>Tomatoes germinated

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DSC05919 The tomato seeds we sowed last weekend had all germinated by Friday (except for the Marmande) and were ready to go in one of the mini-greenhouses that Lo Jardinièr made last year. In the mornings we keep them inside but next to a window that has sun, in the afternoons they go out on the balcony. The seedlings seem to be growing very quickly! Now that they no longer need seed-starter box we have sowed the pepper seeds.

Varieties of peppers sown from seed we have saved or been given by friends:

Kandil dolma – a Turkish bell pepper with a very distinctive flavour. Only one germinated last year so we’re hoping for more this year.

Red marconi

Corno di toro

Spanish long pepper – seeds given to us by our neighbour.

Long pepper – seeds given to us by our garden neighbours.

Nardello

Piment d’Espelette – seed from paprika peppers bought in the village of Espelette in the French Basque country. As there is an appélation controlée for peppers grown in the area of that village I’m not sure whether the ones we grow here can be called Espelette.

Chorizo – another paprika variety. Seeds saved from peppers we grew last year from seed given to us by a friend in Navarra.

In the garden

The broad beans we sowed in autumn are flowering now and the second row we sowed a few weeks ago are coming up well, along with a few of the mangetout peas which always seem to be slower to germinate.

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And two good meals from the weekend…

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Above left, the cawl (Welsh stew or soup made with lamb, leeks, potatoes and carrots) we served for our soirée galloise on Friday, when we invited 14 French/Occitan friends to celebrate St David’s Day with us, and right, the paella I made for Sunday lunch with pork, rabbit and chorizo.

>Spring flowers, new vine leaves and another lizard

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The vines are sprouting new spring growth in all the vineyards. We passed these near Roquessels this morning. And on the hillsides in the garrigue the asphodels, cistus, broom and thyme are all flowering.

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In the garden, the apple blossom is nearly over, but we had borage flowers to decorate our salad of broad bean leaves, rocket and mint. I can’t see any small fruits on the apricot tree, although there are lots of leaves, so I think that the sudden cold weather we had in March must have killed off the fertilised flowers. We had a lot of blossom in February on the apricot tree, and insects buzzing around the flowers, so we expected a reasonable crop, until the surprise snow arrived at the beginning of March.

A lizard in the sky

This lizard run up the wall of the shed and onto one of the supports for our shelter to bask in the sun.

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It’s been good weather for lizards. After an unusually cold spring, with that snow, it’s now unusually hot for April – up to 30 degrees C at midday in the sun – and very dry, although the stream is still running well down the hill past the gardens so we have plenty of free water.

Preparing to plant out the tomatoes

We have prepared most of the tomato beds and put up the cane supports for the plants. We’ve planted lettuce seedlings in between what will be double rows of tomatoes – the lettuces will get watered with the tomato plants, which will shade them a bit, and we’ll have eaten them by the time the tomato plants grow.

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The tomato plants on the right have been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony and are now desperate for more space and light, so we’ll be planting them out in the next day or so.

>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.

>Surprise snow and our first mini-greenhouse

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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.
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Handles made from a piece of spare wood are attached to each side, using a wood screw.

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The lid has a handle made from ‘sandwiching’ the plastic between two pieces of wood and screwing them together.
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The lid can be raised for ventilation by propping it against a small piece of wood at the back of the frame.

 

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Trying it out with a couple of lemon seedlings we’ve grown from seed.
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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.