Growing food in my Limousin potager

polytunnels on a field with orange-leaved autumn trees behind. Then, a wooden basket filled with pears on green grass

Polytunnels can keep crops warm and extend the growing season - Credit: Laura Harley

A veggie plot is a quintessential part of a rural French home and Laura Harley has been putting hers to good use producing fresh fruit and vegetables that won’t cost a cent and are all organic

If 2020 was my year for adjusting to French bureaucracy and obtaining all of the necessary documentation to remain in France, then 2021 was the year for success in the potager, with September bringing the literal fruits of my labour!  

The renovation of our hundred-year-old French home has occasionally demanded that we remove ourselves from the vicinity so that the professionals can do their job, and so we have been encouraged to spend more time bringing our one-acre garden under control.  

garlic shoots in a wooden planer

Growing garlic is an easy and frugal option - Credit: Harley

This falls in line nicely with one of the tasks which I set for myself this year, which was to grow food frugally. It is unfortunately much easier to grow food uneconomically – be that by buying ready-to-go mature plants from the garden centre or by acquiring bags of rich compost to encourage bumper tomato crops.  

One argument against these options is that when food is in season there are usually offers to be had at the supermarket. Indeed French supermarkets’ fresh food sections tend to be much more seasonally focused, so it may not be worth growing some vegetables at all if you factor in your financial cost and time spent doing so.  

hand holding a tomato, with more tomatoes sat on a layer of hay in crates

Seasonal food in French supermarkets can be very affordable - Credit: Harley

But in our case, we are choosing to garden organically with as little cost as possible. One way to maximise efficiency and avoid waste is to grow the foods that are most often consumed and can be easily stored. We are lucky to have ample storage in our outbuildings, allowing us to dry things out, keep them in a cool, dark place and – essentially – protect them from any opportunistic wildlife.  

For us, this means potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, peas, courgettes, squashes and brassicas. Our seed potatoes are a chitted selection from last year’s crop, our starter garlic cloves are sourced in the same way, and the remainder of our seeds are gathered after previous efforts to grow the same varieties. In fact, we are still growing purple sprouting broccoli from seeds collected in our Bristol garden!  

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The compost that we use comes from our recycled garden waste (with a generous dose of chicken manure from our feathery companions) and we exclusively use collected rainwater to irrigate. Some months this leaves us doing a rain dance in the hope of filling our many water butts but it is satisfying not to pay to water the potager (and crucially, there are restrictions on tap water used for irrigation during heatwaves).  

Perennial fruit plants and trees do well here in Limousin with our intense weather, and our raspberries happily survive the harsh winter to provide again in the following year.  

Our mature fruit trees usually offer up months’ worth of sweet treats at the end of summer, and we have recently added both cherry and apricot trees to a collection that now includes mirabelle plums, apples and pears among its number. So for a frugal potager, I would encourage you to keep things simple, grow what you enjoy eating and talk to friends and neighbours about what does and does not thrive in your area. You may not only save yourself a few euros but also make some like-minded frugal French friends too.  

More from Laura Harley

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