Monday, 2 December 2019

The argument, the French lady, Duo Lingo......

Hello, here I am again. Been away from you for a while, but have been busy doing other things, which is no excuse I know. One of the reasons I have become a tad constipated with writing this blog is because it was supposed to be about the farm and our life as smallholders, but since we have had this slow down with the farm while my partner earns us a living on his computer, not much has happened outside. I did try and take over some of the farm work, but we have just had a humungously long, hot, wet, and humid summer, which stopped me in my tracks. So.........

We are living in France, so need to speak French, which we do. I can write it, and Lester can speak it, but not really to any high standard. Actually it is quite a low standard if I am to be honest. For a long time I have been thinking that we ought to improve our language skills, but this would have probably only stayed in my head if it had not been for a French lady asking me:
"How long have you been in France?" she asked chattily.
"About eleven years" I said, still in chatty mode myself.
"......but your French is not very good. Don't you want to speak it." she went on, still quite chattily.

Now you know when someone presses your button, the button which happens to be sitting over a sensitive subject, a button which needs to stay not pressed, because if it is pressed then you know you will go off on a rant? ........ Now feeling unchatty, and not even attempting to speak in French, in English I went off on one, defending the reasons as to why my French was not as good as it should be, all the while, in my heart, I knew that she was right. She was the prod I needed.

Duo Lingo was recommended to us, and  is an easy and addictive web site to use. We are both easier when speaking French, and are likely to engage with the French people a lot more as we continue using it.

 However: recycling ……… at the recycling bins in the village just across the river, in the Gers, …. Saturday morning …… raining (again) ... Lester emptying our dustbin bags of recycling into one of the several bins lined up by the lake. ..... up comes a big, black, four by four car and stops inches  from our little white van, ….. out gets a big man …. who puts on his fancy dancy cowboy-type of hat ….  Ah, I think to myself, a chaise man …… ( local hunter of deer, wild boar, and anything else he can shoot) … he puffs himself up ..... and out comes a bunch of French words  .... they do not sound friendly …. I see Lester puff himself up as well, ..... and I hear him come out with a bunch of French words .... "good ole Duo Lingo I thought to myself" ...... and so on it went.....two men, one French, one English, which already could put them in opposition to each other,  one from the Gers protecting his village's recycling bins and the other from the Haute Pyrenees which is a region who does not have recycling bins. They argued, and argued, and argued, for ages. It was fascinating to watch. All the while I could hear Lester holding his own. I was very proud of him. I saw the French chaisse man deflate, become smaller.

We await the fallout from this confrontation. Apparently we are not allowed to put our recycling in the Gers. It looks like there is still territorial divisions between the various regions, but only with a certain generation of people. I suspect the younger people will not care.

We hear the  news about plastics. We want to recycle our plastics. The Haute Pyrenees does not have any facilities for this. We are obeying the pressure from social media to cut down on our plastics.
So we have bought a little incinerator so we can burn our paper and cardboard. But then that would fall into me encouraging global warming, which we already presumably do with our wood burning Rayburn. This is a no win situation all round. As for our plastics? Oh I shall just put them in the normal dustbin and not sort them out. We keep being told to recycle but.......

And I began thinking that perhaps it was not such good idea to do Duo Lingo. Because if you have a good  French vocabulary then you can have a stupendous argument with someone who is irritating you, but if  you don't have the vocabulary then all you could do is just turn away, or speak in English which is what irritates the French people no end.

Oh well...... such is life....... 

- the good news is that our French is improving.....the not so good news is that we can argue with people if they need to be argued with, or rather, my partner can!
- the good news is that after having months and months of rain, our fields have not flooded, ....  the not so good news is that  the river has remained full up for months, and that when it drops again we expect that a lot of our land will be gone somewhere else because of erosion.
- the good news is that I have become more supple in myself due to the twenty minutes I spend doing Qi Gong from a YouTube video. There is no bad news for this one, but it is proof that at seventy plus the body can be encouraged to move again if it is encouraged to do so. 

Oh! I have a sudden image of chocolate. And blow me down, but there is a bar in the fridge. Sorry, will have to go and satisfy me.

So, bye for now,

Hope all is well with you,


Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Bee Project: Thoughts about keeping bees...........

The Bee Project

Our history with keeping bees,
and my thoughts about what our future direction should be.... 

2013: June 29th: .

.... and the bees had already swarmed...

" Five days later and they were at it again, the first signs being a bunch of them flying around the front of the hive, not seeming to do anything other than hanging around. As the day moved on more bees gathered outside the hive, and as their numbers increased so did their energy, until the air became full of their loud buzzing. Gradually they started flying faster and faster, moving away from the front of the hive to fill the air for quite some distance in front of it.

So what did I do? 
I stood in the middle of them as they flew around me. No need for the protection of a bee suit because they were too busy going through the swarming process to be bothered with me. I was calm and posed no threat, but from time to time a bee would pause in its flight, stop in front of me, and take a look, just to make sure.

But the day was getting on, and I had lunch to prepare. By the time I was finished the bees were beginning to settle together on the lower branches of a nearby tree, and were starting to bunch up. Only a few bees still flying around. 

So I parked myself on a chair near to the swarm, put an umbrella up to shield myself from the sun, and watched. It was absolutely fascinating to watch the swarm tighten up into a ball of bees, and they reached a point when they seemed to quieten, so I said to them,
"If you would like to stay here you will be more than welcome, but if you want to go somewhere else, then that is OK as well". What I meant was that if the swarm stayed on the tree then they would be put into a hive, but if they wanted to go somewhere else then that was alright as well. Giving them a choice is what I was doing.

They went.

I didn't see them go because I was busy elsewhere, but when I saw them gone, I looked up into the sky and wished them bon voyage. It was like sending a grown up child out into the world. 
And it came into my mind, that although we are not exactly the most efficient of bee keepers at the moment because we are not managing the hives well enough to get a honey harvest, (when bees swarm they take the stored honey with them), we are doing our bit towards helping the declining bee population by having a hive which is sufficiently healthy enough to act as a production line for swarms. "


2006: Back in the UK.....

So what do you do if you want to keep bees, but can't do that because you are not living in the right place to do so. Well you buy lots of books about bees, and enrol in a local bee keeping class, that is what you do. 

2008: And now in France....

And then you eventually move to the smallholding, and you do manage to find some bee hives, and you do purchase some bees, and then later on some more bees, and another couple of hives because the first ones were old and rotted, and you speak to a man in a bee shop who sells you a swarm of bees because all the bees you have so far have not survived, so you don't have to purchase another bunch of bees in the post, and that swarm does survive, but then gets eaten by Asian hornets, but not before your efforts to capture a secondary swarm from that hive results in you running off down the nearby lane in an effort to escape the fury of a bunch of bees who did now want to be caught despite you wearing a bee suit which actually let them get inside with you, so then you sort of give up trying to be bee keepers, at least for the time being.

So that is where we are at in regards to keeping bees. And I have to say that of all the animals we have here, the bees might have been the smallest but were the most complicated to look after, but I still have a fondness for them, and am not put off by the difficult attitudes they sometimes display. They are being themselves, that's all.


So, thoughts about keeping bees 

I think a lot was against us when we tried to keep bees.

- First of all we were in a foreign country, and did not have the support structure which we would have done if we have been keeping bees in the UK. Here in France they do not seem to have bee keeping associations which you can go along to to get help and advice, which I think you need when you start keeping bees, although I have noticed that there is more help online nowadays. (2019)

- Second, a lot of other things were happening at the time we kept bees so we were not as attentive to their welfare as we perhaps could have been, this was particularly relevant to the attacks on the hives by Asian hornets. They are a big problem in our area, as is the spraying of chemicals on crops by the farmers, although there has been tighter control of which chemicals are used since we have lived in France. The Asian hornets are less easy to control.

- Thirdly, as I have said, we did not have the time to pay attention to them enough so we could understand their needs.

If you would like to keep bees, then find other bee keepers who will help you in the early stages. Better still, search out a local bee keeping association who will hold training courses to help get you started, plus you will be able to meet other people who are also new to bee keeping.

We bought our first swarm through the post, but I am not sure if that is the best way to start. By the time the package arrived the bees were already irritated with being kept in transit, plus the queen had died.

With our minimal use of the French language at that time, it was impossible for us to contact the seller to get a new queen, but we finally managed to buy a replacement queen from a beekeeper in the UK, who shipped her out to us. But I think it was too late by then for the swarm to settle happily into the hive with her, and within a few weeks all the bees had died.

Our preferred option would be to buy a swarm direct, and this we did. We had found a shop selling bees and equipment a half an hour drive away, which was good. What was not quite so good was the fact that the beekeeper asked us to take the hive to him in which the bees were to be kept, so that he could put our swarm into the hive and settle them down before we brought them back to the farm. Seemed like a good plan at first, but having to drive back home with a hive full of noisy bees in the back seat of the car was, to say the least, scary. In hindsight, we should have taken our trailer down and put the hive in that for transit. We shall know to do that should there be a next time!

But problems surfaced with this swarm, the main one being that there was still no one we could ask when we were unsure of what we needed to do. But we did gain a lot experience through having this hive, including the setting up of a sister hive when the original hive swarmed. It was the Asian hornets which killed both these hives off.

All in all, keeping bees is a wonderful occupation, and I have many blogging friends who are successful in keeping this wonderful little insect, and they inspire me to not to give up the Bee Project forever. 

I am glad we tried to keep bees. I am sad that we were not successful, but I do encourage bees here at Labartere by growing as many flowers as we can, and this year we had lots of visiting bees in the garden, which makes up for us not having our own family of bees.

Bye for now,

Monday, 17 June 2019

The Little Red Squirrel......

The little red squirrel sitting on the  fence pole,
Lester approaching the little red squirrel on his tractor.
He is busy with his Sunday afternoon task of cutting the grass.
He sees the little red squirrel, and the little red squirrel sees him,
Swiftly the little red squirrel turns itself upside down on the fence pole.
It is now part of the fence pole, or so it thinks.
This is a good idea.
Or is it?
Because now a goodly portion of the little red squirrel's fluffy tail is extending beyond the top of the fence pole.
It is like a signpost.
Lester sees the signpost.

Not to worry, onwards Lester goes.
Today is a sunshine day.
It is hot.
He needs to finish today's portion of mowing.
He needs to get indoors for a cool down and a nap.

The little red squirrel thinks its ploy of pretending to be a fence post has won the day.
Lester lets it think so.
Does not holler at it to '****** off!"

He is now past the fence post,
He sees the little red squirrel turn itself around,
Sees it sit itself on top of the fence post.
Sees it observe the fruit above its head
Sees it reach for a fruit,
Sees it take a bite.
For it is a fruit tree under which it is sitting,

But Lester sees all.........
Yet the need to be done with the task of mowing is greater than his urge to protect the fruit of the tree so onwards he goes.
He does not disturb the little red squirrel.
He lets the little red squirrel eat on.

Ah, but the little red squirrel does not like the fruit,
Not yet anyway,
So it turns around and perkily bounces off to investigate elsewhere,
Lester sees it go.
He carries on mowing.......
As I have said, it is hot, hot, hot.

One nap later:

122 peaches picked and laid out on a cotton sheet to continue on their way to ripening.
They are in our back kitchen.
But Lester has left a few peaches on the tree,
For the little red squirrel and others.......

Now.....what am I going to do with all those peaches when they ripen!

Bye for now,