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Cooking Up A Storm

From the first leeks and cabbages in late February up to the baskets of quince in November, 2010 has been a great year for Bellebouche produce.

We have enjoyed eating cherries, peaches, plums and pears picked straight from our trees – tomatoes picked and eaten before reaching a salad plate – strawberries and blueberries popped into an eager mouth before reaching a bowl – cucumbers, lettuce and fresh herbs all mixed into a summery salad – courgettes and patissans grilled on the bbq and many many more delights.

The only downfall is that at this time of year – the garden is bare.  Nothing left to graze on while walking around the orchard or potager.  So, how do we remedy this sad situation?


Sweet Pepper Dash

So, at 8.00pm last night, after putting all the birds to bed, I had a quick look on the weather forecast.  Two sites told me that the lowest night time temperature would be either 1 or 3 degrees – so no real frost.  But…  I didn’t trust them.


ooo – What A Lovely Pear !

Each year we have a bumper harvest of fruit. But … which fruit? – as it is different every year. One year we were swimming in peaches, another in cherries and last year we had a super size harvest of black currants. I am not complaining, as variety is the spice of life and it wouldn’t be much fun having a freezer full of just one type of fruit.

Well this year could be the year of the pear if the blossom is anything to go by!

Pear Blossom

I’ll let you know late summer how the harvest was. The other pear tree in the courtyard, which has never really done much is also covered in blossom – so here’s hoping.

Hey Pesto

The last of this year’s summer harvest was pulled up and brought in before the frost, like last year, damaged it.


Tayberry Harvest

I love soft fruits of any kind and have currently 10 or more different varieties ranging from sumptuous strawberries to the weird goji berries from the Himalayas.


Unusual Year in the Garden

It has been a very wet year here – there has been no need to install a watering system (yet) down on the potager. In fact, some of the crops have suffered due to the deluge of water from the skies, while others are loving every last drop.

Last year we had a bumper harvest of cherries – what a difference this year. They were tiny and lacking in numbers, such a disappointment. By this time last year we were harvesting baskets full of rosy tomatoes. This year, the plants that haven’t been attacked by blight are just producing green fruits now. The chilli plants are really struggling – only a handful of chillis on 5 surviving plants.

But luckily, other areas have come on in leaps and bounds. In the orchard we are currently having a bumper harvest of wonderful, large, lush, delicious strawberries.

strawberries  Strawberry Harvest
The lillies were spectacular, so too are the gladioli and the plum trees are now groaning under the weight of the fruit. The ancient espalier apple and the pear trees are covered in riping jewels and the hedgerows are heaving with blackberries and sloes.


An area where we have had various degrees of success is with our beans. This year, no problem, I have just frozen over 5kgs from just a handful of plants. Unfortunately my sweetcorn bed has been used as a dust bath by the guineafowl so of the 50 seeds I planted I have approximately 20 plants growing with about half of these with fruit.

But we do have some new things that we have enjoyed or will enjoy this year. Our asparagus bed gave us some wonderful spears early in the year. We have some figs on our newly acquired fig tree which we may be able to eat later on in the year and we have discovered a number of plum type trees in our hedgerow with large very sweet purple pink fruits.

Unfortunately we seem to have lost one of our new coeur de pigeon cherry trees – I think it was attacked by a grub in the trunk. This is a disaster as we had originally planted two trees to balance out a number of views from various areas around the garden. The remaining tree is quite tall and it will be hard or expensive to replace the dead tree with another of the same size and stature.


All in all it has been an unusual year so far in the garden but I’m sure next year will be totally different – weatherwise and due to the fact that we now have a very happy and active bee hive with thousands of new pollinators around the garden!!

Our last crop of plum tomatoes, half a bracket fungus and an outdoor candle later …..

….. our Turkish powerlifter pig had the trots !!

The escapee had broken through the fence, leaving the smaller pink pig behind and discovered our potager and orchard. This all happened while we were out visiting Poitiers. Said animal was happy as the proverbial pig in the you know what and squealed with pleasure on our return. After coaxing the pig back into his pen and re-uniting him with his chum we surveyed the damage.

The main victim was our lovely roma plum tomatoes, there were no whole fruit left, and some of the plants had been pulled up. The other tomatoes escaped total decimation although the marmande and ailsa craig did look a little sorry for themselves. A huge bracket fungus on our old espalier apple tree had a huge bite out of it and a large outdoor candle had been devoured.

We were worried at first that the pig would become really ill after eating all this but the only side effect was an icky tummy. The pair of them troughed down their dinner as if nothing had happened.

Needless to say, the fencing was reinforced and looking on the positive side, parts of the potager, orchard and flower beds have been fertilised and the brassicas were all untouched.

Coing! Coing!

Our ancient Quince has had three significant ‘renovation’ standard prunings to date and this years harvest has proved to be.. much improved!

The tree form
Ready to pick

I’ve only got about half of them off so far.. but they’re the best half.

up inside the crown

Contrast this with last years single 10litre bucket full… and it just shows what a bit of TLC can do to even an old past-its-best tree… so far 35Kg to process!

35Kg.. and counting

So, friends and family… plenty of Quince jellies in everyones Christmas basket this year!

Recipe to follow

Springtime in the garden

CowslipsAll around Bellebouche and Gourge the hedgerows are bursting with gorgeous spring flowers. Walking along the footpaths and bridal ways, you come across a swathe of wild bluebells, not the invasive spanish variety but the ones found in many UK woods. Another plant, almost lost now in the UK, the cowslip can be found in buttery yellow groups, alongside the early purple orchid. Pulmonaria and violas carpet the shaded areas and everywhere you look, there are daisies of various sizes and colours.

I love this time of year, so much is bursting through and the colours are all crisp and fresh.Our garden is also brimming with colour. Daffodils, tulips and alliums are all fighting for attention from the miriad of bees and butterflies.

The cherry and peach trees are covered in white and pink blossom and the spectacular pale pink quince flowers, ooze their jasmine like scent around the courtyard and orchard. The smell is so evocative of our house in South Africa, where we had a jacaranda tree dripping with jasmine.

It wont be long before the summer flowers start their spectacular show. There are already flowers on my marigolds and the bearded iris is tempting me by showing how many buds it will have bursting out this summer.

Quince I have created a number of new flower beds since last year. One has a colour theme of yellow, red and white. This includes, spirea, magnolia stellata, potentilla, cannas, tulips, dianthus and many more.

A new bed was created at the end of the orchard, once the home to various brambles, nettles and the odd freezer! This is now my blue, purple and silver bed. The flowers here include, hebes, dwarf conifers, echinops, euonymus, sage, larkspur, bearded iris and many more.

Next to this border, a new bed was dug out to incorporate a couple of huge hydrangeas, moved from a bed by the house. It also includes a spirea, pieris and various spring bulbs. This is still a work in progress.

The last new bed is in the paddock. After Adrian had laid the hedge, I dug out a small bed and planted a variety of shrubs and spring bulbs. Most of the shrubs were taken from cuttings by Adrian’s parents or found in a local discount store. These include, stags horn, spotted laurel, a dwarf conifer and euonymus. Again this is still a work in progress.

Once all these borders have established I will put up photos. The main tasks now are to plant up my seedlings for the potager and plant more flower seeds for the new beds.

Paying the price

A busy couple of weeks to get the season underway. Lots of jobs done in the garden, the paddock finally cleared and another hedge layed. Asparagus planted, Jerusalem artichokes planted, garlic bed weeded and nine new trees put in to replace the bits of old ones we’ve chopped up and/or burned over the winter. The Vines got pruned as did the Apples, Pear and Peach trees. We learned a tough lesson last year as we lost one whole mature peach tree due to being overloaded with fruit and a couple of bigger branches from other trees. That won’t happen again.

Two of the new trees planted (a Doyenne du Comice pear and a Reine de Reinette apple) got planted in what now forms a little ‘espalier walk’ at the end of the orchard, pics to follow soon.

A last trip this morning in what I hope to be quite some time to the decheterie. The man from the commune now recognises us by name and is always particularly helpful after first telling us that we can not throw anything away there! In the skip today, an old boiler, a heinous antique bed and a couple of tubs of scrap metal… all the remnants of clearing out the last of the ‘atelier’ at the side of the house. I’m not quite sure yet just what we’ll do with these workshops but for now they’re handy storage for old wine barrels, garden tools and the like.

And paying the price? Well today is my first day in four days without having to resort to painkillers whilst feeling hopelessly crippled by back-pain. Oddly, I seem to have sustained the muscle strain whilst up a ladder doing some pruning and reaching skywards into one of the mirabelle trees.

A thought did cross my mind that with an old 220 litre oak wine barrique, some steel pipework and a splash of Fred Dibnah ingenuity I could easily craft a firebox and a cold-smoker. Seems like a reasonable use for just one of the Atelier rooms I think. Only snag of course is that this would necessitate raising some bacon to smoke in it.

Not quite the Cheshire Smokehouse, more the Charentaise Smokehouse? Hrm…

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