Compost alert and the EDF man

OK, I realise that this post will not be for those with a delicate sensibility. So if that’s you, you might want stop reading now. 

In the U.K. I have a black plastic compost bin. In all truth, it did take a long time to get going but it now makes the most wonderful compost extremely quickly. It is full of little small red worms and many other creepy crawlies. 
In France I have a compost bin too, which has been a huge disappointment thus far. In fact I made contact with an owner of some stables just so I could collect horse poo on a regular basis. But, I really want to make my own French compost. So my big mistake has probably been to put too many grass cuttings in it and the contents resemble a very dry and musty straw bale. Not good. 

So I’ve heard from several gardening sources that human urine can act as a compost activator. You might guess where this is going now. 

So in France, weather gorgeous, inhibitions cast to one side. I decided there was only one thing for it. I would need to use some sort of Shewee to collect my liquid gold. I always knew that caraf from Ikea would come in handy. 

So web investigation tells me that human urine is one of the fastest known activators for a compost heap because it’s high nitrogen content. 

Nuff said!

So it was to this end that I tiptoed down stairs at the crack of dawn on Friday morning clasping said liquid gold and popped it on the doorstep ready to transport to the compost bin. No sooner had I placed it there and clad only in my night clothes, there was a knock at the door. OMG 😲 I opened it to find a young man standing there and to be honest it took me a while to understand what he was saying but I managed to glean that he was from EDF and had come to tell me that he would be cutting the trees that were too close to the electricity wires that cross our  garden. He did say it wouldn’t cost us anything. OK fine I said, very much on the back foot. So now I’m trying to investigate what this might actually mean for some of our trees. HELP!

Leaking shower

So as you may have already picked up from earlier posts, we have had a disappointing relationship with the builder of our extension in France. The contract for the work was signed in August 2014 and the work is yet to be completed. Our relationship with him has now completely broken down. Anyway I digress as this post is really about yet another issue that he has left us with. In this case a leaking shower and a shower that only supplies hot water. We highlighted this problem to him last year and several times since but nothing has ever been done about it. So this time when we turned on the water we awoke the next morning to a puddle. It’s not easy to get an emergency plumber in France. So we decided to having a go at solving the problem ourselves. 

First we sadly needed to saw through the perfect plasterboard on our landing. This then revealed the pipework for the newly fitted shower. The hot water feed turned out to be the offending pipe. So we turned off the water, armed ourselves with some cups and then unscrewed it. The cardboard washer   had all but disintergrated. Problem solved, or so we thought. We can hot foot it to the local Tridome and get a new one. Meanwhile, there was an almighty gush of water. Screams all round and buckets grabbed from downstairs. Towels thrown down. What the hell was that. It stopped but made another watery mess. New washers purchased from Tridome and fitted and we thought we’d solved the problem completely. Sadly not, so we’ve had to turn the water off. So annoying. We probably do need a plumber after all, unless anyone has any suggestions?

The other problem we’ve encounter associated with the thermostatic shower that we’ve purchased, is that the thermostat appears not to be working as it only emits bowling hot water. So no showers anyway. Any thoughts on what might be going on here?

Thé feuille de figue

So this is my take on how to make your own fig leaf tea.

Stage 1. You need to find the ideal tea pot. I found mine at the local vide grenier today. Usually I’m not a tea pot person, favouring the quick bish bash bosh of the tea bag in the mug, but I felt that for fig leaf tea it had to be a tea pot. And not just any tea pot, I wanted a delicate small one, something perhaps a little Oriental. So this little tea pot found me on an animal charity stall. 2. You need to find a fig tree. If you don’t have one, then I would recommend growing your own. There are many varieties and the fruit is delicious. I have planted 8 in our French garden. There are 4 Brown Turkey, an Israeli variety, a Rouge de Bordeau, Panache and an unknown one which has grown from a cutting that I plucked from the local road side and it has really tasty bright green figs.3. Gently pull away several leaves.

4. Give them a rinse in cold water.

5. Hang them on the washing line to dry.

6. Very gently dry them out, either in a very low oven or in the sun.

7. Chop them up ready for infusion.

8. Pop them in the tea pot and pour on the boiling water, leave to infuse.

9. Pour into a tea cup. 

10. Sip and enjoy the flavour and all the health benefits of fig leaf tea. See my previous re: blog, Fig Leaf Tea. 

Enjoy😄

Open garden, South West France😍

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First lunch at B’s.

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Then to Loubens where one of B’s friends lives. She has a lovely Girondaise farm house that is on the market at moment.  House near Loubens

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Super place to check out which plants will grow in this part of France and for garden design ideas. We will return to check it out at the start of the season. At the moment it is so dry and parched. Still looking good

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I always think it’s lovely to stumble across a hidden oasis and treasures within a garden. Hydrangeas to die for and lots of hidden object d’art to stimulate the senses.image

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To get all the details about open gardens in France go to:

http://rendezvousauxjardins.culturecommunication.gouv.fr/

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Summer 2016 phlog part 1

Beautiful, but sad sunflower☹️image

OK, a phlog’s a bit of a cop out. More pictures, less words.

Visit to Taillecavat vide grenier this morning and then a walk through the grape vines with Bella and grandma.

Gorgeous vintage wicker bag, a necklace and some gentleman’s cuff links were my finds at today’s vide. Was looking for some wooden dining chairs but these were trop cher, at soixante euros😳

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Eclectic stand at vide today, followed by antique French confit pots, a Western horse saddle and a little black vintage car.  And our lovely village moulin à vent from our walk today.

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Plants in France

As I’m back in the UK (not for long, as we return to France this Thursday) I tend to look for all things French that I have around me to give me some inspiration for a blog.  Then I remembered some cuttings that have been languishing down the side of the house so they wont be in direct sunlight.  Not much chance of that here, I hear you cry!  imageAnyway back to the cuttings.  There are several but the largest two and the smaller one at the front on the left were taken last year from wild Elder bushes on a little road that leads to my friends house.  These wild Elderberry shrubs seem to grow all over in the hedge rows in our part of France.  My friend has copious amounts growing around her front door and as I have lost so many plants to drought, because we cannot water the garden, I thought that cultivating native/local plants, that do survive hot dry months, would be the best thing to do.  (Although we are thinking of putting in some sort of basic irrigation system once we have an outside tap)

Rose always wants to know what I’m up to when I’m in the garden.  After all it is her domain.  Looks cute doesn’t she.  But, if you are a vole, mouse, baby rabbit or small bird, this is the face that greets you just before you die.  She’s a killer.imageSo the Elder cuttings are doing well.  They will travel to France with us when we next take the car through the tunnel in either October or at Christmas.  The best time to plant them will be then as it will give them a chance to get some roots developed before the hot weather next summer.

The generic name of the Elder is Sambucus.  In France the Elderberry shrub(s) is called “Sureau” or “Les Sureaux”.

And as I’m writing this, the weirdest thing is happening.  A small bug is meandering across the screen of my Mac.  And, it’s behind the glass.  What’s going on.  Anyway back to the blog.

In our garden here in Blighty, I have three black Elderberry shrubs.  They have beautiful deep burgundy leaves and provide much needed colour to our otherwise very green garden at this time of year.

Elder shrubs have been an important resource for a very long time.  From the Greeks to the Romans and the Britons to the Celts, it has a huge range of practical uses. Elderberry wine is said to have curative powers. Taken hot it will help in the early stages of a cold or ‘flu, and is also good for a sore throat. This is due to the viburnic acid contained in the berries which induces perspiration and helps to “bring the cold out”.

Make it simply by stripping off the ripe berries with a fork until you have three gallons of berries. Pour over 2 gallons of boiling water, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Strain through muslin and press all the juice well out. Measure it and allow 3lbs (1.3kg) of sugar, half an ounce (14g) of ginger and quarter of an ounce (7g) of cloves to each gallon (approx 5 litres). Boil slowly for 20 minutes, strain into a bucket, adding the yeast when it is lukewarm. Pour into demijohns, standing them in a warm place while the yeast works through the sugar. Bottle when it stops. It’s really best to leave it for at least a year, and 2 or 3 years is even better.http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/elder.htm

The Elder flower and berry seems to have been a cure all, from preventing mosquito bites to chilblains and bronchitis.  The berries also make a dye which was used by the Romans to dye their hair black.

The Elder was a mystical plant associated with the spirit world across Europe.  In particular a tree spirit, called the Elder Mother.  To be able to use the magical properties of the tree, prayers and offerings would have to be made otherwise the Elder Mother would not be happy. Because the Elder is very easy to propagate from a cutting and grows so quickly it is therefore associated with regeneration and rebirth.

Because of these spiritual links the Christian church ‘demonized’ the Elder tree, as it did many of the magical plants of the Druids and other pagans, and said that Elder wood was used for the crucifixion cross and that Judas hung himself from an Elder tree. Elder was given a bad name and now had powers of both good and evil. Bringing Elder into the house might cause misfortune or even death to family members and burning the wood meant summoning the Devil.

The word “elder” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “æld” meaning fire.  According to one source this may have been due to the hollowed out stems being used to blow on the fire. The stem has a soft inside that can be easily hollowed out to form a tube. These were then used to make whistles and pipes.

In 1629 a Dr Martin Blochwich who died aged 27 published a reference book titled The Anatomy of the Elder. In this book, which has become a standard reference work, Blochwich described the cultivated plant in three units that occupied a total of 298 pages.

  • Unit 1: The botanic of the elder with an explanation of the origin of the name, as well as where it could be found, its growth and characteristics.
  • Unit 2: In six chapters Blochwich described the preparation of vinegar, chalk, compote, oil, tablets, ointment, juice, syrup, spirit, water, wine and sugar made of elder in detail and gave recipes.
  • Unit 3: Thirty-three chapters about the treatment of diseases that occurred frequently. Recipes have exact descriptions for the production of medicines made of elderflower, elderberry, elder marrow and elder bark, as well as numerous references to the opinions of famous doctors of antiquity and the Middle Ages, which gave the practical doctors during Blockwitz’s day instructions how to use various elder preparations internally and externally. The conditions dealt with include breast and uterine diseases, frostbite, tumours, infectious diseases, diseases of the lungs, stomach, intestines, spleen and gall bladder, mental illnesses, stroke and paralysis, consumption, unclear fever and pain, poisonings, injuries, worm attack and toothache.

Elder continues to be commonly used in herbal remedies and drinks.  It is the flowers and berries that are most used as these are the safest parts of the plant as the bark and leaves are toxic in the wrong dosage.

River Cottage Elderflower cordial

Ingredients

Makes about 2 litres

  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Method

Inspect the Elder-flower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the zest of the orange and lemon.

Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the Elder-flowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

Strain the liquid through a piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Serving suggestions

Add a splash or two, undiluted, to fruit salads or anything with gooseberries or dilute one part cordial to two parts water for fragrant ice lollies.

To find out more about the Elder tree, simple google it.  There’s loads of info out there or grab a copy of Dr Martin Blochwich’s book, available from Amazon.

Oh, and before I completed this blog, Rose had caught yet another vole and my son’s run out to see if he can save it.