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.