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Gathering & Harvesting

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

The first week of November it is exactly one year ago that we, Erika, Dennis and our dog Miep, left Haarlem for Brittany in France. In our series of blogs we report about our green existence in the hill country of Cotes-d’Armor. The theme of this autumn edition is 'Gathering and Harvesting'.

“Autumn leaves, beauty's got a hold on me…”

Autumn has been creeping into our hameau for a few days now. Sometimes we think we are wrong if the temperature is still pleasantly rising, but the already freezing cold nights and the harvest movements on the fields make it clear that it really is autumn. Small, at least 50 years old, tractors and the latest huge agricultural machines together harvest maize and grain. Since than our world has become a lot wider again: maize grows quite high and forms natural walls along the narrow roads. Some pieces of land show now beautiful furrows, on other plots the rapeseed is shooting up again and will soon show seas of bright yellow flowers. In our house -Ty-Vert- the collected hazelnuts and received walnuts are drying in a basket. And every week we make apple compote from fall apples that are literally everywhere around us. Many apples go unused, we wonder why. Is it to attract pollinators for the food crops, or to feed the farm animals? We do not know. According to a brochure of the organic supermarket there occur 62 ! varieties of apples in our area. The first harvestable in July and the last in February. Never knew that there are so many different varieties and that apples can be grown and harvested over such a long period of time.

In our summer blog we already mentioned that experiencing the seasons up close allows us to ground ourselves and connect with the beautiful living environment and cycles of nature. That just keeps getting more intense. Our hameau is 'small, calm and quiet', yet brimming with life. Our neighbors are enterprising people and you hear a lot of laughter on all days of the week. We are also busy 6 days a week, but we do not experience that as work. Shaping a self-reliant and self-sufficient existence as much as possible is a wonderful challenge and also instructive. Gathering shellfish? Takes half a day to collect them at low tide, over an hour to clean them and at least another half hour to prepare. The taste sensation is unforgettable. Picking blackberries? Same. Harvesting from the vegetable garden? They have to be processed, pickled, made into jam or frozen after blanching. The ornamental garden and the 'wild' forest also require a lot of attention and care, but the work has no deadline, everything can be done at our own pace at a suitable time. The essence of our existence is to provide beautiful, enriched nature around us and healthy, organic food for body and mind.

After one year, we can confidently say that we have taken the right step. This is partly because we have been warmly welcomed by the community, we belong there even though we don't speak French well yet. Everyone in the hameau does their best and takes care of each other and their living environment with love. We are also regularly taken 'in tow'; to the coast to collect a meal of cockles, to 'the best place' for blackberry picking, mushroom gathering, to the jeu-la-Boule-Bretonne and to a local farmer who grows a variety of fragrant and tasty tomatoes. We buy them per 10 kilos, eat them fresh and use them to make sauces in the cuisinière à bois. Slow cooking in the woodstove, fired on good dry oak from the area.


Picked and gathered from the wild

salty sea vegetables | blackberries | cockles | fall apples | hazelnuts | elderberries | blackthorn berries | seaweed | chestnuts | hawthorn berries | wild flowers | wood | all kinds of washed ashore by the flood | beautiful moments and stories


And then there is also the harvest in the form of 'placemaking', increasing the visual quality and natural value of our outdoor space. What a difference in just one year! Dennis has built large flower beds around the concrete floor of what was originally a barn and is now a lovely terrace under the pergola with climbers. On both sides of the pergola and in various other visible spots, he has cut boxes out of the rough grass and planted them with all kinds of flowers. These flower beds are interrelated, in shape, color, texture and flowering periods. The planting is locally grown , insect-friendly and interesting all year round. Our plot is increasingly cohesive and structured. By creating a winding path and 'clearing area', the lower situated forest has been made more accessible, attractive and connected to the naturalistic ornamental garden and flower meadow in the making, located directly behind our house.

Funny; When we arrived a year ago, we immediately got to work, without consultation: Dennis walked to the part of our plot where the ornamental garden would be and Erika went straight to the vegetable garden. Now, after a year, we have noticed that the different parts and atmospheres of the gardens reinforce each other and become intertwined, just like the original inhabitants of our hameau with us and even more broadly, we with the Bretonners. Truly a rich and diverse harvest. The fact that we work hard but do not experience as such, even though muscles and back regularly think differently, is because we do what our heart goes out to; gardening, photography, bookmaking, walking, painting and crafts. We inspire each other and like to be inspired by what and who comes our way. This translates into many beautiful experiences, acquired knowledge, new friendships, beautiful and productive gardenbeds, intense nature experiences and tasty meals. For us, small and slow are the keys to a titillating, healthy and meaningful life in a close-knit, caring community.

The north coast of Brittany has inspired Dennis to a new ongoing photo project. See the selection 'Tideline' and 'Object trouvé' on this site. Still has to crystallize, but the goal is again making a nice storytelling. Very different, but just as beautiful and personal as Dennis's last Dutch book 'De ontsloten tuin’ ('The unlocked garden'), which is in Holland available at the local bookshop and directly from de website of the publisher. A gift tip for the holidays for those who don't have it yet and can read the Dutch language or just love beautifull photography!

Suggestions and comments are welcome as always.

We look forward to seeing you on the next Ty-Vert blog!

All the best Erika and Dennis

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