March 2012

One of the reasons the tree bog has taken longer than planned is that we took advantage of a cold night to kill one of our pigs. If you’ve read the butchery posts from previous years, you’ll know it takes about a week to process the meat for ham, bacon, sausages etc. This year, we also got into smoking.

I say “we”; what I really mean is Her Outdoors, who built this:

The half hot water tank at the bottom is our barbecue, on which is a rack holding damp sawdust and wood shavings, over which is a hood we took out of the chimney when we gutted the shack, from which is some chimney tubing I scrounged off a builder friend, which goes into a cardboard box sitting on a found tripod, set into which is another grill, on which is some streaky bacon taken out of the brine a couple of days ago.

The first batch ended up being hot-smoked, which we’ve tried and is delicious. The second batch was cold-smoked. I don’t know how Her Outdoors did it, as I was working on the tree bog, but it would be a safe bet to say trial and error.

(I’ve only just realised how negative that expression is. Trial, error and success might be better. Reminds me of when I met someone last year who has loads of experience of low-tech living. I was complaining about how we have to do everything at least twice, because the first time doesn’t work very well. ‘But you have to do it like that,’ he said. ‘If you got it right the first time, you wouldn’t learn anything.’ A great attitude.)

Total cost of new smoking habit: €0.

I know what you’re thinking: How did he achieve such a fine erection alone in the woods, on a slope, with no scaffolding and only one ladder? The answer, of course, is: Very carefully.

Also, Her Outdoors gave me a hand with the wind brace on the right of the nearest upright. The one with two prongs. I’m right-handed, it was a bit awkward and she showed up at just the right moment.

I’m not going mad – I really, really heard it this morning. I also saw two trees and a shrub in full blossom. And it rained for nearly a minute. Coming later today, I photograph my most impressive erection and Her Outdoors takes up smoking.

I haven’t been completely neglecting the tree bog. Here it was this evening, a day after I realised I needed some more roof joists:

Some of that was not as easy as it looks.

Here’s an idea: join us on April 14th 2012 (that’s in just over a month) for the first of what we hope will be many Good Life Weeks in écovallée.

Over the course of the week you’ll get gloves-on experience of a whole range of essential self-sufficiency skills, like:

o Animal house construction
o Bread making
o Butchery
o Chicken catching
o Clay oven cooking
o Dry-stone walling
o Fencing (hedging, solar, stock etc)
o Hole digging
o Manure management
o Pig husbandry
o Sausage making
o Tractor driving
o Veggie bed planning
o Woodland management
o Working with must-have tools

You’ll stay in one of our 18-foot handcrafted guest yurts, each furnished with one double and two single beds including sheets, duvets and towels, sharing with other likeminded course participants. Additional facilities include a fully equipped canvas-covered kitchen with gas oven and BBQ, compost toilet and solar shower.

For four hours every morning, you will work with me and Her Outdoors, and be free to ask as many questions as you want. Following a communal lunch, afternoons will be yours to explore the surrounding area, and discover the countless delights that make the Dordogne one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

A reasonable level of fitness would be helpful, but is not essential. The “Good Life” is very physical, and less active people will be limited to two hours of strenuous activity per day for their own safety. You will need to provide your own insurance, working clothes, wellies and gloves. Sunglasses and a hat are also a very good idea.

“Good Life Weeks” cost £300 per person including a welcome supper on arrival and daily communal lunch. For a bit more info, read the press release.

I’m taking a few days off the tree bog now, but this is what it’ll look like in the meantime:

The chicken wire sandwich around the lower part is waiting for the straw, which is waiting for the roof and walls, which are waiting for the floor, which is waiting for the anti-wood-boring-insect treatment, which is waiting for the rain to stop, which isn’t going to start until tomorrow.

So far, I’ve only made one massive mistake. It’s that post in the corner furthest from the camera, which is many, many inches too low – something I couldn’t tell from ground level. Not sure how I’m going to pull off a patch job on that. I’ll have to turn it into a feature somehow – a cup holder for Very Tall People, perhaps.