Thursday 28 February 2008

The First Cuckoo

Not in France at the moment, still caring for a sick cat and unhopefully casting my mind around for a way to earn money that will allow me to work at home and keep the habits of a lifetime intact. So I can't tell you if the cuckoo has sounded in France yet but today, in Newport Pagnell, the elusive but persistent bird was calling for several minutes as I sat at my desk.

It's such a familiar sound that it barely registered for a few seconds but when my brain finally kicked in I realised this is surely the earliest I've ever heard the returning arrivals.

The Times Online has an article about letters to the Editor regarding the first cuckoo. It seems they don't actually publish these any more and have not since 1940 but the quirkiness of British tradition and humour is such that the thought of Dickensian gentlemen, ancient vicars and lady dog walkers writing in to claim their five seconds of fame in a national newspaper still brings a smile to our lips.

More about cuckoos here. I have to say, I can't find any reliable reports of cuckoos arriving much before April so it's possible I'm the butt of someone's joke but I was reasonably convinced by it, and if I'm wrong, well, someone will have had a laugh.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

I say tomato


We've had two terrible years for tomatoes. The picture above was taken in 2005 and represents a fair cross section of the sorts of tomatoes we like to grow and until recently thought were easy crops to achieve.

2006 and 2007 were blighted, literally, although the weather in either year didn't help and moving our cropping area from the allotments in Newport Pagnell to the farm was bound to hold us back for a season in 2006.

I'm going to try again and these are, I think, the varieties I'm going to make the attempt with;

Potiron Encarlote, the large fruit to the left of the photo, has a wonderful flavour and the huge tomatoes are perfect for those summer salads that with a piece of bread are a meal in themselves. They are tall growing and need good support and I have only ever grown them in a greenhouse so it may be a challenge finding a sheltered enough spot in France to get a crop but I think it will be worth the effort.

For several years we have grown a heritage variety Salt Spring Sunrise. I was originally drawn to this because of a reputed resistance to blight. It's not particularly blight resistant but is an excellent bush tomato that will crop early and well outside. The fruit isn't brilliant for salads unless picked just ripe and warmed by the sun but makes excellent passata and ketchup. This is in the picture above on the extreme right hand side.

Well, I say I'm going to grow SSS but I can't at this moment find the seeds. My seed storage is in a real mess and I need to sort that out. If I can't find the packet I put away last year I will have to use Marmande, that old standby. Better flavoured than SSS but not so reliable in a bad summer.

One tomato that did do well last year in indifferent conditions was another heritage variety called Scottish Yellow. Unfortunately that seed seems to be in the same place as the SSS and so I will probably have to use Golden Sunrise which is wonderfully sweet flavoured and is the yellow tomato in the picture.

Tempted as I am by the fancier coloured varieties, the Black Prince, the Striped Stuffer and Evergreen, a large tomato that never reddens but is nicest when it's a fresh green, I might give them a miss if time gets short.

We will try some plum tomatoes, San Marzano is a well known variety but a good selection of Roma will taste nearly as good and we've found them slightly hardier. The plums all seem to crop rather late, not a problem with the longer summers we've been having but often they have succumbed to the blight before the fruit is mature which is always disappointing.

Better go and search out those seeds.

Monday 11 February 2008

New Shoes

new shoes

We're going to a wedding in April. I've got the shoes, now all I need is the outfit.

High pressure and blue skies mean that I've been out in the greenhouses looking over the devastation of the dreadful season. In amongst the death and detritus I've found the eddoes, planted with such hope and fanfare last year. This experiment wasn't the success I'd hoped for. The plants were abandoned for a lot of the summer and lack of water and the poor sunshine meant they only just managed to keep themselves alive without any spare energy to grow new tubers. I've cleaned them up and replanted them in the warm and will try treating them a little more gently this year, feeding and cossetting to see if it's possible to get any crop at all.

I also found these hyacinths


which were planted up from heat treated bulbs before xmas. They're looking rather good although the white plants are racing ahead of the blue ones which is a shame.

That poor old black cat is still with us, learning to deal with his blindness to an extent but rather sad and depressed with the situation. He's stopped waking us in the night, something he had been doing frequently with all the power of his Siamese genes enhanced lungs. We're not really sure why, I can only think that in the darkness he doesn't want to draw attention to himself in case there are predators. He's eating and enjoys being groomed. We're keeping our fingers crossed for him.


Thursday 7 February 2008

you can tell I'm depressed

when I start doing stupid quizzes again...

actually I don't feel very Rabbitish at all, rather more of a Piglet.

Your Score: Rabbit

You scored 21 Ego, 14 Anxiety, and 18 Agency!

You scored as Rabbit!

ABOUT RABBIT: Rabbit is generally considered Clever by his many friends and relations. He is actually a much better reader and writer than Owl, but he doesn't consider it worth mentioning. Instead, Rabbit's real talent lies in Organizing Plans. He organizes rescue parties, makes schemes to reduce Tigger's bounciness, and goes on missions to find out what Christopher Robin does when he's not at the Hundred Acre Woods. Sometimes, however, his Plans do not always go as Planned.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are smart, practical and you plan ahead. People sometimes think that you don't stress or worry, but this is not the case. You are the kind of person who worries in a practical way. You think a) What are my anxieties about and b)what can be done about them? No useless fretting for you. You don't see the point in sitting around and waiting for things to work out, when you could actually work them out today and save yourself a lot of time and worry. Your friends tend to rely on you, because they know that they can trust you help them work things out.

You sometimes tend to be impatient with people who are less practical in their ways. You don't have much patience for idiots who moan about things but never actually DO anything about them. You have high expectations of everyone, including yourself. When you don't succeed at something, or when something goes wrong despite your best efforts to prevent it, you can get quite hard on yourself. You need to cut yourself some slack and accept that everyone has their faults, even you, and THAT IS OKAY. Let yourself be faulty, every now and then, for the sake of your own sanity.

The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test

Unwell Cat

The bad black cat has had a problem in the night. His high blood pressure has caused another bleed in his eyes, this time affecting his 'good' eye so badly that he is all but blind. We fear the worst but want to give him time to heal, at least for a few days before we take him to the vet. I'd much rather he died quietly at home with us.

This is a picture of him taken when he was a sprightly 12 years old.

Saturday 2 February 2008

In the Post

I'm pleased to say that my order from Seeds of Italy finally arrived. When they say at least 10 days that's just what they mean.

I think that's a fairly poor service given the response times offered by most internet suppliers but at least they're truthful and that's a big plus point.