23 June 2008

This has been a great week for snake spotting !

We've found several shedded skins around the back of the house and there have been a lot of very lethargic snakes lying around sunning themselves, so I've taken the opportunity to get some photos and especially close-ups of their heads and eyes.

I like having snakes around the house and take it as quite a compliment that they finds our gardens a suitable environment in which to settle.

Snakes make me jump a bit sometimes if I see one unexpectedly but it's exciting to see them moving off rapidly when they feel you approaching. The farmers around here say that if you have couleuvres then you won't get vipers and that suits me just fine.

All the snakes shown in these photographs are non-venomous and will not harm children or pets. They eat mice, eggs, rats, flies, lizards, frogs and other amphibians, they're fascinating to have around and help sustain the balance of nature.

For more information on snakes in this blog, click the snakes link at the bottom of the post. For more information on snakes in France, this Planete Passion site is excellent.

Boullie chewing the cud - he's our favourite kid at the moment

21 June 2008

Summer Jasmine, Max and the Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Max never normally sits here, but at the moment the perfume from this Star Jasmine is wonderful and he's taken to just plonking himself down until I finish filling up the feeders and generally fussing around the chicken shed making sure everything is as it should be.

I wonder if he appreciates the perfume - or is that just me being daft ?

Hummingbird Hawk-moth moro sphinx ou sphinx colibri in France (Macroglossum stellatarum)When I was filling up the water containers, I heard an angry buzzing sound and looked down to see a Hummingbird Hawk-moth moro sphinx ou sphinx colibri in France (Macroglossum stellatarum) with it's proboscis stuck in one of the Jasmine flowers.

I had my camera with me and hoped I might get a good photograph - but once again - I failed to get anything resembling those fantastic shots on the web. Still, if I did have a camera which was capable of a good shot of this fast-moving little thing, I wouldn't have it slung round my neck when I was cleaning up the chicken shed - would I ?

Anyway, I shot this fuzzy, buzzy little video just before he left...

12 June 2008

Soft fruit and wet weather

Another shot of the chickens with chicks and the Clematis
This photograph was taken on Sunday - a day which started off sunny and warm then it got warmer and stickier then came another thundery storm with heavy rain. This has been the pattern for the last ten days, so using the internet is a bit risky - one of the reasons I've not been blogging much.

I'm knitting a lot for pleasure, a cardigan for Fabrice, a jumper for me, and to replenish summer stock - mostly lightweight shawls and socks and I've finally sorted out my wool stash which needs a bit more colour, so I'll be gathering and ordering dyes soon. In between showers, I pop into the garden see what's happening, cut a few flowers (mostly roses) for the house, feed the chicks and have a look to see how our ladies are doing who are sitting on eggs. One gosling hatched this morning and there are two more goose eggs still to go - all under a little brown hen who's been doing a grand job of shuffling them around for a month.

The nine goat kids are charming but it's such a shame the weather's so bad for them. It's time-consuming feeding hay, changing water, keeping the kids in when the adults go out if the grass is too wet, taking them out when it's dry enough and generally making sure that they don't get upset tummies now that they've started to eat for themselves. We spend a lot of time playing with them and neighbours' children come and help us to bottle feed our two little ones in the afternoon - so the time just seems to fly by at the moment.

I've decided to wait until the ground warms up more to plant out the rest of my summer vegetables - the tomatoes and aubergines I put out a few weeks ago haven't budged. I've re-potted all the plants in our compost (Fortunately we've no shortage of that!) and they're doing well in the micro-climate of the terrace - which is now a temporary open-plan greenhouse.

Wild strawberry tartWe're really enjoying the wild strawberries which are popping up everywhere and we've been using them to add to eau de vie and making tarts and just eating them straight from the plant freshly washed by the rain. They taste wonderful and because they're in lots of different areas - some shady, some sunny - the season looks as though it will be a long one this year.

Our raspberries are starting to taste a bit more like raspberries - the first ones were insipid and full of water, but they're now getting really ripe and I have to admit most of them never make it to the kitchen. I'll try to save enough make some jam - something I've never managed to do with my own raspberries because I've never had enough.

The rhubarb is enormous - I keep picking it but the plants never seems to diminish in size. I've still got loads of jars from last year, so I've been turning Bourrou housewives on to rhubarb crumble...

3 June 2008

Very hazy photo with a great storm and yet more rain

This is the wettest Spring we've experienced here in south west France. Almost all the seeds I've planted have rotted - even some of the potatoes I planted a few weeks ago have rotted under water. This is how the ground looks in part of the plot.

We've had a stream running through this part of the garden for about six weeks and although yesterday and today have been dry, the earth is still cold and damp and difficult to work with and all I can do is wait until it dries out a bit before move my seedlings into their permanent homes. The tomatoes I planted about three weeks ago still look exactly the same as when I planted them ! Raspberries enjoy a good soak before fruiting, but these have been under water for about two weeks and

need a bit of sun to fruit well. I've tasted a few and they're insipid and full of water. I hope the sun comes out soon or our veg plot next to the house won't produce much veg for the summer at this rate!

Fortunately, we've another garden on a slight slope down in the valley where our potatoes are doing well and where we'll plant our winter veg soon out of the way of the chickens.

1 June 2008

The Spring Girolles or Chanterelles are in the woods !

Slug on a Chanterelle, originally uploaded by hardworkinghippy.

With all the rain we've been having it's inevitable that the mushrooms have to be good this spring. We've been out gathering Chanterelles and got a good enough haul to make it worthwhile bottling some for keeping all year round.

Cleaning Spring Chanterelles or GirollesThese ones were full of water so we left them on the terrace to dry out slightly then cleaned them with a soft brush and removed any eaten pieces or damaged parts ready for cooking.

I cook them before bottling because if you put them straight into the jars then sterilise them the mushrooms reduce so much in size that you only have a third of a jar-full and lots of water - wasting space and fuel in the process. I do the mushrooms in batches in a small knob of duck or goose fat and heat them gently at first to get rid of the water then fry them until they're golden brown. I then spoon them into jars, cover the jars and sterilise them while they're still piping hot for about 35 minutes.
Sterilised jars of Chanterelles ready to storeChanterelles stored like this can be kept in a dark cellar for a very long time and taste just like fresh ones when you open the jar.
Cooking them ready to eat means you can have a mushroom omelette ready within minutes of opening the jar. I also add Chanterelles - which go really well with creamy dishes - to sauces and stews. Even just par-boiled potatoes with mushrooms fried in a bit of goose fat make a tasty and interesting meal. It's so nice to have something delicious to eat when it's not mushroom season.