Tuesday 22 November 2016

A long harvest

okra pod and armenian cucumber

Health problems got in the way and then somehow it was too hard to pick up the blog again. Here's a brief catchup on some of this year's efforts. The Armenian cucumbers came to nothing in the end, from a couple of plants I had just two little fruit like the one above dashing my plan for salt cured pickles at Christmas. The okra was nearly as pathetic, the early sowed plants sulked through a chilly spring and the late ones never caught up. The Queen Anne's melon damped off in the pots although the germination was good and the Rock melons didn't come up at all. Bah.

raisin capujiner peas dried

The peas and beans did better and we ate well from them with plenty to save for seed. The only failure, and it was mine, was gathering the Irish Preans. I just missed the window for them and came back to mouldy damp pods with the seeds rotting inside. Think there are still some in store so I'll have to try again next year. One unlikely harvest was a good return of soy beans. I'd planted some rather random seeds in the hope of taking the pods green for edamame but they never seemed to bulk up like the ones I'm used to from frozen packets. Then I was away and when I got back the pods had matured and dried. Inspired I've bought a more commercial variety to try again next year.

grading onions

Onions were small but perfectly formed, I really liked the Rose de Roscoff type from Brittany and will try to get some for next year. The new onion patch is already taking shape with overwintering garlic and some Japanese sets in place.

Sweetcorn was another casualty of right time, wrong place. Our best year for some time but we missed having them sweet and fresh from the field and ended up with frozen cobs. Nice, nutritious but nothing more special than you can get in the shops. 

This year the only pumpkins were Whangaparaoa Crown. Despite a rather shaky start there were plenty of fruit for eating over the next six months and the seeds should be pure which will secure them for a few years in the rotation.

The tomatillos were a bit of a surprise this year - I thought I'd planted some green ones but it seems they were old seed from a packet of purple ones that had never been successful for me before. This year they were lovely, beautifully coloured and with a good flavour. I've saved seed from the most purple fruit and will try again next year. Perhaps I can work towards a new selection adapted to Normandy conditions.

There's also been a crop from the wild side. No hedghog fungus this year and few parasols but these big meaty ceps were some of the best I've ever seen, solid and almost entirely free of maggots.

Not a great year for chestnuts but I've managed to gather enough to save some for Christmas hygge.

The next big task is lifting the oca. Fingers crossed.

Monday 22 August 2016

Butterflies on Monday

Seems I was wrong about the last day of summer - we've been granted another three days this week. So here are some butterflies and stuff.

sooty copper grass
Sooty Copper

Quite a lot of these about which was nice, some on the tansy and some on the mint. They can be hard to identify and I'm not 101% sure about this one because the female common blue is often brown, but I think this right.

meadow brown tansy
Meadow Brown

When I planted the tansy I imagined it would be an insect magnet and much appreciated by them. That's not been the case rather disappointingly and it smells nasty too but today in glorious sunshine after a couple of days of imposed famine by high winds it was meeting a need.  The Meadow Browns are reliable grass loving butterflies all through the summer although their demure brown fades out as the season progresses. The tansy was attracting lots of flies too, some hoverflies, some ugly flesh eating ones. The pictures of those weren't good, so I've spared you.

silver washed on tansy
Silver Washed Fritilliary

These lovely big butterflies are some of our most frequent species here, although they tend to get a bit tatty as they age. They're not usually fans of the tansy either, preferring the top of the buddleia or bramble flowers in the forest margins but today was special, obviously.

common blue
Common Blue

If the coppers can be difficult to identify then so can the Blues. This Common Blue looks quite like many of the blue butterflies we get, particularly at speed. However, the clue is in the name, so without other evidence I'm quite happy to identify this one, and he's a boy too because his colours are so bright.

holly blue on tansy
Holly Blue

The Holly Blues could just as easily be called Ivy Blues but for some reason they're not. These are quite distinctive, paler, just a little light spotting on the underwings and they nearly always rest with their wings closed upright.

small copper tortoiseshell tansy
Sooty Copper female and Small Tortoiseshell 

How I'd love to see the Large Tortoiseshell but we don't seem to have them here. We have an abundance of small Tortoiseshells though and they are enjoying life in August very much. The picture below shows a caterpillar nursery of them on some nettles. There are lots and lots there but some will be lost to predators and weather. Even so, they look set for a good year again next year weather permitting.

nest of caterpillars nettles
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettles

rose chafer tansy
Rose Chafer

I think these are the prettiest of the beetles and have to take their picture whenever I see one. The larvae live in the roots of brambles (and roses) but I won't hate them for that.

red admiral buddleia
Red Admiral on Buddleia x weyeriana

The Red Admirals are fairly snooty butterflies until the plums drop and they become drunken sots rolling around on the ground sucking up all that fermenting deliciousness. They'll put up with the less intoxicating flowers of the buddleia but none of them fancied the tansy this morning.

green veined white mint
Green-veined White

Mint is another excellent plant for attracting insects. The Green-veined White is another opportunity for a misidentification since the Wood White is very similar but despite the bleaching in this slightly over exposed photo I'm sticking with my id for this one.

jersey tiger kitchen window
Jersey Tiger moth

Not a butterfly but a moth and despite its day-flying habit this photo was taken around midnight last night. It's nice to see the underwings at full stretch but I turned the kitchen light off after I took this picture so the poor thing could get some rest.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

It might be

yard 17th Aug

It might be the last good day of summer today. Misty mornings and bakingly hot days are forecast to give way to storms tonight and cooler breezier weather in the following days.

sunflower in the mist

This is the prettiest sunflower I've had for a long time and it catches my attention and my camera every time I pass it.

Thursday 28 July 2016


rose onion

Not a good year for the onion family in the garden. Various impediments meant everything was planted much too late and alliums do love their spring growth. This is onion Rose de Roscoff although probably I shouldn't call it that, since we're in Normandy and there is now an Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée on the type. It's probably one of the biggest we have despite being started from a set. Most of the others are going to be more at home in a pickles jar. I dream of the day when I'll have those 300 good sized onions that I calculate we get through in an average year, and then some for the condiments.

elephant garlic bulb

The elephant garlic did get an early start and seems to have done well enough, although the plants have taken rust now. I'm never sure whether it will help to remove the flower heads or not, but the insects love them so they're usually left. The leftover leeks are also flowering at the moment and it makes a lovely lilac show amongst the weeds.

undivided garlic

The true garlic was in a sorry state when it went in March. The bought in seed garlic was practically dust and the last saved bulb of garlic bought on the market last summer nearly as soggy. As a result there's barely anything to harvest but a few of the market sourced cloves have formed roundels - undivided bulbs - which can be used. If I was desperate to retain garlic I'd grow them on again next year for bulbs with cloves but it's probably easier just to buy some new seed garlic this autumn. The end times haven't got so close yet.

bab leek head

The Babington leeks are in a patch which is achieving a renewed state of nature. Considering the competition from thistles, nettles and grass they're doing o.k. but I should rescue them and replant in a clean bed before the summer is out. The heads of bulbils are still green and tender. They make wonderful flavouring for all sorts of seasoned vinegars and dressings at this stage and are just right to add to jars of fermented pickles as they develop. Take them young or they form a hard skin that is impossible to remove and nasty to eat and keep at least one head to renew your stock with for next year.

walking onion with cutting

The pot of shame. This is the very last walking onion. I thought I'd lost the lot but found this final specimen in a box of discarded compost on its way to the heap. Carefully nurtured it should be possible to turn its fortunes around. I hope that I don't forget it again. The little plant in the pot is an Erysimum cutting that I must have slipped in there at some moment when I'd broken a shoot and didn't know what to do with it. Serendipity is everything in the garden.

Thursday 21 July 2016

A small harvest

a small harvest

It might be small but it's perfectly formed. This year's strange weather has seemed at times to be completely minacious to growing vegetables, too cold, too wet, too hot and now too dry, but there are some old favourites that slugs and deer aside can be relied on to come through and give a crop.

ice crystal was bean

These are the first Ice Crystal wax beans to arrive. Named for their almost glistening pale colour, these are short beans on bush plants which try to climb in some seasons producing scrambling floppy growth that can hide the pods. Best taken very young like this they are magnificent in a dressed bean salad but even when a little older and larger will make a good vegetable if you have the patience to string them. The seeds are tiny, rice beans, but the flowers are prolific and it's easy to shell out a couple of hundred grams of dried beans for soup at the end of the seaon from a 3 metre row. I'm very fond of these beans and recommend them.

Riana's Corbieres bean

Another first harvest. These are the beans with no name - they are so good I can't believe they're not a well known variety but I only know them as Riana's bean from Corbieres. Long fleshy green pods without strings on plants that truly enjoy hot weather, their only downside is that it takes a long time for the pods to mature and dry. I've started marking the first few pods of each plant at the start of the season to ensure  that enough pods mature to collect viable seed for the next year.

white courgette

I can't believe I grew three courgette plants this year. And what plants! Determined to get white 'cousa' type fruit I picked an F1 seed variety - I forget the actual name - and the vigour that comes from this sort of breeding is frighteningly apparent. At the moment I'm picking one or two 15cm courgettes from each plant every day. The hot weather predicted for the next two weeks might slow that down but it's far more courgette than this lone diner can contemplate. Must dig out that recipe for pickles.

salmon flowered pea pods

 The salmon flowered peas are growing on me, even though I was less than impressed earlier in the year. They are pretty during their brief flowering and are prodigious croppers of quite pleasant peas. They need better staking than they got this year, the top heavy plants fall over as the peas swell but I'll grow them again, perhaps in a block instead of a row to make them self supporting.

Monday 11 July 2016

Around and about


We've had visitors and the sun, although unreliable has been giving some warmth and joy for a few days, so little work has been done on the various projects for a while. These bright red pelargoniums make a bold show in a re-purposed mail box but fickle as I am I've decided I'd prefer deep purple next year. Just enough willpower stayed my purchasing hand last time I was at the garden centre buying more Bordeaux mixture but I will upgrade my colour choices for 2017.

japanese wineberry

The Japanese wineberry that I was given by a permaculture gardener neighbour of Incredible Vegetables when we visited in the spring is looking good. It was one of my mother's favourite plants but when she tried to sneak it into my aunt's glorious garden it was relegated to a back corner and faded away into obscurity. This specimen will have a happier future than that.

tigridia pavonia1

First flowers on the Tigridia pavonia - also known for its edible bulb cacomitl. It was introduced to me by Rhizowen but although I read his blog closely I was still amazed by the size and splendour of the flowers. I shan't be taking a harvest of bulbs this year but the blooms are a lovely addition to the vegetable patch.

baobab seedling

Amongst the oddities I tried this year, the baobab. Of six seeds only this one has germinated but that just makes it more special. If I can keep the slugs off I'm hoping for great things from this baby.

First Indigo Kumquat tomato

First fruit on the Indigo Kumquat tomato. They look very dark at the moment but I believe they will develop some orange flushing as they ripen.

white admiral

Butterflies are still rather scarce but examples of all our regular inhabitants can be spotted. This lovely White Admiral was fresh and new when I snapped it a couple of days ago which makes a change from the tatty specimens that we usually see.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Ranty half hour


meadow brown

small copper



There was going to be a rant. I even wrote half of it. Then I decided not to.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Good weather for radishes


Another month has passed I see. Oh well.

The weather hasn't been all that good, a little bit hot, but humid and stormy. A little bit cool, windy and overcast. There's been quite a lot of rain. So it's a true curate's egg and the nasty bits have overshadowed the enjoyable considerably.

But from all conflict some good may come and for a change there are radishes. These easiest of vegetables, given to children for their first crop, have always been a bit of a struggle for me. Not so this year. Even with the inevitable attacks of flea beetle the rows are bulging with roots, standard red ones and some Long White too. A miracle.

golden wonder flowers

We dug the first early potatoes a couple of weeks ago. Premier they were and lived up to the name having been in the ground for about 11 weeks and tasting really rather good. The flowers above are on the Golden Wonder. Pretty aren't they and nicely scented. The Ambo are also flowering already. So far we've had only a couple of Smith period days and with the current cool conditions I'm holding back on spraying for blight. Hoping this won't be a terrible mistake because the potato patch is looking good this year.

first pea

The first pea pod has set on the Raisin Capucijners which is nice to see. The Salmon flowered are just started to form their crown of flowers. I'd always thought these would be interesting to grow but now I have some, meh. We'll see, perhaps they will win me over.

Salmon flowered pea

asparagus beetle

The Asparagus beetle is back in adundance. This is probably my own fault, bad cultural practice and all that but it does look like asparagus is going the way of broad beans in this garden. Plants I'm unable to grow without special measures are going to be left behind, no matter how sad it is. It's been suggested diatomaceous earth might help with my problems with the broad beans but I've been reluctant to apply this to flowers where bees work. Perhaps on asparagus it could be utilised as a beetle deterrent, more research needed.


We had such an abundant crop from the green/purple tomatilloes last year that I've only done six plants this time. It was a great shame that the last two seedlings of Dr.Wyche's yellow variety which I had from Realseeds several years ago were eaten by slugs before I could prick them out. I was hoping to compare the two varieties for yield and flavour this year. Realseeds don't seem to have this variety any longer although it's still available on the American heirloom seed sites.

So much more to say but my blogging mojo is low. There's stuff about maize and other cereal crops, ocas to catch up on, disasters with deer and fruit trees, cucurbits and more but it'll have to wait for another day when the motivation is strong.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Beans and stuff

spring is sprung

Today I have been mostly planting beans, but that's not just all that's been happening even if I haven't been recording it here. Here's a quick catch up now that spring has finally arrived.

breaking ground

How not to make an new vegetable patch from old meadow. My fault, things got delayed over winter and the designated patch only started to be prepared when we arrived at the end of March. The combination of the late start and some malfunctioning equipment has led to a novel approach to plot cultivation. Enter the erstwhile back hoe, last seen doing duty digging bean trenches in a previous season, now utilised as an all purpose turf stripper and earth turning implement.

It brings a new depth to double digging, and although permaculture buffs will be turning in their (shallow) graves it's going to make planting out the 400 or so oca in this newly designated Peru patch possible at all this year. It's slow work and not all done yet so the plants are hanging on in their pots and will be given a few doses of very weak liquid fertiliser to keep them in health while they wait. With luck they'll all be tucked up in the new beds by the 1st of June.

I should make particular mention of all the work Mr. Catofstripes has put in helping me with this mad foray into oca cultivation from putting up the little polytunnel to digging the area and finally fencing against deer including financing the whole project. He's actually rather lovely and it couldn't be done without him.

oak tree over meadow

There was a week of proper hot weather. It's over now and although the night temperatures are finally acceptable (we had a 2C night just a few days ago) it's not as warm as it might be, quite windy and the season seems delayed with the May blossom only really coming out in the last week.

This means that a lot of the more tender vegetables have been held back, either because I dare not plant the seeds or because seedling plants were chilled and refusing to grow. The okra that I have such high hopes for has been extremely sulky but is now beginning to make some growth. I could have probably waited to sow them another 3 weeks and they'd still be like this now.

okra 3

There's actually a lot more to record so I'll keep it to the point. All the spuds are in, there's a bed of yacon which I'm not sure I can spare the area for but it's done now. The peas are in situ and most of the beans - I've one patch of Riana Corbieres beans in the back garden for seed. There are two reasons for this, one is that the pods are so fleshy that it's best to let the earliest set mature and dry for the best quality seed production and the other is that I noticed some contamination of the type in the plants I grew last year and I want to be able rogue out anything I don't like the look of this year. The plants for eating won't need such attention but need to be well separated from the seed stock. That stuff they tell you about French beans being self fertile and not crossing isn't entirely true. There's a row of soy beans which are looking good at the moment, I'm hoping to harvest edamame rather than dry beans from them.

The sweetcorn Golden Bantam is finally up, another slow starter, and I have just 20 seeds of Oaxacan Green from an unlikely collection from a single plant last year. They've now been planted. I'll be hoping to separate the flowering times (locations as well but never by the recommend 2 miles!) so that I can multiply this back up again but actually it's a bit of a foolish ambition. You'll just have to humour me.

Possibly the latest I've ever started them, the ridge cucumbers Petit vert de Paris also went into the propagator today. I have no idea where these will be put but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

News on the cucurbits and other tender novelties next time. This post is long enough!