Wednesday 20 June 2007

Water Insects

Broad bodied Chaser

The water insects are beginning to hatch. The Broad Bodied Chaser pictured above is one that I've been trying to capture on digital for quite a while, it looks so odd flying around with its short, almost diseased looking abdomen, but it's a fast flyer and doesn't settle often. Today I was lucky to find one perching on a grass stem over the pond and even luckier that of the two shots I took with the wind blowing and at a strange angle one was completely out of focus and the other was perfect. Blogger doesn't really do it justice, click on the picture and view it on flickr. If you're a member so much the better, you will be able to see it full size.

There are other huge dragonflies just beginning to appear. My camera isn't really up to capturing them although I shall give a good go but Paul was clever enough to get this picture of beautiful demoiselles mating. They are so pretty but hardly ever stop.


Tuesday 19 June 2007

Another weather update


It's getting awfully British around here when all I can talk about is the weather but today we had another combination of blissfully hot and steamy followed by the largest hailstones I've seen for a while, accompanied by a thunderstorm and rain, even as the chunks of ice were threatening to break the windows. After a brief interlude when I took the picture, the rain and thunder returned and simply bucketed it down, flooding the yard and the house via three doorways and two leaks in the roof and filling the pond fuller than I've ever seen it. I hope the fish didn't get washed away.

I'm beginning to wonder if we're ever going to get a proper summer.

Monday 18 June 2007

Better weather today


Summer has returned, and looks set fair for a day or two at least. This is a good thing since the grass around the land and back of the house needed cutting and now it's been done, but the arrival of dry conditions has come too late to stop the blight from getting a hold on the Ratte potatoes in the main patch. Tomorrow I will have to remove all the foliage from most of the row and also from some of the Winston where the infection has spread. At the moment the Ambo and earlies appear to be holding up, I can't decide whether it's worth spraying them again or not.

More bad news in the form of solanum sickness - my greenhouse tomatoes have succumbed to blackleg. I can only think this is because I mixed their compost with some field soil gathered from a mole hill, thinking it would stretch the expensive bagged material without further spending. The cost has been the destruction of the three Beefheart plants. I've put them outside but without much hope of their recovery.

This raises the question; have we just been exceptionally unlucky with our crops these last two years or is the place riddled with dormant spores and bacteria just waiting for a chance to get into our veggies. I'm wondering how to resolve this so that we have a chance eventually of having a successful plot as we have done before and nothing is coming clear in my mind.

Doomed, we're all doomed, I tell you.

Saturday 16 June 2007


The weather has been fairly diabolical for the last few days, today has been really heavy rain, so much so that there have even been leaks into the main house which is a worry. The forecast is for more of the same which is not an inspiriting thought.

Way back when I ordered the seed potatoes, some of which are already producing fine potatoes now, I asked for some micropropagated plantlets of heritage varieties. We heard nothing about them for months and then in the first week of June they finally arrived, just as Paul was away for the week doing something technical in Wales. So we're not sure how many days they were waiting for attention before he came home and found them but looking at them now I'd say that they were in pretty bad shape before they were sent.

Disappointing. I have had micro plants before but never seen them in such a state as these came in. I'm sure they all come from the same laboratories so perhaps it was just unlucky but I may not risk Alan Roman's ordering system again.

micro plants

A couple of them were very small but seem to be fairly good order, the other three were clearly too tall when they were packaged for the journey and tops had been nipped off leaving the plants practically leafless. We've potted them up and expect a fair recovery but they will have been set back which will reduce their crop and prevent us from creating the good store of seed potatoes for next year we had hoped for.

Wednesday 13 June 2007


Today has been hot and humid but with the prospect of rain and thunder this evening. So it seemed sensible to try to get the grass cut before the storms. Which I did, at least at the front of the house, the back garden and the lane edges will have to wait until another day. Finished just before it started to rain.

As a reward I sat with my dinner in front of the computer and spied this cheeky bugger out of the window. He seems completely unafraid which is perilous given the hunting cat in the vicinity and did a circuit around the yard twice. Unfortunately my camera had a flat battery and a full card, always the way but this isn't too bad a shot.


I thought hares were only supposed to be mad in March.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Money, headache, tiques

My excuse for doing next to nothing today is a sick headache, the sort that could easily be called a migraine and force me to go back to bed. I'm trying desperately hard to work out what might have brought it on - too much time in front of the computer seems the most likely culprit, so here I am again. In my defence, the weather has reverted to not very nice at all and it's bloody cold.


Anyway, a consultation with Paul about the financial basis of my existence here has revealed that funds are running low. I need to find a way to make some money and make it fast - the sum doesn't need to be all that great, just a few hundred euros a month would pay my bills and stop the rot. So what shall I do?

Recent interactions with the local Brit population reveal that few of them are able to get work of any sort, most hoping to earn pin money through craft ventures like greetings card production or one or two turning to estate agency or other services for expats. Employment in the French sector is hard enough for the French to get it seems and without fluency in the language even being considered for any employment is probably a non-starter.

The longer term plans do include offering B&B and Gites where we hope to have an edge in a competitive market by reference to our USP but those ambitions are on hold until the money comes in from Ireland and the necessary works can be completed. What I need in the meantime is the equivalent of temp work and it looks as if I may have to return to the UK to acquire it. If you do happen to be a French employer looking for casual labour from an IT literate, educated Brit living in Normandy do give me a call. Please.

Apologies for the quality of this candid shot, I was using my phone and expecting momentarily to be escorted from the premises for bringing the shop into disrepute.

And so to tiques. The BBC, bless 'em, are running a report today about ticks and the increase of Lyme disease. This is old news to me, but I have had, counts on fingers, more than five tiques bites in the time I've been here and I do sometimes worry about it. I pulled another of the little buggers off me this morning. The cat suffers worse than I do but for him there is a treatment that I can apply every three weeks or so that kills the things as they attach. Why isn't there something like this for humans?

Sunday 10 June 2007

Holiday Weekend

No, it wasn't a holiday for anyone else, just a long awaited visit by Paul which gave everything a festive air. And the sun came out again, which is always welcome.


We didn't get all that much done, too busy having fun but we did have a huge celebration dinner that you can read about here and took a first harvest from the potato patch. These are the results.


The whites are a variety called Swift, a recommended first early and the reds; Stroma, usually described as a second early but we've found it just as fast as Swift. Each bowl represents the crop from two plants, tiny amounts perhaps but the seed tubers were only planted about eight weeks ago. We will harvest them successionally which will allow the later plants to bulk up but there is no point in leaving earlies in the ground too long, their value is in their speed to commence the new potato season.

The later varieties are also growing well, the Ambo is in flower and the Ratte and Winston have made strong plants. We did find one diseased plant of Ratte which has been removed and as a precaution we have sprayed with Bordeaux mixture, still just allowable as an organic remedy, to discourage blight and mildew.

That still left time for a walk in the forest, where that beautiful foxglove and its friends were in full bloom.

Thursday 7 June 2007



I just saw a huge deer eating the grass clippings from the pile near the potatoes. I did get a picture but it was less than impressive.

It's been another dreary day, no sun, no fun.

Still, tomorrow I'm hoping Paul will be here. So I'd better get on and tidy up.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

We have Lift Off

The elderflower champagne has commenced to fizz, quite spectacularly. I sampled a small bottle today and think it is still too sweet for my taste. However, if I leave it to ferment out I suspect the bottles will burst.

I've seen some recommendations for easing the pressure by releasing the caps periodically. This seems counter-productive when compared to experiences with commercial fizzes but I suppose if the thing is still fermenting the pressure will build up again.

Anyone wishing to experience this batch should hop on a ferry and arrive this weekend. I wonder if it's worth starting another batch before all the flowers fade.

Monday 4 June 2007



My life as Bill Oddie is characterised by opportunities missed. For example, yesterday as I was working on clearing the pile of leylandii bits from the track so that tractors could get through when they come to cut my grass I saw a rose chafer beetle mumbling about in the brambles. I went to get the camera straight away but when I got back, it had gone.

Then I took a little wander to spot eucalyptus trees, planted last year and swamped by overgrowth this. Basking in a warm patch of sun I found a huge fat grass snake. Naturally, no camera to hand but by the time I got back with it the snake was still there. Hurrah, or actually not, as I focussed in she noticed me and disappeared into the long grass at speed.

As I sat eating a well deserved tomato sandwich in the late afternoon a bird I have never seen before in my life landed on the wall in front of me, waggled its tail suggestively and shot out of my life again. A tomato sandwich is no substitute for a camera in a situation like that. The bird was a Redstart I later discovered. I have for a time believed we have Black Redstarts as I could think of no other explanation for the rather dull looking birds with red tails that are often about the place but this was the real thing. Very very pretty.

I've long ago lost hope of photographing owls. They are so silent that there is no way of knowing they're flying past until they leave your field of vision. A couple of nights ago, maybe about the time of the full moon, I saw the barn owl fly across the yard and heard several other owl types calling in the forest. We have bats too, they roost in the yew trees near the stream but I've no idea what sort they are.

So, there is a picture of docks flowering above which is quite a lovely sight surprisingly, tall and strong and colourful, but I bet you'd rather have seen a Redstart.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Night Terrors

In the middle of the night the cat decided I'd been asleep long enough and it was time for me to get up and give him a late supper. After some feeble attempts at resistance I gave up the unequal struggle and stumbled downstairs to attend to his needs.

The cat's food is kept in the storeroom, I opened the door, switched on the light and discovered this!


Except of course, he wasn't under the glass at that point. He looked bemused, I looked bemused, I couldn't see how he had got to this high and foodless shelf and he didn't seem to be able to remember either. So with not much difficulty I popped a handy glass over his head and then proceeded to torture him by as much flash photograhpy as I could stand at three in the morning.

After that, fool that I am, I slipped a pot cover under the glass and took him outside to freedom. On the way I showed my prisoner to the cat - he was not the slightest bit interested in the convict and merely demanded I get on with real event, making his snack. I don't know what cats are coming to these days.

Saturday 2 June 2007

Promises Promises

No entries for a couple of days, sorry. Will try harder tomorrow.

I have done some stuff, including a very scary telephone call in French to negotiate the cutting of the fields for hay. This may have sapped all my strength. And a nasty midge has bitten me just under the lashes, it's all puffed up and I feel like I've been punched as I can see the swelling from the bottom of my eye.

Here is a picture of some flowers for the intermission.