This is the image. My happy home, which it is, with a beautiful, landscaped garden, where I now have only gravel. But soon, maybe, depending…
I won’t even show you the reality. Reality may well suck up my landscape money. It came in the form of a notice from my utility company. They informed me that electricity prices would increase, which I knew. I thought maybe 5%, tops 10%. But no. For the next seven months my electric bill will go up 50%. Then will it go back down? Not from what I’ve seen so far. My money seems especially attractive to them.
I had been looking at solar panels anyway. Honestly, it was throwing the dice to see whether I would live long enough to see them pay for themselves. It could be time to run the numbers again.
Or, maybe just move to a warm climate. Granada is nice, as is Barcelona. Maybe Malta or Sicily? Or, I hear intriguing things about Costa Rica.
I’d hate to start over again. I have friends here, ones I didn’t know before I moved to France. My French has improved to the point that it is only half bad. Maybe I’ll just pay up. Ugh.
Here you go, faithful readers. Do I sit around all day reading the essays of Montaigne and sipping rosé? I do not. Well okay, sometimes, but today I’m chipping crepi from the barn wall. How cool is that?
Crepi is like stucco, except it’s thick and spread over stone instead of chicken wire. Every so often it starts to fall apart and should be replaced. But not here. The plan is to leave the stone exposed.
The money from the sale of the rental house has come in. Eight months to close the sale and about eight minutes to spend the proceeds. I have shutters that are being held in place with bungee cords: time for new shutters. I have this truly hideous hole in the wall, see above, that will become a larger and more sightly opening, maybe even with a garage door. The apartment roof is going green, in its own way, sprouting all manner of growth on the tiles: time for a new roof. And did I mention that the guy who took away my handrails never brought them back? So, new handrails at the stairs. A hefty tax payment. My summer kitchen. Trees in the front garden. Gravel drive and pathways. I do believe that’s all the money and then some.
The good news is, this work is cosmetic, basically all finishes and furnishings. Longer-suffering blog buddies surely remember the five-figure sums that were buried in walls and under floors. This time, you’ll see it. Or I’ll see it. You guys will be thinking yeah, so, a room with a pizza oven. Oh, well. I take my pleasure where I can.
While I was wandering around trying to figure out how to finance my ambitious to-do list, I noticed that the crepi was starting to fall off, all on its own. So, why not, I spent a couple of hours helping it, chipping off bits here and there. I could do more of that. It’s kind of fun. In the end I’ll have to hire someone to get the upper walls, but that’s later.
The good news is, summer may have arrived. It took its sweet time and this sad little bunch of grapes is an example of how my produce production has taken a hit. That said, grapes, the first from vines I planted maybe two or three years ago. The cherries are gone. I may have to adjust my expectations, just think of them as bird food. By way of thanks, maybe, they are now hopping around on the ground; I hope that means they are munching bugs. They ate every single cherry, there being nothing else available to them. So, okay….
The tomatoes are happily throwing out leaves, which Julien is dutifully chopping off. I might have half a dozen tiny tomatoes on two dozen plants. At this point everything else in the kitchen garden is just leaves. We shall see.
Fortunately birds don’t like apples, at least not so far. I also have just the beginnings of other fruit: peaches and plums, mainly. No apricots, figs or persimmons. The pomegranate? I don’t know, yet. Lots of pretty flowers, though.
Well, so, it’s harvest time. There are thousands of cherry tomatoes that I could neither eat nor give away. They are pretty much smashed on the ground, so I predict many volunteers next year, too. We could have all manner of tomatoes, given the unharvested remnants of this year’s bumper crop. I was able to rescue a few San Marzanos from the rotting mess. That’s it. Those mice can have at it.
We are clearing the kitchen garden. We could have gone for a winter crop, but Julien and I were so sure we’d simply repeat the failures of previous years that we didn’t plan very well. Plants went all over with no though of sunlight or water requirements. The whole irrigation setup was piecemeal. It’s too chaotic to simply continue.
So, out go the old plants. There are a few straggler butternut squash still ripening, plus some beets and carrots that I’m in no rush to harvest; I’ll leave them until last. Julien is a no-dig convert, so once we have cleared the area we’ll spread some aged horse poo that he gets from his neighbors — ah, the aroma — then a thick layer of cardboard. Then we’ll probably replace the plastic and walk away.
We’ll come back in spring. We’ll relocate the plastic sheeting to conform to whatever planting plan we dream up, then do a proper soaker hose/drip installation. I added a couple of hose bibs in the area, so that should go pretty well. There should be no neglected areas and thus no need for standard sprinklers.
We have had a long spell of steady rain, so the fruit trees are happy. I think we got four tiny apples plus a couple dozen mirabelles. But nothing died, which is a big improvement over my usual results. I see a few crossed branches and all so a winter prune will happen in January. We’ll also take a closer look at the Wild Wood. We found a hazelnut tree in there, and a quince. We need to encourage them and engage in further exploration.
I should be doing a winter pruning of my roses, but, well, lazy. Roger did a couple of them, most unexpected, thank you Roger. I should also weed around them and figure out what to plant under them that will choke out the abundant grass — abundant only around the roses, of course. Dream on if you think I’ll be able to get an actual lawn going.
So that’s it: the kitchen garden and the rest of the property, too. Long story short, we are tidying and settling in. It’s nice.
It’s almost fall. That seems so crazy. It’s not as if nothing has happened.
In the real world, RBG, RIP. Am I worried about what comes next? You betcha. In my world, I might possibly have sold the rental house, for the second time, don’t want to jinx it but maybe, maybe. We have a new house guest, this time a young man from Afghanistan who left 15 years ago and has yet to find asylum. He’s almost legal, here in France, and finds our guest room to be a step up from the rat-infested basements and all where he has been staying. Supposedly he is about a month away from finalizing the paperwork. Hope so.
I know I have been promising you photos of the house. Before and after, all that. I’m getting there, sort of. Where my motivation has been sidelined by overthinking, mainly, my friend Roger Stowell has stepped up. I encourage you to search Instagram for roger.stowell.35, where you will find his take on the place, along with the many other images that he posts. Brilliant guy. Please like, comment, subscribe, etc. Let’s keep him going.
I may have solved the riddle of the ten zillion tomato plants.
If any of you care about my kitchen garden the way I do, getting right down into the weeds, as it were, you will remember that I have tomatoes right, left and center. Tomatoes and butternut squash: everything else squeezes in around the edges. The question is, how did this happen?
I think I figured it out. We had tomatoes for lunch, as we have done every lunch for a couple of weeks now. Not complaining, just saying. The first ones to ripen were these gnarly, irregular things. I’m trying to work out a variation of all cats being grey in the dark, but it’s not coming to me. Anyway, chopped up, gnarly works just fine. Some other varieties are starting to come online. We have beefhearts now and I think I saw a possible San Marzano turning pink.
So, today’s lunch, herbed omelet and a caprese salad. Just as I was about to dispatch this guy, have him meet his mozzarella, I realized. This is a Berkeley Tie Dye. What looks in the photo like a blown-out highlight is, okay, a blown-out highlight, but the main thing is, it’s yellow. Green, yellow and red, all on the same ripe tomato, a sure sign. I planted Berkeley Tie Dye last year. Not this year.
So this is the deal. The possible deal. Last year I planted all kinds of things. Then I ran off to Paris and left everything to fend for itself. Not many things came up. Some things came up, bore fruit — cherry tomatoes are pretty indestructible — and the fruit just rotted on the plant. Or maybe I threw it toward the compost bin and missed. Anyway, there were all these seeds left in the ground that just laid dormant.
This year I have spent a lot of time at the house, actually watering and taking care of things. And as avid readers know, we do no-dig; the seeds would still be near the surface. So my guess is that seeds from last year sprouted right alongside seeds from this year. Hey presto, bumper crop.
We are starting to get the rules on this first phase of loosening the lockdown. It actually sounds worse in some ways than lockdown itself. Many people have to go out, but with distancing and masks, it’s going to be quite unpleasant. Julien was telling me about what his kids will have to deal with at school. One thing and another, it sounds worse than just staying home. Add to that the suggestion made in some quarters that the virus is mutating into a more dangerous form and, well, no thanks.
We’re going to stay home. Rather than deal with lines, masks, the various unpleasant restrictions, we’re ordering online. The SO’s office is making arrangements to allow as many people as possible to work from home as much as possible. He may not go back until September. There may be pit stops for haircuts — the Bowl Cut is not a good look — but that’s it.
Meantime, the weather is gorgeous. We have had this great combination of sunlight and warmth by day and rain by night. No one told the peonies they had to stay in or wear masks, so they’re just going for it, as are the strawberries. My no-bolt arugula bolted; maybe it didn’t read the package. We are learning to cook with nettles; Julien trained them into a hedge, so we always have a huge ready supply. Somebody — maybe the hedgehogs I encouraged to return — has been randomly digging up my squash, maybe looking for bugs. Weird, but some remain. The fruit trees are fruiting. The birds are eating all my wildflower seed, but apart from that the meadow is doing fine. The owls are dropping digested mouse carcasses on my terrace, so I guess they’re doing fine as well.
I am grateful to my delivery people, who have been doing a terrific job; grateful to Julien, who is keeping the weeds from taking over; grateful to everyone who facilitates my current decision to boycott the universe. Such beautiful weather, and so many masks to make for a friend who distributes them to the Paris camps. I did say I was staying in…
Danica has a Go Fund Me page. It’s old, but still accepting donations. I’m sure all of us who are not worrying about making our own payments are donating wherever we can. But, if you’re not already tapped out, give some thought to supporting her efforts. She volunteers: every penny goes to the refugees.
I decided that I needed an orchard. I have planted a couple of trees here and there, mostly ones that have died, but this year I decided to get serious. After dropping five and six-figure sums on the house itself — I don’t want to add it up — dropping two-figure sums on a few trees just seemed overdue. So I got two almond trees, two apple trees, two plum trees, a fig, a yuzu. a persimmon, an apricot and a white peach. They are all doing well. I see Bellinis in my future.
For the last few months I have wondered what to do with Robert. He has been languishing in a box in one closet or another for six years now. It’s a long time for me but of course he’s outside time now. I’m sure he’s been okay with it.
He used to talk about how he loved the Gravenstein apples that he ate on family vacations in the Russian River valley. So I found a local nursery that sold Gravensteins — but not online and I had to head back to Paris, so I sent Julien over to pick one up. This guy also had the only persimmons of the variety I wanted, so tracking him down was a must.
Julien is starting to love these wild goose chases. He found the guy, who is not online because he retired a few years ago. He still has a few trees, though, so he dug up what Julien wanted and traded them for a little cash. The prize was the Gravenstein. No one here knows what they are, so for a bargain price, Julien was able to bring home a full-size tree. You can sort-of see it through the mirabelle blossoms in the photo. We could have apples this year.
I came back down from Paris about a week ago. As I say, the trees are doing great. It has been a warm spring. Everything looks fabulous. So, having bought the memorial tree and seeing that it will survive its first year at my house, I dug Robert into the roots. Jacques displayed his usual excellent social skills. Instead of chasing after trucks, birds, airplanes, whatever, he stayed right with me, curious but not too much, until Robert disappeared into the mulch. And then, Robert being a gin man, I made myself a stiff G&T.