The beginning of summer?

I always feel that once we have the tomatoes planted out in the garden I can believe that summer will come.  This weekend we spent a couple of mornings putting up the canes for the first 32 plants and planted out 16 – 4 coeur de boeuf, 4 ananas, 4 Andes, and 4 of a variety that we unwittingly created from cross-fertilisation two years ago and that I’ve named Gabian breakfast because each fruit is just the right size for one person to rub on bread, Spanish-style, at breakfast.

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Putting up the cane frames for the tomatoes – luckily we have a constant supply from the bamboo that grows at the end of the garden.

These Languedocian and Roma plants will be the next to be put out in the garden:

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The peppers have been very slow to grow this year and need a bit more warmth and nurturing on the balcony before they can fend for themselves outside:

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After our work in the garden yesterday morning we came home to a good Sunday lunch of pot-roasted pigeon with polenta, loosely based on, or maybe I should say inspired by, Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Observer.  Instead of marsala and grapes I used some figs that I’d conserved in Armagnac a couple of years ago and these flavours were wonderfully rich with the pigeon.  I also added garlic (as I usually do), lardons and oregano.  I had a small fire in the pan when I thought it was all simmering nicely and put the lid on, but the alcohol hadn’t all burned off so the pan filled with flames.  I wished I’d had the camera ready because it looked quite spectacular!

pot-roasted pigeon

I bought the pigeon at one of the two excellent butcher’s shops in Roujan – Franck Perez – and while I was there I asked Mme Perez how she felt the new supermarket that has just opened on the outskirts of the village would affect their trade.  She seemed to think it will be all right because people will always want proper meat from a proper butcher even if everyone does have to go to supermarkets to buy washing powder etc.  I hope she’s right.  The other butcher, which I think is slightly less excellent, will have a shop inside the new supermarket, so clearly they think that’s where there future lies.  I shall continue going to Franck Perez because he sells such good meat.

>Re-potting

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Tomatoes….

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We’ve potted about 50 plants, with the Marmande and St Pierre still to do when they’re ready.

And small two lemon trees we’ve grown from seed we found sprouting inside a lemon a year or so ago were ready to go into bigger pots.

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The pepper seedlings aren’t quite ready to go into pots yet:

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And paella for lunch…

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>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.

>Brasucade de moules

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We’re very lucky that the coquillage (shellfish) van comes to the village twice a week bringing sustainably produced and delicious shellfish from Bouzigues on the Etang de Thau, a salt-water lagoon only 30 or so kilometres from here.  One of our favourite ways of eating mussels is to cook them on the barbecue in a big open pan – we use a paella pan or a Spanish sartén honda, both of which are available very cheaply in a local discount store. 

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Today I lightly sautéed a couple of sliced garlic cloves, some sprigs of savoury and rosemary, some lardons fumés (smoked bacon pieces) and a chopped dried Espelette pepper in olive oil over the flames and then left them to infuse while we cooked some whole Spanish sweet onions which I’d just pulled out of the ground.  When the onions were done and while we were eating them as a first course, the mussels were left to open and cook over the fire.

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When the mussels are cooked we just put the pan in the middle of the table for people to share, with a sprinkling of chopped fresh garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some crusty bread.  And a glass or two of rosé wine from the Domaine des Pascales in the village.  The sun even came out for an hour or so while we were eating!

Spring flowers and leaves

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The white cistus is now in flower and one of its flowers had a yellow butterfly on it.  The mangetout peas are flowering too – such beautiful petals, as lovely as sweet peas but with the advantage of pods to eat later.  Vines have insignificant flowers so this is one plant where the leaves are more impressive, especially when the sun casts shadows of one leaf upon another.

Planting out the peppers

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We did some work too, and planted out most of our pepper plants.  There are a few more to do tomorrow and some which we want to grow in pots outside the house.

>Our first broad beans at last, but where did spring go?

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The broad beans are very late this year, but at last we harvested the first of them today, and they were very tasty, such a treat after the long wait since we sowed them in October.

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Within a couple of hours of picking them, we were enjoying the beans mixed into pasta with olive oil, garlic, lardons (bacon) and shavings of Parmesan.

Pepper plants update

Just when we were hoping to plant out our pepper plants the weather has suddenly turned cold and wet again.  The rain is welcome, to fill the stream and our water butts in the garden, but the cold (14 degrees C) is a bit unexpected after last week’s summer temperatures.  So for the next few days we’ll leave the pepper plants in the protection of the cold frame in the garden.   I discovered some whitefly on a couple of the pepper plants that had been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony, so today I picked them all off, one by one – not easy to do with middle-aged eyesight!  I’ll check them all again in a couple of days’ time before we plant them out.

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Killing off the whitefly.

Courgette planting

Our courgette plants were getting much to big for the cold frame, so Lo Jardinièr planted them out today.  The weeds are doing well in the garden, too, but I don’t mind this poppy which is growing among the broad beans, I’ll leave it to grow.

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>Saturday sun and mussels

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The shell fish producer from Bouziques comes to the village on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings, so each week on at least one of those days we usually eat mussels.

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We can never decide which is our favourite mussel dish – it’s usually the one we’re eating now!  Today we grilled them with blue cheese (we used Bleu d’Auvergne, but other blue cheeses would work just as well), white wine, bread crumbs and olive oil.  Now this is another favourite!

The snow has all gone and the weather is warming up a bit again – last night was the first night for over a week when the temperature didn’t drop below freezing.  After lunch it was warm enough to sit outside in the sun with our coffee.  I daren’t say that spring has come because last time I said that we had snow a few days later, but there’s hope of spring.

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Tomatoes and peppers update

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All the varieties of tomatoes have germinated and all the peppers except the Longue d’Espagne (these last were seeds from an old packet belonging to our neighbour).  The two bright green plants in the centre at the top of the right-hand picture are lemon seedlings.  When the sun is on our balconies in the afteroons we put them out in the mini-greenhouses, where the temperature reaches up to 30 degrees C, even when there’s a chilly north wind.

>Water, at last, and some spring sunshine

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After all the rain we’ve had during the last couple of weeks we were glad to see that the stream which runs down the hill past the gardens is full again.  We hope it lasts until we need to water the garden.

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The crocuses were flowering too in the garden ….

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Over the hill on the other side of the village, this ruined mazet was looking brighter in the sunlight, half hidden by a Pistacia lentiscus shrub and with its interior full of brambles.

 

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We picked cabbage and leeks in the garden and came home to a lunch of cabbage with lardons, garlic and crème fraiche (a recipe suggested by our son) and a glass of wine.  I didn’t used to like cabbage much until we grew our own.  This was delicious.

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Peppers and tomatoes

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While the tomato seedlings were benefiting from the sun on the balcony – and the temperature in the mini-greenhouse was 25 degrees C – we sowed our pepper seeds and put them on the heated seed starter box.  We’ve sowed ten varieties:

Piment d’Espelette: slightly spicy paprika pepper from Espelette in the French Basque country, seeds from a string of peppers I bought in Espelette last September.  This is the only pepper I know which has an appellation d’origine controlée, like wine, so I’m not sure whether any peppers we grow can be called piment d’Espelette as they will be grown out of the area!

Chorizo pepper: a spicy rather than hot paprika pepper, seeds from a string of peppers given to us by our friend Drew in Navarra.

Chilli pepper: seeds from chillies we grew last summer.

Longue d’Espagne: a long sweet pepper, seeds from our neighbour José.

Italian Red Marconi

Kolasca: a Hungarian variety.

Kandil dolma: a Turkish variety for stuffing.

Lipstick: sweet red variety.

Nardello: an Italian long red variety with a spicy flavour.

Corno di toro: a long red variety.

The last six mentioned are seeds left over in the packets I bought last year from Kokopelli.  Last year they all germinated well, but we failed to encourage the plants to grow quickly enough, probably because we couldn’t keep them warm enough.  This year we’ll try again, put them in the mini-greenhouses and give them some fertiliser.

>Walking to the garden on Buy Nothing Day again

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Last year on this day we walked to the garden, having bought nothing but bread that morning. Today we did the same, although we also bought some ham for our lunch before we went. This day isn’t about essential food shopping, though, but about refusing the desperate celebration of consumerism that can happen at this time of the year. There are more details on the Buy Nothing Day website. The main aim of this day is to encourage us think about what we consume and spend, as the website explains:

Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of shopping. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and an unfair distribution of wealth.

Our garden is about ten minutes’ walk from our house, on a hillside above the village in a group of gardens which have been there for centuries. In the centre of the village where we live the houses are too close together for there to be room for gardens. The oldest parts of the village date back a thousand years and it was built on the defensive circulade pattern with very narrow streets. The distance from the village means that the garden is very peaceful (until they start building the new houses nearby next year) and we benefit from two groups of neighbours – those at the garden and those near our house.

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The main road looks bare now that the plane trees on one side have been cut down, but the remaining trees look beautiful against the blue sky and the old walls are still there, although tumbling slowly.

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The path to the garden …

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the garden at the end of November.

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A picnic lunch and a coffee with a long shadow at this time of year.

Wintry light and ripening olives

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Harvesting and clearing

DSC00227 While Lo Jardinièr cleared the aubergine plants, I picked the last of the green chillies. There may be a few more green peppers, so long as the nights aren’t too cold over the next couple of weeks. But we’re preparing the ground where we grew this years tomatoes, peppers and aubergines so that it is ready to put manure on in January.

Broad beans and peas

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Broad beans, Spanish habas, mangetout peas and a second sowing of broad beans

The way home

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past some of the other gardens
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and back through the narrow old streets of the village.

>The garden in June / Le jardin en juin

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Today has been the hottest day of the year so far, over 30 degrees C at midday, so how is everything doing in the garden? / Aujourd’hui on a eu la journée la plus chaude de l’année jusqu’à ici. Donc, comment va le jardin?

The leek flower has finally come out / La fleur de poireau s’est finalement ouvert.

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We hope it will provide us with a lot of seed / Nous éspèrons que cette fleur nous donnerons beaucoup de semences.

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The olives are growing – these ones on our Lucque tree, the first year it has had olives on it.

Les olives poussent sur le Lucque. Ces sont son ses premiers olives.

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We have beans on the haricots (Beurre and Purple King) and the Borlottis (left above). / Nous avons des haricots verts (Beurre et Purple King) et Borlotti (gauche).

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The peppers and tomatoes are growing / Les poivrons et les tomates poussent ….

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and the grapes /

et les raisins.

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The garlic heads are small but better than last year / Les têtes d’ail sont petites, mais mieux que l’année dernière.

We’re eating courgettes every day and I stuffed some of the flowers with mint to cook on the barbecue. / On mange les courgettes tous les jours et j’ai fait des fleurs de courgette farcies à la menthe.

The stream from the spring is still running well, so we have plenty of water – we hope it continues. / Le ruisseau de la source coule bien toujours, donc on a beaucoup d’eau – on éspère que ça continuera.

Any failures? Well, yes. The pepper plants we grew from seed haven’t grown well at all and we’ve had to buy plants. Everyone here says the same. A lot of our bean plants, especially the climbing ones have been eaten by birds as they germinated. We’re protecting the new sowings with straw now and that seems to be working.

>Taking shape / Prendre forme

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The summer garden is taking shape as we’ve done a lot of planting during the past week or so.  We’ve planted out 62 tomato plants (20 Roma, 19 St Pierre, 8 Ananas, 8 Coeur de Boeuf and 7 Yellow pear).  Yes, we know that’s probably too many, but the seedlings were too good to throw away!  We’ve planted out 4 melons, 4 cucumbers, 16 peppers, 3 chilli peppers and 5 aubergines.  Now we only need the sun and a lot of water!

Le jardin d’été prend forme.  On a fait beaucoup de plantation pendant la dernière semaine.  On a planté 62 tomates (20 Roma, 19 St Pierre, 8 Ananas, 8 Coeur de Boeuf et 7 Yellow pear).  Nous savons que c’est probablement trop, mais les plantes ont été trop bons pour jeter!  On a planté 4 melons, 4 concombres, 16 poirvrons, trois piments et 5 aubergines.  On n’a besoin que de soleil et beacoup d’eau!

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aubergines
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and peppers

We added manure and compost to the ground for the peppers and aubergines and made irrigation channels alongside the rows.  Three of the pepper plants and all the aubergines are grafted onto tomato roots.  This makes larger more productive plants.  We’ve grown grafted aubergines before but this is the first time we’ve tried the peppers.

On a ajouté de fumier et de compost à la terre pour les poivrons et les aubergines, et on a fait des gouttières d’irrigation près des rangs.  Trois poivrons et tous les aubergines sont des plants greffés sur les racines de tomate.  Ça fait les plants plus grands et plus productifs.  Nous avons cultiver les aubergines greffés l’année dernière, mais c’est la première fois que nous cultivons les poivrons greffés.

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A view of one side of the garden: aubergines, climbing beans, courgettes, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes.

Une vue d’un côté du jardin: aubergines, haricots grimpants, courgettes, salades, poivrons, tomates.

It’s so exciting to see all the plants in place – I love this time of year!

In the rest of the garden / dans le reste du jardin

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cistus3_1_1 The cistus are flowering, inspite of the rain today. /
Les cistes fleurissent, malgré la pluie aujourd’hui.
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The olive trees are about to flower / Les oliviers sont à la pointe de fleurir.
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The vine leaves are growing – nearly time to make dolmas! / Les feuilles de vigne poussent – c’est presque le temps pour faire les dolmas!
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We’re picking lots of broad beans – the longest was 31 cm.
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And this evening we’re going to eat our first potatoes of the year. / Et ce soir on mangera les premières pommes de terre de l’an.

water_1_1 Luckily the stream from the Resclauze spring is running well, so there is plenty of water for all our plants.  /  Heureusement le ruisseau de la Resclauze coule bien, donc il y a assez de l’eau pour tous les plants.