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March, 2006:

Asparagus Dreams, part II – update

A few days of alternate warm/wet weather and a result… a dozen towering spires of asparagus goodness! Ok, that’s perhaps overstating things a tiny bit but we do have a handful of little 4/5cm spears. I’m surprised and delighted to see these growing so vigourously and so early on, time to sift on some soil and backfill the trenches a little.

What made this all the more pleasing was on a trip to le supermarche this afternoon and I spotted le primeur Asperge Francais.. on sale at an eye-watering €14.95/Kg.

That’ll do nicely. The only slight tragedy is that we’ll not be enjoying any harvest of this lot until next year and then we’ll only come into full productivity the year after. I can’t even begin to describe just how good that first kilo harvested is going to taste.

Spring heralds the return of the.. Sundowner!

20th March and we had our first full day of T-shirt only weather… AT LAST. The winter was actually rather short but it did seem at times like it was never going to end.

We’ve had a couple of busy days getting the paddock knocked into a bit of shape (land clearance, more hedge laying) and this evening was rounded out by some tree planting (seven new trees to redress the half a dozen I’d set fire to) and finally… the year’s first sundowner.

We’ve maintained a bit of a tradition after living in South Africa, of having a ‘sundowner’ – normally a long cool drink consumed during a break to watch the sun go down during a game drive in the Timbavati.

For us, in France, it’s normally a small beer or a little pastis whilst sat on the patio.. but our first Sundowner of the year was… a well earned pot of tea.

Still, it was lovely to sit out in the relative warm as dusk settled and the sun went down over the beautiful countryside of the Gátine… splendid.

Oh, and I looked really hard, didn’t quite see any leopards!

The wine year begins

Time to prune!

About this time last year I planted up a vine nursery with about 70 cuttings from the main chasselas vines around the house. I had no idea at the time what it was I was planting – we’d moved in the winter when everything was dormant.. plenty of bird-eaten bunches lying on the vines.. but no clue as to what they were.

Well, having sucessfully got at least half of the vines through their second winter now, they all had a brutal pruning back to just 3/4 buds and many had whole stems taken out. I’ve installed a wire system for ‘guyot training’ so in this, their second summer, I shall take them up to the second wire (about 70cm) , trim back any over vigourous side shoots and see how they get on. They’ll be fine then for laying down two/three stems for guyot training and should give me productive vines in years to come.

Just one very old/mature vine alongside the garage netted 34kg of fruit last year. It transpires that this is far far too much to give any kind of quality for wine making. The wines from this vine have some sauvignon blanc character (minerally/herby, bone dry) but are just frankly a little bland. This is a big shame as the fruit quality was good, very mature, lots of sugars but I knew as I was eating them… just one bunch in about ten had a ‘wow’ type flavour… where the bouquet and aroma punched through the sugars.

Still. I have plenty of wine for cooking now and also five litres of white wine vinegar from an open-fermentation of all the skin pressings. Not a bad start.

As an aside Joan was clearing some banking at the end of the Orchard where we intend to install a ‘secret bench’ surrounded by what we think are our Pinot Noir vines…. and discovered a small group of 5/6 mature grapevines that last year just served as bird food. I’ll grub these up and replant them elsewhere.

Also taken, two dozen clippings from the Carrignan vine and a similar amount from the Chardonnay.

Asparagus Dreams, part II

Asparagus row

The warm spell of weather and a willing motivator on hand (thanks Dad!) means it was time to sneak in a little digging and get the asparagus bed planted up. We had set aside a small 6mx4m patch of earth at the end of the potager.. much of the hard work was already done as Joan had spent nearly 4 days last year on this area… double digging and prepping it with half a tonne of organic compost (it was formerly our bed for borlotti, fava and petit-pois).

The white asparagus (left) needed the most work. First job was to dig a 4m long trench, 50cm deep and 40cm wide… some echoes of the mega-job last summer for our land-drains.

The 50cm deep trench then had a 20cm layer of compost in it followed by a 10cm tall ‘pyramid’ of soil to sit the crown on. Then, in they go. These crowns are two years old and when unravelled it was quite a job to fit them in the required trench at the spacing required…. I was a little concerned that they looked a little overcrowded but had we dug the trenches any bigger it would have been a major undertaking.

Then, just a quick backfill of the trench with a little soil/compost mix to ensure that the crowns were just covered. Over the growing season to come we’re supposed to sift layer after layer of soil on top of this to gradually fill up the remaining trench. Next year we continue this process so that eventually the crowns will be sending up long spears through mounds raised up a good 20-30cm above the surface of the soil.

Planting the green asparagus was a doddle in comparison, a much smaller 20cm trench and a level surface fill and it was done in a jiffy. A fairly healthy spacing between the rows and we still have space left in this permanent bed for one more row. I’ll keep an eye out for a slightly different variety for next year and will pop in another row in 2007 – a mix of varieties is important to avoid having a glut at one time and an extended harvesting season. We should be sorted now for crops for much of April, May and June for ooh.. I dunno, the next couple of decades!

Ice storm


It was a little over a year ago when we sat out, in early March, enjoying our first outdoors evening meal… fast forward twelve months and we can enjoy something of a contrast.

After what seems like a fairly drawn out winter we enjoyed some spectacular weather in the last 24 hours that can only really be described as a mini Ice storm. It started Friday with rain, lots and lots of rain.. so much so that surface water was just standing on the surrounding fields. Our house is somewhat elevated over everything nearby so from the rear terrace we have great views over the surrounding fields… and all we could see were puddles. Early Saturday morning the rain turned to sleet and over the progression of a few hours the sleet turned to snow and then the snow started to blow sideways and heavy. When you’re sat indoors in front of a log fire it doesn’t really matter a great deal what’s going on outside.. it was only going to bed late on Saturday evening did I notice that the windows at the front of the house were ramped up with snow.

Peering out of the window this morning and we awoke to a spectacular sight.. it had been cold enough overnight for snow-melt to freeze solid and then get snowed-on some more. Everything in the garden was clad in a centimetre of ice and dusted with some more snow. It made for some spectacular pictures.. but we’re concerned for some of the more tender plants.

View of the barns with 30cm icicles

Courtyard cherry tree

Iced hydrangea

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