Posted by: kathandroger | July 9, 2017

Recent flowers and old junk.

The last month has been hot and dry. Too hot for me, as anything above 30 degrees seems to initiate a state of lethargy which is hard to repel. Even my new batch of home brewed beer is only of marginal help, but the freezer kept elderflower cordial is a bit more efficacious. It has been necessary to wallow in the swimming pool just to keep cool. Life here is hard.

But jobs still need to be done. The gate between one garden and our field was battered by a bored goat some time ago, and despite multiple repairs it was falling to bits. The thought of Moins Dix and his sheep flock friends munching all our garden vegetables was enough stimulus to make a new one. It is on a slope and had to be self closing, and I didn’t have any suitable timber in the wood store. There was an old oak ladder in the barn which was dangerous to use because of the thin rungs, so after bashing it apart, cutting it carefully to size and making joints with some thick doweling the new gate now sits proudly in the old fencing.IMG_3788 (2)It should see me out!

I have been begging for old metal to do some more sculpture. Friend Paul donated an old oil tank which weighed a ton and I could not move by myself. Luckily we had some very robust and willing guests staying with us and they moved it to outside the workshop.IMG_3775Like so many tasks in life, I had no idea how to cut the thing up, but was under orders to get the ugly thing out of the way as soon as possible. Old oil tanks contain old oil. Some of it is very thick and will not drain away, but still remains inflammable. It was probably not a very good idea to use my plasma cutter, which works at very very high temperature. Within moments the tank was ablaze, and thoughts of calling the Pompiers flew through my mind. Luckily the water hose was at hand and the flaming inferno controlled. After cutting one end out the very pleasant task of removing the residue took ages and I had filthy old heating oil in every crevice imaginable. But the task is now completed and I have enough metal to build a battleship. No more donations are needed thankyou.

The sunflowers are just coming out locally. The big field behind us is going to be magnificent in a week or two, and Polly and I strolled between the huge plants this morning. There is something wonderful about being looked at by hundreds and hundreds of flowerheads all pointing in the same direction, and the few drops of rain today on the large leaves made a sound like gentle applause all around us. Not for us of course, but for the wonder of nature. It was a lovely moment.

And our lilies in the corner of the courtyard are at their best now. With Trumpet Vine and the sweet peas the colours should clash. But nature never has clashing colours. Why is that?IMG_0844The constant watering needed over the past few weeks has been worth the effort. And the well hasn’t run dry yet!

Posted by: kathandroger | July 2, 2017

Birds and the Bats’ Boudoir.

Our life seems to revolve around the animals and birds in France. Every day there seems to be in incident which either amuses or annoys. The swallows this year have been even more numerous-I hear they are becoming less common in the UK- and have been nesting in almost all of our outbuildings. Last year I installed a pulley, made of an old bicycle trainer part, so that I could haul up the lambs before skinning and butchering. It has obviously provided a good anchorage point for a new nest, and I managed to get this snap of part of the family in between their initial flying lessons.IMG_3781

Our old chicken, Beryl, decided to go broody for the first time in about four years. We don’t keep a cockerel because of the noise, so we had to find her some fertile eggs to sit on. Luckily, our neighbours always have some and so we put half a dozen under Beryl. She sat well, but initially got off the nest to have a daily wander around the orchard. This gave Polly the puppy time to get into the hen house and steal an egg, which she did on two occasions. We had added a few non fertilised eggs to make a good clutch for the bird, but sods law dictated that the wayward hound only took the fertile eggs! Beryl finally got better at sitting, and we were rewarded with a pair of chicks, one a standard yellow bird, and the other a counou (naked neck) which looks just like a little black monk to me. All seemed to be going well, until I noticed a dark object in the yard. Polly was on one side of it and Dennis, the bird eating cat, was on the other side. It looked like a pile of poo, so it was strange to see it being observed so closely. It was only when I approached that I could see it was the little black chick, which Polly had taken from the hen house, and carried about eighty metres in her mouth, much as she does with stolen eggs before eating them. The cat would undoubtedly have killed the little bird, but it was not damaged and only a bit wet from dog slobber. Beryl was pleased when I took it back and all seems well.IMG_3784After friend Rogers’ suggestion they are to be called Black and Decker!

We are moving into Bat season in our back utility room. There seems to be a colony of Pipistrelle bats who tend to have babies and fly around the room at this time of year. Often we find dead youngsters, which is sad as bats only have one young a year I am told, but before mating the females need to have a good wash and brush up. We have an old sink unit in the room which is being well used for this purpose.IMG_3785There is no perfume available, but I am sure her freshness will prove irresistible!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 25, 2017

The Goat Incident.

Polly the puppy wakes early in the mornings. Whereas an infant can be left screaming for a while without consequence, a little dog is liable to leave reminders on the floor that necessitate immediate rising. She is actually very good now, and as long as she is let out into the yard, all is well. But the last weeks’ weather has been so hot that the early morning is the only time a walk can be taken in any comfort, so we made our way up the hill behind the house at about 6.30 am. I saw the sheep grazing contentedly in our field, and was marveling at the peace and tranquility of the gentle morning air when a sudden and very loud bleat came from our land. It seemed to come from the border between our plot and the sunflowers in the farmers’ field next to ours. The goat, Moins Dix, had been prevented from jumping into the young crop by my new fencing, and it was obvious that he had been trying to find another route for his delinquent foraging. Usually his bleat is very soft and calm, but this cry was one of pain and distress, and he must have seen his potential saviour  walking up the hill. I could not see him, but we climbed along the fence line to find an animal hanging  by a hind leg, trapped securely and unable to move in any direction. There was no easy way to release him. Polly thought it was all great fun, and her habit of sniffing assorted animal genitalia was enjoyed without interruption from the stationary beast. I am not sure what she made of a castrated male goat perineum, but it adds to her education. The only way to release the poor animal was to cut the fence, and that meant a trip back to the house to fetch the wire cutters. A problem on early morning walks for this walker at least, is that our diet of multiple vegetables results in rather precipitous calls to evacuation, and such was the case that morning. Should the animal be left in pain so that the rescuer could be more comfortable, or should the dash for relief be for wire cutters alone? Putting animal welfare before personal comfort, the tool was retrieved and the trapped goat released both from the wire fence and the dogs’ nose. Personal relief was attained in the bushes. The problem was then how to get the limping goat back into our property. Moins Dix is not an especially big animal, but there was no way I could lift him over the fence. A dash for his favourite sheep feed enabled us to enticeIMG_3782 him to walk to the road along the boundary fence, but there he stopped, unmoving even for food. The ditch he had to climb down is very steep and deep, and as he was a bit sore he just didn’t fancy the effort. I didn’t fancy the effort of climbing up to get him either, but I could not leave a rescue incomplete. My mountain climbing days are long gone, so it was with unaccustomed effort that I grappled inelegantly with various shrubs and grasses and ascended the steep ditch to grab one of Moins Dixs’ horns. The descent down the slope was facilitated by a goat who did not want to descend, and luckily my weight was just enough to overcome his resistance and we both made it unscathed to the road. He then scamperd off through the gate to our field and back to his sheep playmates. I hope he has learned his lesson and will never try to escape again. Fat chance of that!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 16, 2017

Bread Run, Boules and Boudie.

We live about five or six kilometres from the nearest bakery. They deliver bread and ordered croissants daily, but don’t arrive until mid morning. Some of our guest either take the car for an early supply, or like last week make the journey on two wheels. Alex, Rosie and the children Edith and Oscar, all fitted onto their lovely adapted Helios tandem, and parents Sarah and Stuart borrowed a couple of our bikes.IMG_3759They were early risers too, and made good use of the wonderful weather we’ve had recently.

The barn over the road is awaiting renovation after we have finally managed to buy it. It is very useful for parking cars under cover, but last week the cars were relegated to outside parking so that the beaten earth floor could be used for intensive physical challenges. Ed, Rocky and John adapted to the uneven surface like locals, and judging from the noise the tournaments were played with some venom. The Mazieres Boulodrome is now open!IMG_3767

We still have the ashes from our old dog Boudie. They are supposed to be scattered at the top of our land, but we have not yet had the mood to do it. I have made her a little memorial from bits and pieces in the workshop.IMG_3762We shall have some friends round and drink a few glasses for the old girl.

Posted by: kathandroger | June 11, 2017

Two corpses and one happy dog.

The birds are still nesting and raising their young, but the family of tits who made their home in our extractor for the cooker have now flown. It happened last year as well, and as we can hear the tweeting of the chicks we don’t use the fan until all is quiet. Polly the puppy is also relieved as she could hear all the noise but could not work out where it came from, and used to run around in circles barking at the squeaks and squawks. The problems arose when Kath turned on the fan and there was a grinding sound but no extraction. I fetched the ladder and extracted load of moss and nesting material from the outside vent and prevented the birds from re-entering with some chicken wire, but the block was obviously closer to the fan. IMG_3763After some cussing and dismantling of the hood the problem became clear-one Kamikaze chick! Poor little thing must have chosen the wrong way to exit the extractor.IMG_3764 (2)All is back together now and we are no longer suffering cooking fumes in the kitchen. Please find a new nesting site next year!

I had recently cut the walk to our top field and the summerhouse. It was looking very spic and span and I took the dog up to admire my mowing skills, when she raced on ahead to a stationary bundle of fur. IMG_3766We do see many more hares than rabbits around us, but why this one had succumbed I have no idea. There were no signs of injury and it seemed well nourished and heavy. I did not have the kit to perform a full post mortem examination, so chucked into the nettles away from the dog. I guess hares drop dead just as we do, but it was sad to see such a lovely animal no longer romping around the countryside.

Our last Airedale, Boudie, was a lovely animal but a complete wimp. Anything noisy and she would run a mile away, especially my little old car. Admittedly it does make lots of noise and emits lots of fumes from the exhaust, but I love it and it was a great disappointment to me that she did not come with me in the passenger seat like my Boxers did in the UK. And so it was a joyful occasion when Polly joined me and loved it! IMG_3774She has her own custom made seat belt which fits around her waist and is attached to the handbrake, and loves to hang her head out of the side of the car to feel the wind in her whiskers. Well done Polly, at last a girl who likes my car!

Posted by: kathandroger | June 4, 2017

There’s a nest in my fishes’ belly!

At last some decent rain for the garden. A good thunderstorm and yesterday a pretty constant drizzle to comfort the growing seedlings in the vegetable garden. The tomatoes have shot up and we spent yesterday afternoon taking off unwanted branches and tying in our three dozen plants-all in the fine refreshing rain! New guests arrived and others left, and our poorly puppy ate like a pig. A nice day. This morning the sun is trying to come through the mist of early morning; I took Polly for a walk about 7am, which she was not too keen on, but the moist fields were wonderful. The skylarks were singing high above, the redstart flitting in front of us, and the barley was shrouded in a damp blanket covering the whiskery tips of the seed heads. I even had a little jog, much to the dogs’ amazement, and the sharp shards of sunlight seemed to recognise the achievement by illuminating the peaceful countryside though the clearing clouds. We are off on a ten kilometre walk for Amnesty International this morning, but the little dog is not up to that yet so will have to stay in the house and sleep-she is good at that.

Last week a neighbour stopped to tell us that Moins Dix, the goat, was in the next field eating the sunflowers. He thought the farmer would not be pleased and I guess he is right. The problem is that goats can get though most fences if they really want to, and ours is an expert escapologist. Although he is not the most athletic looking animal he can jump a normal fence with no problem, and seems to often prefer the relative barrenness of a ploughed field to the natural abundance of food found in our little estate. I remembered a big roll of 2metre high fencing I had used to try and trap the sheep a couple of years ago, and Kath and I have managed to erect it against the original sheep fence.IMG_3751Only time will tell if this works!

I made some rough metal sculptures for the end of one of the barns a year or so ago.IMG_3756 They are meant to go rusty and look old and I didn’t mind our pair of roosting kestrels pooping on the tail of the fish. But recently I have wondered why a sparrow always seems to be on the beak. Looking more closely it is obvious that the belly of the fish has become home to a family of birds!IMG_3757When we came to the house I made several bird boxes and carefully installed them in what I thought would be ideal nesting sites, but they have largely been ignored! The sparrows obviously prefer less conventional sites. Yesterday I cleared out the great tit nest from our extractor flue in the kitchen-the chicks had all flown- and have tried to prevent a new nest with crumpled chicken wire. The only problem now is that the fan, which we have not used for fear of damaging the then growing family, does not work and is probably bunged up with nesting material. The trials we go through for nature!

 

 

Posted by: kathandroger | May 28, 2017

May made Hay

It was not so long ago that we were cursing the continued cold weather. How things have changed. The last week has seen temperatures in the low thirties and clear skies. Summer seems to be here at last and even the swimming pool heater has not been needed with the water at 28 degrees. The flowers are blooming and we are having to water the garden every evening. We have started on our new potatoes and the first peas are nearly ready. Various bugs seem to appear everywhere and I found this little chap yesterday.IMG_3747I have no idea what it is but am glad it is only tiny!

The good weather has meant that the grass has grown rapidly after the wet weeks and the farmers have all been making hay. We need about eighty bales for our sheep and I told Manu, our neighbour and farming friend to give me a shout when he was baling. He arrived at the house this afternoon to tell us our bales were waiting to be picked up from the field and to get a move on because he reckoned we were going to have a storm. I had to drag the wife away from cleaning the kitchen, hitched up the trailer and we were off to get the winter feed for the animals. It all sounds idyllic, but in 34 degrees of full sunshine and several trips to load and unload our small trailer, it was more perspiration than pleasure. I have never had hay made in May before, but it is reckoned that the earlier the crop is made the more nutritious it is, so our sheep should be in wonderful condition in the spring.IMG_3754The farm girl was up to the task and we soon had our bales stacked in the barn. There is nothing like the smell of new made hay, I love it.

The local crops are all doing well in the sunshine. On our weekly cycle with the club we pass lots of different farms and I love to see how the different produce is doing. We have a retired farmer in our group, and I am continually asking him about the merits of various plants. He is a bit faster than me up the hills, so I try and reserve my questions until we are both getting a bit puffed. My questions are short, but his answers are usually shorter! There is a lot more linseed this year, and I had to go back to photograph this field with the poppies.IMG_3748The colours of nature never cease to amaze me. We have had a lovely May.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 21, 2017

Ode to May.

Each month of the year has its attractions, even if only to look forward to the following one. But May is different, my favourite month and the real fruition of the new year. The early migratory birds arrive in March, and we often have some warm days then, but the possibility of frosts are still present and indeed they cut down all our blossoming trees in early April. The real summer arrives with the Swifts in late April, and this year with the re-arrival of the Bee Eaters which deserted our little local lake last year. I saw a couple of dozen of them on the wires a fortnight ago; such exotic and unmistakable treasures of the avian world. The Cuckoos have been loud and numerous, the Hoopoe has hooped nearby, and the almost human whistling of the Golden Oriole has brightened our little wood above the house. The Hedgehog has been active and has provided some education for Polly. Dogs’ noses are soft and spines are sharp!IMG_3742I walked the little dog to our local reservoir a mile or so away a couple of days ago. It is usually an uninspiring expanse of water, but in the warm sunshine the carp had come to the surface and were active in groups of up to two dozen fish, with others foraging in the margins and seemingly unperturbed by our presence. Polly was an enthusiastic tadpole chaser but was confused by the hundreds of little wrigglers around her feet.

The flowers are at their best in May. Our local Orchids are in full bloom, and provide the main course botanical pleasure after the appetizer blooms of the cowslips, violets and wood anemones of last month. We have a neglected field just over our lane which borders the oak woods, and at the moment the Lady, Monkey and Butterfly orchids have been in splendid profusion after the recent rains. I came across a pretty little flower on our walk yesterday which was obviously a mint relative with a labiate flower. I guessed it must have a pretty name as well, but was disappointed to find it has been cursed as the “Bastard Balm” Poor little thing!IMG_3745 (2)

The Potager had been planted. The forty or so tomato plants look good, as do the squashes and courgettes. The strawberries have been shared by the slugs and snails but they have left a few for us, and the first rows of vegetable seedlings are showing. The frost bitten trees in our orchard will give us next to nothing this year, so it is some comfort to see the raspberry bushes in good order. Brock the Badger still visits and has become adept at upskuttling my bowl of urine which is meant to put him off, but luckily he has not dug the garden up yet. I will have to hunt out my electric fence.

We had temperatures which reached 30 degrees last week, and the sheep are getting a bit overheated. The Ram, Hercules, is massive now and insulated by an impressive fleece and puffing like a good’un; I must reopen the sheep trap and get them in for shearing soon. Cutting the grass twice a week is a must now, but it looks good after some rain, and we look forward to our next guests.

Marvellous May, but no rest for the Workers.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 14, 2017

Dog Class.

I have had dogs around for many years now, and have never taken any of them to dog classes. They have all been reasonably well behaved and have done all I wanted them to, but we felt that with our new pup Polly that she would maybe benefit from some French education; she could become bilingual at least. So we enrolled her in the local class outside a little village about half an hour away, only to find that the main teacher comes from our own village! The site of the “education center” is on a couple of fields covering a few acres, and contains an obstacle course for the expert older dogs to practice on before entering agility competitions.IMG_3739We both have ambitions that Polly will become the local and then international champion over courses like this, but first she has to learn to listen to commands and stop rolling onto her back for tummy tickles! Anyway she loves the classes, which honestly are really useless for training dogs, but quite useful for training owners. The dogs are grouped according to age, and we are in the first class still, usually about eight animals of about six months or so. And do they love it! The first activity yesterday was to let all the dogs off the lead and let them run around together in the larger fenced field. I wish I had a fraction of the energy of a young dog; they bound about in games of chasing and trying to knock each other over and generally have a lovely time. The only problem comes when the instructress (they are invariably female) asks us to call the dogs back. Absolutely no notice is taken of the owners, a problem worsened by the fact that we have one Mila, one Masha, and two Mayas. The owners shrieking at the top of their voices at non responding canines is an real entertainment. The acknowledged method is to tempt the animal back with varied food treats, but often that means that one owner is overwhelmed by the marauding pack of dogs, and the others just carry on shouting in vain at the wayward animal. I have the enviable ability, since my teeth were renewed, of being able to whistle very loudly, and Polly often responds and comes back, to my immense pride and to the obvious but hidden jealousy of the other owners. Eventually the dogs are recaptured and often rest exhausted for a while.IMG_3741The young dogs have their mini obstacle course, a couple of which can be seen above. Polly was a bit nonplussed the first week we attended, but now finds it all a bit too easy, and can’t understand why the some other dogs are frightened by the seesaw and the tunnel. She is a very confident little dog; too much so on occasions, like when I opened our upstairs window to let her see outside and she decided to jump! I literally only just managed to grab her in mid air. A fall of several metres would have dented her confidence!

Dog classes are great fun and important for socializing the animals. All too often dogs are scared of others and fight, when with more contact at a young age would, I am sure, prevent the problem. For teaching dogs the basic commands I find them pretty useless, as all can be done much more easily at home when the dogs’ full attention can be gained. But they are good for sharing problems and teaching owners how to handle their animals, and above all they are a real good laugh. We shall continue.

Posted by: kathandroger | May 7, 2017

Jack Frost bites hard.

One of the things we love about France is the weather. A few degrees warmer than the UK and shorter winters. Jack Frost is a problem here as at home, but seems to bite harder just when we don’t expect it. This year the orchard was looking very good; the cherry trees were laden with germinal fruit, the peach tree had good blossom, and the figs were forming nicely, having done badly last year. We woke a couple of weeks ago to a very hard frost just when we least wanted it, and the damage was obvious. Now the fig shows no sign of recovery and I fear we will have to do without our figgy pudding again this year.IMG_3734But our losses are minor. The son of one of our cycling friends has a vineyard near Chinon. For the second year running they have had severe frost damage and reckon that about 80% of the grape crop has been destroyed. He is even talking about having to give up his way of life because of the losses. Compared to our losing a few handfuls of varying fruits we are whingeing about nothing. Who would be a farmer, depending on the vagaries of nature for a livelihood?

So because of the lessons learned over the past years our own kitchen garden has been left almost empty this year until the last few days. We have not overwintered any beans or garlic this year, and only planted some beans and peas about a month ago, and they are doing well.IMG_3735The early spuds were caught by the frost but seem OK, and the Jerusalem Artichokes are unstoppable. We have a few strawberries almost ready and some forced rhubarb, but are having to rely on the freezer for vegetables, although our spuds and onions have lasted through the winter. Working the garden in strips like this makes it very easy. I am a lazy gardener, but love home produce and want to produce it with as little effort as necessary. The strips are sized to be passed easily by the large rotavator, and the grass strips in between enable harvesting even in winter without getting muddy feet. They are the width of the lawn mower, so cutting the paths is easy. A very light dose of glyphosate to the edges keeps the grass off the growing areas, and the well water provides our watering system. Compost is made with all the vegetable waste and I only add a little blood bone and fish meal which we buy in the UK. With the lovely climate for growing vegetables we our virtually self sufficient and eat well from the garden with not too much effort. But Jack Frost, please stay away, we are going to plant our outdoor tomatoes after the Saint de Glaces next week, and you have done enough damage already!

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