Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Long Hot Summer

It seems ages since I posted on this blog.  It just seems that while the sun is shining and the weather is perfect, there is always something to do on a project as big as ours.

We are trying to finish the little house before Christmas, and still have so many things to complete.  My main task has been to renovate the exterior walls, which sounds like a relatively small undertaking, compared to the mountain of tasks that Nick has had to tackle.... but still it feels never-ending.

I had to chipper off all the render first, to expose the old stones.  I needed to dig out all the old pointing that was dry and dusty, until I got back to the original mud pointing that was still solid. As we wanted to expose the stones, for 'pierres apparantes' I had to remove sufficient to enable the stones to stand proud after repointing.  A hammer drill and a screwdriver, proved to be the most effective way to remove everything.

Having gone round the whole building twice, it was then time to clean the stones.  After trying a number of methods, I settled on diluted chlorine and wire brushes (the technique advocated by our neighbouring farmer).  It seems to take an age,  having gone round the entire property at ground level, I then had to start again with a platform for the upper level.  I can't say I'm looking forward to repeating this process on the barn!  However it is starting to look beautiful...

Just one more round cleaning the top of the walls, and then I can start repointing, and buttering them to finish.

We used a sandblaster on the inside walls to clean the areas we wanted to expose like the chimney breast, as we also needed to clean the old wooden beams

It was a much quicker process, but still hard work particularly in the deep sea diving helmet that allowed you to breathe clean air.  It was incredibly heavy, and the equipment rental firm had forgotten to give us a new visor for the front.
It was so difficult to see through the front panel (as the sand pitted the surface) that Nick had to remove it periodically to sand the surface flat....

Although I am quite proud of my efforts to date, they pale into insignificance when compared with the productivity of the man machine that is my partner.  In the time it has taken me so far to renovate the exterior walls, Nick has managed to....

Lay the foundations for the ground floor;  lay cabling to take all the electrics;  and pour and level the concrete.

To lay the flooring for the first floor, inch thick marine ply to ensure that it has no bounce...

 To construct a Hot Tub from cedar, fashioning the planks and constructing the metal banding and tighteners.....

Make hardwood windows by cutting down french doors, and fit all of the doors and windows....    Albeit I did lend a hand in the painting department.  A key task which I'm sure was pivotal in the overall development timeline!

 To construct a unique front door made from oak planks taken from the barn, cleaned and planed to form an entrance both beautiful and original.....

To lay the framework for the decking at the rear of the property, while we wait for the sawmill to cut the 90 metres2 of chestnut we will lay....

And most recently to construct an oak staircase, made again from the oak planks he has reclaimed and cleaned from the barn..

I would feel slightly overwhelmed by the productivity compared to my meagre efforts, but I have also had responsibility for the vegetable garden, and here I have definitely restored the balance.

My cherry tomatoes started to crop in August and I have had four weeks now of continual harvesting...

In fact there have been so many, I have slow roasted over 300 tomatoes.  I cut them in half, added a touch of salt and pepper and olive oil, and roasted them in the oven for 3 hours.  The depth of flavour is amazing, so sweet and sticky, and great to add to pasta or salads. I have frozen most of them and they can be used straight from the freezer without reheating.

My other great passion has now become 'cucurbits'.  I had never even heard of the word 8 weeks ago, but I now know that this is the family of pumpkins, squash and melons.  And my interest is down to the fact that I seem to have the ideal soil, conditions and weather for growing them.

The first notion I had was when I realised that I had quite a few pumpkins growing in the patch and they were starting to get quite big. From the tiny seeds that I had grown in the greenhouse there were some sizeable fruit and a lot more flowers still being pollinated by the bees...

I was quite amazed when they started to 
mature in August, swelling and ripening 
on the vine...

I had thought that pumpkins were harvested in October ready for Halloween, and yet mine were definitely ripe and ready to be hardened off in mid August.... and so we started harvesting them

My butternut squash have taken a similar journey.  Loads of tiny fruit set in July after the bees had done their work.... and then swelled on the vine...

Until I had 35 huge squash gradually turning a deep biscuit colour in the August sunshine..

And I planted 6 canteloupe melon seeds.  After a profusion of tiny yellow flowers, the fruit started to grow....

I had read that it is best to cut off the smaller fruit to allow one or two per plant to reach full size, but I just didn't have the heart.  So I left all the fruit on the vine to see how many would ripen...

And it seems that the Dordogne sunshine and the heavily manured raised beds we had built were perfect for them, so they all carried on growing to full size, and we are now harvesting melons on a daily basis.
They are sweet and honeyed and bursting with flavour.

It feels like a Harvest Festival display in the potager...... and yet it is only the end of August.  However if the amount of new flowers on the cucurbit plants are a sign of things to come, then we should be harvesting all the way through till October.  Anyone for soup.... !

Monday, 4 June 2012

First Harvest

It is now early June and the sun has been shining for weeks, the temperature has hit the early 30s and I have emptied two of the rainwater butts keeping my young plants watered.  There has been a major burst of growth over the past week and I am starting to harvest the fruit and salad that is ripening in the warmth and sunshine.

The peas are swelling in their pods, which are hanging heavy from the winding climbers

The broad beans have been flowering profusely for the last 3 weeks, and the bees have been busily pollinating them.  Huge purple black carpenter bees, alongside lumbering bumble bees have done their work, and despite a bit of brown spot on the plant, I have spotted the first beans

And even the french beans which went out into the garden a little early, have started to produce their first crop.

The canteloupe melons have been planted out and have been putting on new growth,

And the butternut squash plants are growing rapidly, and the first pumpkin has appeared.  A mite too early to start carving it yet though.

The ferny tops of the carrots have completely filled the enviromesh cover

And the broccoli, sprouts and cauliflower are thriving under the mesh, as it is providing some shade from the intense heat of the sun

After starting them in the greenhouse, the sweetcorn have now been planted outside in a block to ensure they are all pollinated, and we get the sweetest corn cobs

All the tomatoes have been planted out now as the night time temperatures are staying above 10 degrees, and after the tiny yellow flowers, I now have the first signs of the cherry tomatoes

Our fruit bushes are also bearing fruit now, in various stages of ripening.
The raspberries have just formed and are starting to swell

The little bell flowers on the blueberry plants have been replaced with the berries that are starting to turn from green to blue

Whilst shading under the leaves of the bush, the gooseberries are starting to ripen

And the rhubarb has almost taken over one side of the fruit bed

Even the grapevines that we transported over from England made it through the -16 degree winter freeze, and have not only put on leafy growth, but we also have the first grapes appearing

And finally our strawberries are bright red jewels in the veggie beds, sweet and juicy, best tasting when eaten warm straight off the plant.

And along with the spinach salad leaves and radishes, they have provided us with our first harvest.

Hugh Fernley had a great tip to store strawberries.  He advised putting them in a sealed container with some golden sugar and then to shake them about to break the surface of the fruit slightly which when mixed with the sugar produces a sweet natural glaze to the fruit.  He added vinegar too, but I don't think they need this.  Served with a big dollop of creme fraiche, they are amazing - so sweet and juicy, and an intense strawberry flavour - didn't manage to see how long they last with this method though as we ate them all!

Planting out in May

With the re-appearance of the sun in early May, it is finally time to plant out in the garden.  The water butts are full, the soil is thoroughly wetted and the conditions are ideal for planting out seeds.  The temperatures are climbing again to the mid 20s, and overnight staying above 7 degrees, so with the chance of frost over, some of the more tender plants can be planted out directly.

The broad beans and peas are planted as seeds straight into the bed with a wigwam of canes erected to help them clamber upwards.

The swede and turnip seeds have been sown ready for winter stews and soups, and thinned to give them maximum room for the roots to swell

Whilst the carrot and parsnip seeds have been planted and then covered with Enviromesh to keep out any carrot fly that would happily decimate our crops

Two types of spinach seed have been sown, the large leaves for cooking down with butter and plenty of salt and pepper to accompany our roast chicken.  Whilst the smaller salad leaves are eaten raw and give a lovely peppery flavour to summer salads

To accompany them, I have sown mixed radish seeds, of different sizes, colours and heat levels. An easy salad plant to grow as they swell so quickly and can be eaten within a couple of weeks of sowing the seed.

In the greenhouse I have started planting my more tender crops.  Sweetcorn seedlings are just pushing through the compost,

Canteloupe Melon, butternut squash and pumpkin are rapidly growing in size

Whilst the dwarf french beans have grown strongly to form solid little plants

I am growing flowers from seed to attract the pollinating insects, both for the vegetables and for Nicks macro photography.  The seedlings are growing happily in the greenhouse, and the morning glory vines are already in flower

In the orchard, the rains in April caused some peach leaf curl to the Nectarine and the Peach tree, even though I had applied Bordeaux Mix in Autumn and early Spring, but picking the leaves off and disposing of them seems to be working as the trees are both bearing fruit

Although I will need to pick off some of the immature nectarines in order to ripen just a few, as there are over 20 young fruit on the tree

And the apricot tree which is flourishing in terms of leafy growth and size, has just one ripening fruit.  I can't decide whether to make an apricot tart (for one),  or a tablespoon of apricot jam!