July, and the strange weather continues.

The first week in July, and it is still remarkably cool and enough rain to ensure that I don’t need to water. I’m not complaining – well, just a little, but don’t gardeners always grumble about the weather? 😉 – however, I do wonder what is in store for us in August which is usually our hottest, driest month. But the days are mostly sunny and the garden is growing well.

The vine on the trellis requires a lot of pruning to keep it under control, but it is very pretty! I prune off masses of bunches of grapes.

After the late frost I thought we had lost all our fruit in the orchard, but the apples are doing really well. Sadly no plums, cherries, peaches or pears this year, though the fig which was frosted very badly has a lot of small fruit on it too.

Espaliers have had their summer pruning
They look gorgeous against the stone wall!
The Golden Delicious in the orchard has too much fruit, so I’m stripping off excess to protect the tree.

My strip of meadow flowers is flourishing. Maybe I will curse it next year when they self seed everywhere, but for the moment it looks really pretty and is full of bees

Sweetcorn Alida has cobs on it now – just hope the badgers keep away!
Second plantings of beetroot, fennel, spring onions, leeks, pak choi and coriander have all germinated well. The two grey “caps” are covers over Chinese cabbage – to keep out flea beetles while the plants are small.

Second planting of cucumber ( first one succumbed to the cold wet weather) is now racing ahead, with a lot of small fruit on it already. Planted another the first week of July, but this could be a bit late – later plantings often suffer from mildew or mosaic virus, but it’s always worth a try.

Celery, celeriac, French beans, cucumber. Under cover in the background are autumn/winter brassicas

One of the quadrants of the Pumpkin Patch is always planted in red, yellow and white onions for general cooking (they store well) but I also plant rows of smaller varieties (for use as fresh onions – not sure if that is the correct term, but they do not store well) in the raised beds.

Rouge de Florence are wonderfully versatile – I use them as spring onions when they are young, then as a type of shallot as they develop.
Small white onion Blanc de Paris makes a wonderful small onion for use in casseroles or on the BBQ.

Now picking masses of yellow courgettes. This week sowed a green and another yellow courgette for a later crop. One courgette plant bearing at a time is definitely enough for us as they are incredibly productive!

The rhubarb, as usual, is a complete thug! I still don’t know what variety it is, but is is very tasty and incredibly productive.

Tomatoes are starting to produce. It’s been a difficult year for tomatoes – lots of rain can be an issue with blight, but I choose my varieties carefully for blight resistance so I hope they cope. I’ve given them one spray of bouillie bordelaise which is a copper sulphate/chalk spray used as a fungicide in organic gardening, but I really don’t like the effect it could have on the soil, so I will not use it more than once. I prune off all the lower leaves to try to reduce any splash onto the leaves which encourages disease. This year they have been invaded by aphids; I will not spray with insecticides which would kill the aphids AND the beneficial insects like ladybirds and our bees. A strong spray of water and soap does help though.

Not the greatest year for them, so I’m hoping we will still get a good crop
Butternut have grown very fast in the last fortnight. Borlotti beans starting to flower now too

Mid June update

My family always tease me because I avoid going on holiday in spring and summer, the main European holiday season. It’s not because the tourist destinations are busy (they are, of course!) but because it is the busiest time in my garden. This year was a wonderful exception as we went to visit family in the Netherlands; our first trip away from home since the start of the Covid lockdowns in February last year. We left on a chilly and wet Friday morning, drove in almost non-stop rain through France and Belgium, then spent a glorious 11 days of unseasonably warm and dry weather in Rotterdam. Back home in France, temperatures rocketed to 38C with not a drop of rain. Fortunately I have wonderful friends and neighbours who came over to water my garden; without them everything would have been fried!

How my plants (and weeds!) grew in that short time though!

Tomatoes from June 3 to June 15
Look at the weeds! I’m very happy to have left the black plastic in place as that has at least kept that area free of weeds
Apart from weeding ( a lot!) I’ve done a final harvest of broad beans and peas and prepared that bed with a layer of manure, ready for planting brassica seedlings

We’re playing catch-up on the eating front too! 🙂
Broad beans and peas, but also cabbage, cauliflower and fennel ready to be harvested.

The calabrese in the background has gone to flower, but I leave it as long as possible for the bees
Heat-loving plants like peppers, chillies and aubergines have grown well too
Onions are ready to harvest for the kitchen, though I will leave the final harvest for another week or two.
It’s wonderful to eat new potatoes – harvest from 1 plant of Maris Piper and 1 plant of Jeanette

Plantings this week include direct sowing of leek Géant d’hiver and de Carentan, French beans Sansoucy, carrots Amsterdam, beetroot Cheltenham Green, courgette Gold Rush, parsnip Tender and True, fennel Doux de Florence, cucumber Hillwood.
Planted out seedlings of romanesco Veronica, kale Calvolo Nero, Brussels sprouts Doric, cauliflower Snow Crown, Chinese broccoli (tender stem) Green Lance, purple sprouting broccoli Red Arrow

Celery and celeriac in the foreground, row of French beans nearly ready to pick, cucumber on the trellis, then the cauliflower etc seedlings under voile to protect them from flea beetles and cabbage moths.

Any garden is going to attract insects, both destructive and beneficial, but I am determined to grow organically without the addition of synthetic fertilizers and non-biological insecticides. It’s not always easy!

Early arrival of a doryphore (Colorado beetle) on my potatoes. Very pretty, but incredibly destructive, I can use BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) but try to pick them off by hand at this stage.
My favourite insect is the lady bird, one of the most beneficial insects. Here is it cleaning up a tomato leaf. It’s eating a white fly, and as I watched it went on to eat the aphid in the foreground of this picture. Hooray!!
Our baby kestrels have provided us with so much pleasure this year. One by one they left their nest in the pigeonnier this week, first landing on the roof of the pigsty where their mother continued to feed them before leaving permanently.

Aargh….this weather!

Once again my hopes that the weather was returning to “normal” have been dashed. After a very short period of warmer sunnier weather at the end of April we have had the coldest wettest May since we have been here. My rain log below tells the sorry story:

Rainfall pattern has been completely different this year!

The grass has greened up and the trees are grateful for a good soaking, but my potager is crying out for sunshine. Without the warmth, growth of the heat loving peppers, aubergines and tomatoes has almost come to a standstill

Tomatoes have grown a little, but not as much as expected and leaves of aubergines in the next bed are yellowing without warmth.
Peppers and chillies have not grown at all and are not looking great. I should not have been so hasty in taking the fleece off.
Cucumbers have succumbed to the cold and wet, so replanted this week – within the plastic bottle collar to keep away slugs from newly germinated shoots

The other frustration this week is the realisation that my onions have been attacked by allium leaf miner. It has long been an issue in Europe, and I have had problems with leeks, but this is the first time my onion crop has been attacked. A small fly lays its eggs in the leaf and the larvae tunnel their way down the leaf damaging the leaves and causing damage and often soft rot in the bulb.

Curling leaf and in some cases rotting bulb already evident. So frustrating!

I do not like to use chemical insecticides in my garden, but there do seem to be some biological alternatives to coping with leaf miner which I will investigate for next year. The best method has been covering with anti-insect voile but that is not practical for such a large crop.

Carrots and leeks successfully protected from carrot fly and allium leaf miner with voile. Easy to do in the raised beds

But all is not sadness and frustration in my garden 🙂 I’m picking fennel, broad beans and pak choi and delicious small beetroot. The row covers over my early brassicas came off this week and they’re looking good too

Cabbage, cauliflower and calabrese unaffected by the colder weather.

The stony bank at the one edge of the raised bed area has always been a bit of an eyesore as it is too rocky, dry and steep to plant grass. I planted rosemary on the one side of this bank 2 years ago and it has done fantastically, so I’m trying to plant a bank of thyme on the other side.

Rosemary fills an untidy area well.
I’m hoping the different varieties of thyme will fill this area.
Potatoes have been happy with all the rain and the first ones are flowering – I’m hoping to pick some new potatoes (yum!) in the next fortnight
The rhubarb plant is huge!

May, and it’s planting time!

My itchy fingers got the better of me and after a little rain and some warmer weather the last week of April, I planted out my peppers and chillies. It is always a challenge to get them in as soon as possible, but not too soon – peppers, and chillies in particular, need a long warm growing season, but hate the cold. Fortunately I fleeced them because we had a real dip in temperatures and frost on May 3rd. Weird weather! This week it has rained again (we really needed it) and the temperatures have risen, and so far the peppers are looking fine and I’ve packed away the fleece
Chillies: 1 each of Anaheim (great for stuffing) Ring of Fire (very hot!) Ancho (for drying and use in Mexican recipes) Serrano (my favourite for cooking) and two new varieties, Masala and Hyffae as well as a Dutch chilli grown from seeds of a mild chilli we always use in salads. 4 Peppadews for pickling.
Peppers: 7 Etuida (yellow) and 8 Lamunyo (long red)

Strawberries in full flowers, 2 boxes of peppers behind them. The metal rods lying on the beds are for staking the chillies

Thursday 6th May, having checked that there is no frost forecast until after the Saints de Glace days mid month ( I’m definitely becoming a French gardener! 🙂 ) I planted out my tomatoes.
7 Uriburi (plum) 2 Losetto (red cherry) 2 Cytrynek Groniasty (yellow cherry) 3 Maestria, 4 Previa

The cherry tomatoes are caged, the others staked.

A lot of planting done this week as the warmer weather continues. Planted out the cucumber Hillwood, and French beans San Soucy. Snails are my nemesis – I do use ferramol, the bio snail bait, but beans are their favourite. I put collars made from plastic bottles around them to give added protection and that seems to work well.

In the foreground are celeriac and celery, planted out two weeks ago. In the background peas starting to provide the first pods for me to nibble and the broad beans are starting to fatten up.

The butter beans Pienky Jas and sweetcorn Alida have both germinated well under fleece. Planted out 2 courgette Yellow Fin this week too.

The two quadrants still under cover will have another block of sweetcorn and butternut.

The brassicas planted in the first week of April and fleeced for a month have done well. They are now under a fine anti-insect mesh to protect them from flea beetles and so far it has been very effective. When I first started the garden, I used to plant about 6 cauliflower, broccoli etc – and there was a lot of wastage in the kitchen; now I plant two at a time and it is perfect for us. Often I am asked if I freeze many vegetables; I freeze only a little as I prefer to cook seasonally. I do however, make pickles and chutneys, and bottle vast quantities of tomatoes and sauces for use in winter.

2 calabrese, 2 cauliflower and 2 cabbage
Second planting of pak choi, (stir fried with ginger and oyster sauce is delicious!) cauliflower, romanesco and chinese cabbage. In the background yellow and red beetroot, lettuce and spring onions.

Fennel Orion is doing well; planted out a second batch this week, as well as sowing beetroot Waltham’s Green (a very tasty long rooted beet) and another row of spring onions Freddy.

Coriander Cruiser and dill Tetra Goldkrone now ready for picking. Another half row of each sown this week. Both coriander and dill tend to bolt when it gets hot, but I’ve found these varieties to be better than most. Still, planting half rows regularly works well for keeping a constant supply. Fennel Orion and chard in the background.
Fennel on the bed in the right, but the real star is the flowering chive plant in the herb bin! It is gorgeous and lasts well in a vase too.
The apples survived the frost! But no figs, cherries, plums or peaches this year after the late frost. I also think our walnut harvest will be impacted.

The Little Owl continues to perch on the chimney of the maison d’amis. I see him every day during breeding season as they have a nest in the old house. This year I was thrilled to find that our resident kestrel had moved from where she has nested in our big barn to the pigeonnier (dovecote) also in the maison d’amis

Blue circle is the kestrel nest site and the red is the owl’s. Lovely to watch them from the garden.
Male European Kestrel on the ledge of the pigeonnier.

Spring, part 2 ( I hope!)

So I was rather hasty in thinking that spring was on its way. We had a freezing north wind and frost for 6 days in a row. A disaster for orchards and vineyards in the area with some vineyards estimating to have lost 70% of their harvest.

The commercial farmers light smoky fires or irrigate to protect their crops from the ice. Fortunately in my garden heavy duty fleece seems to do the trick

April 6: Not so easy to cover the broad beans and the peas which have grown a lot because of the unseasonably warm weather in March.
First sowing of potatoes covered with tented fleece (if the fleece touches the leaves they freeze and burn) The other potatoes heavily mulched with manure to protect them

But on Tuesday the wind changed direction and no more frost. Hooray! It was worth the effort of keeping the fleece on.

Lovely feeling to hang up all the fleece to dry to pack away until next year ( I hope!) In the right foreground I have planted a variety of thyme – very rocky and dry here and looks scruffy, so I’m hoping the thyme will do well.

Unfortunately I think we have lost all our peaches and plums with the frost. The new shoots on the vines are damaged, but they will survive. I’m hoping the cherries and apples will be ok – bees still very active in the apples which is a good sign.

Espaliered apples protected by the wall of the old pigsty so they are not frosted.
Peas have survived the frost
And broad beans already forming pods

Whilst my neighbours still say it’s too early, I look daily at the fortnightly weather forecasts. As the Saints de Glace days (11-13 May) approach and no frost is forecast, my itchy fingers get the better of me! So… this week, 18 April, planted inside, courgette Yellow Fin, butternut Waltham, gem quash, cucumber Hillwood, butter beans Pienky Jas and french beans San Soucy. They should be ready to plant out in about 2 or 3 weeks when the soil has warmed up.

21st April planted 5 half rows of sweetcorn Alida. Germination can be patchy if the soil is cold, so I keep them fleeced until they germinate.

Potatoes and onions growing fast now. Cardboard in the foreground keeping the soil warm for planting courgettes

Tomatoes and peppers were getting lanky inside, so now that danger of frost is over it is a relief to pot them on and put them in the open barn to acclimatise before planting them in the garden.

. The thing that looks like a goal post 🙂 is a neat construction to tent fleece over the plants for the chilly nights.

The soft fruits are growing well now, unimpeded by the frost.

Raspberries starting to flower already. The steel bar is another of Craig’s great inventions to stop the raspberries falling over, yet high enough for me to get underneath to weed
Strawberries flowering profusely – much to the delight of bees and bumblebees.

It is also time to take my “Jen Frogs” (in memory of my sister who would have loved my garden) out of hibernation in the shed and into their place watching over the garden

I often have a cup of tea here in the mornings with the little frogs on the table my companions….

This week I was delighted to see a fox hunting rodents very close to our terrace. Unlike the deer, wild boar and badgers, they do not do any damage to my garden, so I love watching them.

Spring is in the air!

We have had the most unusually dry warm weather; 3 weeks with no rain and in the last week day time temperatures have reached the mid 20’s. The garden and our surrounding forests have responded!

Purple sprouting broccoli now has lovely long stemmed smaller heads. The forest in the background seems to change every day, a purplish haze of new buds and splashes of green as the oaks, beech and maples start to come to life
I love this time of year! Plum Reine Claude flowering in the background and espalier of Williams Pear in the foreground

But of course, April is always a difficult month and this year is no exception, with some frost this morning and more forecast for this coming week. The danger, of course, is to newly emerging vegetables (like potatoes) and to grape vines and fruit blossom 😦

A violet carpenter bee (a solitary bee, like so many wild bees here) on apple blossom
One of our bees, laden with pollen, on kale flowers. I leave the kale to flower specifically for the bees – it seems to be one of the favourites of many different species of bees.

This week I planted the last of the potatoes, a row of Sarpo Mira, a red potato that is blight resistant. I always plant them as a backup in case we get blight, and they have proved to be a good all round cooking potato (though nothing like as good as a Maris Piper for roasting!) which keeps really well. We are still eating the Sarpo potatoes we harvested last year. So this year, 4 rows of potatoes: 1 Jeanette, 2 Maris Piper, 1 Sarpo

The first potatoes visible in the foreground, ridged with manure. The onions are doing well and the rhubarb plant continues to thrive

Planted out a row of pak choi Green Fortune, 2 each of cauliflower SnowBall, brocolli Calabrese, savoy cabbage and hearting cabbage. Craig made me more holder frames (not sure what to call them, but the frames made from reinforcing bar to hold the fleece/voile in place) so that I can cover the brassicas with fleece now, then with a very fine anti insect voile to protect them from flea beetles. No insecticide sprays used in my garden!

Over the years I have learnt to plant fewer brassicas at a time – plenty for my kitchen!
I’m thrilled with the fleece holder frames – using a forked stick to hold it up makes it so easy to work under the fleece. Leeks and carrots growing here.

The grape on the trellis and pergola are all sprouting vigorously.

On the trellis on the house the vine is already flowering. Growth rate is almost unbelievable this time of year and I will have to start cutting it back and taking off excess flowers soon.
Broad beans, Aquadulce, and peas (my own seed, from an original planting of Douce de Provence) are both flowering. Fortunately the red grape on the small pergola is slower to flower, so should not be too affected by the frost.

I will sow butternut, gem squash and cucumbers next week, but first need to get some of the seedlings that are crowding my windowsills outside!

Basil, peppers and chillies still inside, but growing well. Will keep them here until after the cold spell, then gradually acclimatise them to outside.
Other seedlings now being acclimatised under cover in the open barn, fleeced at night. Will bring the tomatoes and aubergines back inside for this cold week.

New solutions (and potatoes and onions)

Once again Craig has come up with a great solution for my garden. Not a keen gardener himself, he remains actively involved in my hobby, designing and making the structures for the potager and coming up with the innovative ideas to help make my gardening easier .

I cover plants with fleece for the cold, and later with mesh against insects. It’s always been difficult to keep it in place – rocks or pegs work but can fall off or damage the fleece. But now he welded reinforcing rods to slot onto the frames of the beds and it is fantastic! So easy to lift up to weed etc, and a tight fit to stop the pesky flea beetles etc from getting in, yet heavy enough to stop the wind blowing it away.

Fantastic!
S0 much more effective and neater than this!

The lengthening days and milder weather (mostly – we had a cracking frost this week which reminds me that winter is far from over) makes my fingers itch to get planting. Transplanted some lettuce (Craquerelle du Midi, my favourite, small, crisp lettuce) dill and leek seedlings last week. Also seeded beetroot (Cheltenham Greentop and Burpee’s Golden)

Ready to be fleeced; for small seedlings or seeds like this I place the fleece directly on top.

Inside, my pepper and chilli seeds have all been transplanted into small pots and moved to the sunny windowsill of my laundry and the seedling trays on the heating mat refilled with tomatoes and celery and celeriac.

Yesterday, 10th March, I planted out all the shallot and onion seedlings and onion bulbs. This year I have shallot Cuisse de Poulet. ( I love the name – means chicken thigh, but usually refers to what we would call a leg of chicken – perfect description for the shape of the shallot) Onions I planted are Snowball (white) Spirit and Contado (both yellow) and Red Baron (red)

Also planted a half row of early potatoes, Jeannette and a half row of Maris Piper. Experimenting this year with spreading the potato planting out over a few weeks.

Rhubarb in the foreground. Remainder of the pumpkin patch stays under plastic to keep the soil warm and weed free for a later planting of butternut and sweetcorn.

The fruit trees are full of wonderful fat buds, ready to burst. The first is always an almond -which I planted because it is early and I love the flowers (this is not almond growing area, so I don’t expect fruit) It also provides an early source of food for the bees

Bumblebee on the almond.

Our bees, and the numerous solitary bee species we have here, are all very active now. I have been fascinated by our bees who love my moist seedling trays. They certainly seem to prefer “dirty” water this time of year – preferring water pooled around rotted leaves to the clean water they seem to favour in mid summer. But here they almost seem to be digging into the soil, so I presume there is some nutrient they are after.

Difficult to see from this photo, but their rear ends are up as they actively dig into the soil.

Grapes on the trellis and pergolas pruned 2 weeks ago; I should have done it earlier as the sap was already rising.

It is incredible how fast they grow. Hard to believe that just over 5 years ago it was just a 30cm stick!

Strange weather, and first sowings

We did not get the unusually heavy snow that fell both north and south of us the past few weeks, but we had one of the wettest starts to the year; over 200mm end of January to mid February. Whilst we were glad to live on the top of the hill ( low lying areas were flooded) everything was waterlogged and it was impossible to do any gardening. But with St Valentine’s Day came a change – the weather warmed and the rain stopped. Hooray! Perfect timing as my gardening guru , Charles Dowding, always says to wait for St Valentine’s before starting any sowing.

I cheated a little and on 2nd February sowed shallots, onions and leeks inside by the wood stove (18-20°C). At the same time put potatoes out to chit. On February 15th, dill, coriander and parsley, calabrese, early cauliflower and fennel, also by the wood stove.

On 15th February, chillies, peppers and aubergines sown with a heating pad at 30°C inside (the guest room becomes a nursery this time of year!)

The heating pad is essential for early sowings of peppers and chillies.
I still get a huge thrill when germination starts – in this case peppadews.

Once the seeds germinate in the small polystyrene seeds trays I move them into bigger pots, and into the laundry which is both warm and sunny

Within a few hours the plants lean towards the sunlight, so I turn the trays twice a day.

The onions and leeks are now in the little hothouses

The milder weather has continued so the soil has warmed up enough for me to risk planting spring onions, white – Tosca and red – Rouge de Florence, and carrots, Amsterdam, today (21st February) It’s a risk because we are likely to get frost again, but if I can get them to germinate now, I hope to be able to fleece them and protect them from the cold. Worth the try!

Fleece is off the broad beans and peas. Peas not looking great, so I have sown another row this week.

The dry stone wall between the potager and the pumpkin patch is finally at the correct height and the lasagne filling is almost level. I lifted the demi-vats and refilled them with soil and manure ready for planting.

Added a layer of compost to enrich this area so that I can plant a row of wildflowers here for the bees.

We are still eating Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, leeks and mizuna from the garden. Stored potatoes and onions are still good, but the butternut did not like the damp weather and are starting to deteriorate. The purple sprouting broccoli is finally big enough to pick.

So pretty! I still find it amazing that it is green when cooked.
My Little Owl still keeps a watchful eye over me from her perch on the chimney

Winter

I’m often asked if we still eat vegetables from the garden over winter; certainly my neighbours shut their gardens down after the last autumn harvests and generally only get back to them once the Saints de Glace days (11 & 12th May this year, when it is considered safe to assume that we will have no more frost) have passed. For me, the challenge is to keep eating from the garden all year; I have stored potatoes, onions and butternut as well as the canned tomatoes etc, but it is still wonderful to pick from the garden, regardless of the season.

New Year’s day harvest: Romanesco, broccoli, kale and celery

As the weather gets colder – and it has been much colder this year than the past few years – so growth slows considerably and the less robust plants (like celery and pak choi) succumb to the frost, but it is wonderful how other plants survive.

Coriander and leaf celery freeze, then defrost without a problem. the large leaves of the cauliflower in the background protect the head, and Brussel sprouts become even tastier.
Purple sprouting broccoli is now very tall, and is just starting to form the flowering heads, just visible here in the junction of the main stem and the leaves.
Tuscan kale (Calvolo Nero) is one of my favourite winter vegetables- roasted in the oven as crisp chips, sautéed in chilli oil or creamed, in soups and stews – it’s a very versatile and completely cold resistant plant.
Broad beans and peas still under fleece. Broad beans will cope with the cold, peas are a little more fragile, so I hope I can keep them growing.

All the beds now have a thick layer of compost on them – regardless of whether they have plants in or not. The pumpkin patch has the additional layer of black plastic on top to stop weed growth, but also to keep the soil warmer for early spring planting.

The “lasagne” – layers of soil and vegetable matter as fill – has reached a height now where I have to move the wine vat planters (good opportunity to replace the soil in them) and raise the steps. Not always easy when the soil is frozen!

My order of seeds arrived last week – I get such a thrill opening it up and planning my planting for the next season.

First sowings today – shallots “cuisse de poulet”, basil “nufair” and onions “spirit” Trays inside to keep the temperature around 18-20 C

Frost, finally!

Nearly the end of November and only today did we get a real frost. Still only -1C which is warmer than we would usually expect this time of year, but hopefully enough to slow down the rampant snail, hornet and other bug damage in the garden and hives.

This week I finished the last picking and preserving.

My shelves in the cave (cellar) are full!

I have now started winter preparation in the potager – thick layers of manure on all the beds.

Pumpkin patch manured and covered in black plastic to slow weed growth and warm up the soil come spring.

I love the crisp cold mornings as the sun hits the frozen plants

It still amazes me how lettuce freezes, then defrosts without losing its crunch.
The ice on the edge of the parsley leaves is beautiful
The brassicas (purple sprouting broccoli in the foreground) thrive in cold conditions.
A peek under the fleece reveals peas sprouting well
And broad beans too!