Sunday, 11 March 2018

Baratzea - end of winter

The garden doesn't require daily care over the winter  and the first spring flowers are showing. 

And I have got quite a done between the seemingly endless days of rain. 

  • I have a new composter, courtesy of the Marie.  It took four visits, five phone call and seven e mails to locate which department actually would deal with my request, but I got it in the end.  The old one made of old pallets was not very pretty and didn’t work so well as it let in too much air.   The owner of the site was pleased to see the site look less ‘Heath Robinson'.

  •           I recuperated a van full of attractive Ribes cuttings around Christmas time which should prove useful as supports over the coming year. 


  •   I’ve laid in borders to delineate the beds from the pathways, using the planks from the palettes from the old composter.  Again  the land owner is pleased and the owner of the épicerié  that looks over the garden said how much nicer it looks.  I am thinking of laying down some ‘hard materials’  in the pathways , again to make it more attractive – oyster shells are my first choice – if I can find enough (When discussing this idea with a friend she did some research and told me that France throws away 40,000 tonnes of oyster shells a year, so there should be plenty enough for my garden). 

  •  I’ve planted up the fence around the garden with cuttings of forsythia, wisteria and hyacinth that I took from a guest house (with the owner’s permission) in January. Growing things around the perimeter was a priority last year but nothing took.  Hopefully these will, making the fence more colourful and attractive, visually enclosing the land, attracting insects, protecting the site against wind and increasing the ambient temperature. They're starting to take. And, the fig tree that I transplanted in November, that I thought hadn't survived the experience,  is showing signs of life.
  • I reinvested some of the profits from last year’s unexpected tomato sales in some bushes:  raspberry variants (Tayberry and Japanese wine berry) gooseberries (two varieties) and a vine to grow on the trellis.  I also took some raspberry shoots from a neighbour, though they’re not looking too healthy at the moment.   I met an Indian spice grower at Biofach who advised me to pinch out the flowers so all the energy goes into the plants’ development in the first year.  So I will take his advice and defer my gratification from those in the first year. 
  •  I have some magnificent chard and some weak looking leeks, brassicas  and black radish that might yield an early crop: partially keeping me in winter vegetables.  There were some potatoes (killed by the frost) now I understand why people 'trench' them.  
Many thanks to Claire and Joseba who supplied me with the raspberries (and did the research on oyster shell wastage) to Tony and Jane from Helette for the bush cuttings and to Will Hall, a couchsurfing guest who turned into a WWOFFER and did much of the work of sawing up the palettes from the old composter and laying down the borders. 

Spring is on the way! 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Down and out in Paris..

and Frankfurt and Nuremberg and Hendaye and most other places in the western world.

Last week I was in Paris and, looking for somewhere to eat, I found myself in Place de la Republique (not the best choice for eating out).  There was a large group of people, three hundred or so, gathered in the square, so I wandered  over to find out what was happening. It turned out it was a soup kitchen, catering to the homeless and destitute of Paris.

 One of the volunteers waved me over and offered  me a bowl of food.  (Do I look that rough?)  It was a tasteless mix of cous-cous and carrots. I could hardly eat it.  But at least it was warm, full of carbohydrates and vitamins.  I offered a donation and the volunteers refused, saying please contribute via the net .  George Orwell wrote about this in the 1920's.  Ninety years later, have things not got better?  It seems not.

A few days later in Nuremberg I made acquaintance with a young spice grower from India, attending Biofach, and on his first visit to Europe. He asked me lots of questions - including why there where so many beggars on the streets. I didn't have an answer.  It's not a specifically German, French or British problem.  I tried to explain some of the issues, knowing that  middle class Indians have in-built defence mechanisms against beggars, including the much repeated (and hopefully untrue) story that some children are mutilated at birth to make them more 'beg-worthy'.   He looked askance at me when I dropped a few coins into beggars'  plastic cups.

There are definitely more beggars and homeless people on the streets of the western world than there were twenty years ago. This is not a problem restricted to one country or its policies.  We can't blame May or Macron or Merkel.  one might try to avoid them, but if you spend any time at any major railway terminus it is just not possible (and I have spent a lot of time at  major railway termini this past week)

So how do we respond to this human suffering? To alleviate the immediate problem you can take out a standing order to support, or preferably become a volunteer with, an organisation such as restos du couer.  But in the longer term, we need political change, and if I knew how to achieve that I would be more content. 

Monday, 19 February 2018

Organic Trends 2018

Just back from Biofach with a few taste treats from generous exhibitors. 

My twelve hour train journey home allowed me to read through most of this year’s ‘World of Organic Agriculture’, the nineteenth edition of the most authoritative source of statistics and commentary on the state of organic farming.  Here’s ten highlights from this year’s edition (all percentile changes refer to 2015-6).
  • ·         15% increase in global organic certified land (though an estimated 2/3 of this is due to better data collection). (In ten years certified organic land has almost doubled).
  • ·         13% increase in number of organic producers worldwide (again, some of this is due to better data collection). (In ten years the number of organic producers has grown by 120%).
  •       Organic food now has more than a 5% share in seven countries, including among  the 'usual suspects, the Nordic and Alpine countries) the USA!
  • ·         8% growth in organic land in Europe and a 10% growth in the organic market.  In Ireland, France, Denmark and Norway the organic market grew by 20% or more 
  • ·         15 countries now have more than 10% of their land certified as organic, including Austria, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland , the Czech Republic, Finland and Uruguay       
  • ·         More than 25% of temperate fruits grown in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Montenegro are organic.
  • ·         More than 10% of the grapes grown in Italy, Austria, Bulgaria and Spain are organic
  • ·         More than 25% of French olives and almost 20% of those from Italy are organic.
  • ·         There’s almost one million ha of organically managed coffee in the world (8.5% of the world’s total)
  • ·         An estimated 33% of the world’s coffee, 25% of the world’s chocolate, 16% of its tea and 10% of its cotton are grown under various sustainability labels, including organic (NB figures are estimates that allow for possible ‘double-certification’).

All of which begs the question: is organic still a niche? 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Baratzea - November

I've just had a crash course in wild and semi-wild plants. I met a traveller this summer admiring my garden and we immediately hit it off and went on several foraging missions together. She's been back in Hendaye for a few days and every day we have been exploring my garden ad the open spaces of Hendaye with her teaching my the names and uses of the wild plants in my environment.  And then going home and spreading out five botanicae on the floor checking out the names and uses that my friend doesn't know.

These days there's not so much work to be done in the garden so it's been great to move forward with my (somewhat dormant) project of getting to know the names and uses of the plants around me.

Top to bottom then left to right
Banana leaf (ideal for a lampshade)
Sunflower head (30cm diameter)
unknown berries
Palm and wisteria seeds
Mache (Lamb's lettuce)


Lamb's lettuce

Cresson de Fontanine

Saturday, 25 November 2017

In the gallery.

Last week I was in Bilbao and took the opportunity to visit the Guggenheim.  I was of the impression that the building greatly outshone the works inside until I found myself on the ground floor and confronted with the most impressive set of installations I have ever come across:

These eight steel mazes amazed me.  Some were spirals, others shell-like, others parallel sheets.  Richard Serra, the artist responsible, plays with concave and convex curves in the steel to create truly memorable short walks in which, after just a few minutes, you lose all sense of direction and perspective.  Richard pressed these plates so they had took on organic forms: concave at the top, convex  at the bottom, or vice versa: the shape of waves. Sometimes walking through them the space became claustrophobic, other times it opened up like the light at the end of the cave.  I wandered through them wild eyed and disoriented like a child after a fast ride on a roundabout.  Some I went back to and walked through again.

Then I watched the very good videos about the artist's vision and the logistics of making, shipping and installing these pieces, went and had lunch, then came back in the gallery to do another tour of the installations.  I can't remember spending the best of four hours in a gallery.  Usually I am sated after two hours.

I was in awe of the dimensions of these installations. The steel plates are the thickness of my thumb (lets say 10cm), almost 3m high and up to 30m long.  That's big pieces of metal.   I starting thinking about the human effort that went into making them.  How much did they weigh? How did I get them there? Etc. When I watched the background information I was truly stunned.

Friday, 17 November 2017

24 Heures a Bilbao

Quelque photos. J'ajouterais une parole plus tard (peut-etre)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Go up to the mountains 1

There is a mountain (the three crowns) that I can see from my flat – most days – when there’s not too much cloud. To my shame I have been looking at it for more than a year but not yet climbed it.

A couple of weeks ago I rectified that: with the aid of a half-way  decent Spanish walking map I worked out where to start from and how best to tackle it. And, with two brave British couch-surfers we made our bid. 

As the name suggests the three crowns has three peaks: we made the first two: the gap between the second and third proved beyond our mountain skills without a rope.   Although less than 1000m high it is  a serious mountain.  There was some serious scrambling involved!

 It was a lovely day out though, with the best views yet across Bidasoa and back to Hendaye. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

View from Port Plaisance

Took my new bicycle for a test spin yesterday evening just before sunset.  I chanced upon what has to be one of the most beautiful panoramas of Bidasoa, taken from Port Plaisance.  It captures the three mountains that define and frame this watershed.  One can nearly always see one of them no matter where you are, but I'd never seen all three together in the same frame.

From top to bottom:
La Rhune (the highest of the three) with a full moon rising to the left (sadly not visible in the photo)
Les Trois Corrounes, the wildest and most forested, with a mantle of cloud
Jaizkibel, the most westerly peak of the Pyrenees, with Hondarribia catching the evening sun.  There was a drumming festival on the  Spanish side so the whole valley was reverberating with drum sounds, like Carnaval was taking place.   

Monday, 14 August 2017

Baratzea week 31

Last week it mostly rained every day, so I took advantage of the bad weather to catch up on my food processing (especially since I bought a freezer the week before) .

Two panniers of vegetables from my garden and the jardin collectif to process.  

Stuffed peppers, fried peppers

One kilo of string beans 

Melon with ham and Mozzarella and Gazpacho

(and not photographed aubergine pate and potato and corgette chowder).   All in all about eight hours' work, but suddenly my grocery bill is down to dairy products, an occasional piece of meat or fish and cat food.    .

Sunday, 13 August 2017


A short couple of hours stroll from the chapel at Guadalupe to Jaizkibel (543m) the last peak before the Pyrenees tumbles into the Atlantic.  The Bay of Figs and the Bay of Biscay on my right hand side,  La Rhune and the Three Crowns on the right:  Ohri, the western-most 2000m peak visible for just a few minutes before arriving at the look-out point at Jaizkibel.  A short but very enjoyable walk.

The view from Guadalupe across the Bidasoa towards La Rhune, 
possibly the best 'Mirador' on the Bidasoa.

The Three Crowns from Jaizkibel