Learning to fly

In the garden this morning a tiny fledgling, not much bigger than a large butterfly as I saw it in the corner of my eye, landed on a weed, or wild flower as Lo Jardinièr would say – we have plenty of those – and stayed for about 10 minutes while its worried parents chattered in the trees nearby, giving me time to take a few unaccustomed bird shots.  I think it may be a wren but would welcome more knowledgeable suggestions.

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In the garden, the vegetables are ‘learning to fly’ too – we have a lot of small green tomatoes, a hopeful sign for next month when they should be ripe.

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and the first rows of haricot beans, sowed rather late just a few weeks ago, are coming up:

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And I’m learning to fly another blog: for over four years I’ve been contributing a photo a day (with only a few gaps) to my Blipfoto journal but I am unhappy about the changes being made there, which make it impossible for family and friends who are not subscribers to see more than a few of my entries at one session. So I’ve decided to start a photo blog – it won’t be every day, but I hope it will be most days, and it will have few words, just photos.

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It’s Moments de lutz (moments of light in Occitan) and it isn’t just for family – please have a look if you have a moment!

Weekend harvest

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog and during this time spring carried on its one step forwards, two steps backwards progress, still feeling cold at times but with enough sun – and plenty of rain – to keep the plants growing well. In the garrigue some of the wild flowers are already passing their best. Wild garlic:

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and wild salsify – I think I’ve posted a photo of this beautiful star-shaped flower before but I’m doing so again because this is probably the last one I’ll see this year.

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In the garden, our big purple iris is almost embarrasingly big and purple:

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and the white cistus – my favourite of the cultivated cistuses – is flowering, its delicate flowers lasting only a day at a time before being replaced by others waiting to burst out of their buds:

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We’re thinking ahead from spring to summer crops now and this morning we planted out six peppers that have been nurtured up till now in mini-greenhouses on the balconies. These first six plants are of a variety that we call A and A Spanish as the seeds originally came from our friends A and A who had brought an especially tasty red pepper home from Spain a few years ago.

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I’m very glad that I sowed two double rows of broad beans last autumn, one in October and another in November, because the second row is now producing huge pods while the first hasn’t finished yet either. In past years I’ve sown one double row in the autumn and then another in February, but I’ve found that the February-sown row never does very well, perhaps because there isn’t enough water for them at crucial times. Autumn-sown broad beans do much better here, as shown by the 4.5 kilos we picked today.

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These (most of which will be frozen), another small artichoke, some wild thyme from the garrigue and some wild flowers Lo Jardinièr had brought home to identify made the kitchen table look full of possibilities:

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I cooked some of the broad beans straight away for lunch, in an earthenware dish over a low heat in olive oil, adding chopped garlic and oregano leaves and some tomato concentrate, then, once they were cooked which took only 5 minutes, some chopped leftover cooked artichoke hearts.

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Suddenly it’s spring

The rain we had last week has made a big difference to everything in the garden.  The broad beans are growing, the second sowing of these and the mangetout peas are emerging from the earth, the ground is soft enough to dig.

The bay trees are flowering

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A brimstone butterfly was fluttering from flower to flower on the aubretia, folding its lovely leaf-shaped wings as it hovered over each one.

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I found enough wild rocket to add some extra flavour to the sandwiches we ate in the sun:

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And we picked enough wild asparagus to make a first course at supper this evening:

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With the lighter evenings since the weekend, I even managed to catch just enough daylight to photograph them once they were cooked and served with a little salt and some olive oil milled in the village:

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Route barrée, but spring is on its way

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The direct route to our garden is still closed to cars which means that if we want to take more than we can carry while walking we have to take the long, but very scenic route up to the top of the hill and down past the old mills, which is what we did today.

And there were some nice surprises when we got to the garden: the buds on the apricot tree are starting to open, and we have one daffodil flowering.  Daffodils never do very well here in this dry climate but we usually have a few more than this.

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The broad beans that I sowed in the autumn and carefully protected during the very cold weather last month are now flowering.  Today we sowed a second row and also a row of mangetout peas.

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These are the only bought seeds we’ll use this year, having saved all the others that we need.

In spite of the disruption caused by the building work on the land next to the gardens, the stream from the spring at the top of the hill is still running well so we were able to fill our water containers while we ate lunch in the sun.  It was the first day since January that we’ve been in the garden on a day that was warm enough for us to have lunch there, so we did.  Just a sandwich made with ham and our pickled peppers from last year, and then a coffee in the sun…..

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Earth colours and flavours

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These earthenware cazuelas are definitely part of my essential kitchen equipment, well worn, chipped and some slightly cracked, they are used almost every day.  As soon as one of these dishes begins to heat up on the hob or in the oven a characteristic earthy smell fills the kitchen and I’m sure that they add flavour to anything that is cooked in them.  They are widely available in markets and shops here and over the border in Catalunya and Spain, sold with varying advice on how to treat them to make them last ‘for ever’.  I don’t believe that they do last for ever, but they aren’t expensive so if one does crack too badly it can be replaced.  When they’re new they should be soaked for an hour or so in water before use, but after that I find that so long as they are heated slowly, on a low flame to start with if used for cooking on gas, they last for years.

I used one today to make a chorizo, pumpkin and haricot bean stew – very simply, with tinned beans added near the end of the cooking time when the pumpkin was done.

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Today’s harvest

It has suddenly turned cold and windy and after some rain yesterday we didn’t need to water the garden.  We’d intended to eat our lunch there, but it was too chilly for that so we just did some work with the tomato plants – tying them and pinching out sideshoots because they are growing so quickly now – and picked vegetables.

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A basket full of lettuce and chard ….

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the chard again, some haricot beans and some last stragglers of mangetout peas, which are nearly over now.

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And in just five minutes or so we picked nearly a kilo of griottes (sour cherries) from our neighbour’s tree, at his invitation.  I’ve put a few in a jar with sugar and Armagnac to leave in the cupboard for at least six months until they make a delicious fruit-filled liqueur which makes a good digestif.  We ate a few of the cherries for lunch, but although they have a good flavour they are quite tart.   Most of them went into a pan, stoned first, with the same weight in jam-making sugar to make three pots of jam.

Global food justice

Today Oxfam UK launched a campaign for global food justice.  I was alerted to it by Blipfoto, the photo journal site on which I post a daily image, when it was suggested that we should have a virtual global picnic to help promote the Oxfam campaign.  This was my contribution (and a very good lunch too):

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All the food and wine in this photo except the slice of lemon (from Spain) comes from the village where I live or the nearby sea.  The global food and environmental crisis is something I think about a lot, and have written about on my food and gardening blogs for several years. In order to help change the world, we in western countries have to accept that our lives must change and that we cannot continue to exploit developing countries for our needs. As my small contribution to this, I try to eat only food that comes from within 100 kilometres of where I live and I grow as much of my own as I can.

We shouldn’t expect developing countries to grow the products which make our lives easier or more pleasant, at the expense of those people’s needs. An article in yesterday’s Guardian by Felicity Lawrence highlighted the problems of people in Guatemala who grow palm oil for biofuels so that people in rich countries can feel less guilty about driving their cars while the workers themselves are unable to feed their families properly.

Apart from concern about my carbon footprint, sustainability and my share of the earth’s resources, I have selfish reasons for eating local food – it tastes so much better if it hasn’t travelled long distances and especially so if it’s been grown in our own garden!

>La Fête vigneronne at Faugères

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Sunday morning wine tasting in a village of balconies and bunting:

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A theatrical entrance to the old village whose narrow streets were filled with the stalls of wine producers, cheese makers, biscuit, cake and honey sellers, charcuterie producers and throngs of people tasting all this in the heat.  We found and bought some familiar produce – goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland – and tasted wines we’d not tasted before from Domaine du Météore at Cabrerolles and  Domaine Alquier at Faugères and bought rosé from Domaine Ballicioni at Autignac and Chateau des Peyregrandes at Roquessels (next door to Chateau des Adouzes where we buy wine regularly, but we’ve never ventured here before).  A completely new discovery, to us, was the Saffron syrup from the Tarn region of south-western France, which can be added to white wine to make Saffron kir and can also be used in cooking gambas or duck.  The kir we tasted at the stall tasted wonderfully spicy.

 

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Crowded narrow streets and, right, a traditional still making fine de Faugères.

Our own harvest, and promise for the future

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From the garden this morning:  Aubergines, a bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, courgettes and beans.  And, right, a small pumpkin on a huge plant, just beginning to grow.  Aubergine and courgette slices fried in olive oil and sprinkled with thyme and chopped garlic went well with Mas Rolland goats’ cheeses for supper.

>When in Rome …..

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Over the past few years we’ve tried many different ways of watering our garden during the hot dry summers we have here. We’ve tried a drip-feed system, mulches and terracotta pots. These work in some circumstances, but we’ve come to the conclusion that the local gardeners know best about how to cope with conditions here. Our neighbour Aimé, who watered our garden while we were away last month, uses a wide-gauge pipe running from the stream to fill his water cistern and also to water the vegetables. Between the rows he has, as we do now, deep channels so that the pepper, tomato and other plants are grown on the top of a ridge and watered in between the ridges. Today he insisted that we use his pipe instead of our puny (normal garden hose size) one and we quickly flooded the watering channels.

DSC03889 DSC03936 On the left is our row of pumpkin plants with a deep channel either side to ensure that they get plenty of water over the summer. On the right are some of our pepper plants (with Roma tomatoes far right) and one of the channels filled with water. To ensure that the water runs to all the plants we use the pioch, a useful tool with a narrow blade, to build up the borders of the channel and to remove obstructions.

Obviously, this method of watering would not work for small seedlings, which can be watered with a watering can, but for the bigger stronger plants it seems to be the method that works best and we have to acknowledge that the people who know best how to garden here are those who have been gardening here for decades and whose fathers (it is still mostly the men who garden here) taught them the ways they learnt from their fathers, and so on back through the centuries. I saw similar methods used in the south of Spain, where it is even hotter and dryer than here, and where whole fields are flooded. This is what works here, but in other places, different climates, different soils, the best way to water will be different.

We’ve had a very strong north wind this week, which has made watering even more necessary as it dries out the surface of the soil. It’s also blown the olive branches about and left many small olive flowers lying on the ground. Luckily, both our olive trees still have a lot of flower on them so I don’t think the crop should be too badly affected.

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Harvesting

We’ve been eating the little Spanish habas beans, grown from seed given to us by our friend Drew in Navarra. There, he says, they are usually dried and saved for winter, but we like them fresh. They are small broad beans tightly packed into small pods, with very little waste, and they taste delicious cooked the same way as broad beans. Today I sautéed some fresh garlic in some olive oil then added the beans, a pinch of salt, a couple of sprigs of savoury and some water and cooked them until the water evaporated. There are some left over which we’ll eat cold as a salad tonight. We’ve also been picking courgette flowers – still only male flowers – to make fritters. I noticed from last year’s records that on 1 June we cooked our first courgettes on the barbecue – we’re a long way from doing that this year!

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And a summer lunch

Today we invited friends for lunch in the garden and ate: grilled sweet onions with romesco sauce (made with ground almonds, ground dried pimento peppers, sweet red peppers, garlic and olive oil); chicken pieces marinaded in paprika, cumin, oregano, olive oil and garlic, with grilled aubergine slices; the beans I mentioned above; Mont St Pierre cheese from Lacaune; strawberries and an apple tart brought by our friends; and a few glasses of rosé and red wine. Sorry, no photos – we were having too much fun – but I’ll probably photograph all these when we cook them again over the summer.

>Update after the rain

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We’ve had several more days of rain so the garden is well watered, but we could do with some sunshine now to encourage the plants to grow.

A nice surprise

DSC03533 Our artichoke plants were all badly affected by the cold weather we had in March, which came just as the plants were beginning to grow again after the freezing temperatures we had in January.  This time last year we were picking artichokes, but this year I was afraid we weren’t going to get any at all.  So I was very pleased today to see that two small artichokes had appeared – after all, I didn’t want to have to rename the blog!

And olives ….

well, flower buds at least – our little Lucque tree is covered in buds.

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We’ve been preparing the beds for the pepper plants and deciding how we’re going to fit them all in.  We have about 40 plants altogether, not counting chilli peppers, as this year we’ve managed to get almost all of them to grow well.  We’ll probably plant them out tomorrow and I’ll take some photos then.

Replacing the beans the birds had eaten

DSC03538 So many of our haricot and alubia bean plants had failed to appear or been eaten by birds that I germinated some in seed trays in the house.  Today we planted them out in the gaps, with some Planeta climbing mangetout beans as well.  I made a string of ‘bunting’ with strips of a plastic bag which I hope will deter the birds.

Roses and a butterfly on the wild thyme

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There’s borage growing as a weed among the roses, but I think it looks good there.
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Asparagus

The wild asparagus is almost over now but yesterday we bought some cultivated asparagus from a stall in a fair in the village.  It hadn’t come far, just 5 km from a nearby village, and it was delicious.  We had some of it with a vinaigrette dressing and crusty Aveyronnais bread, and also made an asparagus and goats’ cheese tart.

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>Apricot buds and a new cold frame

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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.