Sunday 31 July 2011

The last day of July


How can it possibly be the end of July already? It's not fair.

It's been a fantastic summer's day. Warm, still, clear blue skies and quiet all around. A bit too hot really but I'm not complaining even if it has made mowing into sweaty exhausting work and the flies have driven me indoors more than once.

first ceps of the season

I went out for a walk this morning and found loads, and I mean loads, of ceps. Unfortunately I was a day or two too late and slugs and the heat had pushed most of them past a point of no return. A pity, although I'd never have been able to eat that many mushrooms by myself anyway. About 10 days ago I found a few hedgehog mushrooms in the woods but so far haven't been able to emulate my Swedish relatives who have been bringing home bucketfuls of chanterelles for the last couple of weeks.


The papalo is looking good for now. I'm awfully anxious for it though as these are my last few seeds, and if I can't bring them to flowering size and fruiting before the autumn I'll have lost the selection. So fingers crossed there.

runner bean White Emergo 2

The first reasonable sized runner bean on the White Emergo. Deer attack permitting it's looking like there'll be a good harvest here in a couple of weeks.

broad beans for drying

The Martock and Ful broad beans are now mature and I'll be cutting them soon to hang up and dry before shelling and sorting for store. They'll make good eating in the winter. I would have had them in already but I've only just cleaned the spinach seeds and hung the garlic that was taking their space in the drying area.

Bronze Arrow lettuce beginning to bolt

And finally, the Bronze Arrow lettuce is beginning to bolt, pretty good going considering the temperatures and drought we've had this year. I'm hoping to save plenty of seed from them as they've been an excellent salad for months now.

Thursday 28 July 2011


Tomatoes - Beefsteak (HDRA) and Coeur de Boeuf
First tomatoes from the greenhouse. The big one is Coeur de Boeuf, seed from a market fruit, the small one a Beefsteak, seed from the Heritage Seed Library.

Beans Carters Polish
First pods from the Carters Polish bean, seeds from the Heritage Seed Library. These are still quite small, I think they'll be a bit bigger when they're mature.

Onion Stuttgarter Giant, a flat bulbed variety that I like. This is one of the biggest, grown from a set.

Below, the full onion harvest laid out on a netting support to cure. The weather is too variable to risk leaving them outside.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

For the record #2

mallow flower

Today I pulled the onions, I'd have liked to have left them a little longer but the on/off rain and sunshine was beginning to make them split and the battered down leaves were catching fungus and disease from the earth. So they're now nestling in the Tractor house on a netting frame and will stay there for a few weeks until they're cured.

I picked the first greenhouse tomatoes yesterday. Nowhere near a record but the plants themselves were living outside for their first two months of life so it's hardly surprising they're not much earlier than the outdoor crops. The greenhouse tomatoes are showing signs of virus stress with mottled and disfigured leaves. I'm so cross about that, but will just have to put it down to experience. At least some of the plants are going to produce good crops if I keep the watering constant, which is something.

Still no blight but that's only going to last for so long. I can take the tops off of the spuds now if there's any sign of trouble, this won't work with the outdoor tomatoes of course so still fingers crossed there.

Beans; these are not doing anywhere near as well as I'd hoped. I've had reasonable crops from the Annabel. The Ice Crystal Wax are flowering but very poor setting. The Royal Red and Orca are growing on, still too early to panic there although I'm tempted, it is nearly August.

In the climbing beans the Giant Purple appear to be doing o.k. as are the White Emergo runners although neither sort has set much yet. Riana's beans look rather weaker than last year, and the Mayflower beans are slow at the best of times.

The Carter's Polish are also doing o.k. The plants are big and strong, with pretty mauve flowers and the first pods setting are mottled with red. I think they'll be fine but the Striped Bunch have me quite worried.

Only four plants survived a slug attack shortly after planting out and of these four, two are climbing well and two are not being mostly bushy with very short runners that don't catch on to the poles. That could just be natural expression as beans are sometimes affected by environmental factors and will change habit as a result of it but worse than that some plants have round pods and some have flat. The most vigorous plant has many flat pods but I'm sure the little I could find about this variety on the web suggested the pods should be round. So it looks like these seeds aren't a pure selection and I won't be able to offer them for swap with a clear conscience. A pity.

orache seeds

Friday 22 July 2011

Third time lucky

is a really silly title for this post but honestly, I don't think I've ever blogged three times in one day on the same blog before.

achocha female flower

I'd been watching the achocha with some interest, since it's the first year I'd ever grown it. It wasn't doing much, just getting taller and taller as it climbed the net tied onto the compost heap. There'd been some little flowers but nothing fruit-like was setting. I hung on, hardly caring because (did I say?) I've been a tad depressed anyway for the last couple of weeks.

Still, on twitter yesterday, emmathegardener was talking to rhizowen about someone else's problems with it and that spurred me on to having another look for myself. With some help from Appalachian Feet who has some sensible advice and good pictures I managed to identify the start of fruit on my own plants.

achocha male flower and female flower

All the flowers are very tiny and as with other cucurbits the male ones are often seen first. They come out in an inflorescence on a relatively tall stem. The female flowers are singular with tiny fruit behind them, growing in the leaf axils, and have almost no stem at all. They're still very small on my plants but now they've started I'm sure they'll be romping away in no time. By the way, does anyone need any courgettes, as I have a few spare?

veg patch

The rest of the garden is looking verdant after so much rain although there are signs of some sort of leaf disease on the cucumbers and the other pumpkins and squash have mildew to greater or lesser extents. The happiest plants of all are the weeds which will have to be attacked quickly before they take over. Everything needs a good clear up and then more crops planted for autumn. If the weather stays bright it might even happen.

On this day - butterflies

It's not been the best year for butterflies and the recent dreadful weather seemed to be sealing their doom, but today in the sunshine, some signs of hope. These are just snaps, all taken today, visual proof of what's here.

butterfly large white
Female Large White

butterfly brimstone
Brimstone - this is the second brood, progeny of the early spring adults

butterfly gatekeeper
Tatty little Gatekeeper

butterfly ringlet
Ringlet - a very shy butterfly

butterfly holly blue
Holly Blue wouldn't sit still for its photo

butterly marbled white
Marbled White - see underside here

butterfly meadow brown
Meadow brown, still the most common butterfly on the farm

butterfly some sort of skipper
A Skipper butterfly but I'm not sure which sort

butterfly peacock
Peacock, quite a lot of them about,which is nice

butterfly red admiral
Red Admiral, another old favourite

There was also a Hummingbird Hawk moth but it's not a butterfly and it didn't want to stop for the camera either. This isn't anything like as many varieties as we get in the course of a year but it's a good cross section. I'm hoping with some sunshine we'll see many more.

Kittens and Flowers

here comes the sun

There's been no mistaking that I've been at the bottom of a very dark well of despair this last week. Today, after a morning of rain coming straight down like the traditional (and probably long forgotten by most) stair rods the sun returned and life seems worthwhile again.

raven - floating

The cats were pleased to come out for a photo forage with me. Madam Raven demonstrates her floating ability here.

teazel and bee

All the insects are glad the rain has stopped too. Loads of bees and butterflies making the most of the warm sun. The teazels are flowering now and attracting plenty of attention. Later it will be birds who enjoy feeding from the seeds.

Rook with cobwebs

Rook has such a pretty face although it's usually obscured by cobwebs or other scrud.


These colourful things are the first harvest from the ornamental gourd patch. Unfortunately although there are twelve plants there from a mixed seed pack this seems to be the limit of the variations. Still they'll be nice decorations for the autumn.

Crow looking

Crow was so jealous of the attention I was paying to the gourds that he jumped on the table and posed for his portrait, which isn't like him at all.

I took loads of photos so there will be a few more posts to come from them today. I could do with an annotation and archiving application for keeping things in order and making it possible to find stuff again. What do you use or recommend for adding tags and notes to your photo archives?

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Wish List Seeds

Fruit on a home grown peach tree, from a seed saved from a bought peach.

The weather has been lousy for about a week and shows little sign of cheering up. I know we needed the rain but now everything is soggy and dull. Despite saying I would, I didn't spray for blight on the potatoes and tomatoes and it looks as if that omission might be a disaster. Although there are no signs of a problem yet, the continuing warm damp is perfect for blight and while it's so rainy there's not much point in trying to spray now, it would be washed off before it had settled.

Still, more cheerfully (and with fingers tightly crossed) it looks as if there might be seeds sufficient to make a good sized swap list in the autumn. The Irish Preans and Striped Bunch are making babies, the Carlin Peas are weighed down with a huge crop. There will be plenty of Babington Leeks bulbils and probably a few Walking Onion topsets too. The Oca is growing well. Maybe even Tuberous Rooted pea seeds. I'd hoped to have Welsh Onion seed too but if it doesn't stop raining that's going to rot in the heads before I can harvest it.

So my thoughts have turned to what I might be able to swap some of these treasures for. I haven't grown it for years but the Strawberry Blite, Chenopodium capitatum is a fun plant and I'd like to revisit it if anyone is saving seed for swap this year.


An odd solanum I've been meaning to try is Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) also known as the Litchi tomato. I know it grows well in the south of France and I'm sure it would do here with a little care. The only thing I'm wondering about if it is susceptible to blight, don't know if anyone can advise me on this?

And a chance conversation on G+ reminded me how much I love Morning Glories, in particular the traditional huge sky blue sort. Anyone who could spare me a handful of a reliable selection that has grown outside for them in northern Europe would make me extremely grateful.

Morning Glory
Many thanks to Bill Barber for the photo.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Take the day off


These sweetpeas and lavender flowers are scenting my room today. I'm not a great fan of cut flowers but sweetpeas are made for the job. I'd planted these around our outside eating area but at the moment it's not really picnicking weather and it seemed far nicer to bring the flowers in to enjoy than wait until they were over before doing the necessary deheading.

The underside of a dead Marbled White butterfly

It's been rainy stormy weather, plenty of water for the plants but inhibiting the outdoor life. I did manage to plant some dill and fennel seeds. The fennel is from the kitchen so it may come to nothing but the dill was fresh seed so I'm hopeful there. I've also, I've just remembered, two types of chicory to sow so that had better go on the list, but I'm weary and depressed.

A friend who counsels in CBT suggested that it was o.k. to give yourself permission to do nothing for a while when all actions seem equally impossible so that's the plan for today, even though it sounds a bit like a good excuse to slack off and I do enough of that already.

cabbage kalibos

Back in the geek world I've managed to get onto Google+, the latest attempt to provide an alternative service (and cash in on the lucrative datamining therein) to Facebook. If you'd like to add me to a circle then should help find me.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Around and about

first cucumber flower
First flower on the ridge cucumbers

Another post about everything and nothing. I'm very aware that the blog this year is both more frequent and detailed and yet contains less than ever in the way of useful information.

I started with the intention of documenting the journey of our life in France and this year at least I've been trying hard to report on the progress of the garden here for Paul who is sometimes allowed to connect to the interwebs from his cell back at the salt mines, but that doesn't always make interesting reading for everyone. So I apologise for the minutiae of my daily life and promise I will try to bring more informative posts back when there's a suitable subject to hand.

sad cabbage patch
The red kale and purple sprouting patch

I am quite pleased with myself for raising our brassicas from seed this year. Normally I buy plug plants because previous attempts at seed raising have failed horribly. This year I followed all the guidelines for best practice and guess what, it worked!

There is a price to pay though. This bed, which contains 16 each of purple sprouting and red kale has used only about one quarter of the 60cm seed rows for each variety, leaving about 50 baby plants of each sort with no home to go to. It's not that I don't have the space (although cultivated land is in shorter supply) but we'd never eat that many vegetables even if I grew them on. But it does make me sad to waste them. Next year, shorter seed rows, this year I'll pop a few more in the back garden between the fruit bushes as insurance against deer attack on the main bed and harden my heart when I compost the rest. It's at moments like this I wish I was on a allotment because somebody would be pleased to take them off my hands and my guilt would be assuaged.

The plants look rather limp because I'd just transplanted them and the soil is so very dry, but they've been watered well and in theory at least we are promised showers today and tomorrow which should help mitigate the shock of being moved.

Just by the babies you can see this year's crop of Asturian tree cabbage, also grown from seed in the spring. Very useful plant and the few I left in the back garden from last year are also doing pretty well.

Elephant garlic bulbules

These are the bulbils from the elephant garlic I lifted last week. They are a useful means of propagation and should produce solid round bulbs next summer, but I've not been particularly successful with raising them so far. This could be because last year I was rather cavalier, tossed them into the top of a pot where something else had died and forgot about them. A few did come up but it was a tiny percentage.

Hoping to do better this year I looked on the webbyverse and found this useful article. It's a counsel of perfection but the advice about the hard skin seems very pertinent, I think it was my trouble last year so I've potted them up immediately and snapped the top of each bulbil with my thumbnail just enough to reveal the flesh inside. They've been well watered and my fingers are crossed. If they all come up I'll have 60 more plants to add to the projected 40 for next year.

French bean Annabel ready for picking

The French beans Annabel, planted directly in the ground on the 19th April, now have beans ready for harvest. Call it 11 weeks, not too bad especially since they all but stopped growing for a couple of weeks in the dry. The Ice Crystal Wax planted at the same time are generally larger and sturdier plants but are only just beginning to form beans. No matter as I wouldn't be able to eat them all if they all came at once anyway.

Monday 4 July 2011

Sunset on the 4th July

sunset on the 4th July

We suddenly have loads of swallows which means that, despite some tragic losses, most of our swallow parents have managed to raise their broods. It's early enough that they might even try for a second family before it's time to head back south but I hope they'll enjoy a rest before getting stuck in again.

Deer are still attacking the vegetables, this picture is one taken by Paul last year because when I see the monsters now I'm more interested in chasing them away whilst screaming my head off than sneaking up for a photo shoot. They did a lot of damage last year and it would be awful to suffer a repeat of that this year.

Gardening has slowed down a lot. I'm still bumbling around clearing spaces for leeks and overwintering brassicas always with my thoughts on where and how best to position them so that they can be protected from deer ravages in the winter. It's all rather quiet, very very dry again and too hot during the day to do much outside even though I feel guilty about skulking inside.

Friday 1 July 2011

The 1st

black poppy with hoverflies
Now that's more like it. Although it's not the first.

It seemed amusing to list the firsts achieved today, the 1st of July, but actually I did quite a lot of them yesterday. Just humour me, alright?


The blueberries have started to ripen which is just as well as the wild wood strawberries are pretty much over and I love being able to gather a handful of berries to have with my breakfast. Wild strawberries and blueberries are particularly useful for this as they ripen in stages extending the picking season for ages.

Another fruity first for today, blackberries! Yes, it surprised me too but they're good and will be part of the forage from now on.

elephant garlic

I lifted the elephant garlic as it was beginning to get a bit rusty. Not quite the first as I sent one back to NP with Paul when he left, but never mind. The yield is doubled from last year and they look good. The best ones will be saved so that next year I can have 40 or so in the row. Then we can really have a garlic party!

Other vegetable firsts (well, yesterday anyway) were the first carrot and the first pea pods taken as mange tout. There are some tiny french beans finally forming on the Annabel dwarf plants, the Ice Crystal Wax aren't far behind but both varieties have been held back by lack of water and it's still very dry now.

greenhouse july

The greenhouse; the tomatoes are growing well and there is loads of basil. No tomatoes ready to pick yet though.

And below the first flowers on the scented leaf pelargonium. I bought this in France and it was described only as 'orange' scented which it is, if you wrinkle your nose enough. Anyway, I can't identify the variety from this flower so it will probably be a mystery forever.

scented pelargonium