Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Update on Cucumbers

I am dreadful at updating from previous posts and for this I apologise. Today I received a comment from Carrie asking me how the frozen cucumber experiment went. I'm sorry to say that it wasn't the greatest of successes! We did, eventually, defrost the cucumbers and I think we could have used them for soup. However, I'm not mad on cucumber soup (tasteless) and I didn't have the necessary ingredients for gazpacho so we gave them to the pigs. The pigs were very happy.

I'm sorry not to be more positive. I've noticed that a lot of people have come to my blog via a search of "how to freeze cucumbers". In future I will make even more gazpacho soup - which freezes/defreezes beautifully - and leave it at that.

This year we have once again had a good crop of cucumbers but with a mixed quality of fruit. I imagine that this is something to do with the drought during the spring - although we did water the veggie patch and the cucumbers are under plastic. We've got plenty for the time being but some have not developed in the centre at all. Happy pigs again.

If anyone has a good freezing cucumber recipe please let me know!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Noisette at work

Noisette has been a boon. Normally at this time of year Max performs dangerous acrobatics with a strimmer on the side of the moat. Noisette has changed this totally and as a result my heart beats at a much more regular pace.

We move her approximately every two or three days and this gives her a chance to cut everything within reach (boy, are we careful where we put her!) Now that the field at the back of the house has been cut we can put her at the top of the bank. Being a mountain goat she thinks nothing of the steepness of the bank and just makes her way down eating everything on the way. The brambles at the bottom are next I hope. The photos a bit dark so you can't seem them but they are thick and grow at the rate of knots!

Yes, she's earning her keep.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Local lamb

We buy very little meat from the supermarket nowadays. We have our own pork, our own chickens (if the fox doesn't get there first) and each year we buy a lamb from our neighbour and have it butchered locally.

Martial raises his lamb on organic principles although as he's basically a small holder he doesn't bother with official tags; he just gets on with it. His herd of sheep have won prizes in the past at local agricultural fairs and he is rightly proud of them.

This year's lack of water has a trickle down effect (curious phrase under the circumstances as nothing is trickling at all around here). First of all one of Martial's wells has dried up and he is having to water his sheep and poultry from the town water which is expensive. Because his second well is almost dry he has cut right back on his vegetable growing - he doesn't want to have to spend money on watering those as well and will instead tuck into some of the surplus that he has conserved from previous years. The price of feed has rocketed sky high - when you can find it that is. He told us that most of the local farmers will get so little for their cereal products that they are cutting their losses by turning it into winter feed for the cattle. There is almost no straw since the wheat is so low and of course hay is scarce as well.

Although the cost of raising his sheep has more than doubled he has kept the price down to last year's level because if he doesn't sell them he'll have to carry on feeding them. This year we have bought two.

Martial is a small holder and very relieved he's not raising meat on a large scale farm. He came round last night to help us tag Noisette (the goat) and told us that at the end of the year he expects a number of farms to be out of business. The future does not look great.

So, if you can, buy your meat locally from a farmer. I realise this will come under the heading of luxury for many people so why not get together with some friends and share a 10kg pack? It will taste better and you will be helping your community's farmers.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Fox

Living in the countryside has many sides to it, both good and bad. Personally I find the clean air and lack of town noise outways most of the bad. We grow a great deal of our own food, both fruit/vegetable and meat.

Max hunts with the local chasse and our freezer is supplemented with a few pheasant, rabbit, haunch of sanglier (wild boar) and chevreuil (deer), if we are lucky a hare. Only a certain number of pheasant, deer and hare are allowed to be shot each year and the hunt is issued with a "bracelet" for each animal in their quota. If you shoot an extra one, even by mistake (ie if you have one bracelet and two people each shoot a hare at the same time), there is a fine. (Yes, it is controlled.)

In return for his hunting invitations Max joins the local chasse for the occasional battu which are held throughout the year to keep down the foxes. Make no mistake about it, there are a lot of foxes, they are a nuisance and they do a great deal of harm. The battu are usually, but not always, requested by the farmers and the dates and areas concerned are posted at the Mairie.

This is the sight that greeted us when we went out to feed the chickens this morning. I make no apology for the photos although I have tried to keep them "long" shots. Believe me, close up they are not nice.

Our chickens are shut in at night. The fox dug his way into the pen and forced the door of the hut open. Several were left in the pen but we found two on the lawn outside; in addition, as we can't find them, he must have taken one adult and one baby back with him (or eaten it here I suppose).

Obviously I can't be sure, but we were told that this was probably done by a young fox. An older fox takes a bird back to the den. A young fox is learning the joy of killing and "plays" with his new skill until all the fun is lying on the ground around him.

Even the three chicks were taken.

In all we lost five chickens and three chicks. We have informed the head of the local chasse who will come and see us later today. The next battu is not for a few weeks but I for one will welcome them.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The fruits of our labours

It's that time of year. Everything is starting and from nothing at all we are suddenly bubbling over with things to bring into the kitchen. The asparagus, as always, started us off but we only cut the spears for six weeks so that the plants have a chance to regenerate for next year.

Then the early lettuce from the greenhouse which I planned to have ready for Easter - and amazingly it was!

Now it's the turn of the cherries. We always know when they are ready because "les voleurs" arrive in ever increasing numbers. We don't mind too much - although we used to! A lot of the trees seem to have grown from pips dropped by the birds and these don't taste great. The really deep red cherries are only on a couple of trees and we grab these when we can. I'm not a supporter of fiddling with nature but if scientists insist on modifying genes and what have you, then perhaps they could sort out the genes in the birds so that they take the high cherries and leave the low ones for us. Now that would be really useful.

Although we eat most of what we pick, this year, if we pick enough, we'll put some in jars and sterilise them so that we can enjoy them later in the year.

And of course it's strawberry time as well. We picked these this evening:

There's nearly two kilos there and we've picking the same amount every two days for the past week. I don't make jam as we don't eat it in large enough quantities to make it worthwhile. However, even I can't eat this amount of strawberries - well, not really and not without really bad consequences! - so I've started making a strawberry coulis which I freeze in plastic cups.

I've discovered the most amazing Delia Smith recipe for strawberry cheesecake ice cream however I prefer to make it plain and use the coulis to pour over afterwards. It really is delicious! If you want to try it you'll find it in the Summer Collection - it involves roasted digestive biscuits and hazelnuts...are you sure you can resist?!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The swarm in the hive - part two

We got back to our neighbours to sort out the colonies in the abandoned hives this afternoon. There were two and both had built comb all over the place.

The first one we opened turned out to be without any queen and no brood whatsoever. We had already tied most of the wax into frames (lots of honey in them too) so we put them into a nuc and closed them up.

The second hive was a different kettle of fish. The main box was sitting without a floor on a tyre - see above. We knew that there was a stack of wax built onto the roof and that another pile of wax was lying in the tyre. We opened it up carefully.

With our hearts in our mouths we carefully turned the lid upside down. So many bees and we still didn't know if the queen was in the lid or in the tyre - or not there at all perhaps. Very gradually we removed plaques with honey and put them to one side and concentrated on the plaques with brood - this is when we knew there was a queen present so long as we hadn't already killed her. This is all fresh comb and there was a reasonable amount of brood - about four plaques - so we reckoned the queen was probably up here somewhere and not down in the tyre. Tying wax - which is heavy when it has brood and honey in it - into frames is not easy. We did our best and I just hope we improve with experience.

The reward was great. Having put four frames of brood into a nuc I suddenly saw the queen still on the lid. We managed to catch her and having put her to one side we had a moment of reflexion on what to do. There were so many bees!

We finally decided to put the colony back into a big hive. We didn't have one with us so we had to make do with the various elements around us. Brood box, crown board and roof were no problem. The floor we found was rotten and fell apart so we made do with another roof. We then put the frames of brood into this box and surrounded it with frames of honey which I had bought up with me.

The discussion and finding the bits and pieces took approximately five minutes. During this time the bees had found the queen in the cage and were gathering around her. It's amazing how nature works so efficiently! In the picture above you can just about see the cage - look at the breeze block in the middle; the cage is under the pile of bees on top, at the front on the right. (OK, you have to know exactly where it is to see it!)

We put this DIY'ed hive just behind the original placement and once the frames were organised we dropped the queen in over a frame of brood. The picture above was taken less than five minutes later. The bees have found her majesty and have started signalling to the other bees who are now marching out of the tyre and into the hive. This has to be the best part of hiving a swarm - or colony in this case.

My only regret with the whole exercise was not marking the queen. It doesn't matter. We know she's in there and next week we'll take another look to see how things are going.

In the meantime there is the orphaned colony to deal with. More thought is required but I suspect that we will go back tomorrow and unite the two. I would be happier if the colony with the queen had more bees to forage and bring in food.

This final picture is the rest of the comb that we couldn't save or fit into frames. Despite being able to support a huge weight of honey or brood - not to mention bees climbing all over it - comb is incredibly fragile once you start trying to manipulate it and breaks easily. The bees are all over it because there is so much honey in there. We will work out tomorrow how to save the honey. I rather suspect that we won't regret it!

Our work was further rewarded when we drove back down through the wood and past our neighbour's house. He was waiting for us and he and his wife called us in for an apero. This is not to be underestimated. Firstly the glasses are HUGE. Secondly it was fizzy. Thirdly having finished more than I normally consume in a week my glass was refilled.

Forgive me if I leave you now - hic...hic!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

More Muscovy

Mason came out today with her twelve babies. Since the one we hatched was named Brian (born on Easter weekend) the ducklings have been awarded the title of the 12 Apostles. It's all the fault of Monty Python mad children.

They are very sweet and fluffy. It's slightly alarming that she has chosen to sleep on the bank tonight. Hopefully if the fox comes (he last visited three weeks ago and took a chicken) she can just tumble them all down the hill and into the moat.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, I'll inspect the hives and try and sort out the two in our neighbour's garden.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

New Life Up the Garden Path

Our Muscovy (Mrs Mason and her husband is Mr Fortnum) has been sitting for ages. Finally today we saw her babies. The larger one in the front is Brian - born one week ago in the incubator. Mrs Mason has taken him (her?) in without a murmur.
The chicken came out yesterday with her four golden chicks. Gorgeous.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wild Bees

I finally went up with Max to look at the bees that have taken over some abandoned hives in a neighbour's garden. The hives themselves are fairly rotten although one of them might be usable for this season and another brood box in fairly good condition was lying next to them (fairly good is a relative term - it's fairly good next to the one that is crumbling!) But inside these abandoned hives the bees have been busy constructing comb wherever they can.

The two colonies have clearly been there for a while and look strong and healthy. They are far enough away from our own hives that there is no risk of cross-contamination if there are any diseases lurking around. Each time we come back I soak the hive tools and the gloves in a bleach solution.

All we have to do now is transfer the comb into frames and then into a hive in better condition. I think we have a fifty fifty chance of being successful - as usual it all depends on the queen being transferred and we are unlikely to know this for sure for some time.

But there was a bonus today. Some of the comb was stuck to the roof of the hive and we took the opportunity to take some of this away with us. Honey in the comb was part of my childhood but you don't find it very often nowadays. It's harder for the bees to produce as they have to build the fresh comb as well as fill it with honey but I suspect too that people just don't like eating wax with their honey and there is very little demand. I usually put four small frames (which fit into one normal size super frame) into each hive after the OSR honey has been taken off and we keep it carefully for people we know appreciate it.

But today's comb honey doesn't come neatly packaged:

Just dripping in golden goodness.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A busy day

Yesterday we took another 25 kilos of honey. This makes a total of 45 kilos of spring honey from four hives. For us, that is a good harvest and certainly the artifical swarms played a part. If the bees swarm, we lose about half the honey.

So today I spent the morning bottling the liquid gold. It takes time and organisation. We don't have a handy little tap so the ladle is used - lots of drips. I start with a bowl of water and two (clean) sponges to mop up drips and also to wipe the jars clean. The photo shows a frame of honey, totally capped with wax, just before it went into the extractor. In case you are interested, one frame such as this holds approximately 2kilos of honey.

Then we had an afternoon building shelves - or at least Max and Ralph did. Last week I visited our neighbour who is selling her house. She has given me all her preserving jars which is a really generous if you check the prices. However, we need somewhere to store so many and we finally sorted out a shed and put in some DIY shelving.

In the past I have used these jars for chutneys and tomato ketchups, but I have never preserved fruit and vegetables. Since she also gave (yes, GAVE) us a steriliser and burner, this year will be one of new experiences and experiments.

Max took the opportunity of emptying the shed to wash the empty bottles so that they would be ready for filling in two weeks. We buy red wine "en vrac" and then bottle it here. We have carefully kept bottles for this purpose. The wine is a good table wine and buying it this way is a lot cheaper. Please note - the picture shows a bottle collection of many months!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Spring harvest 2011

The same day that we inspected the artifical swarm we also decided to collect some of the spring harvest. The oil seed rape is very early this year and you are advised to harvest the honey as soon as the petals start to fall so that it doesn't crystallise in the frames - at which point you can't get it out. We only took the frames with the honey covered with wax so a second harvest will be needed this week.

It was a fun day. Some neighbours have young children and they came over to help us with the extracting. Everyone takes a turn spinning the honey out and watching it run from the extractor is a great reward.

And of course they bought an empty pot with them! For once we managed to keep all the bees out of the kitchen while we were working which made it a more relaxed operation. We took a honey bet on how much there would be - the prize was honey of course - and the final score was 23 kilos.

Artificial Swarm part two

Well, it worked! We went down to the hives earlier this week and had a quick look. Sure enough, there was a small patch of new brood in a very busy hive. We didn't look for the queen herself as it seemed pointless to upset the bees during the OSR season but we did take the opportunity to put on a super.

The original hive is obviously less busy - less bees - but there was fresh brood so the queen is still laying. We have decided not to unite these two hives. I have two queens arriving shortly and we will replace the original queen and then work on building up both colonies for the summer harvest.

We also did an artificial swarm with a second hive back at the house. It was packed with bees and brood but queen cells were there in force so we decided to deal with it in the same way.

In case you are wondering, the blue mark on the bottom of the hive means that we found and marked the queen. Blue was last year's colour - this year, 2011, is white.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Artifical Swarm

We inspected the hives yesterday. At the house the wild hive was ok but nothing special and the other three were bringing honey into the supers. Lots of brood but, surprisingly, no queen cells. We left them to it and went to our out apiary. There the hive was heaving and with queen cells a-plenty. Since we had no extra equipment with us we went back the house to get things ready and make a plan.

We have always bottled out of doing an artifical swarm in the past. If you don't know exactly what you are doing it is disturbing to try and work it out with thousands of bees getting understandably angry and pinging you. This time I was determined. The weather this morning was perfect - sunny and almost no wind at all. I took out Clive de Bruyn's book and made notes. I sat down and talked it through with Max. We prepared a hive with floor, box, frames, crown board and lid and off we went.

This is what we did.

1) Moved the original hive onto the ground and replaced it with the new hive. In this new hive were frames of both drawn and undrawn foundation. The drawn foundation was placed so that there was space for one frame between them.

2) Found the queen in the original hive. This took some doing but the whole exercise depends on finding the queen. We placed the frame she was on into the new hive together with the bees on that frame. We also checked that there were no queen cells on this frame.
We then replaced the queen excluder, the super with honey its frames and the lid.

3) We relit the smoker! This is a fairly typical exercise but actually it worked to our advantage as it gave all the flyers time to go back to the new hive and settle down.

4) The original hive was placed about three metres away. We then went through all the frames and removed all but one queen cell. We chose the largest cell and were careful not to shake this frame at all as it can damage the larvae.

5) We closed up this hive.

So now we have a queen from 2010 in a nearly empty hive but with all the flying bees still going back to this hive with nectar. She has a frame of brood which will hopefully keep them in that hive - de Bruyn says that without a frame of brood they are more likely to abscond - and she has the super with some honey in it.

Close to this hive we have a hive with one queen cell and frames full of brood and honey together with all the non-flying bees. Gradually these bees will start to fly and bring in nectar; in the meantime they have plenty of stores in the frames. The brood will start to hatch to boost the numbers. With any luck the queen cell with hatch, she will mate and then start laying. This will take time. What they definitely cannot do at the moment is swarm - they don't have a queen and they can't fly.

And the point of this? Well, if we had left everything as it was the old queen would have swarmed as soon as a new queen had hatched. I would have lost all the flyers and lost a good deal of the honey harvest. I hope very much that I have fooled her and the bees into thinking that they have swarmed already. In a week or so we will check again to check she is still laying and there are no new queen cells.

Will it work? We'll see!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Smoker

As you know we take two (last year three) weaners each year to raise for meat. Although it started as an experiment four years ago it was a huge success and we now do it annually. Last year we took two Berkshire Blacks and a British Lop cross for bacon. The pigs are killed here by a local debiteur and then, after cleaning them and cutting them into two, he takes them back to his premises for hanging and subsequent cutting.

Last year we asked him to give us more larger joints so that we could smoke them. However, we didn't have a smoker. Small problem! I looked all over the internet and finally came up with an idea and some dimensions for Max to put into practice.

Over the years Max has recommended our local charpentier to a lot of people. He is a charming man, in his late 70's (my estimate!) and his work is exceptional. And solid. Max asked him to quote for supplying the wood and explained what it was for. We heard nothing for two weeks then a phone call out of the blue asking Max to go and collect "it" - bring the van. When he arrived he found this work of art, enormous and solid awaiting him. Slightly alarmed because we couldn't afford to pay for it Max just stood there open mouthed. Monsieur Billy laughed and explained that he had made it as a gift and a thank you. A real case of what goes around comes around.

Max bought it back and was followed by two of M. Billy's workmen - it took all four of us to carry it from the car into the shed opposite the kitchen. We felt slightly ashamed when we saw it next to our "burner" but it works a treat.

I have prepared hams for roasting before but they taste nothing like the ones that have been smoked first. We have just finished smoking so bacon backs - one will be used tonight for lardons in a pasta sauce. The other I hope to slice for breakfast.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Potatoes 2011

I have planted less potatoes that in previous years partly because last year the Colorado Beetle was so dreadful. Yesterday I put in one row of Pink Fir, two rows of King Edwards and I still have two rows of Maris Piper to plant.

If anyone has a dream cure for Colorado Beetle I'd love to hear it! Too many to squish by hand - a vacuum cleaner might do it but the cable isn't long enough! Any ideas?

Bees - New Season

I have just spent a week in London and was pleased to find lovely weather on my return to Anjou. I have been keeping a sharp eye on the hives during the past four weeks and noticed four of the hives plus the wild hive bringing in pollen. The other two were just flying and not bringing in very much at all.

They say that the first inspection should wait until the flowering currant is in blossom and certainly it is now. So this week we have eaten our first asparagus of the season, planted our potatoes (more to follow in another post) and today, done the spring inspection of the hives.

Straight away I should say that one of the hives has been abandoned. Lots of honey left behind but not a single bee, dead or alive, nor any brood. Is this Colony Collapse Disorder? I don't know but from what I've read it's showing at least some of the signs.

The three busy busy hives were in great condition. Although we only found the queen in one of them there was so much brood in the others that there is clearly a queen present. The brood boxes were in fact very full of honey and brood although there was no evidence of queen cells.

The oil seed rape (or colza) is just beginning to come into flower one kilometre away so, with the full boxes, we have put a super on each of these hives. I'm aware this is early but I would rather be too early than too late and risk swarming. Mind you, I said that last year too!

The wild hive is difficult to assess as we obviously cannot look into the main body of the tree trunk. However, we looked down from the top and there are plenty of bees. If there is brood present it is further down but I've never seen brood in this hive so I am not worried. This is a colony that we leave to its own devices and are grateful if there's any honey for us later in the year.

Then we went out to our "out apiary". Frightfully grand name for one hive a few miles away. We collected a swarm from a friend last year and they asked us to leave it in their garden. It suits us well as it is far enough away to benefit from other crops. The queen in this one wasn't marked last year - it's a very "flighty" hive and when we found her she was very quick to move off so we didn't worry. Today we found a hive stuffed full of honey and brood and the queen, still quite flighty, conveniently placed for marking, which I quickly did. However, if the possibility arises I will change this queen. The bees are very quick to be irritated and I suspect if I can requeen with a calmer strain this would help. I don't like being pinged by dozens of bees when I'm inspecting a hive.

Finally I should mention the second weak colony that I mentioned earlier. A bit of history. Last year, just after we had collected the honey harvest, I discovered Foul Brood (not sure if it was European or American) in a hive. Although I hadn't come across it before I recognised it immediately. It is a requirement to inform the local Agent Sanitaire d'Apiculture if you come across this nasty disease and rather alarmed I telephoned him straight away. He came round that afternoon and it was an education in itself.

First of all he inspected all the other, apparently healthy hives first and confirmed that they were indeed in good health. He then put a disposible cover over his bee suit and told me that from now on I was not to touch anything of the diseased hive. He would do it all and would leave me his disposible suit and gloves for burning.

We set up a fresh nucleus hive with undrawn wax on the frames. He then put a white sheet in front of this hive and bashed all the frames from the diseased hive onto the sheet. The frames, empty of bees, were put into a large paper sack for later burning. The next job was to find the queen. How he did this I do not know. She was unmarked and there were literally thousands of bees all over this white sheet. However, after a couple of minutes he became very intent and there she was. He scooped her into the fresh nucleus hive and within minutes the bees began their march into the hive.

Everything was gathered up scrupulously. The frames and the sheet were in the sack for burning, together with his suit and gloves. The hive, floor, crown board, lid, etc were immediately given the once over with the flame thrower. The hive tools and my gloves were soaked in a bleach solution. Then the formality of form filling and reassurance that Foul Brood can be picked up from other bees during foraging and has no reflection on the beekeepers ability. He was in fact pleased that I'd a) recognised it and b) informed him - apparently not all beekeepers do.

I couldn't possibly say that I was pleased to find this disease in one of my hives but the silver lining was a couple of hours of one to one instruction from a real expert.

I checked this hive, as instructed, three weeks later and sure enough there was food and brood and the queen which I marked. However, by now it was October and I was worried the colony wasn't strong enough. There was nothing I could do but wait.

Today's inspection found a very small colony and the original queen. I fear it won't survive. I'm tempted to put a frame of brood and young bees into the hive to help it but suspect it will be too late. I also don't want to disturb the stronger hives just at the beginning of the OSR season.

All in all I'm happy that we have four strong hives at the start of the season. Let's hope it continues well!

Bees - New Season

Sunday, 6 March 2011


A friend of ours has just moved house. She is downsizing and moving from a country setting to a small village. Her dilemna? What to do with Noisette. Her solution? Call Jean and Max. Simple really. Her logic? Well, you don't have a goat so you probably need one. Hmmm.

Actually, cutting the grass and the brambles on the banks of the moat is a real pain and involves the most appallingly dangerous acrobatics whilst juggling with a machine. Being a mountain goat, Noisette could well eliminate the annual risk to life and limb. We agreed to take her.

We collected Noisette on the day of Le Crunch. Rugby fans will know that this was the big England/France match for the Six Nations. When we arrived Nicole's son (approx 30) was firstly very helpful with getting the goat into the van and secondly very excited about the match. The discussion was short as we were worried about what Noisette would do to the inside of the van.

As we left, the son told us that he had explained to Noisette that we would probably speak to her in English and she wasn't to worry. I asked him if he had also explained that animals at Grand Gennetay are expected to work for their living? "Oui, oui, pas de probleme." Had he also explained to her what happened if she broke her side of the bargain (I was enjoying this!). He looked a little perplexed. Nicole muttered "Mon dieu!" and explained more fully where Noisette was going to be living and where we find our food.

I was, of course, joking. I am not squeamish about eating our animals as I think this blog shows, but I couldn't possibly do so when we had been given what was effectively a family pet.

The good news, apart from the outcome of the match, is that Noisette is cutting the grass very effectively. We will move her down to the banks of the moat shortly.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

New start in the garden

Today heralds a new start in the garden. It was a beautiful day and, apart from general maintenance, the first day we have actually done any constructive work towards this year's produce. This is a photo of the main veggie patch this morning:

The plastic sheeting is left over from last year and needed to be lifted so that we can reuse it this year. The greenhouse is fine after its wonderful overhaul last year. However it needs a clear out (Sunday's job).

This year I want to add an extra bed in here. We have too many paths and where there are paths there are an abundance of summer weeds. I don't mind using glysophate before I've sown/planted but once veg is in the ground I don't like to use it at all. So, my grand plan is to have an extra bed, thus cutting down on the paths between them.

I know the rotovator is the bain of all good, sensible gardeners but in this case we used it. I am quite sure the penalty will be paid later on but I'm hoping it won't be too bad with the help of the plastic sheeting.

Max turned the soil and by the end of the afternoon we had a well turned plot. Tomorrow I will put the plastic back and start planning what is going where.

One surprise that greeted me while I was weeding the asparagus bed:

I don't think I've ever seen asparagus shoots this early. More frost is forecast so I piled a stack of soil over the top to protect it for a bit longer.