Thursday 30 April 2009

Each and every day

I've still not cracked photographing comfrey, I see something I can't persuade the camera to record. It must have some wavelength or aura that a mere machine can't get, but it entrances me nearly as much as it entrances the bees.

It's slow progress in the garden. A lot of rain is impeding the tasks I'm keen to get on with, like the first mowing of the season, sowing of seeds and putting up of bean poles. It's not that it rains all the time, just enough to keep the grass damp and the soil soft so that the mower blades clog up and I fear that my boots on the newly turned plots will compress and solidify the earth into bricks.

Yesterday I planted a few small rows of herbs, rocket, coriander, dill, some parsley (although I'll start more of that in pots, it's so slow to germinate), something else I've forgotten already but I'm sure I'll recognise it when it pops up and half a dozen sunflowers in a line with the horseradish, more because it kept it tidy than as part of a great plan. I also created a couple of bean pyramids from hazel stick coppice although I haven't planted the beans yet.

Today, I'd just got one row of carrots settled, Nantes, when the rain came down again and drove me indoors. Other tasks attempted and rained off today include more lawn mowing and collecting the chainsawed stems of the hazel that EDF butchered when they (rather unnecessarily) cleared their lines. I hope they don't charge us for that.

There is a lot of work to do with sowing seeds in modules and pricking out seeds already germinated but kittens are the inhibitors there. My usual nursery spots for such things are the windows sills of my office room and these have been taken over by kittens who have no respect for potted plants when there are bluebottles to catch. It's a bit of a problem, I can't close the room off entirely because I use it a lot and there are some trailing wires for telecomms but the cool weather means other outdoor spots just won't do. I suppose I should stop worrying but these are my main tasks for the month. It would be nice to be successful with them.

Tuesday 28 April 2009


rhubarb flowers
Rhubarb - not a fruit

Although we have a lot of apple and pear trees on the farm, the apples are mostly for cider and too bitter to eat raw, the pears are either hard juicing or baking sorts or else the more succulent varieties are in a bad way from disease and neglect. The plums too, are very old, fickle in their flowering and the fruit is often ruined by moth larvae.

We've been concentrating on maintenance and vegetables and although we have plans for a glorious fruit cage there has as yet been no time or money to implement it.

However, all is not lost. We are researching ways of bringing our old trees back from the brink of the grave and we have managed to slip a few easy or gift fruits into the patch.

Simplest of these is the alpine strawberry which is practically a weed and very easy to grow. Unfortunately, the fruit are small and somewhat jealously gathered by birds but when you can find the odd missed jewel it's almost worth it.

strawberry flowers

The blueberry was a housewarming gift and although I was doubtful about managing its particular requirements for lime free soil and water it's done quite well. Wild bilberries grow in the woods so the soil can't be too alkaline here and a small sack of acid compost each autumn seems to have done the job. Lots of flowers this year so I'm hoping for a bumper crop if the blackbirds don't get there first.


The fig, Brown Turkey, was another gift. This is the first year it's formed fruits. I was surprised to see them after the very cold winter but there they are. With any luck they'll be soft and succulent by the end of summer.

figs - the first fruit

There were a couple of redcurrant bushes hanging on in the back garden of the cider house. Although one of the plants has since succumbed to I don't know what disease the other is bravely doing what it can. A handful of redcurrants can brighten up any pudding in the early summer.

green redcurrants

Monday 27 April 2009

This is the sound of the summer...

Rain, rain, more rain

Just after I took this picture the rain really started. Which matches the raining in my heart as today is the day Paul returns to the UK and I am home alone (with three kittens) for another two weeks - only slightly more complicated than usual as I will have no car for this time. I'm stocked up with food and booze, secured and wired for safety, ready and prepared to do my duty and finish the planting before he comes back with my car and I have some personal transport again. The first afternoon is always the worst, and the rain makes everything so dull and despairing.

Still, we had a great weather week before this with warm sun and dry soil that was a joy to work. Just as well as we were so far behind with everything any delay would have been a disaster.

We've rotovated the new bed and got all the spuds in, from right to left, 1 row of Epicure, 3 rows of Stroma, 3 rows of Ambo, 2 rows of Sarpo Mira, 2 rows of Vitelotte and 2 rows of Pink Fir Apple. That's more than enough potatoes for almost any family. I've also planted up three sorts of Oca, three sorts of Ulluco, another row of shallots and 175 onion sets in that bed.

The other beds have also had a spring clean. The rhubarb and the lovage are doing well after the winter but it looks like we've lost the Cardoon to the cold which is a pity. I'll keep the stump for a bit, just in case it sprouts from the roots. I've moved the Scuplit and the Babington leeks to a new semi-permanent bed and lifted and split the Good King Henry for a new row there too. I've also moved some horse radish into the patch as part of my clearance of another area. At the other end of this strip I've put in two types of Jerusalem artichoke, some of the reddish rounded tubers we've been growing for years and some long slender rooted ones that I found in Sainsbury's over the winter.

Our sad little asparagus crowns hadn't shown any signs of growth after a hurried replanting exercise last autumn and I was prepared to let them go but when Paul turned some up during the rotovating I was persuaded to give them one more try! They are now nestled down under the netted cage and marked by plug lettuces bought from the supermarket. If they've shown no growth by the time the lettuces are harvested then that's the end of them. In any event, I'll be starting afresh with some new seedlings this year and maybe we'll have our asparagus feast in 2013.

Friday 24 April 2009

Kitten Diary #4

Journey and arrival

Travelling with kittens was never going to be fun but we managed it together pretty well. To give them a bit more space in the car we bought a larger cage than their travelling basket. This still had disadvantages as it rattled and had no hiding places.

Each cat reacted differently to the challenge. Raven, as befits a fluffy Princess, cried and complained a lot leaning right through the bars to grab me with her paws, panting and looking ill. At least some of this was play acting because if I gave in and rescued her from her purgatory she sat quite contently on my seat back (or better still, P's seat back, tricky while he was driving) so it was clearly more distress at being caged than the travelling itself.

Rook, the phlegmatic settled down quite quickly, lying down and looking forward through the windscreen while keeping fairly quiet except when Raven trampled him, which was quite often. Crow, who is the worry guts of the family, decided it was all too much, disappeared under the blanket and declined to show his face again until we arrived, not even venturing out when we opened the cage to let them stretch their legs inside the car on the train or at toilet stops. We had a tray ready but nobody used it and we offered water but none of them were interested.

Not a great experience but reasonably tolerable and hopefully, they'll be better able to cope next time.

Once they arrived they settled in easily. Presumably the place smells so strongly of us that it seemed like home even though they'd never been here before. They quickly explored and found the bed and the best windowsills to watch the birds from.

There are many old wives' tales about rehoming cats to do with the number of weeks needed to keep them indoors so that they forget their old homes and don't try and get back there. The kittens were desperate to explore outside and since it's relatively safe here, no roads or other animals about, I decided to take advantage of their bonding to me as mother cat. They rarely stray out of earshot of me and in these strange surrounding keep me in view as much as possible.

We went on a trek the second day. I took them all around the farm, on a circuit that the old cat felt was an appropriate area, looking in most of the buildings, examining the vegetable patches and taking in the walk around the far side of the hay barn so that they could learn the land as quickly as possible. We went slowly so that they could investigate everything that caught their eye safely and at the end of the trek they were exhausted but their curiosity was mostly satisfied. We have been able to let them out and they're happy to stay nearby.

However there is a problem. We deliberately didn't take them into the old house where the swallows are nesting. Unfortunately, they are cats and spotted the birds doing their thing. It's become irresistible. Although they can't actually get to the nests which are high on the rafters, they can climb in and out the room easily, looking sinuous and sinister which has been driving the birds wild. We think the swallows may give up and go away entirely which would be devastating if predictable. We love watching their acrobatics and will miss them a lot.

Apart from that the only other danger has been some self inflicted scares caused by climbing trees that are too big for them. Crow went straight up the side of the big pear tree and high into the branches in almost a single bound. He enjoyed it immensely until the time came to come down. The trunk is so vertical that he couldn't understand how to make a descent. Eventually, with much crying, he climbed out to the end of a downward pointing branch and dropped 20 feet to the ground. Luckily no bones were broken.

You'd have thought this would have been enough for him but the next day, after a couple of test runs up a much smaller and more suitable apple tree, he went back up the pear tree again in full sight of his siblings. Naturally they had to follow him up, so we had three kittens in the tree.

kittens in a tree

With the benefit of his previous practise Crow managed his downward journey down the trunk quite well this time but the other two had no idea about how to manage. We got a ladder but that was no help, they wouldn't come close enough to grab. Rook is quite a cissy and didn't fancy the big drop method developed by Crow the day before. We went to get the bigger ladder but as I went I called 'kitten breakfast' which is the signal for their daily treat of pouch food and the best way of getting them in in a hurry when I need them.

Raven was down the tree in a flash, she's so light she can almost hang upside down by her claws so all she really needed was a little encouragement. Once she was down, Rook was determined to join her before all the food went. He cried and meowed and jumped backwards and forwards in a terrifying manner for a few moments but then he made the decision and scrabbled back down the trunk. The poor thing was quite shocked by his experience but managed a hearty breakfast.

raven being a gopher
Gopher or meerkat - you decide!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Arrived again, naturally


So we made it. And discovered that sometime in the recent past someone had smashed a window, made entry to the house and had a jolly good look around. Luckily it seems nothing has been taken - we can't quite decide whether this is because they were casing the joint for a later return or our stuff is just too naff. The third option is that they were just tourists who thought the place was deserted and left when they realised it wasn't. Oh, and another thought is that it was a casual incursion by EDF employees who had been chopping down hedges that probably wouldn't have interfered with their wires for another ten years.

Whatever, whoever went through the place thoroughly opening locked doors and nosing into cupboards. Most uncomfortable but we're counting our blessings, it could have been so much worse.

The damage hadn't gone unnoticed. Our local contacts sent email to advise of the situation and offer help which was kind but although they suggested getting the police involved I'm not sure any useful result would come of it.

We're keeping our fingers crossed that nothing more will happen. And maybe I'll buy a baseball bat, just to keep myself fit, obviously.

That unpleasantness aside, it's wonderful to be back. The little garden I planted up in March is looking good.


All the garlic, shallots, parsnips and broad beans are up and healthy. I gave them a quick tidy up with the hoe this afternoon and am feeling very proud of them.

Not much apple blossom yet but the pears are in full bloom. The apple pear is looking particularly pretty.

applepear blossom

The weather today was completely like summer and we've made a great start on getting the rest of the garden sorted out for the spuds and other plants that are really late going in. There were at least half a dozen sort of butterflies, the swallows are back, there are cuckoos and woodpeckers and buzzards and all sorts of birds. It's just too wonderful!

And the kittens are loving it too but I'll do a separate post for them tomorrow. There's just so much to write about!

Friday 17 April 2009

This is it!

The internet has let me down. I wanted to embed a link to Mari Wilson singing the entirely lyrically inappropriate song "This is it" because she's one of my favourite vocalists and ever since the decision to leave for France has finally lightly coalesced it's been going around and around in my head.

Search it out. You can hear the soundtrack to my life. (it's on Showpeople)

Yes, at last, it's almost certain, we may be going over at the weekend, subject to well, almost anything that could wrong and the fisherfolk being adequately bought off for the time being.

I'm not so much disappointed like Mari but thrown into the usual fugue state that relates to packing, travelling, disconnecting from one form of existence and anticipating another which includes loneliness and summer in equal measures, a knife edge of pain and pleasure that is almost addictive.

Anyway, to more practical things. The only tomato seeds that have germinated strongly from the ancient stuff planted a couple of weeks ago are the Golden Sunrise. I suppose I'm not surprised but my secret optimist had hoped for more. I'll have to make up the varieties with some purchased plants from the local garden centres when we arrive, it's really too late to try again from seed now.

sleeptime in kittenopolis

Kittens are going to have a sudden descent into hell too. The journey takes at least seven hours. We bought a big car for cat comfort (well, it was amongst the considerations) and we'll travel via the Chunnel so that they never have to be left alone on a smelly unheated car deck but even so, it's a tedious and uncomfortable trip. They've done a few shorter journeys and complained most of the time. I'm hoping that a long journey will give them time to settle and then after that they will become reconciled to the journey as Baggsy did. Yes, it's the secret optimist speaking again, but I am sure they're going to love it when they get there. It's kitten heaven.

No more posts now until we've reassembled on the other side of the transporter. See you there.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Reader survey

Google are making it easier to put adverts on the site. I've resisted this for a long time now because I really don't want to irritate people by thrusting marketing in their faces - nobody wants visual spamming.

But, I am perpetually broke and analysing the stats for this site reveals that the vast majority of traffic is one-off views from image searches, with very few regular visitors or subscribers.

If you like the blog as it is and would prefer me not to add some small google ads to the sidebar could you make a comment? I'd rather please my friends than earn a very small copper although taking care of a few pennies would be helpful if it didn't bother anyone.

Kitten Diary #3

kittens ready for packing

The kits are progressing well.

On the 1st April, no joke, they went into the vet's for their neutering operations. At five months I feel this was a little early, despite many assurances from cat professionals that it makes no difference to development. I worry that while they are still growing so fast removing natural hormones from their bodies will be damaging. And with regard to this, several people have told me that body weight is used by some veterinarians to determine when the operation is best done, with very small female cats having to wait until they have gained pounds. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind it. I asked our vets here and they were dismissive.

But the RSPCA had extracted a promise from me, the Cat's Protection League are now recommending neutering at four months or even earlier and I wanted to get it over with in this country - not because the vets abroad are incapable but because it would have been difficult to negotiate in my poor French had anything gone wrong.

Everything went well, the actual surgery is very minor for the boys, just a quick snip of the scrotum and pop them out if that's not too much information. Raven had to have her side shaved and more serious work through an incision in her abdomen. The hole looked quite tiny, the sutures were neat and there has been no infection. The stitches dissolve by themselves and the hair is growing back quickly. She was racing about like a mad cat as soon as we got her home.

The cost of the operations was about £40 for the boys and £60 for the girl, to include a follow up visit to the nurse and pain medication if needed (it wasn't), so not too bad compared to the relatively uninvasive procedure of getting the passports at £160 each! These cats are costing a fortune.

We still haven't quite decided when we'll make the trip to France for the summer. We're all desperate to get there, even the kittens although they don't realise it, they love the outdoor life, but work stops play. It's a problem.

Monday 6 April 2009

Friday 3 April 2009

The Year of the Tomato


This year we'll be attempting to grow ten varieties of tomato. This is a lot more than we've aspired to for several seasons now; held back by the challenges of relocation and the weather, not to mention the insidious menace of blight which seems to attack more fiercely every year.

A few of the varieties in this picture are listed below, pop over to flickr for the names.

So far I've started Latah and Purple Ukraine from Realseeds. These seeds were bought this year and I have to say haven't shown particularly good germination. Latah is supposed to be very early and the Ukraine is a purple plum type which looks appealing in the picture.

The rest of this post is going to be rather dull - I have to list some stuff so I don't forget it. The other tomatoes planted today (I know, it seems late but they will be expected to manage outside if at all possible) are:-

Purple Calabash, home saved seed from 1995 (!). Frankly I don't think there's much hope here but there is plenty of seed so I may strike lucky.

Golden Sunrise, from the Organic Gardening Catalogue (HDRA). Packed 2005 sow by 2007.

Evergreen, Association Kokopelli. Packed 2003, viable 5 yrs.

Orange Banana, Heritage Seed library. No date, so before 2002.

Ruby F1 T&M. Packed 2002 sow by 2004. Yes, a bit of a departure for here but they are popular as giveaways and cost a lot, so I'm using them up.

Striped Stuffer it's in the picture, Royal Sluis. exp. Jan 2006. My daughter brought these back for me from a trip to Amsterdam.

Banana Legs, Association Kokopelli. Packed 2002, viable 5 yrs.

Salt Spring Sunrise, Heritage Seed Library. Kittens stole the packet but these aren't very old, probably a couple of years.

I also popped in some purple de milpa tomatillos from Unwins, exp. 2006.

As you can see, this is a whole lot of use it or lose it. I'm hoping that it will be possible to save some seed but will be happy just to get a crop.