Sunday, 28 October 2012

A change of wind

Last week, we had glorious weather with temperatures peaking on Wednesday at 26 degrees, all thanks to a mass of warm air coming up from North Africa. It was shorts and T shirt time again - fantastic! But I was watching the weather forecast with a sense of foreboding. A big cold front was marching down from the North which would push away any hint of warmth from our precious North African high. There was even talk of snow at the weekend.
No, no! Not yet! We're not ready! Despite intensive work on the heating installation we were not yet up and running and really needed a few more days before being hit by a cold spell. But sometimes, you have no choice in the matter. On Friday the heavens opened as an occlusion did what it does dumping a UK-style quantity of rain on us, followed on Saturday afternoon by a dramatic drop in temperature ..... but thankfully no snow here at 600m (phew!) although there is a good dusting on Pic de Cagire and snow down to around 1600m. But it is cold now and there is a biting wind in the air. Tonight, the woodburner is in situ with all fixings attached and looking mighty fine....
... but we still need to plumb in the mains water supply, fill and test the system for leaks and undertake numerous other tests before we can light it. But hopefully by tomorrow (Monday) evening we will have a working system and a warm house. I can't wait!

In other news, we have experienced the fantastic spectacle of the migration of the cranes in the past 24 hours. It started last night when it was dark, with a very loud honking low over the house. Against the clearing, moonlit sky we were able to make out the V outline of a flock heading South. Two or three flocks passed overhead in the space of a couple of hours. Then today, more of them. This time I was able to capture them on video. However, for a moment, their flight had me worried as the flock seemed to get confused and started circling in all kinds of directions with no particular pattern. Which way was South again?! But then they seemed to regroup and set off again with a more arranged, purposeful flight. I let out a sigh of relief. Strange that I should feel so protective about a flock of cranes?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Potager potterings and other meanderings

I am so enjoying having a potager again! I just love seeing those tiny, insignificant seeds that I sowed eventually emerge from the heavy soil and go on to become the tastiest, freshest veg that I have ever grown! I am currently able to make a mixed leaf salad with baby spinach, lollo rosso lettuce and winter lettuce leaves. Yum! A quick tally, for my own records as much as anything else, of what I currently have in my plot;
- broccoli, cauliflower and red cabbage, grown from bought modules, all doing fantastically well
- spinach, lambs lettuce, rocket, winter lettuce, cavallo nero, spring greens, purple kale all sown from seed and all doing well
- the dozens of leeks that I planted out from bought-in pencils are growing well
- red onion and shallot sets were planted last week and are already starting to come through
- pink/rose garlic planted
- the 'green manure' of field/fava beans that I sowed a week ago is coming through nicely thanks to the good rain that we have had in the past few days

Autumn  is well and truly here now and the nights are definitely colder. We even had a sprinkling of snow above 1800m on Sunday night but fortunately it didn't last. A much warmer spell of weather has moved in and is set to stay until the weekend. Good job, as we are still working on getting the woodburning central heating system installed. It is a complex job that has to be done right and has caused Andy some sleepless nights. Using a metre long drill bit (yes, a metre long!) to get through the thick stone walls to lay copper piping has also been challenging. But the radiators are now affixed in their new positions awaiting their pipe connections and then the woodburner can be put into position and fixed to the chimney conduit. We should finally have heating before the end of the month..... which will be nice!

On Saturday, our commune held its annual 'Fete de la Pomme', also another signal that Autumn is here! Everybody brings along the apples from their orchards which are sorted, cleaned and then put through a scratter to break them down to a pulp....
...which is then put into layers on a wonderful old traditional press ....

 .... to extract the juice...
...which is then put through a very simple filtering and sterilising system before being bottled
Bring your own bottles and you pay just €1.00 a bottle for the most delicious, fresh, untainted apple juice.... fantastic! Polly and Bruce, Suzanne, John and Kate and I all also enjoyed a delicious, convivial lunch which was put on by the commune. A great afternoon was had by all.

I have also been making the most of the end of season produce that is available at this time of year. The fig trees here have produced a great quantity of fruit so I have made fig marmalade and fig chutney which are both delicious. Friends have also give me a load of green tomatoes which I have also made into chutney. The store cupboard is now bursting at the seams.... I love this time of year.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Progress report

On Monday, the installation of our new sanitation system was signed off. A 4000L fosse toutes eaux and a 30m2 sand filter bed satisfies the authorities and means that our household waste is no longer fertilising our field! This may or may not be a good thing, as Andy found a cracking tomato plant with ripening fruit in the midst of the lush vegetation down here. Hey ho!
We took a much needed break from work on the house for the week that our friends Jenny and Mike were with us. During that week we celebrated both Jenny's and my birthdays and Andy, as in-house chef, did us proud with some truly delicious dinners. The weather during the week wasn't full-on sunshine every day and was a lot cooler than we have been used to of late, but still only Wednesday morning and Saturday afternoon were wet, which was a darned sight better than the UK weather last week which sounded truly miserable, so our friends were happy. The relative dry weather meant we were able to get out on the mountain bikes on three occasions which was fantastic fun

We also had a lovely walk from Artigue above Luchon up to the Spanish border at the Col des Taons de Bacanère.

One foot in France, one in Spain....
Spain, and the remains of an old cable winching building, probably used in WW2 by Franco's army...
Since the weekend, a wonderful high pressure system has taken up residence over us and we are enjoying clear sunny days and temperatures into the high 20s. It is just glorious! Unfortunately, we know this will not last and the nights are already cold, so we are having a big push to get the woodburner and central heating system installed before the weather turns. Lets hope we don't have any major hiccups along the way.