Thursday 25 July 2013

Starley Gardens Red Peas

This year I had a packet of some French beans from the Heritage Seed Library called Starley Red peas. They were described as a type that was being grown for use in Caribbean cooking recipes like Red peas and Rice which traditionally use pigeon peas. Red kidney beans make a good substitute for these which are harder to grow in the British climate. So far so good. Then I lost my HSL catalogue and couldn't find any more information about them at all, not even if they were dwarf or climbing plants. So for the benefit of all I've decided to document them here.

As usual with stock gathered from the HSL these beans have little in the way of real provenance and are almost certainly an existing variety adopted by the Starley Housing Co-operative gardeners from one of their members. Sadly the gardener's website seems to have become dormant due to illness.

I started a few in a pot at the beginning of June and they were ready to plant out by July.

The beans are dwarf growing, really quite short with healthy mid green leaves. The flowers are not large, white and in every way appear to resemble all other bean flowers.

The pods are flat, rough textured and held in short upright racemes. And that, as they say in Wikipedia, is the stub. I'll be back to update as the season progresses and more information is available. Unfortunately I didn't plant enough to get enough beans for cooking this year but if they store well that can be addressed in 2014.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Wildlife 2

Nature makes a fool of anyone who thinks they have it marked. Here are today's pics of butterflies including the first White Admiral of the year, a Peacock in full bloom and a frog.


Pretty pretty Peacock

White Admiral at a distance

The frog that lives in the water butt

Tuesday 23 July 2013


marbled white
Marbled White in the long grass.

The butterfly situation still seems on the edge of invisibility towards extinction with very few sightings. Those we have seen have been skittish and nervy and hard to record.  We've now spotted examples in ones and twos of the most common that we consider endemic here but the fields and rides seem strangely bare and underpopulated. It's to be hoped that the good weather of the last few weeks will have given these tiny stocks a chance to breed and replenish the population for next year but we've still not seen some of the sorts that have been frequently found here; the blues and coppers nor the White Admirals.

Silver Washed Fritillary
Silver Washed Fritillary showing off.

This big butterfly was a welcome sight and as we rarely have more than few of these it seems this group have done better than most during the horrible weather of the last eighteen months. He flitted around the yard teasing me to take his picture and eventually stopped for a rest in the shade of a building. I saw him again today, just as bold and beautiful.

Long horned beetle and Skipper share a thistle
Skipper and Long Horned Beetle

If there has been one species of butterfly that's been more frequent than usual it must be the skippers. We wondered if we were just noticing them more because of the lack of competition from showier insects but there really are hundreds of them, probably more than one species but I'm sorry to admit I'm not too good at telling them apart as yet and as far as I can see they are all the common type of Large Skipper.

Beetles have been reasonably frequent sightings too, and there are many different sorts even by such coarse means of identification as wing case colours and length of antennae. To really name them accurately usually involves a lot of very close work and probably some dissection to determine various abstruse differences in the more delicate parts, not a subject I've much intention of mastering any time soon.

However something we realised over the weekend is that we've not seen a single ladybird or ladybird larva this year which is quite worrying.

hover fly

We do still have a lot of hover flies here and a useful purchase just made is a copy of Britain's Hoverflies by Stuart Ball and Roger Morris. I know, Normandy is not Britain but we're not far distant and the countryside probably has a lot more in common with the south of England than it does with the south of France.

It's a very comprehensive book with lots of good pictures and extends the comforting hope that if we do find anything wonderfully novel here amongst our hovers there's a chance we can identify it.


Monday 22 July 2013

Fresh from the garden

courgettes and cucumbers

The hot weather continues and long may it, except of course it's getting a bit arid now and watering is beginning to be an issue. I try not to water the field crops if I can avoid it but everything is now so hot and dry that it's going into a sort of stasis, unable to make new growth and just hoping to stay alive until the rains come. This means trying to give everything a good drink at least once a week and fleshy plants like the courgettes and squashes need more regular attention than that.

These are the first courgettes of the year grown in the garden, the White Cousa from Realseeds and the third (and fourth) cucumbers from the greenhouse. If I can keep cutting the courgettes at this size there should never be an insurmountable glut but I know how hard that resolution will be to keep. The curly tiny cuke comes from a plant that seems to have that tendency on all its fruit unlike its packet sister growing next to it which makes lovely straight fruit. You can understand why the Victorians had glass formers to force the fruit to behave but we're only growing to eat, not to exhibit so they can grow as curly as they like.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Painting Shade

I picked up a brush for the first time this year today but before you all get excited* and head down to your local swish art gallery hoping to pick up a bargain I have to point out it wasn't canvas I was painting but glass.

It's not something that we've needed to worry about much in the last few years; I don't think we've had a decently bright summer since the greenhouse went up but after the last ten or twelve days of strong sunshine which is now predicted to continue for at least another ten days something had to be done. Just keeping up with the watering was hard work but the plants were getting stressed in the very high heat even with all the ventilation I could manage for them and that was leading to failure to set, dropped fruit and sunburn on the tender leaves of the curcubits.

You can buy a very good product the name of which completely escapes me but you mix it with water, apply it with a whitewash brush to the outside of the glass and once it's dried it resists quite heavy rain. At the end of the season you can remove it when it's dry by rubbing it off with a soft dry cloth. Not cheap but the industry standard.

Of course I didn't have any of that, couldn't even find a whitewash brush. No, I used some very dilute white acrylic paint and put it on the inside of the glass with a large round oil paint brush about 1cm in diameter. No, you shut up. I'm hoping it'll come off in time and if not, well the greenhouse isn't used much in the winter anyway.

It really works, I think the temperature in the greenhouse dropped by 10 degrees just as I was applying the paint, going from 'can't stand another two minutes of this' to 'I'm o.k.' as soon as the coating was finished. Of course, you'll have me to blame now the heat wave is over.

whitewashed green

* if you're that keen I take commissions. A flat price but you take what you're given. Start your collection now.

Monday 15 July 2013

Bonne Maman


The most popular brand of jam in France relies heavily on familial nostalgia to sell its wares. Not that the jams are bad, they're pretty good, but the name on the jar must contribute to the expectations that inform the enjoyment of the product.

So without modesty I offer you my own exceedingly digestible red jam made from equal quantities of rather old strawberries and freshly picked raspberries with the sugar amount eyeballed and the cooking controlled by timer so that I shouldn't forget the roilsome (that's not a word, apparently) pan bubbling away behind me as I did the washing up. Against all expectations it's formed an excellent consistency,  good set and enjoyable flavour with so little attention to detail that I confidently predict all of you will go to your kitchens and follow my example of good motherhood without any apprehension or fear.

Chicory flower

On the other hand the weather is so gloriously hot that I've given up all pretensions to managing any work and drift around day long in a happy fug of holidayness. The only spur that provokes me to a little action is the fear of all my plants dying of thirst in the unmitigated heat so I have been getting up early to lug huge watering cans around in a futile battle to keep moisture loving squash and beans alive, not to mention the plants in the greenhouse which is a real oven at the moment.

We have suffered deer attack on the french beans and oca which is saddening. A fence is the only real answer but for the moment I've arranged white plastic chairs on a large sheet of rustley black plastic next to the plot in an attempt to convince them that the humans have just left a bizarre picnic and will be back real soon now so best not trespass.

Saveol Torino Plum tomato from the supermarket

Although there are a few tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse the crop is nowhere near adequate for a tomato addict like me. These Saveol Torino plum tomatoes are definitely my tomate de jour at the moment with a good flavour, texture and keeping quality. I can find almost nothing about them on the web but they're obviously owned and trademarked by Saveol who have cornered the French market for fancy toms, almost certainly F1 - hell, they could even be GM except it's not allowed in the EU - and probably not legal or worthwhile to try to grow out from seed. Still, they must have come from somewhere so if anyone knows the breeding lines that they came from you'd make a mad old cat woman very happy.

Friday 12 July 2013

A bit on the small side

First day lily

I have been here but not feeling much like blogging. Instead I've been lounging around reading Hilary Mantel and making resolutions to improve myself that are discarded as soon as the sun goes down.

Day lilies (Hemerocallis) are edible and I've eaten the odd one dried from the Chinese supermarket but never summoned the courage to eat any of my own from the garden. Some of this is because there are few enough flowers growing around here as it is and nicking the buds for supper seems unhelpful to horticultural excellence. But the clumps I put in a few years ago are beginning to bulk up now so perhaps I'll buy a couple more fancy ornamental varieties and start eating these very basic type blooms.

baby gold nugget squash

The squashes are coming along but rather slowly in my opinion. The same can be said of the climbing beans and also the sunflowers. The weather is fine enough if blighted by a continuous north easterly breeze so I'm not sure what the problem is except my own impatience.

The Golden Nugget squash plant came from a seed that from Pushing up the Daisies swapped with me in the spring. I've high hopes of it, I don't often grow bush squash but it's sitting nicely in a row with the courgettes and looking good.

baby cucumber

The first baby cucumbers are now beginning to form. A male flower picked off had the most exotic and delicious scent which I wasn't expecting.

I think I'm going to have to shade the greenhouse, at least at the end where the cukes are as the leaves are showing some sun burn. I knew it would be difficult to grow cucumbers and tomatoes in the same small 6x10 space but had little option but to give it a go. Still saving for that polytunnel!

It's a good cherry year. There's one old cultivated cherry on the farm, looks like a sour Morello type. I've never seen ripe fruit on it before but it has quite a lot of cherries this year. Trouble is they're so high that I don't think I can reach them before the birds do.

The wild cherries are also in abundant fruit which are richly ripe and almost black in colour. I'd like to harvest some of these tiny but succulent little drupes but unfortunately I was nearly horse flied to death just taking the picture so I'm going to have to plan a strategy quickly to avoid this before the fruit goes over.

wild cherries

Friday 5 July 2013


Tomato Golden Sweet

I've been picking the odd tomato from this yellow cherry vine Sungold since the beginning of the month. Beautifully sweet. The other tomatoes are doing well on the whole. This year I bought many of the plants and stuck to favourites like Gardeners Delight and Marmande mostly because there wasn't a lot to choose from anyway. The two that aren't doing so well are bought in plants from the same nurseries and the only difference I can imagine is that there is something wrong with the growbag they're in but that seems an unlikely reason as they were all from the same batch. Not quite sure what to do about it so will probably do nothing.

wild currant tomato

One sort that did come from seed were the Wild Currant Tomatoes (pg dwn) from Realseeds which are doing well, the ones outside better than in the greenhouse. I chose it because of its alleged blight resistance and the outdoor plants are receiving no spraying as a test. No signs of problems yet although we've had plenty of Smiths periods. They are sited away from the spuds but that's no benefit in a bad year. A few fruit have set in the greenhouse but the outside plants are only just starting to flower.

The other seed raised tomatoes are the Tom Wagner variety Schimmeig Creg which is a small, slightly hollow striped sort, gold and red. The seeds came via  the HSL and were started very late but they're growing away well and are catching up with the much earlier plants that I bought.

I started seeds of sweet pepper Semaroh (page down) rather late too. It's a rams horn shape that came from Realseeds and is the sweet twin of a hot brother. The plants are growing quite well but I'm not sure if they'll reach fruiting size this year. Although I could probably overwinter them there may not be space so I'm keeping my fingers crossed it's not all a waste of time.

This year I'm also growing greenhouse cucumbers. Not something I'd do normally but I had some seed gifted to me at Christmas and didn't have any ridge cucumber seed. Pity about that as it would have been a good year for them. Anyway, three F1 plants are romping away and just beginning to flower and with them just one Rock Melon which I'm hoping will be the plant that breaks my years of failure with melons.

Lots of basil and some ornamentals make up most of the rest but there are two pots of peanut plants which are enjoying the warm conditions and look very sturdy at the moment.


Thursday 4 July 2013


Ulluco, magentaspreen, oca

Time to report on the Andean roots. So far the bed is looking pretty good, I've managed to hoe a couple of time and although one or two plants have succumbed to a mysterious fate (mice, cats?) most of the pot grown starters I planted out seem to be thriving. Pictured above the ulluco on the left, the oca (four, maybe five types) on the right and a few magentaspreen seedlings which inevitably found their way into the bed even though it was covered with thick black plastic for two years to kill the nettles and brambles.


All three of my starts of Yacon from Realseeds took well although they have been sulking since I planted them out at the beginning of June. Thankfully they seem to have settled now and are beginning to get going which is a relief.


I managed to kill a lot of mashua that kindly I'd been given and have ended up with just the one plant but it's looking mighty fine.

flowers on the Rocoto chilli

Not generally grown for its roots (or at all) but still resolutely Andean the Alberto Locoto chillies are looking really healthy and making lots of flowers. They need bigger pots as do a number of my other babies so I feel a trip to Poteries Turgis just down the road in Noron la Poterie  coming on.

And because, geographically, the Papalo is closer to these than anything else I'm growing this year here it is, in another pot. I should plant some more quickly because there's not much there to harvest.

papalo in a pot

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Let the pictures tell the story

The idea of this blog being a sort of Captain's Log of the farm and my daily activities is quite appealing to me. It lacks the rigour of a database structure so searching is perhaps more difficult but it enables me to check back over time and make comparisons, evoke memories and generally keep a handle on my passing days. So far so good. Like all bloggers I write articles in my head as I go about my tasks and often take pictures with an eye to displaying them here later, it's only when the moment comes to set it out that my strength fails me.

wood splitting

So today, pictures first and explanations a sorry second. Last week the man was here so we spent a lot of time doing lumberjack work, taking down the fallen tree mentioned before and cutting and splitting useful amounts of wood to stack. It's a bit mad doing this sort of work in the height of the sun but for various reasons during the cold months we didn't have the resources and we need that wood seasoning now or it will be a chilly winter next time.

sexton beetle

It's odd I've never seen one of these before, or at least I don't remember one. It's a sexton beetle which likes nothing better than to find some animal corpse and bury it underground.


Five spot or six spot Burnet moth? Take your pick because I can't tell which it is at all. It was a lovely fresh specimen though and I was pleased to see it. Butterflies and moths are still in very short supply around here. On the 26th June we saw a Painted Lady and a Clouded Yellow butterfly, both migrants, but they seem to have kept going and none of their friends have arrived. The Meadow Browns are just waking up, I've seen a Ringlet or two, some pretty Speckled Woods in the forest and a Skipper. Just one Red Admiral and nothing else much for the last month.

Back soon with gardening updates, I hope.
flowers of the lovage

Monday 1 July 2013

Picking chickens

We had a great fungus find last week. On a dead cherry tree at the border of the forest and our fields was this magnificent shelf of Chicken of the Woods Laetiporus sulphureus which we'd never eaten before although I did see some in another place in 2006 just after we arrived here. I didn't pick it that time and it disappeared very quickly so I think someone else must have had it.

It's an easy fungus to identify, very distinctive and there's nothing horribly poisonous that looks similar. You can see the slugs are enjoying it too although slugs eat anything, even deadly fungus so that's no guarantee of safety.

If you read about it on the web there are some (much repeated) warnings about allergic reactions. It's best to advise caution but I think the risk here is probably overstated and relates to the host tree wood as much as the fungus. I'd certainly not want to eat anything growing on Yew or Eucalyptus and suggest you don't either.  *** The other factoid cut and pasted about is that it's an especial favourite with the Germans but we couldn't find anything particularly Germanic either in enthusiasm or recipe form relating to it although the fungus hunters of Europe are in consensus that it's a welcome find.

one kilogram of chicken of the woods

After harvest we had 1kg of nice young brackets, enough for about five meals for two. The first taste was just some strips fried in a mixture of sunflower oil and vegan margarine with a smidge of garlic and we were agreed that it is quite a chickeny flavour, as best we remember it, but the texture is a little more like dry old turkey. It's very good for all that.

We also had some in a stew with white wine and other vegetables and some cooked and cold with a potato salad. I'd like to try it with paprika as I think the flavours would work well. I've put a bit away in the freezer as a test - the word is to fry it off in chunks and then it will freeze for three months or so. Not much of an extension of the season but worth knowing if you find an enormous amount.

*** bit of an update here 16/7/2014 ***

So this week I found some more, but here on my own wanted to save the best bits for the Mr. when he arrives for the weekend. I carefully prepped the beast and was left with the chunkier stump (for want of a better description) which I decided to stew. All seemed well but a few hours after eating it I got the most horrible nausea and sickness which has taken a couple of days to shift. Further googling indicates that although you won't die from it the harder inner parts of the fungus need extremely long cooking or the problems I had might occur. I shan't be trying this again, it was a horrible experience, but if you're tempted to use all of your haul make sure you cut it small and cook for at least an hour at a good simmer.