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May, 2006:

50,000 new friends

I’m not entirely sure where this came from, but I’ve always had a long-time fascination with bees ever since I was a small boy. Usual childhood thing of collecting them in jam jars in the summer in my Nana’s garden and just being slack-jawed in wonder at looking at them through a magnifying glass.

So, no time like the present – it’s bee time in Bellebouche!

But first the road that leads to today started out a few years ago with the accumulation of some bits, whilst I was idling away time/money at an antiques auction in late 2000. A ‘bee puffer/smoker’ came up, filthy old thing that just oozed charm. It was rusty, smelled smokey and had gnarly looking leather bellows. I thought.. I just have to have that! Things like this which other people might off-handedly dismiss as old tat… I see them in a different light. To me it had an obvious personality, charm, bit of history and something of a past really speak to me. Got it for £5 I think. Good start on the bee keeping journey…

Smoke without (much) fire

A couple of years later…in September 2003 just before we came to France on our first property hunting expedition… browsing an antiques book store in the UK, found a 1923 manual for beekeeping. WOW, had to have it. £2. Bargain!

An idle moment online last year and I discovered ‘beekeeping for dummies‘, it cost a tenner and has been read cover-to-cover a few times now. At this point, my mind was made up… when the right thing came along I’d have it.

More ‘idle surfing’ (yeah, right) on ebay.fr last week where I discovered a seller with a brand new ‘Dadant’ hive, looked nice enough, was full of frames, pollen screen, mouse excluder, hardwood base and had a pretty hardwood top. It was showing for no money. I bought it for €78 – a complete bargain.

Voila, one house for bees!
A shot of the upper frames

So, I’ve got plenty of hopes!

  • I wish to assuage my childhood guilt for perhaps being a little over enthusiastic with the bee-in-a-jamjar/magnifying glass interface.
  • I’d like to improve pollination in my orchard. We’ve planted upwards of 20 new fruit trees since we arrived, we’ll undoubtedly plant more.
  • I’d like some honey, yes please!
  • I’d like to enjoy the company of 50,000 new friends.
  • I’d really like to not get stung too often by my new friends, thankyou.

And that’s it so far, got most of the bits. Need some more ‘stuff’ and of course some good bees and bit of tutelage. I’m sure it can’t be too hard and that, being France, there’ll be some regulations or other I need to tackle but.. that’s just so much paperwork which I’m now able to dismisss with a simple gallic shrug :) .

There does exist in my minds eye future event where on a brisk autumn morning I’m sat in front of our woodburner, cradling a mug of coffee and a slab of toast from a home made sourdough loaf, cooked in my bread oven and it’s dripping with home made honey that I’ve just cut from a fresh Bellebouche comb. Right now it’s something of a fantasy but I have high expectations that it’ll taste of Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Acacia, Sunflowers and lots of Sunshine. I’m sure it’ll prove to be fun getting there, a little bit sticky, hopefully not too painful and of course it will be deeply satisfying.

Eau no!

Minor disasters come in threes, the previous week had seen a minor drama with Pussycat vs. Snake (snake won, pussycat came off worse, vets bill €93) and a howling wind knocking down a sizeable chunk of our tastiest plum tree. So, it came as no surprise one afternoon to discover much of the kitchen somewhat… submerged!

flood1.jpg

We were really rather fortunate though, the room is large at 25m2 and fully tiled with a small 5cm ‘lip’ of tiling all the way around the edge – this ‘tanked’ the floor and stopped it from becoming a major disaster. I got to it in time to dam the doorway to the rest of the house with a towel.

It was a burst hot water pipe, a small stainless braided one that was connected to a swish mixer tap I’d installed not a year ago. Now, our house has the hot water heated by an off-peak electric chauffe-eau which keeps 200 litres of hot water on the go and at full mains pressure. It makes for great showers but.. it’s just what you don’t want when a pipe goes!

My immediate thought was that it was something I’d done wrong with the installation of the tap but on closer inspection the principal suspect is.. a mouse! It looks like the braid was chowed thus leaving a weak spot. This might not have been such a problem had things been normal but our water company had the water off for a days planned maintenance and since then we practically had Badoit frothing out of the taps, it was under such high pressure.

The Culprit

Managed to save a nice silk rug before it was ruined and everything else is/was up on legs so it was just fine. We quickly rescued important assorted stuff (crates of beer, an Apple mac, cases of wine etc!). 4 hours worth of soaking up a small swimming pool worth of water with bath towels and cleaning/drying things out and I even replaced the rodent-damaged pipe. Had we had the place carpeted, with wooden skirting boards and plasterboard walls and soft furnishings… it would have been a €4000 insurance jobbie nightmare.

So, at the end of the day it was a little drama but no real harm done. Mind you, 45 mins spent soaking wet, flat on my back under a sink, juggling two spanners, a torch and roll of PTFE tape was not much fun.

That’ll be all for the bad-luck now thankyou very much!

1st BBQ

Mmm – our first barbeque of the year.

The weather has certainly warmed up now – so after a hard days work in the garden – the only natural and right thing to do was to stoke up the barbeque and grill some prawns and sardines for supper.

1st BBQ of 2006

The barbeque was found on one of our cleaning forays when we first moved in. It was originally assigned to the huge pile of interesting metal bits we had found on site until we used it last year for a couple of meals.

Well today, we had succulent prawns from Thailand and some wonderful sardines. Still hungry after this we had grilled pork chops with chargrilled fennel and some green salad leaves. A bottle of bubbly and a sunset – what better way to end a day’s work!

Vive La bbq!

Some where over the rainbow

Well, under it at least !

Rainbow 2

After a truly spectacular thunderstorm, I spotted a fantastic rainbow from the lounge window. It was a double rainbow, with the violet strip reflecting a third. Both dad and hubbie ran out, in the rain, to take a photo.

Now, where’s that pot of gold !!

Parc Oriental de Maulevrier

This beautiful park is approximately 60km (45 minutes) drive from Bellebouche.Oriental Park

The Parc Oriental de Maulevrier is thought to be the largest Japanese style park in Europe. It covers 28 hectares of beautiful landscaped gardens incorporating many Japanese traditional planting themes including some wonderous topiary. It was originally part of the Chateau Colbert grounds until the end of the 19th century. The chateau, with its wonderful statuary, can be seen overlooking the park. 12 hectares of the park form a conservation area which was conceived between 1900 and 1913 by Alexandre Marcel, a famous Paris architect.

The gardens offer you a visit rich in exotic planting, mysterious statues and a serene background to enjoy the unique landscape.

There are bonsais, ceramics, Ikebana demonstrations and a musical garden all to enjoy within the park as well as a traditional Japanese Tea House.

Oriental GardenEach season offers new wonders – carpets of bluebells among the maples, spring blossom among the sculptured cherry trees, vibrant camellias and azaleas, beautifully scented wisterias dripping over bridges and pergolas, intense autumnal leaf colours and much much more.

There are many places to sit and just absorb the views and scents. The park has well signposted walks, long and short and there are also walks for the less able bodied visitor. Children are welcome and are given a visitor pack to complete during their visit.

In 2004 the garden was awarded the “Jardin Remarquable” label by the French Ministry of Culture. It is the first garden in the Loire region to receive this distinction.

The park is open from 1st March to 15 November – 1400-1800hrs but it is closed on Mondays. There are extended hours in July & August where it is open everyday from 1030-1930hrs. Entrance fee is 5.50 euros.

From 7 May to 30 September, on Saturdays only, the garden offers a “Jardin de Nuit” – the park is lit by various hidden lights and Japanese music is piped around the landscape offering a unique and enchanting visit. Entrance fee is 10.00 euros.

Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin – Parc Ornithologique

Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin – Parc Ornithologique is approximately 70kms (1 hour) drive away from Bellebouche.

Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin

A winding path takes you through 7 hectares of wild marsh, where you will find many different water birds enjoying the peace and tranquility of the park.

There are over 70 species including the eider duck, famous for its warm feathers, many varieties of geese and swans, including a couple of black swans and some herons and ibis – just to name a few.

There are many useful information panels along the pathway, to help you recognise the birds. These panels also include information on the bird’s behaviour, their distribution around the world and what times of year they can be found in the Marais Poitevin. There are also teaser panels, questioning you about the mysteries of some of the birds, with answers under flaps.

The park is full of plants and trees from the Marais Poitevin wetland. More than 30 can be found on information panels including their culinary and medicinal uses.

Black SwanNear to the office is an area full of chickens and cockerals, all breeds from the Marans area. There is even a small family of “mairachins” – dwarf goats.

At the end of the visit you can watch a movie, in French, all about the Poitevin Marshes and the behaviour of the birds over the course of a year. The film contains some spectacular aerial footage of the landscapes and the photography of the birdlife is truly wonderful.

There are many places where you can stop and rest and absorb the peace and quiet of the park and observe the wildlife. There are also places where you can picnic and enjoy the scenery. There is a small shop selling drinks and ice-creams and eggs from the Marans hens. There are toilets by the office and all the paths are suitable for both pushchairs and wheelchairs.

The park is open from 1000 until 1900hrs up to Easter, thereafter is closes at 1930 until 15th September, thereafter it is only open 1400 until 1900hrs. It is closed on Mondays.

“There be dragons”

Well, not quite a dragon.. but a rather funky lime green lizard.

Catching a little morning sun

This guy was busy basking in the morning sunlight so we were able to snap him quickly. We’ve seen a handfull of these things scurrying around over the last year or so… but they’re often so quick that they vanish before we can grab a camera. Joan was out just tending our new ‘wild woodland’ – a bed that we’ve planted up with local flora that’ll do well under the shade of a couple of Oaks and some Acacia trees.

Here’s the little cheeky chappie up close.

bellebouchedragonport.jpg

Update:-

Google says, it’s a male Lacerta bilineata or Western Green Lizard. More info here.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace

Well, we’ve decided to bite the bullet and finally turn on public comments for the blog. We’ve settled into using this new system for a couple of months now and we’re confident we can manage it properly. Just leave your name and email address along with any website you might like to see linked from your comment and a little note about what you want to say. Your email address is kept private, only we get to see it.
So, if you’ve got something to say then please don’t hesitate to leave a comment on any of the posts. If you have any suggestions or pointers for us then we’d be delighted to hear from you!

Adrian & Joan

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