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June, 2007:

Incubation, Incubation, Incubation

The demise of our cockerel necessitated some swift action. His genetic legacy was sat ticking away in the kitchen! Eggs that we very much hope were fertilized by him were waiting to be turned into the usual array of omelette’s, souffles and tasty brekkies. Time to leap into action.

Nature’s own best way to raise chicks is under a broody bird. Sadly, none of our hens are/were broody. We’ve seen little signs of it but as they have the complete run of 6000m2 of garden (and beyond!) they’re not too used to sitting and squatting down in one particular spot. We always try and collect up all of the eggs that are laid and once or twice when they’ve found a new favourite spot (in a bed of sage plants is the current in vogue place). So that’s that option out.
Time to home-brew an incubator!

Ingredient list.

  • One Wooden wine case. Cost €0*
  • One aquarium heater. Cost €2 courtesy of the ‘Noz’ 90% off sale!
  • Quantity of 2cm thick polystyrene packing for insulation
  • Quantity of reclaimed vintage roof slates
  • Used egg tray.

And that’s it. There are plenty of online plans but in essence I insulated the bottom of the wine case with a blown poly liner, then a piece of slate.. snaked the heater matrix cable on top of the slate bed and then another four layers of slate. I’m hoping that the slate will help with getting an even distribution of heat from the element and to also play the role of a thermal store – every time we open the case heat energy is lost so this should help prevent the temperature cycling too much. The sides and lid were insulated with the normal polystyrene.


And that’s that. Eggs in and off we go!


Plenty of risks and pitfalls of course in all of this. We’ve never done it before so don’t really appreciate what is necessary. Temperature and humidity might be a bit of an issue and of course we have no guarantee that the old boy had any lead in his pencil. However, If everything works and we’re lucky it’ll be an interesting Bastille Day this year.

* That’s a bit of a fib. A half case of Chateau Belle Cure 2000 @ €26 was cheap as chips a couple of years ago. As a compulsive hoarder of this kind of thing I knew the case would come come in handy some day! If this contraption actually works then I reason that – by rights – I’ve probably saved enough on the cost of a shop bought incubator to buy a couple more cases of this swag…

“Parfaitement équilibré, avec une matiére concentré sans étre exubérante. équilibre est parfait, soutenu par une petite acidité qui lui donne de la fraécheur. La matiére est belle et bien concentré, trés plaisante. Sans étre un monstre de complexité, l’ensemble est harmonieux, élégant méme.”

All of which will come in handy for knocking up some autumnal Coq-au-Vin.

Coq au Vin

A post about food or cooking is always a favourite of mine and it’s been quite some time since I wrote one… but this one comes with something of a twist – no recipe!

Our magnificent Coq was a bit of a Jewel in the garden – always strutting his stuff in his domain with shimmering plumes flashing. Iridescent crested feathers flowing with great movement whilst he was dancing around his ladies and it was always entertaining watching him and his relationship with his entourage.

His sex life was how shall I put this delicately… enviable!

A second influx of new point of lay hens and his personality immediately changed. He became over protective of them and his overprotection rapidly turned to irritability and then in an unfortunate turn his irritability turned to outright aggression.

He took it upon himself to actively seek you out in the garden with just one thing in his mind – an attack! And this was no joke, his spurs inflicting cuts/grazes on us and (regrettably) one of our neighbours.

A trawl of some on-line forums for advice and the resounding answer was… too dangerous, it’s Coq-au-vin time. Not something we wanted to do at all but the risk of him having your eye out or inflicting other serious injury was very real.

He seemed to calm down for a few weeks after being taught a lesson but I was disturbed by screams from the garden this morning when he pulled his final act of aggression on Joan who had taken to walking around the garden with a hoe to fend him off when he came near.

So, he crowed his last cock-a-doodle-doo this morning and it was au-revoir!

His legacy? Well we have a tray of eggs, undoubtedly fertilized, that will go into an incubator and we’ll see if we can’t raise a fresh generation – so his legacy will live on. Oh, and we’re having Coq-au-vin for supper this evening.

Outstanding …..

On arriving in France with just a field of weeds for a garden, we were at first, a little enthusiastic with regards to purchasing plants. Whenever a supermarket or DIY store had a sale on we would go and check out the garden section first. This was not a bad thing – as we have bought some outstanding specimens. (more…)

The queen – discovered!

Our first hive inspection – didn’t go entirely to plan but we had the result we were looking for.

Upon hiving the swarm last weekend we examined each frame and whilst we found lots of larvae, capped brood we didn’t see the Queen – not easy looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Time comes around for our first examination and frame after frame my heart was sinking. No capped brood – no honey on the first couple of frames. Then.. Honey stores! and then… finally a couple of frames of capped brood and hundreds of larvae. The Queen is there and she is doing her job!

As we move to the centre of the hive – teaming with larvae – and there a false alarm as I mistakenly spotted a drone and then, eagle eye Joan to the rescue… The Queen!

Lighter coloured than I’d imagined but unmistakable. A few minutes watching her move around – her attendants all in tow and she’s busy laying fresh eggs. The tiniest fleck of white egg on the rear of her abdomen – future bees!

Dark bees

Photo credit to Joan for very bravely taking a macro shot (focal length under 6mm!) whilst I was holding the frame whilst clad in my protective bee suit! A prize of a jar of Miel de Bellebouche if you can spot the Queen in that image.

I had hoped to see a baby bee emerging but approaching rain clouds, my smoker running out of steam and a result achieved and we decided to call it a day

And then – OUCH! a sting. My fault, not enough smoking, not enough smooth slow movements. The bee was sat on my thigh and as I bent down to pick something up I squished it and got a little sting through my jeans. I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.

Things I did wrong. LOTS. Too many to list, despite having read up on things time and time again. There’s no substitute for experience but at last, after many years of waiting and wanting – I’ve got my first beekeeping experience under my belt.

Goldsworthy at L’Abregement

The annual Rendezvous au Jardin weekend (link with 2006 review and arboreal inspiration) comes round again and the highlight of this year’s weekend visit is a trip to the South of Charente to L’Abregement.

A fascinating private residence which suffered a devastating storm and the loss of 15,000 trees one night in 1999.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case it brought about some great works by Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Christian Lapie and Joel Shapiro.

Andy Goldsworthy – “Cœur de chânes”

Giant 20 tonne egg shaped construction of oak branches, 5m high and 2.5 m wide. Made all the more impressive given my, at the coal face, exposure to wood chopping and woodsmanship over the last year! Stark in the landscape and inspiring.

Andy Goldsworthy – “Pool of Light”

I can’t really spoil the delight and surprise of this and the interplay of the timber and the Charentaise light so beloved of artists and painters… it’s really one of those have-to-be-there pieces of art as it’s on such a grand scale, so instead here’s an other worldly 50mm shot. Feel mah Bokeh!

Bokeh! Bokeh!

Antony Gormley – “One and Other”

Perched 16 meters above ground on the stump of a fallen sequoia.

Final hat tip to my new chum Andrew Terry for general tech inspiration and shiny new tools (Flickr, Livewriter) that bring you this post!

(also found this on google)


I thought I would write a little post of our exploits with the guineafowl. I never realised that it would be such an experience owning them and enjoying/enduring their behaviour.


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