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