Thursday, 6 March 2014
To reduce my travelling stress we'll be keeping packing to a minimum but I do have several trays of garlic and shallots to take with us and a whole box of little items we were gifted at xmas, of which I'm hoping the old fashioned oil lamp isn't going to be the most useful. We have another new off-grid toy to play with, my reward for taking part in a crowd sourced funding for Gravity Light who have created a lighting solution that will work anywhere on the planet. They've sent me an example of the product which will make a useful back-up light when the power goes down.
And when I get there I'm hoping to find my pack of Higgedly garden flower seeds because if they're not there I don't know where I've put them.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Apparently I can't start a blog post without a picture to hang it from. Luckily a couple of days ago a small flock of goldfinches descended on the teasels. This picture was taken through the kitchen window as they cleaned the seedheads of all remaining accessible morsels.
It seems the old trouble, the one that stops me writing, has stopped me painting or doing anything much has spread and just at the moment I feel frozen and unable to get started on the seed planting which is normally such a boost to my mood each spring. I'm casting around in my head looking for a strategy or trick that will break through the jam and let something approaching normality emerge.
At least with the sun shining today brings a little more optimism in my day and I certainly have lots of new seeds that have the potential to be inspiring if I can only get them into the soil. I found an unnamed variety of Rocoto for sale at Magic Garden seeds and some Conopodium majus (pignuts in the UK) which I'm sure I have already growing wild but have been so unable to accurately identify the plants that I thought starting some from named seed would be a good exercise before attempting to forage again. The seeds look similar to another related plant sometimes grown for its edible roots but checking on this useful botanical picture I think these are what I'm looking for. And I have some more ramson seeds which I hope will be more successful now that I understand they germinate best after stratifying - previous attempts have failed miserably.
A couple of the ulluco tubers sent to me by William Whitson at Cultivariable Seeds have been potted and sprouted already. I started them as an insurance but space indoors is extremely limited so the rest must wait until better weather allows them to be started in the cold greenhouse.
Best get planting then while the suns shines.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
This picture from 2006 when we first started living at the farm revealed an unnoticed detail today when I was flicking through looking for snaps to illustrate the post; a tiny yellow 22 spotted ladybird hitching a ride up the wall on the side of a snail.
The year is nearly a twelfth of the way through and it still feels like we're in limbo waiting for the start. I was trying to avoid spending a lot on seeds this year so I've not been studying catalogues or making many plans, typical activities for January gardeners and the wet and windy weather has meant more days huddled inside than bright brisk days noticing the natural advance of spring.
I have swapped some ulluco with other enthusiasts and taken in return salmon flowered peas, rocambole and some different varieties of ulluco so some new projects are under way. I've also requested seeds from HSL but unusually they are very late in returning my order, I'm hoping it hasn't been lost in the post. I'd been anticipating getting some Shark's fin melon and Dudi from their SNS section.
It's time to make a seed potato order. I'm wondering if it would be sensible this year to reduce the number of varieties right back to three or four of our absolute favourites. We love our spuds but I'm thinking I'll have more time for other crops if I simplify the planting of these core essentials by sticking to varieties that I know grow without trouble and have some blight resistance.
Maybe I should start those plans now - is everyone else organised yet?
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
During the winter I have more time for ornamental plants. The trouble is that during the summer these little treasures have to survive on a bare minimum of care so my days of fostering rare and exotic specimens are now far behind me. Still, I keep a few pots of the more robust orchids on my bathroom windowsill and even if they are so ubiquitous that for most people they have the same value as cut flowers I can get a thrill from extending their lives and encouraging them to flower for us time and again.
The moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) came from B&Q or some such fine establishment but is in its third year carrying a fine spray of flowers and with another new flower shoot forming. Its companions are currently between blooms but both are growing fine new shoots that will flower in a few weeks time.
Their care regime is an absolute minimum, they sit on a south easterly facing windowsill that takes direct sunlight for a few hours each day, they are watered with tap water at room temperature (because it's recycled from bedside drinking glasses) every few days and are fed almost never. This lack of attention allows their aerial roots to shoot out untidily and the plants themselves to almost climb out of their clear plastic pots so that they are more sitting on than sitting in the very free draining compost of bark and moss.
The flowers on the jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor) are miniature by comparison, but just as complex and worth examining in detail to reveal their velvety texture. This plant also came from a chain garden centre, a French one this time, but they are easily available in the UK. As with most of my commercially obtained plants this one was past its sell by date and looking a bit battered when I bought it at a bargain price. Jewel orchids aren't often grown for their flowers as it is the beautifully coloured and textured leaves that catch the eye year around.
It lives on a similar window sill to the moth orchids, shaded by a variegated rubber plant that is fast outgrowing its position. A terrestrial orchid, it needs a little more attention to watering than the Phalaenopsis but is otherwise quite well tempered. It's also easier to propagate as it produces new shoots from its root which can be detached and potted on.
Friday, 13 December 2013
The time came to take up the ulluco grown for seed tubers and this is the result. That biggest tuber is the size of a man's forefinger and represents the sort of size of vegetable that I'd find useful in the kitchen. The crop is also relatively unblemished and has cleaned up easily. I'm pleased and the first reactions from other root crop enthusiasts are mostly impressed.
So how did this success come about? It's a lucky conclusion to a series of near misses and disasters over the last few years combined with the sort of nannying that I wouldn't generally find acceptable for subsistence gardening. Half a dozen bean sized tubers were started in early spring in good quality purchased compost, and then grown on as a clump in a 40cm pot, initially in a greenhouse and then when the weather improved outside. They were earthed up a couple of times during the year with that same good compost which kept the plants fed. We had an excellent summer and because I water pots but not the vegetable plot unless I must these babies never dried out. Finally, in mid October they were taken into a darkened room and allowed to complete their growth cycle in artificially short day lengths. The harvest was lifted a few days ago when the foliage had died down completely and was barely even there any more.
In the garden though, things aren't nearly so rosy. I planted out eighteen small pots of started tubers after the frosts had finished into well cleared ground with a handful of general purpose fertilizer to give them a boost. The plants grew well and managed to keep going even though the temperatures went into the high 20Cs over several weeks. It seems deer don't like ulluco (yet) and they were ignored while Bambi and his mates destroyed most of the oca in the bed next to them. In October I fleeced the plants for cold and deer protection although as it happens a very mild autumn has produced few frosts. Looking at these plants for tubers at the same time as taking the potted plants revealed almost nothing below ground and only teeny tiny tubers just starting on the leafy stalks above ground. Clearly the field management needs a new strategy. On the Radix Root Crops facebook group I've seen others with better results this year and I'll try their plan next time, not just fleecing but covering with a mulch of straw in October. For this year, I've earthed up over the stems and baby tubers and put the fleece back on. Perhaps in a month it will be worth another look.
I do wonder if being a touch further south in Normandy is a disadvantage even with the warmer climate because the change in day length with the seasons is just a little bit less pronounced and the rate of change less dramatic as a result. Further north the nights are longer sooner which would help advance cropping considerably.
Early starting might be another approach. On the small potted plants that I start in January there are often signs of tiny tubers forming. I don't know what happens to these as the days lengthen. Do they stop growing or having started could they be persuaded to keep going with careful management? And is this sort of obsessive attention really worth it for vegetables that are mainly interesting for their novelty but aren't particularly more delicious than other easier European adapted roots.
Whatever, it's inspired me enough for now that I'll give it a go again and even see if I can search out some different varieties to start a breeding line - not that I have a clue about the pollination requirements. If I have to import a particular Peruvian slug as a vector I might yet give it a miss.
I'm putting some of these on the swap page but I've already got a list of takers as long as my arm so if you're interested please speak up quickly. I can't guarantee you'll be lucky.
Friday, 15 November 2013
One year the mould will be broken and it will be the start of many in which my gardening tasks carry on all around the year, changing a little in detail but otherwise providing work, exercise and vegetables continuously.
This year is not that first year. Everything has come to a halt and apart from a few treasured chillies and my hope that the rodents and deer haven't finished off the Peruvian roots nothing much is happening horticulturally and the pressures of other obligations are filling my time. So nothing to blog about and no inclination to do it really, except that I miss my opportunity to state my piece once in a while.
I'm thinking seriously about cropping plans for next year. I'd like to grow more peas and beans, indeed these are such easy vegetables I don't really understand the failures of the last couple of years but the deer certainly have played their part in the downfall. Fencing is a problem which needs to be solved.
What I don't need to do is buy more vegetable seeds, even without the need to study economy the sheer bulk of unplanted material in my seed boxes is embarrassing and even rather sad, lovely potential draining away with every month passing.
The other bit of garden design I'm still pondering is the creation of a prairie patch with late blooming flowers to provide more butterfly and bee foods. I found a nice wild flower and grass seed merchant, Emorsgate , and I think I'll put together an order for some of the things we are lacking which would enhance our environment at the farm, things like meadowsweet and yarrow (both of which I thought we had but couldn't find last summer) and some mulleins which I have started before but don't seem to self seed very successfully. That should satisfy my shopping gene.
Friday, 1 November 2013
Go to the Seed Swap page to see what I'm currently offering and the terms of the exchanges.
If you have seeds or plants to swap and you'd like me to list them on my page then send me a link and I'll include it there for you.