22 August 2012

Late-harvest greens

Besides house maintenance, another important part of life here in Saint-Aignan — at least for retired people — is gardening. It's amazing how many people have flower and vegetable gardens. We all pay close attention to the weather during the growing season and either fret and complain about it, or rejoice. Rejoicing is better.

One of the autumn garden plots, planted with collard greens, Swiss chard, and even basil.

The growing season starts on May 15 in northern France, where we are. That's the conventional wisdom concerning the last danger of frost. Some daredevils plant certain crops earlier than that, but it's risky. Despite the gardener's best intentions, rainy weather can always delay planting — this year, it was early June before we set any plants out in the garden.
Swiss chard, called blettes or bettes in France

May, June, and July rains prevented me from getting all the garden plots even tilled up until August, when the weather finally improved. The first fruit on the tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants we set out in June was diseased and damaged by the damp conditions we experienced well into July. August has saved us.

Collard greens, my favorite green leafy vegetable. It's not available in markets in France.

Since our garden was still small when August began and we weren't sure what kind of harvest we might get from summer crops in 2012, and since their were two plots I hadn't even been able to prepare for planting until August, we decided to plant some crops that would give us an autumn harvest. Those are collard greens (a leafy cabbage), Swiss chard (blettes in French), carrots, and icicle radishes.

We couldn't get basil started in June or July — it was too damp. So now we're hoping
that these plants started in August will give us a harvest in September and October.

Walt planted seeds in small containers and grew them under a cold frame on the front porch, where they got morning sun. I tilled up the plots. The seedlings have been in the ground for a week or 10 days now, and they've been liking the hot August weather. Walt's been watering them faithfully.

Collards and chard can survive the whole winter if there isn't a very hard freeze. Collards, at least, are better if they're harvested after the first autumn frosts — the leaves are more tender and less bitter-tasting. We're optimistic that we'll be picking and cooking fresh greens in November and December, if not beyond.


  1. I'm going to plant kale and chard this week.

  2. Oh boy, this means we get to enjoy occasional garden and harvest posts later into the year!

    I think I've heard that here in the U.S., the drought has been the death of the corn crop-- except for those who planted earlier than usual... something to do with when the corn tassles. So, some corn that was at a certain stage before the drought hit, is making it through just fine. But, that's not the most of it.

  3. If the Basil plants flourish well, some pesto will be in the works, I would assume :-)

  4. Maybe it is because I have been in the States a long time and I live in a big city, but it seems to me that in France, a huge majority of people, included suburbs, have a vegetable or/and flowers garden. I might be wrong, but I think French people are closer to nature than americans. They are also more attuned to the weather too. It always makes me smile when you write about the weather, how hot, how cold... it is. Not enough rain, too much rain... Even Walt now is getting into it. And I would do the same thing if I lived in France.

  5. One thing you don't have to worry about in France, is getting cold weather. It's a virtual guarantee!

  6. Starman, France is very far north compared to Florida! Paris is north of Quebec City, for example. We have a very mild climate, considering.

    Nadège, I agree with you. We spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer, either on the terrace, out in the garden, or walking the dog. The weather is one of our main preoccupations.


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