Winter, when it came, was quiet. The last contract jobs ceased just before Christmas and we settled into a period of getting-by. The Chickens were costing us money at this point because we had to feed them and the eggs weren’t covering the costs. We were glad of the municipal grant to keep our heads above water in this period. The good news was that the chickens were now producing young…

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…and as long as the flock grew , we’d get increased egg production and be able to sell some birds too. According to Jacques, the builder, the pen could hold up to 360 birds, so we had the space to grow.

Between feeding the chickens and taking eggs to the farmers market, there wasn’t a lot to do. It snowed on Christmas Eve and we built snowmen in the yard…

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With so much time on our hands I took the opportunity to visit some of our close neighbours. They were politely friendly – wariness just below the surface of their demeanour. It seems that visiting is not a common thing around here. On one visit to the farmers market, I bumped into Jean Cuvier and we sat down to drink a coffee together. We’ve done a couple of jobs for Jean and he also sold us a shed and trailer back in August, so we were not complete strangers. I asked about the lack of contract work out there. “Most of us have either got next summer’s crop in the ground or we’ve already ploughed the field ready for sowing in the spring.” he said, adding.. “It’s a little unusual this year though with so many fields already planted or ready to plant. Usually there is still some ploughing to do in the winter.”

We spoke about farming methods too. “You are being watched.” he joked, then making his point more seriously, “Everyone wants to see how your sustainable farming turns out – if you’re getting good yields without doing it the traditional way you may convert some of us.” “There won’t be a rush though – most of the smaller farmers would need new seeding equipment and we need to understand how you are handling the weeds.” “So far we haven’t seen any in our Barley.” I said, “Maybe in the spring?”

I guess sooner or later we’d broach personal subjects and Jean asked the obvious “I assume your partner is not just a business associate, yes?” “That’s right.” I answered, wondering if this was going to be an issue. Monsieur Cuvier looked quite happy and with a twinkle in his eye said “A couple of our younger farmers will be pleased!” I was non-plussed at that so he explained. “Have you not met Amelie and Rebecca? Our two local farming beauties. If you are gay then there will be less competition for the other young farmers to, let’s say, amalgamate farms?” He burst out laughing and I laughed with him. With that we parted company.

Much of January was spent planning. We needed to expand beyond a single field. I had driven around much of the valley on the dry days and I came back with a short term plan. “The field up by the Grain Elevator.” I said, showing it to Mark on the map. “It comes with a small parcel of land between the access track and the road…

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…”I think we could buy that and sow it with Grass. It would give us regular income.” Mark tugged his ear and asked the obvious – “Won’t we have to buy a lot of equipment?” “We’ll have to see how things go with the money but we can probably get some of the things we need and hire the rest to start with.” “We already have a seeder and roller, so we can start by sowing in March.” Mark gave a non-committal nod and I decided to press on with the suggestion. I showed him a photo of the adjacent land…

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…”I think we can build on this area – I’m thinking Greenhouses to produce salad crops?” That got his attention! “Oh! Now that sounds like a good idea!”

With agreement reached, we approached the farmers cooperative to see if the field was for sale and were able to agree a price that was affordable. In late February we took ownership and I applied lime to prepare the field. Come March, and some good weather, I was able to sow the grass…

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…and follow up with the roller. A visit to Jean Armand for some maintenance resulted in a lucky find in the second-hand department – a windrower which is one of the implements we will need for our grass harvesting…

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…Now we wait for the grass to grow and we carry on selling eggs.

In the course of the chat with Jean Cuvier, we talked about the reason for no contracts. Here’s the map of the field status at the end of December…

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…and I think that illustrates the point – only two fields potentially needed ploughing or cultivating at that point. I have also found that when playing the game at this high level of difficulty, the jobs appear and disappear really quickly and the best chance you have to grab them is at first light. It adds an interesting level to the gameplay!

The last week of August was very quiet. After spreading the lime on our field we were checking the farmers cooperative notices daily to see if there were any jobs we could do but there were none. Instead we gave a lot of thought to our own field and assessed our finances. We were still doing quite ok and it looked like we wouldn’t have to take out an additional loan over and above the €200K we already owed. So we started formulating plans to sow a crop. Canola looked a good option but we decided to go with Barley which we could sow in the first week of September, right at the beginning of the planting period. Time to go back to Jean at Armand Moteurs…

We’d decided that we wanted to go down the sustainable farming road – that meant minimising the disturbance of the soil. Ploughing and cultivating would be out of the question for almost all scenarios (we’d done a lot of reading!). Once more we had a long chat with Jean, about direct drill seeding this time. “Finding a small machine that can do direct drill seeding will not be easy – I will have to check through the catalogues.” He pulled down a large folder from the shelf behind his desk. “You’ll have to leave that one with me – I’ll call you when I think I’ve found something suitable.”

I was thinking we would need a shelter for our new machinery and to store seed and fertilizer once we started buying those things, so I went back to Claude at the Farmers Cooperative. “I think Jean Cuvier has a dismantled shed for sale – let’s go and see him.” said Claude. It proved to be a worthwhile trip as Monsieur Cuvier also had an old trailer that he was looking to sell. We loaded the shed onto the trailer and towed it home. The local builder, Jacques, was happy to come out and assemble it for us. “It’s not very big.” said Mark as he surveyed the two berth shed. I knew he was disappointed but it was very cheap and I’m not sure we had room for anything larger on our land. “Wait until we take over the valley!” I joked and he laughed .

I took the old trailer down to Jean Armand to get seeds and to ask about his progress in finding a direct drill seeder. “I have found one that will meet your needs and it’s not too expensive.” What might not seem expensive to Jean was probably still pricey to us, I thought. The direct seeders Jean had on the premises started around €75K and got more expensive very quickly. “Ah – You worry too much!” he exclaimed as I expressed our concerns. “It’s an older machine that a friend still has in stock – it will cost half of the cheapest one you see here!” That sounded like a good option. “It only does 3 metre rows at a time – but it will be ok on small fields and your tractor is powerful enough to drive it.” “But you will find it very difficult to manoeuvre.” He added as an afterthought. “I can have it here at the beginning of September if you wish?” A quick call to Mark confirmed that we’d go ahead. “Ok – I’ll get transportation arranged.” said Jean.

Buying our first load of seed was problematic – what form of packaging and how to load it onto our trailer? “How you buy seed” said Jean “is usually about what loader you have available. I suggest you fit a front-loader to your tractor and go for a big bag hook to start with. You can always get pallet forks later if you need them.” A quick chat and I was sold on the idea – big bags were a bit cheaper and easier to handle for a novice tractor driver like me. I bought 2000ltr of seed – “You won’t need anything like that much,” said Jean, shaking his head… “I’m taking your advice about helping other farmers!” He laughed and made a ‘go away’ hand gesture as I climbed into our tractor from the run home.

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Loading Big Bags of seed onto the old trailer that we bought with the new front loader and bag handler.

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Home in the new ‘second hand’ shed… Job done. Now we wait for Jean to call us about the seeder.

The tale of Ferme du Vieux Chêne continues. We’ll be seeding our field in the next episode and probably finding some more expensive pitfalls as we go down the sustainable farming route. This post tells that I have a male partner – not sure if that means we’re in a romantic relationship though. Again, see let’s how the story develops😉 Until next time👍

When we left the farm last time, I was completing clearing stones from Field 14 as I continued preparing the soil for the next sowing. I started September by applying Fertilizer to my Canola in Field 17…

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..If you look in the bottom left corner you can see that the map now gives a useful indication of coverage as you fertilize. It also works for liming but not for weeding.

By the time I returned later that week to sow the Barley in field 14, I was greeted by a sea of weeds! Time to breakout the Weed-Whacker…

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…fortunately, these small weeds are easy for the Einbock weeder…

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Weeds back under control, I proceeded to sow my Barley crop…

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Of course, that stirred up the weeds again, so I had to run the weeder over the field once more🙄

It’s not just weeds and mushrooms that appear overnight…

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There is now a mobile phone mast on my land! I had to prepare the ground which cost €1300 but the phone company will be paying me €480 per month so it will soon pay for itself👍

Early the following week I applied the roller to field 14 to bed my Barley in. Then the rains came and I had to call a stop to any further work…

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Looks like the rain is here for the rest of the month…

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Time to do some stock taking. I sold 4 pallets of Honey for €1600. I have some stored grain,..

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…Oats and Sorghum, that I can sell when the price is good – probably in November. If it’s going to keep on raining, I guess I can try out those computer games I found 😂..

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More from Ferme du Vieux Chêne next week 😎👍