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.

vines 1

vines 2 

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

olive buds 1

olive buds 2

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

pea flowers 1

pea flowers 2

I picked our only artichoke – a perfect small one:


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.


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.

Route barrée, but spring is on its way


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.



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.


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…..


>Clearing away the summer


This morning the sky over the garden was cold and grey with the sun trying to break through the clouds.  The sun did come out later, but it was time to clear away the Roma tomato plants anyway.

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Some of the tomatoes will ripen, the others we’ll use to make green tomato jam which we’ve found goes very well with cheese, especially goats’ cheese.


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The broad beans and peas are coming up well.  We put the straw over the rows to conserve water, but I don’t think it’s really necessary any more.  Although we haven’t had a lot of rain lately the soil is very damp.


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A friend went to the Spanish border at Le Perthus and brought us back this bunch of over 100 Spanish sweet onions to plant.  They should be the first onions to be ready to eat in the spring, before the local Lezignan sweet onions.  The excitement of planting these and seeing the peas and broad beans coming up compensates a bit for the sadness I always feel in autumn as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder.

We’re lucky here, though, to have a second spring in autumn, when it rains and plants start to grow again and to flower after dying back during the dry summer.


DSC09920 The rosemary is covered with flower, although the pyracantha looks quite christmassy! DSC09922


DSC09937 DSC09933 Our little palm is a Washingtonia, which is hardy here so it doesn’t need to be wrapped up for winter.  There are new leaves growing from the centre (above).

>Sun and rain / Le soleil et la pluie


We had several days of heavy rain and then went away for a couple of days, so we’ve come home to find that the weeds have grown …

Après quelques jours de pluie forte nous sommes partis pour deux jours, donc nous sommes revenus à trouver que les mauvaises herbes ont poussé …

but so have the apricots / mais aussi les abricots:


and the mangetout peas are flowering, as pretty as sweet peas / et les petit pois mangetous fleurissent, aussi jolies que les pois de senteur:

mangetout flower1_1 mangetout flower2_1_1

>Spring in the air? / Du temps printanier?


January often does this – makes me feel as though it’s spring when it’s too early.  But I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.  The sun felt hot today at midday, although the nights are cold and clear with temperatures below freezing.

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apricot branch and a clear, blue sky

C’est souvent comme ça en janvier – il semble que c’est le printemps, mais c’est trop tôt.  Mais je vais en profiter pendant que le beau temps dure.  Au soleil à midi aujourd’hui il a fait chaud, bien que les nuits soient froides et claires, et les températures au dessous de zéro.

The mangetout peas are growing well and today we put netting up to support them.  / Les pois mangetouts poussent bien et aujourd’hui on a mis une grillage en plastique pour les supporter.

peas and netting_1_1

And we picked a salad to accompany our barbecue in the sun – lettuce, spinach, parsley, sorrel and oregano – so much flavour in the middle of winter!

Et on a ramassé une salade pour accompagner notre grillade au soleil – des feuilles de laitue, épinards, persille, oseille et oreganum – tant de gout en plein hiver!

jan 11 salad_1_1 

Cauliflower problems

Another of our cauliflower plants has produced a tiny cauliflower – has anyone got any ideas about what we’ve done wrong with them?  Last year they did well.

>Happy new year! / Bonne année


Best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2009 to all.

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olives and artichoke (leaves) / olives et feuilles d’artichaut

Happy new year! / Blwyddyn newydd dda! /

Bonne année / Bon an!

Some hopeful new year signs in the garden today: sunshine at lunchtime, the garlic, broad beans and peas growing well, a salad picked and eaten straight from the garden.

Des signes d’espoir au jardin aujourd’hui: le soleil à midi, l’ail, les fèves et les petits pois poussent bien, une salade ramassée pour manger en directe du jardin.

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09 salad_1_1

lettuce, spinach, rocket, parsley, mizuna and sorrel picked for a lunchtime salad – the thermometer registered only 13 degrees C but it was warm enough in the sun to have lunch outside.

>Winter salad / la salade d’hiver


I may have given the impression in my recent post on the changing shape of the garden – the garden changes shape – that there wasn’t much growing in the vegetable garden at the moment. But it’s just that winter crops grow lower than summer tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, they huddle near the ground for shelter, making the garden flatter. This morning it was cold, 3 degrees C, but we still managed to pick the ingredients for a salad from our garden:

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Salad of lettuce, rocket, chicory, spinach, sorrel, mizuna and oregano, all fresh from the garden today.

Une salade de laitue, roquette, endive, epinards, oseille, mizuna et oreganum, ramassés du jardin aujourd’hui.

Even in winter, we eat something from the garden every day. In the last week we’ve eaten leeks, turnips, chard, spinach, red cabbage, green cabbage, lettuce and mizuna.

Même en hiver, on mange quelque légumes du jardin chaque jour. Pendant la semaine dernière on a mangé: des poireaux, des navets, des épinards, des choux rouge et vert, de la laitue et du mizuna.

chard / blettes
rainbow chard_1_1 rainbow chard
mangetout peas
spinach / épinards
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broad beans / fèves

Some of the vegetables which are thriving in the garden in spite of the cold weather / quelques légumes qui poussent bien malgré le temps froid.

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the peas are germinating / les petits pois germent
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2nd crop of leeks doing well / 2ème récolte de poireaux poussent bien
the radishes taste good /
les radis sont bons
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and the red cabbage leaves are beautiful / et les feuilles du choux rouge sont belles

I love the summer vegetables best – tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, courgettes – but even in December there are still plenty of good things in the garden!

J’aime les légumes de l’été – les tomates, les aubergines, les artichauts, les courgettes – mais même en décembre il y a plusiers de bonnes choses dans le jardin!

>A winter’s day in November / Un jour d’hiver en novembre


It’s only mid-November, but today was a perfect winter’s day, with a cloudless sky and a cold north wind.  This is the kind of day I try to describe when people who live in northern climates ask me what winter is like in the Languedoc.  It’s dry and bright and the sun still feels hot so long as you’re out of the wind.

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C’est mi-novembre, mais déjà c’est une journée parfaite d’hiver aujourd’hui.  Un ciel sans nuages et un vent froid du nord.  C’est la sorte de jour que j’essaye décrire quand quelqu’un qui habite un climat du nord me demande: ‘l’hiver dans le Languedoc, c’est quoi?’.  Il fait sec, la lumière est éclatante et le soleil est chaud si on est à l’abri du vent.

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The low light shines through the olive branches, silvering the undersides of the leaves against the dark shadows and the bright sky.

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Today was the right phase of the moon for garlic, so we planted ours around the terracotta pots which Kate has written about on Hills and Plains Seedsavers, 7 cloves around each pot.

Nous avons planté l’ail autour des pots en terrecuite duquels Kate a écrit sur le blog Hills and Plains Seedsavers.

lettuce seedlings 2_1_1  We planted the lettuce seedlings from the seeds Kate gave us.
red cabbage caulifflower_1_1 The red cabbages and the caulflowers are doing well, but the mizuna is struggling a bit against the snails.

Les choux rouges et les choufleurs vont bien, mais le mizuna se bat contre les escargots.

mangetout_1_1 I love sowing peas and broad beans – the seedlings come up looking so sturdy and hopeful.  A good omen that spring will follow the winter. broad bean_1

>Spanish souvenirs

>There was a bit of rain while we were away, and our neighbour had done some watering for us, so the garden looked quite luxuriant when we got back – unfortunately a lot of the new growth was weeds! But we found peas and broad beans ready to pick, the last of the winter cabbages and the chard which just seems to go on and on.

We ate wonderful food in Spain and brought back lots of recipe ideas to make at home. Here are a couple of dishes weve made already with vegetables from our garden, the simplest first.

Peas in their pods

In a tapas bar in Murcia we found a bowl of peas in their pods for customers to help themselves to. At home we picked our first peas and ate them straight from the pods – a memory from my childhood when we used to do this in my grandmothers garden. Much better than cooking them.

Cured ham with broad beans

I simmered our first small broad beans for just a couple of minutes and lightly sautéed in a little olive oil some diced jambon de la montagne (bought in the local shop and the nearest equivalent to Serrano ham). I mixed the two together and added salt, ground black pepper and chopped thyme – it was as delicious as it was in Granada!

these broad bean flowers turned into 15-20 cm pods while we were away

Morcilla de verano – summer morcilla

I ordered this in the tapas bar in Murcia and was surprised to find it was a vegetable dish. It was chopped aubergine and onion simmered in olive oil until the two vegetables almost melted into each other, with herbs and pine nuts. At home I made it with oregano from the garden and currants (because Id run out of pine nuts – the currants gave a slightly sweeter flavour and worked well), served with lightly toasted bread. I used a bought aubergine, but Im looking forward to making it again with our own aubergines in the summer.