Saturday 27 August 2011

Irish Preans

Irish Preans

These peas are believed to have come from an Irish Vegetable research project, although information is sparse and rather vague. I got my seeds via the Heritage Seed Library. They are quite novel compared to most modern peas, very large seeded, mealy peas that are flat and with a black hilum (the little scar where the pea attaches to the pod) that give them the appearance of small broad beans. They are a little like the Dutch Capucijners although the pods are green and not blue and there are other peas with similar characteristics in collections in the States and Canada. Of course, those were probably taken across with settlers in the past so the history remains cloudy, were the Preans some sort of reselection of an older type or new breeding from old varieties? If anyone knows I'd love to hear from them.

The plants are sturdy steady growers, big fleshy plants that will make two metres in height if they're well supported. The flowers are pink and dark red. Rather slow growing, my plants also suffered from mildew during growth although this doesn't seem to have caused them much check. I planted the seeds on 21st April and harvested today. There are still some greeny pods left. Most pods had 5 or 6 peas inside but a few were stuffed with as many as 8.

This year I didn't take any for the kitchen as I was growing for seed but the ones I had last year were very good as hearty marrowfats cooked with other vegetables in stews or just eaten raw. The pods can be eaten as mangetout when young but I think they will do best as a drying pea for the winter.

Irish Prean seeds

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Holiday break

small  copper butterfly

Wow, nearly two weeks since I posted here last. We've been on holiday, staying at home but resisting a lot of time on the computer. Today though, it's a bit dull and drizzly and I'm avoiding doing anything useful out of pure laziness. Perfect day to blog.

This Small Copper butterfly is a bit unusual with a green/yellow colour flash on its wings. Probably not new to science, they are quite variable and have even been seen in shades of black and white, no orange at all.

wasp spider

Wasp spiders are some of the prettiest beasts around at the moment, weaving webs in the long grass to feed well on the huge quantities of grasshoppers and crickets still hopping around. The zig zagging pattern is perhaps to attract mates, although we think we saw one little chap get bitten and wrapped before he'd managed to get his leg over.

carrots and achocha

Plenty of vegetables to harvest still although I haven't been very timely with sowing for the autumn, the bed is prepared but empty. The carrots have been excellent this year after a very slow start in the droughty spring. The achocha are now in full swing but I'm sorry to say I don't find them of much use in the kitchen. Paul suggests we try currying some, and that may be the only way to add some interest to something which is basically green and crunchy with none of the character of cucumber or nutrition of beans.

lupini bean

The last lupini bean plant is finally making some pods but with only a few warm weeks left I'm not hopeful of getting any mature beans. A pity, I had high hopes of these as an alternative crop which would fit into our vegan protein resources but without cover or further breeding work they're not going to do in Normandy weather.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Bean Parade

annabel beans
Annabel dwarf french bean

These have been cropping for nearly a month now and still have new beans forming. They are delicious when picked small but even the larger, goutier bean remain stringless which makes them useful at all stages. Cream/orange flower buds opening to white flowers.

Ice Crystal Wax dwarf french beans
Ice Crystal Wax beans

It's worth picking this old heritage variety regularly as the older pods do form irritating strings. If you get the pods young they have a marvellous flavour and texture that I find particularly good in salads. The older pods are still very edible if you take the time to string them, and it's not a difficult task. Cream/orange flower buds opening to white flowers.

Carter's Polish beans
Carter's Polish bean - a pea bean

I was quite sniffy about these beans which I received from HSL but they are healthy vigorous growers and setting a lot of very tender flat pods, attractively mottled with red. I've yet to see if the dried beans are going to be of any use in the kitchen but these are worth a trial to see if they suit your garden conditions and palate. Small mauve flowers.

Unknown long bean
Long Beans - name unknown

I still don't know what these beans are called as a variety. I've been calling them after their donor, Riana, but I'm sure they must be a named sort. Excellent long stringless beans that thrive in hot dry conditions. The flower buds are the creamy orange sort opening to white flowers and the bean seed are narrow ovals of brown/black colour.

Giant Purple bean
Giant Purple french bean

This is another heritage variety which I think originated in Australia. The plants are strong growing and beautifully flushed with purple and the beans (at least when young) are smooth and tender although, as with all coloured beans, the beautiful colour is lost during cooking. If I have a reservation about this variety it is that all the pods seem to mature at the same time or within a very short period which makes me wonder if this was developed more for the commercial grower than the home gardener. Still, it makes a good shelling bean before the seeds dry hard. Purple flowers held high.

White Emergo runner beans
White Emergo runner bean

The only runner bean I'm growing this year, it's an old favourite. The pods are rather rough but with excellent flavour. Pick them young and you won't be disappointed. The flowers are white and so are the seed, not quite as big as the seed of the White Spanish but still usable and a more garden worthy plant altogether.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Back to the garden


Lots of things to do in the garden still. I have managed to get the leeks planted out and the permaculture fans amongst you would have been proud of me as I sunk their holes into the undug bed where the roots of the broad beans still linger.

Today I took up the rest of the BF15 potatoes. A really lovely looking crop, no sign of the earlier dry scab and quite a reasonable yield.

bf15 harvest

The potatoes are doing well to avoid the blight after several days of warm damp but the outside tomatoes are in a terrible state. Not quite sure what to do about it, barely any ripe fruit at all. This might be a brown sauce year!



A scary sky nowhere near London

This isn't a political blog. I'm not really a political person, my understanding and interest is both slight and fickle but I couldn't carry on with normal programming when the UK is such uproar over the events of the last few nights.

A little unrest in the city isn't a new thing and after the shooting of a man during a police operation almost to be expected. When the relatively peaceful demonstration began to get out of hand late in the evening I (and probably many others) expected a rapid response by the police to contain and control the rampaging protesters. That didn't happen.

When the police failed to get a grip on the second night, it was obvious that this wasn't just an ordinary disturbance, if there is such a thing. There was talk of social networking being used to organise looters and plenty of pictures of youths taunting, throwing missiles and torching property while the police were either absent or in defensive huddles apparently unable to act assertively.

By the third night, it could have been scenes from a civil war. Shopkeepers and community elders struggled to chase away hooligans, law abiding citizens locked the windows and doors and sat in fear of their buildings being set alight. Looters blatantly filled bags and suitcases from the shops they had smashed open. The police still seemed unable to cope, barely able to provide protection for fire and ambulance services working to save the casualties of the mayhem.

We are going into a fourth night, with reports on the news of the violence spreading to other cities and the government recalled to debate and sanction whatever moves are needed to return the country to law abiding peace. I don't know why the police have been so tentative in enforcing the law until now but I hope that hugely increased numbers and the support of senior politicians returned from holiday breaks will give them the confidence to bring this to a close.

And everyone is discussing why and how this happened.

It's very clear that in the deprived areas affected there is little in the way of social responsibility or cohesion, no respect for authority which is perceived as having failed, a hopeless outlook on life from lack of prospects and a raging hunger for consumer items fuelled by the relentless advertising by global businesses who have no care that what they are offering is far beyond the pockets of those on handouts. All that explains why, when the chance was offered for civil disobedience and looting many rose to the opportunity, but it's less clear why that flashpoint occurred.

I have a theory; I think this was malicious crowd sourcing instigated by a very small number of organisers, genuine criminals who wanted cover for their own activities, the chance to put small businesses in fear of their existence, creating further blackmailing income and a way of terrorising the police. They pushed the buttons and the whole media experience went to work for them, social networking, television and newspapers shared the message that the rule of law had been overthrown.

It's not unheard of, football violence in the UK, which seemed spontaneous, was eventually tracked down to various groups of thugs who had organised themselves to start confrontations at matches. This seems to be more cynical and calculating still, exploiting the disadvantaged in a way that will only make their lives worse, purely for personal gain. I hope they're found and something very horrible is done to them.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Is it autumn already?


After finding the huge bloom of ceps last week we thought we'd take a wander around our field margins to see if there were any more. There weren't but we found copious quantities of chanterelles and this old hazel trunk fully laden with delicious oyster mushrooms.

It's raining again today. A bit of a pity as Paul is here and we'd hoped to do some outside work together, but if the fungus season has started so completely it might just bring on a crop of giant puffballs and they are our favourites.


The first fruits on the Gezahnte Bührer-Keel have ripened. So pretty and they taste good too. The seeds for these were sent to me by my Flickr friend Herbi Ditl who as well as being very generous and a vegan takes some very fine photos, so you should have a look at his stream.


Thursday 4 August 2011

Tomato, tomato


At last the tomatoes are coming onstream. So much for my naive belief that the greenhouse would bring this happy state of affairs forward on the calendar. Never mind, despite the setbacks and cultivation difficulties we're there now.

All the varieties are producing, even the Noire de Crimée in its bed in the isolation ward. The odd seeds that I had casually labelled Black are in fact Black Prince, easy enough to see now they are grown with cross referencing to my records. Don't remember saving the seed though!

So far I've had fruit from Coeur de Boeuf, Longkeeping, Beefsteak and Black Prince in the greenhouse and the Latah outside has produced a handful of small tomatoes, with some of the Salt Spring beginning to show colour.

tomato breakfast

But although the harvest should be cause for rejoicing I have to say they haven't been as delicious as I had hoped. The larger tomatoes are rather tasteless and mushy with the Beefsteak indistinguishable from a Moneymaker (why is that I wonder, seed from HSL). The Longkeeping isn't fine flavoured, although to be honest that's not why I was growing it but more hopefully for an ability to extend the season. Instead it seems to be early, prolific and largely pointless as I'm pretty sure it will have finished long before the autumn. Of those I've tried only the Prince and Latah are providing anything like a fruit I'm eager for more of.

In terms of easy cultivation and quality yield it looks like the Black Prince is the winner by a mile, the plants are strong with good setting and the fruit is pleasingly tidy on the vines. I also have high hopes of the Gezahnte Bührer-Keel, a Swiss-Italian heritage variety, which are doing much better under glass than they did outside last year (picture at the top). I just wish I could remember the name, I've resorted to calling them GBK in my head but still have to look it up every time I blog about them.

Black Prince tomato

Of course, some of the problems may be down to my growing techniques. There are plenty of rules of tomato growing available for anyone who wants to google them, everything from full regular (over)feeding to starvation and all sorts of management from stripping off every leaf to allowing every shoot to do its thing.

Mostly I've favoured minimal input and limited training, the last mainly because I detest the yellow stain and smell of the tomato dust. On a hot day it leads to migraine and nausea so I avoid touching the plants at all if I can.

This year because I've overfilled the space available I'm having to take a bit more of an interest in keeping the plants tidy if only to remove the places that slugs can hide and allow the sun to see the fruits, but I'm wondering if this combined with skimpy feeding has produced its own problems. I'm not convinced it's all down to culture because the Black Prince is working for me so perhaps it's just my choice of varieties this year.

With a feel for the way the greenhouse works again (it must be six or seven years since I made any effort at glasshouse toms) I'll be more confident with starting seed and choosing varieties for next year. I've enjoyed Potiron Ecarlate in the past, a magnificently large tomato with great flavour and Purple Calabash is another heritage sort that has good flavour. There are so many good fruit to choose from, has anyone any favourites they think I should try?