I said in my last blog that there were signs of spring and that maybe the weather would change. Well, after a couple of weeks of cold and rain the sun has finally arrived. We have had a glorious week of clear skies and sunny all day. The wind has dropped and so it has been really lovely and warm. The mornings are lighter so there is a real incentive to get out of bed and get on with the day. There is a lot to do out in the garden and of course this also means it is tractor time!

The grass desperately needed cutting. We had left the grass quite long at the end of the cutting season last year as the tractor went wrong. All of a sudden it would not steer. This is a problem if you are going down a grassy slope heading for a fence at the bottom, behind which is a ditch and the tractor does not respond to the steering wheel. Panic does not adequately define the feeling. However the tractor has good brakes and eventually I was able to get it to turn. So we had to take the tractor in for a service. It is now working splendidly and the steering is a joy, although it responds rather quickly now to the steering wheel so you have to be a bit careful! Anyway I have been waiting to get the tractor out for some time but the weather has been too wet to cut grass. In addition we have also obtained a nice trailer to fix to the tractor.

We have been looking for a small trailer to use with the tractor for some time and happened to mention this to Emile. He smiled and said that he happened to have just the thing in one of his barns. So we went and had a look and found a really great little trailer that had been given to Emile some while ago by an English friend who was returning to Britain and didn’t want to take it with him. So the new trailer was delivered round by Emile a couple of weeks ago and like an excited child I have been praying for a dry day to try it out. So this week we got hooked up and after a couple of practice runs around the courtyard, I set off into the sunset to go down to the bottom of our big field to collect up brambles and branches that we had cut down. It was great, driving a tractor and trailer, almost as good as driving train. And driving back up the big field I was so thankful that no more would I have to labour up and down the hill pushing a wheel barrow.

Tractor and trailer combo!!

I got so excited I even thought we could add seats and offer gite guests a ride around the fields and a visit to the ant experience. Mrs. Parish was not impressed with this idea and explained that losing guests out the back of the trailer would not be good for business.

The tractor has also been used to cut the grass and of course at the same time been used to take the battle to the moles. It is a sort of carpet bombing effect by making a huge amount of noise, which moles apparently do not like. This should work and if not I sing to them. Usually Bob Dylan songs but this year I have a new tactic. I sing Leonard Cohen songs. Either the moles will be so upset by my awful singing that they will leave the orchard or if they like the singing they will be so depressed by the lyrics and tunes that they will either go away or commit mole suicide.

Mrs. Parish on the other hand prefers the hands on practical methods and has been out setting traps to catch the moles. Cutting the grass has exposed the full impact of the mole incursions into our exclusion zone in the orchard. There seem to be mole hills everywhere. Mrs. Parish has become quite an ace fighter and last year amassed a number of kills. So we were expecting great things when she set out a number of traps around the garden. The knack, so I am told, is to dig down to expose the mole runs and to find places where several holes meet. Then traps can be put into each of the runs to maximise the chances of catching them. You then have to cover over the dug earth to ensure that there is no light getting in. 

So the next day Mrs. Parish diligently goes off to check the traps and shouts that she has got one but that it is a field mouse and not a mole. Moments later I turn to witness Archie rush up and sink his teeth into the mouse which is still stuck in the trap which Mrs. Parish is holding. A grim tug of war commences with Archie on one side and Mrs. Parish on the other but there is only one winner. Once Archie has his jaws clamped around food he does not let go. He won the tug of war and then marched proudly off to eat the said mouse. 

Archie with mouse won in tug of war!

It has also been a week of rural crafts. Mrs. Parish decided that it would be a good idea to create a rustic arch for the garden out of hazel wood coppiced from the trees that are around the outside of the orchard.  Coppicing is a term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.

So we went around the garden examining the coppiced hazel trees to find branches that were straight and the right diameter. Once we had selected the wood the artisan carpenter (me) put together a structure that remarkably resembles very well a rustic arch. We have now put it together and fixed it firmly into place. So rural crafts are alive and well in rural France.

Mrs. Parish and rustic arch

On the bird front we have a sorry arrival of the starling that has a repertoire of bird song. His speciality is to call like a buzzard, but he can also do owls and lapwings. It has arrived back with news that spring is round the corner and has been sat up on the gite roof going through its complete range. It is really annoying and unfortunately sat up on the roof the cats can’t get at it and it has a great all round view so that it can avoid being caught by the sparrow hawk which makes a regular run though our garden. On a more positive note the tree sparrows have returned and are sat in the tree next to the shed. They have nested in our roof for the past couple of years and they are very pretty birds that don’t imitate anyone else. The migrating season has now started so we should see more of the returning summer birds arriving over the next few weeks, including swallows and house martins. I have just received a supply of 4 nest boxes from the LPO (League Protection des Oiseaux, (French version of the RSPB).  I am planning to put these up in the trees at the bottom of the big field where we have been doing a lot of clearing work to create a nature walk. It will also give me a chance to load up the trailer and use the tractor to take all the tools, ladder etc down to the bottom.

It has been so nice today that we got our bikes out and went for a cycle ride around the local lanes and called in at the French bar in the next village, Chez Fanfy for a coffee. We chose a fairly flat route this week to break us in gently. Of course the Tour de France arrives in July and comes by quite close so we need to be at peak fitness for this!

And finally the ants have woken up. The anthill in the bottom corner of our big field was a great discovery last year and as such developed into the La Godefrere Ant Experience, a brand new visitor attraction. The ant nest effectively closes down over the winter with most of the worker ants being killed off. The queen and a few attendants hibernate over the winter and usually in March start to regenerate the nest. I have been going down to see if there are any signs of life and on Thursday noticed that with the warmer weather there were one or two ants staggering about looking like they had just woken up. I guess they had been sent out by the queen to see what the weather was like and to assess what work was needed. The next day in the afternoon when it had warmed up there were thousands of ants all milling about and starting to do some spring cleaning. I’m not sure what they thought about the large red plastic ants that now proclaim the ant experience to the world. They all seemed too busy to stop and talk.

So an exciting week and there is a real feel of spring about. It looks like the weather will stay fine for the next week. So an opportunity to get some more work done outside. A chance to get some more tractor hours in. It has been so warm today that Mrs. Parish has been sat out on the bench. She took her knitting with her to have something to do. It may even be nice enough for an aperif out on the terrace in the lovely evening sun.

Bonne soiree