Monday, 24 August 2015

Tomato Test and Taste

Clibrans growing
Clibran's Victory growing outside in the back garden.  

I grew six varieties of tomatoes this year, in four different locations; in the greenhouse, in the ground on the main plot, in the back garden and in pots outside the back door. It makes for a complicated assessment task when it comes to quantifying success.

Covering the locations first, the greenhouse has the advantage of protection from blight, warmer temperatures and hence faster growth and a more controlled environment generally which allows for regular maintenance and care in more comfortable conditions. The disadvantages include wildly varying daytime temperatures, the need for constant watering and the requirement for regular maintenance and care if the greenhouse is to remain usable for other things as well.

The tomatoes in the main plot were intended to stay under a poly row cover to provide warmth and keep the blight spores from landing on the leaves but they quickly outgrew their allowance and the cover had to be removed. The plants have succumbed to blight and we have a lot of green tomato chutney as a result.

Which makes it even more mysterious that the plants grown in the open in the back garden are, at the time of writing, blight free and healthy. I have a theory about this; at the time of planting I mulched around them with grass cuttings which have formed an impenetrable cover over the soil. Perhaps it is this which has prevented the soil splashing up and infecting the plants. These plants aren't very vigorous though and will have small crops.

Finally the potted plants in the lee of the house and protected to an extent from the rain by the eaves are also blight free but as they're in the shade they are very much behind all the other plants, more leafy than fruity.

gbk wladecks harrys
Gezahnte Bührer-Keel, Harry's Plum and Wladecks from the greenhouse.

I grow GBK nearly every year but Harry's Plum and Wladecks were both new to me. The Wladecks, from the Heritage Seed Library, grew well but the fruit is so large you need excellent staking and regular watering and will still only get a few fruit per plant. They're really big though so this doesn't matter a lot.

Plum tomatoes are valuable commodities in this house and I'm looking for a favourite. Harry's are good but perhaps still not the one. They grow well in greenhouse conditions but are greedy for food and water and maybe would be better grown outdoors in a nicer climate. They are tall vining types and need to be well supported. In the very hot greenhouse I found the first few fruits got blossom end rot, now the temperatures are a bit more equable this is less of a problem. Outside plants are looking fine but no ripe fruit yet. Soon I hope.

The GBK aren't great tomatoes for my conditions and dedication to the task. They get blossom end rot more often than not even if other varieties are happy - I think they just don't like it too hot but on the other hand, they don't like it outdoors much either. This year I only had 4 plants and kept them all under cover.

surrenders clibrans
Surrender's Curry and Clibran's Victory.

Surrender's Curry is a bush tomato. It grew well and quickly in the greenhouse, so much so it's now pretty much finished. I didn't thin as much as perhaps I should have done and they set many fruits which are rather small. Growing outside, lots of leaves, fewer fruit.

Clibran's Victory is another one from HSL. I don't know what I was expecting but it's a very ordinary tomato. Having said that it grew reasonably easily, didn't get blossom end rot and set some nice fruit. Outside it's pictured at the top here. Needs better staking but seems to be coping with drought and flood equally well.

tondino di manduria
Tondino di Manduria showing a little blight damage.

The Tondino di Manduria was a bonus packet from Kokopelli ages ago. I really like them and they grow well and quickly outdoors, better than in a hot greenhouse, but are susceptible to blight and all four outdoor plants have given up the ghost. I had about 5 gallons of green fruit from them so it should have been a bumper harvest. The plum shaped fruit are small, 4 or 5 cm long but have a good flavour. I'll keep trying.

Gezahnte Bührer-Keel 2011 Paul took this
Large Gezahnte Bührer-Keel cut open (picture taken in 2011).

The GBK aren't great eating. They are dryish, nearly hollow with little pulp and few seeds. Perhaps they could be described as a stuffing tomato. I grow them from sentiment as much as anything but until now I've had packet seed. Trying to find enough seed inside them to save is actually quite difficult but I don't need many.

surrenders clibrans cut
Surrender's Curry and Clibran's Victory cut open.  

The Surrender's were an impulse buy. I like tomato curries very much and the description of a more acid flavour tempted me. They are o.k, not badly flavoured, but the skin is tough. I think they might make drying tomatoes and I'm going to try this with the few I've got left.

The Clibran's Victory are, well, just nice. I don't what Clibran was fighting against, these are fine and dandy tomatoes but nothing special by most standards. On the other hand it's quite an old variety and perhaps things were different then.

harrys plum cut
Harry's plum in slices, that's a 7" cooks knife for scale.

In the kitchen the nice large fruit of Harry's Plum are useful and the texture and flavour perfectly acceptable in a salad if you don't want to cook with them. I can see them bottled but that's a topic I'm not very good with. Be great to be able to stop buying all those tins from the supermarket each winter though.

Finally the Wladecks. These are from the stable of great big tomatoes, one slice to a sandwich territory and excellent examples of it. I'm not sure they are better than my all time favourites Potiron Encarlate  (seems I've been mispelling this for a while too) as they seem just a little mushy and soft when fully ripe but we've been enjoying them very much and I'd grow them again.. Take scissors when you go to harvest, unlike most tomatoes they don't part easily from the vine and you can damage the plant by tugging too hard.

wladecks cut
Wladeck's, a really fine beefsteak type.  

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Pumpkins and Melon

prescott fond blanc

First the melon. There is only one of them despite having five healthy plants. Surprisingly it's in the garden, next to the blighted tomatoes (but that's another story) and I'm watching over it with the tenderness of a vixen for her cubs although I haven't quite reached the stage of bringing home stunned rabbits for it to play with.

I really hoped it would be a melon year. I'm thinking the the greenhouse plants must have been too hot and/or dry although I thought melons loved the heat and I've not knowingly stinted the water. The other outdoor plant did have a water sufficiency malfunction so it's hardly surprising nothing much has happened there. Is it too late for a last minute fruit to form and ripen before the cold comes? I hope not.

uchiki kuri fruit

The Uchiki Kuri pumpkin plant has really taken off and I can see about 7 good looking fruit on the one plant, plenty for us. It's a bit of another surprise because it really did look rather weedy when we brought it home and sulked in its patch for a month or two after planting. Clearly quality will out, I've always thought they are one of the best varieties for home growing.

blue banana guatamalan

The Blue Banana squash (Guatemalan clone) was new for this year. I have two plants but only three fruit between them (that I can see). Not that this is likely to be a problem, they are huge and we can rarely finish up the pumpkin harvest at any time. I do think they're not really blue though and this disappoints me. Years ago I used to grow Pink Banana squash and liked them a lot because they were properly pink and quite good eating. Anyway, my lovely son has sourced me some more Whangaparaoa Crown seeds from his trip to NZ so I'll be growing those next year.

In the back garden the Sweet Dumpling is only just beginning to fruit and the bought in Moschata looks like it will be a total dud as the one female flower was eaten by slugs early on and it has no flowers of any variety now. Hurrah for Uchiki Kuri is all I can say.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Arty farty


A couple of weeks of being a housewife and lover. Then the weather broke and he went back to the UK again. I've got lots of pictures and several topics I'd like to write about but not today. So here are some pictures for the intermission, just odd shots that don't fit anywhere but that I like.


Blackberries are at their peak.


The house cricket sings to me often. No id as this isn't a researched piece but as an aside not so many of these indoors this year compared to others.

the bees

Ubiquitous bees and thistles. We need more late summer flowering plants.

evil fly

Evil looking flesh fly on the beans from Corbieres. Don't click on the link if you're squeamish.


Tuberous pea flowers with dock seeds. It's the colours that attract me in this picture.


Sunday, 9 August 2015



I have two blackcurrant bushes - I keep meaning to propagate more from them but haven't yet - one early and one late. Very late this year it seems as I took the harvest of perfectly ripe large luscious berries just a couple of days ago.

Blackcurrants aren't my favourite fruit, I do particularly like blackcurrant and peach jam, but mostly they do very little for me. However, in the liqueur Creme de Cassis they do have a place in house.

Most of the recipes I've ever seen for making this at home start with macerating the berries in a red wine. It might be traditional but I worry that the low alcohol content will allow the brew to ferment or worse,go mouldy before the full flavour is extracted so this year I'm trying a slightly different approach. The berries are soaking in vodka for three weeks and then I will strain off the flavoured liquid and extend and sweeten it by the addition of judicious amounts of simple syrup, hoping to end up with an alcohol content of about 25%, rather stronger than the commercial varieties or those based on wine.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, 3 August 2015


Here we are, at my father's birthday who would be, if he were still with us, 95 today.  I have Paul here for a couple of weeks writing papers and working the tractor in pretty much equal quantities. He's also installed a dishwasher, joy of joys, I feel reconnected with the modern world.

wall butterfly

I promised the moth trap but haven't done it yet. The weather is good, perhaps we'll set it up tonight. In the meantime a few more butterflies have shown up. The Wall butterfly above is a reasonably frequent inhabitant but I've never spotted one on the red valerian (Centranthus ruber) before.

clouded yellow

There are one or two Clouded yellows about, and numerous silver washed Fritillarys, Peacocks and Red Admirals which don't wish to be photographed. The summer Brimstones are out too in the last couple of days. We're heading into autumn fast although the temperatures are rather gloriously hot at the moment.

green moth1

We did have one new moth, that came to the window a few days ago. A Large Emerald which is a pretty and impressive thing, as large as a butterfly and beautifully coloured.

harry's plum

In the garden the Harry's Plum tomato is doing well outside, but most of the others are struggling a bit. I think the Tondino di Manduria will do well after their accelerated start in the little tunnel and there may even be a rock melon forming up there, nestled between the tomatoes and the ridge cucumbers which is doing better than the plants in the greenhouse, profuse but barren.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Work in progress

Things that have been happening in the last week...

vila fruit

Fruit has started to form on the  Vila vila, aka Litchi Tomato, or Morelle de Balbis. They are fearsomely spiny and I discover today that they are in weed proportions in South America, regarded as worse than thistles in pasture. Hopefully that won't happen here. As usual I doubt my ability to contribute much to the seed selection programme for a less spiky sort but maybe it could be me.

The other foreign vegetables aren't looking so assertive. I have finally got a few of the ulluco into the ground and popped in some very weedy oca along with some starved callaloo all of which have been waiting in pots since April. The yacon is disappointingly short too, even though that was planted out at a more reasonable time. I'm hoping the awful rain we've had in the last couple of days will give everything a boost whilst simultaneously praying that the hot humidity won't bring on blight on the potatoes and the outdoor toms.

gbk wladecks

Tomatoes in the greenhouse are still green. I should have started them much sooner to have ripe ones by now but at least they are looking much better than last year. It all comes down to feeding and watering in the end. I'm becoming more and more in favour of a full poly tunnel so that I can plant them in the ground - pots are more work and I'm a lazier gardener than most.

ridge cuc the 1st

Harvesting has begun on the ridge cucumbers. Already I'm feeling a bit pressured by them (although not as pressured as I am by the bloody courgettes) but once I get organised they are some of the few vegetables I find it worth preserving because I am a pickle addict.

A trip to the local market got me over 50 young leeks for only 3€, a bargain, and I was just motivated enough to get them in the ground before they became too stressed. I should have bought my cabbages from the same stall but I bought some a few weeks ago which have been struggling along in their blocks and are now somewhat manky. They've been planted too and at least the rain will help them along.

leeks etc

Thursday, 16 July 2015


As promised, the butterfly collection for the last couple of months.

hay field

But first, a hay field. This picture appeals to me, it looks, so, country. Maybe the heat is getting to me. The bales are being collected now by an overheated and, I imagine, rather grumpy bloke with a tractor and trailer. I think he must be grumpy because it's so hot and because he's trashed a small willow tree that was close to the track and is now upon it. It happens, I'm only glad he didn't take the telephone line with it.

Long tailed blue - female

I like doing butterfly posts because the pictures are pretty and everyone loves a butterfly but of course, our charming darlings can be other people's pests. The Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus) has received quite a bit of attention in the UK recently as it's a rare migrant and is eagerly searched for by the butterfly equivalent of twitchers (what is that word, answers on a postcard?). However, it feeds on pea plants and when it can't find wild peas it's perfectly happy with the cultivated sort, which is where I found this one, happily laying eggs on my Carlin peas. 

Still, it's a first for me and this garden as far as I know and I was as thrilled as any geeky lepidopterist has a right to be. I shall be keeping my eyes open for less raddled specimens in the future.

painted lady

The current batch of Painted Ladies is considerably more glossy coated than the early ones. This one is enjoying some common knapweed which seems to be a food plant of choice, there were several in attendance.


Skipper - I think this is the large sort. Really must gather up all the pictures and spend a bit of time trying to establish exact ids for them, I'm pretty sure we have the small but do we have the Essex and Lulworth skippers (such imperious naming, they are both available overseas!)?

small tortoiseshell

Of the usually more frequent and common 'garden' butterflies we have had examples of most but very few in quantity. It's probably nothing to worry about but it's surprising after the excellent warm spring we had. There are many Marbled Whites this year and plenty of Meadow Browns and Ringlets. Just becoming frequent, Gatekeepers, but almost no Peacocks, Red Admirals or Tortoiseshells. I spotted a Silver washed Fritillary half an hour ago but wasn't quick enough to get its picture.

purple emp on wall

And now, the jewel in the crown for this month - the Purple Emperor. We live in the perfect place for these magnificent butterflies and felt sure they were laughing at us from high in the canopy of the trees as we'd never made a certain sighting of one but this handsome chap deigned to come down and pose for a good 15 minutes while he gathered some salts from the mortar of our barn.  It's been a good year for spotting and photographing new species for us, the Long-tailed Blue, the Glanville Fritillary on the coast and this fine specimen probably make a record.