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 B├╝hrer-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?