Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The sun is hot, but the wind is cold.

It's not been a bad spring, weather wise, but here we are, nearly in April, and everything's all behind like a little lamb's tail (not that we want to think of what happens to them).

There has been a tsunami of personal events shaping these last couple of months, career challenges,  health issues, bereavement and of course Brexit. It all adds up to an uncertain and unhappy time. Gardening has suffered.

When we got back after a break in the UK to attend to a lot of this there was a problem with the phone line and unusually it took over a week to get someone to look at it. I was told it was because the engineers couldn't find our house - I think they must be outsourcing because there's never been a problem before. It's a telephone wire, you just follow it. Still the chaps when they arrived were efficient and only a little bit mansplaining. It's all fixed now thank goodness.

So, to the garden. I managed to get the cover back on the cheap Chinese polytunnel and it's now weighted down with bits of concrete detritus from around the farm. I doubt the cover will last another winter but it's going to have to do for now.

Then I planted up the first 150 oca. The mice found them and spent a couple of happy nights digging up the tubers, eating some and distributing others across the bench. This has produced two problems. Some of the pots attacked were my seedling tubers raised from Cultivariable seed last year. They were in very short supply and I fear some varieties may have been lost for ever, the other is that tubers pulled from pots are unidentifiable. I need to replant anything affected with known correctly named tubers. It's a big task made harder by not wanting to have to empty out every pot to see if it still has a start in it or not. My heart has collapsed a bit at the thought of this.

I've rearranged the staging with much bigger overhangs so the bloody creatures can't climb up again -  I didn't think it was possible before, they have achieved new skills this year and I've already caught a couple in my only mouse trap. More traps are expected soon.

In the rest of the vegetable garden I've only just managed to get most of the onion sets in. Some spring planting garlic is in pots but to be honest it was so close to rotting when I put it there that I doubt much will come of it. The potato beds aren't started and worst of all, I haven't begun any seeds of the usual suspects for the summer, something I hope to address today now I've shamed myself by writing it down here. Travel back to previous years in the archives to see just what a failure this is.

All in all rather depressing. And I've just read Theresa May's mealy mouthed excuse for diplomacy as she tenders Article 50.  Where is there hope left in the world?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Oh my goodness

How poor is that, months have passed and another year is 1/12th over already.

Winter is a wretched time and usually there's not much to report anyway but actually over the Christmas break quite a bit of gardening got done. A huge amount of oca was gathered in for the Guild of Ocabreeders and that took a lot of time. When I wasn't doing that I was helping Mr. Catofstripes gather as much wood as we could find to replenish the rapidly diminishing wood pile. It was a cold old holiday.

I also managed get overwintering onions and garlic planted and we did some rather fancy dead-hedging work to help protect the new orchard and vegetable area from deer. Some hope!

Back in the UK for a break all my time has been taken up with shepherding the Guild into a new season. The results are now gathered for the 2016 harvest and the doors have been opened for new members, read all about it here.  Perhaps you might like to give it a go this year?

seeds oct

There has been a certain amount of retail therapy, these are just a few of the new seeds I've bought. Every year I tell myself off for all the wastage but as vices go, it's relatively benign. I've also sourced most the seed potatoes now and ordered them as well as some more onion sets.  What I haven't bought (yet) are any Rocoto chilli seeds despite finding a new company selling a wide range. There's still time.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A long harvest

okra pod and armenian cucumber

Health problems got in the way and then somehow it was too hard to pick up the blog again. Here's a brief catchup on some of this year's efforts. The Armenian cucumbers came to nothing in the end, from a couple of plants I had just two little fruit like the one above dashing my plan for salt cured pickles at Christmas. The okra was nearly as pathetic, the early sowed plants sulked through a chilly spring and the late ones never caught up. The Queen Anne's melon damped off in the pots although the germination was good and the Rock melons didn't come up at all. Bah.

raisin capujiner peas dried

The peas and beans did better and we ate well from them with plenty to save for seed. The only failure, and it was mine, was gathering the Irish Preans. I just missed the window for them and came back to mouldy damp pods with the seeds rotting inside. Think there are still some in store so I'll have to try again next year. One unlikely harvest was a good return of soy beans. I'd planted some rather random seeds in the hope of taking the pods green for edamame but they never seemed to bulk up like the ones I'm used to from frozen packets. Then I was away and when I got back the pods had matured and dried. Inspired I've bought a more commercial variety to try again next year.

grading onions

Onions were small but perfectly formed, I really liked the Rose de Roscoff type from Brittany and will try to get some for next year. The new onion patch is already taking shape with overwintering garlic and some Japanese sets in place.

Sweetcorn was another casualty of right time, wrong place. Our best year for some time but we missed having them sweet and fresh from the field and ended up with frozen cobs. Nice, nutritious but nothing more special than you can get in the shops. 

This year the only pumpkins were Whangaparaoa Crown. Despite a rather shaky start there were plenty of fruit for eating over the next six months and the seeds should be pure which will secure them for a few years in the rotation.

The tomatillos were a bit of a surprise this year - I thought I'd planted some green ones but it seems they were old seed from a packet of purple ones that had never been successful for me before. This year they were lovely, beautifully coloured and with a good flavour. I've saved seed from the most purple fruit and will try again next year. Perhaps I can work towards a new selection adapted to Normandy conditions.

There's also been a crop from the wild side. No hedghog fungus this year and few parasols but these big meaty ceps were some of the best I've ever seen, solid and almost entirely free of maggots.

Not a great year for chestnuts but I've managed to gather enough to save some for Christmas hygge.

The next big task is lifting the oca. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Butterflies on Monday

Seems I was wrong about the last day of summer - we've been granted another three days this week. So here are some butterflies and stuff.

sooty copper grass
Sooty Copper

Quite a lot of these about which was nice, some on the tansy and some on the mint. They can be hard to identify and I'm not 101% sure about this one because the female common blue is often brown, but I think this right.

meadow brown tansy
Meadow Brown

When I planted the tansy I imagined it would be an insect magnet and much appreciated by them. That's not been the case rather disappointingly and it smells nasty too but today in glorious sunshine after a couple of days of imposed famine by high winds it was meeting a need.  The Meadow Browns are reliable grass loving butterflies all through the summer although their demure brown fades out as the season progresses. The tansy was attracting lots of flies too, some hoverflies, some ugly flesh eating ones. The pictures of those weren't good, so I've spared you.

silver washed on tansy
Silver Washed Fritilliary

These lovely big butterflies are some of our most frequent species here, although they tend to get a bit tatty as they age. They're not usually fans of the tansy either, preferring the top of the buddleia or bramble flowers in the forest margins but today was special, obviously.

common blue
Common Blue

If the coppers can be difficult to identify then so can the Blues. This Common Blue looks quite like many of the blue butterflies we get, particularly at speed. However, the clue is in the name, so without other evidence I'm quite happy to identify this one, and he's a boy too because his colours are so bright.

holly blue on tansy
Holly Blue

The Holly Blues could just as easily be called Ivy Blues but for some reason they're not. These are quite distinctive, paler, just a little light spotting on the underwings and they nearly always rest with their wings closed upright.

small copper tortoiseshell tansy
Sooty Copper female and Small Tortoiseshell 

How I'd love to see the Large Tortoiseshell but we don't seem to have them here. We have an abundance of small Tortoiseshells though and they are enjoying life in August very much. The picture below shows a caterpillar nursery of them on some nettles. There are lots and lots there but some will be lost to predators and weather. Even so, they look set for a good year again next year weather permitting.

nest of caterpillars nettles
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettles

rose chafer tansy
Rose Chafer

I think these are the prettiest of the beetles and have to take their picture whenever I see one. The larvae live in the roots of brambles (and roses) but I won't hate them for that.

red admiral buddleia
Red Admiral on Buddleia x weyeriana

The Red Admirals are fairly snooty butterflies until the plums drop and they become drunken sots rolling around on the ground sucking up all that fermenting deliciousness. They'll put up with the less intoxicating flowers of the buddleia but none of them fancied the tansy this morning.

green veined white mint
Green-veined White

Mint is another excellent plant for attracting insects. The Green-veined White is another opportunity for a misidentification since the Wood White is very similar but despite the bleaching in this slightly over exposed photo I'm sticking with my id for this one.

jersey tiger kitchen window
Jersey Tiger moth

Not a butterfly but a moth and despite its day-flying habit this photo was taken around midnight last night. It's nice to see the underwings at full stretch but I turned the kitchen light off after I took this picture so the poor thing could get some rest.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

It might be

yard 17th Aug

It might be the last good day of summer today. Misty mornings and bakingly hot days are forecast to give way to storms tonight and cooler breezier weather in the following days.

sunflower in the mist

This is the prettiest sunflower I've had for a long time and it catches my attention and my camera every time I pass it.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


rose onion

Not a good year for the onion family in the garden. Various impediments meant everything was planted much too late and alliums do love their spring growth. This is onion Rose de Roscoff although probably I shouldn't call it that, since we're in Normandy and there is now an Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée on the type. It's probably one of the biggest we have despite being started from a set. Most of the others are going to be more at home in a pickles jar. I dream of the day when I'll have those 300 good sized onions that I calculate we get through in an average year, and then some for the condiments.

elephant garlic bulb

The elephant garlic did get an early start and seems to have done well enough, although the plants have taken rust now. I'm never sure whether it will help to remove the flower heads or not, but the insects love them so they're usually left. The leftover leeks are also flowering at the moment and it makes a lovely lilac show amongst the weeds.

undivided garlic

The true garlic was in a sorry state when it went in March. The bought in seed garlic was practically dust and the last saved bulb of garlic bought on the market last summer nearly as soggy. As a result there's barely anything to harvest but a few of the market sourced cloves have formed roundels - undivided bulbs - which can be used. If I was desperate to retain garlic I'd grow them on again next year for bulbs with cloves but it's probably easier just to buy some new seed garlic this autumn. The end times haven't got so close yet.

bab leek head

The Babington leeks are in a patch which is achieving a renewed state of nature. Considering the competition from thistles, nettles and grass they're doing o.k. but I should rescue them and replant in a clean bed before the summer is out. The heads of bulbils are still green and tender. They make wonderful flavouring for all sorts of seasoned vinegars and dressings at this stage and are just right to add to jars of fermented pickles as they develop. Take them young or they form a hard skin that is impossible to remove and nasty to eat and keep at least one head to renew your stock with for next year.

walking onion with cutting

The pot of shame. This is the very last walking onion. I thought I'd lost the lot but found this final specimen in a box of discarded compost on its way to the heap. Carefully nurtured it should be possible to turn its fortunes around. I hope that I don't forget it again. The little plant in the pot is an Erysimum cutting that I must have slipped in there at some moment when I'd broken a shoot and didn't know what to do with it. Serendipity is everything in the garden.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A small harvest

a small harvest

It might be small but it's perfectly formed. This year's strange weather has seemed at times to be completely minacious to growing vegetables, too cold, too wet, too hot and now too dry, but there are some old favourites that slugs and deer aside can be relied on to come through and give a crop.

ice crystal was bean

These are the first Ice Crystal wax beans to arrive. Named for their almost glistening pale colour, these are short beans on bush plants which try to climb in some seasons producing scrambling floppy growth that can hide the pods. Best taken very young like this they are magnificent in a dressed bean salad but even when a little older and larger will make a good vegetable if you have the patience to string them. The seeds are tiny, rice beans, but the flowers are prolific and it's easy to shell out a couple of hundred grams of dried beans for soup at the end of the seaon from a 3 metre row. I'm very fond of these beans and recommend them.

Riana's Corbieres bean

Another first harvest. These are the beans with no name - they are so good I can't believe they're not a well known variety but I only know them as Riana's bean from Corbieres. Long fleshy green pods without strings on plants that truly enjoy hot weather, their only downside is that it takes a long time for the pods to mature and dry. I've started marking the first few pods of each plant at the start of the season to ensure  that enough pods mature to collect viable seed for the next year.

white courgette

I can't believe I grew three courgette plants this year. And what plants! Determined to get white 'cousa' type fruit I picked an F1 seed variety - I forget the actual name - and the vigour that comes from this sort of breeding is frighteningly apparent. At the moment I'm picking one or two 15cm courgettes from each plant every day. The hot weather predicted for the next two weeks might slow that down but it's far more courgette than this lone diner can contemplate. Must dig out that recipe for pickles.

salmon flowered pea pods

 The salmon flowered peas are growing on me, even though I was less than impressed earlier in the year. They are pretty during their brief flowering and are prodigious croppers of quite pleasant peas. They need better staking than they got this year, the top heavy plants fall over as the peas swell but I'll grow them again, perhaps in a block instead of a row to make them self supporting.