Sunday 28 February 2010

Apricot buds and a new cold frame

One of the good things about writing a garden blog is that I can check back and see how this year compares with last year and the year before.  Spring seems to be late this year, but looking back to last February I can see that the apricot buds are at about the same stage this year, although the daffodils are certainly later.  Last year we had daffodils in flower in time for St David’s day – that won’t happen this year.

DSC01890 DSC01892 The apricot tree should be in flower in a few days’ time.

I sowed some mangetout peas about a month ago and had almost given up hope of the plants appearing.  I thought the seeds had been washed away by some of the heavy rain we’ve had and today I decided to sow some more in the same place.  Luckily I had a close look first because I noticed that they’re coming up at last.  We’ve covered them with chicken wire because the birds seem to like them.

DSC01893 mangetout peas emerging and, right, the garlic doing well. DSC01906 DSC01901 But the daffodils are late this year.

We’ve already got two rustic-looking cold frames in the garden, but our neighbour gave us an old window so Lo Jardinièr decided to make another one – they’ll all come in useful when our pepper and cucumber plants need a bit of protection before being planted out.  He made a base of sand covered with old terracotta floor tiles, made walls with concrete blocks and rested the window on top – very simple.

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While he was doing that I sowed another double row of broad beans and a row of spinach.  We lost at least three sowings of spinach to heavy rain in the autumn, each time I re-sowed them there would be another storm and no sign of spinach plants, except for a solitary one which has survived the winter.  We miss having the young spinach leaves in our salads, so we hope to grow some now before the weather gets too hot and dry. 

Today’s harvest:

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Rosemary, thyme and bay, which the garden provides all through the year, whatever the weather, chard, which is just recovering from the cold weather and starting to grow again, and cabbage.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Water, at last, and some spring sunshine

After all the rain we’ve had during the last couple of weeks we were glad to see that the stream which runs down the hill past the gardens is full again.  We hope it lasts until we need to water the garden.

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The crocuses were flowering too in the garden ….



Over the hill on the other side of the village, this ruined mazet was looking brighter in the sunlight, half hidden by a Pistacia lentiscus shrub and with its interior full of brambles.


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We picked cabbage and leeks in the garden and came home to a lunch of cabbage with lardons, garlic and crème fraiche (a recipe suggested by our son) and a glass of wine.  I didn’t used to like cabbage much until we grew our own.  This was delicious.



Peppers and tomatoes

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While the tomato seedlings were benefiting from the sun on the balcony – and the temperature in the mini-greenhouse was 25 degrees C – we sowed our pepper seeds and put them on the heated seed starter box.  We’ve sowed ten varieties:

Piment d’Espelette: slightly spicy paprika pepper from Espelette in the French Basque country, seeds from a string of peppers I bought in Espelette last September.  This is the only pepper I know which has an appellation d’origine controlée, like wine, so I’m not sure whether any peppers we grow can be called piment d’Espelette as they will be grown out of the area!

Chorizo pepper: a spicy rather than hot paprika pepper, seeds from a string of peppers given to us by our friend Drew in Navarra.

Chilli pepper: seeds from chillies we grew last summer.

Longue d’Espagne: a long sweet pepper, seeds from our neighbour José.

Italian Red Marconi

Kolasca: a Hungarian variety.

Kandil dolma: a Turkish variety for stuffing.

Lipstick: sweet red variety.

Nardello: an Italian long red variety with a spicy flavour.

Corno di toro: a long red variety.

The last six mentioned are seeds left over in the packets I bought last year from Kokopelli.  Last year they all germinated well, but we failed to encourage the plants to grow quickly enough, probably because we couldn’t keep them warm enough.  This year we’ll try again, put them in the mini-greenhouses and give them some fertiliser.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Spring stops and starts

This week we’ve had some heavy rain, a couple of cold nights and some sunny days when the air almost felt warm – typical February weather really.

The river Hérault was full, flooding in places and carrying huge tree trunks and other debris down to the sea at le Grau d’Agde.



The fishermen had left their nets in colourful piles at the side of the river.

This almond tree near Roujan is coming into flower.

The best sign of spring for us is the germination of our tomato seeds. We sowed them last Sunday and put the seed trays on the heated seed starter box. The winners – first to germinate – were the ananas (pineapple) tomato seeds which took only three days. Since then the other varieties have all shown at least some sign of germination and the seedlings will be ready to go in the mini-greenhouses on the balcony in the sun in a few days’ time.

The tomato seed trays yesterday, above, with only the ananas seedlings showing (left, corner), and today, right, with seeds of all varieties having germinated.

The varieties of tomato we’ve sown are:

Roma: from a packet of seeds bought last year and only half used. These are plum tomatoes which are good for preserving as tomato purée to use in winter.

St Pierre: also from a packet of seeds bought last year. These grew well last year as all-purpose tomatoes for salads and sauces, as well as preserving as we do with the Roma.

Ananas (pineapple): seeds saved from last year’s tomatoes, on plants grown from seed we’d sown the year before. These big tomatoes are great for salads in summer – they have beautiful pink and yellow flesh and are very sweet.

Coeur de boeuf: seeds saved from last year’s tomatoes. Another delicious variety of tomato for salads.

Longue des Andes: seed from tomatoes given to us last year by our friend Simone, in her garden just down the hill from ours. A long red variety.

Languedocienne: seed from tomatoes we grew last summer on plants given to us by our friend Mel. An old local variety. The plants are very drought resistant and suited to the climate here, not very productive but tasty.

Yellow pear: seed from tomatoes we grew last year from bought plants. As the name suggests, they are pear-shaped cherry tomatoes and look great mixed in a bowl with red cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomato: seed from a packet, given to us by our neighbour José.

Big cherry tomato: seed given to us by José from tomatoes he grew last summer.

So, this year we haven’t bought any tomato seeds and if these all grow we won’t need to buy any plants either.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Second anniversary

DSC01682 It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!

Mid-February in the garden

It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.

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It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.

DSC01654 DSC01657 Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.

DSC01672 After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.


Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Surprise snow and our first mini-greenhouse


We woke this morning to find we’d had a very rare snowfall during the night.  In nine winters of spending part or all of the time here, this is the first time we’ve ever seen snow on the roofs like this.  It all melted when the sun came up, but it is still very cold.

The first mini-greenhouse

While it’s too cold to work in the garden Lo Jardinièr has been making the first of two cloches or mini-greenhouses which will protect our plants once they have germinated and which can be put on the balconies in the sun.  He’s a bit disappointed that he has had to buy some of the materials, a few bolts and a sheet of 3mm-thick transparent plastic.  The other materials are recycled, though – some plastic wall panelling which our neighbour gave us and a fruit crate thrown out by the village shop (the owner puts these outside the shop specially so that gardeners can pick them up to reuse).

DSC01630 The panels of double-walled 8mm-thick plastic wall cladding are bolted to the 50cm x 30 cm fruit crate and the whole structure is held together at the top by two wooden battens 2cm x 2cm.  Fruit crates are better than vegetable crates because they are lower, letting in more light, and stronger than salad vegetable crates, and they are also 50cm wide, the same as the sheets of transparent plastic which form the front and top of the mini-greenhouse.

Handles made from a piece of spare wood are attached to each side, using a wood screw.
The lid has a handle made from ‘sandwiching’ the plastic between two pieces of wood and screwing them together.
The lid can be raised for ventilation by propping it against a small piece of wood at the back of the frame.


Trying it out with a couple of lemon seedlings we’ve grown from seed.
The whole structure fits well on our tiny balcony.  Now to make another one for the other balcony.

I hope before long to have germinated pepper plants which we can put in this mini-greenhouse – and some warmer weather to encourage them to grow!  Stefaneener and Kate both commented on my last post that pepper plants should have some liquid feed to help them grow, so we’ll definitely try that this year.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Mimosa in the rain, and winter again


The weather isn’t very spring-like this week, but the mimosa is still flowering despite heavy rain which lay in puddles between the rows of vines, and filled the ditches and the cistern at the top of the hill above the garden.  We hope that soon the stream will start to flow again so that we can get free water for the garden when the weather gets warmer.

At the market this morning there were a few snowflakes in the air and a biting north wind.  Apart from leeks and cabbages and a few salad plants we have little in the garden at the moment, so we bought some vegetables and fruit from the market stall.


Now it’s time to sow our tomato and pepper seeds – we’ve put out the seed starter box from last year ready to use again and Lo Jardinièr is making some small cloches that we can put the germinated seedlings in, in the sun on the balcony (more on these later).  Last year we found that our pepper plants germinated very quickly but then we couldn’t keep them warm enough so the seedlings went into a state of suspended animation for weeks.  This year we’re hoping to keep them warmer.


Sunday 7 February 2010

Spring planning

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The garden today, at the beginning of this new gardening year, with most of the beds now covered with goat manure.


This morning we spent some time in the sun in the garden, planning this year’s planting and pruning the apple tree and the roses.


DSC01539 DSC01528 The autumn-sown beans (left) are growing well and have recovered from the frost we had a few weeks ago.  We’ve transplanted some lamb’s lettuce seedlings (above) into  some of the lovely compost we’ve made



Our first crocus of the year is flowering and another one will be out soon.


DSC01554 This Red Admiral butterfly was enjoying the sun. DSC01564


DSC01572 The chard leaves are beginning to grow again now that the weather is a bit warmer, so we picked some to make one of our favourite quick lunches – pasta mixed with chard, pancetta or cured ham and chopped garlic, topped with grated cheese and put under the grill to brown.

Friday 5 February 2010

Signs of spring

The mimosa flowers are coming out ….

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we’ve had the first barbecue of the year in the garden ….

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and we even dipped our feet in the sea …

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