Friday, May 31, 2019

Artie chokes four for a dollar

That's the punchline of an old joke about a bandit named Arthur who, while robbing a grocery store, strangled four people, but only got away with one dollar. The clue that it's an old joke is the idea that you can actually get four artichokes for a buck.

These artichokes will bloom later in the summer.

Two of our artichoke plants continue to survive, putting out a handful of chokes each year. We don't harvest them because they're tough and not very big. They also attract aphids like crazy. I spray soapy water on them a few times a year to keep them under control. I also use the hose's hard spray to wash them off from time to time.

In other garden news, I got all the tomatoes planted on Thursday. The day was cool and overcast, a good combination for planting seedlings. We're expecting a relatively hot and dry few days now. I think the tomatoes will like that.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


I'm trying something a little different in this year's vegetable garden. In past years, I planted the tomato stakes vertically, then watched them lean as the plants grew heavy. I'd have to pound wooden stakes into the ground and tie the leaning tomatoes to them to keep them upright. Lots of bother.

Twelve tomato stake tripods. Three plants per tripod. They're tied together at the top with twine, and spaced farther apart than they look.
The snow peas are the knee-high plants with white blossoms growing against the garden's back edge.

So, this year I decided to try tripods. I pushed the metal stakes into the ground at an angle and in groups of three, then tied the tops together to form tripods. So far, they seem pretty stable. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the eating. And that's still a few months away.

Another view. The two little plants in front are zucchini.

The next job is to put the tomatoes in the ground, one plant at each leg of each tripod. I will get started on that today. There are thirty-six "legs" which means thirty-six tomato plants. I will didn't have leftovers. By the way, the snow peas I planted back in March are blooming and making pods. I planted a row of flat green bean seeds yesterday, and two zucchini plants are in the ground. This year's garden is shaping up.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Going nowhere fast

I saw this snail snoozing on the dew-soaked top rail of the back gate a few days ago. Its head was tucked away inside the shell, and there was no sign of movement. Later I noticed that it had gone.

Un escargot.

I took Tasha to the vet on Tuesday for her annual vaccinations. She's gained a little weight since last year, but the doctor didn't think it was serious. Tasha is two years old now and her growing stage is over. The vet recommended we watch what Tasha eats. The Dentastix we give her for her teeth (recommended by another vet in the office) are apparently very caloric. As are the biscuits she gets after her daily walks. Otherwise, she gets less than a cup of kibble and a pouch of wet food each day. Not exactly a heavy diet.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Before they're completely gone

I've had this photo sitting around for a week already. It's a pivoine (peony) flower just about to open. Now I realize that the flowers have opened and that they're starting to fade, dropping petals all around the plant. And, of course, I have no photos of the flowers in their glory, at least not this year.

We have two red peony plants in the back garden. They come back every year.

It's time to plant the vegetable garden. Ken did the second pass with the rototiller on Monday and the ground is ready. I've been hardening the plants off by putting them outdoors during the day. Today I'll at least get the zucchini in, then I'll spend the next few days dealing with the tomatoes, not to mention the peppers and eggplant seedlings that our friend K. gave us.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Wild white

When we had the greenhouse installed in 2016, I ripped out some old rose bushes on that corner of the house. I didn't get all the roots, and they keep trying to come back. But another rose has shown up, too. It's a wild rose, I think, called églantine (sweet briar). They grow all over out on the margins of the vineyard and in abandoned parcels. Their flowers are most commonly pink. These, however, are white.

Our white wild rose being visited by an insect.

So, the question is: where did it come from? I read that the seeds of these plants are distributed by birds, so that's the most likely answer. Why is it white? I dunno. I did notice a few white-flowered églantines out among the pink ones during my walk this morning.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

They're going to flower

This is the second year for this patch of sauge sclarée (clary sage) that we planted around the real fake well. The first year, the plants were relatively small and they didn't flower. This year, they've grown up higher than the walls of the well and are covered in flower buds.

A flower bud on one of our clary sage plants.

I'm hopeful that these won't die back after flowering. I read that the plant is normally biennial, but can live longer in milder climates. Whatever happens, they re-seed themselves relatively easily. In fact, our plants all sprouted from one parent plant. Ken dug them up and potted them before we transplanted them around the well.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Cuckoo spit

I kid you not. I read that the foam produced by what we commonly call "spittlebugs" in English is called le crachat du coucou in French. Cuckoo spit. Since cuckoos and spittlebug foam both appear in springtime in France, their coincidence may be the origin of the nickname.


Friday's predicted rain and thunderstorms didn't materialize. I ran some errands in the morning, including taking the recycling to the collection point, getting some wine at a winery in the next town over, exchanging empty butane tanks for full ones (for the kitchen stove and bbq grill), and picking up some surplus vegetable seedlings from a nearby friend. That friend also gave us some more rhubarb from her garden, and Ken will get some strawberries from the market in town this morning, so I'm already thinking of making a pie.

Friday, May 24, 2019


I had to move fast to get this shot. That tiny snail was sliding right along. I didn't want to startle it and make it withdraw into its shell, so I had to be careful not to nudge the grasses. A few quick camera adjustments and voilà!

This is a cropped portion of the original larger image taken with a 100mm macro lens. At f/5, the depth of field is intentionally shallow.

I might have taken a little more time. I think the shutter speed could have been a little faster to stop all the action. Even at 1/500s the snail's shell is slightly blurred due to the grass swaying in the morning breeze and the fact that I was holding the camera (which introduces more movement). Add to that the snail's frantic pace and, well, you see what I mean! All kidding aside, I only see the blur when I zoom into the image. It's not all that noticeable here.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Do you like butter?

That's what we kids were asked while someone held a buttercup flower just under our chins. When the flower reflected its yellow color on our skin, the answer was a resounding "Yes!" I don't remember anybody not getting the reflection, hence, not liking butter. Even though most of us were probably being fed margarine at the time.

It's like buttah!

The buttercups are in full bloom right now. They grow wild in the margins between the woods and the vineyard parcels, among the tall grasses which, by the way, are getting very tall. It won't be long before the growers are out there cutting them back.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

It's only blue on the outside

This is an adonis blue butterfly. If it's a male, the top side of the wings are bright blue. Since this individual's wings are folded, I can't tell which gender it is. I'm sure experts can, but I can't.

An adonis blue, soaking up the morning sun.

I saw three of these sunning themselves on Tuesday morning. They were all very small. I'm used to seeing them a little bigger. I wonder if these will grow bigger or if they're naturally that small.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Here she is, standing in the garden path. It's amazing how she will, sometimes, just pose for the camera. Most of the time she's running one way or the other. The red pivoines (peonies) are blooming, as is the sage. In between is an artichoke.

Tasha posing in the garden path.

We're expecting a couple of nice days before it gets chilly again. We seem to be paying for the nice weather we had in February and March. Dammit. Oh well, such is life. At least there's no snow, right?

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


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


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


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


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


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.