Tuesday 31 January 2012

Is this the real life ...

real life
or just fantasy?

It's been a long winter break this year, and we've not been able to get to the farm at all, even at Christmas. I have been holed up in my English office/workroom fulminating and generally being depressed about it all. Living in two places is so not my thing.

But today, by cavalierly manipulations, putting off appointments, skiving off work and generally just deciding to do it I think we're going to head over there and see if it's still standing.

Naturally this raises problems of its own. How are the tender new seedlings of chillies and herbs going to manage in my absence from here? Will I be able to catch the cats? Will we freeze to death when we arrive, having chosen our week so badly that it's probably going to be the coldest of the winter so far? So many questions.

I'll let you know when I get there. Until soon, I hope.

Monday 9 January 2012

New Seeds

new seeds
You'll need to click through and view the original on Flickr to read the packets.

It's that time of the year again and once more the deadly sin of greed has overwhelmed any good sense I might have had about taking on too much or wasting money on long shots.

As well as some Unwins seeds which were in my xmas stocking I've indulged in orders with Chiltern Seeds, Realseeds and the HSL. I rather fear that this may not be the last of it.

Anyway, along with some things that I've saved in the past but allowed to lapse, some hopeless recurring failures that I'm going to try one more time, Capers and Perilla please step forward, and a selection of chillies for the greenhouse there are a few oddities which I'm trying as part of the usual experimentation.

Oenothera Biennis is something I've been coddling along from a chance weed plant that popped up in Newport Pagnell. I was hoping to collect enough seed to try for a row in the vegetable patch so that the roots could be assessed for the kitchen but I've only managed to keep one saved seedling going in France which didn't flower last year as I hoped (they're biennial, just like it says on the packet but this one seems to want another year) so I've bought some seed in to avoid wasting any more time.

There are any number of odd salad leaves around, I'm very tempted by Salsola, also known as Agretti, but the cost of the seeds is prohibitive so I've put that on hold and instead decided to try Buckshorn Plantain because you can never have too many edible weeds in a garden.

I've also got some Edible Chrysanthemum. I have grown this before but never really got to grips with cooking it, so it's worth another go and if I don't like it the flowers are very pretty and brighten up the vegetable patch nicely.

Now I'm going to step away from the computer, because during the course of writing this I inadvertently opened the Seeds of Italy site and I must be strong...

Sunday 1 January 2012


ulluco crop 2008

This is the first crop I ever took from the Ulluco that I bought from Realseeds in 2008. Look pretty don't they? Since then it's been a steadily spiralling descent into entropy and failure. The harvest I got from these in 2009 was tiny, the harvest from those in 2010 laughable, just five baked bean sized tubers from which by some miracle three survived to make plants.

During 2011 I adopted a strategy of maximum care. The little plants were cosseted and kept in a big well fed and watered tub of compost. My plan was to keep them outside during the summer and then move them indoors for November and December. The dark couldn't hurt them and the cold house would still be frost and rodent free. They grew vigorously and I had hopes of rejuvenating the seed stock with a substantial harvest.

In November I noticed the top growth was looking a bit shabby but it was autumn, it didn't seem unreasonable - until I picked up the pot to move it inside and all the leafy stems fell off. Vine weevils had invaded the pot and chewed away all the roots. I found three baked bean tubers this time and only one of them has made a shoot.

But I couldn't bear to throw away the strong, if wilted, foliage. I washed it off well and replanted the chewed stems deeply into fresh compost. Ulluco are stem rooters and it was my last best hope to save them. The pot was sealed into an air filled plastic bag as a makeshift propagator. It didn't work exactly, the stems had recognised they must die and the winter light sealed their fate but there was enough juice left in those doomed top shoots to quietly produce half a dozen good sized tubers. I didn't realise it until just a day ago but clearing the windowsill for some new cuttings I picked up the pot to throw it away and spotted colourful tubers under the decayed leaves. I have enough of the pink spotted variety for half a dozen new plants and a few too small to classify for colour that might also produce viable starts.

To say I'm pleased is an understatement. These are not throw them in the ground Peruvian imports like Oca and potatoes by any means but this determination to keep growing against the odds means that my mismanagement over four years can be ameliorated, I might finally get to learn how to grow these vegetables successfully. Fingers crossed.