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Autumn in Creuse

October is autumn in Creuse, our part of central France. September is still summer, and November is when winter starts, generally very enthusiastically on the first day, so that give us just the thirty-one days of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

The fruitfulness is a little less fruitful than in the last couple of years. There are many barren apple, pear and walnut trees. Last year saw bumper crops from them all, but whether because of the weather or some sort of production cycle the trees quietly operate, pickings are very lean. However, the occasional tree is groaning with fruit and we’ve gleaned plenty of apples, peaches and damsons to keep us going for a good while. The vegetables haven’t done too well either. A very dry and incredibly hot summer (temperatures here went into the 40s a few times) has put paid to all the squash. Even watering them using bath water during the drought hasn’t done them any good. In previous years we’ve been up to our necks in pumpkins.I have just two small ones this year which are reserved for Halloween. No pumpkin soup for us this autumn.

But the animals have thrived. Our llama herd has swelled by five new arrivals and the sustenance animals, our pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys, are as fat as we can healthily get them. A few have already made the transition from field to freezer after as good a free ranging life as it’s possible to get. We’ll be eating well this winter.

The mists have started. Early mornings are chilly and misty and we’re starting to use wood from our pile. We have put many, many hours into replenishing the wood store. As with many French rural dwellers, wood is our main source of heating fuel and winters being what they are in Creuse, you need around twelve cubic metres to get you through the five cold months until spring arrives in April. We’ve chopped, lugged, split and stacked ourselves into the ground. But keeping warm is a basic need.

Our lives in France are much closer to the basic needs like this than they used to be back in Ireland. Reduced income and material demands have brought this about. Thus growing much of our own food is a key part of our daily routine now, in the form of tending to the poultry and livestock and nurturing the fruit and veg. Building up a sufficient supply of wood for the winter comes a very close second, particularly with the high prices of fossil fuels now. The weather has a much larger impact on our activities too. Much of our work is outdoors so you’re fully aware of the wet and the dry and heat and the cold. Our livestock keep us in touch with the rhythms of births in the spring, growth in the warm months and harvesting before winter.

Making do and mending plays an important role too. When there aren’t the means to rush off and buy a new this or that you put time and effort into keeping what you already have going that bit longer. You learn to become very resourceful and able to turn your hands to repairing, well, pretty much anything and everything! We’re frequent frequenters of secondhand shops when we do need ‘new’ items so are altogether very virtuous reusers and recyclers. A couple of tin cans, tops and bottoms removed and painted black, makes a good replacement exhaust pipe for a tractor. Remnants of insulation boards can be turned into a des res pig house, but only if metal coated. Anything less robust gets eaten!

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October is very much a catch-up-and-get-ready month. The rentrée has dominated September and soon the cold will push everyone indoors more and more so this month is the last chance this year to get any outdoor jobs done. We have plenty of fencing to tackle, pointing and lake maintenance, and that’s just for starters, so we’ll be outside as much as we can, but still find time to glean and process whatever fruit we can find. So it’s a busy but invaluable month and best of all, it has Halloween in it! That’s not a big deal for the French but for us with our Irish connections, it’s huge, and a real celebration to mark the end of the good weather so you feel ready for the bleak season that lies ahead.

I’m Stephanie Dagg, author, editor, fishery owner, alpaca and llama farmer – oh yes, and mum and wife too. We live in the rural heart of France in Creuse, an area famous for its hazlenut cake and extremely elderly population. We’re truly Europeans having lived in England and Ireland before coming here. I blog about our daily life as expats with all its pleasures and perplexities, and fun and frustrations at www.bloginfrance.com. You’ll find my many and mostly free ebooks here on my Smashwords page www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SJDagg.

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