>Potting and pottering / Repiquer et bricoler


There seems to be so much to do in the garden at the moment … watering, because the weather is suddenly hot and we’ve had very little rain for weeks, planting out lettuce seedlings, sowing other salad plants, preparing the ground for the pepper and tomato plants, having lunch … and so on.

Il y a beaucoup de travail au jardin en ce moment … l’arrosage, parce qu’il a commencé de faire chaud et il n’a pas plu pour quelques semaines, repiquer les salads, semer les autres salades, préparer la terre pour les poivrons et les tomates, manger le déjeuner … etc.

I’ve repotted over 60 tomato plants (more than we’ll need, but they’re growing very slowly, so maybe they won’t all survive) and some of the courgettes which already have quite large root systems.

J’ai repiqué plus de 60 plantes de tomates et quelques uns de courgettes qui ont déjà des longues racines.


Over the past couple of weeks the garden has become a very noisy place as the bees buzz around the rosemary and the broad bean flowers. / Pendant les semaines dernières le jardin est devenu très bruyant avec les abeilles qui bourdonnent autour des fleurs du romarin et des fèves.

broad bean flowers   beetle_1_1

And on this broad bean flower there’s one of the big flying black beetles which are very common in our garden.

2nd broad bean sowing_1_1_1

The second (February) sowing of broad beans are coming up well.  I’m specially pleased with these as they were seeds we saved a few years ago and had forgotten about!

Spring salad / salade du printemps

march salad_1_1

Rocket, wild rocket, oregano and sorrel leaves / les feuilles de la roquette, la roquette sauvage, oreganum et oseille.

Wild asparagus / les asperges sauvages

wild asparagus_1_1

A friend had given us some spears of wild asparagus she had picked and we added some spears from plants growing wild in our garden.  Wild asparagus is thinner than the cultivated variety, with a herby, more concentrated flavour.  It grows in the garrigue, especially where there has recently been a fire so that it has less competition from other bigger plants.  Here the tradition, especially on Easter Monday, is to go for a walk in the garrigue and pick asparagus and then make omelette with it.  We did this in the garden today.

Les asperges sauvages poussent dans la garrigue.  Elles sont plus fines que la varieté cultivée et elles ont un gout concentré.  Il y a une tradition ici d’aller dans les garrigue le lundi de Paque pour ramasser les asperges et puis de faire une omelette aux asperges.  On l’a fait au jardin aujourd’hui.

wild asparagus omelette 1_1_1_1 wild asparagus omelette 2_1_1 wild asparagus omelette 4_1_1

Pepper germination / germination de poivrons

We’ve had very high germination rates for most of the varieties we’ve sown.  All these seeds came from Kokopelli except the Long d’Espagne which our neighbour gave us.

Corno di Toro: 100 %    Italian Red Marconi: 100%  

Lipstick: 100%             Kolaska: 100 %

Kandil Dolma: 60 %      Nardello:  100 %

Long d’Espagne: 10 % (but these seeds were a few years’old)

Yellow cornos (from Kate) and chilli peppers (our own saved seed) were sown later and have not yet germinated.

The problem with the peppers now is to keep them at a consistently high enough temperature and give them enough light.  Today we put some of them out on the balcony under polythene, but some of them got a bit too hot and dry.  I think they’ll be OK.

The apricot blossom is over now, and the cherry blossom is here … / Les fleurs d’abricotier sont finis maintenant, et les fleurs de cerisier arrivent …

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Cherry blossom opening on a tree near our garden – the tree is on public ground, so we’ll keep an eye out for the fruit in May.
cherry blossom 2_1_1_1

>Snow and thoughts of spring / La neige et des pensées de printemps


Last night snow settled in Gabian – something we’ve never seen here before – just a light icing on the cars, roofs and plants in pots outside the windows. By the morning it had almost all gone.

Hier soir la neige est tombée à Gabian et elle est restée sur les voitures, les toits et les plantes dans les pots à l’éxtérieur des fenêtres. Ce matin elle est presque disparue.

Gabian snow 7-1-09_1_1 snow 7-01-09_1_1

Although it was still cold, after the snow melted and the sun came out our thoughts turned to spring seeds and planting. We want to try some new varieties this year so from Kokopelli we ordered some pepper (capsicum) seeds which we haven’t grown before: Kandil Dolma – a Turkish bell pepper suitable for stuffing – and some long red varieties for salads and grilling and perhaps for drying: Italian Red Merconi, Lipstick, Corni di Toro and Kolesca. And from Seeds of Italy (Franchi) we’ve ordered Cavalo Nero (recommended by Michelle at From Seed to Table, Radicchio orchidea Rossa, Borlotto bean Lamon, some French beans – a dwarf Purple King and a climbing Smeraldo – and Raperonozolo Rampion. I’m especially excited about the last of these, the rampion, lo reponchon in Occitan, as it grows wild in the garrigue here and is mentioned by Max Rouquette in his poem, ‘La Lenga s’es Perduda’.

Bien qu’il fasse froid encore, après la neige s’est fondue et le soleil est revenu nous avons pensé des semences de printemps et de la plantation. Nous voulons essayer des nouvelles varietés cette année, donc nous avons commandé de Kokopelli des semences de poivrons que nous n’avons pas cultiver: Kandil Dolma un poivron turque qui est bon pour farcir, et des autres varietés pour les salades, pour griller et peut-être pour secher. Nous avons commandé aussi des semences de Seeds of Italy (Franchi) y compris Cavalo Nero (recommandé par Michelle de From Seed to Table) et Raperonozolo Rampion. Je suis ravie de trouver cette dernière varietée – le raiponce, lo reponchon en Occitan – qui est une des plantes de la garrigue, le nom de laquelle j’ai trouvé dans une poème de Max Rouquette, ‘La Lenga s’es Perduda’.

I can’t wait now for the seeds and the spring to arrive! J’attends avec impatience l’arrivée des semences et du printemps!

box of seeds_1_1

And we have a lovely box full of vegetable seeds we’ve saved or friends have given us, some which Kate brought us and some Mizuna left from the packet Laura sent us. But any other suggestions are welcome. I learnt a new Occitan greeting this week – ‘Bon anada, plan granada!’, which means happy new year and may you have seeds for a good year. I think we have!

>Watering system

>At last the rain seems to have stopped and the hot summer weather has started. Its getting too hot to work in the garden in the middle of the day, so this morning we were there at 8.30 a.m. Already the sun felt hot, so well have to get there even earlier tomorrow. When we left at 10.30 it was 34 degrees C. I love the heat and the dry weather, but its time to think seriously about watering.

Weve found that a slow drip watering system is much more effective than anything we can do with a hose or watering can – its also much easier as we can just turn it on and do something else while the garden is being watered. Last year we tried out a small length of pipe with sprinkler attachments for some of the tomatoes – and these were the plants which were most productive. At the moment this pipe is watering the cucumbers and two double rows of tomatoes. This year weve bought some more pipe, the same TechnO make, but this time it has drip holes already incorporated in it, 3 per metre of pipe which is about the right spacing for tomatoes and peppers. This morning we attached this to the system to extend it to another double row of tomatoes and a double row of peppers. We have plenty left over so well use it for other plants too as we need it.

This is the plan of what weve done so far (click on the plan to enlarge it):

The haricots verts, potatoes, broad beans, peas and mangetout peas are all nearly over now so they wont need it this year. We havent included the courgettes in the watering system as the drips are not well spaced for these because they are planted further apart. Courgettes here come in a huge glut between June and the end of July, after which it is too hot for them and the plants die, however much water we give them, so well water these separately for the next few weeks. We’ll water the Roma tomatoes and the chili peppers with a slow-dripping hose straight from the tap.

The drip feed pipe in the tomato bed:

The sprinkler system in another tomato bed:

As you can see, weve planted lettuces between the double row of tomatoes – a tip from our neighbour last year. Well have eaten the lettuces by time the tomato plants grow too big and in the meantime the lettuces get some much-needed shade from the tomato plants and they benefit from the water.

Kate at Hills and Plains seedsavers knows much more about watering in a dry climate than I do. Thanks for your help, Kate! Im going to try her terracotta pot system as soon as I can buy some cheap pots, so more about this later.


>We’ve had several days of very heavy rain and thunderstorms, there’s been rain on the leaves of the plants on the windowsill …

there’s been rain in the gutters …

and rain pouring off the roofs …

so our concerns about keeping the garden well watered over the summer seem like a bit of a joke at the moment. But the hot dry weather will come and then the earth will need some help to conserve the water we give it, and we have to think about that now while we’re planting the beds.

When we were in southern Spain, from the train we saw whole fields of fruit trees and olive trees being flooded to water them, with a ridge of earth built up around the field to hold in the water until it had time to soak into the soil.

Our neighbours’ gardens here in Gabian have similar ridges and channels, around their tomato beds especially. Last year we were advised by one of them that we were not watering the plants properly – they should be planted in a dip and watered through this depression underneath the leaves. Tomato leaves, we found, do not react well to having drops of water on them – they get dead spots on the leaves where the water has touched them. Having grown tomatoes only in the greenhouse when we lived in Wales and England and used the ring system of watering into gravel beds beneath the pots, we didn’t realise this. Our tomato plants never had drops of water on them there!

And in the Orb valley recently we saw quite complicated patterns of irrigation channels formed around gardens to distribute water that was pumped up from the river.

A garden at Vieussan in the Orb valley.

In our garden we’ve been trying to recreate the watering ideas we’ve seen, although on a smaller scale. Last year we bought a watering kit – some metres of hosepipe, connections and small sprinklers to be inserted in the pipe in the right place for each of the plants. We tried out enough to water one bed of tomatoes – about a dozen plants – and it worked well, that bed produced our best tomatoes. The slow drip of water from the sprinkler soaks in more effectively than a spray from a hose, and it’s good to be able to sit with a drink enjoying the view of the garden while the tomatoes are being watered! So this year we’ve decided to extend this system so that it will now cover the cucumbers and haricot beans, which are in last year’s tomato bed, and one of the beds of tomatoes – with about 20 plants and the cherry tomatoes.

For the aubergines, peppers and courgettes we’ve made irrigation channels along the centre of the beds or radiating out from the centre. So far we’ve found these channels need a lot of attention to keep the water running freely through them to the end of the row, but we’re hoping it will get easier to manage.

keeping the water running to the pepper plants
getting water to four plants at once

And now the passion flowers are out

so, despite the rain, life is a bowl of cherries

>Planting summer

>The chard has had to go, the first sowing of peas too. Theyve both been productive – and this year weve had the best crops ever of broad beans and peas, perhaps because the spring has been relatively wet. But the chard is about to bolt, the peas are all eaten or in the freezer and we need the space for the summer planting.

Weve planted 40 tomato plants so far, a mix of Carmelo, Montecarlo, Coeur de Boeuf, ananas (a new variety for us, but an old traditional one which is popular here), and Roma, which we found last year was very good for preserving. Weve also planted 18 pepper plants of different varieties, some cucumber plants and courgettes. Weve still got to find space for chilli peppers and cherry tomatoes. We’ve had to buy a lot of these plants as the ones we sowed grew so slowly in the cold spring we’ve had. We’ve planted the tomatoes and peppers in long beds with a raised dyke around them to keep the water in, and support frames made from the bamboo which grows at the edge of the garden.

This iris flower was opening as we ate our lunch in the garden today.

The lemon tree is covered in flower.

This cistus flower lasted a day … it was there yesterday, petals like crumpled tissue paper, today the petals lay on the ground around the plant. There’ll be more soon.