From Too Many Chefs - www.toomanychefs.com

July 17, 2006
Eating locally, eating organically: an update on the garden

newtaters.jpgYesterday I looked out at the terrace garden and made a brief survey of what was working and what wasn't. I started out inspecting the rhubarb plant, to see if I could harvest a few stalks to supplement the organic rhubarb I bought at the market on Saturday. I decided to prune the two least healthy looking stalks and then turned my attention to the five potato plants in the same baby bath planter. (I bought it at the flea market for 35 euros, a great deal I think.) The stalks of three of the potato plants were yellow and leggy and withered so I decided to take them out too. And to my surprise, with the stalks came a half dozen baby potatoes!

I have to say that when I planted those old sprouted potatoes, I hardly expected them to grow into plants, much less prove fruitful. I am frankly delighted. This was a very small harvest, enough to augment the half a home-grown zucchini I gave the boy for dinner last night. But if those spindly failed plants could yield enough for dinner for a toddler, what is happening deeep in the soil of my big planter where four big healthy plants are still growing and prospering? I am tickled to the core just thinking of them. (It must be the Irish in me...my mother's maiden name was Kehoe/Keogh and her mother's name was Madden...)

So what is doing well and what is not? I'm so glad you asked.

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Thanks to the combined wisdom of our readers and their advice, I am feeling a bit more confident about the zucchini. I'm watering them generously but not too much. I'm cross pollinating like mad whenever I see flowers. And I have already harvested two tender zucchini. I'll post the recipe for the first one later, but the second one was steamed with the new potatoes for the boy. And yes, I tasted one of the steamed new potatoes and it was truly delicious. Do potatoes you grow yourself really taste better or is it just the concentrated attention you give to them that fools you into thinking so?

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The strawberries have been going through a fallow period. I'm okay with that; I understand that they were probably forced with artificial sunlight fertilisers to produce copious fruit before I bought them and would need a bit of a rest afterwards. They have finished resting and have now sent out long tendrils all over the shelves and terrace and have new flowers. I'm watering them generously and eyeing the tiny buds of fruit as they develop.

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To be honest, the peas are not doing well. I've never had great success with peas, but I perservere because it gives me a use for my decorative hummingbird trellis and because - when they grow well - they are at least pretty. But the cat (and the neighbor's cat I suspect) turning the planter into a litter box has not made life easy for my poor peas or lilies of the valley. I have a couple of pods that I'll probably pick tomorrow and add to whatever vegetables are on the menu. At least the daisies are doing well. (Note the new solar terrace lights we bought this weekend; they are still charging but I'm hoping they'll work well and light our early fall dinners.)

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Here you see the rhubarb plant. When I first moved to Paris and saw rhubarb in the supermarkets I was amazed. Where I come from, no one buys the stuff, they give it away. It's like a weed; it grows with no effort. Why should I pay for something that was free and readily available all my life? I spurned the store-bought stuff and dreamt of my grandmother's garden. Over time I came to realise I was cutting of my nose to spite my face and so I started to buy it at the market and at the frozen food store. And then I found this plant at the market. SOLD to the salivating girl with a stroller. It has done okay so far, but I'm hoping it will do even better now that I've pruned out some of the potato plants. The violets that I planted under the potato and rhubarb leaves are still alive but not very happy. We shall see if they survive the summer; I hope they do as I am almost as nostalgic about violets as I am about rhubarb and lilies of the valley.

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Here you see the tomato plants and herbs, all doing reasonably well. The tomato plants are still relatively small, no doubt because I ignored my brother's advice to nip every third branch of three to encourage upward growth. They have small, firm, green fruit though and I expect a bumper crop. I wish I had asked the vendor at the market what variety of tomatoes they are though; I have no idea whether to expect cherries, plums or beefsteak. (To be honest, I doubt it's the latter as they are very tiny and not growing that fast.) The herbs are growing well, with the exception of the cilantro, in a planter on the base. I assiduoussly tore off all it's flowers for weeks, but it never sent any energy to leaf growing as a result. And since the leaves were spindly and white, I decided to try giving it a break from so much sunshine under the tomato planter. It seems to have rallied a bit, but I've given up on stripping it's flowers so it will probably soon arrive at the end of its life cycle.

Can anyone tell me whether the plant next to it is a lilac? I was given several planters a few years ago and assured they were lilacs but I killed half of them and the other half have never shown a sign of wanting to flower. So I don't know if I'm nurturing weeds or worthwhile bushes.

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I've been wanting to buy a lavender plant for the terrace ever since we bought the flat and I can't say why it has taken three years to buy one. When I saw this one at the organic market a couple of months ago I had to have it. I made a promise to myself this year that - whatever the cost - I would have a nice garden on my terrace, with vegetables and fruit. And so I bought it. Isn't it pretty?

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And lastly we move to the indoor garden: my lemon tree. What a fantastic find this was, when I bought it at the flower market outside the préfecture de Paris where I was picking up the card giving me the right to live and work in Paris for the next ten years. I expected it to die an early death (as did all my attempts at olive growing) but to my surprise it bore fruit. First one ripe yellow lemon and then a few others and now I have four of them growing again. For me, Ms. Determinedly Non Green Thumb, it's a true miracle of life.

So there you have it, the update on our little urban farm. Any advice or suggestions are, as always, most welcome.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at July 17, 2006 4:05 PM
Comments

Meg, I love reading about the progress of your garden. My herb garden has suffered the ravages of deer this year -- they've eaten tomatoes, chives and parsley, all things they usually leave alone. At least they are eating locally! One thing you might do as your herb harvest comes in is to snip and dry some herbs to use during the winter. The herbs you dry from your own garden always taste more flavorful....like those new potatoes you grew yourself. I've built a frame from two old screen windows, hinged together. The herbs air dry for a few weeks between the screens. Thanks for the update.

Posted by Lydia on July 18, 2006 at 5:55 AM

Hiya Meg,
The garden's going great guns!
Just wondering if you've been giving the plants any plant food...that seems to be the trick with my balcony geraniums and kitchen window herb box, which are all doing well despite the heat (or so my hubby tells me...I may return to Paris in a few weeks to withered weeds!).
And I agree, anything you grow yourself tastes 10x better than store-bought stuff :-)
Taina

Posted by Taina on July 18, 2006 at 3:34 PM

Taina, the worm tea seems to have dried up recently and I'm wondering if the worms have started colonising the resevoir again. Normally, in my wormery they should stay in the upper regions and the liquid (because most of the food I put in there is high in water) filters down to the bottom and creates a very rich liquid fertiliser. I'm kind of loathe to open it up and investigate at the moment, because I'm also suffering from an infestation of May flies, which are not gross but ARE irritating.

Anyway, I think I've pinpointed the problems with most of the bits of the garden that aren't thriving:

- spinach: doesn't like extreme heat
- coriander: doesn't seem to like extreme heat or direct sunlight
- peas: don't like cats digging up their roots and peeing on them (who does?)
- potatoes: don't like being crowded.

The potato plants that are in big planters are doing much better and in general the rest of the garden is doing well. I've been in correspondence with the guy who is going to cat sit (family guy with teenaged daughters) and he understands that I really want to come back to live plants, so I'm hopeful that for once I won't come back from the holidays to a desert!

Posted by Meg in Paris on July 18, 2006 at 3:46 PM