Wednesday 30 March 2011


So the rains came, and my partner left and now it's that strange moment of dislocation between one established pattern of existence and the other more self-reliant mode where it's just me and the cats and certain forms of thought are closed off.

I took advantage of a brief gap in the inundation to try for a picture of a puddle just to prove a point, it really did rain today, but water is strangely passive and lacking in dynamism when it's just lying there. Not one of my best shots.

It's not all misery though. Yesterday I sowed the first round of green manure on the designated plot and the rain will get that settled in nicely. This particular area of land is quite impoverished after some careless treatment in the last couple of years so in late June the sowing of clovers and legumes will be turned in. Shortly after that another green manure, Phacelia will be sown. That can grow on until the autumn and then I'll cover it up until next spring to allow time for the plants to decompose and be incorporated into the soil by worms. I've kept back a sprinkle of the crimson clover to plant elsewhere as the flowers are extremely ornamental although it's not usual to allow green manures to flower for best effect as soil conditioner.

We planted the first few rows of potatoes, Swift, Shetland Black and BF15 and the rest of the land is prepared for me to complete the sowing over the next couple of weeks.

Also nearly all the tomato plants have germinated, even the old saved seed from market fruit. Which is gratifying if they can all be brought to maturity. We decided eventually where to site the greenhouse and as soon as it stops raining I'll need to clear the site in preparation as the tomatoes will be ready to go out into it within a few weeks. The green house is one from the garden in the UK, dismantled in January and transported over for reuse. Only a budget affair we plan this time to erect it on a dwarf wall to increase the headroom which will make it more pleasant to use.

Despite the almost summer-like weather the beech trees are still holding back on their new leaves. They could be very wise, it's still possible for temperatures to plummet in the next month. Mustn't get too ambitious before the season is properly started.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Turned out nice again

Home again

In the end there was no rain. I tried to call its bluff by getting out the watering cans and soaking the seed beds but no luck. We had a wonderfully warm and sunny day, eating our meals in the garden and risking sunburn if we left off our shady hats. Planted today; a row each of parsnips and scorzonera. The forecast is for showers and then rain on Wednesday. I'm sure it will happen.

future isothiocyanatopropene

There was a huge clump of horseradish blocking progress in the potato patch, so I took advantage of the visiting muscles of Paul and got him to dig it out for me. The roots spread over an enormous area and I'm sure there are plenty of broken off bits left to regenerate but the main crown is now removed and a policy of zero tolerance should see the rest off eventually. I took the harvest back for the kitchen although there is a good deal more pungency there than I'm likely to get through before it turns to compost. I'll have to see if it's possible to freeze it.

Wilder kitten

Our solitary swallow is still waiting for the rest of the family to catch up with him. We're a bit concerned though as the swallows recognise and hate cats and will buzz them if they see them in the yard. This does bother the cats a bit but they soon spotted an opportunity to swipe dinner from the air as demonstrated here by Miss Fluffy Raven. Our lone bachelor has decided to start his campaign early despite having no mate or young to defend. His first battle was nearly his last this morning when he dive bombed Crow who is extremely strong and fast. It's quite a worry.

Lion's teeth

With almost nothing cultivated to harvest at the moment I'm driven to foraging for foodie entertainment. The dandelions are in full bloom and so I thought I'd make some more Dandelion Syrup. Oddly though, this time the petals weighed in at 150g so I've set them to steep in two litres of water overnight. Update in a couple of days when the final product is available.

Friday 25 March 2011

Drying up

Sunrise over the wood shed

It's been dry now for two weeks, no rain. This morning the forecast was for another week without a shower. That's changed now but I had started to consider the need to water the new planted seeds, not something one often worries about in March. Nothing is up yet, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening beneath the soil. Once the seed starts to germinate there can be no setbacks or accidents, there are no more natural strategies for protecting the new life, it must grow or die in the attempt.

So although already I mourn the passing of the blessed sunshine, I can't really complain at the 40% chance of showers forecast for the next few days.

Today, it was too hot for sustained work, or maybe I was just too twitchy at the thought of Paul arriving tomorrow. I mooched about clearing the weed from the water lily, pulling up grass from around the hops, moving small clumps of mint and comfrey to new spots as they were blocking an area that will need to be dug this weekend. I didn't seem to get anything of significance done.

But, I did see the first swallow. He, or she, swooped in from the southwest, looped the loop in the yard, made a practise run at the entrance to the swallow house, then pulled out and disappeared back into the ether.

And with that it's time to stem this flood of daily posting. I can witter on like a swallow about my lovely life here but in the end it starts to become repetitive and meaningless. I'm going to cut back to a couple of posts a week which I hope will have more of interest to report in them.

Sunset behind the wires

Thursday 24 March 2011

Seed journal entry

A slice through an oak tree

I'm having a bit of trouble with the little Ixus 330 camera. It's eight, maybe nine years old and has served me well but the rechargeable battery is nearly defunct and will only hold a charge for 20 minutes or so and the memory cards have become corrupted, a card that should hold 64 shots is only managing to take 4 at the moment. I can replace the battery, just need to source it and I'm sure I can reformat the card with the right tools. Unfortunately I'm not clever enought at Linux to get to the bottom of the problem via this little netbook. However, my big computer is on its way so something will probably get sorted in a day or two. And with it, my Nikon camera, so maybe I won't need to fettle the Ixus after all. I think I will though, it's not dead until it's dead and it's been a fantastic tool.

Then all I have to solve is Flickr oversharpening everything I send it.

Anyway, the point of this entry is to record the seeds I sowed today. I was very good and sorted the entire mess of seed storage, re-organising as I went. It should be much easier to approach now.

In the heated propagator went 9 sorts of tomatoes; Salt Spring Sunrise, my favourite outside bush tomato and then in much smaller quantities Longkeeper and Beefsteak from the Heritage Seed library although they're not listed online. Some home saved seed from plants I've grown and from the market, Coeur de boeuf, Noir de Crimée and something enigmatically described as Black which I think is actually Purple Ukraine but could be anything. Latah and Tondo di Manduria, both trials for outdoor bush tomatoes which haven't usurped Salt Spring but do have some merits. Finally, a few Gezahnte Bührer-Keel. Last year I had a few fruit but the plants suffered in the open air and didn't show their best. This year, hoping the greenhouse will be assembled in time, conditions should be much better for them.

I also started some basil, tomatillos, Hungarian hot wax peppers (rather late), purslane and too many other things to remember right now! Outside in modules I planted various annual flower seeds, sweet peas, poppies, nasturtiums, things like that. I could have sowed direct but the bed isn't ready yet, victim of the time I've spent on the vegetables.

Oh, and the lawn mowing season has started although I nearly trashed the lawnmower almost immediately, still that's a story for another day.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Don't forget to breathe


The Ragondin is back. I spotted it twice today, browsing on weed in the sheep dip pond. I'll have to sneak out tomorrow a bit more quietly and take its snap.

The first year we were here I saw one, some, but they disappeared quite quickly before the summer and we haven't seen any since. I thought the hunters must have had them, coypu makes a nice stew apparently, but of course nature abhors a vacuum. We have a desirable residence for a bank dwelling rodent and someone was bound to take the vacancy.

I rather wish they hadn't. Although they are herbivores and mild mannered they do mine the sides of the stream and pond for their homes and cause damage to the drainage. The one I saw today disappeared down the feeder pipe for the pond, which proves a couple of things, one that the coypu is quite agile and two that the pipe must be clear of obstruction, apart from ragondin that is. I think we'll have to net the entry point, I don't want giant water rats in my pond.

The gardening is coming along very well. Today I planted the oca. It's the first time I've planted them direct, normally starting them out in pots in the greenhouse but the strays I dug up when clearing the old bed are already sprouting after a winter outside. I've planted them deep, I think they'll stand a light frost if it comes. Four rows, one each of red, pink and white and one of the rosy pink sorts sent to me last year.

However I've noticed a marked reluctance in myself to plant seeds... don't know what that's all about but I can't wait any longer to get started with things like tomatoes . Tomorrow is designated seed sowing day no matter how enticing a bit of hard digging or bramble clearance seems.

This little bush of crack willow is in entirely the wrong place, growing up through the paving by the house. So pretty though, and the bees love it.


Tuesday 22 March 2011

Excellent customer service

Visa Tools who sold me my wonderful bramble scythe have become customer service heroes. Whilst whacking around the brambles I managed to shake loose a grub screw that holds the blade to the handle (dismounting the blade is essential for sharpening) and lose it completely in the undergrowth. The kind folk at Visa Tools have sent me a replacement gratis. I can't thank them enough. They have all sorts of wonderful tools so take a look at their website and see what you can find, my list is half a yard long already.

misty sunrise

It's hard to express the joy I'm feeling with the current spell of good weather. Frosty overnight perhaps but warm and dry all day means a great start to the growing season. I can dig, plant, cut back and titivate without a care in the world and it's wonderful.

 misty morning

These pictures were taken at half past seven this morning, it's just too good waste lying in bed.

peacock posing

And look at this Peacock butterfly posing on the newly blossoming blackthorn. It doesn't look real does it, but there were several flying around today. I think I also saw the spring form of the Map butterfly briefly but it didn't stop long enough for certain identification and no camera to hand.

More tomorrow.

Monday 21 March 2011

The Plan


This is the plan. You can click through to Flickr to see it larger if my handwriting is hard to read. It's not all planted up yet, too early for some things. Mostly small beds, about 1m x 2.5m with earth paths between. In fact, this part is pretty much the square metre garden writ large.

The asparagus bed, Babington leeks and Welsh onions are in place from last year and growing on. I may move some or all of these in the autumn.

Already in are the onions sets and today I planted the broad beans, peas, chard and spinach with short rows of Bronze Arrow lettuce and Long White radish (from home saved seed).

If it all looks a bit vague towards the quinoa side that's because it is for now. I have to fit some field tomatoes and some other stuff in somewhere. I'm also not entirely sure which climbing beans to choose, the ones mentioned are definitely in, there are half dozen others that I can't make my mind up about but only room for a couple.

The row of comfrey will be deprecated, to use a computing term, throughout the next year. It's useful green manure but in its present spot forms an artificial barrier I've decided we don't need. I'm going to split the plants and resite some, then cut these poor specimens to death over the summer before (attempting to) rooting them out entirely in the autumn.

The green manure patch is in preparation for potatoes next year. I've decided on two crops of green manure with the plot being covered in November until planting time. I'm also covering some new plots along the edges of the existing cultivation to claw back some area after releasing the stony patch.

Not shown, the perennial patch with rhubarb, Good King Henry, lovage, sculpit, tuberous peas etc. It's just off the edge of the screen on the right hand side.

The potatoes are in a separate area this year and there is a small bed in the fenced back garden where I'm going to have a few plants for seed production, primarily the Irish Prean peas which were destroyed by deer last year.

I meant to have a long philosophical bit about seeds, sowing and getting things done but I'm just too tired. It wasn't that interesting anyway.

Here's what some of it looks like on the ground.

how it looks, on the ground

Saturday 19 March 2011

A snap of the fingers

Asparagus in its second year

Not a lot came through the winter. Some cabbages, oca surprisingly enough, welsh onions and Babington leeks and these few plants of asparagus. Last year I put 18 seedlings out and tended them lovingly. Only five, maybe six are still with us but they do show some encouraging signs. I have another couple of pots of seedlings for pricking out and replacing the ones lost by the way. It's going to be a couple of years yet before we can sit down to that first plate of home grown asparagus but fingers crossed these survivors have what it takes.

purple deadnettle
Purple Deadnettle

Believed to be a plague sent to curse the unworthy this pretty little plant is already showing its flowers. In an attempt to encourage still more butterflies and bugs into the garden we intend to plant more weeds this year. Our wildflower patches this year will be on the stretch of ground that is being let go from the veg plot and a space actually almost in the middle of the main vegetable beds at the base of an apple tree where we can't cultivate for fear of damaging the roots. I'm still in two minds about increasing the number of Buddleias as they can become a weedy menace and are by no means native but I saw the first Brimstone, Comma and Peacock butterflies today and having more flowers for nectar does seem enticing.


This is one of the projects I think would make a good volunteer task. Our front gate has needed rehanging since before we were here and dragging the wretched thing open and closed when I need to go through one of my most hated jobs. We just need to drop four strong new posts deep into the grounds, anchor them and then rehang the gate so that it swings instead of ploughs. A few tidy fence poles and a new letter box and we'd be the smartest entrance in the village. Well, I can dream.

The exhausted cat below was a bit disgusted with me when he found the point of our long walk was to take pictures of the gate. Next time I'll have to take them into the forest where it's much more suitable for catty pursuits.

exhausted cat

Friday 18 March 2011

Peas underground


The plan is started...

but I meant to blog these peas yesterday and forgot. The picture is from last summer, there was nothing much to see above ground except a tangle of fragile and nearly disintegrated hair thin stems.

Clearing ground for the rotavator yesterday made me look for the home of the tuberous rooted pea that was left to over winter near the rhubarb. I was amazed to find a lot (about 15) good sized roots there. I've split them up and replanted some in a short row near the other perennial plants and put a few into a pot as back up in case the slugs come, as fearfully predicted by Rhizowen. It might be a difference in soil or the close proximity of the oxalic acid rich foliage of the rhubarb but I've seen very little damage from the slimy ones. So far. Fingers crossed.

Thursday 17 March 2011

A cunning plan...

empty slate

is just what I need and don't have.

I've spent the last couple of days preparing the ground. I have broad bean seeds, onion sets, peas all waiting to go into it and I have not the slightest idea where to put them.

Other people have rotations, layouts, garden design software even. They keep diaries and log books. They follow a scheme and know what's what. They even know where what's going to go.,

Oh, I have some vague notion. I've read all the books and with an inbuilt fear of bowing to any authority I have airily mashed them up in my head with the full intention of synthesising a better, more comprehensive and efficient new order. This lofty ambition seems to be way beyond my remaining brain cells. Frankly, the back of an envelope with coffee stains on it looks better than my mental map at the moment.

Such lackadaisical method as I have is broadly this. Cover a patch of ground in the autumn, call it the new potato patch. Come the spring, dig it and plant potatoes. The beans. peas and pumpkins go into the old potato patch and everything else follows into their vacated spot.

However, after four, no, five years of this mayhem I'm running out of new places for the potato patch. This year they're going to be a clearing crop for my oft delayed herb garden but that will be the last time they can dig their toes in the soil there. The very first potato patch is going to be returned to nature as it is irredeemably stony compared to almost anywhere else on the planet and I am going to have to start re-using land unless I plan to put the whole 9 hectares over to vegetables through the coming seasons.

Tonight, I will make that plan. Probably.

In other news, the sun finally came out this evening for a brief moment so here is a picture of some rhubarb. More soon.


Wednesday 16 March 2011

Early days

rook and raven
Raven and Rook at the wood shed.

It was a really splendid spring day yesterday but this morning it's thick with fog. The forecast is for more sunshine later so this is my excuse to huddle in front of the fire and write a blog entry until it improves.

We've been here for a few days now. At least we have a list of some of the more pressing tasks.

Heart of Oak

Paul made a start on dismantling the fallen oak tree. It's often more dangerous to tackle a fallen tree than to cut a standing one as it can be hard to judge which branches are taking the most weight. Cut the wrong support and the whole thing could tumble over onto you. However, with care and starting at the top he's managed to chainsaw quite a lot into manageable chunks that I'm carrying away to the woodshed to be split with an axe for firewood. There are also a number of larger sections, too heavy to move that will have to be split with wedges and sledge hammers before further processing. They are almost too large for the chainsaw.

We're still not sure what to do with main trunk. It's a very usefully sized piece of hardwood that would make several much needed replacement gate posts or even a beam for renovating the cider house but it's so heavy that it's beyond ordinary person power to manage it and we have nothing powerful enough to help. It may yet end up being reduced to firewood. At least it would keep us warm for a long time.

Brambles as high as my head

These are just some of the brambles that are threatening to take over the whole farm. I have a trusty bramble scythe with a lethal blade but it doesn't wield itself and the work is very tiring. My hands are blistered and I'm covered in holes made by vicious bramble spines. The scythe is a little better at the job than the powered brush cutter and much quieter so I prefer it to the more modern method. At the moment all I can do is try to keep the patches from spreading, I dream of the day when we have a tractor with a suitable cutter to reduce the whole lot to a pile of shreddings.

Flowering Box

The box hedge is flowering and in the sunshine one can smell its potent, almost offensively musky, scent all over the garden. Yesterday I saw the first butterfly of the year, a small tortoiseshell. There were also quite a lot of bumblebees searching out the dandelion flowers. The birds are nesting, we have sparrows again this year after a couple of years of their absence and many Polly Dishwashers, known here as the naughty birds for their habit of posing on just the wrong side of the roof ridge when we're trying to take their pictures. I've linked to the RSPB and they show the British subspecies as default but of course here in France we have the European sort; picture 3, race Alba.

The cats haven't found the move entirely to their liking. Rook in particular is missing central heating and the compact terrain of the back garden but he's coming around to it and Crow and Raven seem happy enough now they've found the mice again. The exercise will do them all good.


Sunday 13 March 2011

Home on the range

Well, we're back and nothing is too awful. Mice have wreaked havoc in the potato store and the cats are extracting revenge at this very moment. It's horribly damp and I've had to ditch my tea store but the roof is still on, and apart from the fallen tree there seems to be no winter storm damage at all. It's comfortingly mild. That's not to say it's warm, we're still a two fires all day household but there's nothing to fear from the weather.

Not many vegetables have come through the winter to fuel the hungry gap. This is partly my fault, I didn't really attempt any winter hardy veg this year, too despondent at the thought of renewed deer attack. This cabbage is the loose leafed one from Realseeds, I forget the exact variety for the moment, it was a useful resource for a small household last autumn and seems extremely hardy. These small flowering heads could be left for seed but I think I shall eat them. I'm wondering if the plants would continue on for another season like the walking stick kales or other similar brassicas but they're in the wrong place anyway. I'll definitely start some more from seed this spring.


Are there any mycologists in the house? We found this fungus lurking like a displaced alien on the underside of a very old plank of oak that had overwintered outside. We haven't been able to identify it and neither has anybody else we've shown it to. If you have any suggestions about what it might be we'd love to hear them.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Back to the Farm


Dedicated readers will notice I just posted an entry like this on Stripey Cat. Not an intentional action but I'm going to leave it there. The change of venue affects my cooking just as much as it affects the rest of life.

It's an earlier start than many years. In a way that should have some benefits, fewer small plants to transport, the opportunity to take advantage of dry days and get ahead on land preparation but it also has some drawbacks. Each year it becomes harder and harder to take the isolation away from my partner and my concern that we will never be able to enjoy it together grows.

Still, it's quite exciting. We will have a whole oak tree to dismantle. It fell over in the winter, narrowly missing the woodshed. I think the roots must have been undermined by flooding from the stream behind. That should contribute nicely to the woodpile and provide some green oak for woodworking.

And there are lots of other small projects to get up and running. If you would like to spend a couple of weeks as a house guest, receiving board and lodging in return for some volunteer work on a plot that welcomes attention email me here. We can talk about it.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Happy St. David's Day

Hurrah for Spring

The crocuses are up again although this is a picture from last year.

Somehow the rest of February has slipped away and still nothing much has happened. There are a couple of pots of seedling asparagus plants, which might provide a crop in three years time. I've put some garlic in pots because that was the only way to get them started. A lot of lot of seeds have arrived.

One thing that did get planted in a hurry, the sea kale seeds from Chiltern Seeds. This is the third time I've tried to start this seaside gourmet's delight from seed. The seed is sent from cold storage so it's obviously very short lived and I've never yet managed to get any to germinate. If this batch fails then I'll have to buy some plants for the perennial patch.

All the seed potatoes have arrived. We've rather more BF15 seed tubers than we need, if anyone local to Newport Pagnell would like a handful.