Thursday, September 16, 2010


On 14 June last I recorded 32mm of rainfall and the week prior to that 51mm.  However since then, now more than three months ago, we've had no rain.

Actually, to say we've had no rain is a blatant lie.  Of course we have had rain in the past three months... on one day I recorded 2mm of the stuff and on another just 1mm fell.  But, apart from those two days, we've had no rain.

Now I know that to lots of people, this is perfectly normal....  after all, I am talking about the period of high summer... and this year it's been a very high unheated above ground swimming pool reached over 30 degrees for a few days and the temperature I record each day (air temperature with no reflective surfaces nearby) reached well into the upper 30's, fortunately staying just below 40C.

However, this week the drought has relented and we had 35mm fall and again today we have a light drizzle, soaking gently into the ground.

Many of you will know that before I came to live in south west France my home had always been in Britain and for the last 30 years or so it was in a particularly wet part of Britain, Wales.   Indeed some family members who lived near Washington DC at the time used to claim that whenever they crossed the river Severn, which forms the boundary between England and South Wales it would always start raining.  So, it's not really surprising that I have absolutely no idea how to deal with drought.  Drought to me means it's stopped raining for a few hours!!!!  The problem with gardening in Wales is keeping the land drained, not trying desperately to get enough water into it. And, of course, all that rain means a very damp atmosphere, I remember Kate coming to visit and happily ensuring that everything was carefully stored in plastic bags in the fridge, only to be horrified to discover that actually, putting things in plastic bags is a particularly bad idea in our climate when she removed a black soggy mass that had once been a tasty lettuce.

Consequently, I have lost most of the crops I tried to grow this year.  Don't get me wrong, I have had some successes, and of course, the orchard has produced, but things like salad greens, cabbages, onions all dried up into shrivelled heaps.  Even my garlic was looking distinctly dry by the time I got around to harvesting it, although it is delicious and I'm hoping to plant some of the cloves again next month.

I lost all my bush beans to this drought.. just simply not being used to the fact that they needed watering so frequently.    Those who read my blog rather more frequently may remember that I had already lost much of my seed stock to mice over the winter so the two things combined together mean that I now have none of the Black Valentine bush beans that were so generously given to me by Miss Fuggle, or Patrick's delicious Dog bean that I have had quite a bit of trouble growing but had at last got enough to eat a few last year and keep a few beans to grow!!!!  Or so I thought.

Melons are another crop that have suffered quite badly for me...  I managed to harvest just six melons although I do have plenty of new seed from those.

One of the things that seems to have hung on despite the drought, helped with my kind addition of liberal amounts of waterharvest 100904, is my tomato crop.  I grew six varieties of tomato this year....   Ananas, grown from seed I saved last year, but originally given to me by Chaiselongue, Veeroma, a very tasty Italian plum tomato originally given to me by Miss Fuggle.   A couple of new varieties that I bought seed for this year were Moneymaker and Marmande.   I decided to grow Marmande as the town is no more than 30 kms from the Kitchen Garden in France.   I also grew some Golden Sunrise.  I brought these seeds with me when I came from the UK and have spent five years acclimatising them to the climate here.  This year they have produced beautifully tasting fruit, and produced it copiously.  The sixth variety for this year was my own Ian's Red Cherry.  This is a variety I have developed here in France and again this year I have been rewarded by truss after truss of dozens of wonderfully sweet cherry tomatoes.

I'm intending to save seeds from all my varieties of tomato this year and offer them under the Blogger's Seed Network later this year.  For more details of the seeds I'm offering take a look at  In the picture above you can see Ian's Red Cherry, Veeroma and Golden Sunrise.

The other day I went to collect water from the local spring.   Yes, many of you will buy French Spring Water in plastic bottles but I'm lucky enough to be able to take my container and collect litres of it direct from the source.  Indeed, the local town hall even tests it from time to time to make sure it remains drinkable.  The location of the spring is such that I have to park the car and then walk a little way down an old track.  The views when I get there are quite spectacular.   However, I was walking back up to the car and arrived at the village square only to notice a vine of beautiful tomatoes growing just to the side of the road.   They looked delicious but I couldn't believe they were wild so I left them  for their owner to harvest.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mad dogs and Englishmen

The hot weather has rolled right in to the south west of France during the past few days and we have seen temperatures in the mid 30's C (mid 90's F) every single day.

I learned the other day, that this period of hot weather is known as the "canicule".  Canicule gets it's name from the latin  - canicula, which, as all you latin scholars will know gets it's stem from canis or dog, in English.

Apparently, canicula is the Latin name for the star Sirius, which in the skies above France , raises about mid July and disappears again about mid September.... and here, of course, that corresponds to the scorchingly hot period of summer.

One of the things I truly love to see as the hot weather arrives is the wonderful fields of sunflowers, all turning their heads to catch the sun.  In French they are called tournesol, or turn to the sun.  I planted some sunflowers in the vegetable garden recently in a bid to attract more insects and have a fun flower and they are looking quite good at about 150mm (6") high.   However, on the drive to the market on Saturday, I passed field after field of sunflowers, all a good 4ft tall (1200mm)  and all with bright yellow flower heads, obediently searching out the sun.  I really hope mine will catch up, but I'm sure they will.

My time in the kitchen has taken a back seat too, during this hot weather, relying on cold salads rather than preparing food, but I did make a salad today using lots of fresh produce from the garden, including this year's first French beans..  which were so sweet, they could have been peas.

I didn't think to take my camera again on Saturday, which is a real shame, as the fields deserve a photo.   As I mentioned field after field of sunflowers, interspersed with fields of hay, the big "wheels" of hay sitting in the sunshine, waiting to be collected.  I even noticed that one or two of the farm lads had had a bit of fun, constructing a tractor out of bales of hay.  It seems this is a part of haymaking in this part of the world, and happens every year.    Even the local hay co-operative had a hay tractor outside it's store last year.   The one I saw on Saturday was a particularly fine example and had been adorned with a plough.  The first hay tractor I've seen this year and it has certainly set the bar quite high.  Maybe I'll go back, and get you some photos.

Well, I've talked a lot about Latin, but I think it was the ancient Greeks who originally called this time of year "Dog Days".  I gather it's something to do with what later became imortalised by Noel Coward "Only mad dogs and Englishmen" and this year, I'm really learning what they meant:

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"....maybe.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Market Day

You may know that, for me, Saturday is market day.   Almost every Saturday, I go to my favourite village market in Villereal, in the Lot et Garonne departement of France.  It's a truly gorgeous market, which I love.

Well,, today is Tuesday, which is why I went to market this morning.   Things have conspired against my weekly visit to Villereal for the past couple of weeks and although I managed missing the first trip, when I then missed the second, I decided that I really needed to supplement the fruits of the garden with some local purchased produce.

I'm lucky, where I live here, right on the border of the Dordogne and Lot et Garonne departements, there is a different market on every single day of the week.  And they are all within a few minutes drive, the furthest away being only a 25 minute drive.  Tuesday, it's the role of Castillonnes, to host it's local market, and, as Castillonnes is just 5 kms away, it was to there I rushed this morning.

I wouldn't say I was a regular visitor to Castillonnes market but I do go fairly often as it is also where the nearest branch of my bank is found, and that branch is only open on market day!!!! And so I found myself wandering through the market, nodding to the various traders I know.    Rene and Sandrine were there from the permaculture farm at Lasspisottes.   The "leek" lady from Villereal, who I have often written about, was also there, with her bicycle propped against the wall behind her st.... well, it can hardly be called a stall, just a basket of delicious fresh produce picked that very morning.  Lauren, my long suffering green grocer at the market at Villereal, also has his stall in the main square at Castillonnes, and, indeed, it was to his stall that I first headed.

But as I arrived in the main square a rather nice seedling stall caught my eye.  I have seen this man here from time to time and his seedlings always look so good.  He sells a large variety of herbs, all potted up and costing just a few cents each.  There was mint, and basil, and coriander, and tarragon, and a host of other truly aromatic herbs lining a stall about 20ft (6metres) long.   All his herbs are sold in pots and he uses a thin plastic former to hold 12 pots.  I like the formers as they are great disposable seed trays, and I often use them if I have any.   Each "pot" is about the same size as an individual yogurt pot, which I also use extensively.

But then, right at the far end of the stall, something caught my eye.   There was a pile of those plastic formers but I noticed that in the top one each cell had a live snail in it.  I thought it was surprising to have that many snails on the plants he had brought to market, but wandered on my way.   I suddenly stopped and turned back as the realisation hit me...

He had snails in every one of that pile of formers.... He had them, quite simply, because they were just another produce of his garden that could be sold as food.

Friday, July 2, 2010

1st Peaches

Back last year I added a peach tree to those trees I already had in the orchard.

1st_peach I didn't really expect any fruit for the first couple of years.   Back in May, I wrote that there were a dozen or so tiny fruits developing.  Well, the winds and dry weather have taken their toll on that number but you can imagine the delight as I have watched four tiny fruit hang on and develop over the past month or two.

Today, on my walk around the garden I noticed that one of these precious fruit had fallen off,.  It was lying on the floor, undamaged by it's sudden descent.  So I picked it up and figured that as the flesh of peaches can so easily be damaged, the best thing would be to eat it there and then.

It was truly delicious and I immediately decided to pick the other three.  They were all small but oh so juicy.

This was a taste first for me, never before having been in a position to eat peaches fresh from the tree.   It's a memory created.

So there you have it, my first peaches.  Truly succulent and, although very small this year, a sign of great things to come

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Garlic Harvest

I'm a bit late pulling my garlic this year.

A couple of years ago, Patrick at "Bifurcated Carrots" gave me an excellent selection of Garlic bulbs to plant.  I grew them all very successfuly but due to a rather in ept error, I have lost strack of the variety I selected to grow on this past year.  I know it was the strongest grower of the one's garlicPatrick gave me and that it's a purple variety....  Sadly, I used a plastic label that completely disappeared whilst the stuff grew.

Anyway, all that aside, I have now harvested all the garlic I had growing and seem to have about 100 heads.   A figure I'm truly happy with.

As many of you know, I'm not very knowledgeable on my gardening and am learning, very much, as I go.   The garlic is no exception.    Someone told me to let the leaves dry and then pull the plants out of the ground and store them by hanging in a dry place.   I've done all this and am hoping it will turn out ok.

As you can see in the photo, though, I did leave them rather too long before pulling.   Never mind.   I'm looking forward to being able to use my own garlic for many months now.

So a big thank you to Patrick, for setting me on the road.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Selling the bear skin

The French have a phrase which goes something like, "Don't sell the bear skin before killing the bear.".... I know the saying better as "Don't count your chickens before they hatch"

I seem to have inadvertently sold the bear skin before the eggs hatched!

A few weeks ago, I posted on here about my success at getting some bamboo to strike after nearly three years of trying.

Well, the other day, whilst checking my pots and things I discovered that the bamboo shoots had been completely vandalised!   Something had eaten all of them.  I wasn't aware that pandas were a problem in this part of France, but what else could be causing such a problem.

Whilst wondering to whom I should report this extraordinary panda presence, I received an email from my friend Michael with these lovely photo's which I think might signal the source of my problem.  He took these photos of a deer and it's fawn in my neighbour's garden. I hope you enjoy the photos, just as much as the deer apparently enjoyed my bamboo.  Many thanks to Michael for sharing them.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I said recently that my cherry tree had branches almost touching the floor, it was so laden with fruit.  It's a big old cherry tree standing proud about 10 mtrs (35ft) high in the very heart of the orchard

cherriesWell, I have now had the pleasure of harvesting the first of those succulent fruits and I am not at all disappointed.

I picked the first basket full the other day, which weighed in at almost 5 kgs, (10 pounds) and, of course, that doesn't include all those fruits that disappeared during the picking process.   A strange phenomenon, the way rich succulent cherries can get picked from the tree but no longer be in your hand after it has passed your mouth and arrived at the basket!

Still, this was the very first picking from the orchard this year, and there are still loads more where they came from and another two smaller trees of later varieties well on the way to being ready to pick.  As always, I pick the fruit that is available to me standing on the ground and leave the rest for the birds.

I have about 30 fruit trees in the orchard and this year it really is looking like it will be a bumper fruit year. Cherry, pear, apple, plum and peach trees all have excellent fruit on them. 

When I bought this property about 6 years ago I inherited some fruit trees which I have added to until I have the present orchard.  Sadly, I have no information about the various varieties of things but maybe, from now on, I shall make more effort to identify things better.

I usually try to make some jam on the day I pick fruit but this week, I simply didn't have the time so, a lot of the cherries were piled into a fruit bowl to be eaten fresh but the rest were simply frozen for attention later.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ornamental Shrubs?


Back last September, Kitchen Garden in France hosted an  international get-together for gardeners over a weekend.    On the Sunday morning we visited some local gardens and one of the things I saw and really liked was a neighbour's "Physalis".   A few days later, the same neighbour turned up at my door with a handful of the seed pods, exquisite things with tiny little orange fruit mounted in a papery husk.

I sowed the seeds and up came the shrub, well, about ten of them actually. 


They are growing quite strongly and will be planted out in the garden just as soon as the soil temperature rises a little bit more.

I was originally going to plant them in the general garden as an ornamental shrub, but just recently, I discovered that the fruit is not only edible but, I believe, quite delicious.  I'm therefore rethinking my plan and wondering whether to grow them as fruit somewhere in the Kitchen Garden.   I might plant then as an extension to the orchard, or maybe in between the hazelnut bushes.


Out in the general garden, I've been waiting for the rhododendron to flower.  I have to grow this bush in a pot as my soil, being a mix of clay and limestone, is far to alkaline for these acid loving plants.  However, in a large pot, filled with an ericaceous compost they thrive in the sun here.

This week, my patience was rewarded as all the buds that have been sitting on the bush for  weeks, slowly started to open up.

It makes a spectacular centrepiece to my terrace.  What a pity that the flowers are so short lived as no sooner are they all open than they have started to fall.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have a small strawberry bed with just a dozen plants in it.Strawberries

Of course, this was one of the beds in the garden that suffered badly from my absence for almost four months, with prolific weeds taking over and squashing out the little strawberry plants.  The plants were only raised last year so they really haven't established themselves that well yet.

And that particular bed is still on my list of beds that urgently need weeding.

All that said, today, whilst giving some lettuce a badly needed drink, I noticed one or two bright red fruit in amongst all the  "herbes" so here they are.  This year's very first strawberries from the Kitchen Garden in France.

I'm always amused that the French word for weeds is "herbes", whereas the French word for herbs is... well, actually, that's "herbes" as well!

Now, tomorrow, I really must weed that strawberry patch....  unless.... I'm forced to eat....sorry, pick, the cherries which will be becoming ready.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

First fruits

For the past couple of years, here in south west France, we have not had very good fruit crops.  Late frosts orchardhave descended on the region and prevented lots and lots of fruit from setting.

I'm pleased to say that this year, it's looking like once again it's going to be a bumper year in my orchard.

A walk around it today revealed that there were masses of fruit hanging on the apple, pear, plum, cherry and walnut trees.  Even my new little peach tree, which was planted just at the start of last year, is helping out with a dozen or so peaches.

As I walked around I had to duck below branches being dragged low from the sheer weight of fruit they were carrying.... and most of that fruit is not yet fully grown!

The branches of the big old cherry tree were almost touching the floor, laden with fruit just waiting for a few drops of the promised rain to swell up to magnificence.   I was even able to pick my first cherry of the year, which was delicious.... but there were only two or three ready.  but in the next day or two, more will arrive.    peach Tiny apples, pears and plums are quite evident on the trees as well, although, I must admit, I have difficulty telling the difference between plum and cherry at this time of year.   I know the plum has shorter and fatter leaves and the cherry has more rounded fruit, but when I was walking I really had to study them to know which was which.  I ended up making  chart and identifying the trees and their positions on it!

I took photos for you but they are not very good, with the trees blending quite superbly into the green of the grass!!!   I have posted the best two, my apple tree, and the tiny new peach tree.   I counted at least a dozen peaches so I am now hoping that they will survive and grow and that later this summer, I will get to eat, for the first time, home grown peaches.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leek Harvest

Many of you will remember that I went to the UK at Christmas and was unexpectedly delayed, not getting back to the Kitchen Garden in France until early March.

leeks I've now been back here more than two months but it seems that there is still not a day that passes without having to deal, in one way or another, with the fallout from that trip.

Today was just such a day.

One of the consequences of not being here, and one which I had given absolutely no consideration to at all, is the fact that when I wasn't here, I wasn't eating the produce.  Now it's true, I did tell my neighbours that they were welcome to pick anything they wanted and I know they picked some winter brassicas and herbs and enjoyed them   But I guess they didn't feel comfortable, picking the produce which would still be edible when I finally got back.

So it is that I find myself in the position where, quite suddenly, I have large crops of things which are just about to start to go to seed.  Last week, when I wasn't looking, the Brussels Sprouts quite suddenly all went brown and the plants flowered

Walking around the garden yesterday I noticed that large  amounts of leeks were just about to do the same and I decided that rather than lose the harvest I would gather them all in and preserve them.  Apart from the obvious problem of the leeks going to seed, there was also the fact that, before very long, I shall be wanting the bed they are in to grow my melons.

There has been some discussion here at the garden during the course of the day but the consensus is that the best thing to do with them is to freeze them, so this evening, after putting this to bed, I'm off to the kitchen to prepare those leeks for freezing.  I hope it works, I've never frozen leeks before.  I have a feeling that one or two close friends may be hearing their Skype phones calling this evening

I am however, already, looking forward to having leeks from the garden from time to time, right through until the new crop is ready...

And they're not even sown yet!

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Bamboo is grown extensively in this part of the world as a screening hedge.  A couple of years ago, I decided that it would make a good screen alongside the road, to hide the swimming pool from view.

bambooSo, I set about getting cuttings to grow.  One or two neighbours very generously told me to take "as much as I needed" as, once it is established it can be a bit invasive

Some people have told me how easy bamboo is to propagate whilst others have told me how very difficult it is.   Apparently, bamboo is very susceptible to shock.

I have tried cuttings where I have taken a piece of bamboo incliding two complete nodes and buried it up to the first node, then keeping the bamboo full of water, I've tried taking a bit of root and planting thatand I even had chaiselongue of Olives and Artichokes bring me one of her rooted cuttings last year.  But it was all to no avail as one after another, all attempts at propagation failed.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me to look over his empty house as he was away for a while and I immediately said that I would and that I would also take some cuttings from his bamboo.  I did everything I was supposed to do but, almost as I expected, the nurtured bamboo cuttings remained simple bamboo stakes. 

BUT....   at the same time, I just stuffed a few bits into a pot and kept it moist... and lo and behold, after three years of constant failure, I  at last have several cuttings which appear to be growing on.

Now, I just hope I can keep them going long enough for the roots to establish so that, in the future, I'll have the problem of keeping this invasive plant at bay!!!!

Another red cherry tomato

Once again this year, I'm growing a tomato that I have grown and saved for the past couple of years.

A few years ago, I bought a couple of nice looking tomato seedlings from some people who specialise in growing organic  seedlings.  The sellers just said they were red and cherry....

The first year I grew them, they produced a nice crop of cherry tomatoes which proved to be sweet and tasty.

AtIans red cherry the end of the season I saved a few of the tomatoes.... but didn't do anything other than wash and dry the seeds.  I cut the tomatoes open and washed the seeds out from the pulp.  Then I dried them in a paper coffee filter.  and put them away.

The following year I grew them again and again they produced a nice crop of bright red cherry tomatoes and again I saved seeds from the three plants I had.

Sadly, over that winter, something happened in my workshop and the envelope the seeds were stored in got wet.   I discovered this in about late January/early February of this year, when I found the seeds all stuck, in a mass, to the envelope.

Eventually, I decide to sow the lot and see what happened.  I simply scraped all the seeds off the paper onto a seed tray of sowing compound, watered it  and left them to it.

To my astonishment I got what must have been a couple of hundred seedlings.

I thinned them down and nurtured them.  I potted them on as they developed, pinching out a dozen tiny seedlings into a pot.  Later I split those pots into individual plants. I gave away some of the pots of 12 and also the individual plants until,eventually, people were crossing the road when I approached for fear of being off loaded with another tomato seedling. 

I called them Ian's Red Cherry Tomato as I felt they had survived unfair stress and I owed them some recognition.

Again, the one's I planted cropped heavily and I saved seeds at the end of the season.  Last year they seemed to crop better than ever and I had great reports from those who had grown on the seedlings foisted upon them.

Now, I'm not the world's best seed saver and, as I have already written on here, again, over last winter I lost many of the seeds, this time by being eaten by mice.  However, emergency action was taken and seeds were saved from some of the later crop and again, I have produced hundreds of seedlings.

I'm just about to put them out in the garden and am looking forward to another good crop of tasty cherry tomatoes.

I'm again intending to save seeds from these tomatoes and offer them under the Blogger's Seed Network.

If any one would like some seeds, please drop me a line at and I'll keep some for you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


IMG_0724I've started to plant out my tomato seedlings.

This year I have grown five varieties from seed, my Ian's Red Cherry, Veeroma and Golden Sunrise, all from seeds I saved last year, and Marmande and Moneymaker from seeds I bought.

I'm also hoping to get a couple of varieties from a neighbour who has promised to bail me out with a couple of the varieties that got eaten in my mouse invasion.

IMG_0712Last year, I was very pleased with my new spiral tomato stakes and have put them in the ground again this year

I've also laid in a sprinkler hose under the straw so that when I turn on the tap the ground gets soaked, but not much else.

Now, the beds are prepared and the little seedlings are big enough to plant out, so I put the first four varieties in the ground and was rewarded with two days of light rain.....

A Look Over the Bay


My long absence from the garden earlier this year, I was away from the New Year until the beginning of March, left me with several casualties.  Many of them were expected but some were quite surprising, succumbing to the particularly harsh winter that this part of France endured.

One such casualty was my Bay tree.

I planted this little tree during early summer in 2009 and had looked after it fairly well throughout the hot dry spell that followed.

When the time came to leave for the UK, I was happy to think that with the colder wet weather of winter, the tree would fare ok on it's own.

Imagine my sadness, when, after my return, I found the view opposite waiting for me.   The cold had been accompanied by a very harsh  dry spell, and without me tending it, it suffered from drought.

In desperation, and somewhat without hope, I dripped water around the roots for a whole day and then left it to tend  for itself


Imagine my pleasure, the other day when a closer examination showed some new growth bursting forth. 

I'll look after it better throughout this summer and hopefully, I won't be away for so long over the next winter.

Well done, little bay tree

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weeds and seeds....

apple tree

My late return from the UK coupled with guests in the holiday accommodation has made a significant impact on my seed sowing and  garden preparation for the 2010 season. The no fly zone over northern Europe has also resulted in some unexpected meals being served.

However, I am at last getting down to some serious work in my garden.  Well, when I say getting down to some serious work, I guess I really mean getting down to some serious thinking about the work I need to be doing.

courgette d'Italie I sowed a few courgettes the other day and as you can see they are developing nicely.  I have prepared a bed in the garden and shall be putting them out in the next few days.  These are Courgette d'Italie and were very successful last year.  I have grown these from seed I saved.
Ian's Red Cherry Tomato I've had a great deal of success with this little red cherry tomato which last year I called Ian's Red Cherry.

The seeds have survived the best attempts of all the mice in south west France to devour thyem and as you can see, rather a lot germinated.

These were saved late in the season and I did nothing whatsoever to help them on their way.  The seeds I originally saved were eaten so I took a few tomatoes I had left and scraped the seeds out onto paper kitchen towels.  By this spring, they were such a mess that I simply put the whole towel in the seed tray, covered with potting compost and hoped.
Veeroma Last year I grew some Veeroma tomatoes from seed I was given by Miss Fuggles.  They were big and juicy and beautifully elongated and made fabulous sauce.  I enjoyed eating them fresh but I know the rather fleshy texture is not to everyone's taste.

Well, I'm growing them again this year and am very seriously hoping to haveboth  Ian's Red Cherry and Veeroma tomato seed to swap next year on the bloggers seed network.

sadly, I lost all my Ananas tomato seed over the winter but I gave a few seeds away last year and am hoping to get a few plants back from that gardener.  I saw them today and they are a bit slow starting but doing ok.
Joy's Cos Lettuce I've also sown some Marmande Tomatoes and just a few Moneymaker Tomatoes.  These will both be new varieties for me, although I love the taste of the Marmande

Another success last year was some "Joy's Cos Letttuce" grown from seed given to me by Kate of Tasmania, originally from the Hills and Plains Seedsavers of South Australia.

They grew well and I enjoyed eating the tasty cos lettuce.

I'm hoping that this year I'll have enough plants to add significantly to my salad garden
Winter Salad Bed And finally, I thought you might like to see what I still have left to sort out.

This bed is my winter salad and brassicas bed which had quite a rich variety of things including lettuce, cabbage, beetroot and chervil.  By the time I got back from the extended stay in the UK, it had quite a rich variety of weeds as well....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poletschka Beans.

I've not had a great success this year with my seed saving as two trips and two invasions by mice have poletschka seriously depleted what stocks I had.  Following recent advice, my seeds have all now been moved to better storage jars or boxes of either heavy plastic or preferably, glass.

However, one of the things I was successful with last year was the Poletschka bean.  A purple pole bean, which has a beautiful small variegated bean.  I don't really know whether I can call a bean variegated...  but I'm sure you'll all know what I mean.  I originally got the beans from Miss Fuggles at A blog called Fuggles, and grew them here for the first time last year.  They were very successful.

I'm just sowing these now and it's a little bit late but if anyone would like to try them then I have a few beans I could let you have.  Sadly, the offer can only be made to those people resident in Europe as the problems of shipping seeds beyond our borders is simply too complicated.

If you're interested, please leave a comment here or better still, email me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hot Cross Bun Day

It's Good Friday, a Christian festival which in many parts of the world is celebrated by a national holiday, although, as it happens, not here in France.

Traditionally, Hot Cross Buns are made and eaten on Good Friday.  I'm not completely sure of the reasons, but think that, like Pancake Day, it's another food feast related to abstinence at Lent.  In this case, those foods which were forbidden during Lent, eggs, butter, milk etc, are once again used to make a delicious dish, in this case a tasty bun.

I determined to make my Hot Cross Buns this morning but things were working against me and it wasn't long before I realised I was running out of time.  Hot Cross Buns are delicious to eat, but take up a lot of time in preparation with bursts of activity interspersed with 20 or 30 minutes wait whilst the dough proves.

Admitting defeat, I turned to the internet for a simple recipe where I could throw everything in a pan and walk away...  and yes, the pan turned out to be my bread maker.  I use my bread maker a lot, but have only ever used it to make...well, bread!  But the recipe seemed easy and gave me the time I needed for other things.  I'll repeat the recipe here, but a big thanks to Bella Online for the original recipe.  I have changed just a couple of small things in that I glazed the buns with warmed honey and omitted the cross!

Well, omitted, is a polite way to say "forgot".  I made the buns, prepared the oven and popped them in before putting together a piping bag to add the cross.... it was only then that I remembered the cross has to go on the buns BEFORE they go in the oven.

The finished buns are not the most gorgeous buns I have ever made and they didn't rise very well.  However, I want to say that I have no doubt that the problems reflect the state of my attention in the kitchen today and are no reflection on the recipe from Bella Online.  They do, however, taste truly amazing.

IMG_0689  My own buns


From Bella Online


  • 1/4 cup water - at room temperature or slightly above
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped, mixed candied fruit


  • 2 Tablespoons of honey, gently warmed
  • Although it's not what is recommended in the original recipe, I always use a mixture of flour and water to make the cross, and pipe it on just before putting the buns in the oven.


    Preparation -
    Place all the dough ingredients, except the raisins and fruit, in the bread machine pan. Set on the dough only cycle. Add the raisins and candied fruit at the bread machine's signal for adding extra ingredients. Remove the dough from the bread machine at end of dough cycle. Place it in a bowl, cover with a cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes.

    Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Shape the pieces into balls and place them 3 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise in warm place until almost doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated oven at 375º for 15 to 18 minutes, or until light brown on top. Remove from the oven. Place the baking sheet full of buns on a wire rack to cool. Prepare the glaze, then spread it over the warm buns. Let the buns continue to cool on the baking sheet.


    Oh, The top picture above is of my own attempt but the second picture is the "official" photo from Bella Online, which I thought looked better.

    Monday, March 29, 2010


    I'm a great believer in lists!

    Lists for everything... shopping, birthdays, house work and of course gardening jobs.  In my house, the lists tend to have a certain life of their own.    For example, the shopping list, like everyone else's, is a simple list of things that need to be bought.   Again, in my own case, this list is very simple, having two halves, the top half for things I need to buy at the weekly market and the bottom half for my weekly shopping trip.  The bottom half gets torn off and taken with me shopping, leaving the top half to be forgotten on the day I go to market.   And so it goes, on and on, week after week.   This list lives on the door of the refrigerator in the kitchen, so that any item discovered to be missing or an item of which I am selecting the last one, can be added immediately.   In fact, this list is always a source of mystery to me.  I tear off the bottom half and head off to the shops and only when I get there do I even glance at the list...  Which is always a mistake, because every week there is some urgent message not to forget...  but I digress.  After all, this is a gardening blog...(I think).... so shopping lists are not what it's about.

    I have a list for my gardening jobs. 

    Jobs on the gardening list usually take about half an hour and I try to complete about ten a day...  I must add, if I'm gardening, as, sadly I can't spend 5 hours a day, 7 days a week gardening!   Things get added to the list as they crop up and in the evening, after I have eaten my meal I try and settle for a few moments and review "the list", crossing out those tasks that are completed and adding any that I think of that haven't already got added during the day.  And there you have my problem....  Any that haven't already got added during the day.

    Take today as an example.  After breakfast I headed out into the garden with my list.   In the case of the garden, the list sits on the table of my terrace with a pen so that whatever happens it's there when I stop for a break, lunch or the odd cup of tea...

    So list in hand, I sat at the table, finishing my breakfast coffee and was happy to count just ten items for today.  A very pleasant workload and one which wouldn't cause stress or problems.  There were some bigger jobs, but they were balanced by a few smaller ones....

    Moving stone was the biggest job on the list.... but that has been and will be on the list for several days yet.   I live near a limestone quarry and so have access to limestone ballast which I use as a base for paths and parking areas.  The lorries from the quarry drive along the road at the end of my garden and the other day one of them stopped and delivered the ten tonnes of stone that I had ordered.   Sadly, the lorry driver just tipped the entire cargo in one spot and it was up to me to move it and spread it to do the job for which it was ordered.  So each day I move a little bit more.  Each day because by the time I have loaded about a quarter of a tonne into my little trailer by shovel, carted it off to where it needs to be.. then tipped it and spread it.. and then gone back and done it all a second time....  I've had enough for one day....

    But, again I digress, after all, the title of this piece is "Lists" not "Stone from the quarry".

    So, once I had finished my after-breakfast coffee, I headed out into the garden and the sunshine, happy with my list of ten things to do.  I pottered about and before I knew it, it was time to stop for lunch.

    Feeling somewhat satisfied with my morning's work, and truly enjoying the spring sunshine which has arrived here, I again sat at the table on the terrace and casually picked up my list, crossing off the six jobs I had completed.  Feeling very happy, I counted down and found that 6 from 10 left.... just 8 jobs still to do!!!

    Like I said, those lists have a life of their own....

    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Spring is here

    Spring has at last broken the hold of winter and is bursting forth here in the Kitchen Garden in France.

    This winter has seen some harsh weather across France, particularly along the Atlantic coast, but, at long last, down here in the south west, we are seeing more bright skies and sunshine than we are seeing the cold days of winter.  For the past few days my thermometer, set well into the shade on the north face of aforsythia3 pillar, has not dipped below 10°C (50°F).   Around the garden the Forsythia is bringing a welcome splash of intense yellow and the plum trees are just breaking forth with blossom.  However, the winter has been about a month longer than usual. This is a picture of one of my Forsythia and it could have been taken today.  It was in fact taken on February 22 in 2008, a whole month ahead of this year.  

    In the vegetable garden things are beginning to stir as well with both the Rhubarb and Artichokes pushing their heads above ground for a look at the new year.

    The winter vegetables are plodding on with lots of brassicas still in the ground and the autumn plantings of garlic and leeks are now showing their mettle.

    I'm not sad to see winter going away this year and will set it firmly behind me when I change my clocks to xynthia2summertime tonight. This winter has seen me spending far more time than I wished away from the garden as I recovered from some health issues in the UK.  Then, just as I returned, Hurricane Xynthia hit the west coast and I drove the several hundred miles south through appalling weather.  Although, the problems for me pale into insignificance when looked at against the devastation caused in the Vendee region and the plight of the families of the numerous people who lost their lives.

    Even after arriving home my problems were not yet behind me as a freak electrical problem on the local supply network caused everything in the house that was plugged in to have almost double the normal voltage thrown across it.  This caused the irreparable failure of the central heating, phones, internet connections, satellite tv receiver and even some light fittings.  In fact, it seems the only thing that survived was an old tungsten lamp which has not yet been replaced by it's low energy cousin.  So much for progress.

    So yes, I'm pleased to be warm again as daytime temperatures raise to the very pleasant 20's°C (70's°F), pleased to be cheered by the vibrant colours of shrubs and trees returning to the landscape and pleased to see that those delicate little plants I introduced to the world last year have sensibly, hidden away from the harsh winter and can now raise their heads and enjoy the bright spring days.

    And I'm right there with them, enjoying the bright spring days.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Another week??

    I can't believe that another week has passed.

    Most of it has still been spent dealing wqith things domestic and also, our first guests of the 2010 holiday season.   They arrived last Tuesday and, luckily, that was the day when the icy cold weather suddenly turned much milder.

    I'm still having to resolve problems caused by an electrical fault which is also taking a lot of my time.

    However, I have at last been able to start to get out into the garden and attack a few projects. 

    The bed where I had sown broad beans back in November, has now been turned over and all the dead beans worked back into the soil.  I'm hoping to sow some new beans in a day or two.

    I've also been taking cuttings of my Forsythia bush in the hope that they will produce some new young shrubs for me.  I took cuttings last March and now have three healthy little spurs of Forsythia, all of which have flowered

    I didn't do too well with my geraniums over this winter.  I took them in as I always do but they mostly seem to have given up on the quest for life during this past hard winter.   I have sown some marigold seeds in the hope they will grow.  I've never managed to grow Marigolds but I am an eternal optimist, so, of course, I just know these two pots will thrive

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Back at Last

    After several months away from the garden I'm pleased to be back on familiar terre.

    However, I chose to return from the UK on a weekend when France was being battered by severe Atlantic storms causing extensive damage up and down the west coast.  Before leaving the UK, I had seen mention Aiguillon sur mer of the storms on national TV news but it was only once I was in France and able to pick up the French TV news services that I realised the true extent of the damage with some parts of the west coast being completely flooded out.  One of my favourite areas, and, I think, one of the most beautiful parts of France, the Vendee, was looking very sad as mile after mile was awash with the results of the storm.

    However, closer to home, here in the Kitchen Garden in France, most things seem to have survived the awful weather and I was even able to pick some leaves to eat for dinner on my first day back

    The plastic tunnel I had put over a few things for the winter was however blown to pieces and there was quite a bit of tree damage, particularly in the old walnut trees, which had shed some large old branches.  But there again, that's what Walnut trees do in winter!

    The storm had somehow managed to break the cold frame with one of the glass covers being shattered.   This was quite an achievement as the cover was actually open and strapped back tdead beanso the wall...

    Broad beans usually over winter here but this year, the repeated swings in temperature have proved too much for the ones I planted back in November

    I've had to spend the rest of the week, mostly, working in and around the house trying to bring back to life the property which has lain empty for just about fouIMG_0682r months.  In particular, the local field mouse population seems to have found doors in to the property that I never knew existed and have been having quite a party.

    Still, at least on this trip away, the mice seem to have been kept out of the few seeds I had left.

    And finally, I'm pleased to see all the signs of spring bursting out around me.  M. Gary, a local farmer, tends a small field I own, and he was out preparing the land for planting...  The forsythia is in bud and I expect that by next week it will be a bright yellow splash of colour which is  my true indicator that spring really has arrived.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Pancake Day

    I'm still in the UK, getting ready for my return to the Kitchen Garden in France and today is Pancake Day.

    I love pancake day and it brings back many fond memories...

    As a child, my mother always made pancakes on Pancake Day and it was a real treat.   Not just for me, either, as my father loved them possibly a little more than I did.  He certainly always got more!

    Today also bring back memories of fun evenings with friends.   I remember back probably 30 years ago.  I was living in south Wales and one day I was telling one of my fiends that I'd be making pancakes that evening as it was pancake day.  She looked at me incredulously and simply asked, "Do you know how to make pancakes?"

    "Come and see!" I replied

    The result was a tradition that we built up over the next 20 odd years where, every pancake day, she and her husband, came for dinner and to help make pancakes.  Thinking back, I don't know how we ever managed to make a single pancake as there was so much giggling going on in the kitchen.

    Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras as it is otherwise called, is an old Christian festival dating back 1000 years where there is a feast on the last day before lent, in order to use up the foods that should not be eaten during that time.

    In England, since the 15th century, the food has been used up by making pancakes, hence the name "Pancake Day".  The biggest pancake ever made was made in Rochdale in 1994 and measured 15 metres, about 50 feet, in diameter and weighing in at 3 tonnes (6600 lbs).   There is also a tradition in the Buckinghamshire town of Olney to hold a pancake race on Pancake day, where contestants, who must be housewives who have lived in the town for more than six months and wear an apron and scarf or hat, run a race whilst tossing a pancake.

    pancake tossing

    It's quite hard taking a photo of yourself, tossing a pancake, using time delay to allow yourself to get back into the photo, pick up the pan and actually toss the pancake, only to find that it went higher than you hoped and was almost out of the frame!!!

    My own recipe is very simple

    Basic Pancake Batter

    (makes eight) 
    100g plain flour
    Pinch of salt
    3 large eggs
    200ml milk
    A little oil for frying

    Place the flour, salt and eggs in a large bowl with half the milk. Whisk until the mixture is lump-free. Add the remaining milk and whisk again until smooth. If you prefer place all the ingredients together in a food processor and blend until smooth, Pour the batter into a jug. The batter can be made in advance and chilled for up to eight hours before use.
    Heat a 20cm/8in diameter non-stick frying pan until hot, drizzle a little oil over the centre and wipe it around with a piece of kitchen paper. Now pour a little of the batter into the pan and immediately tilt the pan to spread the batter thinly and evenly over the base. Cook for two minutes or until the top is set and the base golden. Turn the pancake over with a spatula or if you are feeling brave, flip the pancake!
    Cook for a further one to two minutes or until the base is golden. Transfer to a plate and interleave with greaseproof paper, keep warm. Use the batter and a little more oil to make a further seven pancakes in the same way.

    • Serve simply by dusting with sugar, adding a squeeze of lemon and rolling.
    • OR, as soon as you have titled the pan to spread the batter sprinkle in a few sultanas then cook as before.
    • I have a friend who insists on taking the pancake but adding golden syrup instead of sugar and lemon

    or try them in the following recipe idea.

    French Mushroom, Ham & Goats Cheese Crepe
    Fill the pancakes with sliced mushrooms sauteed in oil, a slice of ham, then top with thinly sliced goats cheese. Fold up to enclose the filling then pop under a hot grill until the cheese begins to melt. Serve scattered with flat parsley.

    OH, I used to make the batter in the traditional way adding the milk, beating, adding more milk, beating again etc.  Now... I just throw everything into a food processor and let it do the work.  I can't tell the difference.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Coming Home

    Mny of you will know that I have been away for about 3 months, surviving the harshest winter the UK has seen in decades. I have been wet and cold. I have been snowed in for 5 days and I have missed out on the daily exercise of gardening.

    However, I have also had a wonderful time as I have roamed the United Kingdom, visiting old friends, making new friends and of course seeing my brother, my sister, my nieces and my great niece. I have had great walks to the beach and enjoyed the fresh wintry breeze along the shore

    Now the time has come to plan to get back to the kitchen Garden in France. I wonder what I shall find when I return?

    I've not writtten much on this blog whilst I've been away but once I get back now, I shall post some bits and pieces.

    I have a small problem with my internet connection to resolve but once that is repaired I'll be back.

    And I'm now ready for the new growing year, refreshed from my travels.