31 July 2009

Still working on the extension roof....

Making progress, slowly but surely.

Roof strutts go up

23 July 2009

Harvesting rain water

We have piped "town" water but in our area it's very expensive and smells of chlorine. I hesitate to use it even on my hair or when I'm washing or dying wool. I may be wrong but I have the impression that the chemicals used to kill the harmful bacteria in the drinking water aren't good for an organic vegetable garden, so I try to capture as much water as we possibly can to use where we need it.

Collection of containers for catching rain waterWhere there's a slope on the land or a roof there's the possibility of collecting rainwater and over the years we've created swales, ponds and drains and amassed quite a collection of barrels and water butts to contain this precious stuff. Buy buying, making or scrounging anything that will hold water we now have a capacity to stock around 12,000 litres in containers. Some of the containers have lasted for years others have failed us miserably. The cheap green ones we bought in a garden centre split after two years even out of the sun but we hope the new ones will last us for some time to come.

Our vegetable garden and the planted areas around our new house have increased dramatically over the past few years. Despite lavish mulching we still need a lot of water for our new fruit trees, shrubs and windbreak plants to keep them healthy and in some cases to keep them alive until they become established. Summers seem to be getting longer and hotter and water is becoming more and more a worry especially when, like us, we really need good crops in the veg plot to be able to feed ourselves all year round. We intend to increase our stockage capacity little by little until we're collecting enough rain water to never to have to use the hose from our taps.

Rain water collection behind a pig shedWe've built the house and almost all of the sheds at the top of our south facing garden and our system is very basic and gravity fed. Our chickens, geese and the goats and sheep are watered from the roof water and we've enough pressure to clean feeders, plant pots and even the pigs appreciate a shower !

Although we have composting toilets outside (and loads of trees!) we've flushing toilets inside the house and we have a terrible job to try to persuade visitors to use the outside loos or at least only flush when it's really necessary. (If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down.) The water in the septic tank isn't wasted - it waters the shrubs and trees on the shady slope behind the goat shed but it seems a shame to use drinking water to do that. So we're planning on directing some of the water from the roofs of the extension for use inside the house so that we can wash clothes inside the house and flush the toilets without spending a penny !

21 July 2009

Thanks !

Thanks to all of you who commented in the blog or contacted me personally about the wasp incident.

I'm fine now and it's almost business as usual except that I'm a bit more careful about getting stung. We've also decided to destroy wasp nests near the house - something we don't like doing but it makes me feel a lot happier.

10 July 2009

Frightening experience after a wasp sting - Anaphylactic reaction

This was one of the most frightening experiences I've ever had so I thought I'd tell you about it in my blog to spread the message about this potentially dangerous allergic reaction.

Asian Hornet nestOn Wednesday afternoon I was stung by a wasp. I didn't see the wasp itself but I think it was an Asian Hornet because I noticed that they had started building a nest just near our back door. I spend a lot of time outdoors and I've been stung a few times by wasps and bees and although it's a nuisance it's not normally something I'd worry too much about.

I immediately applied wasp-eze to help reduce the inevitable swelling in my arm then went back outside to carry on with what I was doing. A few minutes later, I suddenly felt very strange with crackling stars blinding my vision and a powerful feeling of my brain being "squashed" and I felt faint and very ill.

I sat in the kitchen with Fabrice thinking it was just shock and would pass. I got up with an urge to go to the toilet and my legs buckled under me, so Fabrice helped me to the loo and I sat for a few minutes waiting to "go" and vomit - to no avail.

My throat and tongue became swollen I couldn't breathe or move and slipped to the floor. My vision was poor, my heart was pumping very fast and my arms and legs felt very heavy and swelled dramatically. I had painful cramps like labour pains and my tongue, mouth and eyes became puffy and red.

Fabrice 'phoned the Pompiers and they came within minutes, made me comfortable and immediately gave me oxygen to help me breathe. The doctor came a few minutes later and gave me a intramuscular shot of adrenaline and antihistamines.

After half an hour my whole body became swollen and bright red and covered with itchy spots.

The doctor stayed for about an hour until my blood pressure was almost normal, the danger had passed and I could walk upstairs to bed.

Yesterday, I felt sore all over and today I'm still a bit swollen and shocked but I feel much better and I've been spending a while on the 'net finding out more about what happened.

Apparently, according to The Allergy Site I experienced a classic anaphylactoid reaction.

This is an extract taken from the Allergy Site.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction - the extreme end of the allergic spectrum. The whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the allergen but sometimes after hours. Peanut allergy and nut allergy are frequently severe and for that reason have received widespread publicity. Causes of anaphylaxis also include other foods, insect stings, latex and drugs, but on rare occasions there may be no obvious trigger.

An anaphylactic reaction is caused by the sudden release of chemical substances, including histamine, from cells in the blood and tissues where they are stored. The release is triggered by the reaction between the allergic antibody (IgE) with the substance (allergen) causing the anaphylactic reaction. This mechanism is so sensitive that minute quantities of the allergen can cause a reaction. The released chemicals act on blood vessels to cause the swelling in the mouth and anywhere on the skin. There is a fall in blood pressure and, in asthmatics, the effect is mainly on the lungs.

Symptoms of Anaphylaxis

* generalised flushing of the skin
* nettle rash (hives) anywhere on the body
* sense of impending doom
* swelling of throat and mouth
* difficulty in swallowing or speaking
* alterations in heart rate
* severe asthma
* abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
* sudden feeling of weakness (drop in blood pressure)
* collapse and unconsciousness

I found a useful pdf from the Resuscitation Council (UK) which gives advice on what to do in the case of Anaphylaxis.

Now, of course, I have to be more careful when I'm out in the garden ! Some of the things I looking at are wearing less colourful clothes, no perfume (not that I do!) and I have to go to the doctors this afternoon to get a prescription for an Epi-pen or Ana-Pen (A self-administered adrenaline shot) and some anti-histamines.

I've also read that it's possible to follow a course of desensitisation. I'll look into that more and add more to this blog after I've seen the doctor.


I've now got an Epi-pen or as it's called here : ANAHELP trousse d'urgence pour choc anaphylactique. My doctor also gave me some steroids - antihistamines - to take in the event of another sting.

I still feel slightly itchy and "floaty" so I'm not quite normal yet but I feel a lot more confident about working outside. I've told friends and neighbours that I'm allergic so that they'll know what to do in the event that I need their help and I'm trying to find out as much as I can about natural ways of dealing with Anaphylaxis.

6 July 2009

Dog update - the new Dachshunds

We've had two miniature Dachshunds for some years and they really are wonderful little dogs.

Bonnie a wire haired miniature Dachshund at 8 years oldBonnie is now eight years old. She was our first Dachshund and I have to admit that I never used to like this breed because when I was a student in Glasgow my landlady had a horde of smooth-haired dogs and when I came in late they "welcomed" me home yapping and biting at my long skirts and flares. I always dreaded putting my key in the door.

I've loved dogs all my life but this particular breed makes me very nervous and when Fabrice was invited by one of his hunting friends to go and see a litter I could see what was coming.

We came home with this little creature who looked more like a rat than a dog on the understanding that she'd be sterilised as soon as she was old enough. I regret that now because Bonnie has grown into a very interesting, intelligent little dog and her main rôle in life is hunting with Fabrice and tracking animals injured by hunters or by cars. She's fearless without being reckless and when she's tracking she never gives up.

Didi a Poodle Yorkie cross with her rabbitBonnie had been with us for about five years, when her friend, our old dog Didi, a miniature Poodle and Yorkshire Terrier cross, died. Bonnie missed Didi a lot and as we had fallen in love with the Dachshund temperament we decided to look for another "mini-wire".

We asked around, scoured the small ads and lists of breeders and discovered that finding a Miniature wired haired Dachshund (In French it's Teckel nain a poil dur) wasn't as easy as we thought it would be.

Didi a smooth wire haired miniature dachshundWe eventually found our dog who we called Didi III (Didi was the name of Fabrice's first dog.) Although she's a lovely dog and a great wee hunter she isn't a good example of her breed with her shortish hair and slightly bent legs. Like many Dachshunds, she also has the annoying trait of having a false pregnancy after she's been in season, so we don't intend to let her have puppies either.

We decided after Max and Judy died that we'd look for another Dachshund and we spread the word and started looking again at breeders lists. After a lot of e-mails, 'phone calls and visits to breeders to see pups, we got in contact with a couple who live about three hours from us who have bred long-haired Dachshunds for over 30 years and had recently bred a few wire haired pups from the berlioz de ker ki douar line.

The mother of our new pupsWe visited their farm and spent a few hours with the breeder, talking and being shown around and we were very impressed by the condition of all of their dogs and the cleanliness of the yard as well as their professionalism and willingness to answer questions.

Of course, the two pups available were adorable and their mother was bright eyed, calm and friendly and as you can see in the photo to the left, looked exactly like our Bonnie! Choosing between the pups was impossible so we had both !

For the moment, Bonnie and Didi are ignoring the pups, spending more time outside with our visitors than they do in the house which gives Pyke our Border Collie the chance to show them the ropes. He's responding so well to their company and the responsibility, it's a pleasure to see him finally growing up.

Our new Miniature wire haired Dachshund pups

Hurry up there's someone coming !As Angie pointed out I forgot to say what the pups names are !

Their kennel names are Ebony and Emine because dogs born this year have a name startin with "E" but we've decided to call the Honey coloured one Jessie and the darker one Judy but they don't know that yet !

3 July 2009

Notre système pour chauffer l'eau

Comme promis, pour mes amis français qui ne peut pas lire mon blog, voici une description de notre système pour chauffer l'eau.

Chez nous, nous avons une cuisinière, allumée en hiver pour faire la cuisine et elle chauffe toute la maison sans effort.

Mais, la cuisinière ne chauffe pas l'eau - sauf en petite quantité. Donc la solution pour avoir l'eau chaude était de se servir la cheminée.

Nous avons décidé d'utiliser une cheminée ouverte. Je sais, je sais bien que ce ne pas trop efficace vis à vis d'autres systèmes, mais je l'adore.

Nous l'utilisons pour l'élimination des déchets pour le séchage des bottes, chaussettes et champignons et pour faire la cuisine à notre façon.

A coté du feu, pouvons faire toutes sortes de choses comme sculpter un morceau de bois ou nettoyer les chaussures sans se soucier de salir la maison est la communication est plus facile et beaucoup plus douce à côté d'un feu ouvert.

Nous avons construit la cheminée à une pente afin de conserver autant de chaleur que possible à l'intérieur du bâtiment. La cheminée chauffe le premier étage où je garde ma literie.

Dans le foyer au-dessus des flammes, il y a un récupérateur de chaleur qu'on appelle "Le chaudron magique" qui chauffe l'eau et deux radiateurs dans les salles de bains au premier étage. Les panneaux solaires sont sur le même circuit.

J'avais déjà un système très efficace que j'ai conçu au Royaume-Uni qui a utilisé du gaz, du bois et de l'énergie solaire pour chauffer l'eau et la maison, alors j'ai décidé d'utiliser le même système dans la nouvelle maison en France.

Voici une parti de plan de la conception du système rez de chaussé (12mx6m) indiquant l'emplacement de la cheminée au milieu de la maison, afin de minimiser la longueur des tuyaux qui vont aux salles de bains et aux radiateurs. Cliquer sur la photo pour la voir grande.

Le ballon d'eau chaude (à droit sans isolation, principalement en laine de chèvre) est placé derrière la cheminée dans une petite pièce que nous utilisons pour le séchage des vêtements mouillés, les graines et d'herbes. En place maintenant, il y a beaucoup de masse thermique autour le foyer de la cheminée (chauffée aussi par le soleil en hiver) et le récupérateur de chaleur en forme de chaudron.

Voir les trous dans le chaudron (à droit sur le photo gauche) pour maximiser le contact avec la chaleur de la flamme. Le système fonctionne très bien.

Quand il fait trop chaud pour chauffer la maison, nous utilisons un petit poêle fusée (ou rocket stove) directement sous le chaudron pour éviter de chauffer le foyer et la maison reste fraîche.

Le poêle est alimentée soit avec du bois ou des rafles de maïs. Nous cultivons environ un hectare et demi de maïs chaque année et nous utilisons les grains de maïs pour l'alimentation des moutons, les chèvres et les poules.

Une fois les grains retirés de l'épi, nous avons des "déchets" que nous utilisons soit pour l'isolation ou comme source d'énergie. Les rafles de ma
ïs sont parfaites pour un rocket stove, elles sont légers, propres et produisent beaucoup de chaleur.

Heureusement, le bois et les rafles de mais sont les deux sources d'énergie en abondance chez nous.

Grâce au rocket stove, nous pouvons faire la cuisine ou faire des conserves pendant des heures avec peu d'énergie et chauffe l'eau en même temps.

Une partie importante du système pour chauffer l'eau, surtout en été, sont les panneaux solaires qui préchauffe l'eau au printemps et en automne et nous fourni l'eau chaude durant les mois d'été.
J'ai rapporté mes vieux panneaux depuis le Royaume-Uni (La personne qui a acheté ma maison n'en voulais pas !) et nous les avons placés sur le terrain en plein sud, derrière la maison.

Comme le chaudron, les panneaux sont plus bas que le ballon d'eau, le système complet fonctionné par thermosiphon. Mais, placé sur le terrain les panneaux ont été trop vulnérables et et malheureusement ils ne sont pas esthétiques.

Donc, nous avons décidé de poser les nouveaux panneaux sur le toit de la véranda qui est en construction. Ils seront hors de vue et de danger aussi. Le toit de notre véranda est plus haut que le ballon et pour faire circuler l'eau il y a une petite pompe 12v alimenté par nos panneaux photovoltaïques.

Nous utilisons environ 8m3 de bois chaque année pour chauffer 170m3, cuisiner et sécher le linge, teinter la laine et faire nos conserves. Nous achetons aussi deux bouteilles de gaz chaque année pour la cuisine, mais une fois que nous aurons construit le poêle de masse dans l'extension (nous avons l'intention d'utiliser une partie du poêle pour la cuisson), nous allons être autonome.

Bientôt je vais commencer à faire le design du poêle et cela prendra un certain temps pour la recherche et l'expérimentation. Je vais prendre des photos de chaque étape de la conception et la construction.