Wednesday 23 January 2013

Tea and Kittens*

tea and kitten

I now return you to your normal programming.

Today I was thrilled that a kind friend living overseas sent me two tea plants from Tregothnan , an estate in Cornwall where they have a commercial tea plantation and botanic garden (open by appointment only). 

The plants are varieties of Camellia sinensis, Tregothnan don't say which variety but I'm guessing that these are C. s. sinensis, the Chinese form as they are considered hardier than the assamica grown in India.

Camellia sinensis is a shrubby evergreen plant originating somewhere between Northern Burma and Yunnan in China but it has been used for so long all over East Asia that it's not known how it came to be a cultivated plant. Left to its own devices it will make quite a large tree 15 metres tall but for tea production plants are kept as bushes to make them easier to pick.


It should be easy to grow on the farm as it's considered to be hardy to -10C, likes an acidic soil and plenty of rain. I already have an ornamental Camellia japonica (above) which grows vigorously in the shelter of the northwest aspect of the house. This would probably grow just as well in the open but that little bit of cover helps stop the flowers from frosting, which is always a terribly sad sight when it happens.

It's a bit soon to talk about how to process the crop as the plants won't come into full production for six years (if I can keep them that long) but Tregothnan say that trimmings and a tiny tithe of fresh green leaves each year until then can be used in salads and green infusions, so I'll keep you posted on that.

I wonder if deer like tea?

*By the way, I never tire of recommending the excellent Tea and Kittens Daily Mail blocker. Make your day a little more pleasant by avoiding all contact with that disgusting bit of media.

Thursday 17 January 2013

The North wind

rear of Lakes Lane from the common

It's pretty damn cold, to state the blindingly obvious, and all thoughts of gardening have been put on hold until we get some sort of a spring thaw.

Which has left me roaming around on the internets getting peeved and overheated at the number of miserable indignities humans inflict on other humans, animals and the environment.

Most notably was a truly odd piece in the Guardian, which I'm not going to link to, where the writer felt it was appropriate to put vegans in the frame for causing food price inflation in Bolivia. Apparently because we've caused such a clamorous demand for quinoa poor farmers are forced to eat junk food instead, it's cheaper. There's some other guff about rain forests and soy, conveniently overlooking that most soy is grown to feed the beef also farmed there and an overworked but valid comment about Peruvian asparagus, at least she doesn't hold the vegetarians responsible for that.

There are so many points that this raises I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities of writing a lengthy tome correcting all her poor reporting and mistaken interpretation but it's also the sort of thing that XKCD explains so well here, and I have to tell myself it's not worth it.

I will mildly remind younger readers that quinoa has been promoted as a valuable cash crop for the Andean subsistence communities, that food futures trading and globalisation are destroying many small farmer's lives and that the whole western population drives the consumption of quinoa and other third world products, not just bogeymen vegans and veggies who quite frankly are more likely to be aware of the issues than the average Waitrose shopping Guardianista.

In fact, coming as it did on the day the horsemeat in burgers story broke I hold an unworthy suspicion that it was a stock piece, held back to release at a moment when the meat lobby needed something to deflect from their own poor performance. What better way to forget that burgers are made from lovely cuddly ponies than to remind the public that vegans have two heads and kill babies whilst laughing maniacally over their wholesome grain salads? Could I be right? I doubt we'll ever know.

By the way, if you're concerned about the provenance of your chenopod grains you can grow your own . Whether this will improve the lot of farmers hoping to cash in on Western fads and earn a living or not, I leave to your own consciences.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

More Roots

Sunchokes and Horse Radish

Happy New Year.

On the first day of this year, after the wettest year on record last year, it was time to bring a few of the other root crops up for air from the sinking sand and claggy clay that they've been growing in.

We have two sorts of Jerusalem artichokes here,  both commercial varieties bought in from supermarkets. The smaller red ones are the oldest and they haven't enjoyed the wet very much at all. Normally they are much larger and more knobbly but the plants are weak growers and need good conditions. I've never seen this sort flower.

The long white ones are another more modern variety, I think Waitrose told me they were grown in Lincolnshire but didn't provide a varietal name. I'd guess they were some selection of the old Fuseau type. These are more vigorous and do flower rather attractively in late autumn although I've never seen seed set.

Since I'm not trying to breed new strains it's of little importance; to be brutally honest we eat very few of the ones we grow now from fear of the gaseous consequences of poorly digested polysaccharides despite the many health benefits attributed to them.

The big chunk of horseradish was something of a bonus, the wet earth meant it yielded more easily to the spade and made excellent relish for the salad lunch of abstemious January.

Here's hoping for a great year.