So, we have arrived in September! Where did the summer go? It has turned a bit autumnal here at La Godefrere. After some very hot days the weather has returned to what is a bit more normal. It is now a bit chilly first thing in the morning and the nights are drawing in as it is now starting to get dark at around 9pm. At least one advantage of this is that the chickens go to bed before us! The hens tend to return to the hen house as it gets dark and then Mrs. Parish goes down and shuts them up in the hen house so they are safe overnight. At the height of the summer it does not get dark until after 11pm and so then hens don’t go to bed. This means we have to wait up for them if we want to go to bed early!

Autumn is also the time for the wine fairs in the local supermarkets. My stocks are low and so I am planning to refurbish the wine cave and to invest in some nice bottles of wine that will bring some joy to the winter!

Empty bottles mean a wine shortage

Today it is overcast and we are expecting showers and the weather is certainly now a good few degrees cooler. Patrique came in the week to take away the sheep from our paddocks. This was the ram with three ewes. Presumably he has done his duty and can have the winter off! Patrique will now keep the pregnant ewes at home as there is not much grass in the paddocks. This will hopefully recover now and be ready for new born lambs next March. We should soon receive our part of the bargain, a nice leg of lamb for the freezer!

Our other neighbour, Xavier has been to take away most of the cattle in the field behind the gite. He has taken all the young heifers and we are now just left with 4 older cows. Again, the grass has taken a bit of a beating and so needs a chance to recover. Last year we had a bull and a number of cows in November to over winter and it may be the same this year.

In the fields, large piles of manure are appearing as the farmers start to plough up the fields that had wheat and straw to make ready for some sort of winter crop. It does give a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the country aromas at the moment. The large fields of maize are nearly ready to harvest for winter feed for the cattle. Soon the huge harvesters with the posse of tractors and trailers will move into the fields to totally transform the landscape. Farms and buildings that have been hidden all summer will reappear.

It is also the start of the hunting season and already we have heard the chaotic sounds of a French hunt. Lots of dogs barking, horns sounding and shouting and swearing as the commune hunt goes out to try to catch foxes that have been creating problems for local farmers. They never seem to shoot many foxes and I think the main reason is so that they can retire to a local restaurant at lunch time for a good meal and some cider and talk about hunting.

In our orchard, the cider apples are nearing maturity and beginning to drop to the floor. This requires a lot of back breaking bending to pick them up. This can be hazardous work as it is not only a problem for the back but also the rest of the body in avoiding the hornets that are feeding on the ripening fruit. It is worse when they get a bit tipsy after gorging on the fruit as they have a habit of dropping out of the trees and you need to avoid them landing on you! 

Soon it will be time to shake the fruit out of the trees and to collect it up to be transported to Emile’s house for processing into cider. This may mean crawling about collecting up all the apples. We have already had a bumper harvest of cooking apples and our cave is now full of boxes of apples. So, lots of apple crumble, blackberry and apple pies etc. And of course, a whole load of bottles of farm brewed cider!

Despite the dry and very hot summer we seem to be doing very well with our own harvest and a bumper crop of tomatoes and green beans, now transported to the freezer. We also look to have a whole load of walnuts and chestnuts if we can get to them before the crows and jays.

On birds, the little owls have now fully fledged and left the nest. They no longer return for roosting. They are still around in the fields locally and we certainly can hear them at night and still get the occasional glimpse in the early evening. Swallows are starting to gather ready to feed up before their migration back to Africa. We have seen the hobby (a small bird of prey that follows the swallows on migration for a bit of fast food) a few times sizing up a swallow or two for lunch.
The hens have taken up a new sport, that of sabotage! When they are rooting about in the banks of grass along the side of the orchard they dislodge stones and these then are thrown down onto the grass. This creates havoc with the tractor mower as the cutting blade hits the stones making a huge noise but also damaging the blades. So now, not only do I have to go around and pick up the fall down apples but also, I go around to pick up all the stones before I can start mowing!

Anyway, I got my own back on Sylvia. When I mow the grass, we move the hen house to a new spot. It is quite heavy and so requires two of us to lift and its awkward shape means that we bump it along to the new spot. Last week we were doing this when there was a loud squawking noise coming from inside the hen house and we realised that Sylvia was inside trying to lay an egg. She was very upset and came out with more complaining at the indignity of it all.

The cats on the other hand have been assessing suitable sleeping sites around the courtyard. The perfect spot is sheltered from the wind, with opportunity to catch the sun and which affords a clear view of the house so that they do not miss out on any opportunities to get into the house or to be first in the queue at meal times.

Archie and Moggie share the perfect spot

And finally, on the animal front I literally tripped over something in the lane that runs behind the house and leads to the paddocks. I looked down to discover that the latest obstacle was in fact a rather long grass snake, known in France as a “coulevre”. A harmless snake who in fact is quite useful in the garden as it gets rid of several pests including mice. We often come across one sleeping in the compost bin. A bit of a shock the first time but you get used to them. So, a snake in the grass, trying to trip me up was also a bit unnerving and so I encouraged it to leave the premises and go under the fence to our neighbours’ house.

Snake in the grass

It has been autumnal today and so Mrs. Parish cooked a lovely dinner of roast pork with roast potatoes from our garden along with green beans and broccoli also from the garden. The pork was from Olivier’s farm about 10km away so very few food miles. The wine, a nice bottle of St. Emilion came the furthest from southern France.

So, now we are having a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Bon weekend