Monday 27 June 2011

All in black and white

black and white beetle
Leptura maculata - long horn beetle

The cats and I have had visitors, first some friends touring northern France in their very elegant campervan conversion and then Paul for a few days to celebrate his birthday which has been wonderful. Very social and busy. So all garden work, apart from harvesting stopped dead for a while.

It's also been incredibly hot, no news to anyone in Europe I suspect, but we managed to get sunburn even sitting in the shade which has to be a little bit remarkable for a western European summer. We don't have a weather recording station here, something for the xmas present list, but locally temperatures of about 31C were recorded yesterday, maybe hotter today. Tonight it's supposed to break with thunderstorms but apart from a rumble this afternoon all the clouds seem to have passed over and the sky has cleared again so I wonder if we've missed it. A pity in a way if we have as there's little chance of rain for another 10 days at least.

white opium poppy

The opium poppies, peony flowered poppies, breadseed poppies, call them what you will are just starting to open. This white one on the vegetable plot is spectacularly frilled. The Carlin peas are also in full flower and just beginning to form teeny tiny pods. Fingers crossed for a good crop there.

The spinach seeds are still not ready to pick although the redundant male plants are dying away now. The outdoor tomatoes look good apart from a couple that are probably affected by virus (and should be removed). Plenty of courgettes, flowers on the french beans at last, even the cucumbers have perked up a lot.

In the seed area the Irish Preans are just coming into flower and the Striped Bunch are climbing their supports although they're not in flower yet. I took the first Elephant Garlic today to send back to the UK with Paul but will leave the others for a few days more.

Greenhouse tomatoes are looking fine, enjoying the heat and racing away.

As well as some coloured poppies, the only one of which flowering so far is the white one above, I had seed for some 'black' flowered plants. These are supposed to be peony flowered too but actually the first one to open is determinedly single. Lovely colour though and I hope its siblings will be more fluffy when they come out in a few days time.

So now it's back to being a hermit or a nun or just in solitary confinement for another three weeks until it's time for Paul to visit again.

black opium poppy

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Another longest day

Female Broad bodied Chaser
Female Broad Bodied Chaser

One of the better things about having kept this blog going for some time is that it's possible to dip back through the years and compare dates. Looking back shows me that this year I am more organised and the garden more advanced than ever before but still I have doubts and disappointments that things aren't looking better.

Last year at this time I'd lifted a crop of over-wintered onions and some garlic. There were no over-wintering onions set last autumn and the garlic was later going in too. It will probably be ready in a month, the elephant garlic perhaps a little sooner. Now the nights are starting to draw in (terrible thought) the summer onions will bulk up. They're not looking too bad at the moment but as usual I haven't planted enough.

Two years ago and I had garlic and broad beans in abundance. Again, the broad beans were started later than usual this year and are only just beginning to make beans so even though the spring allowed for lots of work to be done, it really does pay to get some crops started in the dead of winter.

A whole row of bean seeds have failed, the so-called Jersey bean from HSL, I'm really surprised as the beans were saved at the same time and in the same way as the neighbouring seeds for Royal Red dwarf bean and that row has had 90%+ germination. It's sealed the fate on the Jersey type bean though, I wasn't happy with the provenance and although the beans cooked well if they're of poor fertility they aren't for the home seed saver. I've replanted with some Orca which I hope will quickly catch up.

More cheerfully, the Annabel french beans and the Ice Crystal Wax, which had stalled completely in the dry, have enjoyed the refreshing rains of the last ten days and are now flowering. The courgettes are coming on stream, I already have more than one person can eat, and the climbing beans are sending up their runners.

Here's to the long slow slide into winter.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Soggy Sunday


The wind has finally dropped but it's still pretty grey and wet out there.

Today I made an update on the Myatt's Ashleaf potato entry, with some more pictures and tasting notes. I'll say it again here though, they really are a very well flavoured potato with a lovely buttery aroma even without adding anything.

See the update here

Friday 17 June 2011

Tempests and tomatoes

tomato coeur de boeuf

The tomatoes are looking good, mostly. Unfortunately the Noire de Crimée which I grew from seeds saved from a commercial fruit have Tobacco Mosaic Virus. I've moved them out of the greenhouse and their future hangs in the balance. They need burning, but it's probably too late anyway, TMV is dreadfully contagious and the other plants have been in close proximity so transmission is almost certain to have happened. With better attention to seed hygiene it could probably have been avoided but I must have been in a hurry when saving the seeds and didn't bother to ferment or bleach clean. A cautionary tale.

I'm hoping that I'll get a crop from the other plants anyway. The Coeur de Boeuf in the picture is the first to form fruit but all the vines look healthy and are flowering.

Is it just me that hates the smell of tomato plants though? It's almost enough to make me give up glasshouse growing before it's even started again. Ten minutes of tying in and removing side shoots in the heat makes me nauseous and that awful yellow stuff all over my hands, yuck!

from the pumpkin patch

This morning saw some heavy rain which has wet the soil properly. All to the good as the long term forecast predicts a return to high pressure and dry conditions by the last week of the month. At the moment though everything is in a state of flux and very strong winds of up to 65km/h are expected this afternoon. This isn't enough to get terribly worried about from a structural safety point of view but I am worried my broad beans, which have become rather tall and willowy, and the peas will suffer from it.

And unless the soaking rain today has changed something it looks like my gamble with sweetcorn has failed to come off. Just two little shoots showing from 40 seeds planted. Most disappointing but perhaps I was expecting too much from dainty F1s by planting them that deep.

It was very pleasing to see the first flowers on the Carlin peas today. The plants are looking really good, very vigorous and tall. If they can survive the gales it should be an excellent crop.

carlin flower

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Novelty value

Last night's moon, there is a partial eclipse tonight but the clouds are back.

None of the things I'm going to write about are in a photogenic mood at the moment so this post will be illustrated rather randomly.

Observant readers may have noticed that this year there's not been much talk of unusual vegetables or agrobiodiversity experiments or interesting new plants that I'd like to try. This is because after several years of poor results I had become so depressed by it all I decided to refocus on things that I can make work, build some small successes and remotivate myself into attempting greater things another year. So far, this has been working quite well, the vegetable garden is looking pretty good and the problems are acts of nature. Laxness and accidie on my part are not to blame.

Still, although I've tried not to worry about new stuff for this year there are a few old experiments that still require some nurture.

more raven
Madam Raven in sunlight

Oca is an old friend, and hardly a difficult subject for me to grow any more. Even so, after deer attack last autumn and a very cold snap in the winter it seemed I had only a handful of rescued tubers to start the bed this year. Into the ground they went, but the saved tubers have been extremely poorly and slow growing compared to the vast tranches of volunteers which survived the frost and double rotavation in the spring. It's been hard to weed these healthy survivors back and I've modified the planting plan to allow for the self promoted 'row' to grow on. I just need to time harvesting a little better and I think we'd have these cracked.

bronze arrow lettuce and weeds
Bronze Arrow lettuce from the HSL

Ulluco: After several years of decline all I had left of these were five baked bean sized tubers I found when raking through last year's bed this January. With little hope I potted them up and left them on the kitchen windowsill. And they grew, four did anyway. I suspect they are all the same (hardiest) variety and undoubtedly riddled with virus and other debilitating diseases but they are still growing quite vigorously in a large pot. I'm going to to keep them in the pot and bring them indoors in the autumn in the hope of producing more growing stock for next year. And I really must get on with teaching myself micro-propagation techniques so that I can clean them of whatever it is they may have.

Sauromatum venosum a stinking arum

And then there's the Hopniss. I thought I'd been very clever to take a tuber as insurance against losses in the ground over winter. That was until I threw the insurance away, mistaking it for a horribly deformed seed potato. In the meantime the plant in the garden appeared to be completely dead, showing no signs of growth and rather unfortunately becoming a favourite dust bath and bed for a couple of very bad cats. I thought I'd lost it but finally in the last week of May new shoots appeared. I hope it will make up for lost time in the warm, humid weather we're having which should suit it perfectly.

And this has gone on long enough. Another day for the tuberous peas, the papalo and the chinese artichokes. There is one plant I'm trying this year which is entirely new to me, Achocha. This has seeds that someone on the web has noted as like 'witches teeth' and it's a perfect description. My plants are doing fine for now, just beginning to form flower buds. By all accounts these should be a home run. Let's hope so.

Monday 13 June 2011

Sunshine and showers

sun and showers

The showery weather continues but in the last day the temperatures have ramped up again significantly. This is important because until now the chilly nights have provided a measure of protection against the proliferation of blight spores. As soon as the humidity is matched by warmth for a couple of days then an event known as a Smith period occurs. The Smith period is defined precisely as at least two consecutive days where the minimum temperature is 10ºC or above and on each day at least 11 hours when the relative humidity is greater than 90%. This is just what the blight needs to sporulate and spread. Add to this the fact that frequent showers are keeping the plant leaves wet and the possibility of blight on the potatoes becomes almost inevitable.

Tomorrow, in a brief predicted moment of dry I'm going to try spraying with Bordeaux mixture. If the blight can be held away for another month we'll probably have a fairly good crop because of the very early start.

shot spinach bloomsdale

While I was in Italy the spinach bolted. Not an unexpected event given the circumstances and on the few occasions it's happened before I've just ripped the plants out pronto to make room for something else, but this time I thought I'd let nature take its course and see if I could save seed.

This was the moment that I discovered I knew less than nothing about Spinacia oleracae. It's quite unusual as a annual vegetable in that it is dioecious, having both male and female plants and requiring both sexes to be present to produce seed. It's very hard to sex the plants at the seed stage so seed packets do usually contain both male and female plants which is hardly noticed by most gardeners because they eat the young plants before the flower and seeds develop anyway.

For the home seed saver this not very complex but slightly interesting characteristic combined with a wind pollination habit that requires isolation of five miles or more to ensure purity means that plants need to be caged or bagged in mixed groups - two males for each four females - during seed production. It's easy enough to identify the sexes, the males are bit fluffy and the females have sturdy stems with big seed capsules but if you're growing specifically for seed you may need to plant in groups that can be easily contained, perhaps removing any excess male plants before you do.

Unless you happen to be five miles away from civilisation like me! I can't guarantee that no rogue spinach pollen will drift in from the village but given the distances and tall barrier of beech trees on most sides I think my Bloomsdale will be driven snow this year.

artichoke harvest

I took a harvest from the artichokes this morning. There are two seed raised plants which have proved hardy enough to survive though a couple of winters now. I think the variety was supposed to be Green Globe but as with many seed raised plants some considerable variation was shown. The smoother tidier looking heads are as Green Globe should be but the spikier, almost lethally thorned, sort is clearly a throw back to a more original type. It's still just as edible but the thorns need careful removal before serving, I use kitchen scissors to trim the leaves when the artichokes are to be served whole.

I made a jar of marinated artichokes from most of these, the recipe will probably appear on the Stripey Cat in about a week, when I've had a chance to sample them.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

April Showers

The weather seems to have reverted back to the months it missed. Currently, we're having the sort of blustery, showery rather cool climate you might expect in late March or April, although thankfully with little chance of frost. It's refreshing and good for the plants mostly, but is it unutterably shallow of me to wish the summer would come back again soon?

long walk

Although, it is unusual to have raspberries in April. Actually these first few fruit are very confused by it all, as they are on the variety Autumn Bliss which are not really supposed to fruit until late summer but I suppose the stress of being moved and planted out this spring has put the fear of death into them. Best practice would have me clean any fruit off before it matures this year, to allow the plants to strengthen their roots but there's only a few and I'm hoping to feed them to Paul for his breakfast on Friday morning.


Seeds planted a few days ago in the propagator are beginning to stir. I've put in half a dozen Red Ripper cowpeas, which were so poorly performing for me last year in the garden and will try them in the greenhouse. At the very least they should provide a little bit of shading for the basil and may even produce some beans.

Saturday 4 June 2011

A little bit of this and that...


I had so many things to blog about and now I seem to have forgotten them all.

Oh yes, they say it's going to rain tonight and tomorrow and be showery for a lot of next week. I am a true farmer because this much awaited and necessary event fills me with dread. You see, a couple of days ago I got the first blight watch warning for the Channel Islands (which is as close to me as they go) and a few days of warmth and high humidity is just what the menace needs. I'm reluctant to spray but don't want to lose the crop.

Still it's kept me busy, I've rushed around getting seeds into beds and mowing the grass because the seeds will enjoy the damp and the grass mowing won't.

view back to the greenhouse

Here's a picture showing some cut grass and the sorry dry state of the plot with everything stunted and small from lack of water.

Planted on the 2nd June, seed rows for kale and purple sprouting - late I know but it shouldn't be a problem since we won't be harvesting until next March. Purslane, coriander, summer broccoli and rocket with lettuce seeds Marvel of 4 Seasons and a home saved Cos (I can't remember) indoors in the cool.

The seed amaranth was planted out. It looks a bit small but I'm reasonably confident it will make it.

Today I planted rows of French bean Royal Red and the oddity from HDRA described as the Jersey bean. I was expecting to harvest enough dry beans from these to make us self sufficient this year but looking at the slow start and poor stature of the Ice Crystal Wax and Annabel planted some six weeks ago I'm not at all hopeful unless the weather changes somewhat.

white currant

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Myatt's Ashleaf Potato

myatts ashleaf flowers

My novelty potato variety for this year is Myatt's Ashleaf. The seed tubers came from Alan Romans and he doesn't have a lot to say about it, just that it's something of an enigma and probably dates back to about 1840. On the other hand, if you google the variety then the same old unsourced factomatic gets cut and pasted everywhere, that it was created in 1804 by someone's gardener and the rights were sold to a Mr. Myatt who promoted the potatoes under his own name.

What Alan and the European Cultivated Potato Database do agree on is the colour of the flowers. However, there seem to be few or no pictures available of plants or tubers, and what I can't get my head around is why the monicker 'ashleaf' has been appended to them. The plants growing in my garden now have fairly ordinary foliage for an older style potato, and of the ten sorts of spud currently in the garden the only one that has leaves which are markedly different from the rest is the modern cultivar Ambo

What do you think? Does that look like an ashleaf to you?

myatts ashleaf

I'll update this entry later when I've taken some potatoes up, they're not quite ready yet.

***UPDATED 19-6-2011***

myatts ashleaf freshly dug

This is the yield from two plants so not a huge cropper although the dry weather may have stopped full development. The plants are still looking healthy at this stage and have formed many potato berry fruits which makes them good candidates for breeding programmes.

We ate some about a week ago and the flavour was very good. Paradoxically this is a bit annoying because in every other respect I can find no benefit in growing these potatoes over any other, but good eating is the key attribute so I may grow them again anyway.

The tubers are looking rather scabby. This is common scab and I don't think it's a particular failing of the variety, all the potatoes are suffering to an extent because the very dry soil has produced ideal conditions for the infection.

myatts ashleaf washed