Autumn is here. The colours of the High Corbieres have changed dramatically, the heat of the Summer, with the lack of rain since April, drained the colour from the forest and garrigue, but now the reds of the maples and the yellows of the deciduous oaks cover the forest slopes. New bright green grasses has started to push through the scorched road sidel banks. Leaves are falling everywhere, and maybe it will even rain. Please let it rain.
The vendages, wine harvest, is virtually over, with just a few brave souls holding off on their reds for a deep tannin flavour. We are going down to St Auriol behind Lagrasse on Sunday to pick the last of Dominic’s organic red wine grapes in the morning, and then faire le fete with a bunch of other organic farms and paysans from the Corbieres. Any excuse to break open the wine, and wine really helps with the back pains. It is the huile agricole, farmer’s oil, and luckily the Corbieres have no shortage of it..
With our season drawing to an end at least we now have time to have a social life. Sure you see people in the markets, you get to say hello but a good chin wag is out of the question as there are always pesky customers who have the temerity to ask what is the difference between a Marseillais Basil and a Greek Basil, or who want to know the best spot for planting a Spanish Thyme. Now at last we have time to spend the occasional afternoon eating and drinking with friends, their Summer visitors have gone and it is time to catch up on the events of the year.
It is also the time for more local events, last Sunday I was in Ceret for their annual Eco Festival, a small and friendly party for the organic and ecologist community. This Saturday I am skipping the Perpignan market for the Autumn Paysan and Agro Ecology festival in Azillanet, another party pretending to be a market. Both last Sunday in Ceret and tomorrow in Azillanet I did and will do well commercially as it is exactly our target market, organically minded folk but it will also be fun and time to catch up with people you rarely see in Summer.
Village life has once again returned to it’s sleepy old self, gone are the tourists to return deep into 2018. Anyone who thinks that the future of the Corbieres is tourism needs to spend a whole year down here not just July and August. In the Corbieres tourism is a brief 12 week infestation, and a year has 52 weeks. The tourist infrastructure is starting to close down, restaurants and bars reducing their hours, campsites and hotels closing for the Winter months, the barges of the Canal du Midi being cleaned and docked.
The nature of the markets have also changed, with the departure of our Northern visitors many stand holders take the opportunity for a much needed holiday. The beach markets have finished and it is the market towns that remain. Gone are the sellers of tapenarde and dried sausage. But Autumn welcomes a new flow of seasonal sellers, it is mushroom time, the markets are full of seasonal mushroom collectors with their make shift stands packed with Cepes and Lactaire délicieux. In the Montagnes Noire the nuts are ready, fresh walnut and chestnuts abound.
Work wise the pace feels like it should slowed down but in reality it just changes, and the cooler weather means that you don’t run for shade in the middle of the day. There is still a lot to do, the plants need sorting our, an inventory of what plants remain needs to be done. The poly tunnel needs repairing, the weeds that amazingly survive the Summer need clearing out, tables repairing, doors put on and the plants that over Winter under plastic need taking down. The Corbieres may be in the South of France but a Corbieres winter can be really really cold, and as this year showed so can a Corbieres Spring.
It is time to do all the Thyme and Lavender cuttings. The Winter crop of Coriander ad Parsley need planting every two weeks. The mother plants needs some tender loving care, and composting. All the pots need sorting out to see what remain and what needs to be ordered for next year.
It is also the time for forestry work, wood needs collecting and trees cutting back. Hopefully we will have some rain to reduce the risk of fire, and so I can burn the brush that we don’t need to chip. By law we have to clear the land up to 50 metres from the house, cutting down the trees or pruning the lower branches off them to a height of two metres, and clearing underneath them to reduce the risk of fire. We luckily have a lot of trees around us, they help shade us and the plants from the Summer sun, and give us some limited protection from the wind. Maybe this year I will finally get them all thinned out and pruned. that is a rather big maybe.
With the days shortening it is time to think about turning off the fridge, it is too much to ask of the solar panels to keep the power going for them. And the house needs an Autumn clean, we did a cosmetic job for the party but the piles of dust and dog hair still lurks in unseen spots.
And then there is our water source, at the start of Summer our water stopped completely. Total and utter panic. The well was full but no water was coming our way, that at least was better than the alternative, that the well ahd dried up.The only problem is that our well is at least a mile up the mountain and that is a lot of buried pipe to check. After much investigation it seemed that the pipe between the source and the collector was blocked, about 50 meters of pipe buried up to 2 metres underground. We emptied the well and pushed a pigs tail deblocker down the pipe. About 6 meters from the well was an obstacle. After much pushing and turning, and the occasional swear word I pulled out the half the rotting remains of a dead snake. The wretched thing must have found a way into the well, drowned and it’s body sucked into the exit pipe. Well to cut a long story short we now have water back at the Domaine, though the pressure is much reduced. With half the snake still in the pipe somewhere needless to say we no longer drink the water, but it is still organic so OK for the plants. We are awaiting rain, as I have a fear hat after such a long drought if we empty the well again it may not refile. Once it has rained we will empty the well again and find that other half. Once that is sorted out we can start having showers again. Only in the Corbieres.
And it is time to do an inventory of the seeds and dig out the organic seed catalogues to get a new supply in for next Spring. Before you know it, it will all begin again.