Olive flowers

A week or so later than usual, our Luque olive tree is flowering, in fact it’s covered in these tiny delicate flowers that are self-pollinating. They don’t seem to have any scent, because they don’t need to attract insects for pollination.

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We mustn’t count our olives before they are ‘hatched’ because last year we had a lot of blossom but only a handful of olives from this tree, but it’s a hopeful sign to see so much flower.

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Happy bees and wet olive trees

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.

First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:

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And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.

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In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).

An anniversary in the garden

Eight years ago today we signed the acte de vente, the contract for the purchase of our garden, although we’d already been using it for nearly a year with the agreement of the previous owner. It seemed a complicated process for such a small piece of land (and a very small price – the lawyer’s fees and taxes were nearly as much as the cost of the garden). Six of us had to sign everything several times, the two of us as purchasers, the mother and son who were selling the land and the two notaires, our chosen one and theirs. It was all worth it, though, and now it’s impossible to imagine our life without it. I’ve given the blog a new birthday header today, an image of the perfect winter sky above the bamboo this morning.

olive treeOne of the first plants we put in the garden was an olive tree. It was tiny and I’ve even forgotten what variety it is (the Lucque tree came later). We cleared a small patch of earth and surrounded the tree with a circle of stones to keep any rain that fell near to the roots while they weren’t very deep. Since then, it has given us good crops of olives over the years and we’ve been enjoying our own olives over the past couple of weeks. It surprises me how much it has grown:

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In previous years I’ve pruned it at this time of the year but after going on an olive-pruning course last spring I’ve learnt that it’s better to wait until March when the risk of cold weather that could damage the resulting new shoots is over. Today, with the sun feeling hot on my face and the 4-metre-high bamboo sheltering the garden from the north wind, it was difficult to imagine that we may still have very cold nights….but we may!

It was good to see the bamboo growing well, if rather invasively, to produce next summer’s tomato canes and other plant supports.

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And the rosemary doesn’t seem to have stopped flowering all through the autumn and winter.

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A desperate need for an olive branch

 

This isn’t a political blog and I usually keep my strong views to other forums but I can’t keep silent about what is happening in the Middle East at present. I’ve written before about my concern for the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinian people. When this blog was in another place, four years ago, I posted a short series on the olive tree and its products, ending with these words:

I couldn’t finish this series of posts on the olive without mentioning something which has been of great concern to me for many years – the destruction of Palestinian olive groves by the Israeli army. On the pretext of protecting illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine the army is uprooting thousands of olive trees and making it difficult for Palestinian growers to harvest their crops from others. This deprives families of their livelihood and of decades and even centuries of investment and time which these trees have taken to grow to maturity…..

I can only hope that the election of the new US president may lead to an improvement in the situation in Palestine and the wider Middle East and an end to the policy of subjecting a symbol of peace to an act of war.

Sadly, that US president has just been re-elected and still nothing has improved for the people of Palestine. And now, in an unequal use of violence (which as a pacifist I cannot support on either side, but which is dreadfully unbalanced in this situation), the people of Gaza are suffering bombardment and the threat of a ground war. On the Guardian website today, a resident of Gaza explains the difference for ordinary, innocent people. In Israel there is fear, but in Palestine – for children who know little but are learning terror fast – there is the reality of death:

“We Palestinians don’t talk about fear, we talk about death. Our rockets scare them; their rockets kill us. We have no bomb shelters, we have no sirens, we have nowhere we can take our children and keep them safe. They are scared. We are dying.”

As I write this, talks are continuing to try to get a ceasefire, but at best this will be a temporary respite. A long term solution is needed and I fear that those in power, especially the US president, are unwilling to bring this about. Today I’ve discovered a blog – A Second Glance – that gives an informed view of what is happening in Gaza today and the hopes, or otherwise, for peace:

Should the truce hold, it is only a temporary bandaid on a festering wound; the occupation still exists, there is still an illegal closure of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip remain seperated from each other. Without a just solution to end this violence, this will be ‘just another escalation’ of violence in the Gaza Strip that took the lives of an X-number of Palestinians, and that will be followed by other ones.

Please do whatever you can to publicise and oppose the terror that is taking place now in Gaza, where young children are being killed, injured or, if they’re lucky, forced to take shelter from the bombs in crowded conditions in schools and other buildings. There are campaigns and petitions to sign, vigils and demonstrations around the world, in France as well as in the UK and many other countries.

 

Blowing in the wind

 

The leaves of these lovely old olive trees were silvery in the wind today as we returned home from an excellent lunch at the Auberge du Presbytère to celebrate Lo Jardinièr’s birthday.  Excellent food beautifully presented and served – we’re so lucky to have this within easy reach driving through countryside like this. And the view from our table was this  holm-oak covered hillside next to the lake where we sometimes swim.

First anniversary flowers

It’s a year today since my first post on WordPress, after I moved my blog from the other place.  And in celebration of this anniversary the olive flowers on our Lucque tree are starting to open:

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There’s so much promise in such tiny flowers – they’re only about 3 or 4 mm across when they’re open.  I hope we can keep the olive fly away from the crop this  year!

Rainy May

Most years we get hardly any rain at all in May.  Some years we get no rain apart from the occasional thunderstorm between the beginning of April and the end of September.  The last few days have been very wet and grey.  It’s a bit gloomy (although good for the garden and the water table), but it makes the colours of the fresh new vine leaves stand out against the damp earth and stone.

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In the olive groves the trees are covered with flower buds, all about to open:

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And in the garden the mangetout peas are flowering at last:

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I picked our only artichoke – a perfect small one:

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I wanted to taste its full flavour – and share it between two people! – so after removing the outside leaves I sliced it thinly and fried it in olive oil.  This really concentrates the flavour and the slices are delicious served with just a sprinkle of salt.

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I first ate them like this in a restaurant in Figueres in Catalunya and since then have often copied the idea at home. Recently Maddogtvdinners posted a tempting photo of this dish, eaten in a restaurant in Barcelona, but I don’t think I can cut them quite as finely at home!  This is one of the simplest artichoke dishes, but you need to use very young artichokes without a choke.

An olive morning

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I spent this morning in warm spring sunshine in an olive grove on a hillside above the village at a demonstration of olive tree pruning organised by our friends at the Moulin de Casso.  An expert, Jean-Michel Duriez of the Association Française Interprofessionelle d’Olive, spent a couple of hours telling us all about the cultivation of the olive and then showing us how to prune a mature tree to let the light onto the leaves (and later the flowers and fruit) while the trunk is shaded.  He said that in many languages including Occitan and Arabic the word for pruning means ‘to lighten’.

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The important point to remember when pruning olive trees is to start looking at the trunk and work outwards, not to trim a lot of small pieces off the ends of the branches but to make as few cuts as possible.  He did say, though, that there were as many ways of pruning an olive tree as there are people who prune olive trees.

One interesting fact I learned today was that olive pruning shouldn’t be done until March and can be done as late as July.  Pruning earlier, in the winter, can cause new growth to appear which can then be badly affected by any cold weather such as we had in February this year.  It was also good to hear that soon there should be official recognition of olive production from this region if l’Union des Producteurs et Professionels de l’Olivier de l’Hérault is successful in its attempt to gain appelation d’origine controlée status for the Lucque olives of the Languedoc and the olive oil of the Languedoc. This will make it easier for producers to market their products outside the region.

Once the demonstration of the actual pruning began everyone had to disappear into the branches to see what should be done.

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Just an ordinary Monday

In the garden, with the air filled with the scent of apricot blossom and the sound of bees around the tree, the wild cherry buds are beginning to appear on our sapling, planted just a couple of years ago.

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Leaf and flower buds are appearing on the Rose banksiae. I was worried about it because it began to flower in January (much too early) and those buds were killed by the cold weather, but it seems now to be recovering and flourishing after its pruning last autumn.

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The jasmine is flowering:

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And there were wonderful shadows on the olive leaves:

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It’s St Joseph’s Day today, the date when it’s traditional here for haricot beans to  be sown, and we sowed our first row.  Although the instructions on the packet suggest the end of April as the earliest sowing date, this is for more northern climates and here all the gardeners sow them at the end of March.  We’ll sow several more rows later in the spring to ensure a steady supply.

Back home after our morning’s work, we started our lunch with some leftover foie gras on toasts and then ate Lo Jardinièr’s adaptation of a recipe for pumpkin and chickpea salad from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, adding feta cheese to the pumpkin and arranging it all on a green salad with parsley and sorrel from the garden.

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Breezy olive trees and quiet vines

We’ve had some very strong winds over the past few days, with gusts of up to 100 kilometres per hour, but no serious damage luckily.  I like the way the olive leaves turn their silvery under-sides in the wind, in our garden and in the olive groves around the village.

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The vines, on the other hand, are in their quiet winter phase of hibernation, being pruned by the vine-growers and preparing for spring.

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