Thursday 27 September 2012

Sex and Death

butch noisy deer

This time of year a red deer stag's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, or at least procreation of the species by impregnating as many of the graceful does as he can gain control of. All through the evening, late into the night, and again in the hours just before dawn they bellow their challenges and assert their magnificence with huge hormone fueled roars which echo and reverberate around the farm, ricocheting back from the dense walls of the trees until the fields begin to resemble a war zone full of sound bombs.

The chap above is an anomaly, he has a voice to compare with any of the other competing beasts but he seems to be entirely without horns. Who knows what accident of breeding or health has put our man at a disadvantage. He seemed feisty enough when I took the picture, yelling his head off in the hope of picking a fight but I wonder how he fares with the females, who must take a full head of antlers into account before choosing a mate?

deer girls run away

It seems ironic then, that at the moment when mating is taking all their attention and all the deer are ragged with exhaustion from the long nights on parade that the hunting season starts at this time. 

We have been advised for this year that Mondays are the designated days for hunting within the forest and picnics and walks on these days are strongly discouraged. There are also special hunting days where whole areas are signed off limits for a day at a time to avoid accidents to civilians.  Fine warnings for the townsfolk who come out for rejuvenating fresh air at the weekends, more difficult for those of us who live within the forest boundaries and cannot simply cease to exist for one or more days a week.

The number of deer taken are limited of course, the forest is a National park, owned by the state and quite strictly regulated. The hunters too are supposed to have joined local groups, undertaken training and follow rules of the hunt but it's not too comfortable to hear shots near to the house more or less any time between the end of September and the beginning of March. The hunters don't just hunt deer of course, but look for duck, rabbits, wild boar and other more recondite prey like coypu, badgers and foxes, just for the sport of it.

Although responsible sportsmen are restricted from shooting with 100 metres of a dwelling I suspect few around here realise I'm in residence. Consequently, I'm going to keep lights on all night and light fires on Mondays even if they're not needed, just to give them a clue.

And maybe I'll renew all the Chasse Interdite signs too.

Monday 17 September 2012

Digging the dirt

Sarpo Mira harvest

I once got into an argument on Twitter with someone or other over Sarpo potatoes. Don't look surprised, you know you're not.

Basically he was sounding off long and hard about what a fantastic potato they are, cheap to run, blight resistant, perfect for organic and all the rest of the shpiel about how it was going to save the world while I was saying that although I appreciated the blight resistance and its hardiness as a plant, in any ordinary year with ordinary care it performed no better and was no better foodstuff than most of the other varieties we grow here and prefer to eat.

It seems we're both right.

This year, this sorry year, where conditions for all my vegetables have been poor, the blight as bad as usual and my motivation to keep on of top of things at a significantly distinct low it's the Sarpo Mira that have been really rather impressive.

They have grown well in poor fertility soil, they have tolerated a frankly appalling level of weed encroachment and their resistance to blight has been totally stunning. If the Irish had had them in the 1840s there might have been no famine and all history would have changed.

Yields were good if not great. They're not immune to voles as you can see from the picture but the plant foliage was still functional even after a season that had stripped the rest of the field of its leaves and the tubers are sound, free from blight decay. They keep well and cook o.k.; more commodity than gourmet but potato is something that is often used as a filler rather than the star.

If you aim for self sufficiency in potatoes it is worth having a proportion of your crop made up of these Savari Research Trust conventionally bred varieties and if you've a little money to spare you might take part in the crowd sourced funding drive to get new cultivars onto the National list.

We had unmentionably small yields of Red Duke of York, the Stroma barely any better, a few good Shetland Black but two regular favourites, the Pink Fir Apple and the British Queen, haven't even returned their seed weight in crop. Particularly disappointing as we had planted more rows of these which are so good for cooking.

Which is not say that all the other varieties were write offs.  The Ambo, which is nearly as tough as the Sarpo Mira produced a fair amount although it was hit hard by the blight by August and the surprise performer was Arran Victory, a very old and consequently less blight resistant sort that held out to the bitter end and provided nearly as much in weight per row as the Sarpo.

Arran Victory

Wednesday 12 September 2012



The end of summer is now upon us. Not that it ever really got going, but there have been some splendidly hot and sunny days in the last month which have caused some sort of recovery in the garden and my soul.

stormy weather

But this is how it looked today at about lunch time, the picture is entirely unretouched, it was that dark out there.  And then it rained, and now it's not looking so bad. The forecast seems to suggest another dry week starting tomorrow. This is a good thing as there is still a whole meadow to cut at the far end of the farm. It's been proved to me that I'm a true feeble wimp. The scary field that I was afraid to traverse with the tractor in case we both fell sideways was licked into shape in a few hours when the man arrived and took over.  So my ambition for the next short while is to take most of that final field and show it, and the tractor, who's boss.  Wish me luck.

Small onions

The onion patch quickly succumbed to weeds and neglect early in the season when I lost my gardening mojo but I'm pleased to report that there are quite a lot of small but perfectly formed bulbs up there hiding beneath the metre high magentaspreen and thistles.  Even if we only make a couple of jars of pickles from them it's an encouragement to try again and a testament to the hardiness of vegetables.

Sweet Dumpling

Many pumpkin seeds this year didn't even germinate. From the four surviving Sweet Dumpling plants it looks like we'll get 10 or so fruit. The bought in Uchiki Kuri plant had a terribly slow start and didn't really begin to grow until the end of July but now, if the weather stays warm, will probably make three squashes. The single plant of Moschata seems to have missed flowering entirely. 

It's not too serious. Although we usually have many pumpkins and squashes of several varieties they are often lost over winter to inadequate storage as we have too many to keep them all in the warm. The Sweet dumpling are a good size for couples as well, just enough to share as a side or for one each as a main course.

sun baby tomatoes

Although the outside tomatoes quickly gave up from poor management and blight the greenhouse toms, just a handful of plants in tubs made from supermarket carriers, have kept me in fruit for a few weeks now and still have more to come. The Sun Baby above were really impressively sweet to begin with but either they've coarsened or my taste buds have atrophied because they don't seem quite so lovely now.

The Black Prince tomatoes below are sturdy and reliable with several more trusses beginning to ripen. The harsh conditions meant the beefsteak and continental types haven't done so well but they've still produced a few pounds of tomatoes for salads.

Black prince tomatoes

And so to the chillies.  These have been more successful than usual because I remembered to start the seeds in the early part of the year before I lost all hope.  The Lemon Drop are doing well, the Jalapeno only so so. It took some words of advice from Rhizowen to get conditions right for the Capsicum pubescens, more popularly known as Alberto's Locoto which I had from Realseeds. They are plants from higher altitudes and need a cooler environment to set the flowers. As soon as I moved the plants from the greenhouse they started to make fruit. Now that's a useful plant and perennial too.

rocoto locoto