Pumpkin time !

Just in time ! The last of the pumpkins in just before a frost this morningLots of people have been asking me how we manage to keep our pumpkins for so long, so I’ve put together a list of things that you need to do to ensure that you’ll have pumpkins to eat all winter and for most of the following spring.

To get really good mature pumpkins, make a note of the number of days they need to grow to maturity. That’s usually marked on the packet if you buy them and for seed swaps, ask people to remember to add that information to the packet too, because it’s important.

Bear in mind that some varieties of squash will keep well in store for a lot longer than others. For example the Siamese squash  (Fig-leaf gourd, Malabar gourd, black seed squash or Cidra) which is in the wheelbarrow in the photo on the left, can be stored for up to two years. The Queensland Blue on the right can be kept for about five months.

Some pumpkins need a long growing season, so for those, about three weeks before the the last frost is due, I either plant them outside and cover them with a cloche which I tuck in with some mulch around the outside, or start them off in the greenhouse.

If you plant good seeds in a greenhouse, they’ll probably sprout amazingly quickly, so make sure your pots are really deep so that the root has enough room to develop, as most squash resent root disturbance. Empty the pot gently when you plant them and take care when you fill up the planting hole. Water in the young plants really well.

It goes without saying, that the richer the soil the better and pumpkins do really well on raised mounds of last year’s compost with anything and everything added to it.

The art of growing pumpkins to avoid cross pollination for seed-saving is a completely different subject and I’ll cover that in another blog post. For the moment, let’s imagine that summer is coming to an end and you’re watching your pumpkins get bigger every day….

I love the colour of pumpkinsIf your objective is to store some for use over winter, leave them on the vine for as long as you can. In a good summer, the leaves will die and become brown and withered, leaving the pumpkins exposed but always remember to gather them in before the frost. (If you’re a day or so late, you can still eat lightly frosted pumpkins, butternuts etc. straight away but they rot quickly and will not store.)

If there a good strong stem then the pumpkin is normally good to store BUT if it has any discolouration after being in contact with the ground or nearby bushes, use it immediately.

Check around the stem for cracks or soft patches, if there’s any doubt, use it straight away.

Never carry a pumpkin by the stem, carry it gently, like a baby

Leave them to ‘cure’ in a dry place in full sunlight with good ventilation for about ten days. A covered terrace like ours in the photo is ideal.

Store only mature pumpkins with hardened skins (Test the skin with your fingernail) they should sound dry/hollow when you tap them and have a good all-over colour.

Wash around the top stem, the base of the pumpkin then give it a rub all over with eau de vie, vodka or some other strong alcohol. Don’t be mean.

Make sure the pumpkins are completely dry then store them in a dark, dry place between 10-15°c

Use wooden planks or fruit boxes to keep the pumpkins off the floor and allow the air to circulate around them.

Check them regularly to make sure that they are still in good condition.

The Pink Jumbo squash in the photo above was gathered on the 22nd of September then cured for a week in the sun on the terrace.

A photo of the same Pink Jumbo (Cut in half) was taken on the 14th of May – about eight months later and both the inside and outside were in perfect condition and I and the Council of Administration of Brin de Paille (The French Permaculture association) who stayed with us for a few days for one of their quarterly meetings, can assure you, it tasted great !

Blogging again…

Irene Kightley La Ferme de SourrouI started this blog in 2006. It’s a collection of text and photos of everyday events here at Sourrou, with lots of information on animal husbandry, keeping poultry, building techniques, off-grid life and so on.

I really enjoyed blogging and kept the blog up to date regularly for over five years but  towards the end of 2010, it, (And the blog I started for the village, “Bourrou Blog”.) was under constant attack by spammers and was attracting unwanted comment from various sources.

At that time, I was also involved in the administration of several forums and one in particular, a French Permaculture Forum took up an enormous amount of my time, particularly in the evenings.

I didn’t have much spare time, so I left the blog on line, removed comments and blocked new ones and thought that soon, I’d get back to blogging….

Time passes so quickly.

Now, seven years later, I was building a website for our farm and I thought it’s a shame not to include all the information that’s in the old blog, so I’ve transferred it into this site and I’m in the process of cleaning it up and updating video links and re-learning all the technical stuff about blogging on a new platform.

There may still be some links missing but I’ll check all that out out slowly but surely and once my creativity starts flowing and I can think of how I can update what I’ve been up to, I’ll start blogging again.

We’ve started lambing and there’s a Basco Béarnaise !

New-born lambThe days just seem to fly by at the moment. There’s a lot of everyday things going on and like farmers all over France, we’ve loads of paperwork to do this month, then on exactly the date we predicted, the sheep started lambing.

I like it when they lamb early in the year because we have them all inside in the warmth and out of danger. When we let them lamb outdoors there are often mishaps when, for example a new mother abandons her new-born lamb in the field or a fox or badger takes a lamb.

new born lamb with yellowThere’s not a lot to eat in the fields anyway and it’s been bitterly cold and windy out there for the past few days.
We’ve some good hay, mineral and vitamin licks and a ration of cereal for each new mum and being closer to them at the moment makes them less scared of us and easier to manage if there are birthing or feeding problems.

We have a lot more water harvested from the roof this year which the goats and sheep seem to prefer to tap water and we keep the storage close to the shed, in a warm area and so they’re less likely to freeze, which cuts down a lot on the work of smashing ice and carrying kettles of hot water. The new mothers drink an amazing amount of water ! All in all it’s easier and more comfortable for us and them and as we can hear what’s going on in the shed from the house it’s certainly more reassuring.

I’m excited because we’ve had a lamb from one of our Basco Béarnaise ewes. He’s a strapping lad and huge despite the size of his sire – a small but obviously very capable Cameroon ram.

She’s not a terribly good mother which is not a bad thing in some ways. It means we can feed the wee fella a bit ourselves and take some of her milk for tea and for making cheese and I’ll feel a lot less guilty about the whole thing.

We’ve one lamb in the kitchen who we needed to warm up and feed quickly because his mother totally rejected her. The poor wee thing chose the worst spot ever to curl up in and got chilled and when we tried to get her to suck the colostrum from the ewe she was already too weak.

We milked off some colostrum and gave it to her gently in drops from a syringe and she licked and swallowed.

She finally got a bit more strength after she was warmed up and with a bit of help from our Dachshund Bonnie who is a real star and licks lamb’s bottoms to stimulate them to pee and feed just like the ewe does. Thanks to Bonnie, the lamb’s sucking reflex started working and she’s now taking tiny amounts from a baby’s bottle and is slowly walking around the kitchen this evening.

The little thing isn’t completely OK yet but we’re hoping she’ll recover and make a strong wee lamb.

We’ve got too many chickens !

This young cock has just lost a fightThis boy got beaten up by a band of roaming youngsters that I call the red bunch and as he was walking away with his head down I started taking photographs of him and he suddenly perked up and strode along proudly as though to show me that he was non the worse for his humiliation.

The culprits were a large group of young red cockerels who are now at sexual maturity and are a pain in the whotsit – not just because they’re fighting with all the other young cocks but also they’ve started to gang up on the girls and the poor things have to walk the gauntlet before being allowed into the chicken shed to roost for the night.

That's the spirit !Anyone who has kept chickens will know what I mean – I almost feel like throwing something at them when they start their antics and the girls are becoming nervous and scatty and if this goes on any longer they’ll go off the lay, their backs will lose their feathers and some of them may be tempted to sleep outside and risk an encounter with Mr Fox.

Young cockerels almost ready for the potIt’s been a real joy all summer to see this year’s chicks grow up. A high proportion of them are bright orange with a few blacks and a couple of pure whites. All of them are in great condition, bright eyed and constantly on the move.

The garden has been brought alive by the flashing past of dozens of orange chicks running when they hear the feeder being filled up. But I counted the chickens this morning and there are fifty and an awful lot of them are young males. I’ll try to find homes for the best cockerels – normally my neighbours are interested if they need to change their stock – but sadly, it’s not worth feeding them all winter and the time has come to cull them and get them into the freezer.


We’ve finally got a new worktop in the kitchen !

Now I know for some people this is no big deal but for me it’s one the most exciting things that’s happened for ages. (Apart from the roof but I’ll talk about that another time.)

Anyone’s who’s ever visited here will have noticed that there’s never ever anywhere to put things in our kitchen. Everything that arrives gets dumped on the table and before we eat, we’ve taken to simply pushing the mess over a bit to make the space to put a few plates. In the summer, space isn’t a problem because we have three huge tables outside on the terrace but in the winter everything has to come inside.

I’ve been meaning to make a work top and somewhere to store pots and pans for ages but I’ve always got something else more important to do. Well-meaning friends try to persuade me to go out and bu something but I just can’t do that. It’s not even the money, we’d just  never dream of just buying something – unless it’s for the computers or something that neither Fabrice nor I can make  ourselves.

I really do prefer things that have been home-made from recycled materials and we’re fortunate to live in a rural area where people share our frugal ethics. Since we started building the house our neighbours have been wonderful – helping us to source materials and bringing anything they’ve got or they can get that they think we might be able to use.

Our tribal dumping ground in the photo here is an area where we stock materials. It now looks pretty organised but when we first started building it was piled high with masses of reclaimed materials which have now found pride of place in the house. Now we’re looking for fittings for finishing the extension and this summer has been absolutely frenetic with ‘phone calls and lorries arriving with old baths, wood, tiles, bottles, windows, sinks, stone, chicken-wire and anything else you can imagine. Some of it gets passed on to other people who we know are looking for things but a lot of it gets arranged in lots to be used for building or for making things for the garden.

We  ask people to try not to bring  polystyrene or plastic or broken bottles  and over the years they’re getting better at knowing what we need  and what we  might find useful and it’s incredible how they often go out of their way to help us.

The conversations go something  like this. “My son knows a place where they’re pulling out a load of double glazed windows, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that the electric shutters don’t work any more. The guy said they’d be skipped on Friday, if we get there fast he’ll let us have the lot for a fiver each.” The logistics of how to get there fast with a van or someone’s borrowed trailer are sorted out and off we go to collect the windows.(Merci Guy !)

To be honest if it weren’t for all the things that people give us, our house would have been a lot more expensive to build and we’d have spent an awful lot of time in DIY shops – not to mention the fact that it would be boring to have to choose what we wanted all the time instead of just doing what we can with what we’ve got. Sometimes things do look a bit weird to begin with but the finished result  is quirky and interesting and totally unique.

We’ve use almost all our old windows now for covering firewood, making cold frames, covering straw bales as temporary shelter for tender plants and we’ve used   them for making our greenhouse and even as windows when they’re good enough.

The new veranda is just second-hand windows we’ve been given and wood Fabrice cut from our land, topped by incredibly expensive hail-stone proof double layer plastic. We’ve   got seven second-hand double-glazed PVC French windows which we’ll use at the back   of the  house just to  the right of these windows and on the east side   of the  extension. I don’t really like plastic or PVC but we get a lot of storms here and I don’t intend replacing anything in my lifetime. We’ll paint the windows or do something to make them look OK and the fact that everything is recycled assuages my green conscience.

We’ve used all the stone that was easily accessible on our land, (Peak stone !) so we’ve asked neighbours to help us find more. They have come up trumps and sometimes even deliver it to us (Merci Christophe !) or  we go and get it ourselves.

We dump all the stones and rubble in front  of the house and when we’ve  taken the  best  bits out of it, (Including some roots and bulbs which have become beautiful plants !) what’s left  makes a solid base for the  roads we’ve  been  making for the past few  years.

Anyway, getting back to the kitchen worktop. A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and bought a worktop in a shop. (I bought three because I’ll need two more for the extension.) They’ve sat inside the front door doing nothing because we’ve been so busy.

We had a visitor here and after a week or so, he started to appreciate why we never had time to do anything about storage space in the kitchen, so he offered to make us something. On his next visit, he brought with him a couple of beautiful pieces of boxwood Buxus sempervirens which he used for the front legs of the table and of course, the rest of the bits he needed came from the dumping ground !

After he spent the day making it he had to go back to work at L’Ecocentre du Périgord, so I finished sanding it down and over the past week I’ve given it five coats of varnish and it’s now dry and ready for use. Thanks Yohan, you really are a star !

What an amazing sky !

Pyke dragged me out this evening. He ran around the house, teasing and showing off and insisted that I go out with him. I was a bit busy but stopped what I was doing because when he does that there’s usually something worth seeing, so I let him lead me to the end of the drive, then he stood there watching the sky. He’s a funny dog. 

He’s a Border Collie from good working stock and we got him to work with the goats and sheep and he does help a bit but gets bored easily then runs off to chase swallows and butterflies. We’ve given up trying to get him to work properly. 

In the village they call him “The poet”.

      Le poète est celui qui voit autrement, qui porte un regard neuf, émerveillé 
     sur ce qui est souvent ignoré par les autres hommes…

In English that means, “The poet is someone who sees things differently, in a new light, amazed at things which are often ignored by other people.”

I’ve never known a dog before who walks around sniffing flowers. The interesting thing is that his likes and dislikes are so similar to mine. Sweet smelling roses, Jasmine and Honeysuckle have a really positive effect on him and when he sniffs a flower he likes, he looks up at me, smiles and wags his tail.

We sat looking at the sky with the clouds moving slowly towards the west and as the sun crept over towards the horizon and the sky darkened we turned and walked towards the east where the wind was pushing and dividing the clouds into puffy balls and as it got stronger the little wind turbines suddenly started chugging into life. 

The wind got stronger and stronger and my little cardi suddenly felt very inadequate so I looked at Pyke and he looked at me then we went inside to the warm. 


Autumn colours

I walk down this little path every day to open the chickens then through the vegetable garden and back up towards the house to open the geese and check the goats. Then I have a cup of tea.

I’ll probably walk down this path four of five times in an average day but the morning stroll is the important one and starting the tour by this path has become a morning ritual. The path is crunchy underfoot with years of discarded mussel and oyster shells and in autumn it rustles with the sound of fallen sweet chestnut and oak leaves.

I’ve lingered a bit more than usual this week on the path – the colours are stunning and it’s interesting to see the shape of the tree trunks emerging from the fallen greenery and the new growth of biennials like the Foxglove, Mullen and Evening primrose. Autumn is a lovely time of the year, especially when you’re ready for winter.

Getting ready for winter

The man with the corn picker is coming to the village soon so we had to get a move on and get last year’s corn out of the crib to fill it up again with freshly harvested cobs.

We kept some of the old cobs for the pigs and goats then grained the rest of it with our neighbour Guy’s ancient machine and put the grain into all the containers we could find and stored it in the extension. It’s the first year we’ve had to rush like this – normally we don’t have any left at the start of autumn but last year’s crop was exceptional.
The weather’s been really dry here since the end of May, so this year’s crop won’t be so good.

This is the ancient corn picker which has been doing the rounds in this village (and several others) for quite a few years. When I see it I always think of Mad Max – a film set in a future where law and order has broken down at the end of the ‘Oil Age’ and baddies use weird and wonderful machines like this for just cruising around doing wicked things.
I suppose using a machine like this is wicked. I hate to think how much diesel this thing uses when it’s chugging through the maize and what sort of damage it’s doing to the earth below. We ought to be sowing and harvesting our grain by hand but a few years ago, thirty of us harvested a small field of corn for a neighbour and it took us several hours. This machine does the job for the whole village in just two days.

I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging for a long time but we’ve been under a lot of pressure from forces beyond our control and I haven’t felt like sharing what’s been going on. I’ll get back on that straight and narrow road soon.

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