For Information Only

Mas du Diable website is still here as a record and to keep the information available online. It is no longer an active blog and as of June 2012 we no longer live at Mas du Diable. You can still contact me through the contact page but please don’t post comments they won’t go live.

Wishing you all good growing, Laura.

A Kitchen Garden Notebook

I originally started this blog as a way to organise my records of the garden, climate and food growing activities and to share information, tips, ideas and techniques with other gardeners.

Having left Mas du Diable and moved to Devon, England I no longer have land to grow food on. I have started a new blog as a place to put the detailed growing information I have accumulated over the years about a huge variety of plants. An A-Z of edibles.  It will take some time to put all the information there but hopefully it will make a usefull resource for anyone interested in growing edible plants for food or seed in the future.

A Kitchen Garden Notebook  

Hard to Say Goodbye

The completion of the house sale is due any day now and the closer it gets the harder it feels to say good-bye. While it is still there I have felt i can go back to it at any time which has helped me make the move but once it is sold, that will be a chapter closed. I loved it at Mas du Diable I was able to grow so many wonderful edibles and the mountains became my painting inspiration. It is harder than i thought it would be to let go, like a plant i put my roots into this soil. It was a special piece of land, but we had to leave it and I would not change the choice we made in coming here and living in these mountains for nearly nine years. I’ve learnt alot and learned what is of real value in life and to appreciate the land we live on.

Last picture as we left Mas du Diable

Now we are in Devon our lives are completely different, and I need to think about what to do with this website. It is so particular to here and I don’t want to be living in the past but there is so much information in here which could be useful to others so i’d like to keep sharing it online. I may also create a new website as an A-z of all the edibles i’ve grown. What do you think?

Asparagus

Asparagus, Asparagus Officinalis, a hardy perennial from the Liliaceae family. Asparagus is an ancient vegetable highly prized for its wonderful flavour as well as its nutritional and medicinal values, it produces tasty edible spears in mid spring. Asparagus may seem like a lot of work and a long wait to get started but once the plants have settled in and the asparagus bed has started producing it can’t be beaten, it really is worth taking the time and making the space for it.

History
Asparagus is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean lands but it has been found “wild” in so many places that there is some confusion as to where it actually originated. There are references to asparagus in ancient Egypt, Greece, Syria and Spain. It is known to have been cultivated by the Romans since at least 200 B.C. but it was not until the 16th century that it became popular in France and England. From there the early colonists took it to America.

Site & Soil
Asparagus is best in full sun in an open site but not too exposed to wind. It requires rich, (low nitrogen) well-drained, sandy soil and prefers a PH of between 6.5 – 7.5. Asparagus grows best at 16-24c but needs cool winters during its dormant period to crop well in spring.  The natural habitat of Asparagus is maritime and it can be found growing wild in many seaside locations around the world.  It thrives in soils that are too saline for for many other plants and is an ideal plant for a seaside garden.

Preparation (asparagus trench)
Incorporate a good amount of manure before planting. (preferably in autumn leaving the soil rough until March). In March dig a trench 20cm deep and 30cm wide. If soil was not prepared beforehand incorporate manure and leaf mould. Shape soil at the bottom of the trench into a ridge 10cm high running the entire length of the trench and sprinkle with bone meal. Trials have shown that adding sheep manure, bone or wool to the very bottom of the trench ensures a slow release of nutrients over a long period and will benefit asparagus. We happened to have all of the above from the late sheep that roamed the mountain so they went into my trenches.
Propagation

  • by division - divide roots in late winter or early spring when buds are just developing and before new root growth begins in earnest. Carefully lift crown with a fork. Shake off excess soil. Cut away any damaged or diseased growth from each section. Take great care not to damage or cut into any buds.  Pries apart the crown into sections each with at least one good bud. If necessary gently cut through the Crown. Place crowns 60cm (some say 30-45cm)  in a single bed or in beds with 2-3 rows 60-90cm apart. Lay crowns upon the prepared ridges spreading the roots down either side. Gently fill in the trench with sifted soil so that : only the buds are visible. Earth up as the asparagus grows to always keep the same amount of stem uncovered.  By autumn the trench should be filled In warmer climates cover the bud tips with 5cm of loose soil to stop them drying out.
  • by seed - Sow seeds in a seed-bed 2.5cm deep and 8cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Transplant the largest as crowns to their permanent position the following spring (see above). Alternatively sow in modules in late winter – early spring (13-16c) and transplant in early summer ready to harvest after 2 years. TIP Soak seeds 2 days before sowing.

Care
An asparagus bed will provide spears for 15-30 years if well maintained so it is worth taking care of your beds. The roots store the energy produced by ferny stems during the growing season. Once harvested Asparagus should be left to grow ferns and be kept weeded, watered and fed so that a fresh crop of spears can be produced next year. Keep asparagus beds weed free and moist. Do not let the beds dry out or get  water logged. After spring harvesting apply a general fertiliser or seaweed based meal to nurture stem growth and build up plants for the following year. In autumn cut down the ferny stems once they have turned yellow (burn to avoid harbouring asparagus beetle eggs). Stumps should be left 3-4cm proud.  Apply a heavy top dressing of well rotted manure in Autumn to late winter or cover beds in seaweed. Remove in spring if the seaweed has not rotted down.  Feed again with fish meal, chicken dung, seaweed and add a sprinkling of salt in Spring.

Harvest 
It will normally take 3 years to crop from seed, but crowns can be bought at 1 or 2 years old which will crop in 1-2 years.  Asparagus is ready to harvest once the spears reach 10-17cm long. Cut them obliquely about 2.5-5cm just below the surface with a sharp knife or serrated asparagus blade, being careful not to damage any of the young shoots coming up behind. Harvest period is 6- 8weeks but do not harvest after midsummer as this will result in weaker spears next year. Our Asparagus season starts with the first spears in the first week of April and continues through to mid May at which point I stop cutting the spears to allow the plants time to grow a last flush of spears that will turn into ferns. 

Storage & Culinary
Asparagus is such a delicious vegetable that when it arrives you just want to eat it as fresh as possible. It is said that the water should be put on to boil before cuting the asparagus, so that the fresh spears can be dropped straight into the boiling water. Asparagus is also delicious stir fried, grilled over hot coals, in salads or made into a light soup. In ancient times asparagus was dried to be eaten over the winter nowadays we can freeze it.

Nutrition 
Asparagus is a wonder plant nutritionally. It  is high in Folic Acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin.  It is the best vegetable provider of folic acid, necessary for blood cell formation and growth, as well as liver disease prevention.  Asparagus has no Fat, contains no Cholesterol, is low in Sodium and is low in calorieseach spear contains less than 4.

Companion
Asparagus grows well with Tomatoes, Parsley and Basil. I have found that growing New Zealand Spinach between the raised beds works well by allowing it to creep over the beds it helps retain moisture in the beds during the hot summer months. The light shade cast by asparagus ferns in the summer months could also be used to benefit other plants such as lettuces and spinach which struggle in the heat.

MDD Growing log

When we arrived at Mas du Diable in early winter I discovered a few straggly asparagus ferns growing in the orchard. I thought they were wild asparagus but it turned out these plants were the remains of an asparagus bed that had been planted around 15 years before.  After resuscitating the old crowns we still needed more so the plan is to grow the rest from seed and aim for a bed of at least 30 crowns. 

2004  In spring I dug the asparagus up just as the buds were emerging, dividing it carefully into 10 crowns and started our first asparagus bed in the veg patch. I left all the spears without cutting to turn into ferns. By autumn the ferns looked healthier than they had, abandoned in the orchard, but definitely needed beefing up. The beds were top dressed with seaweed meal and compost. 

2005 Each of the found crowns produced perhaps 5 or sow thin spears which we cut to eat until the beginning of June then left the plant to grow ferns. The ferns looked big and strong and an improvement on the previous year. 

2006 We sowed Jersey Knight Improved  (10 seeds from T&M) individually in pots in a heated propagator in January,  6 germinated. I set out the plants in a protected seed bed, uncovered cold frame, in April where they grew well.  Meanwhile the found crowns provided a decent harvest and have produced huge ferns which I hope means a better still crop next year. 

2007 I have another more generous packed of Argenteuil  (350 seeds from Franchi) to try which i plan to sow 1/4 in January and then again in March as the seed packet recommends March to the end of June.

2008 The beds are now well established and produce a good crop sometimes as early as February and I always follow the rule of not cutting beyond the summer solstice.

Re-building a low retainer with steps

To make sloping land arrable one of the things you can do is to terrace it. The practice of terracing Cévennes mountainsides, by building dry-stone retaining walls, goes back hundreds of years. One of our priorities here has been to re-build the dilapidated dry stone walls supporting the new growing areas: Potager, Verger and Polytunnel. With the help of Dry Stone Walling experts from Yorkshire, Tracey and Andy, we started with a fairly low retaining wall that holds up the main Potager terrace. This is the finished wall, complete with steps to move from one terrace to the next, and how it was done.

To start with the old wall is pulled back, the lines are marked and new footers are put in place. Starting at the end of the potager where a new freestanding wall, ‘the Yorkshire wall’ ends.

To set us on our way with the new retaining wall, Tracey and Andy laid the first course and Tracey started building a set of steps to provide access from the lower potager and the poly tunnel up to the main vegetable growing area.

I could then continue on with what Tracey and Andy started to finish the wall. Starting with a good foundation gave me the confidence to follow what they had taught us.  Working slowly and taking sections back down when they did not look right, I worked up to Tracey’s steps.

 

The guide line is tied to 2 metal poles which help the waller to stay true to the ‘batter’ – the line of the wall – which slopes inward making it stronger. The line also helps to work the wall up in courses – layers of stones – finally arriving at the last layer all at the same height and ready to place the top stones or ‘coping’ stones.

From this angle you can see the batter of the wall it is almost at a height level with the soil. A huge amount of stone get hammered into the back of the wall to ensure all gaps are filled and the wall is packed to ensure there is no movement.

The wall is now finished and extended beyond the steps. Andy Cauldwell built around the large chestnut tree, and the two Andy’s topped out the whole wall with huge stones laid flat. It is a great piece of work, so strong and looks as though it has always been there.

In the first autumn I planted up the top edge of the wall with lavender and Irises as they will be happy in the dry conditions next to the wall. The Lavender brings bees and another herb element to the garden whilst the Irises help stop erosion and leaching as the ground level slopes toward the wall. These two plants also provide a pretty border to the path. The picture below shows it in all its growing glory.

 

 

Originally posted 21/5/2006: updated with more info and pictures.

Swiss Chard

Beta vulgaris Cicla


Swiss Chard is an excellent all-rounder, tough, reliable and productive throughout the year, making it an excellent choice for a kitchen garden, and its a must grow in my garden. The leaves can be used like spinach and ribs are a delicious vegetable in their own right. Swiss Chard is called poirée, bette or blette in France and is a very popular vegetable more so than in the UK. I urge anyone, who has not tried this vegetable yet, to give it a go. It is in season now and will be on and off until mid to late spring.

History  The cultivation of chard dates back to classic antiquity. The Greeks and Romans used it widely but it did not become popular in Europe until the middle ages.

Site & Soil  Swiss Chard is tough, tolerant of poor soils, shade, heat and temperatures down to –14c

Germinates 7-10days.   Crops Spring 60days Summer 45days

Propagation
1. Sow in situ in drills 1-3cm deep, in rows 30cm apart. Thin, when the seedlings have 4-5 leaves, to 22cm apart
2. Sow undercover in cells and transplant after 4-6weeks
3. Sow 3-4 seeds in stations 20-25cm apart in rows 45cm apart
4. Broadcast sow in 10cm wide drills and treat as a CCA.

Tip Soak seeds for 24hrs before sowing to break down the hard seed shell.

Timing
Chard will produce all year from a single sowing, it can be succession sown through the year or my preference is to make 2 sowings per year one in late winter/early spring and one in late summer/early autumn.
Sow
(Feb) March-June
August-Sept (Oct)
Harvest
(May) June – Nov
Dec – April

Care Best grown in temperatures between 10-25c in well-manured soil. Water well in dry weather, mulch with compost or other organic material to conserve moisture in summer.

Harvest by cutting outer leaves just above ground level from several plants rather than completely stripping one. Continual cutting of outer leaves through the season ensures the production of new young tender leaves. Chard can be harvested at the baby leaf stage for use in salad or as a cooked vegetable either use the thinnings or treat as a cut and come again by cutting the small plants down to just above the soil surface.

Companion
Swiss chard is said to grow well with carrots, cabbage, beans, radish and turnip/swede. I find it grows particularly well next to aubergines.

Nutrition
Swiss Chard is rich in Iron and Vitamin A as well as a useful amounts of Vitamin B & C.

Varieties

Verte a Carde Blanche Classic French variety with thick white succulent midribs and tasty dark green leaves. Really delicious and my favourite.
Bright Lights A swiss chard with a mix bright colourful stems and a mild, sweet flavour. It will overwinter to provide leaves during milder weather in winter and into spring.
Lucullus A swiss chard with thinner 2-3cm wide pale green to white ribs and light green crinkle edged leaves.
Zilver thick ribbed white ribs and green leaves i found it disappointing (i grew an organic variety from unwins).
Perpetual Spinach A long-standing easy to grow spinach like green, it is actually a slim stalked, smooth leaf swiss chard or leaf beet. It is quite hardy and prolific supplying a “perpetual” harvest of leaves throughout the year. It is much slower to bolt during the hot weather and long days of summer than true spinach. Maturity from fifty days onward.

MDD Growing Log
2004 Bright Lights. Excellent set out early May, produced all year and into following spring.
2005 Bright Lights Sown September direct harvest from April onwards. Lucullus Set out in spring from a late sowing indoors, crop affected by bugs but late summer crop recovered and harvestable autumn. NB ribs are thin on thin on Lucullus and not such a good taste.
2006 Bright Lights Sown September in cells, set out March produced all year. Verte a Carde Blanche March sowing in cells set out May produced all year.
2007 Zilver sown Feb in cells harvest through season and Verte a Carde Blanches own seed sown May produced late season and into following spring.
2008 Perpetual Spinach sown spring produced all year though some frost damage in winter. Crop from previous year in spring. Did not like it as much as thick ribbed chard. My favourite variety of Swiss Chard so far is Verte a Carde Blanche pictured above in April 2008 having grown all through winter producing and early crop in spring when little else is available to eat.
2009 Verte a Carde Blanche cropped right through till following April from a single spring sowing
2010 Verte a Carde Blanche cropped right through till following April from a single spring sowing
2011 Verte a Carde Blanche I won’t be growing any other variety from now on.

Tetragon (New Zealand Spinach)

Tetragoniaceae: Tetragonia tetragonioides

Formerly classified as Aizoaceae (ice plant)

Half-Hardy self-seeding perennial leafy plant

Also known as New Zealand Spinach although it has no botanical relation to Spinach. Tetragon is a half-hardy perennial originating in temperate, subtropical and coastal regions of the Southern Hemisphere. It is a quick growing leafy vegetable with succulent like leaves and a low spreading habit, often over several feet, which can be left to spread or can apparently be trained to grow over trellising though I have not tried that myself. I prefer to grow it as an edible ground cover crop and I think it is a good choice for forest and perennial gardeners. A useful edible in warm climates as it can stand heat and draught without bolting.

History An heirloom leafy vegetable that was a popular among the Maori people of New Zealand and first brought to Europe by Joseph Banks in 1771 on his return aboard the Endeavour with Captain Cook.

Site & Soil  Prefers a sunny site sheltered from frost with well-drained, sandy soil rich in organic matter and a PH range of 6.8-7. It is a resilient crop tolerant of very poor soils, high temperatures and maritime exposures but not of frost. Add well-rotted compost to the top 15cm of the soil before sowing.

Propagation Sow 1-2cm deep in fine soil and keep moist until seedlings emerge.

1.        Sow directly in mid-late spring after the last frost.

2.        Sow undercover and set out when 5cm high when all danger of frost has past.

Tip Germination can be slow; soaking the seeds for 24hrs before sowing will help break down the hard outer coating of the seed.

Care Tetragon needs very little care. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy growth. Hoe to keep weeds down during seedling stage after that the foliage will act as a ground cover and suppress weeds. Water in very dry weather.

Pests & Diseases Tetragon is relatively pest free; slugs and snails don’t even seem to bother it.

Harvest Regular picking promotes new growth and plants can be cut down near to ground level and still re-grow.

Spread  120cm

Storage Will store for several days wrapped in paper in a salad drawer.

Botany and Seed Saving Seeds are very easy to collect. Flowers are produced at leaf axis along the growing stem leaving green buds with small spikes once these buds start to turn brown they are ready to harvest. Finish drying the seeds and store in a paper bags in cool temperatures. Be careful to harvest all the seeds before they drop, unless you want to start a self-seeding bed, as Tetragon is very good at propagating itself.

Use The tips and young leaves are used in place of spinach or other leafy greens. A particularly useful crop in hot dry areas or in summer when few other delicate greens will grow.

Nutrition Tetragon is high in Vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. In France Tetragon is used to make a quiche like tart with the boiled greens mashed up with egg, nutmeg and Crème fraîche and baked in a pastry shell. It is also steamed or boiled and drizzled with olive oil.

Varieties I have so far not come accross any named varieties

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