Sunday, October 20, 2019

Route barrée

Road closed. It's that sign we dread when we're in a hurry to get somewhere which, thankfully, isn't all that often these days. It's usually followed by a sign that says déviation (detour) and arrows that point the way. Funny, détour is a French word, but it's not used to mean detour in the American sense. The two words' meanings are subtly different.

Road signs and barriers stacked up behind the construction trailers behind our house.

Un détour isn't a temporary route around construction or other closure. It is, if I understand correctly, a curve or meander or simply another route that is just not the most direct way from point A to point B (as in the shortest distance between two points is a straight line). If you've used the famous Michelin touring guides in France, you might remember their rating system for sights: one star, intéressant (interesting); two stars, mérite le détour (worth going out of your way); three stars, vaut le voyage (worth the trip).

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A rainy weekend

The forecast is for rain through the weekend to Monday morning. I woke up around 01h30 this morning to the sound of rain on the roof, and this morning at 07h00 it's still coming down, albeit a little lighter. We need the rain, of course.

A break in the clouds last Thursday afternoon.

I stayed up late last night watching a movie on television. Prime time starts in France at 20h50 (that's ten minutes to nine), after the eight o'clock news. I always laugh at how nothing on French TV starts on the hour. It's mostly just before or just after, depending on the channel. Even programs that are scheduled to start on the hour often start early (like the noon news) or late, with no explanation. That's just the way things are. And that's why our satellite box has a default option to start a recording early and end it late. We have it set to start recording five minutes before the scheduled start time and to stop recording five minutes after the scheduled end time of any program we record.

Bert stayed upstairs with Tasha and me through the movie (it was Star Wars, Episode VIII) and was snoozing comfortably when I went to bed. So I let him stay. His door to the utility room and outside was slightly open so he could get outside when he was ready. This morning I heard him climb back up the stairs at 04h30, so he did go out at some point. We all snoozed for another two hours before getting up for breakfast.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Construction

Crews are doing some kind of work down on the river road (the road that runs parallel to the river down the hill from us). Apparently they don't have a place down there where they can park their construction trailers and other equipment. The mayor told them they could use the land next to the pond outside our back gate.

The strip adjacent to the pond has become a temporary construction staging area. The pond (left) is full of a weed called "jussie."

So far there are two trailers (the white one looks like a field office for the construction), a front loader, a load of road barriers, construction signs, and a big pile of gravel. Each day, dump trucks and other equipment come up our road and park for a while before turning around and heading back down to the job site. The big trucks are making huge ruts in the soft ground outside our hedge. I hope the crew fills them in when they're done.

Heavily laden dump trucks are making ruts outside our back hedge.

It's inevitable that we get ruts on what is essentially an access path to the vineyards on our north and west sides. It happens every year, but those ruts made by the grape grower's smaller vehicles. Either I fill the ruts with the dirt from mole hills, or they get more or less flattened out by other vehicles. The land is not ours, but I like to keep the grass cut around the outside of the hedge. It looks neater that way, and I don't have to walk through tall grass when I go out the back gate with Tasha. I can't mow over big ruts, though.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Chicken salad

Did I mention I'm still eating that chicken that I poached last Saturday? On Tuesday, I used the meat from the thighs and drumsticks to make a chicken salad using the same recipe that Ken used a few weeks ago. That is, with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts. The only thing I didn't have was celery. But no matter.

The whole wheat toast got a little too toasted, but it was still tasty.

I made a chicken salad sandwich for lunch on Tuesday and ate it with fries. I'm going to have another sandwich today, but this time with chips. I'll still have some chicken salad left, so it'll probably become a supper snack over the weekend. There's still a piece of chicken breast left in the fridge... there may be a pizza in my immediate future.

So far, I've eaten this chicken in one form or another on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and now Thursday. And there's another meal or two left. Good thing I like chicken.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What's this "west 40" thing, anyway?

When I talk about cutting the grass, I often refer to sections of the yard as the north, south, or west 40. Some of you, especially those who aren't American, may wonder what the heck I'm talking about. Here's a quote from Wikipedia:
South 40 is an American colloquialism with its origins in the Homestead Act of 1862. Adult heads of families were given 160 acres (0.65 km2) of public land provided they could "prove" (improve) the land by constructing a dwelling of some sort on the land and cultivating the land in some manner. After five years of residence, the deed was transferred to the homesteader. The homesteads, being 160 acres (0.65 km2), were easily divisible into quarters of 40 acres (160,000 m2) each. The south 40 would therefore refer to the south 40 acres (160,000 m2).
So, our property (which is only 1/2 acre, or about 2,000 m2), is easily divided into three sections because of the way it's laid out. I jokingly refer to these sections as the north, south, and west 40s. I don't have an east 40.

The south 40 includes a strip about a meter wide outside the hedges. I also cut a meter-wide strip outside the fence on the north edge of the property.

I made this illustration many years ago using Powerpoint. It's not to scale, but generally shows where things are in the yard. I updated it for today's post. We've lost a few trees and made some improvements over the years, so I tried to show that here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Soba soup, sorta

After making my poule au pot (chicken in a pot) over the weekend, I was left with a lot of chicken broth, not to mention chicken and vegetables. Most of the broth went into the freezer. I saved out some to make chicken noodle soup for another lunch.

My chicken noodle soup with soba and Japanese flavor ingredients. I ate two bowls full.

I had some Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles in the pantry and thought they would be good in the soup, and they were. I chopped up some of the leftover chicken and vegetables, added some soy sauce, mirin (a sweet Japanese rice wine), and some soy bean/garlic paste to the broth. It turned out well, but next time I think I'll try to hot it up a bit. There will be a next time because I have some left.

On Monday evening the expected cold front moved through our sultry, muggy weekend air. Thunderstorms formed all along the line, but somehow we were spared. There were storms to the south of us and storms to the north, but all we got was rain and wind. Lots of wind. About fifteen minutes of very strong wind. When it was over, I had to go out and collect the empty flower pots that were blown all over the yard.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A summery fall weekend

We're getting one more day out of this warm spell. The forecasters have moved the cool-down and rain out about twelve hours, so most of today should be nice with temperatures approaching 25ºC again, about 77ºF. As I mentioned, I took advantage of the weather to get some outdoor work done.

Saturday evening looking over the freshly mowed west 40 as the sun began to set.

Of course, my food plans didn't quite go with the weather, but that's ok. I could have been grilling, but I have a lot of leftovers in the fridge.

On Sunday evening's walk, Tasha and I got caught in a rather heavy, but brief, unexpected shower. The rain came down as if Noah himself were building an ark out back. I eventually took shelter under the roof of the vineyard cabin. Tasha wouldn't, but was beside herself rather annoyed at getting pelted with fat raindrops. As suddenly as it started, the rain stopped. We were treated to a nearly perfect rainbow on the way back to the house, both of us soaked to the bone.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Poule au pot

Saturday morning was a little overcast and damp, so I decided to make my Sunday lunch a day early. I made a classic French dish called poule au pot (chicken in a pot). The recipe is traditionally made with an old laying hen, a tough bird that requires at least a couple of hours in the pot to become tender. Nowadays, many people just use regular chickens (poulet) that can poach in a fraction of that time.

A free-range farm-raised chicken. I used yellow turnips because they looked so pretty. The bay leaves and thyme come from our garden.
I took the picture before I remembered the onion, but it went in.

I got a nice chicken from the supermarket and all the standard vegetables. Leeks, celery, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onion, along with salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and some allspice (instead of cloves). I put the chicken in a pot, covered it with water, and brought it to a boil. I skimmed the broth, then added the vegetables and herbs. It all simmered for a little less than an hour before I turned it off and let it sit for ten minutes or so.

Poached chicken with tender vegetables. A chicken in every pot!

The chicken was perfectly poached and the vegetables were all tender. And it was delicious! Of course, now I have a ton of leftovers. I froze most of the broth for later, but I saved some out for today's lunch. I plan to cut up some of the remaining chicken and vegetables, add noodles, and make a chicken noodle soup. I have some Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles to use, so I'll look for some recipes online for an Asian-style soup.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Yard work

Friday turned out to be a beautiful day. Sunny, warm, and dry. I took advantage of the weather to get some things done outdoors. First, I trimmed the spent flower stalks off the clary sage around the real fake well. At the base of each plant, new growth is abundant. With the flower stalks gone, the well looks much neater.

I don't have photos of my handiwork yet, so here are some grape vine leaves.

Next, I tackled a project that Ken has been talking a lot about recently: clearing an overgrown patch of brambles from against our fence. The spot is where our friend, Sue, transplanted a bunch of iris bulbs back in 2006. Since then, the wild blackberries have taken over. I got the hedge trimmer out and cut it all down as close to the ground as I could. Then I got the lawnmower out and mulched the heck out of it all. Much neater looking.

Finally, after lunch I cut the grass in the south 40 and outside our hedges along the road. I still have the north and west 40s to cut. I could do that today, depending on the weather (some light showers are predicted) or Sunday morning, which is supposed to be our warmest and driest day before a new rain system moves in.

There is still much to be done, but fall is young. The vegetable garden is finishing up and that will need to get cleaned up for winter. The greenhouse needs a little reorganizing before we bring plants in for the season. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The grove

This is the little grove on the Artsy Organized Neighbor's property. I don't know if he cuts the grass or if it's naturally this way. You can see his "paved" road that circles the grove. On the right are some piles of dirt and the black gravel he used for paving. On the left you can see an old roulotte, a covered wagon, like a camper, made entirely of wood. This one's wheels have been removed so it sits on the ground.

The little grove adjacent to the vineyard. It almost looks like a city park.

Our weather is warming up again. We're expecting temperatures in the low to mid twenties (low 70sF) over the weekend. I'm planning to get the mower out and cut the grass this afternoon while the sun shines and there are no showers predicted.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

For art's sake

This is part of the Artsy Organized Neighbor's collection. Apparently he's a retired public works employee whose career had something to do with road building and maintenance. He lives in town, but has this property out here where he collects old roadside marker posts and other things. Last year he "paved" the road through his property with fine black gravel (he's got it in better shape than the road through the vineyard).

Big rocks (old cobblestones?), bits of metal, tarps, a railing, and a wheel. I think the tubes are old roadside marker posts.

My guess is that he misses his work, so he putters around out in the woods from time to time. Memories of better days, I suppose. None of his stuff is an eyesore. It's all neatly organized and is mostly hidden behind his log pile, which itself is kind of hidden behind a row of hazelnut trees that he keeps nicely trimmed. I wonder what will happen to it all when he eventually passes away.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The woodpile

This wood pile is not ours (too bad!). It belongs to the Artsy Organized Neighbor and sits out on an isolated property between vineyard parcels and a ravine in the adjacent woods. We walk by it most days, although usually on the vineyard side.

Standard one-meter lengths of oak and other hardwoods are neatly stacked on the AON's property.

The trailer and other odd pieces of old and rusting machinery are parked next to the woodpile. I don't think I've ever seen them moved, but the woodpile shrinks and grows from year to year.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha really likes to go off-road, as it were, and through the woods on her walks. This particular route leads us by a big woodpile and the collection of the Artsy Organized Neighbor and then through the woods on what is probably a deer path. Callie used to like the same path, and now it's Tasha's.

Just beyond Tasha, where you can see grass, is the western entrance to the path through the woods.

Where the path exits the woods next to a vineyard parcel, thorny brambles grow and block the way. Even Tasha struggles to get through unscathed. Once a year, Ken or I take a pair of pruning shears on the walk to clear it out, making the path accessible again. I did that last week so we no longer have to fight with thorns. Until next year.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Millet

There are several fields interspersed among the vineyard parcels out back. Most of the time, they're filled with tall grasses that grow all spring and summer and then are cut down. Some of them are cut for hay, and we see the bales dotting the fields in late summer before they're taken to storage.

India, Nigeria, and Niger are the world's leading producers of millet. The US, India, and Nigeria are the leading producers of sorghum.

One small field, between a small grape parcel and a stand of pines, was plowed up last spring and planted with something. At first it looked like corn (maze), but it did not grow tall. Now that it's gone to seed, it looks like it's a variety of millet. It could also be sorghum; they're related and look similar. I think millet is mostly used for animal feed in France, probably poultry. It's also part of the wild bird seed mixes I see sold in the garden centers. Here and there we find a variety of millet in the markets sold for human consumption. We both enjoy it as an alternative to rice and other grains.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Abandoned

Every year I post a photo of grapes in an abandoned vineyard parcel out along our walking route. It's too bad that there's no one to work the vines in this parcel. Either there's no heir that's interested, or whoever owns the land doesn't want to sell, or there's no buyer if he does.

Unpruned, unharvested, these grape vines have been abandoned. The grapes will be eaten by wildlife or rot.

By now, shrubs and small trees have invaded. If anyone does want to work the parcel, I think everything would have to be dug up and they'd have to start from scratch. We've seen some vineyard parcels out back dug up and re-planted over the years, but none of them had been left to go wild.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Harvest is winding down

There is less and less activity in the vineyards out back as the days go by. Most of the grapes are gone. I noticed on Friday that one particular plot of "late harvest" grapes had been picked. So ends another harvest season. I imagine that the grapes have been pressed and the juice is starting to ferment in big tanks in the wineries around us.

These parcels have all been harvested. Soon the leaves will turn golden and fall to the ground.

In the coming weeks, some of the young juice will be sold as bernache, a local name for the unfiltered juice as it begins to ferment. It's a very sweet, yeasty, and slightly alcoholic beverage that is reputed for having digestive effects similar to prune juice. Then, later in November, the "new" wines will show up in the markets. In Beaujolais they're called vins nouveaux; in our region the young wine is released as Touraine Primeur. The fall season is in full swing.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Mellow yellow

The vineyards' deep green is getting more pale as the days go by. It's not in its yellow phase yet, but there are certain leaves that are ahead of the game.

The bottom grape leaves seem to be changing before the rest.

I harvested four long eggplants on Thursday from our single plant. There are two other eggplant varieties out there, but the few fruits they have are not yet mature. I sliced and grilled the eggplant and Ken used it in moussaka, a Greek dish made with layers of potato, ground lamb, and eggplant, topped with a béchamel sauce, and baked. Ken's version also has cheese on top. It made a tasty lunch. And, yes, there are leftovers!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The green is back

Although our drought is far from over, the recent rains have provided enough surface moisture to get the grass growing again. Our yard is losing its summer brown and is turning green again. Where I grew up, winter meant brown grass. But in California, the grass was green in winter, when it rained, and brown in summer (except where watered by sprinklers). Here in central France, where the summers are increasingly dry, we're reminded of California.

Early October in the West 40. Not only is the grass getting greener, but it's growing. I'll have to mow in a week or so.

It doesn't get cold enough long enough for our grass to go brown in winter. But it does rain, and that keeps things green. The trees may be brown and bare, but the grass is a refreshing green through the winter.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

More leaves

Until I get some more photos taken, you're stuck with autumn leaves. Autumn grape leaves. We had a mixed day on Tuesday with rain showers in the middle and breezy conditions on either end. Then, right when I took Tasha out for her afternoon walk, we had another fairly strong shower. So, we got wet. The walk didn't last very long,

These look like they might be gamay leaves. Gamay is the red varietal most grown in our area.

This morning looks dry, but it's still breezy out there. The growers are still working on getting all the grapes in. There's a parcel of red grapes close by us that hasn't been harvested yet. Of course, there are small parcels here and there that the growers leave for "late harvest" sweet wines, but I think those are mostly white sauvignon.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Fall color

The leaves in the vineyards around us are starting to change. The reds can be especially vibrant, but the majority of the color will be golden, as much of the vineyards are planted in sauvignon blanc. Over the next weeks the green will pale out to yellow, then gold. If the weather cooperates, I'll try to post photos of the change.

This leaf looks like it could be "côt," a local name for "malbec," one of the three red wine varietals that are grown out back.

After the peak, the leaves will go brown and drop off, or they'll be blown off by autumn winds and rain. Speaking of which, the recent rains have had an effect: I've noticed the grass in our yard is greener and is growing again. I will likely have to mow at least once more before winter.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Nuts to you!

The lone walnut tree out among the vines is starting to drop this year's crop. I think it's the only walnut tree in or around our hamlet. It most likely belongs to one of the growers, but nobody tends the tree or harvests the walnuts. With one exception: for a couple of years, I would see one of our neighbors walk out and gather up a bag-full of nuts. It's been a few years, though, because he became ill and passed away about a year ago.

The green outer shell peels back to reveal the familiar hard-shelled nut inside before it falls to the ground.

The walnuts from this tree are pretty small and not really worth messing with. Besides, we have generous friends who share their bounty with us, and their walnuts are always a good size and delicious!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Relations

I call these tall sunflower-like plants Jerusalem artichokes, but in fact I think they are some related variety. They don't produce tubers that are big enough to eat (unfortunately!). But they look so very similar. Early fall is their time for flowering. I got these from a neighbor who was having them dug out of her garden many years ago. They're very invasive plants.

A close-up of a Jerusalem artichoke flower. These, as you may recall, are planted in front of our garden shed.

Ken and I enjoy eating topinambours, as they're called in French, when they're in season, which is fall and winter. I'll be looking for them in the markets now.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Tarte aux courgettes

For Friday's lunch, I made what could be called a zucchini quiche. It's a twist on a quiche I've made many times, the difference being the custard. Instead of a standard quiche custard, I used the thicker cheesy batter that I make for the springtime asparagus and ham tart. It worked out very well.

The quiche is cooled, but still warm, and ready to serve.

The first step, as always, is to blind-bake a pie crust. I use papier cuisson (parchment paper) and pie weights so the crust will hold its shape and I bake it at 180ºC (350ºF) for about twenty minutes. The crust is cold when it goes into the oven because I let it rest in the refrigerator after I roll it out and line the pan. Once it's baked, I let the crust cool before removing the paper and weights.

The torture instrument, er, mandoline, I used to cut thin zucchini slices.

Next, I sliced the zucchini into thin rounds. For this step, I used a mandoline to cut thin slices of 3mm, about 1/8 of an inch. This gives me a uniform thickness (or thinness, if you will) of slices for the tart. I lined the cooled crust with the zucchini slices in a pattern called une rosace, as it resembles a rose window.

The bottom layer of zucchini in a "rosace" pattern.

I made the batter with two eggs, 10cl of milk, 10cl of crème fraiche, and about 50 grams of finely grated cheese. Any grating cheese you like will work. This time I used some sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region. I poured the batter onto the layer of zucchini then added some diced roasted breast of chicken that we had on hand. Lardons (smoked bacon) would also be good, but you can leave the meat out for a more vegetarian-like quiche.

The batter is poured onto the bottom layer of zucchini and diced cooked chicken (don't use raw!) is sprinkled on.

Finally, I covered the batter with another layer of zucchini, sprinkled on some more cheese, then baked it in a 200ºC (about 400ºF) oven for about 30 minutes, turning the oven down toward the end of the cooking. I let the tart cool some before serving to help the custard firm up.

The top layer of zucchini is added in the same "rosace" pattern, then sprinkled with a little salt and some cheese before baking.

You might notice from the photos that the tart pan is sitting inside a larger tart pan. I did this because the pan the quiche cooks in has a removable bottom, and melted butter from the crust can drip out during baking. The big pan catches the butter so it doesn't drip onto the oven bottom and burn.

The quiche was delicious. I'm going to have to remember this recipe and do it again soon (if I get more zukes out of the garden) or definitely next year.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Harvesting continues

The grape harvest is going strong. I think the growers are trying to get the grapes in before things get too wet out there. An infusion of water might change the sugar/acid ratio in the grapes (I'm just guessing here, but it seems logical). I haven't seen any more hand-harvesting, just the big mechanical harvesters.

The growers took advantage of a dry, but breezy, afternoon this week to get more red grapes harvested.

These behemoths straddle the vines, vibrating them and sucking the grapes right off their stems. There are two storage bins on either side of the machine. When they fill up, the harvester dumps the grapes into a waiting trailer. That's what's going on in this shot, taken from our guest room window. Soon it will all be over for another year.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

More tomatoes

I got out and picked another batch of tomatoes on Wednesday. There are still a lot of tomatoes on the plants. With the weather changing, the ripening process has slowed down some. It will be interesting to see how many more we get.

Most of these will probably end up as sauce or tomato paste.

I also picked another small batch of yellow flat beans. They're not producing as much as they should. I believe the heat waves and dry conditions slowed them down. Beans have always grown well in the garden otherwise. I also picked a few peppers. Ken used them along with some tomatoes in yesterday's lunch.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A blustery day

With rain. That's what Tuesday was. The rain gauge read nine millimeters (about a third of an inch) when the sun came out late in the afternoon. It's not a lot, but it helps. Much of the rain was more like drizzle, called bruine in French, than hard rain.

A vineyard parcel out by the end of our walking route. It's already been harvested.

We're expecting some more rain this afternoon. Before that comes, I want to get out and pick the tomatoes that have ripened since the last time I picked. I see some more sauce in our future!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The fall vineyard

The vineyard in the first days of fall looks pretty much like the vineyard in the last days of summer. With one difference: there are many fewer grapes. Much of the sauvignon crop has been harvested. Yesterday I noticed that red grapes (cabernet, côt, and gamay) were being harvested. I think the pace has accelerated because a rain system is moving in.

These red wine grapes hadn't been picked when I took this picture, but the leaves were already starting to turn.

In fact, it's raining again this morning as I type this (about 07h00) and the rain is expected to last most of the day. More is on the way. We really need the rain, of course, but it complicates the harvesting schedule. And it makes walking the dog a pain.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Amandine aux figues

We are so lucky to have nearby friends with a surplus of figs. They have one tree that produces abundantly, so they often have more than they can use. And they graciously offer some of their surplus to us.

Fresh figs from the tree.

On Sunday, I made what's called une amandine (a pie made with ground almonds) with figs. It was, and still is, delicious. We also ate some plain figs with our cheese course after lunch. Fresh figs and sheep's cheese go very well together.

Amandine aux figues. It was pretty and delicious, if I do say so myself.

The rest of the figs went into the freezer for use during the months to come. They freeze well and are useful for making a compote or a tart. Yum.

We ate some of these with cheese and red wine. Tasty!

You might remember that I planted a fig tree many years ago. It's never given us much, just a few figs here and there. And one year it froze completely to the ground, only to come back from the roots the next spring. We're still waiting for it to take hold and produce. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Mistletoe

This is one of the culprits in the pending demise of our apple trees. It's gui (mistletoe), a parasitic plant, and it's common in France. We see it all around us not only in apple trees, but in poplars and hawthorn, too. In the fall, the berries ripen and turn white. Certain birds love to eat them, but I read that they're poisonous to humans.

A rather large mistletoe plant in our biggest apple tree.

After birds eat the berries, they spread the seeds in their droppings to other trees. The seeds have a sticky coating that helps them to adhere to tree branches where they take root. According to my extensive quick and superficial research, mistletoe is nearly impossible to remove once it's established.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The leaning apple tree

This is the biggest apple in our yard. You can see how it leans toward the west. You can also see that several of the big, lower branches are gone, and how the upper branches are infested with mistletoe. What you can't see is that the main trunk is almost hollow (I'm sure there are critters living inside). If it wasn't for the fact that it's leaning into the prevailing wind, it might have come down by now.

Future firewood. There's more mistletoe than leaves on this apple tree. Again, notice how brown the "grass" is.

But this is not the tree I was talking about in yesterday's post. The one I want to have taken down is a tall cedar that's very close to the house and it, too, is dying. Most of the branches on the lower third of the tree are dead already. I've never really liked that tree, mostly because it's too close to the house and it's too close to its neighboring trees, a tall fir and a linden. Taking it out will help with light and will give the two healthy trees some breathing room.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The garden shed

I showed a close-up of the shed last weekend, so here's a wider view. We had a new locking door installed soon after we moved in because the original door had rotted away. The tree is the smallest of our four apples, and it's in bad shape due to mistletoe. I've hacked a lot of it out, but it always comes back. The tree produces a couple dozen small unappetizing apples each season that aren't very useful, except to feed the compost pile.

The garden shed, where the rakes and shovels (and a few hundred spiders) live. You can see how brown the "grass" is.

I've contacted the guy who trims our hedge every year and he will schedule us soon. I also told him I have a big tree (not this one) that I want taken down and asked if he did that kind of work. He said yes, so maybe that will happen soon, too. I'll talk more about that tree in a separate post.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Manual harvesting

I've seen a couple of crews in the vineyards out back working to harvest grapes by hand over the past few days. It feels like they're doing more manual harvesting than in years past, but I can't be certain. Each coupeur (picker, or literally, cutter) in the crew uses a sécateur (pruning shears) to cut the bunches of grapes from the vine. He or she also has a bucket to hold the bunches temporarily.

A picker empties his bucket into the larger "hotte." You can see the pruning shears in his right hand.

Another member (or members) of the crew, le porteur (the carrier), carries a large basket called une hotte on his shoulders and walks up and down the rows where the pickers are working. The pickers empty their buckets into the hotte. When that's full, the carrier empties it into a waiting trailer for transport to the winery.

The "porteur" empties his basket into the trailer by climbing up a ladder and leaning in until the grapes slide out.

I got a couple of shots of the process on Wednesday. These are smaller portions of larger photos taken from a distance. I'm not really comfortable asking strangers if I can take their picture, so I just snapped a few when they weren't looking as I walked by.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A closer look

I still have no information on what these five piles of rocks are doing out in a field among the vineyard parcels. They haven't been moved. I haven't seen anyone who might know, although eventually we'll see somebody and ask. So there they sit.

Nobody can see the rock piles from their house, you have to walk or drive by to notice they're there.

You can see that it's not gravel, so I don't think it's for filling potholes in the dirt road. Besides, that's a spring job after the rains have made more potholes. So the mystery remains intact. Are they there for a purpose, did whoever owns the land put them there, or did somebody dump them illegally? Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Now you sedum, now you don't

Speaking of neglected plants... We put these sedum in an old planter box many years ago. The box sits on the ground out by the garden shed and only gets water when it rains. Which hasn't been much at all this summer. But they survive, even thrive, and this time of year they flower.

Kind of a wild, shabby chic look. OK, maybe just shabby.

One year, after digging up some iris bulbs to divide them, we "temporarily" piled them on the gravel next to this planter box. And there they have stayed. They sprout, grow, and flower every year. So there's color in the spring (iris) and color in the fall (sedum), and there's no maintenance. If only the tall grass would pull itself out...

Monday, September 16, 2019

How 'bout them apples

The apples from these two trees won't win any prizes. One variety is deep red and has a very mealy texture. Probably a cooking apple, but you have to hurry because they don't last very long and when they cook they turn into applesauce. The other variety is better, but not by much. Also best cooked, it will hold its shape in a tart. It also makes decent applesauce (I have some in the freezer from last year). Neither apple is very good for eating raw.

These two apple trees are relatively healthy and seem to be resistant to mistletoe, at least for now.

We had three other apple trees in the yard when we got here. One was pretty much dead and we took it out. The remaining two, one small and the other quite big, are dying. Age and mistletoe have taken their toll. The big tree has dropped large limbs over the years (firewood!), and the main trunk is splitting. The tree bore no fruit this year and many of its upper limbs are dead. We'll probably lose the tree altogether within five years (more firewood!). It's too bad, because those apples were the best of the five trees.

So now we're thinking we should find a nice cherry or other fruit tree to plant before the apple goes away.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hardy

These are the Jerusalem artichokes that I planted in front of the garden shed a few years ago. Apparently they don't fear neglect. I think I watered them once this summer. It's been so hot and very dry, as you know, and yet they hang in there. They're not as lush as they have been, but there they are.

The shed has seen better days. The dry ground shrinks beneath the building and cracks form in the facade. The same thing is happening to our house, and to a good number of houses across the country.

Today will be the hottest of our current warm spell before the temperatures drop to more seasonal levels, according to one of the weather sites I look at daily. Météo France, the national weather agency, predicts that the warm spell will continue for the next ten days. Who to believe?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Picked

I'm assuming these are were sauvignon blanc grapes. This is what's left after the mechanical harvester passes. It strips the grapes right off their bunches, so there's supposedly not a lot of excess material that needs to be separated out at the winery.

Some grapes are left behind.

I read that in some wine making regions, like Sauternes and Champagne, the grapes are picked by hand to ensure that the wineries get whole bunches intact (in fact, some properties in Sauternes pick individual grapes and make several passes through their vineyards during the harvest, a practice that contributes to the high price of Sauternes). When whole bunches are picked by hand, the grapes stay on the stem right up to the crushing process and very little precious juice is prematurely released or lost. I have seen the mechanical harvesters emptying their bins and there is quite a lot of juice being poured into the trailer along with the grapes.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Les vendanges

That's the French word for the grape harvest, which got under way in our area on Wednesday. I saw two harvesters out on Thursday, two different growers picking white grapes in their respective parcels. It's interesting how small some of the parcels can be and how they make up a patchwork of different varietals and different owners.

A harvester and trailer, both pulled by tractors, get into position for the morning's work.

It's also interesting to look at the different styles of harvesting. A few parcels are picked by hand. In some grape-growing regions of France, like Champagne and Beaujolais, hand-picking is required by law. In other areas, vineyards may be too steep or otherwise not able to accommodate harvesting machines. I read somewhere that hand-harvesting is done in much of Burgundy because pinot noir grapes are too fragile for the machines. There is a little pinot noir grown in our region, but not much. Hand-picking is not required by law in our area, so I wonder if it's a marketing thing for the high-end wines.

Tractor-pulled harvester on the left, newer driven harvesting machine on the right.

In the photo above, there are two types of harvesters. On the left is an older model that is pulled by a tractor. On the right, a more modern model that is driven, no tractor necessary. In each case, the machines vibrate and suck the grapes off the vines (I'm sure there's a more elegant way to say that). When the harvester's storage bins are full, the operator will empty them into a larger trailer (below). When that's full, another driver takes it to the winery for processing while the harvester continues to pick.

A special trailer for transporting grapes to the winery a few kilometers away.

As I wrote this, just after seven a.m., a harvester and a trailer drove past the house and out into the vineyard to begin the day's work. The sun's not up yet, but the weather is supposed to be hot today and I'm guessing the growers want to pick their grapes in the cool of the morning when they might be less susceptible to damage.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Harvest moon

This year's harvest moon rises tomorrow, on Friday the 13th (technically, the moon hit's "full" early Saturday morning, just before it sets). I understand it's called a "harvest" moon because it's the full moon closest to the equinox, which happens on the 23rd of September this year, and the start of the harvest. And, true to the moon's reputation, the harvests have begun. We're picking tomatoes, and the growers are picking grapes.

There's a sprinkling of fallen leaves in our yard. More have fallen since I took this picture.

I don't have any photos of this year's grape harvest, yet. The first mechanical harvester worked the vineyard parcels most of Wednesday morning, picking first a plot of chardonnay then moving on to the sauvignon blanc parcels. The reds will be picked later, I assume. On my walk with Tasha last evening, I sampled a grape here and there. They're sweet and tasty.