In that first week of May, it felt like we were being pushed into a corner. There was very little work for other farms and on our own farm the busiest little bee was the Kubota Sidekick. We were making some money though and our funds had crept up to over €30k again. We took the difficult decision to spend some of that cash on a second large greenhouse to sit beside the first. Once more we contacted Jacques and he agreed to come and prepare the ground and install it for us. I visited him on site as the work neared completion to see what he thought. “This will be the last one here.” he said, “The rest of the ground isn’t really flat enough – You can see I’ve had to leave quite a lumpy bit to the side there…” He indicated a mound of earth. “Putting more up on the east side would need a lot of earth moved and the same is true to the west.” He shook his head and put on a sad expression. I was sure that if we asked he would probably agree but the cost of the works would be a lot more. “I’ve made you a small parking area for your water tank though.” he showed me the area to the west of the greenhouses.

With the second greenhouse installed, it was time to do some more trips to the river to fill the storage system. On the third trip I decided to pop into Armand Moteurs to get the tractor and water tank maintained. It proved to be a opportune visit. Sitting among the second hand implements was an Anderson RBM2000 bale loader! They normally cost over €50k new – Jean wanted just under €23k for it. I rang Mark, “What do you think?” “Get it!” was his response. I hadn’t realised how much he’d grown into the idea of grass, hay and silage since our original decision to buy the field up by the Cooperative Grain Store. So I agreed the purchase with Jean and he moved it out front ready for me to collect later…

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The last week of May was mainly small errands for the farm – taking produce to the farmers market or the bakery and another water run to top up the greenhouses. We picked up a weeding job too – one of the worst paying jobs but when you’re living hand to mouth, you take what you can get.

The beginning of June – bright and sunny. I checked the weather…

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…Dry for the first 10 days with rain moving in for the rest of the month. Our Barley crop was ready to harvest and that should be our priority but there was also a harvesting job for Caroline Rodine in the next valley and, knowing that we’d have to hire a combine to harvest our own crop, I opted to take that job first to boost our funds. I was loaned the necessary equipment and got on with the job post-haste…

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…Then it was time to harvest our own crop. On dropping the loaned equipment back to Jean, I enquired about hire rates and opted for borrowing a Rostselmash harvester and its associated cutter head. “What about trailers?” he asked. “I won’t need one – our silo’s right next to the field.” “Header trailer?” “It’s only a narrow head – I’ll take it fitted.” He looked dubious so I explained, “If I take the back road up to the Grain Store, then come down to our farm from there, I can pull onto the grass to let traffic past and there aren’t many street lamps to hit on the way!” Still shaking his head, he waved me on my way.

The Rostselmash proved to be quite an agile machine after driving the Deutz-Fahr earlier in the week and I made it to our farm without incident. It was very easy to manoeuvre around our field too…

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…Its one downside was the small capacity of the internal tank, requiring me to take a trip to the silo to empty it 4 times!..

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We now had a problem – a field of straw to gather and sell, but no tools to do that with. Hiring would cost more than the straw was worth. It was a compelling case for buying a baler but we didn’t have the cash. We discussed it over dinner that evening. The cheapest I could see us getting a baler for was €25k – I’d seen an older basic Claas one in Jean’s catalogues. We’d need to take a loan which would increase our debt to the bank and push up our interest payments. As luck would have it, we were able to pick up another harvesting job. This time on a larger field belonging to Hugo Boutroux. The money earned from that job, combined with the sale of our first Lettuce crop…

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…along with some Tomatoes helped. I took the trailer down to Jean to get the sides refitted – something I need to get the tools for so that I can do it at our farm! Got some odd looks from the locals as I passed through town…

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…Yes, the Sidekick can pull an empty trailer! With the sides refitted, the tractor took over to haul 3 loads of Barley up to the Coop Grain Store…

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With all that work done, we’d managed to reduce the amount of additional loan needed to €15k. I called Jean and asked about the baler – “Ah! – Old man Roche had one of those in stock. I’ll call him and check if he still has it.” There was a nervous wait then Jean called back. “I’ll collect it from him tomorrow and you can come and get it on Wednesday.” Come Wednesday and by the time I’d been able to collect the baler it was late evening. I quickly set about baling the straw…

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…it was dark by the time I finished and put the baler away…

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…The trouble was – rain was forecast for the next day and wet straw bales are no good for man nor beast. I hooked up the Anderson – it was going to do its first work in the dark!..

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…I collected 12 bales of straw. Fortunately, the biomass plant is open 24/7 and is just a short trip along farm track from ‘du Vieux Chêne. That put some good money back in our account – more than I expected to be honest and with a baler added to our machinery, we’ve moved a bit closer to being able to produce grass, hay and silage 🙂 I put the bale loader to bed next to the shed and parked the tractor beside the house…

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…after the hectic last 10 days, I could happily have fallen asleep in the cab!

I hope I have conveyed the pressure to get a job completed at harvest time. The threat of rain is a great motivator! Whether the rains will come in the morning is, of course, a moot point – weather forecasting is not an exact science and local areas can have their own micro-climate.

The decision to take out an additional loan to buy the baler was probably the right one – hiring would have cost as much money as the straw was going bring in and the baler is part and parcel for the longer term activities on the farm. Now all we need is a mower and we can do grass bales.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the trailer taking Barley to the grain store is only half-full. There is a setting in the game that limits the amount of grain you can load on a trailer to its max weight. if you turn it off, then you can fill the trailer to the brim. I personally prefer to have real life limits where possible. That weight limit setting doesn’t seem to affect your limit when carrying big bags or pallets though – based on the amount grain I was allowed to load, the trailer was overloaded when I had 4 bags of chicken feed on board 😉

With the grass sown in our new field we pressed on with the plan to start market gardening. We asked Jacques if he built greenhouses for other farms. “Non.. But I prepare the ground and I assemble some pre-made assembly kits in the past.” I had a chat with Claude over coffee – “Where can we get greenhouses to assemble?” “Pop into the farmers market next time you pass by – we have brochures for garden sheds, greenhouses and all sorts… You should find something in those.” “Aren’t they for peoples gardens?” I asked. “Some are, but we have commercial ones too.” he said.

I visited a couple of days later and scanned through the brochures. There were actually a selection of commercial greenhouses. Many were assembled on site by the manufacturers but some were also available to build yourself. I rang Jacques to ask if he could prepare our proposed greenhouse plot in the middle 2 weeks of March. There was some shuffling of papers in the background and I thought some chin scratching too before he came back and said “Oui! I can prepare the ground. Send me a plan of the area you require.” “Would you be able to assemble a large greenhouse too?” More chin scratching… Oui, Have you ordered it? If you have, then send me the diagrams.” I promised that I’d do that – without telling him I hadn’t ordered it yet! I went back to the brochures and rang up the company supplying the greenhouse Mark and I had chosen. They had it in stock and, yes they could deliver at the beginning of the third week of March. They promised to email us the floor plan and the diagrams for assembly. We paid with the farm credit card – another dent in the bank balance.

Jacques arrived at the farm on the Monday – clutching the floor plan that he’d printed out. “Where am I building this greenhouse?” he asked looking around the yard and scratching his head. “Not here, we have an area further up the valley.” and I guided him up to our new field and showed him the grassland alongside the track beside the field. “Is that area flat enough for this to be done?” I asked. “This is fine!” Jacques said, positively beaming, “The last time we were building into a hillside for a barn – that was a bad time.” I told him the greenhouse should be arriving the following Monday. “We’ll be ready by then.” He said. I left him and his Son unloading a small digger.

There was another issue that we had to attend to. How to get water to our greenhouse when it was built. There was no supply to the land up there and a phone call to the water company produced a prohibitively expensive answer for piping and storage on site. The local plumber said he could provide a standpipe at the farmhouse. That was much cheaper but then we’d still have to transport the water up to the greenhouse. Mark also pointed out the charges for water use – It was something I hadn’t thought about but I should have – “Oh my God! It’s going to cost us a fortune in water rates!” That cast a shadow over the viability of market gardening. Should I cancel the greenhouse and pay Jacques off? Mark shook his head – “We can make this work, it’ll just take a bit longer.” He said and he suggested I go and look at water tankers as we would need one if we went for a standpipe in the yard. I guess it was my turn to feel a little despondent, so I took up his suggestion and drove down to Armand Moteurs in the tractor.

Jean had tankers in stock – some way too large for our needs and most of them of the wrong type – we didn’t need a slurry tank for example! As we kicked stones around the yard and wandered amidst the machinery I talked about our project and the water cost issue. Jean looked a bit perplexed “Why is there an issue? Why not take water straight out of the river for free? It’s what everybody else does!” He explained that there were a few areas where the riverbank was accessible for the collection of water – the nearest such point for our farm was by the marina in town. That was a gamechanger – the water would only cost what it took in fuel to collect it! And the cost of a trailer was not that different to the quote from the water company to pipe and store it on site. I left Jean’s shop with a nice modern plastic tanker fitted with all the necessary pieces to siphon water from rivers or lakes!

The greenhouse arrived and Jacques assembled it in time for planting during the last week of March. We decided to plant it with Tomatoes. Here’s our greenhouse…

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…with the first Tomato plants growing inside. Initially I had to do three runs to collect water for the greenhouse’s storage system…

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…6000l of water is a lot of weight for our tractor and it was really chugging up the steeper hills. We got the job done but we may need to think about a larger tractor soon. By the end of the first week of April we had our first load of Tomatoes…

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…and, in a symbolic gesture, I drove them down to the farmers market immediately in the Sidekick…

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Other news around the farm – the grass in the field by the greenhouse is growing well…

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…and our Barley crop now has healthy ears and looks on course for a good harvest in June…

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…Not sure what we’re going to harvest it with though! We’ll probably have to hire a combine and harvesting head. Fortunately, the silo is just across the yard so we won’t need a trailer! This first crop has chicken feed written all over it! Talking of Chickens, our first home-hatched batch have come of age so I sold 8 of our oldest birds back to the animal dealer…

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…meaning that we now had 92 laying birds and another 50 that will mature in 6 months. Things are looking up on the Chicken front 🙂

Much of this work was done before the recent Trucking event and this post brings you up to date on progress at Ferme du Vieux Chêne. I hope to get some more work on the farm done over the next week or so now things have quietened down – although I am currently trying out a new hunting game which I will report on soon.

The greenhouses produce Tomatoes at an alarming rate – it has been suggested that greenhouses are goldmines in some of the games reviews. Given how hard it is to make a farm pay when playing on the hardest settings I’ll view that as a big bonus. I expect to expand the market gardening with a second large greenhouse growing Lettuce in the future and possibly a small greenhouse might be added to the farm near the house to grow Strawberries 🙂

Lots of work being done on the farm and a couple of unintended purchases see my working balance stable at around £110k. The first of these purchases was a weeder – the Einbock Aerostar-Rotation 1200, which as you might guess clears a 12m swathe of weeds at a time. Early in game I chose to do my weed removal using the Hardi sprayer that I have shared images of in action. The reason for choosing to buy that first was the nature of weeds – the pesky varmints can show up on your fields at any stage of crop growth and herbicide can be used to remove them at any time. A Weeder however can only be used before the crops get to their second growth stage so if you can only afford one means of dealing with weeds, herbicide is the way to go. With stable income now assured on my farm, I can afford to add a weeder and that in turn means I can take jobs from other farmers that specify using a weeder. Here it is unfolding for just such a job for Mason in field 36……and ripping out the weeds……The weeder requires 130HP, so the Fendt Favorit will handle it. Job finished and weeder folded up I head back across Field 13 and I can see that my crops in 14 are ready to be harvested……So that’s going to be my next task.

Field 14W turned in just over 17000l of Canola……but the price wasn’t as good as I would like so that went to the Silo at the farm to be sold when things improve. 14E produced just over 13000l of Wheat, most of which went straight to Empire Stores for a good price with a small quantity held back to feed the Chickens – overall profit from that field, including the straw collected after harvesting, was over £16k. The Oats in Field 4 were also ready and, again including straw, returned over £10k. This was a very good return from a small field but the harvesting was very tricky with such an irregular edge, so I have decided to return that field to grass for hay and silage production. To that end I prioritised, fertilizing, cultivating and sowing field 4 before working on any of the others. Here we are in Field 4 – the sowing is complete……that’s field 36, where we were weeding earlier, beyond the hedge. I limed both the fields in plot 14 and harrowed the lime in ready for fertilizing. Lime is an expensive necessity that fortunately only has to be done every 3 harvests. That was the end of my in-game day. Early to bed for an early start harvesting our original field next day.

Sun up and back to work…..harvesting the Barley crop. This produced a huge amount of straw – 21 bales. I decided that I really needed to cut back on the number of journeys when I do have a lot of bales to shift. So that other new purchase mentioned at the start was the Anderson RBM 2000. This cost £50k but I was able to get £26k back on the Ursus T-127 bale trailer so the net cost was £24k. It’s a great bit of kit capable of carrying 24 bales at a time. Here we are collecting the straw bales after the harvest……and loaded up ready to take them for sale……That’s 6K earnt from something I don’t have a use for 🙂 Last task for this post was fertilizing the plot 14 fields ready for our next crops. I was able to tie that in with fertilizing field 36 for Mason which earned me over £8k after buying some fertilizer. Looks like he has a good crop of corn growing there – a harvesting contract for that could be a good excuse for me to buy a corn header 😉 Something to think about. And I need to think about another field to buy – Field 13 could be back on the agenda 🙂