Unbelievable colours of Autumn

The colour in the garden and in the woods around our fields is a real joy to behold at the moment. The main colour is from Virginia creeper which can spread where you don’t want it but when it’s in the trees and on the gloriette and the pergolas, it’s glorious.

I planted a Red Oak near the chicken shed three years ago. It’s never done well and I thought it was because of the nitrogen rich soil. We had to cut down a nearby Acacia because it was split in a storm and since that’s gone the Oak has really recovered and has now become a beautiful young tree which we can see from the terrace.

This jungle is my potager which is still bursting with things to gather, so I’m a bit busy getting things in and stored before the frost comes. The bottom of the garden is protected by trees and a hedge and feels warmer that up at the house. The weather’s still glorious and in this photo taken a few day ago it looks like high summer.

The borage is still seeding and growing and almost each rose is producing one or two spectacular flowers.

We’ve still got green peppers and chillis to get in, peas and beans and the celery I grew in the tent frame is really lovely and there’s lots of it. We had some tonight with a rabbit Fabrice shot – the second of the season. We still have courgettes and I grew lots of parsley this year, mostly the tasty Italian kind and it’s self-seeding everywhere.

I planted pumpkins for the pigs very late in the season after the potatoes and onions and they’re producing big healthy looking pumpkins which I have to keep training to go the way I want them to otherwise they send their roots down into the paths.

This is a lovely time of the year and it is nice to just wander around looking and soaking in the atmosphere and richness and look at some of the things we’ve done. We’ve got loads of plans and projects on the go and thankfully, we’ve a lot more energy than we had last year, so it feels as though we’ll make a bit of progress again.

The wood’s chopped and under cover near the house and the more delicate plants are being moved nearer and nearer to the back of the house where it’s warm and protected. The indoor plants are back indoors and seem to appreciate the comfort. Food’s stored and the freezer is filling up again with game and we light the fire most evenings – which is really nice.

Very hazy photo with a great storm and yet more rain

This is the wettest Spring we’ve experienced here in south west France. Almost all the seeds I’ve planted have rotted – even some of the potatoes I planted a few weeks ago have rotted under water. This is how the ground looks in part of the plot.

We’ve had a stream running through this part of the garden for about six weeks and although yesterday and today have been dry, the earth is still cold and damp and difficult to work with and all I can do is wait until it dries out a bit before move my seedlings into their permanent homes. The tomatoes I planted about three weeks ago still look exactly the same as when I planted them ! Raspberries enjoy a good soak before fruiting, but these have been under water for about two weeks and

need a bit of sun to fruit well. I’ve tasted a few and they’re insipid and full of water. I hope the sun comes out soon or our veg plot next to the house won’t produce much veg for the summer at this rate!

Fortunately, we’ve another garden on a slight slope down in the valley where our potatoes are doing well and where we’ll plant our winter veg soon out of the way of the chickens.

Gardening starts at long last

It’s been raining here almost non-stop for weeks but we had hailstones, lightening, rain and two sunny spells today. Spaces between showers are getting longer and warmer and I’ve been out and about clearing up unending brambles and planting out lots of cuttings I took last year.

Potager or Vegetable garden in early springThe earth where I’ve been mulching is fantastic, the chickens have kept everything (except the brambles!) pristine. This is the only time of the year when I have bare earth and I must say I appreciate why some people prefer this sort of “tidy” garden because it is so satisfying seeing that rich dark dirt.

The vegetable plot is ready for planting out with not a weed in sight but it’s soggy in parts and the peas I put in about ten days ago were doomed from the start when Didi dug a hole in two rows, the chickens (or Didi) managed to move the wooden grill I’d placed over them to protect them and I’ve just checked them again and they’re rotting.

I’ve divide up a few Globe Artichokes and replanted them in front of a dark hedge and next year (or maybe this year if I’m lucky!) I’ll leave the flower heads which are too beautiful to miss just because they taste good in bud.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the the back bank under the pergola looks in a few weeks. I’ve been cleaning it up and planting out cuttings and it’s filling out nicely. I love taking photographs of the progress of bits of the garden, here’s a slideshow of the bank. You can change the speed by moving your mouse over the top of the frame :

We’ve been using up the excess mortar Fabrice is using for the extension to add a bit more stone to the second back terrace and the little retaining walls are getting bigger every day. Fabrice and I both have this terrible habit of doing a hundred things at once and although we (mostly me!) moan and groan that nothing ever gets finished it’s good fun to do and it does look lovely.

I’ll take some photographs tomorrow and let you see how things are going in the garden.

Some of the shelters we’ve built for our animals – with slideshow

This show takes a little while to load, but it’s a nice way to show you some of the animal shelters we’ve built over the past few years.

We both love building small projects like this and we’re very lucky to have all the wood we need on site, so sheds don’t cost a lot – perhaps a favour for some old chicken netting from a neighbour and some hard cash for nails, screws, roofing and guttering.

Where there’s a shed there’s compost and at the end of each slope we put a gutter to catch water which we use for the animals and for the plants nearby. So around each shed there’s potential to use these resources without having to move them too far and the areas around the sheds become very rich and fertile. The chickens clean up wonderfully around the sheds and people don’t really believe me when I say hardly ever need to weed – but it’s true.

You can change the speed of the slideshow on the top of the screen…

I can hardly wait until a shed’s finished to start planting round it. Climbers are lovely to soften the edges of sheds and they also provide useful shade for the animals and shelter and nests for the wildlife around. They are also very beautiful and the perfume from the Star Jasmine on the West side of the chicken shed has to be the most wonderful reason ever for digging a hole and putting a plant in it.

Flowers and Chicks

This sort of plant association is an intoxicating “feel good” medicine – I love it! In here there’s a mixture of miniature Roses, wild Pansies, Poppies and Deadnettles and a few other seedlings waiting in the wings to come up once the early flowers are past their best.

The veg plot is almost finished, ready to just grow and take care of itself and now I’m going to concentrate on getting in a few more flowers, cut the goats’ toenails which are really growing fast, then help Fabrice to do a bit more building work – something which has been a bit neglectd since the weather has been so wet.
We’ve been waiting for materials and they arrived this morning, so now there’s absolutely no excuse!

We’ve lot of lovely things coming up at the moment. This Clematis is one of my favourites, although I should have attached it better to the chicken shed because it’s leaning over towards the light, too close to the path. I don’t like fiddling with Clematis too much, I’ve had a few die on me after I touched the leaves. I must find out why that happens.

We’ve also got lots of chicks, although the percentage of unfertilised eggs is high. I usually make sure each hen has about a dozen eggs under her once she starts sitting, (We choose the best eggs in our own version of genetic engineering.) but, so far the most we’ve had is five chicks from a batch.

I went through a “pretty little hen” phase a few years ago and eventually gave them all away because we were overrun with fluffy little things that I didn’t want to kill. Still, it would be nice to see how these little things hatched a couple of days ago from Yan’s Pocelain Pekin bantam turn out…

George our Brahma cockerel’s chicks are about twice the weight of these little things and a real mix of colours, with some almost completely gold and some gold, brown and black like this little fellow.

The bigger chicks seem more curious, and not so scared of us – possibly that comes from the Brahma temperament. George is a really gentle cock and has never shown the slightest signs of aggression, unlike some of the Marans youngsters we’ve reared over the past few years.

That fallen tree is finally off the chicken shed roof, the Star Jasmine is in flower and we made a screen to hide the water butts

We had help to move the tree – some surprise visitors turned up who give us a hand. No damage was done and the Star Jasmine is absolutely in it’s prime for this photograph – one of my favourites this week.
The walk down to the shed smells amazing, the Honeysuckle is still in flower and this Jasmine is throwing out a perfume which is heavenly.

We’ve also been making a new plot behind the chicken shed because I’ve run out of planting space. We mulched here last year, then again a few weeks ago, and I’ve planted courgettes and pumpkins and now after the rain the chickens are weeding and cleaning up the bugs from the soil, which has never been dug over.

Screen made from Chestnut regrowths hiding the water buttsAll I ever do to make a new garden is clear the big roots like brambles and young trees, then I cover the whole area with a thick mulch. If any weeds do make it through the mulch, they’re easy to pull up and the annuals weeds die because they don’t get light.

Shaping a garden with chestnut cut on siteI wanted to break this part of the veg plot up a bit to make the access easier and to make it prettier, so Fabrice helped me to make a screen to hide the water butts, the metal sides of the chicken shed and the compost heap. We started it on Wednesday, but then had an amazing storm with loads of rain, which filled up the three water buts in less than an hour! So we sheltered in the chicken shed and cleaned out all the nesting boxes and tidied it up. I finished the screen yesterday and planted it up with rooted cuttings and they should cover it in no time.

Fabrice cut a little step from a tree root, making it easy for us and the dogs to use the path, rather than walking on the spaces between the veg (Soon there won’t be any!) and the layout goes with the natural flow of how we use the garden.
I’ll have to put up a few more sticks and wool to create a “psychological barrier” encouraging us to use the path, but I’ll wait and see where we walk naturally to get from one part of the garden to another, then follow that shape and finally plant a hedge of permanent shrubs which will grow high enough to do the job just before the sticks and wool have rotted.

Screen almost covered by Potato climber planted 4th June 2007Here’s an update on how the screen’s coming along 2 months later. The Potato climber is now taking over – so much so that I might transplant it to somewhere where it can romp away and let the Clematis and Jasmine (the little green plant in the left corner) take over.

The bottles are filling up with fruit and the garden’s filling up with summer veg

We’ve been working flat out getting our summer veg in, gathering soft fruit and collecting Girolles while we can.

This is a jar of wild cherries which we’ve filled over the past two days then covered with Eau de Vie, which is a distilled alcohol we make from figs or any fruit we have enough of, gathered at its peak and stored in a barrel until the man come with his still.

We’re still filling the wild strawberries and the raspberry jars, little by little. It’s great being able to just plop them straight into the Eau de Vie when we come in with a handful. It’s a very easy, and very delicious way of storing fruit and if the jars are stored somewhere cool and dark, they’ll last at least a year…well in theory anyway. We serve the fruit with coffee, or as a dessert with cream or use it as a cake filling. It’s always delicious and a real treat.

We’re under a lot of pressure, because Fabrice’s uncle comes out of hospital tomorrow. His health has been deteriorating for the past few years so he has to rely on us, his sister and the nurses who visit twice a day to do everything for him. It’s very humbling to think that he was once a big strong man who could cut down a mature tree with an axe in just a few minutes.

So, I’ve managed to plant out almost all the summer veg and cleaned up the garden ready for planting extra veg to extend the season. All the herbs and soft fruit are doing well and with the rain we’ve had, there’s no need to water except when things have just been planted.
Early June organic vegetables in the potager
We let the chickens free range all over the place, but the price we have to pay for their cleaning and weeding the garden is that we have to work at protecting our newly planted veg with sticks – at least for the first two weeks or so. I re-use the sticks for the second round of planting once everything is growing well.

The chickens don’t do a lot of damage really. (Although they do break my heart sometimes.) They grub up and eat a tremendous number of insects and slugs harmful to our plants, and they really throw the earth around and make it a lovely crumbly texture and of course they add their own nitrogen rich droppings as they work, so it’s well worth the effort to let them get on with it.

After everything has settled and is growing well, I cover everything with mulch – the dry bedding from the goat shed, and the sticks keep the mulch (complete with goat droppings) away from direct contact with the stems of the plants.

I know you’re not supposed to put fresh manure on, but goat droppings are dry and I find that the mulch doesn’t heat up and do any damage because it’s airy with lots of straw. This system suits us, because we empty the goat shed every year around this time (once the goats start sleeping outside) and it gives us the shed time dry out completely over the summer.

Courgettes are best when they're tiny - too big we give them to the pigs Emptying it now keeps the chickens busy eating the woodlice and other insects they find in all the crevices in the shed and they usually stay away from the newly planted veg until it’s strong enough to withstand real life in our potager.

We’ve been eating lettuce for a few weeks now and had our first courgettes yesterday, the beans are almost in flower and the Borage is perfect for decorating new potato salad made with home made and very yellow, (thanks to the chickens’ free ranging) mayonnaise.

Simon from Downsizer left me this book…

We’ve been very busy with more building , AI’d Peggy, Elections (Fabrice is deputy Mayor so has civic duties…) sorted out a few things, lots of chicken stuff, clipping goat feet, moving goats again, sheep stuff, family things, I’ve taken loads of loads of photographs, the garden is amazing at the moment and then I got my head into this book that Simon left and couldn’t put it down…

You’d think it would be easy just to find the odd half hour to blog a bit…but…

Tomorrow, is another day.

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