Saturday, 28 June 2008

Lessons - learn them!

Well the first problem is that we let the borage which had self-seeded from last year, stay and grow in what this year is the potato bed. It was intentional as the bees love it and are all over it. However, as the borage got bigger and top heavy it has toppled over all the potato plants which have also toppled over! I still have plenty of potatoes but I can only imagine that there has been as effect - perhaps smaller potatoes or less of them?

But it looks pretty!

The second lesson is about growing peas. All the books say to put twiggy sticks in amongst them to grow up. Well, I did that but it clearly wasn't enough and the result was peas falling all over the place. I've rectified this but putting some lines of string between bamboo poles and lifting the peas up and against them. However, again there has been an effect - the stems are bent and although the crop is still a good one a lot of the pods are quite small. But the peas are even sweeter!

And finally - broad beans. We just can't have enough of them and I never grow enough! I know they can be grown during the winter months so I will have to plan accordingly.

Saturday's Labour

We got a lot of work done yesterday in the veggie patch. I dug up the first lot of potatoes and will store them in wonderful sacks from the baker. Potatoes have to be stored in the dark to stop them going green. Some are already green and will have to be disposed of. Others are either damaged from the fork or two small to store - that's fine; they're on the menu tonight!

I put black plastic over the part of the bed that had the potatoes and have planted my courgettes. It's quite late but I'm hoping that with the additional heat they will now get going quite quickly.

I cut down the broad beans as there were no more pods. I have left the base of the plants in ground as there are more flowers on them and I don't know if they will start growing again! I don't think so but thought it would be worth a try. I also put in a row of peas - again a bit late but the packet did say until the end of June...

We have eight cucumber plants and I can't believe all the fruits on them. We will be eating cucumber soup all winter at this rate - but maybe not all the fruits will ripen. I have stopped the ends of all the plants in the hope that some of the energy will go into the fruits now. Again, this is a new one for us and I just don't know what to expect.

Friday, 27 June 2008


It sounds crazy as most people consider potatoes as part of their staple diet, but I've never grown potatoes before. So this year has been an experiment - or rather a few experiments.

The first lot went into the ground in late February. My first mistake: I didn't take a note of what variety they are! I covered them up and then waited. As soon as the first shoots appeared - quite a while later - I put on a good layer of manure. I suspect February was a bit early but I was impatient!

The second lot (again, no name but this time a red variety) went in soon after and again I put manure on them as soon as the shoots appeared.

I knew that they would be susceptible to frost and in late March this was duly forecast so I covered the whole bed with rotting leaves that we'd collected in the autumn. I don't know if this was correct but it sorted out the problem!

The third lot went into a tiny bed we'd made two years ago out of pallets. Initially it was going to be a hot bed but this never happened and it's been lying idle ever since. Still, it had a stack of really well rotted manure and I popped in three seed potatoes (the white ones from the first lot - I'm learning about labels now!) and covered them with black plastic. As soon as I could feel the shoots under the plastic I cut slits and sure enough they started growing through nicely.

The fourth and final lot were put in at the very last minute and they are not in the veggie patch itself but in the new piece of field next door. We've planted a hedge around the border of this field and as the soil had been turned, once the hedge was planted we decided to put in some potatoes - just to use the space really. As it's a field still covered in weeds and wild mint I again put down black plastic. These potatoes are coming up although the success rate is lower and they are not as fast as the others. Perhaps that's the variety (er, ??) or the fact that the field is quite sandy and there is no watering system in place - this shouldn't be a problem yet though. Whatever, for the cost of a few seed potatoes the area is in use and we should get something! There's a lovely smell of mint whenever I go to inspect them. I will have to get it out but for now I'm just enjoying it!

The Big Idea

We both work from home now. Under the banner PHOENIX sarl, I am an upholsterer and Max runs a branch of Les Bons Voisins looking after houses for people - mostly English people who have difficulty with the language. We both work our own hours and of course as a result we have time to look after our garden.

We used to have chickens here but never had a chance to look after them but in February I went to the market and bought two hens and a cockeral. In March it was Max's birthday and for no reason whatsoever I gave him an egg incubator. Well, why not! Four weeks later (it took us a week to get enough eggs together!) we hatched our first chicks. We made mistakes and of the six that hatched, four survived and of these one was eaten by a dog. A month after that and we hatched our second lot and this time had a success of eight out of nine. By coincidence one of the hens became broody and hatched two chicks. Suddenly from three we had sixteen. They are known as Mama and her chicks, the cock and his wife, the Adolescents and the Terrible Eight.

At the same time I decided to do something about the vegetable plot. Last year was dreadfully wet and, just like everyone else around here, our tomatoes were rotten and the only thing that did particularly well in the garden were the weeds. At one point the French Beans looked fantastic; but then the rabbits had a family get together and that was the end of them. We didn't get ONE.

So the first thing was to put up a rabbit proof fence. They can still burrow underneath but so far they haven't worked that out! I marked out six beds which Max then surrounded with old roof slates. They're not ideal but will do until we work out something better. We have a free supply of manure from the farm and this was put liberally on the beds. Only for me to have to remove it from the one marked beans and peas! You live and learn!

I would like this blog to be about our attempts to become, if not self-sufficient, then at least more so than previously. The supermarket trip was easy as it was right outside our son's school. This is no longer the case (he finished school today and changes school in September); but we have a perfectly good village market to supplement whatever we are unable to grow in the garden.

I will write about our daily trials and tribulations; our successes and our failures. I welcome your input and your ideas.

A bit of background

We used to be city dwellers but that stopped about 18 years ago when we left London to live on a boat with our two tiny children. Life suddenly became very simple as we left all the trappings of high salaries (well, he had one of those - mine was a little more modest!) and company committments behind us. We became dependent on each other and other people doing the same thing as us.

Three years later we came to live in France - I was expecting our third child and suddenly the boat was a little small! I had a baby and Max started a toy and gadget business. Both were hard work but whilst we knew what to expect from the former, the latter was a very steep learning curve.

The company was a success for twelve years and then suddenly - and with great sorrow - Max had to close it. Rules concerning toys are very strict and although his products didn't come into the under 3 category they were still governed by extremely stringent safety regulations. Coupled with stores closing down their toy departments, the end was inevitable. It took a while but we could eventually "put it all down to experience".

In the beginning...

In the beginning we had a decent amount of land (2 hectares) but a lot of it was in fact water in the form of a moat surrounding this lovely 14th century house. The previous owners didn't live here and the only real garden they had created was two small flower beds within the moat - one of these, the Chapel Garden, was full of very old, woody thyme that smelt delicious but looked awful; the other was very pretty and in what we call the Secret Garden.

Outside of the moat we had two fields which were being used by our neighbour, Bernard, to graze his sheep. There was also an area between the moat and our Bernard's farm which was pretty scrubby.

Over the past ten years things have changed a little. For a start one of the fields has become our garden. A lot of it is still grass but there are also several flower beds and a vegetable plot. Secondly we were able to buy a small piece of land attached to this garden/field and although it is still a very messy field we have plans! The other field has just been planted with 1,500 trees, currently 60cms high but hopefully from small acorns mighty oaks will grow.