Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The answer is …. Tits!


A few weeks ago I was waiting to meet some clients who were just about to take on the rental of a lovely villa that I manage.  The cleaners had cleaned, the gardener had gardened, the pisciniste had … done a great job.  Everything was perfect, except for that disastrous moment when I looked up and spotted about 30 caterpillar nests in the pine tree by the pool house!  

The nests look like tufts of candy floss and are home to hundreds of hairy caterpillars, known as ‘Processionary Caterpillars’ (or Chenilles Processionaires in french).  They come out of their nests at night to feed - and then when they are mature, and the weather is warm enough, they descend to the ground and ‘process’ in a single line, nose to tail, in search of a suitable place to burrow into the ground and pupate; emerging as Moths later in the year ready to lay their eggs in the pine trees and start the cycle all over again.    

At first glance these lines of caterpillars marching around the garden can look quite funny - but they are extremely dangerous and a real problem here in the South of France.  Apart from the fact that they often destroy their ‘host’ pine trees, the main problem is that their hairs are poisonous and can cause severe allergic reactions (or worse) in humans - and animals.  I won’t go into details but a google search on the subject will show you all that you need to know.


My clients were just there to pick up the keys that day - and were planning to move in with their 4 dogs later in the week.  Disaster!

I knew the regular gardener wouldn’t be keen if I asked him to remove the nests so I called up a specialist company who said they were rushed off their feet so couldn’t come for 10 days and they would be charging 275€. I didn’t think the owner of the villa would be hugely impressed by this outlay so carried on with my research and discovered that for around 50€ you could buy a trap to put around the trunk of the tree which would capture the creatures on their way down.  The perfect solution - if any of the garden centres/DIY shops had them in stock - which they didn’t. 

I couldn’t help having a mini rant at the woman on the phone when she informed me that yes, they had had 10 in stock but one client had just taken the final 3.  Just 10?  When I finally paused for breath she told me that there was one very economical solution - Tits.  Apparently these little birds love nothing more than snacking on the contents of a juicy caterpillar nest and are pretty much the only natural predator for them.  Cue another melt-down from me - it is Spring, there is an abnormally high infestation of processional caterpillars in the pine trees this year, the shops have ordered insufficient stocks of traps and now it was being suggested to me that I install nesting boxes in trees.  I know very little about birds but could hazard a guess that luring the right birds into a new ‘des-res’ on the pine tree was likely to take weeks, rather than days.

The end of this sorry tale is that I ended up paying for a company to come and destroy the nests.  I have also installed traps around the pine trees in my own garden, fabricated by a local company who goes by the name of La Mésange Verte (the Green tit)!

And one even more important lesson I have learned is to be very careful when searching for pictures to go with my blogs – searching Google for ‘tits’ was not a good idea!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Through the grapevine...




A common site at this time of year is to see a lone ‘vigneron’ bent over the vines with secateurs in hand, painstakingly pruning row after row of plants.  What is a much less common site is to see 40 people attempting to do the same thing at the same time.  This was what passers-by would have seen last Saturday morning as we were attending a course in pruning. Not my normal Tasse du Thé but when you live in one of the largest wine-producing regions of France you can’t help but take an interest – and there was also the promise of a ‘Grillade’ accompanied by local wines as an incentive! 

The morning started off with coffee and a slide-show in the Terrassous ‘Cave’ (our local wine co-operative), then we all walked into the neighbouring vineyards to try it for ourselves.  Some of us were better than others, but at the end of the session there were twigs everywhere and at least 10 rows had been pruned (although I don’t think we were there as cheap labour!)

Towards midday the smell of the barbecue proved irresistible and we all sat down to enjoy a really good meal including salads, crusty bread, typical Catalan style grilled meats (too fatty for me) and a wonderful cheese plate.  Wine pruning is very thirsty work so luckily they had also provided the entire range of local wines – Sweet Muscat as an apero, then Rosé and/or Red to follow. 
  
 
Somehow we all made our way back to the Cave where pudding had been laid out – accompanied by yet more sweet Muscat (rude to say no, of course!) – and we were all presented with a certificate.  I don’t think I’ll be giving up my day job anytime soon, but it has certainly opened my eyes to the back-breaking work that goes into producing my wine!