Wednesday 28 May 2014

Here's to Jerry

Until a month ago, we said we had two and a half cats. There were the two, brother and sister, that came with us from the UK. And then there was Jerry.

Jerry in his prime
We first met him before we moved in permanently, when he came out of the cornfield next door, miaowing loudly, to throw himself at my feet and wriggle with joy at a friendly voice. I thought at the time that he responded to English words. He was thin and neglected, but it would not have been fair to take him in only to chuck him out again when we went back to England.

We saw him again not long after, in a terrible state. He was holding one back leg out awkwardly, and his left eye was full of blood. We couldn't get near him.

He was a terrible fighter - you should see the other guy

Then after the big move we began to see more of him. We called him Abri, short for abricot after the colour of his fur and because he liked being in a warm shelter (abri) from the weather. Baron and RonRon accepted him with surprisingly little rancour, and he began to come in for regular meals. He was escorted outside at night, though, and slept in the barn. We treated his parasites, tended his frequent wounds, and made a fuss of him, which he loved. From the start he was the most amiable, easy-going cat. Slowly he grew from a skinny feral moggy to a fine-looking tom with a splendid ruff.

He had two shotgun pellets under the skin, one on his back and one on a foreleg near the elbow. How he got those goodness knows, but he must have been a good long way from the shooter, and he probably wasn't the target. Much closer and either pellet would have crippled him.

He spent much of the day asleep, preferably with company

Winter came, and we hadn't the heart to kick him out into freezing temperatures. After a few accidents he started using the litter tray, and apart from the bad habit of spraying he was becoming a house cat. He was particularly fond of the underfloor heating, even more when there was a rug to lie on.

My last picture of Jerry, taken in April

It was only when talking to Alex and Nicole about cats in general and particular that we worked out that he was originally their cat, one of two brothers named Tom and Jerry. While they were kittens things were fine, except that Nicole and their daughters were allergic to them. Then they grew up, there was an immense fight and Tom drove his brother out. That may be what you get if you name a cat after a mouse. Anyway, we called him Jerry after that.

Alex told us that the kittens were never house cats, and weren't taught to use a litter tray. Jerry had learned that by himself, by watching the others and finding they didn't get yelled at if they did their business in the tray. In return, Baron learned that widdling outdoors was allowed. He was a proficient hunter - once we saw him with a water vole in his mouth - but he was content to clear up Baron's prey after that picky animal had taken the choice bits. He would eat anything  in the catfood line, which gave us the chance to dispose of tins that our two had taken an aversion to.

You may notice that we are referring to Jerry in the past tense. We haven't seen him since Easter. He often used to vanish for up to four days, and come back looking battered or smug or both. These disappearances often coincided with long bank holiday weekends, or ponts. We have speculated as to what happened to him - he could have been run over, or shut in an outhouse of a second  home, or a new admirer may have taken him back to Paris with them. We'd love to see his teddybear face at the front door first thing in the morning as usual, but we don't hold out much hope now.

Here's to you Jerry, in this world or the next. It was nice knowing you, and we miss you - all four of us.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Tim has a new dancing partner

From last autumn up to about three weeks ago, the ground in our potager was too wet to dig. We had a week of perfect digging conditions. Then suddenly it all baked into a layer of concrete. We struggled to put in the first two rows of potatoes, then I realised that we weren't going to make it without help. Tim later confessed to being about to give up on potatoes altogether.

So I ordered a Mantis Tiller gardening package from Mantis France.

From the Mantis website... on ideal soil... it is an advert
A phone call of confirmation from a lady with the clearest French telephone voice I have ever heard indicated that it would arrive in the following ten days. It turned up the next day. The day after that Tim finished assembling it. Alex Crawford appeared just at the point where Tim was about to try it out. He started the engine, engaged the drive - nothing. The manual was no help. Alex went home, leaving Tim in high dudgeon, but returned a few minutes later with the answer. There was a gap between the clutch case on the engine and the worm gear housing, a known problem easily fixed (apparently). The intrepid engineers applied the fix, and hey, ho and away we go! Many thanks, Alex!

The Mantis will cultivate soil, and till it, and dig furrows, earth up potatoes, dig planting holes, strip turf, mulch weeds...  It's just a matter of changing the tines and attachments around. The remaining potatoes were planted in three sessions, and Tim cultivated and tilled five other beds in between so I could start planting. The "Gardening package" consists of the Tiller, kickstand, Planter Attachment and Plough Attachment. Yes, it cost quite a lot of money, but it has transformed our gardening.
Mostly, it spits out stones and even quite large rocks. If the stone is a certain size, however, it jams in the tines. You have to turn the machine on its back and wallop the rock until it comes out.

The Mantis is on Tim's left (upside down)
Tim suggests that the manufacturers have missed a trick - a kit consisting of a mallet and a billet of wood, for knocking out rocks...

Wallop! Ting!!
 Across the field we can now see the houses of Moulin de Chevarnay, and a fine weeping willow, rather than an enormous hedge. A much better view!

[Personally, I don't regard "Attilla the Mantis" as a new dancing partner...
she's far too reluctant... I have to drag her around... she wants to go forwards when I want to go back... Tim]

The Mantis tiller works best by being dragged backward through the soil...
doing a "Jim" in our allotment parlance.
Jim was an elderly... even by allotment standards... gentleman who waged war on weeds.
We always wondered how he managed to keep the soil loose between his rows.
Never a footprint!!

He was an early bird...
and was never there when we were...
but we suspected he hovered....
until we actually saw him in action one morning and all was revealed...
he dug or hoed backwards... thus never setting foot on freshly turned soil...
The Mantis works the same way...

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Help... the tomatoes are attacking us!

We need more, well lit growing space...
these two pictures show the state of play in the coldframe....

Full to bursting....

and the lounge...

But these are just too large for the coldframe, anyway!!

The tomatoes are somewhat over "leggy"....
a combination of too much growlight...
not enough natural daylight...
and too small a pot.

The pot size seems to send the plant into a frenzy of top growth....
probably to try and reproduce.
Not too much of a problem once we can get them into the ground...
we bury 'em.
A foot [30cms] down, and a growing ring of 8" [20cm] will halve their height...
and the buried stem will quickly send out new roots...
but planting them will be a two-person job!!
Some of them, though, will go into bigger pots....
kindly loaned by Alex and Nicole [ChezANIA Paysagistes]....
of Les Limornieres as we still need to prepare space.
Until then we will remain under attack by these rampant plants!!

Footnote.... [or 30cm note]...
the big plant pots Pauline ordered last week have arrived!!

Monday 19 May 2014

Not Rocket science

Tim and I rely on salad in the summer months to supply us with a good proportion of our five a day. So to add a bit of variety last year I planted a couple of mixed cut-and-come-again salad blends.(mesclun): Thompson and Morgan's Oriental Mixed salad leaves and Crispy Salad Mix from Wallis Seeds. Oh, and a row of Rocket. Eruca sativa (syn. Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa) is commonly called salad rocket, garden rocket, roquette, eruca, rucola, rugula, colewort, and, in the United States, arugula. We like rocket.

Just as well really. The salad mixes both contained rocket. While other things - Mustard Greens, Spinach, Tatsoi, mizuna - showed themselves at first, the Rocket rapidly took over. We ended with a bed full of rocket.

In desperation Tim made Rocket Pesto, using large quantities of rocket. The other ingredients were walnut oil, Dijon mustard and cashew nuts, throw them in the food processor using a basic Pesto recipe as a guideline for quantities, blast to a paste, taste and adjust seasoning, bottle...

This year, no rocket. It's seeded itself, so it can do what it likes. I've gone for lettuce - Gourmet Mixture from Nicky's Nursery - and Marshall's Bright and Spicy Salad Mix. Yes folks, it's fluorescent salad for us.

The Gourmet Lettuce mix is a mixture of seven varieties. Out of ten seeds that germinated (more than enough lettuce for two) I think I have six of the seven, which is pretty good going. My only slight gripe is that the two big red ones (variety Firecracker, I think) germinated about a week before the others, and so got big enough to transplant when everything else was too small. Now they are growing away nicely. Oh, and that's a rocket seedling in the foreground.

Gourmet Lettuce - will they taste as good as they look?

Close up, the shapes and colours are stunning.

Firecracker - now that's what I call a red lettuce!

The Bright and Spicy Mix does not include Rocket in its list of varieties. The big frilly-edged things are Serrated Leaf Mizuna. Probably. The other components are Golden Pak Choi, Pak Choi Canton White, Tatsoi (spoon shaped glossy green leaf), Greek Cress, Mustard Red Zest and Mustard Red Frill.

All the different shapes are fascinating
All but the Greek Cress (bottom right) are members of the Brassica family, which makes it hard to pick out a good range of the varieties in the blend, but if I space out the plugs well and remove the extra Mizuna we should have a good mixture. We'll report later on what they taste like.