Monday 23 June 2014

In the garden with vegetables today


As promised some news on the vegetable patch. The chard is looking good, such a reliable and delicious vegetable, everyone should grow it.

bab leek head

The alliums aren't quite so perky. The overwintered garlic is dying of rust and I'll have to dig that today I think. No point in leaving it longer. The other garlic was mashed under the feet of those marauding cows and isn't going to reach its full potential but I think it's worth leaving in a bit longer.

The japanese overwintering onions are small, also a bit trampled but otherwise would have been fine for what they were intended for, which was an early crop of onions to be eaten over the summer. Unfortunately the main crop was never planted so that's it for onions this year and they won't be nearly enough.

Shallots, just a few, were late in and don't look much cop but we'll see what happens now the longest day is past.

rusty garlic

tuberous pea flower

Is it a root, is it a pea? It's flowering at any rate and that means there might be some aardaker seeds available for swapping in the autumn. Like most of the novel crops there are rarely enough to harvest to actually eat but this clump has now been in situ for two years and with some seeds as insurance against losing the lot it might be worth taking some of the tubers later in the year.

The other peas are trying to grow big enough to climb their supports and show no signs of flowers yet. This is because they were nearly all checked in pots before I had places to plant them out this spring. They're making good growth now so all should be well soon.

The exception is the Raisin Capucijner peas which are flowering and forming pods. I'll cover them in part two. The pictures I took were too blurry.


Edible thistles. I read somewhere that most thistle heads are edible if only one could be faffed to prepare them. The globe artichokes suffered badly in the terrible winter two years ago and didn't look like they'd survive but after a year of recuperation one plant at least is having a go.

The cardoons are in flower too. Again you can eat the heads of these but it's a painful task for little reward. I missed my chance to blanch the stems in the spring when they were lush and lovely and now they are more ornamental than useful but I should be able to carry them through the winter for another go next time.

yellow carrot flower

Root vegetables are a write off this year. I put some carrots in late last autumn, not because I was expecting much of a crop but to provide foliage for the Swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on this spring. Inevitably then, the carrots have done what comes naturally to them (do you hate Eggheads too?) and thrown up flowers. Carrots cross breed rather promiscuously and as I have yellow and orange rooted sorts in the patch any seed won't be a pure variety. Still, as I've never saved carrot seed before I'm tempted to give it a go just for the experience and see what comes up.

I also had burdock and evening primrose in the root bed, both coming into flower nicely. It's my own fault, I did dig some but they were pathetic, tough and weedy thanks to the poor stony soil. It's beginning to look like raised beds might be a help with improving yields around here.

ladybird working the aphids

Saturday 21 June 2014

A summer solstice

white flowered cirsium palustre
White flowered form of thistle Cirsium palustre, not particularly rare but the first I've noticed here.

I thought I'd do that thing that people do sometimes on blogs and link back to the 'on this day' entries for past years but looking through it seems that there are no entries for some years. Still, reading the history confirms my thought that this year, planting is ahead of average and everything should be fine.

pyramidal orchid
Anacamptis pyramidalis - fairly rare meadow orchid

Even so I can't help fretting that things aren't growing as verdantly as I'd like them too. The ground here is very impoverished and we plan to have a soil test done so that we can make an educated guess on the best ways to bring it back to full productivity but at the moment with little in the way of good compost to apply and a reluctance to use commercial fertilisers, even the organic sorts, plants seem sulky and uncooperative. Or maybe I'm just projecting too much.

sunny weeds

I'm having some computer problems too, a piece of malware seems to have become resident and two virus checkers and two malware removers don't seem to be able to shift it. I've just tried a third and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The trouble is this is an old XP machine which I was hoping would see out the summer with me. I don't really want to be rebuilding or buying new when I should be doing more useful things.

sweet potato
A single sweet potato plant from a slip raised two years ago and maltreated until now.

I promised vegetable updates. Soon, soon.

Monday 16 June 2014


red currants picked

After the burst of summer weather last week the red currants ripened to their glorious translucently scarlet selves so today I picked them before the blackbirds found them.

In fact, the ones I picked were from a self seeded bush that I've been nurturing on the end of what is becoming a lavender bed. It's quite open around it at the moment which is a great benefit for keeping birds away - the red currant in the back garden surrounded by tall weeds and suckering raspberries is almost stripped bare already.

Anyway, I have double the quantity I'd estimated and must turn them into a few little pots of jelly for the winter.

Graphosoma lineatum

Insect life was ramping up, then slowed right down again for the last two days by overcast and windy conditions but mostly they're making sweet love while the sun shines. The striped shield bugs Graphosoma lineatum have been in congress all over the Sweet Cicely for some time now.

We've seen a few stray less common butterflies, just one Pale Clouded yellow on the 13th June and a summer Map along with the first few examples of the meadow browns.The wind has been in the north for about a week now which tends to discourage exotics migrating up from further south on the continent.

I will try and do a few posts to summarise the vegetable plots in the next few days. A statement of intent like that sometimes works but often ends up being a trigger for guilt when I fail to make the effort. We'll see, things are looking fairly good and worth reporting on.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

A greenhouse full of cats


Stuff is beginning to get out of hand a bit. The salsify is self seeded into the lawn, rather lovely no, but still surprising that a plant a metre tall can reach flowering size on the patch we normally keep short.

the Devil Deer returns

The devil deer is back, or one of her friends and the fencing isn't finished yet. I have a warning siren I thought might do for scaring hunters in the autumn; it makes big game animal noises but perhaps I should install that with a proximity sensor to discourage the damn herbivores.

flowers of epicure potato

The Epicure potatoes are in full flower, I think we'll be able to take some by the end of the month, probably a full four weeks later than we usually have new potatoes. The British Queens are budding nicely too. Already I've had to spray for blight, it rained torrents the next day and washed most of it off but I'll have to wait a few weeks before repeating the exercise. Luckily the forecast is for fairly dry over the next ten days.


At least some fruit is reaching harvest readiness. These red currants on a self seeded bush are looking good and the purchased bush in the back is also ripening nicely. I've had handfuls of wild strawberries, wild in that they grow where they want around the yard, and a first few raspberries too. There are gooseberries, black currants and blueberries all in different stages and the blackberries are flowering now which is pleasing the butterflies.

red admiral3

Tomatoes are just putting on the first flowers. Due to some clerical oversight I've completely failed to keep track of varieties this year, I can tell you I have 21 plants and that they are, in variable numbers, Tigerella, Potiron Encarlote, Gezahnte B├╝hrer-Keel, Cornue Andes and a seed saved from a commercial tomato because I wanted to see if it would grow. I had four seedlings of these but they were terribly weak and weedy specimens and I decided not to waste much energy on them. The survivor has picked up a bit now but I suspect the parent was F1 and the offspring won't come to much.

First tomato flowers

Friday 6 June 2014

Some good work.

absolutely bananas

One of the things I've often bitched about is the lack of rigour and possible confusion over various seed varieties in the Heritage system. With no central control and in the hands of well meaning amateurs my concern is that when mistakes are made they are compounded by being propagated throughout the community in good faith.

I was interested therefore to spot a thesis: The Characterisation of Heritage Vegetables published by Jennifer Preston for her PhD at Birmingham in 2011 examining these issues in depth.

You can read it here and although like most theses it's a dry old study there are some gems in there including a section on duplicate accessions. The conclusion is that of the varieties studied there was a potential redundancy of about 10% of accessions because they were identical in all but name. The research was limited but if it can be extrapolated to the full catalogue then that's a sizeable portion of confusion out there.

Worth a thousand words

There are half a dozen stub posts sitting in my drafts folder and although they're all good stuff and some even have the photos in place I don't seem to be able to fill in the essential details, like words.

Worse than that, today is a much anticipated summer's day, probably the best of the year so far and instead of being out there enjoying it my body has decided to call in sick. So things are not getting done in the garden either.

Here are some snaps:

a hungry caterpillar

We found a big colony of Peacock butterfly caterpillars in the nettles Paul was about to cut so we left a patch for them to eat. They're doing well, probably nearly ready to pupate and then emerge as beautiful posers in late July. By the way, most of my photos are now hosted on Ipernity and you can find me there as Spider .

pretty pink flowers of the raisin capucijner pea

These dwarf peas called Raisin Capucijner (find that word very difficult to spell) came from the Heritage Seed Library. The plants are stunted even for dwarf growers and weren't helped by being stomped on by cows but the flowers are delightful. I'm hoping they'll carry on growing and make a good crop.

flypast over the farm

Today is D-day and although it is remembered with respect every year, this year is the 70th anniversary. Many of the veterans who took part in 1944 won't be with us much longer and so there is a particularly big event to commemorate their participation this time. We are just twenty minutes drive from Omaha beach here and this fly past of old planes were clearly making a turn back to the ceremonies. There is a little clip in this article on the BBC which shows them flying past HM the Queen as she lays a wreath in memory of the many soldiers who died during the battles.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

I really love your tiger feet.

Tiger Feet by Mud

What can I say except I've just watched a particularly gory episode of Game of Thrones, I need some brain bleach and this mentions the word tiger.

tiger nuts chufa

Tiger nuts on the other hand don't have nearly such a compulsive beat but after several years chasing the Andean tuber trail with mixed success (and trying again this year) I decided that perhaps I should be growing something that thrives closer to home.

Cyperus esculentus is a sedge grass that grows around the Mediterranean (and in many other countries) which was probably first cultivated in Egypt. I'd tried horchata made with these nutty flavoured tubers and found it pleasant, if horrendously expensive but the raw tubers were a delicious revelation to me. They are really good and sweet.

The picture above shows the tubers as they are usually sold; cleaned and dried and then after soaking in cold water for twenty-four hours. Once soaked they are crisp although the fibrous skin is a bit chewy. I actually like this a lot, it brings me in touch with my inner gorilla but if they were a major part of my diet I can imagine my dentist getter richer as my teeth wore away. Humans just aren't built for this sort of mastication. Still, there's always home made tiger milk .

In appropriate conditions the returns can be impressive but northern France is not Valencia so this year I'm just trialling a few plants. It's such a widely grown crop I'm sure there are many cultivars which might suit our conditions better but in the absence of suppliers I took my planting material from the same bag of commercial chufa I'd bought for taste testing, soaked them and then planted up in a big pot in the greenhouse. To be honest I wasn't sure they were alive because they seemed to take weeks (maybe four) to make top growth but now they look like this.

tiger nuts sedge

It's my intention to split these out and plant them in a row. I don't think they'll be too worried about the root disturbance and looking at them I'll need to be pretty sure where I've planted them before they get lost in the untended weed patch that is the vegetable garden this year. They are killed by hard frosts so probably won't survive to become a pest but it is a consideration, they are known as invasive weeds in many countries. Still I think I'd rather battle earth almonds than couch grass.