Friday, July 10, 2020

Sunny day

When the sun is out and it's a hot day, I put the umbrella out on the deck. It shades the table and keeps a good section of the deck tiles from getting hot. This photo is from Thursday at about noon. The thermometer on the table shows 25.5ºC (about 78ºF). It got warmer as the afternoon progressed.

The deck gets fully shaded a few hours after noon. The umbrella helps at mid-day.

After lunch, I was sitting on the deck enjoying a glass of red when one our neighbors showed up at the gate. She lives in the Paris region and had just arrived at her vacation home in our hamlet. We hadn't seen her since last year. She asked if we had power. Yes, I said, no problems. She obviously didn't have power. I gave her two phone numbers that I had for the electric company's emergency service. Then it occurred to me that she might not even have the same electricity provider that we have (the national electric company maintains the physical network while customers can buy power from a variety of providers). After that, I wondered if she had checked her breaker panel, so I walked over and asked. She invited me in to have a look and, sure enough, the main breaker had tripped. I flipped it back on et voilà, she had juice. "Now," she said after thanking me profusely, "I can get out the vacuum and clean up all the spider webs in the house!"

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Cinnabar moth

I think this is the larvae of the cinnabar moth, called la goutte-de-sang (drop of blood) in French. The names describe the markings on the wings of the adult moth, not the caterpillar. According to my extensive quick and dirty research, they like to lay eggs on ragwort, a very common plant in and around the vineyards and other fields nearby. I'm pretty sure this one was on a ragwort plant when I saw it.

Not hard to miss this one. He (or she) is wearing my high school colors: orange and black.

Our vegetable garden is starting to produce. I harvested the first zucchini yesterday. There are two more to pick today. And so it begins. We're a long way from tomatoes, still. And the beans are just starting to make blossoms. Everything else is growing along.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Black tomato pizza

Some of my readers asked to see the inside of the tomates noires (black tomatoes) that I brought home from the market last weekend. On Tuesday, we made pizzas with one of them, so here it is. The tomato's skin has dark shades of red and green, but it looks like a regular red tomato on the inside.

The black tomato, revealed.

I sliced the tomato and arranged it on the pizza dough, then added lardons fumés (smoked bacon), chopped bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, and some brebis (sheeps' cheese) from Basque country. The pizzas were delicious!

One of our two fresh tomato and bacon pizzas from Tuesaday's lunch.

Today I plan to use the other black tomato in a three-grain salad made with couscous (not a grain, but it's made from wheat), quinoa, and bulgur, chopped zucchini (the first one from this year's garden), chopped cucumber, corn, cubes of mozzarella cheese, and some chopped mint.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Radis roses

Pink radishes are common in France this time of year. They're a favorite at apértif time, served raw with sweet butter, salt, and fresh bread. The oblong radishes are sold in bottes (bunches) with their fanes (leaves) and we've been enjoying one bunch a week for the past couple of months. They're crisp and crunchy and sweet, very different from the sharp taste of the round red radishes I remember from the US.

Radis roses, trimmed (roots and leaves) and soaking (to dislodge any stubborn dirt). And yes, we eat the green part, too.

By the way, the round red radishes are available here more and more. And I saw one vendor at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan who offers radishes of many colors, something I've not seen before. Maybe I should give them a try.

I grew radishes in our vegetable garden for a couple of years, but the slugs really like them. That, and the fact that they have to be sewn successively to have a steady crop, make buying them in the market much more practical.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Tomates

Our local Saturday market in Saint-Aignan has at least five produce vendors that I can think of. All of them have a nice variety of good-looking vegetables and fruits to offer. One of them is a local organic grower (and their prices reflect that). The others are vendors, likely buying their produce wholesale and reselling it at markets around the region.

Gorgeous and tasty tomatoes.

Even though it's not tomato season, the toms at the market are beautiful. They're probably grown in ideal and protected conditions, but they're still good. Nice and ripe and full of flavor. This past Saturday, I got a huge yellow tomato and two good sized "black" tomatoes. We ate the yellow tomato in a Caprese salad on Sunday. We haven't cut into the black toms yet but will soon, maybe for a tabbouleh-style salad, maybe on a pizza.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Lotsa grapes

The grape crop looks plentiful this year. Must have been the warm, wet spring we had. It makes me think that the growers might do un vendange en vert (green harvest) as the grapes start to mature. If there are too many grapes on the vines, there is not enough energy in the plant to allow them all to mature they way the grower intends, so some of the grapes are removed from the vine. The remaining grapes can then develop the appropriate levels of sugar and water to make a good wine.

Looking good! These leaves look like this could be gamay, a red wine grape common in our area.

In certain appellations, the grape yield is regulated. If there are too many grapes per hectare (a measure of land area equivalent to 10,000 m2 or about 2.5 acres), some of them must go. Grape growing is almost, if not more, as complicated as wine making!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Amber waves of grain

It's the Fourth of July, the national holiday of the USA. It sounds from the news reports that many celebrations are cancelled and that others will be more subdued than usual. But I'm sure there will be plenty of people willing to risk their own and others' health to party like it's any other year. Sigh.

The tall grasses in and around the vineyard are pretty, but they make walking difficult. They're often wet with dew and they're great places to pick up ticks.

France will face the same issue in ten days. I believe the government has scaled back the national event on the Champs-Elysées. But I'm sure there will be individuals and groups that will flout the recommendations for protection and prevention. It's human nature, I guess. I'm sure the health professionals are nervous about another opportunity for the virus to spread.

We'll be laying low, as usual.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Diplodocus

That's how I jokingly refer to this plant, dipladenia, because I couldn't remember its name. I think it's more commonly known as mandevilla, from what I read on the internet. I first saw the bright red flowers of dipladenia across the road at our neighbor's house a couple of years ago. We went over and found the plant's label in one of the pots. The next year, I got some for our deck planters from one of the local garden centers.

Dipladenia in the real fake well, surrounded by clary sage which is now going to seed.

Last fall, we dug them out of their planter boxes and put them in pots in the greenhouse where they spent the winter. They survived, but didn't look so good. We set them outdoors in May and they started to produce more leaves and then flowers. I decided to plant them in the well once the volunteer wheat crop was gone. That happened this week and the photo above shows the result. I'm hopeful that the plants will get stronger and fuller as the summer goes on. The red flowers are quite vibrant.

In case you don't know, "diplodocus" was a dinosaur similar in appearance to the brontosaurus.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Don't sit under the apple tree

Until I get the apples picked up. It took me two days to prune off the low-hanging branches of our two apple trees. Now I need to gather up the apples that came off those branches as they hit the ground. Then I'll be able to run the mower under the trees again without being slapped in the face.

The drooping low branches of both trees are gone now.

I do this every year, but this year the trees have more fruit than I've seen in a while and it's really weighing down the branches. Like I said yesterday, it may be time (this winter) to have the trees professionally pruned back again. It's too big a job for me because it involves ladder work and chain saws.

Most of the apples on the cut branches fell off when they hit the ground. Clean-up time!

I piled all the cut branches out in a section of the yard where they're out of the way. I'll dispose of them later in the fall when it's time to clean up the vegetable garden. The apples will go into the compost pile.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet

Here's my wheat harvest from what grew in the real fake well this spring. You may recall that the wheat sprouted in the well from bird seed. I hang the feeder above the well in winter and some of the birds like to push the seeds out then eat them on the ground. Obviously, they don't eat them all.

My wheat crop makes a nice centerpiece for the deck table.

There seems to be more than just one type of grain here and I don't know what they are, so I'm just calling it all "wheat." From what I understand, much of what's grown by farmers around here is "winter wheat," sown in the fall and harvested in the following summer (about now). After I "harvested" my wheat, I pulled out the roots and planted the dipladenia in its place. I'll try to get a photo of that soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Apple bounty

Our two remaining apple trees are laden with apples this year. There are so many that their weight is pulling the trees' branches toward the ground as they grow bigger. Little apples are already beginning to fall from the trees; soon I'll have to start picking the bigger ones up off the ground before I can mow. Not to mention that I'm going to have to prune back some of those branches so I can get under them with the mower without being knocked in the head.

I had these two apple trees professionally pruned a few years ago. It may be time to do that again.

The very red apples are not the greatest. They're kind of mealy and mushy when ripe, which makes them okay for applesauce, but not for pies. Most of them end up in the compost pile. The yellow apples are firm and good for eating or pie-making, and I've also used them for applesauce.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Colorful

It's not very tidy, but there's a lot of color just outside the greenhouse door. The blue rozanne geraniums have filled in very nicely since I relocated them in the fall of 2017. So have the weeds. The red blooms are dipladenia (or mandevilla) that were originally in planter boxes on the deck. Last fall we put them into pots and over-wintered them inside the greenhouse. Now they're waiting to go into the real fake well for the summer and fall. The rogue wheat that's there now has gone brown and I'm planning to harvest it very soon.

I haven't gotten around to planting that artichoke in the ground. It's not at all happy in that pot.

There are lots of hens and chicks in pots along the low wall, but no flowers this time of year. We have some variety of sedum (or stonecrop) in pots that are flowering in bright yellow right now. They get pulled up from the gravel walk that encircles the house and tossed into pots, some even without soil. They're very tenacious. I even see some house plants that are in line to be trimmed, divided, or otherwise dealt with.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

You say cilantro...

...and I say coriander. In French, that is. Coriandre. The feuilles de coriandre (leaves) and the graines de coriandre (seeds) are called by the same name. I grow some every year with more or less success. It seems to work better in pots than it does out in the garden. This year, something, probably a bird, dug into the pot (which was out on the deck) so I had to move it into the greenhouse. The damage to the tiny seedlings was minimal.

Little coriandre (cilantro) seedlings in a big pot. I see a few weeds, too. I'll pluck them out.

The problem with coriandre is that it bolts very quickly, leaving only a tiny window of opportunity to enjoy the leaves. Even this "slow bolt" variety goes to seed faster than you'd expect. Of course, I could sow successive crops, but I usually forget to do that. Fortunately, in recent years the supermarkets have started carrying fresh coriander leaves in the packaged herb section. So we can usually get some when we want it. The stores have always had coriander seeds available in the spice section, but when our plants make their seeds, we save them.

I know some people don't like feuilles de coriandre (cilantro) at all. But we like it in many of the the Asian dishes we make.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The state of the onion

That would be a great title if I actually had onions (or something like them) growing in the vegetable garden. I don't. What I do have is, mostly, doing well so far. The tomatoes and climbing yellow flat beans are making blossoms now.

Tomatoes in front, beans in back. Three of six tiny bell peppers on the right.

I didn't have luck with the older bean and snow pea seeds, so I planted some climbing purple beans and a row of dwarf green beans. The all came up and are looking good, and the climbers are starting to climb. I'm puzzled by the lack of growth of the bell peppers, though. I bought six seedlings two or three weeks ago from a guy at the Saturday market and they don't seem to be any bigger than when I bought them. I'm telling myself that they're growing roots and they will grow upward any day now. Hope springs eternal.

A better shot of the beans. Purple climbers closest to the camera, yellow flat climbers in the middle, and dwarf greens after that.

The zukes and pumpkins are growing well, and there are blossoms forming on them. I think they really enjoyed the heat we had at the end of the week. Fortunately, we were spared heavy rain and hail (perish the thought!) storms that might have damaged or destroyed the crop.

Two zucchinis and one of the pumpkins. You can't even see the bell peppers (where the six green stakes are).
Our two apple trees are loaded this year, and the rosemary is starting to flower.

I see some gardens around us that are much more advanced that ours. I think that's because some people put their seedlings out early, gambling on whether there will be a late spring freeze. The local folks are much better at doing that than I am. I wait. But with any luck we'll catch up and soon we'll be enjoying the fruits of our labor. Literally!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Stormy weather

I didn't sleep much last night. I woke up about two hours after I went to bed, and never really got back to sleep. The weather people predicted thunderstorms over night. I heard some low rumbling thunder around 23h30, but saw no lightning. Then, after more tossing and turning, I opened the roof windows to let some more air in, and there was lightning dancing to our south, but I couldn't hear any thunder. The lighting continued through most of the night as the storms moved north and east, away from us.

A hazy morning in the Cher Valley.

I finally caught a few snippets of sleep between three and six, but it wasn't very satisfying. At least we didn't get hit directly by a storm. I hate night storms, and the possibility of wind, hail, and heavy rain stresses me out. Storms are predicted again for this evening, but not as intense, and the weather is cooling down.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The heat is on

It's been hotter, but Wednesday was by far the hottest day of 2020, so far. We got up over 30ºC and are expecting more of the same today, with a cool down over the weekend. I've started washing windows and plan to do some more this morning. Ken made great progress on cleaning winter's grunge off the front gate. These (and other) spring cleaning chores got postponed because of the chilly rainy spell we had in the first half of June. So now it's summer cleaning. And the garage is just begging to be cleaned out this year.

This photo was taken a few days ago, but it's pretty much what the sky looks like this morning.

Yesterday felt a little like Christmas. We received a bunch of stuff from Amazon in the morning's mail. Ken got a new pair of hiking shoes, and we got watch batteries and some new watch bands. Ok, so maybe not like Christmas, but it's always fun to get packages in the mail.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Skyward

These are the towers of the Eglise Saint-Pierre in Collonges-la-Rouge. This is the only long shot I took of the church back in 2006. It was a beautiful day, and I'm sure there were better angles to be had. Our visit was a relatively short one, so I probably just snapped and moved on.

Eglise Saint-Pierre, Collonges-la-Rouge, April 2006.

I got an early start on Tuesday and mowed the remaining section of the yard. So that's done once again. Then Bert and I went to the vet for his shot. He was so relaxed as the vet looked him over and administered the injection. She said, Il est cool. I responded, oui, Bert est très zen. Then I tried to put him back in the carrier and he refused to go in. So much for cool. The vet laughed that Bert seemed to prefer staying at the vet's to going back in the carrier. We got him in, though. When we got home, he disappeared for a while, probably to sleep off the effects of the shot. He finally came home around midnight, then sacked out without moving until this morning.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

Here's a back-lit Tasha from Saturday morning. Saturday was a very pleasant day weather-wise, and they've only gotten better since.

A sunrise walk through the vineyards on Saturday.

Speaking of beautiful days, Monday was quite nice. I got the west 40 cut and the back yard is looking much better. This morning I'm planning to finish up the mowing in the north 40 and I'll be done, at least for now. The next few days are predicted to be hot and dry, so the lawn's growth should slow a little. That's good, because there is always some other chore to be tackled outdoors.

Later this morning I'm taking Bert to the vet for his vaccination booster. Because of the pandemic, our regular vaccination appointment in March was postponed. If you miss the annual date by more than a few weeks, you have to start from scratch, which means one shot and another booster a few weeks after. Bert got his first shot at the end of May and now it's time for the second.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Not unhinged

Here's a close-up of one of those hinges on the church doors in yesterday's post. I think it (the hinge) is a work of art. There are two, up and down, on each of the two doors. We saw a lot of beautiful iron work in Collonges during our short visit.

A door hinge made of "fer forgé" (wrought iron) in Collonges-la-Rouge, April 2006.

It looks like we'll be having a mini heat wave starting tomorrow. The temperatures are predicted to get up to 30ºC (86ºF). It will be a nice change from the cool and damp days of the past couple of weeks, but it may not be very comfortable for sleeping. It's always something.

Meanwhile, we got some good work done in the garden and back yard on Sunday. Ken cut a lot of ronces (thorny brambles) that grow out of the hedges. I watered and weeded in the vegetable garden, then did a serious pruning job on a flowering shrub called deutzia. I cut off most of the lower branches that make mowing around the shrub difficult. Then I got the mower out and did the south 40. Today I plan to tackle the largest section of the yard, the west 40. That will leave the north 40 for Tuesday as the heat builds in.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Eglise Saint-Pierre

This is the entrance to Saint Peter's Church in Collonges-la-Rouge. The church dates from the eleventh and twelfth centuries and is built with the Collonges' characteristic red sandstone. It's not a big church, but it has a lot of character.

A fancy entrance to a modest church.

Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny and pleasant. I was at the St.-Aignan market around 09h00, and it was quite busy. There were more vendors and more shoppers than I've seen there in the last few weeks, probably because the weather was so nice. I had to park farther away this time, but the walk from the lot is not long, especially in nice weather.

Many shoppers and vendors were not wearing masks (I was) and that was a little strange. I think people are becoming complacent with the good weather and the opening of more and more businesses. The zoo is open again (and I notice the traffic) and people are and will be coming from all over France and Europe to stay in local hotels, campgrounds, and other vacation rentals throughout the summer. I think Ken and I will continue to lay low and enjoy our house, garden, and walks in the vineyards.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Of doors and dumps

Here's another image from our April 2006 stop in the Limousin town of Collonges-la-Rouge. Doors and windows are a favorite subject of many tourists and photographers and I'm no exception.

The keystone above the doors says 1831. Pretty new! That looks like a grape vine throwing shadows on the wall.

We've yet to see if the weather people were right about the forecast, but today is looking a little warmer and drier than the past couple of weeks. Phew. As it's Saturday, I'm planning to visit the Saint-Aignan market this morning, looking for some nice fresh produce and maybe some beef for the grill.

I made my first trip to the déchetterie (refuse collection center) yesterday since last fall. We had a pile of cardboard boxes that can't go into the normal recycle bins around town, so it was good to finally get rid of them. We also had a broken old plastic outdoor table, one we bought when we first arrived in 2003. While waiting for our furniture to arrive, we needed a table for meals. The chairs we got at the same time are long gone, but we held onto the table for some reason. The dump is restricting the number of people that can get in at any one time, so I waited (but not too long) in a line of about eight cars. I also had to show something to prove that I live in the area, so I used the car's registration paper, having forgotten to take my wallet and driver's license when I left the house. Oops!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Up the down staircase

Stairs without hand railings make me nervous, but France is filled with them. They seem to still be in fashion in some of the houses we see on a popular renovation/interior design program we like to watch on television. Here's one, outdoors, in Collonges-la-Rouge. It makes a pretty picture.

The steps look like granite set into the red sandstone of Collonges-la-Rouges. April 2006.

The weather people are predicting a heat wave building in over the weekend and into next week. We shall see. It's hard to imagine a heat wave in this current cool and rainy weather, but it could happen. I think the vegetable garden will like it.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Seeing red

The last stop on our April 2006 road trip to the Dordogne in southwestern France was a town called Collonges-la-Rouge. It's actually in the Limousin region (when I say "region," I'm speaking geographically, not administratively). It's a town that Ken and I visited years earlier while vacationing in France.

The striking red sandstone of Collonges-la-Rouge.

The town is essentially a tourist destination these days, inhabited by artists and craftspeople, with myriad boutiques and restaurants to cater to visitors. The principal attraction is the red sandstone that most of the buildings in the village are built with, and the state of preservation and restoration of the significant monuments. As I mentioned, Collonges' economy is based on tourism. Ken, our friend Sue, and I spent an hour or so wandering and visiting shops. I don't remember if we ate there or not. We still had a three-hour drive ahead of us to get home.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Clafoutis aux cerises

When our neighbors invited us to pick cherries from their trees, I immediately thought to make the French classic dessert, clafoutis [kla-foo-TEE]. The traditional clafoutis is made with black cherries, but since our neighbors have red sour cherries, that's what we used. Sour cherries lose some of their tartness when cooked and work really well in this dish. The unpitted cherries are arranged in a buttered quiche pan, covered with a custard filling, then baked until the custard is done.

A great spring-time dessert for when you have a good supply of cherries.

They say that leaving the pits in the cherries gives the dessert a better flavor. You have to be careful not to bite down too hard on them. Of course, pitted cherries will work just as well, but I'm too lazy to actually pit the fruit myself and I don't mind the pits at all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Your guess is as good as mine

This château is somewhere in the Dordogne, probably between Sarlat and Turenne based on the order of my photos, taken in April 2006. I don't remember it, nor do I remember its name. In all likelihood, we stopped along the road when we saw it to take some photos.

A freshly plowed field in the valley below this castle, whatever it is.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Andrew, who recognized it as the Château de Salignac-Eyvigues.

Our chilly showery pattern continues. At least we're getting some sun for a good part of the day. But the rain showers are keeping me from cutting the grass and the weeds are getting higher with each passing day. The vegetable garden is looking good, though, so that's a plus.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Shuttered

Sometimes the shutters are more interesting than the window. These shutters are called persiennes (louvered shutters). The name is a reference to Persia, where louvered shutters might have originated. We had this shutter style, in brown, on most of the windows in our house. We replaced the kitchen shutter back in 2008 with a roll-down style and replaced the three shutters on the back of the house with the same style in white in 2018. Here's the post with photos of the old and the new from then.

Persiennes somewhere in the Dordogne.

The persiennes with their narrow folding panels were old and difficult to open and close, especially with the sliding windows we had installed in 2004. Some of the tabs that held the shutters open broke, and the mechanisms that allowed us to open them awning style while closed wore out completely. They were made of metal which got very hot in the summer sun. We still have the old persiennes on the living room's north-facing window. We almost never close those since that window doesn't get direct sun or the brunt of the weather, nor does it face any public paths or other houses.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Unsettled skies and a box of wine

Our weather has been very spring-like lately. As in early spring. Like March. Chilly, blustery days with cold rain showers. We're wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts. This just one week from the summer solstice, the official start of summer. I'm not complaining, yet. The weather could turn dry and hot at any moment. It could also stay cold and wet all summer. We've experienced both.

At least there's a little blue.

I had a good trip to the market on Saturday morning. The day started out pretty with bright sun. I had to wear a sweatshirt, but didn't need a jacket. I parked down by the river and walked up and around Saint-Aignan's château to the market, which is now happening in the town's upper square (it has more room to spread out).  I found some radishes, a cucumber, a couple of heirloom tomatoes, and some strawberries. Oh, and a ten-liter box of local wine from a winery called "Domaine des Eléphants."

That's a kind-of-funny story. The Eléphants winery (located in the town of Monthou, across the river, named for two small elephant statues that sit atop its gate posts) has a booth at the Saint-Aignan market every other Saturday. Two weeks ago we needed some red wine, so I stopped to get some. The vendor only had bottles and five-liter boxes of white and rosé, no red. We chatted a little and he said he'd bring some for me the next time (two weeks later). When I went to the market yesterday, I had almost forgotten about that. So I walked over to the winery's booth and the guy lit up with a big smile. He pointed to the lone ten-liter box of red sitting on his table that he remembered to bring especially for me. I was convinced he wouldn't remember and I'll bet he was convinced I wouldn't show up. He told me that most shoppers don't buy the ten-liter boxes at the market because they're big and heavy (a ten-liter box is the equivalent of about 13 bottles, more than an American case). I thanked him profusely and lugged my box back to the car.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

More vines

The growers with vineyard parcels out back have been working in the past week to trim the vines. They use tractors that straddle the rows fitted with spinning blades. The blades trim the tendrils on the sides and tops of the vines. The result is a neat rectangular row of green. The grapes themselves grow just above the woody trunks and are not in danger of being lopped off by the trimmers.

Neatly trimmed vines and recently mowed grass between the rows.

Yesterday I saw a deer and two rabbits in the parcel pictured above. The deer froze and watched me as I walked by, the rabbits (wild hares, actually) took off into another row to hide from me. Tasha was oblivious as she lagged behind. A little further along, I saw another deer in another parcel. I guess the deer repellent isn't working all that well.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Renewal

I've mentioned that three large vineyard parcels out back have been torn up. One of them was home to the oldest vines one of our local wineries owned at over one-hundred years. For now, the dug up vine trunks are piled up. I assume at some point they will be hauled away.

Two piles of old vine trunks that have done their duty. New vines will take their place before long.

I'm speculating that the parcels will lie fallow over this coming season before they're plowed and re-planted next spring. I've seen a few new vineyards planted out back in previous years. After a parcel has been plowed and otherwise made ready, the grower rides on the back of a machine and feeds the small grape vines in. The machine plants them in the soil at a consistent depth and evenly spaced. After the planting is done, workers pound in stakes and string support wires.

The little vines come coated in a waxy substance as some kind of protection. The coating melts away after planting and the new vines soon sprout leaves. They don't form grapes for a few years, and I'm not sure how old they are when they're first harvested.

I'm glad to see growers around us reinvesting in their businesses. I know that many older properties have been sold or abandoned as growers retire without someone in the family interested in taking over. Like most agriculture, growing grapes and making wine is not an easy profession. I enjoy living in a wine region and being able to watch the growing and harvesting process from my back yard.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Vines in the grass

This year, things seem different out in the vineyards that we've come to know over the past seventeen years. There have been personnel changes at the biggest winery whose vines we walk through every day. They use more seasonal crews for harvesting and pruning than they used to. The owners' daughter (who got her education in grape growing and wine making) seems to be making changes in the way the vineyards are maintained as she takes on more of a role in the family business. One example is a reduction in the use of herbicides. We see more and more vineyard parcels with tall grass than we have before, with plowing and mowing becoming the preferred method of weed control.

Grape vines and grass.

Several variety of deer control methods are being tried out all around us. I have no idea how well these work. I do see deer among the vines in the early hours of the day. We no longer see growers burning pruned vine canes in the winter. Common when we arrived here, burning has given way to mulching, which I imagine is better for the air and better for the soil. Until this year, we've only seen one vineyard plot dug up and replanted. This year, three large parcels have been ripped out, and one vineyard worker told me more are scheduled to be replaced next year.

These are our observations from our daily walks among the vines. We have no real expertise and we're not privy to the actual plans and practices of the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. Since we enjoy our local wine, it's interesting to watch the vineyards around us evolve over time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Le potager

Here's what the vegetable garden looks like as we move toward mid-June. I think it's pretty well established, but now we're in a pattern of chilly days and that will slow things down a little. I planted twenty-four tomato plants under tripods. Then I planted bean seeds against the trellis. Only one variety of beans sprouted (I guess my seeds were too old). A couple of weeks ago, I got some new bean seeds from the garden center.

Beans and tomatoes on the northern side of the garden plot.

The tall beans in the middle are yellow flat beans. The other two varieties are called "melissa," climbing purple beans, and "rudy" a semi-dwarf green bean. They sprouted well and are now getting bigger. If they produce well, we'll have a huge crop to deal with all at once. I didn't stagger the planting as I should have. There's still some room against the trellis for some more, so I'll plant another crop when the new sprouts start getting bigger.

What's not in the photo are the two zucchini and two pumpkin plants on the southern side of the garden plot. I've also got six bell peppers still in the greenhouse that will go approximately where those short green stakes are, probably in another week or so.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

For the life of us, we can't figure out why Tasha is six pounds overweight. I've counted the calories that we give her in commercial food which includes dry kibble, wet pouch meals, dog biscuits, and dental chews. It doesn't amount to all that much. In fact, we feed her less than is recommended on the packages for a dog her size. She does get "extras" of people food, like cheese or pieces of meat here and there, but we've really reduced that over the past few months and now we're cutting it out completely.

Our fat dog. Even under two to three inches of fur.

Tasha also gets two walks a day, most days, and she runs up and down the length of our yard whenever a car or pedestrian goes by, weather permitting. I don't think she's lacking for exercise. So, where's the weight coming from? I don't know. We just have to continue paying attention and not give in to begging and cuteness. That's not easy.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Another day, another castle

This is the village of Turenne clustered around the ruined château of the same name. We drove by on our way to the town of Collonges-la-Rouge at the end of our trip to the Dordogne in April 2006. We stopped by the side of the road to take photos but didn't venture up into the village.

There's been a fortified presence on this hilltop since the eighth century. The current ruins date from the fifteenth century.

The price of home heating fuel is relatively low right now, so I arranged for a delivery this afternoon. We should be pretty well set for next winter. Not that I want to rush things. I'd like to enjoy summer and fall first.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

I'm gonna go eat worms

Or caterpillars, maybe. I saw these while walking on the grounds of the Château de la Grande Filolie (yesterday's post) back in April 2006. I don't know what they were or what they would become but they're kind of pretty, in a squirmy sort of way.

Oh, how they wiggle and squirm!

My market adventure was successful on Saturday. In addition to strawberries, I got some white mushrooms and some fresh shiitakes (all grown nearby) and a bunch of radishes. We ate some of the radishes with bread and butter as an appetizer to yesterday's lunch. I kept the nice looking radish greens and made pesto with it. We're planning a pesto pizza for lunch today, topped with sliced smoked sausage.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I'm continuing to post photos from our trip to the Dordogne region in April 2006. Back then, I had just begun blogging and I didn't post many of the photos I took there. The pictures I did post were in a smaller format than I use now, so some of those old images are getting a second life.

Little house on the prairie this is not. But I don't remember the name or location of the castle.

Today is Saturday, which means it's market day. Although our asparagus guy is done with asparagus, he'll still have strawberries. And I will visit the mushroom lady for a pound of locally grown fungus. I see pizza in our immediate future.

Here's a better view of the building. Maybe Ken will remember where it is.
UPDATE: He found it! It's le Château de la Grande Filolie, not far from Lascaux.

Because of the corona confinement (which is now being progressively lifted), French taxpayers were given a few extra weeks to file their income tax returns. I, of course, took advantage of the extension to procrastinate. But on Friday I got the taxes done and filed, three whole days before the Monday deadline. I'm so proud.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Le Moulin de la Beune

Another photo from our April 2006 trip to the Dordogne region of southwestern France. This is the hotel and restaurant Le Moulin de la Beune in Les Eyzies outside of Sarlat. The town bills itself as the capital of prehistory with its impressive National Museum of Prehistory and the nearby caves at Lascaux.

An former mill transformed into a hotel and restaurant in Les Eyzies.

As I mentioned, Tasha and I got our shots yesterday. The vet told me that Tasha is overweight at sixteen kilos (yikes!) and wants her to lose three of them (about six and a half pounds). I was surprised that she had gained so much since her last visit. I don't think we overdo her feeding, but we are generous with treats and little extras through the day. That will have to stop.

I had a mild reaction to my tetanus shot with muscle aches through the morning, but they subsided by afternoon and all is well now. I was the first patient of the day at the doctor's and didn't have to share the waiting room with anyone. All the magazines had been removed and replaced with a disinfectant gel dispenser. Both the doctor and I wore masks.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Les parasols de Rocamadour

We're having on and off rain and a little thunder and lightning. I haven't taken any new photos recently, so here's another from the Dordogne series taken back in 2006.

Looking down on a restaurant terrace in Rocamadour.

Today is a double doctor day. Both Tasha and I are getting our shots.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

More sage and wheat

Here's another view of the flowering clary sage that's planted around our real fake well, and the tiny crop of volunteer grain growing inside it. The grain comes from the bird feeder that hangs over the well in winter.

The sage is at it's peak now. I thought I'd post another photo of them before the flowers fade and go to seed.

I have a couple of busy days ahead. First, I have to go to the pharmacy for a tetanus booster. I won't get the shot there, just the vaccine that I then take to the doctor's office where he administers the shot. That's scheduled for Thursday morning. I'm also stopping at Super U today to pick up our drive order. Then tomorrow, after the doctor's appointment, Tasha goes in to see the vet for her annual check-up and shots.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Linden flowers

The tilleul (linden tree) in our back yard is flowering right now. The tree resonates with the sound of buzzing bees as they feed on nectar, pollinating the tree in the process. The flowers are supposedly good for making infusions (like a tea), but I've never tried it. Soon the flowers will fade and start dropping all over the ground.

Les fleurs du tilleul (linden flowers).

Our taste of summer is predicted to come to an end in a day or so. Storms are expected on Wednesday along with a significant drop in temperature. I have to remind myself that it's still spring. The vegetable garden is in and establishing itself thanks to the warm and dry weather we've had, so I'm thankful for that. Still, with the rain will come the weeds. It's always something.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Last of the asparagus

The guy we get our asparagus from at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan told me that this was the last week for his asparagus. I'm glad we got some over these past few weeks; we nearly missed the season due to the coronavirus confinement. That afternoon, I prepared the kilo bundle that I bought by cutting off the tough bottoms, peeling the rest, and steaming it.

A kilo of white asparagus, trimmed, peeled, and steamed.

Ken added about half of the asparagus to an Asian-style cashew chicken recipe. He cut the steamed spears into smaller bites, stir-fried it with the chicken, and covered it all in a sweet and spicy sauce. I had grilled two boneless chicken breasts that he sliced in to strips for the stir-fry. Since the main ingredients were already cooked, making the dish was more assembly than cooking. It was delicious served with long rice. Best lunch I had on Sunday!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Grape flowers

The vineyards are in bloom. But you have to look real close to notice. The little flowers are not easy to see.

Grape flowers on the vine.

I think that pollination happens by the force of wind currents. I'm not sure if insects are involved much; I don't notice much insect activity when I look at the flowers. I read that most cultured grape vines self-pollinate, as they contain both male and female parts.

Grape pollen forms on the tips of the white stamens.

Our good weather continues. I was able to get to the market for more strawberries and asparagus. The vendor told me, though, that this was the last week for his asparagus. The local season is ending. Strawberries will continue through the summer.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Hi there

On my Friday morning walk with Tasha, she lagged behind a little (as she often does). I looked to my right and saw this between two rows of grape vines. The chevreuil (roe deer) froze and watched me. I stopped and slowly lifted the camera up. As usual, I had the wrong lens (100mm macro) on the camera for this kind of photo. As I moved on, Tasha caught up with me, but she didn't see the deer.

A roe deer in the tall grass between vine rows.

I'll be heading over to the Saturday market at Saint-Aignan again this morning for strawberries and asparagus.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Vineyard view

It's beginning to look a lot like summer. The vineyards are leafing out and sending tendrils skyward. The support wires and posts are disappearing beneath the green. Soon we'll see the trimming tractors plying the rows, cutting back the vines to neat, rectangular shapes.

The tall grasses are getting mowed, parcel by parcel, this week. Yay!

Bert the cat got a clean bill of health at the vet's on Thursday. Weight is good, heart sounds good, no sign of lumps or growths. So he got his shot, a worm pill, and three months worth of flea and tick preventative. Bert turned fourteen years old two weeks ago. He's been living with us for ten years now.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

With the wind

Gone, that is. The two dirt mounds on which poppies had flowered are gone. Poof! They were there one day, and the next, not. One of the five or so limestone piles has also been taken away. I don't have a clue as to what was done with them. I also noticed that, in the adjacent vineyard parcels, the uprooted vine trunks have been gathered into three or four HUGE piles, probably to make it easier to remove them. And yesterday, there were people working everywhere in the vineyards around us. Doing what? Frankly, my dear...

The two poppy mounds seen from across a field. They're gone now. The brown pile behind them is a pile of grape vine trunks.

Today Bert goes to the vet for his annual vaccination. He was supposed to go in March, but the vet postponed all vaccinations and other routine visits while we were under the confinement order. Bert also needs a worm pill and a new dose of flea and tick preventative. Next week, Tasha goes in for her regularly scheduled annual shots. So, now both animules are on the same vaccination schedule.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Poppies among the vines

Grape growers around us, and around the nation, are using a lot less herbicide in their vineyards these days. I can really see the difference between now and when we first arrived in 2003. Some growers are moving toward organic growing methods, others are just using less as the government bans certain herbicides (at least from public use; I don't know what restrictions apply to agriculture). The result is more mowing and more plowing to reduce weeds. Right now, out back, there isn't much of either going on. The grasses and weeds are growing tall and I spotted these isolated poppies the other day.

A late spring morning in the vineyards.

While I'm not at all complaining, the tall grasses make it difficult for us to walk off-road with Tasha. First, the grasses get wet with morning dew or rain and our legs get soaked very quickly. So does Tahsa. Second, the tall grasses are where the ticks hang out and we need to be very careful about that, especially during warm weather when we're wearing shorts. At leash Tasha takes a flea and tick preventative. We don't have that option.

I had a successful trip to the garden center on Tuesday and found pretty much everything I went for. I arrived just after it opened and there weren't many customers yet.