Friday, 29 October 2010

Bend it, shape it, anyway you want it...

Common Hazel (Corylus avellana) is a pain in the derrière and that's a fact. It grows everywhere, the nuts sprout in places I cannot believe and it's seedlings are hard to pull. I even find it making an appearance popping up between the stone from which the tobacco drying barn was constructed.

Well alright, perhaps I'm being unfair. Sure enough it's successful at getting established just about anywhere, but in reality it's a vital part of a woodland habitat, the nut is frequently a confectioner's first ingredient of choice and importantly for me, it's young branches are very flexible.

I've taken time out over the last couple of days cutting lengths of both hazel and alder (which grows in abundance along the river bank), as with each being so malleable they make the ideal material to form plant supports.

I literally just take eight similar sized branches, sharpen the thickest ends and push them into the ground to form a circle. Each stem is then folded back over each other and secured with pieces of jute string which looks much more rustic than synthetic fibres. I then weave a couple of rows of 'whippy' branches around the cage, again tying in with string.

Above, the support nearest is not quite finished as the remaining side shoots just need to be folded and woven in to complete the structure.

When finished, I gently prise the cage out of the ground - it holds it shape - and that's it, done.
Stored somewhere dry this winter they'll firm up, and then, next spring I'll put them out into position early so that the plants grow up and through them easily.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Saffron Milkcap

First light yesterday morning, myself and Monsieur Chevalier - he who has dedicated his life to earthy concern - went out hunting for Cepes, that king of boletus which fetches a high price in the restaurants of Paris and London and yet, in a good year, deep in the woods of the Perigord can positively burgeon for free.

The French word for unfortunately is malheureusement, and malheureusement, a good year this is not, it's been too dry and Les Cepes were few and far between.

All was not lost however, and we departed, leaving the at best, slender pickings from under an umbrella of Chestnut and Oak and headed toute de suite for a different part of the woods populated predominately by pine, the perfect environment in which to find Lactarius deliciosus. The Saffron Milkcap. We were not dissapointed and promptly picked a good basketfull.

After bidding Monsieur Chevalier (Patrice) adieu and appreciative of the morning's bonhomie, I made my way back home thoughts turning to dinner.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

At The Market

Yesterday was the first time I'd visited Bergerac market in many months. It's held on a Saturday so is nigh on impossible for me to visit during the season.

Worth the wait though. I'd forgotten about the un- hurried, convivial atmosphere that runs through events such as these. Sociality taking precedence above all else, and that includes trade.

It's tempting to say that produce is at it's best at this time of year. Maybe it is, but then I cast my mind back to the scent of strawberries in early June, the 'hum' of an aged goat's cheese in Spring or the perfume of truffle in December and it's fair to conclude that during any season the market is a treat.

Sure enough there are pumpkin and squash of every variety, but it's the tomatoes which steal the show for me.

This continued run of warm Autumn weather leaves them sweet and at a point. A day later and they'll start to turn, eat them today and there's nothing better.

Plenty of garlic,

and onions.

All manner of beans are around now. Cocos, Lingots, Soissons, different sizes and texture, a recipe for each.

Roots of every description. The French love salsify. It's enormously popular and sells by the crate load.

Radishes, black and red.

Even the humble turnip is held in high regard. Cattle fodder this ain't, sweet and delicate this is.

Of course with so much to eat, it's important to have something to wash it down with, et voila!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Gladiolus Byzantinus

Gladiolus communis subsp byzantinus or Sword lily is really unlike many of the more gardenesque varieties usually associated with the genus. A striking magenta, in 'meadowy' situations it makes a real impact and looks quite at home.

I've just planted a hundred and twenty bulbs of this 'hardy' gladioli in an area of the field where I let the grass grow long.

I'm really unsure as to how rustic a plant this is. For example, reading the gladiolus section of a well known UK bulb supplier, it's described as "one of the most enduring and easily grown plants" whilst others suggest lifting the corms except in the mildest areas and yet I've found further information from the States stating they're hardy to zone 6! I reckon Dahlias are hardy to zone 6 if you bury the tubers deep enough. Surely that's the key. If they freeze, they thaw to mush.

Time to plant is another conflicting one. Again, a well respected UK bulb supplier lists the corms under Autumn bulbs to flower in the Spring, however another refuses to despatch until late February for early Spring planting. Who knows?

Well, the reality is they're all planted, complete as of today, October one.

Making the holes was much easier with the pointed end of a pick axe! It's difficult getting through the grass 'mat' with a trowel. Ido SO hope they come up next May.

Top photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons.