March – April 2018
Such a busy time of year but a very rewarding one, the arrival of Spring brings with it a sense of hope and optimism for a successful year of permaculture-living Chez TêteBlanche. It always astounds me how quickly nature re-awakens after several months of cold, damp slumber, and within a few short days, the entire landscape is rejuvenated, and we are surrounded by a lush, green palette that is bursting with activity.
Here, in the Aveyron, the tractors re-emerge from their sheds and we are blessed with the delightful countryside smell of muck spreading! The birds seem to sing louder than ever, and after a cold winter spell, the warmth of the sun on your face reassures you that there is no other place you’d rather be right now than in your very own garden, surrounded by the people you love, enjoying the place you’ve created through your relatively recent relationship with nature.
Of course, this is all said in hindsight, because the beginning of March didn’t start too positively in our polytunnel. As the weather began to get warmer, I, mistakenly, moved my delicate seedlings from our bathroom windowsill to the polytunnel, where I felt they would be safe from frost. It was my first mistake of the year and all my beautiful ‘Big Daddy’ and cherry tomato plants perished. My neighbour buys all his vegetable plants from the garden centre when they are already established, and he is forever scoffing at me for wasting so much time with my seeds, but I just love the idea of growing something from scratch and having that connection with nature. I never mentioned the tomato plants I’d lost, instead I reordered some more seeds and started again. I did, however, buy two grafted tomato plants, for an earlier harvest and also, to see if they are actually worth the extra money. I’m not convinced at this point in time, purely for financial reasons. Surely eating your own tomatoes from plants you’ve nurtured from seed has to be a more economically-viable option, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure the tomatoes taste sweeter too!
The rest of the polytunnel is doing pretty well, the soil is looking good and we recently put up the shading to prevent any leaves from scorching. The ‘perpetual’ spinach plants were growing in massive clumps and so I split them at the roots and successfully managed to replant them, which now means we have an abundance of fresh spinach, with huge leaves. We also have plenty of lettuces (some I grow from seed, others I buy from Villefranche market now and again, as they come in a nice size for transplanting in the warm polytunnel).
Outside the polytunnel, Pete has enlarged the bed we grew our sweetcorn in last year, so we can grow potatoes there this year. Last year, I bought them early and attempted to chit them myself in the polytunnel, which failed miserably. I ended up buying some already chitted potatoes, ready-to-plant, at the last minute and due to a surplus of stock, I saved money, too, thanks to a clearance ‘two for one’ offer. Possibly mistake number two of mine this year was holding back from buying ready to chit potatoes when they were all on promotion in early March. The trouble is, when the time came for planting, I found nearly all the garden centre shelves were empty and I ended up paying more than expected for some ready-to-plant, disease-resistant potatoes. Only time will tell if they will be worth the extra money. It must be said that only a week after planting them, green leaves were already poking through the soil, which is pretty fast growth.
My neighbour absolutely hates us using straw on the garden and is forever telling us to stop using it as a mulch, heaven forbid growing potatoes in it! The first year we used BRF wood chipings on our potato bed, which didn’t work. The second year we used straw, with much success, and last year, giving our knowledgeable neighbour the benefit of the doubt, we tried out the traditional soil method. After quite a lot of back-breaking digging in soil for a lower yield of potatoes, Pete and I agreed that straw is the only way for us! Having heavily mulched the garden with straw and humanure compost over the winter, you can definitely see the advantages now. There are few weeds and the nutrient-rich soil is thriving with earthworms.
With some wood to spare, Pete kindly built a wooden frame around the asparagus bed, which will now become our first raised bed. The plan is to eventually put wooden frames around the rest of the beds, but wood and time are in short supply at the moment. It is our third year of asparagus growing and we were delighted to see green asparagus sprouting up through the straw. The big difference this year is that now the crowns are established, we can actually harvest it and eat it! Yum.
We also decided that in order to gain more growing space and to make it easier to cut the grass, we would make one large bed, instead of having two, long beds, running parallel with the polytunnel. Pete removed the top layer of grass, which we re-laid around the reed beds, to make the area level.
Another garden project was the rockery, which involved unearthing huge amounts of buried iron and plastic (left by the previous owners) and digging up what seemed to be hundreds of nettle roots! We found an old tin barrel in the ground but it had been filled with concrete and therefore, impossible to move. We’ve decided we’ll have to give it a lick of paint and make a feature of it.
In a previous post, I recently hinted at wanting a pond in the garden. I researched the necessary material and decided that cost-wise, a pond wasn’t exactly high up on our list of priorities. I quickly dismissed the idea, preferring to hold out for a natural swimming pool in years to come. However, I did come up with a cost-efficient compromise, using the materials we already had…a bog garden of course! A bog garden is perfect if you already have an area of the garden that is naturally damp. If not, you can make one from scratch, but we already had the perfect spot and the hard work had already been done by the landscapers who installed the reed beds last year. The purified water that is filtered out of our reed bed sewage system provides a border-section of our land with irrigation all year round. To create this run-off area, a channel was dug, and then gravel and soil was put back in. A year later and the grass has grown back, so I simply removed the top level of turf, turned it upside down and put it back. I put stones around to make strimming easier and added a bag of soil. It only took about half a day to do, from start to finish, including the planting and I got the idea entirely from Wikihow: How to make a bog garden. Here are some photos, and a look at the plants I bought online:
Here’s a selection of recent garden photos, proving that spring has sprung Chez TêteBlanche:
Looking back at all these photos, I’m quite impressed that I found the time to juggle the garden with a day trip to the Gouffre de Padirac caves in the Lot (well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area), catch up with family who came over from the UK (even if it was for a flying visit), not to mention starting a full time supply teaching job in two middle schools in Aveyron. Needless to say, I was absolutely shattered by the time the April school holidays started! Although it was good experience, I have since decided that it isn’t feasible to work in two different schools, the commute and early start times left me with very little time to do anything else. Trying to do this, while running my own teaching business and being a mother/wife was just too much. I’ve been lucky enough to renew a short term contract for one of the two schools, which may be extended until the summer holidays. It means I’m only working two days a week, on a part time contract, in a nice school, and can still keep on top of my private lessons, housework, gardening and cooking…etc. I’m still a busy bee, just without the stress I had three weeks ago!
We now have a week’s family holiday at the beach to look forward to in May and I might even find the time to paint some pebbles while I’m there!