Here in the Loire Valley, we don't really have very many bugs at all -- we don't have window screens, for example, and don't need them, even when the weather is hot. The biggest problem with the lack of window screens is that birds and bats sometimes fly into the house, especially in the evening.
Here, the bugs exist in nothing like the numbers you get on the U.S. East Coast. I grew up in coastal North Carolina, so I know what I'm talking about. Here in Saint-Aignan we don't have much more of an "insect problem" than the SF Bay Area does. That's one of the nice things about living here.
However, there is some little gnat or fly or mite out in the garden that bites you and gives you a nasty welt. The welt is slow to develop but lasts for days, really itches, and finally forms kind kind of crust or scab on its surface. That's Too Much Information, I guess, but it really is a nuisance. I think the bug must live in the soil, because it's only when you scratch around in the dirt that you get bitten. I'm not sure it is even a flying insect. The bite is definitely not the work of a mosquito.
About soil-free gardening, I'm not convinced such a scheme would work here in Saint-Aignan. It sounds to me like a method designed for climates where basically no rain falls during the gardening and growing season — California, in other words. Maybe I'm wrong. We aren't having any rain right now, but we know full well that the rain can return any day and turn our summer into another very wet one. They had violent downpours and flash floods yesterday in Angers and Rennes, not far west of Saint-Aignan. The stormy weather is moving our way.
The fact that we have heavy clay soil in our yard — what a friend calls « de la terre à vigne », or "grape-growing soil," as opposed to the sandy or loamy river-bottom soil in which it's easy to grow vegetables — is a major problem in rainy years. Our clay and limestone dirt gets saturated with moisture and drainage is poor. Fungi, molds, and mildew take hold fast in wet conditions and cause plant diseases. That's what happened to our gardens in 2007 and 2008.
One man we know — he lives a couple of miles from us, at about the same distance from the river and at about the same "altitude" as our house — has a fantastic vegetable garden every year. The soil in his garden is gray and loose, while ours is brown and compact. At first I thought he was very lucky to have such rich soil for growing vegetables, including root vegetables like carrots and beets.
Well, it turns out luck had nothing to do with it. When he had his house built 20 years ago, he had many truckloads of river-bottom soil hauled in and dumped on the ground to create a thick layer of topsoil that is ideal for gardening. Maybe that's what we should do. But given our basically flat piece of land, we'd probably also have to have major excavation work done and then have the poor grape-growing soil trucked out. It would make somebody some good concrete, I'm sure.
Meanwhile, the temperature yesterday hit 31ºC and the low this morning is just above 20ºC. That's impossibly warm for this climate. At 6:45, I noticed that Bruno the grape-grower is already out there on his tractor, tending the vines. He worked until about 9:30 last night — we saw him go by, on his way home, and we waved. He tooted his horn. He must be taking advantage of the hours when it isn't so hot.
We had guests last night, and we sat out on the terrace with them until 11:30. It was very agreeable, as we say in French. By that time, the temperature had moderated. There were a few annoying flying insects around as it got later, but nothing dramatic. There are a lot of moths here. Then bats came out and swooped around, feeding. Callie found a hedgehog — at least we think it was a hedghog — and raised a ruckus for a few minutes down below, in the... hedge. Thank goodness we don't have skunks here.
Our guests were two American women, one of whom is a blogger. She lives in the Washington DC area. The other woman is her mother, who lives near Portland, Oregon. One was enjoying our pleasant summer weather, and the other thought it was almost unbearably hot. I'll let you guess which one thought what. They are in the middle of their second week of a Loire Valley vacation. We enjoyed getting to know them.