Le potager familial en mois de septembre 2016
It’s time to write-up a closure or a roundup of this year vegetable garden. The pictures in this post are made in September 2016, as I’ve already started working on next years garden this month and not much is left of this years crop in the garden. October has set in, so it’s time to start planting garlic etc for the year ahead. And that means that it’s also time to dig up and compost old plants. A vegetable garden has a tempo of its own and doesn’t leave much time for stand still. Luckily pictures do, so let me bring you back in time…….
Back 33 weeks in time, back to March, when we first got our plot. It looked like this at that time:
At the beginning we could not see what kind of soil and weeds were under the snow, so it felt literally like a blank canvas. A few weeks later, we found out that the whole patch was filled with all kind of weeds. Very invasive weeds. I then had already decided to cover everything up with cardboard and compost. Mostly because I got the garden late in the season – ideally one wants to start preparing a garden in the autumn before – and I didn’t have time to dig up everything properly. But also because the soil was – is – solid clay and I wanted to open it up a bit by adding a bit of other kind of organic matter.
As you can see on the pictures above, I slowly covered the whole garden, patch-by-patch with cardboard. I was able to get cardboard at the local supermarket and part of the compost was community compost that I was able to get my hands on in the same period. It was quite a job. I think I might have hurt myself a bit with that job, but I know that it was worth it in the long run.
At the same time Eduard worked on trimming the trees. There were three trees on the piece of land, but we didn’t have a clue what kind of trees they were. We decided to give them a thorough, but not to drastic trim, as we were also quite late for this. We mostly took away some of the height of the trees, which was a good move. Later on – in summer after harvesting the fruits – we did a second more drastic trimming.
In May the garden looked pretty and ready to start producing amazing crops. How proud I was!
Months passed and now that we reached autumn, I can honestly admit that I had many doubts with this garden. I often felt very unmotivated during the year, as if I had lost ‘a’ or ‘the’ battle. I think that that was partly due to the fact that the garden was new for us and partly due to the unpredictable weather this year. But now that we reached the end of it, I can say that it wasn’t all that bad. Ofcourse, it wasn’t as good as last years garden. But 2015 was an amazing year, with great weather and soil that had been worked on for three years in a row. Soil that I had learnt to understand and circumstances that I had learnt to work with. All these things matter and I am sure that in three years time, this piece of land will be very comparable and maybe even better. And fair is fair, some good things happened this year as well. Let me type up some highlights for you.
I think I took the UN year of the legume to heart this year. I have never grown such an amazing crop of beans before. They kept on coming. This is a result of things that I’ve learnt over the years. The most important one of them being, that I have to wait a bit longer (than I can) with planting them out in the open. They really do better when you wait for the warm weather to settle in. Also during the night.
The other thing that I’ve learnt is that you have to pick them early for a bigger crop. On these pictures you can see that I’m quite late already. That’s because we were away on a four week holiday and I had picked everything off, just before leaving. We came back with this. A beautiful bountiful crop of yellow, green and purple beans.
Tomatoes. Hmmmm. What to say. You should know that I basically garden to grow my own tomatoes. Everything else is nice, but without tomatoes I’m not sure if I would keep up a vegetable garden at all. I know it’s a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. So tomatoes are important. The pictures below were of the tomato plants in September. They looked amazing. Full with fruit, healthy plants. Not to be compared to how the plants looked two months earlier. I almost gave up, as all my neighbours did. Some said that they would never grow tomatoes again.
The early summer was far too wet for tomato plants. I had to fight continuously against blight. But my fight was successful. I was able to keep 75% of my plants and they started producing bounty full crops in September. That was a bit late though, to get the most out of the plants. What I got out of it was that I know how to heal tomato plants from blight. People say that it’s impossible. But that’s really not true. As long as you are early (with only brown spots on the leaves) and as long as the weather turns at one point, you are very able to heal your plants. So what do you do to heal them?
First of all, you need to take every piece of ‘brown’ – ness off your plants. You also have to be sure that you are dealing with blight. Small brown spots are often early blight, which isn’t that bad. But big pieces of brown spots, that look like your plant is rotting away, are clearly blight. What I would do was that I would first harvest the tomatoes (if any) and then start working from the least affected plants towards the most affected ones. Cutting off leaves, pieces of the stem and if necessary, the whole plant. At that time of the year I would take everything infected offsite. Later on in the year (now) I just compost all the old plants. I’m not too afraid of that.
And then I would keep on tying up the top parts of the plant and cutting off the bottom part of the plant. You have to keep doing that during the growth season. This way they stay off the soil. The danger is in the soil touching the leaves. Also when soil splashes up during a rain storm.
And for that you also need to do this: mulch, mulch, mulch. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or it just an accumulation of things I did, but as soon as I placed the mulch (straw that I got from a local farmer) under the plants, the plants started growing in a way that they didn’t before. The danger was turned. Some people use plastic covers to keep the soil away from the plant, but I prefer the natural sheet of straw. The straw mulch sheet is multifunctional. It creates a protective layer and you can dig it in later in the year to create a less dense soil. Which is really necessary in this garden.
PUMPKINS, COURGETTES, PATTY PAN, CUCUMBERS
So what about the pumpkins, courgettes, patty pans and cucumbers? These guys suffered this year as well, not only due to the weather which was too unpredictable during the nights, but also – and maybe most importantly – due to the massive slug invasion we’ve had this year. Oh my. What a difference this year was, compared to other years. Partly, because it was wetter than normal, but this year was also different due to our new place. It’s 400m higher than our last place (and therefore colder), but it’s also situated in a forest, so it’s also much wetter (and colder). The garden is also situated on a different slope. Not so much the degrees in slope, but the direction. So we don’t have that precious morning sun no more. We have a longer period of sun, but the morning sun is very important for these circumstances in which plants grow (and slugs thrive or not).
All things joined, for next year I have to remember to make nematodes that will kill the slugs naturally and will protect my plants. Next to nematodes I will also use the spiky peels of chestnuts as a natural barrier to young plants. A friend told me that that’s how they keep slugs and cats away from veg gardens in the Ardeche. It’s worth the try!
THE CABBAGE AND BRASSICA FAMILY
Comparing last years September garden with this years, there is one thing that catches your eye: there are only a few plants from the cabbage family growing in my garden this year. Last year everything was thriving. The garden was full with kale’s, brussels sprouts, cabbages, and what not. Again the biggest problem this year for this group of plants were the slugs. These guys did not suffer much from the weather, but did suffer greatly from the slug feasts. The plants that are left are plants that I planted late in the season and plants that were big when I planted them. I have to remember this for next year.
What about the fruit? We have a lot of soft fruit in the garden and a few trees with stone fruit. The trees gave us proper harvests, but the soft fruit was a different story. Everything that grew close to the ground suffered (once again) from the slugs. So we hardly had a harvest from that. Most strawberries were eaten in the night or morning by the slugs. Not giving us a chance to get close. The fruit bushes gave us an amazing harvest. The garden had about 20 fruit bushes already planted in the garden and we planted about 20 more. That gave us a harvest throughout the year. We are now approaching november and I think we will still be able to harvest the last raspberries of the season during the beginning of that month. The fruit is Eduards responsibility and I think he is very satisfied with the results. Next year will be only better with our interventions. I will also make more patches for strawberries, so we will have even more potential.
A few last remarks about this years garden.
First of all the no-dig method worked really well for me. The top soil is much more crumbly now than in the beginning. During this autumn I will dig everything up, bed by bed and that will create a bigger area of good top soil. The down-side of this no dig method that I used this first year was that I couldn’t grow any root vegetables. For me that was a fair sacrifice for not having to dig everything up. Upcoming year I will be able to grow everything. So hopefully I will be rewarded for my patience.
Secondly, this year wasn’t a very rewarding year in terms of crop sizes. I haven’t been able to preserve much from the garden. That shouldn’t be the case. I aim to grow much of what we eat during the year, so next year I should really step up the game. I believe that that will be possible. It’s really a matter of getting things prepped for better results. But we’ll see.
And lastly: I am really content with the garden now. I love being there, even though I really wasn’t happy during the passing of the growing season. Now that I’m preparing the garden for next year, I see this blank canvas again, that has a better starting position than 33 weeks ago. I’m realising once again, that patience is king and that we grow on our earlier efforts. I hope that those of you that are starting up a garden now, or are struggling with an existing garden, find a moment to put everything in perspective and see the end of the tunnel. On to a new gardening year!