Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rain, sunshine and chou rouge

I cut some rhubarb today and am going to cook it with a few plums I think I still have in the freezer from last season. I shall make plum and rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb was the first produce I ate this year from my own garden. and it was very delicious, being harvested, cooked and eaten on the same day

I have a lot of fruit in the garden, apart from the rhubarb crown there are about 30 fruit trees – fig, cherry, plum, apple, pear, walnut and a nectarine. However, I can’t claim much responsibility for this as most of it was already growing in the garden when I bought the house about 4 years ago. I did however, move about 8 wild plum trees last fall and they are now doing well in the orchard - well, seven of them are!!!

Around the new year, this year, I decided to start growing vegetables and to create a "Potager" (French Kitchen Garden). The weather in January was pleasant so I was able to get the area marked out and bordered. I had chosen an area of grass to use and was intending to raise a veg bed on top. I laid out 2 beds, one 8ft x 8ft (2.4m x 2.4m) and the other 8ft x 4ft (2.4m x 1.2m)

The smaller of the beds was to serve as a bed for perennials and the larger for my annual vegetables.

I finished preparing the beds and started to think about what I would grow. Shortly after, I bought my first vegetable plants - a dozen strawberry plants!!! J These were to go into the perennial bed where they could happily sit for three or four years before being replaced. This inspired me to think about rhubarb.

The first year I was here I found a big old rhubarb growing in the middle of a rose bed. I assumed it was a companion planting of some sort but I have never found it mentioned although it may have been for the ground cover qualities. So with my perennial veg bed now adorned with a dozen strawberry plants it seemed to make sense to move the rhubarb. After all, the rhubarb has certainly been in the ground for over 4 years and probably much longer so lifting and separating would help it! And thus, one morning in early March I was off to the rose bed to dig up the rhubarb.

Now, sadly, rhubarb doesn’t show much above ground in winter, and in March it hadn’t broken surface. So with my fork I gently pushed in to lift the rhubarb - missed. It must be a bit further over - missed. Maybe back a bit - missed. After about 6 attempts I called in reinforcements. My wife was summoned and she agreed the rhubarb was "about" where I was digging. I tried left a bit, I tried right a bit, I tried back a bit, I tried forward a bit but the rhubarb, who by now was really enjoying this game, stayed stubbornly hidden. Until eventually, with most of the land between my roses disturbed, I gave up and went indoors for a cup of tea!

That is how it comes about that, today, I went out to my rose bed and cut some rhubarb. In fact it has come up, more or less where I was digging, if I had just gone back a bit AND left a bit I would have found it! This summer I’m going to put a stake in the ground so that next March I can lift it, split it and plant it in my perennial vegetable bed that will then become all fruit.

By way of a change, I planted vegetables in the larger bed. Real vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, radish, onions, garlic – that sort of thing. And on the whole they are growing well. The garlic is nearly a foot (30cms) tall and the peas are trying to pull the onions out of the ground. One or two peas are even in flower today.

Cabbage? ah yes. Now some of you will know that I am an Englishman living in France. France is a wonderful country but it has one big setback for the likes of me. Everyone speaks French!

Those who know me, will know that my level of French is "Tres Faible!" (Not very good)!

OK. Well, I did know that cabbage was "chou" in French and sure enough there were some plants at the nursery marked "chou". They had a picture of a little green cabbage – that was a help! They also had some sort of stock number scrawled in indelible marker right across the picture making it difficult to see anything. I selected my tray and bought a dozen plants. (I am trying seed this year but I needed a comfort zone of a few ready to grow plants)

My bed was ready and within a few days my internet guru, ( said it was time to plant cabbage. So in the ground they went. I planted a half dozen, which was all I really had room for and kept back the other six for replacing any failures (mice, snails, frost etc)
About this time, it had been dry for a few weeks, I also bought a rain water gauge. If I’m going to grow vegetables in this region, I need to measure the water falling so I can work out how much more is needed. I found an ideal spot for the gauge and set it up.

And of course it rained. I had planted. I had a water gauge. Why wouldn't it rain??

My little cabbages did well. The rain did them a power of good and the gentle Mediterranean climate with bright sunshine in between the rain helped them along no end.

There was just one problem, they were turning a very strange colour. A sort of purple. I couldn’t find anything that would indicate a deficiency in the ground and, as it was a new bed, it had been made with ample compost – a good mixture of well rotted home grown compost, well rotted leaf mould and a few bags of a propriety compost as well. I had even thrown a couple of bags of horse manure, which I found on special offer at the local supermarket (alongside the vegetables), into the mix.

Eventually, I found the label from the plants and thought I might go back and see if they could suggest anything. HOWEVER! Do you remember that stock number? Well, on closer inspection it was the word "ROUGE". Now for those of you who don’t speak French, I’ll tell you, it means RED! I had bought Red Cabbages! And they were doing very well.

Oh, the rainwater gauge,? It hasn’t really been needed. Most weeks since then more rain has fallen than the gauge can measure. Every Sunday morning I check it, find it way off the scale, empty it and put it back in place till the following Sunday!

Rain, sunshine and chou rouge. This is sunny south west France.

1 comment:

Kate said...

A friend of mine grows masses of chou rouge, as you put it, and she claims it is the only cabbage that doesn't get attacked by any insects (here, most cabbage gets infested with slugs, at the very least - I never bother growing it, I prefer Chinese cabbage and kale and...oh shut-up Kate!). So good luck with your red cabbage. There are lots of recipes on the internet with what to do with it.

I thought your French would be tres formidable.... I bet you are just being modest. I am finding a combiation of English, Japanese, French and now Italian to be at times slightly more than my aging brain can differentiate. The 2 most often confused are Italian and Japanese - funny but true (OH shut-up gain Kate...sorry Ian)