The weather here has only now warmed up enough for vegetable seedlings sown in the early spring to start to really put on some growth. All our tomatoes and aubergines are tiny plants, some with barely more than their dicotyledons (their first pair of leaves straight out of the seed).
A cherry tomato with our first tomatoes for the year (below). This was grown from seed I saved from last year. This plant has been in the garden about a month, much longer than all the other tomatoes.
I've now planted out all our vegetable seedlings, no matter how tiny they are. Some of them were so desperate they were flowering, even though they only had two or three mature leaves and were yellow and sickly from the cold and being stuck in a plastic cell (aka a reused individual yoghurt pot).
This zucchini has been in a week. Before it was planted out it looked like the cucumbers below.
The broad beans and mangetout which were planted direct back in April are producing top quality peas and beans, with enough surplus to freeze. The regular peas are giving me quite a good crop too. The lettuce has been delicious and crispy in the cool weather but is now starting to get a bit sunburnt. I've left in all the chard that's gone to seed as it is giving the little lettuces a bit of shade.
Tiny Lebanese cucumber plants which started flowering in the coldframe before they were big enough to have full sized leaves (below). They were planted out 3 days ago and already look better for it.
I've been told that this year the season started so badly that even some professional gardeners lost all of their first plantings - seedlings simply disappeared after being put in the cold damp soil. The earth has taken ages to warm up and because it has quite a high clay content, plants haven't been able to thrive. Hopefully now it will all change. Now all I have to do is keep the water up to things and wait.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
The weather here has only now warmed up enough for vegetable seedlings sown in the early spring to start to really put on some growth. All our tomatoes and aubergines are tiny plants, some with barely more than their dicotyledons (their first pair of leaves straight out of the seed).
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Saffron Crocus sativus has been cultivated since the Bronze Age but it does not exist in the wild. The bulb is grown from southern Europe to Kashmir, mostly by small producers, but the plant is sterile and does not set seed. It reproduces by multiplying bulbs (very rapidly, if the saffron in our potager is anything to go by) but its genetic variability is therefore very low.
stigmae, which form the spice.
1. Saffron is very valuable and the harvest very small with high labour costs. This means it is commonly adulterated and other substances fraudulently sold as saffron.
sides so that the feather light produce does not fly out.
4. Saffron consumption is increasing faster than production, and users do not always understand the differences between saffron of different sources. At the moment the ISO (International Standard) only measures the strength of colour, but ignores aroma and flavour. This is currently under review.
Paul Meriguet's mantlepiece.
I am happy to say that Preuilly is doing its bit to ensure that saffron does not die out in France. Every year in February there is a Saffron Fair here, and on the first Saturday in July the bulbs can be purchased from the main producer, Paul Meriguet in Preuilly's market place.
Monday, 28 June 2010
We wrote about the collegiate church of St Mélaine quite some time ago.
Since then we have learned very little more about it, but I do have a new photo. This was taken on my expedition to find a place to photograph the work in progress on our roof. This is a long shot, taken from about 500 metres away.
It was really hot yesterday, and we had warning about storms in the evening. This was slightly worrying, because the slates are off part of the roof, and we have no tarpaulins over the spaces. Needless to say, the forecast was wrong. More rain is forecast for today, with storms forecast for tonight and tomorrow night, complete with local weather warnings, so with any luck (as far as the roof goes) or with bad luck(for the garden) we won't get any rain.
Sunday, 27 June 2010
There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse.
There are a number of variations on this quote, all attributed to Quentin Crisp: sometimes it's "some" years, sometimes it's two years, and sometimes it isn't dirt, but dust.
The thing is, he wasn't thinking long term.
On Friday we removed a small section of the granary floor so that the small set of steps up to the floor level would fit better. In order to neaten things up, we decided to put a little bit of concrete under the steps, which meant moving some of the loose sand that was sitting there. I grabbed a shovel and dug - then dug some more. The sand was actually very fine dust and there didn't seem to be an end to it, so I grabbed a broom handle and had a little prod about to find the floor level.
You can imagine my surprise when the handle went in 30cm (12 inches).
I then kept on pushing, much to the amazement of Susan and Stéphane, until I could push no more. Not because I hit the floor, but because the stick was in danger of disappearing. That is 1.3 metres (4'4") of dust.
Saturday, 26 June 2010
chm commented yesterday that he wasn't sure what we had meant about the "staircase tower". I did some research: looking at odd stone walls lying around in other people's gardens, and snooping about in our roof space/attic to come up with the following diagram.
Of course, the dates are rough - they go on what we have been told about building styles and construction styles, particularly in the roof. Whereas the granary seems to be more or less of one date, the carpentry in the roof is stylistically the oldest part of the house, whilst the facade has been renewed at least once - probably in the 17th century (maybe...).
The shaded part of the house is a supposition based on a wall in our neighbours garden. It runs parallel to our house, and is of the same stone and style, whereas her house is modern, probably 1970's, construction. Certainly the gatehouse type construction I have assumed is common enough in this area. We do know the house extended further down the hill: we have half a St Andrew's Cross against a newish brick wall in the attic, and St Andrews Crosses were never done by halves.
Whether any of this is correct is anyone's guess: the people who could tell us more have been dead for hundreds of years.
Friday, 25 June 2010
By golly by jingo by crikey!
These roofing blokes sure work quick. On their return after lunch on Wednesday they were straight up the ladder, replacing slates. I went for a walk around town to see what I could see, and if I could get a good vantage point for viewing the work.
Yesterday morning the slates came off the staircase tower, and by the end of the day the aluminium heat shield was in place. I assume by the end of play today we will have the new roof over the staircase in place.
The weather is set fair for the next couple of days. I assume they will put a tarpaulin in place for the weekend, just in case, but apart from taking that precaution I think it's all going rather well.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
The scene: two Englishmen sitting in a garden in the South Touraine, each nursing a glass of red wine. It is midsummer and they are enjoying the first time this year they have been able to sit outside comfortably. For the purpose of this exercise we will call them Alex and Simon.
So. Light switches...
Don't get me started on light switches
But which way is on?
In this household, the English way.
But which way is that? It's been so long since I have had a light switch I can't remember which way up they should go.
With a push switch you push the bottom for on and the
top for off. The French do it the other way.
We had a heated discussion with Stéphane the other day when we put our first switch in because I was sure he was doing it the wrong way and he was adamant he was right.
To a Frenchman, this light would be on
Now we have a little dilemma - do we conform to the French norm, or do we maintain our Anglo (and Australian) independence?
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Not just any common old toad - the Common Toad (Crapaud Commun in French, or Bufo bufo in the scientific).
We came home from picking up some stones from Alex and Nicole's last night (the longest day of the year, and quite possibly the first day this year where sitting outside at 11.00pm was an option) to find this rather large common toad sitting by our back door.
The main distiguishing feature for these toads is a copper coloured eye with horizontal pupils. This is a female - you can tell from the size, a fully grown male only reaching 8cm. She was eating ants, slapping them off the wall with her tongue.
In common with all native amphibians in France this toad is completely protected (Protection Nationale, Art.1). We hope she has taken up residence in our garden somewhere and develops a liking for slugs. Not that we will be picking her up - common toads excrete a toxin called bufagin, although grass snakes and hedgehogs are apparently immune.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
The roofers arrived at 8.00am yesterday (I repeat - 8 in the morning, while I was still in my dressing gown) and got straight into work. All the old slates were off the roof over the back half of the house by midday, and by going home time the 2 chevrons which needed to be replaced were sorted, and the aluminium heat resistant foil had been nailed in place. This is really impressive - all(!) that needs doing on that section now is replacing the voliges (battens) and attaching the new slates. They will also be installing a chapeau on the decompression pipe for the WC while they are in that section.
looking towards the staircase tower.
is used to reduce the heat coming in through the slates.
(Assuming summer ever arrives!)
I hope that explains it. (In fact, I hope it's right - it took a while for me to get my head around the fact that they were prepared to trust themselves to such an item!)
For guidance on French roofing terms, here is a good place to start.
Update on my father: He is out of intensive care and looking forwards to food - ice is all he has been allowed for the past 4 days. He has a little TV on which he can watch the news, so maybe he isn't quite as bored as he was.
Monday, 21 June 2010
It's been a really bad year for orchids. They've been subjected to some extreme seasons the last couple of years and this summer it's really showing in the lack of orchids making it to the flowering stage. The winter of 2008-09 was unusually cold, with temperatures dropping to -17°C for one or two nights in January. Many orchids would have been in leaf then and knocked back by the frost, but the cold weather didn't hang around too long and they recovered. Then they had to contend with a very unusually dry late summer and early autumn, when literally no rain fell for 3 months. The orchids would have been dormant by this time, but they felt the effect of the soil drying and cracking around their tubers. After the rain in September many species sent up rosettes of leaves in the normal way, only to be subjected to an unusually long and quite cold winter.
We've seen in Europe over the last few years how worryingly low butterfly numbers can get after just a few bad summers. Poor weather for several years in a row on top of habitat loss and pollution can push some species to the brink. Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum (or Orchis Bouc in French) is extinct in most parts of Britain, the victim of habitat loss and modern farming methods. Here in the Touraine it is the second most commonly occuring species of wild orchid. It is so common on the grassy banks of the Claise Valley that people mow over it without a second thought. But don't think it couldn't disappear within the space of a decade or so, and this year there are noticeably fewer Lizard Orchids. It is not the only species to be affected. Greater Butterfly Orchids Platanthera chlorantha (Platanthère verte), the most common species in the Touraine, and Monkey Orchids Orchis simia (Orchis singe), also normally very common in the Claise Valley, have appeared in greatly reduced numbers. Monkey Orchids are frost tender, and the Greater Butterfly Orchid in our orchard was frosted just as it was about to flower.
In the last 100 years 4 species of orchid are known to have disappeared from the Touraine. Of these, two were always rare and on the fringes of their natural distribution anyway. The other two, Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa (Malaxis des marais) and Summer Lady's Tresses Spiranthes aestivalis (Spiranthe d'été) were abundant and clearly the victims of the acceleration in land draining of modern times, both as a means of preventing disease (malaria) and to make it suitable for more profitable broadacre cropping.
Sunday, 20 June 2010
Back in 2007 we had the graineterie re-roofed, something we wrote about quite extensively at the time. While that work was proceeding M.Galland commented that the roof of the house was almost dead, and that we really should replace it. We considered doing just that, but at that stage we hadn't sold my house, so we didn't have the money. Now the time has come to make a decision - do we call the roofers out after every storm to repair the inevitable holes that appear, or replace the roof. The roof is totally "morte" - the crochets (slate hooks) have lost their springiness, and the slates themselves have started to de-laminate.
On Friday the roofers arrived to put up their staging, which is cantilevered off the wall of the house. It is from here that they will remove the old slates, sort out any wooden parts that need replacing, then hang the new slates.
The staging is anchored by wire ropes, tied around the roofing beams. This I was not too sure about, as the whole of this part of the house is a bit haphazrd, construction wise - but they seemed happy enough with it and left on Friday evening in a chirpy sort of mood.
While I was up in the roofspace yesterday I also took a photo of the back of our stair tower. This still has the slates hung on it from when it was an outside wall. Except for those intrepid souls who have been in our roof, these have not been seen by anyone for over a hundred years.
News from my father: his operation went well (although it was very long - about 7 hours) and he is now in the intensive care unit, hooked up to machinery from all angles. Apparently, he is already bored - which is a good sign. Thank you to everyone for your messages of support.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
A mutual glimpse with the redstart which is nesting in the graineterie. This is the first year we have seen birds nesting in (or on) our house: we also have pidgeons (which we are no so keen on) nesting on the front wall of the same building.
Friday, 18 June 2010
We were quite happy with the colour we painted the bathroom floor: it's the same greeny/bluey/grey colour we have painted the shutters on the outside of the house, and the finished look was quite effective. However, when we put the shower unit in the room the colour didn't look quite right, being a bit washed out by comparison. Then we had a hatching of furniture beetles (which all died as soon as they emerged, due we suspect, to an allergy to paint) which put more little holes in the floor.
Obviously something had to be done...
We thought about what colour we wanted instead, and decided we would like the same colour as the back of the shower unit (seen here). It's a bit of a strange colour though - not exactly blue, but not blue-green, either. We picked up colour swatches from various paint shops, but nothing matched. Until, one evening I walked past a box of electrical bits, looked at the sticky label on the end and thought "I know that colour".
Bingo - exactly the same colour as the shower unit!
We then took the sticky label around various paint shops and brico shops to see if they could find a match, but nothing. So we called into a proper paint shop (Chantemur in Chasseneuil) which like all this sort of shop in France, is a paper/papiers-peint (paint and wallpaper) shop and had a tin of custom dark blueish paint made up.
The machine the paint was mixed on was interesting: a scanner which samples the colour, and a mixing machine which the whole can of paint gets put into - lid on. The machine punctures the lid, adds tint (lots of blue, a little black, eyedropper of yellow) then puts a plastic bung in the hole in the lid. The tin is then removed and put in the shaking machine. We have bought tinted paint before, but never paint tinted to a colour we have taken in to the shop. It wasn't cheap, but we have high hopes for it.
We will report back when the new colour has been applied, but we aren't quite sure when that will be: there is so much going on here at the moment that painting a floor that works is pushed quite a way down the list, and it means that we won't be able to use the disco douche or upstairs toilet for at least 48 hours while two coats of paint are drying.
My Dad went in to hospital today, so if you can spare any positive thoughts it would be most welcome.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
This little creature can be encountered from May to July sitting on flowers. I found this one on some lucerne in the orchard. At first glance you think it is a bee because it is black and tawny and very hairy, but it is in fact a beetle in the chafer family, known (unsurprisingly) as a Bee Beetle. It is Trichius spp, one of several very similar species (possibly T. zonatus). They are very variable, ranging from pale yellow to deep orange, and the black spots are different on every one. Bee Beetles breed in rotting timber.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
pink, a not uncommon variation.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
A recipe for the all too brief cherry season.
Butter, to grease the 'tins'
50g plain flour
50g almond meal
100g (vanilla) castor sugar
250ml milk or yoghurt or buttermilk or fromage blanc that is past its best and you want to use up
300g cherries, washed, stems removed
- Turn the oven to 180°C and set three buttered 0.5l foil pans (or old pâté dishes) on a baking tray.
- Put flour, almond meal, eggs, sugar and milk in a jug and whizz with an electric whizzy wand thingy.
- Pour the batter into the foil pans.
- Drop the cherries on top.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes.
Can be frozen and gently reheated in a very low oven.
Monday, 14 June 2010
There are two main reason for keeping a blog - the first is so that our family and friends know what we have been doing, and the other is so that we know what we have been doing.
Thus, we know Susan has been doing cherries (and other assorted garden stuff), and Stephane has being doing placo, but what have I been doing? It takes some effort to remember, but it's been mainly website stuff, which is dull, but necessary. In addition to that I have been carrying bits of placo around, pointing at things, buying other things, and planning yet more things. I also found time to lay some more tomettes, more on which at a later date.
Also, we have at last decided that it is safe to wash our winter clothes and put them away until winter arrives again. We can wash the clothes (because I fixed the washing machine), but getting them dry is a completely different matter. The last few days we have had storm warnings but not a drop of rain, whilst the sky has at times been cloud covered, incredibly stormy, or bright blue but not necessarily in that order. Putting anything outside feels like tempting fate so washing the car will probably be the straw that broke the camels back. We will see.
I wish I had something excitingly French to report, but even in our lives some days are just normal.
Sunday, 13 June 2010
It will only be a few days before the guignes are ready. We have four trees of these small sour cherries. I feel tired just thinking about how much work it's going to be to process all that fruit. And Napoleon is not going to be far behind.
pigeons are helping themselves now.
I have been reading about cherries to try to solve the confusion over nomenclature. From this I have established that griottes, or Morello cherries, are small dark sour cherries, derived from wild Sour Cherry Prunus cerasus with dark flesh and red juice, so our guignes are not the same as griottes. However, true guignes are soft sweet cherries with coloured juice derived from wild Sweet Cherry P. avium, just as the firm sweet bigarreaux are. I think what we have are amarelles, which are sour cherries having pale red fruit and colourless juice, bred, like the griottes, from P. cerasus.
Wild Sour Cherry is a woodland tree, smaller than wild Sweet Cherry and a more reliable cropper that bears at a younger age and can be pruned harder. It is also self fertile, which means that seeds come true, unlike Sweet Cherry, which requires another nearby tree to cross pollinate with. Montmorency is the most well-known amarelle variety in France, and Kentish Red in the UK. Curiously, although amarelle looks like a French word, the term seems to be hardly used in France (although not completely unknown).
Saturday, 12 June 2010
This single magnificent specimen of a Military Orchid (Orchis militaire in French) in its prime was flowering on a roadside bank near Chaumussay and photographed by me 4 days ago (using my little camera, so the image doesn't do the plant justice). Around it were some others which had finished and were setting seed, as well as Fragrant Orchids just starting to flower, Twayblades still in their prime although they've been flowering for a month now, and some past their best Monkey Orchids. The Monkeys have been badly knocked by the cold winter and late frosts this year. Normally the roadsides in the Touraine river valleys south of the Loire are covered in this pretty pink orchid in May, but this year they were hardly to be seen.
This is the only site I know of near us that has Military Orchids. As in other départements in the west of France, Orchis militaris is rare in Indre-et-Loire. Occuring in a few localised spots in the Touraine du Sud, the species hybridises easily with its close relatives the Lady Orchid and the Monkey Orchid, which are often present in the same locations. The hybrids are often fertile, and themselves hybridise with the parent species, causing a complex movement of the genetic pool known as introgression. Many Monkey x Military hybrids are very difficult to identify, and indeed, looking at it, it is possible that this specimen above has some Monkey lineage.
Military Orchids grow in calcareous grasslands, scrub, woodland edges and open woodland, in full sun or part shade, flowering from mid-May to mid-June. They are protected.
Friday, 11 June 2010
When the masons were here (it was two months ago - where has the time gone?) one of the little tasks we had them do was replace the step from the salle à manger (now our salon) to what will one day be the new cuisine. This had previously been done in the same quite nice vitreous tiles that covered the floor of the old kitchen. They were really well laid, and we considered keeping them, but in the end we decided we would lay tomettes directly on top of the existing tiles (most of this has yet to be done). This decision meant we had a problem where the kitchen and sitting room met, as we definitely wanted to keep the decorative cement tiles in the sitting room. Installing a stone threshold / step has solved the problem very neatly.
The new step is carved from pierre dure and we are pleased with it for a number of reasons: like the new threshold to our back door, it was made from stone that had come from of the outhouse we had demolished last year, and it is quietly restrained and elegant (if a simple block of stone can be said to be elegant, this is it).
Pierre dure (literally "hard stone") in our area is a calciferous stone (limestone), but a limestone that has started on the path to becoming marble. It is impervious to water, which is why on many limestone houses the first couple of courses of stone look slightly different to the rest - if it can be afforded the bottom of a wall is made from pierre dure. It is also very heavy, which is why it isn't used much past the first couple of courses - it weighs about three times as much as tuffeau. It is also difficult to work and usually has a chiselled finish, as opposed to the fine smooth finish found on a lot of tuffeau. (A note here - if a tuffeau wall is deeply chiselled it is because the wall was intended to be rendered, the chiselling giving the render somewhere to grip).
The new step is higher than the old tiles, as we will be laying tomettes (actually "Carrelage en terre cuite" because tomettes are hexagonal and our tiling will be square) over the old tiles once the kitchen is insulated. We like our new step. It is so in keeping with the rest of the house that we have already started not to notice it.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
When we bought this house, the toilet (non-functioning and, frankly, disgusting) was in the laundry - a room next to the kitchen. This is not uncommon in France, most of the houses we looked at had either the toilet or bathroom directly off the kitchen. To anyone who grew up with Australian building regulations this is just plain wrong!
At last this work has commenced. We have finished insulating the laundry, so tomorrow we build the frame and put in the door which makes our downstairs toilet a lot less public place. The only drawback to this will be that the toilet will have no window - the room is too small and there are too many pipes and posts on the external wall for us to squeeze a window in. To counter possible issues this may cause we are putting in an extractor fan which runs in conjunction with the lights, then stays on for 2 minutes after the lights are turned off.
This meant drilling a big hole in the wall, made easier by borrowing Alex's diamond tipped big holey drilling thing (diameter 100mm) which cut through the bricks with very little effort and left a nice neat hole.
found it such a simple task.
*Better in French, maybe.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Our first cherry to have ripe fruit this year didn't have a single fruit last year. However, in the past week we have picked 15kg of fruit from it, which has gone into 6 two person clafoutis (a batter pudding studded with cherries), 4 jars of confiture (jam), 5 jars of gelée (jelly), 750ml sirop (syrup / cordial), 2 four person crumbles, a pie and 3 batches of pie filling, as well as those we ate fresh and gave away. Almost half the cherries went into making the thick dark syrup which is so useful for kir and refreshing summer soft drinks. The tree still has some fruit on it, but we can't get to it, so the merles (blackbirds) can have it.
It's not clear from the map of the orchard that we received from the previous owner what type of cherry this early bearing cherry is, but after reading an article recently, I suspect it may be a variety called la Burlat.
La Burlat is the earliest widely known cherry variety in France and opens the season of eating cherries, signaling the return of summer. It takes its name from Léonard Burlat, who grew the first one from seed. Bright red, heart-shaped, it is sweet and juicy with a texture not too squishy, not too firm.
One of the most popular bigarreaux is a variety called Napoleon. Not often seen at the market, it is widely grown in people's gardens. It can be recognised by its big yellow heart-shaped fruits, spotted with scarlet. It is generally left alone by the birds, who don't realise it is ripe. It's juice is colourless and flesh firm, with a strong skin giving a satisfying mouthfeel when you bite into one.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
I am working on our webpage at the moment. It isn't something I particularly enjoy, but it does mean I am not mixing cement (or plaster, or paint) nor carrying heavy stuff around.
One of the things we hope will attract people to our business are good photos of places they can visit and activities they can do. A picture paints a thousand words (or a picture speaks a thousand words) as some bloke - probably Chinese - once said a long time ago.
Therefore I have been looking for photos we have taken at wineries. We have visited a number of wineries over the years, but do I have any good photos of wineries? No. I don't even have that many poor photos of wineries.
full of maturing bottles of sparkling white wine
and a bottle rotating machine. As you can't tell.
It even happens when I take a photo at Villandry.
I think I will have to mark myself as "could do better".