Sunday, 20 July 2014

Symphony in green

green cornue andes
Green Cornue Andes

We've had the heat and we're getting the rain and the garden is loving it. Still no ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse but there are good fruit on most of the plants now and it's definitely time to start feeding.

green Gezahnte Bührer-Keel
Green Gezahnte Bührer-Keel

These are the tomatoes with the name that cannot be retained. They are delicous.

green potiron encarlote
Green Potiron Encarlote

I'm hoping these will get much bigger before they ripen. These are nicest large tomatoes I've ever had.

green tigerella
Green Tigerella

Not so certain about these Tigerella which wouldn't have been my first choice but they are growing well and should make useful crops.

greenhouse cuc
F1 cucumber

No idea of the variety of these greenhouse cucumbers. They came in a gift pack and I have to say they're good cucs, productive and easy. Maybe I'll grow them again.

ridge cucumber ready to pick
Ridge cucumber

I can't remember which variety these are either. Possibly Cornichons de Paris or something German from Lidl.

carlin peas

It's a good pea year so far. I might have some of these as mange tout.

Corsican runner bean
Corsican runner bean

Despite my earlier thoughts on these being different to Spanish White I've decided there's nothing significant to choose between them. The Corsican are vigorous growers and have made a good set. I'm looking forward to taking some as green beans but think their real value will be as a dried bean for making Greek style giant beans in sauce.

green purslane living as weed in pot

If these don't come up as weeds I always start some more. Excellent salad vegetable, can be cooked and full of vital nutrients. This one is growing in a pot where it was never intended to be but I think its time will come later today.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Is there a word for ...

large white
Large White

people who become obsessed with spotting butterflies, like twitcher for Bill Oddie? Because I fear I may have become one.

small white
Small White

Across the UK I've heard from several people who feel that there aren't as many butterflies this year as last.  This seems to be on a par with policemen getting younger and nostalgia not being what it used to be but there have been some differences in the relative populations of species over here compared to my (admittedly poor) recollections of last year.

m white
Marbled White

The Marbled White was very common last year and is still very frequent this year. We saw very few of them until a couple of years ago, not sure if it's something to do with our change of land management or just random variation. They are pretty but skittish and catching one in a good pose is always a challenge.

gatekeeper 2

Gatekeepers are pretty little things and this year seem to be particularly bright and tidy looking. I never saw many of them in the UK in urban surroundings but there are lots here in the woodland edges.

meadow brown
Meadow Brown

Meadow Browns are so ubiquitous and unassuming in colour that they almost become overlooked as the season progresses. It's rare to find one with its wings outspread. This female is probably waiting for a mate.


The Ringlet is even more dull than the Meadow Brown, but the little ring markings it's named for are delicate and pretty if it holds still long enough for you to take a look.

comma again

The Comma is pretty bold and in your face by comparison. There seem to be a few more of these at this time of year than last year, although the population is always greatest as autumn approaches.

red admiral 4
Red Admirals

These are so distinctive that I think everyone should recognise them. Big strong flyers they love rotting fruit and can be seen in swarms around plum drop time sucking up the fermented fruit juices.

skipper for blog

And the winner is, the Skipper which has had a marvellous year here, more than we've ever seen before. I have to confess there are several types and I suspect we have more than a couple of them but they're not that easy to distinguish and I'll need to study them harder before I can give reliable identifications.

So far, so native and the ones that got away are mostly in that category too. Peacock butterflies are just hatching the second brood but unusually aren't ready to pose for the camera yet. Give them time, they are natural exhibitionists with a camera pointed at them. The Small Tortoiseshells are between broods too and so there are very few about for me to take a snap of, but there were plenty earlier in the year. We've had the odd Copper, some Holly Blues and one or two Map butterflies, which you won't see in the UK but are usually quite common here. These three species along with the Blues do seem to be in short supply as yet. No Silver-washed Fritillaries which seems odd as there were plenty last year but maybe it's a bit early for them and it's been another year without a sighting of a Wall butterfly so far too.

And there are very few migrants turning up. I'm hoping the Spanish Plume forecast for the next couple of days will give them a boost and hurry them to us. As well as old favourites like the Painted Lady, Clouded Yellows and Hummingbird Hawkmoths I'm hoping to spot the Long-tailed Blue this year which reached the south coast of England last year but didn't come here. And there's news of another unusual migrant which might come to us via the Netherlands, the Yellow Legged Tortoiseshell, like a Large (which I've never knowingly seen) but with yellow legs. It all seems so exciting.

It's o.k. I've taken my pills and I'll stop now.

Friday, 11 July 2014

In which my memory lets me down again

I think I told a lie today. I said I'd seen the herb chadon beni for sale in Wing Yip years ago. I'm not saying I didn't but I have now an even more distinct recollection of growing it once, a plant I got from a nursery either in Kent or Buckinghamshire or maybe somewhere else. It's not hardy and it didn't last long but since I remember its demise in the greenhouse in Newport Pagnell it was definitely in the last 15 years... so. My memory is proven to be crap again. Not quite as embarrassing as when I forgot my own home telephone number in Boots the other day and had to look it up on my mobile but nearly there.

Eryngium foetidum is a herb that smells like coriander and originated in the Caribbean and you can read all about it here. I found seeds at Chiltern's and now I've been reminded of it I'd quite like to give it another go, if I manage to keep it in mind long enough.

pyramidal orchid 2

The Pyramidal orchid is nearly over now and is forming fat seed pods. Sources I have read suggest that they are butterfly pollinated but I've never seen a butterfly go anywhere near it. Small beetles seem to find the flowers endlessly fascinating though. I'd love to be able to spread the seed around the farm but like most terrestrial orchids it needs a symbiotic fungus around the roots so the best thing I can do is scrape some patches of the verge free of grass around the mother plant and hope that some of the seeds will germinate close to her.

sweet chestnut field

Today is less hot and more overcast than the last week with some light rain, perfect for sowing some more seeds. Today I planted three rows of radish, some very old carrot seed and some beetroots in a tiny patch that I intend to keep hand watered for the duration. My crops often suffer from insufficient irrigation despite various measures, like bean trenches, which are supposed to help in drought conditions but the area is too big to keep everything moist with expensive tap water even if I had the energy to haul the water to where it's needed. A couple of small beds will have to suffice.

small tortoiseshell caterpillar

I've found a colony of Small Tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars on some nettles in the vegetable beds. They seem to be thriving but the patch is small and if I had my way would be smaller still (it is in the veggies after all), so they will be mostly relocated this afternoon to more spacious surroundings. I hope they enjoy the trip.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Just a week

Flower heads on the burdock

Been away for a week dealing with things and the differences when I got back were substantial. We now have baby beans on the Starley Road Red and Hutterite Soup plants, the Corsican runner beans have reached the top of their supports and are flowering and forming baby beans profusely and the chicory has started to flower.

ridge cucumber
Ridge cucumbers flowers and fruit 

The pickling cucumbers have started to fruit, I took the first courgette - a yellow one - and the pumpkins and shark's fin melons are beginning to extend their vines. All the peas are flowering now but like the tomatoes I've lost the labels. Just have to wait and see what we've got.

runner bean 'corsican'
Runner bean 'Corsican'

I was convinced that the Corsican runner bean that came from the HSL this year would be our old friend, the Spanish White aka Fagiolo di Spagna Bianco but now they're flowering I'm not so sure. I'm going to have to dig back through the photos and see if I can spot what seems different about them. They're growing very well whatever they are.

beetle on carrot flower
Soldier beetle on carrot flower 

We have quantities of these cheerful looking beetles, Rhagonycha fulva,  all over the garden. There are now far more Meadow Brown butterflies than any other sorts but I'm hoping that after the last two days of heavy rain new arrivals will join us and have their pictures taken.

All in all, very good but it's time to spray against potato blight again as all this warm wet weather is perfect for it to develop.

Monday, 23 June 2014

In the garden with vegetables today


As promised some news on the vegetable patch. The chard is looking good, such a reliable and delicious vegetable, everyone should grow it.

bab leek head

The alliums aren't quite so perky. The overwintered garlic is dying of rust and I'll have to dig that today I think. No point in leaving it longer. The other garlic was mashed under the feet of those marauding cows and isn't going to reach its full potential but I think it's worth leaving in a bit longer.

The japanese overwintering onions are small, also a bit trampled but otherwise would have been fine for what they were intended for, which was an early crop of onions to be eaten over the summer. Unfortunately the main crop was never planted so that's it for onions this year and they won't be nearly enough.

Shallots, just a few, were late in and don't look much cop but we'll see what happens now the longest day is past.

rusty garlic

tuberous pea flower

Is it a root, is it a pea? It's flowering at any rate and that means there might be some aardaker seeds available for swapping in the autumn. Like most of the novel crops there are rarely enough to harvest to actually eat but this clump has now been in situ for two years and with some seeds as insurance against losing the lot it might be worth taking some of the tubers later in the year.

The other peas are trying to grow big enough to climb their supports and show no signs of flowers yet. This is because they were nearly all checked in pots before I had places to plant them out this spring. They're making good growth now so all should be well soon.

The exception is the Raisin Capucijner peas which are flowering and forming pods. I'll cover them in part two. The pictures I took were too blurry.


Edible thistles. I read somewhere that most thistle heads are edible if only one could be faffed to prepare them. The globe artichokes suffered badly in the terrible winter two years ago and didn't look like they'd survive but after a year of recuperation one plant at least is having a go.

The cardoons are in flower too. Again you can eat the heads of these but it's a painful task for little reward. I missed my chance to blanch the stems in the spring when they were lush and lovely and now they are more ornamental than useful but I should be able to carry them through the winter for another go next time.

yellow carrot flower

Root vegetables are a write off this year. I put some carrots in late last autumn, not because I was expecting much of a crop but to provide foliage for the Swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on this spring. Inevitably then, the carrots have done what comes naturally to them (do you hate Eggheads too?) and thrown up flowers. Carrots cross breed rather promiscuously and as I have yellow and orange rooted sorts in the patch any seed won't be a pure variety. Still, as I've never saved carrot seed before I'm tempted to give it a go just for the experience and see what comes up.

I also had burdock and evening primrose in the root bed, both coming into flower nicely. It's my own fault, I did dig some but they were pathetic, tough and weedy thanks to the poor stony soil. It's beginning to look like raised beds might be a help with improving yields around here.

ladybird working the aphids

Saturday, 21 June 2014

A summer solstice

white flowered cirsium palustre
White flowered form of thistle Cirsium palustre, not particularly rare but the first I've noticed here.

I thought I'd do that thing that people do sometimes on blogs and link back to the 'on this day' entries for past years but looking through it seems that there are no entries for some years. Still, reading the history confirms my thought that this year, planting is ahead of average and everything should be fine.

pyramidal orchid
Anacamptis pyramidalis - fairly rare meadow orchid

Even so I can't help fretting that things aren't growing as verdantly as I'd like them too. The ground here is very impoverished and we plan to have a soil test done so that we can make an educated guess on the best ways to bring it back to full productivity but at the moment with little in the way of good compost to apply and a reluctance to use commercial fertilisers, even the organic sorts, plants seem sulky and uncooperative. Or maybe I'm just projecting too much.

sunny weeds

I'm having some computer problems too, a piece of malware seems to have become resident and two virus checkers and two malware removers don't seem to be able to shift it. I've just tried a third and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The trouble is this is an old XP machine which I was hoping would see out the summer with me. I don't really want to be rebuilding or buying new when I should be doing more useful things.

sweet potato
A single sweet potato plant from a slip raised two years ago and maltreated until now.

I promised vegetable updates. Soon, soon.

Monday, 16 June 2014


red currants picked

After the burst of summer weather last week the red currants ripened to their glorious translucently scarlet selves so today I picked them before the blackbirds found them.

In fact, the ones I picked were from a self seeded bush that I've been nurturing on the end of what is becoming a lavender bed. It's quite open around it at the moment which is a great benefit for keeping birds away - the red currant in the back garden surrounded by tall weeds and suckering raspberries is almost stripped bare already.

Anyway, I have double the quantity I'd estimated and must turn them into a few little pots of jelly for the winter.

Graphosoma lineatum

Insect life was ramping up, then slowed right down again for the last two days by overcast and windy conditions but mostly they're making sweet love while the sun shines. The striped shield bugs Graphosoma lineatum have been in congress all over the Sweet Cicely for some time now.

We've seen a few stray less common butterflies, just one Pale Clouded yellow on the 13th June and a summer Map along with the first few examples of the meadow browns.The wind has been in the north for about a week now which tends to discourage exotics migrating up from further south on the continent.

I will try and do a few posts to summarise the vegetable plots in the next few days. A statement of intent like that sometimes works but often ends up being a trigger for guilt when I fail to make the effort. We'll see, things are looking fairly good and worth reporting on.