Sunday, January 30, 2011

Potato and Beans

Yesterday's rain has passed over so this morning I was able to get back outside gardening.

My vegetable plot is about 25m (28 yds)square and is divided up into individual beds.  The final plan is for 30 beds, but, at present, I have only created 21 of them.   I add another bed as and when I need it.  All the beds are about 7.5m x 1.2m  (25ft x 4 ft).  The ground is clay, sitting on chalk, which is beautiful for growing grapes...   Maybe that's why there are far more vineyards than arable farms around here, and that is even taking into account the EU controls on wine production.

One of the crops I'm planning for 2011 is potatoes.    I'm in the middle of selecting some potatoes and chitting them.  I have about 40 at present and will try to get about 100 on the go.

I grow potatoes because they are so good for the soil.  At least, everyone tells me they are.  I can't make my mind up.  Certainly, the soil in the bed is much better after I've grown potatoes.  But I'm not sure how much of the improvement simply reflects the work put in to grow them.  After all, you turn the bed over, dig deep trenches for the tubers, then earth up as the plants grow and finally ddig again to harvest the potatoes.  I wonder what a bed of, say lettuce, would end up like if I put that much effort into it??

Be that as it may, it's a great crop because of all that and the heavy top growth does a good job of smothering weeds as well.  So, this year, I'm turning over two of my beds to grow potatoes.    All my beds are separated by a path wide enough to mow, so, in this case, I'm also incorporating the path giving me a bed of about 3m x 7.5m  Plenty for 6 rows of about 16 tubers.   Once I've turned the whole bed I'll plant the potatoes about 100mm (4") deep by scooping out the soil, sprinkling a bit of fertiliser in the bottom them carefully placing the chitted potatoes in the hole before back filling.  Each hole is about 500mm (20") along the line.

Last Autumn I planted some broad beans and was happy to find a bed of strong healthy plants when I looked this morning.   Last year I lost most of my Broad Beans because of several late frosts so, with this in mind, I decided to protect the young plants.  I have some metal tubes about 15mm diametre which I casn join together and a box full of plastic couplers.  It's an old garden gazebo frame I scrounged when the material was no longer any use.   I've assembled a rectangle which sits about 300mm (12") above the ground and secured some old net curtains to it with clothes pegs.  I really like net curtains for this job.  They do a great job of keeping the frost out whilst letting the rain in.  Plastic hoop tinnels keep both the frost and the rain out and garden fleece is both expensive and not very durable.  My net curtains lived their first life screening a window and for a few years now, have lived a second life protecting my plants.  Fixing them with pegs also works well.  If it gets very stormy then the pegs give and the net flaps a bit but neither the frame nor the nets get torn apart.

This afternoon I'm going back outside in the hope of turning over more of that potato bed, if I can dig my shoes out the pile of clay they are encased in.

Rainy day

A whole day of rain kept me out of the garden so I turned my attention to the kitchen.

A friend of mine had an operation to repair a hernia during the past week and I was planning to go and visit him to see how he was feeling.  He's French, but after several holidays in Scotland he has developed a real love of Scottish Shortbread, so, I decided that making him some shortbread would be a good way to spend a wet Saturday.

I've posted the recipe on my kitchen blog Ian's French Kitchen ....   Here's the link : Shortbread Biscuit

Monday, January 24, 2011

In the Garden, at last

I spent today in the garden.

For a whole host of reasons, this was the first day I've been able to spend gardening for several months.  The main reasons were weather and health.  My health took a bit of a dive back in September and by the time I came out from underneath it, winter had very firmly set in.

forsythia cuttingsThis winter here in south west France has been both cold and wet.   My own measure of how wet it has beeseedlings2n is by looking at how dry the roads remain....  Normally, here, the roads dry out every day, but this winter, they have remained wet for days and indeed, weeks on end.

But back to my day in the garden......

One of the last things I did before collapsing in a heap last autumn was to take some cuttings.

The Forsythia cuttings are looking healthy enough and I'm hoping to get enough shrubs to make a short hedge to give some wind break to parts of the vegetable garden.

seedlings Some of the seedlings that have been overwintering are happily existing in the  unheated cold frame.

One of the jobs I did today was to chit some potatoes.

I start my potatoes about 8 weeks before I'm intending to plant them in early April.   An elderly gardener I knew many years ago always told me to plant potatoes on Good Friday.  Of course, Good Friday is always at the same point of the moon cycle so I guess this was his version of moon planting.   At the time I lived in Wales, in the UK, and now that I have moved to the warmer climate of south west France, I still follow the advice but have moved the planting date 28 days I intend to plant my potatoes on 25th March.   I should be setting out the potatoes next Friday, but today is ok!!!!

Chitting potatoes is a method of promoting strong growth of shoots before planting.    I set the potatoes in egg boxes with the eyes uppermost and place them on a shelf potato chittingby a window in my unheated workshop.  The window actually faces south, which is not ideal, but it is what I have.  North facing(away from the sun) would be chits in windowideal. Remember I'm in the northern hemisphere so if you live down under, your ideal window will be south facing.

I will leave these potatoes in the window for a week or two and then inspect them, removing some sprouts to leave just the 4 or 5 strongest ones.   You need to cut out the shoot and dig a bit of a hole to get the eye out so that it doesn't simply shoot again later.

Some people argue that this is a waste of effort but I believe that by choosing the strongest shoots and also, considering the position of them, you can give the plant the best chance to produce a nice healthy crop of potatoes.

As for the rest of my day.... well, pruning a large old linden tree took me a lot of time.  I only got as far as cutting out all the shoots coming up from around the base of the tree.... but there's always tomorrow.   I'm thinking of pollarding it.  It looks like it was done a few years ago, but that must have been before I came here six years ago.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


After a long hard winter I am, at last, thinking about creeping back into the garden again

Winter here has seen low temperatures of minus 10C (14F) and snow on the ground for a few days.

After the long hot simmer of last year I was very disappointed and struggled to get through... but now, I'm back and looking forward to what the new year of 2011 will bring.

I found a few potatoes shooting in my vegetable box yesterday, so I have started 2011 with half a dozen potato tubers chitting in  my workshop.   I also have few things which are just starting out life in the cold frame, although I'm not entuirely sure they will survive.

However, cuttings I took from some shrubs in the autumn seem to be doing ok and I'm hoping they will take.   I might even have got a bamboo to take at last... but my history on that plant is not great.

Let me wish everyone a great 2011 and hope you'll join me as I wander along my gardening road.