Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The sound of summer

This isn’t a quiet time in the garden… as well as the road working machinery down the hill on the main road there are the birds – hoopoes hooping, golden orioles calling (to me their call sounds as though they’re saying ‘get real!’ but I’m not sure others hear it this way), and the swooping of swifts, martins and swallows – and there are the crickets, but the real sign that summer is here is when we begin to hear the cicadas.  Cicadas are rather unattractive-looking insects who make their chattering sound in trees when the temperature rises above 25 degrees C.  Because they are confined to the south they’ve become a symbol of the Midi and a great way of raising money from tourists by selling them ‘realistic’ models in glazed terracotta so that they can take the sound home with them.

When I searched for sound recordings of cicadas on the Internet last year I could find only recordings from other parts of the world and they sounded different from our Mediterranean ones.  So, here is my recording of the cicadas in our neighbour’s almond tree this morning.  It was a bit windy, so the sound quality is not perfect, but I think you’ll hear what our garden sounded like this morning.

Monday, 28 June 2010

First aubergine!

In spite of our neglect of it yesterday, today the garden rewarded us and we picked and ate our first aubergine of the year – two days earlier than last year, which is surprising given the cold wet weather we’ve had this May and June.  There are several more that will be ready in a few days’ time, and on the right is one of our first Bari cucumbers.

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We also picked one of the last of our lettuces (everyone here says they go to seed on St Jean, 24 June, and that does seem to be true), a few courgettes (there are lots of small ones so we expect a glut next week), two cucumbers and some sweet onions, which have done really well this year.

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Looking ahead to the autumn, the pumpkin plants are growing well – we put a lot of goat manure into that bed.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Along the canal

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No gardening today because we went on a trip with our Occitan group to the Canal du Midi, an amazing feat of engineering and the vision of Pierre-Paul Riquet.  Riquet was born in Béziers and in the late seventeenth century had the idea of linking the Mediterranean with Toulouse so that, in those days before the railways, goods could be transported between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  From Toulouse to Bordeaux the river Garonne was navigable.  Without machinery, at that time, it was a huge undertaking and took much hard work by men and women workers.  Interestingly, these workers benefited from a sort of social security system centuries before this was common.  If they were injured or ill they were still paid while they could not work – almost unheard of at that time.  After the development of the railway system the canal became less used until recently when it has become a tourist attraction.

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Heading towards Béziers and the canal bridge which crosses the river Orb, and in the middle photo you can see the new road bridge and the old bridge.

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Descending, surprisingly quickly it seemed, in one of the locks.

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At Fonsérannes, just outside Béziers, there is a sequence of seven locks and eight gates (although this is called Les Neuf Ecluses, the 9 locks – one is no longer used) where the canal climbs a hill on its way westwards.  This is said to be the third most visited tourist site in the Languedoc after Carcassonne and the Pont du Gard.  At the top there is this lovely worn old stone quay, and then the canal continues towards Toulouse.  We walked back downhill from here past the café where, earlier, we’d had a wonderful lunch with a main course of seiche et gambas a la sauce rouille, a local speciality of cuttlefish and large prawns cooked in a tomato sauce and served with rouille, which is a kind of mayonnaise with added garlic and saffron.  I’ll try to re-create it for the recipe blog soon.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Garlic, aubergines, tomatoes …. summer’s here!

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I’ve plaited most of this year’s garlic into tresses for storing (and our neighbour reminded me that it still needs to be stored upside down, not hanging as in this photo), although since we eat quite a bit of garlic this won’t last long.  My plaiting needs a bit more practice before the tresses look anything like as pretty as the ones made to sell to tourists!

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Good insects and bad on the aubergines – we left the ladybird but killed the nasty looking shield beetle which was eating the leaves.

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From left to right, Coeur de boeuf, ananas and longues des Andes tomatoes, all growing well but nowhere near ripening yet.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Summer solstice

It hardly seems like midsummer but it may be the beginning of summer. For the first time, this week, we’ve had bright sunshine all day, even though the north wind has been cold.

Yesterday, the day of the summer solstice, at midday I took this photo of the light in the narrow street near our house, called Carrièra Escura (Dark Street in Occitan), this is the lightest it gets all year:

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What a difference from mid-December when the sunlight hardly reaches below the roofline:

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And playing truant….

Today we played truant from work and gardening and went on a trip through the red desert to Lodève. This is an amazing area of red earth, rock and shale interspersed with strata of harder rock which lies at angles to the surface. Very little grows on the rocks, although there are productive vineyards and olive groves in the more fertile parts.

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Tomorrow we’ll get back to work in the garden!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Garlic harvest

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DSC04273 Most of our garlic crop for this year (the bulbs we haven’t eaten fresh). We’ve made a drying rack out of two fruit crates and put it under the shelter so that the garlic doesn’t get too much sun….. or rain! When it’s dry I’ll plait it into tresses for keeping, but not for long as we’ll get through this amount quite quickly. Passing through Lautrec, the centre for l’ail rose, this long-keeping, pink-skinned variety of garlic, in south-western France, we once saw barns full of garlic bulbs drying like this on racks .

Tomatoes, a cucumber and a locust

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The locust was enjoying our habas leaves – I don’t mind so much if it eats those as they are nearly over and I picked most of the last beans from them today, but I didn’t want it eating the aubergine plants (which they love), so this one was crushed between two rocks by Lo Jardinièr. There will be others, so we’ll have to watch for them all summer.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

After a rainy week…

Weeds around a mazet (vineyard shelter) near Roquessels:

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Cucumbers and aubergines flowering and beans reaching the tops of their poles:

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The tomato plants growing well, flowering and bearing small tomatoes.  All they need is some sun now. On the left are the Coeur de boeuf tomatoes, on the right the Roma plants.  We leave the side shoots to grow on the Romas because they seem to do well as bushy, short plants supported by horizontal canes along the sides of the rows.

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The apricot tree (left) looks healthy with a lot of new growth, even though there is only one apricot on it, and there are apples on the apple tree.

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The oleanders are a bit weighed down by the rain, but both the pink and the red are flowering.

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Fire and rain

La Fête de Saint Jean is the traditional pagan midsummer celebration, which has been given a Christian saint’s name by the church but which is still very pagan. It should take place on 24 June, but we’re a bit ahead of the times in Gabian, and we had our paella meal and bonfire last night on rough ground near the river.

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Marché fermier

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The weather was warm and sunny yesterday evening for the celebrations, but today it was cloudy and threatening thunder from the start. And it looked worse up in the hills where we headed for the farmers’ market at Mas Rolland, the hamlet and goat farm where we buy cheese, and goat manure for the garden during the winter. In spite of the bad weather the stalls were busy selling wonderful local produce: traditionally milled flour, chestnut flour, wine, olive oil, free range pork, goats’ cheeses, of course, and cooked food – with potatoes cooked in duck fat a speciality - by the plate to be eaten at tables in the sun or shade (usually). Today it began to rain heavily just before lunchtime – great for the garden but not for those hoping for a Sunday meal outdoors.

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goats’ cheeses to taste and buy
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'a green thought in a green shade' (Andrew Marvell)
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olives and olive oil from Fabrègues
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potatoes cooked in duck fat

And in the garden …

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We have our first small tomatoes on the Languedocian plants, the tomato plants are all growing quickly, needing tying up and sideshoots removing almost ever day, and the oleander flowers are out.