Thursday, November 15, 2012

Back at last

After almost two years of not being able to set a foot in my vegetable garden, I am happy to report that, at long last, I have been given the OK by my consultant at the local hospital and have once again started a little gentle gardening.

Last week I started by cutting back all the paths in the veg garden.  The garden is laid out with beds of about 7.5 metres (25 ft) by 1.2 metres (4ft) .  In between each bed is a footpath of about 600mm (2ft) width.  There are 3 beds across the garden in a row and at the moment about 6 rows.  The garden will eventually accommodate 8 rows.    Around the edges there are also some corner beds where I grow the flowers and shrubs etc  that drag in the birds and the bees and those kind of things.

Not having been worked for two years it was in a pretty sad state.

I started by cutting back the paths.  They are all grass pathways so it wasn’t too big a job to run my mower over them and I soon had them looking neat, it not perfect.

I have started with one bed!!!  I cleared it and put a mulch on it and then sowed broad beans.

I was quite pleased with my progress after such a long time.

The next day I was out all day doing other domestic things that have been neglected.

Imagine my horror when I went out to the garden the following day and discovered that the local mice had been having a great party, fuelled mainly, from what I could see, by my broad bean seeds.

Yes, I know you are supposed to protect against mice but after being away so long I simply forgot!

As they say in this part of the world  “C’est la vie”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tomato, Onion and Potato tart

Firstly, yes, I am till alive and I can only offer my sincere apologies for the extended delay since my last post.    I’ve not been in very good health and have had a spell in hospital.

The other day a couple of things happened that made me decide to do this post.    My neighbour and farmer arrived with  a couple of sacks of tomatoes, potatoes and onions, all of which he had grown on the field I own.    When I first moved here, the land I bought included a couple of agricultural fields.   I’m no farmer, and the two fields together were not enough to do much with so I spoke to my neighbour and we agreed he would manage them on my behalf.   He grows a few kitchen vegetables, wheat and straw or hay and I pay him for managing them with the produce.  In fact these days, we just split the produce between us, lovely warm produce straight from the field or straw to add to my own kitchen garden

After he had gone another friend invited me for supper  and I decided I could use the fresh produce to make a tart.  I’m afraid I didn’t measure anything but I’ll tell you what I did.   


First I blind baked a pastry tart shell, about 30cms by 20cms (12” x 8”)   I used a rectangular pie dish and lined it with greaseproof paper.

tomato onion and potato tartI took about 4 good sized potatoes and  cut them just enough to get them into my food processor, where I used the very finest slice to produce wafer thin potato slices.  I blanched the potato for just a couple of minutes in a little salted water, taking care not to let it burn.   I didn’t use too much water as I wanted to say rather firm.  Once blanched I immediately dipped it into cold water to arrest the cooking, then drained them.

Next I took about three of the medium onions and sliced them  and to the sliced onion I added a bout 5 cloves of garlic also sliced.  I fried the mixture, adding a touch f salt and black pepper until the onions started to caramelise.  Then I put that dish aside.

To assemble the tart, I started by layering about half of the blanched potato in the bottom.  The potato was a bit wet still so I added just a dessert spoonful of rice under the potato to soak up any juices.

On top of the potato I layered tomato, sliced fairly thickly.   Again season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Next, another layer of potato.

Then a layer of the fried onions and garlic before putting the final layer of tomatoes on the top.

I scattered some fresh basil leaves over the dish and returned it to the oven to bake at about 180C (350F) for 20 mins

Sunday, April 1, 2012


A couple of months ago I was writing on here about the unexpected snowfall that had arrived.

IMG_0929In that post I referred to my potted herbs collection as “looking particularly forlorn”

It turns out that statement was “particularly inadequate”!   With the exception of my rosemary and sage bushes, all the rest of my herb collection has been completely wiped out.  ~I’m still hoping that the rosemary and sage will survive and they are showing great promise.

So, today was spent recovering pots and sowing new seeds to recreate a new potted herb garden.

I have sown Thyme, Basil, Coriander,Parsley, Chives and Dill to add to the sage and rosemary.

Over in the vegetable garden there is also a bay tree which is also “looking particularly forlorn”

It’s been there for a couple of years and has struggled with poor soil and excessive heat.   I’m hoping that this last period of drought folloowed by extreme cold hasn’t finally finished it off.

I still have a couple more varieties of herbs to sow, but my day escaped from me today, so I’ll try and continue tomorrow.   I know I have chervil and maybe winter savoury amongst others.

Doyenne du Comice

This part of France suffered quite badly with drought last year, nine months passing with very little or, in some months, no rain at all. falling.

A consequence of this was water shortages that led the local authorities here to declare a ban on certain usage of water.  Of course, the “potager” was one of the first victims.

I admit to always being astounded by this particular action but it happens right the way around the globe.  Whilst I am being told that I cannot water my crop of fruit and vegetables, which are being grown simply for consumption here on the site, local farmers and industrialists can grow totally inappropriate, water hungry, crops.  which, in many cases, they irrigate in the Doyenne du Comicemiddle of the day when the sun is at it’s strongest, and which will be shipped to far and distant places, where, quite possibly, there is no local water shortage.

A consequence which I didn’t foresee, however, was that last autumn, lots of businesses were left with unsold plants and trees and, in particular, the solution for some supermarkets was to simply cut the prices, lower and lower in order to try and move the stock.   And so it was, that in October last year I was able to buy a standard pear tree, Doyenne du Comice, for a mere 2€.

I have a couple of very large pots that I use for holding big shrubs and trees which are about the size of a dustbin so I potted up my new tree and, put it near the house to afford it some protection.    To be honest.  I figured it was a gamble and was quite prepared to lose it.   When the really cold spell arrived and even the pots that I had moved into my unheated workshop froze solid, I was quite prepared to wave goodbye my tree.

However, the weather finally warmed and the little Doyenne du Comice seemed to have survived.

At about the same time that I noticed the new buds on the pear tree, I also found the same supermarket selling the same tree again, but this time charging 4€ !  Well, it was too good an opportunity to pass on so I bought another tree.

And so, during the past week I was able to expand my orchard by another two pear trees, bringing the total number of trees in the orchard up to almost 30.

Let’s hope that they find their feet and enjoy a long and fruitful life.

Managed Meadow

A couple of days ago, I spent the day doing one of the garden jobs I really enjoy.  Managing my meadow!

Many years ago, when I was laying out the garden I put aside an area of about 750 square metres to keep “wild”.  The land concerned had been farmed until we moved into the property, meadowbut since then there has been no attempt made to use the area.   I know that in the seven years I have owned the property there has been no addition of fertiliser at all.  A few years back, I also decided to check with the farmer who farmed the land before I arrived.   I asked the simple question, “Did you use chemicals on that piece of land?”   M.Gary, who back then was in his late 80’s looked me in the eye, with a wry smile and answered with another question…  “Why would I buy chemicals when I have all the manure I need on the farm?”     I have no need to doubt his word as in the seven years I have known him he has continuously farmed one of my fields and I have never seen anything going on the land except farmyard manure.    He used to keep goats, chickens and the odd cow and, in fact, his “home made” compost was highly regarded by local gardeners, if you could ever get hold of some!!    I said continuously and I meant it.  M.Gary is now into his 90’s and still farms, managing my field quite happily as a small mixed crop market garden.   Last year he grew tomatoes, melons, pumpkins, beans and a few other things.   I can certainly vouch for the sweetness of both the melons and the tomatoes from the ones that regularly got left on my doorstep!

So, if my meadow has remained “au naturel”  for very many years, how then do I manage it?  After all, I have just explained that I don’t feed it, or seed it, so….??

Well, all I do is cut it.   This was a tip I got from His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales  who, as you may know, is a very active organic farmer.    One of the great advantages of being first in line to the throne is that lots of people take a great deal of interest in what you do and how you do it, and because of this, very many television programmes have been made about how he manages his estates.  It was during one of these programmes that I learned all about managing meadow and I have followed the advice ever since.

Actually, It’s very easy!   Once a year,  about this time, I set my mower to the highest setting (about 100mm in my case) and cut the meadow.    All the cuttings are just dropped back on the ground.   It’s easy, it’s quick and, apparently, it is very helpful.  By cutting out the tall grasses all the delicate meadow flowers can flourish and it’s those wild flowers that attract all sorts of insects which in turn, drift next door into my kitchen garden.  The very reason I put the area over to meadow in the first place!

Lets hope that we see all the lovely species of wild flowers again this year.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A few Garden Birds

My neighbour Michael has taken the opportunities presented by our recent snowfall to take yet more amazing photographs.

This time he has compiled a set of the most amazing pictures of our garden birds.

Please enjoy them, and, once again, a big thank you to Michael, for making them available to me for our enjoyment

In this very cold weather, please remember to put out a little food  and water for your local birds.    I believe that they will reward you many times over during the coming year.

Verdier 107
Rouge Gorge 102 Pinson 101
Pie 100 Pic Epeiche 102
Geai 103 Corneille 101

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cotton wool??

My bedroom has a pair of French Windows hat exit directly out into the garden.  Most mornings, I leap out of bed and spring to the French windows and, throw them open to allow me access to the closed shutters, in order to both let in the morning sun, as well as to survey the latest changes in my garden.  Well, this may be a slight enhancement of reality,In fact, more often than not, I fall out of bed, stumble across the bedroom and try to focus enough to unlock the catches holding the windows closed!

IMG_0927This morning however, I looked out to find that overnight someone, or possibly something, had chosen to paint the IMG_0928whole of my garden white.  Dazzlingly white!

It was so bright it shocked my senses awake and I realised that there was about 6 inches (150mm) of snow lying on the floor.  The sun was up enough to be making the whole thing far too bright but, I resisted my urge to close the shutters again and return to a more sombre life, and picked up my camera.

Now, I know that to many of you 6” of snow is not even worth commenting on.  Indeed, before I came here I regularly coped with much greater levels of snow, including one year when I actually couldn’t get my car down our lane as the snow was so deep it had completely covered the bridge carrying the railway over the lane.

But since I moved here to France, snow has not been a big feature of my life.   Ignoring my winter holidays in New England, I’ve probably only seen snow on three of four days in the past seven years.  So, as you can imagine, 6 inches of the stuff is notable

IMG_0929The snow got me to thinking.

One of the things I try and do is keep a note of the temperatures and rainfall here.  I log a maximum and minimum temperature every day and I also log the rainfall each week.

On looking back, I see that exactly the same date, but last year, we had temperatures of 17 C (63F) high and –2 C (28F) low.  The snow had arrived following a day when the high reached a staggering  -3C (27F) and the low sagged down to –12C (10F).

I must say that my little collection of potted herbs, that live just outside the back door, are looking particularly forlorn.

Roll on Spring, it’s just around the corner I believe!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sowing for 2012

I sowed my first seeds of 2012 today.  Just a few cauliflowers and some Antirrhinum's which I'm hoping to get to grow in a corner bed, I use for attracting insects into the "potager".   I also planted up some pumpkin seeds I had germinated....  I know it's a bit early but hey!!

I found those pumpkin seeds recently and wrote a piece about the germination test I ran on them.  Well, they weren't at all good, and only about 35% germinated, 7 out of 20, so I decided to trash the whole batch and dispatched them to the compost heap.  However, those seven that germinated...

I had a good look and, as they all seemed healthy enough, I carefully potted them up.  If I get some pumpkin plants, it will be a bonus.

Sowing the seeds got me to thinking about this time last year when I had such great hopes for the garden, hopes that, sadly in 2011 were to be dashed.  I'm not going to say that I've bounced back, but, maybe I could say I've limped back and with some kind weather, not too many pests and lots of great luck, I'm hoping to get my garden back into shape this year.


I'll try and keep you all informed of how I get on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Germination Testing

Like so many gardeners, well, those of us in the northern hemisphere, I have decided to use the cold winter days to review my stash of seeds before the 2012 season truly arrives.  As I'm sure many of you realise, I'm not the most organised and efficient gardener and so, my seed stash is also not particularly well organised or efficient.  I have a large collection of seeds, many of which I have saved myself, in a huge catalogue of containers, ranging from rather dainty tiny plastic pill boxes to simple paper coffee filters, where, the seeds, once dried, have never actually been transferred to a better container.

This is one of the reasons I lose quite so much of my seed to mice!  The labelling of this wealth of material is equally haphazard, some being very neat and tidy: I have in front of me a rather nice glass jar labelled "Pasteque de Laspissotes saved September 2009", so there's not much doubt there, but I equally have an open box of bean seeds with a note in it that simply says "Poletschka Sept 10" .  Even that is ok, except I'm truly certain it should say September 2011, as I remember saving the seed before going away on holiday last year!!!

All this vagary has led me to decide to carry out a germination test to check whether any of these seeds are ok.

I'm using a simple method I've used very successfully before.

germination test I spread about 10 to 20 seeds on a damp paper kitchen towel.  I put them about 5cms (2") apart, so that there is no contamination if one or two start to rot.   Then I place a second paper towel over the top of the seeds and carefully roll the whole thing into a tube.  Once I have the damp tube of seeds I put it into a plastic bag and seal it, before placing it in a warm spot.   I have just the place, as my central heating boiler has the luxury of it's own little room and, although well ventilated, it still keeps at a very pleasant temperature.  I note when the seeds went in and check every day for signs of germination.   I expect most seeds to germinate in about 5 to 10 days, but it varies from variety to variety.   I let them carry on for a couple of days after the first shoots appear and then count the number of seeds that have successfully germinated.  Something over 80% is what I look for, but if it's only 50% I make a note to sow twice as many seeds at each station to compensate.  Remember to keep the paper damp or they won't germinate!

In the past, I have tried to plant on the germinated seeds and have had some success, but it's often a bit early for me to keep them going.

I'll let you know how I get on

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy New Year, everyone

I've decided to take a leaf out of my French neighbours book.  It seems that you can wish "Happy New Year" throughout the month of January, so, I know I'm late, but it's still January!

The onset of 2012 has started me looking at plans for 2012 and the garden.   2011 was a terrible year for me and I am determined to do better in 2012.  So, with that in mind I started today by doing a couple of things.

Firstly, I looked at my planting schedule and decided where everything would be grown.  I'm operating a four year rotation and this is the fourth year, so the basics were already worked out.    When I built the garden a few years ago I made beds of 1.2m (4ft) by 7.5m (23ft).  The 1.2 m width has proved excellent as it gives ample room to reach right into the middle of the bed if needed.  In between the beds I  left paths, but they are just mowed continually, and the size of my mower, determined the 6--mm (2ft) width of the paths.  I also left a double width path right through the middle so that, if needed, I can get my little tractor and trailer through.  This years schedule originally called for 19 beds to be used, but I'm going to cut back.  I'm intending to grow in 15 of the beds.  This is actually the number of beds that are prepared at the moment, so that was also a consideration.

Three of the beds are permanently planted, one with asparagus, one with hazelnut bushes and the third with artichokes in one half and rhubarb in the other.  This leaves just 12 beds to prepare, plant and grow.  However, I'm also thinking of collecting all my strawberries into one permanent bed, so that will cut it down to 11.

Secondly, I started to prepare the beds.  I ran the mower over everything cutting all the weeds down to size and then I started to spread a mulch over each bed.   I started today and covered 1 bed.  The mulch will suppress weeds and encourage worm activity to improve the soil.  This is the same method I used to create the beds, simply covering the area with mulch and leaving it there for a month or two over winter.   Today's mulch is leaves and grass, collected as I cut the garden.

I'm hoping to get access to some goat manure, but since changing my car, I don't have a hitch right now, for my trailer, so the manure will have to wait.

The third and last thing I did today was to start to look at my seeds collection.  As I said previously, last year was a bit of a disaster for me.   I did manage to save some seeds but not many.  I lost all my tomato seeds, which makes me very sad.   It wasn't so much a disaster as a series of unfortunate events.  The drought severely reducing the amount of stock I had to save seeds from and then various losses over winter as the usual culprits, mice, freeloaded whilst I was gadding about in the UK and the USA.   I have to dig a bit to see what I have from 2009 but at the moment, in Tomatoes, I think Ionly have Moneymaker and Marmande

So, if anyone is reading this and has any tomato seeds to spare, please email.   I normally grow about 6 varieties but this year, I'll grow what ever I can get.

Happier news is that I did save quite a few beans, garlic and onions, so not everything is lost.