Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Pépinière Les Bancaous, Cabasse - 26 March 2013

Our first garden group visit this year was to Pépinière Les Bancaous in Cabasse.  After all the rain we've been having, we were lucky with the weather.   The garden centre is run by a young couple.

Their principal activity is growing organic vegetables and herbs.  From their premises the plants, when they have reached a certain height, are sold on to middle men.

When they started their pépinière several years ago they did everything by hand, now they have machines to help them. The following are the steps that are taken in producing their plants.

They start off by filling reusable plastic seed trays (to hold 150 plants)

 to 3/4 with earth.  They then water the tray and place the tray under the sowing machine.

The seeds get picked up by the machine (photo 1, above) and are then deposited into the first row of the tray (photo 2 above), it automatically goes to the next row, till all the holes have been filled.  To finish off another layer of earth is added to the tray.  The tray is watered and put into a poly tunnel ready to sprout.  After use the trays have to be washed out with bleach and water to disinfect.  When we clean seed tray, white vinegar is sufficient, but in an operation of that scale, bleach has to be used.

Once the seeds have sprouted and the seedlings have their first  proper leaves, they are planted on.  Again there is a machine to help.  The pots are filled by the machine with a mixture of two types of peat, a hole is punched into the pot filled with earth by the machine and then the small seedling plant is transferred into the pot, ready to grow on.  This last stage is done by hand.  Once they have reached their required height, they are sold on.

It is all a rather delicate operation, lots of risks.  With all the damp weather we've been having, their onion seedlings developed a fungus, from the 3000 plants only 300 survived.  As they are organic, they cannot use any pesticides, so constant monitoring of the plants is a must.  They heat the poly tunnel by a wood burning stove,

and in early season they have dark coloured nets to prevent too much sunlight coming in.  When we were in the tunnel the temperature was 29C, as the month progresses, the black nets are not sufficient and chalk will have to be painted onto the poly tunnel to prevent too much sunlight coming in.  The temperature should not drop below 12C.  If it drops below 12C an alarm is sounded in their house to warn them.  End of April, early May the plants are ready to be sold.

Apart from the vegetables and herbs, they have a smallish selection of plants for sale ( a lot of Salvia's, succulents, some grasses, herbaceous plants and shrubs).

I think everyone found something to their liking.  Unfortunately the vegetables were not ready to be sold, but I'll be going back at the end of April.

We had lunch in a restaurant in Cabasse 'Le Cabassois', lots of atmosphere.  The owner is German and I think a lot of us ate for the first time Knödel.  They can be made with flour or potatoes, these were made with flour and I  think not to everyone's taste, but the meal was good value for money.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Growing Our Own Drugs

Plants have been used in medicine for all time, with herbalists and apothecaries making way for pharmacists who now dispense drugs that, more often than not, synthetically reproduce plant extracts. 

However, there are still many of our commercial drugs today that are plant-based – the most well known and well used is aspirin, which comes from willow (Salix) bark; morphine, penicillin and the contraceptive pill; yew and other plants and lichens / mosses are being researched or are already being used in cancer treatment, with the Madagascan Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus also known as Vinca Rosea in the US) or Pervenche in French – used in the treatment of childhood leukaemia, diabetes, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and malaria. 

For more than three centuries, extracts of the bark of varieties of Cinchona has been used to treat malaria – it is better known as quinine, which has also been used to treat lupus, arthritis night-time leg cramps and is also used, in minute quantities, as a flavouring in tonic water.  Recently, following discovery in the 1970s of the Chinese Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments (written in 340 AD) was found, scientists rediscovered  a common weed, Artemisia annua – sweet wormwood or sweet annie – on which new research is being done for its use in the treatment of malaria.

Today as many of us are returning to more ‘natural’ remedies for many types of health issues – Chinese herbal medicine and Ayurveda in India date back thousands of years – the World Health Organisation estimates that up to 80% of the world’s population relies on plant-based medicine as the key form of healthcare and it actively promotes its use.

So, we are surrounded by a pharmacy, just with the herbs and plants that we use every day, grow in our gardens or that can be found growing wild in the countryside.  It’s hardly surprising that the Mediterannean diet is thought of as one of the healthiest in the world.

Starting with ‘common’ herbs :

(Sweet) Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – used on tomato dishes and in pistou, also known as Saint Joseph’s Wort in some English-speaking countries.  It is a member of the mint family and has many amazing properties –

  • lowering blood pressure
  • antispasmodic – stomach cramps
  • digestion & anti-gas
  • easing tension – relaxation & stress reliever
  • general detoxifier
  • cleansing the blood
  • lowering blood sugar levels
  • lowering stress levels
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant, antiviral, antimicrobial
  • cholesterol lowering
  • can be used as an ‘adaptogen’
  • asthma & diabetes

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) known as the ‘herb of remembrance’.  It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under your pillow before sleep would repel nightmares and if placed outside the home it would repel witches.  Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly.  By the 16th century, men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost !

Used as a scented water in Hungary water, prepared for the Queen of Hungary to “… renovate vitality of paralysed limbs …” and to treat gout.  It contains compounds which relax the muscles of the digestive tract and can increase the effects of essential enzymes in the brain, so helping to improve concentration and memory.  But it also has stimulating properties to uplift you –
  • memory enhancing
  • mood enhancing
  • helps nervous exhaustion, anxiety & mild depression
  • used in shampoos & conditioners for dandruff & thinning hair & alopecia
  • used as a gargle for a breath freshener
  • antioxidant
  • anti-ageing

Sage (Salvia officianalis) considered to be almost a cure-all, like rosemary, it can be used to keep your teeth clean, treating colds, coughs & loosening mucus in the upper respiratory tract, made into a tea or gargle for sore throats, tonsillitis, inflamed gums and mouth ulcers; treatment of athlete’s foot & other skin complaints –

  • memory enhancing
  • diuretic
  • digestive
  • antibiotic
  • anti fungal
  • astringent
  • antispasmodic
  • estrogenic – helps ease hot flushes, night sweats & other symptoms of menopause
  • used in the management of mild Alzheimer’s

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) the essential oil – thymol – is an antiseptic and expectorant, can soothe coughs and bronchitis and is often added to cough syrups and gargles to kill bacteria.  It is a component of commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine and is an active ingredient in some alcohol-free hand sanitisers –
  • antiseptic
  • anti fungal
  • can be used to soothe sore muscles & rheumatism
  • anti-ageing

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is extremely high in protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin A, some Bs & C.  Has been used as a diuretic for water retention & mild kidney & bladder disorders.  Helps with anaemia by improving iron intake and absorption, is a breath sweetener and can be used as an insect repellent –

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • diuretic & stimulates the kidneys
  • antiseptic affect on the urinary system
  • relieves spasms & wind in the digestive system
  • boosts immune system

Bay (Laurus nobilis) is a relic of the laurel forests that covered much of the Mediterranean basin when the climate was more humid.  It was used in laurel wreaths in ancient Greece to symbolise high status, and was given as a prize in Pythian Games which honoured the god Apollo.  The symbolism carried over to Roman culture, as a symbol of victory.   In the Bible the laurel is often an emblem of prosperity and fame and in Christian tradition, it symbolises the resurrection of Christ.

It is also the source of the words baccalaureate and poet laureate & the expression “resting on one’s laurels”.

Laurel oil is a main ingredient and the distinguishing characteristic of Aleppo soap – savon d’Alep
  • astringent
  • anti-inflammatory
  • used to ease arthritic & rheumatic pain

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Shrubs and Herbaceous Plants for Birds

To attract birds into our garden, we need to grow shrubs with berries, herbaceous plants that produce lots of seeds, so that there is plenty for them to eat especially during the winter.   The following is a shortlist of the ten best shrubs and herbaceous plants that do well in our area.  To have birds coming into our gardens for food is not only beneficial for them but also for us.  In addition to the berries, seeds and grains, many of them eat grubs, aphids and other insects and by doing so they help to keep the insects population under control.   Apart from food, birds love water for drinking and for taking a bath, plan to have a bird bath in your garden.

Before starting on the plants, the following are the most common birds you'll find visiting your garden:

  1. Robin - Rouge-gorge (fr) - Roodborstje (nl).
  2. Black cap - Fauvette à tête noire (fr) - Zwartkop (nl).
  3. The Tit family (White/Crested/Longtail Tit),  Blue Tit - Mésange Bleue - Koolmees. 
  4. Finches (Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin),  Chaffinch - Pinson (fr) - Vink (nl).
  5. Blackbird - Merle (fr) - Merel (nl).
  6. Thrush - Grive (fr) - Lijster (nl)
  7. Nuthatch - Sittelle (fr) - Boomklever (nl).
  8. Wagtail - Hochequeue (fr) - Kwikstaart (nl).
  9. Treecreeper - Grimpereau des bois (fr) - Boomkruiper (nl).
  10. Hoepoe.
The ten best shrubs:
  1. Prunus spinosa - Sloe - Prunellier - Sleedoorn.
  2. Juniperus communis - Juniper - Genevrier - Jeneverbes.
  3. Ruscus aculeatus - Butcher's Broom - Le Fragon - Muisdoorn.
  4. Hedera - Ivy - Lierre - Klimop.
  5. Rosa - all roses with plenty of hips.
  6. Viburnum tinus.
  7. Pyracantha - Firethorn - Pyracantha - Vuurdoorn. 
  8. Mahonia.
  9. Cotoneaster.
  10. Eleagnus x ebbingui.
The ten best herbaceous plants:
  1. Gaillardia.
  2. Centaurea - Thistle - Chardon (fr) - Distels (nl).
  3. Calendula - Marigold - Souci des champs (fr) - Goudsbloem (nl).
  4. Viola - Violets/Pensies - Violets (fr) - Viooltjes (nl).
  5. Zinnia.
  6. Eryngium.
  7. Asters.
  8. Rudbeckia.
  9. Perovskia.
  10. Eragrostis/Miscanthus/Pennisetum/Stipa (grasses) available 'Pepiniere l'Armelette' - Sillans la Cascade.
Bibliography:  Web (bird photos); Complete Mediterranean Wildlife - Paul Sterry; Encyclopedia of Birds - Merehurst Press;  Saturday Telegraph - 26 January 2013.


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