Last day of November

Winter work, but not winter temperatures, today.  The sun was warm and the air felt like spring in the garden this morning – it was 19 C at  mid day when we finished planting our little hazelnut sapling.

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Here it is, some years before it gives us a crop, I think!

The snails have been helping themselves to our chard leaves

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making pretty shadows on the other leaves

and chewing right through one of our prickly pear leaves

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but they’ve left enough chard for us and we don’t mind sharing

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Then home to make a warming winter stew:

In winter we often buy a cut of pork called plat de côte from the charcutier in the market.  It’s a long piece of pork ribs which he will cut into individual pieces if you like, but we usually ask him to leave it as a piece for slow roasting with onions, garlic and fennel seeds.  As our oven is not working very well I didn’t want to risk depending on it for the two to three hours this usually takes, but when I saw the pork I immediately thought of Chica Andaluza’s lentil stew and, inspired by her, decided to create my own version.

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I put the piece of pork – four ribs but still in one piece – into a cast-iron pan with 200 grams of green lentils, a chopped onion, some chopped potatoes, four roughly chopped cloves of garlic, 2 dried chorizo peppers cut into pieces, 2 bay leaves and some sprigs of thyme that I’d picked in the garden this morning.  I covered it all with water, brought it to the boil and simmered it for an hour and a half.

The green lentils are similar to the variety known as Puy lentils when they are grown in the Le Puy region of central France but they grow near here too and we have bought very local ones from Bédarieux which is less than 20 kilometres away.  I think this stew would work as well with dried beans, haricots or similar, but I wanted to make it today rather than soaking the beans first and these lentils do cook very quickly.

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When the lentils and the meat were cooked it was easy to cut the piece of pork into four servings ready to reheat this evening with added salt.  I didn’t put any salt in earlier because pulses don’t cook properly in salty water.

Thanks for the inspiration, Chica! And I’m going to try your recipe soon too.

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A weekend harvest

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For the first time this year, this morning we picked many more tomatoes and aubergines than we can eat in one meal.  The grafted aubergines (plants grafted onto tomato roots, which we buy in a garden centre because of their amazingly high productivity) are beginning to produce aubergines in large numbers while the ordinary plants each still have ‘one to pick, one to pick in a couple of days’ time and a few more developing’.  I love aubergines, so I don’t mind!

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The Languedocian tomatoes, especially, have many fruits which will be ripe in a few days’ time and we’ll soon have to start bottling them for the winter.  At the moment we’re keeping up with them, just, in gazpacho and salads, as well as my favourite breakfast – chopped tomato, salt and olive oil on fresh bread.

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The olives on both our trees are growing – the Lucques, above, and those on the other tree of uncertain variety, which has a much bigger crop:

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During the winter we thought about moving this second tree because it’s taking up a lot of space in one of our vegetable beds, but decided not to because it cropped so well last year.  And I’m glad we left it where it is.  Now we just have to hope we can keep the olive fly away from our trees…..

This rather ragged butterfly landed next to me this morning – it’s difficult to identify it because of its poor, faded state, but it still seemed OK and it flew off after posing for a few shots.

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Some friends have been harvesting their potatoes and have given us several kilos of slightly damaged but mostly perfect ones that won’t keep for storage, so we’ve been trying to use them.  I’ve made Chica Andaluza’s sort of saag aloo, which we’ll eat for supper tonight, because we have a glut of chard in the garden too, and we’ve also made a simple version of Patatas a lo Pobre, by cooking them with onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil – always delicious!

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Butterflies in the sun

After several cloudy days and a lot of rain, which was much needed for the vines and for the gardens but still a bit gloomy, it was good to see the sun again at last this afternoon.  The bees and butterflies were enjoying our lavender flowers and I caught a glimpse, but not a photo, of a hummingbird hawk moth. 

The caterpillars of these cabbage white butterflies eat our cabbages all through the winter, but I still like to see them hovering among the lavender flowers.

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And I thought this one was a Red Admiral, but I’m not sure.

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With all the rain we’ve had, the chard has been growing very fast and we’ve had a few meals from it.

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I made some chard and feta pies and put the recipe on the Food from the Mediterranean blog.  We ate them yesterday evening with a green salad, but they would make good picnic food too.

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In these pies I used the leaf rather than the stalks and kept the stalks for another very simple dish.  I cooked them until they were tender, put them in an oven dish with a chopped clove of garlic, a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche, some grated parmesan and a sprinkle of paprika.  After 10 minutes in a hot oven they made a delicious first course.

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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.

>Second anniversary

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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.

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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.

>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.

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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

 

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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.

>Chard, vines and clouds

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As the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes come to an end it’s time to start eating the chard we’re growing for the winter. We’ve got two rows of chard plants, some given to us by a neighbour as seedlings and one row of plants that we found had self-seeded all around the garden. Today we ate some chopped leaves simply cooked in boiling salted water, drained and then tossed in olive oil and chopped garlic.

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Vineyards near Faugères yesterday – the different varieties of vine turn gradually different colours, marking out the vineyards.
DSC09865 At sunset yesterday, the clouds were beginning to gather. Rain is forecast for the next couple of days – good for the garden and the spring at the top of the hill.

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I’ve brought the peppers indoors to finish drying as the nights are cooler now.
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And a Sunday treat – I made middle eastern sweetmeats with walnuts, dates and ground almonds.