When we moved to France we had big ideas of self-sufficiency – harvesting nature’s natural produce, growing our own vegetables, eating fruit from the orchard…
…but I have to admit, many years later, we have failed dismally!
Mrs B has very green fingers when it comes to plants and flowers, but she won’t mind me saying her vegetable garden is a complete disaster. Actually I should say ‘vegetable gardens’ because we have had several, and all have been utter failures.
When we first arrived in France we ploughed a large area of field, planted zillions of seeds, bulbs and tubers, then sat back and watched as nothing grew except weeds, far faster than we could hope to pull them from the baked hard soil. Any vegetables that dared to show themselves were eaten by pests long before they reached our dinner table.
Over the following years we have tried various alternatives – smaller potagers, planting vegetables next to a natural pond so they could be watered regularly, small raised beds next to the house with a tomato plant or two – but in truth none have been worth the effort (although we do have a nice string of dried chillies hanging in the kitchen to commemorate our most successful year).
As for enjoying nature’s own produce - how many chestnuts could you eat? We have three mature chestnut trees but apart from the occasional roast chestnut on Christmas Day none of us are really very tempted. We also have a walnut tree right outside the kitchen window – but the first reminder that the walnuts are ready is usually a red squirrel grinning in through the window and running off with the last one.
We did once harvest the ceps in the woods but by the time we had tracked down an expert to confirm we wouldn’t die 10 minutes after eating the wrong thing they were a bit dried up and not very appealing.
The orchard we ‘inherited’ with the property has plums, apples, peaches and nectarines which are slightly more successful. We call them ‘organic’, although others might prefer the word ‘neglected’. Unfortunately the trees are all very old and have a tendency to fall over every time there is a storm, so the orchard is now a mere shadow of its former self.
Even more unfortunately, our prize peach tree collapsed recently under the weight of the hundreds of fine ripe beaches it was carrying – it is in the garden of one of the gites and we usually rely on holidaymakers to eat the fruit, but the people staying in the house this summer said they didn’t like to eat the peaches in case we thought they were stealing them…
Ah well, the season for blackberries is just starting and that is one thing that our ‘gardening technique’ positively encourages. We have lots of hedgerows that are sagging under the weight of all the blackberries just waiting to be picked – so at least we should be having plenty of blackberry crumbles this winter, if someone will brave the heat outside and go to pick them…
Any hints or tips as to how we could increase our success next year are very welcome!