Thursday, 29 April 2010

Flowers, a butterfly, more lizards and planting out the tomatoes


We’ve had several days of really hot weather, like summer rather than spring, and it has brought all the flowers out. This rose Banksiae which climbs over the shelter next to our shed is one of my favourites – the flowers are only a couple of centimetres across but there are so many of them. They last just a couple of weeks, so I’m going to celebrate this short flowering period by putting several photos on the blog:

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The cistus flowers have started to appear and the broom is covered with flowers:

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High Brown Fritillary butterfly

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Lo Jardinièr saw this High Brown Fritillary butterfly (Argilis adippae) on the windowbox on our balcony.

Two lizards, one with a new tail

I could clearly see that this lizard had grown a new tail as it looked so different from the body.
DSC03374 I liked the way this one seemed to be mirroring the grain of the wood on the garden shed.

Planting tomatoes and aubergines

Rain is forecast for tomorrow and we wanted to get most of our tomatoes planted out before then. So far we’ve planted: 18 Roma (for bottling), 18 St Pierre (for salads and sauces), 6 Ananas (pineapple, for salads mostly), 6 Languedocienne (a local variety, very heat- and drought- resistant), 5 Coeur de boeuf (for salads), 3 Longue des Andes (seed saved from tomatoes given to us by a friend last year, the first time we’ve grown these). All these were grown from seed we saved, except for the St Pierres for which we used the leftover seeds in a packet from last year. We haven’t bought any tomato seeds this year and hardly any other seeds. We still have three varieties of cherry tomato plants to find places for somewhere.

We bought three grafted aubergine plants (Longue violette) in the village market yesterday and planted them out today. We’ve got one other plant waiting to be planted out and I’d like to have at least one more. We only use grafted plants (grafted onto tomato roots), which we have to buy, because they are so much more productive and we really love aubergines!

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Next to be planted out will be the pepper plants – numerous varieties – and the courgettes and cucumbers. This is such an exciting time of year!

Beans and no beans

Our broad beans are nearly ready to eat. They are a little late this year and our neighbour was saying that his were too this year after the cold spring, but at least they’re doing well now. I don’t know why we never seem to succeed with other varieties of beans, though. I sowed three rows of haricot beans at the end of March and only 5 or 6 plants have emerged. I’m trying out germinating the seeds in trays of compost and then I’ll plant them out, so that at least I’ll know whether they have germinated. I suspect that the snails eat the seedlings as soon as they appear above the earth.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Spring flowers, new vine leaves and another lizard


The vines are sprouting new spring growth in all the vineyards. We passed these near Roquessels this morning. And on the hillsides in the garrigue the asphodels, cistus, broom and thyme are all flowering.

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In the garden, the apple blossom is nearly over, but we had borage flowers to decorate our salad of broad bean leaves, rocket and mint. I can’t see any small fruits on the apricot tree, although there are lots of leaves, so I think that the sudden cold weather we had in March must have killed off the fertilised flowers. We had a lot of blossom in February on the apricot tree, and insects buzzing around the flowers, so we expected a reasonable crop, until the surprise snow arrived at the beginning of March.

A lizard in the sky

This lizard run up the wall of the shed and onto one of the supports for our shelter to bask in the sun.

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It’s been good weather for lizards. After an unusually cold spring, with that snow, it’s now unusually hot for April – up to 30 degrees C at midday in the sun – and very dry, although the stream is still running well down the hill past the gardens so we have plenty of free water.

Preparing to plant out the tomatoes

We have prepared most of the tomato beds and put up the cane supports for the plants. We’ve planted lettuce seedlings in between what will be double rows of tomatoes – the lettuces will get watered with the tomato plants, which will shade them a bit, and we’ll have eaten them by the time the tomato plants grow.

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The tomato plants on the right have been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony and are now desperate for more space and light, so we’ll be planting them out in the next day or so.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

A green lizard

Yesterday we found this green lizard, Lacerta viridis, among the broad bean plants.  Unlike the brown wall lizards, Podarcis muralis, which we see everywhere during spring and summer, these green ones are much more shy and we rarely see them.  This one was about 30 cm long from nose to tail, so it was probably a young one as their bodies can be 35 to 40 cm, with a tail of the same length again.  This species is found mainly in France and Italy.


Today there were small brown lizard scuttling all over the garden but the green one had gone or was hiding.

Some work and then a barbecue

We’ve started to prepare the beds for our tomatoes which we hope to plant out next week, and planted some lettuce seedlings our neighbour gave us.  Then we had another lazy Sunday lunch, in the shade because the sun is getting quite hot now.


Trying out a recipe from Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish’s Movida Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes, I marinated pieces of chicken in smoked paprika, ground cumin, oregano, garlic and olive oil, left them overnight then put them on skewers and barbecued them.  Just perfect for a day like today.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A Catalan break

I seem to have become a ‘weekend blogger’ – I don’t usually leave a gap of nearly a week between posts, but I have couple of excuses: first, I’ve been unable to connect to the internet for more than 15 minutes at a time since last Sunday night, something which has been resolved today by the installation of a new ‘Livebox’. And secondly, I’ve been away, staying for a couple of days in Banyuls-sur-Mer in the French part of Catalunya.

Banyuls is famous for its vin doux, a naturally sweet wine produced thanks to the amount of strong sunshine in that area. Squeezed between the Pyrenees and the rocky Côte Vermeille coast, the vines are grown in terraces anywhere on the slopes where there is space to make it worthwhile working the ground.

The vines were only just beginning to sprout this season’s bright green leaves, but these pictures show how close to the sea and the mountains the vineyards are.

The terraces are walled with local stone, with drainage channels leading down between them, and are sometimes wide enough for only two rows of vines.

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The three variations of Banyuls – red, white and ambré (with added caramelised sugar to give a golden colour) – are all delicious apéritifs and can also be used in cooking. The chef at the restaurant at the Hotel des Elmes where we stayed was expert at this – two of the wonderful dishes we tasted were scallops and Catalan blood sausage with a reduction of Banyuls, and escalope of foie gras with a chocolate and Banyuls sauce. There’s more information about Banyuls on this website.

On the way home we stopped near Millas at the Moulin du Mas St Pierre where Monique and Joseph Planes decided some years ago to change their fruit farm into an olive farm. They now have 30,000 olive trees all of the Arbequine (Arbequina as it’s called in Spain) variety grown closely in rows, rather like the fruit trees in neighbouring farms. These Arbequine olives, grown mostly in Catalunya and Spain, are very small and Monsieur Planes told us that this gives them one great advantage over other varieties: the olive fly does not attack them because there isn’t enough flesh around the stone for it to burrow into the olive. This means that they have been able achieve organic status for all their production as they don’t need to use chemicals on the trees. There is a very modern mill at the farm and huge tanks where the oil is stored at a constant temperature of 18 degrees C to preserve the flavour of the oil. As always when we visit the premises of a producer of good food or wine, it was a delight to talk to someone as impassioned about his products as Monsieur Planes and, of course, to buy some of his wonderful oil to bring home. His passion and hard work have been rewarded, too, with a gold medal this year at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris. Madame Planes travels around the world – as far as Shanghai recently – to food fairs, so that now their oil is sold in many countries and even, M. Planes told us proudly, in Harrods in London.

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Monday, 12 April 2010

Butterflies, beans and a barbeque: Sunday in the garden

The garden was literally buzzing in the sunshine today, full of bees, butterflies and this hummingbird hawk moth flitting from one aubretia flower to another:

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White and yellow butterflies ……

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Sowing beans

We put up the bamboo supports and sowed the seeds of the black kidney beans (alubias) which our friend Drew in Navarra gave us.

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The tulip flowers were out and lizards rustled in the undergrowth.  This was the only one I managed to catch on camera:

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…. and a barbecue

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Red pepper and anchovy salad to start with, then grilled slices of leg of lamb with whole sweet onions, red peppers and whole skewered garlic cloves, all with lemon juice, chopped garlic and thyme and oregano from the garden.  And a bottle of local red wine, of course.