Friday 30 November 2012


I've been working in the garden, taking the turf off an area that is to become part of an enlarged flower bed.  Worms love to live just under the roots of grass, so the resulting wormfest delighted the local robins.  These two came to a face off.  I somehow doubt that they argued on the basis of who was there earliest, and therefore entitled to the worms.

Monday 26 November 2012


Just a few pics today. This first one is one of a set of four, intended to show the view through different windows, of trees in Autumn colours against clear blue sky. Well, they didn't really work out, but I thought that his one kind of stands on its own.

This one at least shows the colours I was trying to capture.  As in the Wizard of Oz, please pay absolutely no attention to the cars, lamp post or my shadow.

And finally, a quick snap as I was on my way out.  The leaves of this tree Lupin seem to explode like a green starry firework from the flower bed.  It will die back over Winter, but I hope that it will burst into white, scented flower at least one more time before its seedlings have to take over.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Rule 1

When you install a solar-powered, movement-activated light right at the apex of your roof.....

... first, check that it works.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Fields and bureaucrats

The house and gîte here are enclosed by fields on three sides and by a small road on the remaining one.  On the other side of the road is a field of a couple of acres that is also part of the property, but, being apart from it, is not constrained to integrate with the garden.  It can form a space of its own, separate, but part of the whole.

I don't really have a strong idea of what to do with it, except that it would be nice to have some trees there.   With this in mind, I organised, with help, a meeting with a person from the région engaged in management of the site classé that surrounds the property, and a landscape gardener available to the local community.   The purpose was to get some outline ideas on what might be a sympathetic and attractive way of managing the space to best fit in with local scenery and aesthetic values.  Null points.  Those august personages seemed to engage in a power struggle, and did nothing but argue about what might be permitted.    I think the best idea that came up was an orchard.  "How many apples do you think my customers are going to eat?"   So I'm doing what I feel like.

Last year I mowed the field once in the Autumn, taking care to avoid the yearling walnut trees that had sprouted, in the hope that they will get their roots deep enough to survive the inevitable weeks of Summer drought.   They still seem to be there, although they're not much taller than I remember them.   I have not mowed the field this year; I understand that tall grass helps to shield young trees in their early years as they establish, so it's staying.

However, I have decided to give Nature a helping hand.   I have cleared a strip of grass parallel to the road, a few metres into the field, to transplant some Hazelnut saplings that had self-seeded in the garden.  I figure that once they grow they will help hide the inner area of the field from prying eyes of passers-by, and give me a bit more freedom as to what to do there.  There are nine small trees of various sizes, 5 paces apart, along the mowed track.  Fingers crossed.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Journée calendrier

A cold, damp and misty start to the day, with rain forecast: not a promising start to our day of flogging calendars in aid of the Harmonie (I mean, giving calendars away and asking for a donation) in Ste Suzanne.  But, as it happens, we managed to be the first organisation to be doing the rounds this year, beating the firemen and postal workers to it, so we made a good haul.

Afterwards there is traditionally the totting up of the proceeds, analysis of results and a lunch chez Mamie Suzanne (Granny Suzanne) who is thus named, as far as I can work out, because she is the mother, grand-mother and perhaps great-grandmother of, in all, about half the musicians in the Harmonie.

I have attended the lunch a few times now, so I think I'm qualified to say that it is traditional, at least insofar as it relates to this event.  It runs: munchies, soup, pot-au-feu, cheese, apple tart and coffee.  We were about 28 people who sat down at a big long table.

The munchies were standard supermarket fare, offered on the table in the little plastic pots they are sold in, and eaten by the participants before the meal started, while we were waiting for everyone to arrive.

The soup is a vegetable soup (largely cabbage based, I think), thickened either with tapioca or what the French described as Perles de Japon.  There was some debate as to whether Perles de Japon are the same thing as tapioca, but nobody really knew for sure. 

The pot-au-feu is a hot-pot, made by boiling lumps of beef, whole carrots, whole potatoes and quartered savoy cabbage in a vegetable stock, all together in a big pot.  I tried to find out what cut of beef is used, and had it patiently explained to me that you go to the butcher and ask for pot-au-feu, and that is what you get.  The meat was served separately from the vegetables, and both were served drained into bowls, from which you served yourself.  If you wanted, you could add mustard or a vinaigrette, which surprised me.  I had always assumed vinaigrette was just for salads, but this was a chunky one, with finely chopped garlic, shallots, parsley, mustard and other herbs all mixed in.  It worked well with the beef, and you could also just smear it onto the bread, where it worked well too.

Cheese was a Camembert cut into wedges and passed around in the little wooden containers it was bought in (no salad) and was followed by the apple tart, home made, and, well, tart.   Commercially-made tarts and other puddings tend to err on the sweet side, so it was good to eat a proper tart that lived up to its name in the nicest possible way.

And we made a bit over a couple of thousand euros.  Nay bad.

Friday 9 November 2012

Blowing Wood

The boiler that heats the gîte (and a bit of the house), burns wood chips.  These are delivered here by a lorry which blows them into the wood store using special hoses, via an inlet in the bunker.  The inlet is matched by an outlet that lets the blowing air out, so the roof doesn't lift off.

The height of the inlet determines the maximum height of the wood chips you can blow into the bunker, and for various reasons, largely down to last-minute changes in the bunker design, these allow only for 20 cubic metres of wood to be delivered at a time, when the lorry can carry 30.   The bunker can hold 30 cubic metres, too, but much of the volume is above the height of the inlet.

This is a waste, since the price of a wood delivery is in two parts; a fixed part for the transport, and a variable amount that depends on how much wood you take, so it makes sense to get as much wood delivered each time as you can.   I have been taking deliveries of 20 cubic metres at a time for a while, and I have been applying myself to solving the problem of being able to accept deliveries of 30 cubic metres.

You can't raise the height of the inlet since the lorry driver won't be able to reach it to attach the hose.  The solution is to attach a tube inside the bunker to carry the wood chips higher up, so a greater volume of bunker can be used.  This is what I have been trying to do.  I have bought a hideously expensive length of steel-reinforced polythene tubing designed to cope with the wear & tear of wood chippings blasting through it, and various attachments to mate it to the inlet.

I have tried it on one delivery, and it all worked well for a short while, until the tube blocked with wood chips, whereupon the blower tone changed from a steady roar to an angry whine.  The lorry driver dived for the "off" switch, but too late, and one of his hose fixings gave way, causing a small explosion of wood chips over the car park, and a writhing hose.   I think perhaps I had too tight a curve in the tube, so now I'm changing its path to make it straighter.  Next  delivery attempt in a few weeks.  Watch this space.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Dahlia management

The first frosts arrived last week, killing the dahlia foliage.  Today is the first opportunity I have had to cut down the dead leaves and tidy things up.  I usually dig up the tubers and overwinter them in a shed, but last year I discovered that, despite temperatures going down to -15, those tubers that I left in the ground survived. 

So this year I'm just digging up one example of each kind of dahlia, and storing that indoors, on the basis that even if all of those that are left outside die, I can start afresh with my indoor stock.  I'm covering those left in the ground with a thick layer of wood shreddings, which should help keep them insulated from the worst of the cold.

I really should have labelled all of the ones I wanted to dig up, before they got frosted.  The flowers lose their colour and shape once frozen, so I have to rely on memory to tell me which ones are which.  I think I've got it pretty much right, but I won't know for sure until next Spring.

And I have joined a local gardening club, motivated by the discount offered on Sutton's seeds.  Chose from their online catalogue, place the order through the club, apply the discount, pay in euros.   I buy both flower seed and veggies, but I'm not really motivated to grow vegetables that you can buy in the supermarkets.   I like to grow things that are hard to find here, or are really expensive.  Sweet corn is thought to be for cows only, so is hard to find, and the same is true of parsnips.  Butternut squash are a bit of an oddity, and really hot chillis are hard to find.  And purple sprouting broccoli is unheard of, so I have some of that growing this year, with more seed on the way for next.

I have this idea in my head that it would be nice to grow really fresh veg of all kinds, to cook for gîte customers, and perhaps one day I will realise this ambition.   For the moment, limits on time and space mean I have to stick with the rarities.  But I do like the idea of seasonal fruit and veg; recent menus for our gîte visitors have included hot, thick soups based on pumpkins or lentils, and puddings of things like poached pears.  Yum!
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