Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Poly Tunnel - Before
Back in France after six weeks in the UK to find the garden over run with weeds. Here like most of northern Europe the early summer has been very disappointing with lots of rain and far too low temperatures. The farmers have not been able to make hay and the ground has become very wet. I have sown the beetroot seeds three times and I have only found 4 plants hidden amongst the weeds.

Poly tunnel - After

The poly tunnel had been planted up with tomatoes and what I thought were melons. Having got the plants in early and under cover I was hoping for an early crop of melons, however on our return I have discovered that two of the melons are in fact courgettes and they had taken advantage of the warm environment to grow like triffids! I battled my way through and having tied in the tomatoes and given everything a good trim I can now walk along the path in the centre. The tomatoes have produced plenty of fruits and should ripen soon, I hope!

Pea Harvest
Luckily the broad beans and peas which had been sown under fleece cloches have grown well, and I have now cleared the peas. I am sure we would have got a far bigger crop if we had been here to harvest them as they became ready, but we weren't so most were past their best and will have to be used in dishes which require a little more cooking. Nothing gets wasted though, the peas have been blanched and are now in the freezer.

The carrots that I had sown and which were coming up six weeks ago have disappeared just like the beetroot, I don't know if they have been washed away, rotted or just eaten by mice or slugs.

The raspberries ripened while we were away so I was only able to rescue a small bowl of them, however the alpine strawberries are producing copious quantities of albeit small fruits.


The Hydrangeas are spectacular this year, loads of flowers and really healthy looking leaves. I think they like the cooler weather.

The potatoes have done quite well and we are currently enjoying the international kidney variety, know as Jersey Royals, when grown in Jersey. We won't go hungry this summer but we have not got the variety of vegetables I would like to have in the garden.

Potato Flower
Bagnoles de l'Orne

On Sunday we went to the Vide Greniers in Bagnoles de l'Orne, where we had a stall selling our Chutney and Marmalade. It was the first really nice day and the crowds came out to enjoy the sun. We had a lovely spot near the chateau, in the open sun in the morning but in the shade of the trees as the sun went over head, keeping us pleasantly warm, but comfortable. We had several repeat customers who were pleased to find us close to where we had been last year. We still have plenty of stock so if you want some chutney or marmalade do ask for a price list.

Before returning the unsold stock to the shelves I took the opportunity to clean out the store/utility room and having cleared it out gave the walls a coat of paint, what a difference a coat of white paint does. They whole place looks fresh and clean again. Now the stock is sitting on aqua marine shelves against while walls, very chic.

Now the weather has finally changed, for the moment at least. It is now very warm and the farmers are working day and night to make hay from all the available grass. I noticed this morning that the harvesting of the grain crops has also started. As thunder storms are forecast for Friday the farmers and contractors are trying to get as much done as possible before the weather breaks.

For us it is a time to sit in the shade and do as little as possible. This afternoon a family of swallows are flying around our heads as the young are being taught the ways of the world by their parents. It is fascinating to watch as they seem quite unaware of us watching them.  The sky is blue and there is not one cloud in the sky, how long will it last - who knows - let's enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A cold May

Lilly of the Valley
France voted on Sunday 6th May for a new President. Francois Hollande has been elected by voters who are hoping he will scrap the austerity measures that the previous president tried to impose.  Watching the television immediately after the results were announced, I couldn't help thinking that the pictures were reminiscent of last year's Arab Spring. Cars with people hanging out of the windows waving flags and hooting horns drove around the streets of Paris. Hollande's supporters had gathered in the Place de Bastille to await the results and then to celebrate his victory. Flags flying, fireworks and flares being let off setting the sky red.

Tuesday of this week saw the inauguration of the new President.  A very long ceremonial process. Hollande gave a speech at the Elysee Palace after being sworn in and then later in the day after having toured the streets in an open top car in the pouring rain then gave another very lengthy speech at the Paris town hall. 

The wild flower orchard
After the wettest April on record we must be now experiencing the coldest May on record.  Luckily we have a good supply of wood as from time to time we feel the need to light up the wood burning stove.  Although we have had a few nice days, they have been rare. We did manage to get the grass cut on one warmish and breezy day.  We have purposefully left part of the grass uncut to see if the wild flowers thrive and attract more butterflies. 

It is possible that passers by just think we didn't manage to get it all cut before the rain came down again.  The poly tunnel is up and the tomatoes are thriving, we even have the first flower so hopefully we will get an early crop this year. 

Ready for summer, but protected from the cold May weather.

Unfortunately when I sowed my cucumber, squash and courgette seeds this year I forgot to label them and now I can't identify them.  After looking at a couple of websites I have now decided which are cucumbers and they have also been planted in the poly tunnel, to grow up over the metal trellis that forms the base of the structure.  I just hope they are cucumbers and not courgettes, it will be a case of wait and see.  

Last Autumn we planted up some fruit bush cuttings which had successfully rooted. These have now been planted along the edge of the garden which I hope will become a fruit hedge.
The first shoots of a willow hedge

We also put in some willow hoping to form a woven hedge, just over 50% have taken, so we will either have to wait for them to grow long enough to provide some extra cuttings or find another suitable tree to take cuttings from in the Autumn.

Soft Fruits enjoying the rain and cold.

The soft fruit appears to enjoying this cool wet weather. The red and black currents are full of fruit as is the gooseberry.  The strawberries are full of flowers just waiting to be pollinated.  The raspberries are also full of flower buds, no doubt just waiting for a little more warmth. 


Despite the weather the birds are really active. Blackbirds and blue tits are nesting in the hedging opposite the kitchen door and as soon as it stops raining they are out looking for food. 

 One apparent advantage of the cooler weather is that a lot of  plants are still  flowering, the primroses and violets started flowering in March and are still full of flowers now. They have now been joined by forget me nots and lilly of the valley.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

April Fool - No Asparagus!

Our first Asparagus

 It may be April Fools Day but no this is no joke.

Our first asparagus had popped through the earth today.

I have grown these plants from seed, sown just three years ago.

We have enjoyed this first 'fruit' of the season, just lightly poached and then topped with just a little melted butter and a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper. 

Wonderful, let's just hope there will be more to come as the season continues.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Warm weather for March


Preparing for the Tour de Normandie

It is hard to believe that it is still March.  We have been enjoying the same warm weather as the rest of western Europe.  Although it feels like summer the landscape has a very strange look to it. The trees are still bare and the majority of plants are only just beginning to show signs of life.

A week ago the sloes were just coming into flower, now they are full of flowers and the leaf buds are starting to burst open. The plum tree is also coming into leaf.

The cuttings from the fruit bushes that I planted along the boundary fence are looking healthy, they have good leaf growth.  Last year we had a good soft fruit crop but more fruit is always nice and would mean I could use it to make jams as well as just as a treat to eat.  Rather than expanding the fruit bed I decided to try and plant a soft fruit hedge. I realize it could mean that passers by will help themselves, but as we live on a very quiet road I don't see that it will be a big problem.

Start Gate in Domfront

Awaiting the start of the Tour de Normandie
Last Friday we went as usual to the market in Domfront.  Whilst there we noticed several motorbikes parking up outside one of the cafes, then along came several large camper vans and cars with bikes on their roofs.  It was then we realised that there was some sort of cycle event on. Up on the large square at the top of the town we found the race 'caravan'.  It was reminiscent of last years 'Tour of Britain' in Bury St Edmunds. There were teams of cyclists warming up and technicians doing last minute checks on the bikes.  The next stage of the Tour of Normandie was due to start in Domfront.  The previous days stage winner was a British rider, sorry I can't remember his name.  We didn't recognise any of the names when the team were presented at the sign in. Most appeared very young.  This tour is the first of the racing season, and all were enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. 

Sunday was Rob's birthday and to celebrate the occasion we went out for lunch.  We decided it was a suitable opportunity to try a restaurant which had been recommended to us.  The 'Auberge de la Mine ' is in the village of Gué Plat a  village built to house the workers of the local iron ore mine.  The restaurant is in what was the Cantine where single miners lived and ate.

As  anticipated we enjoyed a beautiful meal, scallops with asparagus for starter, pigeon for our main course, and a apple baked for 7 hours as dessert.

Yesterday we drove to the coast and enjoyed lunch on the harbour at Granville. Again amazingly warm, usually on the coast there is a breeze it was really quiet weather. Granville old town is built on a rock promontory were there are several old military buildings, a light house and the remains of WWII fortifications as well as many beautiful town houses.   Should anyone be interested there is a 1960's house next to the lighthouse which belongs to the military and is now up for sale. The position is ideal for lovers of the sea, views out over the coast line on three sides.  There is a garden, although we aren't sure what would actually grow on such an exposed spot, garage and light house in the grounds. When we were there it was idyllic but we can only assume that for the majority of the year it is a very wind swept spot.
We had a lovely day walking around the old town, it was beautiful and peaceful and with the warm sun it really had the feel of a summer holiday.

Each year in November, there is an art 'Salon' in the nearby town of Flers. Artists from the Bocage area of Normandy  exhibit their work at this show. Last year Rob asked about taking part and was told to send photographs of his most recent work for consideration.  When we arrived here last week there was a letter waiting for him to say that he was invited to show some of his work to the committee. Unfortunately the date had passed and even though Rob explained that they had only given three weeks notice and therefore he wasn't here, they have said he has to reapply next year - their loss I am afraid.  Hopefully we will arrange an exhibition ourselves - possibly in England.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Winter hits hard

Cows in the corner of the field when it was snowing on Monday morning
After a very mild December and January winter hit the Orne hard on Monday morning. We woke to find a thick layer of pristine snow and snow still falling from the sky.  The sky was thick with heavy grey snow clouds which continued to drop the white stuff all through the day. Sleet and snow  had been forecast but more snow fell than the Méteo had predicted. 

On the main evening news our region was highlighted and there was a report from our nearby town of Domfront.  They interviewed a local farmer and some builders who are working on a new house along the road from Céauce to Domfront.  If you click on the link and start at chapter 4 you will see the report.

Cold crisp day in the countryside
Since then we haven't had any more snow but it has been very cold, in fact it has got colder as each day has gone by. This yesterday morning  the thermometer registered -9c - it was very cold. There was even a  layer of ice on the inside of the window and the cat flap had frozen closed.  Luckily we have managed to keep the house warm by burning lots of wood in our wood burning stove.  

Plenty to eat in the trough

 The clear crisp air enhances the beauty of the countryside and the freezing temperatures have frozen the mud so that everything is nice and clean underfoot.  Yesterday we enjoyed a walk in the woods around the town of Bagnoles de l'Orne, a local spa town.  There was still a thin layer of snow on the fallen leaves and it made a lovely crunching noise as we walked over it. 

We thought we might stop for  lunch, but not easy on a cold February day, many restaurants are closed for the winter, others were closed because it was their weekly closing day and some which should have been open - well according to the opening times advertised outside were also closed. We rejected the pancake house in favour of the one restaurant that was open. Sitting by the window with a view over the lake to the casino we enjoyed a simple steak lunch, before a final stroll around the lake before heading home to the warmth of our house.

Same cows later in the week enjoying the sunshine

 This morning it was even colder - 10c. Despite the cold there were several stall holders on the market.  I didn't ask but I assume that our yogurt man had not bothered to link up his refrigerated trailer to a power source, I don't think it would have had much effect.  

View across the fields

The veg garden with a layer of snow, sprouts and leeks still to be harvested.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A new year in the countryside

This year we decided against coming to France to celebrate the New Year.  Instead we are here for a couple of weeks at the end of January. 

East Anglia, where we live in the UK has had very little rainfall since early last year and even recently there was talk about the continuing drought and the low levels of water in the reservoirs.  Here it would appear to be quite the opposite, the ground is very wet and according to our neighbour there has been a lot of rain since our last visit at the beginning of December.  In fact today we went for a walk in the woods where we often go foraging for mushrooms, we have never seen the moss so green and sponge like.  Even the woodland tracks were thick with mud, the ditches were full of running water and there were deep pools of water everywhere. This being the countryside it means that everywhere is very muddy. I am so pleased that we put a thick layer of gravel over our yard several summers ago, at least we can walk around outside and keep reasonably clean.  

Rob has over the years read most of Casanova's diaries.   He was pleased to read recently  that his letters had been bought by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and that they were part of an exhibition about Casanova being staged at the BnF.  Luckily our visit to France coincided with this exhibition,  so off we went to Paris last Tuesday.  

Bibliothèque Nationale de France
As we drove up to Flers to catch the Paris train the weather looked really promising. Clear skies and crisp air, but the forecast for Paris was heavy rain so I went armed with my umbrella.  On arrival we went straight to the BnF and spent some time looking at the exhibition. As always this was a mistake even in the capital city the restaurants had stopped serving food when we came out hungry.  So instead of a slap up meal to celebrate our wedding anniversary we finally found a cafe serving organic soups, pies and sandwiches.  What we had to eat was tasty and well prepared but not the restaurant experience we had hoped for.  When will we learn, food before culture not the other way around.  

Natural History Museum

Jardin des Plantes
By this time it was pouring with rain and it continued till we got home.  We spent the afternoon walking the streets of Paris under my umbrella, we saw a lot of pavement and not much else as we kept an eye open for puddles. Normally a visit to the shops is not part of the itinerary for such a visit so I must say I knew the weather was getting the upper hand when Rob suggested the best plan would be to find a department store! 

Eventually as it got dark we took refuge on the terrace of a cafe, totally enclosed but for a small opening between the glass walls and the canopy roofing, meaning it can be used by smokers who are banned from smoking indoors. It was however nice and warm under the heaters and we sat and watched the world go by in the rain.  Before heading for the return train we had a good steak and chips which rounded off our day nicely.  Nowhere is particularly pleasant in the rain and Paris is no exception. 

I read in the local paper that there was a 'tricot cafe' being held in the next village, I assumed this would be along the lines of the 'stitch and bitch' groups that are becoming popular in the UK. I know I can knit and I can talk but the question was ' can I knit and talk' in French at the same time?  Having nothing else planned for Friday afternoon I decided to give it a try. I arrive fashionably 15 minutes late and on entering the cafe found just one women standing at the bar drinking coffee and talking with the owner. I asked if I was the only one who had come for the 'tricot cafe', no said the lady drinking coffee, we are now two!  She was very welcoming and explained that she was not a regular either and she had no idea who else would come along. 

We sat down and she brought out her knitting. She was part way through a waistcoat having completed the back and had almost finished one of the fronts. I then brought out my project and she looked in amazement at my very fine wool and very small circular needle.  So with our knitting to talk about we enjoyed an hours conversation about yarns, the lack of wool shops, the change in knitting habits, no longer is knitting done out of necessity as wool is so much more expensive to buy than a ready made sweater, but a hobby for those who want to make something unique.  She went on to explain about her trips to the UK and how she loves the soft furnishings in English houses.  It turned out that she is married to the architect we hired to do our drawings when we applied for  planning permission to put windows in the roof of our barn. Eventually another lady arrived, the organiser, who had been delayed as her cat had needed an emergency visit to the vet!  Two hours later I decided it was time to leave as we had friends coming for supper that evening, promising that I will attend again when ever we are in France.  

For anyone who is interested they meet on the last Friday of the month at the 'Le Coquelicot' in St Fraimbault at 14.30hrs.  

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our friends a very happy new year. 

As for the year ahead - what will it bring? 

Here in the UK we are looking forward to the 2012 Olympics.  We have tickets for an evening of  athletics at the Olympic stadium during the paralympic games.  We tried twice for tickets to the able bodied games but were unsuccessful, so thought we would be more successful with tickets for the paralympics. However we tried to get tickets for wheel chair rugby, as one of our friends had designed one of the  coins showing the wheel chair rugby, and for the same day some athletics.  We have only got the athletic tickets. Never mind, the positive outcome must be that the paralympic games are proving just as popular as the able bodied games, and both sets of athletes need our support.  
In France there will be presidential elections in April.   The 'crisis' around the euro seems destined to  carry on for some time, and it  will be interesting to see who becomes president of France and what effect the results will have on their role in Europe.
The 6th November  will bring the presidential elections in the USA. It doesn't seem that long ago that Obama was elected with so much hope for the future, but so much seems to have happened in the world since then, that he probably couldn't predict.  Who ever is elected to office, in France or the USA, will have a difficult time, no matter what their ideals may be the world economy may dictate what they can do rather than what they would like to do.  

With 3 years 364 days to go before 2015 when the UN hopes to have  reduced by three quarters, (from 1990 to 2015) the maternal mortality ratio and to increase the number of births attended by skilled health personnel, we still have a very long way to go.  If you would like to know more the Every Mother Counts website has plenty of information.  You can also follow them on Facebook.
On a more happy note - it is time to plan the vegetable plot for the coming summer. I must sow the onions and leeks this week. Last years harvest was really good and I am determined we will be self sufficient in onions and leeks this year.  
May I wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.