Preparing The Ground

An overnight storm on New Year’s Day toppled nearby trees bringing down the telephone line, leaving us without wi-fi and a ‘phone for the next seven days. We busied ourselves in the garden, clearing leaves to prevent moss taking over the lawn. By the end of that week we filled 100 bags, each one laden with 100 litres of leaves. We own a small parcel of woodland so that became our dumping ground until we could construct two compost bins on the patch we had designated as our vegetable garden, or potageras they say in French.

We’re enthusiastic novice gardeners and creating a potager was something we had always wanted to do. So that, along with getting to grips with complex French administration and setting up the chambre d’hôtes, were our main priorities for the next few months. 

Most of our fields are leased to a farmer who maintains them and grows crops for his dairy herd. Fortunately he had already ploughed a strip of land which could be used to create the potager. Using the whole strip would be an overly ambitious start up project for novices so we decided to use half, about 100m2 in total. After a few days rotavating, hard graft for Neil who had never before used a rotavator, the soil was well prepared for its first planting. 

By now we were regular visitors at Jardinerie Deschamps, the friendly garden centre in Belvès, and had chosen seven fruit trees to plant, Christmas presents from our family. The helpful Frank advised us, as he continues to do each time we visit to buy plants or gardening materials, often armed with a pad and pencil to draw pictures or using expressive gestures to help overcome the language barrier. Whenever we visit he is immediately attentive, trying out his English and working hard to understand our developing French and accents. He’s become our very own personal shopping assistant and it’s surprising how detailed are our chats. So on a cold, wet February day we successful planted apple, cherry, pear and peach trees finishing in the dark around seven in the evening, bones aching from the bitter cold and biting wind that had set in towards the end of the day. The trees have taken off during the Summer months and, hopefully, will start to bear fruit next year.

Before continuing to plant up the rest of the potager we built two large compost bins from pallets scrounged for free from a builders’ merchants near Monpazier, a stunning bastide village about 15 minutes drive from home. We also needed to find a way of protecting the future fruit and vegetables from the local wildlife. Deer, boar and rabbits frequently visit the domaine and a ready source of food would be too good an opportunity for them to pass on! David worked hard putting posts in place for an electric fence. Even harder when he had to dig a trench 2 metres wide by 1 metre deep to bury the earth wire to which he connected the solar electric generator. Once constructed, testing the fence provided David with lots of amusement. Neil touched it to check it was working. Nothing at first but David continued to crank up the power. On the fourth attempt, a surge of electricity shot through Neil’s chest and arm causing him to jump back into the farmer’s field, flattening some of the newly sown wheat crop in the process!

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