Monday 24 October 2011

From the third week of October

gourds again

It really is autumn and we had a cold snap last week that I thought would kill me because the men were still working on the roof and I couldn't light the fire until the evening for fear of smoking them alive. Of course, as soon as they'd finished - and it looks like they did a good job - the warmth returned with a stiff breeze from the south east. It's been another wonderful weekend, and although they say all this hot air will produce storms I choose not to believe them. What do they know anyway?


All the wilful disbelief in the world doesn't stop time passing though and I'm now in a path that requires me to get a lot of things here sorted and tied down for the winter before I take a month off to do the Stripey Cat pop-ups around the UK. If you do happen to be able to join us I'd love to meet you. Unfortunately I won't be using much home-grown produce, I'm simply not geared up to it this year, but if the venture is even partially successful it will inform my planting for next year.

One of the tasks on the list is to collect the wild medlars pictured above and from all around the farm. It's been a good year for them and the clement autumn has meant they've stayed on the trees to mature for as long as possible. They are just about edible raw now although so tiny that there's barely a bite of flesh around the seeds in the middle. Gathered up and allowed to blet for a week they should make excellent jelly and my plan to compare and contrast the wild with the cultivar Nottingham back in Newport Pagnell will finally happen.

I have managed to prepare land and get the overwintering onions planted. The garlic and elephant garlic go in today and I'll be putting bean seeds in envelopes on Thursday when the rain is forecast. The deer have found the oca already.


This is how far the Papalo has progressed. I was expecting purple poppy shaped flowers but these tiny bunches of stamens are protruding from the top of unopened buds. Knowing nothing about the botany of the plants and only having half a dozen of them I fear that this is some sort of mechanism for ensuring cross pollination that will surely fail in my greenhouse, now almost devoid of both insects and moving air. I'll keep documenting with pictures, I don't think I'm going to get any seeds.

Monday 17 October 2011



The roofing is proceeding slowly, too slowly if you ask me, and there's not a lot I can do to hurry them along. But the roofers won't work in the rain unsurprisingly, and I'm disappointed that two splendidly warm and sunny autumn days at the weekend were missed opportunities when there is rain forecast for most of the next week.


The butterflies had no such scruples about making use of the sunshine. Red Admirals and Peacocks were out in crowds, greedily eating rotting pears and soaking up the warmth before hibernation.

red admiral2

Harvesting is continuing. I tried threshing out the last of Carlin peas. It was fun, beating the dried vines and pods with a big stick but the cleaning and winnowing that was then necessary took nearly as long as if I'd sat and popped each pea out individually, particularly as the day was nearly dead calm. I collected another 800g of seed, some of which were made into dinner (after a good soak).

Recording harvests isn't something I've bothered with much before. Perhaps it would be interesting to see just how much we're getting and how close it takes us to food security but it's extra effort and I'm not sure if the day is long enough to add extra bureaucracy to it.

artichoke flower

Almost at the stage when I can put up the Swap page for this year. It's not going to be all that exciting I'm afraid but there'll be something at least.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Unexpected bonus

birdy - probably a Water Rail

Here's a new to me bit of wildlife from the farm. I think it's a Water Rail - Rallus aquaticus and this one was clearly feeling a bit under the weather when I found him/her resting on the lane in full view and at risk of cat attack. It didn't move when I went back for my camera and posed obligingly for a couple of snaps until it realised it wasn't absolutely safe and disappeared into some brambles.


We're having some work done on the roof which meant I had to clear a corner of the garden that had become more than usually overgrown and wild. Whilst hacking back some invading willow, rampant brambles and a much unloved hydrangea I also had to restrain my Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' or purple leaved vine. I've had this plant for ages, torturing it in a pot for years until we arrived here and I could set it free.

Finally, it's beginning to show some vigour again and to my surprise has recovered enough to produce a few bunches of grapes. O.k. they are a bit sharp but in a good way and it's great to find a little unexpected harvest like this. I won't try to train the mother plant, its place is in the wilderness corner but I might take some cuttings (easy enough, this plant was from an original I had in Worthing) and give them a more structured cultivation. And maybe even, buy a few more varieties for an arbor.

And so to something that I fear will never come to harvest, the Papalo. It's still hanging on in the greenhouse and has developed flower buds over the last couple of weeks but not one has opened yet and the warm autumn is dripping away into cool constant mist and drizzle. Without sun and insects any flowers that open are unlikely to set seed. Fingers still crossed.

flower buds on the papalo

Saturday 8 October 2011

Blessed Bee the Carpenters


When we arrived back in France it was just at the tail end of the brilliant Indian summer enjoyed by the UK and Northern France at the beginning of the month. And on the last day we were thrilled to see we had Carpenter bees, Xylocopa violacea, on the sweet peas.

carpenter bee 3rd Oct

I'd never seen them this far north before although I knew they were often to be found just a hundred miles or so further south. There were two and I'm hoping that means we might have the start of a colony. The bees are large, nearly 2.5 cm long (about an inch, the size of the biggest bumble bee you'll ever see), a lovely hairy black body and with a violet blue sheen on the wings. They are very active but not in the least aggressive and rarely sting. With luck they will overwinter in holes they have found in dead wood around the farm and come out next spring to make babies.


The bigger better photos here were taken by Paul but I'm quite pleased with my snap in the middle so I've included it as well.

These big bees are solitary and don't socialise much but I've been doing a bit of networking with bloggers during my absence. Paul and I attended a local meet in Buckinghamshire of the Cottage Smallholder forum where it was lovely to meet some other gardening and preserving enthusiasts.

I've also been following Emma Cooper's recent Write Club event where she encouraged guest writers to contribute articles to her blog. The event is closed now but the articles are still available along with lots of other useful and interesting information about gardening so it's worth taking a look. And I was lucky enough to win a prize! Not for my writing but for a lucky random number that picked my comment to this rather nice piece about brambles that has a great recipe included in it.

The weather has gone right off now and I'm in full autumn tidy-up mode, trying to finish harvests, clear up weeds and get prepared for winter. I'm also attempting to keep up with Vegan Mofo 2011 on the Stripey Cat food blog so posting here might be a bit sparse but I do hope to list my seed swaps for this year and talk about my plans for reducing the hungry gap next spring before too long.