Thursday 29 August 2013

Potato: Druid

druid potatoes

A new potato variety for us this year, you can read the technical spec. on it here; a red skinned tall maincrop covered by plant breeders rights until 2026.

It wasn't our first choice but I can't remember what it replaced on our want list in the early spring. We think we chose it because it's recommended for chips and crisps, two of our favourite ways to enjoy the potato.

It's been a mixed year for spuds, little rain and a lack of humidity have helped keep blight away but the resulting dry soil has given disappointing yields and scabby tubers. The picture shows pretty much the full crop from 25 plants. Not impressive at all.

Although there was no blight one or two plants did fall to the sort of virus infection that gives stunted weak leaves and a couple were mined by rodents so didn't contribute to the crop. That slug hole in the  picture is probably the only one we found.

Our soil is poor (yes, we're working on it!) and I don't feed in any significant way. I think these potatoes would have benefited from extra input so I'd recommend a wider planting distance than I gave these which was about 50cm between starts on anything less than perfect ground. The ones on the end of the rows were considerably more productive.

Eating quality is good and the few crisps we made as a trial excellent.  I'm not sure I'd grow them again but I wouldn't rule it out either.

Sunday 25 August 2013

In the eye of a depression

It's dark and gloomy outside today, thick black clouds cover the blue skies I've become accustomed to and yet it's still as dry as a bone out there. Checking the forecast suggests we might get as much as a millimetre of rain today and if we're lucky another tomorrow before we revert back to another week of sunny days, a little bit cooler than they have been perhaps but just as arid as the last few weeks.

not sure what sort of pumpkin
I'd hoped this was a Pink Banana Squash but it seems not. Looks healthy anyway.

It's beginning to be a problem in the garden. Planting seeds for autumn cropping today - a bit late but again dictated by the weather, the high temperatures were prohibitive - the soil was sere and like crumbled concrete 15cm down.  I took out several full watering cans out for the new rows and hoped to bluff the rain clouds into dropping their load but the bluff's on me and if I want my seeds to make any sort of a start I'll be watering them all next week as well.

Hops are flowering or is it fruiting? Whatever, it's a sign that autumn approaches.
For the record today I planted out some chicory which had been started in modules, two sorts of radish; the quick salad sort and some long black winter ones which we make a wonderful stinky pickle from.  A half row of yellow carrots - I don't expect much from these but if they germinate and over winter they'll be food for swallowtails next springs - and the other half row with parsley root. Again, if the roots come to nothing at least I'll have a crop of (rather coarse) flat parsley next April.

These new additions are sharing a plot with previously planted burdock, cardoons and evening primrose (for their roots) interspersed with some dill and coriander going to seed and a few spots of salsola. There are also a few beetroot and carrots  which were started in modules a few weeks ago and have now established fairly well.

In the bed next to the courgettes I put half a row of Florence Fennel and the rest as spinach, to be picked small if it comes up at all.

The swallows left on the 23rd August, probably a week earlier than we've ever had them go before.  It's quiet without them and the yard is bereft of their amusing games of tag so they are missed.

crow licks his nose
A naughty black cat shows his disrespect while I take his picture.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

In the garden

fushia autumnale

A bit of a catch up in the garden. I've not had a lot to say about it this year, the weather is o.k. and most plants are doing what might be expected of them but I've made poor planting selections, things are a bit stunted from lack of water and food and the continuing attacks by deer are dispiriting so there's not a lot to be enthusiastic about.

The fuchsia is one of a trio I bought in the spring in an attempt to brighten the place up a bit with some container planting but this one, Autumnale, seems frightfully tender and I had to take it back into the greenhouse early in the season as it looked as if it was about to die. It didn't and has hung on to make some flowers but I fear it won't overwinter in my care. Pity.

whanga crown

The last plant from the last seed of the Whangaparaoa Crown pumpkins I had such hopes for a while back. I'm not really sure what happened to find myself with just this single survivor of my seed saving but at least it has a couple of fruits; it's not all lost yet. I am a bit worried about the mottled and slightly pitted skin texture and hoping it's a function of physiological stress as it doesn't seem quite right for the variety.

yacon in august

Yacon were new to me this year but I was expecting them to be bigger by now. The three plants look well enough, if a little dry but are still only 50cms high.

purple beans

Some of the very few beans that survived (so far) the depredations of the deer. These are (I think) Cosse Violette and will probably be eaten rather than saved for seed since it's a widely available variety but they're not going to make much of a meal.

Irish preans

In a different, more protected, part of the garden are the Irish Preans and I am hoping to have enough of these to have a few for swaps this year which will be nice after several seasons with nothing to offer.

Santero  and Stuttgart Giant

Onions have been, like the shallots, more  successful than most things this year. Two varieties, both planted as sets and looking good. I love the flat bulbs of the Stuttgart and I'm not sure why I bought the F1 variety Santero other than an insatiable need for novelty. It looks from the picture as if the round bulbed Santero are bigger than the others but that's just bad photography. The Santero may be prettier for the show bench but seem to have little benefit for my purposes.

Herbert blueberry

Blueberry Herbert. I've become a convert to home grown blueberries and bought this plant of Herbert to extend the season of my unnamed original plant which usually fruits in late July. In fact the two plants have fruited at almost the same time this year so I'm now looking for much later and earlier varieties to supplement them.

Friday 16 August 2013

Not cricket at all


These are, in fact, all crickets but what wasn't playing the game was the way the house had become infested with them over the last couple of hot weeks. One cricket chirping near the ceiling can seem charming, crickets jumping, crawling and calling all over the house can become intimidating. When I found one on my keyboard I decided enough was enough.

A policy of zero tolerance seems to have solved the invasion for now. They are easy enough to catch and can be ejected into the real world to take their chances with birds and lizards in a far more natural way than meeting their ends squished in doors and crunched underfoot.

Above the Dark bush-cricket, Pholidoptera griseoaptera - a female (distinguished by ovipositor, photo by Paul) which were by far the most frequent intruders this year. Their wings are atrophied but they make up for it with enormous springy legs that can carry them long distances in a single bound. These are a species that are eaten by humans, fried and spiced. If I was a carnivore I suppose I might have tried a few myself but sometimes being a vegan has unexpected advantages. Not having to eat crickets is one of them.

Roesels cricket

I am a little more kindly disposed towards the Roesel's Cricket, Metrioptera roeselii - another female,  if only because they are considered somewhat unusual in the UK. Of course, they don't seem all that scarce in this part of France but affection is a fickle thing and their rarity over there leads me to look fondly on them here. Even so, they're not adverse to nipping in for a quick meal of fruit flies and resting micromoths if they get the chance.

Female Great Green Bush Cricket

The Great Green bush cricket, Tettigonia viridissima is a favourite, not least because I've never found one the house yet. They have their wings and although they are weak flyers they are the closest thing to fairies I've ever seen with slim green bodies and gauzy wings held straight out to the sides. These look as if they'd have the most calories in a survival situation simply because they are huge but I'm still not that tempted.

Saturday 10 August 2013



Today was the day I decided to pull the shallots. I'm really pleased with them; from each bulb start I've harvested four or five good sized shallots with minimal effort or intervention required along the way.

The variety was Longor, a French selection of the long bulbed type of shallot, pink skinned and well regarded and we bought them from Tuckers but they don't seem to be in the current catalogue. Generally speaking shallots are best when they are from a line that rarely flowers but most of the round shallots available as sets are seed raised and I find these quickly revert to type when subject to my sort of gardening so aren't much use to me. I was pleased to see that none of these made the slightest effort to put up a flower.

I thought I had blogged about planting them and the onion sets but can't find an entry. Checking over the photos reveals we prepared the bed on the 3rd of March and by 25th April they were sprouting well, so I'm guessing they were planted  in March making about five months in the ground. I've hoed the plot a couple of times since then but haven't bothered to water or anything more strenuous like that. It's not always been so easy, one year we had terrible mildew on all the alliums, other years the bed has been swamped with weeds but this year it was just right.

I've laid them out to dry - no rain to speak of is expected for another ten days - then I'll take the best 30 into store as starts for next year, pickle the smallest and bag the rest up for use between now and Christmas. We never seem to grow enough onions no matter how good the yield.

Thursday 8 August 2013



I know I said elsewhere  there wouldn't be any more butterfly posts for a while but this is important, a real Swallowtail. We've had them before and in France they are not quite the recherch√© insects they are in the UK, they lay their eggs on a variety of plants - garden carrots have been popular - and are generally widespread, not limited to a small geographical area but still, they are such large impressive creatures and we love to see them.

Proof if we hadn't already accepted it, this is a good summer.

Wednesday 7 August 2013


A Painted Lady and a Clouded Yellow share a thistle.

Today we have a guest photographer. All the photos are taken by Penguinbush who may be known to erstwhile readers as Mr. Stripey. He holds copyright so please contact him before using these shots anywhere else.

After several weeks of glorious summer weather my dire expectations in the spring of butterfly apocalypse have been shown to be overly pessimistic. We've had a reasonable showing of all the usual suspects and really excellent numbers of some native species like the skippers and Silver Washed Fritillaries. Some warm southerly winds in the last few weeks have also bumped up the number of migrants and casual visitors; butterflies that expand their range during the summer but rarely breed or survive the winter this far north.

Painted Lady
Painted Lady feeding on its favourite food, the thistle.

The Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) are true migrants, very widely distributed over the world. The ones we see here breed year round in Northern Africa and the warmer parts of the European continent and fly north via circuitous routes towards Britain and Scandinavia during the summer where they feed and breed on the fresher food supplies. Until recently it was believed they never tried to return south as the weather turned to autumn but new research suggests that they do, flying at very high altitudes on the wind to help them along their way.

Red Admiral
A Red Admiral basking in the warm sun.

The Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) can and do breed in Northern Europe and the UK but they are sensitive to the cold and have trouble surviving the winters.  Luckily enough do survive for them to be considered natives and they are replenished each year by new butterflies coming north from Central Europe which helps keep the numbers up. Nobody seems to know if these travelling butterflies have babies that make the trip south again but perhaps, like the Painted Ladies, this will be discovered eventually.

Clouded Yellow on the wing
Clouded Yellow in flight. These brilliantly bright butterflies rest with wings folded so it's difficult to get a shot of the upper sides like this.

Clouded Yellows (Colias crocea) were new to us a few years ago, we'd never seen them before in the UK or France but they have long been known as occasional migrants sometimes appearing in huge numbers. In a good year butterflies come north, again from the Mediterranean and North Africa, breeding and expanding their range in waves as long as the weather remains clement. The last larvae sometimes manage to overwinter on the south coast of England but usually the cold finishes them off. Again, it's not really known if any make a return trip to the Med as autumn comes on.

Pale Clouded Yellow
Pale Clouded Yellow, just like the Clouded Yellow but much paler.

Pale Clouded Yellow taking off
About to fly away this shows the upper and underwing patterns.

This is our new species for the year, the Pale Clouded Yellow (Colias hyale). Another very rare visitor that only expands north when conditions are just right. We're as confident as we can be for the identification on these - there are variants of the Clouded Yellow and other species of Colias which are very similar and can really only be distinguished at the larval stage or by catching and examining in close detail which wasn't what we wanted to do to such welcome guests.

Pale Clouded Yellow on the wing
The Pale Clouded Yellow in flight.

Monday 5 August 2013

Gone fishing

dirty little cat

Well I'm here, but I'm not here.

The deer ate the oca, not pleased about that. They seem to have no taste for ulluco or yacon but then, I've not been growing those here quite as long. Perhaps in another year or two they'll realise they can eat those too. I've tidied up and watered the stumps. Maybe there will be enough for next year's seed but I was hoping for a proper nutritional crop this year. Oh well.

Garden Tiger moth

We had been fretting over a perceived lack of butterflies but there's been a spell of excellent warm dry weather and nearly all the locals have now put in an appearance with the exception of the blues and coppers. The tiger moth was out at night which isn't unheard of but we usually find them in the daytime so this fine specimen was nice to capture. For a while we were worried that we'd seen no ladybirds this year but yesterday I spotted one on the teasels which is a relief. I hope she found a friend.

sun through clouds

Anyway for the moment I'm hosting my husband while he works on his next big thing so don't expect much from us for a few weeks.. You can catch a glimpse of his work here.

There are pictures on twitter most days. See you soon.