Hudson on how she spends summer in her organic
This is my fourth season growing
vegetables, herbs and fruit in the Cevennes and it
has taken just about that long to work out how to
get the best out of a kitchen garden in this part
of the world. With a little help from our Cevenol
neighbours and our friends in Italian Liguria,
where the climate and vegetation is very similar,
we now have a year-round harvest of the most
delicious food for the kitchen. The climate here
can be extreme; with baking hot summers and drying
winds, floods in autumn, blizzards in winter and a
yo-yo of hot-cold dry-wet in spring, but mostly the
sun shines and, with a little know-how, growing
food for the kitchen has been relatively easy.
During the summer months the potager — vegetable
garden — is bountiful, brimming with Mediterranean
herbs, vegetables and fruits. The sun shines and
the days are relaxed; the odd bit of weeding,
tidying up, pruning and the gentle task of watering
is all we do to keep lovely peppers, chillies,
aubergines, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and
courgettes rolling in.
Extending the Summer Season Crops
There is still time to squeeze in a
second sowing of some summer vegetables such as
French beans and Courgettes. It is even possible to
extend the tomato crop; if you set out fully formed
plants by the beginning of August, you can get an
extra Autumn crop in before the first frosts. You
can also squeeze in another crop of peas if you sow
by the end of July.
Runner beans, called Haricots
d’Espagne in France, are, in my opinion, a tastier
crop than French beans but they can struggle to
form beans in the dry summer heat, particularly if
it is too hot and dry when the flowers set. I’ve
found that by sowing late July to mid August I can
get a great crop from October until the first
frosts which are normally mid November. Sow direct
in well manured ground. They are climbers so need
to grow on supports, 2m
high if you can. Pick continuously as soon as the
beans are long enough. Keep well watered and spray
leaves and flowers with water at dusk during dry
Sowing for autumn
In July and August it is time to
start sowing for autumn, winter, and even spring
crops. It may seem bizarre to be thinking of
winter, in the height of summer, but that is what
you need to do to keep production going.
Chicories and Endives
Cultivated chicory includes: the red
round headed radicchios, green leafy cutting
chicories, dandelion chicories and forcing endive -
Spinach can be a difficult crop to
grow in a hot dry climate but winter varieties are
perfect for the Cevennes in the cooler months. Sow
winter maturing varieties of spinach such as Giant
D’hiver in late August to start cropping from
November. In a polytunnel or undercover winter
spinach can be sown in November for a March – April
crop. Pick the largest leaves from the whole row to
encourage fresh new growth.
Swiss Chard is an excellent all
rounder, tough, reliable and productive throughout
the year, making it an excellent choice for a
food-producing garden. The leaves can be used like
spinach and the 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. Sow (February)
March - June and August - September (October) to
Harvest (May) June - November and December - April.
Sow herbs such as basil, parsley,
chervil, coriander in cell trays in late summer and
set out in September or pot up for winter use in
Online Information: For more detailed information
on cultivation techniques, gardening resources and
recipes, visit Laura’s website: www.masdudiable.com or
email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Winter Salad Leaves
Lamb’s Lettuce is the traditional
winter salad vegetable of France and it very easy
to grow. Sow July to Oct to harvest Sept to April.
Sow again undercover before first frost to prolong
the harvest. Delicious salad leaf on its own or
mixed with grated raw beetroot or sliced cooked
beetroot. Mizuna is another favourite, known in
France as Feuille de Moutarde. Mizuna is a Japanese
mustard green of the Brassica family. It has
dandelion-like jagged edged leaves and a mild,
sweet, mustard flavour. Mizuna or Mesclum makes an
excellent salad green, and is frequently found in
mixed salad leaves.It
can also be used in stir-fries and soups and the
brown seeds from this plant are what are used to
make Dijon mustard.
There are some varieties of onions
that are best sown in late summer. The superb
French White Salad Onions or Oignons Blancs being
my favourite. Sow direct in drills mid-August to
mid September and use the first thinnings in autumn
then wait for the fresh young bulbs to plump up in
spring. Red Onions such as the lovely Italian Rossa
di Milano or the superb torpedo shaped Rouge de
Florence can be sown in August and winter varieties
of Spring onion can be sown now.
Pushing the boundaries
Our climate enables us to grow a few
unusual things at the very edges of what would
normally be considered a plants’ growing season.
For instance you can sow potatoes in August for a
very special harvest of new potatoes at Christmas.
I have a few speciality tubers kept back for just
that. This year it will be Jersey Royals last year
it was little purple potatoes.
Chilli peppers don’t need as much light as tomatoes
and can therefore be grown as houseplants. Sow
chilli seeds in a few pots in August and treat them
as you would any other houseplant during the
winter. When spring comes, and there is no longer
any danger of frost, plant the chillies out in the
garden for a super early crop of chillies. This
year I harvested my first green chillies in April.
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