Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Young vine leaves

In keeping with the spring vine theme, here's what the young tendrils look like as they grow, producing new leaves along the way. I'm not certain when the growers will decide to trim the new growth off, but not one of them has started yet. I do see them out there, mostly on foot, walking the rows and adjusting the vines on the wires here and there.

Young grape leaves on tendrils. As they get bigger, they go green.

Maybe they're making sure that things are growing well, taking stock of the flowers and grape bunches, and verifying that the wires are in place and the tendrils are well attached before they take out the tractors to trim. Or maybe they're just waiting for the flowering stage to be completely over. Who knows?

Roland Garros is rolling right along. Quarter finals start today. There are still one French woman and one French man in the mix. I think Marion Bartoli has a decent chance to advance to the semis: she's seeded higher than her opponent, Kuznetsova. Gaël Monfils, on the other hand, has to face Federer in his match today, after coming off a two-day five-set nail biter against Ferrer. Monfils beat Federer once (last year) out of the five matches they've played since 2006. The've met two times on the clay at Roland Garros and Federer won both. Today I think the outcome will depend on Federer's condition.

This morning I'm getting a badly needed haircut. I'm starting to look like a Beatle. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Little grapes

The grape vines are in flower now. In fact, many of them are past flowering and have formed little grapes. The bunches are still pointing skyward, but as the grapes mature, they'll bend down toward the ground. I just hope they don't turn into raisins on the vine.

A bunch of grapes in the early stages. Click to raisinate.

The weather people are predicting thunderstorms with some rain this afternoon and evening. The rain isn't expected to be heavy, so it won't help the drought much.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday morning on the heights

Friday night was clear, and clear skies mean chilly temperatures. I took Callie out for her morning walk a little after seven a.m. and the thermometer at our house read about 9.5ºC (about 49ºF). I think it was a bit colder out in the vineyard. I saw a few hot air balloons off in the distance toward the west (downriver).

If you look closely (or click to enlarge) you can see the plume of steam from the power plant just to the right of center.

We walked up through the vineyards and took a path across to the next road. That route goes up a bit higher than we are and you get a nice view across the valley. This morning I could see the steam rising from the nuclear power plant up on the Loire River, about forty-five miles to our northeast.

Another view, looking north across the Cher River valley.

The air was crisp, almost fall-like, and there was no wind. With the sun on my back I didn't feel cold at all. The only sound I heard was the chirping of birds and the faint sound of a train whooshing by in the valley below. It was a very pleasant walk.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chopper one

I was outside on the deck recently with the camera and this happened by. Helicopters fly by us on a regular basis. A friend once told us that they're usually gendarmes (national police) doing one thing or another. Sometimes there's a medical chopper that flies by. I think they use the river valley as a corridor.

I snapped a quick shot of the chopper flying by. I wonder who it was?

I called a friend in the U.S. yesterday afternoon to wish her a happy birthday and while I was on the phone the strangest thing happened. Bertie the cat hopped over the driveway gate with something in his mouth. A big something. He had caught and killed a rabbit -- a baby rabbit, but still, a rabbit (or more likely, a wild hare). I yelled for Ken to go down and retrieve it. Poor thing. I had to dispose of it over the back fence once I got off the phone. I'll spare you the photo I took of the cute, but dead, body with the eyes still open Oh, what the heck:

He or she was a cute little critter. That's life in the country. I wish Bertie would go for moles instead.

The other thing that happened while I was on the phone was that our neighbor across the way walked over to tell me there was going to be noise last night. Some of her grandchildren ("kids" in their early twenties) were coming to the house for an overnight party. As the kids started to arrive, she and her husband left to return to their main house in Blois.

Naturally, right at bed time, we could here the thumping of the music from across the street. It went on until sometime after one this morning. It wasn't too bad since we had the windows closed (a chilly night), but still, I'm sure some of the other more elderly neighbors were not pleased. In fact, I was up around the time the music stopped and I noticed the lights on in another neighbor's house, which is unusual. Apparently, these two neighbors have been feuding for decades. I wonder if she called the mayor (who is also a neighbor)?

The problem is that these kids live up around Blois in a more urban setting. I'm sure that when they come down here, to their grandparents' country house, they think that there aren't many people around and that nobody can hear them. But we can, especially on warm nights when windows are open. Oh well, an occasional loud party is part of life.

At least I didn't see any gendarmes!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reach for the sky

While you can. This is what the grape vines are looking like right now. The grape flowers have formed and are beginning to open. The vine tendrils are growing toward the sky. Even without much rain, the vines look good if not a little less vigorous than normal.

Grape vines looking healthy in the drought.

Remember that irrigation is interdit (forbidden) in France's vineyards. The grapes are the product of the soil and the weather. Some years there is too much rain (worry, grumble, worry) some years there is not enough rain (worry, grumble, worry), and some years everything's just right (worry, grumble, worry, because everything is never just right).

It won't be long before the tractors roll up and down the rows slicing off the top growth. That allows the vine to put its energy into making grapes instead of leaves. It also turns the vineyard into a very neat and geometric place.

This morning's sky is leaden (un ciel de plomb) but the forecasts show little if any precipitation in our area. Other than a few sprinkles here and there, it's going to continue dry for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday morning among the vines

Today it was my turn for the morning walk with Callie. I got up just after six-thirty and the sun was already shining in through the windows. I took Bertie's breakfast downstairs, but he wasn't there. He didn't come home by bedtime last night, so he got to stay out (he's not locked out, so he may have come and gone all night). Yesterday he brought us a little bird. Nice.

A section of the vineyard this morning just after sunrise. Click to vinify (if only it were that easy!).

So Callie and I hit the road. Luckily I tried to take my first photo pretty close to the house and realized that there was no memory card in the camera. D'oh! So I went back and got it. While the sun was up in the east, the western sky was filled with clouds (even more now). The weather system that's not slated to give us any rain is moving through. It's mildly windy and cool out there. But I was ok in jeans and sweat-shirt.

After we got back, I spent about half an hour watering the vegetable garden. It's pretty much all in now and the corn is sprouting. There's still a lot of work to do (thinning, weeding, etc.), but the major planting is done.

Today we're meeting a woman who's been reading our blogs and is traveling in the area with her husband. We're having a light lunch here at the house. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to sit out on the deck, but that will depend on the wind and temperature. The menu: Ken's stuffed grape leaves (from our own vines), Greek-style chicken wings, goat cheese and oven-dried tomatoes on bread. And I made a batch of ice cream yesterday for dessert.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Salade frisée

This is actually a variety of chicory that produces heads of curly lettuce. I think that Americans use the term frisée to describe this kind of lettuce, too, though you may know it as "curly endive." This frisée is one of three lettuce varieties that I've planted so far this year. The second, another chicory called scarole (escarole in English), is a broad leaf variety that I planted at the same time.

Frisée lettuce out in the garden. Time to thin the plants and enjoy a salad!

The third type is romaine and I just planted the seeds a week ago. They're up and running and soon I will need to thin them. They're growing in little pots until they're big enough to go out into the garden.

I planted the two chicories from seed earlier this spring directly in the garden. The slugs and snails thinned them out for me (nice of them), but the surviving plants are getting larger and need to be thinned again. This time it will be us eating the thinned out plants, and not the gastropods.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Take a leek

Earlier this spring, I planted poireaux (leeks) in the garden. Seeds, that is. They came up and are growing well. Now it's time to thin them out. I'm hoping that I can do it carefully and re-plant the thinnings. We'll see.

I love leeks in soups, on pizza, or just steamed and dressed with vinaigrette. Yum!

This will be only the second time I've had leeks in the vegetable garden. The first time, five or six years ago now, someone gave us (or I bought, I don't remember) a bundle of leek seedlings already about six inches high. They grew well and we ate a bunch of leeks. I haven't grown them again because they're relatively inexpensive at the market. But growing them from seed was something I hadn't done, so this year I'm giving it a try.

So far, so good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who needs a rapture...

...when this is happening outside your door? Sunday morning's sun shining through the remnants of an overnight weather system. We got a rumble or two of thunder and a trickle of rain on Saturday evening. And then, these clouds.

Looking east. Our house is on the lower left where you can see the pointy pine tree.

After my morning walk with Callie, I did a little more garden work. It's coming along. Added eight more tomato plants and six bell peppers. I also put the remaining six marigolds out among the tomatoes. Soon the eggplant will go in and we'll be nearly complete.

I'm looking forward to watching it all grow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I was just sitting in the den in front of my computer screen (does anyone ever sit behind his computer screen?) when I heard a thud in the living room. I got up to see, and there was a bird lying on the living room floor. Apparently it flew in through the open French doors (aren't all doors in France French doors?) and tried to fly out through the windows in the north wall. They were closed. Thud.

The stunned bird on a deck chair. He picked up a few dog hairs from the living room floor. Don't judge.

The poor thing was still breathing, so I figured it was stunned and took it out on to the deck. After a minute or two it started having spasms and writhing around in circles. Uh-oh, I thought, he's a goner. Callie watched with great interest. Ken came out to see what all the commotion was.

The bird, une mésange charbonnière (a great tit, parus major), kept trying to stand upright, but would suddenly be taken by a spasm and fall over, one wing outstretched. This went on for a few minutes and then, suddenly, the bird stood up and hopped a bit and was gone into the air.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

You gotta have heart

I debated about writing this because it's a little personal and not a little boring. But what the heck. This is what blogs are all about, right? So, damn the torpedoes, here we go: My family, on my father's side, has a serious history of heart problems. My dad died at the ripe old age of forty-four from his second heart attack. He smoked and drank and didn't do much in the way of exercise. He wasn't a very healthy guy. It's kind of strange to realize that he's been gone for nearly thirty years already.

One of the readouts from my EKG. I'm not sure which or how, because there are several pages like this.

His mother, my grandmother, suffered serious circulatory problems and underwent multiple by-pass surgeries in her later years. My dad's sister, my aunt, who's now in her seventies, has also had similar heart problems and surgical interventions. And just a few months ago, my younger sister suffered a mild heart attack that resulted in the insertion of stents. She's not even fifty years old yet.

So, given this history, my doctor advised me to see a cardiologist. Of course I put it off. About eighteen months ago, a French friend of ours died in his sleep from a heart attack. He was fifty-two years old. More recently, in March, the husband of an American friend died suddenly from what was apparently a heart attack. At age sixty-two. He was, from all outward appearances, an active and healthy guy (of course I don't really know the details). It was this sudden death and my sister's heart attack that finally jarred me and I called the cardiologist and made the appointment. I had to wait six weeks during which time I imagined all manner of horrible things, but none of them came to pass.

Last week I went up to the clinic in Blois for my appointment. I told the doctor all about the family history and gave him my latest blood work results. He did some listening, some feeling about, and then hooked me up to the machines for an electrocardiogram. After that, he did an echo-cardiograph which is basically an ultra-sound of the heart. Beep-beep, woosh-woosh! I actually got to hear the sound of my blood pumping through the chambers of my heart.

After the exams we talked again. He said that everything was completely normal. He saw nothing unusual, no anomalies. Frankly, I was surprised. And relieved. Then he said we'd do a stress test for good measure and scheduled that for a few days later.

I returned to Blois on Tuesday for the stress test, called une épreuve d'effort in French. Remember, I'm doing all this in French which adds a little layer of anxiety for me. I will tell you that nearly everyone I've encountered in the French medical system has been friendly, encouraging, and not at all put off by the fact that I'm a foreigner with an accent. They usually assume I'm English, but when they find out I'm American they really open up and tell me about their experiences of the U.S. through family or travel. It's really a good ice-breaker and puts me at ease after a few minutes.

An aside: I'm named after my father, who was named after his father, who was named after his. My birth certificate shows the Roman numeral IV after my name, and consequently, so do many of my official documents, including my French health service card. People always ask me about it and the cardiologist was no exception. When he said he had a question about my card, I thought uh-oh, what is the problem now? But all he wanted to know was what the IV meant. I have a standard answer that seems to please everyone. I tell them, "Je suis Walter le quatrième, comme Henri IV (I'm Walter the fourth, like king Henri the Fourth)." Big smiles all around. I think they're amused by American pretentions.

Another aside: My birth certificate. I got the first copy of my birth certificate when I applied for my first passport in 1981. I went to the bureau of vital statistics in my hometown and asked for it. They typed out a fresh certificate that was very short (half a page), signed and stamped it, and that has served as my birth certificate since. Hey, if it's good enough for me, it should be good enough for President Obama, right? But I digress... It was only very recently, when I enrolled in the French national health system, that I was asked for the "long form" certificate. I had no idea what this could be, so I called the hometown office again and asked. Oh, sure, they said, they could photocopy the long form on file and send it to me for a fee. It has my parents' names and birth dates on it, and includes their race. Do they still put race on birth certificates? So, it took the French to ask for the long form for me to finally see it, nearly fifty years after the fact. I'll bet if the French had asked to see Obama's long form certificate, Americans would have told them that the short form is good enough, dammit. I digress again...

So... the stress test went well with no unusual readings. I rode a stationary bicycle while hooked up to the computers. The resistance steadily increased and I broke a sweat at the third level. At the fourth level my legs gave out. I was a bit embarrassed that I only went nine and a half minutes; I thought I should have done better. Then there were about four more minutes of cooling down by pedaling back at the first level. Phew!

I did some research when I got home and found (on the WebMD site) that the average stress test lasts between seven and twelve minutes, so I guess I didn't do too badly after all.

So, the bottom line is that the cardiologist found nothing unusual in the readings, said that my cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are good, and that I am not overweight. He said to come back in five years for another go. I know that these tests are just tests. I know that the good results don't necessarily mean I'm in the clear. But it's a good sign, and I'll take it.

My regular doctor was pleased. So am I.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Still planting in the garden. Today we're thinking of going to a local nursery for window-box flowers and some bell pepper plants for the vegetable garden. It seems that bell peppers are the one plant I don't have much success with from seed. Go figure.


This is Ken waving from the attic window as I leave on an afternoon walk with Callie. He looks cross, but I don't think he was. Maybe he was having computer problems. Or maybe the sun was in his eyes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cumulus de beau temps

Fair weather cumulus clouds, also known as cumulus humilis. Wednesday gave us an afternoon sky filled with them. They never developed into thunderclouds and we got no rain, but the sun and warm (mid 70sF) temperature made for a very pleasant day.

View from the guest room. Looks like high summer and it's only mid-May. See how brown the grass is?

The morning was sunny and bright. I got the sweet corn planted in one of the vegetable garden plots. Five rows and three varieties of corn. I also planted two cucumber seedlings in the same plot. Then, after lunch, I finished cleaning up the little planting strip around the well and put in sixteen marigold plants that I had grown from seed.

All the transplants look good; not one of them drooped. I've got to keep them watered until we get some rain. Free water is always appreciated. As long as we don't get too much (which doesn't seem very likely in the near term).

Today I plan to set out squash plants in one of the other garden plots. There are six plants: two round zucchini and two sunburst yellow summer squash (given to us by friends), and two potimarron winter squash that I grew. From what I can tell, potimarrons are called red kuri squash in English.

The two remaining plots will receive the tomatoes and aubergine (eggplant) that are hardening off on the deck. I've also got to save some space for the lima beans. I'll plant those seeds directly in the garden.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A local mill

We've not visited this place, but it may be worth a stop one day. It's a mill just north of Tours that supplies flour to many bakeries all around our region. They also sell to the public at the mill. While we live in wine country, there are plenty of farmers who grow wheat and other grains around as well (remember, there's a big granary just across the river from us) that probably supply the mill.

The brand of bread made with flour from the Minoterie Raimbert outside of Tours.

The bakers who buy the flour sell their breads in a bag that the mill company supplies, the front of which you see pictured here. On the back of the bag, it says this:

L'appellation "baguette de tradition française" est soumise à une fabrication conforme au décret pain nº 93-1074 JO du 14-09-1993.

Extrait de ce décret pain :
Pain entièrement pétri, façonné et cuit sur le lieu de vente. Pain n'ayant subi aucun traitement de surgélation au cour de son élaboration, ne contenant aucun additif et résultant de la cuisson d'une pâte qui présente les caractéristiques suivantes :
  • Être composée exclusivement d'un mélange de farines panifiables de blé, d'eau potable et de sel.
  • Être fementée à l'aide de levure de panification (Saccharomyces cerevisae) et/ou de levain.

The title "traditional French baguette" can only be used for bread made in accordance with bread decree #93-1074 JO of 14 September 1993.

Excerpt from the decree:
Bread that is entirely kneaded, formed and cooked at the site of sale. Bread that has undergone no freezing at all during its production, that contains no additives and results in a finished product with the following characteristics:
  • Only made from a mix of bread flours, water and salt.
  • Only leavened with bread yeast (saccharamyces cerevisae) and/or sourdough leavening.

You can check their web site out here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La libellule

This dragonfly was so nicely perched on the tip of the car's antenna the other day. When I moved to get the camera it took off, but then it came right back and let me snap a few portraits. I was up on the deck with the car in the driveway below. The zoom lens worked pretty well.

An elegant libéllule perched on the tip of our Peugeot's antenna. Click to dragonate.

There are countless species of dragonfly around these parts from the tiny to the large and the color variations are amazing. I'm sure that our friend Susan could identify this one with no problem, but I'm at a loss. I can tell you, however, that the antenna is from a 2000 Peugeot 206.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Les hérissons

Hedgehogs. They are the cutest things, and they're good for the garden because they eat many pests. On Sunday morning I was moving some compost from my compost bins to the garden. There was a good-sized pile of straw in one corner of the compost bin and I thought it was strange. As I started moving the straw I found a big momma hedgehog and five little baby hedgehogs underneath. It was a nest.

They're hard to see, but there is a baby in the lower right corner, and another in the center bottom, just above an ivy leaf. They're rolled up into little spiky balls. The face you can see belongs to the mother hedgehog. There's a third baby just behind her head, and another behind her back end. The fifth is around somewhere.
Click to embiggen.

At first I thought I had stabbed the mother with my pitchfork. But I hadn't. All the 'hogs were rolled up into balls, their defense mechanism had kicked in. I scooped them all up with a shovel and put them under the hedge. Well, that is their name, right?

After a while they unrolled and started moving around. I got the camera and took a few pictures. The light wasn't very good under the hedge so I turned on the flash. I got a lot of blurry photos, but this one turned out ok and was one of the few I got with the mother's face in it.

As I was typing this, Callie started barking, so I went out to see what was up. She found the hedgehogs. They hadn't moved very far from where I put them earlier. I brought Callie into the house and calmed her down. She loves hedgehogs, or at least she loves to bark at them.

I hope they find a new place under the hedge to hang out and grow up. Like I said, we like them, and they're good for the garden.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bertie's new trick

So Bertie has learned that he can climb up on the deck from outside with the help of a nearby log pile. He usually does this late at night. This time of year, the sun doesn't set until around 9:30 pm and Bertie often will not be home when I go to bed. That means I can't close him in.

There are now three artichokes on this plant. I took this photo a week ago.

Some nights (one time it was about 3:00 am, last night it was around midnight) he'll jump up on the deck and meow just outside the living room doors. This prompts Callie to jump up from wherever she is and go barking at him. They're nose-to-nose with the door between them. I, in turn, get up and go down to calm the dog. Then I open the door and bring Bert in, take him downstairs, and close his window, after which I trudge back upstairs and we all go back to sleep.

These animules have me trained well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Give me your answer do

It certainly feels like summer has come early. Even with our current cooler temperatures, the plants out around the vineyard seem advanced, summery. The donkey paddock is filled with wildflowers. The acacia blooms are dropping. The daisies are out in force. The only things missing are the wild chicory and the wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace).

A wild daisy out among the grape vines.

There has still been no rain to speak of for nearly two months. Everything is quite dry, at least drier than normal. We'll be getting our vegetable garden into the ground during the coming week and we'll have to take special care to keep it well watered.

UPDATE: Now it's Saturday morning and I woke up to rain! We're having a decent rainfall right now. Callie and I got soaked on our walk, but we didn't care. The plants need it. It's supposed to be tapering off by mid-day. We'll take every little bit we can get right now.

I'm sorry for those of you who left comments on Thursday's post. They seem to have disappeared for now. Maybe they'll be restored, but I don't know. It looks like Blogger is recovering, slowly, but recovering.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Come fly with me

It was my morning walk with Callie and I had the camera. The sun was up but there was a little chill in the air. I noticed more than one fly sunning themselves on leaves and flowers. They hadn't warmed up enough yet to react quickly and they let me get really close with the camera.

A red-eyed fly suns itself on an acacia leaf.

Still, I didn't have time to take more than one shot of each before they flew away. This one is the best photo I got.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rustic strawberry and rhubarb pie

I call this a rustic pie because it's very simple. Just fruit on a crust. No custard, no fancy filling. Easy-peasy, as they say. It would be even more rustic had I made the crust free-form, but I used a tart ring. I started out with my own pâte brisée (pie crust) and blind-baked it about halfway.

Tarte rustique aux fraises et à la rhubarbe.

I picked the rhubarb and cut it into small pieces, sprinkled it with sugar and set it aside for about an hour, then drained it. I cut up a container of fresh local strawberries. When the crust cooled a bit, I spread some ground almonds inside, then added the fruit. I sprinkled some more sugar on top of the fruit and then baked it until it looked done.

It was very tasty and full of tart fruit flavor. And not overly sweet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A wild rose

There are lots of these roses around the edges of the vineyard. I don't know what they really are, but I call them wild roses because they live in the wild. No one tends them. They're very simple flowers, but the stems are covered in thorns as most roses are.

A not so perfect specimen, but I like it anyway.

The days are resembling one another. Warm afternoons, some clouds, no rain. The mornings are chilly or they're not, depending on the day. The news programs talk about a serious drought, as they have for the past several years. Some years are worse than others. They're saying this year looks like a bad year.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Gontran's buns

Gontran Cherrier is a Parisian boulanger (baker) who's had a couple of shows on Cuisine TV here in France. One day a year or two ago I saw him make hamburger buns and thought, hey, I can do that! So I downloaded the recipe and gave it a try.

Home-made hamburger buns ready to go!

Last week I made the buns again and we grilled hamburgers for lunch. They were good and we ate two burgers each along with French fries. The texture of the buns came out denser than a standard baguette, a little chewy and not at all soft like a supermarket bun.

For a change the next time, I'm going to search for recipes for something like kaiser rolls and try that, too.

UPDATE: Here's the recipe I used.

250 g all purpose flour
15 cl water
1 scant tsp salt
1 package dry active yeast
1 tbl sugar
1 tbl olive oil
sesame seeds

Proof the yeast in tepid water. In the meantime, add the flour, salt, sugar, and olive oil to the bowl of your food processor. Add the proofed yeast mixture and pulse the mix until the dough forms a ball.

Remove the dough from the processor and put it into a floured bowl, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and form into balls. Place the balls on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with sesame seeds (paint them with a little water if necessary to make the seeds stick). Cover the buns with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let them rise for about an hour.

Bake at 375ºF (add a shallow bowl of water to oven for steam or sprinkle water into the oven periodically during the baking time) for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Les fougères

I've been noticing that the ferns are showing up again. They're very common in the forests around here and in some places they cover the forest floor like a green shag carpet. It looks very cool, but I don't have a picture of that for today. I know a good spot, though, so the next time I'm out in the car I'll try to remember to go take a picture.

Fresh spring growth on the these ferns out in the vineyard.

It's been quite dry the past couple of months so I'm not sure the fern cover will be as luxuriant as it normally is. We'll see. This clump of ferns is out under some trees at the end of the dirt road through the vineyard. It's right next to one of three or four little water collection ponds (very small, only a couple meters in diameter) that are scattered about out there.

We actually have a fern growing in our yard out by the carport this year. It's a small plant with only four fronds. Must be new; I don't remember it.

Unrelated: sometime over the last night, my statcounter (at the bottom) clicked over the 200,000 mark. Cool!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The calla lilies

When we moved to this house, there were many calla lilies around. They're called arums in French. We moved many of them around, but we obviously don't have a knack for them. They're not as nice as they could be.

One of our surviving calla lilies doing its thing.

I should tell you that I have a certain philosophy about gardening. I plant it. If it grows, great. If it doesn't, I figure it wasn't meant to be. I only really fuss about the garden vegetables. And probably not enough. I think it was Billy Joel who said, "I don't want to work that hard. Whoa-ooo-whoa-whoa-whoa." Yeah, that's it.

Some neighbors down at the bottom of the hill have gorgeous calla lilies every year full of blooms. I noticed this year that they actually dig up the bulbs in the fall and re-plant them in the spring. They over-winter in some protected place. And I'll bet those people fertilize them like crazy.

So, all this is to say that we get a few calla lilies and they're nice. We could have more if we really wanted to work that hard.

Friday, May 06, 2011

This is the color

I've mentioned that I want a red wall in the house. I don't have it yet, but it won't be long. The wall is in the stairwell that goes from the ground floor up to the main floor of the house. At right angles to that wall is an exterior wall with two glass-block windows that flood the space with light.

This is the red color I want on the wall.

We have a batik hanging on this particular wall. Ken and I found it at a shop in Half Moon Bay, California, many years ago. I want the red wall to be the terracotta color in that batik. I'm printing a photo of it (and will probably have to adjust it to get the color right) to take to the hardware store so I can get a good match. I might have to have it mixed special, we'll see.

When I get the paint, I'll do a before and after photo set for you.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What's in your cold frame?

A few years ago we invested in a couple of portable cold frames. They were billed as mini serres (mini greenhouses). They have served us well. I use one up on the deck for spring seedlings. It gets great morning sun and stays warm all day. The other we use out back in the garden to grow early crops. The great thing about them is their portability; they're quite versatile.

Marigolds on the bottom, eggplant on the right, tomatoes on the upper left.

The one on the deck is nurturing our future garden vegetables. In it are many varieties of tomato, some cucumbers, some little pumpkins, parsley, squash, a bunch of marigolds, some chard, and eggplant. In fact, I just re-potted the eggplant and realized there are thirty of them! Since we love eggplant, I figure that we can't have too many. Everything in this cold frame was grown from seed. I'm always amazed when the seeds actually sprout and turn into mature plants. The wonders of nature!

The cold frame on the deck.

I'm slowly letting the plants get more and more direct sun, hardening them for their transplantation into the garden. That will happen at some point in mid-May, when the danger of frost is over in our region. I'll also plant corn at that point and maybe some beans and a zucchini or two. I'm hopeful, as always, that this will be a good garden year.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Blooming acacia

This week's image of the week is the acacia blooming out on the edges of the vineyard. The flowers are heavily perfumed and smell very nice when I walk by the trees. Our neighbor came by the other day to tell us to be sure and pick the flowers for making beignets de fleurs d'acacia (deep-fried acacia flowers). That sounds good, but also sounds like an awful lot of work for very little nutrition. We may try it sometime.

Looking westward through the vineyard at the first line of acacia (and other) trees.

This is a long shot of the big row of acacias that grow along one of the many stream beds that drain the vineyards. You can see the white flowers among the green leaves. You can also see how green the vines themselves are getting. As the tendrils and leaves grow, they will eventually hide all the wooden posts beneath a blanket of green.

The grape flowers are there now and will bloom in the coming days. After that, little grape bunches will form and grow. The leaf canopy will shade the little grapes from the sun, keeping them from becoming raisins before their time.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Swept away

This plant is called broom, or scotch broom. It's genêt in French, and I've talked about it before. Right now the broom all around us is flowering. It seems that every year there's more of it. That's not good because it's one of the plants that Ken is allergic to, although it's not the main culprit. That would be cypress, mostly found in the Mediterranean climate, not here.

The flower of the genêt, or broom, plant.

Thunderstorms were predicted for most of Monday afternoon, but they never really materialized. We had a little rain, and there were one or two flashes of lightning in the late evening, but nothing like what was predicted. We're expecting some more rain this morning, then a clearing and warming trend for the rest of the week.

The rain is good because it's been so dry and the garden and plants really need it.

Monday, May 02, 2011

I'm looking over

This flower is on what I think is a variety of trèfle (clover) out in the vineyard. These plants come in many shapes and sizes in addition to the iconic shamrock shape we associate with clover. I think all varieties of clover have a three-lobed leaf since its Latin name is trifolium, meaning "three" and "leaf." In French, les trèfles is what Americans call the suit of clubs in a deck of playing cards.

I'm not sure this is trèfle, so I'll go back out and take a closer look*.
Those are not trees in the background, they're grape vines.

The vineyard, as you may know, is a patchwork of parcels owned and worked by a number of different growers and winemakers. Each grower uses different methods. Some use pesticides, others use none. Some have employees that prune in the winter, others are out there by themselves or with their wives doing the pruning. Some mulch the pruned canes, others burn them. And some use herbicides to keep weeds down while others mow between the rows.

Just Friday I saw one of the growers out on his tractor spreading herbicide in his parcels, including the one near where I took this picture. I'll soon see whether or not this patch of trèfle was spared; it's just outside of the vine parcel.

* I did. It is.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Artichoke row

Our artichokes are coming back beautifully this year. I wonder if it has to do with the early spring? But it's been relatively dry, so I'm not so sure. These are the remaining three of five plants that we put in in 2007. They produce chokes, but they're not very big and we don't eat them. Still, they look pretty in the yard, especially when they flower.

Artichokes along our garden walkway. I wonder how much longer they'll last?

In addition to the weeds, there are chives, parsley, and mint growing in between the artichokes. At the end of the row you can see one of the clumps of red peonies that's now flowering. Callie's checking out the smells before we head out the back gate for our morning walk.

That dark pile of wood in the path next to Callie are some of the dead grape vine trunks that she brings back from her walks. Each day she'll pick one up (the vineyard workers pull the dead ones and pile them up out there) and carry it home. It's her job.