This month has flown by and we have been busy mostly out of doors. That and the currently clunky input to his site has made posting infrequent. I will try and look back on each month as it passes.
While the weather has been warm it has been ideal for repairing the lime mortar walls. Holes have been refilled and plastered all along the barn and little access holes left for the creatures for whom the rubble filled stone walls are home, lizards and solitary bees mainly. Other areas of worn walls have also had attention before the plants get too large for easy access. The pignon wall of the small barn needs attention top to bottom but as the Iris and the rose there developed their flowers the wall will wait for their display to be over.
Having lived here now for nearly 6 months we have seen how we use the house and that has made us think again about the priorities for renovation and next steps. Taking the time to live here rather than just visit has changed our view and plans.
We did manage to unpack and find homes for more of our stuff and a result have released space in the barn. We were able to have a 19th century empire style wardrobe from the house our friend was selling and with the mirrored doors removed has made a China and glass cupboard for our dining area.
Greenhouse space has been at a premium and Guy made shelves to hold the potted on tomatoes as the staging was filled with seedlings. Rocket, peas and three types of lettuce joined beans and spinach in the veg plot. We are already self sufficient in baby salad leaves. The month was dry and I was watering until last week when rain returned. We have a good fruit set on the established trees and some fruit on the younger ones, pear and apricot. It has been ajoy to see the changing season in the garden rather than the snapshots of previous years visits.
we started the month welcoming our new garden residents, Guy's bees.They have settled ànd are very busy on the field of rape next to us. So far they seem quite calm but I don't go too close with the mower! The grass has been cut every week since mid March.
We have been introduced by our neighbour to a musical society which puts on private classical events, in April we enjoyed an evening including Stravinsky rite of spring on two pianos and a recital of Liszt. These have been held in an eighteenth century village house, about 80 people pack into the ground floor rooms, now all one space. Each evening concludes with an American supper style buffet and wine on the terrace.
we have welcomed friends for lunch and a flying overnight stop from Sam and two friends en route from the alps to england via Fontainbleu for some bouldering. We had lunch with our German friends and mutual friends staying with them. We had puppy cuddles there too.
We have discovered plant fairs in villages and chateaux, and a brocante with a 2km queue for the parking. We returned to that later in the day and decided next year it is worth getting up early for. The whole village was filled with 400 stalls.
There is certainly plenty going on, even in deepest France,.
Blossom and beans. 23/03.
Last week saw temperatures rise up into the twenties, this week they have dropped considerably and we have the first rain for a few weeks. The warm spell has really speeded up growth and flowering. We have mowed the grass twice already. The ornamental plum iin it's full pink regalia and the Victoria and damson are festooned with white. The mirabelle is a little later so that is still to come. Guy's new bees are not due until early April so perhaps in time for the Apple blossom. The first tulip was out yesterday.
Having invested in special offer cloches in Lidl a few weeks ago I thought it time to put them to the test, the broad beans were started in root trainers in Feb and looked strong enough to be the first occupants of the veg plot. They are planted through geotextile as I am trying a minimum tillage approach so testing various ways of weed prevention. Spinach has now joined the beans under the second bargain cloche, this time planted into a 2inch layer of compost on top of the soil. Time will tell which method is more effective!
March has arrived with some of the strongest winds I have ever seen. Gusts of 110km were recorded in this part of France and trees and roofs, including our barn show the impact. We lost a patch of tiles about 1m square, within reach of a long ladder and smaller than our stock of tiles. So the job is nearly done already. My newly repaired cold frame blew open in the wind and smashed the new glass! One of the cherry trees which border the road past the chateau and through the vines has lost a bough and our friends have a tree partly down across a track.So very little done in the garden for a few days, the hedge is three quarters cut and most of the trimmings burnt. Good to see the bulbs coming into bloom, lifts the spirits on a damp day.
The working garden
February has been relatively mild and dry so ideal for gardening. Having marked positions for veg and fruit a rethink was needed to enable vehicular access to the rear of the garden where the fosse septique, roofs etc may need attention. So one end of the veg plot has now been designated for soft fruit. Some years ago I took cuttings from blackcurrants in the garden in England and now have three nice bushes. These have been planted along with supermarket purchases of gooseberries and two standard redcurrants also bought from a supermarket. Raspberries have their own bed. I had raspberries here in the one long border and over the years they have settled ànd spread out of their original row. I also had some canes in England which gave good flavour and size berries. Variety, no idea, I was given them by an elderly friend 20 years ago as 'french'. I bought some of those with me and have also transplanted some from the bed already here. Hedging my bets and to make sure of fruit this year I have left some in situe.
The veg plot is also underway, and will be a combination of dug and no-dig approaches. Enough dug for the potatoes which are chitting in the greenhouse. We had acquired a eurotainer and have moved into position waiting to be connected guttering to collect the water from the vast barn roof. The first compost bin has been built beside it. Guy has set up his hives waiting for occupants and has repaired and re glazed my Dad's cold frame, ready to help harden off etc.
Tomato and sweet peas are up and the chillies just peeping through. Broad beans are in root trainers and just breaking the surface. It is all very exciting!
My greenhouse here in France was the first designed by my husband and made by my then 16 year old step son. It's design draws on the French glass houses of the nineteenth century and has a metal superstructure, Ed's bit, sitting on walls made of stone found around our property made by Guy.
When it was first erected I grew tomatoes, supported by an automatic watering system during our lengthy absence, but since then it has seen only occasional service and some of the glass suffered from stones kicked up by the lawn mowing. This year as permanent residents it needs to earn it's keep! It's broken glass has been replaced using glass salvaged from my late Dad's greenhouse and his staging has been installed. Guy has put a socket outlet in so I can finally plug in the propagator Ed and Beth gave me some years ago, it has previously had to be unheated.
Yesterday was a lovely early spring day, so out came the seed box, packets sorted into sowing order and now the propagator is nurturingoing tomatoes-artisan bumblebee mixed, a nice cherry pink, yellow, orange with stripes, chillies; Joe's long cayenne and hot Portugal, a sowing of mixed salad leaves, some purple and white aquilegia and sweet peas. Now the wait begins!
Marmalade or marmelade?
January and February have always been months to fill the kitchen with wafts of citrus scent as oranges bubble away to fill jars with jewel like orange preserves. Of course Seville oranges, eagerly awaited, are the mainstay of marmalade but never having seen them on sale here in our part of France I prepared for our move by making extra in 2016, Seville orange, three fruit, oxford, orange and clementine filled my larder with sufficient to last us a while.
The arrival of the 'foire des agrumes' in the supermarkets here with oranges for dessert and jus vying for place on the fruit counter with clementines and mandarins made me start wondering if indeed it might be possible to make marmalade hrre this year. Finding a recipe for Marmelade de pomelos in my favourite French recipe magazine set me off, Pomelos are a sort of ruby grapefruit and made a very fine deep orange looking preserve. On every visit to the supermarket I still searched among the oranges for the oh so elusive Sevilles. Then up in my face book feed pops a recipe for 'Marmelade d'oranges facile' so searching the ingredients list found it uses a variety called Maltaise. Adding them to my shopping list I set off in hope and there among this week's display in our local Lidl were the very fruits.
it would be rude not to at least try the so called easy recipe that led to the discovery of this orange apparently suitable for jamming, so I sliced 2kg of maltaise oranges and left them overnight to soak in water then cooked them for 30 minutes leaving them again to soak for another six or seven hours before their final simmering to setting point. Not going through the process of juicing, removing pith and then chopping the peel is certainly easier, but the proof will be in the eating!
On my way through St Pourcain the other day the Christmas lights were being attached to the lampposts on the bridge over the river, well into December. The reason for such tardiness in lighting up the town lies with the annual launch of 'La Ficelle ' on the first weekend of December and the banners announcing it's coming have been occupying the lampposts. La Ficelle is a red wine produced by the Union des Vignerons based on Gamay and very similar in nature to Beaujolais Nouveau which is released a couple of weeks earlier. One of the attractions and the suspense of the launch of La Ficelle every year is the design on the bottle, always a satirical cartoon.and only revealed on launch day. La Ficelle itself was the string used by a local hostellerie owner in the days when the wine was served in pitchers, with knots representing measures, after you had your fill he charged according to he number of knots the wine had gone down the pitcher, so La Ficelle bottle designs always incorporate in some way the knotted string. This year's design appears to be a woman in a wine glass held by a pink elephant. In the interests of research of course I had better buy a bottle to closer examine the cartoon!
Meantime the Christmas scene of snowy trees, polar bears and penguins has taken up residence next to the bandstand, a sure sign that Christmas is coming!
December 2nd 2016
My first experience of a French Mairie today, to certify the address of our house so that EDF will record the actual address they supply electricity to. Only recently have the roads around our commune been given names, before that each little group of houses was a 'lieu dit', or place called. EDF still have us recorded at a place called address. This would not be important if were not for the apparent primacy of an EDF bill in proving you are resident, even the bank need it, and the address of the bill and the address of the electric meter must be the same, hence my trip to the Mairie for them to certify our address is as it has been for the last 6 or 7 years. The Community administrator could not have been more helpful, and very keen to tell me about forthcoming local social events too, and an evening opportunity to meet the Maire in January with a glass of wine and local delicacy 'pompe au grattons ', a sort of cake with pork scrachings!
Contrast this with Orange.fr, formerly France Telecom, who had a reputation nearly as bad as BT. As with all transactions you have to prove who you are.... passport is fine, and where you live, the EDF bill with its English delivery address and 'lieu dit" backed up by the local rates bill worked fine and only 4 working days later the telephone cut 16 years ago has been reinstalled, new fixtures and connection to the new live box and Internet is up and running.
So now to use the Internet to send the Mairie's certificate to EDF, but perhaps I'll send them a hard copy too as back up!