A couple of days after I decided this would be the last season for the yurt camp, I went down to feed the chickens. (Philippe’s been sharing this very easy job with me this year, as he’s experimenting with growing veggies in the nearby poly tunnel. I haven’t been starving them.)

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement in the orchard until I was at the gate and saw the first body. There’s been an attack in there before, when we lost three chickens to a pine marten. This time, every chicken had been killed. I found the hole over by the old rabbit hutch, where a very determined fox or dog had made its way through two layers of chicken wire (one layer of which may have been damaged by a strimmer a while ago) and run riot.

The goose was fine, though a bit shaken by being in there on her own – and having survived the attack.

This kind of thing does happen in smallholding – despite fencing that cost over €400 and that took weeks or more to complete (it was 2 metres high, dug into the ground 12 inches and at a right angle outwards for another 12 inches, in a trench back-filled with clay-heavy mud). That’s a lot of investment that needs paying back in eggs. Add the feed (at about €10) a week, for far too many eggs (I eat about six a week and they were producing up to eight a day), and the cost of the hens (although a few were given to us and others were born here), the accommodation and whatever, and you will see that buying organic, free-range eggs from your farmer’s market is not such a big deal.

What this means for guests is that écovallée eggs are off the menu in 2016. The goose has now gone to another home, where she will be in the company of other geese, and écovallée is (non wild) animal free for the first time since 2007. What this will also mean for guests is no more 5.00 am wake-up call from the cockerels. I was a bit worried that two of them would be a bit much for some people.

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I nearly always forget to take proper “Before” shots before (ahem) starting a new project. But I always, always regret it. “Before” is not a moment that can ever be recaptured in all its natural glory.

For example, long-term readers may remember this shot from way back in November 2007, nearly before work on the orchard began:


Here’s the orchard today (“After” shots are easy):


Complete with new dividing fence which means we can rest the ground every six months to help keep the chickens healthy:


More recent readers may remember this shot from last November, almost-before I let the pigs into a new piece of woodland:


And here’s what the pigs have done to it after almost exactly two months:


Even more recent readers may have seen this shot of the field from just over a month ago, not very before the triticale we hand-planted started poking through the soil:


And this is what it looked like shortly after noon today:


But this is the reason for today’s blog post – a genuine, bona fide “Before” shot of the new Tree Bog:


Now all I’ve got to do is build it.

This is especially good when you’re expecting a dozen or so chickens and about the same in fruit trees.

Ingredients:

17 2.5m pointed fence posts
8 2m treated timbers
8 1m pointed posts
8 nails
240m 1.5mm wire
80m 2m chicken wire
80m 1m chicken wire
650 ring clips
Fencing staples

Preparation time: A few weeks

Method:

1. Simply dig a trench to form a square, 20m on each side, about 30cm down and 30cm across, and leave the earth to one side. Then place your fence posts at regular intervals, hammering them about 49.7cm into the ground (remembering that two posts will need to be roughly 1.23m apart for your door).

2. Notch your corner posts with a bow saw and used the treated timbers and 1m posts as leaners, using nails as required (I always find pre-drilling the holes stops the wood splitting).

3. Attached the wire to the top and bottom of your posts, and again 30.4cm above ground level, and tension with a Gripple.

4. Now hang the 2m chicken wire from the top-most wire, securing it with the staples and ring clips. Then hang the 1m chicken wire from the middle wire and fold gently into the trench, using more ring clips where necessary.

5. Just fill the trench with the earth and – voila! All you have to do now is make the door.

Planning and planting an orchard doesn’t need to be hard. All you need is someone to spend an unfeasibly long time choosing a selection of trees designed to give you fruit for most of the year. And then plant them for you.

Which is where Her Outdoors comes in (and even helps me write the post so I can get away with doing even less).

Without lots of technical detail (pollinating partners etc), this is the orchard now putting its roots down in ecovallee:
o Cherries – a Burlat and a Geant d’Hedelfingen – both sweet eating cherries that will fruit in May-June
o Peaches – one white and one yellow, to fruit in July-August (assuming current weather patterns)
o Plums (this is news to me) – a Reine-Claude d’Oullins and a Reine-Claude Violette (good luck finding these in B&Q) – fruiting in August-September
o Pears – a William Rouge and a Doyenne du Comice (apparently the pear of all pears) – fruiting August & October
o Apples – a Cox’s Orange Pippin (October), a Belle de Boskoop (December-February) and a Reinette de Brive (January-March but will store until May, when the cherries start)

Even with three-year-old trees, you’ll also need to wait two years (TWO YEARS!) before you can put your fruit on your table (if you’re going to paint it) or in your stomach. It’s a long-term project.

Not too long term, though. The trees will need replacing in 20-60 years. By which time Her Outdoors may need a little help. Any volunteers?

You can read all the books you like on fencing (my own preference is one), but at some point (as with all things) you’ve just got go to up there and do it.

Which is why I spent several hours yesterday, after my now-habitual tractor yoga, up a stepladder, carefully heaving a four-kilo sledgehammer onto the ends of several two-and-a-half-metre fence posts the previous owner had stuck in a Most Inexplicable Place.

The orchard/chicken is being enclosed.

Today, my formerly soft office-worker’s hands are feeling slightly crampy as a result and the rest of my body is feeling just a tiny bit stronger. Good thing too, as I also have a large veggie plot to enclose with even more serious fencing, before installing a couple of rotivating pigs in January.

Installing the orchard/chicken run has given us the perfect opportunity to test man (and woman) against machine.


Four-metre trench using pick-axe, selection of shovels and calories: four hours.


Remainder of 80-metre trench and 13 big holes using JCB and fossil fuel: two hours.

Machine wins. (You don’t get that at the movies.)