Sunday, 30 May 2010

Biodiversity in Haiti

I know everyone wants to help the shattered lives and economy of Haiti following the earthquake there earlier this year, but I’m afraid that, having been alerted to this by Gaiashope, I find it hard to trust the motives of Monsanto in ‘donating’ corn and tomato seeds to the farmers on the island.  According to the Food Freedom website, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, spokesperson for the peasant farmers’ movement, has called Monsanto’s involvement “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left [of] our environment in Haiti”.  Monsanto have responded to criticism by saying that they are not supplying genetically modified seeds.  However, Food Freedom reports:

The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram.  Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them.

It’s hard to imagine that in the difficult circumstances following the earthquake farmers will have the training and protective clothing to handle these seeds.  Also, hybrid seeds are not suitable for seed saving, so the farmers will become dependent on Monsanto for future years’ seeds, which presumably will have to be paid for.  As one Haitian farmer told Food Freedom: “People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds.  They’re ruining our chance to support ourselves.”   Haitian farmers have threatened to burn the seeds when they arrive.  I hope that they can be given seeds by more philanthropic organisations, so that they can re-establish their agriculture without the influence of a large commercial organisation which is known all over the world for trying to make profits out of small farmers.

First garlic bulb and a tiny first aubergine

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I pulled up our first garlic bulb this morning – it’s not very big, but it’s a lot bigger than the ones we’ve grown before!  We’ll leave the tiny aubergine to get bigger than that.  And the Luque olive tree is covered with flowers like these – a good sign for the autumn crop.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Present and future flavours

We’ve had only five artichokes so far this year and there are a few more to come before the weather gets too dry for them and the plants die back over the summer.  Today we picked three small ones and some broad beans and I cooked them together with sweet onions also from the garden.  Artichokes and broad beans do seem to go very well together and I posted a recipe a couple of years ago which was my version of a dish we’d eaten in a Greek restaurant in London.  There’s another version using dill, posted yesterday on the French-language blog En Direct d’Athènes.  Today, when I’d cooked the artichokes, beans, onions and a few garlic cloves in olive oil and white wine, I let them cool and then served them as a first course with some finely chopped fresh garlic, Greek oregano leaves, ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  There’s nothing like the flavour of your own artichokes eaten on the day they were picked.


And for the future …

The little caper seedlings which I entrusted to our neighbour José to look after while we were away look fine although they’re growing very slowly.  I expected that, though.  We’ve grown them from seeds sent to me by Michelle at From Seed to Table in California.  She’s an expert caper grower and you can see her plants and some of this year’s buds here.  I think it will be a while before we can expect to harvest any buds, but it will be worth the wait and I’m very excited about growing them from seed.

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Some of the Italian and Croatian caper seedlings we’ve managed to grow.  Soon we shall have to cut down one of each pair to allow the other to grow.  Caper plants are very sensitive to root disturbance, according to Michelle, so you can’t just pull one out or try to transplant both.  At the moment they are still in small pots and we keep them at the house on a balcony which gets the morning sun but not the hot afternoon sun, which might dry them out too much.  When they are bigger we’ll transplant them to large terracotta plants and put them in the garden, and maybe try growing one in a wall which is their natural habitat.  By that stage they will thrive in full sun.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Home again!


We’re home again after a wonderful week visiting family in Wales.  We had hot weather in Wales and we’ve returned to hot weather here.  Luckily we’d asked our neighbour to water our garden and everything has grown well while we were away, especially the tomato plants.  The lettuces we planted in between the tomato rows are ready to eat now, having benefited from the water given to the tomatoes.

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There was a thunderstorm just after we arrived home yesterday evening and there is still plenty of water in the stream running down from the spring at the top of the hill.

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The tomato and cucumber plants have start to flower, and need a lot of work, tying them to their supports and removing the sideshoots on the tomato plants.  The olive trees are covered in tiny flowers, many of which we hope will grow into olives.

The courgettes are also flowering – only male flowers so far as usual at the beginning of the season, so we made fritters with a few of them.  A delicious treat with salad leaves from the garden and a glass of rosé from the Domaine des Pascales in the village.

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We’ve picked far more broad beans and mangetout peas than we can possible eat, so we’re putting a lot of them in the freezer.  Unlike some other vegetables – courgettes especially – peas and beans freeze very well.  We at some of the mangetouts, and for supper I made a chilled broad bean soup, my version of a recipe in Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish’s Movida Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes.  It’s made with raw broad beans liquidised with garlic cloves, olive oil and some bread soaked in water.  I added a sweet onion because we have so many in the garden now.  After chilling, the soup is served with a garnish of cured ham, a few peeled broad beans and some herbs.  Frank Camorra suggests mint, but I used oregano because I’d forgotten to pick the mint.  Any fresh herbs would give it a good flavour.  It was wonderfully creamy and a good  first course for a hot evening.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Rough drafts and changing plans


We’ve almost followed the rough sketch I made a few months ago for this year’s garden, but we’ve made some changes, as you can see from the scribbles I’ve made, when plants were ready before their allotted plots had been prepared.  Almost all our vegetables are planted out and growing now.  We seemed to have no space for the chilli pepper plants, but managed to squeeze a few in here and there.  Some of the tomato plants have been blown about a bit by the wind, but they’ll recover.

Is summer coming at last?

The weather is warming up – I think I’ve said this before only to see the temperatures drop and the rain start again, but this time I think it’s real.  The garden will need watering from now until September, daily for most of that time, but there will be heat to make things grow.


I do like to see shade because it means there’s bright sunlight too, and I liked the shadows of these railings as I walked to the garden this morning.

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The irises and the roses looked good in the sunshine too.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Artichokes at last!

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I thought we weren’t going to get any at all this year, the plants were so badly affected by the cold weather in late winter/early spring, but today I picked these two small ones.  As you can see in the photo (bottom right) they have no choke, so I just cut them in half and cooked them in olive oil and white wine, with some whole sweet onions.

Four photos of two tiny artichokes may seem a bit excessive, but I’m so pleased the plants have survived and these may be the only ones we get this year!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Brasucade de moules

We’re very lucky that the coquillage (shellfish) van comes to the village twice a week bringing sustainably produced and delicious shellfish from Bouzigues on the Etang de Thau, a salt-water lagoon only 30 or so kilometres from here.  One of our favourite ways of eating mussels is to cook them on the barbecue in a big open pan – we use a paella pan or a Spanish sartén honda, both of which are available very cheaply in a local discount store. 


Today I lightly sautéed a couple of sliced garlic cloves, some sprigs of savoury and rosemary, some lardons fumés (smoked bacon pieces) and a chopped dried Espelette pepper in olive oil over the flames and then left them to infuse while we cooked some whole Spanish sweet onions which I’d just pulled out of the ground.  When the onions were done and while we were eating them as a first course, the mussels were left to open and cook over the fire.

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When the mussels are cooked we just put the pan in the middle of the table for people to share, with a sprinkling of chopped fresh garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some crusty bread.  And a glass or two of rosé wine from the Domaine des Pascales in the village.  The sun even came out for an hour or so while we were eating!

Spring flowers and leaves

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The white cistus is now in flower and one of its flowers had a yellow butterfly on it.  The mangetout peas are flowering too – such beautiful petals, as lovely as sweet peas but with the advantage of pods to eat later.  Vines have insignificant flowers so this is one plant where the leaves are more impressive, especially when the sun casts shadows of one leaf upon another.

Planting out the peppers


We did some work too, and planted out most of our pepper plants.  There are a few more to do tomorrow and some which we want to grow in pots outside the house.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Update after the rain

We’ve had several more days of rain so the garden is well watered, but we could do with some sunshine now to encourage the plants to grow.

A nice surprise

DSC03533 Our artichoke plants were all badly affected by the cold weather we had in March, which came just as the plants were beginning to grow again after the freezing temperatures we had in January.  This time last year we were picking artichokes, but this year I was afraid we weren’t going to get any at all.  So I was very pleased today to see that two small artichokes had appeared – after all, I didn’t want to have to rename the blog!

And olives ….

well, flower buds at least – our little Lucque tree is covered in buds.



We’ve been preparing the beds for the pepper plants and deciding how we’re going to fit them all in.  We have about 40 plants altogether, not counting chilli peppers, as this year we’ve managed to get almost all of them to grow well.  We’ll probably plant them out tomorrow and I’ll take some photos then.

Replacing the beans the birds had eaten

DSC03538 So many of our haricot and alubia bean plants had failed to appear or been eaten by birds that I germinated some in seed trays in the house.  Today we planted them out in the gaps, with some Planeta climbing mangetout beans as well.  I made a string of ‘bunting’ with strips of a plastic bag which I hope will deter the birds.

Roses and a butterfly on the wild thyme

There’s borage growing as a weed among the roses, but I think it looks good there.


The wild asparagus is almost over now but yesterday we bought some cultivated asparagus from a stall in a fair in the village.  It hadn’t come far, just 5 km from a nearby village, and it was delicious.  We had some of it with a vinaigrette dressing and crusty Aveyronnais bread, and also made an asparagus and goats’ cheese tart.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Safe from frost yet? “Les cavaliers” and “Les saints de glace”


After last week’s summer temperatures and clear skies, this week has been unusually cold and wet for May.  The vines are growing their bright green spring leaves and in the picture above the rain clouds were clearing away over the mountains to the north this morning, but they returned later, with cold winds too.  In France gardeners talk of les saints de glace – the saints’ days which are the last likely dates for frost in spring. 

The gardening advice for Saint Mamert, 11 May, is: Attention, le premier des saints de glace, souvent tu en gardes la trace – Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will bear its mark.  Saint Pancrace (12 May) apport souvent la glace – often brings ice.   Saint Servais (13 May) also brings frost, and rain too: Quand il pleut à la Saint Servais, pour le blé, signe mauvais – When it rains on Saint Servais, for the wheat, it’s a bad signThese saints’ names were removed from the official calendar of the Catholic church in 1960 because the traditions surrounding them were considered pagan, and they have been replaced by Sainte Estelle, Sainte Achille and Sainte Rolande, but gardeners continue to talk of the saints de glace. All these dates were mentioned in a conversation I had about the weather in the queue at the charcuterie stall in the market this morning.

La lune rousse

The lunar period between mid-April and mid-May is also known as la lune rousse, the russet moon, so called not because of the colour of the moon itself but because a late frost can turn plants brown.

Les cavaliers

Here in the Midi we hope not to have such late frosts and gardeners wait instead until after the saints’ days of les cavaliers have passed to plant out tender plants.  These are: Saint George (23 April), St Marc (25 April), Saint Eutrope (30 April), Sainte Croix (3 May) and Saint Jean (6 May).  So from tomorrow onwards we should be all right, although it still feels unseasonally cold.  We had more than 24 hours of heavy rain yesterday – good for the vines according to a friend who is a viticulteur, because it was steady rain which soaked into the ground and did not flood.  The stream from the spring at the top of the hill above the gardens was full of water, cascading down the hillside today, which is good news for all of us who use it for our vegetables.  We need some warmer weather again, though, and definitely no more frosts!

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Water on the hillside, and on our balcony.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Our first broad beans at last, but where did spring go?

The broad beans are very late this year, but at last we harvested the first of them today, and they were very tasty, such a treat after the long wait since we sowed them in October.

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Within a couple of hours of picking them, we were enjoying the beans mixed into pasta with olive oil, garlic, lardons (bacon) and shavings of Parmesan.

Pepper plants update

Just when we were hoping to plant out our pepper plants the weather has suddenly turned cold and wet again.  The rain is welcome, to fill the stream and our water butts in the garden, but the cold (14 degrees C) is a bit unexpected after last week’s summer temperatures.  So for the next few days we’ll leave the pepper plants in the protection of the cold frame in the garden.   I discovered some whitefly on a couple of the pepper plants that had been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony, so today I picked them all off, one by one – not easy to do with middle-aged eyesight!  I’ll check them all again in a couple of days’ time before we plant them out.

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Killing off the whitefly.

Courgette planting

Our courgette plants were getting much to big for the cold frame, so Lo Jardinièr planted them out today.  The weeds are doing well in the garden, too, but I don’t mind this poppy which is growing among the broad beans, I’ll leave it to grow.

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