Thursday 31 December 2009

Fly away

The end of the year is here. Such thoughts as I had for an end of year report have whooshed away on the wind like this buzzard spiralling high in the December skies.

I think 2010 will be a year when many things have to change.

Happy New Year and good luck to you all.

Monday 28 December 2009

From south of the border...updated

I received some interesting herb seeds in a swap this week, entirely new to me. I then discovered some similar seeds were available from Realseeds but in the interests of agricultural biodiversity I'm hoping these are a different strain because Riana who sent them to me gives their provenance as direct from Mexico.

They are heat loving annuals or bi-annuals from the Aster family, with distinctive flavours described by one French writer as "strong, ultra-fresh and musky, vaguely reminiscent of coriander, but also ozone". The same writer goes on to suggest that only tiny amounts should be used for fear of overwhelming the taste of the food. Sounds bizarre but as a slow adopter of ordinary leaf coriander (remember when we thought it tasted like the smell of mice?) I'm prepared to give them a go.

Porophyllum ruderale also known as papalo or quilquiña or Bolivian coriander (no relation to true coriander) is a strong growing plant reaching about 1.5 metres. It forms part of the "quelites"; foraged and cultivated greens that are an important part of the diet of the native peoples of Mexico by providing variation in basic staples of corn, beans and squash. Papalo is used for flavouring in salsas and salads and in tacos. It has a golden yellow flower a bit like a marigold and you can see a picture of it on Jim Conrad's site Backyard Naturalist

Porophyllum tagetoides, pipicha or pepicha is used in soups and with courgettes and summer squash. The plant is rather different in habit and flower colour having narrower leaves and (according to Riana) a purple poppy like flower.

I'm not sure which the Porophyllum coloratum is, it certainly looks like Papalo. There seems to be a lot of confusion with mapping these traditional herbs to formal Latin and until I've actually grown out what I have there's not much point in speculation.

Looking forward to growing them immensely but they will need a long hot summer to achieve their full potential in Normandy, so fingers crossed.

NB Post updated as Riana has now closed her blog to visitors so the links were broken.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Jerusalem Artichokes

Winter hardy vegetables don't come much easier than the Jerusalem Artichoke, also known as the Sunchoke in America or topinambour in French. Stick them in the ground in spring and stand back as they shoot up at speed. They overwinter in the ground and can be dug as needed or taken and stored in the fridge for several weeks if the ground is likely to freeze hard. Once you have them you never lose them either, so no matter how thoroughly you clean the ground after harvest expect to find new plants popping up in the spring. Because of this many people set aside a patch for a permanent bed for them rather than risk seeding their entire garden with knobbly tubers.

But despite their reputation as hardy thugs and incipient vermin they are a gentle sort of beast. They don't sting, scratch or induce allergy easily and if they are in the wrong place simply removing all the foliage for a month or three will sort them out. Although they are mostly pest and disease free (deer will nibble the tops, but then what won't they nibble?) they benefit from moving onto a new patch regularly if you have the space. Digging tubers from a new row is infinitely more rewarding in terms of tuber shape and the crop is concentrated around the plant stem making it easier to remove tiddlers that might otherwise form unwanted volunteers the next year. If you have to keep them to a permanent patch, thorough cultivation and light feeding every other year is recommended.

We now have two varieties, the stumpier round red one was originally obtained in Waitrose many years ago. It grows tall but never flowers and if you leave the tubers in the ground too long they become impressively knobbly and difficult to peel. We get around this by scrubbing them well and cooking them in their skins. The soft pulp is then easy to remove and make soup with or mash into the potatoes. The skin isn't hard anyway but the texture isn't always welcome.

The longer whiter variety came from Sainsburys. A small rant of mine is that supermarkets never identify vegetables properly but these appear to be of the Fuseau type. This was the first year we've grown them and I was impressed with the yield compared to the red ones. On the other hand, there's a limit to amount of Jerusalem artichokes anyone can eat so perhaps a big harvest isn't the significant indicator of quality. This sort also flower which is a bonus on the vegetable patch in the early autumn.

They can be eaten cooked or raw and are, I think, best cooked with lemon and oil in the Turkish style. The flavour is quite sweet and smoky and also goes well in soups and stews.

There is one unavoidable issue with them as a human food crop. They contain the sugar inulin, which most people are unable to digest. This makes them a low calorie food but also means that it's a very windy one. For this reason we eat very little of our crop most years although because they are so easy and prolific they are a valuable famine food for years when stocks of other more digestible vegetables run low.

Monday 23 November 2009

Mixed Medlars

mixed medlars

It's that time of year again and I remembered to bring back a handful of wild medlars from the farm to make this comparison picture. The small ones are wild, the large ones fruit from our cultivar Nottingham. There are several medlar cultivars known but it's hard to source them, most nurseries only carry Nottingham which is prized for its large flowers and fruit. Keepers do list seven varieties.

However, it's rumoured that some of the other sorts have a better flavour. Testing the Nottingham against the wild ones I think that could well be the case. The small fruits seemed a little fruitier, more fragrant and with a delicious toffee after taste that I couldn't detect in the larger fruit - or was it just wishful thinking... I still haven't managed to collect enough wild fruit for a pot of jam but I think it could be rather special.

Anyway, I have what I have and we always enjoy the jellies and preserves I make with them. This year I'm not in a great mood for cooking so I'm going to stick to the established option of jelly which is quite quick and simple but here are links to all the recipes I've tried in case you're feeling more adventurous.

Medlar Jelly

Medlar and Quince Jam
Medlar Butter or Cheese

Sunday 22 November 2009

The Elusive Tuberous Rooted Pea

tuber peas

The tuberous rooted pea, Lathyrus tuberosus, came to me as seeds last autumn. I'd never heard of it before but researches on the web didn't turn up all that much. A small perennial climbing member of the pea family that produces edible tuberous nodules on the roots. No useful pictures (the one on Wiki looks like everlasting pea to me), no tasting notes.

Eventually I tracked down a short paragraph in Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica which states that the pea is a native of southern Europe, which was found growing wild in Fyfield, Essex and named Fyfield Pea for that reason. It was believed to have escaped from cultivation in Holland where it had been grown as a vegetable in the early 19th century. It should not be confused with the Bitter Vetch, Lathyrus linifolius.

All I could do was grow it and see what happened. I started the seeds in March 2009. You can see the seedlings here. A fairly weedy little plant that is alleged to suffer badly at the ravages of slugs.

Planted out in France in May the two plants grew on well enough and formed a low scrambling mat underneath the runner beans. They didn't seem to mind the lightly shady conditions but of course, I've nothing to measure their progress against. I think they might have climbed if they'd had the option. Pretty cerise flowers in August produced tiny pods each containing one or two seeds.

It was my intention to try to overwinter them in the ground with the expectation of much stronger growth next year but the deer attacks meant I had to rescue them and pot them up for the winter. Still, that meant I could examine the roots, and there were tubers! I don't know why I doubted it, but the plants were rather small and insignificant.

Not that the tubers were exactly huge, the biggest were rather smaller than one joint on my thumb. I cleaned and ate one raw. A bit chewy and fibrous, it had a sweet pleasant flavour of peas, which is perhaps unsurprising. One of the only recipes I could find suggested they should be roasted and would then taste like chestnuts, but chestnuts are the chicken of the vegetable tasting world. I think I'd prefer them to taste like peas. I'm sure the texture would be improved by better cultivation and watering - we had a dry summer in Northern France - which would make for quicker more tender growth.

So, that's it for the tuberous pea until next year. If the potted plants survive the winter we'll have a head start, but I have saved a few seeds and I think it's worth making the effort to try them again.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Surprise Parcel

yacon surprise

Jennifer from Germany had kindly written to ask me if I'd like some Yacon. You don't turn an offer like that down but I didn't realise what I was asking for!

Today this huge box of a Yacon growing start, some storage tubers (the part you eat) and several packs of lovely seeds arrived.

I am thrilled and so pleased. It was wonderful to receive such a well packed and thoughtful gift. Thank you Jennifer, very much.

Monday 16 November 2009

Blog Housekeeping

Removed the ads, after about 6 months had still only earned about £12 - didn't seem worth it.

And in a startling departure from an oft stated precept, I'm trialling twitter...

You can follow me by clicking on the Twitter link in the sidebar if you think it'll be worth it. I'm really not sure myself yet.

Friday 13 November 2009

Oh deer

Back for a brief visit to check the place over. It seems that the deer took no time at all to notice our absence and have a party in the vegetable patch. Those were my Brussels sprouts, a row of carrots and the Forono beetroots which I hoped would overwinter in the ground.

There's a lot of turf dug up too, the rut was just beginning when we left in October and it seems our empty fields and lawn were ideal places for for the sex enraged males to face up to each other. It would have been quite something to see.

I've spent a couple of days rescuing the Babington leeks and Welsh onions and moving them to a place of safety under chicken wire. The leeks, the ones we did cover before we left, have survived well so I've harvested a few and rather hopefully, transplanted (replanted) some tiddlers that were in a separate bed and grubbed up by the wretched four footed vermin into the gaps.

I've also had to dig up the Hopniss and Tuberous rooted peas, both of which I had hoped to overwinter in situ. They were protected by the left over bean teepees but the deer seemed to find those particularly offensive and did their best to knock them over.

Still all is not lost. Many of the root crops survived - at least it wasn't wild pigs doing the rooting - and I've brought them into store.

There's also been time to check on the Oca and Ulluco. The oca is forming tubers rapidly now, I've taken a few as insurance for next year's seed but I'm hoping if the mild weather continues I'll be able to harvest a bumper crop in December. The ulluco are not so far advanced but are showing signs of beginning to form their tubers.

These crops are a yearly worry, I think if I had the right sort of organic mulch handy I would cover them deeply now, but I don't and in any case, I suspect that would provide just the right conditions for rodent attack... I very much like the idea of growing these exotica but do wonder if the effort is worth it in the long run.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Glad Tiding of Comfort and Joy

This is a bit of a departure from our usual programming but I promised to sneak in a mention of six comedy dates organised by What?Who! at Theatre Delicatessen 295 Regent Street W1B 2HL during December as part of the Jolly AS F**K festival. Treat yourself to a laugh for the festive season.

Visit What?Who! for the full details of the shows which include performances from Adam Bloom (9 December), Rob Broderick (10 December), Dan Antopolski (11 December), Rob Rouse (15 December), Will Smith (16 December) and George Ryegold (17 December)

Tickets around £12 with concessions available, doors open at 6.30 p.m with shows starting at 8.00 p.m. Book online or pay at the door.

Go on, you know you want to.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Mayflower Beans

mayflower beans

These ancient beans are the sort alleged to have travelled to America with the Pilgrim Fathers. I really don't see this myself but they are a pretty and interesting little bean. Scrambling weak growth with small white flowers that set well. The beans really fill the short pods which leads to the somewhat square shape of the mature beans.

I tried direct sowing and it failed so for the UK and Northern Europe I'd recommend starting in pots at the beginning of May and planting out towards the end of the month. I didn't have enough to try eating them green or as shelled beans - in fact, I don't really have enough to try them as dried beans either but next year should see them trialled for eating.

Monday 2 November 2009

Seed Swaps for 2009

Seed swap and shares for 2009. Seeds are originally from HDRA or other seed savers. Tubers grown on from supermarkets, other fanatics and Realseeds.

I'm only offering to growers in the UK and EU as I'm not sure of border controls for other countries . Happy to send out to people with nothing to swap but would appreciate a few stamps if possible to help with the costs.

I have:

Carlin pea seeds - ancient variety traditionally used in the North of England. Available in packets of 25 seeds. Seed from 2008.

Crimson flowered broad bean - not very rare any more but a good pure selection with deep crimson flowers. Excellent cropper. 25 seeds. Seed from 2008.

French Bean Royal Red - A bush bean that makes red kidney beans for your stews and chillies. The plants are quite tall and appreciate some short stakes, the green pods are long and tender and good to eat. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

Bean Yin Yang - this bush bean came to me in swaps last year. It is easily grown and produces the pretty black and white spotted seed that gives them their name. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

French Bean "Jersey"
Another HSL acquisition this is a dwarf bean that grows easily and crops well. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

Bean Mayflower - another one from last year's swaps. Weak, scrambling climber, very well filled short pods. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

Climbing French Bean Giant Purple - a very vigorous and healthy grower needing tall strong supports. Originally from HDRA. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

Babington Leek (page down) - 3 topsets for growing on. They will make decent sized plants in year or two.

Pumpkin Whangapararoa Crown - These are similar to Crown Prince but open pollinated. Cucurbita Maxima. Available after January to allow selection for long keepers. 10 seeds, 2009 harvest.

Tomato Salt Spring Sunrise - Although this is reputed to have blight resistance I've not found it to be particularly so. However, it's a reliable mid season bush tomato which grows outside most summers in the south of England/Northern France. Flavour is o.k. and I've developed a fondness for it. 15 seeds, 2009 harvest.

*** UPDATE ON ULLUCO 10/1/2010 ***

There will be no ulluco available this year due to the extreme weather conditions which trashed the crop before I could get it out of the ground.

*** Oca Update on 2/3/2010 ***

Some oca tubers, not of the best quality but they will grow, are available. Supply depends on demand so if you're interested let me know ASAP

*** Update on 11/4/2010 ***

Swaps closed for the season, come back next autumn to see what's available then.

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

Monday 19 October 2009

Marking time

Haws in the Hedge at Little Linford Wood.

The process of readjustment to life in the UK is proving harder than usual this year. As a result the blog is suffering a little, there is simply nothing to write about.

Reedmace in a tiny wildlife pond, often mistakenly called Bulrush.

So at the weekend we went for a walk in a local wildlife haven, Little Linford Woods. It's not a large wood but is secluded and managed for wildlife.

Hazel coppice makes clearings for wild flowers, birds and butterflies.

Coppicing adds greatly to the habitat and diversity of wildlife but we were disappointed that this was being carried out in a rather slapdash way without any attempt to foster the ancient skills that made this form of woodland management so beneficial to man and beast.

The spindle bush has poisonous berries but very hard wood that was used for making spindles for spinnings and bobbins for textile work.

Too late for blackberries but there were many other berries like this spindle bush and guelder rose, as well as lots of haws like the ones at the top of this entry.

birch polypore
Birch polypore, Ray Mears would use it as tinder.

We hoped to find fungus but apart from a few small and fragile toadstools there was nothing of interest except good crops of birch polypore, sadly inedible.

MK skyline
Milton Keynes Snow Dome and Theatre dominate the skyline.

A lovely place and ideal for a Sunday walk but in Buckinghamshire you're never far from the signs of man. Central Milton Keynes is clearly visible in the distance.

Friday 2 October 2009

Planted today 2nd October

about 130 Japanese overwintering onion Shensyu Yellow and 20 cloves of garlic Jolimont.

Monday 28 September 2009

Seed Saving of the Second and Third Kinds


Lots of people will be saving their own seed this year for the traditional purpose of maintaining propagating material of favourite varieties for the next season. It's cheaper and makes sense in the home garden, as long as you take time to understand how to keep your chosen varieties true to type by working with the individual needs of the plants. It's something I get a bit worked up about when talking about heritage varieties and seed sharing, I want to know that the varieties I'm preserving are in fact true to the characteristics that made them candidates for saving in the first place. Anyway, if due care is taken and the seed is kept pure we might call this seed saving of the first kind.

dill seed

So what then are the other sorts of seed saving? Some seeds are saved as a food crop in their own right. This covers all sorts of plants from popping corn to drying beans to quinoa all the way on to herb seeds like dill and coriander. These seeds are never going to be used for growing on into new plants, they have already met their nemesis in the form of the meal they will be used in. Unless you specifically grow for these seeds it's easy to overlook the bonus harvest of a handful of celery or coriander seed from a plant that got away. That's the second form of seed saving where the seed is gathered and dried for consumption.

cos seedheads

The third type of seed saving is where by chance or the change of the seasons plants have gone to seed without any particular care being taken over their selection or provenance, when a row of radishes turns straight into flowers because of drought or when the rocket reaches the end of its useful life for salad. These seeds aren't really of much use within a formal varietal seed saving system, who knows what their naughty parent plants have been up to, but they can still be gathered and used for sowing where their lack of breeding can do no harm.

I spent some time today gathering radish, rocket, mustard leaf, purslane and lettuce seeds which I shall use over the winter in the greenhouse, sown into small pots as mesclun, my own mix for harvesting as baby leaves and entirely free. If you have a real abundance then gather the lot and use it as green manure, turning it in as soon as is a few inches high. It cost you nothing and will put some added nutrients back into the soil ready for your next crop.

Thursday 24 September 2009

The hunt


It took a while for the gloom and mist to clear today from up here on the top of the hill, no matter what the Meteo had to say about it. When the sun finally came out it seemed like a good moment to see if any sorts of fungus had started to sprout.

oak tree at the edge

So I headed off to the woods, with a couple of followers.


But when we got there, it was still disappointingly bare of any sort of fungi, one well chewed russula and half a dozen earthballs like the one above. Until we found this.

chewed cep

This would have a been a decent sized mushroom, almost certainly an edible variety of cep although it was so comprehensively eaten it was difficult to tell. No good for supper but at least it shows the season is finally beginning to get underway. Hurrah.

woodland cats

Not that these two gave a damn, they were just enjoying racing through the fallen leaves and pretending they were going to climb 30m tall beech trees. I'm not sure where Fatty Birdkiller is, sleeping it off somewhere comfy no doubt.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Into Autumn


I thought we'd really turned the corner into autumn a few days ago with misty damp days like an Irish summer but today the afternoon is clear blue skies with really hot sun and as dry as you like.

The cats and I went for a wander to check out the sweet chestnuts, not quite ready yet but at least there are plenty of husks on the trees showing promise, and to have another look for mushrooms. Nothing doing there, just one toadstool of a very nondescript version.

On our way we found this poor thing.


I think it's a young heron**, it has the stabbing beak and the webbed feet but the plumage isn't that of the adult bird. I couldn't see any shot marks although the hunting season has just about started now and think it must have been mobbed by crows as it left the nest. It can only just have happened, the flies were hardly started on it.


I've had a couple of inquiries about seed swaps already. I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to have to swap this year yet. Some of the esoteric items I received in last year's exchanges aren't sufficiently bulked up yet to have spares for sharing and most of the other items I'm growing are either available commercially or will not be harvested/adequately dried for a couple of months yet.

Definitely for swap will be French climbing bean Purple Giant, some Yin Yang bush French beans and some Jersey beans. There should be a few packets of Tomato Salt Spring Sunrise and the Whangaparaoa Crown have plenty of seed but as part of the selection process I want to collect seed from the fruit that last longest in storage which means a wait until next April before the best seeds will be available.

Oca and Ulluco - these are always in demand but my plants have been quite stressed with the heat this year. I strongly recommend anyone who wants these tubers to place an order with Realseeds, although at the time of writing they haven't updated their site since last harvest. If I do have any to share they won't be available until February next year. I may have Good King Henry plants, Babington leek topsets and Horseradish thongs.

This isn't the definitive list, I expect to make a page for Swaps 2009 in the next month or so when everything should become clear, so check back later.

** thanks to Dave Appleton at flickr who identified this as a young Gannet, very unusually far from the coast.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

I say, potato

pink fir apple

Yesterday was probably the last really dry day of the season. The rain came down today in heaving great buckets, good for the fungi crops to come but no fun to dig spuds in. Luckily I took the last of the serious crop before it came.

We've had a pretty good year for potatoes. Everything grew, blight was nearly non-existent and it's been easy to dig the tubers from the dry soil. This pile of Pink Fir Apple is the yield from about 3 plants. We have boxes of them and I'm waiting for some hessian sacks to arrive from the UK so that they can be stored more appropriately. We're going to hang them from the roof beams this year to avoid the losses to rodents experienced last year.

I also took up the donated New Zealand Blue potato and some of the Vitelotte for a comparison.

two blues

There's really nothing to show between the two of them. This is one of the issues I have with saving the so called 'heirloom' varieties. There is no way of knowing what you have, or that what you have is true to type or that saving it will make the slightest bit of difference to anything in the long run. I can't tell if these two examples of potatoes are sufficiently genetically different to justify their two names and actually, based on the evidence of my eyes, I'd say they definitely weren't. There does appear to be a slight difference in tuber shape but I'm pretty sure the original Vitelotte showed a longer tuber and I know that the plants I grew this year weren't in particularly good soil or healthy to begin with. The differences could be purely down to that.

I couldn't even find a variety listed as New Zealand Blue (or any German rendition of it) when I researched in the spring - it has to be a case of mislabelling or mis-identification.

Since I'm not really in the business of saving potato varieties I'll probably let it go. The real issue for me is that it's not just in the area of potatoes this problem exists.


I was going to write that the swallows left yesterday morning, but as I sit here typing half a dozen of the naughty birds are flying like maniacs around the yard. I don't know whether they left and turned back because of bad weather or if these are just some stragglers passing through. It's a good two weeks later than our nesting group normally set off south from these parts, we think they stayed longer to allow a late brood to build up strength, but they must surely leave soon, it's definitely becoming more than a touch autumnal around here.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Over the rainbow

green quinoa

The quinoa was a new trial crop for this year. Seeds came from Realseeds and were started in modules in the latter half of April. I planted a few seeds in each potlet and didn't thin, allowing several small plants to develop. These were then planted out a few weeks later into good soil, the multiplanted modules spaced about 50cm apart. No fertilizer was added.

Apart from looking like a row of weeds for most of the summer the plants grew strongly and quickly reached about 1.5m in height. Reasonably drought resistant, I only watered them once during the year, shortly after they were planted out.

Despite being sold as Rainbow Quinoa they were rather dull, the picture above was taken less than a month ago and looks like nothing more than a row of out of control Fat Hen but within the last three weeks a transformation has occurred.

rainbow quinoa

Glorious colours! Unfortunately this has coincided with some strong winds so the plants are toppling over a bit but for a late summer display they would even take a place in the flower border if adequately staked. Cover the rather bare and ugly lower stems with a row of rudbeckias and it would be prize winning.

Something I've only just discovered is that this quinoa, Chenopodium quinoa will apparently interbreed with Chenopodium album (aka Fat Hen) and presumably other chenopods like our over abundant Magentaspreen. This is a bit of a blow as I expected to be able save seed for next year from this year's crop. Still, I still have some seed left from my original purchase and will grow a seed crop from that next year under better controlled conditions.

Still to come, harvesting and cleaning. Harvesting should be relatively easy, by threshing the dry heads over a tarpaulin and then gently winnowing to remove the chaff.

Cleaning may be more problematical, if only because I've never had to do it before. Quinoa seeds are coated with a saponin, a bitter soapy chemical which discourages birds and deer from feasting on them. In order to render the seeds edible they must be washed or physically rubbed to remove the coating. Commercially, rubbing or abrasion is often used because it lends itself to large scale mechanisation and removes the need to re-dry the crop after processing but most home and small scale production is prepared by washing, with up to five changes of water needed before the seed becomes edible.

We'll have to see how this goes. If it's possible to dry the seeds after so that they don't go mouldy in store it might be a task that can be undertaken as a single job but I'm wondering, for the small amounts I will have, if it would be better to store the grain unwashed and only wash as needed. More reports as the situation develops!

Friday 11 September 2009

Kitten Diary #10

Where was I? Oh yes, kitten diary tomorrow! We had visitors, the kits and I, and so all normal activities were suspended for a while.

Although they were pretty shy of the strangers they got over it fairly quickly and managed to make new friends and fans of my family. They also gained some new working titles. Pictured above, Fatty Birdkiller, a name I feel has some Viking resonances in keeping with the Swedish family connections.

Slinky Stinky was particularly neurotic with the intruders, keeping a watchful eye and even extending his head for a tentative pat only to disappear with legs and tail flying at the sight of anyone standing upright.

Freshly dug earth is always a temptation for cats and the potato patch is no exception unfortunately.

Little Miss Me Me Fluffytail was her usual adorable self and quickly decided that whoever was sleeping in her favourite bed was her friend, which was lucky really.

Now everyone has left and it's just the three of them and me for the next few weeks. Time to tidy up and set things straight for the autumn break. The kits are 10 months old now, too old to be called kittens anymore so this will be the last "Kitten" diary but I'm sure they'll feature in many blog posts of the future.

Saturday 29 August 2009

More follow ups

late toms

The later maturing tomatoes. It's been a pretty good summer here but these three varieties are only just beginning to crop properly. The Purple Ukraine plum tomato (I'm an idiot and ate the best coloured ones for breakfast!) is only o.k. for flavour although the fruit is well shaped and the colour intriguing. It has stood up well to outside growing, I'm just not sure its quality is amazing enough for the wait.

The Scotland Yellow has been frustratingly disappointing. Last time I grew it, it was in a greenhouse and it did very well, lovely sweet fruit and strong, neglect resistant growth. It has grown strongly this time too and set huge trusses of fruit but few have ripened even now and the skin is hard and blemished. Excellent for a crop of green tomatoes perhaps. Of the four sorts I ended up with this year, this seems to be least resistant to blight but that might just be because of the very lush foliage which doesn't allow the centre of the plant to dry.

The Salt Spring Sunrise has done well again, eating one today I realised it has a much better flavour than anything else on the plot this year. Originally saved for its apparent blight resistance it doesn't seem any better or worse than the other plants but it's still an excellent bush tomato and I'll be saving seed from it for next year.

elephant garlic roundels

As predicted, planting the elephant garlic so late has meant the plants haven't divided into cloves but merely formed huge solid bulbs. This is actually quite sought after in some gourmet circles but I shall preserve the bulbs for planting early next year and wait for the more traditional form. There are also a few offset bulbils which can be potted up to increase the stock.

whangaparaoa crown

The first fruits of the Whangaparaoa Crown. I've removed these a little bit earlier than normal because I want to reduce the strain on the vines and allow some of the smaller fruit to mature too; we've had almost no rain for several weeks now and although the pumpkin patch is large the plants are beginning to be affected by this. They look good don't they? My plan for creating a landrace of these isn't particularly scientific, I shall just save seed from the best looking fruit and allow nature and time to do the selection for me. Eventually, the local strain will be adapted to the conditions of Normandy and at that point I shall start calling it Prince of Normandy or something equally naff, unless I'm dead before then, obviously.

Kitten diary tomorrow I hope. I should have weighed them today but forgot.

Saturday 22 August 2009

French Bean Giant Purple

Giant Purple
1. big flower, 2. flower, 3. beans, 4. teepee

This is a bean that came to me from the Heritage Seed library this year. All the beans had a slow start but this one has really picked itself up and gone for it in the last couple of weeks.

Just six plants are covering that whole huge (3m high) teepee and are throwing out side shoots which threaten to take over the supports of the neighbouring plants. The flowers and foliage are pretty and the set is good; lovely smooth flat purple pods which are stringless at this stage and good to eat. The seed is brown and flat, not large so probably of little use as a dried bean if you have alternatives although they could certainly be eaten if times were hard.

***Update*** The pods did get quite hard and stringy as they aged, perhaps due to the very dry conditions but the mature shelling beans were brilliant.

If all goes to plan I'll be offering seeds of this variety in this year's seed swap. It's not the bean I've loved and lost, but it's a valid contender for the vacated position.

Friday 21 August 2009

Really silly gadget

This is just very on the pond to leave food pellets for the fish.

Monday 17 August 2009

Life goes on

The first sweet corn. Well, not quite the first, we had a couple of baby cobs in our tempura the other night but this is the first to be eaten from the cob and it was delicious. The variety was Double Standard from Realseeds and although the plants had a poor start I think we're going to have a few good meals from them. I also made a later planting of Golden Bantam which are growing strongly but the weather needs to stay good so that they will actually seed.

Like garden bloggers all over the northern hemisphere I'm going to moan and wail about late blight. In fact we've been tremendously lucky, the cold winter, dry weather and a certain amount of spraying with bouillie bordelaise, the infamous Bordeaux mixture of copper and lime which is barely permissible in organic gardening has kept symptoms at bay until now. The potato plants are all but finished anyway so on those I'll simply remove the foliage and harvest over the next few weeks. The tomatoes are still growing though, in fact, they'd started to make new growth in the last couple of weeks and were sporting a lot of flowers. All that has had to come off, they would probably not have ripened the fruit before the end of the summer anyway, and I've given them one last spray. Some of the varieties have yet to ripen a single fruit and I do so want to know how they taste.

The Latah is in full harvest now, so it's not a matter of tomato write off as in other years but it's still going to be a close run thing for the Purple Ukraine, Salt Spring Sunrise and the Scotland Yellow.

This silly bird, a European Kestrel, followed a swallow home and got trapped inside the swallow room. We've had several young kestrels practising their hunting over the farm in the last week but I didn't think they would be so silly as to go into a building. They are extremely beautiful and to be so close to a wild raptor was wonderful.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Holiday over

the sunset of the holiday

Well, that's it. The long summer break with Paul has been and gone and now it's just me and the cats for a few weeks more.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Summer Photo Call

Paul has been taking a lot of magnificent pictures around the farm.


This is a female broad bodied chaser, one of the many dragonflies that live around here.


The kestrel perches on the very top of the pear tree, and this is about as close as we ever get to her. She and at least two buzzards hunt across our fields. We've also seen a sparrow hawk a few times.

wall brown

A Wall Brown butterfly, once plentiful, now much rarer.

swallowtail caterpillar

The gaudy caterpillar of the Swallowtail butterfly, living on my carrot plants. We are so pleased to see these, mainly because we saw no adults to lay the eggs and because we've never had Swallowtails here before that we knew about. Continental Swallowtails aren't as fussy about their food as the British subspecies and will happily feed on carrot or parsley in the garden.

sooty copper

The Sooty Copper is quite a rarity, entirely new to us so we were pleased to make the identification. They are pretty little butterflies.

Jupiter and four moons

I think this last photo is amazing although Paul would point out that it's only pretty good, real telescopes doing a much better job. We were outside looking for shooting stars during the Perseid showers last night and Paul took a picture of a very bright planet just rising. We weren't even quite sure what it was at that point, but the moons (and a quick check on a sky map) identified it as Jupiter with the four most prominent moons, the ones first seen by Galileo, clearly visible. This is strangely thrilling, bringing astronomy home in a way I've rarely experienced it.

There are lots more really fantastic pictures on Paul's flickr stream so do take a look. Please remember that copyright is still reserved under a Creative Commons licence and if you'd like to use any of his pictures please let him know. Thanks.