Thursday, 10 July 2008


A few years ago I was introduced to chard when we tried a veggie box scheme run in the area by a farm that employs handicapped adults. The farm is organic and is a great success. The box scheme didn't work for us as they couldn't deliver and we could never collect on the days specified. They changed it now to a shop which works much better.

Anyway, the chard made up a large part of the box and initially I wasn't too pleased - until I tasted it! It was delicious and has the advantage of being in two parts. You can eat the white stems with, say, a cheese sauce and then the green leaves as a change from spinach. Both are excellent. I might say though that I haven't yet managed to make the white stems in cheese sauce LOOK appetising but I am blessed with a 14 year old (the youngest of three) who will always try a new culinary effort and make a genuine yes or no decision about it. He loved it!

I was too late to sow any this year but found six plants in a local garden supply shop (I was looking for seed potatoes actually). I put three of these in a corner of the veggie patch but had no more room, so I put them in the flower bed. And this was the problem.

All the books say that chard must be watered regularly or it will bolt. The veggie patch was no problem as during the very dry June I was watering it anyway. However, the flower bed we try not to water so much and although it does have a sprinkler system it isn't yet up and running this year. So, guess what? The chard has bolted! It looks lovely though so I'm not too upset and of course I still have the three in the veggie patch.

If you are looking for a new vegetable experience I highly recommend trying chard. Next year I will grow it from seed as it isn't meant to be too hard to get started. You can also, in the UK at least, buy a sort of rainbow chard which has stems in a variety of colours. They look lovely but I haven't yet found them in France.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Happy Hams arrive up the Garden Path

I cannot deny that our attempts at self-sufficiencyish living have been influenced by Rebecca at Sally Gardens in Ireland. I started reading her blog about a year ago and was fascinated by her life on the smallholding and in particular her stories about the pigs. It set me thinking - which as Max will tell you, is always a dangerous moment! The red light flickered in my brain and I thought why not? We have the space and as we both work from home, we have the time.

I am thrilled to say that our very first weaners - two Berkshire Black cross - were collected yesterday. I collected them in the back of our van (which now has a certain Eau de Pig about it!) and they were safely installed in their new home during the afternoon. I was advised to leave them shut in the ark with food and water until this morning and, as there is no door on their ark, I put two bales of straw in front of the door. Well, that didn't last long and very soon they had knocked it down and come to investigate the outside world. Stories of houses made of straw spring to mind - although this time it was the piglets that huffed and puffed!

Thankfully, they were still in their enclosure this morning. I say thankfully because 1) I didn't have any photos and 2) they touched the electric fence a couple of times yesterday evening with their backsides and although we saw their ears literally spark the pigs themselves were seemingly unaware that the fence was electric and should be respected.

They were much less timid this morning and although they still haven't eaten very much they have made a nest in their ark (I'll post a picture of this ark sometime - it's a very grand name for the shack they are actually living in!) and have started rooting around. They both took a carrot from me this morning which I decided was progress although it was probably just hunger! But it was lovely to see them looking a little more at home and making gorgeous snuffling noises.

The Happy Hams are 10 weeks old and we will lovingly look after them until November/December. They will then be dispatched, again with love and care, to the freezer and provide us with more than enough meat for next year. If the project is a success we will repeat it next year.

As much as I would love to say that the pigs will be organic I can't. I have found it unbelievably difficult finding organic, or even guaranteed non-GM, feed. That will have to wait for next time. In the meantime they will be fed all our leftover vegetables and will have a happy life in our field.

Now, I must go and buy a pair of welly boots and perhaps change out of these somewhat smelly clothes! And clean the car!