Friday 30 July 2010


ice crystal wax plant
Ice Crystal Wax Dwarf French Bean

It's been so dry here many of the peas and beans have all but given up. However, I was pleased to discover that these Ice Crystal wax beans have started producing and are looking well on the conditions.

Ice Crystal Wax beans are a very old heritage variety which mysteriously enough seem to be under represented on the web... just went looking for stuff to nudge my memory and there's almost nothing out there. Anyway, they are sturdy little dwarf french beans producing plentiful short pods which are almost white in colour as you can see in the picture below. The dried seed is white and rather small, about the size of a mung or azuki bean.

I've grown them several times in the past although the seed this year was newly sourced from the HSL at Garden Organic. The pods make a marvellous bean salad but you need to pick quickly and regularly or they toughen up unpleasantly. With any luck I'll have enough to offer these in seed swaps this year.

ice crystal wax beans
Ice Crystal Wax beans with some others for colour and length comparison

Every year I have a go at the Three Sisters bed system of growing maize, beans and squash. It's never terribly successful although I think I've got the spacing better this time. The maize is a green kernel flint type and the squash Waltham Butternut but the beans I've no idea about, they were part of a swap I made with Riana Laplace and all she could tell me about them was that they were grown by her neighbours on their plots.

three sisters bed
Three Sisters bed

So the variety could be something ancient and heirloom but it might just as easily be some very well known and modern type. The French aren't terribly sentimental about vegetables, they grow for flavour and yield and welcome new varieties that promise improvements in either.

Whatever they are, selected by growers in the hot south, they've had a perfect summer here and are producing tender green beans where my other french beans are failing alarmingly.

unnamed beans
Unnamed black/brown seeded climbing French bean from the south of France

Other beans that I hope are having a good time in this heat are the Lupini which are still growing although they do look a little wilted and stressed in the hottest part of the day. They are just coming into flower now and I'm looking forward to seeing how they progress.

lupini flower
The edible lupin starts to flower

And I'm kicking myself for not taking better care of the soy beans I started way back when. I have only a few plants but the weather this year couldn't have been better for them and so I've missed a crop I was really looking forward to, green soy beans in their pods which are called edamame in Japanese.

It seems best to grow your own of these. The soy bean has such a bad press for so many reasons and yet it really is a good nutritious foodstuff in moderation.

soy composite
Soy beans - Glycine max

Finally, I couldn't even bear to take pictures of the cowpeas. If they were going to succeed in Normandy this would have been the summer for it I would have thought but sadly, the plants are stunted and puny. Very disappointing. I'll try again next year but I suspect these are varieties that need high input fertilisers and are therefore unsuitable for my style of gardening even if the weather could be guaranteed.

p.s. just posted this to the food blog. silly me, now removed, so don't be alarmed!

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Playing Chicken

Not my chicken

One of the things that is most feared by any gardener of potatoes or tomatoes is blight. This year, partly through laziness, partly through a sort of inane over confidence, I've been ignoring it and so far, I've been lucky.

The first two years here our potatoes were devastated by blight - smelly rotten destroyed plants that left us feeling helpless and depressed. Determined never to be caught out like that again I signed up for Blightwatch and the Potato Council's Fight against Blight and instigated a programme of preventative spraying with Bordeaux mixture. By this time of the season last year I had sprayed potatoes five times and the tomatoes twice. It worked, or seemed to, we had insignificant amounts of blight. Unfortunately we also had a lot of copper spread around and the eating of a tomato warm from the sun in the field became a thing of the past. Everything needed a really good wash before consumption.

This year after the punishingly cold winter and conditions that are approaching drought the blight seems to be at bay. Although the blight organism is evolving and becoming more able to withstand freezing conditions we're such a long way from anyone else I think the blight spores here are relatively old school (how do I know, I don't but I can hold an opinion can't I?). More importantly still, the very low humidity prevents the damn stuff from reproducing at all, so the need for chemicals is reduced although we're paying for it in smaller yields. Constantly expecting the worst and yet doing nothing, we seem to have got away with it. If I had to take the potatoes up now there it would by no means be the end of the world and the tomatoes are looking fine, just need a few more weeks to ripen.

However, the garden is dying and I'm praying for rain. From all over the place others are reporting that blight has moved in, my nerves won't stand it any more and today I sprayed.

Saturday 24 July 2010


Skimming through blogs in my google reader, Agricultural Biodiversity pointed me to a post about heirloom cereals in Denmark. Interesting enough stuff but within the text a couple of lines that intrigued and entranced me.

There are apparently lentil varieties that will grow that far north. I've wondered about growing my own but believed they needed a hotter climate for success. Does anyone know more about this? Is there in fact, a usable crop to harvest or are the lentils just a green manure with nitrogen fixing skills? I'd love to know.


Sunday 18 July 2010


garlic harvest

Today I harvested the hard neck garlic. It might have benefited from another 10 days in the ground but I've found that if it gets wet after starting to go dormant it becomes difficult to clean and shatters easily. This is proof, if it were needed, that this variety was selected in another part of the world to this country. Ability to stand in indifferent weather is an eagerly sought characteristic in Northern Europe.

I also took one of the elephant garlics. You can see in the picture that not only is this as huge as you might expect but there are small offsets which form between the layers of the bulb attached to rootlets. A useful way of multiplying up the stocks for next year's planting although they will take a couple of years to reach full size. I wasn't expecting them to have flower heads but when they started to show it was intriguing enough to leave them. I wondered if they would also make bulbils on the heads like the the Babington leeks, but they didn't and I'll just nip them off next year.

And the Babington leeks don't seem to have liked this hot dry weather at all, they have died right back and a bit of excavation failed to find bulbs at any depth. I'm hoping they'll renew themselves come the autumn but in the meantime I'll have to mark the row carefully so that they don't get turned over by accident.

Still one more garlic crop to come; the Arno garlic, still growing strongly and miraculously free from rust. I think that will probably be another month finishing.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Day of the Bastille

Bouquet of Magentaspreen, the tree spinach.

Other people have blogversaries, I have the anniversary of when we first made our decision to buy this place. Happy 5th Year completed!

It's been rather a pared down season, oddly as the weather has been so dramatically hot. Apart from the usual overdose of courgettes and magentaspreen nothing much is showing any signs of being ready to harvest. Even the potatoes are much later than usual.

int kid and welsh onions

We've had a few of the Stroma but today I took the first sensible handful of the International Kidney which have been growing strongly but more slowly than either the Stroma or the Mayan Queen. They are delicious, so well worth the wait. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever taste a really good potato again and also if all the hype about 'Jersey Royals' was just that but I needn't have worried.

Talking of the Mayan Queen it is a bit confusing. I ordered Mayan Gold from Alan Romans but the bag of seed tubers I received were labelled Mayan Queen. Looking at the descriptions of Mayan Queen though, the potatoes I've dug so far don't match. They look like Mayan Gold! So I don't know what to make of it, I'll have to order both next year and do comparisons.

In the box, some welsh onions. I grew these from seed last year and they didn't do terribly well then but this year they're very pleasing, coming well through the icy winter, bulking up vigorously and providing an easy alternative to spring onions (or scallions if you prefer). Just right for me as I can take a few at a time as needed without having to worry about successional sowing or everything maturing at once. The seed came from Real Seeds, Helen's Welsh Siberian Perennial Bunching Onion and is recommended.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Available now!

Some of my paintings have been used as cover art by a friend on his recent publications.

You might like to check out

image of book


image of book

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Peas peas me

It can't be said that I'm a pea aficionado like Rebsie Fairholm but this year I am trying a couple of varieties from the Heritage Seed Library; Beltony Blue and Irish Preans.

Of course, in my usual cack handed way I let the newly planted seeds get washed out of their pots before they'd even had a chance to germinate so it's just as well that peas are self fertile as when I shoved them back in, after draining off about 10 gallons of flood water, the two sorts were well and truly mixed.

beltony blue flower

Also luckily for this gormless gardener the peas are distinctive enough that I shall be able to separate them again. The Beltony Blue are flowering and forming pods already. Pretty flowers as in the picture above and purple pods as below.

beltony blue pod

By comparison the Irish Preans are way behind, big fleshy plants that seem to be slow growing and have not yet started to flower. In fact, due to their late start I'm a bit concerned they won't make it at all but the fantastic weather we're having will, I hope, keep them growing strongly enough to catch up. I'll take some pictures as soon as they've something to show. The green pods will distinguish them from the Blues which will be a relief at seed saving time.

sex mad beetles on carrot flowers

I left these carrots to flower, not so much for the seed as for the foliage, hoping we would get swallowtail caterpillars (and butterflies) again this year. It's a bit early yet perhaps but the flowers were being much enjoyed by some randy beetles. Lucky sods.

Friday 2 July 2010

Run for the Omnibus

Sorry. Been distracted by having company!

in the field today

The weather has been so utterly lovely as well. We have been too hot to work much although great progress has been made by Paul on completing removal of the old wood shed with his bare hands and repurposing (a ridiculous verb that amuses me very much at the moment!) the materials from it for a new huge compost bin, something we've needed for a very long time.

The old lawnmower has proved resistant to repair so we bought this shiny green machine for 260€. I was very pleased with it until I went to take the picture just now. One of the wheels was dismounted from the height adjusters, either by brambles or during a journey we'd made to mow at another house. It seems like nothing but this is a similar problem to the issues of the red machine. The engines on these mowers are very good but the manufacture of the chassis and supports is extremely poor and unlikely to stand up to the sort of punishment we give power tools. I hope it will behave itself from now on.

boletus luridus

We've found various fungi in the woods unexpectedly early and this has surprised us as it's been so hot and dry, not fungus weather you would have thought. In the picture, taken by Paul, a lurid cep; Boletus luridus. Edible apparently, but might cause gastric upsets if not properly cooked. We decided to give it a miss this time but we did find a couple of entirely innocent and edible ceps the day before and enjoyed them very much for breakfast.

rose chafer3

There have been some interesting insects too. This is a rose chafer beetle, I find these to be the prettiest beetles and although my pictures are quite nice I'm disappointed they're not better.

The garden is doing o.k. We have just started harvesting potatoes, there are lots of courgettes and Martock beans but the more exotic and interesting (from some points of view) plants aren't really shining. I'll do a more technical write up soon but I don't think I'm going to be blazing any trails in agricultural biodiversity this year.