Wednesday 12 September 2018

The year of the cucumber

cucs blog

This year those old reliable tomatoes have failed for me, or I have failed them. Away during a crucial moment when I should have been tying up and removing shoots the opportunity was missed and the task assumed proportions beyond my feeble capabilities. Have I ever said how much I hate the smell of tomato plants? Just in case, for the record, I really really hate the smell of hot tomato plants even though I love tomato fruits. So they've been allowed to take their own path.

The sad and unsurprising result is that the toms are not at their best, horrible bushy plants with fewer fruits set and those that have are are suffering from blossom end rot, mildews and pest attacks.

However, another summer staple has stepped up to the plate. The cucumbers this year have been brilliant. Picture above is the Peking China variety from HSL which has kept me in delicious cucumber sandwiches helped along with some Parisian pickling ridge cucs. The only trouble is I've been eating them so fast there won't be any for seed unless there's a very long autumn. Fingers crossed.

ambo pfa

Potatoes went in late, weren't earthed up and were left to the mercy of drought and weeds. I've still to take the Sarpo Mira (this week, honestly!) but the Premiere were fine and the Pink Fir Apple and Ambo perfectly formed if a little small. So forgiving and rewarding. People often say it's not worth growing cheap staples like spuds but the joy in the harvest is at least half the reward.

japanese yam bulbils

Three years ago I was given six bulbils of the Japanese yam Dioscorea japonica. They all came up and were mostly planted out in a group with that year's beans. At the end of the season I rooted around in the patch frantically and failed to find more than few scraps of tuber. I planted these bits up in pots and thought that was the lot but the tubers had other plans. They came up last year in the oca and this year in the potatoes, bigger and better every time.

This year they were mature enough to flower. Unfortunately the plants are dioecious and although I had six plants at the outset I've no idea which sexes they were. All I know is that no seeds were set this year. Still that's not the only way to increase stocks as these climbing vines also produce clones as tiny tubercles on the twining stems. I'm hoping to collect lots of these this year and will be happy to share some with anyone who contacts me.

Inspired I've also ordered a commercial cultivar variety with more tractable tubers which I hope to breed with.

pumpkins blog

I've had a long time relationship with the squash variety Whangaparoa Crown which is, as far as I can tell, the variety that Crown Prince was selected from. It's a great, dense silver blue pumpkin with long keeping fruit  and brilliant orange flesh. This year I grew out some saved seed and found that the plants bore little relationship to the variety I was expecting.  The fruit look like the bastard children of a cross between a C. moschata and the Whangas which are C. maxima. This is generally considered an unlikely (and unlucky) occurrence but on the basis it may have happened here I'm going to first check the pumpkins taste good and then maybe grow them out again next year, just for shit and giggles. The Catofstripes Queen variety may have been born!

bab blog

Alliums have had a horrible time here this year. I failed to plant any onion or garlic sets and missed a chance to rescue last years failed crop when it popped its head up in the spring. I could have had a lot of green garlic. There's still some elephant garlic, it seems almost indestructible but my Babington leeks are reduced to just one plant with bulbils. So I've got to really make the effort and save those little darlings as the start of my next onion patch. Sadly the egyptian onions also bit the dust although there's a couple of sad pots of chives and welsh onions hanging on for grim life.

Bab leeks do take a wicked picture though.

And so the sun goes down.

sunset blog

Thursday 26 July 2018

Is it warm enough?

bigger tamarillo

I have two tamarillo plants started from seed way back in 2016 when I bought a lot of tender novelties in the rush of a new polytunnel. They have proved hardier than most of my experiments and survived two winters at 10C kept very dry. This year, after a shaky start when they were infested by aphids they've really been enjoying the weather and my reward is the first flowers pictured above. Finger crossed they will fruit. Unfortunately I suspect they will need cross pollination and the other plant is just as large but shows no signs of flowers so it may be a forlorn hope.

black gram

In the spring Rhizowen of Radix Root crops gave me loads of lovely new seeds to try and amongst them two sorts of pulses that have really enjoyed the heatwave. Above a black gram, Vigna mungo, with lime green yellowy flowers and a fairly short habit. I grew half a dozen plants and put some under cover and some outside. Although I've been watering the ones in the tunnel and the outside ones have been experiencing drought there is little to choose between their development, and they are clearly very adapted to dry conditions. However as an experiment on the possibility of growing such pulses outside in France it has to be said that the test will need to be made again when it isn't quite so hot. 

carol deppe cowpea

I have tried growing cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) here before but although the plants germinated and grew well they never flowered and were (I think) eventually eaten by some rogue cows that invaded the patch. This variety is the OSSI registered Fast Lady selected by Carol Deppe for cooler climates. Ha! Anyway, these are growing well indoors and out and forming pods. I was surprised by the yellow flowers but it helps to identify them as the outdoor ones are planted next to some climbing French beans with white flowers.


These two little pots of weedy seedlings represent a new interest. They are both types of chilli pepper but ones that are said to be cold hardy, or at least capable of taking a light frost. I already grow the rocoto tree chilli Capsicum pubescens which can, with care, be maintained as a short lived perennial under much the same conditions as the tamarillos above and I'm hoping that these species will also thrive and perhaps provide the basis of a breeding line. We'll see.

Monday 21 May 2018



Finally got the potatoes planted by the middle of last week. Most years we'd be looking at the first harvest in a week or two. If we get some rain we might have 'first earlies' by the end of July. In the meantime I resorted to the supermarket for the French equivalent of Jersery Royals. If you're tempted to research them on Wikipedia don't be alarmed at my profligacy, far from the quote of 70€ a kilo these cost me just 6€90 and the week after were at half that.

dudi flower

As usual I've planted far too many seeds, amongst them a couple of Dudi plants which I'll grow in the poly tunnel once the oca are out. Last time I grew them in 2014 it was just warm enough outside but with only one plant it was a struggle to get fruit, the plants produce male and female flowers at different times so self pollination  is almost impossible without a helping hand and some good luck.  Also in the greenhouse waiting a chance to break out;
Chinese cucumbers (just like the usual greenhouse sort)
Far more tomatoes than anyone needs
Pepper and chilli plants (and I have more seed of an esoteric type coming this week)
Dioscorea japonica in a pot, but there's some in the ground which will probably come up through the potatoes again.
Adlay in three or four varieties (Job's tears, hard and soft shelled sorts)
Naked oats
Tef (cereal staple)
Ornamental rice and sorghum
Lemon grass seedlings although they're looking a bit ill.

In the ground, or expected there soon;
Potatoes - Premier, Pink Fir Apple, Ambo, Sarpo Mira
Pumpkins - Whangaparoa Crown and Sweet Dumpling
Courgettes - of no particular variety supplied by Fothergills
Lettuce - a red one, I cheated and bought baby plants on whim in the supermarket.
Crosnes - The French call them Japanese artichoke.
Peas - Sugar Ann, Raisin Capujiner and a couple of Gold Harvest which Rhizowen gave me earlier this year, not sure if I'll start any others, it's getting a bit late.
At least 25 Petit vert de Paris cornichon plants. I had 100% germination from some old home saved seed and they're going to need a new bed digging.

Until another time...

Sunday 6 May 2018

Spring proper


The May blossom is out, has been for a couple of days and I think that probably shows the seasons and weather are now in agreement. There have been years past when the weather has been more clement and the blossom still hasn't shown until the 8th or 9th. So, although our swings have been more violent so far this year the equilibrium seems to be maintained.

spring map

Still very few butterflies but it was good to catch this Spring Map on the land cress. I've seen a few around in the last week but only this one stayed still long enough for accurate identification.


A wood is a wood is a wood. This picture which so closely resembles the header shot taken 12 years ago is in another part of the 2000+ hectares of the forêt de Cerisy which enfolds us on its south western boundary.  It is so very beautiful.
raven in wood

I took the cats for a walk through the trees. I've never had cats that enjoy going for walks so much and every time I set out for a meander one, two or all three will join me, racing around and tearing up trees (Raven told me she was stuck, luckily within my reach even if she was lying) and jumping the stream with me. The woods are particularly enticing for them, I suspect they don't venture in far on their own but trust me to see off anything nasty. 


And the first flowers on the elder are showing.

Tuesday 1 May 2018


It's the first of May and the lilac is blooming. Not my favourite flowers but pretty and welcome after another dramatic weather swing from splendidly warm to torrential downpours.

We caught the edge of the rainstorms that covered much of northern France and southern England over the weekend and have been thoroughly soaked by the deluge which also saw temperatures drop to 2C or 3C overnight on Sunday and Monday. The time was spent huddled in front of a fire with the cats but nothing very much was done outside and so we're now still further behind.

The sun returned today, rather weak and with the wind still making it cold. Too wet to dig so I occupied myself with pricking out seedlings. Fifty oca seedlings are already up and on their way from an April Fool's day sowing. They will be joined by more as soon as the next batch of seeds germinate. There were also, somewhat to my surprise fifty seedling potatoes from the true potato seed started at the same time. It's a worry in a way, I've nowhere to put the tuber starts yet and finding homes for another 50 plants is going to be hard, but potatoes from seed have great attraction because you never know what you'll get so there's plenty of novelty to look forward to. Commercial breeders raise thousands before selecting just a few to develop for sale. Most of mine will have little value to them but I might strike lucky and find my blight resistant, hardy chipper. 

Gardening is all swings and roundabouts though, the six globe artichoke plants raised from seed last year and apparently safely through the winter have simply turned up their toes and died in the last two weeks. No idea why, the weather must have something to do with it but the collapse was total. Very discouraging.

Happy Beltane, may the summer join us soon.

Sunday 29 April 2018


bee's comfrey

It's almost a tradition to share a photo of this comfrey relative, the name of which always escapes me, at this time of year just to enjoy the beautifully curled flower spray. The original plant came from my late sister's garden just after she died so it's a much loved plant even though she called it a weed for popping up all over her patch.

It's so cold again. That brief five days of summer has disappeared into dreary windy chilly drizzle and despond, but spring has sprung and grimly the blossoms and new shoots are doing their best in the poor conditions. The previous cold snap seems to have provoked a lot of flowers on the fruiting plants but it's so cold and blowy again the pollinators aren't going to be able to do much.

blueberry flower

The blueberries are really heavily loaded with flowers this year, if the weather was better I'd be looking at a bumper crop after a very disappointing one last year but all I can do is keep my fingers crossed that some berries will set. The little apple trees are looking lovely too.


This lavender seems to be as hard as nails, already in flower when we arrived back in March and loaded down with blooms now. I've forgotten the variety but have some idea it was described as Majorcan which makes it unexpectedly tough.

More seeds are planted including some ornamentals. I've got Castor Oil plants this year, poisonous they may be but they are striking, and coleus which for me are the plants of nostalgia as they were some of the first things I tried back in my teens.

The beans are planted but not coming up. They were started in pots outside on the bench and I think that was overly optimistic in the hot spell. I will almost certainly have to try again under cover or wait until it's properly warm. 


Sunday 22 April 2018


lamb abbey pearmain
I took a similar picture of this apple, the Lamb Abbey pearmain, last year on 11th April. We're still 11 days behind but the unexpected burst of summer has given everything great encouragement. We had another massive thunderstorm last night so the best has passed for now but it's still sunny and warm today.

 dandelions on the lawn
This year seems to be the year of things breaking. Various domestic machines overwintered badly and blew fuses and connectors when put back into service. Various parts for the tractor have snapped, deformed or simply fallen off and even the push along lawnmower has died, victim of something that went crunch underneath and ripped off cowling which deformed the blades. They don't last long and this one has done several years but more trouble and expense. The dandelions are pleased though.

overwintered peacock
We were feeling rather despondent over the number of early butterflies about. A good many overwintered Peacocks were here but only one Orange-tip and a single Brimstone, but I've spotted a few flutterbys about that need identification today and a moth that I think is new to me. I've asked on Twitter for help with ID as my usual resources are failing me.

copper beech leafed
Was very pleased to see the Copper Beech in new leaf. Last year it was blighted by a late frost and looked so damaged throughout the whole year that I feared something more sinister was affecting it but it looks beautiful dancing in its new crimson leaves so I think it's alright.

 pink cherry
Not my favourite ornamental tree but this cherry does look well against a blue sky.

These are true potato seedlings, grown from seed I saved from the Sarpo Mira, Arran Victory and Bluebell potates last year. The way things are going with potato patch I may get more crop from these than the tuber sets which are still waiting for a home. Anyway, most of the seeds I've started are still at this delicate pre-pricking out stage.

Actually sown and hopefully growing, other seeds are waiting...

Salt Spring Sunrise
Black Russian
Happy Day beefsteak (started in the UK and looking rather sad)
St. Pierre (bought in because I was so late)
Marmande (ditto)

Nigel's Outdoor Green Chilli (from Realseeds)
Albertos Locoto (also Realseeds)
Lamuyo Bell pepper (bought in)
a couple of sad little seedlings that have been munched by slugs and were from seed saved from a supermarket fruit.

Riana's Corbiere beans
Hutterite soup
Ice Crystal Wax
Striped Bunch

Whangaparoa Crown
Sweet Dumpling
Blue Banana
Some courgettes missold to me by Fothergills last year - they were good strong growers and seem to be the only seed I have to hand but they were not Romanesco.

Raisin Capujiner
Salmon Flowered

Neopolitan Basil
Mammoth Lettuce leaved Basil
Cinnamon Basil
Perilla (it actually came up, quite a result as it nearly always fails for me.)

Wednesday 18 April 2018

A late spring for the broken hearted

leafing up

Yesterday the weather finally became spring like. The leaves are just showing green on the beeches and the oaks are beginning to colour too but we are about two or three weeks later than last year. It's been so wet that even getting prepared for the season has been delayed which means it will be hard to catch up very well.

xtal buckeye

The buckeye is just bursting into glorious colour, hopefully there will be no frost to damage these tender leaves.


There is a fairly large herd of deer roaming around, we've seen them across the land in various places. They are probably pregnant does gathered in a group to avoid predators and give protection at a vulnerable time. Luckily they've not needed to strip my fruit trees this year which is a relief.

muddy little car

I have a new car, this rather cute little 4 wheel drive. I've needed it in the muddy conditions here.
But what of the garden I hear you ask...

It's there. I have seedlings finally, the polytunnel is recovered. The oca are being planted and beds dug, but it's such a struggle. This might be our last year here and the sorrow that causes affects everything. I'll try to document this last season as well as I can.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

2018 est arrivé

 Winter came and went. Time was spent in the UK fretting about the future and making plans that have circular dependencies that seem unresolvable. Another Oca Breeders season started.

Now the time has come to fly south for the summer. Should be there soon, laden with seeds and plants and cats and hopes.