This spring I've not been able to get out in my garden nearly as often as I would have liked. Some minor health problems, delayed building work and winter repairs to our holiday accommodation have all taken their toll.
However, today I felt I was starting to make a little progress. Over the past months I have managed to fit in sowing a few things like tomatoes, melons, cucumber, courgettes etc but I have been sadly behind with the ground preparation as I juggled time to try and fit everything in.
So, first thing this morning I was out in the garden starting to prepare my first three beds. When I laid out the garden, a few years ago now, I adopted a system of regular beds, all about 7.5m (25ft) by 1.2m (4ft). I find that the four ft width is great as it's easy to get to anywhere in any of the beds. I separated the beds with a 600mm (2ft) wide path. I pondered long and hard about how wide this path should be. The plan was to let the grass and weeds grow on the paths and simply cut it back with the lawn mower. So that is where the size of 600mm came from.... It's the width of my manual lawn mower. I do admit, however, that with almost an acre of lawn to mow, I do have a ride on mower. That mower also has a trailer attachment, so through the middle of the vegetable garden I put a wider 1200mm path so that, if needed, I could pull a trailer right into the middle of the garden.
Actually, I only prepared 2 and 1/2 beds. The other half was already planted with broad beans which are doing well. The beds I prepared will be populated with courgettes, pole beans and tomatoes.
As I was so far behind with ground preparation I decided to cut some corners and used my rotovator to break up the soil. As I have mentioned, it's been very dry here with no significant rainfall for over a month (20mm in the past two months and nothing for the past couple of weeks) and temperatures have also climbed as high as 30C (86F) on more than one occasion. Consequently the ground has baked quite hard so cutting through it seemed the best option.
To prepare a bed, I first set about rotovating to produce a better tilth. Once I was happy with the ground I added a bag of substrate that I'm using to help improve the soil and then a bag of well rotted farmyard manure. I used the rotovator as a great big mixer to blend all these elements together. before finally raking the surface.
Having prepared the soil, I then laid in a watering system. I use a kind of dripper hose system. It's homemade, but I think it works well. I seal one end of an old hose pipe and fit a connector the other end. I then use a special tool I have manufactured to pierce the hose wherever I want the drips to be. If you imagine a thin piece of wood with a small sharp nail pushed through, you'll have a very good impression of my " special tool"!
Once the watering system was in place and tested, I covered the whole lot with about 5 or 6 inches (150mm) of straw as a mulch.
That all took me right up to lunch time but, after lunch I was due to be away from the garden again.
Today was Hot Cross Bun Day. Well, I guess I should say, Hot Cross Bun Baking Day.
I like to make Hot Cross Buns a couple of days ahead and then freeze them. I think it helps all the flavours mellow and blend together.
I've not had much success with my Hot Cross Buns since I moved to France. I think it's been because of the differences in bread making here which calls for subtle changes to yeast etc. So, once again today, I decided to try out a new recipe. This recipe calls for the dough to be made in a bread machine and then the buns baked and glazed as usual. It was my best effort in France! although, I did make a silly mistake... My oven has a pre heat setting which brings it up to temperature much quicker. It adds in additional heat at the top of the oven. The problem is that whenever I use the pre-heat I seem always to forget to turn the oven back to normal once it's got up to temperature and, as I'm sure you can imagine, additional heat at the top of the oven really affects things like baking Hot Cross Buns. So, apart from being a bit dark, this year's buns are fabulously tasty. As ever, I took an online recipe and then adjusted it for my own tastes.
I'll probably post the recipe on my food blog Ian's French Kitchen tomorrow or the day after.
Tomorrow it's out in the garden again to get things growing in those beds!