Home again

After fifteen days away and  two thousand miles of travel ending with a fourteen-hour drive towing a heavy trailer, it felt good to get home. So what have we come back to? Well, a feast of flowers for a start.

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The peach, plum, pear and apricot blossom is putting on a fantastic show and the air is dripping with its scent. The trees are literally buzzing with clouds of pollinators, to stand near them is like listening to a sun-warmed beehive. I think we could be on for another bumper crop of fruit this year!

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The cows are back in our field and ‘El Toro’ ( who just can’t mind his own business) is keeping an eye on our activities – or maybe he’s thinking it’s time we tidied up that mess?

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There is a tremendous sense of burgeoning growth everywhere. The herbs I planted at Christmas have suddenly appeared from nowhere .  .  . along with too many celandine seedlings for my liking. In fact, they are everywhere. Are they the new oxalis?

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The autumn sown ‘Douce Provence’ peas are flowering.

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There is a forest of broccoli which isn’t a problem as we love it. Since we got back we’ve eaten it simply steamed as a side dish, stirred through a creamy sauce for pasta, stir-fried in hot chilli and garlic, dressed in a herby olive oil for a salad lunch, and mixed with rocket and coriander to dip raw in homemade mayonnaise. I will quite happily eat it every day, it is such a good food.

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Our main focus this week has been planting, planting, planting. First, trees. We planted a native orange tree ‘Sanguinello’ before we left; it has certainly had a happier start than the lemon.

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This week we’ve added a ‘Victoria’ plum and ‘Hedelfingen’ cherry to the orchard; at the moment they just look like little sticks beyond the peaches but it shouldn’t be too long before they are adding their own beauty to the blossom mix. We’ve also put in some climbers to cover fences: newly bought purple clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ and pink jasmine beesianum, and a passionflower that has been sitting in its pot since coming here with us last year.

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The whole village seemed to be planting potatoes in the sunshine, so we were only to happy to join in. For years, our spud of choice has been ‘Charlotte’ but this year we’ve decided to ring the changes and plant ‘Pentland Javelin’ as a first early and ‘Divaa’ as a second early. We’ve never grown the latter but it has good reviews so it will be interesting to see how it does. We normally plant in flat ground then earth up but the local way is to make trenches and plant in the mounds, so we decided to do it that way, too. Ah, it is so steep at the top of that patch; my muscles were telling me I was home!

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Potatoes done, we turned our attention to other things. Carrots proved very tricky here last year, they just wouldn’t germinate (although the few we had were fantastic); the only thing to do is try again. I’ve planted a long row of four varieties next to the potatoes: ‘Nantes’, ‘Flakkee 2’, ‘Chantenay’ and ‘Atomic Red.’ Surely something in that lot will do the business. Two rows of peas  – an eclectic mix of ‘Kelvedon Wonder’, ‘Hurst Greenshaft’ and ‘Early Onward’ – have gone into the main veg patch.

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In my salad patch I’ve sown Swiss chard ‘Lucullis’ and rainbow chard ‘Bright Lights’, along with komatsuna and three types of beetroot: red ‘Bona’, yellow ‘Touchstone Gold’ and white ‘Albina Vereduna’. Now I love beetroot and part of that is about the rich purply- red colour. I’m not sure how I feel about yellow and white ones but the seed was a gift so I’m interested to try them and I’m keeping an open mind. After all, white carrots proved to be quite a revelation in our French garden, far crunchier and tastier than the orange ones, even if our neighbour Rolande declared them fit only for rabbit food!

I’ve tucked ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Mixed Salad Bowl’ seedlings into several spaces around the garden; they are a bit small but they’ll be fine as long as the slugs and snails stay away.

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I’ve planted more in trays, plus ‘Red Rosie’ lettuce and a couple of salad leaf mixes (although quite honestly the so-called ‘spicy’ mix just looked like  mustard and coriander seed to me and not a lot else!). Also sown are two trays of early brassicas – calabrese, summer broccoli, cauliflower and several varieties of green and red cabbage. I’ve run out of plant labels so had to raid the peg basket!

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Now to the hothouse dwellers. Aubergine seedlings never fail to make me smile. They are such fragile little things, like Victorian ladies having a fit of the vapours at the merest hint of drama in their sheltered lives. The first sowing had yielded three ‘Bonica’ and seven ‘Berenja de Almagro’ plants which had been sitting in the now unheated propagator (brrr, first drama) while we were away. Time for them to be potted on and evicted: I could almost sense them shivering and fainting as I lifted the lid! However, after an initial wilting fit, they coped and are now happily growing on, sitting on a sunny windowsill.

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No such worries with the much tougher leek seedlings: I don’t think we will be short of plants this year judging by how well this lot are doing.

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Into the newly vacated propagator went the next group of warmth lovers. Two more aubergine varieties ‘Aubergine de Barbentane’ and ‘Rosa de Bianca’, chillies ‘Early Jalapeno’ and ‘Padron’ and peppers ‘Carmagnola’ , ‘Golden Calwonder’,  ‘Marconi Red’ and ‘Sweet Banana’. I lost count of the number of tomato varieties I planted ( although the totally indulgent ‘Sungold’ was one) but we need plenty of plants this year. Tomatoes are going to be our biggest challenge because of the problem with blight here so we are going to have to experiment a bit. Three days after planting and there is already a good crop in the making . . .DSCF0222.JPG

I’ve also planted courgettes, basil, leafing celery, hyssop, fennel, chives and masses of flowers . . . phew, time for a breather. With the promise of a lovely evening and a piece of fresh tuna in the fridge, we decided to make kebabs and cook them over wood.

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Closing my eyes and turning my face to the sun, I smelt the sweet wood smoke and listened to those familiar sounds – the rushing river, tinkling cowbells,  bumblebees  in the rocket flowers, blackcaps and blackbirds warbling all across the valley. Lovely. Yes, it’s good to be  home! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Home again

  1. Wow, everything is so far along! We have our first pea and broadbean blossom in the polytunnel (and I was very pleased with that), but your plants look like they’re going to crop next month! The fruit blossom is gorgeous. And borage flowers already! The potato planting at 45 degrees looks a right workout. Ours will go in on the weekend, next to the pond. Have you grown Bona beetroot before? I’m trying it for the first time this year. Anja has rated Magic Mountain tomatoes highly for blight resistance so I’m trying a few in pots outside this year. Might be one for you to check out. Nice Toro!

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  2. We have to keep pinching ourselves, it feels more like May to us northerners! I have grown Bona for several years, it has a good flavour and seems very versatile. I was still lifting the last few at Christmas to slow roast in the oven. I will look into Magic Mountain tomatoes, they could be one to try. The problem is that we can’t plant any in the ground, they will all have to be container-grown in sterile soil and the local trick is to hide them away in a sheltered spot to keep the mist off them. This seems so unnatural to us (growing tomatoes in shade?), yet our neighbours – whose plants were wedged tightly between two buildings – picked the last ripened fruit in January. Time for a little local knowledge and a lot of experimentation!

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