Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bourton on Sea Twinning Association 1

I’ve recently became involved with the Bourton on Sea Twinning Association.

It has absolutely nothing to do with Kitchen Gardening, but just in case you’re interested I’ll post the first few blogs on here as well.

The new address for the Bourton on Sea Blog is :

Bourton on Sea is a small town in England with about 5000 inhabitants. Not much more than a village really, although for administrative purposes it comes under the bigger area of Bourton, which includes some other small villages and has a population of nearer 25,000. This is quite significant in a local authority of only 92,000. England is divided into counties and then each county is divided into local authorities. In the case of Bourton, it is one of six local authorities forming the county

I’m giving you all this regional information so that you can get an idea in your mind of where the Bourton on Sea Twinning Association fits into the local political scene.

Now some of you might be thinking, but I thought Ian lived in France? Well, I do! I got sort of co-opted into this job so that I could become the "man on the spot! So to speak.

For some time now, Bourton on Sea has been actively seeking a twinning partner.

Now, I don’t know a lot about town twinning and I’m not sure how much of it goes on outside Europe. But the basic philosophy is pretty simple to understand. Two communities make an agreement to work together to develop common aims. In Europe this is usually bound up in the aim of fostering better friendship and understanding between international communities.

Now, in Britain, twinning associations fall into two broad categories; local authority led twinning or community led twinning and Bourton on Sea Twinning Association is proud to be a community led twinning organisation.

This is almost like the difference between professional and amateur twinning, Local authority led twinning will be effected by local officers on expenses paid trips to their twin organisation.

Community led twinning will usually be run by a small committee of dedicated enthusiasts who essentially will pay for themselves to travel to the twin town.

This is a broad oversimplification but serves us well here as that is exactly what happens, or should I say, will happen, with our friends at Bourton on Sea.

Bourton on Sea Twinning Association has formed itself, held an inaugural meeting and formed a committee. That committee has agreed to meet once a month or more often if necessary and has elected a chair. A man called John. There are five other people on the committee at the moment but only Jeanette has a specific job.- Secretary.

There is only one small problem with the Bourton on Sea Twinning Association and that is quite simple, it hasn’t yet found a partner community to twin with.

Now to most people this would seem to be a major setback. Bourton on Sea isn’t that kind of town. Bourton on Sea folks are not those kind of folks. No, they have decided to twin and they have set up their organisation with the specific intention of twinning. Now they are going to go out and find a suitable community.

So John has arranged a meeting and the six committee members will all attend. There are two items on the hurriedly hand-written agenda handed out at the end of the inaugural meeting.
Agenda Item I - Possible Twinning Partner Communities
Agenda Item 2 - Any Other Business.

I can’t say whether it is simply because I’m an old cynic or what. But I thought it was very interesting that John had these agenda in his pocket when he arrived at the meeting! Like I said, maybe I’m just an old cynic.

Of course, John is a busy man. He works for himself for a big organisation. He always tells me he works for himself and then explains that he has only one customer, because they provide all the work he can handle.

John is also the village computer expert – self appointed.

One thought, do you mind if I refer to Bourton on Sea as a village. I simply can’t bring myself to call a place the size of BoS anything else.. I know that technically it’s a town but…. Thanks.

We now fast forward just over two weeks to the night of the "meeting"

John and his wife have prepared coffee and biscuits – always an essential if you’re going to have a truly British committee meeting and have cleared the dining room table and put six chairs around it. There is one chair at one end, three on one side and 2 on the other side. The end of the table nearest the door doesn’t have a chair at it.

Tony and Derek are first to arrive. Tony lives outside the village and passes Derek’s house on his way to John’s. They are old friends.

Tony is a fisherman. No, I should say, Tony is the fisherman.

For several years now there has only been one fishing boat working out of Bourton on Sea – Tony’s. He goes out into the bay and lands his catch most mornings. It’s quite a sight for the tourists who flock to the town in summer. If you are down on the beach at about half past seven in the morning, you’ll see Tony drive his 21 ft (6.5m) boat directly onto the beach. If you really study him, you’ll notice the expertise with which he pilots his boat. You can see him aim at the beach, with the outboard running as fast as it can. Then, as the bottom rushes up to meet him, he flips his big outboard up out of the water at the same time as cutting the power . Before the boat has even ground to a halt on the sand, he has hopped over the side, in his wellingtons, and waded ashore with his line, directly up the beach to his winch. Lesser men would have given up years ago, but not Tony. He's done it the same way, every day, every year for years.

Derek is still taking his coat off when Tony empties his first coffee and signals to John for permission to take another cupful.

"Fine coffee, John, but I’m afraid the first cup didn’t even touch the sides. I only got back in about half hour ago and I more or less turned and ran straight down here." he said as he poured the second coffee, also pouring one for Derek who was now taking a seat beside him at the table.

John, sat in the single chair at the ends of the table, with his coffee and enquired, "Just got back then. Where’ve you been?"

Tony looked up and smiled with a mouthful of coffee and Derek replied, "He’s been over to Plym Estuary to look at a new boat!"

"Well, it weren’t new," interjected Tony, "more ‘an 20 years old but it was that GRP and they go for ever. That old aluminium tub of mine is celebrating forty next year and it’s getting time to pension it off"

Jeanette who had arrived during this conversation poured herself a coffee and joined in "There’s nothing wrong with that boat of yours, Tone and there’s no point in spending thousands and thousands on a new one when you can’t even afford proper repairs to your nets and pots"

The conversation broke into several threads as the other 2 members of the committee arrived and took their places around the table

John offered the biscuits round, topped up everyone’s coffee and then called the meeting to order.

The Predator becomes friendly helping hand.

True life has an uncanny way of following fiction or I suppose the fact is that fiction is really a reflection on true life.

Some months ago I wrote about the life of a tomato Who’d be a tomato. In that story I talked about the predator becoming the helping hand.

As I knew it would, true life has emulated what I wrote and now, I find myself lavishing loving attention on the seven tomato plants that have been allowed to survive thus far.

The three on the left are Marmande, a local variety of big tasty beef tomatoes, then there are 2 golden sunrise and two cerise rouge – simply red cherry!

The Marmande are a big brute of a tomato and as you can see, they are set to become the playground bully on this bit of my domain.

I decided to grow the tomatoes in pots this year as I had filled up the beds I prepared and previously, in the UK, my father in law always grew tomatoes in pots in the greenhouse.

The lack of room in my beds also prompted me to grow my carrots in a container. On a couple of the gardening social networks to which I belong, there has been a great deal of discussion about container growing, and my friend ilex over at:

has been an inspiration to me. The other fact I learnt, only recently, is that the carrot root fly can only fly below 20 inches (500mm) above the ground, so, by putting my carrots in this container and raising it up on a shelf the pot is higher than root fly can get!!!!

I’ll tell you in a few weeks whether it worked or not!

Elsewhere things are growing well and I’m feeding most of the French population of snails, slugs and rabbits. Just occasionally, I even manage to pick something for myself.

Rabbits ate the basil and I’m not sure it is going to recover. I thought it might but it has been transferred to the ICU and the prognosis is not good.

In the orchard there is a sad face on the fruitless cherry trees and the plums are also looking short of fruit. I have plenty of apples though and some walnuts are beginning to form. It does look however, that this year will bear a poor orchard crop for us, with no cherries, no pears and no plums. It’s too early to say about the figs, but the tree has been disturbed as this was the first year of pruning after many years of neglect.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rabbit Stew?

I grow most of my herbs in containers on the terrace. The terrace is south facing and I guess you would describe it as half covered. The herbs grow on the uncovered part.

I have several pots each containing one herb, mint, dill, savoury, flat leaf parsley, basil, chives etc.

I had a pot of basil which was growing beautifully. The leaves were bright and pungent. I had cut it a couple of time to add to dishes, but really, it had only just got big enough to cut.

And then, a couple of mornings ago I was sitting on the terrace drinking my early morning coffee . I was sitting under the covered part due to the level of rain that was descending from some place high above my house.

The rain had chased away most of the wildlife that I enjoy to watch as I drink my coffee and formulate all those plans for things that won’t get done during the day.

There were a couple of jays flitting about but not much else. No sign of the pair of red squirrels that live out there somewhere. It was too late to see the deer that I know passes through our land most mornings. So I sat and watched the rain.

Then my eye caught sight of one of the herb containers. Something had changed. I went out into the pouring rain and recovered the pot and shot back under the dry and alongside my coffee.

The basil was no more.
It was gone.

There were still a few stalks but no leaves. Every leaf had been meticulously chomped from the plant. Escargot I thought, knowing the French solution to that particular problem. But how many snails can one eat?

But there was something else about this pot. Maybe I was being a little hasty blaming the snails.

Now at this point I need to mention one of my friends ilex. She writes a blog about growing food on a balcony in Detroit. Go pay her a visit at

The reason I need to mention ilex, at this point, is simply that she also keeps a couple of what she would describe as adorable rabbits. Their photos feature almost as much on the blog as do photos of things growing. Well, OK, I guess the rabbits are things growing! Although from reading her blog it seems the only thing the rabbits are doing is pooping!

But back to my story.

It seemed to me that the culprit was likely a rabbit.

A rabbit had taken early morning breakfast on my basil

I mentioned this to a couple of people, one of whom replied instantly with the advice that I needed to surround myself with chicken wire. I pointed out that the rabbits had eaten the basil – not me!

Ilex - time to go now!!!!

Then the other person I had mentioned it to, asked about rabbit stew and I confirmed that it was very popular in France and likely to get a lot more popular in our household if this kind of behaviour went on.

Be warned Mr Rabbit!

Update on the sleepy bees

On the bees front! The latest information I have to hand is that it now seems that it wasn’t the fault of the bees at all. They did their best in some very adverse conditions and may even have been successful. We will never know!

No, the problem was not the lazy bees, no, it was a very late frost, and a lot of orchards in this part of South West France got hit by it.

It was fairly local though and won’t impact on the cherry trade – just my and a few other people's gardens....

Oh, and I guess I owe an apology to those hard working bees, without who this would be a pretty sparse blog!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life is good

We have had a lot of rain recently. I mean, a lot of rain. I can’t actually tell you how much rain, but I know it was a lot. I have a rainwater gauge. It sits on my terrace, wide open to the sky, no trees or anything overhanging it to give a false reading. It just sits there. In the middle of the terrace, and when it rains, it collects the water.

Every Sunday morning I go out and check, then empty it. I’ve done this for months now. Ever since I installed the gauge back in January. Every Sunday morning. I did miss one Sunday, I was away in the UK and my arms weren’t long enough to reach back and empty it! But else, every Sunday morning, check, empty, record – like clockwork.

It’s Wednesday today as I write this piece. Earlier this evening I thought I’ll go and check the gauge and write it up in my blog!

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Oh, sorry, I got side-tracked by a vociferous Scot! Thank you Robert.

So the rain water gauge. I went to read it but I couldn’t. Like I said earlier, I had emptied it on Sunday morning, as I do every Sunday morning, but this afternoon, Wednesday afternoon, just a half a week later, the rainwater gauge was full. That is to say it was very full. That is to say, in fact, it had overflowed!

So I can’t tell you how much rain we have had but I know it’s a lot.

Now in and around all this rain we have had a lot of sunshine. It has not got very hot, but from time to time it has got very bright.

So, what do plants need to grow?

This fab little powerpoint will tell you!

They need water, we’ve had plenty of that.

They need light – As I said it got very bright.

They need nutrients – which have been lovingly built into the soil

They need warmth – well when I said it was cold it wasn’t that cold

So the plants in my garden had everything they needed and boy did they use it!

  • The grass grew several inches in just a couple of days
  • The weeds grew beyond recognition.
  • Oh, and my little seedlings really stood up to their big bully brothers
  • My strawberries are now huge and looking very good
  • Those red cabbages I bought in error are now flourishing and I’ve already cut some young leaves to eat in my salad bowl
  • Both Onions and Garlic are shooting up with leaves reaching up to the sky. (I cut some of those as well)
  • Lettuces are doing great. The Lollo Rosso is still waiting for the true Mediterranean heat to hit, but the batavia is going away strongly. I’m cutting leaves every day now.
  • My radish are coming along nicely and all this rain has really swollen them.
  • My Parsnips are – well best move along here - suffice to say that a few days after I sowed the parsnips I had some help weeding. And when the bed was finished, she asked what the string line was for!!
  • My tomatoes, all indeterminate, are putting on at least an inch every day –maybe a foot!! Oh, for those metricists amongst us – it was an exaggeration anyway!

My tomatoes…. I read something on a blog the other day – the guy described his tomatoes as indiscriminate. I don’t know whether this is right or wrong, but I sure as heck liked the idea! So, my indiscriminate tomatoes are growing indiscriminately.

So, at last, I’m beginning to enjoy the fruits of my labours. It’s been a bit tricky from time to time and I am very aware of the support I have received from all you people out there in blog land – encouraging comments are always well received!

My good friend Kate, who is probably too busy refreshing her French to even be reading this, created a tag line which I am going to steal for today. I’m sure she won’t mind – but if she does I’m also sure I’ll hear all about it!

Life is good, get there fast and then take it slow.

I’m not sure I got here fast, but maybe 5 months is not too bad a start. I’m certainly enjoying taking it slow now and yes -

Life is good!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Those bees, they are wise you know?

We have a big old cherry tree in our garden. It stands proud, probably getting on for 12metres (40feet) high and guarding the entrance to our orchard. There are three walnut trees in the orchard as well, but even they, who are probably over a hundred years old, even they don’t seem as majestic as that cherry.

It’s an eating cherry, a beautiful big red, almost black, cherry. Every year since we moved here four years ago, we have been helped by the young daughter of one of our neighbours to pick the cherries, usually collecting about 10 to 15 kilos (20 to 30 lbs) of sweet ripe red cherries. Actually, we probably pick a lot more than that but that is the amount which make it back to the kitchen – the rest getting eaten on the way!

Once in the kitchen this gorgeous fruit has been turned into wonderful dishes. Of course, at harvest time a great number are just piled into the fruit bowl and eaten throughout the day. My neighbour’s kid also usually gets to take a big bowlful home which they eat over the next few days.

Then some are put into bags and frozen. They will be pulled out from the freezer throughout the coming year to use in all sorts of dishes or even just allowed to thaw and then eaten in their own juice.

Clafoutis, is a traditional dish made with cherries in a sort of custard batter which is very popular in this part of France. The dish is normally made with whole cherries because the pits add a special taste to the dish during baking. I actually make it with whole cherries because the one time I depitted the cherries, the cherry juice stained the batter and made the whole thing look almost inedible – but of course, in France, it’s the taste!

The rest of the cherries are made into cherry jam. I try and do this on the same day the cherries are picked but don’t always succeed. I also make a second batch of cherry jam about now, just as the new fruit is coming to harvest, using up all the left over frozen cherries from last year. I’m not sure whether I can taste the difference.

As I do every Saturday morning, I went to market last Saturday and there, on our greengrocers stall was cerises pays – cherries harvested locally, and it reminded me that it was time to be thinking about harvesting my own.

During last week I checked my cherry tree.. I took this picture of it back in March when it was just coming into blossom and subsequently it filled with crisp white cherry blossom.

Rather than finding 10 to 15 kilos of cherries waiting to be picked, I found about 10 to 15 cherries!

Suggestions from the local French sages who garden are that the weather during spring was so awful the bees couldn’t pollinate the tree properly. It was very, very wet, it was very, very windy and they would be buffeted and knocked off course as they tried to collect the pollen.

Another idea is that the huge drop in the bee population is being seen in failed crops.

But one of my neighbours solved the riddle when he said to me. (In a thick French accent) “Those bees, they are wise you know? They wake up in their hives and look out of the window. It is blowing a gale, it is pouring down with rain, so they simply roll back into bed and snuggle down under their blankets”

Well wouldn’t you?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Definitive Salad

I regularly read a blog written by my friend Kate Outside the Square and today she has posted about defining moments in her life. She comments that these moments usually happen and then subsequently you realise that they were defining.

This started me thinking. I have another friend - yep 2 friends - who is a neighbour of Kate’s. Well, I guess I should explain, sitting in my little part of the world in south west France it seems like she is a neighbour. Kate is in Australia and my other friend, who, as far as I know, doesn’t write a blog, lives in New Zealand. So like I said, virtually neighbours.

Anyway, this friend of mine, who lives in New Zealand, has another way of thinking about these things. She often says that she is "making memories". So one friend looks forward and makes memories and the other looks back and finds defining moments.

This is great for me because the diversity gives me the choice.

Today I had a quiche for my dinner, accompanied by a small salad and I thought as I ate it that I was making memories. Maybe in the future I’ll look back and say it was a defining moment in my life. I hope so.

You see, what you don’t know was this was a simple meal, it was an incredibly tasty meal, but to me, it was also, an important meal.

The quiche came out of a box from the local supermarket. Yes, I know, I should have made it and I agree, I do live in France and there really isn’t that much to making a quiche, but I was busy, I was getting ready for some guests to arrive and I was a bit lazy.

So I opened the cardboard box and took out the quiche. In defence of myself, I can say that the quiche was made within about fifty miles of where I live.

The salad that accompanied it was the sort of salad I like. Again, it was nothing very special, a few lettuce leaves mixed with some mint and some basil. Some peas, a few chives and a red cabbage leaf were thrown in as well and, to pep up the taste a little, I added a couple of onion stalks, a garlic leaf and a couple of radish. So, as I said, the sort of salad I like but nothing special.

Except, this was very special.

You see, the salad contained a few lettuce leaves from my own garden, the mint was from the pot of mint growing outside my door. The basil was from my own collection of a few herbs, as were the chives, and the chive flowers. The red cabbage leaf was taken from one of those red cabbages I bought and blogged about earlier this year. The onion stalk was picked from the onions growing in my veggie bed, as were the garlic leaves and radish. The peas were not quite ready when I picked them from my plants. I even tossed in a few walnuts, which were picked last autumn but are still beautiful.

Yes, everything that went into that salad had grown right here in my kitchen garden, on a piece of ground that only 6 months ago was grass. Well, to be fair, not the walnuts. They grew on three trees that have probably stood there for about a hundred years but now find themselves in my garden.

So for me, today, I made some memories. I ate a great tasting salad. The very first dish entirely grown by myself, ever. I really hope I look back in the years to come and remember it and maybe, Kate, this will become one of my defining moments.


Friday, May 16, 2008


Some weeks ago the idea of a kind of international food growing bloggers get together was mooted. It was a kinda fun thing that grew out of various conversations by some blog writers, Patrick in Amsterdam, Kate in Adelaide and myself.

Well things have been quietly going on in the backstreets of the towns and countries around the world and I’m pleased to report that there are now Food Growing Bloggers Get Togethers planned for the next few years.

They kick off this year with events on August 24. There will be several events on the same day, one in France (mine), one in Adelaide, Australia and one in Lexington. Others will come to light as news floods in!

August 24th was chosen as the start day for this exciting new series of event because, as many of you will know, it’s Kitchen Garden Day, a day set aside to celebrate home grown food with neighbours from near and far.

Shortly after that, Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots looks like he is going to have an event on September 20 in Oxfordshire, England. He is still working on the details so keep an eye on his blog for the latest update

I also read a comment from Pattie at FoodShed Planet recently saying she might try and organise a get together in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on the same day (August 24th) so if your in that part of the world, nag her to do something about it!

As mentioned above, I havae heard that in Lexington, Kentucky, USA there will be a local event with people sharing a meal.

If anyone else knows of any other similar events then please leave a comment on here and I’ll gladly add them to my next update.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Kate from Hills and Plains Seed Savers. All this international activity is down to herself. She is the one person who floated the idea, kicked a couple of the rest of us to support her and now we are seeing events world wide. Thanks Kate and Well Done

Your idea has really taken off, with events now planned in Australia, England, France and by the look of it Atlanta this year, another one in France already planned for September 2009 and Maine, USA planned for September 2011


If you would like to attend any of these events then make contact through the appropriate blog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Growing dogs by the moon

Dog Bean, now there’s a silly name for a seed. I mean, Dog Bean, like we think it’s going to grow up into a dog?

Anyway, I was given some dog bean seeds the other day. They are an heirloom dwarf French bean. It got me round to thinking about how seeds and plants get their names and what other names we might conjure up.

I mean dog bean , well, not much imagination there. If it’s a dwarf French bean and it needed to be called after a dog surely, French Poodle bean would have fitted better. After all, French Poodles are pretty dwarf but oh so showy!!!!

And then I thought about some flowers. I’ve got foxgloves growing - and I thought dog bean was silly!! Fox gloves! Have you ever seen a fox wearing gloves? And why would he? Monsieur Renard, your gants? I don’t think so!

Now as you know, I’m trying to follow the moon planting guidelines this year and am generally planting things on the correct day. This has proved a challenge on more than one occasion.

Take a lettuce, we need to produce leaves so we plant lettuces on a "leaf plant day". Now leaf plant days come around about every 8 to 10 days and usually there are two together.

So you have 2 days to sow your lettuce seeds.

Then 8 days later they are not really ready to pot on so you wait. By 12 days they are climbing the walls but you have to wait till 16 days before you can pot them on.

Another 8 days and they really aren’t ready to plant out so you wait another 8 days. 32 days after sowing they really still aren’t quite ready to go out into the big wide world so you wait again. Another 8 days. This is looking good, 40 days old and they are a nice size to plant out, they’ve even been hardened off ready.

Planting day arrives but it’s the one day this week we are not at home! Never mind tomorrow is ok. Tomorrow comes and it’s raining. When I say raining, I’m talking full blown Mediterranean raining.

It doesn’t rain much here but when it does then it makes up for it. Aquitaine was apparently named after the amount of rain that fell and it is still falling. So it’s raining and you wait for a dry spell, and you wait, and you wait and you wait.

As you are eating lunch you at last notice that the rain has stopped but by the time you can get the plants and get out into the garden the next deluge has started. If you planted in this the little plants would float away.

So forlornly you go back indoors and wait another 8 days – and exactly the same thing happens again!

So you check the charts for the following day and it says "Today is a good day for planting fruiting plants but would not be a good day for planting leaf plants".

You swear under your breath and plant them anyway, quietly telling your friends that you’re following the lunar cycle but occasionally you’re a day or two behind!

So that was my experience with lettuce. Oh and that rain. 30mm (about an inch and a quarter) of rain fell during daylight hours!!!!

Then came the strawberries.

This was going to be much easier. I had bought plants from a local nursery so all I needed was the right day to plant them out.

Strawberries, easy, a fruit plant, right?

But hang on! The Royal Horticultural Society, no less, advised me to plant the strawberries but not to let fruit set for the first year to encourage strong root growth.

So, I’m looking for root growth not fruit? Does that mean I should plant on a fruit day to get good fruit, or - on a root day to get good root growth?

Difficult question.

I threw it into one of the online gardening communities I belong to and caused some discussion. The advice came back that perhaps I should plant out between the fruiting plant day and the root plant day.

This was so simple! I had the answer. I just needed to check the appropriate days and then Presto!

Plant Fruiting Plants on Tuesday great,! Now root plants , oh here they are Plant Root Plants on Wednesday!

At long last I have now discovered what planting by the moon really means. At midnight, between Tuesday and Wednesday I was out in the garden, planting my little strawberry plants by the light of the moon.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Thanks for the help!

Recently, I was given my first heirloom bean seeds which I have sown in a new small bed immediately behind my "potager" beds. When I planned my veg garden I was unaware that these seeds would be given to me so I didn’t allow any room for them . However, I was very happy to pull out a small shrub and thereby release another small bed for vegetables. I had intended to show a photo of the seedlings today but alas, they are too small to photograph. They are being protected by cut down soda bottles which is a system I like to use.

Elsewhere in the garden, things are starting to happen. My potatoes are well established now and this week needed to be hoed up.

As I was growing them in a new bed, I decided to simply add a couple of bags of compost and raise the bed level a little further.

You may remember that due to a lack of familiarity with the French language I inadvertently bought red cabbage plants instead of white – (they actually call them apple cabbages here in France!). Well, as you can see the cabbages are doing well.

I have also bought tomato plants which are in position growing in pots against a south facing wall. I have three varieties, Marmande - a local beef tomato variety, cerise rouge, literally red cherry and golden sunrise, a yellow cherry tomato. The photo is of the Golden Sunrise Tomato which I have raised from seed!!!! They are still quite small but I remain hopeful

Back in March I bought a dozen strawberry plants, 6 of a variety called Marais du Bois and 6 of another French variety called Gariguette. They are now establishing themselves nicely. I bought some Gariguette strawberries on the market last Saturday and they were wonderfully tasty and oh, so juicy

During the past month or so I have received a lot of help getting my seed sowing attempts sorted out after several false starts.

I think this batch of salad leaves will actually be successful. (Sorry about the quality of the photo - I’m still doing battle with digital cameras, as well as seeds!)

The picture shows 16 of 24 cells. The 8 that are missing are Batavia lettuce which have already been potted on, the next 8 are wild chicory which I'm trying for the first time and the last 8 are lollo rosso lettuce.

I’d like to thank Patrick – over at Bifurcated Carrots for his invaluable help in diagnosing where I was going wrong and for continuing to offer encouragement when things looked very bleak.

Thank you Patrick

So, as you can see I have made a bit of progress since I started back in January. I feel a bit like the tomato I wrote about some months ago Who'd be a Tomato: I got on and did the job and now I deserve a pat on the back! Of course my tomato didn't get a pat on the back!! I'm hoping my pat on the back will come in the form of some superb mediteranean weather to help all these little upstarts grow into magnificent specimens. I'm not holding my breath though - we had almost 50mm (2 inches) of rainfall last week!!!!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Reflections on times past

I used to sit in a pub with a few friends and the conversation would eventually get around to gardening. At the time I was probably the only one, out of the five or six of us who regularly met, who didn’t grow food. You know the reasons, I was too busy, I worked long hours, I had a large garden which already took a lot of maintenance.

So there we were, usually in a real ale pub, five fairly conscientious veggie growers and me.

Every so often someone would claim they had grown the biggest potato, or leek, or onion and invariably the ensemble would dissolve into mild hysteria when the proponent of this accolade produced the item in question – which was usually a very sad example of whatever vegetable the parent plant thought it was.

And then one day, somebody claimed they had grown the longest carrot, and immediately the ribald comments started amidst demands of evidence – "produce the carrot" was sung from the benches.
But today, our man simply dug into an old back pack he had brought and produced a gleaming shiny silver cup, with his name engraved on it and the year - and in much bigger letters, the cup was engraved "Machen Agricultural Show, Longest Carrot". This was a first for this group, silence fell amongst us as we all took in the enormity of this situation and then we celebrated in time honoured tradition and ordered another round of drinks.

I don’t go to that pub any more. I moved on. Indeed I moved countries, but I often think back fondly to those times.

No one cared that I was there, commenting about vegetable gardening with no experience whatsoever. No one cared about the gross exaggerations and sometimes, bare faced lies that were being expressed as "truth". We were confident in our young selves and didn’t need to ascertain that everything we said was factual and PC.

Then , a few months ago I was given a book about working a "potager", a French Kitchen Garden, and somehow, that book managed what my friends had singularly failed to do – it managed to make me want to grow my own food. Just a few vegetables – not a lot, just a few.

So I started to follow whatever advice I could find starting out by building a couple of raised beds on what the French call "parc". That’s a bit of lawn that isn’t lawn, but neither is it meadow.

My research led me to join KGI, an internet based community of kitchen gardeners.

My inexperience was huge but people very kindly explained and demonstrated what I should do, how I should do it and I learned a lot in a few short months. Things like sprouting, which I had never heard of and Three Sisters, which I knew was a play by Chekov, were kindly explained to me, amongst so many other things.

The forums were there with all sorts of comments – sometimes on topic and sometimes way off topic. They reminded me very much of those conversations I had taken part in back in that pub in Wales, or in England depending on the weather. I smiled to myself as people made clever and funny comments and I soaked in the knowledge as people made frank and honest comments and explanations about things.

It really is very much like my time in the pub. Very serious topics are discussed but with a lightness that makes them fun

And now, after a certain amount of cajoling from others, now I’m writing on here in an effort to assess my own progress. I hope you, dear reader, will indulge me?

Maybe one day I shall repay your kindness.


Friday, May 2, 2008


A few days ago there was a discussion on KGI about sprouting. I followed it with interest as I have always liked beansprouts - well for several years now anyway.

I learned from the discussion exactly how to sprout seeds and decided to give it a try.

I bought some dried red beans - haricot rouge in France - and started to sprout them. I soaked them for about ten minutes in warm water then drained them and put them into a dark cupboard in the kitchen.

I then soaked them for about a minute every day for the next week or so and watched fascinated as each day new progress could be seen with my tiny young sprouts.

Today, for supper, I decided the time was right and I chose some of the best sprouts and ate them.

They were fabulous. Much better than any sprouts I have had before.

I gave a few to my wife. She is not the most adventurous eater and sprouts were not high on her must eat list. She tentatively took a few - not enough to be called a portion, not even a small portion, but a few. She ate them. Tentatively.

Then she helped herself to a proper sized portion saying how delicious they were. She used the words earthy and I think I agree.

Another first for us.