Sunday, September 30, 2018

September's end

Here we are, about to enter October, and it still is not raining. It's so dry that there are cracks in the ground. Even worse, there are cracks in the house as the ground it sits on shrinks beneath it. Lawns and fields around us are parched brown. And there's no rain in the forecast. It's odd.

Grape vines have deep roots, so their leaves are green. But the ground beneath them is mostly brown.

The last time I cut the grass was July 28. That's more than two months ago. It's just not growing for lack of water. A recent news item about the drought showed that our region is among those in France where it's most severe. The Météo France web site says that our annual September rainfall should be about 56 mm (just over 2 inches) based on data from 1981-2010. Here at the house I measured 9 mm (about one-third of an inch) for the month. August was just as dry.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The fall garden

There's not much left. The potimarrons are still there and will stay for a while, until it starts raining. The Swiss chard and kale plants remain on either side of the garden. We're hopeful for a good fall crop. Otherwise, the tomatoes are gone as are the summer squash and bean plants.

Tasha stands among the chard plants. The weed crop did very well this year. Compare it to this.

We haven't done anything yet about covering the plot for the winter. We still have time for that. So, another season is coming to an end. For next year, I'm planning many fewer tomatoes, fifteen to eighteen plants maximum, compared to this year's twenty-five and last year's thirty plants. I want to try to make tripods with the tomato stakes, tying three together at the top, in hopes that they'll be more stable that way. We shall see.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Blue skies

We're enjoying a week of very nice weather. Clear nights, chilly mornings, sunny and warm days. Perfect fall weather, if you ask me. And, while we need rain, it's nice to have the good weather and to be outside.

Looking toward the west at sunrise.

For example, Ken and I spent a couple of hours on Thursday morning cleaning up the vegetable garden. The tomato plants (and their support stakes) are all pulled out and disposed of. Ken trimmed up the Swiss chard plants where the heat had baked them and now they look good and ready to produce in the cooler weather. I have a few more things to put away, but most of the garden plot is ready for a fall tilling.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Grapes be gone

The pace of harvesting seems to have slowed in the vineyards around us. That's probably because most of the grapes have been picked. However, there are still large plots of unharvested grapes out there. Some of it, we know, are white grapes that are used for "late harvest" wine. They're hanging out to ripen more and develop more sugar. There are also a few plots of red grapes still on the vine. While out running errands yesterday, we saw tractors pulling trailers filled with grapes from the vineyards to the wineries around our area.

The harvesting machines vibrate the vines and suck the grapes right off the stems.

One of the errands we ran yesterday was to see the people who made and installed our garden gate. They gave us estimates for a new garage door and three new shutters on the back of the house. We had a few questions, which they happily answered, and we ok'd the estimates. They think that installation will happen by the middle of November. We'll keep our fingers crossed!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pumpkin patch

Although you can't see them all in this photo, there are ten potimarrons still on the vine in the vegetable garden. The leaves and vines are all withered now, and the tall grass has grown up around the squash. I imagine I'll pick them before halloween. I've not heard anyone talk of the Great Potimarron rising up out of the pumpkin patch at midnight that night, so I'm probably not risking much.

I can see eight potimarrons, but there are ten of them there. Those are dinosaur kale plants on the right.

I did make a little progress in the garden on Tuesday. The zucchini plants are history as are the green beans and pea plants. I pulled a bunch of weeds, too, but probably not enough. The compost pile is overflowing for the moment, but as the plants start to decompose, things will flatten out. The next task is to pull out the tomato plants.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The heat is on

Our morning low temperatures are now in single digits. This morning it's just over 8º C (about 46ºF) outside. When our indoor temperature drops below 18.5º C (about 65ºF), the central heating comes on. It doesn't stay on for long this time of year because the house hasn't had a chance to really cool down. The heating season will start in earnest some time in October. We're expecting nice warm days this week.

A pile of logs in the woods along one of our walking routes.

It's time to start dealing with the vegetable garden. We need to pull the spent plants and clean up a little, maybe do a little burning. Ken would like to run the tiller through the dirt before we cover it. This year we want to spread plastic or some other weed-preventing fabric on the plot for the winter. That will make it easier to till up again in the spring. Tilling established weeds is hard work.

It's also time to contact the hedge trimming team and get on their fall schedule.

Monday, September 24, 2018

If it's fall it must be pumpkin bread

We had a very successful patch of potimarrons (red kuri squash) in this year's vegetable garden. There are about a dozen of them, most are bigger than those I see in the supermarkets this time of year. Potimarrons have orange flesh, like pumpkins, and have a very nice chestnutty flavor. We use them like butternut squash, in soups and stews or pureed with butter, and I also make pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread with them.

Pumpkin bread with pecans. Behind it are the chunks of the rest of the potimarron that got cooked into a chicken and squash tagine.

I picked one of the larger squash over the weekend and roasted half of it in the oven. Ken cooked the other half into a delicious tagine (a stew with squash and chicken served over cous-cous) that we had for Sunday lunch. I used about a quarter of the roasted squash to make a loaf of pumpkin bread. The remaining three quarters went into the freezer for another time. There are still ten or so squash out in the garden. Uh-oh.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Summer's end

It's strangely warm this first morning of fall, but it's quite blustery outside. Chances are we won't be seeing a hot-air balloon today. They fly on clear, still mornings. I saw this one a couple of weeks ago while walking in the vineyard with Tasha. She hasn't really noticed balloons yet, but that might be because we've seen very few of them this year and the few we've seen have not been very close.

The Bonne Maman balloon has flown by a few times this summer, but it's the only one we've seen.

We've run the new dishwasher a few times now and last night we tested the delay-start timer. No problems. It's less a test of the dishwasher than it is a test of our ability to operate it. So far, we've passed.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Beating a dead horse

Just so you don't think we keep our kitchen uncluttered, here's the reality. Once the appliances were back in place, we repopulated the space with our stuff. Lots of utensils, pans, and other things hanging from the racks. It's a jungle in there. And yes, we use it all.

The reality of the kitchen. I have plans to re-do it all. Later.

I'm very happy, so far, with the new dishwasher. It is quieter and, because it's new, it looks a lot cleaner. The interior configuration is different, so we're working on figuring out the best way to load it. We should all have such problems, n'est-ce pas ?

UPDATE: By the way, this is proof that Ken and I don't coordinate with each other before we blog. I took this photo and wrote this post on Friday afternoon, then scheduled it to publish this morning. When I looked at Ken's blog this morning, I noticed that he wrote the same post, albeit with more than one photo. But his first one is pretty much the same as this one.

Friday, September 21, 2018

New dishwasher

The appliance guy delivered and installed the new dishwasher last evening. He was a little late getting here, but all's well that ends well. Of course, the kitchen now needs to be put back together. We didn't try to tackle it last night, so we'll do it this morning.

The new dishwasher next to the stove. That's a glass trivet/tray to protect the top of the dishwasher because we keep ceramic pots filled with long-handled utensils up there.

I had some difficulty getting the stove back in place and hooked up, but Ken and I finally managed it.

I took this photo quickly, and with just the kitchen lights on (it was still dark outside). We have yet to put everything back in the kitchen, but you get the idea. The machine is running now, and it is a little quieter than the old one. But, we'll soon be used to it and won't notice anymore.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Asparagus berries

Have you ever seen the fruit of the common garden asparagus? If the asparagus spears are not harvested for eating, they grow, branch out with fine leaves, flower, and set fruit. Just like most plants. When I first saw this process, I realized why asparagus ferns are called that. They look very similar to garden asparagus. In fact, asparagus ferns are a variety of asparagus. Who knew?

The fruit of the common garden asparagus.

We're getting back into our walking routine with Tasha. The walks are short for the time being, but they'll lengthen as the days pass. She's going up and down the stairs now with ease, but we're still keeping them blocked with gates because she has a tendency to run down when she hears something outside. We don't want her to misstep and re-injure herself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


I mentioned yesterday that everything around us is archi-sec (extremely dry) right now. The grass is so brown that it reminds me of California summers. The yard is too big to waste water on, so it only gets water when it rains. The water we do use goes to the potted plants, flower beds, and the vegetable garden.

The green plastic thing in the ground is a rain gauge. It's not getting much use right now.

This is a view of the part of the yard visible from the guest room. The brownest parts get the most sun during the day. That patch of green on the lower left is not grass, but a weed called la prêle (common horsetail). It also grows in the walkway and inside the greenhouse. We pull a lot of it out of those places, but let it go in the yard. It's not easy to kill, so there's no point in trying.

Tasha is doing much better. She's no longer limping and wants to get back to running, jumping, and chasing pigeons. But we have to try to keep her as calm as possible for a few more days, just to ensure that the sprain heals all the way. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Not much to say

I did something this morning that I rarely do: I read Ken's blog entry before writing mine. He's pretty much summed up everything that's happening right now. We're happy the x-rays showed that Tasha has nothing broken in her paw. She's already walking around more normally than yesterday. She should be back to her old self in a few days. Our challenge will be to keep her relatively still while her sprain heals.

The acacia leaves are turning yellow now.

Meanwhile, we're not doing daily walks with her, which means that we're not getting our own daily exercise. Sure, we could walk without her, but that seems mean! When I took her outside yesterday I noticed just how dry and brittle what's left of our "lawn" is. It's really sad looking. And the dried out ground feels like concrete. But it will all come back when (if) it starts raining again. ♫ I'm dreaming of a green Christmas. ♫ ♪

Monday, September 17, 2018

The other artichokes

In addition to the Jerusalem artichokes in our yard, we also have a couple of standard artichokes. They're just for decoration, we don't eat them. Their flowers open in the summer (the bees love them) and then they turn brown, like this, in the fall. I'll cut the five-foot stalks down soon, but even like this they look nice.

A brown artichoke flower.

We think that Tasha twisted her leg while playing ball on Sunday. After our play session she began to limp, but not until she was in the house. Now she's having a hard time getting around and certainly can't get up or down the stairs. Fortunately, we can carry her in and out for "poopies." Looks like we'll need to see the vet today. Ugh.

UPDATE: We have a vet appointment for later this afternoon. Tasha is fine otherwise. She's hopping around on three legs and eating normally. There seems to be no pain when we move her injured leg around, but we can tell that there is feeling in the leg. She moves it, but doesn't want to put any weight on it.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Jerusalem artichoke season

Late summer is when our Jerusalem artichokes bloom. I've forgotten when it was, but many years ago our neighbor across the road had a patch of these pulled out of her garden. I asked if I could have some of the tubers and she said bien sûr (of course). I planted them in a small bed on the west side of the house. They did alright, but not great, I think because the spot is not in full sun all day.

This variety doesn't produce edible tubers, but their close cousins do and we find them in the markets every fall. Yum!

I moved them to the bed around the real fake well. They did fine there, but I soon realized that I didn't like the look of the tall plants around the well. The scale was all wrong. So I moved them again a few years ago to the bed in front of the garden shed, facing south, with full sun all day. They seem to like it, and I like having them there. They kind of dress up the old shed (which needs some major wall patching and shutter replacement -- I'll get "a round tuit" one of these days), and they're low maintenance and drought tolerant.

Moving the plants is easy; they come out of the ground with their tubers intact and then I just plant them in a new place. The following spring they sprout without fail. The hard part is getting rid of them in their original locations. They always leave some little tubers behind and they grow back quickly and aggressively. I pull several of them out from around the well and behind the house every year. Eventually, I'll win. I think.

Saturday, September 15, 2018 with the new.

It took the gate guys (who, it turns out, are brothers) about two hours to install the new gate. They had to do some light spot-welding as well as drill into the concrete posts to attach the new supports. We're both very happy with the result.

The view from outside our back yard.

We picked a green color for the gate so that it blends in better with its surroundings. It's strong, swings easily, and looks great. It turns out that it's exactly what we wanted. Funny how that can happen.

The view from inside the back yard.

While the guys were here, I asked them to do some measurements so they can prepare estimates for two other jobs we'd like done. First, our old garage door has done its time and we want to replace it. A new sectional automatic door will be a nice upgrade from the manual folding door we have now. The current door is showing its age and is becoming more and more difficult to open and close.

We also want to replace the mostly broken metal folding shutters on the back of the house (two bedrooms and the bathroom). The guys told us that new roll-down shutters can work on solar power, so we can open and close them from inside the house without running electricity to them or having to pierce the walls for interior handles. It will be nice to be able to close the shutters without needing to open the windows as we do now.

I let you know how it goes.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Out with the old...

Our old garden gate is finally history, replaced by a nice new model. It only took us fifteen years to do it. The old gate was literally being held together by spit and bailing wire. But now it's gone. So, in memoriam, here are a couple of photos of what it looked like at the end. I'll post photos of the new gate tomorrow.

The view from outside the yard. The old gate was quickly rotting away.

We asked a local company for an estimate to replace the gate last March. We accepted the estimate in early April, then waited for the guys to come and do the precise measurements for the replacement. Then the delays set in. Then August (vacation) came.

The view from inside the yard. The hardware was falling off. So were most of the pickets.

On the first work day of September, the guy called and said they were ready and he came for the measurements. Now, two weeks later, the new gate is built and installed. It's made of metal instead of wood. It should last longer than we do. And, just for fun, here's what the old gate looked like when we moved here back in 2003:

The gate in 2003. It didn't look so bad back then, but it was already coming apart.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

If it's not one thing, it's another

Last night, some time after two a.m., I was awakened by the sound of... nothing. The exhaust fan in the loft had stopped. I opened my eyes and all was black. There were no digital clocks and no glow from the nightlights in the stairwell. The power had obviously gone out. Uh-oh.

Looking on the bright side: now we have a chance to clean under and behind the appliances.

Then I heard some strange noises coming from downstairs, so I got up and carefully felt my way down the pitch-black stairs and to the den to get a flashlight. The strange noise turned out to be water dripping onto the floor in the entry on the ground floor. The water was coming from the ceiling above, just under the spot in the kitchen where the dishwasher sits. The dishwasher was programmed to run over night. It had sprung a leak and shorted out an electrical circuit thereby tripping the master breaker, cutting off the power to the entire house.

So there we were, in our underwear at 02h30 in the morning, trying with a flashlight to find the leak in the kitchen. The floor under the sink was dry. I saw a little water under the stove (next to the dishwasher). There was also a little water sitting inside the dishwasher itself. We emptied the machine and pulled it out away from the wall. Sure enough, the floor was wet underneath it, but it wasn't really a flood and I noticed that the dripping into the room below had stopped. I unplugged the dishwasher and threw some old towels down on the floor to soak up the water. I did the same in the entry below. Then I flipped the breaker back on and the power returned.

After a few minutes of waiting to make sure everything was ok, we went back to bed for a few more hours. Now we have a chore this morning: to get the dishwasher out of its spot for inspection and (maybe) repair. First I have to disconnect the adjacent stove from power and gas and pull it out as well. The leak could either be in the dishwasher's drain hose or the pump itself. The water supply hose is not leaking. If it were, there would still be water flowing, but there isn't. We'll probably call the plumber to come take a look. Worst-case scenario is that we'll need a new dishwasher. This one is fifteen years old now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What's the buzz?

I finally killed the mosquito that's been terrorizing us these past few nights. It's been hot, and I found myself cowering under the sheet, sweating in the dark, wondering where and when it would strike again. Last night I awoke with a start when I felt it bite my back. I had thrown the sheet off after falling asleep. A little later, I woke again, feeling a huge welt form on my face. The bugger got me again.

I don't have any photos of mosquitoes, dead or alive, so you get this lovely slug racing across the vineyard road.

That was it. I got up and went downstairs for the fly swatter. I turned on the light in the bedroom and, once my eyes adjusted, started looking. There it was, sitting on the wall just above the bed. Just sitting there, waiting. SWAT! Got it on the first try. I slept soundly the rest of the night.

Our heat wave is expected to break as we get closer to the weekend.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Harvest time

We saw a harvester out in the vineyards on Monday. And two trailer-loads of white grapes being taken to the winery. I'm not absolutely certain what kind of grapes they were. There are three possibilities: chardonnay, chenin, or sauvignon. The vast majority of the white grapes out back are sauvignon, so it's likely that's what they were and that the general harvest has started.

This is not sauvignon. It's cabernet franc, one of the grapes that makes our local red wine.

Even if the official harvesting has not yet been authorized, there are parcels, I believe, that can be harvested at the grower's discretion. The juice from those grapes is used to make what they once called vin de pays, wine that doesn't get the AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protegée) designation, or is blended to make sparkling wine.

European regulations have changed the way member countries label their wines. In France, what used to be labeled as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) is now designated as AOP. What was formerly called vin de pays is now categorized either as IGP (Indication Géographique Protegée), meaning that it comes from a specific region, or vin de France, meaning that it comes from somewhere in France but is not necessarily linked to a defined region, a specific varietal(s), or subject to other quality controls.

As usual, I am oversimplifying a very complicated process for labeling wine. And after you've had a glass (or three), you probably wouldn't care much.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hot time

It was certainly a hot Sunday afternoon. As predicted, we got up to about 30ºC in the late afternoon, which made for a pretty uncomfortable evening, especially for sleeping. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours before falling asleep sometime after midnight. It didn't help that I was being terrorized by a rogue mosquito. Two bites, and the fear of more, kept me awake for a while.

The tall grass plants have flowered and are releasing their seeds.

The summery weather is supposed to last for a few days. It's nice, sitting outside, barbecuing, and enjoying hanging out in shorts and t-shirts. Meanwhile, most of our summer neighbors have been packing up and heading out. The hamlet will regain its relative calm again. Of course, the grape harvest will start soon and hunting season begins in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

So juicy sweet

This is what sauvignon looks like when it's ripe. The grapes go from immature green to a nearly translucent golden color. I see a lot of ripe-looking grapes out among the vines now, but harvesting has not really started yet. Some chardonnay got picked last week, and I'm not sure what the hand-harvesters were picking the other day. But the general harvesting has yet to begin.

These grapes taste good, too. But they're not meant for eating!

We're expecting a hot day today. The high is predicted to hit 30ºC (86ºF) this afternoon, even though it's starting out at a cool 14ºC (57ºF) this morning.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

The season's first tart

I picked a few apples from our trees on Friday and decided to make a tarte aux pommes (apple tart). I found some rhubarb compote in the freezer and used that as a fruit base for the tart, then put a layer of sliced apples on top before baking.

The finished tart is glazed with strained apricot jam.

I don't even know what variety of apples these are. We have four apple trees, one of which we think is a Bramley, but it has no fruit this year. Another variety makes dark red apples, but their flesh is a little mushy and I don't really like them. They make good compost, though.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Hand harvesting

Each year, when the grape harvest gets under way, we see several parcels out back that are harvested by hand rather than by machine. I noticed some manual harvesting going on Thursday, so I grabbed the camera and took a few shots out the window.

About a dozen people worked one of the parcels out behind our house on Thursday.

There's not much to see from this distance (I used a long zoom lens), but the workers use pruning shears to cut the grape bunches from the vines, they fill up buckets and, when the buckets are full, someone takes them to the truck and empties them into larger containers. It's quite a process to see when they get a rhythm going.

These are not happy tourists enjoying a day's outing picking grapes. They're mostly itinerant workers, maybe even immigrants, hired seasonally at what I'm assuming are basic wages. We see some of them (or at least their trucks) every year. Some of the workers also come in winter to help gather the cuttings from pruned vines.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Berry, berry, bo-berry

I don't know what these berries are, but they grow wild on the edges of the vineyard, along with wild blackberries and wild roses. I thought this bunch looked interesting, kind of like a stylized christmas tree.

Pretty berries. I think they might be "troène commun" (privet). And, therefore, not edible.

I worked on sawing wood and grape vine trunks on Wednesday. First, of course, I had to spend about a half-hour getting the chainsaw operating. It sits in the garage unused for most of the year, and the chain gets stuck to the guide. Lots of WD-40 and a screwdriver helped to dislodge it and get it moving freely again. Then I had to add more chain oil (there's a compartment for that). I also had to mix up some gas/oil. The engine is a two-stroke engine that takes a mixture of gasoline and special oil to run, and I had run out. So, there's a special oil for the chain, another special oil for the gas mixture, and third special oil for the lawnmower and rototiller engines (both four-stroke engines). I have to be careful to use the right oil in the right place.

All that is to say that I didn't finish the cutting yesterday. But I'm hopeful that all will be done today. UPDATE: I finished!

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Apple piles

It only took about an hour, or less. I raked up the apples under two trees, then put the apples from each pile into a wheelbarrow and dumped them into the compost pile. I made about six trips. Tuesday morning was warm and a little humid, and the biting bugs were swarming. I had to cover myself with bug spray. But the job is done, at least for now. There are still a lot of apples on the trees.

The grass is parched, so I don't really need to cut it now.

Today my plan, as I said yesterday, is to get the chainsaw out and cut up those fallen limbs and Callie's grape vine trunks.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

It's starting

It's a months-long process around here. The leaves start to turn to shades of yellow, gold, red, and brown before they drop to the ground. By sometime in November, the grape vines and deciduous trees around us will be bare. Except for the oaks which keep their brown leaves through the winter until spring growth pushes them off.

I believe that these are sauvignon blanc leaves. They're usually the first of the grape leaves to turn.

I have two outdoor jobs I want to get done before the weather changes (right now we're having warm, dry days). The first is to get the apples up off the ground so that I can cut the grass when it's time. The second is to saw up some fallen limbs and old grapevine trunks and add them to the firewood pile. The grapevine trunks are sitting in a pile out by the back gate. They are what remain of the trunks that Callie used to bring home from our walks in the vineyard and they've been sitting out there for well over a year now. It's time.

Monday, September 03, 2018

On the greenhouse floor

The vegetable garden outside is winding down for the season, but we still have several plants going in the greenhouse. There are six or more basil plants, some parsley, and a few pots of chili peppers. We keep other plants in there, too, including some geraniums and kalanchoe along with a desert jade.

We have work to do.

Over the next month we'll be preparing the greenhouse to receive potted plants from the deck as part of our preparation for the coming winter. The potting bench is a mess and needs to be organized and cleaned up. Not to mention the outdoor chores that are coming up.

Sunday, September 02, 2018


Every year I take a photo or two of the grapes in the abandoned vineyard parcel out toward the end of the road. The parcel is slowly being overtaken by shrubs and small trees. Another nearby parcel is already overgrown with acacia trees to the point where it's hard to see that it was once a grape producing vineyard. But this one is still recognizable.

A sad looking bunch, but pretty in its own way.

Nobody tends the parcel and nobody, except the wildlife, picks the grapes. Not that they'd be good for much. An untended, unpruned vineyard makes many small bunches of small grapes. I wonder if the parcel could be rescued, but I imagine it would be too much work. It would probably be easier to raze all to the ground and start over, but I doubt anyone around here is interested in doing that.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Try to remember

It's September again. I was trying to remember what was going on last year at this time, but I needed to look back at blog entries to see. Turns out that the grape harvest started on September 1 last year, with the picking of the chardonnay grapes just to the north of our property. We were also helping Tasha recover from her spaying surgery. She started to chew on her stitches and had to wear the "cone of shame" for a while.

The donkey pen (where we haven't seen donkeys in a long time) is mowed, and leaves are starting to turn.

So here we are again. Fall is in the air, but it's still very much summer. I wonder when the harvest will start this year? The grapes certainly look ready.