Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On another subject, the last few weeks of weeding have produced a rather worrysome pile of green rubbish over in one corner. Until I can get a proper composting box set up, they are just lying there, covered with a bit of wood to stop them flying away. I was pleased to see that finally, some of this lot was starting to dry out and die, especially near the middle of the pile. So I forked it over a bit and with some luck it might eventually rot down a bit and be less of an eyesore.
I am having a bit of trouble getting help on identifying my weeds, I might actually be killing some things that could be handy or edible. I found quite a good web site that lists them by flower colour. So I think I can say that some of what I have dug up is groundsel, dandelion, possibly dock and i think maybe something called hairy mat, I don't know for sure (it is like a sort of mat of thin strands with tiny leaves. quite pretty actually). Touch wood, I don't seem to have any bindweed, I remember that from my last gardening experience and it is a real bastard. Anyway for now I am fighting the good fight just ripping them out one by one. I am hoping that because I am doing it before there are any flowers or seeds, I might stop them propagating.
Started to look for how to buy the plants for the garden. I went to the local garden centre but I was a bit disappointed by the variety and the prices!
But then I found Willemse, who are a catalogue outfit selling by mail order or the Internet. The prices were nothing like the same! Some of the varieties were different (maybe not quite so good) but they had a lot of choice. 3 goseberry bushes for 11€! A lot of seeds were only 1 euro the packet, sometimes 2 (and they sell parsnip seed which is hard to get here). Funnily enough, the spuds and onion sets were dearer so I shall get them close to home. I am a bit worried about getting my strawberries delivered thru the post!! But they have some lovely Mara des Bois, perpetuals, which I quite fancy, 12 euros for 15 plants, doesn't seem so unreasonable. I guess I should have a trial run and see what I get.

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It was an interesting weekend garden-wise. First on the agenda was the annual meeting of the allotmenteers association. Of course they grumbled about attendance, about 40 out of 180 but maybe some of them can't get that far on their zimmer frames. I was by a long shot the youngest person in the room, and a woman to boot, as they were about 90% men. Of course I also found the only other "foreigner" in the place, an English guy who gardens a few plots down from me. SO starting to make acquaintances.
The meeting itself was hilarious. There seems to be a lot of animosity between gardeners, so strange considering they all just need to cohabitate in order to grow a few spuds. But no... last year's town fete was the opportunity to have a "hot chips and salad vegetables" stall, to make a bit of pocket money (about 500 euros as it turns out!) To my surprise, they started accusing each other of putting their hand in the till! I don't know how they can be so bare faced. Then there were other squabbles about the budget, which seemed largely unfounded IMHO, before they got personal, calling each other alcoholics, and crooks and dictators, and one old fella calling out "the rep from garden number 2 is a disgrace, his garden has been untended almost all year, we should chuck him off the committtee". I hope no one noticed me in fits of apoplexy in the corner, as I found it all hysterically funny. Naturally none of the name callers actually volunteered to get on the organizing committee and keep the bastards honest, so I expect it will be a free for all next year too. Anyway, I paid me monies so now I am a fully fledged memeber of the chaos.
During the "glass of friendship" (totally ironic) at the end of the meeting, I managed to wheedle some information out of some of the old timers, who almost all confessed to chucking weedkiller all over their own plots (eeeek!) and who didn't understand why I would want to do any mulching or covering things in straw. But one did give me some advice. I asked if he composted and he said oh I don't bother making a big heap, I just dig a hole and bury it. Oh really? yep, sounds like he does a bit of trench composting.
Everyone except me (and to some extent Biggest one) was sick in my house this weekend, some lurgy, but I still got the chance to go to the garden. A girl from work gave me some old fencing that I stored in the shed. And a stroke of luck, someone seems to have dumped a water barrel!! With a bit of difficulty me and the lad heaved down to our plot where I managed to nestle it next to the other one. I'll have to rig up a tap on it (there is a hole for that) and some tubing for the overflow but I am on the whole rather pleased with the setup.
And inspired by the old fella from Friday and seems to me our very own Allotment Lady for her beans, I got in with the shovel, dug a long trench where I wanted the strawberries to go later, and filled it with a few days' worth of kitchen peeling, egg shells, some newspaper and the coffee grindings from our machine at work. Then I covered it over. I am currently saving each night's vege scraps in a separate bin, wrapped in newspaper and every weekend for a few weeks I am going to keep doing this, where there will be above ground plants like the tomatoes, beans, lettuce.
To finish off the hard work, my apprentice and I chopped up the old carpet that was spoiling my bedroom deco and put strips of it down as pathways in the plot. Got quite a bit covered, still one piece missing between the future tomato and onion beds.
Here's a piccie of the carpet: I took this with my back to the shed but it shows you some of the other (better) plots:

And here is my apprentice, which gives a good view of the whole plot and lets her show off too. You can see my water barrels there and that is indeed my shed. The messy things just in front of her is the compost pile, that I protect for now with two old crates:

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Hey, it's Australia Day! Even though for the fair dinkum celebrators it's almost all over bar the last can of Fourex. My workmates are complaining that I didn't bring in the Aussie national dish, but I am not really sure what that would be...a Vegemite sandwich (most Frenchies run a mile at the sight ...and smell... of that yellow jar, so I think not), a runny meat pie, a pavlova (nice idea but doesn't travel well), pumkpin scones (nice, but I feel they should be eaten the moment they are whipped out of the oven)... ah I know, Anzac biscuits!!! Nice and hot and chewy when they come out of the oven, crispy after about 5 minutes. OK, OK, I will share my personal recipe:
1 cup plain flour (OK should be a metric cup, but I don't have those here so tend to use a teacup)
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup coconut
1 cup sugar, brown or raw if you have it
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
60g (about 2 1/2 oz) butter or marg
2 big tablespons of golden syrup
a bit of boiling water

I use cooking paper on a flat tray. Preheat the oven to 180°.

What to do
Combine the dry ingredients and mix well.
Melt the butter and syrup together, adding one or two tabs of boiling water to thin it a bit.
Add the butter-syrup and mix well. the mixture can be a bit crumbly, but if it doesn't come together at all, add a little bit more water.
Put blobs of mixture on tray and squash them a little with a floured fork. They should be about 8 cm wide at this point. They will spread so leave some room.
Bake about 10 mins - watch them! They can quickly get too brown and be bitter. They should be a nice toasty colour when done.
Take out of oven and immediately scoop them up and put them to cool. Or else they will harden on the tray and be hard to get off. But you can eat any broken bits...

I will take a picture if I manage to make them over the weekend.
Wonder if any Aussie plants will grow here? I know that I have seen on several occasions Bottle Brush trees and wattles, but I guess the other things are out, like hibiscus and frangipani, not to mention mangoes and pawpaws.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

OK, managed to make a drawing of my layout. The paths should be either old carpet or when I run out of that, gravelled. Obviously as some things finish and get whipped out, like peas, I am hoping to find things to fill their space. Also thought I would stick short-term things like lettuce and radishes wherever a space turned up. I also wanted to try getting some info about companion planting so I could have a few flowers or shrubs here and there. I noticed another allotmenteer has a little Bay shrub, that would be nice for cutting and drying some bay leaves... A few cut flowers would be pretty, I am tempted to grow some gladioli, but i haven't a clue as yet as to when I should plant them, probably already too late.
Here is the plan for the first bits and pieces anyway. If you click the picture you can get the original that can be zoomed.

Bugger is all I can say. I have been trying to spruce up the blog a bit, as I am new to it all, so I wanted to add some more links of all the other funny or clever blogs that I like reading. And I have realized that there is a blog that I read one day and forgot to bookmark, really stooopid of me, because it was a real laugh. It was written by a girl (English) who gave me hope as she seemed to be as hopeless a gardener as me, it was a bit like Bridget Jones with wellies on. And I have lost it forever in the quagmire of blog space. *sigh* maybe I will stumble on it again one of these days or some kind soul will remind me what it was.
I got a nice mail from Allotment Lady!! Hello!!!! I love her blog, except that she makes me feel so unaccomplished, she can do everything, garden, raise chooks, do lots of clever arty farty things, cook brilliant preserves and things. While for now I am just flinging a load of muck around. Must, Must, Must take photos of garden this weekend, so that in a couple of seasons' time I can look at a nice plot of ripening tomatoes, bulging pumpkins and leafy lettuces and feel a great sense of personal accomplishment (mmm unless I am staring at the tangle of weeds that are killing the parsnips, and pulling my 10 000th slug off the Red Salad Bowl with a curse). No, must be positive, I can grow things, it just looks hard now because there is nothing in the ground.
Anyway I hope that I will eventually be "linked" by a few other places, which would be very nice. Better get some piccies going though to lower the blah-blah factor...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Another Sunday, another go at the garden. Since the days are not yet long enough, I am reduced to weekend gardening as it is too dark once I get home to go and do anything. Still one does what one can...
So yesterday went with both Small Ones, Smallest One "playing sport" as she calls it, hanging around the bowls area and swinging on things. Biggest One decided to be a bit more hands-on, and helped me fork around a bit, marvelling at the size and abundance of earthworms in the ground. We got a bit done, but not much to write home about. It was a gorgeous day though, very sunny in the morning, then it rained and I cursed but it didn't last long and we went out straight away afterwards. It was fresh and some sunny patches, very sweet. It is so warm, winter has just failed to show up, but I hear a cold front is coming so I am pleased that I have almost finished the digging. If there is some frost, that will be ideal.
I had a look and decided that yes, I could create a gravelled patch to put on a table and chairs. I looked up the rules and regulations and BBQs are permitted as long as they are 2m away from the shed. So I think that will be in order for the summer, get a little BBQ so we can have some outdoors time. Being able to live outdoors was something I had always taken for granted in Oz but now it seems like something you have to seize when you get the opportunity to.
We found a bit of treasure too: someone had chucked away some old fencing into the skip at the top of the allotments so I grabbed that, undid the wire parts and put it in the shed, with a few wooden stakes and some wire, it will do a treat to put up a supporting trellis for my peas. If I can scrounge a bit more, it will be ideal. We found a few more metal stakes in the ground to, so I am saving those because I am sure they will be handy, either for holding down some plastic or such like.
The amount of weeds stacked up in a corner is starting to be a little alarming. I think that next time I should try chopping them up a bit more with the spade, so they can start to rot. I threw on my veggie scraps too, maybe they will start off the decomposition process.
I once again failed spectacularly to take some photos, must get that done next time.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Obviously a work day so no hope of gardening. But a friend at work gave me some seeds, for "wild flowers" of unspecified types. Oh well, I am planning to plant flowers at various points in the garden so I guess these will be OK. I imagine there are poppy seeds, maybe some kind of daisy?
I have also been reading a magazine about "natural gardening", which just makes it seem like I will have a whole crap load of work to do in the garden. They say to put down straw to avoid weeds. But where does one get straw? Also unlike what other gardeners have said, this magazine says that you can sow green manure at any time like mustard, rye and stuff like that. Stops weeds growing and when you are ready just hack it down and you are ready to plant. But again, hope that you can find seeds for that pretty easily. I have realized that I don't know where to buy all this crap, I am guessing that a farm supply place might be the ticket. I think there might be one in the next suburb over. Or maybe I will just learn to love weeds.
I am convinced that my idea of splitting up the garden into squares is a good idea, rather than just a long list of rows, like some of the other gardeners have done. But to do that I am going to need some material like wood. I am hoping that there will soon be a big rubbish collection round my way, people bring out all their broken furniture, bits of wood, etc. I had a mad idea that maybe someone would throw out a clothes horse - I could see myself pulling it apart and tying it up to prop up peas. I am hoping to get some pieces of wood or panelling that I can use to make a compost box and to cordon off the various bits of the garden. Of course I cannot let Significant Other know about this, he will find the idea perfectly repugnant. He imagines some kind of Le Notre garden with running streams and symmetrical beds of green things whereas I feel it will be more of the horse shit/worms/mud variety... so I had better not tell him about the clothes horse and corrugated iron and bits of wood until it is too late.
At least I won't need bean frames or poles: I think I will only do French beans because I am not very good at cooking runner beans even though I do know that they give a lovely display of flowers. And we don't really eat dried beans so I won't bother doing any of those either. But we do eat a lot of salad, onions, tomatoes, courgettes and spuds so I think it's best to do stuff I will actually eat.
I don't know if I can get He Who Will Not Dig to think it is a good idea but I would like to drag out our old garden furniture that we can't use any more (no balcony in new flat) and set it up down there. There is so much room, I guess that it would be possible to cordon off a corner and set up the table there: in the summer we could go eat there or just hang out with a beer while the kids run around... Remind me not to put the table near the compost heap though...

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Monday, January 15, 2007

This weekend was quite a hectic one: I had a housewarming party so all of Saturday was taken up with making mini cheesecakes, driving frantically through the Saturday shopping traffic jams to buy a bag-in-box of wine and sewing Robinson Crusoe costumes about half an hour before guests were due to arrive. So gardening came as a low priority. However Sunday turned out to be dry and mild so the call of the shovel worked its magic.
When I got to the allotment I found that the previous occupant had been true to his word and had ripped up all his leeks, leaving me with a huge pile of leek trimmings bang in the middle of the plot. This was not where I had planned to make my compost so I dragged the pile down the bottom of the plot. Then started digging again, pulling out the ugliest weeds and turning over the soil.
The plot looks bigger than ever and I can't help but feel a little discouraged. I saw some new neighbours in the plots all around mine, they are quite a friendly lot. The fellow next door kindly informed me "Oh you'll have about three years before you stop getting invaded by weeds: if I were you I would bung a lot of weedkiller over that lot, it will soon rinse off." I was rather horrfied by this and said "er yes, well, I don't really want to use any chemicals so I suppose I am just stuck with digging", at which he looked at me like I must be the sort of person who thinks sticking hot needles under her fingernails is a fun way to spend the long winter evenings and toddled off back to his cucumber frame. Of course his solution did seem the most practical one, but this of course is completely against the ethos I had in mind when doing the garden, so I will just have to lump it and get hoeing. I dug up the bits where the Small Ones wish to garden (so they tell me), found some mint growing wild, which I tried to rip up because I don't want that taking over the plot. Smallest One accompanied me with her bike and she made friends with Mr and Mrs Napalm next door, who has a sweet dog, a sort of pointer that obligingly let herself be taken for a walk by Smallest One. She watched them transplant soem of their things, I hope she just stood out of the way of the DTT.
I pulled out some tomato stakes that were practically taking root lying down in the grass, and put them against the shed to dry. The shed has been emptied so now I can leave the tools there, which will be much more practical. I can't wait to actually be able to plant some things! A friend gave me a sweet present on Saturday, a planting tool (that pointy thing you use to plant seeds) and some seeds, lettuse, radishes, beets to get me going off to a flying start.
My next problem is going to be how to get together all the things I will need, for almost no pennies, like black plastic, straw, pine bark for the herb garden, some wire fencing for the peas. I will need to cut the plot up into several bits, make some pathways, put up some bords to raise the beds a bit I think that will make it look more user-friendly or least not such an impossible challenge.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Hey I am surprisingly pain free this morning! Ok a bit stiff around the shoulders but on the whole it's fine.
I am now thinking about all the things that there are to be done for this garden. I'll have to draw a map of where I want to put everything. Stupid me, I didn't actually measure the damn thing so it's going to be approximate, I think it's probably three times as long as it is wide. I need to get my hands on some manure, there is a pony club next to my old house, maybe I can get some horse manure from there (hmmm transporting it in plastic bags in the back of the Fiat, that sounds like disaster in the making but it could be fun). Need to find something that can be used to hold up my peas, some fencing would be good, but can't pay for it, where can I start scavenging for those types of things? The last tenant left me lots of tomato stakes strewn around the plot, next week I'll gather them up and leave them upright to dry out a bit. The kids want a little space each so I'll have to plan that into it although I suspect it won't be what they suspect it to be and I'll end up filling that bit with basil.
Must get some photos going, that could be cool as well as educational, for the future crop rotation.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Have decided that yes, I must be a bit mad because I finally went down to the allotment today to reassess my good idea. After a very trying weekend, I got time to go down on Sunday afternoon, with Small One in tow. Shovel and a rake in the car, I was bent on a bit of tidying up but didn't really know what that was going to mean. First the struggle was to get in. For now I don't have the key, as the gardens lock up with a big gate, and since the fellow whose allotment I am taking hasn't given the keys back yet, I am keyless. But I found a fellow gardener who could give me a spare key so that was a stroke of luck.
Faced with the allotment, I have decided that it is quite big and that I am going to have to work bloody hard the first year to sort it out. Still, once I got going it seemed more promising. The last bloke has only got three rows of very weedy looking leeks still planted, hope mine are a bit more robust next year. I just basically started digging the plot up, pulling out the most conspicuous looking weeds and chucking them in the corner for starters, then I started digging over the earth, a couple of trenches full, filling the last trench with the second one's dirt then a light raking to make it look tidy. I guess I managed to do about 20% which seemed OK as I wasn't there more than an hour or so. Small One ran amok in the alleys, getting some exercise as she put it. Oh well, can't do much harm I suppose although I was secretly waiting for her to come back with some poor sod's cabbages in her hand.
One of the more important gardeners came to say hello, he's the president of the allotment association. "So you're our new gardener," says he, "and you're doing this with your husband are you?" "err, no" replies I, "just me, he's not really into all this salt of the earth stuff, although I think the kids will do a bit (trying not to look at Small One who is merely rolling in the dirt and waving the rake around in murderous fashion)". "Oh bloody hell, that's a look of work for just you" he says. Now, I am feeling slightly indignant and feel like mentioning that I am an Australian so obviously ingrained with that pioneering spirit, and this is pooftah's work because there are no venomous animals, thousands of blowflies and bull ants to contend with like at home and anyway I am of British stock and we are better gardeners than God but I look around at the weedy ground and in my heart know that the old bastard is right so I don't want to be too cocky. So I contend myself with saying "Well thank you for your discouragement" with a big smile. He doesn't seem to know how to take this, but he looks around and says "Well, it can still be done, if you keep at it regularly. In February you can already put in some onions and shallots if you like that and some peas, that will start to look like a garden then." After that I feel bad for my sarcasm of course. sigh. I was told that the last fellow was transferred by his work but from what this bloke says, I feel he let his guard down and got over run by weeds and gave it up as a bad job. Hope this is not my fate.
Good news is that the earth seems rich, nice and moist and chock full of worms and various other beasties who were probably not very pleased about my ministerings. Also the former tenant obviously planted a whole lot of spuds and never dug up half of them. I noticed what looked like old potato plant stems, all dried up and trodden over. OK so I know where not to planty spuds this year I thought then lo and behold up came a spud. A nice one, a "ratte" I think a nice salad spud. Then another. And another. Finally I found myself with a great pile of the bloody things. So plan is to eat some of the bigger ones (err especially the ones I chopped in half with the spade) and save the tiddlers for spring planting. Came back dirty but satisfied.
Now I bet that tomorrow's entry will involve severe agony in my upper arms and thighs because I've not done a great deal of exercise of late and my zeal probably brings with it a price, but I am trying to keep my eyes on the prize.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ok, must get down the details about the allotment. Firstly I live in a working class area of Nantes, a big town in western France and we just bought a flat there 6 months ago. So obviously no garden. My flat is surrounded by enticing cement planters in which you could grow a ton of stuff, but you can't get to the bloody things because of window railings! Grrr... Anyway I have been on my town's waiting list for an allotment for 3 years and lo and behold they ring me over Christmas to tell me I can have one! Yippee!
I rocked on over there to check it out where I was met by "Jeannot" the old fella who looks after the association of allotment holders. He showed me the plot - it's 100 square metres, I guess thet is 300 square feet and it has a little shed, a water butt and soon will have a compost bin. It has been gardened a little so only a few weeds and just some grass growing, along with a few pathetic leeks. There are also a comunal shed where there is a fridge, coffeemaker etc (lots of empty beer bottles in the bin, that's a good sign) toilets, bins, a BBQ and a patch where the wrinklies play French bowls in the warmer weather. The allotments are in the park behind our building so in summer I can just stroll over - at the moment that path is flooded so it'll be on me bike.
Now it's true I don't have a lot of time at the moment but I have waited so long, I could not refuse. So I filled in my form (69 euros a year, seems reasonable) and am now officially an allotment holder. So now what the flock do I do?
OK, have no tools so rushed out and bought a pitchfork, spade and rake. Must be a good start.
On Saturday I'll go down and try and drag up as many weeds as possible, then try and get one of the old lads to accept the bribery of a case of beer to run his rotovator over the plot for me. I must have confidence in the solidarity of my fellow gardeners 'cos I don't have much in myself to be frank.
Next will have to decide what to plant. Tomatoes, ok that's a bit of a way off yet, but for the spring, I thought I might try some spinach, radishes, lettuce, start off not too ambitious or I'll be quickly in the shit. Peas yes, yum, snow peas (mangetout) and big sweet podding peas up big sticks. Sounds good. A few herbs. A lavender bush for bees. Actually I hate bees, terrified of them, but I know they are my friend and I must appear to be holding out the gardener's hand of friendship. Later on beans, spuds (something nice to eat, not big floury storing ones), beetroot, strawberries. Ideas of pastoral paradise.
Ah bollocks, I know full well that my lettuce will probably bolt, and my basil will go black and some bastard robin will probably eat all the strawberries once my back is turned but the IDEA is so tempting...growing your own food, that's a magic idea! It's man's biggest achievement when you think about it, bugger the internal combustion engine or heart transplants, when you can feed yourself at will, you're a step up on the evolutionary ladder. I feel somehow...evolved.

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