Saturday, 16 July 2011

Irrigation irregularities

This summer in South West France has been a dry one and the weather warmed up earlier than normal so arable and animal farmers as well as the fruit producers have all been suffering quite badly.

Having planted a number of fruit trees and made a vegetable garden (in retrospect if we had known how dry it was going to be we probably would not have bothered this year!), keeping everything watered was another large job on the ever increasing job list.

Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have bought a lovely property in Tarn et Garonne that had irrigation already installed in the lawn. We held off for as long as possible as we didn't want to waste water in any way, but when the lawn turned a nasty brown and the fruit trees started to wilt we knew it was time to take action.

All farmers here have access (for a small fee) to the water supply pumped from the river Garonne, and then pay on a meter each year for what they use. Our irrigation supply was also fed in the same way. The supply point was located across the road from the main house on the edge of the field and had to be accessed across a rather dodgy plank and a ditch, then you had to grapple with a large pipe and a wheel to connect to the supply, not something I enjoyed doing amongst the long grass, so not an easy process and not one to be undertaken in flipflops!

My husband Nick was dispatched with a spanner to turn on the supply and I stayed in the garden to shout back to him when the water came through. After much shouting and hollaring followed by short tempers and an amount of spanner throwing, we gave up. The water was only trickling through the pipe and was not enough to fill a watering can let alone irrigate the garden!

We put in a call to the Marie and a village official turned up a few days later to sort it all out . A new pipe cap was fitted, a new meter and a new valve. Great, we thought, we can now put the watering can away! .......NO

The water was still only just trickling out, we put in another call to the Marie and the official came back but explained that as far as he was concerned all was in order, and said the problem must be somewhere in our 5 acre garden. Great, needle and haystack sprung to mind!

I therefore took the bull by the horns and went to see he local farmer (where I had been fruit picking) and in my best fluttery eye look, asked if he could come to investigate the problem!

It worked! He arrived with a spanner and disappeared into the field with my husband. After a short while, success!

As it turned out, we had a dead snake in the pipe blocking the valve and as soon as that was removed, little jets of water started sprouting out of the ground all over the garden and I could almost hear the plants going aaaaahhhhhh!

The garden will now soon be nice and green again and my veggie patch will be brimming with produce!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fruit, fruit and more fruit!

In amongst our guests arriving and leaving, I have been busy making jams, chutneys and fruit leather to enjoy through the winter.

I am currently innondated with reine claude green gages and merabelle red plums. I have made plum crumble, compote, jam, chutney and am considering plum leather. This is a fruit pulp that is smoothed on to a piece of greaseproof paper and dried in the sun. Once dry, it is then cut and rolled like a fruit winder and kept in an air tight jar until required. I have already made the apricot version and its yummy and a very healthy snack instead of chocolate!

The jam cupboard now is full of apricot, plum, damson, strawberry and cherry jam, tomato puree, plum and chili chutney and soon to be added is red onion chutney. More than enough to keep us and our guests supplied well into 2012!

First big change over day!

Well the season has now started for us in ernest. We had our first gite guests arrive last Saturday, family of 4 including a 3 month old baby a 2 year old plus an aupair.

As hoped the initial reaction was what I hoped for and they loved the gite and surroundings, which is a constant thrill to me. Everyone settled in well and all were soon in the holiday mood lounging by the pool.

The weather unfortunately, has not been the best, we have had a few days of sun and a few days of cloud, but still nice an warm. After advising on nice places to visit, booking restaurants and being a taxi service on occasions the week drew to a close. The family moved to our B&B for an extra night, they just couldn't bring themselves to leave! It was a squeeze with the au pair as well and we finally decided it would be more comfortable for the au pair to go in our spare room in the main house.

New guests arrived in the gite just 3 hours later. Fortunately, the cleaning had been done and beds made but I was in the middle of cleaning the BBQ and had to shake hands with mucky greasy fingers looking like something the cat dragged in, sooo didn't want to look like that!

Still, all the hard work is worth the initial ooohs and arrrhs, which is what it is all about - makeing sure that our guests are happy and pleased with their holiday accommodation.

Now the beds are stripped and everyone is settled and happy, I am off to start the washing and ironing.

Happy days indeed.