Dry spring

Although it’s been cold we’ve had very little rain this month, worrying for the garden and the water table since February is usually one of the wettest months here before the dry weather begins in April and brings drought until the autumn. The vines survive the drought because they have such deep roots and can always find enough water, but the vineyards look barren now, with the vines pruned and no sign of spring growth yet.

mazet and vines-3


The almond trees are still flowering, though, and the blossoms seem to have survived the cold wind we had last weekend.

almond blossom1


almond blossom-2


In the huge area that was burnt by wildfire the autumn before last – see my slideshow here – there’s proof of nature’s ability to regenerate. Among the still blackened lentisk branches (Pistacia lentiscus) spring new shoots of bright green red-edged leaves:



And the evening light on the village looked warm even if the nights are still cold.

Village February evening

Two seasons in one



This morning I could see snow on the mountains to the north and mimosa flowering in the sunshine below the church in the village. Two seasons in one, the distant snow tangible in the cold wind and the first sign of spring in the yellow blossoms.

Pruning of the vines goes on through this month, next month and into March. It’s a cold job for the viticulteurs. An experienced vine grower can prune 500 vines in a day. This one has been pruned and is ready for the new spring growth when it comes.


Vineyard on the last day of the year


These vines have been pruned, leaving one long branch to grow next season. All the vines will be pruned between now and March. In some of the larger vineyards on the plains this is done mechanically but here in the hills, with smaller parcelles, it is usually done by hand, vine by vine, through the winter. Wild rocket is growing here between the vines – it’s a wild plant that seeds itself in cultivated land. It’s ploughed into the earth and fertilises it.

It’s considered unlucky here to make wishes for the new year until it arrives, so I won’t do that today, but I’ll just wish you all an evening spent celebrating in the best way for you.

Occitan colours


This vineyard near Roquessels has turned the colours of the Occitan flag. These are also Catalan colours, on a day when people in the part of Catalunya that lies the other side of the border are voting in an important election which may lead to a referendum in which they can decide on the issue of independence from Spain. Believing as I do that political responsibility should be as locally devolved as possible, I’m following events with great interest.

Green tomatoes

After a couple of cold nights earlier in the week it didn’t seem as though any tomatoes left on the plant would ripen. We picked the few that were left and I made green tomato and paprika jam with them to use as a spicy addition to goats’ cheeses….or anything else. And then, just as we thought we’d finished with tomatoes for the year, a friend gave us a basketful of his green tomatoes. We picked out the best ones and put them in a box with a few red tomatoes – we’ve done this before and it does work, the green tomatoes ripen indoors although they don’t taste quite as nice as fresh ones.

There were about 2 kilos of tomatoes left so I decided to make some more green tomato jam, this time without the added piment d’Espelette. I roughly chopped the tomatoes and added a finely chopped whole lemon and the same weight of sugar – 2 kilos. I mixed it all together in a large pan and left it for a couple of hours.

While I was waiting for the sugar to draw out the liquid from the tomatoes we went for a trip around the hills through Montesquieu and Fos. It was like spring – sunny, 17°C with a light breeze. It didn’t look like spring, though, because the vines are changing colour. This year we’re not seeing the beautiful autumn colours we usually see, though, for some reason. The vines seem to be turning from green to dingy brown to threadbare quite quickly.

But we saw wild olives ripening:

A bright mazet (vine grower’s shelter) in a vineyard:

and another mazet higher up in the hills sheltered by chestnut trees:

There were bees buzzing around the wild mint at the side of the road and around (and above) this arbutus bush:

And at last, on the way home, we saw a vineyard in proper autumn colours!

Then it was home to cook the jam, bringing it to the boil and simmering for an hour or so until it reached setting point (when a spoonful put onto a saucer sets with a wrinkled surface), whizzing it with a hand-held liquidiser half way through the cooking and then bottling it, using Lo Jardinièr’s nice Catalan jam funnel.

So that’s my recipe for green tomato jam: 2 kilos of green tomatoes, 2 kilos of sugar, I lemon and a morning out in the countryside!

And for lunch, while the jam was simmering, we ate some ripe tomatoes given to us by another friend, made into a cool-weather version of tomato and mozzarella salad. I cut the tomatoes in half and put slices of garlic into each half, added some wild thyme we’d picked while we were out, salt, pepper and olive oil and put a slice of mozarella on each half. I put them in the oven at 200°C for about half an hour and they were read to eat, garlicky, thyme-flavoured and oozing melted cheese.

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.

Ripe grapes and a blue butterfly

At 3 a.m. this morning, for the first time this year, I heard the tractors and grape-picking machines leaving the village to begin the harvest of the white grapes. These are usually harvested at night to avoid the 30°C and higher heat of the day which isn’t good for white grapes as they’re being transported to the caves. Out in the vineyards this morning I could see that it won’t be very long – a couple of weeks probably – before the harvest of the red grapes is under way.

While I was taking photos of the vines Lo Jardinièr called me to look at a butterfly that had settled on his hand. It stayed there for about 5 minutes so I had a chance to take several photos of it.

When I got home I looked it up in Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide and identified it as an Amanda’s Blue (Polyommatus amandus) that apparently likes to land on human limbs because it gets minerals from sweat – so that explains why it stayed so long, something I’ve never seen a butterfly do before.

Lizard days and warm nights


Everything is very dry now in daytime temperatures of more than 30° C – good weather for lizards. In the garden we leave the tomatoes and peppers to ripen, harvesting and watering in the evening but doing little other work in the heat.


We seemed to lose most of our olive crop earlier this year, not long after the tiny fruits had formed (and others have reported the same odd phenomenon), but I’m pleased to see we have a few olives on each of our trees, and I’ve changed the header on this blog to celebrate. What a relief – I had thought I might have to rename this blog since the artichokes didn’t do very well this year either!

In the vineyards the grapes are beginning to ripen and the leaves are still the only touch of bright green in the landscape, but even with their deep roots the vines look a bit hot and drooping in the heat of the day. The grasses and other wildflowers at the edges of the vineyards are just dry seed heads now.

In a week or so the white grapes will start to be harvested, at night to keep them cool, and we’ll begin to hear the sound of tractors and machinery in the early hours of the morning all around the village while the red grapes will be left for a few more weeks to sweeten in the sun.  August feels very different from July, there’s a sense of the natural cycle coming to its fruition everywhere.