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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Some light and some preserved olives

After the middle eastern gloom of my last post it seems there is some light there now, with a ceasefire that appears to be holding and allowing people to resume their normal lives as far as that is possible under a blockade. May it lead to better lives for all. In our garden there was light too, on the rosemary flowers where there were still bees, even though it’s nearly the end of November.

It was time to bottle the olives that I started curing in salt a few weeks ago. We’d eaten some last weekend so we knew they were ready. For the past few days I’ve been soaking the olives in spring water, changing the water every day or so, to rinse off the salt and to plump up the now rather wrinkled olives. Today it was time to bottle them ….. in brine. It seems strange to put them back into a salt solution, having just tried to remove the salt, but I think it will be the best way to keep them for a few weeks until we eat them. When we want to eat them I’ll drain them and coat them in olive oil.

I made a solution of 1 cup sea salt to 4 cups of spring water, checking that it was salty enough by floating a fresh raw egg in the brine. I packed the olives into jars with a few slices of fresh lemon and covered them with the brine. The top olives always float above the surface of the brine so, in order to keep them submerged, I tried a couple of bay leaves lodged in the jar with their stem and a slice of lemon – both together seemed to be the best method.

Definitely the beginning of autumn

The rosemary is flowering again after a dormant dry summer:

The olives are ripening and I’ll be harvesting these soon:

And gradually the vine leaves are beginning to turn their different shades of autumn. This is the Alicante Bouschet variety that has red-fleshed as well as red-skinned grapes and is used to give a deep colour to red wines.

I swam in warm sea at Marseillan-plage a few days ago but I don’t think I will again as the nights are getting cooler and the sea will get chillier from now on.

Sunlight at last

After some very gloomy days and a lot of rain it was cheering to see the sun this morning.  Everything in the garden looked bright and green in the light.  I picked herbs – rocket, parsley, oregano, sorrel – to have with bread and ham bought in the village while Lo Jardinièr planted out some of the last cucumber and courgette plants.

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We even had to sit in the shade to eat!  There’s still a very strong wind, the tarral in Occitan because it blows over the land, and we found that some more apricots had fallen on the ground.  There are still a lot left on the tree, luckily.  And we can use the fallen, unripe ones.  We cook them with sugar in a little water and we use them instead of dried fruit in pilafs and other rice dishes.

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The light seemed such a treat, shining on the apple tree and through the rosemary, casting the shadow of one vine leaf on another:

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The wind brought bad news for a friend with a garden just down the hill from ours, though.  His plum tree was blown right over.  It was otherwise undamaged, so Lo Jardinièr and some other friends are going to see if they can help him right it tomorrow morning.

Burning last year

When our son was here a couple of weeks ago he and Lo Jardinièr cleared an area at the end of the garden where the bamboo, brambles, ivy and elder trees had taken over, with other weeds mixed in.  Now we have plenty of bamboo canes for this summer’s tomato plants and we had a huge pile of old canes and unwanted vegetation waiting to be burnt.  Yesterday, it was cold with frost still in the shady spots but bright and still, so perfect for a bonfire.

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In spite of the cold nights we’ve had, there were a few flowers on the rosemary and a lot of buds promising more.  I took a few photos of them and some of the other plants in the low light.

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The birds have eaten most of our pyracantha berries – I’m glad we could provide them with some winter food.

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This ceanothus is supposed to be a deciduous variety but here it rarely looses all of its leaves and now it is covered with flower buds.

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This is a weed that seeds itself all over the garden – I think it’s a kind of scabious.

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And some lichen on a wall by the side of the road near the village.

>Pumpkin harvest, and The Birds?

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Colder nights are forecast for later this week, so today we brought the remaining pumpkins back to the house so that they are not affected by any low temperatures we may have. The ones that have ripened should keep for months, the green ones maybe not for so long, so we’ll eat them first. Although a friend has suggested that they may continue to ripen indoors.

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Five pumpkins and two butternut squashes. We’ve already picked a butternut squash and two pumpkins, one which weighed 5 kilos and one, which we’re eating now, which weighed 10 kilos. The two bigger ones in this photo are even bigger. So far we used them to make soup, roasted chunks of them in the oven and puréed the roasted chunks to make a gratin with blue cheese – the simple recipe for this is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog. Today one of our friends passed by the garden and told us that you can make soufflé with pumpkin too, so we’re going to try that – if it works I’ll put the recipe on the blog.

The Birds

On the way back from Magalas we saw a remarkable sight – a huge flock of very small birds settled on the (not very busy) road. We watched them for about five minutes while I took a lot of photos. Each time a car came close they flew up into the sky and circled around the vineyards for just a few seconds before settling on the road again. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of them. There didn’t seem to be anything for them to feed on, so it’s a mystery why they were on the road. It seems a bit late in the year for birds to be gathering to migrate, but it’s possible they are migrating birds from further north either arriving here for the winter or just passing through. My researches on the internet and in bird books suggest they may have been Wood Larks. I’d welcome any other suggestions. They were much too small to be starlings.

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And more autumn colour in the vineyards and in the garden

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In the garden the rosemary and the roses have begun to flower again after the rain.
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An awful reminder…

Land being flattened next to our garden as work begins on the new houses.

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The landscape seems to have been completely changed, trees destroyed and new vistas created.

>Apricot buds and a new cold frame

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One of the good things about writing a garden blog is that I can check back and see how this year compares with last year and the year before.  Spring seems to be late this year, but looking back to last February I can see that the apricot buds are at about the same stage this year, although the daffodils are certainly later.  Last year we had daffodils in flower in time for St David’s day – that won’t happen this year.

DSC01890 DSC01892 The apricot tree should be in flower in a few days’ time.

I sowed some mangetout peas about a month ago and had almost given up hope of the plants appearing.  I thought the seeds had been washed away by some of the heavy rain we’ve had and today I decided to sow some more in the same place.  Luckily I had a close look first because I noticed that they’re coming up at last.  We’ve covered them with chicken wire because the birds seem to like them.

DSC01893 mangetout peas emerging and, right, the garlic doing well. DSC01906 DSC01901 But the daffodils are late this year.

We’ve already got two rustic-looking cold frames in the garden, but our neighbour gave us an old window so Lo Jardinièr decided to make another one – they’ll all come in useful when our pepper and cucumber plants need a bit of protection before being planted out.  He made a base of sand covered with old terracotta floor tiles, made walls with concrete blocks and rested the window on top – very simple.

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While he was doing that I sowed another double row of broad beans and a row of spinach.  We lost at least three sowings of spinach to heavy rain in the autumn, each time I re-sowed them there would be another storm and no sign of spinach plants, except for a solitary one which has survived the winter.  We miss having the young spinach leaves in our salads, so we hope to grow some now before the weather gets too hot and dry. 

Today’s harvest:

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Rosemary, thyme and bay, which the garden provides all through the year, whatever the weather, chard, which is just recovering from the cold weather and starting to grow again, and cabbage.

>Potting and pottering / Repiquer et bricoler

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

Wild asparagus / les asperges sauvages

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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.

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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.
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>After the storm / après la tempête

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The storm which rushed across southern France and northern Spain, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, yesterday was the worst for ten years, with winds of up to 150 kilometres per hour. We were warned to stay indoors and high-sided vehicles were forbidden from using the roads. Sadly, at least 15 people were killed during the storm, by falling trees and buildings, including four children in the Catalan town of Sant Boi Llobregat.

La tempête qui a fait rage à travers le sud de la France et le nord de l’Espagne, de l’Atlantique à la Mediterrannée. hier éatit la plus forte pour dix ans, avec des rafales de vent de 150 kilometre par heure. On nous a conseillé de rester chez nous et les grands camions étaient interdits sur les routes. Malheureusement, au moins 15 personnes ont étés tuées pendant la tempête, y compris quatre enfants à Sant Boi Llobregat en Catalogne.

Although Gabian was only just outside the red alert zone, we were lucky here and suffered little damage. When we went to the garden this morning we were surprised to find it just as we left it before the storm. It was a beautiful, calm, clear day – hard to believe what the weather had been like only 24 hours earlier!

Bien que Gabian soit juste dehors du zone d’alerte rouge, on avait de la chance ici, et il y avait peu de dommage. Quand nous sommes allées au jardin ce matin, nous étions étonnés de trouver tous comme avant la tempête.

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The passion fruits were still ripening on our shelter. We had worried that this shelter might have been damaged by the wind, but luckily the whole garden is sheltered from the north and north-west (the direction of the storm) by trees and 4-metre high bamboo.

Some of the palm leaf fronds had been woven together by the wind:

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The rosemary was flowering and we sat in the sun making plans for the coming seasons in the garden.

Le romarin fleurait et nous avons passé du temps assis au soleil en faisant des projets pour les saisons qui viennent.