Planning a Vegetable Garden in the South of France

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the planting schedule for the South of France. As this will be the first full year of attempting to cultivate our patch, it’s time to try and work it out!

J is convinced that our efforts last year were a bit rubbish because the soil quality is so poor. While there may be some merit in that opinion I disagree on two fronts: first, I don’t think our crops were too terrible, certainly not when compared to those of our neighbours who also reported fairly poor results. Maybe it was just a bad year all round? Secondly, many of the plants we put out were just too late. It was only during the first confinement in March 2020 that we decided to rotovate the patch, the original idea being to leave it covered and go down the “no dig” route. With Covid, not alot to do with ourselves otherwise and the possible threat of food shortages, digging the patch and getting on with it seemed like the best thing to do. So we rotavated it, put down some green manure seeds, then returned to rotavate again shortly before planting.

In the time we were working the patch last year I constantly put down grass cuttings to mulch around the plants. This has all contributed (I think) to an improvement in the soil: when digging recently there are many worms and it does seem better. There’s no quick fix, of course, but constantly adding mulch and – during this winter – adding wood ash and making compost ready to add this spring; well, there’s not much more we can do than that without spending vast sums on quality top soil that we bring in. Aside from the cost that carries some risks with regard to the contents of that soil, so I’d rather battle on with our difficult clay plot and get there in the end.

This year will be easier: we have a patch already marked out and dug over (albeit pretty overgrown with weeds), plus I managed to get some seeds and bulbs in ahead of winter so we have some broad beans, onions, and garlic already coming up (and doing pretty well, considering).

I’m quite excited about a full year ahead for the patch, and while James is lamenting the lack of raised beds and making wild claims about only growing Supersweet 100 tomatoes, I am looking at potatoes, carrots and all the other crops that I consider did pretty well when you think that we just chucked some seeds in the grounds and really didn’t bother with them much, and got organic, fresh, homegrown veg in return – way more than the cost of the packet of seeds we chucked in and with minimal effort invested.

Aside from the timing difference, we also need to adjust our mindset from one of a humid, wet climate to one of a hot, dry one (in summer, at least), which means planting much more closely than we used to in the UK. Mentally this seems to be a difficult habit to break and even when we think we’ve reduced the spacing considerably I always spot the patch of some old timer and think, whaaattt? how close?? I’m going to have to try harder again this year to chip away at my spacing issues!

So, that’s where we are going in to February 2021. It’s pretty much rained (or snowed) non-stop since the end of the year so it hasn’t been a good time to get out and finish the digging and clearing and put in the late winter/early spring crops, but it’s in my head to get on with as soon as work demands and good weather allow.

Here’s how the patch looked covered in snow. Brrrr.

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