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Paddock

Timber!

4 days chopping, 4 days humping. And I’m spent. My back is creaking and I ache in spots that haven’t ached for the longest time. 2 pairs of gloves written off and some industrial solvent will be required to clean up my baby tractor and trailer. All told – I’m very satisfied with a job well done and the cleanup of our neighbours aftermath of tempete xynthia is over.

Woodstack1

Pile #1. 8M long!

A couple of precarious stacks now dominate the paddock, Hard to guess at the true volume but I think something close to 12M3, for that stack above perhaps more. And then there’s another one…

Woodstack2

A second pile, 6M long!

I’ll leave them to bake under the Charentaise sun until October then I’ll be a-choppin’ and a-splittin’ them again where they’ll go into the barn to season for a further year. It’s softwood so not the very best of firewood but in a mix with some oak it should do well. In the course of picking up the trees from our neighbours we tried a few that were a few years seasoned from some older trees that had come down previously – very satisfactory chauffage!

And now, just as some warmer weather looks to be here – it’s time to start on the garden and pick up the baton with renovation of chez moi.

Wood Pile

In November 2006 we had a kind offer, from a friend, for a mountain of wood for burning in our woodburner. One catch – the wood had to be chopped first. The trees had already been felled, but were now dumped in 6 or more huge stacks across our friend’s land.

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Move along pigs ….

1st part of paddock

It has been over 3 weeks since the pigs were first put into the paddock. The portion of the paddock they have had access to has been totally turned over and all weeds and roots kindly removed.

Before the pigs start to do damage to the soil, I thought it best to move them to the next third of the paddock.

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Piggy Hilton Mark II

Well, the pigs have completely rotavated the courtyard and were now starting to be a little destructive – the cherry tree roots seemed to be a tantalising snack. So there was nothing for it but to move them to a place that needed rotavating.

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Springtime in the garden

CowslipsAll around Bellebouche and Gourge the hedgerows are bursting with gorgeous spring flowers. Walking along the footpaths and bridal ways, you come across a swathe of wild bluebells, not the invasive spanish variety but the ones found in many UK woods. Another plant, almost lost now in the UK, the cowslip can be found in buttery yellow groups, alongside the early purple orchid. Pulmonaria and violas carpet the shaded areas and everywhere you look, there are daisies of various sizes and colours.

I love this time of year, so much is bursting through and the colours are all crisp and fresh.Our garden is also brimming with colour. Daffodils, tulips and alliums are all fighting for attention from the miriad of bees and butterflies.

The cherry and peach trees are covered in white and pink blossom and the spectacular pale pink quince flowers, ooze their jasmine like scent around the courtyard and orchard. The smell is so evocative of our house in South Africa, where we had a jacaranda tree dripping with jasmine.

It wont be long before the summer flowers start their spectacular show. There are already flowers on my marigolds and the bearded iris is tempting me by showing how many buds it will have bursting out this summer.

Quince I have created a number of new flower beds since last year. One has a colour theme of yellow, red and white. This includes, spirea, magnolia stellata, potentilla, cannas, tulips, dianthus and many more.

A new bed was created at the end of the orchard, once the home to various brambles, nettles and the odd freezer! This is now my blue, purple and silver bed. The flowers here include, hebes, dwarf conifers, echinops, euonymus, sage, larkspur, bearded iris and many more.

Next to this border, a new bed was dug out to incorporate a couple of huge hydrangeas, moved from a bed by the house. It also includes a spirea, pieris and various spring bulbs. This is still a work in progress.

The last new bed is in the paddock. After Adrian had laid the hedge, I dug out a small bed and planted a variety of shrubs and spring bulbs. Most of the shrubs were taken from cuttings by Adrian’s parents or found in a local discount store. These include, stags horn, spotted laurel, a dwarf conifer and euonymus. Again this is still a work in progress.

Once all these borders have established I will put up photos. The main tasks now are to plant up my seedlings for the potager and plant more flower seeds for the new beds.

Paying the price

A busy couple of weeks to get the season underway. Lots of jobs done in the garden, the paddock finally cleared and another hedge layed. Asparagus planted, Jerusalem artichokes planted, garlic bed weeded and nine new trees put in to replace the bits of old ones we’ve chopped up and/or burned over the winter. The Vines got pruned as did the Apples, Pear and Peach trees. We learned a tough lesson last year as we lost one whole mature peach tree due to being overloaded with fruit and a couple of bigger branches from other trees. That won’t happen again.

Two of the new trees planted (a Doyenne du Comice pear and a Reine de Reinette apple) got planted in what now forms a little ‘espalier walk’ at the end of the orchard, pics to follow soon.

A last trip this morning in what I hope to be quite some time to the decheterie. The man from the commune now recognises us by name and is always particularly helpful after first telling us that we can not throw anything away there! In the skip today, an old boiler, a heinous antique bed and a couple of tubs of scrap metal… all the remnants of clearing out the last of the ‘atelier’ at the side of the house. I’m not quite sure yet just what we’ll do with these workshops but for now they’re handy storage for old wine barrels, garden tools and the like.

And paying the price? Well today is my first day in four days without having to resort to painkillers whilst feeling hopelessly crippled by back-pain. Oddly, I seem to have sustained the muscle strain whilst up a ladder doing some pruning and reaching skywards into one of the mirabelle trees.

A thought did cross my mind that with an old 220 litre oak wine barrique, some steel pipework and a splash of Fred Dibnah ingenuity I could easily craft a firebox and a cold-smoker. Seems like a reasonable use for just one of the Atelier rooms I think. Only snag of course is that this would necessitate raising some bacon to smoke in it.

Not quite the Cheshire Smokehouse, more the Charentaise Smokehouse? Hrm…

Spring heralds the return of the.. Sundowner!

20th March and we had our first full day of T-shirt only weather… AT LAST. The winter was actually rather short but it did seem at times like it was never going to end.

We’ve had a couple of busy days getting the paddock knocked into a bit of shape (land clearance, more hedge laying) and this evening was rounded out by some tree planting (seven new trees to redress the half a dozen I’d set fire to) and finally… the year’s first sundowner.

We’ve maintained a bit of a tradition after living in South Africa, of having a ‘sundowner’ – normally a long cool drink consumed during a break to watch the sun go down during a game drive in the Timbavati.

For us, in France, it’s normally a small beer or a little pastis whilst sat on the patio.. but our first Sundowner of the year was… a well earned pot of tea.

Still, it was lovely to sit out in the relative warm as dusk settled and the sun went down over the beautiful countryside of the G├ítine… splendid.

Oh, and I looked really hard, didn’t quite see any leopards!

Dig for Victory II

victoryii

Our paddock contained a rather odd looking hole. Not just any hole.. more of a pond or sheep dip type affair! Being adjacent to the roadside and the usual French drainage ditch we knew where the water table was and this thing was just acting as a buffer for all the waste water that drained away from the entire hamlet. Fine for the visiting ducks and one or two frogs but we wanted to get shut of it – it didn’t really figure in our plans.

The local jungle drums came to our rescue when a call from the mayors office revealed that the commune were doing some digging work and would we like any topsoil?
“Yes, please!”
“How much”
“Erm.. all of it, please!”

So. 40 tons later and a brief visit from a man in a JCB and our hole problem is sorted.

Cost? Two bottles of wine, one for the tractor driver, one for his mate in the JCB. Splendid job!

Laurel Hedge

On moving to Bellebouche, our first priority was to get the house liveable. Next, were parts of the garden that were visible from the main house. This included removing monster weeds and bits of rubbish. Whilst planning out the garden, we discussed the paddock. Although this is not visible from the main house, it will need work.

Paddock Before

The obvious thing that needed doing was replacing the wire fence, which borders alongside the lane, and which was falling down with the weight of brambles on it. Our idea was to plant a hedge, which would not only replace the broken fence but in time, would also hide a rather unsightly barn, aross the lane from the paddock. We decided that as a hedge takes a few years to establish, we would start this job now.

Our first thoughts were leylandi, but as luck would have it, the local DIY store had a sale in their gardening section.

Laurel trees, 40-50cm big, were on sale.

A quick car trip and a boot full later, I returned home with 28 trees. That was the easy part.

Paddock After

Next stage, hacking back and digging up all the brambles. Adrian’s parents were willing helpers and one day later, the old fence was cleared of all greenery.

Next, Adrian rearranged and re-seated the concrete fence posts in fresh concrete.

The wire fence was put back up, to keep the local livestock from breaking in, while the new hedge is growing.

Final stage, planting the laurels. Easier said than done. After extensive research on the internet, I started to dig out a trench the length of the proposed hedge. The first 2 metres were easy. Then, with every spade dug, I came across the rocks from hell – huge boulders of granite and clusters of tiny rocks.

Two days later, the ground was ready for the laurel trees. The hedge is now in place and the trees are all doing really well. No casualties.

Birds I

Muscovy

A really huge duck took residence in our little pond in the paddock. We had never seen a duck like it, almost prehistoric looking.

On further investigation, we found out it was a Muscovy duck.

They are not indigenous to France, so this must have been an escapee.

When approached it flew off towards one of the other farms in the hamlet, it returned later to our pond/sheep dip.

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