Monday, June 30, 2008

The Gardeners Friends from Michael


Renard 016


This is the picture of the fox which I had misplaced.  Michael has kindly sent me (another) one.


I think these photos are so stunning that I am simply going to allow you to enjoy them without too much chatter.

 Chauve Souris 01A


I just want to say that, like most of Michael's photos, they were all taken close to our house and garden


Click on any photo to get a bigger image.

 Couleuvre 002



This is a grass snake



      A Toad

 Crapaud 01
 Hirondelle 04A






Praying Mantis

 Mante religieuse
 Mésange Bl 08A  
   Mésange Ch 13A
 Pivert 07A



Green Woodpecker

 Rainette 01  Araig.Crabe 09

Tree Frog

Sunday, June 29, 2008

More from Michael



Doryphore 01

I posted this a couple of days ago but am still mastering complicated things and it didn't look too good.  Thanks to some helpful advice from other bloggers, I think this is better.



I posted some pictures taken by my friend Michael the other day .





He has been so impressed by all the nice comments that he has decided to give me some more photos to use on this blog.



Michael called this set of photos Enemies of the Gardener.


Mulot 02


Chevreuil 48B


I hope you all enjoy these photos.


Click on any picture to see an enlarged version



They were all taken within a few hundred metres of where I live and garden


Corneille 002


Puceron 03




And another BIG thank you to Michael for letting me use them

Please leave a comment if you enjoy them and maybe I can persuade Michael to let us see some more.




Sauterelle 6A


Pie 04A

 Escargot 01



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I recently wrote a piece saying how much I disliked weeding.   Today I was in my garden again doing yet more weeding and I noticed something had changed.  Once again all my friends stopped by for a chat but today, my weeding past quite quickly and in the end, rather than having completed a job I dislike, I found I had spent a happy couple of hours in my garden chatting to friends who had weeded for me!!!  Thank you to all of you who dropped by.  You know who you are.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I have a friend (yes!!! Even more friends!!!), I have a friend who regularly tells me that he can talk his way out of all sorts of trouble. This sentence usually appears somewhere near the end of a discussion where he has revealed that one or more of the women in his life have found out about one or more of the other women in his life.

Well, this post is my attempt to emulate his advice.

In my life, right now, there are two problems, both of which I need to talk my way out of.

I’ll call them problem A and problem B. You always knew I had an imaginative brain didn’t you!!
Both problems surfaced today.

Problem A is a result of my recent post some gorgeous wildlife photos

Problem B arose out of this post(Another Day), before I had even written it!!!

So here goes with the talking.

Problem A. You see, I made that post in good faith with the permission of Michael, the guy who takes the photos. I thought it was a good post, the photos were simply stunning and as soon as I hit the publish button the comments started to come in and, of course, with such spectacular photographs the comments were all positive.

So where’s the problem I hear you ask? Were they not Michael’s photos?

Yes, they are all genuine photos taken by Michael himself mostly in the early hours of the morning. That is not the problem.

The problem you see is much closer to home, my wife also knows Michael’s work. She was at the dinner on Thursday when we discussed the original post and Michael gave his permission to show his photos.

But, and here it is, she also knows some of the other photo’s Michael has taken over the past three years. The guy lives next door. He and Mary are regular visitors to our house. We often share in various activities, like attending the recent Gourmet market. Marché Gourmande.

And her favourite of all Michael’s photos wasn’t included. But it gets worse. She is convinced that Michael has sent me the photo in an email! I have searched and searched and searched again, but to no avail. The photo in question is of a fox. I shall ask Michael, in my best French, if he will let me have a copy to post and put it up as soon as I can. It is superb.

Whilst talking about Michael, I had an email from him as well today. He thanked me for posting the photos and said he was proud to see them here. Proud – to see them. Michael, it is not you but I that should be proud. And I am. I am proud to be allowed to show such superb photos. Thank you

In the email he explained that on the walk home from here on Thursday night he came across some glow worms. As he explained, glow worms are technically very difficult to photograph. I imagine they are. Regular readers will be aware of my own failed attempts to get photos for this blog!!

Any way, he included two shots of glow worms. I post them here for your comments. These things are tiny and incredibly difficult to photograph and I would like to thank Michael for trying. He finished his email saying he hoped to be better next time!!!

Hopefully now, I have talked my way out of problem A

Problem B

Is quite simple really,. Today is Saturday and regular readers will know that I go to Villereal Market more or less every Saturday morning to buy my fruit and vegetables.

I tend to buy most of what I need from a small general greengrocer who comes to market every week. He has a large varied selection of produce. He brings it in from other small growers near by, He grows some himself and he buys some at wholesale markets. By spreading his procurement like this he can guarantee a varied selection of produce throughout the year, and he comes to Villereal, with his great selection, 52 weeks a year.

Now, as I’m always saying, those regular readers amongst you know about my prowess with the digital camera. In the old days when cameras had film and you chose between black and white or colour and they got processed in completely different ways, I was a keen photographer. I have hundreds of excellent photos. I have albums of negatives all filed and indexed. But all that was before the digital revolution. I had a camera – it took still photos – end of story. I could change the lens but that meant physically taking off one lens and replacing it with another. My camera weighed about 2 lbs (1Kg) and I had a small rucksack to carry all the other equipment in. I also had a telephone and a fax machine and a record player and even a mobile phone.. although this was very new technology and didn’t work everywhere.

Now I have a computer, and I put on a pair of headphones and pretend it’s a telephone.
Now I have a computer with a scanner and printer and pretend it’s a fax machine.
Now I have a computer and I put on a cd and pretend it’s a record player.
Now I have a mobile telephone but it pretends it’s a camera.
And now I have things like sat nav and satellite tv which we hadn’t even dreamed about back then!

Now, where was I?? Oh, yes, the camera. When I was going to use my old camera, I would check it before I left home, film, batteries, clean the lens that sort of thing.

And then, when I wanted a picture, I would look through the viewfinder, see what I wanted, frame it and then press a button.

There would be a loud clanking noise as a set of blinds moved across the camera, as a prism was bounced out of the way and then everything returned to normal, as it was before. It took about 1/500th second to take a photo and after 1/500th second you could move on to your next shot. .My view in the viewfinder would go black for a fraction of a second but then it would return.

Now I have a digital camera. I check it before I leave home, SD card, batteries, clean the lens, that sort of thing.

And then when I want to take a picture there isn’t a view finder so I have to look at a miniature television screen, except it bright bright sunlight and no amount of looking makes any difference to the nothing that I can see. When I imagine I finally have the photo framed I press a button 1/500th of a second later the camera says “What, oh you want me to take a photo”. I move on photo completed,. The camera says “ Oh ok if you insist I’ll take it in a moment”. By now I’m putting my camera in the bag and the camera finally says “OK, I’ve got a lovely photo of the inside of this bag”, or “of the space where that man was standing before he walked away” or “of the ground you pointed the camera at after you thought I’d already taken the picture”.

And, I do believe that is, and has been, the crux of my problem. Digital cameras are much much slower than I ever realised.

I admit I only realised this today!

So, back to problem B, I took some photos at my usual green grocers stall. I then asked Laurent to pose so I could include one of him. He asked me about the blog and I told him, I gave him the address. His wife asked me about the blog. I gave her the address, I even explained that the blog was in English as they are both French.

And then I bought my fruit and veg and went home.

I plugged my SD card into my laptop and looked in horror at the usual batch of totally unusable dross that I manage to capture.

There was a lovely photo of the apricots, which were stunning. Except the photo shows the apricots just disappearing out of frame.

There was another general photo of a range of greengrocery, except the photo shows no greengrocery and a few empty boxes.

An then there was the photo of Laurent. Now this photo IS published here, so you get a feel for what I’m talking about. Laurent is the guy in the blue shirt! Just out of frame!!! I took the photo and put the camera away. It then got around to taking the photo I had requested!

However, this photo is important. It is the one that MIGHT have taught me how to take digital photos. This blog will be the proof.

And Laurent, if you are reading this, then I really am sorry, I will take another photo next week and give you a spot all on your own.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Some gorgeous wildlife photos

We had our neighbours over for dinner last night with a friend from Australia.
Michael and Mary and live in a beautiful house not far from us and their land adjoins ours.

He took these badger photos reently just outside our garden. There were two badgers playing.

I'd cooked a simple french style meal comprising aperitifs on the terrace, then charcuterie (cold meats) followed by a simple salad with a herb and olive oil vinaigrette. The main course was chicken breast baked in a creme fraiche and white wine sauce with mushrooms and garlic and it was served with thin French beans. Then there was cheese followed by fresh strawberries - like I said a simple French style meal!

During the evening our discussion got around to wildlife photography and once again we were treated to some of Michael’s stunning photographs.

I think this might be the best badger photo I have ever seen

Michael has been shooting wildlife photos for many years now and I am always thrilled when my email inbox reveals another note from Michael with one or more attachments of his latest catch.I have often said that Michael ought to get his photo’s out on the internet as they are too good for him to keep them to himself.

Another stunning photo, this time of a cirl bunting.

Later on the conversation moved on to this blog and I explained it in some depth. I had been hoping that Michael might bite the bullet and create a blog for his photographs. However, that was not to be. He continued, all evening, to explain that for him, the enjoyment was in the chase and the successful capture of the particular photo. Once they were "in the can", he had no interest in promoting them, preferring to file them on his computer and look through them as the mood took him.

Michael gets up at about 5 in the morning, camouflages himself and his equipment, and then wanders off across his own field and often across our field in search of today’s quarry. He is usually home in time for breakfast at about 8 am.
He has always explained that the best time to take wildlife photos is as the sun is early in the morning.
He now has a vast collection of photos taken over the years in this little part of France. At present the quarry he seeks is a Sanglier, (Wild Boar) which he has never yet seen whilst out photographing.

These photos of a deer were taken in our field a couple of months ago.

I fed him well!!!!! With both food and wine, and he agreed that, whilst he wouldn’t write a blog himself, I was welcome to make a post about him and include some photos.
I have chosen a few of his recent ones and hope that you enjoy them. Please leave your comments to help me persuade Michael that these photos really should be shared around the internet.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I spent a day in my garden today, all alone.

I moved a couple of tomatoes in to their new position, checked on what was happening with the other tomatoes, had a look at the lettuce, and the beans, and the lavender, and the onions, and the garlic, and the mint, and the strawberries. It all seems to be hopping along fairly happily, except for the melons which aren’t. I need to prick out (repiquage in French) some lettuce which I will grow on a bit longer yet and I need to sow something to go into the bed when the potatoes come out in about a month or so’s time.

This all took me a couple of hours.

Sadly the rest of the day has been spent doing one of THOSE jobs. You know, the jobs that you only do when you really can’t come up with any more valid reason not to do it. Actually, once I get into it, I don’t mind it too much, but the thought of starting always gets me running to find something else desperately needing attention.

Today, it came down to the job or washing the car, and as washing the car might be the only job I like less, I bit the bullet.

The job I’m talking about is weeding. I really don’t like weeding. It seems such a shame to pull out all those very healthy plants to leave the ones I have chosen to grow a little freer. After all, maybe the weeds have more right there than my plants!

But anyway, I buckled down and tackled the job which was, of course, now far bigger because I have been remiss in tackling it earlier.

As I said, in fact, once I get down to it, I really don’t mind weeding.

I sit in the garden and talk to the plants, alone with my thoughts. Sometimes friends from all over the world drop by, in my head, and we chat a while and then they continue on there own way. And all the while., I’m pulling little weeds and grabbing handfuls of big weeds and consigning them to the bucket which is to become their new home for an hour or two.

Sometimes, I just talk away to the plants, coaxing my little offspring to survive the rigours of life out here in the fast lane, sometimes congratulating them for doing really well, sometimes nagging them to pull themselves together and get on with it – whatever "it" is.

And then sometimes I talk to the weeds, those very plants that have dragged me out there in the first place. But I’m not so kind when I talk to the weeds. Some are just naughty little children and a sharp word and a gentle tug and they have succumbed – moved into their new home the weed bucket.

Others are a bit more persistent and have fought valiantly in order to try and prevent me pulling them out. "Ha", they say, "I’m so bound around this delicate little plant that you won’t dare to try and pull me out!"

But, they don’t know me, and I persevere, sometimes breaking the weed into a lot of pieces to free my protégé. Sometimes getting it just right so that it uncoils itself and falls helplessly in to that waiting bucket. Sometimes just screaming and shouting until it gives up and leaps into the bucket on it’s own.

Then there are the friends who stop by. I said before, friends come and we chat away. There are friends I have met on holiday, friends I have met at work. Friends I have met in their gardens and friends that I have met in my own, and they all stop by during the course of the day for a quick chat, a quick joke, sometimes a brief update on their lives and it’s all, in my head.

Then there are the distant friends.

Friends I have met who have gone away, I have one in China, at the moment and another in New Zealand, one in Perth (Australia (not Scotland)) and many others in various other countries.

Some of these distant friend are friends I have met in the 10% of the world’s countries that I have visited, some recently, some many years ago, but friends the same and they arrive in my head for a fleeting moment.

My family sometimes drop by and I catch up on the latest family gossip.

And then there are all those friends I have never met. Friends from reading this blog. Friends from gardening and other communities here on the Internet. Friends and business acquaintances known from letters and telephone calls but not face to face.

And they all drop by during my day alone in my garden

And then there are those very special friends who drop by. They know who they are, they don’t need to be told. And when they drop by, I often forget to carry on weeding, getting so wrapped up in their conversation everything else goes out of my head,. They sit on the grass alongside me and we chat about this or that, they advise me on this and that, they even nag me about this and that. They’re the ones who’s hands I hold or who get a little kiss when they leave. They are the special friends, in my head

Like I said, I don’t like weeding, but it does afford me the opportunity to catch up with all my friends, old and new, close and far.

I spent a day in my garden today, all alone, but being visited, in my mind, by all my friends. If you are a friend thank you for dropping by today. If you’re not yet a friend then I know you are really, as you are here, reading this. Think to yourself that you just need to introduce yourself and then you can drop by, in my head, and I can thank you.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Villereal - 21st June 2008

It was market day again today and as usual on a Saturday morning we went. As it happened, this week, we didn’t need to buy any fruit or vegetables but I did need to go to a couple of other vendors and the bank.
The sun was shining and the temperatures were up into the higher 20’s C (mid 80’s F)

First stop, as usual, was the coffee shop for breakfast

We wandered around looking at the wine stands and the flowers. There are usually between about 6 and 10 different vineyards selling their wine at the market. My friend Bernard doesn’t come to market every week and he wasn’t there this week. However, there are plenty of other vineyards about and the photo shows a different vineyard which makes that same combination of wines that I spoke about recently.

I was unable to take many pictures of fruit and vegetables today which were absolutely stunning as usual. Some regular readers will know that my accomplishments do not yet stretch to mastering the digital camera and today the sun was incredibly bright and all the fruit and vegetable stalls were under deep shade to protect the produce. I tried a couple but even though I remember taking them I cannot even recognise them on my camera!!!! However, these tomatoes, which did come out give you a sense of what it’s like. I’m afraid, to get a more complete picture you’re going to have to come here, or, with a bit of luck, wait till I master the camera!! Don’t hold your breath waiting though.

Several stalls had flowers out in the open and I did manage to get a picture of those.

Then finally I got to Yousef!

Yousef runs a goat farm a few kilometres outside Villereal.

He has invited us to a gourmet market which he is holding at the farm every Wedneday evening through the summer. This sounds very like the one I went to a couple of weeks ago at Clos de Pech Besous. We buy his gorgeous tasting goat’s cheese virtually every week.

One of the great things I like about markets here in France, is that you never quite know what to expect. The markets I go to are village markets. Traditionally, this is where the French housewives would go and buy everything they needed for domestic life. As well as food, in all it’s shades, there are pots and pans, clothes, jewellery, books even watches, sunglasses, thermometers rainfall gauges etc.

This week, this guy had set himself up in a small alley and was weaving baskets. He was selling the ones he was making right there at the market. He made just 3 different designs, all fabulous spiral things and if you wanted one, he wove it, and you popped back and picked it up later.
Now, how simple a form of trading is that?

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Afternoon in the Sun

I’ve been pottering about in my garden in the sunshine today. It has been a lovely day. Last night I was at my computer till the very late, early, hours of the morning and so this morning, when I finally got up it was already quite late.

As is my habit, every morning, I checked yesterday’s temperatures and noted them in my electronic diary. I have a covered terrace on the south side of the house – For those readers in the southern hemisphere, please remember that here, that is the sunny side, the same as your north facing side.... The tiled roof is held up by a corner post of 300mm (12") square timber made from oak. I think that the oak is probably what I would call sustainable these it has stood as a part of my house for about 300 years.

The thermometer is mounted on the side facing the house, ie away from the sun and so reads the ambient air temperature, which I think is a much better guide to what is happening.

Yesterday the temperature reached 24C (75F) , which is the warmest it’s been this month, although we did have a couple of days warmer than that towards the end of May. The forecast now is getting steadily warmer so let’s hope that summer has, at last, arrived.

I was given half a dozen tomato plants earlier this week and I felt I needed to get them in the ground. I had identified a place to grow 4 of the plants but was still looking for somewhere to put the other two. By lunchtime, I had the four growing up a metal gazebo affair I have in the garden, having cleared a couple of squares of cut grasses to make room for them.

The other two were more difficult until I remembered that at the bottom of our garden there is an area with mainly shrubs. The most prolific is the Lavender which is growing there. There are about 40 lavender bushs growing away that have been in the ground for beteen one and four years and seem very happy. As well as the lavender, there are three or four vines, several rose bushes and several other shrubs.

At the end of this garden, there is a piece of land about 2’ (600mm) wide and 10’(3m) long before the bed disappears into the cut grasses again. This bed is the farthest bed from the house and consequently, doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. I had thought that in the fall, I will plant a few more lavenders, just to cover the ground.

So, this afternoon, I prepared the bed, removed all the weeds added a load of compost and leaf mould and planted two little tomato plants. I actually have some more tomatoes around which I haven’t used, maybe I’ll put them all in that bed and let them grow. My theory is that by putting the tomatoes in there I will have to give that bed more attention.

I hope I’m right.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My 3 strawberries

I picked my first three strawberries today,18 June 2008. This was quite a surprise as the intention, when I planted them was to promote root growth in this their first season and let them fruit from next year.

Also, when you consider the rainfall and lack of sunshine this year, I didn't really expect any fruit. However, nature knows best and like a lot of females I know, will do what she wants to do.

So here they are, my very first strawberries. There are more on the plants, to follow, if I can get them before the birds or the slugs or the snails or the….

Well done strawberry plants. These are a variety known as marais du bois. I’m also growing gariguette. They are both very popular varieties here in France

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Wine Connoisseur

I noticed recently that
The Wine Connoisseur had linked to us.

Whilst looking at their site I found an exellent article on

French Wine and wine producers

I'd like to thank them for the link and invite you all to learn a little more about wine production here in France.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Fun Time

I had a fun time the other day. We held a barbecue and invited several of our neighbours.

We barbecued some local pork which I had marinated in Brittany Cider, local onions, garlic and mushrooms. I used “sel de guerrande” which is a sea salt also from Brittany, that seems to go especially well in marinades with cider. The salt is harvested in huge ponds of sea water which are sealed and then left to evaporate in the sun. The resulting salt is exquisite.

Various neighbours brought dishes to share made with produce from their gardens. We had a very nice mixed leaf salad with so many different salad leaves it is impossible to list them all – in fact I’m not even sure what some of them were, but it sure tasted good.

Then another of our neighbours brought the famous Clafoutis. I posted an article about clafoutis recently. Clafoutis is a tart made from cherries and with a sort of custardy base. I don’t know how to make it, and living in this part of the world, I would never dream of trying! However, I do know how to eat it – slowly and savouring every mouthful. She had made it that day with cherries from her garden.

Sadly, I was busy trying to coax a very recalcitrant barbecue to get hot enough to cook pork so I didn’t get any photographs.

The day before the barbecue I had, once again visited my friend Bernard at his vineyard. We had some guests staying with us who wanted to buy some wine to take home and that was quite enough reason for me! We visited with Bernard and enjoyed the tour of his vines and chai before moving into his cave for the tasting. I was not on form on Wednesday so my translation was lees than perfect and on more than one occasion I couldn't find the English words for things like the Vats!

Our guests tried several wines, all from his vines from the light, fruity 2007 rosé through Bergerac Sec, the dry white to the rich ruby red 2004 Bergerac rouge. 2004 and 2005 produced very different reds in Bergerac and it is always interesting to see the look on peoples faces as they taste the two and I explain that both wines have been made by the same man from grapes from the same vines and using the same methods. The only difference is the weather the grapes grew up in!

Towards the end of the tasting I was telling Bernard about the barbecue but, sadly, he was unable to come as he would be leaving very early the following morning for a market several hours drive away. He produced a bottle of his rosé and tipped somewhat less than half a small tasting glass out probably no more than 50ml. He replaced this in the original bottle with a sweet syrup of Peach. Then pushed the cork back in and shook the bottle.

The result was a wonderfully tasty aperitif with the peach adding a very special and pleasant flavour to the rosé. I took the bottle with me and served it, well chilled, as the aperitif at the barbecue the following evening. Everyone really enjoyed it with several of our French neighbours demanding to know what secret recipe I had discovered. I was pretty pleased to be introducing people from this wine growing region to an aperitif with which they were not familiar and which they enjoyed so much.

In the garden here nothing much is happening. The weather remains awful with lots of rain and not much sunshine. Temperatures at this time of year should be up into the 30’s C (upper 80’s into 90’s F) but last week the highest temperature I recorded was 24 C (75 F) with a low of just 10C (50F). However, the weeds are growing prolifically and in most cases are far outstripping the crops. I read on other blogs that this is pretty much the same across France.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where I've been

Hi, I thought this map was fascinating.

Bourton on Sea Twinning 3

As the posts on Bourton on Sea Twinning are quite long and are not relevant to this blog, I have decided just to announce the new posts here for a while.
So there is a new post (number 3) at Bourton on Sea Twinning

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I visited my friend Bernard again today and was once again forced to try a couple of his wines. This time they were both Monbazillacs and I have to say they were both just as good as they were a fortnight ago when I last went. Read my post on that visit here!

Bourton on Sea Twinning

As the posts on Bourton on Sea Twinning are quite long and are not relevant to this blog, I have decided just to announce the new posts here for a while.

So there is a new post at Bourton on Sea Twinning

Another food problem for Big Ag

Over in the USA there is another problem in the food chain. Salmonella has been found in tomatoes nationwide.

Little word that, nationwide.

The nation concerned is the USA, and while "wide" traditionally means from Atlantic to Pacific, in this particular context it also means from Mexico to Canada. Take a look at the map below, the green areas are the states affected

And there you have it. Salmonella has been found in tomatoes from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Mexico to Canada.

The latest information I can find is that 17 states have been affected but, no doubt, as this is still breaking news, the count will go up.

Ian's note - 13th June 2008: I read today that the count is up to 24 States affected.

Interestingly, I found a lot of advice about what to do -don’t eat tomatoes! But I found no information about the outbreak itself.

Last year there was a similar scare in the USA over e-coli in Spinach.

Of course, here on this blog we have the answer! If you grow your own food then not only will it taste one thousand times better (data from KGiF’s conservative estimate) but you will also deprive Big Ag from another opportunity of putting profit before health and prevent them poisoning you.

For a more in depth rant about this I wholeheartedly recommend my friend ilex over on Homesteading in a Condo