>First lizard and a trip to the goat farm

>

It was a beautiful spring morning after a cold night, around freezing temperature at dawn but up to about 20 C by midday, perfect for our trip to Mas Rolland to fetch a trailer-load of goat manure.

IMGP7323 IMGP7338

The vineyards and the garrigue-covered hillsides looked beautiful in the sunlight and when we got to the garden there were lizards sunning themselves on the wall by the path.  Several of them scuttled under stones as I approached, but I managed to catch this one in time.

IMGP7353 IMGP7355

There’s nothing quite like goat manure for the garden.  We’ll be using this to improve the soil in the beds where we’ll be growing peppers and tomatoes this summer.

IMGP7343 IMGP7352

The apricot tree is still blossoming and the flowers were attracting a lot of bees – a good sign for this year’s fruit.

IMGP7340 IMGP7360 IMGP7363

Daffodils, aubretia and jasmine are flowering, and there are a lot more jasmine buds still about to open.

Home to a good lunch….

IMGP7373Lettuce and wild rocket from the garden, sobresada and peppered sausage brought for us

from the Spanish border by our neighbour, chorizo and jambon cru from Lacaune.

>Slavery in Europe – another reason to grow your own

>

Here in southern France we see the Spanish lorries racing along the motorway taking salad produce from the south of Spain to northern European supermarkets, as well as our own shops and markets in the Languedoc, using up the earth’s resources to satisfy shoppers’ need for out-of-season vegetables. There are many arguments against this industry, to do with pollution, water and energy conservation as well as humanitarian concerns. Year-round fresh salads – tomatoes, lettuces, peppers – may seem like an affordable luxury, almost a necessity even, these days, but they come at great human cost to the workers who grow them in the polythene-covered acres of once dry land in southern Spain.

On the Guardian website today there’s a report by Felicity Lawrence about the poverty, deprivation and terrible living conditions experienced by immigrant workers from Africa, who now find themselves without even the low-paid work they used to have and are unable to return home because they cannot afford it. These people, when they can find work, are paid much less than the minimum wage and cannot complain because of their unofficial status in Europe. As the activist interviewed at the end of the film puts it, we should refuse to buy produce that results from this form of exploitation.

The video lasts for over 12 minutes, but it’s worth watching to see another side of ‘holiday’ Spain. Here’s the link: tp://gu.com/p/2md95

And then we should all avoid those plastic-packed, unnaturally perfect-looking Little Gem lettuces and eat locally grown, seasonal food.

>Cold harvest and warming onion soup

>

There isn’t much to harvest in the garden at the moment.  There will be more cauliflowers soon, and there are red and green cabbage leaves, but the chard and spinach seem to be waiting for longer days to produce new leaves.  All through the winter, though, we have lettuces and we picked one today:

IMGP5060

This will make a couple of good salads for us, with grilled goats’ cheese on toast, une salade de chèvre chaud, or with charcuterie.

Today we felt like something more warming, and Lo Jardinièr made this onion soup, cooking the onions in olive oil for over an hour so that they tasted really sweet and adding home-made chicken stock.

IMGP5050 IMGP5053

With a garnish of chopped parsley and garlic and accompanied by Aveyronnais bread and rustic paté with mushrooms, it made a delicious lunch on a cold, grey day.

>From a frosty garden

>

We’ve had a couple of very cold nights, below freezing with frost in the garden.  Not nearly as cold as further north, and no snow here at all, but it’s still been quite wintry.  There were a few olives left on our Lucque tree, that weren’t quite ripe when we picked the others, but they seem to have gone rather mushy as though they’ve been affected by the frost, although I’d be surprised at this since some varieties aren’t harvested until January and there are almost always freezing temperatures before then.

IMGP3788
Red cabbages and cauliflowers
IMGP3792
The artichoke plants will soon recover
IMGP3790 Lettuce, which will also recover, we hope. IMGP3791-1 This little radicchio plant looks completely unaffected by the cold.
IMGP3798 The frosted aubretia  leaves looked pretty in the sun. IMGP3799 The broad beans have been protected by the layer of bamboo leaves.
IMGP3800
Frost melting on the palm leaves.
IMGP3802 Low sun sparkling through the fence.

And the building work goes on

IMGP3794 IMGP3805

Above right, two big machines and a lorry…. it’s very noisy in our garden now.  Above left, you can see how close the work is to the garden.

>An aerial view and a saffron harvest

>

DSC05822

Last Sunday was la Journée du Patrimoine, heritage day, when historic buildings are open to the public.  The church tower in the village was open and Lo Jardinièr climbed to the top and took photos of the roofs, a wonderful jumble of terracotta tiles and satellite dishes.

In the garden we harvested half of our saffron crop – there were two crocus flowers open, which we picked because last year we found that they only lasted a day, and two buds which have since opened and which we’ve picked.

IMGP0766 IMGP0768

We’re still picking tomatoes, aubergines and a lot of peppers.  I stuffed some of the green peppers, mostly Corno di Toro and Marconi, with rice, raisins, pine nuts, garlic and oregano, then baked them in the oven for about half an hour.  I’ve put some in the freezer, the others we ate straight away with a spicy tomato sauce made with piment d’Espelette.

IMGP0774 IMGP0785

And salad leaves again ….

IMGP0775

After a summer of tomato and cucumber salads, delicious though they are, it’s a treat to start picking lettuce leaves again for green salads.  It’s too hot and dry here for lettuces in the summer – they all go to seed by the end of June, by St John’s day, 24 June, everyone says, and it’s true.  We plant seedlings again in September, some we’ve bought and some which other gardeners have given us, and they should keep growing through most of the winter.

 

An autumn market

IMGP0819

After his summer break when he takes his stall to the more lucrative tourist market at Cap d’Agde, the vegetable stallholder was back in the market this morning (in the shade to keep the produce cool, so difficult to photograph, making it all seem much more lively.  We only bought garlic, because we’ve already used the garlic we grew this summer.  It will soon be time to plant some more and we usually plant garlic from this stall.

>It’s good to be home

>

DSC05631

We’re home again after three weeks away. We’d planned just a one-week break but had to leave unexpectedly a fortnight earlier because of a sudden death in the family, so after a sad time it’s very cheering to come home to a wonderful harvest of aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, thanks to our neighbour who watered the garden for us. We’ve got a busy weekend ahead now making tomato puree to store for the winter because the Roma tomatoes are just waiting to be picked.

DSC05626 DSC05629 DSC05640

and two delicious salads

DSC05644 DSC05646-1

A Greek salad, left, made with cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions from the garden and feta cheese and black olives. On the right, tomato, Red Marconi pepper and basil salad.

>Spring flowers, new vine leaves and another lizard

>

DSC03189
DSC03193

The vines are sprouting new spring growth in all the vineyards. We passed these near Roquessels this morning. And on the hillsides in the garrigue the asphodels, cistus, broom and thyme are all flowering.

DSC03216 DSC03218
DSC03224 DSC03220

DSC03228 DSC03232

In the garden, the apple blossom is nearly over, but we had borage flowers to decorate our salad of broad bean leaves, rocket and mint. I can’t see any small fruits on the apricot tree, although there are lots of leaves, so I think that the sudden cold weather we had in March must have killed off the fertilised flowers. We had a lot of blossom in February on the apricot tree, and insects buzzing around the flowers, so we expected a reasonable crop, until the surprise snow arrived at the beginning of March.

A lizard in the sky

This lizard run up the wall of the shed and onto one of the supports for our shelter to bask in the sun.

DSC03233 DSC03239

It’s been good weather for lizards. After an unusually cold spring, with that snow, it’s now unusually hot for April – up to 30 degrees C at midday in the sun – and very dry, although the stream is still running well down the hill past the gardens so we have plenty of free water.

Preparing to plant out the tomatoes

We have prepared most of the tomato beds and put up the cane supports for the plants. We’ve planted lettuce seedlings in between what will be double rows of tomatoes – the lettuces will get watered with the tomato plants, which will shade them a bit, and we’ll have eaten them by the time the tomato plants grow.

DSC03246 DSC03243

The tomato plants on the right have been in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony and are now desperate for more space and light, so we’ll be planting them out in the next day or so.

>Garden bloggers’ bloom day

>

Apart from lichen and rust which I think look lovely in the spring sunlight …

DSC02245

….. we have apricot blossom just about to come out (several weeks late this year) …

DSC02216 DSC02218

…..one lone daffodil and one rather battered-looking anemone (also very late, although one anemone made the mistake of flowering in November!) …..

DSC02223 DSC02220

…. our neighbour’s almond blossom (cheating a bit, but we can see it over the fence) and the rosemary which has been flowering all winter, even when it was very cold….

DSC02242 DSC02228

That’s it for the flowers, but we’re still harvesting cabbages, salad leaves (lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and sorrel), as well as herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, bay).

DSC02234 DSC02232

Garden bloggers’ bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

>Foire au gras and pruning the olive tree

>

The foire au gras this weekend in Roujan is the beginning of the Christmas season.  People here don’t send cards, give as many presents or shop as determinedly as those in other countries, but food, as always, is important.  The foire au gras (which translates into English as ‘fat fair’, but this doesn’t sound so good), is a chance to buy foie gras, cured duck breast, whole ducks, wine, cured sausages …. all the delicious foods that are part of Christmas meals in this area, and all directly from the producers.

DSC00099-1 DSC00092

The fair is held in the village hall and sports hall, a very modern setting for a traditional event.  Outside there were cheese, shellfish and vegetables stalls and amusements for children.  Inside there were rows of craft stalls and, most importantly, the wine and food producers’ stands.

DSC00097 DSC00095

We bought a duck and some foie gras from M. Gaubert of Camp Grand in the Aveyron, who was eager to talk about his produce and give advice about cooking and serving it.  We also tasted for the first time (and bought) some excellent wines from Domaine Bonian at nearby Pouzolles.  Some say that this is an expensive way to buy these products, but I would much prefer to pay a little extra and buy from the producers, talk to them and taste, rather than buying anonymously in a supermarket.

Some people, too, I know, have reservations about foie gras production, but I think that when it is properly produced it is not cruel, unlike the mass-produced battery-farmed chicken, eggs and pork which are eaten by so many.

Pruning the olive tree

A couple of weeks ago we harvested the olives from the older and slightly larger of our two olive trees.   This tree was one we bought without thinking too much about it, soon after we bought the garden, as we wanted to plant one as soon as possible.  It has always been rather straggly and was in need of a good prune, which I did this morning.  The aim when pruning olive trees is to have space in the centre with the branches spreading outwards and this is what I’ve tried to do.

DSC00125 Before pruning . . . DSC00127

. . . and after.

Pruning like this may mean a smaller crop next year, but it should make a better shaped tree for the future.

DSC00135 I’ve taken the fresher, newer leaves to dry because I want to try olive leaf tea.  The other branches will make a good start for the fire the next time we light the barbecue.

Today’s harvest

DSC00129 Tiny parsnips and carrots (some of which were given to us by our neighbours in exchange for some parsnips, which they’d never tried before), the last of the aubergines and, hiding behind the bowl, some radishes.  We’re also picking salad leaves almost every day now.

 

 

DSC00133 And what is this doing here?  Anemones aren’t supposed to flower until the spring, but this one seems to have been fooled by the warm weather we’ve been having lately.