soil level get dug deep and lost as it rains. The lower clay levels do not need nutrients.
I am considering straw too next year for potato clamps and tomatoes. With a barn full of it next door, I have no excuses. Although I need to check for pesticides. Long term use of straw thats sprayed will damage your crops. And it csn take years to remove the contagions grom the soil. We also use this around some of the beds to walk on and keep mud down.
The gardens will then be left till next year when a garage has to go up, arches for rambling sweet peas and roses and maybe the herb garden. We have a good sized area of about 20 x 8 feet to set herbs down between stone paths and a place for the ubiquitous French metal cafe table and chairs. Tony has a passion for drying herbs, experimenting with oils, vinegars and ingredients. Although the bananasaka – yes everyones favourite mince, onions, tomatoes and err banana was an odd one. You could hear a pin drop. This will be his garden paradise. I better just not grow bananas!
SPANK and drains
Our next project is the barn inside. My plans for pointing outside have been scuppered. But inside we have to finish downstairs by October if we are not to spend a freezing winter in La Petite Maison.
Pointing first, then 32 floor planks to sand and varnish. Mmm that’s my job. I painted them blue, yellow and green last year to add some colour, but now they need finishing. I think it will be a messy job with my new sander. I will probably end up looking like a participate in an Indian Holi colour festival.
Our septic tank is at last going ahead. Tony pushed hard with language and French triplicate paperwork barriers to get this huge milestone met. SPANK (No not some fat busting under garment but The French septic tank authority), also gave us permission to continue using our old concrete septic tank for sink water. That’s a huge benefit as it means we are more likely to be able to register our little house as an Attelier. Without waste water facilities that becomes difficult. The end to using the porta loo is in site. We are buying an Echoflow type. Compact, no garden to dig up to put in sand filtration beds. Using modern technology it does everything the old concrete septic tanks did but more efficiently.
Tony tackled the drainage issue too. The barn has no foundations. Water from the road and outlying areas just flows across and under our building. Damp rising up the walls to about 3 feet and on heavy rain days, a lake formed in our bedroom! Maybe the geese would appreciate but we didn’t.
Installing concrete foundations would be prohibitively costly for us and often doesn’t solve the issue. Water finds its path and anything blocking It, often pushes the water vertically.
Instead a more simple solution. The exterior earth removed to create a drainage area lower than the foundations. Weep holes through the wall base and inside , again below wall level a runoff channel. When it rains water flows into the channel and out through an exit we have made or out of the weep holes. Vertical run off the exterior drops into our external drain. Interior dry!! Success. Photos if interested, I will be posting later, as I know you will be eager to have more drainage info. I can sense your excitement!
Tony being creative.
So tasks are split between us to maximize what we can do. I tend to work on masonary, timber restoration and gardening. Tony is chief carpenter, plumbing and electrics.
In life we share chores too. I seem to manage the bedroom, bathroom and cleaning and Tony is main cook and washer-upper. A kitchen man. Having been a KP for some time in a few hectic restaurants, you don’t get a better stacker of plates. How it doesn’t all end up broken I have no idea.
I feed the feathered family and check beaks and toes and Tony cleans coops and pond. If one of us has to work late, the other will always stay up too. Way back when my accountancy work was manic, we would both be up till 3am every night and although Tony would be drooping, he just wouldn’t go to bed.
And when nightime falls and we are cosy in bed, we give ourselves 2 hours to read, listen to music and chill before lights out. Jazz, soul, funk and electronic music are our bag. We plan for tomorrow, we turn out the lights. Goodnight and sleep tight!
Hotel Castille. Next door to Chanel in Paris. Favourite hotel and what I dream a lovely bedroom will be when we have finished. Not so posh, but it’s having a proper bed and blankets, comfort and home. Same name as mine? Yes confession. I needed a nom de plume and this seemed as good as any. My French connection.