50 degrees F,
Mostly Cloudy, Winds WNW at 15 mph
As reserves prepared from the produce of last year’s jardin efforts dwindle, late winter and early spring’s cool temperatures are slowly releasing their hold on the surrounding Illinois countryside. The garden’s raised beds gradually are prepared for spring plantings, as the weather allows. This week’s strong storms continue the ongoing process of renewal, the drought of last year becoming a memory of trial and endurance. What weather travails of the year await, only the passage of time will reveal.
Work in the jardin potager began in January, a few days of warmer dry weather enabled clearing and turning in of compost in a few beds. February’s annual garden weekend wasencased in snow and sleet. Work accomplished was limited to physical repairs-resetting the poles for the peas and beans in a raised bed and the restringing of wire along the garden fence line for the espaliered apple trees. The frozen ground prohibited additional work, so we retreated to the warmth of the hearth in the fort’s guard room where time was spent cheerily chatting with visitors about gardening while sharing jardin heirloom seed packets.
In March, mes amies Antoinette and Renea worked with me as we prepared beds, weeding and seeding as we went along. The day was cloudy and a chill was in the air, but we managed to prepare four beds. The early spring seeding of Scarlet Runner beans, Blue Podded and Tom Thumb peas, St. Valery carrots, Flat Sided Dutch cabbage, lettuces-Brown Dutch, Cimmaron, Speckled Trout, and Bloomsdale spinach were accomplished. Flower and herb seeds sowed included Coriander, Love in the Mist, French Mallow, Flat Leaf Parsley, Corn Poppy, and Tall Deluxe Snapdragon. This was definite progress, slow but steady. Patience is the most important virtue for a gardener to cultivate, a delicate balance to be found between one’s desire to plant and anticipating garden progress while paying attention to Nature’s signals. We must let her lead the way and as she sets the pace for the developing season. But in centuries past, how difficult the wait and setbacks must have been. With dwindling food supplies from the previous season, the need for fresh produce from their spring jardins would have been urgent.
The weeks following and up to the first week of April extended the run of cool, rainy weather. We experienced days of snow intermingled with limited periods of sun and above average temperatures. More carrot and lettuces varieties have been planted, as well as seedlings of Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage. During this past weekend of the annual Fort de Chartres Colonial April Trade Faire, the beds were watered and the asparagus bedseeded (with the excellent assistance of my garden apprentice, Master Eagan and my husband, Nick). This last task was completed just in time as the warm temperatures produced a nice small selection of spears that were harvested last Sunday. Spring’s remaining weeks hold the promise and necessity of more bed preparation as we practice the jardin potager methods of companion and succession planting. Beet and radish seeds along with red onion sets remain to be planted and then the garden work will turn to thinning and weeding so the young seedlings will thrive and develop. Later this spring, preparation will be begin in the squash melon bed and the Native Three Sisters garden. The unfolding of the jardin awaits us, bringing delights of this year’s successes tempered by the inevitable heartbreak and disappointments unique to the rhythm of this garden year. Both conditions will be shaped by the elements and the greater force guiding us all. Bonne chance!
A quick note-last weekend’s Trade Faire offered the opportunity to demonstrate the bake oven once again and provided a chance for new explorations of 18th century recettes. February’s persimmon blog posting inspired my search for traditional French gingerbread or spice cakes, pain d’epices, while also experimenting with a version of Amelia Simmon’s Indian Pudding along the way. Toni’s new recipe was Elizabeth Raffields’s “ Bread made in the French Way”, while Renea baked an heirloom Kaskaskia recipe for blackberry cake. These recipes, along with the other baking endeavors, will be posted shortly on the “Recettes 2013” page of this blog.