On 22 September the weather report predicted cooler damp conditions for the next week, so I stripped all our tomato plants and brought the fruit up to the house to sit in boxes and hopefully ripen. I can count on one hand the number of ripe full sized tomatoes the plants produced during the season, and the cherry tomatoes were not much better. A combination of a cold start to the summer and cold nights at the end, along with lack of rain seems to be the cause. Whilst our vegetable garden is not in a frost pocket, it is always a couple of degrees cooler than up at the house, and, according to our neighbours, the temperature difference between the lower part of the orchard, where the potager is, and the upper part, where the cherries, peaches and apples are, is quite marked. Now that the stream that runs along the front of these 'allotments' dries up in the summer, our neighbour has given up growing vegetables here, but has planted some young peach trees amongst his beloved walnuts on the upper slope.
Our overwintering onions and garlic did extremely well. Early summer vege, like lettuce, peas, broadbeans and mangetout did quite well, but the late summer crop such as tomatoes, zucchinis, green beans, sweet corn, aubergines and peppers was in some cases non-existant, and in others, no better than poor.
Our cunning plan for next year is to grow some late summer vege in pots up at the house, where we can water it easily. We were successful this way with tomatoes and peppers in 2009, and it does not involve any real extra work.
For now in the vegetable garden, we need to mow the paths and get ready to plant next year's onions and the garlic bulbils I've saved. They won't produce a crop until 2012, but we've got the space, and plenty of garlic from this year to last us until they mature. After the hazelnut crop is collected then we need to mow the orchard one last time for the year, before the orchids start to emerge in October-November. I disturbed a tiny Grass Snake Natrix natrix (Couleuvre à collier in French) the other day - slimmer than a pencil and not much longer. It was heading for the big pile of fruit tree prunings, which we have left in one corner to provide shelter for creatures such as this. Grass clippings get piled up nearby, and last year a large Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus (Couleuvre verte et jaune in French) seems to have hibernated and nested in the pile of straw in the shade of the paulownia. I'm guessing it will do so again, since some rather tasty looking young shrews have taken up residence in the pile, and a large family of Common Wall Lizards Podarcis muralis (Lézard des murailles in French), their favourite food, live in the adjacent logs.