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.

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


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!

First frost?

With a forecast for frost this morning, yesterday was a scurry to get a final harvest done. In fact it turned out to be a very light frost so nothing was damaged. I picked the last of the yellow courgettes, Yellowfin, which have been very successful. The beans are butter beans (we can’t buy them here and I love cooking with them) a Polish variety called Piekny Jas. They were very slow to mature, so I’ve been lucky that we had no early frost. Peppers and peppadews have ripened more slowly this year too – because we have had more rain and less heat than previous years, I think.

The peppadews are all from seed I got from a plant my sister grew in South Africa and I bottle them according to a South African recipe

Delicious sliced in salad, or stuffed with cream cheese

The frustrating thing about peppadews is that they are slow to ripen, so every year they get frosted before they all ripen. However, they are so prolific that I generally get more than I need to bottle each year.

The plants are so laden with fruit that they topple over, even though I stake them
Craig’s super hot Ring of Fire chillies are also hugely productive

Planted peas and broad beans this week. They’re fleeced to protect them from the cold evenings and also from hungry birds. My “Jen Frogs” have gone inside for winter – the table looks so bare without them!

Peas and broad beans in the background. Mizuna, pak choi and broccoli in foreground

The brassicas cope well with the colder weather – cauliflower, romanesco, cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale in the bed in the background. Celery, on the other hand, gets soggy when it freezes. However, leaf celery is more like parsley and coriander and will keep going all winter. Wonderful for soups and stews!

Celery on the left, then leaf celery (still small), pak choi, two half rows of coriander( also small!)
I love the look of Romanesco – and it is delicious roasted in a little chilli oil.
Spring onions and white onions should be ready to use in spring. Lettuce will cope with the cold too. Huge plants in the background are purple sprouting broccoli.
Seed collection for next year!

Rain, rain, rain

What a month it has been. 120mm already in October and more on its way. On the plus side no early frost yet. But the garden has suffered from all the rain ( that’s a first!!) with the tomatoes blighting off with a lot of unripened fruit still on the vines.

Tomatoes, in the background, blackened by blight

Fortunately we’ve had a fantastic crop so I’ve preserved more than I need. So yesterday I pulled up al the plants and readied the bed for planting peas and broad beans this week.

No dig preparation – a thick layer of well rotted manure on top, and I plant the seeds directly into it.

Peppers have suffered a little from all the rain and colder weather, but still had a good harvest, and the chillies have been fantastic.

Poblano chillis on the left, peppers, jalapeno and espelette chillies on the right

I have a new dehydrator (great this year when we have not had as much sun for drying things as usual!) and am thrilled to have lots of ancho chillies (dried Poblano) which I cannot buy in France

Ancho chillies – wonderful in a cherry tomato pasta sauce, but also used a lot in Mexican recipes
Chillies are so pretty! This is a very mild chilli which we dry for use in Chinese recipes

Worried about dropping temperatures, I harvested the butternut this week.

51 from 3 plants – incredible harvest every year.

My second planting of potatoes have been incredible this year – no blight in spite of all the rain, but a huge crop with one plant producing 4.5kgs of potatoes!

Huge potatoes. I was worried that they would not taste so good, but both texture and flavour are great.

This time of year all the brassicas do really well and keep us supplied with vegetables during winter

Cauliflower, romanesco, kale, Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, broccoli and cabbage.

The pomegranate has produced a lot of fruit this year and they are sweeter as a result of all the rain, though many are now splitting

The last plantings for this season as growing slowly now but should be strong enough to cope with the winter cold. Spring and small white onions, coriander look good, but the chard I planted rather late and I am not sure how it is going to do.

Last planting of pak choi and mizuna will certainly cope with frost now.

My last planting will be the peas and the broad beans this week, then I stop. Well, not quite, as I put a layer of manure on all the beds and cover the big pumpkin patch with plastic to control weed growth. So work continues 🙂

It is September already!

My last post was in July (where have the days gone??) and so a rather long catch-up post

Weather-wise it has been a strange summer. Look at my rain app  which shows the monthly totals for this year against a graph of previous years averages; no rain in July, then torrents in August this year.

So the grass has greened up again!
This time of year I spend as much time in the kitchen as in the garden as I cook and preserve the harvests:
It was wonderful to have Claire here to help me pod borlotti beans. They are always very successful with high yields of both dry and fresh beans. One of my favourites!The butter bean, Pienky Jas, has been a disappointment. It grew like crazy and now each day I am pinching off the growing tips to try to stop it growing!  But I’ve had very few beans off it. Now it is full of flowers again (which the bees love) and forming new beans, but I worry that they will not be fully formed by the time the first frost arrives. Fingers crossed!First year of planting soya beans (edamame) has been a success. What I had not realised is that raw soya is poisonous, so no eating these straight from the garden. Note all the clover in the grass; clover, oxalis and bindweed have been a real problem this year, but I will not use weedkiller, so I guess I have to live with them.
Hazelnuts for the first time from our trees! One of my favourite nuts, but a real pain to crack….

Butternut are ripening so I’ve spent time this week clearing away leaves to expose the fruit to more sunlight, and putting slate tiles underneath them to stop any rot where they contact moist soil

Aubergine are going over, but new plantings (23 August) of spring onions, onions Rouge de Florence and Paris White have germinated well and will hopefully be strong enough to cope with the winter. Swiss chard seeded here this week 12 September.  Rather late!
We’re eating Pak Choi Taisai, (on the right)  one of my favourite Chinese vegetables. Pak Choi Green Fortune, sown 18 August is being eaten by snails – hence the snail bait. Next to the leeks, parsley and leaf celery, sown 23 August.  Another row of pak choi, and mizuna sown yesterday 13 September.
Autumn brassicas doing well – some cabbage moths around, but fewer than previous years.

The curry leaf plant, so carefully nurtured through winter has done so well. I hope it survives this coming winter. In front of it, a Serrano chilli which is apparently more winter hardy than most chillis (it has a hairy stem) so I hope I can keep a supply of fresh chillis after the first frost too.
Second planting of Jeannette potatoes nearly ready to harvest
Peppers and chillies now ripening at a great rate.  New variety of long red romano pepper, Corno de Toro is looking very good.
The salad pepper, Yummy Yellow, is always very productive.
Finally, the best news is the new gate which Ron made for me!  A photo of before and after will explain how thrilled I am!





Black medic/ oxalis, clover and bindweed

My favourite time of year

I love this time of year when I plan my meals around what I am picking from the garden. I never tire of the thrill I get from picking and cooking each day, and of looking for new recipes using the vegetables which are suddenly producing at an incredible speed. At the moment we are reaping onions, potatoes, aubergines, carrots, courgettes, gem squash, cucumber, lettuce, beetroot, cherry tomatoes, green beans, soya (edamame), fennel, calabrese, sweetcorn and chillies.

We’re eating superb grapes off the pergola this year too.
I hesitate to say it too loudly in case they hear (!!) but so far the badgers have not discovered my sweetcorn. It is a new variety called Fantastic, and it is aptly named. Bicolour, shorter plants (so not damaged by wind) very productive and delicious!
I’ve got my timing right this year, I hope. Second planting of sweetcorn (on the right) just starting to flower, so they should be ready when the first lot are over. In the foreground on this photo, Sarpo potatoes, which we harvest later than all the other varieties. 
The other new variety I have planted this year is a smaller aubergine called Ophelia. Shown with the coffee pod here to give an idea of their size – they are not as small as I would have liked ( especially for Chinese recipes) but with about 15 tasty fruit on each plant, I am not complaining!

Onions are ready to harvest when the tops start to fall over – this photo taken July 15th.
What a fantastic crop! Harvested July 17th
And now drying in the garage
My battle continues with altise (flea beetles) and  punaise rouge ( a variety of shield bugs) which both love brassicas.  Covering with very fine mesh is the only way to protect them and the covers we made last year have done very well.
Trying a new technique for individual plants this year – in the foreground – plant pots with the fine mesh glued on top and on “windows” to let the light in. So far so good!
Planted out leek seedling this week. Covered with mesh to protect against leek moth. Peppers on the right of this photo forming nice sized fruit already. 
Last week winter/spring brassicas into seed trays – Romaesco, cauliflower, cabbage and pak choi. This week planted spring onions, coriander, white onions, lettuce, fennel.