Oops, is it March already? Let’s pretend it’s still February, so that I can write a February garden update. I had a bit of a problem with my mac these past three weeks and was only able to pick up blogging recently. My mac stopped working during our stay in the Netherlands. Its harddrive broke somehow. It was 1,5 year old, and therefore it fell outside the regular Apple guarantee, but luckily we live in the EU and the EU dictates a two year guarantee for these kind of products. And so by the beginning of last week, I got the mac back all repaired and well. Thank you Europe! Let’s hope it will work for another year or so.
But enough about the mac. The upside of the mac’s absence was that I had all the time of the world to work in our vegetable garden. It really needed some attention. There were many very sunny days in between the dark winter days, which I gladly used to prepare the whole garden for a new growing year. And during the evenings I worked on sowing this years seeds. Let me show you how far I got with everything. It’s a long update, so feel free to fetch yourself a cup of tea first.
Let me introduce you to a new friend in the garden. It’s a grelinette. I haven’t named it properly yet. If you have a good name for this guy (or girl) let me know. I’m open to suggestions. A grelinette looks a bit like two forks that have been placed together, with both handles moved to the outside. It’s commonly used to open up the soil and free up some weeds for easy removal. It’s assumed that it’s not very benificial for your the soil to dig it all up over and over again. People (that believe in this method) say that you break up the soils natural structure and strength. That’s why they sometimes don’t do anything with the soil or use this guy above, because some soils get very compacted through the year and for some vegetables it’s essential to open up the soil before they start growing. This tool does exactly that. It keeps the layers of the soil intact, but shakes it open a bit. And when it shakes things open, it’s also quite easy to remove all the weeds (by hand).
I must say that it’s a tool made in heaven. In only two afternoons I managed to loosen up the whole vegetable garden and take away most of the weeds (Eduard helped out a bit). The tool mostly uses your weight (gha!) to do it’s work. You basically poke it in the ground and then push it straight into the ground one side at a time with your feet. You can stand on the grelinette with your whole weight, not just one foot at a time. When its in the ground, you push it back and forth for about 20 degrees and wiggle it a bit with the two handles, till the soil is loose. You take it out and move on 10 or 20 cm further and repeat as long as you have to.
Why am I using this tool for the first time this year you ask? Well, it’s quite an expensive tool to buy, so I have hesitated over the years to buy it. This year I decided that it really was worth the money, based on our future plans. I will tell you a bit more about those in future posts. Today it’s about the garden.
Horse manure, keyholes, fruits & other perennials
After I had worked open the soil with the grelinette and took out the weeds, I placed horse manure on top. On some places more than others, as some vegetables (like carottes) don’t like manured soil. Some parts of the garden are also covered with a bit of clean wood ashes, from our fire place. Especially fruit bushes like a bit of extra this time of the year.
I also marked out the garden all over again. Partly with stones, partly with small sticks and partly by just pushing down the soil. This year I’ll be working with four long beds with different widths. In the widest one I have placed so called keyholes, which will function as small walk-in paths, so that I can easily reach everything around it without walking in the field. As soon as things really start growing, you will see what I mean with that.
Some things are staying at the same place though. The greenhouse and all the perennials like asparagus are not being moved. I did decide that the left side of the garden (on the picture above: the right side) will become the fruit garden. Most of the fruits were placed there anyway, but not all the strawberries. The ones that were there, flourished last year. The ones that were on the other side of the garden, didn’t. They did bare fruit, but were either eaten (by slugs?) before we could harvest them, and otherwise they ended up under the leaves of the bigger vegetables that were growing on that side and never matured. Now all the 70! strawberry plants are growing on one side under the small fruit bushes. That bed needs a bit more weeding, but that will come in time.
Planting and sowing outdoors
I have started sowing and planting new stuff as well. Below you can see the first structure for the first peas this year that will hopefully produce a nice harvest. I bought many different pea varieties in Denmark last year. They seemed to be pea experts based on the amounts of peas you could buy on the road. On the same long bed I have planted the first two batches of garlic, perpetual leek and some special types of garlics of which you eat the small garlics that grow under the flower. I’ll blog about those as soon as we can harvest them. I will be able to tell a bit more about the taste then. I also planted a wide row of broad beans. And my first perpetual kale.
Expanding the garden
The vegetable garden as it is now, isn’t big enough for our plans, we’ve decided. We are expanding this year. Eduard opened up a piece of the veggie garden fence (behind the greenhouse on the picture above) that leads to this unused piece of land that you can see below. There will be a little wooden homemade gate in between the two patches. On the new patch I’ll be removing about 2mx25m of grass next to the fence on the right side and we’ll be using that mainly as a pumpkin & corn patch. That way, we’ll be able to grow much more and larger plants. They won’t be in the way of other smaller plants in the garden. It’s also a very sunny part in our garden. I will also grow flowers there too.
Active garden days end as soon as the shadow reaches our vegetable garden. We can easily loose 20 degrees in winter when the mountain behind us puts a shadow on everything. On a sunny day, I do get to enjoy the great sun fall on the mountain in front of the garden just before I quickly run indoors, to warm up around the fireplace.
Late harvesting as a motivator for new growth
With the preparation of the garden for the new season, I also took most of the vegetables from last year out of the garden. I had quite some fennel, a few red onions, beetroot and some carrots still outside. They served us with some great last dishes. I can wholeheartedly recommend you to keep a bit of winter veggies in your garden for that moment that you have to start working in your garden again for the next season. It’s a real motivator to get things started again.
I did find out this year, that the longer you are cultivating your garden, the easier it gets to get things done. It’s first of all because you have worked on the soil for many years, so the soil has less weeds and is easier to handle. It’s less compacted as well. But I also believe it’s because you get into this rhythm of sowing, growing, harvesting and feasting. You know better also that if you don’t do one thing, somewhere along the line, things will get messed up. You internalise and embrace the work that has to be done this time of the year in prospect of a good harvest that you still remember from earlier years. This makes things more fun to do. I enjoy it very much really.
My regular plants have competition in the house in februari, march and april. I start most of my seeds indoors. I have two small greenhouses that I use for that purpose. The first one is already up as you can see. It’s all filled up by now. I need to set up the second one, but for this one I have to move the African Linden and it’s not the best time of the year for it to be moved. It’s flowering like crazy and being all happy and satisfied in the sun that it gets from that window behind the greenhouse. I will have to find him a good temporary place to survive these upcoming two months.
Compared to the first year I started growing vegetables and flowers here in France, you can clearly see some progress in my sowing manners. I label everything as soon as I sow it and I have a long list on paper with all the things I have sown (I’m at 120 varieties right now, about 250 more to go), when I have sown them, when they came out and when I transplanted them outdoors. Equally I hope to add how the crop has been at the end of the season. I wasn’t able to do that in the first years, as you don’t really comprehend the whole circle of growing your own food, but this year I will be able to do that I hope.
All together I’m quite happy with what has been done in February and I can wait to show you what March will bring.