Tuesday 2 December 2014


mashua flowers
Mashua, Tropaeolum tuberosum, flowers and seeds.

Most of the more unusual South American tubers present some sort of challenge with respect of taste and texture to the potato and cabbage attuned palates of the European population but few have as many enemies as the humble mashua, also known as the añu, cubio or tuberous nasturtium.

Until recently this was only known over here as a slightly temperamental ornamental flowerer (in that I tried it a couple of times and it invariably died before flowering) beloved of those with gardens full of flowering oddities that were chosen to provoke gasps of wonder. Anyway those times are all over now as a veritable flood of varieties and subspecies arrive from the new world, into the eager hands of the new amateur breeders looking for diversification in our food crops. Like me, that would be then.

I was given my first tuber from Rhizowen (along with a second variety which I immediately killed) and have since established that the variety is probably something - I've just spent ages looking through my FB history and I've lost the information again (Owen, if you're reading any chance you can remind me :) )  Whatever it is, it very productive and quite pretty.

mashua tubers
Mashua tubers, harvested 30 November 2014

But just like all its friends and relations it has the 'taste'. Paul has suggested it's best described as horseradish marzipan, the pungency of horseradish combined with a bitter almond undertone which is mostly shocking because of its unfamiliarity. Chilli chocolate might be a thing but sweet cake covering flavoured for roast beef has yet to become the new black. And the taste isn't just an entirely innocuous novelty, it is indicative of a number of rather strange isothiocyanates which can produce cyanide under the right conditions. For this reason it's best not to eat too many of them raw even if you do develop a predilection for the flavour; which seems quite unlikely from the anecdotal evidence I've heard from other consumers. In short, although it is starchy and nutritious, it's quite clear why it never became a staple in the old world in the same way as potatoes have been adopted.

However, it is remarkably easy to grow, prolific even and because of those fearsome chemical components almost immune to pests. It can and has been used for food, even if the Peruvians think it's better than bromide for some purposes, absolutely a crop ripe for reselection and improvement. In the meantime here's a recipe that helps to ameliorate the worst of the gustatory pain.

Take about six or seven good sized tubers and wash them well. Bring to the boil in plenty of fresh water and boil fairly vigorously without the lid on for about 15 minutes until they are soft when pierced with fork. Allow to cool before proceeding. This reduces any noxious compounds and helps the flavour a bit.

I found that the flesh cooked this way was soft but contained some fairly tough fibres which made for an unpleasant mouthful, so I rubbed the cooked tubers through a sieve with the back of a spoon to produce a soft smooth purée. To this I added a couple of tablespoons of plain flour, just enough to make a soft batter.

Heat some cooking oil until nearly smoking and drop small mounds of the mixture into it from a teaspoon. Allow to cook on the first side until golden brown, then turn and cook some more until crisp all over and cooked through. It would probably be even easier in a deep fryer but I haven't actually tried that.

Drain well and sprinkle liberally with salt. Serve hot as a pre-dinner nibble or savoury. With no added flavouring they are pleasant enough but you might experiment with some garlic or even a smidge of ginger or chilli for added pzazz.

mashua puffs
Mashua puffs for want of a better name.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Don't you just wish it was still summer?

summer I lost another follower on Twitter today. No big deal I'm sure and yet I don't have so many. If you ignore the follower gatherer bots, you know the ones that hope you'll follow back so they can add another notch to the headboard there aren't that many real people who take the effort to notice my feeble efforts and I'd prefer not to let them down. So I'm going to take it as a hint that I'm not making enough effort myself to get out there and interact. It's true after all.

This thing of shutting up shop at the farm for the winter is a problem. Such small projects as I call my own are put on hold. Each year it becomes harder and harder to re-involve myself in the spring because of the expectation that the break will come and progress will lost again. And in the autumn and winter I've very little to occupy my mind, in fact, I spend most of my time trying not to think, not to dwell too deeply on the meaning of life because there are no answers and that's frustrating.

Anyway, after a couple of months when I had literally stopped, allowed my seeds for saving to rot, barely left the building, written nothing, drawn nothing, painted not at all, failed even to keep a tidy house or do more than the bare minimum in the kitchen I'd decided that probably it was too late for me to try to be more successful in life, that the best I could hope for was to be some sort of kept housewife and just give it all up to protect my sanity. To redraw my horizons at a very close and safe distance and not worry about the wide world beyond. Because to make a change might damage the few things left I do value, my marriage, my small family of humans and cats, the comfortable aspects of my life.

And then, goaded by the needs of polite society I was enrolled into a gathering of friends, where I promised to cook (it was my turn) and the party would be in our home. And that was a plan which didn't progress until just a few days before everyone was due to turn up - because it all seemed so pointless and my concentration was so poor I seriously considered calling it all off or going to a restaurant to avoid the effort.

It was unavoidable though. When finally the pressure of time and obligation became strong enough something had to be done and for 48  hours more or less continuously, we cleaned and tidied and planned and shopped and cooked and entertained and I was fine, absolutely fine - competent, efficient and meeting my own expectations pretty adequately. Everything worked out well and it was enjoyable, really enjoyable, even the work.

So, now I know, I'm not intrinsically useless but lacking direction and ambition. So now, with little to distract me I'm back to worrying about that.

And I wish it was summer.

Monday 27 October 2014

This isn't something I've ever done before

A blog, which I was sent to via a link in Twitter so isn't one I usually read, says a lot of how I feel about things, specifically sourdough cultures and blogs. I can't improve on it so please take a look at "on bread and blogging" by Pat Thomson.

Monday 20 October 2014


Don't mind me, I'm just changing from an old PC to a shiny new one. You'd think it would be easy.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Where have all the flowers gone?

Giant gherkin that got away

Things have clearly got out of hand. Jobs left undone, blogs unwritten, harvests missed. Still, I've been having a good time mostly so be happy.

It was my birthday and although I can't show you what I spent my birthday money on I can tell you all about it. Fruit trees, I bought lots of fruit trees which will be available in November for planting before Yule.

With luck we'll be getting;

A quince Sobu, damson Bradley's King, apples Egremont Russet, Ellison's Orange, Bramley's Seedling, Howgate Wonder, Ashmead's Kernel, Beauty of Bath and Pitmaston Pine Apple all on M26 semi-dwarfing rootstocks, a pear Beth which is new to me, a Victoria Plum to supplement the yellow plums and gages already at the farm and also a Summer Sun cherry, a Tomcot apricot and a Halls Giant cobnut. There's also cider apple Dabinett on a standard rootstock to start the rejuvenation of the cider trees, most of the old ones we have are dead or nearly so.

So many small trees will need careful ground preparation and even more importantly good fencing to keep the deer off but the dwarfing roots should mean earlier harvests. I can't wait.

Shark's fin melon.


Tuesday 23 September 2014


misty morning

Mabon, as they say. The day where the sun time is equal to the dark time. Although it's cooler now we're still seeing plenty of the sun, even if it is through the mist first thing in the morning. This is a very good thing.


I'd hoped to make this the post about tomatoes, a follow up to the July entry where the toms were still green but it was a really poor season, possibly the worst we've ever had without blight and I don't even have pictures of some of the varieties when they ripened.

The blame is probably mine. I dillied and dallied over potting material decisions ending up in a rush with some of the cheaper end growbags, peat reduced, not peat free because there was no time left for thinking. Then having potted the poor things up I resolutely failed to feed them adequately (and the cheap bags were next to negative on food anyway) while the high temperatures of early summer shrivelled the flowers before they could set.

nettle tea pot

Feeding should have been a doddle. I'd treated myself to this rather fine looking compost tea maker, all stainless steel and shiny. But it was fiddly to fill - that central strainer isn't fixed it just sits or rather it doesn't once the nettles are in, it flops around and makes fitting the lid hard to do - and the volume of nettles to water isn't right. Or maybe I shouldn't blame my tools. I will say I regret buying it, particularly as the handle on the lid came off after just a couple of months.

tomato with a point

This Cornue Andes was delicious but it was the only fruit from four plants. The Tigerellas above, a modern, commercial variety did best but hardly produced the long bunches of fruit other bloggers have achieved with them this year. The Potiron Encarlote made about half a dozen good fruit which we enjoyed, then the plants collapsed with exhaustion and the Gezahnte Bührer-Keel hated the heat, succumbed to blossom end rot and generally sulked all summer. Now it's cooler they have made a few more fruit but too late for deliciousness this year, maybe I'll make some pickle.

And the weedy plum grown from a Saveol seed behaved as I expected, granting me one tiny tomato before giving up the ghost. But still, I wasn't expecting much there.

So a poor show. Lessons going forward, better compost, better feeding and possibly a different position. The greenhouse is set for maximum sun and light but that's actually too much in a good year.

sunset by paul

Friday 19 September 2014


Lady fern, I think.

There's a tendency to get in my own way when blogging. Because I have plans for posts on some specific things, potatoes, tomatoes, the Andean veg. and I'm not in the right frame of mind to do them then nothing gets recorded. So here is a quick catch-up for the middle of the month.

bees on ivy
You won't see easily but the ivy is covered with humming insects on the flowers. Ivy's got to go but not just yet.

The weather has changed and although we are (at this time) completely missing the violent thunderstorms confidently predicted by the meteo (just a few distant flashes overnight) it's much more overcast. Still warm and almost completely calm with a few spits and spots of rain. This is probably welcomed by the plant life, it's been extremely dry and beautifully sunny for several weeks.

green veined small sharpened
Green veined white - possibly the only one recorded this year and really quite late. Can you see the crab spider hiding on the far side of the thistle flower?

Wildlife seems to be on an even keel. We saw what was probably a red squirrel bouncing around through the upper branches of the nearest forest trees although we also wondered if it was a marten. A full card meant the picture was missed and we've not seen the naughty creature again.

The black and white water birds I can't quite identify are back, the (tentatively id'd ) Kite has moved on and there are owls aplenty being noisy each evening. Quite a lot of little birds re-appearing in the garden too but hunting season is about to start which is always a worry.

female brown hairstreak
Female Brown hairstreak, pretty, rare and a regular resident.

The vegetable garden carries on quietly. I've been collecting more seeds and planning future layouts and cropping strategies but to the untutored eye the place looks like a mess swamped in weeds and plants gone over. Never mind.

saving cardoon seeds 
Saving cardoon seeds. They seem to set seed more easily than the globe artichokes.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Counting the beans


Sorry about the slightly fuzzy photo today, not one of my best I know but I think it will do the job.

This year I decided to grow out as many beans and peas as I could. It hasn't been an entirely successful exercise. As far as the peas went it was an expensive exercise in feeding pigeons. I may be able to find a handful of Carlins and I have a few of the 'purple podded' whatever they were but the Preans and Capucijners are lost and will have to be replaced from somewhere if I want to grow them in future. So that's not great.

Beans, on the other hand, have had a slightly better year than that, even if not everything has worked perfectly. From the picture, starting with the big white runner beans and working clockwise:

Corsican (or I suspect Spanish White) Runners were excellent at the start of the season providing a few meals of green pods before they toughened up and started to get strings and turn into mature seed beans. There are still a lot to harvest although some won't be big enough to dry before the frosts come. You can overwinter runner bean roots but I'm not sure these would be worth the effort, I still prefer White Emergo as a variety.

Starley Road Red. These are more pink than a deep kidney bean red but the plants have been very good and long croppers and would still be trying to produce more pods now if I hadn't taken them up to dry on strings. I had a surfeit of pod beans and so didn't try these in the green. Taken young enough I'm sure they'd be fine but they toughened up quickly and as they're primarily for dried beans that's o.k.

Ice Crystal wax bean. The seeds are tiny but the plants are vigorous dwarf growers and produce copious amounts of tender white pods which are excellent cooked and dressed as salad. Keep picking regularly for repeat harvests. Eventually they get stringy and start to go a bit pink. At that point let them mature and save the seeds for next year. If you have enough they are good for cooking in soups and so on but they are tiny so you'll need a lot.

Striped Bunch: an odd little bean. Allegedly from Right Beaver Creek, Knott County, Kentucky they are of a slightly unfamiliar form to the European grower. Described as a half-runner they're not related to Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) at all but are just short climbers (to about 1.25m, 4ft) of what we know as French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). You can nip the climbing tips out and grow them as dwarf beans. I'm told they are good bean for pickling, short, straight, well filled pods but I've never had enough yet to really try that.  Will have to try again next year - at least I have plenty of seed now.

Giant Purple, the description is here but these are even smaller seed than I would have expected. There's been quite a lot of trouble this year with something mice/slugs/earwigs I know not what breaking the bean vines at ground level. The Purples were damaged like this and the few plants remaining subsequently swamped by weeds so I have just a handful of seed saved. They will need to be grown out again next year.

Mystery Black Bean. This is the intruder. It grew from a batch of Mayflower bean seeds. Very early and quick to set it also succumbed to the vine biter. I was really shocked to find the pods filled with these little black seeds. I've hung on to them and might grow them on next year but I've no idea of their qualities or even if they have any worth mentioning.

Hutterite Soup - pretty greenish white seeds that are quite well known. I measured the yield on these and found it averages only about 30g per plant even though they seemed to be growing well and setting lots of pods. This year I had just half a dozen plants for seed but I'd need to plant 35 or more into a row to get a kilo of beans for store, and I expect that goes for the other storage beans too. Serious self sufficiency means really going for it in a big way.

Corbieres - these are the beans I've previously referred to as Riana's as she was the kind person who sent them to me. I still don't know what variety they are exactly but as she obtained them in the wine region of France known as the Corbieres I think I shall adopt that as my name for them. They are such fleshy beans they're not even drying yet but they are brilliant as green beans and as long as I can keep a handful of mature beans as seed I will grow them every year.

Mayflower beans are the variety alleged to have travelled with the Pilgrim fathers (and the mothers too) but although I keep growing them for seed I've yet to make a meal with them. They did well this year until the cut vine creature got to them so I expect to be able to share some but I've no real idea how they cook. They are also weak climbers like the half runners and this was the batch that threw that sport black bean although most of them are perfectly true to type.

Friday 5 September 2014

Hot stuff

Original Alberto's Locoto
Alberto's Locoto, flowers and fruit

How do you spell your chillies? I've seen chile, chili, chillie, chilly even. I thought I'd formed my own style guide and was going to settle on chilli (pl. chillies) but then I read some other person's justification for the way she did it (chile, if I recall correctly) and my confusion was reignited all over again.

Pictured above, Alberto's Locoto rocoto (Capsicum pubescens). This is the last remaining two year old plant grown from seed in 2013. Well, I say one plant, I've never been quite sure if a separate stem is from the bigger plant or is a co-habiting sibling. Anyway, it/they came through the winter and kept on growing as is their nature.  The fruits are beautifully red when ripe and about the length of my thumb, which is ... 5cm.

I'm very taken with the pubescens species. They are hardier than the average chilli plant, perennial if handled with care, nicely flavoured, prolific fruiting (again if you study their preferences) and not /too/ hot. Most of the frenzy surrounding breeding ever hotter and more bizarre types has left me cold but there's something here that seems just right.

It is possible to let them get too cold, three out of the four pots I overwintered failed the test but they're really not too fussy and also prefer cooler summers, so no need to keep them in the greenhouse during the summer, another big plus. If they have a drawback it's that they're rather brittle and stems snap at the slightest provocation. I've had some success in rooting broken shoots by just sticking them in a pot of dirt but I'd really rather they stayed on the plant.

I grew some more this year from seed saved from last year's crop.

Alberto's Locoto rocoto
Alberto's Locoto, from saved seed

This is one of the seedlings, only just starting to form buds. All the chillies are late this year, because I've been slow and slapdash with starting seeds but at least with the rocotos there's a good chance for an early start next year.

Captivated I searched for other seed varieties to try and found some seeds at Magic Gardens. Sadly these are unnamed but the picture shows a more rounded apple shaped fruit in a fetching orange-apricot colour.  The seedlings seem altogether larger than the Alberto's and again are only just showing flower buds. I'm looking forward to seeing the crop.

And then I found the Rocoto group on Facebook (see, it is good for something) and they have a magnificent selection between them, and were kind enough to point me to a German supplier that will meet all my immediate needs for novelty. I can't wait.

Magic Garden rocoto

Magic Garden unnamed rocoto variety seedling

I have two other chilli species this year. Lemon Drop aji (Capsicum baccatum) bought from Real Seeds. Again, so late I'm not sure they'll fruit but I'm hoping to overwinter them and see what happens.

Lemon drop chilli
Lemon Drop aji seedling

And finally the very ornamental Trifetti (Capsicum annuum) which has variegated leaves and fruit that start a very dark purple, almost black before ripening to red. These are just fruiting and I'm hoping to keep them going over the winter as houseplants.

trifetti pepper

Tuesday 2 September 2014

September Squash

black futsu flower

This isn't all about squash, in as far as I understand the term, it's about a more diverse range of cucurbits, but I can't pass up the chance for cheesy alliteration. If anyone can formally define the difference between 'squash' and 'pumpkin' please give it your best in the comments.

bottle gourd singular

Despite my disappointment with the breeding programme the plants haven't had a bad year. This was my first try at dudi or bottle gourd and it's sort of a success. I was planning to grow the plant in the greenhouse but it was so vigorous that encouraged by the ragingly hot weather at the time I moved it into the garden where it settled in quickly enough. It's still flowering now but male and female flowers don't seem to open at the same times. If I hadn't hand pollinated this fruit (with a withered male flower at that) it would have failed to produce entirely.  I don't know if this is chance or design but it's probably a case for growing several plants at once.

shark's fin melon

This year's other novelty the Shark's fin melon has been worrying me. It was slow to get going after planting out and for a while I feared it had a viral infection because the leaves were showing distinct mottling but it seems to have shrugged that off now and is demonstrating more of the behaviour I expected; vining vigorously and rapidly across the area assigned to it and producing copious flowers but until the last week or so only male ones. The newly formed baby fruit of the last week are consequently tiny. This is cutting it fine in my opinion. Hardier than the average they might be but there's barely time for those babies to mature unless we have an excellently warm autumn. Fingers crossed.

black futsu fruit

The Black Futsu have done fairly well. The fruits are so much bigger this year than last I wondered if they had also become contaminated by rogue pollen but I think they are just responding to better soil conditions and higher moisture levels. I wasn't planning on saving seed from these this year anyway and as the single plant of Moschata has failed to fruit completely they will be a reasonable substitute for the stores.

yellow courgette

Courgettes, how I tremble when I hear your name. I think I have to stop myself from ever growing an F1 courgette again. They are just too prolific. The picture was taken this morning and shows they are still in fine fettle even with a dusting of mildew on the older leaves. I have a couple of ways of using them that I can bear in fritters and soup but mostly, bleh. I need a family here or a corps of farm volunteers to feed before it's really justifiable to grow more than one plant each year.

contaminated whanga

There were several Whangaparoa Crown type plants and not all of them seem (on the outside) to have been affected by the rogue crossing of last year. We'll have half a dozen grey blue fruits that I expect will keep well enough. I'm still not sure whether to try to 'grow out' the undesirable characteristics or just start again with fresh seed. We've talked of making seed gardens at each end of the farm where it would be easier to maintain isolation from the main beds but it's a faff and an expense and my heart isn't prepared for any more set backs. I might just give it up.

evil pumpkin

And this is the degenerate reprobate that revealed the flaw in my manipulations. Actually, if I were simply looking for a new variety it has some fine points, the plant was very early and strong growing and the fruits aren't huge (I feared the Big Max effect) but neat and flattened in shape. I don't know what the eating or storage qualities will be but I expect they're good. As a potential addition to the range of pumpkins I'm sure some would keep it but there are an awful lot of varieties out there already and since I'd have to grow this on for some seasons to ensure it was stable it's probably not worth the effort, particularly if it's inherited that outcrossing ability that brought it into the garden in the first place.

Anyone for pumpkin pie?

Friday 29 August 2014

No words but here are some pictures

Stag Beetle
Stag Beetle - there was a small explosion of these a couple of weeks ago.

Oak Eggar Moth
Oak Eggar Moth - these day flying moths confused us for a while as they just don't stop but finally Paul got a picture.

Rosy Footman
This little cutie is a Rosy Footman. Very distinctive colouring in flight.

Western Clubtail
Western Clubtail dragonfly - not very rare but new to us.

ceps and chanterelles
Mushrooms are  up.

Sunday 24 August 2014

The change of the season

carrot seed and garlic bulbils

There is a perceptible change of air this week. The swallows are nearly all gone, just a few late fledgers from the second broods gathering strength until their parents gauge them fit to travel, the nights are drawing in, there is mist on the grass in the mornings and the warmth is abated.

With a forecast of almost continuous rain for the next couple of days I've been taking some rapid harvests of things that will spoil in high humidity. Lots of raspberries, beans for drying, inevitable pickling cucumbers and courgettes and some carrot seed and garlic bulbils.

The carrot seed is of two colours, unremembered varieties except as yellow and orange. I'm really not that bothered with the purity aspect here. It's an experiment to see if I can save viable seed (seems easy enough so far) and carrots are something I don't find particularly nuanced in texture or flavour for most of the widely available sorts, so there seems little to preserve except to keep them separate from wild carrot back crosses which is unlikely to happen as we have no wild carrot here.

The garlic flower bulbil heads were 'forced' by stress on overwintered garlic that was so rusty I didn't even bother to harvest it. I'm hoping to grow on the little bulbils and produce a clean crop in a couple of years time but that's possibly a hope too far.

Other seed saving I'm intending to make is of this wild plant which I can only identify as a purple Heracleum sphondylium or Common Hogweed. Search engines are obsessed with the noxious Giant variety and I've had trouble tracking down any examples of the Common with colour variations but this is such a striking plant even from a distance I'd like to increase its incidence around the farm. Even if only a few seeds breed true it's a lovely thing.

purple hogweed

Tuesday 19 August 2014

And so it goes...


Having become so depressed by my own failures at variety segregation it should be comforting to discover that other producers are equally inept.

That very pretty water lily above was purchased from a reputable supplier at the Hampton Court Flower Show way back in 2007 and was labelled as Barbara Davies, an exotic looking creamy yellow peachy sort of flower. As can now be seen seven years later, it is nothing of the sort.

We've nurtured this plant, recovered it from a vicious water rodent attack (coypu or water rat, we're not sure) and waited patiently and without reward for it to flower in its allotted spot in the "sheep dip" pond. This year, when the pond was almost moribund with sludge and detritus we cleared the plants and used the tractor to scoop out the muck. The lily was popped in a big stock watering tub that I use as a water butt near the vegetable patch. The warm water and excellent sunshine of the early summer finally provoked it into flower but it's not Barbara...

If you're a water lily expert and can identify it for us, please leave a comment. :)

Sunday 3 August 2014

Depression is always having to say you're sorry

That cat is lucky, she rarely ponders her place in the universe and apart from a few moments when she's being bullied by the boys her life is full of joy and wonder. She bounces around like a piece of fluff and takes pleasure in just about everything including rolling in the dust.

This week for me, not so much joy.  The Whangaparaoa pumpkin plot came tumbling down when I found a huge rogue yellow fruit forming. I should have know something was up because the plant was so vigorous from the outset but hey, I'm growing for landrace selection so some variation seemed welcome. However, it seems that somehow my separation techniques last year were inadequate and that Pink Banana squash that wasn't somehow spread its evil influence all the way across to my Whanga patch. The other plants growing from the same saved seed batch look o.k. but who knows what horrors lurk within their genes. So that concludes this round of experiments, I don't know, five years? and now it's lost.  I'm sorry I don't have the energy to keep trying. Even getting more clean seed is a project, my originals came from New Zealand but I no longer have contacts there to send me more.

I'm sorry I've been so down that I let the raspberries decay on the canes, all the tomatoes that are turning red have blossom end rot,  the potatoes are blighted and that something has chewed through the last couple of plants of Painted Lady runners which I was growing out for seed just as pods were beginning to form. Even the courgettes make me feel bad by being prolific when I was determined not to let them bully me.

And I'm sorry this post is such a downer. It seems necessary somehow that the blog presents things in a positive or amusing way. Sometimes that requirement can silence me for days.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Symphony in green

green cornue andes
Green Cornue Andes

We've had the heat and we're getting the rain and the garden is loving it. Still no ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse but there are good fruit on most of the plants now and it's definitely time to start feeding.

green Gezahnte Bührer-Keel
Green Gezahnte Bührer-Keel

These are the tomatoes with the name that cannot be retained. They are delicous.

green potiron encarlote
Green Potiron Encarlote

I'm hoping these will get much bigger before they ripen. These are nicest large tomatoes I've ever had.

green tigerella
Green Tigerella

Not so certain about these Tigerella which wouldn't have been my first choice but they are growing well and should make useful crops.

greenhouse cuc
F1 cucumber

No idea of the variety of these greenhouse cucumbers. They came in a gift pack and I have to say they're good cucs, productive and easy. Maybe I'll grow them again.

ridge cucumber ready to pick
Ridge cucumber

I can't remember which variety these are either. Possibly Cornichons de Paris or something German from Lidl.

carlin peas

It's a good pea year so far. I might have some of these as mange tout.

Corsican runner bean
Corsican runner bean

Despite my earlier thoughts on these being different to Spanish White I've decided there's nothing significant to choose between them. The Corsican are vigorous growers and have made a good set. I'm looking forward to taking some as green beans but think their real value will be as a dried bean for making Greek style giant beans in sauce.

green purslane living as weed in pot

If these don't come up as weeds I always start some more. Excellent salad vegetable, can be cooked and full of vital nutrients. This one is growing in a pot where it was never intended to be but I think its time will come later today.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Is there a word for ...

large white
Large White

people who become obsessed with spotting butterflies, like twitcher for Bill Oddie? Because I fear I may have become one.

small white
Small White

Across the UK I've heard from several people who feel that there aren't as many butterflies this year as last.  This seems to be on a par with policemen getting younger and nostalgia not being what it used to be but there have been some differences in the relative populations of species over here compared to my (admittedly poor) recollections of last year.

m white
Marbled White

The Marbled White was very common last year and is still very frequent this year. We saw very few of them until a couple of years ago, not sure if it's something to do with our change of land management or just random variation. They are pretty but skittish and catching one in a good pose is always a challenge.

gatekeeper 2

Gatekeepers are pretty little things and this year seem to be particularly bright and tidy looking. I never saw many of them in the UK in urban surroundings but there are lots here in the woodland edges.

meadow brown
Meadow Brown

Meadow Browns are so ubiquitous and unassuming in colour that they almost become overlooked as the season progresses. It's rare to find one with its wings outspread. This female is probably waiting for a mate.


The Ringlet is even more dull than the Meadow Brown, but the little ring markings it's named for are delicate and pretty if it holds still long enough for you to take a look.

comma again

The Comma is pretty bold and in your face by comparison. There seem to be a few more of these at this time of year than last year, although the population is always greatest as autumn approaches.

red admiral 4
Red Admirals

These are so distinctive that I think everyone should recognise them. Big strong flyers they love rotting fruit and can be seen in swarms around plum drop time sucking up the fermented fruit juices.

skipper for blog

And the winner is, the Skipper which has had a marvellous year here, more than we've ever seen before. I have to confess there are several types and I suspect we have more than a couple of them but they're not that easy to distinguish and I'll need to study them harder before I can give reliable identifications.

So far, so native and the ones that got away are mostly in that category too. Peacock butterflies are just hatching the second brood but unusually aren't ready to pose for the camera yet. Give them time, they are natural exhibitionists with a camera pointed at them. The Small Tortoiseshells are between broods too and so there are very few about for me to take a snap of, but there were plenty earlier in the year. We've had the odd Copper, some Holly Blues and one or two Map butterflies, which you won't see in the UK but are usually quite common here. These three species along with the Blues do seem to be in short supply as yet. No Silver-washed Fritillaries which seems odd as there were plenty last year but maybe it's a bit early for them and it's been another year without a sighting of a Wall butterfly so far too.

And there are very few migrants turning up. I'm hoping the Spanish Plume forecast for the next couple of days will give them a boost and hurry them to us. As well as old favourites like the Painted Lady, Clouded Yellows and Hummingbird Hawkmoths I'm hoping to spot the Long-tailed Blue this year which reached the south coast of England last year but didn't come here. And there's news of another unusual migrant which might come to us via the Netherlands, the Yellow Legged Tortoiseshell, like a Large (which I've never knowingly seen) but with yellow legs. It all seems so exciting.

It's o.k. I've taken my pills and I'll stop now.