More March madness in Charente!! #RPBP chicks, nettles and baytrees!


It's the weekend and for some of us the spring sunshine is tempting us to step outside and visit our gardens which are often barren looking after the harshness of winter. As you look at your garden wondering where to start and what to do this summer you might want to visit our story from the summer of 2013 for some inspiration and frugal ideas on what to plant, eat and enjoy this year.
Here's a sneak preview of March in Charente.
Happy gardening,
Sarah Jane :)

Extract from Our Frugal Summer in Charente
Chapter 2
March

March arrived with a flurry of activity in the garden, and our early planted onions and garlic were already breaking the ground, much to the dismay of our French neighbours who still fear the frosts. In the garden, we added to their garden horrors by pruning back, quite harshly by some people’s standards. But then people who do not know Nigel will not know what he is like when he handles a pair of loppers he is renowned for getting carried away. This fact can be confirmed by our friends Tim and Nicky after they let him loose on a hedge once!
Bay tree pruning commences
Behind the bread oven when we arrived there was a huge, but dead looking bay tree. We love bay leaves, and Nigel insists on using them when he cooks his signature dish, spaghetti bolognaise. He should have been the cook here in France as he at least has some professional experience to draw on, whereas I make it up as I go along. We had already, last October, taken off a lot of the top and side branches of the bay tree, but decided to leave it at that as winter was approaching. It was not until our initial cull had commenced that we noticed that all of the houses on our side of the street had a bay tree in the garden. They all looked dead, but no one else was pruning. Were we making a mistake here? Undeterred we continued. However, now we are into spring, and the supposedly dead trees have taken off again and ours was causing cracks in the bread oven wall. The ivy that had crept up the narrow bay tree truck had infiltrated the stone wall behind the tree removing its soft sand mortar. As we carefully removed the ivy, we realised it was not enough and that we needed to cut the bay tree back further.
We did not want to waste any of the bay leaves so the branches were cut off and put near the back door so that we could pick every leaf off ready to store for future use. The branches would be stored in the barn to season as next year’s firewood. How do you even store bay leaves? Fortunately, the issue of how to store bay leaves is a popular subject and was featured in one of the questions and answer pages of the gardening magazines. Therefore, the plan was to ‘pick the leaves off and lay them to dry in a warm, airy room’. As I read this my eyes rolled as thoughts of ‘where in this building site of a home can I find somewhere to do that, we have thousands of leaves here’. Even if I gave bundles of bay leaves away there were too many unless I could devise a drying system. We decided to keep some fresh in clip top plastic boxes for immediate use, and they kept fresh for three months.
Homemade table
In the meantime, Jaime and I decided to construct a makeshift drying table from an old wooden door placed on piles of bricks in her bedroom. Voila! All we needed to do then was layer it with newspapers and leaves. It was like doing a big green jigsaw puzzle, but with no picture. The aim was to cover the newspaper. When the leaves were dry, approximately two weeks later, we placed them into air-tight plastic food containers for storage and later use. Problem solved we would have bay leaves for every meal!
I started planting out my courgettes, egg-plants (aubergines,) cabbage and cauliflower seedlings which I started off in Jaime’s bedroom. The cucumbers, also propagated indoors, and some of my herbs are upgraded to larger pots as they are still too fragile to be planted out. However, some of the more hardy herbs like my Italian parsley and rosemary are big enough to be transplanted into the stony area set aside for herbs near to the back door. This would enable easy access from the kitchen or our al-fresco bread oven when we were cooking.
Also in March we acquired our five, two-week-old chickens, after being assured by the French lady at the vide grenier where we bought them that they would be laying eggs by July. For now, they had to live indoors as they were very small, and the chicken wire enclosure that Nigel had started would not stop them from escaping or protect them from being attacked by foxes.
Four of the five chicks, named after the Spice Girls
The chickens take up residence in Jaime’s bedroom alongside her rabbit Rosie. I know how this sounds but our house was a building site, and it was the safest place for them. Various defences were erected in the doorways and around trailing wires, etc. Nigel and Jaime made temporary perches for them to sit on both in a large cardboard box enclosure and in the corner of the room for when they were free roaming. It was a bit messy at times and copious amounts of newspapers from friends and neighbours were employed to prevent soiling of our oak floorboards.  Even so we knew that the boards would need to be sanded before varnishing when the renovation work was complete. My worry was the smell whereas Jaime was more concerned about her One Direction posters which the chickens liked to peck at!
For the remainder of the March story and more funny, useful and innovative cooking and gardening stories get your copy of Our Frugal Summer in Charente, it makes an ideal Easter gift!
Paperback only £3.99
Ebook only £1.98
Take a look at a recent review:
5.0 out of 5 stars So, Me!19 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Our frugal summer in Charente: An Expat's Kitchen Garden Journal (Sarah Jane's Travel Memoir Series Book 3) (Kindle Edition)
This is a really charming journal type story of a family, in a year, living 'The Good Life'. When I say that, I mean like the 70's TV show not the high life. Much of the time it sounds like a lot of hard work, but incredibly satisfying when things go right.
The book is also stuffed with recipes, gardening advice, storage tips and how to make the most out of everything you find or have grown.
Follow the family on their brave adventure being as self-sufficient as possible. For someone who doesn't like courgettes, I've learnt a crafty trick with what to do with them. Courgette Wine and Marrow Rum! Yes! There really is a good use for everything.
It's also a very personal story of the family itself and how they worked together and the funny incidents they encountered.
A great little read to get you away from this bustling world of traffic and supermarkets.