Scaling up for the Summer

I had a major panic last week. Guests were coming for the numerous French bank holidays in May, and the B&B was far from ready. The biggest problem was that we had got used to keeping our horse equipment in there – particularly the saddles. To solve this problem I logged onto google and persuaded Nik to let me buy a saddle stand on the internet, so I could move the saddles upstairs into our own house. It was expensive but looked nicely made and I thought we would have it forever.

I was somewhat disappointed therefore to find that the shipping notice stated it was a 1/12 scale model of a saddle stand, complete with handmade saddle, cowboy boots and a hat. Now the 13 year old me would have been pretty pleased with this, but it didn’t really solve my current problem.

I have form with this type of misunderstanding of scale. When I did my first ever online supermarket shop back in England, I ended up with a single banana. I recalibrated the way I was ordering bananas but was a bit shocked to receive 7 bunches in my second delivery. When life gives you bananas, you make……banoffee pie, banana bread, banana splits. It was a while before I ate another banana after that. I also once famously bought a fridge freezer off the internet and was delighted at the good price. When it arrived it was about 30cm square and was designed for a camper van.

The other reason for my panic is that the B&B is also completely covered in honey. You may recall we adopted a swarm of bees that had landed in a neighbours hedge last year. We used to keep bees in the UK so were excited about this, and our girls did great work all summer gathering pollen and nectar from our wildflowers and fruit trees. At the end of the season we were concerned to see Asian hornets hanging around the hive. A quick peep in the hive on a warm sunny day in February confirmed our worst fears – they hadn’t made it through the winter. They had however left behind two “supers” worth of honey (these are the boxes that you put on the hive into which the bees obligingly build comb and store honey.) This was being robbed by bees from other hives which seemed a waste, so we started to process it. We don’t have any fancy extraction equipment so this involved smashing the comb and straining it through a series of sieves. Oh my goodness it is sticky! Everything is sticky. Doorknobs, cutlery, the table, the floor. Even the dogs are a little tacky to the touch. We’ve been at it for a few days now as it takes a while for the honey to run through the sieves. It is very satisfying how much honey we are getting, but it is going to need the mother of all cleans before guests arrive on Saturday. (Footnote – we got it clean in time but then the guests cancelled on the Saturday morning.)

By the way we have been reading some stuff about beekeeping over the winter. Keeping bees is sometimes seen as the answer to the crisis facing bees. But honeybees are not the only sort of bees of course and really it is the less well known species of bees that are suffering – bumble bees and solitary bees for example. Honeybees are also in trouble as well due to varroa mite, the widespread use of neonicatinoid chemicals in farming and loss of wildflower habitat. But this is predominantly an agricultural problem affecting the production of honey rather than a conservation issue. In fact evidence has shown that too many hives can result in such a concentration of honeybees in an area, that they start to seriously compete with other pollinators for pollen and nectar resources. So it might actually make the problem worse.

We will look to pick up another swarm this year as I think our 8Ha is sufficiently flower-rich to be able to cope, but we won’t ever run more than a couple of hives.

In other news the pigs have had their first birthday! This makes them, sadly, among the oldest domesticated pigs in the world. We celebrated with a birthday melon with a candle in it. They were delighted. Video evidence is available here. They continue to amuse and entertain us and Nik in particular is quite besotted. He goes out late at night to say goodnight and tuck them in, and often comes back covered in straw having crept into their house to “make sure they were ok”.

Bookings and cancellations continue to come in every day. Slightly more of the former than the latter so we move slowly forwards. I have started writing our paper diaries in pencil as they are such a mess! The other day we went out for a post lockdown BBQ at some friends’ house. Nik rode the horse over there while I drove with my son. We turned the horse out in their field and had a lovely lunch, then somewhat the worse for wear I rode him home. It was a lovely afternoon. When I glanced at my phone afterwards however, I saw we had had 4 new bookings (one a double booking) 2 cancellations, 3 questions via email and 2 people wanting to add an evening meal to their booking! I don’t think I can take my eye off the ball much this summer.

Covid times are chaotic and confusing for everyone. I am often asked what the rules will be for travel between the France and the UK this summer. While I find people’s faith in my mystic powers touching most of the time the honest answer is “how the hell should I know?” France is slowly emerging from lockdown and the UK has instigated a traffic light system of travel. Unfortunately France has been listed as amber for the time being. What this is likely to mean is that June travel between the two countries will be difficult with quarantine required on return, but July and August will probably be OK. The situation for Belgium and Netherlands is similar except travel between these countries and France may be possible a little earlier. Restaurants should be open here during high summer but we will probably still have to wear masks in public – but honestly it would feel weird not to by now wouldn’t it? We now have a date for our vaccinations which is a huge relief. If you think vaccinations are a conspiracy and you don’t want to wear a mask – Le Moulin isn’t the place for you.

The pool is cleaned and ready although a little bracing at this time of year. We have sought some help with the garden this year so that is looking lovely and we continue to try and grow as much of our own food as possible. The recent late frost was a real blow. It wiped out 1/3 of France’s wine harvest and about the same of our blueberry blossom. The peaches, apples, cherries and quince are all looking a bit glum too.

Despite all these trials and tribulations Le Moulin continues to be a tranquil place of loveliness and we very much hope to be able to share it with you this summer.