Sunday 29 September 2013

The perennial problem

stem tubercules on volunteer potato
Not something often seen in the well managed garden, stem tubers on a volunteer potato plant.

Whenever I become enthusiastic about getting involved in permaculture I have to pinch myself hard and remember just what the permanent crops in my garden have to put up with already.

poorly cleaned asparagus bed
Very untidy asparagus bed after a rough clean up. The intention is to give it thick mulch over winter in an attempt to keep the weeds down.

I'd love to be able to complain that there's just too much for me to do but the sad truth is that if I put a bit more effort into the tidying up both in the house and the garden things would be a lot more civilised.

This summer I directed my meagre efforts elsewhere and promptly lost control of the long term residents under a morass of noxious weeds and detritus.

sad little welsh onion
There are half a dozen poor little Welsh onion plants waiting for new accommodation.

So a task for this rather splendidly mellow autumn is to rescue what I can from my abandoned babies and re-home them in a clean bed, even though I know that they'll most probably become overgrown and neglected there within a season.

It's not helped by the ground being as hard as a hard thing still. Attempting to split a division from the lovage has been put on hold until we've had more rain. We broke a fork taking up a section of the thuggish Horseradish for a friend.

still life of sunchokes and docks
The Jerusalem artichokes seem resigned to sharing their space with docks.

After the horrible wet summer of last year there were only a few rotting sunchokes left in the ground this spring. I gave up on them in despair, unable to find anything that seemed healthy enough to rescue then. They've made a come back but as a vegetable crop they'd be much more productive in a weed free patch and regularly picked over to remove old and decayed tubers.

the battle for Good King Henry
Good King Henry battles on with bindweed, couch and buttercups.

For one reason or another, I'm not sure what at all, I didn't even crop the Good King Henry this year, just left it to get on with it; under siege from various arch enemies particularly bindweed which is peculiarly well adapted to hiding in full view in the early summer with its similarly shaped and coloured leaves. And of course, as the Good King Henry is never lifted the wretched stuff can reside safely alongside even if the top growth is removed.

I've already moved the Babington leeks and the walking onions are in pots to be planted out. The lovage will have to wait and a pot of elecampane is waiting to join the ranks. Must try harder.

For the record, I planted a row of Cypriot ful today in the hope they will germinate and overwinter for an early crop next spring. Fingers crossed the mice don't take them.

beware of the thug 
Horseradish is a violent thug which can't be moved on.

Friday 27 September 2013

Funny old fungus

parasol gone over

It's not been a very good year for finding fungi of any sort this year, too dry, too hot so despite our excellent find of Chicken of the Woods at the beginning of July which was complemented by a nice harvest of Oyster mushrooms which have been cropping reliably in a particular place for several years now we've had no ceps, no chanterelles, no sheeps feet and no parasols.

Except we have, I've just been looking in the wrong place this time. Usually we find the different varieties around the forest in same sort of area each year and since we had a little rain a week or so ago I've been assiduously checking to see if our favourite patches are producing at all. Not a sausage, but the parasol mushroom above and his friends, all dessicated and gone over in the sunshine of the last few days were growing in a place we'd only just cleared of brambles and bracken. The ground was apparently barren and dry and it was the last place I would have looked but walking the cats this evening there they were.

And another example of the fickleness of our fungal friends - we have never had a harvest of field mushrooms here all the time we've had the place but this year I've found three individual mushrooms, all alone in three widely spaced places at about a week apart for each. It's rather disconcerting and not enough to do anything with but it just shows how unpredictable mushroom hunting can be.

field mushroom

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Taking a sickie

It's hard to take a day off sick when you're entirely your own boss, but still, after the excitement of visitors at the weekend my system was ready for a breakdown, and so I'm resting up for a few days. Luckily for me the weather has become mild and mellow and yesterday we had brilliant sunshine which brought out the late butterflies. I did a survey.


There were lots of Green veined White butterflies about. There may have been some other small whites about but I wasn't close enough to identify them for certain. The Green veined were some of the earliest here this year and now they're some of the last.


Not a butterfly but it might just as well be. We've had Silver Y moths all summer, they fly by day and rarely stop so are difficult to photograph.


The Speckled wood butterflies are remarkably pretty and we seem to have a very brightly coloured strain living here with far more patches of orange similar to Pararge aegeria ssp. insula which are found on the Isles of Scilly. I've done no study on it but it seems to me that the autumn flying insects are also brighter than the spring ones.


Not as many Comma butterflies as other years but there are still a few and this grizzled old chap stopped long enough for me to snap his portrait.

There was also a Peacock buttefly but it landed on my leg and I couldn't get the photo before it flew away in horror so here's a picture of one posing for me last year.

Predictable Peacock on Tansy

Wednesday 18 September 2013


Big Max was my daddy
This squash came from a seed marked Pink Banana but I think its mother must have been playing around because this big strong fruit looks pretty much like Bix Max to me.

Even though we haven't quite reached the equinox it's definitely moved on into autumn now.  There have been gales and rain for the last few days and although a settled dryer and warmer ten days is now predicted it's a bit too late to hope for any more summer crops to mature without help.

whangaparaoa crown
Just two of these from the one plant this year. I think they'll be o.k. but it's keeping the genepool small for the next generations.

I'm hoping to be able to share some seeds from these Whangaparaoa Crown pumpkins. With luck there will also be some Irish Prean peas and I have a couple of heads of  Babington Leeks bulbils if there's anyone left who doesn't have any by now. Watch out for a '2013 share' page coming soon with all the details.

a lonely sunflower
Small, late and neglected, sunflowers this year were a washout.

It was old seed but even so I was expecting better things from the small patches of sunflowers dotted around the place. The weather was good enough and this one in the back patch was watered all through the driest spells so I'm not sure what was wrong.  Very disappointing, and this is the only one that's even come close to flowering yet.

chewed yacon
It was bound to happen. The deer have discovered that yacon is edible.  They still don't think much of ulluco except as trampling space.

So we do still have naughty deer, the small sneaky sort who creep by in the night to nibble away on my precious vegetables but much as I wish them to the other ends of the earth I am a bit concerned that we've not heard anything from the Red deer so far this year. Usually by now they are preparing for the rut by bellowing out challenges and securing territory for the does but there's been nothing so far. Strange and a little worrying because the hunters are already on the job.

chile rocoto
The Alberto Locoto chillies have formed fruit, but not a lot.

The tree chillies came through the winter well and I thought they'd make a lot more growth this year but they are rather pot bound and the unexpectedly high temperatures don't seem to have been to their liking either.  There are fruit forming and slowly acquiring some size and with luck they'll over winter again back in the UK where they can be better protected from the cold.  I really want them to succeed - perennial cool weather chillies seem to me to be a much more perfect crop than ridiculously hot and finicky annuals. I'd like to find some other varieties too, they come in a range of colours from red to yellow and with various fruit shape and sizes.

medlars and blackberries
Blackberries and medlars.

We've had such a good year for blackberries even the birds can't keep up and there are fruit mummifying on the brambles. I've been eating them raw, foraging as I wander around the garden but I've not bothered with jam or jelly as we still have leftovers from last year.

The meldars are doing fine and will be harvested in November for jelly. We always manage to eat that.

And elderberries are desperately in need of harvesting for syrup, as are the rose hips.


Wednesday 11 September 2013

No more Mr. Blue Skies


It had to end and now normal service has been resumed. Which is not to say that there's anything like enough rain falling to do much towards improving the moisture content of the soil but the sun has lost its intensity and clouds are piling over the horizon taking the light away and spreading gloom.

There's still a touch of blue about the place. Morning Glories that I had planted in the hope of a glorious display near the Doghouse eating area have finally, rather sulkily, started to flower. It's not much like the ravishing curtains of colour I had envisaged but each individual bloom is still a wonder.

morning glory

Even now the seasons seem to be running a little late. On the bay tree yesterday I found this lovely Brown hairstreak butterfly, a female, who might in other years been out and about ten days earlier. Very pretty and we're glad to see her as she makes our second new butterfly species identified on the farm this year.

Female Brown Hairstreak

Thursday 5 September 2013

Rest and Relaxation

Clouded yellow on dahlia

Bit of a holiday today. It might just be the last good day of summer; sunny blue skies with temperatures expected to reach the high twenties and a warm breeze. I hope it isn't of course but a change is expected at the weekend, we're heading into autumn with no hope of reprieve and this is as good as it's been at any time in the last four months.

With my main tractoring tasks completed for the summer (there's more, there's always more but I'm going to pretend I shouldn't have to do it) it seems the perfect moment to stand and stare and enjoy a summer that I am more grateful for than can be described. For all my middle England antecedents, stretching back as far as the eye can see, I should definitely have been born in a Mediterranean country.

Rock melon, the one and only

Proof of the excellence of the summer, a rock melon in the greenhouse. Admittedly it's pretty small and it's the only one but it's probably the second time in my life a melon has grown for me. Years ago, in Worthing I did have one even smaller Jenny Lind but that really was more than twenty years back now. This is Prescott Fond blanc from Realseeds.

Cats on a walk in the hayfield

The cats have had a good summer too although as they enter early middle age they've slowed down a lot and we're having to watch their diet to avoid excess weight gain. But they still love a good walk with us in the evenings. It's just a pity that the hunting season starts soon. I won't want to take them with me far from the house then.

Holly blue butterfly

There are still quite a lot of butterflies about. One of my more grandiose plans at the moment is to turn the entire existing vegetable plot with its poor and rock filled soil into a large prairie garden strip with Michelmas daisies, Joe Pyeweed, Hemp Agrimony and other strong growing late flowers to help feed the insects into autumn. With a few patches kept for nectar rich annuals it would also provide a wonderful draw for photographic models through the year.

sun goes down tonight

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Working the Tractor

Working the tractor

I've been trying to blog for a few days now and being given writer's block by the subject that I wanted to share with you. It's too frightening even to put into words.

It's no secret I find using the tractor one of the most consistently terrifying experiences of my life. Put me on a frisky horse and even after all these years out of the saddle I reckon I could ride it out, find the fiercest roller coaster and I'll take it with nary a peep but this monster, this essential tool of farm life is something that sets my heart racing with such speed I fear an attack every time I start the engine.

There's just no feeling of control or being able to communicate with it and yet unlike a roller coaster where you can surrender to your fate it needs coaxing along, steering, directing and anticipating. The sheer weight of the thing renders me negligible by comparison and the unsteadiness of the ride as we inch over tiny humps and bumps is every anxiety and fear of death I've ever had rolled into one awful moment after another.

I've been cutting meadows over the last weeks. It really is the perfect weather for it, baked dry and delightfully warm and sunny.  It's not a bad time for the plant life either, these old hayfields are full of flowering plants (if a few too many thistles and docks) and they have reached the stage where cutting and scattering their seed heads will keep them going for future years. As I work I'm surrounded by swallows scooping the insect enriched air and often have birds of prey, a buzzard and a kestrel watching for displaced rodents and lizards as well. After my initial fears have had time to settle a little I can occupy my mind with choosing the most efficient path to cover the area with fewest repeated cuts and after that there's even room for some boredom.

But last week I really think I lost one of my cat striped lives. In our fields are cider trees, huge old things, covered in mistletoe and on their last legs frankly. We keep them because we hope they are old varieties that we will eventually identify and because one day we'll make drinkable cider, also it's a lot of work taking them out.

One of these trees had fallen in the winter. It wasn't dead but was lying on its side, head poking up at an angle such that I thought I could see where the root was, so I swept up to it in my fierce beast of a tractor, engine roaring and cutters whirring and drove over the real trunk submerged in the long grass. The whole machine reared up, it wobbled and rocked. I was clinging to the steering wheel for dear life, convinced the whole thing would topple over with me inside it. Then the back wheels came over and finally the cutter, each new impact creating further perturbations and causing some unladylike language most unsuitable for taking to the pearly gates. And I survived. It was a lesson. Well, several lessons but possibly the most valuable was that the thing isn't quite as unstable as I believe it to be. Even so, it still takes me several hours to convince myself to go out for another session.

At last that's done. Perhaps I'll be able to do some stuff about vegetables, butterflies and cats now!