Our French Country Home

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Garlic, sunflowers, maize and wheat

It's a very busy time for the farmers at the moment. Our friends who own the garlic farm have finished harvesting their garlic and it has all been suspended on the rafters of their open barn or hangar to dry sufficiently for making the tresses to be sold to locals and visitors alike at the market. The work involved in cleaning each bulb, plaiting 20 of them into a good, fat tress and then hawking them around to all the local markets, is incredible.

We have had a hot, dry month - good for the garlic harvest and then fortunately in the last week a couple of good downpours that has meant the maize is growing in leaps and bounds. The sunflowers are just beginning to flower and in a couple of weeks the fields will be picture-perfect for taking those post-card type photographs that the south-west is famous for. The wheat and barley is truly golden and ready for harvesting during next week. The lanes and back roads will become busy with heavy farm machinery and we will have to drive with the expectation of turning corners on tiny back road and coming face to face with a monstrous combine harvester.

Our own garden is producing well at the moment; we are eating potatoes, beans, beetroot, cucumbers, artichoke, brocolli, carrots and lettuce. The tomatoes are just beginning to ripen and when they do we will have plenty. The melons and the cucumbers are doing well in the greenhouse. The flowers and the lawn aren't looking so good having suffered badly in the drought of the last month and I can't bring myself to use a lot of water on them. The biting insects are feeding off us humans again - the usual summer complaint.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunday - Fetes des mères

We went to St. Clar this morning, a pretty little town known locally as the garlic capital of the Gers. They were holding a vide-grenier, more of a garage sale than an antiques sales, a flea market is probably the best description. It was fun to look around but nothing really caught the eye, I think we have enough of our own rubbish to get rid of without adding to it. It was a beautiful warm morning, though, and in the town square there was a plant sale whigh was more to my liking and I came home with an orange abutilon and a couple of fuchsias, so I was happy.

After "feasting" with our French friends we came home and collapsed in a heap for a couple of hours. Lunch was a delicious four-course meal which lasted the usual 3 to 4 hours and always leaves us fit for nothing. Eventually, I recovered enough to pot up the plants that I brought back and water everything else - it turned out to be very hot this afternoon and we have had no rain now for a week or so, the grass is beginning to crunch and will soon be in its normal summer condition, hay, I think is the best word to describe it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A mixed day, weatherwise, cloudy with sunny spells. This evening turned very warm and I was out watering the plants and the air was beautifully scented by the linden tree which is in full flower, it buzzes constantly with the sound of a billion bees sipping the nectar. There are butterflies everywhere attracted by the flowers of the anchusa. Saw the swallowtail, papillo machaon, see photo on this site:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/85654933@N00/60324393/

also araschina levana in its black and white form.

The cherries are almost finished now thanks to the pigeons and magpies who have had a fortnight of feasting. I salvaged one more bowlful for the family who will be visiting next week.
The ground is getting very dry and it's not even June yet; no doubt there is still time for more rain!

Monday, May 22, 2006

A start on the barn .....

Barry took down the remaining barn ceiling today, the first step en route to creating a beautiful house. The ceiling has been supported for the past two hundred years or so by four huge oak beams, hopefully we can keep them in situ for what will be the new kitchen ceiling. The maçon is keen to replace the old beams with new, understanable where the rain has done some damage but these beams look as good as new and we are keen to retain them.

At the end of the day when all the dirt and debris was removed and just the dust left to settle, we could get a good look at the internal stone walls. They are absolutely beautiful, a pale golden limestone, built to perfection by a long-gone craftsman with expertise and loving care. We are really encouraged now to get on with the job and do justice to this beautiful building. It would be a crime to let it disintegrate and end up a ruin waiting to be pulled down and replaced by a house built with blocks and concrete.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A busy day.......

We are hoping to start work on renovating the barn soon so have been clearing it out today. Our elderly neighbour has allowed us to store our bits and peices in his barn which meant he had to get his workman, a spritely 76 year old, to tidy it up. The remaining stuff in his barn looks as though it's been there since the beginning of time and it uniformly this beigey/browny colour of wood that is slowly disintegrating. The siamese stray and her kittens were well hidden in the untouched corner of the barn, we saw mum later but no sign again of the kittens. Having three cats of out own and the two that we feed for our neighbours, we really don't need any more, sad to say. It took us a couple of hours to finish the work and now we need to make our first visit to the communal tip to get rid of the rubbish. Watch this space. Living in a foreigh country, speaking a foreign language makes anything new that we attempt a real adventure. But then, that's why we came here in the first place.

I planted out the marigolds around the tomato plot this afternoon. Apparently they keep bugs away that could damage the fruit. We have about 30 tomato plants so that should keep the two of us from starving. Barry picked another row of broad beans; more for the freezer. We sat out this evening with a glass of wine under the cherry tree, having spent 10 minutes cherry-picking, watching the bees busily working each of the bright blue flowers of the anchusa.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A good day to begin this blog

Living in the south-west of France means than when the short, sharp winter comes to an end at the end of March then the garden suddenly burst forth giving us plenty to keep us occupied.

It has been the hottest day so far this Spring, touching 30 degrees and hotter than hell in the polytunnel. Everything has now been moved outside except for the cucumbers and melons that seem to cope with the heat.

The cherries have ripened in a week and now the race is on to see who can get to them first, me or the birds and the wasps and the butterflies. I am outnumbered really and fight a losing battle. I would like to leave the cherries on the tree until they are almost black and really sweet but the birds like them that way too and they get up earlier in the morning than I do. So judging when to pick is a work of art. I wouldn't mind them eating the ones out of reach at the top of the tree if they left the rest for me, but there you are, we still have plenty! Today I have picked 6kg of cherries and made jam, leaving some for bottling. I shucked the broad beans and blanched them, then popped out the sweet, bright green little nuggets of goodness for freezing, for the most delicious winter soup. Bazza has preserved our purple artichokes in olive oil (recipe below) for serving as an antipasto.

2.5 kg baby artichokes
500ml white wine vinegar
250ml white wine
a few sage leaves
sprig of rosemary
salt
a few small dries red chillies
garlic cloves (peeled and whole)
few black peppercorns
few bay leaves
olive oil to cover the artichokes in the jar

(email me for the whole recipe)

My flower garden is just awash with colour. The dianthus of every type and height and colour looks just amazing. The lavender is in flower, the towering anchusa with its brilliant blue, borage-type flowers is at its best and my old pink rose by the gate is just superb. This is truly the best time of year here.