Friday, July 28, 2006

Le Departs les fruits et legumes du coeur de Paris
 Posted by Picasa

More on Markets

I was over near Les Halles today. Until 1971 it was the great open air wholesale produce market of the city of lights. It was known as the “stomach of Paris.” In 1971 the wholesale market was moved to the suburbs, and it was replaced with a not so very successful underground shopping center.

I was in the neighborhood because we wanted to visit St. Eustache. It is a stunning Gothic cathedral with a Renaissance interior. What caught my eye was a wooden tableau/carving on one of the side altars that had been placed there in 1979. It is titled The departure of the fruits and vegetables from the heart of Paris. It is a lamentation on the end of the open wholesale markets in Paris and what that meant for the life and perhaps the soul of the city.

In this wooden sculptural diorama you see the vendors slipping out of Les Halles in the Parisian night weighted down by their vegetables. The cathedral of St. Eustache is in the background

The artist has placed an explanation of his work nearby, and I find it a very poetic lamentation on what it means to banish the fruits of the garden from the heart of the city. Allow me a loose translation of part of it.

“The market of fruits and vegetables, marvels of nature, which stood at night under the stars in the historic center of the most beautiful city in the world, surpassed by far a mere matter of commerce…. To tell the truth, the Les Halles market was the last image of nature in the city. It is now a paradise lost.”

What happens to a city (to a village, to a suburb) when it loses its connection to the land? Paris held on longer than most places. A market of fruits and vegetables holds a higher meaning than what commerce dictates and when we surrender that we loose a piece of where we stand under the stars.

This woman knows her tomatoes and where they came from Posted by Picasa

these tomatoes are from a box Posted by Picasa

What to expect from French produce markets

I am trying to come to terms with how one buys local in a city like Paris.  I have always had this romantic notion about French produce markets.  But I realize I am looking at them with a new eye this visit.  

I have gotten used to knowing the growers when I go to a produce market.  Whether it is in Arlington or West Tisbury it is a farmer with a face…. The apple man from Ortanna, PA…the strawberry guy from Westmoreland County … Andrew Woodruff’s tomatoes from Whipporwill Farm.  So now when I go to a market I EXPECT that.  What I see here in Paris is a middle man.  It is someone who went to the train yard early in the morning and bought trays of melons, tomatoes and cucumbers and put them outdoors for me to buy.  How is that different from the supermarche?  

I have a produce market in my neighborhood.  It is all middleman.  I went yesterday to the Aligre Market over near Bastille which is written about as one of the most authentic markets in Paris and it seemed the same, though I will say they had a greater variety of melons.  Last Saturday I went to my favorite market on the rue Moufftard and realized it too was all middlemen.  

Now I did meet a woman at the Sunday Market at Place Monge who knew her tomatoes.  She sells for a guy in Gibily, France down near Toulouse and advertises as biovalot (organic).  They were what a tomato should look like this time of year … large, irregular and full of flavor.   She threw in some “sauce tomatoes”, seconds that were going bad for free.  I will visit her again.  

Now you contrast this general middleman approach to produce with the connection to product that you find in nearly every corner bakery, charcuterie and boucherie in Paris and it feels a little incongruent.   You choose a charcuterie because you like Madame’s quiche or Monsieur’s pate de campagne.  You get your baguette at one boulangerie and your brioche at another.  You develop a relationship with the guy at the fromagerie who can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the goats that provide your cheese.  

I hear that there is an organic produce market on Sundays on rue de Raspail.  I shall drop by and see.  

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The "mystery plant" revealed

Thanks for the ID on the “mystery” plant.  It is, in fact Nicotiana Sylvestris.  Its intoxicating fragrance is most full in the evening when it woes the sphinx moth and the hawk moth for pollination.  It is a native of Argentina and its cousin Nicitiana Tobacum was brought to France in the 16th century by Jean Nicot.  Monsieur Nicot, who lived from 1530-1600, did not have to travel all the way to the Americas for it.  He discovered it while serving as the French ambassador to Portugal in the garden of the Portuguese scholar and botanist Damiao de Goes.  He took some cuttings and planted them in the garden of the French embassy in Lisbon and experimented with the medicinal properties of the leaves.  All this experimentation led him to believe that this was a plant with extraordinary powers so he decided to name the plant after himself. When, in 1560, he sent some snuff to the French Queen, Catherine de Medici, to relieve her migraine headaches, she declared it Herba Regina, the queen’s herb.  Soon the snuff and smoking fashion was the rage in the French Court.

So it is not surprising that these fragrant plants are planted in Catherine de Medici’s garden here outside the Palais Luxembourg.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Can anyone name this plant? Posted by Picasa

Ce poirier est mort en 1978 a 111 ans

We took a walk in the Luxembourg Gardens last evening. It had been a hot day … for that matter a hot week … and many Parisians were enjoying the cool that the garden has to offer. As we stood on the upper level looking out over the gardens a floral fragrance wafted up to our noses. We think that it is THIS plant. Can anyone offer a name? [remember I’m a vegetable gardener] It was planted in clusters with other lower plants throughout the garden and the aroma followed us everywhere.

We found a pair of chairs overlooking a lovely green spot and caught up on the events of the week and of our weeks apart. It felt so calming to be looking out over something green again.

My husband wanted me to see the espaliered apple and pear orchard in the corner of the garden. What a treat! Each espaliered tree has it’s a tag which dates its planting, explains the method of espalier, the number of years it would take to maturity, and, of course, its varietal name.

Most of the trees we saw were espaliered in a double U form. There was, however, a pear tree described in the “palmette Verrier a 19 branches.” The tree was planted in 1867 and it took 50 years to come to maturity. Once mature it produced 100 kg annually. The tree died in 1978 at the age of 111.

a long and fruitful life Posted by Picasa

mon petit jardin a Paris Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I hand over the watering wand Posted by Picasa

au revoir mon jardin

So farewell garden and hello France. I looked around the garden yesterday with satisfaction and felt as though I had set it up and made it exactly as I had wanted it and planned it. Of course, at about that moment I looked over and realized that the experimental artichoke was no longer in the full sun it needed since the asparagus had ferned out, so I took the scissors to the asparagus ferns and gave them a little haircut. THEN the garden had reached perfection. The tomatoes are humming along nicely, the root crops are living a happy life below ground where it is cool and damp, and the five summer squash I just planted may well have bypassed the moth that lays the eggs for the dreaded squash vine borer.

And then this morning as I did my last walk through, I spied my first morning glory getting ready to unfurl. By the time I returned with the camera, she was in full, morning, glory. I consider it the garden’s way of wishing me well on my journey. I didn’t see my first morning glory last year until August 14 … the morning of the Ag Fair. It was a good omen then, and it is a good omen now.

Thanks to my friend and not so near neighbor, Chris, I am not relying solely on Mother Nature for the water the garden may need in the month ahead. I hope it rewards her and anyone who cares to stop by and water and weed with ripe tomatoes. I hand over my watering wand and head for the ferry.

I expect that I will find things to write about in Paris that lead back to the garden.

goodbye to morning glories climbing toward the the garden post Posted by Picasa

goodbye to winter squash Posted by Picasa

from top to bottom and left to right:
goodbye to potatoes and sweet potatoes; to leeks and kale and Brussels sprouts and sprouting beets; to shallots, rutabaga and sprouting summer squash; and to a flower bed bursting with dahlia buds Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gardening Madness

It’s funny what gives you joy when you are a gardener. Right now I am getting the biggest kick out of a compost pile I built the other day. I was inspired by the directions in Charles Wilber’s How to Grow World Record Tomatoes.

My wire bins are full right now, so this is an unenclosed, free standing pile about 3’ x 3’. I began with 3 inches of grass clippings which I wet with a hose. Then I added 2 inches of sheep manure. Next I sprinkled ¼ inch of good soil and over that some Azomite and some colloidal clay. I topped that with 3 more inches of grass clippings and wet with a hose and continued the layering for about 5 layers. I covered it with black plastic after taking its temperature. It was a mere 80 degrees.

The next morning my compost thermometer read 120 degrees and yesterday morning 140 degrees! I suspect it is a bit of gardening madness that has me regretting that I am going to Paris for a month tomorrow instead of being able to stay here and turn my compost pile.

start with three inches of grass clippings Posted by Picasa

add 2 inches of sheep manure Posted by Picasa

sprinkle on some soil, Azomite and colloidal clay Posted by Picasa

the finished pile! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Observations of the garlic harvest

It’s a lovely evening. The field and far hedgerow are golden in the late sun against some gray clouds. Today the haying of the field commenced. Allen got in about three passes before he called it a night. It seems awfully late this year. Usually they hay this field around the 4th. Perhaps it is all the rain.

The garlic is curing in the shed. Surprisingly the softnecks are the contenders this year. In the past it has always been the ophios. I planted a variety called Sicilian artichoke that Mike and Jim picked up for me at the Saugerties Garlic Festival last year. They are uniformly HUGE. I am very pleased.

I had several new ophio varieties this year. One was a purple stripe called Pskem. They sent up scapes long before the others and the bulbs were the largest of all the stiffnecks this year. My “old reliable” Spanish Roja just didn’t make the grade. It could be what I’m feeding them, or it could be that I used all my own seed stock this year.

The silverskins could have stood 10 more days in the ground, but I had to hurry things along this year as I am leaving Tuesday to join my husband in Paris.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

healthy ophios Posted by Picasa

harvesting the garlic Posted by Picasa

curing in the shed Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Anticipating the garlic harvest

So enough for the distractions already of parties and cookouts and Judy Collins concerts (yes I saw her from the fourth row of an intimate venue Friday night … she is pure genius), it’s time to talk about garlic and when it should be harvested.

When four of the ten leaves are brown, it is time to get moving.  Each leaf represents a bulb wrapper for the garlic head and the more green leaves, the thicker the wrapper and thus the longer the storage.  This is particularly important for the stiff necked garlic which doesn’t store much beyond New Year’s.  But when you harvest too early, you sacrifice bulb size.

In addition I am watching the local radar because a soaking rain is NOT a good idea right now.  I think we’re pretty sure to get one tomorrow night, so I must be about my business in the next two days.  

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Kale in abundance Posted by Picasa

Managing the Harvest

I have LOTS of kale right now. I keep it around so that I can make the traditional Caldo Verde, a Portuguese Kale soup. But I also have an enormous cabbage from my friends at Walatoola … so here is a recipe for a rather tasty combination of the two.

Kale and Cabbage Stew

¼ cup chicken broth
1 onion chopped
1 green pepper
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 lbs kale shredded center stalk removed
1 lb cabbage sliced and chopped
1 28 oz can Muir Glen chopped tomatoes
Hot sauce to taste (optional)

In a large soup pot sauté the onion, green pepper, and garlic in the chicken broth until soft. If you’re going to use hot sauce, add a few drops now. Add the kale and cabbage alternately stirring to reduce it in size as the kale wilts. Once you get all the greens in and wilted, add the chopped tomatoes. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

June 30, ripe tomato Posted by Picasa

July 1, sliced tomato Posted by Picasa


I ate my first tomato from the garden on July 1. This is unheard of. It was a German Johnson and it was delicious.

The heirlooms have had a hard time establishing blossoms this spring, but each plant started out with one large fruit and this is what I am presently harvesting. Then the plants went through a month of blossom drop. Only now are they establishing fruit again.

I have some theories. I liberally added Organica Kelp Booster to the planting holes this year. This product is 30% calcium, and I believe that heirlooms in particular need calcium to prevent blossom drop and blossom end rot. I think it has taken this long (they’ve been in the ground a month) for the roots to find the calcium.

Here is the tomato inventory for this year’s garden

4- Geman Johnson (the non-potato leaf variety)
4- Mortgage Lifter
1- Italian Sweet
1- Boxcar Willie
1- Green Zebra
3- Jet Star
3- Better Boy

17 tomato plants is a far cry from last year’s 34 tomato plants. As I will be away from the garden from mid-July to mid-August, I have given over large portions of the beds to root crops. The tomato plants are really a form of enticement to my friends and neighbors … sort of like flowers for bees … come to the garden and gather tomatoes and in return water and weed a little in my absence … and maybe, just maybe I will have a garden when I return.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Clarity and Integrity

I saw An Inconvenient Truth on Thursday afternoon, and I feel that its message and my garden are linked closely enough that I want to write about it here.  Please go see it if you have not.  I am left with two reactions.

First, as a former teacher, I am impressed with its clarity. It is difficult to make something so complicated, so clear.  And because it is clear, it is also compelling.  Learners remember when they are left with memorable images on which to hang their new knowledge.  For me some of those memorable images are: “the earth’s breathing in and out” … the image of the ocean currents circulating with the help of the ice cap … and a myriad of graphs that all go one way …UP.  

Second, as a citizen, I am impressed with the film’s integrity.  I am not being jived here.  I am being given scientific data from which to begin a decision making process.  It is not about politics (though it IS about political will), but it is about a moral imperative to take responsibility for our actions.  

Please see this film and take a friend with you.  Oh, and stay for the credits.  In my theater, people leaving stopped in the middle of the aisles and stood and watched.