Thursday, 11 September 2014

Counting the beans


Sorry about the slightly fuzzy photo today, not one of my best I know but I think it will do the job.

This year I decided to grow out as many beans and peas as I could. It hasn't been an entirely successful exercise. As far as the peas went it was an expensive exercise in feeding pigeons. I may be able to find a handful of Carlins and I have a few of the 'purple podded' whatever they were but the Preans and Capucijners are lost and will have to be replaced from somewhere if I want to grow them in future. So that's not great.

Beans, on the other hand, have had a slightly better year than that, even if not everything has worked perfectly. From the picture, starting with the big white runner beans and working clockwise:

Corsican (or I suspect Spanish White) Runners were excellent at the start of the season providing a few meals of green pods before they toughened up and started to get strings and turn into mature seed beans. There are still a lot to harvest although some won't be big enough to dry before the frosts come. You can overwinter runner bean roots but I'm not sure these would be worth the effort, I still prefer White Emergo as a variety.

Starley Road Red. These are more pink than a deep kidney bean red but the plants have been very good and long croppers and would still be trying to produce more pods now if I hadn't taken them up to dry on strings. I had a surfeit of pod beans and so didn't try these in the green. Taken young enough I'm sure they'd be fine but they toughened up quickly and as they're primarily for dried beans that's o.k.

Ice Crystal wax bean. The seeds are tiny but the plants are vigorous dwarf growers and produce copious amounts of tender white pods which are excellent cooked and dressed as salad. Keep picking regularly for repeat harvests. Eventually they get stringy and start to go a bit pink. At that point let them mature and save the seeds for next year. If you have enough they are good for cooking in soups and so on but they are tiny so you'll need a lot.

Striped Bunch: an odd little bean. Allegedly from Right Beaver Creek, Knott County, Kentucky they are of a slightly unfamiliar form to the European grower. Described as a half-runner they're not related to Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) at all but are just short climbers (to about 1.25m, 4ft) of what we know as French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). You can nip the climbing tips out and grow them as dwarf beans. I'm told they are good bean for pickling, short, straight, well filled pods but I've never had enough yet to really try that.  Will have to try again next year - at least I have plenty of seed now.

Giant Purple, the description is here but these are even smaller seed than I would have expected. There's been quite a lot of trouble this year with something mice/slugs/earwigs I know not what breaking the bean vines at ground level. The Purples were damaged like this and the few plants remaining subsequently swamped by weeds so I have just a handful of seed saved. They will need to be grown out again next year.

Mystery Black Bean. This is the intruder. It grew from a batch of Mayflower bean seeds. Very early and quick to set it also succumbed to the vine biter. I was really shocked to find the pods filled with these little black seeds. I've hung on to them and might grow them on next year but I've no idea of their qualities or even if they have any worth mentioning.

Hutterite Soup - pretty greenish white seeds that are quite well known. I measured the yield on these and found it averages only about 30g per plant even though they seemed to be growing well and setting lots of pods. This year I had just half a dozen plants for seed but I'd need to plant 35 or more into a row to get a kilo of beans for store, and I expect that goes for the other storage beans too. Serious self sufficiency means really going for it in a big way.

Corbieres - these are the beans I've previously referred to as Riana's as she was the kind person who sent them to me. I still don't know what variety they are exactly but as she obtained them in the wine region of France known as the Corbieres I think I shall adopt that as my name for them. They are such fleshy beans they're not even drying yet but they are brilliant as green beans and as long as I can keep a handful of mature beans as seed I will grow them every year.

Mayflower beans are the variety alleged to have travelled with the Pilgrim fathers (and the mothers too) but although I keep growing them for seed I've yet to make a meal with them. They did well this year until the cut vine creature got to them so I expect to be able to share some but I've no real idea how they cook. They are also weak climbers like the half runners and this was the batch that threw that sport black bean although most of them are perfectly true to type.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hot stuff

Original Alberto's Locoto
Alberto's Locoto, flowers and fruit

How do you spell your chillies? I've seen chile, chili, chillie, chilly even. I thought I'd formed my own style guide and was going to settle on chilli (pl. chillies) but then I read some other person's justification for the way she did it (chile, if I recall correctly) and my confusion was reignited all over again.

Pictured above, Alberto's Locoto rocoto (Capsicum pubescens). This is the last remaining two year old plant grown from seed in 2013. Well, I say one plant, I've never been quite sure if a separate stem is from the bigger plant or is a co-habiting sibling. Anyway, it/they came through the winter and kept on growing as is their nature.  The fruits are beautifully red when ripe and about the length of my thumb, which is ... 5cm.

I'm very taken with the pubescens species. They are hardier than the average chilli plant, perennial if handled with care, nicely flavoured, prolific fruiting (again if you study their preferences) and not /too/ hot. Most of the frenzy surrounding breeding ever hotter and more bizarre types has left me cold but there's something here that seems just right.

It is possible to let them get too cold, three out of the four pots I overwintered failed the test but they're really not too fussy and also prefer cooler summers, so no need to keep them in the greenhouse during the summer, another big plus. If they have a drawback it's that they're rather brittle and stems snap at the slightest provocation. I've had some success in rooting broken shoots by just sticking them in a pot of dirt but I'd really rather they stayed on the plant.

I grew some more this year from seed saved from last year's crop.

Alberto's Locoto rocoto
Alberto's Locoto, from saved seed

This is one of the seedlings, only just starting to form buds. All the chillies are late this year, because I've been slow and slapdash with starting seeds but at least with the rocotos there's a good chance for an early start next year.

Captivated I searched for other seed varieties to try and found some seeds at Magic Gardens. Sadly these are unnamed but the picture shows a more rounded apple shaped fruit in a fetching orange-apricot colour.  The seedlings seem altogether larger than the Alberto's and again are only just showing flower buds. I'm looking forward to seeing the crop.

And then I found the Rocoto group on Facebook (see, it is good for something) and they have a magnificent selection between them, and were kind enough to point me to a German supplier that will meet all my immediate needs for novelty. I can't wait.

Magic Garden rocoto

Magic Garden unnamed rocoto variety seedling

I have two other chilli species this year. Lemon Drop aji (Capsicum baccatum) bought from Real Seeds. Again, so late I'm not sure they'll fruit but I'm hoping to overwinter them and see what happens.

Lemon drop chilli
Lemon Drop aji seedling

And finally the very ornamental Trifetti (Capsicum annuum) which has variegated leaves and fruit that start a very dark purple, almost black before ripening to red. These are just fruiting and I'm hoping to keep them going over the winter as houseplants.

trifetti pepper

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

September Squash

black futsu flower

This isn't all about squash, in as far as I understand the term, it's about a more diverse range of cucurbits, but I can't pass up the chance for cheesy alliteration. If anyone can formally define the difference between 'squash' and 'pumpkin' please give it your best in the comments.

bottle gourd singular

Despite my disappointment with the breeding programme the plants haven't had a bad year. This was my first try at dudi or bottle gourd and it's sort of a success. I was planning to grow the plant in the greenhouse but it was so vigorous that encouraged by the ragingly hot weather at the time I moved it into the garden where it settled in quickly enough. It's still flowering now but male and female flowers don't seem to open at the same times. If I hadn't hand pollinated this fruit (with a withered male flower at that) it would have failed to produce entirely.  I don't know if this is chance or design but it's probably a case for growing several plants at once.

shark's fin melon

This year's other novelty the Shark's fin melon has been worrying me. It was slow to get going after planting out and for a while I feared it had a viral infection because the leaves were showing distinct mottling but it seems to have shrugged that off now and is demonstrating more of the behaviour I expected; vining vigorously and rapidly across the area assigned to it and producing copious flowers but until the last week or so only male ones. The newly formed baby fruit of the last week are consequently tiny. This is cutting it fine in my opinion. Hardier than the average they might be but there's barely time for those babies to mature unless we have an excellently warm autumn. Fingers crossed.

black futsu fruit

The Black Futsu have done fairly well. The fruits are so much bigger this year than last I wondered if they had also become contaminated by rogue pollen but I think they are just responding to better soil conditions and higher moisture levels. I wasn't planning on saving seed from these this year anyway and as the single plant of Moschata has failed to fruit completely they will be a reasonable substitute for the stores.

yellow courgette

Courgettes, how I tremble when I hear your name. I think I have to stop myself from ever growing an F1 courgette again. They are just too prolific. The picture was taken this morning and shows they are still in fine fettle even with a dusting of mildew on the older leaves. I have a couple of ways of using them that I can bear in fritters and soup but mostly, bleh. I need a family here or a corps of farm volunteers to feed before it's really justifiable to grow more than one plant each year.

contaminated whanga

There were several Whangaparoa Crown type plants and not all of them seem (on the outside) to have been affected by the rogue crossing of last year. We'll have half a dozen grey blue fruits that I expect will keep well enough. I'm still not sure whether to try to 'grow out' the undesirable characteristics or just start again with fresh seed. We've talked of making seed gardens at each end of the farm where it would be easier to maintain isolation from the main beds but it's a faff and an expense and my heart isn't prepared for any more set backs. I might just give it up.

evil pumpkin

And this is the degenerate reprobate that revealed the flaw in my manipulations. Actually, if I were simply looking for a new variety it has some fine points, the plant was very early and strong growing and the fruits aren't huge (I feared the Big Max effect) but neat and flattened in shape. I don't know what the eating or storage qualities will be but I expect they're good. As a potential addition to the range of pumpkins I'm sure some would keep it but there are an awful lot of varieties out there already and since I'd have to grow this on for some seasons to ensure it was stable it's probably not worth the effort, particularly if it's inherited that outcrossing ability that brought it into the garden in the first place.

Anyone for pumpkin pie?

Friday, 29 August 2014

No words but here are some pictures

Stag Beetle
Stag Beetle - there was a small explosion of these a couple of weeks ago.

Oak Eggar Moth
Oak Eggar Moth - these day flying moths confused us for a while as they just don't stop but finally Paul got a picture.

Rosy Footman
This little cutie is a Rosy Footman. Very distinctive colouring in flight.

Western Clubtail
Western Clubtail dragonfly - not very rare but new to us.

ceps and chanterelles
Mushrooms are  up.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The change of the season

carrot seed and garlic bulbils

There is a perceptible change of air this week. The swallows are nearly all gone, just a few late fledgers from the second broods gathering strength until their parents gauge them fit to travel, the nights are drawing in, there is mist on the grass in the mornings and the warmth is abated.

With a forecast of almost continuous rain for the next couple of days I've been taking some rapid harvests of things that will spoil in high humidity. Lots of raspberries, beans for drying, inevitable pickling cucumbers and courgettes and some carrot seed and garlic bulbils.

The carrot seed is of two colours, unremembered varieties except as yellow and orange. I'm really not that bothered with the purity aspect here. It's an experiment to see if I can save viable seed (seems easy enough so far) and carrots are something I don't find particularly nuanced in texture or flavour for most of the widely available sorts, so there seems little to preserve except to keep them separate from wild carrot back crosses which is unlikely to happen as we have no wild carrot here.

The garlic flower bulbil heads were 'forced' by stress on overwintered garlic that was so rusty I didn't even bother to harvest it. I'm hoping to grow on the little bulbils and produce a clean crop in a couple of years time but that's possibly a hope too far.

Other seed saving I'm intending to make is of this wild plant which I can only identify as a purple Heracleum sphondylium or Common Hogweed. Search engines are obsessed with the noxious Giant variety and I've had trouble tracking down any examples of the Common with colour variations but this is such a striking plant even from a distance I'd like to increase its incidence around the farm. Even if only a few seeds breed true it's a lovely thing.

purple hogweed

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

And so it goes...


Having become so depressed by my own failures at variety segregation it should be comforting to discover that other producers are equally inept.

That very pretty water lily above was purchased from a reputable supplier at the Hampton Court Flower Show way back in 2007 and was labelled as Barbara Davies, an exotic looking creamy yellow peachy sort of flower. As can now be seen seven years later, it is nothing of the sort.

We've nurtured this plant, recovered it from a vicious water rodent attack (coypu or water rat, we're not sure) and waited patiently and without reward for it to flower in its allotted spot in the "sheep dip" pond. This year, when the pond was almost moribund with sludge and detritus we cleared the plants and used the tractor to scoop out the muck. The lily was popped in a big stock watering tub that I use as a water butt near the vegetable patch. The warm water and excellent sunshine of the early summer finally provoked it into flower but it's not Barbara...

If you're a water lily expert and can identify it for us, please leave a comment. :)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Depression is always having to say you're sorry

That cat is lucky, she rarely ponders her place in the universe and apart from a few moments when she's being bullied by the boys her life is full of joy and wonder. She bounces around like a piece of fluff and takes pleasure in just about everything including rolling in the dust.

This week for me, not so much joy.  The Whangaparaoa pumpkin plot came tumbling down when I found a huge rogue yellow fruit forming. I should have know something was up because the plant was so vigorous from the outset but hey, I'm growing for landrace selection so some variation seemed welcome. However, it seems that somehow my separation techniques last year were inadequate and that Pink Banana squash that wasn't somehow spread its evil influence all the way across to my Whanga patch. The other plants growing from the same saved seed batch look o.k. but who knows what horrors lurk within their genes. So that concludes this round of experiments, I don't know, five years? and now it's lost.  I'm sorry I don't have the energy to keep trying. Even getting more clean seed is a project, my originals came from New Zealand but I no longer have contacts there to send me more.

I'm sorry I've been so down that I let the raspberries decay on the canes, all the tomatoes that are turning red have blossom end rot,  the potatoes are blighted and that something has chewed through the last couple of plants of Painted Lady runners which I was growing out for seed just as pods were beginning to form. Even the courgettes make me feel bad by being prolific when I was determined not to let them bully me.

And I'm sorry this post is such a downer. It seems necessary somehow that the blog presents things in a positive or amusing way. Sometimes that requirement can silence me for days.