Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Now 'Mirabelle' is a new name for me. As these little fruits were developing I thought at first that they were plums but they didn't seem to get any bigger than an almond so I reckoned that they were indeed almonds. But they then started going a bit squidgy so I had to rethink and asked my neighbours. "Mirabelles" I was told. Yes, they are small plums but yellow ones. And how appropriate that they are yellow as when they are picked directly from the tree, warmed by the sun, they taste just as sweet as honey, like a little sunburst in your mouth. Mmmmm delicious. R and I picked loads and loads (B wouldn't help as he's now scared of the geese and wouldn't come up to the orchard - they don't like him as he chased them too often when they were little. No surprise there!). We now have 8 Le Parfait jars of them duly sterilised, and a massive bag of them in the freezer. The thought is to have "Sunshine Crumble", as R has named it, in the middle of winter. There were still masses left but the geese and hens adore them too so they get daily treat for free.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Frustration Leads to Wisdom

Odd maybe to say that but in our case this has been true. Normally I would rush in and start getting things done but was prevented from doing so in the first instance by being pregnant. That's Ok I thought, as soon as baby is born I'll get on with things as it will only be March and he can just pop on my back in the sling and we'll be off. But that didn't happen because it's been so hot that it hasn't been ideal for a sling - he gets annoyed because the imperative hat keeps falling in his eyes, he gets hot and cranky, I get hot and cranky and it all ends in tears. So, we've had to delay. And that's been a good thing. In permaculture, lots of your design for living is worked out by watching what's around you and taking note and account of it, fine tuning as you go. Well if we'd rushed in we wouldn't have known just how dry this land gets in July/August. Today even the dock weeds look as if someone has sprayed them with weedkiller (no-one has of course) but they are just wilting. I've had to rethink some projects and alter the priority of others. So sometimes it's good to do nowt -you learn from doing 'le glandouiller' (b**ger all).

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Beautiful Creatures

We have some really lovely critters here, small critters that are easy to miss if you're too busy to look. I have no idea of the names of most of them since they are 'new' to me since moving to France. One I have discovered is the soldat and we have loads of them - coupling here in this photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I was trying to establish the depth of our pond today when I came across this beautiful spider - a biggie, you can see the red clover head as a reference point. At present I don't know what it's called so I'm on a mission to find out. If anyone knows before I track down a name, please post a comment.

Update - it's a wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) and this one is a female as the males are much thinner in body. They are Orb Weavers and apparently their web takes just one hour to make. They spin it in the morning, catch their prey during the day, then eat the web and prey at night. When the females have just reached sexual maturity their jaws are soft for a short time and that is when the males approach for mating. If the males leave it too late they get eaten!!

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Day of the Triffids

So this is as far as the potager has got this year - cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, runner beans, barlotti beans, sugar snap peas, mange tout, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, herbs, courgettes.... and butternut squash, butternut squash, butternut squash. You see the 'free' area in the photo on the right? That has now been totally invaded by the squash. They've scrambled up into the runner beans and are making a bid for freedom over the back fence. They just don't stop! Now you may ask as to how this has been allowed to happen, given that I have been growing veg for a good few years now and should know the ropes. Well it goes like this....

Back in Scotland when I started growing them I planted 10 seeds and 4 came up. On those four plants I got ONE squash. Ok. So we moved here. Same packet of seeds, same frame of reference. So I planted 20 based on previous experience. All 20 came up. I reckoned that we could indeed cope with 20 squashes as they store well so I happily planted all 20 seedlings, expecting about 20 fruits. But no, they were off. The scramble for life and reproduction was on. Stand still for 5 mins near them and they've woven their tendrils into your shoelaces in a desperate bid to shore up the ever swelling fruits. I think there must be at least 100 squashes happily expanding in the sun! I was down at our neighbour's taking them some spare eggs and I was telling the lady about this situation. She thought it was hilarious and rushed in to tell her husband who was working on their roof. All I could hear was raucous laughter from the rafters! So if you come to stay this autumn/winter - possibly even in the spring and early summer of next year - guess what's on the menu?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Peace and Quiet

Finally. The Boyz are in Newcastle where it's raining for the wedding and Sammy is finally asleep in his pram after a day of being way too active. Too active because it's been up into the 40's today and as I write this at 7pm in the evening, it's 31.8 degrees C here in the *shade*. Now I'm not complaining but I am wishing for some rain. I have found out that major gardening works need to be done in the spring and the autumn. Winter on a clay soil is too wet and summer is too hot with ground like stone, baked hard in the sun. Not much one could do today except hang about in the sun. Shame :-)

But right just now is beautiful; warm and still surrounded by wonderful birdsong and an occassional gaggle from the geese as they muck about in the paddling pool set up especially for them today.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Branch Bus

Well the Boyz (Ben, Rowan and Brodie - Sammy will be added when he's mobile) have gone off to a Thomas wedding in Newcastle. I actually cried when they set off as this is the first time that Rowan and Brodie have ever spent a night away from me - not intentional, just happened like that. Quite an emotional moment for me. Sammy and I didn't go because Samuel is a bad traveller and screams for large parts of even relatively short journeys so the thought of hour upon hour of driving up through France and then the UK filled us all with dread. We are instead on dog, cat, geese and chicken watch.

Anyway, now that I have relative peace and quiet, I have had chance to wander round with Sammy and listen to my own thoughts - something very difficult to do when there's a Brodie in the vicinity! I decided that when Sam had a sleep I was going to tackle some of the overgrown and dead vegetation along our drive and found out what stock was really in there.
So secateurs and loppers at the ready I began. A large pile of debris is now left behind me and is traditional for me whenever I do a 'tidy up' job - I like the tidying bit but not the clearing up of the bits removed from flowerbeds. Ben says that it isn't really tidying, it's just moving rubbish from one place to another. Bless him however, he has accepted this quirk of mine and has designed the Branch Bus, pictured here, that can be towed along behind the tractor and will stop at the varying locations around our garden where I have been working and collect all the unwanted 'passengers' and take them to a mulching area in one of our fields. Looks like once again its services will be required when The Boyz get back on Monday.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Tax Man

Or woman. Yes the dreaded tax folk are here too and yesterday morning's post brought a letter from them saying that we should have filled in a declaration for 2008 and that it was meant to have reached them by 29 May 2009. Yikes. There was me thinking that as I'd had a letter from the UK tax office for a return for April 08 to April 09 then our tax affairs here wouldn't start until this year, therefore first French filing in 2010. But no.

So we downloaded the forms and made of them what we could, then today went along to our closest office in Mamers. We arrived at 3.13pm and, after explaining what we needed - help, were given a ticket and asked to take a seat. the ticket said 42 mins waiting time. Having noticed as we came in that closing time was 4pm (!!!!) we wondered if we might be told to push off and come back another day. However, the queue dwindled (only 2 folk in front of us) and we were hopeful for a speedy exodus. Ho no. The lady in front of us took AGES and 4pm came and went. The front office shut up and the man bid us Bonsoir; the folk from 'upstairs' packed up and left and bid us Bonsoir. We feared that we might be locked in for the night. But at 4.15pm the door to the little consulting office creaked open, a photocopy was made of the lady's tax return, the clerk bid her Bonsoir, then smiled wearily at us and invited us in to said consulting room. It was a small room and hot. As we as a family number 5 now, all 6 of us was a squeeze in this room. However, the boys got out their toy cars and played happily under the table whilst we tried to explain in French what we didn't understand. Happily it was quite simple and straightforward, or at least the man said it was. What we don't know is if it really was, or were we being let off lightly due to horrendous wafts coming up from the urchins playing on the floor - Rowan's rear end and Brodie's feet, plus Sammy filling his nappy? All in a hot sweaty room and past closing time. Guess that's one way to speed up the procedings. Bet the tax man got a good impression of us Brits!

Friday, 7 August 2009


Today's question - how long is a caterpillar a caterpillar? I'll have to find out. We have the most gorgeous tiger striped caterpillars en masse on our weedy 'patio', the weed they are on being groudsel. Now I had meant to go out and clear it before the groundsel set seed but now we're busy watching the caterpillars to see when they turn into chrysalises (or is it chrysali??). Apparently they are the larvae of the cinnebar moth, a red day-flying moth that's rather attractive we think. So no clearing yet -grrrr.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Our French Car

Another milestone today - we collected our newly purchased car complete with French number plates and I felt quite emotional about it. It was just another little bit of our British-ness being given up as we'll no longer be driving with UK number plates. A weird feeling. Even weirder feeling driving the new car as
a) it's a manual and the Bongo is automatic and I've only driven that for two years now
b) the Hyundai is much wider than the Bongo so I have to watch out for the fosse (ditch) when some crazy French driver whizzes round a country bend on two wheels
c) I've been doing very well driving on the 'wrong' side of road (the right hand side) up until now by telling myself on a constant basis that I'm nearest the curb when driving. Well that changed today and I had to be 'normal'. Now many of you know that being 'normal' doesn't always come easily to me and in a moment of panic, having to pull away quickly from a garage on top of a hill with crap visibility, in an extra wide car, with a manual gearbox and a clutch to cope with, a screaming baby in the back, and a partner hiding his eyes, yes I managed to take off onto the *left* side of the road for a few metres before being screamed at by both baby and Ben. Rectified very quickly and no oncoming traffic inconvenienced so a lesson learned (or at least reminded of!). Frantic Mum found out!