Monday, May 20, 2019

Gratuitous cheese shot

For lack of anything better, here's some cheese. We brought this back from our trip to the Auvergne region last March. It's long since eaten, but I don't think I ever posted the photo.

Bleu d'Auvergne on the left, Saint-nectaire on the right.

We made good progress in the loft over the weekend. Except for a few minor things, we're pretty much ready for the construction to start. Of course, we don't yet know when that will be. It's amazing how much junk can accumulate over the years. The loft (it's really the attic, but I call it "the loft" because it's one large space with an open stairwell) was finished nearly nine years ago now. That's longer than we lived in our San Francisco house. Some of the furniture up there hadn't been moved since then. You can imagine...

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The greening of the vineyard

This photo is almost a week old now. The vineyards are turning from winter brown to spring green as the leaves multiply and grow. All the greens around us now are spring-fresh. I went to the Saint-Aignan market on Saturday (for strawberries) and noticed that, even though it was overcast and raining, everything looked beautiful, even the old gray stone of the town.

We haven't see the sun in a couple of days, but all the plants will appreciate the rain we're getting.

We've made good progress on the loft, clearing out the northwest corner and the storage closets under the eaves to make way for the new half-bath construction. But the rest of the room is mess! Piles of clothes and boxes everywhere. We should be pretty much finished today, moving a second chest of drawers, rolling up the rug, and tidying up other stuff. The work could start during the coming week, so we have to be ready.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Seedlings

The little tomato seedlings are getting bigger. There is now only one seedling per pot, so they have some room to grow. We're getting closer to setting them out in the garden. I spread some compost on Friday and Ken will do a final tilling in the week to come. It's raining this weekend, so we have to wait.

The green tray contains red Russian kale seedlings, a gift from a friend who had a surplus.

Next week I'll start the hardening-off process by putting the seedlings outside during the day and bringing them back in over night. That slowly conditions them to being outdoors. One year I didn't do that and a lot of them died in the garden. Lesson learned.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Yard work

We're getting there, slowly. We've had a break in the chilly and wet weather, enough to be able to cut grass (again), till up the garden plot, and do some other trimming and clean-up. This weekend looks like it might be wet again, so we'll pause. There is still work to do to get the loft ready for the new bathroom construction, so that will be our first priority.

The grass is cut!

The vegetable seedlings are doing well in the greenhouse. They'll be ready to go outside as soon as the garden plot is ready for them. Today I plan to shovel compost. We've also got the annual tune-up of the central heating boiler scheduled for this morning. I don't have to do anything but be here for the technician; he does all the work.

That wisteria against the house needs to be trimmed up and adjusted. The lilac on the right is done blooming.

I've got a pile of junk to take to the dump/recycling center and a list of little odd jobs to tend to. I guess I need one of those "round tuits" that everyone talks about.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Grape buds

Not to be confused with "Grape Nuts," an American breakfast cereal which, by the way, Wikipedia explains is made from neither grapes nor nuts. Discuss.

The immature grape bunches are pointing skyward now, but as they grow, they'll bend toward the ground.

These little buds will open into barely perceptible flowers soon and, once pollinated, will become tiny bunches of grapes. The grapes will spend the summer growing and ripening until harvest time. The main activity right now out in the vineyards is mildew (fungus) prevention. Big tractors with far-reaching arms are spraying the new foliage with a copper sulfate and lime solution commonly called bouillie bordelaise. The mixture helps to prevent the growth of fungi that like damp conditions. Since rain is predicted this weekend, the growers are spraying. They'll have to do it again after the rain.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Acacia flowers

Here's a look at the first of the acacia flowers that I've seen this spring. The trees are just a short walk from our place out among the vineyard parcels. They line a stream bed that cuts a ravine down to the river.

I won't be eating these, but they are pretty.

People have told us for years that the fresh flower bunches are good to eat when battered and fried, much the same way that one batters and fries zucchini blossoms. I've never tried it. It just seems like a lot of work for not much result. If I'm frying, I'd rather eat French fries.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

The vineyards are getting greener and greener. This week, with all the predicted sun, we should see even more growth. I can see that there are already grape flower buds in most of the parcels.

Pretty soon I won't be able to see Tasha when she ducks into vine rows.

Ken has started, in earnest, the job of preparing the loft for construction. There's a lot of stuff to go through (and get rid of) before we can move furniture. I plan to make a run to the dump at some point this week. Then we have to remember to take some "before" photos.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ancolie

The few re-seeding ancolies (columbine) are blooming right now in the yard. There were pink ones in addition to these blue ones, but I don't see any pink this year. I wish they would spread, but they don't seem to. I suppose I could collect the seeds. Our deep red peonies are also starting to open up.

Blue columbine in the daisy patch.

As I mentioned yesterday, we're heading into a sunny and dry week, although the temperatures are not expected to be very warm. Not cold, just not very warm. There is work to be done!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Freshly cut

These photos are from early last week when I got the grass cut. It's been raining every day since then (we even had a brief hail storm on Saturday), but I got a few shots in while the sun was still shining.

Looking west toward the vineyard parcels outside the back gate. The ailing apple tree is in the center of the image.

It's part of the section of the yard that I call the "west 40." It's where the garden shed is, where the vegetable garden is, and where our apple trees are. You can see that the big apple tree is in bad shape. It's full of gui (mistletoe), a lot of dead branches, and the trunk is actually splitting down the middle. It won't be long before we'll have to take it out.

A slightly different angle. You can see part of the vegetable garden plot and one of the two healthy apple trees on the right.

Starting today, we're expecting a week of sunshine. That will be good, because we've got work to do, not the least of which is tilling up the vegetable garden plot to prepare it for seedlings. I also heard from our plumbing contractor who says he'll start work on the new half-bath in the loft at the beginning of June. That means we have a lot of prep to do, clearing out closets and moving furniture around, before he starts. Better get to it!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Saturday is strawberry day

Among other things, springtime means strawberries. And Saturday is the day to get them at Saint-Aignan's weekly market. Along with asparagus and maybe some goat cheese. Last week a friend brought us some rhubarb that she grew from plants we divided and gave to her a few years ago. Our patch isn't doing well this year.

Fresh strawberries on a rhubarb compote, glazed with home-made apple jelly. Some kinda good!

So, I made a strawberry/rhubarb pie. Today, Ken is heading into town for some more of these beauties, along with asparagus and maybe some goat cheese. I see strawberry shortcake in our immediate future.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Who lives here?

This looks like a rather flat mole hill, but with a big hole in the middle, which I've not ever seen on a mole hill. And then there are all those little black things strewn around. They look like you-know-what to me. Never seen that on a mole hill, either. So I wonder, if this is a rodent hole, what kind of rodent lives there? If not a rodent, then what?

This hole is out by the vineyard, near a blackberry bramble. I'd say it's about two inches in diameter.

We're having another rainy day in paradise. I saw a clear sky with bright stars at two this morning, but now that it's light outside, the sky is a leaden gray. And it's wet out there.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Just a dandy lion

The year's first wave of pissenlits (dandelions) has come and gone. They got fluffy and sent their seeds parachuting across the countryside in between the rain storms.

Dandelions on a sunny morning.

The wind is dying down now, but we did have a rocky night. I woke up a few times when gusts shook the roof, but it wasn't too bad. This wind event was mild compared to some we've had. The rain seems to have subsided for the moment, too, which is good because Tasha and I have to go out for our morning walk soon. **UPDATE: We went out and got caught in a squall. Soaked.

One seed is hanging on. "No! I won't go!"

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Roses

One of the roses in our garden is blooming now. It won't win any prizes, but it provides a nice splash of color. All of the roses chez nous were here when we arrived sixteen years ago. Two of them are plants that we split off from their parent. I've torn out several rose plants altogether over the years, mostly because they weren't in good spots and didn't do much.

This bud's for you.

Those remaining I feed from time to time, and prune now and again. This past year I did no pruning at all, so the plants have a "wild" look, which is fine with me. Because I put most of my gardening energy into the vegetable garden (not to mention cutting the grass), I tend to treat the flowering plants with a strict regimen of benign neglect. If they can't survive that, out they go.

Pretty in pink.

We're expecting a day of spotty rain today. That got me out to finish cutting the grass (again) on Tuesday. I must say that it's satisfying to get it cut so that I don't have to watch it grow to a height that requires a team of gardeners with machetes to control. When we moved in all those years ago, the grass (and all the little plants that make up the "lawn") had been left to grow to waist height. I spent days doing battle with a weed-eater before I could make a first pass with the lawnmower. I don't care to repeat that.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Sapling

As many of you know, we have two very tall red maple trees on the eastern edge of our property, just off the front deck of the house. A while ago, I noticed one of their offspring, a sapling, that's now two or three feet high growing on the western edge next to the garden shed.

I think this tree is too close to the shed, so it will probably have to be dug up before long. I wonder if moving it will kill it?

It's grass cutting time again. Yes, again. I did the South 40 on Monday, and I hope to finish with the West and North 40s today. We're expecting rain from Wednesday through the weekend, so if I don't do it now, it will grow even more.

Monday, May 06, 2019

It's asparagus season!

Spring is when the local asparagus is available in the markets around us. I bought our first bunch three weeks ago, and I'll probably continue buying a bundle every Saturday until there is no more. This is one of the dishes we make every year with our local white spears.

An annual spring favorite: white asparagus and ham bundles baked in a cheesy custard.

First, I steam the spears until they're pretty much done. Then I wrap a few of them in a slice of ham, four times. I make my standard pâte brisée (short crust) and blind bake it to give it a head start. Next, I make a custard with eggs, cream, and finely grated Parmesan cheese. After pouring the custard into the shell, I line the asparagus/ham bundles on top and bake the tarte until the custard is set.

We also eat asparagus as a side dish, either warm with butter or olive oil, or as a salad with vinaigrette or ranch style dressing. It's a nice seasonal vegetable that's grown right around here. The guy that grows and sells strawberries at the Saint-Aignan market is the one who also grows and sells the asparagus. Well, his son has taken over the farming operation; he works the markets.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Cerfeuil

We had a nice surprise earlier this spring: our patch of cerfeuil (chervil) came back from last fall's seeds like gangbusters. It's the first time since we planted it a couple of years ago that it's filled in, and overflowed, its bed.

Chervil in its plot against the house, under the wisteria.

Chervil is related to parsley, but has a mild anise flavor. We use it fresh in salads (like the black radish and mimolette cheese salad I like to make) and it's good with fish as well. The patch is bolting right now, so there will be a big crop of seeds. I'll just let them lie there in the hope of another crop in late summer. Chervil likes cool weather, so we normally don't have much during the hot months.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

A rainy Thursday

This is the view from the guest room window on a rainy Thursday morning. I was lucky to get the grass cut before the rain came again. Everything is quite green right now. The grape vines are producing fresh green leaves, too. I hope the predicted cold this weekend doesn't hurt anything.

Just inside the hedge is the path that Tasha has made, running back and forth chasing cars and people from inside the yard.

I made the mistake of playing ball with Tasha the other day. Now, all she wants is to play with the tennis ball. I won't let her have it in the house (too much potential for damage) and it's too wet outside to play. She's really frustrated. Oh well. She'll get over it, I'm sure.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Funky feline fotos

Bert likes to nap on the couch. Well, in truth, Bert likes to nap. Period. He's getting up there in years but he still hunts regularly. And catches mice. And eats them.

One of Bert's many favorite napping spots.

Not only that, but he gets fed wet and dry food every day. He even goes over to the neighbor's house and she feeds him, too. We told her she shouldn't do that because he gets plenty, but she likes doing it, and he's not overweight, so what the heck.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Rainy day

I heard a little rain over night, and this morning the rain is more steady. The weather people say it will rain on and off all day. It's good for the plants.

A lilac in our back yard.

The early spring flowers are fading. The fruit tree blossoms are gone. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth have long since lost their blooms. The lilac pictured above is losing its petals now, too. That photo is a few days old. Yesterday I put the saw attachment onto the long pruning pole and sawed some dead branches out of a few of our trees. Tasha had a great time grabbing stray sticks and running them around the yard.

We may have a frosty Sunday and Monday. The forecasts don't agree, but they're predicting early morning lows at or near zero (Celsius). Brrr.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Le pliage

After the winter pruning is done, the spring task in the vineyards is le pliage, the folding, of the remaining single canes to make them horizontal. The buds on that cane will then grow vertically and will flower and, eventually, produce grapes.

The single canes are bent to the horizontal and wrapped around the guide wires.

It seems to be mostly done now, with a few parcels left to go. One of the guys that works out behind our house told me that le pliage could not be done before the last threat of a freeze. He told me that some vineyards that had been started back in mid-April had to be undone when it got cold again. He said that the grower he worked for told him not to do any pliage until after the frost threat was over.

This cane is bent in the extreme. If you look closely, you might see a staple on the left end, securing the cane to the wire.

But now we're almost out of frost season, although we're expecting some chilly mornings in the coming week. Hopefully, there will not be any frost or freezing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tomatoes

The tomatoes are growing. They're not big enough to go outdoors yet. It is time, however, to transplant them so that there's only one plant per pot. In a few weeks, after the threat of frost is over, and after I've hardened them off, they'll go out into the garden.

Little tomato seedlings. Looking forward to nice tasty tomatoes this summer.

I got a section of the grass cut on Monday afternoon, what I call the South 40. It's the section that you see in yesterday's photo. I also did the strip along the road outside the hedge. Phew. Still more to go, but it will get done, hopefully this afternoon. I can't do it in the morning because there is so much dew and the grass is too wet to cut. By afternoon it dries out. I'm looking forward to the coming summer and less dew.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hoping for a dry week

After a week of relatively wet weather, the grass is growing incredibly fast. I got ten liters of gasoline a few days ago and now I'm waiting for a dry day or two to get out there and cut it again. When the grass gets tall and thick, I adjust the mower to cut it higher than normal. That makes the cutting easier. At some point I'll return the mower to the normal height and cut the grass shorter.

That's salvia sclarea (clary sage) thriving around the well. The grass is taller now than in this photo.

The little tomato seedlings are growing well in the greenhouse. This week I will thin them and transplant them into individual pots so they can get bigger before I plant them outside. We're also hoping for a dry spell to till up the garden plot. The last frost danger here is mid-May, so we still have a couple of weeks to get it done.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

One last look

Here's my final shot from inside the Basilique Saint-Julien de Brioude. I'm standing in the ambulatory looking west along the southern aisle. I think this view gives you a good feel for the volume of the space, the colors of the stone, and the varied light from the modern stained glass.

Those patterned stone floors are throughout the church.

We're moving now closer to May and the holidays that come with it. The first two Wednesdays in May are holidays. Falling in the middle of their weeks, the holidays provide people with an opportunity to take five-day weekends. I expect the zoo traffic will be heavy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Le déambulatoire

The ambulatory of a church or cathedral is the pathway around the choir and altar on the building's east end. Often, as in this case, the ambulatory is lined with semi-circular apsidal chapels that protrude from the building.

Not a whole lot of religious fervor on this day. Notice the stone floor.

Without going into the details, the ambulatory provides a path for liturgical processions and for pilgrims, separating them from the main holy action pomp and circumstance in the choir and at the altar. Wikipedia says, cet espace de circulation canalisait la ferveur religieuse tout en protégeant de la foule le bon déroulement des offices (this circulation space channels religious fervor, protecting the orderly celebration of mass and other daily prayer ceremonies from the crowd).  I don't know this stuff, I only report what I read on the internet.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Looking up

The church of Saint-Julien de Brioude is ostensibly a romanesque building. But, as with most churches that took a hundred or more years to build, the styles change from bottom to top. The upper parts of this building look like they're moving into the gothic style.

Ribbed vaults form the ceiling of the nave, a feature common to most gothic cathedrals.

I say that because the lower arches are round, typical of the romanesque style. But the upper arches are looking a bit pointed and the vaults are ribbed, both characteristic of the gothic style. Many churches in France exhibit this bridge between the two styles. That's part of what makes them interesting.

The column capitals are intricately carved. And look at that fancy stonework in the columns themselves!

The stone used in the columns and walls is multi-colored, quarried at various locations nearby. Light from the stained glass windows enhances the colors, almost magically.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I have a confession to make

Well, no I don't. But it seemed like a good title for this image. A double, or is it quadruple, confessional in the church of Saint-Julien de Brioude. There are four places for sinners, but only two for priests. Is that normal? Not being a Catholic, I wouldn't know.

Bless me Father for I have sinned. No waiting.

At any rate, these confessionals were wide open, perhaps suggesting that there is nothing to confess in Brioude. At least on Saturdays. Because, you know, it's market day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Inside Saint-Julien de Brioude

Brace yourselves for a few church-y posts. I probably spent between five and ten minutes inside the church, so this is not an in-depth photo study, nor do I have any idea of the history or significance of what I was looking at most of the time. But no matter. It was pretty.

Looking up the central aisle of the nave toward the altar. That's a tour group seated around their guide.

We didn't get even one drop of the rain that was predicted to fall all day on Tuesday. I was frustrated because I put off cutting the grass. Turns out that I could have got it all done. Light rain is once again predicted for most of today. It is blustery out there this morning, and Ken just noticed that some rain is falling. It's 06h30 as I type this; not even light outside yet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

As Tasha and I walked around the church in Brioude, I was snapping photos. I had my special belt on that lets me attach Tasha's leash to my waist, leaving my hands free for the camera. The leash is retractable, so she has some freedom of movement, but I can "reel her in" at any time to keep her close.

I see you!

Monday turned out to be a nice day. I took advantage of the 10h00 to 12h00 window to run the lawnmower outside the yard (noise is restricted on Sundays and holidays to those two hours). We have a strip along the road, outside the hedge, that we're supposed to maintain. There's also the strip outside our fence along the north property line that I like to keep clear so the woods don't take over the fence. So that's done for now. It's time to cut the yard again, but rain is predicted for today so it will have to wait.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The back side

The view from behind the church of Saint-Julien de Brioude gives visitors a better idea of the whole building thanks to a wide plaza. While Ken looked around inside the church, Tasha and I took a walk around back. I was surprised when the narrow medieval streets opened out onto this space.

Jesus hangs out behind the church.

There were plenty of people around because the Saturday open-air market was nearby, but I still managed to get a photo with no people in it. After a few minutes we walked back around the church to wait for Ken, then I went inside for a look.

Last December I mentioned that we were having relatively warm weather and quoted the old French dicton (proverb) Noël au balcon, pâques aux tisons (Christmas on the balcony, Easter in front of the fire). Well, the saying didn't hold up this time. Easter Sunday was warm and pleasant.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Basilique Saint-Julien de Brioude

This is a more or less romanesque style church built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It's about an hour north of Le Puy-en-Velay where we stayed for a week last month. Ken read that the church was worth seeing, so we stopped in Brioude on the way home to have a look.

Saint-Julien's western facade and bell tower.

That day, a Saturday, turned out to be market day in Brioude. We found a parking spot on the main street through town and started following the people who were going to market, figuring that the church would be in the center of town, close to the market. Even though the church is big and its bell tower is tall, it's not easy to spot from the town's narrow winding streets. Sure enough, our path took us right up to the church's front door.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A last look at Arlempdes

This is the view of the tiny town of Arlempdes from the walkway that leads up to the castle ruins. You can see the back side of the church's clocher-mur (bell tower wall) in the center. There was very little activity in town -- we saw one guy doing some work outside the town's café/restaurant and the arrival of a fuel-oil delivery truck.

Arlempdes in March, almost a ghost town. I think it's more animated in summer.

The dermatologist visit went well. I had one kératose (keratosis, a pre-cancerous growth) removed from my temple, which is why I went in the first place, and another non-threatening growth removed from a place nobody can see. Both were removed with liquid nitrogen, essentially freezing them. I got the standard admonishment to use plenty of sunscreen all the time, and to come in for more regular checkups. It turns out my last visit was back in 2007. She wants to see me every two to three years. Well, that's no skin off my back. Oh, wait...

Friday, April 19, 2019

The wall

From what we could see, most of what remains of the château at Arlempdes are the exterior walls. There are various foundation elements visible, and the restored chapel is the only real building standing. Of course the place was closed for the winter season when we visited but, as I've said before, we weren't counting on going in because we had the dog with us.

Castle walls in Arlempdes.

It's busy weekend for us here at home. We're both getting haircuts (mine was yesterday), I have an appointment with the dermatologist today, and we're going into town to the market on Saturday to get a rabbit for Sunday's lunch. I made the rounds of the garden centers on Thursday looking for some wooden stakes for the vegetable garden. I didn't find exactly what I wanted, but I did find a couple of parsley plants for the deck and some flowering plants for the window boxes. I'll be taking advantage of the nice weather this weekend to get them all planted.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Just a door

It's not fancy. It's just a simple door on a house in Arlempdes. It does have a pretty big knocker.

The bell is pretty cool, too.

A door knocker in French is un heurtoir (from the verb heurter, to hit) or, according to Wikipedia, un marteau de porte (a door hammer). I learn something new every day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Église Saint-Pierre in Arlempdes

Back to the Auvergne! This is the church of Saint-Pierre in the small town of Arlempdes which, if you remember, is home to the first château on the Loire River. It was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and updated in the sixteenth. The overall style is romanesque.

The facade of the church of Saint-Pierre seen through a portal in the city's ancient wall.

The church's bell tower is built as a clocher à peigne or clocher-mur, a flat, vertical wall with openings that contain bells. I've seen these before, but I didn't know until now what they are called.

The church's bell tower, or clocher-mur, with three bells, but space for four.

The church was locked up tight when we visited, so we didn't get to see inside.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

By now everyone, or nearly everyone, has heard or seen reports of the fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Ken and I watched it live on television last evening, mesmerized by the spectacle, sickened by the horror, and emotionally exhausted by the near loss of one of the most famous and familiar of the monuments in a city we've both come to love.

An April river cruise in 2018, a view of the cathedral from the east.

Those firefighters did hard battle against an enemy much larger and stronger than themselves. It seemed futile from our vantage point on the couch, but they persevered and eventually brought the fire under control and saved the north tower (and its bells) from the flames. The best news is that nobody was killed in the conflagration.

The spire is gone as is the totality of the gray roof. I don't know how many of the windows were lost. Photo from May 2016.

Now the task turns to cleanup and planning for what is to come. The president has said that France will rebuild and, since the cathedral's structure seems to be intact, that's probably likely. But it will take years to clean up the damage, years to design and engineer a new roof structure, and perhaps decades to completely rebuild.

 A 1988 photo of the spire, now gone. The statues on the roof had been removed a couple of weeks ago for restoration.

These are two of my most recent photos and one old favorite of the cathedral. The first is from one year ago, taken from a tour boat during an evening cruise on the Seine. The second is from 2016, taken from the dome of the Panthéon on the Left Bank. The third is an old slide taken from the top of the south bell tower when Ken and I visited Paris in 1988, I think.

Monday, April 15, 2019

On with the show

Now that our freeze threat is over -- it's warmer this morning than it was over the weekend and there are no smudge pots or hay bales lit outside our house -- we can get back to photos from our trip to Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne. This is Arlempdes, a small hill town and ruined castle very close to the headwaters of the Loire.

The castle walls blend into the rock and are hard to see. They're just above and to the right of the church's bell tower.

They say that Arlempdes is the first château on the Loire. Not first in time, but first in direction from the river's source to its mouth. Beaufort, that I pictured the other day, is the second. Now I'm going to have to figure out what the last one is...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Of smudge pots and hay bales

This morning I woke up to the flickering light of smudge pots burning in the vineyard parcels to our north. The growers were up early to light them. On Saturday morning, another grower was out to the west burning bales of hay on the northern slopes of his parcels. The smoke was blowing over the vines when I walked Tasha just after sunrise.

Smoldering hay bales produce smoke out in the western parcels.

That grower told me that he measured -1ºC (about 30ºF) in his parcels. He didn't want to take any chances given what happened in April 2017 when a freeze killed a lot of the newly sprouted leaves. He is back again this morning re-lighting the hay bales.

Burning hay bales at sunrise.

The "smudge pots" used by the other grower are not true smudge pots. They're more like big candles, the size of a paint can, that are placed on the ground in the space between rows of vines. Like the hay bales, the burning candles produce smoke that blankets the vines helping to reduce heat loss and freezing. I also think they help to mix the air to increase the temperature on the ground, but I'm not sure about that.

These two burning bales help to protect a parcel closer to our house.

Other growers in our region use giant fans to help mix the air and prevent freezes. We can hear them to our north and south on these chilly spring mornings. They sound like helicopters, except that they never move. I wonder if they're not allowed in vineyard parcels that are close to populated areas, due to the noise.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christo I'm not

But I did wrap the fig tree. Because we're under the threat of a freeze this weekend, I decided to try to protect our fragile fig by wrapping it in gardener's fabric. This is the third time I have used the fabric on the fig, but it's the first time that I built a "cage" with wooden stakes to hold it. The tree was much easier to wrap this time.

The fabric is wrapped around stakes that I pounded into the ground, then "secured" across the top and side with clothespins.

We've had this fig tree for a long time, since 2006 I think. The winter of 2012 was especially cold and the tree froze all the way to the ground. I thought it had died, but it put up new stems the following spring. So six years of growth was gone, reset to zero. Two years ago this month we had an unexpected freeze. I had taken the fabric off the tree too early. The young leaves on the fig all shriveled and died and, while the tree eventually put out some leaves, there was no fruit. Last year I think there were three, maybe four, figs.

So, with this weekend's predicted freeze, I wrapped the fig tree again. So far, the temperature hasn't reached freezing. But Sunday morning is supposed to be the coldest. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

And, speaking of Christo, I heard on television that his next project is to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I hope he has enough clothespins.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Oh snow!

This photo is not here but in the mountains south of Le Puy-en-Velay, taken more than a month ago. We found many of these little patches of snow on our excursions, laying low in shady places. Most of winter's snow was already gone, except on the higher peaks, which were quite white.

Snow still hanging on in a roadside ditch near Arlempdes.

We are not expecting any snow, but the low temperatures forecast for this weekend are at or below freezing. That's not good news for the grape growers; the vines are starting to leaf out now. I noticed yesterday the growers that own the vines around us put out smudge pots in preparation for a freeze. I don't know if they lit them this morning (Ken told me he heard their truck drive in around five this morning), but we'll find out soon.

The coldest morning is predicted to be Sunday. I went out yesterday afternoon and wrapped the fig tree in a freeze-protective fabric. I hope it works.