Tag Archives: Les Ecures

Productive Days

I spent a good three hours outside yesterday, followed by a good couple of hours peeling and chopping. Mostly, I was sorting out the beetroot and blanching carrots. I planted a couple of rows of beetroot (about 5 m length between the two) and I’ve got more than enough for all my needs. Last year, I got a few, and they were delicious. They went entirely on pickles, as I love pickled beetroot – it appeals to my love of sweet and sour.

I planted two rows – one of a standard ‘cheap’ pack from Wilkinson’s, and one of a bolt-hardy organic T&M version. I’ve only started digging up the Wilkinson’s ones because they’re nearest and that ground is HARD!  I managed to unearth some onions which were disappointingly small. Some had gone to seed. I don’t feel so bad because there’s a whole field of onions near Taponnat that have gone to seed, and unless he wanted seed, he’s going to be very cross, I imagine. They’ll do for pickling, too. It’s a good job I love pickles. One or two have grown to full size, but they’re disappointing, given how wet it’s been.

The beetroot, on the other hand, are perfect. I’ve already done two large jars of pickles and the rest will go for proper cooking. I’m going to do some roasted, possibly with mackerel, as recommended by Nigel Slater. I’m also going to make some beetroot relish – another love of mine. It’s that earthy sweetness that gets me. I profess, too, I love the pink-red blood stains. I love the leaves. I love everything about this vegetable. I’m also planning on making a beetroot seed cake – another Nigel Slater recipe. He’s obviously a fan of beetroot too.

I planted the beetroot on February 29th, and the first greenness appeared just as the land flooded at the beginning of May.

 

So from seed to shoot was about 4 weeks, then about another 4 to get to this size. And another three months to get to harvest size. To be honest, I could have pulled them out earlier. I also planted them fairly closely and didn’t thin out, which has kept them plentiful and of a good size. Last year, they were far too big – bigger than a cricket ball. This year, they’re between golf ball size and tennis ball size – so I’ve got a range for pickling and a range for roasting and salads. Yes, I end up with red fingers, but to be honest, that’s part of the pleasure.

Whilst I know I’m not of the same calibre as the wonderful Mavis of 100$ a month (although I aspire to be!) I had 4 kg of beetroot yesterday. Yes, I know. 4kg. And that’s about an 1/8th of it. Oh well. It’s all good. Plus, they store well, freeze well and make excellent pickles and chutneys and cakes.

 

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Boris bit me

I’m tired of nature now, I think. I’ve had enough.

First it was a wasp that flew under my sunglasses and stung me repeatedly in its efforts to get away. Stung me repeatedly around the eye. Now that’s just mean. It’s not my fault he’s a dodgy driver. If I drive into a pedestrian zone, I don’t start mowing people down in my effort to get out.

Then it was the gastroenteritis. Viral or bacterial, it’s still nature at its worst. That’s just a mean little bug waiting to kill you. It has no purpose other than to go around causing upset tummies. I lost three days for that and I didn’t even get to kiss the boys and their mum goodbye properly because I was so ill and I didn’t want to give them germs, plus I had puke breath.

Then on Tuesday, I was sleeping. Fairly peacefully, I’d guess. No complaints from me or the dogs or Noireau. But then I was woken from whatever dream it was I was having by a very vicious sting. It felt like a sting. It felt like a wasp again. And then again. It hit my eyebrow and then it hit my hand when I went to feel my eyebrow. I got up, put on the light to find the beast, and there it was, sitting bold as brass on my pillow.

Not only that, it had huge red fangs and a huge red belly and then a black and white bum bit. And hairy legs. Evil personified.

I had a conversation last week with Madame V. She said she’d been bitten by a spider. I pooh-poohed her. I admit it. I was skeptical. I never had a spider bite me. For quite a spiritual girl, willing to put her faith in all manner of things like universal harmony and balance, I’m actually a doubting Thomas. I reckon the spider was proving a point.

I captured it to take it to the pharmacist. She pooh-poohed my bite, which was giving me hell by that point. My hand had swollen a bit and it felt like a bad burn. She didn’t care to look at and didn’t care to give me any number for disease control or bites or whatever. She just gave me some lidocaine and told me to go away.

That evil spider is still under lock and key in a tupperware jar.

So, essentially, I’ve wasted the best part of Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday being ill due to nature.

That’s quite enough.

Today, I’m trying to catch up. I’ve mowing to do, potatoes to unearth, dogs to walk, sun to catch and strimming to do. I’m trying to get it all in before the sun comes out in force, since here’s today’s weather prediction:

I’ve done an hour already and come in to cool off a little. I’ve kind of begun to find potatoes. It’s a start. Next it’s mowing and strimming and turd picking. The life of a dog owner is so very glamorous. Heston is huge now, but he’s still a baby. We were out playing in the potato patch. He was supposed to be helping me dig. Useless. He pranced around all giddy, tearing through the long grass collecting seeds, and when I came to look for him at the end, he’d taken himself back inside to bed.

Lazy dog. Obviously takes after the Molly dog.

Tilly just sits by my side all day. She still keeps hurrying out to the car every time I go near it. I think she’s telling me she wants a trip somewhere. Now she’s lying like a little froggie at my side.

Off out to do deliveries again later… beautiful, beautiful day to do it!

New front cover looks stunning… can’t wait to get my copy!

 

Pictures of beans…

Exciting I know.

It’s still so wet that the weeds have taken over and there’s little point digging since it’s three times the effort for a quarter of the result. The tomato patch that I hoed last of all is almost completely weeds. Oh well.

So, no cherries to speak of, and it looks like being a poor year for red onions (gone to seed) and ratatouille veg, but a brilliant year for potatoes, peas, beans, carrots and cabbages. Oh well to that as well.

I like to take photos of the season as it unravels and I’ve been using picmonkey for that… I have ‘plot-to-almost=pot’ photos. It’s been the broad beans today. I’ve picked about 4 kg of broad beans so far. Of course, most is pod, so in terms of actual weight, I’ve got about 2 kg of broad beans blanched and frozen.

I think this is my favourite app. So quick! Upload the photos you want in it and the layout and boom – a collage. No photoshop messing.

I planted these on the fourth of January. It then snowed and flooded and rained and was cold – so it’s been one hundred and sixty five days from bean to bean. Not bad though. I’m quite amazed by how quickly they come on. It never fails to amaze me that something can be a seed one day and a plant the next. The first leaves came up two months after planting – most of that time was very cold indeed. Two months after that, we had flowers. That’s 4th January planting, 4th March first leaves, 4th May flowers, then a month later, we had a huge crop. To be honest, I could have planted them a whole lot later, I think. Trouble is, you can’t predict having a month of bitterly cold temperatures.

Speaking of things that are seeds one day and plants the next, I planted a lemon pip (well, four, but only one has come to anything) which is now bursting with life. As to whether it will have lemons ever, I don’t know. It’s got lovely foliage though, so I won’t be upset if it doesn’t.

And because I have no cherries, but because I love this picmonkey app (and you can have it pretty much any which way you want it) I thought I’d do a cherry-inspired one from last year.

I was saying yesterday I felt a bit like I should just write the year off and go back to bed until next summer. Of course, I won’t. There are far too many things in the garden to enjoy quand-même. 

Still waiting…

… seriously, it seems like summer is never going to arrive. I keep having a couple of days of mad activity in the garden and then it rains. The grass is epic. We can’t strim. We can’t mow. I keep hoeing back the weeds. I know we need the rain, but the cold is getting to my bones. I’m still in two jumpers and I’ve not had my shorts on for more than two days so far this year. It’s tiresome.

In actual fact, the temperatures aren’t that much different than last year, but it just seems so cold because we’ve had such little sunshine. It’s almost June and it feels like we’re way behind. Plus, our cherry tree has very few cherries – will be surprised if we get a kilo from all of them. Steve’s just informed me that the tree up the road is heavy with them – but I can only assume ours were having a bad year because of the weather when it blossomed. On the other hand, we’ve got hundreds of peaches this year – and we did last year too. Apples also seem thin on the ground. Bloody weather!

Beans… we have.

Broad beans

Peas, we have as well.

You’ll also remember a little planter I made?

Welcome to March

which was based on this:

From Diggerslist

But ended up being my own ‘Welcome’ twist… now I realise I need huge pots – or bigger ones at least! and that I need very low growing plants – because these calendula are far too big and it now looks like this:

So next year, I will separate these pots up and maybe do them in another way. The beauty of recyclable products! However, I am going to do one near the entrance gate because I think it’s cute.

I’ve also done my planters, too. I love verbena, so there’s lots of that:

Verbena

I’ve also painted some 50c pots with gloss paint and put in succulent cuttings from our overgrown succulent can:

Sempervivum in an old rusty tin can

The sempervivum is very easy to propagate – you just separate the hen from the chicks! I’ve potted these up in white painted terracotta pots:

Sempervivum

There are two final touches. One is a vamped up decoupage pot (Verity – I promise I’ll do yours! I do!)

Decoupage on plant pots

And the other touch is the painted tins. I sprayed these with primer then sprayed them green. Some have holes punched in the back so they can hang, like this:

Cheap and easy

And the best thing about these? They cost buttons. I can spray about 30 cans with a can of 4€ spray paint and a 3€ can of primer. A bit of wire and I’ve got a hanging garden. It’s not exactly Babylon, but then who wants that? We all know what happened to Babylon!

My little garden, still with its knickers, grows on apace:

Steve hammered up a ‘Noireau-proof’ fence, since Noireau seemed to think it was his own personal toilet. Poor boy – but I don’t want him digging up my babies! And, for the meanwhile, the knickers are staying.

Meanwhile, the red onions have gone to seed. Nothing to be done about that. That damned warm spell then the cold weather has fair tricked my onions – so I shall now enjoy their flowers and then save the seed. Only one problem in saving the seed of things that bolt – you get other stuff that bolts too.

Oh well.

You have to make the most of what you have, even if that means bolting onions…

To Butlins or not to Butlins?

I’m foregoing Top Ten Tuesday til later in the week because I’ve got more pressing things to show you.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, wet, miserable day, I started to imagine what I could do with a little bit of land I have in the courtyard.

It’s a bare bit of land with conifers on one side, the peach tree at the back and a lovely flowering currant Ribes King Edward VII and a viburnum ‘Snowball‘. There are sometimes some nettles and some hollyhocks and in the winter, there were quite a few mushrooms. The outpipe for the bath runs underneath this plot, and at some point there was a tree here too – now just a stump. I’ve said before that the garden is a very functional thing here – we have a few no-maintenance or low-maintenance shrubs left by Madame A, but essentially, if it doesn’t produce something or need very little maintenance, it’s not got a place in the garden.

The space looked like this when we moved in:

Two years ago!
What there was once…

And this is what it looked like a month ago – before Steve got giddy with the rotavator

I had a bit of a plan about what I wanted – a kind of spiral/keyhole shape that goes up higher in the middle.

A bit of a sketch

I’d started planting out what I wanted in the plot – a mixture of herbacious perennials and annuals – and I’d bought a couple that it was harder to find seeds for here in France, or that were part of our local pepinière’s 5 for 10€ deal. Not much has changed, except I’ve added a space for delphiniums and lupins.

So… what’s in it?

Pinterest board
  • campanula
  • calendula
  • zinnia
  • french marigolds
  • limonium
  • immortelles
  • marguerites
  • monarda
  • rudbeckia
  • coleopsis
  • dicentra bleeding heart
  • dahlia
  • aquilegia

And this is what it looks like now… of course, there’s a lot of growing still to do!

What it looks like now…

Now, I had a great idea. I like plant markers very much, on account of I often forget where things are and what they are. I decided I was going to make little rustic bunting-style flags with the name of the plant on it in permanent marker, tied with gardening twine.

Flags…

However, this is the source of consternation. Steve liked the bed idea and followed my instructions to the letter as to how to make it. He shifted all the grass and put down the weed suppressing carpet of newspaper, then the top soil. He liked the plant arrangement.

He doesn’t like the flags. Apparently, hate is too strong a word and he feels the same about these flags as he does about kidney beans. He laughed at the flags, though, and gave them a 2 out of 10. He said it made the garden look like Butlins.

I obviously DON’T think they make it look like Butlins. I think they are cool.

He also is taking far more of the credit than he should. He compared himself to Michelangelo and said that just because I came up with the idea doesn’t mean that I could execute it (I hasten to add, I did the actual picking, growing and planting and he moved some soil and put in the border) and he has laughed at my attempts.

This aside, I would like to thank him for his realisation of the foundation of my border.

Now all I have to do is get Noireau to realise it’s not a nice, plush outdoor toilet and convince a few people that the flags are a great, inspired idea!

A certain friend may find herself abandoned at the airport with her children when she turns up here for her summer trip unless she admits that they DON’T look like washing on a line and that people just don’t have knickers that look like this.

Silent Sunday…

It’s been a while!

I love my cutie Popsicle
Winter is on his way out
First major planting of 2012 - a little later than last year because of the snow
Moved into the tunnel for a little warmth
Hand-painted pots
Three of my ladies
Good to go!

The sun will come out tomorrow…

Well, actually, it came out today.

It’s been gale-force winds here. The little wind ornaments have been driven mental, turning one way and another, not knowing where to go in the wind. A winter storm had passed over France, leaving some people’s houses flooded – others without electricity. We’re lucky. We had electric and I sorted out candles, matches, dynamo torches and the paraffin lamp last time we had a power cut so I think we would have survived.

But yesterday it was so bleak – the sky a tungsten and charcoal grey – and it didn’t really get light. Jake went to school in the pouring rain, we stayed in and I wrote. Steve had had a crap night’s sleep – so had I – something about worrying the shutters are about to come off their hinges at any point makes you worry too much to sleep. Sheets of rain came driving down off the roof, totally overwhelming the gutter and then slamming down onto the glass roof of the lean-to. I’ve never seen so much rain. It was like we got a month’s worth in five minutes. Tilly went out for a wazz and was soaked to the bone by the time when she got back in. Frankly, I’m surprised she even bothered going outside. Usually, the hint of rain makes her want to wee in the living room or the dining room or Jake’s room or the bathroom or the lean-to.

And I won’t deny it. I was feeling utterly miserable. Some days, you’re entitled to a poor-me moment.

Today, I woke up a bit later than usual. The sun was out – first time in three weeks – and an hour later, my dad finally arrived. I think he’s forgotten it was my birthday on Thursday, though I’m well-used to this. He forgets Abi’s birthday and it’s the day after his. Mostly, he just wanted to get my junk out of his car and go to the supermarket, so he didn’t stop, just dropped off parcels and packages.

And oh what a joy.

My mum has made me a fabulous – and I mean TOTALLY fabulous card that is so beautiful I’m going to frame it afterwards. I opened my birthday present from her and it was a beautiful jumper – at first I thought she’d knitted it – she’s a seriously wonderful knitter – but was only a little disappointed that it was from a shop instead, because it’s beautiful. I also got some very timely hand-warmers, a very lovely pair of stretchy jodhpurs and an undershirt.

The second present was off my Nana. Her card had arrived yesterday a little damp and worse for wear, but another beautiful, sparkly jumper. My mum and Nana have such good taste. I absolutely love them.

Then it was on to my sister’s. A gorgeous cardigan and THE COOLEST (well, warmest!) slippers. Love. ♥

New slipper boots. So warm.... soooo comfy

However, since some of my last boxes have made their way out here, opening them was like opening birthday presents too. I found my ‘hug me’ hot water bottle, a body warmer I had for horse riding, a couple of jumpers I forgot I had, my photographic enlarger (which was the only bit of kit missing and once it warms up, I’m totally out there making my dark room. Watch this space!) my other Moroccan pouffe, more Christmas decorations and the likes. Oh, it was wonderful. I’m strongly of the opinion that you should – once a year or so – let someone run loose in your house, take a few boxes of things, keep them from you for a year and then give you them back. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate them.

And with the passing of the torrential rain, we are left with a flood, but it feels like these sunny moments are so much more precious. A lot like life. It does feel like the sun has lifted on what has been a very crappy week. Thanks for all your love yesterday, too. xx

Some photos for you…

The bridge is a good two metres above the river bed...

The river bed was dry on Thursday so this has come up by about 2 metres over 36 hours. The Tardoire disappears down a limestone sink hole just between Rivieres and La Rochefoucauld, and I guess it goes to some underground lake or cavern or river. Then, when that’s full, the river starts flowing again down our way. But to go from being the foot-deep stream it usually is for four or five months (from November to April) to the bottom of the bridge, and flood the road entirely, well that’s a lot of rain to fall in one day!

A good two metres more than usual...

But, and if you’ll forgive the dirty lens, the village is looking lovely in blue.

The back lane to La Rochette

Molly nearly met her maker here – the ditch alongside must be a good two foot drop, if not more, and she went in over her head without realising there was no land underneath. For a dog who doesn’t like water on her belly, she did well. Steve was prepared to dive in after her. I had Tilly on the lead. She’s far too stupid to be round anything that might cause problems!

Carnet du Jardin

This was my first full year of growing stuff. Despite the drought, we didn’t do too badly. Some things didn’t work at all…

  • I cannot, cannot, cannot get carrots to grow. I don’t know why. Old seeds, soil’s not right, drought, who knows. They just won’t. FAIL.
  • The salsify didn’t shoot. Next time, I’m starting it in pots. FAIL.
  • The cauliflowers are all leaf and no head and have kind of bolted but not. FAIL.
Some things were splendiferous:
  • The tomatoes – although I’m not spending on Suncherry red any more. The Gardener’s Delight were just as good. From Alicante to Roma, we had pounds and pounds of gorgeous tomatoes, and now I have a freezer full of them. We’ve had a couple of tomato soups, and mostly the tomatoes are packed ready for spaghetti, curry, soup, sweet and sour, stews, casseroles, cottage pie… is there anything they don’t enhance?! How did we live without tomatoes?!
  • The courgettes – pounds and pounds of them.
  • The leeks – from tiny, pencil-thin ones to huge, fat ones, the leeks have done us proud, and kept lots of nasty insects off other things
  • The parsnips – gorgeous – some waiting in the ground for Christmas
  • The turnips. I know, not a glamorous vegetable, until you’ve had my sweet-and-sour turnip soup.
  • The chillis – amazing – loads of them, and really easy to grow
  • The red cabbages that survived the drought. Tight, heavy heads of purple loveliness
  • The two savoy cabbages that survived the drought
  • Gherkins – fat, skinny, prickly – not McDonalds green, but lovely anyway
  • Thyme – really taken to the polytunnel – and suppressing the dreaded convolvulus.
  • Basil – plenty for those tomatoes
  • Radishes – loads of all different types
  • Lettuces – 29 c from Lidl and I had a poly tunnel full!
Other things need a bit of sorting out for next year
An assortment for next year
  • We didn’t have enough peas. I need several rows of these to feed my pea fetish. And then I can’t think if it’s worthwhile or not because petits pois are so cheap frozen.
  • The same with the broad beans. Good, just not enough
  • The same with the borlotti beans. We need a bigger bean patch!
  • Same for the peppers. Three gorgeous peppers from three plants. Not quite enough to feed my desire for lovely peppers!
  • The sweetcorn – what we got – was lovely – but the birds absolutely savaged it! Needs going under nets next year!
  • The melons were small, but gorgeous! More melons next year!
  • Beetroot – gorgeous – need more!
  • The potatoes got hit hard by the drought. They’re thirsty things! Plus, they need all kinds of digging out.
I’ve already bought most of my seeds for next year, and I’ve got a couple of things that are new to try out. Some things we grew the year before.
Newbies:
  • onions
  • garlic
  • swede
  • aubergine (I’ve been excited by Roy’s aubergines, because he had loads
  • Romanesco broccoli
  • Super marmande tomatoes
And what else will I be doing?
  • planting fewer potatoes – a desert-dry piece of dust isn’t conducive to good growth – but planting a wider variety
  • planting as many tomatoes, but adding super marmande to the mix instead of suncherry red
  • planting a wider range of courgettes, but only one of each type – far too many courgettes for human consumption, though the chickens went mental for them
  • not bothering with carrots again
  • going back to some pak choi and thinning out the lettuces
  • not bothering planting tomatoes in the polytunnel
I’m also going flower-mad next year. I’ve also bought some tree seeds, harvested hundreds of seeds and got some cuttings. I’ve even grown a lemon tree from a pip. That’s how green I am. It’s got thorns on it though. Do lemon trees have thorns??!
I’ve bought all my seeds from England as French companies sell them in ridiculously large packets for ridiculously large amounts. That means loads get wasted and you end up paying triple. They don’t really ‘get’ flowers, either, from what I can see in the garden centres. I’ve yet to find a really good garden centre, like Newbank or Lady Green, and they just don’t get perennials. Ironically, Lidl’s zinnias and marigolds were amazing for 29c a pack – and some for next year.
I love my inner gardener geek. There’s nothing better than picking your own fruit and veg.
Organised chaos... actually I have a spreadsheet of planting dates... such a geek

After the rant, a little rave…

I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t swing from politics to parsnips in one day. I guess it’s all under the same banner of ‘disenfranchised middle-class white-girl values’.

Anyway, we’ve harvested 3 kg of cherries today – the first lot. I’m kind of hoping we can get between 8-10 kg of cherries. Right now, cherries in Asda are 2.97 for 200g – which makes 1 kg come in at about 7.50. Let’s call it 8 euros per kilo. Not a bad little haul. I want every single last cherry off the trees, because cherries are my absolute favourite.

Cherries and elderflower

And I have a renewed thank you to make – to Steve’s uncle Chris and his wife Nush, who kindly gave me a cherry stoner for Christmas. It’s absolutely excellent. I’m in love with it. I could stone cherries all day.

I boiled 1 kg up in syrup to freeze; I have put another kilo in the freezer straight off. 500 g are in the fridge for munching and 500 g are in a cherry crumble that’s currently in the oven. Tomorrow, I want enough to make a couple of pots of jam. Cherry pie and cream during the week, I think. I’m going to do some glacé cherries and some cherries in kirsch too – if I can get 10 kg of cherries, that’s 500g every other week – and that’ll keep me going until next year!!

You can also see that our elderflower are blossoming. I’m off to get some citric acid tomorrow to make elderflower cordial – and I’d really like to do some elderflower fritters too. I love elderflower and ginger cordial – so might make a batch of that to store over the summer.

We had 2 kg of marteau turnips yesterday, too. Now, the turnip is an unfashionable vegetable, and I don’t know why. I cook it in a little butter and it caramelises wonderfully. Yesterday, we had it mashed with carrots – parfait!

Turnip 'Marteau'

Although, I was kind of hoping now that the garden has stopped being on steroids, that it would be a little quieter and I’ve just reminded myself, via aching legs, that most of what happens from now on is in the kitchen preparing stuff to keep us going through the year! It’s not so pleasant in there right now – hot and sweaty. Between the kitchen and the super-sweaty poly-tunnel, I reckon I’ve sweated out 10 kg.