31 March 2008

Gardening starts at long last

It's been raining here almost non-stop for weeks but we had hailstones, lightening, rain and two sunny spells today. Spaces between showers are getting longer and warmer and I've been out and about clearing up unending brambles and planting out lots of cuttings I took last year.

Potager or Vegetable garden in early springThe earth where I've been mulching is fantastic, the chickens have kept everything (except the brambles!) pristine. This is the only time of the year when I have bare earth and I must say I appreciate why some people prefer this sort of "tidy" garden because it is so satisfying seeing that rich dark dirt.

The vegetable plot is ready for planting out with not a weed in sight but it's soggy in parts and the peas I put in about ten days ago were doomed from the start when Didi dug a hole in two rows, the chickens (or Didi) managed to move the wooden grill I'd placed over them to protect them and I've just checked them again and they're rotting.

I've divide up a few Globe Artichokes and replanted them in front of a dark hedge and next year (or maybe this year if I'm lucky!) I'll leave the flower heads which are too beautiful to miss just because they taste good in bud.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how the the back bank under the pergola looks in a few weeks. I've been cleaning it up and planting out cuttings and it's filling out nicely. I love taking photographs of the progress of bits of the garden, here's a slideshow of the bank. You can change the speed by moving your mouse over the top of the frame :

We've been using up the excess mortar Fabrice is using for the extension to add a bit more stone to the second back terrace and the little retaining walls are getting bigger every day. Fabrice and I both have this terrible habit of doing a hundred things at once and although we (mostly me!) moan and groan that nothing ever gets finished it's good fun to do and it does look lovely.

I'll take some photographs tomorrow and let you see how things are going in the garden.

19 March 2008

Roof work in progress

Roof work in progress, première mise en ligne par hardworkinghippy.

The weather's been playing havoc with our building progress. The wind's very strong and it's been raining on and off for a few weeks. The other problem that we have is that Fabrice is doing a lot of this work on his own. We normally work together, but I just hate heights and although I can pass things up to him from below I'm just not confident when I'm up a ladder or even standing on the interior scaffolding. I'm really ashamed of myself, and I have tried, but I just become all shaky and my co-ordination doesn't work properly if I'm higher than about 3 metres.

Once the side of the front part of the roof is done, we'll floor the "tower" part and work from the inside and then I'll be able to pass the bricks to Fabrice.
This mock-up gives you an idea of how the extension will look when it's finished.

We used the roofing sheets instead of the traditional method of under and over canal tiles because this enables us to cover the roof quickly and we can work inside when it's raining. There's no battening, no underfelt and not too much moving around on the roof. We're going to put a lot of insulation up there and we want to make absolutely sure that we have no leaks and as we're going to use second-hand tiles because they look much nicer that really is a very important consideration.

The "tile-effect from a distance" sheets were slightly more expensive than the normal red ones, but it might be while before we cover with tiles, and these are easier on the eye if we're going to have to live with it for a while.

15 March 2008

Processional Caterpillars in the woods

We were walking in the woods at the side of the house this morning looking at the cuttings we'd stuck in the ground to make a little hedge and checking out the vegetation to see if we can put our Angora goats back in there this week. A way in front, Fabrice noticed two lines of Processional Pine Moth Caterpillars or Thaumetopoea pityocampa (Chenille processionnaire in French) and shouted to warn me to take the dogs back up towards the house.

I did, which is complicated at the moment because Didi our little Dachshund is in season, but after spending a few minutes shutting the dogs up, I grabbed my camera and made my way back to the caterpillars to take some photographs.

Processional Caterpillars - this line was about 2.5 metres long.

These caterpillars start life in silk cocoon style nests in pine trees. They strip the trees of their needles, then leave to seek out another tree on which to feed. They're interesting to watch from mid-February until the end of April as they wind their way in lines up and down trees or along the ground.

The processions are always single-file head-to-tail and can be metres long. The caterpillars stay in line in part as a result of tactile stimulus from the hair-like sensory appendages on the abdomen of the caterpillar in front of it. Scientists believe a yet to be discovered pheromone probably plays a role too.

A French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre arranged these caterpillars into a complete circle around the edge of a flowerpot, so that there was no longer a leader caterpillar, and they followed each other around and around for seven days, in frost and heat, going nowhere with just the urge to follow leading them on and on.

You have to be very careful not to stand on them or disturb them because unfortunately those bristly hairs detach easily and float in the air and they can cause a severe allergic reaction and sometimes a potentially lethal reaction called Anaphylaxis in people and animals if they are touched, inhaled or eaten. Dogs and cats have been known to die or lose part of their tongue after eating them. There's more information on the caterpillars and photos of a dog with a damaged tongue in THIS blog. So if a person or animal shows signs of shock after contact with the caterpillars or after a walk in the woods at this time of the year, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.

Here's a little video I took of one of the lines of caterpillars which I uploaded to Youtube today:

13 March 2008

Working under the roof with a view to Bourrou

Fabrice has put the roof on the extension, but the sloping bit at the end is still open to the skies until we can get the right material to put under the flat tiles.

As soon as it's completely covered we can start working inside even when it's raining.

6 March 2008

Friday's nature Trail at Bourrou with the kids - great fun !

On Friday, we had about 17 kids from a local children's home visit for a Nature Trail. The kids from this home are regular visitors to our farm in Bourrou and it's always great to see them. The kids who have never been before are easy to spot, with that "Bored by the whole thing" look and their unsuitable footwear. I love watching the regular kids showing them around and usually, by the end of the visit the whole bunch are interested and excited about what there is to see.

The four dogs came too and added to the fun. It's so nice to be able to walk Judy in the woods now that she's learned to obey us and not hunt when we don't want her to.

In the woods, Fabrice showed us a great selection of Badger holes, as many as 18 which means the sets house a lot of badgers and the tunnels they make probably go underground for hundreds of metres.

On the way back up to the house, we looked in a puddle and saw deer prints and one the kids noticed a skinny worm and just as we were about to dismiss it as "Just a worm." I decided to pick it out to have a closer look and discovered that it was a Horse Hair Worm (Phylum Nematomorpha or Gordian Worm) - an insect parasite.

Horsehair eggs are laid in the water in long strings where the adults live. After hatching, the larvae penetrate some aquatic insect, they escape in some unknown way from this host and find their way into a second host - usually a beetle, cricket, or grasshopper. In the body cavity of the second host the larvae continue their development eventually passing out into the water where they become mature. Since the adults live only in water, those that survive probably emerge from terrestrial and flying insects, who are their second hosts.

This is a video of a cricket infected with Parasitic Gordian worm who jumps into a swimming pool and the worm emerges from the cricket...

After the woods, we came back up to the house and the kids hand fed the goats, the chickens and geese and I'd love to post more photos - especially of the kids' faces with the goats - but I won't (Bloomin' internet...) so you'll just have to believe me that a great time was had by all !