Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Perce-neige

Well, at the risk of jinxing us all over here..... we haven't had much snow this season.  What snow we have had fell at the same time as the snowdrops started showing and continued till they were blooming.

I call that an aptly named flower!

They look so pretty as their foliage is really dark green and shows up beautifully against a white background.  The flowers themselves are laced with lime green, so you can see the delicate pattern nicely in comparison to the snow.

A bit hard to get a really good photo as had no inclination to lay on my front in the snow to get down to their level... sorry, some things I just do not do.

Since then we have continued to have cold weather, but no good snowfall.  A lot of neige fondu and ice, but not much else.

Our neighbour has been tidying up the hedgerows around the farm and carting huge tractor loads of branches back to the field behind his house.  Any wood that could be kept for heating the house was put aside, but there was still a huge alount of branches and "bits".  Today all the grandchildren were visiting, so we had a bonfire at dusk. 

There is something lovely about standing around a blazing fire when it is really cold.  A very primordial and primitive sense of peace and enjoyment.  Your front is hurting from the heat, and your back is aching from cold.  It is essential to turn around every now and then to allow the back to defrost before facing the flames once more.  The flames leap and soar higher and higher, before dying back to smouldering coals.

Staring glassy eyed into the flames is essential, as is holding your hands out closer - even though it is already too warm where you are standing.  The children occupied themselves throwing twigs and corn stalks onto the fire, while the adults just soaked up the warmth and ambience.  Chickens pecked at the ground at the limit of the heat.

All too soon it was over, and time to lock the chickens up as the sun set.

Life in the country is good.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

It's cold outside!

Well, whilst we haven't had much snow so far this season, we have had lots of ice and rain.

Sounds counter intuitive.  Ice and rain at the same time.  I can assure you it does happen, and it makes life interesting.

Most mornings have seen the terrain looking like it has been gilded in crystal.  Everything is frozen and glinting in the morning light.  Really beautiful.  Then it rains all day and everything turns soggy and grey.

Quite a few days we have had neige fondue (slushy snow) falling, which melts as soon as it hits a surface.  Leaving slushy, wet, boggy mud everywhere.  Really not nice to try and walk in.

The chickens spend most of their time roosting in their insulated hen house.  Sophie spends all day in her heated bed - venturing out only for food and calls of nature.  The boys, well they spend all day curled up in their baskets in front of the fire. .... What can I say, it is a tough life for the animals here.

I am itching to get in to the orchard and prune the apple trees, but need a few days with no rain, and temps above freezing.  Somehow I don't think I am going to get this for another few weeks.  May have to just bite the bullet and prune them anyway... then hope like crazy that they are ok.

With the weather being unsuitable to garden with, I have spent some time dreaming and browsing the seed catalogues.  Quite easy to pass hours in this fashion!  (Almost as addictive as Pinterest!!!!)  I have been working on bedding layouts and thinking what I will add to the borders this year.  I want a certain look, so do need to think about it and plan it out slightly.  Like with all things garden, it will evolve at its own pace and take a few years to get there, and there will be changes made as things do better than expected - or worse and need replacing.

My vision for the garden is lots of shades of green and grey foliage with shades of blues and pinks in the flowers.  So it should be a nice mix.  I love striking foliage, and have planted chardons (ornamental artichokes) last season.  They are doing well and have actually weathered the heavy frosts better than I thought they would.  My penstamons are also a lovely soft grey colour with pale purple flowers and complement the other bolder greens in the beds.

This season I intend to plant up troughs of herbs for the chickens as well as for our use.  Have been reading some very interesting information on beneficial herbs for chicken keeping, and trying out the dried herbs over winter on the flock.  They love it, and are super healthy.  In fact, I am getting an egg almost everyday, which is not normal.  My breeds normally don't lay in winter at all. 

You can see the girls - and Nougat the rooster -  above.  Waiting for breakfast.  Dinner is checking out the white platter, expecting it to have her warm drink....  When it is freezing (most mornings), I boil the kettle and give them a hot drink first thing.  By the time the boiling water thaws the bowls and plates, it is drinking temperature.  They love it!  Line up and all have a drink, then they take turns standing in the hot water warming their feet.  Very funny to watch.  Ginger and Apricot are standing on the tree root watching and waiting for me to stop taking photos and pour out their hot drink.  Neither of them misses anything that goes on.

Ginger is getting quite friendly and likes a back scratch and pat before bed.  Her sister, Marmalade, is getting comfortable with being touched, but prefers to be scratched under her wings.  Apricot hates being touched and is still super flighty.  Light Lunch is in lay, so she just wants to be left to sit and do her business in peace.  Nougat is a bossy, greedy little bully.  Instead of letting the girls eat first and looking after them, he spends his time chasing them away from treats and then chasing them to fulfill his teenage lusts..... Hopefully he will settle as he gets older.

They have a cut down fir tree to play and shelter in for winter.  We have so many birds of prey here that they need something to hide in if they fly over.  It is also a good spot for them to shelter and to search for bugs.

Window boxes and hanging baskets are on the agenda this year.  I had such good success with my trial ones last year, that I intend to do a few more this year.  Orders have been placed for the petunias, and work will commence end of march on this project.

I want to replace the pampus grass in the (huge!) pot beside the front door soon.  It is a little too cramped in the pot, so will put it in the ground.  Don't comment and tell me it will take over please.... it is too cold here and they do not get massive and encroach on the whole garden like in Australia.  My only problem then will be finding something equally dramatic to replace it in the pot.  Would love to fill it with lemongrass, but it does not tolerate the winter here, so will not grow as big and majestic.  Still thinking of a solution for that one.  Watch this space.....

Well, the cats are raising their noses and sniffing the air, and my mouth is watering from the aromas pouring from the kitchen.  Time to take the turkey out of the oven and feast.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Busy time of year.....

Wow!  It just seems like yesterday that I made my last post, and here it is two months later.

I had heaps of catching up to do after my recuperation, and have been so busy that time has just flown by.  In fact there are still things that I am behind on.

October saw the death of one of my chicks.  I had purchased two dwarf chickens (not bantams) as my "mother hens" for next year.  The sweetest of the two was still a bit too young to cope with being outside in the cold and unfortunately she died.  I was a bit sad as she was the one that liked to cuddle.  A lovely little personality and quite tame as well.

Two weeks later my rooster took ill.  He was quite often a bit "off colour" as he ate anything that he could fit in his beak.  Bees, rubbish, you name it.  If it could be swallowed - it was swallowed.  He developed sour crop and could not be saved.  Unfortunately he was very much a "don't touch me" kind of rooster, so by the time I could touch him, he was too weak and sick to survive.  A real shame as he was a superbe rooster and absolutely enormous.  I have a replacement, but he is just not quite as good as my original.  Nothing wrong with him, but the first one was a hard act to follow.

November saw heavy frosts starting to hit and everyone racing to get ready for winter.  The garden however was still in full flower, so I am still now - in december - doing my autumn pruning!  Another week should see it done for the year.

We spent a weekend weather proofing and insulating the hen house.  It really is a chicken palace now!  I use the deep litter method, so it is very cosy inside.  The mice think so too..... grrr.  They are so bold that they don't even move till you get right up to them.  Have been putting mint in the house which mice hate, but it only lasts a few days to a week and has to be redone.  I will get rid of them though!  If all else fails, I will lock Sophie in there overnight.....

The spare bedroom is now much better organised and more user friendly for my sewing projects.  Cannot wait to start making a few new outfits.  Same with the office.  I had a major sort out and reorganised a lot of things and now have a good work space for my craft projects as well as desk space for working.  Much nicer and easier to work there now.

Guy and Eric are loving our new heating.  The wood pellet fire is fabulous and they think it is just for them.  There is now a basket in front of it and they take turns curling up in it and basking in the warmth.  Think I might have to get a second basket so they can each have their own.  Sophie, meanwhile, has discovered the joys of a heated bed.  We have a heating pad in her bed in one of the outbuildings.  It is on a timer and turns on around 17h30 and off around 08h30.  Between those hours she is not to be found outside.  In fact, she demands dinner at 1700h and then goes to bed!  In the morning she stays in bed till it starts cooling off, and quite often is still in bed late in the morning.  Very funny when you go looking for her and call out for ages, only to go into the dependance and see a little furry head poking out of the cat bed all blinky and fuzzy eyed.

We planted a new apple tree this weekend, part of the plan of getting ready to replace a few fruit trees which are very old and not fruiting very well anymore.  It will bear fruit in about three years, so that will be just in time for the current old trees to be fading out.  Gradually over the next few years we will replace some of the older fruit trees and rejuvenate the orchard.  Will be nice to have eating apples as well as the current cooking and cider apples.

Our neighbour has been in hospital the past few weeks.  All ok now and he is back home, but his chickens have meantime moved out and decided they prefer to live chez nous.  I was feeding them whilst he was unwell, and combined with the fact that they have always wandered in when the gate is open and visited our terrain, they now think I am their owner.  They follow me around everywhere and if they hear my voice they come running (have you ever seen chickens run flat out?  Funniest thing you have ever seen!!!).  After the fruit tree planting saturday I was digging up the parsnips and the last of the carrots and beetroots with the assistance of his flock.  Really funny to have a flock of chickens poised attentively around you waiting for a juicy worm or bug to be unearthed.  Had to be careful not to tread on one of them if I stepped backwards!  Afterwards I was trying to put them back in their coop, but it was more like a Keystone Cops or Benny Hill episode than anything.  I am tempting them through the gate and closing it, to turn around and walk back to the house, only to find more chickens to herd towards the gate, shepherd through, close, turn, more chickens..... repeat repeat repeat.  The cheeky beggers were walking in the gate and along the fence a bit (till behind a tree and out of sight), then flying back over to my side again whilst I was busy getting their flock mates through the gate.  All in the freezing cold without my coat on.  I was not a happy bunny, but had to laugh as it was so ridiculas.

The photo above was taken by Wayne on his iphone.  Me wrangling the neighbours chickens with the assistance of Sophie.  She loves chickens, and always helps me feed, lock up etc every day.  Mind you, she is also quite fond of sampling any tidbits I throw out for them as well......

Anyway, Christmas is coming quickly and hopefully things will slow down a bit.  We are celebrating on Christmas Eve with our neighbours (French celebrate Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day) which will be lovely.  We are sharing the food preparation and it should be a great night.  The 25th we will be recovering quietly at home, and gathering strength for the Orphans Picnic on Boxing Day which we are hosting.  (Casual potluck for friends in our group who are not travelling to family for the fetes.)

Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas and look forward to having more time in the New Year to blog more frequently.  Best wishes!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Back on track


Phew, what a month!

Surgery went well, and I have been recovering slowly but steadily.  Thank you for the lovely emails with get well wishes.

Not a lot of news to report.  Have spent my time resting and not being able to do anything, so the garden and house are a bit neglected and in need of some TLC.  Oh well, not the end of the world.  All will be back to normal soon.

I borrowed heaps of books from the library, thinking that would keep me occupied for the month.... then two days after coming home from hospital I passed out and gave myself a bad concussion...... so could not read, watch tv/dvd's or anything interesting.  Typical! lol

One thing I have been doing this past week is working on cross stitch designs for Christmas ornaments.  A piece of graph paper and a pencil is all you need.  Have started making some, and they are coming together nicely.  You can buy some of the ornaments and my jams, jellies and chutneys at the Chez Tante Mabel Christmas market which will be the last weekend in november.  Stay tuned for more details closer to the date.

I had grand plans of crocheting, stitching, reading and watching a few films on dvd over the past month.  All that has happened is that the cats have had lots of snuggle time and the dining table is still covered with everything I planned to occupy myself with. 

At least we have had some lovely sunny days, which has meant I could sit outside for half an hour each day and bask in the sunshine with Sophie.  She has been very happy to have me sit and stroke her and just spend time with her. 

It is starting to feel like autumn now.  The leaves are falling from the trees, the nights are cooler, and we have fog and mist in the mornings and a heavy dew.  We have actually run the heating a few times to take the chill off the air in the house! 

Our neighbours did the vendage this weekend.  I was very disappointed to not be able to join in.  Will have to wait till next year.  It is hard work, but very satisfying and it is lovely to be out in the vines at this time of year.

I love this part of the year when everything is starting to hunker down ready for winter.  The garden is lovely and the woods are bursting into gorgeous warm colours just as the temperature drops.  There is a special feel to the air that just makes you impatient for the cold weather to arrive so you can bundle up in jumpers and scarves and walk for miles enjoying it all.

The chickens are starting to get ready for the cold weather too.  Eating a lot more and heading in to bed earlier each night.  They start waiting at the gate to the chicken palace at about 7pm, and if I am not there by 7.30pm they take themselves to bed.  Very funny and cute.  Strawberries and tomatoes are their favourite foods, and I make sure I hand feed them something every day so they are happy to be approached and be near humans.  The rooster doesn't like to be patted, but the girls are ok with it.... well, I think they put up with it rather than like it to be honest.

This week sees the start of getting back into my usual routine, so I will have more interesting updates next time.

Thank you again for all the good wishes emails.


Friday, 22 August 2014

end of summer

Already, in mid august, we are experiencing the end of summer.  Far too early!  We can only hope that the warm weather and sunshine will return for another few weeks.

Our normally scorching summer days have turned balmy.  The nights are cool.

The swallows are gathering to fly south to Africa.

Apples are ripe and dropping from the trees.

Everyone is left feeling rather disappointed and deflated.  After a long, wet and miserable winter (even though not as cold as usual), we have had a very short summer.

All signs are pointing to another long winter, and a cold one at that.  We shall see what happens.

Most of the sunflower fields are already faded and waiting to be harvested, but there are still the odd ones which have bright sunny flowers.  Even on a dull and grey day they are beautiful and give a much needed splash of warm colour.

Annoyingly, my tomatoes are not yet ripe.  I have the fruit in abondance, but not enough sun to ripen them.  We may be eating a lot of green tomato pickles etc this year.  Worst thing is that I will have to buy tomatoes to make sauces and preserve for winter.  Feels really wrong to do that somehow when I have such a big potager.

The chicks are doing well.  We have enough eggs to not have to worry about buying them.  I would like a slight surplus, but that will happen when I enlarge the flock.

I was very excited last night when I was making us a light snack of eggs on toast for dinner, and we had double yolkers!  What a bonus!

OK, enough time spent inside, there is work to be done in the terrain.



Saturday, 16 August 2014

Rooster


Once again I have not been sitting at my computer as too much to do outside.  Apologies as photos and updates very overdue.

Well, we have our rooster now, and he is lovely.  Still doesn't have a name.  Can't quite decide what to call him.  Would love to call him Roger the Dodger as he spent the first few days dodging the girls.... but we have too many Rogers in the village, so it would not be tactful if I had to explain the joke behind his name .... hmmm.  Was thinking of calling him Bordeaux - as Coq au Vin is a bit of a mouthful.  We shall see what happens.

Whilst the girls are pretty shades of browns and coppers (with mullet hairdo's!), he is striking in white, grey and black, with tiny hints of coppery brown.  Still a bit of growing to do, so we are waiting to see how big his tail gets and what form his comb will take.

The girls are laying pretty much everyday.  Beautiful pale blue eggs like jewels.  Have had one full size egg so far, the rest are "training" eggs and a bit on the small side.  They are very happy and content in their coop.  No more attempts to explore the terrain, so their wings have not needed to be clipped.

Sophie loves the chickens, but unfortunately the rooster is not so fond of her visiting them.  If she gets too close he gets a bit stroppy and fluffs himself up and runs at her.  Would be interesting to see who came out the victor in that battle!  Both are little warriors.

Our freezer is filling with veg ready for winter.  Haven't started preserving yet, but will have to start soon.  Hasn't been a fabulous year for the crops as too wet, so everything is late and some things not doing too well at all.  Still no aubergines and the capsicums are only just fruiting.

One thing that is thriving is the sureau and berries in the hedgerows.  Have made one batch of elderberry jelly, but will have to make more to sell.  Also have a batch of syrup put up ready for winter.  The blackberries are ripening, so will go foraging for them monday and make up some blackberry jelly.  Also a few kilos for the freezer.  Rosehips on the eglantines seem to be coming along nicely.  Am keeping an eye on them so I can harvest for eglantine jelly in a month or so.  I detest the texture of rosehip jam, far too gritty for me.  The jelly is the same lovely perfumed flavour, but a much nicer texture.

My jams and jellies are now available to buy at Chez Tante Mabel at Fondemoulin.  Hopefully they will sell well there and benefit both Bev and I!

The apples are nearly ready for picking.  This year we are trying to get a group together to take all our apples to a professional cider mill to have them crushed and pressed.  You need a lot to do this, and no one has enough on their own.  So if we club together it should work well.  Also, the more varieties of apples in the mix, the better the flavour of the finished product.  Win for all!

OK, time to go and make rhubarb compote.  I have a bountiful supply of rhubarb, which is fabulous.  I could eat rhubarb every day with no problem.




Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Les Poilus... and other things

No, these are not Poilus, these are cupcakes....

Realised that I forgot to post an image from the decorating workshop that I went on a month or so ago.  It was heaps of fun and I learnt so much. 

Things have not slowed down for summer.  I seem to be busier than ever.  Luckily it is school holidays and I have the extra bt of time to cram in my tasks....lol

The garden is looking fabulous!  Will have to take proper photos soon to post.  These ones are just snapped on my iphone.  I have flowers everywhere and the orchard and potager are looking fabulous too.  The wildflower meadow is coming along slowly, thanks to Jean's unfortunate plowing incident just when it was ready to flower.... let's not talk about that though.  Hopefully next year it will be fully established and look wonderful.

Unfortunately I lost the battle with doryphore beetles this year.  They have decimated my potato plants.  Hopefully the potatoes will be ok, but the plants are almost gone.  Very annoying.  I went out every day and removed the eggs and beetles, and then when that didn't seem to be working I tried dusting them with flour ( a remedy from an organic website).  It seemed to slow them down, but did not stop them.  So I don't think I will get the same massive yield as last year.

The chooky girls are doing well.  Completely at home in their chicken palace.  They have taken to following me around inside it and "helping" me weed etc.  The paler one has a fondness for pecking my toes.... she is the cheeky one and has a very bold character.  The darker one is slightly more timid and skittish.  Yesterday we went out and bought our new heating system and a whole heap of hardware items for the next months works.  When we got home it was 7pm and first thing I did was go out to collect the washing off the line..... only to be met by a chicken.... outside the chicken pen.  The lighter one had decided to have an explore, but could not get back in.  Needless to say I have no strawberries now as she feasted on them all day...hmmm.

The cats are all spoilt and content.  Sophie has not been battling everything that moves, so has been looking good the past few weeks.  The boys are loving our new memory foam overlay on our bed.  They also think it gives the best nights sleep!

At present I am working on a project along with a few others in the village.  We are putting together an exhibit about the villagers who went to the First and Second World Wars, and including the British SAS soldiers who were executed by the Nazis and are buried here in the village cemetary.  One of the team has done a huge amount of work tracing teh genealogy of the French soldiers and finding as much information as possible about each of them.  My job is to translate all the information into english and then to research the SAS soldiers and produce profiles on them.

Les Poilus is the name given to the local soldiers who went to fight.  It has been interesting to learn about the lives of these men (and sometimes boys) who lost their lives and are now commemorated on the War Memorial in the village centre.  So many of the names are still to be found here, and they really are still remembered by the older villagers.  One of the first stories I was told when we moved in, was about ClĂ©mentine who rode her bicycle over the Vichy line taking messages for the Resistance.  Her family owned our house.  There are still members of the family living nearby and the cemetary is full of those that have already gone to "pastures green".

As part of the project, I am going to London next week to conduct further research in the National Archives and the National Library.  Hopefully I will come across some interesting images to display in the exhibit as well.