If you’re new to gardening, or just don’t know where to start when you step out into the garden, here’s a useful resource: it’s a free guide on the website of the Biodynamic Agricultural Movement of France called “a faire au jardin”, or “to do in the garden”. It’s in French, but there’s always Google translate for those getting to grips with a new language. Directed at gardeners in France, it provides suggestions on what to do in the garden every day of the year.
I still have lots to learn about what biodynamic agriculture is – you can read up on it on the British Biodynamic Association website – but what stands out for me is the fact that it takes into account the waxing and waning of the moon to determine when to work with different plants and carry out different tasks in the garden. There are days that are considered more beneficial for working with and/or harvesting plants where the root is important (i.e. carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.), days that are more beneficial for working with fruit-bearing plants, days for plants where the leaves are important (lettuce, spinach, etc), and days for plants where the flower is important (brocolli, roses, etc.). There are also days when it isn’t recommended to do any gardening at all (time to nap!). I reckon if the moon can move tidal waters, it stands to reason it would have an impact on water in plants. There’s a lot more to biodynamic agriculture than that – essentially it’s about gardening in harmony with nature and includes an organic approach – but the moon aspect I like, because it helps give me a focus on any given day in the garden.
On a warm un-winter-like day last weekend, I followed the guide and scraped the lichen off my apple, cherry, plum and pear trees, and pruned their branches. It was fantastic to be in the garden, and to know that with the new year, the days are getting longer and we are heading ever so gently towards spring.
Something I had imagined for several years came to fruition last week when I mulched the Christmas tree. I have a new wood chipper, a birthday gift extraordinaire. How satisfying to turn woody waste into a water retaining, weed suppressing, wonder product. At the rate I’m mulching, and the trips saved to the municipal dump, I’ll have amortised my green machine in no time.
I made an amazing discovery this week. A massive, homegrown forgotten courgette-turned-marrow had been happily sitting outside on the balcony for months, then for a couple of weeks inside in the hallway when I noticed the top was starting to rot and I got the push I needed to cut it open and prepare it for roasting.
As I emptied its innards to harvest the seeds, I used my nail to remove some bits from individual seeds. Then I took a closer look and realized those “bits” were actually shoots! And when I carefully removed some of the orange guck surrounding the seeds I realized the tangly white strands were roots!!
A whole lot of the courgette seeds had germinated INSIDE the marrow!!! Blew my mind. The tricky part had happened. New life was already in the making.
I plopped them straight into some soil, and three days later, voila!
A week later and I now have 14 happy green seedlings on my windowsill.
Happy New Year! The daffodil leaves are green salutes pointing tall out of the snow and this evening as I closed the gate I spied a little burst of yellow, the first crocus. Spring isn’t here yet, but I’m starting to think about what I might plant on the windowsill come February. My box of seeds is a jumble of store-bought seed packets and re-used envelopes stuffed with seeds harvested from the garden: coriander, pumpkin, courgette, butternut squash, lettuce, poppy, pot marigold, french string bean, fennel, pepper, and aubergine.
There’s invariably a tray of seeds drying out somewhere in the kitchen. I have difficulty throwing them away. It’s the promise they hold that gets me. And all the different shapes and sizes. The seahorse-like tails of pot marigold. Brown broad beans like dice in my hand. The translucent pearly sheaths on squash. The hairy pods of love-in-a-mist. Friendly collections waiting.
I was discussing seeds with our local organic market garden farmer, who supplies vegetable baskets to our community, and she told me it’s illegal in France for her to harvest her own seeds. She has to buy them each year from a catalogue. Score one for the corporate seed lobby and its success at trumping common sense.
Meanwhile, for want of a gardenable garden and the fact it’s too early for planting seeds on my windowsill, I’m going to try and restore order to my seed filing box and its gazillion potential plant lives!
I am a great believer in letting plants self-seed and establish their own natural way in the garden. But there are limits – like when pot marigolds and lemon balm herb take over the vegetable patch and raspberry canes pop up through the grass.
I have a hard time killing plants so was super happy when I discovered what has become one of my favourite annual events taking place in Grand Saconnex, Geneva this afternoon: a plant exchange called Jarditroc. For each plant you take in you get a coupon to take home someone else’s plant. Everything is laid out on long trestle tables and you can take whatever you like. I am like a kid in a candy shop with change in her pocket. Last year’s big find was a David Austen climbing rose. This year I’m giving away heritage raspberry canes, borage, pot marigolds (calendula officinalis), daisies, lemon balm and chives. Off I go!
The first purple crocus has come out today. This means spring! In our garden, first come the yellows, as early as January, then the creamy white crocuses. I wait, and wait, and when winter is finally on its way out, only then do the purple ones appear. I’ve been down with the flu and it’s cheered me up no end.
The weather forecast for the next week is calling for sun, sun, sun with rising temperatures – hooray! Everything is waking up, jutting through the soil – all the bulbs promising colour everywhere.
Right now is so exciting. You have to get down close to the ground to appreciate all the new life springing up. New shoots, soon green, start off bright red or pink.
A Lady’s Mantle’s leaves about to unfurl appear tightly folded like a fan.
And my favourite: the hot brainy pokers that will soon stretch out and become the first rhubarb stems of the season!
After the slowness of winter when snow impedes any work, now everything is moving fast, fast, fast and there’s suddenly loads to do. My first task has been to clear a raspberry bed and prune and cut out dead canes. They are full of buds – all those stalks won’t be naked for long!
Then there’s the veggie beds to prepare, manure and compost to lay down, the pea seeds to plant, the comfrey leaves to stew into fertilizer, the nettle soup to make….it all awaits!!!
Winter flu still has its grip, but not for long – sun and the garden will heal me!
The first corn of the season is ready and green beans are dangling everywhere. My Canadian cousin taught me about the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. It’s a Native American idea to grow them together. The corn is a pole for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen on their roots for next year’s corn and the big leaves of the squash suppress weed growth. Next to the travesty of my rainpour-rotten tomato bed, this experiment has turned out well. I’m looking forward to stripping back the corn husks to reveal those juicy lines of kernels ready for lots of butter! And it’s an easy veg to get kids to eat.
They don’t seem to sell corn in their husks around here. So weird. It’s the perfect packaging and part of the fun is making a loud “schwack” as you strip them back. The corn on the cob in the local supermarkets is sold naked, in pairs, on a tray of white styrofoam covered in cling film. Neatly wrapped but what a waste. Same goes for all the fresh organic produce. I wish the supermarkets around here would stop packaging it. Non-organic is sold package-free. Are there really that many people who are set to cheat the system and pass one off for the other??
You can skip the plastic wrap and shop at organic supermarkets like Satoriz in Thoiry and Ferney-Voltaire, which are great, but life being what it is, it’s not always doable to visit more than one food shop in a week. (And Satoriz don’t even sell fresh corn on the cob, just some cooked vacuum-packed excuse that tastes vile). There is also some organic produce here and there in the local village markets or you can become a member of a local organic vegetable-box scheme.
Coming up on Sunday, October 12, Ferney-Voltaire is hosting a big organic market, which promises “crafts and artisanal products, local bio products, and clubs for sustainable development”. By then I will have exhausted my own supply of fresh corn and will be found scouring the stalls.