Your Garden Terroir Affects What You Can Grow, What It Tastes Like, How It Will Yield & Much More.

Plants don’t grow the same in every garden. How they grow depends on your Garden Terroir. It also affects the yield you get, the flavour of the crop and much more. An interesting and highly visible example is how the flower colour of hydrangeas change with pH.

What Does Gardening Terroir Mean?

Terrior is a French word. It is derived from the word terre. which translates as land. But terror is different.  I’ve just looked up a literal translation online and it says “land”, but it is incorrect. So I asked my French friends if that was correct and they laughed. One is a simultaneous translator and said the only way he could translate it with its really meaning was to use the word “terroir”! He said it wasn’t possible to translate the subtlety of the word without a full lecture on the topic. He’s right. Terroir is a loan word in English. The reason being it can’t be translated.

In French it means so much more than land. Wine lovers often discuss the terroir of a wine and mean the environment in which the vine grew and much more. Vineyard owners tell me that the terroir changes across the vineyard. They tell me tha there the soil is slightly more acidic and here it is rockier, and here it gets a little more breeze in summer. Then they describe how tha affects the sugar level in the grape, its acidity and how the plant grows and matures.

So as you can see terroir isn’t a simple word for word translation from terror to land. Far from it?

Making Sense of Your Garden Terroir

Think about your garden. Is it the same all over or has it been affected or modified over the years? Things like where the builders mixed cement when building your house will affect the soil. The cement will affect the pH. And if they dug a trench for water, gas or electric services they will have disturbed the soil. The top soil nd subsoil will have been mixed and that will affect any plants growing there.

And what about if you have rainwater coming off the roof into a soakaway? That means the area over the soaraway will probably be wetter in winter and drier in summer.

And has anyone ever had a bonfire in your garden? If so the soil will be different. Most probably the potash levels wil have risen a bit from any wood ash that was left behind. And even if 20+ years have gone by, and the soil frequently cultivated, the change will still be noticeable to the plants.

Farm & Market Garden Terroir

When I owned land and ploughed it I could see the soil change as I crossed a field. In places the soil was slightly sander to slightly more clay. The colour would change a shade and the depth of the top soil might also change. Where fields have been combined into larger fields the old hedges still leave a trace. On ploughing the land often looks “thinner”. And the crops reflect the history of what has occurred on the land. It does it so well that archaeologists use aerial photographs to detect underground relics which show up especially well during drought conditions. Farmers can often see these relics as well as their eyes are trained by experience to spot slight growth variations across a filed.

So if you find that specific crops do better in one part of your garden it may not be your imagination. it could be down to terroir.

AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée aka Protected Appellations of Origin

Puy lentils
Puy lentils

AOC applies to wine. It also applies to Puy lentils which are required rot grow on the volcanic soils around Puy. it also affects tomatoes, tobacco (its why cigars from places such as Havana are many to be better), tea, coffee etc.

The subtle variations based on the geography, geology and climate of certain places affect all plants. They interact with the plants genetics to produce a specific plant phenotype. Phenotype means the way the plant looks or inhibits particular characteristics.

And it’s not just the crops themselves that are affected and get AOC status. Cheese produced from fodder grown in certain places are attributed with specific terroir characteristics. Trevor Thomas explains it in article where he discusses the terroir of Gruyere cheese. Having spent time in France and Switzerland I know how the specific vegetations mix is unique to regions and can affect the flavour of the cheese.

If you want to know how the food a cow eats flavours the milk and have a house cow or two to spare, feed them plenty of turnips. I guarantee the next day’s milk will stink of turnips! And if you tried to make cheese from that milk it would concentrate the flavour .. it’s not pleasant!

Simple Gardening Terroir Characteristics

Tomatoes need warmth to ripen
Tomatoes need warmth to ripen

For years I grew Moneymaker tomatoes and was always able to command a higher price than my neighbours.  The reason was that my tomatoes were grown with high potash levels and a specific watering regime that increased natural sugar levels and decreased the acidity a fraction. Overall that produced a better flavour and people were prepared to pay more. Especially some of the chefs in London hotels and restaurants.  For them that extra care was worth paying for. They loved the terroir my tomatoes expressed.

Other growers used to say that Moneymaker wasn’t for them. And gardeners today often complain that specific varieties are very acid. All tomato varieties are tastier if grown in a specific way that allows that terror to shine through. Knowing this produces the subtle differences that are purely down to the terroir.

But of course the Moneymaker crop I grow now isn’t the same as the ones I grew by the ton years ago. I’ve moved to a different county, the soil is different, the climate is different AND the terroir is different. They are still nice toms though!

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