Time to prune!
About this time last year I planted up a vine nursery with about 70 cuttings from the main chasselas vines around the house. I had no idea at the time what it was I was planting – we’d moved in the winter when everything was dormant.. plenty of bird-eaten bunches lying on the vines.. but no clue as to what they were.
Well, having sucessfully got at least half of the vines through their second winter now, they all had a brutal pruning back to just 3/4 buds and many had whole stems taken out. I’ve installed a wire system for ‘guyot training’ so in this, their second summer, I shall take them up to the second wire (about 70cm) , trim back any over vigourous side shoots and see how they get on. They’ll be fine then for laying down two/three stems for guyot training and should give me productive vines in years to come.
Just one very old/mature vine alongside the garage netted 34kg of fruit last year. It transpires that this is far far too much to give any kind of quality for wine making. The wines from this vine have some sauvignon blanc character (minerally/herby, bone dry) but are just frankly a little bland. This is a big shame as the fruit quality was good, very mature, lots of sugars but I knew as I was eating them… just one bunch in about ten had a ‘wow’ type flavour… where the bouquet and aroma punched through the sugars.
Still. I have plenty of wine for cooking now and also five litres of white wine vinegar from an open-fermentation of all the skin pressings. Not a bad start.
As an aside Joan was clearing some banking at the end of the Orchard where we intend to install a ‘secret bench’ surrounded by what we think are our Pinot Noir vines…. and discovered a small group of 5/6 mature grapevines that last year just served as bird food. I’ll grub these up and replant them elsewhere.
Also taken, two dozen clippings from the Carrignan vine and a similar amount from the Chardonnay.
During November, Adrian had cut down some stems from a previously pollarded ash in our hedge. Instead of just putting these stems onto the bonfire pile I decided to have a go at making a wigwam for plants to grow up.
Taking some of the longer poles, I stuck them into the soil in a circle. Then I wove thinner stems around, about two thirds down and then some even smaller ones near the top to form a wigwam shape.
As a first attempt, I am quite proud of it. It is very rustic looking and will have, for now, wild blackberries scrambling up it.
The blackberries are just a trial. During the autumn we had brambles all over the garden and some of them had wonderful tasting fruits. While digging out the flower bed at the end of the orchard, I removed a load of brambles.
I decided to keep one bramble and this is the one currently climbing my wigwam.
If, in autumn, the fruit is no good, I will remove the bramble and grow a clematis up it.
I have tidied up the ends of the sticks on the wigwam since this photo.
We have seen various types of praying mantis around the garden. There are small white ones on the potager and big green ones in the orchard. There are also some medium sized brown ones in the hedges. One day we saw a huge green mantis catch a wasp in flight and quickly dispose of it. Another time we waited eagerly to see what would happen when a brown mantis came face to face with a larger green one. We were hoping to see a “David Attenborough” moment, female biting the head off the male after mating, but after ten minutes we got bored and left them to it.
The things that the weather brings about! We’re far enough south in France to really benefit from weather that’s clearly not Northern European. We’d been enjoying outdoor evening meals from as early as March this year and come June we’d been hitting 30 degree days. It was lovely and with very little downside other than.. a slight pong! Work at easter time made sure that the fosse-septique was in good working order but it was clear that the final piece of the jigsaw needed some work. The original outflow pipe went to a soakaway that was visible from the surface and the lack of maintenance of the whole thing meant that the soakaway was blocked and not working. We had a small river of post-fosse treated water running down the lower end of the garden… and with a warm evening breeze from the south west.. it sometimes made outdoors dining a little unpleasant.
So, repairs were in order.
There are quite clear guidelines and design constraints on a drainfield here in France so we had no problem in understanding what was needed. The size of the drain-field is specced on how many bedrooms you have and a given number of linear meters of drains that are a specific volume and a minimum depth underneath the surface was required.
So, off to buy the bits, lay out the works and set-to with digging. We decided, somewhat foolishly to do it all by hand. This meant early morning starts and trying to avoid the peak of the daytime heat. In hindsight we’d have been much much better off by hiring a small digger… but in the end we managed it all manually. The whole area was plotted out, levels dug (a mtre deep in places) and set true with a laser pointer. Once we’d infilled the trenches with about 5m3of gravel it was time to actually lay the drain network. The 100mm pipes that you can just see in the centre trench have drain slots cut through them so that effectively the whole bed acts as a soakaway. It was gratifying to put the whole thing together and just see it work when given a ‘dry-run’ (wet-run?!) with tapwater.
I’ve installed a couple of inspection points and will dig them out and have a look after a year or so. The net effect now is that the post-fosse treated water goes into the land-drain that should see us right for the next decade or so. In the design of the layout of the land drain we’d positioned it and laid it now with the capability for the drain matrix to be extended. We can quite easily take the field up to well beyond what we’ll ever need in the house and I’m pleased that the design allows for the expansion of the network should it ever be necessary. All the relevant ‘T’ pieces are all ready installed in place – it’ll just be a case of getting the spade out again, or perhaps more likely… hiring a mini-digger
Our well traveled cat was in the garden, hunting when suddenly she started meowing loudly. When she does this it means that she has caught something and wants to show us. Being in the countryside, it’s no surprise that she catches numerous rodents, so we just ignored her. Well, she got really upset and started howling. Adrian went to see what was up …… she wanted to show us a snake .. alive.
She was in the orchard, stood guard over a smallish, pretty looking snake. At first it feigned death, but when we prodded it, it hissed and reared up like a rattlesnake. We are not sure if she caught it or had just found it, but it was all in one piece. With a quick flick of the wrist with a trowel in hand, it was put into a bucket for a photo session. We then surfed the internet and found it to be a common grass snake.
It was released down the bottom of the garden. It wasn’t as big as the skin that Adrian found previously but it still was about 50cm long.
Christmas Tree Escapades
We have a huge pine tree at the edge of the orchard, close to the house. It is the tallest tree in our hamlet and can be seen from miles around.
We have named it the christmas tree, because the romantic in me would like to believe it was bought as a christmas tree many years ago and then planted out in its new home.
The lower branches were a little too low to walk under without acquiring a crown of needles. Although it will provide much needed shade in the height of summer we do still want to be able to walk underneath unhindered.
The only thing to do …. send Adrian up the tree with a saw.
Now, Adrian is a little wary of heights, so this was a challenge for him. Once he got up the ladder and onto the lower branches, he was fine.
He removed quite a few of the lower hanging branches and raised the crown. The difference in the light is amazing. The shower room and morning room now have a lot more light streaming through the windows and there is more light reaching into the orchard.
In England, before we moved here, we went to an agricultural auction and bought a couple of sodium lights. They are normally used to light up farmyards. We are planning to fix one of these lights to the roof of the house, pointing up the tree. We have tried this just by sitting the light ontop of the bread oven. It makes the tree look amazing and it stands out in the dark for miles around.