Organic Gardening- the natural no-dig way by Charles Dowding

This book is a superb introduction from Green Books to a tried and tested organic gardening technique perfected by Charles Dowding over 25 years of hands on experience.

A highly productive vegetable garden that involves no digging, written by a man with no formal horticultural training, and organic to boot? You may be permitted a certain cynicism.

However if that cynicism stops you from reading this book then you will have missed out on a treasure.

Charles Dowding is no armchair theorist, he produces weekly vegetable boxes, salad bags, supplies restaurants and runs courses all from an acre of intensively farmed land in Somerset.

His approach is classically organic in that it is soil centred- it is no coincidence that the leading organic body is called the Soil Association. A good soil structure is as important to a garden as a good foundation is to a building. Dowding argues that soil can be more harmed than helped through human digging. That doesn’t mean to say that the soil is not dug, just not by human hands. Back in 1828 Charles Darwin in his book, “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observation of their Habits”, noted that a healthy pasture has been 25 and 50 mm of topsoil added every year through the casts of earthworms. Dowding uses these natural workers to do his hard work, by adding 25-50 mm of well rotted manure or good compost to the surface of his plots- within three months this nutritious mulch is pulled into the body of the soil by the worms.

The second key to success is never ever walk on the soil, thus avoiding any opportunity to compact the soil- the worms ,with a good supply of nitrogen rich manure or compost, produce a light, crumbly humus rich soil, the perfect base for vegetables. Walking or applying weight to the surface compacts the soil, making it heavy and dense- difficult for roots to penetrate.

A raised bedding system is therefore ideal, beds no more than a metre wide with clear paths on either side allow for easy access, the fact that they are raised makes them less back stretching for planting and of course weeding. It also means that the system works for small urban gardens as well as those off us lucky enough to have large rural plots.

Like all organic soil orientated approaches careful crop rotation and judicious timing is very important- crop rotation helps ensure that the soil doesn’t get worn out as well as ensuring that pests particularly keen on one type of vegetable do not get embedded in a certain patch.

Pest and insects can be the bane of organic growers lives, this spring a cabbage of mine was demolished in a night by a horde of caterpillars. However judicious and timely intervention- getting down on hands and knees and examining every single leaf of each plant quickly led to caterpillar carnage which saved the crop- indeed the first victim burst back into life. Slugs are kept at bay by reducing their habitats anywhere near the vegetable plot, and by sneaking into the garden after night falls with a torch and murderous intentions.

Judicious planting timing is also very important- getting an early start by growing seedlings in cold frames and greenhouses means that the very vulnerable first weeks of a plants life are over before they are introduced into the garden. If a slug or snail does get to them then they will start on the fading outer leaves which they are more than welcome to anyway.

If the book stopped there with the basic principals it would be a good read. However Dowding goes onto to look at which vegetables should be planted when, and for me very helpfully what should then be planted in the plot after the first crop has been harvested.

Dowding’s approach is an intensive cultivation technique with plants grown close together- helps conserve moisture in summer, and leaves little space for weeds- and one plant rapidly following another so the beds are inconstant use. The output from a small garden can be enormous and all year round.

Don’t be fooled that no dig means no work but the rewards are well worth it. Of course clearing the land and making the beds in the first place is an endeavour in itself- but a once off endeavour.

This book is now my first port of call when I am looking for a gardening solution. As a beginner and non-scientist, I found his style easy to understand packed with useful tips and coherent in that it took me from an uninformed start to considering quite complicated seasonal planning without loosing the plot or throwing my hands up in confused despair. The results at the Domaine de Montrouch are looking promising- if the wild boar don’t decide they fancy a salad dinner one night.

Lagrasse Caveat venditor

lagrasse“I cannot avoid the conviction that no innate tendency to progressive development exists”

Charles Darwin, 1872
by Simon Pleasance, Ribaute, canton of Lagrasse
The horse-borne traveller coming upon Lagrasse, a century ago, would halt astride the abrupt and draughty promontory called the Bouche au Cers , bulwark against tantrum gales. Before him, spanned by a wide-arched bridge , stout and svelte, the river Orbieu running its course between the mediaeval bourg, confined entirely within its occasionally toppling fortifications, on the rive droite, and a sumptuous abbey on the rive gauche. The whole surveyed by an imposing, if unfinished, belltower . Beyond the village, a riant valley with olive groves, vineyards and wheatfields, worked high up the flanks. Further south, the jostling peaks of the Corbières and, on a clear day, the far Pyrenees.
Today’s car-borne visitor will survey from the same vantage point–and all things being, it is claimed, relative–a similarly pleasing prospect, qualified now by a second elegant bridge, but sundry less harmonious developments, too, residential and infrastructural, east and south of the walls: a new gendarmerie adjoined by a singularly characterless housing estate, a school, barns, wine cellars and homes, the village winery at the southern head of the village, another cramped housing estate close by, and, most recently of all, a decidedly up-market development on the hillside above it. Scattered homes are gradually peppering the immediate environs, here, there and everywhere. The olive-groves have all but gone , the once endless carpet of vines is chequered with fallow–some already reverted to garrigue scrubland–and invasive Aleppo pines [Pinus halapensis] clad the heights.
Lagrasse, at the turn of the century , was still a fairly bustling chef-lieu and administrative centre, though it had already seen better days. It had a population of 1,125, virtually unchanged since the Revolution. It boasted a bureau de bienfaisance or charitable office taking care of the destitute, a rescue and emergency service, and a fanfare municipale républicaine–the village brass band; a tax inspector, a rate collector, a municipal clerk, a postmaster and a garde champêtre ; a justice of the peace, a clerk of the court, a bailiff, and a notary. The Mayor (Calvet) and his deputy (Mailhac) presided over a ten-man council (Camps, Oulé, Toulza, Belly, Castel, Roques, Ferrié, Nouguiès, Sicre, and Falet).
Our equestrian traveller could have had his mount shod and fed, and his saddle mended; he could have put up at the Hôtel parisien or the Restaurant Africain, and sipped absinthe at the Café National, the Café de la Lyre or the Café de la Ville. Around him, artisan, merchant and shopkeeper (see table), going about their business.
Figure I
Services in Lagrasse:
Service 1906 1950 1997
General (novelty) store 1 1 1
Hotels-restaurants, bistrots 2 2 4
Cafés 3 3 2
Groceries 4(?) 5 2
Bakeries 5 3 1
Butcher’s shops 2 2 2
Saddler-harnessmaker 1 1 0
Cartwright-blacksmith 1 2 1
Hairdressers 4 3 (?)
Fodder-seedsmen 1 0 0
Tinsmith-lamplighter 3 0 0
Watchmaker-jeweller 1 1 0
Locksmith 1 1 0
Ironmongeries 2 1 0
Plumber 1 1 1
Garage mechanics 0 1 1
Wine Merchants 2 1 2(?)
Housepainter-glazier 1 1 0
Pharmacy 1 1 1
Carpenters-joiners (?) (?) 2
Craftsmen (?) (?) 9
Shops (?) (?) 5
Estate Agents 0 0 1
Physician 1 1 2
Oil Mills 4 0 1
Dentist 0 0 1
There were three major fairs in Lagrasse 100 years ago: the Fête des Cochons in late January, the Foire de Lagrasse on 12 August, and the Fête des Comportes , in late October. Today, the summer months see an occassional Wine Fair, a Potters’ Fair for the past dozen or so years, and latterly, since 1995, the Banquet du livre, a book fair.
Back in 1906, our traveller would have watered his horse at one of three municipal drinking troughs. For the denizens, a water-mill at the weir 1.5 km upstream fed three fountains. The mill was replaced in the early 1920s by an electric pump. In the 1950s, many smaller private homes still used their own wells, usually sunk within their four walls, from 3-4 up to 10 metres deep. The larger residences in the village were the first to boast running water in this decade. The village lanes and thoroughfares were cobbled and smaller byways took the form of packed earth tracks. The cobbles in the Place de la halle were embedded in sand, and known by local anglers as rich nurseries for bait-worms. Such was the plunder and displacement of the cobbles, that they had to be reset in mortar. Macadam was introduced to Lagrasse in the 1950s, starting with the exiguous Rue des Remparts, behind the Promenade. Vehicular traffic was very sparse in the 1950s, though it had increased since pre-war days, when there was just one camionnette in the village. The streets enjoyed public lighting by electricity back in 1906, and by the 1950s most dwellings were supplied with power.
By all reports, though, there were no foreign foreigners in the village, and only very few French foreigners: just the gendarmes, the tax inspector and the fiscal registrars, the postal employees, the schoolteachers, and other fonctionnaires.
Figure II
Lagrasse: population figures
1789 1936 1954 1962 1968 1975 1982 1990
1147 1006 738 708 665 623 711 725
In the 1950s, so far as Charles Alquier and others can recollect, there were no house-hunting foreign nationals in the village, but there was some incidence of exogamous marriage. Tourism, as such, barely existed. Any visitors there were, tended to be for elderly relatives who were patients in the Abbey. It would seem that the first foreign nationals to purchase a house in Lagrasse were from the Netherlands, some time in the mid-1960s. Another Dutch family purchased an outlying homestead 2 km west of St. Pierre-des-Champs at about the same time. A description of Lagrasse drawn up by an unidentified agency in Béziers, includes the following table for dwellings:
Figure III
Housing stock, Lagrasse, 1962-1997:
1962 1968 1975 1982 1990 1997
Principal residences 218 214 224 251 266
Second/Holiday homes 29 48 55 75 61 63+
Total stock 247 262 279 326 327
——- II ——-

The second or holiday home phenomenon has gathered considerable momentum since the late 1960s, less here than in many or most other southerly parts of France–and far less than on the Côte d’Azur or in the Lubéron, for example– but noticeable nonetheless. It is a factor in the decreasing proportion of born-‘n-raised “lagrassiens” in the village, now estimated at about 20%.
The new part-time population brings with it other side-effects. On the plus side, there has been considerable, and it would seem contagious, investment in the physical fabric of the village, and its often historic bricks and mortar. Prominent properties, many of them tumbledown and some even close to ruination, have been purchased and lovingly–and often expensively–rebuilt, repaired and rehabilitated. Façades have been repointed, arches restored, and cracked lintels replaced. One spin-off seems to have been a renewed local pride in the overall aspect of the village. Tattered parking lots, installed wherever some decrepit old hovel had been demolished, have been spruced up. Grubby lanes have been resurfaced. On the plus side, too, hills and environs have been reforested, and many trees planted (photos taken a century ago show a more or less bald landscape, somewhat depressing by our present-day yardstick). There seems also to be a keener and more visible appreciation of vegetation in general, conveyed by a collective, but in no way regimented, effort to add embellishment by the introduction of a much wider range of flora–an aesthetic development that is certainly not in line with traditional peasant thinking. Not for nothing does Lagrasse qualify as “Un des plus beaux villages de France”.
Sixty some holiday homes [cf. Fig. III] means 200 to 300 extra residents in the summer months. Factor in their exponential families and other visitors, and passing tourists in July and August, and the village’s summer population probably rises to almost twice its wintry 700 souls. All this is, as they say, good for business. And when the merchants are flush, the municipal coffers may benefit fiscally, too.

In this respect, however, a paradox rears its head. A century ago, the village was a somewhat autonomous and more or less self-perpetuating hub, where the range of activities had a more intrinsic and organic sense than is the case today. True, there was, then, a layer of existence that was bordering on the feudal (as everywhere in Europe at the turn of the century), but it seems possible that the structure of services offered a wider gamut of real employment, and a more meaningful possibility of fulfilment and integration. Nowadays, the various activities being carried on in the village have a more speculative and artificial character, more to do with consumption than any constructive or contributive spirit . This reality seems clearly illustrated by the nature of the new rash of shops, and the merchandise they offer–targeted essentially at the passer-by, no longer at the resident. In a nutshell, a village that has apparently become considerably more well-to-do is actually functioning less healthily in its viscera–and this tallies with this other imminent turn-of-the-century, where virtuality is a powerful buzz-word, among others…

Another more salient by-product yet of this ‘progress’ is, needless to add, its encroachment on the landscape. I confess, in passing, to a particular bête noire: those who, for their own–often considerable–gain, and with scant regard for the arena of their activities or those unhurriedly inhabiting it, see fit to accelerate the already brisk natural pace of development, progress, call it what you will. In these parts, furthermore, where the stock of available property is now becoming scant–especially in sought-after villages, with a certain cachet, like Lagrasse–it would seem that those involved as intermediaries in the sale of existing homes may now be switching their rapacious attention to land development schemes, pure and simple. That some of these realtors and riffraff agents are foreign nationals with visitor status does not heighten one’s store of affection for their meddlesome doings. When a time-honoured hillside or pleasant riverain lea is earmarked as the next subdivision, and in due course defaced, more often than not, by ill-conceived dwellings , the conversion of the countrysdide is irrevocable: hill and lea will never revert to the natural state (cf. the Côte Vermeille , the Spanish costas, western Eire, Aegean Turkey, and points north, south, east and west the world over).

Second homes offer an illusory populousness. In reality, they have the effect of accentuating the phantom-like climate of places so afflicted in the nine or ten out-of-season months. Houses–often, as we have mentioned, a village’s more salient properties (maisons de maître, and the like) and architectural gems–stand shuttered and gaunt. Shops and boutiques are inevitably spawned (see fig.1) to cash in on the summer influx, but close down in September, as soon as the vacationers have left: more shuttered façades along streets now more lifeless than when once lined with dark-roomed homes.

A somewhat Pavlovian reaction on the part of some second home-owners, often from points north, who think they are perhaps in chic Provence or Malibu, seems to involve the need to install a swimming-pool, come what may. Pools, fancy portals, gardens and yards more manicured than is the local wont, and Toyota Landcruisers… all are so many signals to the ubiquitous larcenous fringe, a new intrusion that affects everyone in the locality, rich and poor alike.
For all the taste, lastly, that is mercifully demonstrated in the restoration of existing, older homes, there is conspicuous evidence of not a little ostentation in certain new homes . Several forseeable look-at-me eyesores now stand on the hill above the Lagrasse village winery. They are owned by Germans, Britons, French from elsewere, and locals, and come complete, needless to add, with pool, some in the mock-Riviera, sun-cult, leisure-in-the-Midi style, others in the spirit of high-design, totally at odds with the environs.


All these factors combined mean that prices are, as they say in realtor-speak, stable, which means they are on the up. This makes it hard(er) for young local couples to set up home here. It is, arguably, in the hands of young(er) residents that the future of places like Lagrasse hangs. If a population becomes too predominantly geriatric and absentee, now matter how wealthy, its habitat will inevitably atrophy. Then the second home-owners will sell up–at a handsome profit if they get the timing right–and run… to another Lagrasse–if they can find one that has not suffered the same fate.

Perpignan market musing

perpignan market

Perpignan market on a Saturday morning is a delightful place. It is in the beautiful  Place de la Republique, a large open square full of bars and restaurants. The stand holders are a mix of organic producers, organic bakers, honey makers, cheese makers and a bunch of vegetable, charcuterie, and cheese resellers, and of course our organic herbs are there. Those of us who don’t sell much before 10, honey, seafood, cheese and plants, have an apperro organised by the wonderful cheese reseller Patric. Red wine and freshly grilled gambas along with pate and cheese at 8.30 in the morning may not be to the taste of everyone but I love it. There is a second apperro at 11.30 for the vegetable sellers and bakers.

There is a friendly rapport between most of the stand holders, with just a few miserable vegetable resellers, who keep their distance. I think they are convinced organic producers are mildly deranged, they are probably not mistaken.

I have a wonderful bunch of clients, ranging from students to mad old girls. I usually start yabbering at 9am and barely draw breath until about 1.30.  A friend wheels by every week to collect his bottle tops from me, apparently for every two tons of plastic bottle top the producers buy a new wheel chair. I had a vision of my mate living in an apartment stuffed with plastic bags full of bottle tops but it turns out there is a collection point at the foot of his building.

A couple of events recently have been a bit disturbing. Firstly there is the case of my “Little Mistress”. Every two weeks this woman comes to our market in her totally illegal bashed up car. She sets up her speaker and microphone and proceeds to sing, solidly, for 4 and half hours. She is not busking, she does not solicit money, she is simply singing for her pleasure and allegedly ours. She is known as my Petite maitresse by my mates because she usually sets up close to my stand and gets me to lift up her speaker and place it on its stand. Now there are a few issues with her, not least is that she can’t really sing, and the longer she goes on the worse it gets. This fact is not helped by her tendency to turn her loudspeakers up a bit too loud. Four hours into this racket your ears do start to ring and at times you lose the will to live.

But live and let live, she has been in the market as long as I have been, which is now six years. Yes there have been a few incidents, she does get shouted at if she is too loud. She does turn her music down if asked politely. She has rushed off in tears to call her Mum if the request is not so polite, which has happened a few time.

Recently we have a new organic vegetable producer/reseller that has migrated over from the Place Belgique market. She has taken real exception to our singer, about three weeks ago she started screaming at her. She rounded up our local Frontists, a couple of over muscled under brained bullies, and between them they decided to make the singer’s life unpleasant. Constantly shouting at her, reducing her to tears, playing with her mixing kit, and generally bad mouthing her to their clients, fellow stand holders as well as the guys from the Mayor’ office responsible for our market.

And now they have got their way, our singer has been thrown out the market.A great victory that they are very proud of.

The problem is the market is a poorer place for all their bullying. A fragile old woman has been needlessly upset, yes she was a pain but she was our pain. If we can’t find a place to support a mentally unstable person who got immense pleasure from singing once every two weeks then we have lost a bit of our humanity.

The second event that pissed me off a bit was a new organic cheese producer. They came down last week with their paper work and were reluctantly admitted. I suggested to the man from the Mayor’s office that they could go next to me, after a bit of huffing and puffing he agreed.

His partner came down again yesterday, and, after numerous phone calls between the Perpignan officials, she was turned away. So she had come down all the way from Soulage, a village even more remote than us, only to be told to await proper authorization. This is the first time I have seen a seller turned away when there are places available. Yes I have seen people turned away from markets before. The usual reasons are not unreasonable, either they do not have the correct paper work, company details and insurance, or there simply are not any free spaces.

One of the fore mention muscled morons, who happens to be a cheese reseller was quick to get in with the officials to try and ensure that the producer was permanently turned away. Some of his arguments were not unreasonable, he sells cheese, Patric sells cheese, the Italian stand and the Spanish Catalans also sell cheese, Will sells cheese from his truck, and we have two other organic cheese makers, there are two cheese shops just off the square and a mini market a few streets down also has a cheese seller. Just how much cheese do the people of Perpignan eat?  Well yes but the difference is that these were producers that were turned away, from a producers market. If we need to start limiting the number of cheese sellers lets start by looking at the poor quality cheese resellers, particularly those that will leave our market and do the beach markets once the tourist season starts.

Now that I have that our of my system I can get back to enjoying my Saturday mornings in Perpignan, and the last glass of rose I have with Janet, George and Patric at the end of the morning’s work.


Gluten Free in France

Gluten Free
Gluten Free in France use to be a real struggle, when we arrived in 1999 finding clearly marked food labeling, let alone gluten free products was difficult. Most largish towns had an organic shop hidden away somewhere that stocked a limited number of Gluten free Dr Schär products at eye watering prices and dodgy sell by dates. Nowadays you can find an acceptable range of clearly labelled gluten free products in most supermarkets. The prices still make your eyes water, and most are highly processed products rather than the raw materials, such as gluten free flour and xantham gum, that enable you to bake and prepare food yourself.

Ceoliacs, like myself, are estimated to make up about 1% of the French population, density varies with a higher decree of occurrence in more sedentary, shall we say closer communities, than more mobile ones. That means there are roughly 600,000 ceoliacs in France, only 20% of that number have actually been medically diagnosed.

The Gluten Free market in France

In 2014 the French gluten free market was estimated at 93 million euros, with an annual growth rate of 11% it is expected to grow to just over 200 million euros by 2018. In Europe that places France as the third largest gluten free market behind Germany, 427 million in 2014, and the UK 155 million in 2014.

This growth is no just coming from ceoliacs, gluten free diets are increasingly being advised by doctors for people who suffer from other auto-immune illnesses,  the largest growth is coming from people auto diagnosing themselves as gluten intolerant, whether for health reasons or the usual French neurotic obsession about all things health related.

What ever the motivation of the individuals, the total impact is slowly transforming the food on the shelves. Food processing and transforming companies are increasingly looking to find non gluten alternatives for their everyday products. Fleury Michon ham for example now has a range of discretely labelled San Gluten ham. Findus does a fish finger with an gluten free batter.  The increasingly innovative gluten free niche players, the  big players in France Dr Shär, , Allergo and Gerble; who bought the gluten free range Valpiform in 2013,  are coming up with new products that are being rapidly distributed by the big supermarkets, as they try and cash in on this premium niche market. Indeed the big supermarkets have now started launching their own, Auchan launched Mieux Vivre in 2009, Casino and Carrefour own labels gluten free appeared in 2010, and the slow coaches at Leclerc in 2013.

Eating out

That is not however to say that there are not a few problems living gluten free in France. Restaurant chefs that really understand a gluten free diet are rare, through the number is increasing. I have eaten more steak frites in France than I care to remember, and even then you have to check the chips. Sites like Sortir Sans Gluten do provide a list of gluten free restos, though as usual they are concentrated in the larger cities and towns. The Petit Futé have also started a gluten free eating guide which can be bought from Amazon.

I still have to explain to my baker colleagues in the markets that while they can make bread who’s ingredients are gluten free the fact tat they do so in their usual ovens means that it is not gluten free bread, and equally shoving it the same boxes as flour sprinkled gluten bread to transport it to market is not a brilliant idea. But then Caroline had to explain to a bemused nutritionist what gluten free was when I was hospitalised for my heart operation.

French websites

C-sansgluten provide regular gluten free news and articles.The zapidly named AFCIAG, l’Association Française Des Intolérants Au Gluten, have the usual useful information listings, as well as a guide to getting reimbursements on gluten free products is you are a diagnosed ceoliac.


There is even a dating website now for people who live gluten free, Glut’aime. So even if the cafes may still poison you at least you can find true love..


What a Spring

Well Spring started well, by mid February we already had basil germinating in the polytunnel. In March the tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes were pushing through. Then April arrived,a bit grey, a bit wet all normal. Then the frosts hit, -5C again and again. Tropical plants such as basil and tomatoes do not like -5C, hell I don’t like -5C. Luckily nothing died, but unfortunately nothing grew either.

Our approach has always been that we do not heat our polytunnel. The idea is that our plants, while smaller than our colleague’s  are strong “montagnards”, mountain plants. When planted down on the plains they are already acclimatized, and often over take their larger cousins who are use to a more pampered life.

It is a good story, and most of the time it works, both the sales pitch and the plants. This Spring however has shown up a few holes in our approach. Take the parsley and coriander, these we germinate in the polytunnel in small pots, then when they start forming their adult leaves they are separated into bundles of 5-8 plants and up potted into 12 cm round pots. The re-potted plants are then moved out of the polytunnel onto tables outdoors. This slows down their above soil growth, while allowing them to establish a strong root ball. This is particularly important for coriander which has a tendency to bolt if hot, and being an annual plant the moment it starts to flower it gives less and less leaves as all the energy of the plant going into forming seeds.

So far so good. Then on Friday we had a storm, usually we love storms, the water that falls out of the sky is full of nitrogen, just wonderful for the plants, much better than the calcium charged water we get from our source on Tauch. But then the hail started, and what hail. a solid wall of ice fell in the space of 3 minutes. It was falling at such speed that it was bouncing higher than my head. Three inches of half centimeters round hail fell in that three minutes. The rosemary and other garrigue plants shrugged it off. The parsley and coriander were flatted, the tips of the tomatoes were snapped off, the leaves of the comfrey, borrage, courgettes and cucumbers were shredded. It was heart breaking.

Faced with this we had only one option, get out the parsley seeds and start soaking them. Luckily we have a few trays of coriander pushing through in the polytunnel and most of the basils have no being brought out yet. Sunday and today we have been re-potting like mad and sowing the next wave of annuals. The sun is back and most will germinated in a matter of days. Amazingly the parsley and coriander that only days ago looked like they had shuffled off this mortal plain have sprung back, yes we have had loses, but nothning like we feared.My heart goes out the wine makers of Tuchan and Tailran, who’s vines were three weeks in advance of usal and who’s flowers were killed by the frost, and those that remained battered by the hail. Unlike them we can always re-start. This week the temperature has risen, the sun is shining and everything is growing. All is well, but it may be time to think about putting up a second polytunnel with fine shade netting to protect plants from the sun and from the hail. What ever it is it is never boring down here in the Haute Corbieres.

Sorry about the quality fo the photos, my wonderful brother gave me his old smart phone last Christmas, turns out it is smarter than me.

The man from Ecocert calls

Today was our annual control from EcoCert, our organic certifying body. Every year they come and check out that we are using the correct, that is organic, products. In our case this involves handing him a whole load of bills for seeds and soil, and the organic certificates of the suppliers, as well as the bills and certificates from any plants we may have bought from other suppliers. This is followed by a walk around the out door growing area, in other words our garden which is a mess of plant covered tables, half barrels filled with the mother plants for our the mints, tarragon, and verbena. Then down to the polytunnel to check out all the germinating seeds and the small selection of vegetables we grow in Spring. As we wander round you get a grilling about any fertilisers you may use, none in our case, and how you control pests, luckily squashing them seems to be a perfectly acceptable approach. That is it, we have to prove a negative, that we don’t do stuff rather than we do. It all has a rather sureal quality about it, we have to prove we don’t do things while the industrial producers only have to show, that no matter how much herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers they use, their produce does not poison people.

We usually sit and have a chat about what is going on on the Occitan and Catalan organic scene, it is a good chance to catch up with the wider organic picture. I have got to say that EcoCert has a skill at employing very likable, intelligent young controllers. It is always a pleasure chatting to them about our lives and work.

As well as  controlling our production we get an annual or bi annual check up in the markets to ensure we are actually selling the products we are certified to sell, that often leads to some rather heated discussions with a few of my colleagues who resell others produce in times of shortages, and a few that have been known to put non-organic produce beside their organic stuff and ‘forget’ to label it as such. Luckily down here the producers are pretty honest, the same cannot be said of certain resellers, though our lot in Lezignan, Perpignan and Narbonne are a pretty good crew. A survey was once done of ‘organic’ resellers in markets in the Parisian region, the results were not pretty, over 70% of produce resold had been mislabeled.

There are nine certifying bodies in France, EcoCert and Quality de France are the two largest, a complete list can be found at the Agencebio site here We publish our EcoCert certification here


So, as always the best people to buy organic products are certified local producers and transformers, but then I would say that.