Tag Archives: vegetable patch

Winter in the Garden

It’s December. It’s definitely colder than summer, but compared to our two previous years here so far winter is shaping up to be a much milder – and therefore, more enjoyable, winter. We’ve got sunshine most days, which is great and means we’re burning our way through the wood pile at a much slower pace.

One of the most amazing things – to me at least – about this time of year in France, is the way that things keep on growing, which I suppose, if you think that winter temperatures here are more like Spring temperatures in the UK, makes sense. So what’s growing?

Well, we have onions making light work of it in the veggie patch. We’re planning to extend the patch onto another piece of land next year so I decided to plant up the neighbour’s garden with easy to grow stuff that will overwinter. I’ve also set aside an area for hardwood cuttings, so have a row of redcurrants and blackcurrants, and another of hazel.

Red onions and the fleece tunnel – for spring peas and broad beans

Talking to a neighbour and reading in the Gardening with the Moon calendar (I have the diary version, called Jardiner avec la Lune), it seemed that November was a good month to sew peas and broad beans, so that’s what I did. My neighbour is very keen on permaculture, as am I, but I think it means slightly different things to each of us. She’s a bit obsessed with hummus at the moment. So after I cleared an area of the veggie patch and created a fleece tunnel, ready for planting the broad beans and peas, and showed it to her, she turned her nose up and suggested something a little less organised. So now I have broad beans in the tunnel and others stuck into the ground and marked with sticks. It’s game on. We’ll see which ones come up first and do best. While I think it’s a lovely idea to have a wild vegetable garden, there are advantages to having a dedicated patch. One being aerated soil. I’ll make sure to mulch the area designated to the wild bean patch, because without that those plants are going to struggle, for sure.

Pea shoots – since eaten by greedy slugs!

What else? Oh yes – flowers. It’s December now, remember. Two days after the shortest day, no less, and yes, there are still flowers.

The bed outside the front of the house, which gets hardly any direct sunlight at this time of year, has a nasturtium there going great guns. I planted some seeds in Spring and they’ve self-seeded three times since then.

Nasturtiums – they just keep on growing and flowering

Then there are the marigolds. At the front of the house they’re up against the wall, so as good as in deep shade. They barely get any light at all except for first thing in the morning for an hour, max, but still they grow and flower. It’s remarkable!

Marigolds – flowering away against this shady, cold wall

Roses are still growing too. I was never a fan of roses in the UK. There was always something stuffy about Rose Gardens, not least all the space waster around them! but here the roses are something else. The varieties I’ve seen – and smelled – locally are so vigorous, with stunning colours and strong scents. Quite different from many of the more ornamental varieties that I think dominate the UK. I like them so much I’ll be adding them to my garden, when I finally get one.

Other plants on my cuttings list include buddleja (there’s one on the way to the village), rosemary, lavender, and kiwi. The last three of those are best done in the spring. For the buddleja I just need to remember my secateurs when I’m walking past next time!

Food wise, we are still overflowing with the chard that came up all over the garden, a remnant from the previous green-fingered tenant. It’s very welcome at this time of year, so handy to be able to nip around the corner and come back with an armful of fresh greens. Another one for the permanent patch, when we get to it.

More onions and the never-ending chard
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Busy in the garden

Over the last few days we’ve been busy in the garden setting up a new project, which is to grow veg in straw bales. This is a tried and tested method that is growing in popularity owing to it’s simplicity as well as the fact that you can get quite high yields from a small space using less water than in a conventional garden. They’re no good for annual crops, like strawberries or asparagus, as new bales are needed each year, but they’re great for pretty much everything else.

As we are short on space and on water, we decided to give it a go. It’s essentially a hydroponics system using straw as the growing medium. As the plants are watered, the straw retains the water as well as releasing nitrogen and generating heat as it decomposes. As well as being super-efficient the method also claims to extend the growing season. Obviously, James is very excited about our gardening experiment and has been initiating DD in the ways of the straw bale. We hope to build our house with these some day (soon?) and, if this all goes well, we’ll be building our veggie patch with them too!

And today I grabbed a few minutes, while DS was pottering around kicking fallen figs down the road, to sort out the seed box (bagging seeds packets by planting month) and sewing some spinach, lamb’s lettuce, radishes and lettuces seeds in the conventional patch, which is now covered up with the netting to try and keep both the cats and birds off. I’m interested to see how these will grow alongside our straw-bale-grown veg, which we can plant in a few days, once the bales have been conditioned, which involves watering them daily and applying a high-nitrogen fertiliser every-other day.

All good fun! All we need now are a few rainy days to break up the sunny ones and everything should grow nicely. What I really don’t need are any more days where the temperature is pushing 30, as that’s what did for my last crop of leafy veg, which we eat a lot of.

One thing we planned to do but didn’t get around to was sorting out the worm bin, which we’ve been happily chucking our waste into. They seem happy enough but James observed that it’s getting a bit soggy in there so we’ve decided to tip it all out and get the worms set up with some new bedding. That will also give us chance to find out whether our worm community has grown since we last freshened it up. If they’re happy they should have multiplied. If not, well, we’re obviously not doing so well at it and need to try harder. Lots to do!

Good Neighbours 

It’s a long weekend here in France, as with much of Europe (I think), made longer for the us by the fact that DD came back from school on Friday with suspected conjunctivitis (joy of joys) so we’ve been busying ourselves in the garden. Today we worked on our new compositing solution, which I plan to blog about once we’ve finished setting it up, and also caught up with our lovely neighbours Patrick and Claudine, who took us around their veggie patch and orchard and gave us some of the many lettuces they’ve started in their cold frame, as they’re now ready to plant out and they have loads of them. These are the sucrine variety, or Little Gem en anglais, apparently native to this part of the world and a really good grower in this climate.

They have a wonderful garden which they work hard at maintaining. They know what they’re doing and have been giving us some good advice with our little patch, which is more than welcome. While we’ve gardened before and grown veg the climate is very different. They’re keen for us to succeed, which is lovely, and happy to also share their produce as well as their knowledge! Rhubarb is one of my favourite fruits (edible plants, actually) so when Claudine showed me their well-established patch I was more than happy to take up her offer of a large bunch to take home.

Claudine and I were also able to clear up the main difference between jam and compote, so now I know (it’s do with the amount of sugar used and the length of time you plan to store it.) Her recommendation for rhubarb was very definitely rhubarb tart.

Now to find some sugar-free rhubarb recipes, which will be new territory as my preferred dishes are usually fairly sugar-dense, like stewed rhubarb crumble and custard. Can I find a passable rhubarb tart recipe that will be up to Claudine’s standards, I wonder?