Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Hungry Gap

Posted by Rosie

This time of year is what vegetable growers often refer to as "The Hungry Gap".  Outdoor winter vegetables are just about finished, summer ones are not yet cropping and the stores are all but empty.  We have 3 rather sad pumpkins left, no potatoes, no onions and no outdoor leeks.  The remaining parsnips, kale and brussels have gone or are going to seed.  In the past this was a very bad time for people who had no shops supplying vegetables and fruit of every conceivable type all year round.  We take it for granted that we can have what-ever we fancy but this really is a new concept and in years gone by people often went hungry at this time of year.  They supplemented their diet with what they could forage for and would have preserved what they could in salt but pickings were meagre and stomachs were rarely full.

For those people like us here at Eco-Gites of Lenault who aim to be as self sufficient as possible the Hungry Gap is ameliorated thanks to 2 modern lifesavers - the polytunnel and the freezer.  The polytunnel brings vegetable harvests forward by several weeks and the freezer means we can preserve the excess harvest of one year to see us through until the following year.  We do not head to bed hungry.

When we sat down to our stir-fry last night a good chunk of the vegetables we ate either came from our polytunnel or the freezer.  Here's a taste of what we are currently harvesting:


Peas (wish I had sown more as these have done very well this year)

Broad beans.  Shhhh, don't tell anyone but so far none have made it back to the kitchen as I have eaten them all straight from the pod!


Salad leaves including these peppery nasturtium leaves and their even more peppery flowers.


Add to these leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuces, oriental greens and chard and we are not short of fresh veg.  The rhubarb is also going great guns outside and we still have plenty of last year's harvest in the freezer.  All I can say is we are very lucky to live in 2014 and 1014!

Are you harvesting anything right now?  Why not see if any of the other gardeners are who have linked up with Annie's How Does Your garden Grow linky over at Mammasuarus.

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Butterflies galore but where are the ladybirds?

Posted by Rosie

Peacock butterfly.  Image from Butterfly Conservation 
After a Winter with no snow and no prolonged cold spell, it would appear that the butterfly populations have benefited greatly.  From the first sightings of yellow Brimstones and watchful Peacocks with their huge warning "eyes" in February there has been a positive explosion of butterflies this year.  Luckily the wild flowers are fantastic this year too so there is plenty of nectar for these much loved insects.

Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Commas and others I don't recognise have all been fluttering aroung in large numbers this year.  Today I saw my first Orange Tips and yesterday a Blue.  As a vegetable gardener though I have to say the Cabbage Whites are a bit less welcome as I sense they are already eyeing up my cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.  Caterpillar control will be starting early this year!

Despite all these colourful butterflies fluttering I have still not seen a ladybird this year.  Lily Beetles - yes, Carpenter, Honey and Bumble bees a plenty but no ladybirds.  And I know other people have as I have seen pictures on their blogs but I haven't.  Stamps foot!

So, no ladybird pictures and I'm afraid my camera skills are not up to snapping butterflies .... you will have to make do with this butterfly that I caught a couple of years ago.  

In England they are very rare and restricted to East Anglia.  Over here in France they are more common although we are at the Northern end of the range so do not see them every year.  It is a Swallowtail butterfly.  The caterpillars feed on plants of the carrot family including dill and fennel and are as fabulous looking as the adult.  They even have small red "horns" they protrude in a seemingly menacing manner when threatened. The adults are on the wing in July and August so Summer guests may have the chance of seeing them.

Have you noticed greater numbers of butterflies this year and have you seen a ladybird?  On second thoughts, don't tell me if you have seen the latter or I may well sulk!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Thrill Seeking in Normandy!

Posted by Rosie

One of the things we most pride ourselves on here at Eco-Gites of Lenault is offering our guests peace and quite, time to relax and get away from it all for a while.  We have no immediate neighbours (if you don't count the animals) and the nearest road is 300m away .... and it is incredibly quiet anyway!

But what if you are looking for something a bit more exciting?  What if you want to get your heart racing?  Fear not, we can oblige.  Well, not us personally but around and about there is plenty to do that will get the adrenalin pumping thorough your veins.

Photo from Calvados Tourism
Horse riding 
There are 2 local riding stables where you can walk, trot or canter round the local footpaths or why not head up to the beach at Ouistreham where you'll get to gallop along the beaches?  Guests last year said it was the most invigorating ride they had ever had!

Mountain biking 
Bring your own bike or you can hire them in Clécy and enjoy the ups and downs of our beautiful Normandy countryside.

Car Rally
OK so this is more of a spectator sport but the Annual Swiss Normandy Car Rally comes down our road in April every year.  It does mean access in and out of here is limited and for that reason we offer a reduced rate for anyone whose stay includes the rally. This year it is on Saturday 26th April - 3 night stay reduced from £195 to £150 and a reduction is also possible for longer stays including the Saturday.  Further details are here.

Kayaking and Canoeing 
If water sports is your thing you can canoe or kayak on both rivers and lakes locally.  For children under 8 you can take the more gentle route of pédalos, rowing or even electric boats!

Rock climbing
On the cliffs above Clécy there are a number of marked ascents you can do - bring your ropes etc and up you go!

If you don't have your own climbing gear then why not do the cliff-side walk also at Clécy - climb up narrow ladders set into the cliff and then across the cliff face on a series of rope and plank walk getting back to ground level via a 250m zip wire.  It sets my heart racing just thinking about it but the boys, friends and Simon all had a go last Summer and said it was fantastic!

Tree top walks 
For more high walking what about a treetop walk?  There are various locations locally where routes have been set high up in the tops of the trees and those a bit lower down for younger children, so you can to feel like our ancestors up in the tree tops (with the added benefit of ropes to clip you safely on!).  A great family outing for those who like heights!

Photo from AJ Hackett
Viaduct de Souleuvre 
Here things are a bit more serious!  For everyone there is a giant toboggan run - 1km long where you can reach speeds of up to 42kms per hour.  For the more daring souls what about the 2 giant swings over 60m above the ground where you can swing from 0-120 km/phr in 3.5 seconds?  However possibly the biggest attraction at Souleuvre is bungee jumping.  For those foolish brave enough you can throw yourself off the Viaduct down to the river blow with nothing more than a giant piece of knicker elastic to save you! Would you do it?

Or what about what may be the ultimate thrill and what one of our guests this weekend did - paragliding at Saint Omer!  This is possibly the world's most appallingly edited video but I think you'll get an idea of what you could be doing if you had a go.  Are you brave enough to try?


If thrill seeking is what you are after then there is plenty to do in Normandy.  Some of these activities have age restrictions and others are for adults only but a lot (riding, biking, tree top walks, boating and the giant toboggan) are possible even with very young children.

Do you enjoy thrill seeking?  Have you set your heart racing doing any of these activities?  Please do let us know!  
Travel Tuesday

 photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Monday, 14 April 2014

One Swallow does not a Summer make ...

Posted by Rosie

.... but it means it's definitely on it's way and I saw the first 3 swallows of 2014 on Saturday at the neighbouring village of Pontécoulant.

I love swallows - I love their colour, I love their their shape and I love the way they swoop through the skies searching for insects and dip low over ponds to scoop up water. I also completely admire the fact that a bird that weights no more than 25g can fly 6000 miles from South Africa to Northern Europe, twice a year for as long as they live.  They fly 200 miles a day at an average speed 20 miles per hour taking a month to complete their journey.  It truly is a feat of nature that we can go nowhere near to matching.

Is it any wonder any bird survives this journey?  Whilst a lot do others do not make it.  Each year countless birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms.  4 years ago this swallow arrived here at Eco-Gites of Lenault and I found it lying on the front drive, exhausted, panting and barely alive.  

It would had flown up from South Africa, diverted along the west coast to avoid The Sahara Desert and flown on into Morocco before crossing the Pyrenees and eventually ending up here.  Swallows always return to the area near to where they were hatched and breeding birds return to use the same nests year after year.  How they navigate back to the same place is still not fully understood.

I drip fed it a little water but sadly it died a few minutes later in my hand, a brave little soul that had pushed itself to the absolute limit.  It did however give the boys and us the chance to have a really good look at this marvel of nature before we buried it near to where it fell.

For the last 2 years we have had very few swallows here - 2 years ago we had none and last year we had a few around, but none breeding.  It was so sad not to see the eager beaks of youngsters stretching out from the nests as the parents returned to feed them or see the aerial acrobatics of the adults as we looked out of the window. 

It did however mean we could go in the feed shed or pig pens without the risk of having a swallow crashing into us and did not find swallows sitting on our clothes drier!  However I can put up with that if it means we can have our breeding swallows back. Hopefully 2104 will see swallows once again breeding at Eco-Gites of Lenault ... please!

For me, having swallows around is both magical and ordinary.  It's magical what they go through to get here yet we almost take them for granted all Summer until one day in Autumn they are gone again.  And in between they swoop a thousand times above our heads and weave a thousand stories.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Stade Francais v Harlequins, Amlin Cup ¼ Finals

Stade Jean Bouin
Our trip to Paris started by me seeing that Harlequins were playing Stade Francais at the Stade Jean Bouin on the Friday evening.  The may problem was that the match started at 9pm and wouldn't finish until 11pm, so getting back home would be difficult.  Hence the plan to stay for the weekend plus it coincided with our 20th Wedding Anniversary.  Although it was only Tom and I going to the match.

Interesting Design
We all walked to the Stade from the place we were staying and  arrived a little before the kick off.  We were glad we did as firstly the stadium itself was a rather interesting design and worth looking at.  Secondly there was a great atmosphere  around the place.  A jazz band were playing and a kids mini rugby match was taking place.  All very welcoming and Ben nearly joined Tom and I going to the game. 

Inside the Stade, we found our seats and found the place stunning.  I think wherever we sat the view would have been excellent.  Plus the evening sky made for an lovely backdrop.

Great View and Sky

Nick Evans and 3 points
The match was good fun and some excellent rugby was played.  Overall Harlequins were the better side although Stade Francais made a couple of nail biting runs in the second half, but their handling was not good nor their kicking.  Nick Evans kicked a wonderful drop goal as well as conversions and penalties, plus great tries from Mike Brown and Molenaar.

Happy Quin's Fans

Both Tom and I enjoyed both the match and the atmosphere. And the whole thing made better by Quins winning 29 points to 6 and going through to the semi finals against Northampton Saints on the 25th April.  That will be a tougher game I think.

Silent Sunday - April 13th 2014

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Flower Power

Posted by Rosie

I love nothing more than having my hands covered in the soil from my vegetable patch.

Even more than that, I love seeing Ben's hands covered in the same soil as he helps me sow seeds!

Sowing flower seeds

This time it is flower seeds and we are setting up our flower area at one end of the veg patch:

  • It will look lovely
  • It will attract bees
  • It will give us cut flowers to put in the gite to welcome guests.

Flower patch - September 2012

Do you have any flower favourites you like to sow every year.  Do let us know!

Friday, 11 April 2014


Posted by Rosie 

The Reading Residence


past tense of fleece

informal - obtain a great deal of money from (someone), typically by overcharging or swindling them.

Those of you who saw my post earlier in the week about our week-end trip to Paris will see that we had a great time.   There was however one rather large fly in the ointment that did put a bit of a damper on our trip, namely that we were totally fleeced by the restaurant where we ate on Saturday evening.

To be avoided :(
It was a small family run place just across the roundabout from our flat.  It looked lovely and when Ben and I walked past it having dropped Simon and Tom at the rugby the night before the food smells coming from it smelt delicious.  It was pricey but we accepted that Paris prices are more than Normandy and it had the advantage of being really close so there was no need to drive to it.  

Unfortunately it turned out to be a very bad choice.

Initially it was fine - the ambiance was good and we perused the menu salivating ever so slightly at the thought of the French culinary delights we were about to eat.  So 18€ for a piece of salmon is expensive and 25€ for some John Dory VERY expensive but this was for our 20th wedding anniversary so we were happy to push the boat out a bit.  Hang on though - those prices EXCLUDED extras such as veg or salad which were 4€ each.  Hmmmmm.  Not good.

We ordered and then we waited.  In fairness it wasn't too long in coming but then they weren't exactly heaving with customers.  When it did arrive there were bits were missing - a portion of chips and only afterwards did we realise that Simon's fish from the Specials Board was supposed to come with spinach and it hadn't.  My salmon came with what the waiter called purée, in other words mashed potato but I can say that what I got was NOT purée.  It was a small bowl of almost liquid potato with some odd green bits in it.  How I was meant to eat this with a fork was beyond me.  My salmon was was well cooked but Simon said his John Dory was overcooked.  Ben's steak hâché (burger) was OK but in France you are always asked how you want your burger cooked (well done, rare etc) and he wasn't, although luckily it came out how he liked it.  Tom's mussels were small and the sauce very odd.  All this came to 63€.  Add in a bottle of wine at 28€ (nice but probably about 6€ wholesale) plus 2 soft drinks and the bill came to 107€.  We didn't stop for dessert and went to leave still feeling hungry and definitely feeling fleeced.  On the way out we spoke to a waiter and aired our complaints but he simply shrugged his shoulders and said that was Paris prices, no mention of the poor food.  He was neither surprised or concerned,

Later we had a bit of a search online and all too quickly on TripAdviser and a French restaurant review site we found that Le Parc, Rue de Château, Boulogne-Billancourt has some very poor reviews.  It would appear they rely on passing tourist trade not expecting diners to return and fleece them for what-ever they can.  

We wrote our negative reviews on both sites as we filled up with cake I had brought with us.  When writing a review for our apartment we said what a bad meal we had had at Le Parc and suggested to the owner that he warn other guests from going.  Anyone can have a one off bad meal or something they don't particularly like - but this was not a one off - it was deliberate over-pricing of poorly prepared food.  It wasn't what we had hoped to have for this special meal.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Bit of a Squash?

Posted by Rosie

Here at Eco-Gites of Lenault we like Pumpkins and Squashes.  We like them a lot!  Every year I like to try at least one new variety but I find it hard not to grow the ones I also like from previous years .... which is why every year I grow far too many of them!  No matter - the fact is they store well, can be made into sweet and savoury dishes, can be frozen for later use and if they start to go a bit manky they get fed to the pigs who love them!!

This week I have been sowing them as well as cucumbers and courgettes.  Lots of them!  No need to sow marrows though as you can guarantee I will miss a courgette somewhere along the way and within a day or so it will have grown to the size of a marrow!
Squash and Pumpkin Seeds 2014

Pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, melons, marrows and courgettes all belong to the same family called the curcabits.  They are all very tender plants and will shrivel at the slightest whiff of frost so I am taking a bit of a risk sowing them this early.  I have however retained half the seeds in case I need to sow more later on.  A word of caution though.  If you have tried to save seeds from a favourite pumpkin etc - the curcubit family are a rather promiscuous lot and will cross pollinate with anyone else in the same family.  Like as not you could end up with a cucuquash or pumpgette and it probably won't taste that good!

As for where I will plant them all that is something I will have to work out later - this was my pumpkin patch and harvest from 2 years ago!  It's always a bit of a squash but I will get them in somewhere and have even been known to plant them in an empty pig pen!

Pumpkin Patch 2012

Pumpkin Harvest 2012

One thing though does puzzle me - what exactly is a Squash and what is a Pumpkin?  Is anyone able to enlighten me?  

Finally remember those little lettuce seedling I planted  in the polytunnel back in mid February?  They are doing well and we ate the first one yesterday together with some other cut and come again salad leaves and a couple of edible but peppery nasturtium flowers.  The freshest salad anywhere I reckon! 

First Garden Salad of 2014

Are you growing any Pumpkins or Squashes this year and if so do you have a favourite variety?  After all I am always willing to try another new variety next year!

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fifty Shades of Green

Posted by Rosie

This meme popped up on my Facebook page yesterday and various friends and I were discussing how well (or not) we are doing at Eco-Gites we certainly drink tap water, nearly always shower (or share bath water!), have meat-free days and eat pretty much all of what we buy.  Where we do rather fail is bicycle use.  The boys do cycle or walk to the village to pick up the school bus when they can but overall one of the disadvantages of rural living is increased car usage compared to city dwellers.   

Some-one else then joined in our Facebook conversation and was quite adamant we should actually be eating more meat, not less.  

The argument against eating meat is a strong one.  It takes far more land and water to produce a comparable weight of meat to vegetables.  Virgin forest is being cleared for rearing animals and with the trees gone and overgrazing, the result is often large scale soil erosion.  With an increasing population and many millions starving can it make sense to be eating more meat when the same amount of land could produce vegetables to feed far more people? 

A considerable amount of meat eaten in the UK today still comes from unethical producers, often outside of the UK, by farmers (and I use that word with caution) who rear their animals in a far from sustainable manner.   Animals are kept 24/7 in vast factory farms where the death rate is high.  To try and reduce death rates, the animals are routinely treated with antibiotics regardless of whether they need them or not. The producers naturally wish to maximise their profits so the animals are pumped with growth hormones and grow at an unnaturally fast rate, often resulting in the likes of chickens being unable to walk due to their weight .... not that they have far to go in their massive sunless prisons, factory farms anyway.  These animals, having never seen the light of day are then transported, crammed into lorries, often over great distances to be slaughtered in far from humane conditions at a massive abattoir.  To further increase profit the meat may be pumped with water (think of those lovely “plump” chicken breasts you see for sale) that shrink so much when you cook them as the water evaporates away.

Buying this cheap meat may be good for your pocket but not for the animal or for the environment.  And what about those antibiotics and growth hormones?  Can you be sure there are not traces in these in the meat?  Do you really want to be eating these with their negative health effects?

So why was this lady on Facebook so insistent that we should be eating more meat?  Let me explain - she is in the meat industry producing ethically reared meat – the animals are out in the fields as long as the weather permits and fed as naturally as possible.  Her argument is that far from eating LESS meat, we should be eating more meat, but more “GOOD” meat likes hers.  This is perhaps a fair point.  She also argued that if someone shifts from eating meat one day a week to a pre-packed, highly processed vegetarian dish made from vegetables routinely sprayed with pesticides then the environmental benefits are zero or may actually be worse. Is she right?  She could be although she could also be wrong.  One could still argue that her meat may be ethical and well reared but surely the land where the cattle graze could produce far more vegetable protein to feed far more people than her cows can?   And vegetables should produce less methane, a greenhouse gas that cows pump out as bovine wind in great quantities.

Who ultimately is right?   The ethical cattle farmer who says that we should be eating more meat and not “demonising” meat production or the meme producers who say we should be eating less meat full stop?  The trouble is there is no right or wrong answer.  There are pros and cons on both sides and in reality the issues are so intertwined  so doing one apparently green action may actually be making things worse overall.  For example, if everyone ate less meat then less “bad” meat would be consumed.  That is surely a good thing.  But the knock on effect could be that the producers work even harder to produce meat that is even cheaper at the expense of sustainability and the welfare of the animal.  This would be a backward environmental step. 

For what it is worth, this is my story with regard to meat and the best solution that we have settled for.  When I first met Simon I was a virtual vegetarian, not because I didn’t like the idea of eating meat nor because I thought it was cruel.  I simply didn’t particularly like meat and found myself feeling very bloated after I ate it.  However when I fell pregnant I started to crave meat and so Simon and I tracked down some ethically produced meat sold through a nearby farm butchers and I started to eat meat again.  However not in large amounts.  This meat was a bit more expensive than comparable supermarket meat and a lot more expensive than the vegetables I had been growing on our allotment.  We set a weekly budget and ate good quality meat, but not every day.  We ate plenty of locally produced vegetables for a balanced diet and as the meat we bought was not treated with hormones or antibiotics I didn’t feel bloated after eating it.  We had found a compromise.  Eat meat but make it GOOD meat and don't eat it every day.  THIS is what I believe is a step in the right direction but that is probably just too complicated for a meme like this one.

You see being green isn't easy.  Everything we do is interconnected so finding the best way to be green is very complicated and in all honesty beyond the likes of us mere mortals to work out.  To be green there is not a right or a wrong thing to do because there is not just one form of green - there are at least 50 shades of Green!  

What do you think?  Should we all switch to ethically produced meat and eat the same amount as before or should we still eat less meat what-ever?  Do you eat more or less meat than say 5 or 10 years ago.  I would love to hear your views.

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