February 2008

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weather vein
The 'coq' at the end of our lane has been twisting and turning as winter finally shows its face.

trimming the mimosa tree
The top heavy mimosa gets a severe haircut

mimosa bouquets
and Caroline has bouquets for all and sundry

ange gabas showing Perry how to trim his vines
Ange Gabas keeping a tradition alive

Spring sprang early and got a shock when the seasons
suddenly went backwards.

fruit frames
The new fruit patch is ready for planting, with all poles and
guides in place.

Hindri, the unstoppable hedge trimmer. If he had headlights,
he'd be there all night

sawing wood
The old door frame on the small barn and any reusable wood will be used as the basis for the chicken house and run.

sinday times article

Pass the wild boar please
The club de chasse dinner was a long, late affair, as always. Even turning up an hour later than advertised, we still stood drinking apéros for more than an hour. As a fourth Pastis was shoved into Perry's hand, we were told that dinner would be served. A thick garbure soup, followed by foie gras, grilled salmon steaks (don't see many of those in the woods here), daube de sanglier (wild boar), barbecued deer, cheese and a pyramid of profiterolles dripped in chocolate. The DJ turned up and set his stuff up on stage. That was the last we saw, or more importantly, heard from him. Apparently he was finally tempted to turn a few CDs long after we left, around 1.30am

There were the usual suspects, hunters, neighbours and friends. One fell asleep at the table after the second course and was still knocking out the Zzzzs when we left. We declined an invitation to join a group of friends in the neighbouring village, where there was a disco. Apparently they got home at 6am!

The tree doctor does his rounds
Didier Lagleyze tends the trees, bushes and gardens of the local communities. His wife mows our ever-growing lawns since we arrived here. On his last visit, he noticed that the mimosa tree was very top heavy and liable to snap in a strong wind, or under the weight of snow. Not wanting to lose such a beautiful specimen, we asked him to cut it down to size. Caroline ended up giving a lot of bouquets away that day. He also tended several more of our trees that have been damaged by the last two summer storms. When the weather gets up, it doesn't muck about. It must be the proximity of the Pyrenees which causes the clashes of warm and cold air that start the storms.

Passing knowledge down the generations
Monsieur Ange Gabas lives down the road. He is a handsome man, well into his eighties and originally from Spain. His parents fled when Franco came to power. We first met him a couple of years ago when we helped his neighbours pick their grapes. Ange knows his vines and trees and having heard that we had planted six pieds, he asked if we needed any help in pruning them. Of course, we replied. An hour later he was at the door with his secateurs in hand. Apparently the next few days were the best time to prune. Caroline, who is becoming a bit of a white witch herself, knows all about this since she gardens 'avec la lune' (with the moon). There are right and wrong moments to sow, plant, harvest, prune and even chop down trees for logs. It is all to do with the gravitational pull of the moon which acts like a slingshot drawing the sap, in cycles, as it circumnavigates the earth. We have noticed that lettuces planted at the right moment overtake earlier plants that were not planted at the right time.

Anyway, Ange appreciated that we are keen to learn and keep up the traditions. After showing Perry how to prune the vines, he took us round the garden and checked all our fruit trees. Each was given a snip here and there. He explained how and where to cut so that the new growth would go in the direction you required. It was such a pleasure to have him at our home and he was just as happy to impart his knowledge to a new generation. He saw that we have lots of plans for the garden and its trees and promised to come back again next year to help prune again.

Raspberry fields forever
The patch of ground below the small Antoinette barn was ploughed at the end of last year. Caroline had a plan to create a new fruit garden, full of berry bushes.

When were clearing the old wood away from the back of the barn, we found many chestnut poles that make great supports since the wood is very resistant to rotting in the ground. Using the chainsaw, we sharpened up the points and cut them to length. Using a heavy metal spike, Perry created the holes and hammered the poles in. Each getting a small prop at the bottom to take the strain once the lines were stretched between them. Finally the fine wire was cut to length, pulled and twisted. Now we have to wait until the 20th of March to plant the yellow raspebberries, tayberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries. Between the lines, we will plant rhubarb and other hardy plants.

Hindri the hedgeman
In return for dinner, Hindri came over with his metal plate strimmer. He has a house in Lustar, 5kms away. Our cord strimmer just wasn't getting through the thick brambles, woody stumps and weeds, so we needed a heavy duty approach.

Hindri strapped himself in and we pointed. It was hard to communicate in detail above the noise. It was also hard to stop him too. Once he got started, he just kept going. It was almost dark when he finished (and that was because he ran out of fuel). A hot shower and a well deserved dinner. Fair exchange.

Chicken run
We have been talking chickens for a while now. Our neighbour Sophie has some beautiful black Gascony chickens. Large, good egg layers, but also very loud singers. Ernest has a good source and we know a few other farmers with some handsome birds. Still, whatever we choose, they will need a place to stay. A couple of the places we saw during our house hunting days actually had chickens and even turkeys wandering throughout the house. Can't see that happening here.

So, we plan to build a chicken house and run behind the small barn. In the sun, out of the wind and out of sight of the house. Now that the rubbish and timber is gone, we can flatten the ground, lay a foundation and build up from there. We'll need to put fine mesh grill under the floor, as well as the top and sides, to keep the rats and weasels out. A few sketches have been drawn up, though the final plan is not there yet. It will probably evolve as we go along, like many things here. Learning by doing is certainly the way we have made progress, although finding the right mentors and artisans make all the difference.

Fish and chip wrapper
We were asked if we wanted to take part in a simple five question column in the Sunday Times Home section. Of course, we said yes. A quick telephone call from London, a couple of photos by email and four days later we were in print. The column got us lots of hits on this site and we even had a couple or three old contacts find us. Drats! Another bonus was the bottle of champagne that arrived a few days later. We consumed that on our fourth anniversary here in France. Cheers!

OK, that was February.

Until next month,

A bientôt.


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© 2008 Perry Taylor and La Baguette Magique, France.