Thursday 30 April 2015

In the greenhouse


Late as I am this year with getting seedlings started I've decided that it's better to do things properly, and by that I mean by traditional methods, than do my usual know-it-all shortcuts that so often lead to disaster. As a result the greenhouse is looking almost professional with lots of cell trays filled with freshly pricked out baby plants.

Mostly in the picture are tomato seedlings. This year I'm growing the old favourite Gezahnte B├╝hrer-Keel. Wladecks, Clibran's Victory, two new to me varieties from Victoriana Seeds; Surender's Curry tomato and Harry's Italian and six plants of Tondino di Manduria, sourced from Kokopelli some years ago. I'm hoping to grow these outdoors under a cheap poly cloche-tunnel. Even with that the greenhouse is going to be overloaded again unless I harden my heart and discard some. I grew Clibran's Victory last year I think but treated the plants so badly I don't think I had any fruit at all, so I'm trying again. Although my seed came from the Heritage seed library there's almost no documentation on the web from anyone who's had a photogenic crop. Perhaps this year will make it into a new star.

vila vila 2

Telsing from the Facebook group Friends of Vila Vila sent me seeds from her breeding programme, and I started some a few weeks ago. The baby plants aren't very big yet but they look healthy enough and will be about the right size to plant out by the end of May when the weather should be more reliable. The plan is to select the seedlings that are least spiky and painful to harvest but this year I'll be pleased just to achieve fruiting plants.

a relative of borage

It seems I put a picture up of the Symphytum asperum every year but I can't resist those scorpioid cymes and the bees love the flowers.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Shallow Grave

apple blossom

In the last couple of years I've become a convert to bean trenching - digging a deep ditch where the beans are to grow and filling the bottom with organic material from grass clippings to vegetable kitchen waste before backfilling the topsoil and planting the beans. It's a good way of providing a well of moisture in high summer, using up compost materials that aren't fully decomposed and improving the soil at depth with little effort.

Even so I think I've gone a bit mad this year. Some of the land enclosed by our new deer proof fence is not of the best quality and has been lying fallow, growing docks and thistles for some time too. As part of the plan to recuperate this abandoned waste back into the productive plot I decided that a long row of beans and peas, with the associated trench, would be a good start. Digging such a trench, in stony compacted soil and twice the length I'd usually consider seemed like such exhausting work I co-opted the tractor in for the hard labour. A back hoe is a fine tool but maybe it's just a little bit over the top for this job.

shallow grave

There was barely enough room for the tractor to swing a cat but the job was done. It's remarkable how long and strong dock roots are when bodily dug out from their full depth. A day's work got the trench dug and filled with fully and half rotted stuff from the heap but now I have to push the topsoil back by hand after rain softened the surface so much that the tractor was doing more harm than good.

Still, I have high hopes for this bean row if all goes to plan and already have baby pea plants, Carlins and Irish Preans, started to be planted out. I've yet to select climbing beans but will certainly have some of the sort I call Corbieres (Riana's) beans and will grow dwarf Starley Road and Hutterite soup beans for winter use.

Friday 24 April 2015

wood anemones

The splendid weather of the last week or so has gone away today making it a fine time to stay in and work on the computer. Not that I've done all that much outside either, mostly I've been reading Poldark and sunbathing. It's been so hot that the wood anemones and early bluebells are nearly over and I saw a first inflorescence on the elderberry that grows in the old haybarn.

deadnettle 2

The weeds are growing well too and I've spent a couple of mornings clearing out the perennial herb beds and freeing the blueberries from the ever encroaching mint and brambles. We only have one globe artichoke left and if I can I'll supplement that this year with a few plants from the garden centre as it's much too late to start any from seed now.

When we arrived a couple of weeks ago I started, again very late, tomatoes and various squashes and melons which are now up and will have to be hurried towards maturity. The ulluco, mashua and oca also went in and are just now beginning to shoot. They can grow on for a while before they need to be planted out, just as well, as there are no beds for them. I'm not sure I should even have bothered with the mashua - we don't like to eat them much and I notice many vigorous volunteers coming up where they were last year.

We continue to get harvests from the purple sprouting and perennial cabbages, a few shoots of asparagus and now Good King Henry and rhubarb are available. It's all good, but the work is already getting away from me. Anyone out there like to come over and give me a hand?

good king henry

Thursday 16 April 2015

Saving yacon over winter and wapato

asparagus from the garden

 It's very hard getting back into this. Asparagus from the garden, just enough for my tea tonight (along with some other things, I'm not wasting away at all). The patch is struggling with weeds as usual and the seed raised plants rather variable. If I trusted myself more I'd invest in a clutch of commercially prepared roots next autumn, it takes too long to bring them up from seed and even for just the two of us we need a lot more plants to make a few good meals each spring. But, I'm not sure it would be economic without a gardener to set to the weeding or a big change in my self discipline.


And so to Yacon. People sometimes have difficulty in overwintering the parts of the plant that form new growth in the spring. I've failed myself but last year I tried two methods and they were both successful. The simplest and easiest thing to do is to lift a plant comparatively early - yacon aren't slow to form tubers like oca or ulluco so you will still get a reasonably harvest from a plant lifted in mid to late October. Clean it up a bit and pot it in spent compost in a pot just big enough. There will still be a bit of green top growth so trim it back to a few inches. Keep the pot very slightly damp at about 10C. Light isn't too important so a garage window or warm shed will probably do, I keep ours in an unheated room in the house but our walls are thick and the temperature doesn't vary much. One plant preserved like this should make several in the spring when divided into growing points and potted up.

Alternatively wait until frost has killed the top growth but don't wait too long. Take up the plants, remove the storage tubers, shake off the dirt and keep the crowns just as they are until the spring. Again, it's the temperature that's important. Too warm and the roots will dry and die but too cold and they die from that instead. In the spring clean away the dead and dry roots and split the crown into growing tips. Pot and keep warm and lightly moist until they sprout. Plant out in the usual way.


A few weeks ago Rhizowen was kind enough to send me some of his seedling wapato tubers. We have newly cleared the quite extensive water works around the house and I was hoping to be able to introduce them straight into the pond and stream margins but the lovely tidy environment has attracted attention of a less welcome sort and the blasted coypu is back, as can be seen from the rather blurry picture above. He (or she) is currently enjoying the watercress and other water plants and a lingering  doubt about liver flukes leaves me fairly content with this but it does mean I dare not introduce the wapato or indeed put the waterlilies back in position after they were moved during the works.

So for the moment they've been potted into holding pots and are living in the baby bath bought for my son just before his birth 33 years ago... how little I could have imagined that then! I've no idea what I'll do when they start to outgrow this nursery bed, it's not like I'll shoot the wretched creature but I'm at a loss how to encourage it to move away.

By the way, if you interested in odd Andean vegetables take a look at the Oca Breeders Guild where crowd sourcing is being used to speed up development of day length neutral oca varieties suitable for cultivation in Europe and North America. 

Monday 13 April 2015

Just a quickie

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to blog regularly again but here is a picture of some purple sprouting.

And a swallow.

Back in France,  lots to do and talk about but I've forgotten how to ramble on. More later maybe.