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.

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.