The Apocalypse Pantry

It’s not the end of the world.  As I write this, I am listening to the radio, where sombre voices are speaking of madmen rattling their swords, about missiles, about poisoned eggs, about droughts, floods, forest fires.  Stay indoors.  Cover the windows, cover your eyes.  Be afraid. And I am afraid.

Yet, outside the open door, the sun shines, the swallows loop their exuberant loops, the tomatoes still ripen, and the cat, a cooler head than mine, licks her paws, caring not a jot for the news.  Not the end of the world, then.  Not today.

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At the back of the house there is a room that originally would have been the ‘summer kitchen’.  It would have had a sink, a dirt floor, a fire or oven, little else, and would have been used for cooking in the hot, dry summer months as a way of keeping the main house cool.  Ours has been ‘refurbished’, meaning the floor has been tiled and the walls have been papered, the main result of this being a good deal of dampness.  For the time being, until we get around to getting it back towards its original make-up (never), we are using it as a food store.  The shelves are filled with airtight tubs of dried wild mushrooms,  of canned tomatoes picked from the garden.  Pickles, jams blackcurrant syrup, nettle beer, brined green beans, dehydrated courgettes (and a bubbling demijohn of weird cloudy marrow ‘wine’ that will probably be a solitary pleasure).  It is not enough food to get us through a winter, let alone a nuclear one, though it is a start; we will be self-sufficient in tomatoes until the season is in full swing again next year.

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It is a whispered truth than there was an element of fear for the future in our decision to move towards a self-sufficient lifestyle.  (That’s not quite true.  ML is more positive than I am, and my dark mutterings about storing water, after one too many glasses of wine whilst listening to the radio news are, thankfully, counterbalanced by happier, more reasonable thoughts.)  If things do get difficult, here we are in a better position than most to weather the storm.  A well, chickens, sheep, fruit, vegetables, wild foods.  These may not be our salvation come the end times, but they are surely our salvation in any case. Connected to the land, to the creatures that roam and scuttle, to the sighing plants and, well, everything, we are happy, and healthy, and a part of things. Apocalypse or not.

 

 

The Hive, Part Two: Tea With the Queen.

Read part one here.

Note: bees are complicated, wildly so.  I am not an expert, not even close, and much of what follows is knowledge I have gleaned from books and courses, and some is still controversial in the beekeeping world.  I have provided links to further reading for those that wish it.  I cannot take responsibility for external links.  I do not really see myself as a beekeeper.  I own a hive that bees live in. I am more of a bee-landlord, who will collect rent only if the tenants can afford it.

The next morning, the sky was clear.  We tried to be calm, to go about our morning routine and resist the urge to rush out to the hive and probably knock it over, clumsy humans.  Chickens were fed, Mrs. Badcrumble (our cat) found and given breakfast (she has taken to wandering the land all night, all day, returning only for meals and a belly-rub), vegetable plot and orchard saplings checked over, toast toasted, tea sipped.  Then the moment of truth – were the bees still in the hive?  Or had they absconded, queen and all?  Had they been washed away in the Biblical deluge of the previous evening? (Probably not the last one, I am possibly being a little dramatic.)

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The hive was still standing, next to its empty neighbour (we had hoped a feral swarm might move in, but this was not to be).  We donned our bee-armour and walked through the long grass of the field up to the hives.  The front and the landing board were covered in bees, clinging, climbing, launching themselves in the air and flying in circles around us.  They were still here, for the moment at least.  We opened the little observation window in the back of one of the boxes, and peered in.  Thousands of bees hung from the bars of the top box, in a huge drooping cluster, legs linked in a network, a vibration humming through the whole thing, pulsing in rhythm to a music we could not hear.  It was as if there was a debate going on amongst the swarm, decisions being made about this new space they found themselves in.  A question, a statement, and a ripple of bodies and wings in response.  We replaced the cover of the window and, fascinated, sat in front of the hive, sweating in our protective clothing.  We watched the bees for a full hour, all the grooming and leg-waving, flying and buzzing.  We needed to leave the queen-cage in the hive for at least another day to give the bees a chance to free the queen of their own accord; we would free her ourselves the next day if she was still trapped.  With nothing left to do except wait, we retreated and got on with the day, talking of little else but the bees, returning to the hive every hour or so (just to ‘check’, you know), and I had a little knot of fear/anticipation twisting in my belly at the thought of opening the hive the next day to see if the queen was free, or dead, or simply vanished.  Sleep did not come easily that night.

In the morning (another clear bright day), armed with a lit smoker and a soft brush, we approached the colony.  The smoker is a small can with a spout and some bellows attached.  Filled with wood pellets and ignited, it produces clouds of cool white smoke, the idea being this ‘calms’ the bees.  The smoke simulates a forest fire, causing the bees to gorge on honey and leave the hive, and it is this gorging that helps prevent them from stinging, as a bee with a crop full of honey can’t bend her abdomen round easily to administer the sting.  There is also a suggestion that the smoke masks alarm pheromones, though the mechanism is still not fully understood.  A newly installed swarm such as ours, with no stores of honey, cannot gorge on anything, so the use of the smoker that morning was unnecessary (useless), though at least helped us to feel like we might know what we were doing (we didn’t).

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I removed the top box, heavy with bees, as ML squeezed little puffs of smoke from the smoker, and bees instantly filled the air.  I placed the box aside, careful to not squash anybody, and reached into the remaining one for the queen-cage.  The candy plug was gone, chewed through by the workers from the outside and the queen’s attendants from the inside, and the queen was free.  Puffing more smoke, we gently popped some bars, prepared with wax, into the lower box, and I lifted the top one (still full of the majority of the swarm) and replaced it, ML using the soft brush to encourage any bees to move away from danger of being crushed.  So far so good.  We downed tools and watched as the bees flew in ever decreasing circles around us and the hives, landing in groups of two or three on the landing board and returning to the fold of their companions.

And then, a louder, lower buzz.  A hum, somehow heavier than the other bees, came from somewhere behind my head.  A larger shape was moving in the air, and as it came into focus we could see it was the queen, smoked from the hive by our inexpert processes.  (The queen is larger than the worker bees, and also has a coloured dot on her back, added by the breeders for ease of identification.)  She flew, uncertainly, toward the hive entrance, only to be pushed at by other bees, who were seemingly unhappy with her return.  She flew off again, and we lost sight of her.  We looked at each other.  We looked at the hive.  This was not good.  If the queen was out of the hive, and did not return, the colony was all but lost.

A dark shape appeared on the veil of my bee-suit, crawling left-to-right.  The queen.  She walked across my face-covering, and then took off, flying around us, and then alighted on my arm.  She rested for a moment and took off again, only to return, this time landing on my shoulder.  We whispered to her, encouraging her to go back to the hive (slightly mad, though there is a history of talking to bees).  She made a few exploratory passes of the entrance, waved at by workers, in welcome or not we could not tell, and finally landed, a slight stumble as she did.  And went in.

We watched the hive entrance intently for a long time, expecting the queen to reappear any moment and fly off into the distance, but she did not show herself again.  Within an hour, some routine seemed to return to the swarm, with workers leaving the hive and heading out, hopeful of nectar and pollen to begin constructing comb from wax, to start to store honey, and, most importantly, for the queen to start laying eggs, producing new workers to refresh the colony and build up strength and numbers in preparation for winter, not so far away now.

We were both a little shaken, annoyed with ourselves for risking the queen, for not being careful enough, but all was, we hoped, now okay.  Six weeks later and the colony is still there.  They have filled three quarters of the top box with comb, and we think the queen is laying.  Workers leave in sqaudrons, returning  laden down with nectar, with parcels of pollen attached to their legs.  We visit them every day, more confident now, even foregoing the bee-suits (we do not open the hive, and the bees seem quite content with our company).

We visit in the evenings, feeding a little sugar syrup to help build up food stores for the winter.  We watch the behaviour around the hive for any indications of problems or disease, and check the removable board at the bottom of the hive for varroa mites (as yet, none).  We visit in the morning to say hello, sometimes clutching hot drinks.  We sit, we watch, we sip tea with the queen.

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Locavore Magazine.

Some exciting news – in between wrangling chickens and running away from wasps, I am going to be writing a regular column for Locavore Magazine.  “Who?” I hear you cry. Well, in their own words:

“Locavore is an editorial-led magazine, defined by beautiful photography and intelligent writing. Firmly based in the British Isles, we’ll also roam the world for the best local food stories and the most inspiring people.

Locavore will explore how food is found, grown, prepared and served. We’ll meet foragers, farmers, artisans, teachers and cooks, and learn about their ideas and what motivates them. We’ll discover flavour, variety, method, tradition and ritual.

We’ll look at community projects, networks and campaigns, and investigate the science and effects of modern agriculture and production. We’ll explore food philosophies that put the land, consumer and animal first and contrast these with a globalised food system that homogenises taste and commodifies nature.  And we’ll examine food security and sovereignty within a changing climate.

At 132 pages and perfectly bound, Locavore will be published quarterly and printed to a high eco-standard. It’s available via individual issue sale and subscription. The first issue will be published in March 2017, priced at £8.

Not just another trendy foodies’ magazine, we want Locavore to be the journal of local food, telling stories of slow, seasonal and sustainable eating, engaging in debate and delivering images and writing of the highest quality.”

Which sounds, well, marvellous.

If you should want to subscribe, or buy a copy of the first issue, I can offer a 10% discount. Simply head to http://locavoremagazine.co/shop/ and use the code loc01kj3104 when checking out.  This offer is valid until midnight on 30th April 2017.

Right, off to carry on planting shallots.

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Spring.

Spring, it seems, may finally be here.

It’s been a long, hard winter.  I have spoken of winter at length (thank you for your patience), but now my thoughts and my hands turn to warmer work.

We are still battered by the occasional gale, and in fact a great many trees in the area have succumbed to the winds in recent days, and the local rivers have burst their banks, turning fields into lakes.  We have managed to avoid the worst of this, have not (yet!) lost any trees, and the chickens now seem used to the occasional bath (although they still complain).  We have had no repeat of the now legendary Flood of 2016, and my daily clearing of the ditches and waterways around us seems to be paying off, paying back for the aches it causes.

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The fruit trees we planted are all waking up, little buds popping out along their branches, drinking in the March sunshine.  Daffodils are beginning to flower, tulips are pushing up through the earth, dandelions and daisies and bumblebees and butterflies, new life and hope.

We are visited by bluetits, goldfinches, robins, and the occasional nuthatch.  We have spotted lapwings and storks stopping by for a rest before continuing their migrations.  The buzzards circle in pairs, calling to each other and sending the chickens flapping for cover, tumbling over each other and trying to hide under me.

The cat (Mrs. Badcrumble) was taken to the vet to be spayed, and is, as I type this, sleeping off the effects of anaesthesia, waking now and then to glare at me accusingly and lick her stitches, and I feel like a monster.  The feral cat population in the area is quite large enough already.

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We have started a lot of our vegetables now, and every windowsill in the house plays host to trays and trays of seedlings.  We are growing things we did not attempt in the UK, such as sweet peppers and aubergines, in the hope that the hotter, longer summer will produce good specimens, and ML has planted over 40 tomato plants, which we hope will yield well, so we can preserve enough by drying and canning to see us through next winter.

We have worked hard at improving the clay soil that we have, adding topsoil and well-rotted horse manure, and the pile of kitchen compost grows ever bigger.  I hope to get to a point where the soil is much improved and we can leave it alone as much as possible.  Soil structure is paramount, and any digging or tillage can ruin this, as well as causing loss of nutrients.  We are experimenting with permaculture and no-dig methods, and are planning a small forest garden next year, and we hope for a good harvest.  I have been attempting to coypu-proof the veg garden with chicken wire and rocks, and I will be glad if  they and we can be good neighbours.

There is a chap that ML’s dad used to work with who keeps bees, and he has promised us a swarm (he does not prevent his from doing so), which means we will have bees already adapted to the local environment.  They will swarm sometime in May, all being well, so we are preparing the hive with a final coat of linseed oil, we will rub grass on the inside to make it smell less of human, we will put some lines of wax on the top-bars to encourage comb production, and we will be stupidly excited when they arrive.

The variety of wildlife around the farm in astounding.  When I foraged in the UK I would trek from forest to field in search of spots for wild spring greens.  I had good spots for many edibles, but they were often miles apart.  But here, just on our own land, I have found wild mint, wintercress (bitter!), chickweed, nettle, dead-nettle, hogweed, crow-garlic, dandelion, hairy bittercress (neither bitter nor hairy, confusingly), common sorrel, and comfrey (with which we shall make a foul-smelling tea for the garden).  A bowl of some of these plants dressed in some good oil and vinegar is a welcome crunch, and a taste of things to come.  I have found a spot for wild garlic (I would searched far and wide for this as it is essential, luckily I have found a good patch some half a mile away, in the same forest that provided such a glut of wild mushrooms last year), and when we visited today to pick a little for dinner, we spotted a pair of Alpine newts.  This bodes well, I have decided.  I plan on making enough wild garlic pesto to keep us in easy suppers for the rest of the year, as well as lacto-fermenting some for kimchi or just on its own, a salty crunchy pungent hit of microbiome health food.

The birds sing, the signs are good, and if the coypu eat all my tomatoes it will be roast coypu and wild kimchi for dinner, with a glass of nettle beer.

Booze.

Patience is required.  Although I wish that spring were here, it stubbornly refuses to be anything other than winter.  For every beautiful, frosty morning, there is a day like today, when the clouds hang low and dew forms in my beard when I step outside.  I can confirm that it does, indeed, drizzle in France.  I have planted trees, but they do not yet bear fruit.  I have dug vegetable beds, but they are still naked earth.  The beehive is an empty mansion, awaiting the waggle-dance of its masters.  Patience is required.

I had grown used to life in the city, where everything is available on-demand.  The shops and the bars are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (or near enough), I could buy any food or drink or ingredient I desired, at any hour, any time of year.  When one is able to access anything, anytime, the value of all is lost, becomes meaningless.  The recent ‘lettuce crisis’ is a case in point.  Why are we eating imported, often tasteless, lettuces and courgettes in January?  At what cost?  Why are we not waiting with baited breath for those first crisp leaves, in season?  We are accustomed to reaching out and having our cups filled with whatever we want.

As a side note, there is plenty of crunch to be foraged in the forests and fields at this time of year.  Wild winter salads are a marvel.

The shops here in Burgundy close for lunch.  They are shut on Sundays.  They often only open in the mornings on a Saturday.  I have to wait.  I am more aware of the worth of it, I think, for this very reason.  It is a small thing, though important.

As my own apples are at least a few years away, I am lucky that ML’s brother has an orchard in the village, a scant mile or so away.  It produces more apples than he can sensibly cope with, so we, selflessly, spent a happy afternoon in the late autumn sun collecting box after box.  Some we have stored to feed to the chickens (they of refined taste).  Some I cooked down into a compote.  The rest I pressed into juice.

Not possessing a scratter (the marvellous name for the mill one uses to crush apples), I resorted to improvising; a bucket and a sledgehammer and aching shoulders the morning after.  The apples were smashed and then pressed in the hand-turned fruit press we share with the rest of ML’s family, and the resulting juice was the colour of caramel, cloudy, and the sweetest thing I have ever tasted.  We bottled around 20 litres, drank some, froze some, gave some away.  Another 20 litres I decided to turn into cider.

I had never made cider before.  I’ve brewed beer (from kits) and country wines and elderflower fizz and nettle beer, but never cider.  I read on the subject a great deal beforehand, and everything indicated that drinkable cider was not an easy thing to achieve.  Vinegar was probable.  Success, it seemed, was not.  There are many ways to brew cider; measuring of sugar content and acidity, adjusting specific gravity (oh the irony, Mr. Newton), pectic enzymes, double fermentation, it all seemed a bit daunting.  So I decided to go full rustic.  I transferred the apple juice to a fermenting bucket, gave it a good stir, covered it with a tea towel, and put it by the fire.  After a week, it had certainly started to ferment, fizzing and frothing weirdly.  I fitted an airlock, and left it.

I am reminded of a recipe I came across for ‘hobo wine’: take 5 litres of grape juice, leave it in the sun for a month, drink it.

The maybe-cider sat for 4 months, seemingly doing nothing.  Fermentation appeared to stop after a few weeks, but I left it alone, too afraid of failure to test it.  Yesterday I summoned up the courage to bottle it (if that is not an oxymoron).

And it is, in fact, perfectly good.  A little flat in its ‘mouth feel’, not exactly delicious, but not too acidic, not sweet (which means most of the sugar is now alcohol), not too dry, not ‘eggy’ as some scrumpy can be.

Free booze.  It was worth the wait.

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Builders and Beehives

dscf4037Winter is all about preparing for spring. We tidy and dig and prune trees and wait and wait. We choose and buy seeds, and I’m already planning what to cook, preserve, and ferment with the produce we’ll grow. Next year we’ll save our own seed, but this year we buy what we need from the good folks at the Real Seed Catalogue, who specialise in heritage and non-hybrid varieties, along with a good deal of things you won’t find in your garden centre, like oca and cinnamon vine (no, I don’t know either).

dscf3989Mist hugs the fields, crystals of hoar-frost crisscross the hedgerows, and the oak trees all shimmer and glitter, white, like the frozen skeletons of gigantic ancient creatures (which they are, of course).

The builders have been here for a couple of weeks, repairing some rotten timber at the edges of the roof (don’t mention the problem with rest of the roof and it might go away), filling in holes in the earthen walls (holes, apparently, made by cows licking at minerals in the rock – I am unable to get over this fact), removing render from one end of the house, ready to replace it with a better lime-based one, and making a huge amount of noise.  The cat is furious.

Our house is old.  How old, we don’t know.  Over the last few months we have uncovered dscf3976many oddities in its construction.  It is a farmhouse made of a material called pisé – essentially a mix of earth, sand, and gravel.  It’s a very environmentally sound material, and long-lasting if treated properly.  Ours has not been treated properly.  It has been covered in a concrete render that does not allow it to ‘breathe’, which it needs to be able to do as it basically a giant sponge.  The lime render we are putting on one end wall will alleviate this, and we’ll eventually do the rest of the house when funds allow (never).  The walls have been repaired and rebuilt many times over the years, with an interesting mix of brick, breeze-blocks, stone, and Lego (maybe not Lego).  We also discover that the whole roof has been raised at some point to allow rooms to be placed in what used to be simple hay-lofts, and now seems to rest on piles of bricks that look alarmingly tipsy.  We are assured that this is safe and normal, but I feel my scales for safe and normal may be a little different.  It seems we may be repairing the house for the rest of time.  Time, though, is something we have.

The next big project outside is the start of our bee empire.  We are starting with two hives, and will expand if it seems necessary and I am not chased into the river by bees.

About eighteen months ago we went on a two day ‘natural beekeeping’ course (run by Heather and Tim of Bee the Change), which was fascinating and inspiring.  Natural beekeeping is more about the bees, less about the keeping.  Chemical fungicides and miticides are not used, the hives are opened and interfered with as little as possible, and honey is only taken if there is a true surplus (if ever).  Swarming is not discouraged (queens are regularly killed to stop bees from swarming in commercial beekeeping and, as swarming is part of their natural reproductive cycle, this seems a tad mean).  The queen is allowed to roam the whole hive (not the case in commercial keeping).  They are, in essence, allowed to be bees.

Bees are a vital part  of the ecosystem, and having a hive or two close by is beneficial for everything.  Our fruits and vegetables will have higher pollination rates, and thus higher yields, and all will be right with the world.

dscf4010We have decided on a hive type called a Warré, which is slightly different to the usual ones you may have spotted around the UK.  There are no ‘frames’ restricting the construction of the wax honeycomb, meaning the bees can build in their natural drooping architecture. Any new boxes are added at the bottom of the hive, rather than the top as is the case with UK ‘National’ hives, with the hope that this keeps the atmosphere and temperature within the hive – so carefully managed by the bees themselves – at a constant, and stresses the occupants to a minimum.  The bees will then migrate down into the lower box, leaving an upper one full of honeycomb, which we will harvest if, and only if, we judge it safe to do so whilst leaving the bees with enough honey to see them through the winter.

A bee colony is a mind-bogglingly complicated society of queen and drones and workers and larvae, and the more I read the more I am hooked, the more I cannot wait to don my suit, to sit and watch their comings and goings.  My one worry is if I worry about the chickens so much, I can see myself camping out by the hives to ward of any invading wasps or errant birds, becoming more and more crazed until I, myself, begin to buzz and waggle.

I am oiling the wood of the hives with linseed oil, as a natural preservative, and we may paint the hives with some natural paints (the hives at Bee the Change are painted bright and bold with flowers and colours).  When ready, we’ll situate them at the end of the stretch where we have planted our fruit trees, facing South and slightly raised.  We are planting many plants and flowers that are beneficial to the bees, providing as much forage for them as we can.

We have decided on black bees (Apis mellifera mellifera), native to Europe.  They are considered to be more aggressive and less easy to handle (yay) than the more commonly kept western honey bee (Apis melliferaconfusingly), but are hardier, with more resistance to the dreaded varroa mite (more on these beasties another time).  We will buy a swarm, which will come in a box.  We will then, gently and slightly nervously, introduce them to their new home.  We will stalk the fields in our beekeepers suits, like astronauts awaiting first contact.  We will not consider taking any honey for at least the first eighteen months.

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Much has been made of colony collapse and bee population decline, and we hope our hives, left pretty much to their own devices, will in some small way help to restore a balance.

A jar or two of honey will be a gift, if they choose to give.

What We Learned From the Flood.

dscf3384When I was a child, we had an orchard.  I remember the day we moved in to that house like it was yesterday.  Me and my sister paced the length and breadth of the field, wading through grass as tall as we were.  We’d never seen so much space.  I remember dragging an old plastic sled around in the autumn, loading up apples for cider-making.  I remember picking ripe fruit from the branches, all crunch and sweet and juice like an ideal of apple. I remember climbing the trees in the spring, camouflaged in blossom.  I remember my Dad hanging swings for us to swing on, higher, higher.  I would lie in the tall grass in the summer, looking up at the blue sky, framed in blades, birdsong, buzz.  I remember.

The plan, such as there is ever a plan, is to create an orchard in the part of the field that adjoins our vegetable garden.  We will plant apples (of course), pears, quinces, cherries, plums, we will sow wild flowers, we will put the beehives here, and it will marvellous.

Winter is the traditional time to plant fruit trees, and our local garden centre had a ‘tree dscf3874day’ – special offers on trees, a talk on how to plant and tend them, a very lovely and knowledgable lady who helped us choose varieties that will pollinate each other and give a long harvest, rather than a week of oh-my-days-how-much-fruit?  So we bought two apple-trees (a Starking and a Reine des Reinettes), two pear-trees (a Conference and a William), one quince (a Portugal), and one cherry (a Sunburst).  ML’s brother loaded them up into his dscf3867trailer, and we took our new arrivals home to introduce them to the chickens and the cat.

After a day of digging holes, I went to bed, tired, sore, excited.  When the topsoil arrives, I thought (three tonnes of good earth; ours is a little clay-like), I can soak the roots of the trees, and get them in the ground.  I slept very well.

Then came the flood.

The next morning ML got up early to feed the chickens.  I stayed in bed for a few more moments, encouraging my stiffened limbs into some semblance of life and usefulness. Rising, I opened the shutters of our bedroom to be presented with a scene from a John Wyndham novel (specifically The Kraken Wakes – read it, it may stand you in good stead for the future).  The entire vista in front of the house had been transformed into a great silvered mirror, and the clouds above were dark and furrow-browed, moving too fast.  The chickens were huddled on a rapidly diminishing island in the middle of their run (should we have got ducks?), the cat appeared to be doing the backstroke, and ML was nowhere to be seen.dscf3892

I dressed hurriedly, pulled on my wellies, and waded out into the water.  It had not (yet) reached the house; panic did not (yet) set in.  ML reappeared from the lane that runs past the farm.  “We need to do something about this,” she said, and took me to the drainage ditches that separate the lane from our hedgerows, all along one side of the property.  They were clogged with branches and twigs and brambles and leaves, and rapidly filling with water.  So much so, in fact, that they could not cope with the deluge and eventually burst their banks.  The garden was underwater, the chickens were now balanced on top of one another, the lane became a river, and the water was gradually encroaching on the house.  I donned my overalls and plunged knee-deep into the ditch and began furiously pulling out the material causing the blockage, while ML did the same a little down-stream, in an attempt to encourage the water to pass us by, to not stay for tea.  It worked, to an extent, in that the water got no deeper, although neither did it start to recede.

I dug a ditch in the ground to drain the chicken run.  The chickens thought me mad, and told me so as I worked, but it was successful, and their island began to get bigger.

dscf3885I did this for seven hours (ML had to work).

When ML finished work, we jumped in the car and aquaplaned to Marcigny, and bought some sandbags.  We rushed back and used them to block up our driveway.  Miraculously this seemed to help, and the water in front of the house began to disappear, even as the lane became more submerged.

Satisfied that we had done all we could (would it be enough?), we went inside, closed the shutters, opened a bottle, and waited with crossed fingers.

We awoke to mist, but no rain, and the flood had all but vanished.  There remained a little water in the chicken run, and the holes I had dug for the trees were filled to the brim.  Well, I thought, that will delay the planting a little.

We are reassured to learn that this was an exceptional event, and that we need not buy a boat quite yet (although we are likely to have more, less severe, floods once or twice a year).

Five days later, no more rain, and the tree-holes are still full, the water having failed to drain away.  No good for fruit trees, who will do badly (die) if their roots are submerged for any period of time longer than a day or two (charmingly referred to as wet feet).

I do a little digging tour of the field, exploring how far down the water is.  It is similar in almost every place, and I am disheartened.  More work to do, then, putting some drainage in the field to we can grow more than watercress (I do like watercress, though am unsure I could live on it).  I am glad of the flood, we would have merrily planted the trees and then watched them wither and die (rather less merrily), if not for the warning the water gave us.  A silver lining, then.

I have found a spot in the field where we can plant the six trees we have, but we will then need to complete the drainage before we can expand the orchard as planned.

And the bees?  A hive on stilts?  Can I rig up a floating beehive?  Can bees swim?  Bee-snorkels?  All these questions (maybe not the last one) will be answered in the spring, when we get our hives and source our bees.

I remember those sun-dappled orchard hours, and we will get there again, but the path will be longer than it looked.  As it ever is.

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