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Daphne

So how is the season so far?

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We bought two large and very heavy blue ceramic pots from the UK. I thought it would have been better to give them away and buy new here, as we did all the others, until I saw the cost of replacements; three times the price we paid. The bay bushes that were put in them have now been planted out as they don't really like being potted. The intention is to fill them with an Orange and a Lemon tree, but am told that they lose their leaves below 10C (in England) and even fleeced and on a South face we can't keep them above that temperature outside. How resistant are yours @Daphne?

Discovered last year that leaf mulch carries no nutritional value to tomato plants whatsoever. We had two areas with the same varieties in. The composted area cropped very heavily to the extent that trusses had to be cut back. The plants with only the leaf mulch were the weediest tomatoes I have ever seen giving about 10% of the weight. Just been out digging compost into that area in preparation for next year. We use the mulch on the South side of the potato rows to retain the moisture and dig it in every year, which has improved the soil condition.

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 @Beantree, well we go down to 1 on occasion, and minus a few degrees last year, and no ill effects.  However, that happens maybe 14 days in the whole year tops.  Citrus is generally OK with cold, but it desperately needs free draining soil, so that might be your biggest problem, it won't cope with wet roots or wet roots which freeze.  We have a huge amount of rain Jan-Mar, but very free draining soil.  I would say lemons are hardier than oranges (they only grow well 500-700m altitude apparently), and oranges are difficult to grow to get fruit.  We planted young trees 5 years ago in the ground and still only get a couple of fruit.  Clementines or other smaller citrus may do OK.  Grapefruit are very tricky and I have a feeling limes might need more humidity than I can give them.

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Thanks for that info @Daphne. I have been told that the compost in the pots needs 20% washed sand in it. That must be to help the drainage, based on what you have said. Looks like we will buy some and try, otherwise we'll be speculating about it forever. We will fleece above ground and bubble-wrap (the greenhouse stuff) the pots.

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Pruned my grape vine today and redid all the ties so it’s secure for the new season. Also tried to tame my fig tree slightly. 

I’m in really doubting if I should get a tree surgeon in this year to do my pear tree, but that would mean a rather bare tree this summer, and I really like the shade it gives. But it’s also making so many new vertical branches, it’s really looking overgrown.

the before and after

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Its all looking good CT, well done on the grape pruning!  I  have only done half of ours, I must get round to the rest.  You probably know that figs don't need a lot of cutting, its more about keeping them where you want them!  This is the right time of year to prune pear and apple trees, so I wouldn't worry about losing fruit.  You can always do a light prune, concentrating on dead/diseased/crossing branches to open it out into a goblet shape.  What is that in the corner of your fences?  If its a buddeleia (butterfly bush) you may know that you can hard prune it in March (down to about a metre or less, but cut above a leaf) to keep it under control, you will still get plenty of growth and flower this year.  I used to use my thicker prunings as 'canes' in the garden as they were usually pretty straight.  Its always exciting at this time of year, as things begin to poke up through the soil, and your thoughts turn to what is to come😄

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Haven't touched the vines yet as we've been concentrating on the fruit trees which haven't been touched for years and are a real mess. Unfortunately heavy frosts have stopped the work so we are taking down a sycamore from 10 metres down to 3 metres because it is blocking the Winter sun to the house, even with no leaves.

We pruned the figs two years ago and now they have been done again. The chickens range underneath and have fertilised the ground to the extent that the amount of fruit is ridiculous. However this time the prunings are going to the tip. We tried seasoning the last lot and it was destroyed by woodworm; the only variety of wood in the pile that was affected.

We seem to get easily distracted with other jobs here. Today it was a leaking outside tap pipe which had been CONCRETED into the wall.

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@Daphne Unfortunately my fig stands quite close to my chicken run. My own fault as I planted it there, but the run got bigger in the meantime. And I have to squeeze past the fig to get to the coop. So he needs to be contained!

Plan to do the buddlejas in March. Have 2 mature bushes and a younger sprout myself. But my mom has 6 at her campsite, so enough pruning to do! I love those canes! Use them for everything! Have about 10 new buddlejas in pots too, when I took cuttings. But can’t find new homes for them…

Trouble with my pear is that it’s a very prolific grower, but almost grows flush to my garden shed. So can’t reach the back half of the tree, which is well over 6 meters tall, so a bit more than I can handle myself. But if I get a tree surgeon in, they will take it back to almost bare trunk.

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Ah I see what you mean CT!  The old fashioned advice used to be to plant figs in a hole with paving slabs round the outside to contain the roots to prevent the tree from growing too big/too fast, but its a bit late for that now.  Its odd because here we have 2 figs, one is huge but dying from some disease or other, whilst the other hasn't grown much in 6 years, being stuck at about 8ft high until last year when we got our first big crop of fruit, and its now maybe 10ft tall.

6m is too tall to even begin thinking about dealing with it yourself, I can understand why you need a tree surgeon.  I guess it depends how much longer it can grow there without being a danger or a nuisance, if that's not too long then I think I would bite the bullet now.  Or move!

BT - I know what you mean about life getting in the way.  Are you having great weather?  Its sunny every day here so I am outside but I prefer doing things to usher in the new season rather than remedial work, which is a bit stupid of me.  We found that our fig wood dried pretty quickly, and burnt hot but very short, it was of most use as kindling.  We have put off doing a severe prune on one of our olives, its a bit smaller than your sycamore but also next to the house, so we absolutely have to do it now.  We forgot all about it when my very tall brother was here, but we have a nearly as tall friend coming next week, and its my intention to rope him in!

 

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Well we may be expanding the empire slightly - we have put an offer on a small patch of land complete with about 30 very mature olives and 30 vines, and a fig, and if it all goes to plan it will belong to us in about a month's time.  The idea is to be self sufficient in oil and wine, without having to rely on friend's patches.

Even if that doesn't work out we bought a backstop very young lemon tree for 7.50 euro, its about 5 ft tall and spindly, its a 'just in case' tree should anything happen to our mature lemon which is massive, I live in fear it succumbs to the lesser spotted lemon aphid or similar.  We also bought a peach (never heard of the variety) for a massive 4.30 euro!  Again, its a young stick, but I am hopeful of a bit of fruit in a couple of years (either that or it will be dead). The nursery had every variety of fruit and nut you can think of, its just a shame we don't have the space for more (the new land doesn't have water and is too far away for nurturing stuff).

I have sown some white aubergine and some espelette peppers on a trial run in my new heated propagator, and yet again I have proved to myself that bought in plug plants are way bigger than anything I can grow myself from seed (cabbage this time).  I planted out a pot of growing parsley before Xmas and its huge, so that has worked a treat.   However, many of my peas haven't germinated, and I think its been too cold for the rocket to take off.   Although I can grow perpetual spinach from seed I am never as successful with cavalo nero, so I may give up on that after this season.

Did I mention a veg called a chuchu?  Its pale green, the size of a large baked potato, and a member of the squash family.  It tastes like a broccoli stalk, but sliced and roasted its not bad, or you can mash it.  Its popular here, we were given some and I am planting the last one.  Its grown a stalk, and apparently you bury the whole veg, and grow the stalk on till it climbs and bears its own fruit.  A good haul would be half a dozen from a single chuchu.

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They have a rule here in France about vines @Daphne. You can't have more than 100 or you are classed as a business. This is based on them producing a bottle each and the consumption of more than 100 bottles a year per family is considered excessive.

We're still going at the sycamore; about halfway there now. Problem is the frosts are so hard the grass is frozen until midday.

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I'd best not move then!

I remember back in 1990 in France that there was a travelling still and you could make a very limited amount of hard liquor for personal consumption.  Its so different here, you can take as much as you like to the distillery.  Same with vines.  I think its because many rural people here are still pretty poor, and eating/drinking homemade everything is 100% a strong part of what you do because many people can't afford to buy things they know how to make, particularly older people who had some of their best learning/earning years under the dictatorship.  I am still surprised, though I don't know why, when I see women regularly buying huge sacks of flour to make bread at home.

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There was a documentary a few years ago featuring a mobile still up in the mountains somewhere in France. Surprised they bother with it, but it's probably a local tradition which they will be keen to maintain. We make our own bread because they don't use preservative here and it's stale the next day, which is why bread shops are open 7 days a week. Can't eat the 'plastic' stuff in England because I can taste the bitterness of the preservative. Reminds me of a friend who had a Summer job at Peak Bakery in Derby. They used to add material supplied by British Celanese, which was a plastic manufacturer in a place called Spondon, Derby. Not a nice place to live because the air stank. My friends job, by the way, was to clean the filters after the flour had been delivered. He used to be knee deep in maggots, which he had to remove with a bucket!!!

Made more progress with the sycamore, but now all five of the 300L green waste sacks are full again, so it's a trip to the tip on Tuesday. It's open on Monday, but being our market day the town is full of very dangerous drivers and the possibility of an accident is too high to risk it.

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That's a lot of sycamore prunings!  We don't have 'tips' as such, and nowhere to dispose of green waste, hence everyone burns everything but only in winter.

OMG, the maggot story is gross.  Thinking about it, the bread is the same here, its very good but doesn't keep because the old fashioned bakers don't use preservatives, although the supermarket does. I'm not overkeen on freezing it either, as it crumbles too easily.  There is a small bakers between us and the big city who still bake over wood, they normally close at about 11am as they only make small batches.  There is another baker who makes pao d'agua (literally water bread).  I'm not sure how it is made, but it does taste different, in fact its my favourite.  OH makes bread when the fancy takes him, I encourage it because his is low in salt but he uses olive oil, which I love.

 

 

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I did give my pear a light trim today. Didn’t remove three quarters of what might be needed, but only have a 4 meter pole with a saw and shears on the end as an option for trimming. And it does get rather unwieldy after a while.

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By coincidence we took down a largish portion of our pear tree yesterday, its very much the same shape as yours. We managed it with the aid of a 2m ladder, and a pruning saw, I don't know if that might help you overcome the difficulty in controlling such a long pole.  I know its never easy, no matter what you try to do.  

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The biggest issue is that it’s almost flush against the shed, so realistically I can only reach the front half with a ladder and saw. Hence the 4 m pole. The tree surgeon normally stands on the roof of the shed, but I wasn’t about to try that…

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The big problem with trees near the house is leaves blocking the guttering, so ideally they need to be kept below that level. I agree with you @Cat tails, these pole saws and loppers are difficult to use and are best for just a few minutes at a time. We've bought a Fiskars UPX86 which is an extending lightweight lopper with an adjustable head angle, so you can cut horizontally. It has an annoying fault; the bottom handle falls out of place when you don't want it to. That's a feature to extend the lopping height which is rarely used, so out came a roll of PVC tape to keep it in position. Cuts 2cm thick branches. Any thicker and it depends on the wood, because they can jamb up it's best not taking a risk. It is very quick though and it will fit between small gaps in branches, so perhaps you could prune the front by working from the back Cat tails?

Our sycamore is getting smaller. Another 5 bags went to the tip and now we are on the thick stuff which will be seasoned ready for the fire. The Stihl battery pruner (little chain saw) we bought has dramatically reduced the time spent and is really why we've been able to do so much this year.

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The tree was there when I moved in, so yes, I wouldn’t plant it there, but wasn’t about to chop it down either.

The roof of the shed actually has a slope to it and is much higher at the back and the alley at the back to narrow, so no way of reaching it from there.
I have the Wolf pruning saw for on the end of my extendable pole. And also the cutters that you close with a cord. They are essentially geared, so you can cut quite thick branches with it. But the downside is that the cutter is quite big, so hard to manipulate in small spaces.

Oh well, I’ll get there in the end!

My dad has the Stihl chainsaw too and loves it!

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Started to compile our 'to buy' list of seeds etc. due to the terrible weather today. Bought a replacement plum tree and planted it because the one we have is very old and dying off, so has perhaps a few years before it will need felling. Progress on the sycamore continues, but what's left is all ladder work and due to an injured index finger (cockerel tore some skin off) I can't manage it for a while. So in the meantime we've started on the cherry tree knowing that it is completely the wrong time to prune it; should be mid-summer to minimise the risk of disease . But the condition of this tree is best described as a 'bramble patch on a stick'. The branches are so intertwined that when in leaf it would be impossible to see what to cut. Plenty of dead and dying branches, so a replacement will be sourced and planted this Spring.

Seems we are victims of our own success. Free ranging chickens in our orchard for the last 4 years has resulted in a massive increase in growth rates, so pruning all the trees every year now will be necessary. On the plus side we do get heavy crops and now have to remove fruit to avoid breaking the branches. Same thing happened in England. It does take a few years to see the results because (I've read) it takes time for the enzymes in the soil to develop to break down the poo and turn it into a form that the plants can use. This is why the liquid fertiliser we have been using in other areas had no effect in the first year; the second year is very different.

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Thank you both for mentioning the battery pruner/chainsaw.  I have looked into and it could be a gamechanger for us as well, with the new olive grove.  I had no idea such things existed, so I am hugely pleased.

Good luck with sourcing a cherry Beantree, a few varities are self fertile, but many of the older ones require 2 trees or another one within pollination reach.  I have noticed that shrubs/trees here take a bit of looking after in Year1, then they either keel over and die or after a second year they really establish well and rocket away.   We have a couple of old peach trees (a local late fruiter, not very sweet) but they are both badly broken with the weight of fruit/strong winds.  I suppose I should think about planting replacements, its the right time to do it.

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We drove over to the local Stihl dealer @Daphne, because they had a GTA26 in their latest catalogue, only to find that they were out of stock and there was a waiting list about 20 long. So we put our names on it and had a phone call a few weeks later. Having to manually lubricate the chain with a small dropper bottle is a bit of a pain and the battery life isn't great. It charges quickly though (about an hour), but gets hot in frequent operation and won't charge until it has cooled down, so sometimes it has been put in the fridge for 10 minutes. I would now consider buying a second battery. Certainly a game changer for us. I'd say the pruning process time here has been cut by at least 80%, although half of that saving is from cutting the thick pieces down to length for the fire.

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Things are getting started late this year due to both other problems and because of the late frosts last year. First two beds have been uncovered and I am pleased to report our investment in weed membrane and pegs has paid off. None of the membranes have been blown off and the weeds haven't crept in from the edges as we expected, so the weeding required is minimal and really just those that were there when the membranes went on.

100 metre roll of membrane was €145 and we made the 400 'U' pegs from galvanised fencing wire which we already had.

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I have lots of seedling of things getting going (brassicas, onions and leeks, peas and flowers) and my potatoes are chatted ready but this flipping cold has knocked me back so much I haven’t been able to get out and dig the veg garden yet to get it ready.

Maybe this weekend 🤞🏻

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Don't overdo it MT, I had some sort of chest infection/headache/temperature about a week ago, felt a bit better, tried to dig the garden, realised that was too much and stopped.  I was OK for the next few days, but then it came back and I was in bed Weds/Thurs.  I took a covid test which came back negative, and today I feel miles better, but we have had a bad storm of dust from the Sahara and apparently we are experiencing another now now - which may explain my illness and shortness of breath.  I know the dust storm came up to the UK, although it may have lost some of its power once it got to you guys, according to what my Mum said, but this new one may be on its way too.  Anyway, its a long time since I have felt so bad in terms of breathing, it was quite scary.

Congrats on successfully getting your seeds going, I have failed miserably and am having to start again.

 

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