Friday, June 30, 2023

Any (car)port in a storm

It's hard to see from the deck because it's surrounded by leafy trees. And that's exactly why the carport's roof needs periodic cleaning. When those leaves fall, they accumulate on said roof. Optimally, the metal roof should be cleaned every year. Actually doing it is another story. I don't remember the last time. But the spirit moved me the other day and I got the ladder out and, with the help of some garden tools, scraped the years-thick layer of decomposing sticks and leaves off the roof. Then I got the hose out and rinsed it down. We're good for another year. Or ten.

The carport's red metal roof.

On a completely unrelated note, I looked out the north window the other day and thought I saw a ghost. A black cat was prowling around (and at one point, chasing a squirrel). I immediately thought "it's Bert!" But no, that can't be. Obviously, one of the neighborhood cats has ventured into Bert's old hunting ground. He or she just happens to resemble our former mouser. Oh, and the squirrel got away. Yay!

Thursday, June 29, 2023


I took my disabled lawnmower over to the garden center yesterday morning. The repair guy said that he wasn't taking any new motor repairs until after his July vacation. He was trying to get the backlog cleared before vacation starts next week. He gave me the name of someone who might be able to take it before he gets back. I went home, dispirited.

Nothing to do with today's post, just a pretty picture of the vineyard at sunrise.

Then I got to thinking (always dangerous). I had put that carburetor cleaner in the gas tank a couple of days ago. I ran the mower as much as it would run so it would take in the treated gas. By yesterday, the treatment had some time to work. I should start the mower up again and see.

Ken and I lifted the beast out of the back of the car. It's heavy. I reassembled the handle and pushed the mower out into the grass. First pull of the starter cord: nothing. Second pull: the motor sputtered to life, but it was still surging. Then I heard a pop! and saw a little cloud of gray smoke puff out of the exhaust pipe. The mower started running normally. Whatever had gunked up the carburetor (or fuel line) had dissolved enough to be forced out. I was able to finish cutting down the "wild" meadow within a half-hour or so.

So, if the mower keeps running normally, I will have no need to take it in. If I had been able to leave it at the garden center, who knows how long I'd be without it? And the repair guy probably would have done what I did before disassembling the carburetor, and charge me for it. Instead, I'll go get another bottle of carburetor cleaner and use some as a preventative the next time I fill the tank.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

It's always something

A day or so ago, the lawnmower engine began surging, running fast, then slow, then fast, then slow. You get the picture. Then it conked out altogether. So I couldn't continue mowing. I came inside and started poking around on the internet. Turns out, engine surge is a very common problem in small engines, like lawnmowers. The problem is usually a clogged carburetor. The solution is simple: clean the carburetor. I watched a couple of videos on how to do that and I'm not sure I can want to handle it. I already tried a carburetor cleaning additive in the gas tank, but, although it helped a little, it didn't do much. So... This morning I'll take the thing into one of our local garden centers where they do repairs on mowers and other motorized garden tools to ask them the clean the carburetor. I may be without the mower for a week.

Sometimes it feels like I'm constantly running into log jams. Or log piles.

We're also dealing with a few administrative things with the government, namely some new reporting regulations with the tax people. Nothing serious, just paperwork (if you can call working with web sites "paperwork") that needs to be done. And it turns out that a lot of people are having some difficulty; the government delayed the reporting deadline and declared that no penalties will be assessed for late reporting this year. So that's chugging along. I'm also doing actual paperwork in advance of having my tooth fixed, both for the dental office and for my insurance company. Again, nothing serious, just dotting i's and crossing t's.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Tasha Tuesday

Sometimes Tasha gets a little ahead of me during our walks. It's usually after she sees a bird and chases it for a while. I don't think she thinks she's going to catch a bird. She just wants to chase it away. Pigeons, crows, hawks, ducks, pheasants, she's chased them all. Callie used to chase hot-air balloons and I'm sure Tasha would, too, but there are fewer of them over us these days.

Tasha gives up the chase. Until she spots the next bird.

Yesterday I started the process of cutting down our "wild" meadow in the north forty. I'm tired of it. It's looking unruly and there are trees and thorny things growing taller and taller in there. I got about a third of it cut down and hope to get some more cut today. I also cleaned off the roof of our little carport, something I haven't done for years. It looks much better now and less like a ruin. It was a very productive day.

Monday, June 26, 2023

There be grapes!

It seems like just a week ago I was looking at grape flowers. Now there are grapes on the vines out back. They'll spend the rest of the summer getting bigger and ripening before harvest in the fall. But let's not rush things.

Bunches of grapes soaking up the morning sunlight.

Meanwhile, I keep watering and weeding out in the vegetable garden. It's still too early to know if the chard seeds will germinate. Yesterday I transplanted some basil seedlings into planter boxes for the deck. It's nice to have some basil close to the kitchen in the summer months.

We're in a vigilance area for drought. That means, I believe, that we should be mindful of water use and try to conserve. There are no restrictions as yet where we live. I think that, except for the most severe of cases, we would still be able to water the vegetables if we had restrictions. It's food, after all. Watering the lawn would be prohibited, but I don't water the lawn anyway. Washing cars, filling pools, and things of that nature would not be allowed.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The replanted vineyard parcel

The newly planted grape vines are growing nicely. I'm sure that the recent rain helped a lot. And now we're back to warm, almost hot, weather. Grape vines like that.

Precision planting makes for nice patterns in the young vineyard.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I decided not to plant a third row of green beans. I found a partial packet of Swiss chard seeds in the seed box. It indicated that the seeds could be planted through July for a fall harvest and, since the seeds' "plant-by date" just recently passed, I thought I should get them into the ground. And so I did. We've had good luck with chard in the past. Fingers crossed that they germinate!

Saturday, June 24, 2023

I can't stop

Taking pictures of the vegetable garden, that is. I won't share them all, but here's just one more of the whole garden plot as we move into summer. From left to right: green beans row 1, green beans row 2, zucchini, tomatoes. In the background are the pumpkins. Beyond that, the oregano patch. Inside the cold frame was an attempt to germinate some collards and kale, but I think the seeds may be too old as nothing came up but weeds.

Looking east over the garden plot.

Now that everything is more or less established, it's maintenance time. I'll be weeding, watering, pruning off tomato suckers, and maybe planting a third row of beans.* There are already some good-sized tomatoes on the plants, and I picked the first zucchini yesterday.

* Since typing this earlier, I changed my mind and planted a row of Swiss chard were the beans were going to go.

Friday, June 23, 2023

The oregano patch

Right next to the vegetable garden plot, between it and the remaining apple trees, are several patches of oregano that escaped the garden several years ago. It comes up on its own every year and I've been careful not to mow it down. In spring, I harvest the herbs and dry them in a dehydrator, then separate the leaves from the stems and put them in jars for use through the rest of the year. Our oregano is more flavorful than what we get from the supermarket and we use it all the time (thyme? lol). But it has to be dried. The fresh leaves don't have much flavor.

Part of the oregano patch and the apple trees. Harvest is done for the year and now the plants are flowering.

Speaking of the apple trees, there are no apples this year. Both our trees are bare, as are the other trees in the neighborhood. I have no idea why. I don't remember seeing a lot of blossoms in the spring, but there were some. I wonder what makes the trees so productive in one year, but almost completely un-productive in others. On the bright side, this year I won't have to pick up apples before mowing the lawn.

Thursday, June 22, 2023


This section of our laurel hedge, next to the back gate, has been invaded by honeysuckle. It's been happening for years now, but this year there seems to be more of it, probably due to the mild and wet spring we had. It's also showing up in other parts of the yard. It's not possible to remove it from the hedge without taking the whole hedge out. I think we need to attack those other places where it's growing and try to keep it under control, if not eliminate it.

Honeysuckle vines in the hedge with their white and yellow flowers. Invasive, yet pretty.

We woke up to rain this morning. It's coming down pretty steadily, but there is no wind and, so far, no lightning. The forecast says to expect the rain to continue through the morning, tapering off this afternoon. No need to water the garden today! I"m going to make pizza for lunch. There's some leftover okra and tomatoes in the 'fridge, so that will go on along with some black olives and crumbled feta cheese. Sounds unusual, but it should be good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Pumpkin patch

There are only two plants, but if we're lucky, we'll get a few good pumpkins this fall. I've had plants in the past that produced three or four pumpkins each. That's a lot. I like to roast and freeze the flesh to use in cooking, both savory and sweet recipes, during the fall and winter seasons and beyond. These two plants are starting to send out vine branches in every direction. They should cover up most of the ground around them. I can see flower buds on both of the plants, but they haven't opened yet. Patience.

Will the Great Pumpkin visit my pumpkin patch this year? Time will tell.

That pointy plant on the left is a volunteer artichoke. In the fall, when I cut down the artichoke stalks and their flowers, I pile them up in the garden plot until I can dispose of them. It's not surprising that a seed would sprout. It is surprising that there aren't more.

Some of the weather people are predicting a lot of rain over night tonight and into Thursday. Much more than we normally get from a single weather system. Here's hoping the heavy rain, if it materializes, doesn't damage the fragile plants.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Garden update

We've been on tenterhooks these past couple days. Thunderstorms have been predicted daily since Sunday. Violent weather warnings were issued for our area. We feared strong winds, torrential rains, and hail. None of which would have been good for our vegetable garden, not to mention the vineyards and other local crops around us. So far, though, we have been spared. The extreme weather has missed us.

Monday's rain was good for the garden.

We did, in fact, have a pleasant afternoon of gentle rain on Monday. But not too far away, over toward Bourges (about an hour east of us), there was a violent storm cell that did a lot of damage to buildings as well as crops. I haven't seen any reports of serious injuries or deaths, thank goodness. Let's hope our luck holds.

I decided to take "before" photos of the garden in case we get damage. Just for the memories of what could have been. This one includes the ten tomato plants, three zucchini plants, and one of the pumpkin vines. And the artichokes lurking in the background.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Artichokes (again)

Just a quick hit-and-run post this morning. I'm getting ready to head out to an early dentist appointment. Have a good day!

Lots of little artichokes.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Party hearty

And they did. Ken and I were invited over for apéros at noon. It was nice. As we sipped and chatted, the crowds arrived. Car after car pulled into the parking area right across from our house. Lots of people, some we know, a lot we didn't, arrived over the next hour or so. We said our good-byes before lunch began (a sit-down lunch under the tents for a hundred people!). But we needn't have hurried. Lunch didn't get under way until about 14h00.

The "parking lot" seen from our deck yesterday afternoon.

The party continued on into the night. It was loud, especially the techno-disco music that woke me around 23h00. But I went back to sleep thanks to the fans in our loft that mask a good amount of noise. Some partiers left during the evening, but not all. There are still about a dozen cars over there this morning. And it's quiet.

The same view a few days before.

The party will likely continue today for those who stayed while they do some cleaning up. Thunderstorms are predicted for this afternoon and that will likely curb their enthusiasm. But they were quite lucky yesterday to have a perfect and dry day and night. At some point, probably not today, they will take away the tables and chairs and dismantle the tents.

Update: I was wrong. They're out there taking everything down this morning. Must be the threat of storms for this afternoon.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The earth moved

Last evening, at 18h38, un séisme, also called un tremblement de terre (an earthquake) occurred about 200km (about 125 miles) southwest of us. Ken and I were in the loft watching television when we both felt the motion. It only lasted a few seconds, but we knew immediately what it was. We lived in San Francisco for many years and experienced many small quakes. We were there when the big Loma Prieta quake hit in 1989.

The vineyard at sunrise last Thursday morning.

Here, we heard no sound. No rattling, no bumping. Just a gentle rocking, as if the house were a raft bobbing on a breezy lake. A quick look on the internet confirmed that what we felt was, indeed, an earthquake. The epicenter was just north of the city of Niort and was initially reported at 5.8 on the Richter Scale. That's since been revised down to 5.3. Still, that's a pretty significant temblor for this part of the world. I thought we had left all that behind. Silly me.

Friday, June 16, 2023

A new day dawns

I took the phone out on Thursday morning's walk with Tasha to take some pictures of the growth in the newly planted vineyard parcel. The light wasn't exactly cooperating for the photo I wanted, but the established vineyard parcels were gleaming as the sun rose into the clouds. This is what we saw on our way back home.

Thursday's sunrise over our hamlet.

Our neighbors across the road are having a big bash over the weekend. One of the in-laws is turning sixty. A bunch of guys showed up yesterday to set up a big tent, called un barnum (as in P.T. Barnum of circus fame), for the party. Our neighbor told us last weekend that they're expecting about a hundred people. Yikes!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Friggin' fig

Here's a shot of our infamous fig tree bush. I haven't looked it up, but it's got to be at least fifteen years old. One winter, early on, it froze to the ground. I thought it was dead, but no. It came back like an orange-faced former president. When there was fruit, it was quickly consumed by insects and birds. Or it remained hard as rocks until it rotted. I think there was one year when we actually got to eat a few figs.

And it's a bitch to mow around.

This year, the fig is bigger than it's ever been. And it's covered in figs; more than it's ever had. and, yes, they're hard as rocks. Oh well, at least it's a nice looking tree shrub.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Tomato update

So far (knock on wood), our vegetable garden is out-performing last year's attempt. The tomatoes are healthy looking (no yellow leaves) and are getting taller. We even have tiny tomatoes forming. The zukes are growing and continue to flower, and the pumpkin vines are beginning to wander. While the green beans add leaves and reach upward, the yellow beans are still struggling. Most of the seeds I planted didn't germinate, so I added some more. If there are no more sprouts by the weekend, I'll plant more green beans.

I used to plant upwards of 30 tomato plants each year. Now, I'm down to 10.

Oh! I think we identified the mystery plant. The working theory is that it's an artichoke. As it grows, the newest leaves look more and more like an artichoke plant. I'll keep you posted.

If this year's garden continues at this rate, we should have a decent harvest. And if that happens, I'll be encouraged to add peppers and eggplant to next year's crop. We used to get very good peppers, both the bell and chili/cayenne varieties. For several years we enjoyed eggplant before they wouldn't produce any more. Like I told Ken a few days ago, I think I've become a fertilizer convert. Compost alone isn't enough.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

A fixer-upper

Our garden shed. No bedrooms, no baths. If it were in California it might sell for over a million. Ha! In the shed's upper right corner you can see the end of one of two tie-rods that we had installed a year or so ago to hold it all together. We had the door replaced back in 2003 (or was it 2004?). It needs to be re-hung since things shifted before, and when, the tie-rods went in.

Don't the irises and the Jerusalem artichokes look nice?

New shutters are necessary, or at least the old ones need to go. The ivy (dead and alive) needs to be removed from the walls. Cracks need to be patched and a paint job is in order. Maybe the whole thing should be demolished and replaced. Problem: it's hard to justify working on this building when there's work to be done on the building we actually live in. Of course, as every homeowner knows, there's always work to be done in the building you actually live in. Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, "It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another." Ain't it the truth.

Monday, June 12, 2023


We had a foggy morning on Sunday. Perfect weather for taking pictures. I grabbed the camera (not the phone) and took a little walk around the yard. In this shot, I'm looking west toward the garden gate and shed. The shed's seen better days, for sure, but it's still practical.

The lawn is taking on its summer brown.

There are three iris patches in the photo. The one along the base of the hedge was here twenty years ago. One year, I dug it all up, or at least I thought I had. Irises came back up and filled in over the next years. In two other places, we dumped some rhizomes that we dug up from another part of the yard and forgot about them. To my amazement, they didn't die. They just took root and now we have two "new" patches of irises. It's probably time to dig them up and divide them. I'll put that task on the list. At the bottom.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Crazy daisies

Here are some wild daisies I saw in a field out among the vineyards last week. It's been very summer-like the past couple of weeks and we've enjoyed it. The rain we were supposed to get yesterday didn't really happen, but there were a few brief showers. This morning I woke up to foggy skies. Everything looks wet out there.

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer, do.

It's my morning to take Tasha out, so we'll see how wet it really is. The garden is doing fine, so far. Some gusty wind bent a few of the tomatoes over, but I couldn't find any damage. I tied them up a little higher on the stakes and they seem fine. I also planted some more yellow bean seeds to fill in the gaps where the previous seeds haven't sprouted. At least not yet.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Bean greens

The first row of beans came up like gangbusters. They're even bigger than this now (photo is from last Monday) and I've thinned them out a bit. The second row is just starting to come up now, but not as aggressively as the first, possibly because I planted fewer seeds, possibly because they're a different lot of seeds. They're yellow beans, where the first are green. I'll probably go out and push some more seeds into the ground, maybe this morning. Update: I did.

A row of green bean sprouts. I'm using dried grass clippings to help keep weeds down.

We did get a little rain over night. The brown grass is probably happy. But the larger rainfall is expected this afternoon and evening. One of the weather sites is saying we'll get about 14mm between noon and midnight. That'll make the brown grass very happy.

Friday, June 09, 2023

That's Italian!

No, wait, it's French! Interesting, but not surprising, that Americans adopted the Italian word, zucchini, for this summer squash, while the British use the French word, courgette. Whatever you call it, it's a delicious and versatile staple in any summer vegetable garden. And surplus zukes freeze well.

We've always had good luck with summer squash, last year's paltry crop being the exception.

We have three plants in this year's garden. If they all produce well, we'll be swimming in the stuff. But maybe that won't be so bad since Tasha now eats zucchini daily, grated and mixed into her wet food as a low-cal but filling part of her morning meal.

Thursday, June 08, 2023


Here's a closer look at the tomato patch. And the kind of soil we have to deal with these days. When I planted the seedlings, I scooped some compost into each hole. I've also fertilized each plant with granules (organic) formulated especially for tomatoes. After gardening on the same spot for almost twenty years, and what with drought and heat waves in many of those years, I'm thinking that our soil must be depleted of nutrients.

I took special care to plant the root balls and the lower part of the stems horizontally to encourage root growth in our dry and rocky soil. That's why the watering looks a little lopsided. I've always read that one should plant tomatoes that way, but I never bothered until now.

I've been adding compost to the soil for a long time, but apparently not enough. I also practice crop rotation, but again, maybe not enough. If we get good results this year, I'll chalk it up to the engrais (fertilizer). And to the deep tilling that our landscape contractor did in March.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

The vegetable garden, 2023 edition

The garden is planted and growing. It's hard not to be impatient. I want it to grow faster.

This year's vegetable garden. So far, it's working much better than last year's.

On the left are ten tomato plants tied to wooden stakes. One of them was damaged by a hot day in the greenhouse, so it's smaller than the others, but it is sending up new shoots, so I'm happy. Behind the toms are three zucchini plants. They've started making flowers, but their early flowers won't become fruit. Behind them is one newly planted row of yellow beans (it looks like a dark strip) and another already sprouted row of green beans.

To the extreme right, near where Tasha is standing, is a cold frame. Inside is planted some collard greens and dinosaur kale seeds. We're not sure how they'll do, but we're trying nonetheless. Then, sort of in the foreground, there are two pumpkin plants. If they work, they'll fill in all that empty space around them. There's also a mystery plant near one of the pumpkins. It came up there and I have no idea what it is. I'm letting it stay for now because I'm curious. It may just be a weed.

In upcoming posts I'll show some close-ups.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Wild bellflower and weather

Wildflowers proliferate among the grape vines, especially in the margins around the vineyard parcels and in adjacent fields left fallow or otherwise uncultivated. These are campanules sauvages (wild bellflower). I read that there are many varieties of this flower growing across Europe and I'm not sure which this is. But "wild bellflower" will do.

Wild bellflower among the grape vines.

I cut the strip of grass outside our hedges and back gate yesterday. The grass is dry and easy to cut, such a contrast from the last time I mowed. Today I hope to get the south forty done, and the other two sections of the yard done by Friday. Rain is predicted for the weekend (yay!), so I want to get the mowing done before that.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Meanwhile, back in the established vineyard...

The grape vines are starting to flower. These buds, which look like little grapes, will very shortly open into tiny flowers. They're difficult to see unless you're up close. Once pollination happens, the actual grapes will form. As they grow and get heavier, the bunch will turn downwards.

Grape buds, not to be confused with grape nuts.

It's time to start another mowing cycle (after I typed that, I started humming "Ride of the Valkyries"). The grass is dry and not growing as quickly as it was a few weeks ago, but it still needs cutting. I think I'll start today with the strip outside the hedge, along the road. Then I'll see how ambitious I am about continuing today or waiting until tomorrow. There's always watering and weeding to do in the vegetable garden.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

A vineyard is born

I took the macro lens out on Saturday morning to see if I could get a good shot of the newly planted grape vines in the vineyard parcel behind our house. And look what I found! Already the tiny vine plants are losing their protective covering and sprouting leaves. According to the label on this vine, the variety of grape they planted is sauvignon, the major white grape that's grown in our region. Undoubtedly, the grapes from these vines will one day become AOP Touraine Chenonceau wine.

There's not a label on every vine, just one per lot. I think those rods on either side are part of a support stake, but I'm not sure. The red stuff is what's left of the waxy protective cover.

My trip to the market was a success. I came home with local strawberries, some green asparagus, and two beautiful globe artichokes. Today we'll grill the asparagus along with some ham and serve it with a cheese sauce. And the weather is more of the same: sunny and warm.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

A rose is a rose

Pretty much the only thing we've been able to grow in this "wild" corner of our yard, besides springtime muscari (grape hyacinth), thick grasses, and the invasive millepertuis (St. John's wort), is this rose. We moved it from another part of the yard a long time ago, and it thrived here. The spot is under the two very tall red maples next to the driveway. The maples have big, shallow roots that crowd out all but the most aggressive plants and the thick leaf canopy blocks a lot of light. I gave up mowing this patch years ago and just let it go wild -- there's no real connection to the rest of the yard that the mower can easily navigate. Low stone walls and rock borders block the way.

A splash of color in a dark corner of the yard.

Today is market day in Saint-Aignan. I'm going to get some strawberries and maybe some asparagus, if the season isn't done yet. The weather's nice, and it's Saturday. I wonder how crowded it will be.

Friday, June 02, 2023

And the grillin' is easy

It sure feels like summer time! We're grilling almost every day right now, taking advantage of the warm and dry days. Yesterday, Ken marinated two rather large turkey legs and I slow-cooked them on the grill. Low, indirect heat for about two hours. They were delicious. And, of course, there are leftovers for another meal or two, one of which I hope will be turkey salad. Today: burgers!

Everything takes on a red tint when the sun shines on the patio umbrella.

The green bean seeds I planted in the vegetable garden a week ago today have popped up. They nearly all sprouted, and quickly, too. Amazing, compared to recent years. I think I'll put a row of yellow beans in today.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Anniversaries and artichokes

Today marks the 40th year that Ken and I have lived together, having moved into our first apartment together in Washington DC's Capitol Hill neighborhood on June 1, 1983. We were in that place for a few years before moving out to San Francisco toward the end of 1986. It's also the 20th anniversary of our flight to France with our dog, Collette. We arrived in Paris on June 2, 2003, spent some time with friends in Normandy, then headed down to Saint-Aignan to take possession of our house. What an adventure that was!

Artichokes, four for a euro.

These artichokes are younger than any of those milestones. I think we planted them in 2007 which makes them, what, 16 years old now? Not as young as I thought. There were four at first. Only two remain.

In more mundane news, I'm getting my hair cut today at a shop in Saint-Aignan, the first time we've gone there. Our regular stylist hung up her scissors last month, so we had to look for a new place. Ken went on Tuesday and liked it, so I've got an appointment for today.