Wednesday 31 December 2008

To Old Acquaintances and Happier Days


I've been trying hard to climb out of this pit of despondency, each time I get half way up the slope the rain starts and washes me back to the bottom again. It's cold down here, and very muddy. Enough to make anyone cry.

Been trying to formulate the words for this blog entry. I wanted big plans, empire building, hope, light at the end of the tunnel, enormous erections and all the rest. Couldn't find any of those words but this evening, waiting for the clock to tick over and after a bottle and a half of good wine at least I have the energy to start.

So where to next? If only the weather would turn the corner into warmth the pull of the spring tide might drag me along. Seedlings of hope, blind faith in the future exhibited by all nature, the tingle of sunlight in my veins. I yearn for these things.

That's not to say that the weather now is not fit for the season, clear and crisp and cold it should be bracing. It's also killing plant pathogens and discouraging pests. A silver lining masked by the frosty indifference of winter but essentially I was built for a Mediterranean climate. I want to kick my shoes off and run on the sands of summer.

There is a big birthday coming for me in October. It's undeniably time I got a grip. Resolutions are futile and I regularly resolve not to make any but this year, this year really must go somewhere.

Happy New Year. Normal self sufficency blogging will be resumed soon, probably, but for the moment I want to reach out to anyone there and say Hello for new beginnings.

Monday 22 December 2008


Part of the failed bean experiment from last year.

It's that time of year, and although I'm mostly concentrating on a huge midwinter festivity blowout for the family, it's impossible to ignore the seed catalogues dropping onto the mat along with the cards. It's exciting, and my enthusiasm for finding new varieties to try is only tempered by the logistics of making so many small orders in so many directions. I expect to use at least six different suppliers and have seeds on promise from various seed swappers and friends abroad.

A few days ago we received the Heritage Seed library list and I've been poring over that, anxious to find something that is both worth saving and fits in with my plans for planting next year.

I've been a member (or on a shared membership) of the HSL for many many years and have always felt they were worthy of support for their aims, but as time has gone on I am beginning to develop doubts. As I write this I'm aware that these issues are not limited to the HSL so should be read as a general essay on my feelings about seed saving although I have used them as my example.

Tbere are, I think, three main issues that bother me.

I'm not comfortable with the way material is included in the seed bank. Seeds for preservation are acquired in several ways, sometimes remaindered stock from a certified supplier is donated but other times seeds are offered by members of the public who have inherited them, been saving them for themselves over a period or have brought them back from holiday, the greengrocer's or whatever.

When the provenance is reasonably well documented e.g from a commercial source some confidence can be placed in the identification and purity of the variety to be saved. Several of the older heritage seeds have had learned academia researching them and are supported by this in their identification but the seeds supplied by the general public from private resources are almost entirely anecdotal in their history. I look at the massive variety of tomatoes or beans and cannot but have doubts that some of these seeds are not unique strains but a mish mash of misremembered names, crossed accidents and duplications.

Then we have the actual method of preserving the varieties. I know myself how difficult it is to maintain any particular strain in a amateur garden. With, genuinely, the greatest respect to the Seed Guardians who I am sure try extremely hard to protect the purity of their charges how certain can we be that the actual characteristics of the varieties are being preserved? Indeed, with the poor histories of many types, do we even know what those characteristics are?

Secondly, has the direction of the organisation become muddled? The need to protect diversity in the gene bank is well established for sound scientific reasons even if we ignore the simple joy of revelling in the wonderful multifariousness of nature but by including any and all possible genetic material for general distribution is there a risk of swamping the pool with stuff that might just as well have been left behind? Not all heritage vegetables are delicious. Some are difficult to get right under any conditions. Some are barely improvements on the wild stock and as I said above, some of the varieties offered seem to have been compromised or offer no advantage over other stronger candidates. There is a dichotomy between selection for the gardener and pure scientific rigour and I think the line has become blurred.

Thirdly, the aims of the organisation are to maintain old varieties and distribute them. Weird terms and conditions of use make me uncomfortable but do nothing to actually protect the open source material. I don't want to become responsible for policing a good will system, nor do I want my participation trammelled by vague stipulations, half voiced obligations or unspecified intimations of legal proceedings. Either there is a clear legal contract or the stuff is out there. I do sympathise with organisers and abhor commercial exploitation of private effort but find the unloading of these concerns onto the member's remit to be distressing and unnecessary.

So all in all, I think seed savers are losing their way a bit. Easy to bitch and now I'm a bit more settled again I should probably volunteer to help by growing some varieties for seed and generally trying to support rather than criticise but my feelings on this are really quite strong. We must not become complacent because any one organisation has taken on a general responsibility and we must not allow British good manners to prevent us from identifying problems, getting them corrected and achieving excellence.

Do support the HSL and other seed saving initiatives. Do plan for diversity and variety in your gardens but have some awareness of what you're doing and why it is being done.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

What the Hunters do...

In the forest there are many types of animal. Some are bold and can be observed going about their business each day, others are very secretive and shy.

Although when we arrived we were told that the forest contained many deer, it was the wild boar that made the stuff of legend. Everybody knew somebody who had just missed one on the road, or worse, had crashed their car because of one. The stories gain details in the retelling, huge tusks, families of piglets, ferocious sows attacking picnickers and so on. We saw the deer, we never saw the boars and so we discounted them as rural myths, like big cats on Exmoor or the Loch Ness Monster.

In the night, this poor creature found its way to our yard and died, in pain and distress. His front leg shot away, his lower jaw missing.

We don't doubt the wild boars in our woods any more.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Buttering Medlars

bletted medlars
Bletted Medlars showing the formation of the seed capsule inside the fruit.

It seems rather odd to have come back to writing this blog; still feel rather dissociated from it.

Anyway, it's medlar time of year again and in previous years I've made jelly and last year medlar and japanese quince jam. I wanted a change. We love the jelly but there's a limit to how many jars of sweet stuff a small family can consume in a year.

One recipe I've kept in my favourites for some time is this one, Theodore Garrett's Medlar Cheese, recorded by Historic Food. I really wanted to make those divine little moulded shapes but I don't have any moulds which rather inhibits that plan. I did have perfectly bletted medlars so I decided to give it a go and set the paste in tiny dipping sauce bowls and espresso cups.

Bletting (or bringing to a point of rotteness) medlars is pretty easy but you want them to mature without becoming infected with fungal colonies or mildews, so it helps to have them in an airy place during the process so that nothing too noxious can start to grow. I had mine for two weeks in an unglazed earthenware dish on the cool side of the kitchen and it worked beautifully.

I decided to follow the recipe exactly as this was a first for me, I've never actually made fruit cheeses or pastes before. Immediately I got stuck because of a lack of equipment. The fruit is supposed to be softened in a jar heated in a pan of simmering water. I don't have a suitable jar/pan combination. After some thought it seemed possible to substitute for this by using a covered glass casserole in a baking pan of water in the oven (about 150C). This worked well but took over three hours before I felt the fruit was soft enough to sieve.

From my 1.3kg medlars (all I could fit in the pan) I took a yield of 840g hard won sieved medlar flesh. I do hate rubbing things through a sieve and would recommend you use a mouli if you have one.

After adding the sugar (375g sugar to 500g medlar pulp) the mixture is supposed to be stirred over the heat until it leaves the sides of the pan clean. I found the paste so thick already that this happened almost immediately and so I suspect I didn't cook it quite long enough. I filled my little cups but after a while setting they showed no signs of firming up enough to slice which would justify them the title of a fruit 'cheese' so I've decided to call it butter. The bulk of the recipe has been potted in jam jars but the scrapings and leftovers have been spread into a shallow tray and returned to the barely warm oven to dry out for a few hours and make fruit jelly sweets. The flavour is lovely, I don't think anything will be wasted.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Nothing like


a bonfire for a clearout. Four leylandii, two elderberries and the scrap from a sycamore and an ash tree reduced to ash.

The long straight bits of the ash and sycamore have been reserved for green woodworking over the winter break.

Thursday 13 November 2008

The View from Thoreau.

I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?

I am not within the life I imagine and my inspiration is gone. A momentary lapse of reason meant that the blog nearly disappeared entirely, but for the time being I've decided to let it sit and bide its time until I'm ready to try again.

vine leaves

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Gone Away

Blogs may be resumed in the future or never.

Thanks for reading.

Friday 31 October 2008


the beast

Back in the UK for a short visit, just in time for Hallowe'en. This evil looking chap enticed 23 small children to my door this evening. Just as well I was stuffed already on bread.

I know, I know

I'm a dull girl. I will be carving a pumpkin later today but in the meantime, here is a link to some other fine pumpkin work; Duarte Pumpkins.

(spotted via Agricultural Biodiversity)

Thursday 23 October 2008

Turn of Seasons

late lavender

The last few days have been brilliantly clear, with blue skies and sun still providing a jolt of warmth while it's at its height. The nights though are becoming colder and colder. Each time a frost is forecast it seems as if it is perfectly the right time to expect one but so far, they have all been false alarms and passed us by.

This weekend we will have to lift the tender lavenders, bought from the Downderry Nursery. I have a Lavendula dentata and a canariensis and although I have taken cuttings I'd like to save the parent plants if I can. I also need to lift the Lemon Verbena and the tarragon. The tarragon will survive the winter here but is a martyr to slugs in the early spring and I've discovered that it's better to pot it up over winter, give it an early start under cover and set it out when the weather warms up.

The pleasant autumn has meant that the Oca and Ulluco have continued to grow well. They won't be harvested until after the first hard frosts. The oca should have formed tubers by the end of November but we'll have to leave the Ulluco until December before taking them up. The anticipation is beginning to overcome me.

Monday 20 October 2008

Not just here for the hunting.

I took a walk down my drive this afternoon, mostly it must be said in the hopes of finding another parasol mushroom or two on the patch I'd picked before. I wandered along, checking the hedgerows and generally looking for sights of interest when I looked over the gate and saw a couple, parked up just outside our field, engaged in an act of congress over the bonnet of their car.

Naturally this would have been something of an addition to the Animals Fucking Gallery and I had my camera but I decided that discretion was called for.

I don't think they saw me, the action was still going on when I made my retreat.

Saturday 18 October 2008

The Squash Harvest

The Squash Harvest

Fearing the first frost last night I picked the last of the squashes, pumpkins, call them what you will. The butternuts were, as usual, pretty much a failure, only starting to form fruit in September which then had no time to mature before the weather got colder.

This variety was the early selection of Waltham Butternut, offered by Realseeds. It did better than my last couple of attempts with seed from other places and perhaps the cold spring and lousy summer didn't help but it still hasn't solved my problem with butternuts. I'm not sure I'll try again, at least until I have some sturdy deer proof cloches that might help me get an earlier start to the season.

The Melonette Jaspée de Vendée was very quick by comparison, pretty much finished by late August and producing in the region of 10 useful sized fruits from just a couple of plants. These are not huge pumpkins but ideal for smaller households and pleasantly sweet to eat. They keep well too. Unfortunately I was using up the end of a packet of seed, didn't try to save any squash seed this year and now can't find many suppliers on the net so this may be the last year for this one for a while until I can source some new seeds.

I bought in plants of the moschata, one of the reasons I didn't bother to try to save seed this year. I think the variety was 'Musquee de Provence' and the fruits are certainly what I was expecting, solid, heavy and a beautiful orange inside. These are definitely one of the best for all sorts of cooking. They also keep quite well, gradually changing colour from very dark green to an off gold, bronzey colour. The problem with them is that they do contain so much flesh, it's difficult to use up a whole one without an army to feed.

Finally, the Pumpkin Nuts. I wrote about these already here. The little greeny orange fruit at the front left is how they look when properly ripe. All the larger fruit cracked before they were finished, some of them quite dramatically around the body as well as at the base. I'm leaving them to cure for as long as I dare before taking the seeds but these don't seem to be the right variety for us to use as our hull less pumpkin seed choice. Again the very wet summer may have contributed to the problem but that's quite likely to happen again.

Apart from the butternuts, given the weather and the very poor patch of land I gave them to grow in, all the varieties did pretty well and they are struggling on, poor things, with tiny fruit that will never come to anything still forming on the vines.

Next year I want to grow some more colourful varieties and I'd also like to have another go at Crown Prince but I can't find a supplier who offers open pollinated seed of these, they are all F1, not much use for the seed saver. Anyone know anywhere that I might be able to get some?

Thursday 16 October 2008

A walk in the woods


Thursday is quite a good day for fungi hunting, enough time for new fruits to replace the ravages of the weekend before but early enough to avoid the weekend pickers to come. In a very brief gap in the rain I went into the woods.


It was really colourful and calm under the trees. Every so often a shiver in the skies would send another shower of bronze and golden leaves swirling to the ground which was already thickly covered. For someone who navigates like a insect, using tiny but persistent landmarks to identify and confirm my direction it was disorienting, I lacked my usual confidence to pick out known locations for finding ceps or other fungi I'd hoped to photograph.


I didn't find anything very exciting but then I caught a scent on the air. Cigarette smoke. I'd hoped the hunters were all at lunch but it seems that someone was out and about. Shortly afterwards there were shots, not very close perhaps but enough to make me nervous, so I decided to head home.


It made me really cross for so many reasons. I'm quite sensitive to smoke and just being able to smell it was annoying but what I can't understand is why the wretched hunters do it while they're hunting. If my inadequate human nose can catch the odour the animals must have a much greater sense of the presence of danger and would surely get to cover. Well, perhaps it's no bad thing then, but it made me so angry. They don't even have wood craft, just shiny metal tubes to blast away with. And of course, I don't like having to watch my back in case I'm mistaken for a wild boar.

On the way back to the house I disturbed a deer lying up behind the tractor shed, just about where we plan to build the new kitchen. She took off into the woods, I hope she avoided the hunters.

pholiota squarrosa

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Cheering News

I was heartened today to discover I'm still considered too young for some information.

Workshops for the Over 50s

Tuesday 14 October 2008

The soup of the Rose

It's almost too late to gather rosehips, another couple of weeks and they will be over, squishy and rotten. I've never had much time for rosehip syrup and rosehip wine is appalling (at least, it was when we made it) but I don't like to see all these lovely red berries going to waste.

I decided to try the Swedish speciality, Nyponsoppa, to see if it would make me change my mind about the benefit of these fruits.


It's actually quite nice. Not usually served in a sundae glass like this but I wanted to catch the glowing colour. Swedes apparently enjoy it with cream, almonds, even ice cream in the plate of hot soup but it was pleasant enough to drink as a warm beverage from the glass without any other additions.

Something of a faff for a single person, all that boiling, mashing and straining but perhaps I'd feel differently if I had a farmhouse table surrounded by tousleheaded babies waiting for their vitamin C booster. Anyone like to oblige?

You will need: (and I can only apologise for the mish mash of measurement units here)

1 pint of rosehips (that's about 400g)
4 pints of water (2.25 litres)
Sugar to taste ( I used 100g, 4oz is the amount usually suggested)
1 tbsp. cornflour, (15g or so)

Crush your rosehips roughly and put them in a big enough pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 hours until the fruit is completely soft. Mash down again with a potato masher and allow to cool for a bit.

Much is made of the necessity to remove the irritant hairs found in the hips around the seeds. A very fine jelly bag is the optimum for straining but I used a muslin teatowel draped over a fine nylon seive and that seems to have worked pretty well. Obviously don't squeeze it or you may risk fibres or seeds getting through.

Strain your juice and return to the pan with the sugar. I had about 3 pints at this stage. Bring back to a simmer. Slake your cornflour (or potato flour is traditional if you have it) with a little juice and then add it to the soup, stirring continuously until the soup boils and the floury appearance cooks out.

Serve hot with flaked almonds, soya yoghurt or thick cream or vegan ice cream. Plenty for six.

This can be made at other time of the year by using dried rosehips. Use about 100g in place of the 400g fresh above.

Monday 13 October 2008

Back to work

more harvest

Monday and the weather puts its grey suit back on. No sun, no bright blue skies, just a uniform cloud cover and merest hint of moisture in the air, not even enough to call drizzle.

It's a good day for working in the garden but I've not been pulling my weight there. All I did was wander out to pull some vegetables for my lunch; carrots, beets, radishes and to gather a handful of these lovely rusty coloured nasturtiums that smell so sweetly as I walk past. I did have a quick peek at the storage vegetables. The cabbages are keeping pretty well in the cave, the potatoes need another picking over. There are a few rotting ones in the boxes that must be removed.

In theory I've been working on some artwork, cooking with rosehips and rice for tomorrow's posts, catching up with emails but really I've been away with the fairies. Where did the day go?

Friday 10 October 2008

The last of the has beans.

It's been so lovely here today. Hard to describe the pure joy of seeing the sun shining across the quiet fields and lighting up the forest trees in green and gold.

the forest boundary

I've been trying to be 'useful' rather than just gloriously warm and content, but it's not been quite as rewarding as the sunshine. Today I finished the climbing french beans experiment.


I'd had a crazy dream to rejuvenate stocks of a favourite bean which had become contaminated with another variety. My plan was simple, to start plants from the three very different colours of seeds, grow them on separately, ruthlessly rogueing out anything that didn't match my criteria and hope to bring the selection back to three separate types, purple podded with brown seeds, green podded with white seeds and black seeded.

the kite field

The black seeded beans were grown behind the tractor shed. They didn't do very well, the soil there is poor, but they produced black and white seeds.

The white seeded beans, with the ones that germinated with purple leaves removed, grew well but were completely eaten by deer just before I was going to harvest them.

The brown seeded beans, grew well and strong and seem to have produced beans in a full range of colours again.

tree full of apples

The variation seems to be too well established and although I could just go on growing my interesting race of 'mixed' beans I'm more worried about the variation that allowed the cross fertilisation to happen in the first place than the rainbow colours. There are lots of possible reasons why they might have crossed but life is too short and I'm not interested enough to track them down.

I'm not an obsessive seed saver, don't feel every sperm is sacred or anything like that, but I do like the idea of keeping a few key varieties as house specialities. If these beans have the potential to get out of control in this way, and it's very unusual for french beans to show this sort of cross fertilisation, then I will have to ride shotgun on them forever more. It's hard enough policing squash plants without having to worry about the beans. I'm going to let these go and start again with all new stock. Which is something to look forward as the seed catalogues start coming out for the new season!

And just when I'd stopped looking, I got in the car to go to shops this morning, drove down the lane and found these lovely parasol mushrooms laughing at me. I've settled their hash and you can find the recipe on the Stripey Cat.


Thursday 9 October 2008

Magic of the Mushroom

I went out on one of my increasingly desperate searches for puffballs and field mushrooms today and found an impressively large crop of these.

psilocybe semilanceata
Psilocybe semilanceata - the magic mushroom

Before I go any further I would just like to share the legal position on these. The law states that these are a form of controlled drug and even picking them for personal consumption is illegal. If you break the law and get caught don't plead ignorance. For one, it's no defence and two, you know it's not true because you read it here.

I was going to write a piece on them, based on experience because I think that education is a far better way of helping people than making them into criminals but actually most of what you need to know can be found in detail at The vaults of Erowid so I'm going to keep it short.

If you are an adult in good health and safe surroundings then experimenting with these hallucinogenic fungi will do you no harm. The key points are to be absolutely certain of the identification of your mushrooms and to start very slowly, noting the effects on your body and listening to it. You may be sick, so make provision for that. You will feel different. Go with it and relax, it will pass after about six hours.

Don't give mushrooms to children or animals. If you are asthmatic or having breathing issues they're best avoided as you may precipitate an attack. If you are breastfeeding or pregnant don't take them, the baby won't thank you. If you have been left in a position of responsibility, that is not the time to take the mushroom. You need a quiet calm environment with friends around you to really enjoy the experience.

And finally, as a result of my experiments I'm now quite ambivalent about things mushroomy. If you love to eat and enjoy mushrooms in your food, take a moment to consider before risking your lifelong gastronomic experience for the sake of a whacky high.

Be sure and read that legal warning won't you. I can't condone law breaking.

psilocybe semilanceata

***UPDATED*** 19 August 2013 as seems to have become defunct. ***

Wednesday 8 October 2008

That old chestnut

Chestnuts for drying

In the golden glow of an autumn day a basket of sweet chestnuts is a very lovely thing. In a good year, it's easy, with a little diligence and some prickled fingers to take a harvest that is far greater than can be consumed in the immediate present. So it's useful to know how to preserve the bounty for a little longer.

First of all you need to examine each nut minutely. The nuts should be full and round. Shrivelled or rattling shells indicate the nut is malformed or ancient; unfit to eat and certainly no good to store.

If there are any holes, and we're talking the size of pinheads here, chuck it out because it will have been invaded by the chestnut weevil grub. Not a nice way to get your B12. If you suspect your nuts are very weevilly it's possible to give them a hot water treatment to kill the grubs. That will certainly stop them eating the kernel but it doesn't actually remove the worm. You'll have to make your own mind up on that.

The chestnut is quite a wet fruity sort of a thing. It dries out quickly and it needs to be kept cold to maximise its shelf life. When you've picked them over, washed them off and allowed them to air dry for an hour or two, divide them up into usefully sized quantities and place each portion in a plastic bag. Seal tightly and keep in the cooler part of the fridge. They should last until xmas but check them regularly. They don't really store for long.

I've read that it's possible to extend the storage life by soaking the freshly gathered nuts in cold water for 20 hours before drying and storing in sand. It may work, but I've no experience of this.

It's possible to cook the nuts and store them in cans, vacuum packs or the freezer but by far the most traditional way of keeping sweet chestnuts to eat in the following year is to dry them. In Corsica they have special drying sheds, but they also have rather better weather for drying. It's much easier to use a dehydrator or even your oven.

Pick over your nuts again and then with a sharp heavy bladed knife cut them in half. This gives you another chance to check the fruit for worms. These are few that I found.

eeuww, wormy

Lay the good nuts cut side down in the dryer and allow to dry on a medium heat for 12 hours or so. The kernels will shrivel and the shells and outer skin can then be removed more easily. It's quite a tedious task and although the shells come off easily enough the inner skin isn't always so simple. Sometimes it pings off in a satisfying single crust but more often only part of the skin falls away leaving a patch stuck on. Then you run the risk of a razor sharp piece of hardened skin stuck under your fingernail as you try to pick it off. I'll be looking for a more effective way of skinning the nuts next year.

Store in a very dry tightly sealed jar and they should stay good until the next harvest comes in.

They will need cooking in boiling water before using in your usual recipes.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

A stormy sunset

Don't think we've had a sunset picture this year. Rained all day again today but just as the sun set it illuminated the clouds like this.

stormy sunset

Monday 6 October 2008

Not a Water Baby

the remains of chimney sweeping.

I was going to sweep the chimney today. It should be a very easy task, I have all the kit and the whole height of the thing can't be more than 7 or 8 metres but when it came to it, the exit from the fire box is narrow and obstructed and the register plate - the bit that goes across the old chimney and seals around the woodburner flue - seems to be made of asbestos (!) with the cleaning hole totally weighted down with debris. So I'm going to wait until I have some company with muscle and some breathing apparatus before continuing. We may even need to get a new register plate and do a full service.

It's a blow really, the damn thing needs doing and it's got cold enough to need a fire nearly every night now. I don't think it will catch fire but it's not something I want to have to consider everytime I fill up the grate with a roaring blaze.

This morning I saw this naughty creature running across the yard.


Not a great picture of Peter Rabbit, or possibly Peter Hare and I've no real desire to have him and his family chomping on my vegetables but I'd much rather he was in our farmyard, even with the feral cats and the brooding birds of prey, than out in the fields. The hunters are at it constantly and now there is a shred of sunshine any small animal had best look to its safety if it doesn't want to get blown to smithereens.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Seed Exchange 2008

**** Looking for 2009 swaps. Click here!!! *****

Seed swap and shares for 2008. All these seeds originated from the Heritage Seed Library run by the HDRA and have been carefully grown in isolation this year. Tubers were gleaned from supermarkets and Realseeds.

I'm only offering to growers in the UK and EU as I'm not sure of border controls for other countries.

I have:

Carlin pea seeds - ancient variety traditionally used in the North of England. Available in packets of 25 seeds.

Crimson flowered broad bean - not very rare any more but a good pure selection with deep crimson flowers. Excellent cropper. 25 seeds.

French Bean Royal Red - All gone for 2009

**I hope to have a few oca tuber and ulluco later in the season.**

UPDATE 28 January 2009 I've now checked my stocks. I can offer small packs of 3 or 4 mixed ulluco tubers, one pink and one crimson oca tuber per person. The tubers will be small but should grow perfectly well and provide you with your own tubers for a larger planting next year.

UPDATE 16 February 2009 Only a few tubers left now and not of the best quality. I'm willing to send them out if you're desperate but can't guarantee anything.

UPDATE 9th April 2009 The list is now closed for the season. Come back in the autumn to see what I'll have available for next year, and thanks for all the lovely exchanges this time.

Leave a message to me in the comments or send an email to me:

catofstripes [replace this with an at sign] gmail [put a dot here] com

Always interested in swaps, let me know what you have!

See the full list of Seed Network participants as gathered at Bifurcated Carrots by Patrick and Steph. Seeds are for vegetables and ornamentals, and should be open pollinated varieties. Seeds are offered for exchange or small prices to cover costs. Click here

Friday 3 October 2008

It must be xmas!

sweet chestnuts

High winds have brought down some sweet chestnuts, a little prematurely perhaps but well filled nonetheless. I brought a pocket full home with me this evening to roast for my supper. I'll have to go out again tomorrow with a bucket to collect the rest.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Into the woods

I went out in a small sunny spell on my usual circuit today to look for puff balls and on a whim took a detour into the wood. I had no basket nor any camera so it was inevitable I should find ceps, the biggest phallic fungus I've ever seen and two slugs having sex...

These are the ceps.
Red cracking bolete

If I'd had an apron I'd have gathered them in that, but I didn't and felt a bit silly (although who was there to see me) with my fleece turned up to make a kangaroo pouch. These aren't particularly valuable ceps. The Red Cracking bolete is edible but has a poor texture and weak flavour. They were, however, in pretty good condition and hardly attacked by maggots at all so I've cleaned them up and set them to dry. They might add a touch of the forestière to some risotto in the winter.

The phallic fungus was already past its best but the flies were having a whale of a time. Slugs having sex I can show you, since the dirty beasts have been at it for a month or two now.


If you click on the picture it will take you to Paul's photostream on flickr with lots of information about what's going on. If you're interested of course!

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Another year older

can't get enough

I do so adore these red cabbages. Click through to Flickr and look at them in big, you won't regret it!

It was my birthday today but unlike the day of my birth (so I'm told) the weather has been foul, cold, windy and exceedingly wet. Luckily it cleared up a bit by the afternoon but it's still rather colder than is comfortable. The autumn vegetables are showing their worth.

In the foreground here is red mustard leaf; slightly spicy, easily grown from seed sown in August for autumn salads. Behind it you can see the volunteer oca which is going to be a real lifesaver for my collection, particularly since the deer have trashed many of the plants I had grown from tubers recovered from a different old bed.

cardoon flower

This cardoon flower is so striking in the late sun. They can be dried for winter decoration.

my present to me

And finally, my birthday present to me. A kilo of string. I know, I'm weird. Happy Birthday, Me!

Sunday 28 September 2008

The summer we never had

The last couple of days we have had stunning weather. Absolutely marvellous, and it's made us so happy. We've been taking all our meals outside, yomping around the fields, picking apples, searching for fungi (sadly rather unsuccessfully) and generally having a wonderful time. Particularly if your idea of a wonderful time is catching up with the mowing and washing!

There was time to pick a late crop of blackberries. We've now identified at least three distinct strains of blackberries, there are many varieties and sub species known to botanists of course, a large early fruited variety, a rather small fruited, sparse drupe with delicious flavour and now these late fruit. A couple of weeks ago these fruit were green and hard and if we hadn't had this late burst of sunshine would have come to nothing at all but in the warmth of an Indian summer have produced some delicious fruit for pies and crumbles, all before the devil's spit arrives with the first frosts.

There have been some other interesting developments with the late sun. The oca has flowered, the first time I have ever seen flowers on a vegetable oca (there are several flowering varieties of oxalis available to the gardener). My other varieties, the pink and crimson coloured tubers, have never flowered but these are the flowers on the white sort I purchased from RealSeeds last year.

And these are possibly a first for pictures of ulluco in France, ulloco flowers on two of the varieties that we're growing this year. I haven't tried to pollinate or save seed from these, and now the plants are past their flowering period and hopefully settling down to producing a good crop of tubers for harvesting in November or even later if the weather stays good.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Naked Nuts

No, I'm not trying to be puerile (who, me?) but that's really the name I remembered for a variety of pumpkin I grew this year; the seed came from Chiltern Seeds and looking at their online catalogue this year they seem be calling them Pumpkin Nuts now. The variety is supposed to give hull less seeds, without the hard seed shell which makes roasting ordinary varieties almost pointless unless you really need fibre in your diet.

The plant is Cucurbita pepo var. styriaca and there are at least three other named varieties out there, Lady Godiva, Triple Treat and Kakai.


This seems to have a fairly typical appearance although an interesting article here shows some work being done for prettier results. This specimen is slightly immature and I think it would develop some yellow colouring when it's ripe. I picked it early as it had developed a crack at the base and I was worried it would rot in the field. After 3 weeks maturing I couldn't control my curiousity any longer and decided to open it up...


As I might have predicted the seeds were only just formed and not very plentiful. In appearance they looked as if they might have a tendency to forming a seed coat but at least at this stage they are very tender and easy to eat in their entirety. Something I'm not clear about is if cross pollination will affect the characteristics of seeds forming in curcubits. If so, I should grow these types in isolation to preserve the nakedness I'm looking for. Normally, unless saving a particular variety for seed this isn't something to worry about, so I haven't until now!

The pumpkin flesh is not as similar to a courgette as you might imagine looking at the picture of a ball shaped marrow but actually almost melon like. I was tempted by this to start processing it for crystallised sweetmeats but realised half way into the process that I didn't have enough time to finish them before going away on a trip so binned the lot which was bit wasteful of sugar but stopped the worry of failure in its tracks.

And the nuts?


I have to report that the seeds or 'nuts' are delicious. A subtle sweet flavour with notes of vanilla. I'm not sure how well they'll dry, particularly these immature ones, but they are very pleasant to eat. Worth growing again.

Friday 19 September 2008

Mellow September


I'm really enjoying this gentle and mild patch of weather, neither too hot nor too cold and sweetly nostalgic for summer while the fruit ripens, the leaves colour and the nights become chilly in preparation for autumn.

how many beans?

The experiment with the Runner Beans White Spanish is now complete. The plants grew vigorously and well and seemed to make a good set of pods although many shrivelled before maturing. I'm not sure what caused that, possibly the terrible summer, maybe just poor soil and inadequate moisture.

The pods that did set were short and rough. Pleasant enough to eat when young as sliced runners but quickly toughening up and developing strings. We didn't eat many young so that we could maximise our crop of huge white beans. With only two or three beans per pod we needed all the pods we could get. And huge the beans are, as the picture above shows.

I'm still working on the definitive recipe for "Greek Beans" which was the incentive for growing such large white beans but the beans themselves have a good mild flavour, and a pleasant texture with enough bite to satisfy. I think we will grow them again. They do nearly everything we require from a 'butterbean' without the temperature requirements of lima beans or the relatively small seed size of normal runners. I would point out though that Runner Bean Painted Lady, the bicoloured flower runner, has beans that I think are nearly as large. The seeds are very attractively mottled brown and white and the cooking quality is good. Worth trying if you don't want to multiply your orders to seedsmen.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

A frog in my throat


This little chap was found a few mornings back sheltering in the lee of a bucket of water we'd caught from a leaking hot water tank and reserved for flushing the loo. Water costs money in France and although we have a well the pump is considerably out of condition and the water too probably. Anyway I digress, this frog was making the most of the damp indoors and was quite disgruntled when I evicted him/her. But what I can't work out is how they get in in the first place.

I've been quiet for more than a while now. Some of it is to do with a broken routine, I've been in the UK and travelling around without access to my usual resources. I do now have the Aspire for mobile connectivity and jolly good it is, now that I've found out how to make it behave like a computer and not a nobbled games console. Still have issues with getting photos into it from the camera or phone without taking out cards, something I try to avoid doing since I invariably lose them.

The tomato crop has been occupying a lot of my time. Why I ever hoped for a bumper crop is currently beyond me, I dream tomato pulp and I'm exhausted from making pickles, many of which I suspect will never be eaten.

Just before I stopped blogging I had been planning a post about how lucky we are in France, We are having such a wonderful privileged time doing things that make us happy and without any stress at all. I still feel we are extraordinarily lucky but the words that I hoped to write have become mangled.

I am a lucky person and I hope to share that with everyone again soon.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

New Tools

Sad in a way, the new tools of which I speak are of the electronic variety but I am very excited about my brand new tiny little Aspire 1. It is so cute and light that I need never be out of touch on the road again. There are some issues of the Linpus operating system that I need to work out but mostly it's perfect.

sweet chestnut
A picture of Sweet Chestnuts

That's it for now really, more later, when I've finished rendering some more tomatoes into ketchup!

Thursday 4 September 2008

Field Walking

One of the obligations of owning land is the need to really keep an eye on it and know what's happening on your patch. A brief gap in the clouds today let the sun through for an hour and made the imposition a pleasure.

top field

The main purpose of the jaunt today was to check on the progress of the cider apples but it's always necessary to watch out for boundary damage, pests and diseases and drainage issues.

I was also looking hard for edible fungus and did take a detour into the woods but didn't find much and although the woods are beautiful, they are shady and mushroom hunting necessarily involves keeping your eyes to the ground most of the time. I wanted to be in the light and air.

cider apples

The apples are looking good. Although the summer has been poor, cider apples aren't too fussy about sun and enjoy a good soaking several times a summer. All we need now is a couple of warm weeks to allow the fruit to mature and we'll have a fine crop. Most of the trees have fruit including some we've never seen in fruit before. I brought a pocketful of likely specimens home to make a pie with although cider apples aren't always the most palatable in the flesh.

Our first efforts at making cider didn't work too well for reasons that we're not entirely agreed on. Last year, we didn't even try as family issues intervened at harvest time. This year we're going to try again with some different equipment and see if we can work out a method that can be built on and scaled up for the future.

Naturally since I had only the little snapping camera with me, all sorts of wildlife put on a show. I stood for five minutes under one tree while a woodpecker, entirely oblivious of me and seemingly tame enough to perch on my shoulder, worked its way around some dead wood and flaky bark. Snaps were taken but they're hopeless. I don't suppose I'll get a chance like that again for a long while.

In the other field the buzzard wheeled and keened up and down in front of me, albeit at some distance, for quite a while. Even with the bigger camera I'd have been lucky to get anything usable from that, the wretched bird was just teasing me as so often they do.

peacock butterfly caterpillars

These ugly monsters finally had their mugs recorded though. Peacock butterfly caterpillars, one of several colonies I've found around the place this late summer. Hopefully they will all grow big and strong before making their chrysalis' and waiting out the winter. Let's hope for a beautiful spring for them.