Thursday, 27 August 2015

A bad back, rain and weeds.

Over the last 2 weeks I have spent very little time in the garden. The day after my trip to the lovely Botanic Gardens at Caen I did my back in and whilst the osteopath put me straight I have had to take things very easy for a few weeks.  So no weeding, digging or heavy work.  Couple this with some heavy rain and the weeds have grown to triffid-like proportions in the garden.  Why oh why, do weeds grow so much quicker than the plants we want?  

So all in all the garden had a very abandoned look to it right now ... and much to indicate that Autumn is on it's way.
Leeks hidden in amongst the weeds
Courgettes that turned to marrows when I turned my back for a moment
Runner beans, potatoes, carrots and beetroot, harvested in the rain!
A hint of more Autumn harvests to come
My blueberry bushes always show Autumn colour early
But I don't reckon we are done with Summer just yet.

Autumn may be sneaking up on us but as I said on the picture above, we are not done with summer just yet here in Normandy.  Temperatures are set to rise over the coming days and we usually have fabulous weather just as the boys go back to school (next week!).  That really should make the weeds grow, so it's as well I can now set to and get on with more strenuous work again.  Bearing in mind that I have got so far behind, though, we are currently looking for a volunteer helper to come and assist me in weed decimation, spud digging and other gardening duties.  We have an advert on HelpX but if anyone fancies a week or so here, helping out, please do get in touch.

On a final note, if you happen to buy the Living France magazine, have a look on page 59 of the current Autumn edition (it mentions Bordeaux on the front cover).  You might recognise someone and her garden featured there ;).

For more gardening updates head on over to Mammasuarus by clicking on the picture below. 


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Animal Tales 36

Welcome to Animal Tales, the blog linky that brings together all sorts of animal blog posts from all over the world.  It runs from Tuesday morning thought to Friday night and showcases a wide range of animal related posts. 

Favourites from last week

Thank you to everyone who linked up last week.  I loved the canine picture story from AllTheVs - do have a read if you missed this one.  Oh and horses - you can't beat an equine post and we had two last week - one from The New Forest and one from Spain.

Spanish horse from Ian at Tales from Toriello

So over to you now.  Feel free to come and add your animal related posts to the linky below.  The posts can be old or new and as varied as the animals who we share our world with.  If you tweet with the hashtag #AnimalTales I'll retweet you.  Just give me a nudge if I appear to have forgotten you.

Full details of the linky can be found here but can I remind people of a couple of the "rules":

  • Please can you comment on at least 2 other blogs linked up - that is, after all the whole purpose of joining a linky to find and comment on more blogs and hopefully drive traffic back to your blog.
  • Please can you include my badge (preferably) or a link back to this blog.
  • Pinterest - not a rule but please do join the Animal Tales Pinterest board and pin a picture from your linked posts.
  • Can I remind people not to add sponsored posts or paid-for reviews.  Eco-Gites of Lenault has no advertising on it and I am not comfortable promoting products or companies I know nothing about.

Monday, 24 August 2015

War on Red Mite

2 of our hen houses have an infestation of red mite, a blood sucking parasite that, if left unchecked, can drastically reduce egg production and even cause death in chickens.  In previous years I have managed to just keep on top of it using a time consuming method of manually killing them but this year I really wanted to get totally kill them in an easier way ... which I hope I finally have done.

What are Red Mite?

These are not the harmless red spider mite that you can find in the garden but are 1mm long mites that live on chickens.  Females lay eggs which hatch into larvae that moult into first protonymphs, then deutonymphs before a final moult to become as adult.  Both nymph stages and the adults feed on chickens.  The total life cycle takes 7-10 days and adult mites can live 8-10 months without food, waiting for a new chicken host to appear.

Image from University of Florida

Effects on chickens

Even a minor infestation can have a very negative effect on a flock getting increasingly worse as numbers rise:  Effects can include:

  • Chickens being unsettled 
  • Fall in egg production
  • Spread of diseases such as Newcastle Fowl Disease 
  • Lesions on the chickens
  • Death due to blood loss and/or anaemia

How to recognise an infestation

Red mite rarely feed in the day time so will leave the roosting chicken before dawn to hide in places such as cracks in the wood, behind nest boxes, under dried faeces, in cobwebs, between bricks etc.  Even when you think you have found every possible place they can hide they will find somewhere else.  Adults will, however, often be visible as a red mass in their preferred hiding place but larvae and nymphs are harder to find.  If you run a finger or white cloth under the perches it will come out red where you squash them.

At night you will see the adults moving along the perches and walls.  Look carefully and you may also see masses of tiny larvae and protonymphs swarming over walls, floors etc.

At night the chickens will be scratching a lot but in then case of a bad infestation your birds may well refuse to go into roost at night.

Red Mite Elimination

Red mite are difficult to get rid of.  There are various chemical products that you can chose but the mites can build up immunity to these.  They are also not permitted if you are raising organic chickens.

Spreading the ends of the perches with Vaseline which traps the mites can help but in large houses or those with many mite hiding place this is not practical.

If you can find where the mites are hiding, blasting them with a blow torch can successfully kill them (you will know you are killing them as you will hear a slight crackling or popping).  Again though, if your house is big or has many hiding places you may well not get them all.

Diatomaceous Earth - This has been my life saver.  I have been able to get reduce numbers with a combination of Vaseline and blow torching but never quite managed to get totally mite-free.  Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilised remains of diatoms which you buy as a slightly coarse powder.  It is harmless to humans and chickens but when the mites pass over it, for them it is like walking on razor blades.  It cuts into them causing them to dry out and die.  By spreading Diatomaceous Earth over all the perches and in all cracks etc my red mite numbers are greatly diminished and the houses will hopefully soon be pest free.  I have also given some to the hens as a dust bath helping to remove any mites still on them in the day time.

Preventing a red mite infestation

However good you chicken husbandry is, you are always at risk from wild birds or a new hen bringing the mites to your flock.  However you can reduce the likelihood of both getting an infestation or having it get to dangerous levels:

  • Regularly check your hen house for signs on red mite so you can act quickly as soon as they are spotted.  If the hens go off lay in mid summer unexpectedly, expect the worst.
  • Spread Diatomaceous Earth in the hen house and offer it as a dust bath to your flock
  • Keep the hen house clean and cobweb free 
  • Keep possible hiding places to a minimum - our perches are made from pallets so have loads of potential hiding places so we will renew these soon.

Remember though that the only way you can starve the red mite to death is to keep your hen house empty of birds for at least 10 months as this is how long the adults and deutonymphs can survive without food.

Have you had red mite infest your chickens and is so, how did you manage to get rid of hem?


Sunday, 23 August 2015

8 Reasons take your Toddler to Normandy in France

France ... and Normandy in particular ... is crammed full of toddler friendly places to visit but rather than writing another "Best Toddler Places to Visit in Normandy" blog this blog post is all about why I think it is such a good idea to bring toddlers toddlers abroad, both generally and with some specific references to Normandy.

Toddler Friendly France

Culture and Language

Children are never too young to be introduced to another culture and language - they will have no problem conversing with children from other countries as language barriers do not exist when they are young.  They will often love saying new foreign words and this could be the first steps towards a love of languages as they grow older.  Opening young children's eyes to other cultures makes them so much accepting to all that is different and wonderful about the world.

Food Adventures

What a great way to get toddlers to try new foods - ours happily tucked into mussels, at a young age, when we were on a holiday in France before we moved over here.  If young children see their parents eating unusual foods with relish they will much more likely to copy and you may well find you have an international gourmet on your hands before too long.  French restaurants are very welcoming to young children and will often bring their food out quicker than the adults to save the "Hungry Grumps" setting in.

The French adore Les Enfants

The French love children and if you can get your toddler to say a few words in French to the locals they'll be a big hit.  Tom loved saying Bonjour Monsieur/Madame to everyone we met when on holiday and they loved him for it ... although by the time we got home we realised he actually thought everyone was called M. Bonjour or Mme Bonjour! 

...and Normandy in particular

Toddler Friendly Beaches

The beaches here are wonderful - clean sand, shallow waters and no big waves - very toddler friendly.  Beach fronts are not crowded full of shops selling all sorts of "Must-have things" that your toddler never realised they needed until they saw them and went into meltdown when you said "No!".  Just sand, sea and fun.

Toddler Friendly Swimming Pools

The swimming pools are great for toddlers - almost all have shallow baby and toddler pools with lots of toys supplied free so if the weather isn't beach friendly you'll still get them into their swimming trunks!

Fabulous Countryside

Normandy is a beautiful part of France with miles of footpaths just waiting to be discovered.  Toddlers will marvel at the local farm animals, wild flowers, tractors etc and there is simply oodles of space to run around in.  Grab some cheese, baguette and local cider/apple juice and have a picnic in the tranquil landscape.  Great memories are not always made on expensive days out ...

Getting There

If you are coming from the UK (or Europe) then there are no long haul flights and Normandy is just a short journey away.  For toddlers, time spent on a ferry is much easier than being cooped up in a car and there is space to run around, cabins to have a proper sleep in and on-board entertainment to keep them amused.  For anyone travelling with Brittany Ferries we have a code to give you 20% off your crossing.  If you don't fancy the ferry then the Channel Tunnel is an exciting experience for a toddler.  The car journey at the other side is no more than 4 hours with plenty of toddler friendly Aires (service stations/rest areas) along the way where there is always space for some exercise and invariably also a play area.  Live in Paris?  Normandy is an ideal destination for a long weekend in the country.

And of course for accommodation here at Eco-Gites of Lenault we are set up to welcome you and your youngster with loads of toddler kit supplied free of charge, a large play area and our animals.  And as you are not yet tied to going away in school holidays then you'll find we have plenty of availability in mid and low season.  Visit our website for more details.

Toddler Friendly Normandy

You can't deny it - there is absolutely bucket loads of things to do with toddlers here in Normandy and whilst this post isn't about these specifically I couldn't really finish without a link to some of the best places you can visit.  For more details click here - Children Friendly Holidays in Normandy.

Have you been to Normandy with a toddler?  If so, what would you recommend?

Silent Sunday - August 23rd 2015


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Preserving our Normandy Harvests

This week it has been all about preserving the harvests that are coming in from the veg garden, orchard and local hedgerows at Eco-Gites of Lenault.  So in answer to the question Annie, from Mammasaurs, asks us each week, "How Does Your Garden Grow?" I can answer, "Very well thank you!"

Produce from the veg garden and orchard at Eco-Gites of Lenault

Early Worcesters and windfall apples

Orange and green peppers with aubergines

Tomatoes galore

The largest tomato of the year!

So what, you might ask have I been making with all this produce?

Braised red cabbage
Oven roasted cherry tomatoes

Mediterranean chutney

Hedgerow jelly

I have also frozen broccoli, beans and courgettes.  This blog details the best way to freeze beans.  I have also made:

  • Ratatouille - recipe here for how I make ratatouille
  • Raspberry jam
  • Passata - my recipe for passata
  • Rhubarb cordial - with frozen rhubarb to free up freezer space
  • Ready made meals - courgette and tomato quiche, broccoli cheese, courgette bake, courgette soup, courgette fritters.

Phew!!  It's been a busy and productive week and I still have more to process.

Are you getting lots of produce and have you any recipe ideas for yet more courgettes that I have!


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Home-made roasted tomato Passata

When you have a glut of tomatoes, passata is a great way to preserve them and this way of making it is really easy.  Passata is a thick purée of raw tomatoes, known in Italy as passata di pomodoro and a basic store cupboard staple of every Italian cook but I make my own cooked variety.



  • Ripe tomatoes (Plum tomatoes do make the best passata in my view)
  • Onion
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs (optional)



  1. Cut the tomatoes in half (or quarters if very large).
  2. Place in a roasting tray together with one chopped onion.
  3. Season well and add 1 flat tsp sugar.  Add herbs if liked (basil, thyme, marjoram and oregano all work well) and mix well.
  4. Cook at 180º for about ½hr until they are soft and their juices are flowing
  5. Allow to cool a little and then blend roughly (this makes the next stage easier).
  6. Press the blended tomatoes through a sieve.  I use a wooden darning mushroom to help push them through but the back of a large spoon would also work.
The resulting passata can then either be used fresh or for future use it can be frozen or bottled in preserving jars.

Roasted tomatoes

Making passata

Sieving the blended tomatoes to produce passata

I find passata an invaluable ingredient to have to hand and I use it in so many dishes:

  • Base for pasta Sauce
  • Added to mince when making lasagne, chilli, moussaka etc
  • As a base for soup
  • In vegetable bakes
  • In curries and stews
  • Tomato base for pizzas.

Have you any more uses for passata?  I make loads so would love to know new ways of using it. 

Tasty Tuesdays on

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Animal Tales - 35

Welcome to Animal Tales, the blog linky that brings together all sorts of animal blog posts from all over the world.  It runs from Tuesday morning thought to Friday night and showcases a wide range of animal related posts. 

A Quiet Week

This week I have no bird landings to report and in fact very little news at all.  Fingers crossed things on the bird front are looking up after the deaths of two weeks ago and life has been very quiet with Simon and the boys still away on holiday.  I did look after a friend's 2 dogs over night on Saturday and Saari thoroughly enjoyed their company as, I imagine, they did too.  So much so that 4 hours after they were collected they reappeared back here all by themselves!  They live about 4km away and have a penchant for chasing the local wildlife to the point that if they finish chasing what-ever poor creature jumped up in front of them (they never catch it) and they are nearer our house than their own, then they toddle over here instead of going home and waltz in as though this is their permanent home!  I have to say though, that that is the quickest they have ever returned here so maybe they thought just one night with Saari was not enough!

Min, Saari and Pip

Thank you to everyone who linked up last week.  I loved the blog that was "written" by the wonderful Bentley which I have added onto this week's linky as it was a late addition and I suspect some people did not see it.  Read and enjoy!  I am giving you an old blog post about our oh so NOT brave Saari!  I promise you that this one is not as sad as last week's post.

So over to you now.  Feel free to come and add your animal related posts to the linky below.  The posts can be old or new and as varied as the animals who we share our world with.  If you tweet with the hashtag #AnimalTales I'll retweet you.  Just give me a nudge if I appear to have forgotten you.

Full details of the linky can be found here but can I remind people of a couple of the "rules":

  • Please can you comment on at least 2 other blogs linked up - that is, after all the whole purpose of joining a linky to find and comment on more blogs and hopefully drive traffic back to your blog.
  • Please can you include my badge (preferably) or a link back to this blog.
  • Can I remind people not to add sponsored posts or paid-for reviews.  Eco-Gites of Lenault has no advertising on it and I am not comfortable promoting products or companies I know nothing about.

Friday, 14 August 2015

The best way to freeze beans

At the moment we have beans coming in from the garden by the basketful.  Runner, French, climbing, yellow, green, speckled - so many, but far too many to eat, so I need to preserve them.  The French will be busy bottling theirs but I am not keen, knowing the risks of botulism from badly bottled vegetables.  I prefer to freeze them.  I know some people say that frozen beans are nothing like fresh ones but ever since I have been using the following method for freezing and then cooking beans I can say they are much closer to freshly cooked ones.

Runner beans

Freezing Runner and French Beans

  1. Cut the beans into what-ever shapes you prefer.  I like long thin diamonds for runner beans and beans of various lengths for French.  I always also do some in very short lengths that are great for throwing into vegetable and minestrone soups.
  2. Blanch the beans in unsalted boiling water for 1 minute.  
  3. Plunge them into cold water, to cool, as quickly as possible.
  4. Drain very well.
  5. Flash freeze - placing the frozen beans all together in one bag means you need to use the whole bag at once.  By flash freezing you can use just as many as you want.
  6. Place the beans on a freezable tray and dry a bit more with a clean tea towel.
  7. Freeze until solid and then knock off the beans off the trays into freezer bags, breaking up any that have stuck together.  This was you will get free flowing frozen beans.

Runner beans about to be flash frozen

To cook beans from frozen

  1. Boil a pan of water and also boil a kettle full of water.
  2. Drop the beans in the boiling water and immediately drain them. 
  3. Return the beans to the pan, add the freshly boiled water and a pinch of salt then boil to your preferred level of softness.  The shorter the cooking time, generally, the better the taste.
Have you any tips of freezing or preserving beans?   I also blogged about pickled Runner beans which you might like but I would love some more ideas.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Le Jardin des Plantes - Jardin Botanique in Caen, Normandy

A friend and I recently took ourselves off to a garden I have wanted to visit for along time - Le Jardin des Plantes in Caen also now know as the Jardin Botanique de Caen ... and what a delight of a plant day we were in for.  We were a touch worried that we would wilt in the heat that was forecast but we need not have worried as there are so many shady paths we could wander along as well as umpteen benches for us to rest on and admire the plants.

A botanical garden is described as:
 "une institution qui rassemble des collections documentées de végétaux vivants à des fins de recherche scientifique, de conservation et d'éducation".

"an institution which gathers collections of documented living plants for the purposes scientific research, conservation and education"

This botanical garden fits this brief perfectly.  It has been developed in the 5ha of an old quarry and today is home to over 8,000 plant species, some of which are exceedingly rare.  Don't worry if your plant ID skills are not up to scratch as many of the plants are clearly labelled with larger panels for some of the rarer specimens ... although these small information panels are only in French.  It is linked to Caen University for scientific work and runs various activities (Current ones include a bat evening and scarecrow making) to get people interested in the world of plants and how important they are.

Within the 5ha there are many different types of garden as well as art features and children's play areas.  These garden include:

  • A Normandy garden of local plants
  • Themed gardens such as pants used in medicine, cooking etc
  • A parkland area complete with a Giant Sequoia that has a lightening conductor as it is so tall
  • A greenhouse of exotic plants
  • An orangerie
  • Les Rocailles - plants of peat bogs and mountains

Without further words then I give you just some of the many photos I took.  They are in no particular order but which I hope give you a feel of this wonderful garden. 
(clicking on the images will make them bigger)

Lacecap Hydrangea

Late summer herbaceous border

Echinacea in the medicinal garden

Another herbaceous border

Rainbow art installation

Floral butterfly

A centre for botanic study

Information panel for the very rare Wollemi Pine

Hydrangeas and summer annuals

Can you tell I like hydrangeas?!

Help needed here - does anyone know what this plant is?

Practical Information

Le Jardin des Plantes is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day, opening at 8am week days and 10am weekends and bank holidays.  Closing times vary with the seasons and more details can be found on their website.  It is free to enter, dogs are welcome on leads and there are plenty of places to picnic but be aware there are no refreshments available.  The toilets were clean and also free.  There is no car park although there are spaces near the main entrance reserved for these with disabilities and we found ample free parking on local side roads (do remember, though, that in France you must park in the same direction as the traffic flow or risk a 17€ fine).  

Having visited once we definitely want to go back again - it was too hot to go in the greenhouses (which are only open in the afternoons) and we want to see how the garden changes with the seasons.  For anyone who loves gardens and the plants they hold I really do recommend you visit Le Jardin des Plantes when in the area.  

And for more garden inspiration do head over to Mammasaurus and the How Does Your Garden Grow linky and for more great places people love visit #LoveWhereILive from Entertaining Elliot

Entertaining ElliotMammasaurus

Expat Life with a Double Buggy
Packing my Suitcase