So I've decided, aided by a wonderful gift of manure, that 2014 will be Ground Zero for veggies at Châtillon, and that I will keep a regular diary/chronicle of everything I've achieved during the week.
The challenge: Our slope is probably about 30 degrees and I've spent the last two years working out how to grow veg there. The soil is heavy clay - so heavy that it is almost unworkable when wet and quickly bakes to concrete (making hoeing impossible). But it is very fertile.
Bringing additional organic matter into the garden is hard work, since everything has to be barrowed from the street (metres above) and then taken over to the veg plot, mostly by bucket.
But I love my veg (and I'm a vegetarian). Last year I didn't bother too much, because I was occupied with other gardening activities - and I really missed my own produce.
My answer: I've terraced my slope in three levels. The first two are virtually flat, the last is gently sloping and suitable for crops that need a lot of room, such as potatoes. There are 4 reasonably sized beds on the top slope, 3 narrow beds on the middle and then 4 beds on the sloping area. The areas between the two top terraces and the final slope are covered in landscaping fabric, which has already blown off in a wind and seems to make a suitable cat hammock (very warm in the spring, black landscaping fabric).
After the terracing this winter, I am left with the reasonably good soil on the first terrace and the third, sloping level. The middle terrace is now horrible lumps of dried clay soil where the compacted topsoil was thrown up from below onto previously compacted soil that had been under a sheet of landscaping fabric for a year.
Organic matter is what this soil needs (as well a more athletic gardener, of course). I have some green manures (still in the seed packets in which they arrived), but fortunately a friend donated some horse manure last weekend. Too late to dig it in (best done in autumn) and too fresh to use as it was. I decided to allocate some beds that would not be planted for four weeks and to spread it on the top of these. I was a bit nervous about all of this, since manure that is fairly fresh can scorch leaves and roots and inhibit seed germination. But maybe it will stop the weeds germinating?
This week, in spite of knowing that my ground was not ideal (read: pretty awful), I just got on with it. This is what I did after spreading the manure:
1. I shoved (no other word for it) my little February seed-sown 'Paille des Vertus' onions into an unmanured bed on the bottom slope. In the same bed I planted red onion sets and followed on with garlic.
2. Into the next (unmanured) sloping bed I also shoved my potatoes. It is very warm - too hot for vegetables - on this south-facing slope, so I reckon this is not too early. They were well-chitted 'Belle de Fontenay' (earlies) and 'Charlotte' (second earlies). These potatoes have had no care of the ground at all apart from a top-dressing of inorganic fertiliser. The 'Charlotte' are not even planted in proper rows! But I'm still eating my 'Charlotte' from last year's harvest, and I hope that my neglectful cultivation habits will carry me through again. Next year will be different.
3. I planted my broad beans ('Aquadulce' and 'Super Aquadulce') in an unumanured bed on Terrace 2. The soil was so lumpy and awful I was breaking it up by beating my trowel against it while I planted. I nearly wept for the poor little beans - but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have started mulching this bed with grass cuttings, just to add something. It also had a top-dressing of an artificial fertiliser before I sowed.
4. Terrace 1 has the best soil - cultivated by the previous owner and has had plenty of fresh organic matter added by me over 2 years, in the form of grass clippings and non-seeding annual weeds. Here, in the bed nearest the wall, I have sown: carrot 'Potagere Nantaise Amelioree 2' ('Nantes 2', I think, in English), spinach 'Viking' (apparently one of Mr Titchmarsh's favourites, according to Thompson & Morgan), Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' and a little radish called '18 Jours'. I can't imagine how any of these will germinate amongst the lumps. Again, nothing ventured. And I did at least hack away with my trowel to 'improve' the soil, top-dress with artificial fertiliser and water the base of the drills before sowing.
5. Growing away indoors are seedlings of: aubergine 'Early Longpod Purple 2' (sown February), chilli peppers 'Basket of Fire F1' and '(Hot) Fuego F1' (sown February), cauliflower 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons' (sown February), cabbage 'Chou Cabus' (sown February), and tomatoes 'Marmande' and 'Gardeners' Delight' (sown mid-March).
Tomorrow I will be off out to water all of the above, since we have now had twelve days with no rain (and only one weekend of decent rain in March). Meanwhile I've loads of purple sprouting broccoli that has flourished this year, in spite of my neglect and bad habits. Mmm ... that's why I'm carting buckets of manure up and down our slope.
This blog is about veg growing in adverse conditions - give advice, direct me towards others growing veg on a steep slope? Maybe I'll learn!