Soil, seeds and social change

January 2017

img_4536For New Year’s Day, we decided against tradition and ditched the typical roast dinner for an Indian buffet instead. We enjoyed homemade onion bhajis, curried mince samosas, chicken tikka massala, naan breads and basmati rice…what a perfect start to 2017! The food may have been getting hotter inside, but the outside temperature certainly wasn’t. January saw temperatures plummet to -10°C, which was quite a shock to the system, but cold spells are beneficial to the garden and essential for the survival of many plants, in order for them to bloom. This process is known as vernalisation.

(from Latin vernus, “of the spring”) is the induction of a plant’s flowering process by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter (…) For many perennial plants, such as fruit tree species, a period of cold is needed first to induce dormancy and then later, after the requisite period of time, re-emerge from that dormancy prior to flowering”.

Despite several frosty mornings, we have, however, been lucky enough to see some pretty spectacular sunrises.

While I am in charge of the vegetable garden this year, my mum is going to take care of the flowers, which we hope will attract many beneficial insects. There’s something special about a garden in full bloom…it has this amazing ability to lighten everyone’s spirits through its vibrant colours and incredible fragrances. Once the terrace is done, we hope to have a ‘scented rockery garden’ around it, so we can spend summer evenings enjoying our favourite lavender and jasmine scents that fondly remind us of our time spent in Antibes, in the South of France, from 2002 – 2003.


The potting station in the polytunnel has been cleaned out in preparation for the sowing season, and I didn’t have to buy many seeds this year, as I had some bought ones left over from last year. We had also collected quite a few from our own plants. I find that French supermarkets and garden centres tend to charge a fortune for packet seeds and so I have taken to buying them online. I think it would be great to take part in a ‘seed swap’, but I’m not sure anybody does that kind of thing in our local area. I will have to look online for seed exchange sites, we tried it once in Chamonix and we got our hands on some super heirloom carrot seeds.

jiffy-7-pelletsFor the past two years, we have used universal compost for seed sowing, which really hasn’t been adequate enough for the smaller seeds, so this year, we have invested in some finer seed compost, which is rich in nutrients. I had quite a lot of success last year from a small selection of seeds grown in propagation pellets (those that expand in water), but I haven’t got round to getting any yet. The soil conditions were perfect for tiny seeds and I got a high success rate.

Progress has begun on the new beds on the north side of the house, where the stump of our magnolia tree is still deeply rooted to the spot! We have had a change of heart about the tractor tyre, which I so adamantly wanted to remove! Our new beds are going to be a series of circular raised beds (including the loathsome black tyre), and they will be framed in whatever materials we can get our hands on, notably off-cuts of wood, surplus stone left over by the masons when we had our patio doors fitted, and some of our spare red roof tiles (the idea of which came from a recent article I read – see below photos, courtesy of Permaculture Magazine).imageHaving tried to dig down into the soil, which was not only frozen solid but plagued with tree roots, we quickly agreed that the no-dig method would be better, so we will use our trusted hügelkulture/hügel-spiral method once again of simply laying down cardboard, branches and twigs, followed by some top soil, and voilà, a ready-made bed! Here’s a look at how I got on this afternoon:

While I have been outside, enjoying the appearance of some much-welcomed sunshine, Pete has been busy upstairs, working on Madeleine’s bedroom renovation.

Next month, we have two important dates in our calendar…the installation of our long-awaited reed bed sewage system…and our visit to the big city of Toulouse, for our French citizenship application. I can’t help but feel apprehensive at the thought of leaving the tranquility of our beautiful countryside home, in exchange for the hustle and bustle of city life which doesn’t appeal to me any more. I keep joking with Pete that I am the country mouse from one of Aesop’s Fables, ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’, which you can read here, if you haven’t already! the-town-mouse-and-the-country-mouse-ladybird-book-favourite-tales-series-gloss-hardback-1993-45-pToulouse may be a far cry from our everyday life here in the Aveyron, but I am also looking forward to a change of scenery, some time with Pete, the scenic 2-hour train journey and a night in a city centre hotel. Let’s just hope our interviews go well and we come back to a fully operational, ecological sewage system that we might just finish paying off in ten year’s time!

Oh, and it’s been over 8 weeks now…and we’re still waiting for our free LED lightbulbs!!!


The title ‘Soil, seeds and social change’, although apparent to my current blog post, is actually reference to a new initiative, supported by the Cabot Institute, a centre for research into dynamic and  changing environments at the University of Bristol, and to the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador.



One thought on “Soil, seeds and social change

  1. I can feel a curry coming on! That sounds like the perfect start to the year.
    We must arrange to swap some seeds next year, we collect quite a few, many of them from organic originals that we started with three or four years ago. You are right though, online is the way to go when buying, packet prices start at about 20p over here in Poland and you will be hard pushed to pay more than a pound. Although garden centres are starting to catch on big time so prices will start to go up I’m sure.
    Nice masking job on the tyres 🙂
    Will be interested to see the reed bed system, lots of pictures please 🙂 We just run all our grey water into the woodland with a gravel pit near the outlet and a mulch over the top, but I’d love to develop it. Will you be dealing with black water as well?
    Good luck in Toulouse!

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