Busy, busy

There’s so much going on right now I have no time to blog about it! What with the classic Easter cold, taking us all down one by one, and a visit from my parents I’m only just starting to catch up on all things computer-based. I’ve got a bunch of part-written or planned and not started blog posts so plenty to keep me busy when I do find the time to sit down and write/think for any amount of time. For now though, here’s a list of some of the things that I’ve been doing since I last posted:

  • Herding goats
  • Planting up more of the garden
  • Sewing
  • Finessing the worm bin setup
  • Picking cherries
  • Thinking of things to do with a gazillion fresh cherries!
  • Horse riding with DD
  • Swimming
  • Settling DD into her first full days at the maternelle
  • Settling DS into the créche
  • Setting myself up as an auto-entrepreneur
  • Land and house viewings

That’s pretty much all the fun/interesting stuff, which doesn’t look like a lot but when crammed in amongst everything else it feels like a lifetime’s worth of achievements!

So, more blog posts to follow – but for now, bed. Zzzzzz.

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DIY Worm Composting

Something that irks about not having our own garden space is not being able to make our own compost. At our last place we donated our food scraps to others’ heaps, which worked out just fine. We thought we’d got a similar arrangement going here but our new neighbour turns out to be a bit fussy about what goes in her heap, accosting me one morning with a list of things that she didn’t want in there, all of which we happily chucked in our compost bins in the past without any issues. From the outset we had a feeling that would happen. You know how some people can be and as lovely as she is it was fairly inevitable that she’d go picking over the compost and find a problem. C’est la vie, as our compatriates like to say.

So what to do with our growing mountain of food waste? We contemplated a regular compost bin but they seem to retail at around 30€ here. These bins make compost slowly – not always helpful in a rented and (hopefully) fairly temporary house  – as well as requiring quite a lot of work and taking up a lot of space – time and space we don’t have. A compost tumbler then? They retail upwards of 80€, so a no go. That’s a lot of bags of compost and the 80€ ones didn’t look great and there was no question of us spending more than that. DIY? We thought that was the best option and even bought a barrel to use but the cost of all the small parts to make the door, the catch, etc came in at nearly 40€ – crazy! Another option bites the dust. That left us with one option: worms!

It turns out that composting with worms is actually the best way to turn your old food scraps into garden fertiliser and soil conditioner. In fact, if you are regularly chucking your food scraps into a plastic bin and letting it turn into compost, you are effectively composting with worms because the worms that turn up in compost bins – tiger worms – are the same worms used in most worm composting systems.  In the UK our old composter seemed to just get on with it: we’d chuck our food waste in and later in the year it would be gone. We barely got any usable compost out of it but at least it wasn’t in land fill. I presume the worms were eating it!

Contrast that with my repeated failed attempts at worm composting. I had a Can-O-Worms and after three failed attempts gave up and gave it away. With this in mind I was reluctant to spend any money on a proper wormery so we went DIY. There are a lot of good wormery suggestions out there and they’re all pretty simple. We wasted an evening trying to find the things we needed online (a plastic box for under 10€ -how hard can it be!?) then found everything we needed at Mr. Bricolage for 41€, which included 10€ on a fancy drill bit. Here’s the shopping list:

  • 2 x black plastic containers. We went for the 48 litre ones which are wider and flatter than the 50 litre versions.
  • Something for the lid. Our containers didn’t come with lids so we bought some chip board, enough to make two lids, if we decided to set up an other container.
  • Mesh to cover the base and the ventilation holes. This just stops flies getting in and worms getting out.
  • A tap. This is for the bottom container so that we could drain off the liquid, which is a fantastic plant feed known as “black gold”!

We also had to buy a special drill bit so we could fit the tap.

Here’s the result.

 A picture of a worm bin made of two black plastic containers with a wooden lid and a plastic tap

Worm bin with tap

A picture of a piece of chipboard with 8 drilled holes covered in mesh

The lid: 22mm holes covered in fine mesh to stop the flies getting in

A blonde girl leans into the open container that contains a layer of compost, the tiger worms, and some food waste

DD checks out the finished product, complete with worms and food waste

It’s a really nice and simple design. The bottom box is used as a reservoir to collect the liquid. The tap just simplifies removing it and isn’t absolutely necessary – a hole in the bottom draining into a cup or jam jar would work just as well. The second box is the worms’ home. We drilled drainage holes in the bottom then lined it with mesh so that our little wormies don’t fall into the bottom box and drown (that happened a lot with my Can-O-Worms wormery – a tragic as well as stinky thing.) For the lid we drilled more holes and covered them with mesh held down with wood glue. And that’s it. All that was needed then were worms.

We asked around, posted in a couple of Facebook groups, but ended up buying some from a local fishing shop – another 20€ but we now have a ready-to-go wormery that cost, in all, around 50€ with enough parts left over to make another. We’d need a couple more plastic containers but can transfer worms from this one so the extra cost will be just 12€.

For the worms to be happy in their new home they need not just food but also bedding. For this we covered the base of the top bin with a layer of wet paper then put a layer of compost down. The veg scraps then went on top. Internet wisdom generally suggests letting it all get going before piling too much in there so we sprinkled some of the fresher looking scraps on there, gave it a spray with some water to ensure it’s not too dry, closed the lid and left them to get on with it.

We did have a bit of shock the next day when it looked like all the worms were trying to escape as they’d congregated at the top of the bin but some Googling later and we’re putting that down to typical worm behaviour, either because they’re in a new home or because it rained through the night. They seem to have settled down again today (Day 3) so perhaps it’s all working just fine. We will see!

From Farm to Farm

Today we ventured out to visit a few local farms who were taking part in the De Ferme en Ferme open day. I’d seen posters around for a few weeks then, after reading a really nice blog post about last year’s programme, picked up a leaflet that me, James, and DD talked about to decide where to go. The promo leaflet and handout for kids can be downloaded from the Fermiers Audios website, here. DD was very specific about wanting to see pigs, cows, and horses, and we were keen to try out some local places where we might be able to buy good, local produce at sensible prices, reducing our overall reliance on the supermarkets or towns, as we seem to spend an awful lot of time driving too and from the shops. Having studied the map and the descriptions we settled on five places that fulfilled our wishlist while also providing a sensible itinerary, since we’d be carting two littlies around.

  • Ferme de Jaffus (#9) in Couiza
  • Gaec de Bergnes (#10) in Campagne-sur-Aude
  • Le Gaec du Méchant Pas (#11) also in Campagne-sur-Aude
  • Pépinière de la Roche Blanche (#2) in Puivert
  • Campserdou (#3) also in Puivert

The plan was three farms over by the D118, possibly having a burger at the beef farm (bio burgers for €6) or heading home for lunch, then the two close to Puivert in the afternoon. Manageable.

We set off. DD was excited about the pigs, cows, and horses. Oh, and ducks, chicks, and geese, apparently! A tall order. I was armed with the printed map, the address, and – having plugged the information into Google Maps for our first destination, was hoping the place would be well signed because I was pretty sure there wasn’t a beef farm where the map marker was. We got to the first set of traffic lights and there was the sign, so we turned to follow it and set off down the road. We drover further down the road. And further. No more signs. I was confused because Google (and the farm’s own website) showed the marker much closer to the village. We drove a little more then turned around, thinking we’d missed the turning and the sign. We decided that if we made it back to the main road before seeing another sign we would just skip it and carry onto the next one. We made it back to the lights, no more signs, so that was that. On we went to Campagne-sur-Aude. DS was pretty unhappy that the trip to a farm hadn’t materialised   so it was a relief to pull up at our next stop: La Ferme du Méchant Pas

 

 

This farm had various poultry breeds on display, all of which looked rather uncomfortable in their tiny cages! There wasn’t much to see really so we followed the sign pointing us in the direction of goats, cows, ponies, and sheep. Also lacklustre, unfortunately. So one small pony and one cow later, we headed back to the car and onto our next stop, Gaec de Bergen’s, just a few minutes up the road and where our friends, Matt and An, were waiting, having decided to tag along.

 

Our next stop, the cattle farm, also turned out to be a little underwhelming, albeit in an absolutely stunning location, on a hill high above the village with awesome views. While we stood chatting and DD did some colouring, people came flocking in, most likely because a €6 burger was one of the cheaper lunches on offer (most places providing lunch were charging €15 and up for three or more courses). We had considered staying ourselves, but now we were in the company of two militant vegetarians and DS was starting to get into don’t-pick-me-up, don’t-put-me-down mode, so I was keen to get him in the car and back home so he could have a bit more freedom away from the general muck of the farm yard – not the nicest place for a crawling boy.

We headed back, had a nice lunch, let the kiddies let off some steam (DD really enjoyed showing our friends her bed and all her toys) then it was time for the afternoon’s programme of visits. We started with the plant nursery (Pépinière de la Roche Blanche) with Camperdou, the lai cru farm, saved until last. This was the one we were most interested in as I quite fancy making some cheese once I find I have time!

The nursery site was pretty nice – another stunning location – and it was nice to walk around. They had lots of plants on sale – flowers and vegetables – all at good prices and, usefully, they supply salad and vegetables throughout late spring and summer: all I have to do is call in the morning then come and pick them up an hour or so later. Obviously I’m thinking trailer ride, yay!

James and An relaxing outside the main polytunnel

We stayed there while the little ones did some exploring, then it was time for the final farm of the day.

After a short drive we arrived. I was quite underwhelmed at first – there really wasn’t anything to see except for a few cows munching away in the barn, a few calves in a small pen in the yard, and a gazebo, from which you could try or buy the farm’s produce: essentially, the lait crufromage blanc, or confiture du lait, which is already caramelised condensed milk.

We stood around chatting again and the next thing the farmer wandered by so we started chatting to him about how many cows and calves, how much milk they produce each day (25 litres!), how the milk is processed before it’s sold, and – the burning question for me and James – why it doesn’t separate like regular non-homogenised milk. To be honest, I’m still not sure we got to the bottom of the last question, but he assured us the production process is basically cow to bottle with no messing around. While were stood chatting DD started messing around with the feed, giving it to the greedy cows. She had a lovely time! After a few minutes she wanted to see the calves again so we’d wander over there, then she was back to feeding the cows.

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James and DD on their way to the cow shed

Then it was getting late (DS was awake and trying to escape from the carrier) so we decided to head back, stopping on our way out to sample the produce. Boy, that confiture was awesome! It’s basically super-condensed milk, like the stuff you get when you heat condensed milk to make the caramel for a banoffee pie: one of my favourite puddings – yum! Of course, this doesn’t sit well with our sugar-free home, so DD was allowed to try some of their fromage blanc, which was also very good.

All in all it was a good day out. We now have confidence in at least two local producers we will definitely frequent in future and we came home with two very tired and hungry children as well as some some fromage blanc and milk fresh from the farm, the latter of which I hope to try and turn into mozzarella or ricotta cheese. Assuming next year’s event includes many of the same producers there are other 14 for us to discover and as our littlies will be older we can justify driving a bit further and hopefully they will both get a bit more out of it. A nice family day out all round!