2021 was in some ways a frustrating year. We lost most of our fruit crops because of a May frost. The tomatoes got blight because of the rain in April-May-June. Some of our young trees died because of the lack of rain from June to September (the fourth drought in as many years). We started pumping from the rehabilitated well, but the water contains pesticides. Because of Covid we had to cancel courses and last-minute cancellations reduced the numbers on the courses we did hold.

But despite all that we moved a lot of projects forward in 2021 and we met some wonderful people at the farm. So thank you to everyone who helped out. It really is incredibly inspiring to meet so many people who want to make a difference.

Course participants making compost 2
Compost production line

We currently have four weekend courses open for registrations:

• 18-20 March and 20-22 May are Permaculture, Vegan Cooking, Fermentation and Foraging

• 22-24 April and 24-26 June are Permaculture and Meditation.

There are still places left for all weekends. As ever, the courses are free and we cover our costs through donations.

Helen holding a tray of kale

We had trouble persuading Helen, a course participant, to plant the kale in her hands. She wanted to take it home to decorate her flat!

The well has been beautifully rehabilitated and has a new pump in it. That means we can top up the ponds if there’s a drought and water plants/trees up to 150m away. However, we’ve decided not to hook up the house because, according to the lab that tested it for us, there are pesticides in the water from the 1960s and 70s. The pesticides of the last 50 years are still working their way 25m down to the water table! Many thanks to the local farmers and their parents for that.

What can we do? We complained to the regional President but his aides just told us not to drink the water! In the long-term we can install some reed beds (filtration ponds) and clean the well water through them. For now, we’ve placed water-cleaning plants like water mint and irises at the point where the well water is pumped into the pond.

WWWOOFers digging a pond

To give ourselves a bit of challenge (!) we’re digging a pond by hand. Also to illustrate how dependent we are on fossil fuels. This one might take 10 years to fill!

Blanche & electrician with new EV charge point

The EV charge point has been installed. At 22kW it’s about seven times faster than plugging an EV into a domestic plug socket. Caveat: we don’t have an EV (we rent a Zoé from Renault occasionally) and we don’t believe EVs are a key part of the solution. They’re primarily a step towards cleaner air in urban areas. But only half a step because of the particulate pollution from tyres. The solution, for us, is more public transport, more cycling and much more carsharing. And fewer journeys obviously!

The highlight of 2021 has to be the new greenhouse. It was built by a father and son duo not far from here. It has windows that open automatically (without electricity) once the temperature hits 18C. It really is the Eighth Wonder of the World! Well, of Alexis’s World anyway!!!

We lost a lot of fruit, corn, beans etc to a late May frost in 2021. In fact pretty much everything we bottled in 2020 (tomatoes, peaches, pears, plums) didn’t happen in 2021. That came as quite a shock. Basically you can’t rely on any single crop nor even all the crops that did well the previous year. But the raspberry bushes were more than two metres high and full of fruit every day. And the blackberries were fulsome. So we made a lot of raspberry and blackberry jam!

Anastasia in the straw

Full disclosure: we have a WWOOFeur, Anastasia, who comes back every autumn to make the blackberry jam! Thanks Anastasia!

The forest garden is extending into the field at a rate of knots thanks mainly to our WWOOFers, 28 of whom came through the farm in 2021. It now contains apricots, a nectarine, plums, mulberries, pears, a quince, cherries, peaches, apples, hazelnuts, ginkgo bilobas, redcurrants, raspberries, blackberries, tayberries, blackcurrants and a variety of nitrogen fixers (eleagnus, Siberian pea tree, sea buckthorn etc.), fertility plants like comfrey and nettles, and aromatic herbs like mint, sage and oregano. In the growing season any spaces are filled in with corn, pumpkins, potatoes etc.

There’s the beginnings of a fence around the forest garden (known colloquially as “the Maginot Line”!) to protect it from deer and wild boar.

The field is starting to look a little more varied. It’s been hard work planting green manure and flowers for pollinators because of the droughts we’ve suffered, but there are promising signs. Bees from nearby hives all come here (our neighbours say they see them flying towards us!), which is understandable since we’re the best source of food for miles around.

In 2021 we started adding some serious nutriments to the nut field: the matured output of our compost loo! One of our WWOOFers had the enviable task of spreading the poo. Great work, Ethel! And thanks to everyone who came through the farm for their donations!!!

WWOOFers are always welcome if we have space. You need to register via WWOOF France.

Solution du moment : T pour Tondeuse Manuelle

Manual and petrol mowers

Alexis’s Xmas present (to himself!) this year was a top-of-the-range Fiskars manual lawn mower. It truly is a thing of beauty – right up there with the greenhouse! This baby will allow us to use the petrol mower far less. And, like scything, it’ll obviate the need for a gym membership because, when push comes to shove, there is some effort involved! But it’s a joyful effort.

All the best for 2022,

Alexis, Blanche, Louis & Thelma

Alexis & Blanche