Monthly Archives: March 2012

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want
… But if you try sometimes
… you just might find
You get what you need.

Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed’ album, 1969

The vernal equinox has arrived and the garden is waking again from its wintry slumbers so it seems a good time to review my progress so far in the 52 Week Salad Challenge. You will find my previous posts on the subject here, here and here if you would like to read them.

The aim is to put home-grown salad on the plate every week of the year and technically I have managed to do that, but I don’t feel very satisfied with what I’ve done. What we have eaten has been either repetitive or in very small quantities or often both. In the garden there were only a few mizuna and mustard plants clinging on to life, offering little plus the over-wintering peas that I robbed a few shoots from. No more thanY a few mouthfuls.

I tried growing micro greens indoors – the harvest was tasty but minuscule, I didn’t get to grips with successional planting and I quickly got tired of having trays of seedlings cluttering up my kitchen work top (the only place with sufficient light). But I potted up several of the seedlings of parsley and coriander and they are growing on now in the greenhouse. I’m told I did well to get parsley to germinate that early in the year, for which I should probably thank the potting shed’s over-enthusiastic wood-burning stove and excellent insulation!

The challenge pushed me to resurrect my sprouting jars. I tried a few seeds that were new to me but quickly settled into my old favourites – chick peas, mung beans and alfalfa, plus a new one, Puy lentils, which are delicious.

So, overall not a resounding success, it is true, but am I down-hearted? No, not at all, quite the contrary. I may not have filled our stomachs but the challenge has made me think, involved me in a community of like-minded gardeners and fuelled my determination to do better next winter.

Ever since I started this garden I have wanted to grow food for all year round but have never come close to achieving it. I gave up growing main crop potatoes because blight gets them, pumpkins are my biggest (only?) success, although the mice ate most of them this year. The trouble is I get all excited about sowing and planting in spring and then I run out of energy and enthusiasm. I think the main reason is that I have never been sure what I should be doing, what crops can be grown for winter and early spring and when to sow, how to make a follow-on crop fit into a four year rotation cycle.

A few weeks ago Michelle, whose idea the salad challenge was, interviewed Charles Dowding, the well-known organic gardener and advocate of no-dig gardening, for her blog. As a result of reading this very interesting interview I bought two of Charles’ books*.

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The books are just what a gardener needs – they inspire you to try something and they give you the information you need in order to succeed, plus there are lots of good photographs. He has also written a book on salads for winter, but I went for the winter vegetables one because, in truth, I don’t want to eat a lot of salad over winter, I prefer warm vegetables and veggie-packed soups. In any case there are sections on salad growing in the book. I was surprised to learn that many of the winter crops have to be started now, I had assumed one started them much later. I can’t wait to get going when the current cold spell lets up.

My plan is to grow as many different things as I can since there will inevitably be failures (our mountain winters are very unpredictable) and I will start to learn what works and what doesn’t. You never know, I might even manage to grow Brussels sprouts (which are very nice raw in salads, by the way). And, of course, I will tell you all about it. One final thought on salads: if, like me, your vinaigrettes can be a bit hit and miss you will find a great vinaigrette recipe here on Carl Legge’s excellent website. In fact, you’ll find lots of lovely recipes there, including salads made with foraged plants and even ‘weeds’.

And, finally,

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not a salad but you may remember the rhubarb that I dug up and then forgot and finally transplanted to the greenhouse after weeks of bad weather. Well, here it is looking very happy and we had our first taste of the year this evening, stewed with apple, orange zest and cinnamon.

*Charles Dowding, Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way
and Charles Dowding, How to Grow Winter Vegetables

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Photo Friday

What do you do when you missed ‘Wordless Wednesday’ and you have some pictures you want to share? You do a ‘Photo Friday’, which has the added benefit of allowing words.

I have two things to celebrate today. Firstly, a new look blog, not very different, but I felt the need for a change. If anyone knows what the seed heads in the header picture are, I would love to know. And, secondly, the first tulip has opened and the first iris. Yesterday, they were still tightly closed, today, despite the cold, they are yelling “look at me, aren’t I gorgeous?”

Here is tulipa ‘Stresa’

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The bad weather has damaged both the petals and the leaf tips, unfortunately, so perhaps ‘gorgeous’ might be overstating it a bit, but it is there, brightening up the sunny rockery, and that’s just fine.

The iris was more of a surprise. It is in a bed just outside the potting shed door, where it doesn’t get much sunshine. I swear that yesterday it had only just started to push through the soil. Her name is ‘Pauline’ and she is tiny but quite, quite perfect.

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And, finally, not a bulb but the blossom of a tree I had read about and coveted for years but had never seen, a Cornus Mas. I finally planted one last autumn, just a baby, not even a metre tall, but it is covered in little packets of blossom growing along the stem. And what blossom.

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Yet another snowy blog post

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Living and gardening in Ariège is never boring. After five years here I don’t feel that I understand what a ‘normal’ season is. I know that it snows in winter, spring is wet, summer is hot and everyone agrees that autumn is the best season. But beyond that broad brush there is little pattern. Perhaps I need another 20 years here, perhaps global warming is messing things up or maybe mountain weather really is unpredictable.

February certainly had the most prolonged period of cold and snow that we have experienced, the worst in 25 years according to my hairdresser. Our Propane gas bottles didn’t work from late evening until the sun had warmed them next morning, but a thermos flask and a bit of ingenuity with the wood stove supplied the essential early morning cuppa. The water butts (our only on-site water source) froze solid – and I do mean solid – so we had to import water from the village, where we also collect drinking water. I did try this method too:

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A lot of snow makes a very little water!

When the thaw started two of the butts split while in another butt I found this beautiful block of ice:

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But we had lots of sunny, if cold, days and eventually the temperatures rose and the snow melted. From -17°C suddenly we had +19° but even that hasn’t managed to clear the snow in the part of the courtyard garden that doesn’t get any sun. But, when you have a nice bottle of Chardonnay and no fridge, snow can come in handy:

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It has been so nice to get out into the garden and the greenhouse this week after nearly four weeks of cabin fever. The snow has done little damage that I can see.

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The crocuses are looking so cheerful, the emerging leaves of the daffodils are all a bit bent but they will doubtless sort themselves out. The peas have flopped a bit but the broad beans in the next bed are standing erect and firm. Several evergreens have a few branches with dead leaves on them but again nothing serious.

The witch hazel has suddenly burst into flower and smells – well what does it smell of? I’m not sure if I like it or not, but I make regular detours to pass and smell again.

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The worst damage is to the lawns and grass paths and is only indirectly due to the snow:

This is mole damage. They seem to tunnel at a particular depth and don’t distinguish between soil and snow, so when the ground is covered in snow they gouge our these grooves in the grass. It happens every year but this time it is really bad. I’m just glad I’m not in charge of lawns!

Another post-thaw find was this poor rhubarb lying on the ground.

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I had read somewhere that you should dig up a rhubarb, leave it overnight in the frost (I have no idea why) then plant it in the greenhouse for a really early crop. So I dug it up, left it to get frosted, forgot it for a while, then it disappeared from view under the snow for a month. After all that mistreatment you would think it would be dead, but no, there were tiny shoots showing. I apologised profusely to it and replanted it in lots of lovely manure in the greenhouse. After three days it looks like this:

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Which just goes to show that even terrible gardeners sometimes get better than they deserve.

And the weather forecast? It’s going to snow again tonight. Oh, joy.