Aspirations

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m a massive fan of Mavis at 100$ a Month. I love Mavis. I love her name. I love her onesies. I love her garden.

Mavis’s blog documents her life as she and her family live off 100$ a month. Not only that, but she grew over a metric tonne of her own produce in her own back garden in Seattle. That’s over 2,000 pounds of produce, or over 1,000 kilogrammes of stuff. This year, she wants to grow even more. Oh. My. Days.

As the growing season starts, I’m kind of in a period of anxiety. The garden is a mammoth task for me, especially when I work so much and when I spend already such a lot of time walking the doglets. Sometimes, I get the urge to concrete it all over and just buy a load of carrots and stuff.

But…

That defeats the purpose.

I moved here with the dream of being more self-sufficient. I love growing stuff. I love my garden. I love the whole plot-to-pot seed-to-stew thing. I wanted to live in the countryside so I could grow my own, not so I could sit in a darkened room that is either nice and warm when it’s cold outside, or nice and cool when it’s too hot outside. The aim was that if I could grow enough stuff, I wouldn’t need to work so hard.

That’s becoming even more important. The queues in the supermarket were EPIC this afternoon. The woman right in front of me had one trolley of normal stuff and it came in at just under 200€. I reckon that’s one week’s worth of shopping for a normal family in France these days. She didn’t have loads of expensive stuff, and she did have a lot of fresh produce, but even so… 800€ a month to feed a family. It’s a lot. I know it’s not just a France thing, either (though things are sometimes disproportionately expensive here) as The Telegraph had this headline today: Waitrose says food prices are going to rise sharply. Another article said: “Rising prices will take the annual food bill for the average family to over £4,000 within a decade, up from £2,766 last year, heaping further pressure on already-stretched households.”

It makes you wonder how one family can live on 1,200€ a year, that’s £738 or 910€. Of course, Mavis has it a little easier in some respects. Firstly she gets coupons, and she is mad for couponing. Second, she lives in the land of Costco. Third, she has a supermarket that will give her out of date veg that she then recuperates. Still, she is a hardcore couponer, bargainer, barterer and gardener. And she doesn’t have animals to feed as part of that, I’d guess, since my pets and chickens cost me a whopping 60€ a month.

Still, at the moment, I am living on soup from last year’s paltry crops and I guess it will see me through to the sandwich time, round about March. I have more than enough in the freezer to give me a soup a day for a good couple of months.

Anyway, recalling that I came here to garden organically, to grow enough to eat, to live more naturally and to spend less, I am fully geared up for the coming season. I’ve got my seeds sorted.

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I’d like to better Mavis, but having a full-time job kind of precludes me from doing that. Instead, I would like to set a yearly target of a quarter of what she grew last year. 250kg of stuff might not sound like an accomplishment, but we will see. Food is just going to get more and more expensive, and become more and more of a commodity. It’s also going to get more and more intensively-farmed. That’s not good for anyone. I’d like to make sure that I commit to bucking the trend, even on a personal level.

A lot depends, of course, on the winter. I got no fruit last year. Nada. Zip. No apples. No plums. No nectarines. No walnuts. Oh, I lie. I got some quinces (more quince jelly, anyone?) and some pears, since the secret garden is more sheltered than the main garden. It was a bad year for ratatouille veg. The onions went to seed. The tomatoes just had enough. The courgettes died in a late frost (not falling into THAT trap again) The aubergines never got enough year.

So, what does the contrary LJ plan to have growing in her garden this year?

  • parsnips – because even the random French fella who came to Christmas lunch liked les panais. I have just realised I’ve got three different types of parsnip. Oh well. One of the packets is well past its sell-by date; 
  • brussels sprouts – because the older I get, the more appealing these are, and I like them with butter and pine nuts;
  • salsify – because I like to be contrary and grow unusual things – I have never tasted it, and it might be vile. I planted some a couple of years ago, but it didn’t grow. Rubbish.
  • swede – because mashed swede is divine.
  • lettuce – even though I don’t much care for it.
  • kale – because I like soup. A lot.
  • sweetcorn – because this is God’s gift to the vegetable garden and despite the fact I am surrounded by maize, not a stick of it is edible. It’s so rude. I never get the French. You can buy sweetcorn in cans, but not frozen, and you can’t buy it fresh, or at least I’ve never seen it.
  • broccoli – for broccoli and St Agur soup. It’s not Stilton, but it will suffice. I’ve got purple and red and green.
  • leeks – because homegrown leeks are the most amazing things ever. It makes shop-bought leek taste like watery, tasteless nonsense
  • tomatoes. And more tomatoes. And more tomatoes.
  • tabasco peppers
  • cayenne peppers
  • chili peppers
  • pumpkins – if only because they look so damn cool in the vegetable patch!
  • butternut squash – because it makes immense soup and is great roasted
  • carrots – because last year’s carrots were great
  • beetroot – because I can’t get enough of roasted beetroot
  • aubergines – ratatouille. Just ratatouille.
  • spring onions
  • red cabbage – because there’s nothing nicer than pickled red cabbage with stew. There just isn’t.
  • cornichons (gherkins)
  • courgettes – even though I’ve still got freezer courgettes from 2 years ago
  • onions – which hopefully will not go to seed this year
  • garlic
  • savoy cabbage – cabbage with butter. Yum.
  • spring cabbage
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cauliflower – for the cauliflower cheese and for the cauliflower soup
  • artichokes – for the blue air
  • romanesco broccoli – for it is so very pretty
  • peas – pea soup. Really. And pea risotto.
  • broad beans – I’m currently working my way through last year’s frozen ones and they are soooooo good.
  • haricot beans
  • borlotti beans – for bean casseroles.

I’m sure I’ve missed some!

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I do have a whopping great selection, but as with all seed, it’s a case of use it or lose it. I’m getting better at reclaiming seed from things, or letting a few things go to seed. Still, having spent £28 on all my vegetable seeds for this year, the cost of all these seeds is not such a big deal.

Now… to get the soil ready! You just know I’m being over-keen and there’ll be a terrible freeze like there was last year.

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15 thoughts on “Aspirations

  1. Well good luck with putting fork to earth — mine will just come out as a ten ton lump of clay at the moment. I haven’t planted onion or garlic yet and am worried I won’t have time to prep for them and broad beans. Add pak choy and coriander to your list. And florence fennel and celery. And if you are not making baba ganoush with your aubergines as well as ratatouille I’ll disown you! :-)) We went to Costco in Australia recently — amazing!! everything from diamond rings to every imaginable vegetable (but only if you bought by the kilo pack — which was fine as we were feeding teenagers…)

    1. I have never tried baba ganoush, so it’s on the list. And I’d forgotten celery. I’m taking your advice on pak choy and not planting it until after the summer solstice. I’m hoping for a huge herb garden this year 🙂

    1. It’s more amazing because these ‘faults’ are all things that happen all the time in the garden and I just make do – chop out, cut around, make soup. Much less is wasted when you grow yourself. This was a fascinating article.

  2. I encountered salsify here in Switzerland in the mid-80s and have avoided it wherever possible since! Unfortunately it’s readily available. Messy as hell to prepare, hate the taste, ugh. It appears on mixed salads and canapés to haunt me… but then I’m not keen on tinned asparagus, either, which is the same sort of slimy. Probably why salsify is also available in tins. So I will be interested to hear if it’s something you acquire a taste for!
    Otherwise, I admire your energy in wanting to do all this self-sufficiency – I like it in theory but found out I was useless in practice so don’t bother any more ;o Plus I don’t like anything green, leafy or cabbage-y very much – probably just what would have yielded marvellously.
    Interested to hear you have parsnips there – not seen any in Brittany, but then I’m never there in the winter months, duh. Here, they are slowly being rediscovered after being considered animal food for centuries, so finally, I can get them fairly easily 🙂

    1. Now, another friend has said she loves salsify, so I’m going to have to suck it and see. I don’t want to give the slimy tinned stuff a go though! It’s funny that what a lot of English people eat as root crops is considered animal fodder. I adore parsnips.

  3. “surrounded by maize” if the maize is field corn, well it is quite delicious. at least “ours” is. we eat it after the ears are filled and kernels are still juicy. it best to harvest after dark. as far as outdated seed, i have used some that was older than me and it germinated. double up the seed i you are worried. billy

  4. Wow, that’s a heck of a lot of planting! I’d love to see photos of your potager – is it enormous? Also wondering if you buy Kale seeds in France o UK – and what is it called?

    1. I got my kale from Thompson and Morgan. Total cheat. Though I’m pretty sure you can get chou frisé, which I don’t know whether it’s the same thing or not. The potager, well, I’ve got two 10m x 5m patches and three 5m x 4m patches. That’s more than enough for one girl to manage!

  5. Best of luck!
    I have garden envy… it’s my long-term aspiration to have my own garden and grow veg someday… at this rate I’ll be 67 when it happens, so will have to enslave some boys to do the digging.

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