lundi 30 avril 2007

Wild flowers

A quick tally today and I already have 70 different wild flowers (not including ferns, grasses, sedges, trees, etc) in my photo collection and it's not even May yet.

Today the french beans came up - my first vegtables!

dimanche 29 avril 2007


The crane, ready to lift some big rocks!

Here's the maize and potato patch with the huge pile of roots that came out of the left hand half at the second pass (the vegetable patch is about 9' x 35' (3m x 11m))

The onion, shallot and french bean patch - still no signs of activity.

This morning I planted the maize, then I collected some hazel shoots and made a giant basket (more than 2 feet or 60 cm in diameter), not sure what it's for yet!

samedi 28 avril 2007

General stuff

A beautiful lily (as yet unidentified) which I saw on my mountain walk.

Over the past few days I've cleared field No 5 (the lowest one heading down to the river which I worked on with Alastair), felling some trees and scything the undergrowth - it evens looks like a field now! The trees were used to construct an A frame crane (photo tomorrow) to help lift the stones with which to rebuild the barn (when and if I ever get my 'declaration travaux' approved by the DDE).

The maize patch has been de-rooted and is ready for planting tomorrow.

I gave John a crash course in chainsaw use and maintainance on Friday morning and the afternoon made a return visit to my neighbours at Coumelary with Claude and Susan. They baked me a lovely cake and I learnt a little more Occitan or 'patois'.

This morning I went to the market in St Girons and in the afternoon I serviced my mountain bike. I hope to do some of the waymarked routes in and around Aleu, soon.

mercredi 25 avril 2007

Pic de Lasirouge

Whilst most of the Ariege sat under a blanket of low cloud today, I was above it in the sun! I climbed Pic de Lasirouge (the central one in the photo) via a typical Ariege arete of compact rock and vegetation, with a little snow thrown in for good measure. I was hoping to make the peak to the right but rumbles of thunder sent me scurrying back along the ridge. On the left is Mont Valier. A modest 1300m of ascent but the first walk in along time.

mardi 24 avril 2007

Sub-aqua pigs

The door panels found in the old bog - after plenty of elbow grease

Close up of the carving on each door

Another beautiful hot day. Plenty of the usual work going on with chainsaw and scythe. The pigs have started scuba diving. Arrived at the field to find no pigs but a constant bubbling sound. In the pond, two pairs of ears breaking the surface. Idiots!
The chickens went 'free range' to day with no mishaps and they even went back into the run without any chasing.
Tomorrow a day off in the mountains.

lundi 23 avril 2007

More visitors

This morning I loaded up the trailer with some of the junk from the barn. The path to the fields has a tangle of electrical wire in one of the hedgerows which has been bugging me ever since I bought Quelebu, so I decided to remove it. It took forever, because it was half buried and tangled in brambles. As a consequence I had to de-bramble the area behind the wood shed which has been inaccessible until now. Turns out this is the old toilet (long since disused so no pong). Half an old door which had a tap fixed to it (alas not plumbed in) is a beautifully carved oak panel door (photo tomorrow). Definitely worth restoring, if only the whole door was there.

My fingers are constantly full of bramble splinters, often deep tiny arrowheads only 1/2 to 1/4 mm long but painful. Usually I have to prod around with a needle, tears in my eyes, until I can get them out. Anyone know a way of encouraging them out less painfully?

Before going to the dump I finished half the remaining hurdle fencing to field no 2. Its amazing how much wood this uses.

In the afternoon I had visitors from Coumelary, one of the hamlets between Aleu and Quelebu. The extended family came to see the pigs and all my works. They were very complimentary of all my efforts. Claude turned up, so we all retired to Quelebu for l'apero. They're all looking for a young pretty french wife for me - hurry up is all I can say!

Philippe and Celine's neighbours, Alain and his family are also here at the moment, so Quelebu is full for the first time in many years.

dimanche 22 avril 2007


This morning after some clearing up of branches and rubbish left in the barn by the previous owners, I dug over the potato patch and planted out the crop. It was heavy work digging out the grid of fern roots and the temperature in the sun soared to 34 degrees! In the afternoon another thunderstorm.

At last the trees have burst into leaf.

vendredi 20 avril 2007

Rhythm of Life

After over two years at Quelebu, mixing copius amounts of concrete and mortar, watering plants, washing cars, feeding pigs and chickens , I finally installed an outside tap today. No longer does it all have top be done from the kitchen sink! The car got a wash in celebration.

The first vegetables are in, three rows of onions, three rows of shallots and some french beans. Potatoes to follow shortly, plus some maize for the pigs.

The front garden (although it doesn't belong to me) and the rest of the land around the house got scythed today, so everywhere is looking very tidy. Whilst scything under the electric pig fence I managed to cut the wire, so that had to be mended before the pigs realised!

The pigs are growing fast and are quite friendly now. They follow me around and chase each other around the field. They generally sleep most of the day and feed in the afternoon and evening. Corbett had a tick on his neck but I pulled it off - it was the size of a pea so reckon it was about ready to let go anyway.

Today was a beautiful spring day (which equates to a summers' day in the UK) 30 degrees, sunny and still, with the heat lingering until 9.00 pm or so.

Life here is developing a new rhythm around the animals: up at 7.30 to feed pigs and let the chickens out, collecting eggs at 3.00 ish, feeding pigs again at 6.30, then closing the chickens up for the night at 8.00 (early dusk). They now put themselves to bed which saves chicken chasing. The cockerell is the loudest most incessent crower I've ever heard - fortunately the neighbours don't mind. At least the immediate neighbours, from the echo he can be heard in several neighbouring villages too!

jeudi 19 avril 2007


A beautiful and hot day today (low thirties in the sun) ending with a thunderstorm, as has been the pattern over the past few days. Only as today was very hot, the storm was very big, with several strikes within 300m! The lightning doesn't bother the pigs, who are quite happy to go on grazing, oblivious to the storm around raging them- until the rain gets too heavy, then they retreat to the ark.

In the morning, I scythed all the brambles in field no 2 which are sprouting once again (this takes about 2 hours). I think this will be a weekly activity this year (for both of the cleared fields) if the brambles are to be eradicated. The grass and wild flowers are slowly colonising the field. A coarse tussucky grass seems to be the first grass to spread - I'm cutting this before it can seed but leaving the finer grass which I want to predominate. In several areas (the last to be cleared) the brambles and nettles reign. These areas are still covered in thick mulch of dead bramble stems, bracken stems, leaves and twigs, which I left in place over the winter to help prevent erosion. I decided that this was probably giving the brambles as unfair advantage, as it is difficult for the grasses to establish under this mulch. So today it was all raked into piles (16 in fact) and burnt. Hopefully the grass can get a foothold now there is a little bare soil.

The first of the vegetable patches is now ready for onions and shallots (plus some french beans later). A final sieving of the soil has left a fine tilth ready for planting tomorrow.

mardi 17 avril 2007

Pigs test the boundaries

This evening the pigs got out of the field. After a week in their new home and perhaps because I was 20 minutes later than normal with their evening meal (l'apero at Claudes) they managed to force their way through the hazel fencing. The food bucket soon had them back in the field and a single strand of electric fence inside the hazel should keep them there! I'll soon be moving them to the other field anyway but in the meantime I want them to stay put.

This morning I made more spars (ready for fencing) from the arisings of the hedge I layed. In the afternoon I finished the initial digging of the potato and maize patch - which was heavy going. The soil is very clayey, compacted and absolutely full of roots, most of which are 1-2" in diameter. This year is just a test to see how the soil is, next year after the pigs have turned it all over and fertilized it, operations will be on a larger scale.

dimanche 15 avril 2007

Hedge laying

Up at the crack of dawn to lay the hedge between me and the pigs. The EDF cut some of it down about 18 months ago (because the power line runs overhead), but they just leave everything where it falls - a right mess. The brambles spread into the dead branches lying on the ground on either side of the hedge and before you know it there's an area of scrub where once there was a hedge. All is neat and tidy now and for the first time I can see the pigs, field and barn from the house.

In the afternoon, I finished the chicken's mobile run, had a couple of visitors keen to see the pigs and chickens, dug a vegetable patch for the french beans, tidied up all the piles of dead wood and brambles waiting to be burnt and played with the pigs.
The firebugs have come out for the first time.
All in all it was a lovely day today.

samedi 14 avril 2007

Rayburn weather

Yesterday I went to see Ian and Nina and Ian and I decided we would go ski touring today 'whatever'. At 6.00am awoken by the noise of the torrential rain we decided to postpone until Monday. It rained heavily until about a wise decision.

I lit the Rayburn for the first time in over week and cooked a Belgian dish (slow cooked) - Beef Carbonade. Very nice too, a mixture of sweetness from the caramalised onions and sourness from red wine vinegar and beer, all set off by a hint of coarse grained mustard.

jeudi 12 avril 2007

Settling in

The animals seem to be settling in now. A full compliment of eggs today (4) and the pigs now come running when I enter the field and will happily follow me around. The pigs now have names - Barker and Corbett. Barker is bigger and dominant, I need to build them a 'mangoire' (currently they eat off the floor) and I'll have to give it two compartments with a screen between, as he often bullies Corbett away from the food. At the moment they're 'joined at the hip' but in time they should become a bit more independent. The pigs are digging over the field - need to get them in field No 2 soon, as it could do with some rooting up of the brambles which I scythed over today.

I spoke too soon about the fox. Tonight I heard one barking in the woods. As an extra precaution I've run a single strand of electric fence around the chicken run to stop any attempts to dig under the chicken wire.

Had planned to go ski touring with Ian tomorrow but the weather has deteriorated (raining) and won't improve until Sunday. Oh well, more time to plan the trip.

mercredi 11 avril 2007

All well and accounted for

This morning the rooster came down from the tree after crowing like a siren. When the chickens finally emerged from the hen house they were all there so the one I thought was missing must have been in the nest box all the time. The run now has a roof and an evening rainstorm allowed me to shut them all in the hen house, so hopefully they'll settle now.

The pigs slept outside, but seemed none the worst for it. They slept most the morning too. They're slowly getting used to me.

Early this morning I watched a Pine Marten in the field. I have seen a lot of droppings that I thought were maybe those of a fox but I have never seen a fox a here and the droppings aren't quite right - now I know what they are. I think this predator is the main threat to the chickens. The photo above makes it look like a squirrel (in fact it eats squirrels) - the male is the size of a fox, but with shorter legs and more of a weasel like 'bounce' as it runs along.

mardi 10 avril 2007


It was a frantic morning getting everything ready, but at last the animals have arrived.

The pigs are being very well behaved so far. I think it is their first time outside and it was great to see them exploring their new environment. It's also their first time with an electric fence and it was 50/50 whether after getting shocked they'd end up on the right or wrong side of the fence. They're getting the hang of it slowly.

The chickens on the other hand were fine until dusk. They're obviously used to roosting high up in a barn, so my 'low rise' accommodation wasn't appealing. Instead they lined up on the roof of the hen house and refused to go in. After some Benny Hill'esque chasing around the run they decided to show me that they could fly - out of the run (tomorrow it gets it's roof!). After about an hour it was totally dark. I managed to get three of them in the run, the rooster is in a tree and the fourth hen in AWOL. I just hope it comes back for food tomorrow. On the plus side I have 2 eggs.

dimanche 8 avril 2007


Skiing again in Baqueira as the weather was good and I can't make Judith work everyday!! The weather was just fantastic and we got there nice and early so we beat the rest of Spain who had come to ski. The resort is big so even with the hoards it never felt as busy as say 'the three valleys' in the Alps. Off piste the snow was truly great spring snow, almost as if it had been pisted.
Tomorrow fence building in the morning, before taking Judith back to the airport in the afternoon.

samedi 7 avril 2007

Pig ark

Judith is here for a few days (first time at Quelebu) so this morning we went for a walk around the valley and to Pentussa. I'm building a photo collection of all the wild flowers here and I found about 10 or so different species on our walk. It was a beautiful spring day with temperature in the sun peaking at 28 degrees.

In the afternoon Judith gave me a hand painting the pig arc blue whilst I finished off the roof.

jeudi 5 avril 2007

Animal Farm

Double click the image to read the text on the hen house.

This morning I quickly put the finishing touches to the chicken run (a weather cock!) then set off in search of poultry. High above Seix I visited a little farm which I had been reliably informed had loads of poultry, including the much prized 'Cuckoo de Rennes' (talking of which I heard the first cuckoo yesterday). But alas he had none - the buzzard took them all (me thinks perhaps my run better have a roof!). I asked about pigs. (I had already asked the local butcher but he could only offer me carcases!) He suggested the guy I was going to see anyway in Galas - M. Alban Sentenac - but suggested he might have chickens too.

Onwards to Galas, just a few minutes drive from home. Once the family had all gathered I was taken to see the pigs. Black and very hairy and confined to the tiniest of dark 'cells'. The sow would have a litter which would be available in 2 months (ready to eat perhaps next spring). I hadn't planned on animals over the winter so asked if he had 'any' to sell. Out came 3 three month old porkers - I plumped for the two smallest. Cochon noir (I have since found out we call them Large Blacks or Cornish Blacks). Big, good mannered, grazers and a good outdoor animal. Then he showed me the boar. I think he said it was 4 or 5 years old. I can only describe it as a rhinocerous in an over size gorilla suit! I've seen smaller cars.

Next I asked about chickens - a barn door was opened and out came about 60 ducks and chickens. I said I'd take 4 hens and a cockerell.

All will be delivered early next week when I let him know I'm ready.

Meantime a hurried visit to St G to get foodstuffs, bedding, electric fence, etc. Then back home to try and finish the pig ark in double quick time. Not yet finished it and there's still 30 feet of hurdle fence to erect. With guests over the weekend I hope to be ready for receipt on Tuesday. It's kinda scary.

mercredi 4 avril 2007

Chickens - but not yet

A day of snow, sleet and hale showers. But in between these I managed to finish the chicken run and I'm now ready to go in search of chickens!

The pig ark is also taking shape so hopefully it won't be too long before I can get them as well - just a few bits of fencing to finish.

lundi 2 avril 2007

For Julian

Thanks for the book Jules. These are for you.