Monday, February 26, 2007

Decided to make a separate post for my seedlings! So I can take some photos and add them. They are all sprouting! I am so pleased! The peas are now about 3 cm high and the tomatoes have just given me their two spindly leaves and popped off their seed caps. The peas I am planning to put in once they get to ten or fifteen centimetres. And the lettuce too is just poking its head through the soil. So apparently my pantry is a good temperature for these, it is cooler there than the rest of the house. But I will harden off the peas for a week before I plant them. Luckily I have these planter boxes outside my windows, where I can sit them, they will be cool but out of direct wind.
On the home front, my hyacinths are starting to bloom in the window box and the tulips are about 5 cm high. Some mint from last year that I thought was dead has brought up some new growth, which is a cute surprise. I must start to put in some seed for some flowers, which worked well last year. My geraniums have karked it though, brown and shrivelled. I will buy some new ones I think, some trailing ones.

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Saturday was a soggy mess, rain most of the day so I only went to the lottie on Sunday morning. I was the only person there! After a while, my plot neighbour came and picked himself some sprouts for the Sunday lunch and then buggered off again, so I was alone once more. The carpet does seem to be working on killing the weeds under the paths at any rate, I anchored them down again, which seems to work quite well.
I dug some more trenches on my to-be-been section and buried the kitchen scraps that have been fermenting at my place for two weeks. The compost pile seems to be working ok, when I forked it over, there were a lot of slimy leek clippings and most of the weeds and grass I have been adding have turned brown and in some cases rotted quite significantly. There were quite a few fat pink worms feasting in there when I turned it, so they are doing a good job.
Surprise of the morning was that the non-gardener of the house took Small Ones out on their bikes so they paid me a visit. As usual, it was to say that I wasn't doing everything the right way, but never mind, I feel as if my cunning plan is taking shape. At least he and Biggest One brought all my now-dry tomato stakes into the shed so they are ready for the summer.
Anyway, my garlic is shooting!! I am so pleased! Little green shoots were poking out of the ground. I pulled out a bit of grass and weed from the plot, then set to work raking over some space next to them where I will plant my onions. I am not too worried about getting onions out of the garden, they are something I am quite happy to buy, but I thought I would just see what they were like. I planted three little rows, about three dozen onions I guess.
Next, I got some of the sprouting potatoes that I had dug up out of the lottie back in January and planted them, about a dozen I guess. I decided that I had bought enough new ones not to merit planting more of these, it's really just to see what they are like. I will wait for another two weeks before planting the others that are starting to sprout in the pantry.
I used the plastic sheets that I had scrounged from work and planted three sweet little plots, spring onions, radishes and parsley, covering them over with the plastic and burying the edges. It is so mild here, maybe I can take off the plastic once the radishes start to grow well. It might help the parsley germinate at least.
Spring is here early, many of the trees are covered in delicate white or pink blossom, and daffodils are sprouting up all over the place. More short tulips were poking out of the ground yesterday on the plot which is sweet.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Hmmm, a family visit thwarted the good intentions to do some gardening this weekend. So I had to be content with some seedling work. I used a cut off plastic bottle as a support tray (a 5 litre bottle) that I lined with a bit of newspaper. I couldn't get the hang of these fancy seedling pots so I made some very simple ones just by rolling the paper into cannelini-type rolls and filling them with potting mix. As they are all crammed in together, they hold each other up. By the time the seedlings have developed, I am hoping that their root systems will let me transfer them easily into the ground. I planted a tray full of Marmande tomatoes and some early peas ( I think I have bought a Petit Provencal variety which apparently produces nice sweet peas). I also have some mangetout peas but I think I will plant those peas straight in the ground in a couple of weeks time. I am guessing that I will be able to plant out the peas in a couple of weeks, and the tomatoes much later of course.
I think I will be able to get another bottle this week (I scrounge them from work) so then I will be able to try some lettuce seedlings (I have a few different lettuce seeds tucked away, some lovely butterhead "laitue" called a "fat lazy" variety and some green cut-and-come-back, although I think I might be tempted by a few plants from the garden centre as the summer comes on, it's much easier that way and you can get some unusual varieties, like the lovely red lettuces they eat in France). How anyone can possibly think it is nice to eat an iceberg lettuce is beyond me, I didn't realize what real lettuce was like until I came to France! So many varieties, a salad can be so adaptable, a bitter "frisée" (a curly endive, I think?), red oak leaf that is a little strong on flavour but such tender leaves! and of course the sweet and tender French "laitue", curled up in a ball with the young tender yellow leaves hiding inside. Yum yum yum. Here's quite a good article about salad greens.
Mmmm, maybe you want some recipes for salad sauce? Could be a good idea.

Of course there is the standard French dressing, that you can make as long as you can get Dijon mustard!!
1 heaped teas Dijon mustard, mixed with 3 tabs vinegar (red wine, white wine or cider), salt and pepper. Mix this well together. Then whisk in 3 tabs of olive oil until quite thick then 3-4 tabs of another lighter oil (otherwise I find it is too strong), sunflower or colza or grapeseed. Taste it, if it is too acidic, a bit more oil. This is good dressing for a few salads - tender leaf lettuce with grapefruit pieces and olives (use red wine vinegar), or a tomato, feta, cucumber salad.
I also make this type of sauce with white wine vinegar that is flavoured with walnuts. It's cheaper than walnut oil! Although walnut oil is good for your heart... That is a delicious sauce for a salad made of a more bitter lettuce with nuts and roquefort (blue) cheese.

In the winter I like endives (chicory?), those white pointy vegetables, cut up raw in a salad they are divine. Good with orange slices! And they love a spicy dressing, like whisking some curry powder with a little honey then adding a white wine vinegar and a light oil.

I have some mache (lamb's lettuce) seeds leftover from an earlier time, I might have a go at planting those under plastic this week, if I can get to the garden early enough. I know that it is quite long to mature, but it might be a good filler until I get the late things like tomatoes in the ground. As the days are getting longer, being able to do a few little jobs after work is sounding feasible.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

I have made two little discoveries this week that are of interest to the garden. First was a load of pallets that were stacked up outside my work, and I thought, I'll have some of those and try and make a structure for the growing compost pile. Took a couple home and ended up hacking them apart with the power saw lol, what a mess all over the kitchen, but anyway, I have the pieces waiting to put something together. I fear it will turn out to be to small, but it's a start. I am just putting a bit of a frame up then I will use some of the wire fencing I have scavenged to make the actual "walls". I'll try and get that over to the garden this weekend.
secondly was some plastic. Big plastic bags used to deliver things. I am going to try cutting them up and using them to cover some radish and lettuce seeds just until they sprout. By mid-March I am thinking that I will be able to uncover them. The weather here is so mild but it's a tricky time of the season.
I have some newspaper and some plastic trays so this weekend I am going to try my hand at some seedlings, at least the first tomatoes and the peas. Maybe some herbs too? Sounds like material for some more photos :-)

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Ah my God, what a waste of a week. I have been completely laid low with a very nasty form of the flu, I was weak as a kitten. And now I am stuck with a horrible cough and the grossest sinus congestion. I am literally blowing litres of mucus out of my nose. So the garden was mostly neglected for all of last week. However yesterday I managed to drag myself out there for a bit and survey the damage and remembered the camera this time so I did take some piccies.
The carpet pathways I had put down were blown about so I went and got some more wood to weigh them down, and also used some of my little metal pegs that I have been collecting and pushed those in to fix the carpet down. I do realize that the overall effect is pretty ugly, but for now it is just to give me a better idea of where to plant everything and not have to weed the paths as well as the planting areas. Today it is really really windy so I don't know if they will still be there next time I go down.
And I planted my first things!! Don't worry I do have photos for all these things but they are still in the camera, not the best place I admit. I will try and get them online tonight or tomorrow. I re-dug and raked over a square and put in my first garlic. So cute. It is a bit of an experiment, I will soon see if it grows well or not.

I did some more weeding and a bit of trench composting too, round where I will put the tomatoes, they won't be in for a while so that will give the ground plenty of time to eat up all that. I had two weeks' worth of vegetable scraps, so I dug a few big holes and down they went. The weed pile in the corner is also rotting quite nicely, I don't think I will use it as compost for months and months so I don't think it will propogate at all, there was no time for any seed production.
And there are also some tulips popping up here and there!! A nice surprise.

I managed to acquire some seeds and sets just before catching the flu. I bought two bags of spuds, some Sirtema which is a firm variety, an early producer and a Belle de Fontenany, another early with a nice flavour, a salad potato. Also got some plain brown onions. I will get some red ones from the garden centre at the end of the month. I still have the spuds that I dug up from the garden, they have all sprouted now so I think I will plant them quite soon. Don't know what they are, that remains highly experimental. In the way of seeds, I managed to get a few varieties of radishes (red and pink), some Marmande tomatoes, the big knobbly ones, some beans, green and yellow, some peas and also sugar snaps, some Colmar carrots, basil, parsley, coriander, gherkins and also a few varieties of flowers: sunflowers, nasturtium, some reine-marguerite daisies, some carnations. I have a few flower seeds knocking around at home too, so I will try them out. I will try a couple of zucchini/courgette plants but I will just buy two plants from the garden centre later on for that. I am wary of the zucchini, as experience tells me that if you don't pick them every day you end up with ridiculous marrow-like courgettes. But the tiny baby ones are so fresh and delicious that I know I will be tempted.
Now I just need to order from my catalogue web site the strawberries (Mara des Bois, yum yum), gooseberries, cherry tomatoes and parsnips. That will be for March methinks.

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