Spring is an im­por­tant time of the year for who gets ready for ac­tion in her Nor­mandy gar­den

Rosie Hill,

Living France - - À La Maison -

When we moved to Nor­mandy we knew two things: we planned to open an eco-gîte and we wanted to make our­selves as self­suf­fi­cient as pos­si­ble in fruit and veg­eta­bles. The gîte is open and the veg­etable gar­den now gives us about 80% of our veg­eta­bles and all our soft fruit.

Spring, there­fore, is a very im­por­tant time of year when I re­ally need to get go­ing in the gar­den but there can be such vari­a­tions in weather. March has seen us both snowed in and have tem­per­a­tures in the high 20s, nei­ther of which makes plan­ning very easy. I am itch­ing to get things go­ing but know a late frost could kill ten­der veg­eta­bles.

The signs of spring are all around: frogspawn in the pond, prim­roses along the road­sides and things are stir­ring in the veg patch. Rhubarb leaves are pok­ing through, early blos­som is out and weeds are start­ing to grow! There are still a few win­ter veg­eta­bles to har­vest (Brus­sels, leeks, cab­bage, kale, parsnips, lambs let­tuce, chard, ori­en­tal greens) with pur­ple sprout­ing broc­coli and early peas bring­ing in some­thing new, but we are also about to en­ter the ‘empty gap’ – win­ter veg will soon be fin­ished and it will be a while be­fore spring plant­ings are ready.

My French gar­den:

Thank good­ness for stores of pump­kins and pota­toes, and frozen and bot­tled pro­duce.

It is at this time of year that the poly­tun­nel re­ally comes into its own. It is all go on the sow­ing front with the tun­nel pro­vid­ing much-needed pro­tec­tion for ten­der seedlings and as the days pass it gets steadily more full. How­ever, it is un­heated so the most ten­der plants are started off in­side and then moved out once they are grow­ing, at which point I have to keep a very vig­i­lant eye on the fore­cast and if there’s any sign of frost they’re brought back in the house or given ex­tra pro­tec­tion in the poly­tun­nel. It may be a lot of work but it does en­sure ear­lier har­vests. Get­ting things go­ing out­side can be slower, es­pe­cially if the soil is wa­ter­logged or cold but I usu­ally take a risk and sow a few seeds early – some years this works and some years a late frost kills them.

One of my favourite earlyspring jobs is buy­ing seeds. I split my seed buy­ing be­tween the UK and France. In France you have a much bet­ter choice of seeds such as French beans (some­what ob­vi­ously) but the UK is bet­ter for seeds such as parsnips and run­ner beans. And I al­ways buy too many!

Spring is such a spe­cial time – a new sea­son full of hopes for har­vests to come. Each year I try to grow some­thing new. Our gar­den here in Nor­mandy is no warmer than our gar­den in south-east Eng­land where we moved from, but I didn’t have a poly­tun­nel back then. Now I can try all sorts of new things in my plas­tic friend. This year I have cho­sen some dif­fer­ent to­mato and chilli va­ri­eties and out­side I am plant­ing new pump­kin va­ri­eties.

With my veg patch right on my doorstep, I can pop out for 10 min­utes and the pro­duce I har­vest can be on our plates in min­utes – zero food miles and the freshest of tastes. You can’t beat it!

One of my favourite earlyspring jobs is buy­ing seeds

Rosie Hill, her hus­band Si­mon and their two sons live in Cal­va­dos and run a fam­i­lyfriendly eco-gîte. www.eco-gites.eu

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