Sunday, December 28, 2008


"Before I was aware of it, Tookoolito had the 'tea-kettle' over the friendly fire-lamp, and the water boiling. She asked me if I drank tea. Imagine my surprise at this, the question coming from an Esquimaux in an Esquimaux tent! I replied, 'I do; but you have not tea here, have you?' Drawing her hand from a little tin box, she displayed it full of fine-flavoured black tea, saying, 'Do you like your tea strong?' Thinking to spare her the use of much of this precious article away up here, far from the land of civilization, I replied,'I'll take it weak, if you please.' A cup of hot tea was soon before me - capital tea, and capitally made. Taking from my pocket a sea-biscuit which I had brought from the vessel for my dinner, I shared it with my hostess. Seeing she had but one cup, I induced her to share with me it's contents. There, amid the snows of the north, under an Esquimaux's hospitable tent, in company with an Esquimaux, for the first time I shared with them in that soothing, cheering, invigorating emblem of civilization - T-E-A-!"
Being a narrative of an expedition in search of John Franklin, 1860-1862
by Charles Francis Hall

Friday, December 26, 2008


This morning at about 8 o'clock Henry made his first attempt to crow.
Illustration by Randolph Caldecott

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Image from Agence Eureka.
Go see some very funny animated dancers at Elliot Cowan's Sandwichbag. Well, it makes me laugh.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bring Out Your Dead

On mild days in winter, such as we've just had, the bees have a bit of a clear out. And one mustn't be too alarmed to see a pile of a few hundred dead bodies lying outside the front door of the hive. After all, in mid-summer they die (and are born) at a rate of 1000 a day. They just don't all expire at once. In a heap. In full view.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mrs.Snooke's Tortoise

December 17th, 1774 - 'Mrs. Snooke's tortoise, after it had been buried more than a month, came forth & wandered round the garden in a disconsolate state, not knowing where to fix on a spot for it's retreat.'
Listen out for 'The Portrait of a Tortoise', a Hooting Yard holiday season special on ResonanceFM to be broadcast 12:20 on Boxing Day. I know that I will be tucked up in front of the radio with a turkey sandwich and a cup of tea for the occasion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Good Bees

"In the first edition of my book, I reproduced numerous photographs of all the annual beekeeping activities, including driving bees from a skep, a job that ends in hitting it with sticks. Now it can be seen from these photos that there are bees in the hive in question; that the operators are wearing neither gloves nor a veil; that they have as their sole weapon a modest Bingham smoker; and finally, at the foot of each open hive, there is my dog sitting peacefully, my dear friend Polo, a cocker spaniel with long ears and long hair, ie. it has everything needed for just one bee to create mayhem if it was dissatisfied... Thus, bees are not bad by nature." Abbé Warré

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Bar Hives

The bees are out and about today enjoying the 12° temperature. Michael @ Articles & Texticles just sent me this link to a TED talk on the plight of the bees. In summary, Mr.vanEngelsdorp would like to encourage anyone with a lawn to turn it into a meadow and then take up beekeeping. Sounds reasonable to me. But I've been reading some more interesting ideas on sustainable beekeeping here and here. Smaller hives, more swarms, and less interference, allowing the possibility for the bees to be able to evolve in a way that they can coexist with varroa - which they have done elsewhere. In India, the grubs emerge from their sealed cell 2 days earlier than ours do, which means that any varroa in the cell with them don't have time enough to reproduce. I will build some small top bar hives this winter following the design developed by Abbé Emile Warré and perhaps have three or four smaller colonies going by the end of next summer. An English translation of his book 'Beekeeping for All' can be downloaded free here (with plans!).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Saint of the Day

"Rain and inclement winds, the mists of the morning, the ambushes laid by a hastening twilight, carry off hundreds of workers who never return; and soon, over the whole little people, that are as eager for sunshine as the grasshoppers of Attica, there hangs the cold menace of winter. They gather in the centre of the hive, contract themselves, and cling to the combs that contain the faithful urns, whence shall issue, during days of frost, the transmuted substance of summer. By the concerted beating of their wings - the little sisters that have survived the flames of the summer sun - which go quickly or slowly as the temperature without may vary, they maintain in their sphere an unchanging warmth, equal to that of a day in spring." (a 35° day, that is!)
The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck

Ambrosius - patron saint of beekeepers

Friday, December 05, 2008


Rather disconcertingly, the rooster is starting to bear more than a passing resemblance to Peter Stringfellow. And he started out looking so handsome, but that's probably what Mrs. Stringfellow said about her little boy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Tomato Collection 2008

Here are this past summer's varieties - from the most flavoursome to the least.
As always, click on photo to enlarge.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Saul Steinberg retrospective at the Dulwich Gallery until February 15th.

Friday, November 28, 2008

First Sighting

On the left is Broad Bean 'Martoc' head above ground, sown October 14th. A new type for me but it's been around for a while, Heritage Harvest Seed lists it as a medieval variety which cooks up from dry into a brown porridge.
And on the right, Chili Peppers 'de Rata' are still hanging on in the greenhouse.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today's Outlook

The trees are bare now. But the temperature reached 14° today and the bees are still foraging in the ivy. Saw a goldcrest on the espaliered apple and the hedge sparrow is back for the winter. A gaudy sunset - at 4 0'clock! Dressed the artichokes with straw to protect against the icy weather that the Met has forecast this weekend.

A Tangle of Parsnips

Note to myself - Do not attempt to transplant parsnip seedlings. Just wait patiently until March and sow in situ.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Purple Dragons

More Purple Dragon carrots, this time sweeter than ever, perhaps owing to the light frost we had about three weeks ago. Certainly the best tasting carrots I've grown. Anyway it's high time to dig up the rest of the carrots and beets and get them into storage.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

EU Rules, OK?

I couldn't find letter-shaped vegetables enough to spell 'contemptible bureaucrats' so I opted for a more positive response to this bit of news. Cucumbers which bend on a curve more than 10mm. over 10 cm. can now be sold. As can forked carrots. However, strict rules still apply on fruit & vegetables which represent 75% of sales in Europe, including tomatoes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


"On Sundays as children, if we had been good during the week we had our initials in treacle put on our porridge, and then cream." The Scotsman January 1939
The old custom is to stand whilst supping porridge, walking about the room with the bowl in one hand and the spoon in the other, as if you were ready to start off for the wars, or shooting, or fishing, the next moment. As for cooking it, the oats should be let to fall in a steady rain from the left hand while stirring briskly with the right, sunwise, or the right hand turn for luck. And the salt shouldn't be added until 10 minutes into the cooking as it will have a tendancy to harden the meal and prevent it from swelling.
This and much else have I gleaned from the wee book of Scottish recipes (1929) which I found in the wee cottage we stayed in last week on a beach near the Wee Town (Campbeltown). So many ways to cook your oats! And I will grow them again but I'm not going to sow until spring this time round.

Woman Eating Porridge by Gerrit Dou (in the Netherlands it must be acceptable to sit)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Smokers in Whitehall

This week (Wednesday the 5th) British beekeepers are donning their suits, lighting their smokers and marching to the Houses of Parliament to deliver a petition and lobby for more funding for research on bee disease/health. It's been the poorest honey crop on record apparently. Probably since about 1517. Back when England was Catholic, beekeeping was big business due to the demand for beeswax candles and there was plenty of honey to be had, enough to eat and drink. With Reformation, honey took a nosedive on the commodities trading market and soon beer superseded mead as this country's drink of choice.

Just finished racking 3 gallons of mead, another 3 months and it will be ready to bottle. The initial taste test was very encouraging.
In 1600, Harrison wrote in his History of England, "There is a kind of swish swash made also in Essex, and divers other places, with honeycomb and water, which homely country wives putting some pepper among, and a little other spice, call 'mead'. Very good in mine opinion for such as love to be loose-bodied at large, or a little eased of the cough; otherwise it differeth as much from the true metheglin as chalk from cheese."
Here's to being loose-bodied at large!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On The Sick List

Once again the pear harvest looks like a freak show - actually textbook examples of the Stony Pit Virus, the control of which is the removal and replacement of the tree. This year the tree has also been a victim of Unsightly Pear Trellis Rust. The fungus which causes it needs a juniper as a second host, which I have kindly provided, but even if I remove our juniper any neighboring one within a kilometre would do just as well. Does anybody know of any miracle cures?

Madonna of the Pear Albrecht Dürer

Stowed Away

19th Century nurseryman James Cuthill notes that the squash is a useful vegetable 'for captains going on long voyages'. It is common for bottle gourds to put to sea under their own steam and hove up on foreign shores to spread their seed. My landlubbers are now heading to the potting shed after several weeks of indoor curing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Winter Stores

DeCombles (1749) L'Ecole du Jardin Potager
On Squash: "As it is an economical resource for the populace whose bellies suffer all, and for the peasant in particular who cannot feed on expensive foods, it is proper for those who have rural properties, or who must support children and servants with as little expense as possible: it is proper, I say, to cultivate a certain quantity, which will be useful during the winter."

Cookmaid With Still Life of Vegetables & Fruit Nathaniel Bacon 1620

Monday, October 13, 2008

Squash '08

A disappointing year pumpkin-wise (see other years here and here). Buttercup and Triamble were dismal nonstarters and only one of the Red Warty Things got warts. A total weight of 66 pounds thanks mostly to the ever reliable Blue Hubbards which I grew after all the Hubbard Anna Swartz seeds refused to germinate.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eeny, Meeny, Miny & Moe

Here's the rest of the brood, not so willing the be photographed. I'm getting more and more convinced that the Silver Laced Wyandotte (on the right) is a rooster, now times and a half as big as the others, much more upright posture and thicker legs. If it's just 1 out of 5 then we've been really lucky. The 'Easter Egg' bird on the left looks part Auracana part Crow and sounds like a Moor Hen. And, hooray, Doris has begun to lay again after 4 months maternity leave.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

See How They've Grown

"I'm frightened of eggs, worse than frightened, they revolt me. That round thing without any holes... have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling it's liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I've never tasted it." Alfred Hitchcock

Here is the Gold-Laced Wyandotte 3 months on. 'She' bears little resemblance to the fluffball that she was in her first photo.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Autumn Colours

'Aconcagua' Sweet Peppers have finally started to turn colour after dangling there green for months. It's been a long wait for about a dozen fruits. I might free up that space for something else next year. Hot Peppers 'De Rata' on the other hand have been producing since July, first green and now red. With the Scoville rating of 15,000 - 30,000 and heat level 7 they aren't exactly 'Gringo killers' but do have a nice afterburn. There are still 30 or 40 more to go and I'm wondering, by way of preserving them, whether to just stop watering and let them dry on the plant. Anybody done this?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Pottage Full Good

Now leeks are in season, for pottage full good,
That spareth the milch cow, and purgeth the blood.

Tusser in his 'Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie'

Leek Soup; Take a sheep's head, prepared by having had the hair and wool scalded off and the head split in two, take out the brains, and put the head in three quarts of boiling water, add twelve large leeks, cut up into pieces about two inches long, simmer the whole gently for four hours. Mix smoothly as much flour or ground rice as will make the soup tolerably thick, mix it with the soup, and continue stirring until the whole is well done. Season to taste and serve hot.
Our War-Time Kitchen Garden Tom Jerrold (1917)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Penny Salad

"She also produced (besides a cabbage) a handful of mustard & cress, a trifle of the herb called dandelion, three bunches of radishes, an onion rather larger than the average turnip, three substantial slices of beetroot, a short prong or antler of celery; the whole of this garden-stuff having been publicly exhibited but a short time ago as a two penny salad, and purchased by Mrs. Prig, on condition the vendor could get it all into her pocket."
Mrs. Prig recommends "that these productions of nature should be sliced up, for immediate consumption, in plenty of vinegar."
Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit

Friday, September 26, 2008

Potato Experiments No.1

Things to do with your potatoes from Tim Hunkin.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

United in Sauté Potatoes

All the potatoes are in storage now prompted by fear of blight and it is surely time to sing the anthem of the Slovenian 'Association for the Recognition of Sauté Potatoes with Onions as a Main Dish'. Does anybody know the tune?

Sweet is the wine and cool is beer
But best of all is the sauté potatoes
It's not butter, it's not fruit or cheese
But my friend it's sauté potatoes

All types of food can be sources of disease
But we are healthy through sauté potatoes
And we got together here and found our peace
For we are united in sauté potatoes

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grow Your Own

Metal sculpture by Abbott & Ellwood

This past Saturday I went to Oxford Botanical Gardens to meet some other vegetable-growing bloggers for a talk, picnic (the weather gods smiled) and seed swap. I returned with three new garlics to try from Patrick (Purple Glazier, German Porcelain, Krasnador Red) and Pea Magnum Bonum and Climbing Bean Purple Giant from Rebsie and a catalogue from passionate seed saver Ben at Real Seeds. A lot of my own self-saved seed returned with me as well. If there is anybody out there (?) wanting any 'Blue Hubbard' squash, 'Winterkeeper' beetroot, 'True Red Cranberry' pole bean or 'Bird's Nest' gourd seed just give me your address and I will happily post them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Colour Supplement

"The chief virtues of the Carrot lie in the strong antiseptic qualities which it possesses, as preventative of putrescent changes either within the body, or when applied externally. The sugar of Carrots can be collected from their inspissated juice, and used at table, being excellent for the coughs of consumptive persons. For preparing Carrot juice, rub cleansed Carrots with a grater, and squeeze their juice through a clean cloth; then boil it, with, or without sugar, skimming carefully the while. When it no longer froths take it off the fire, and let it cool. Then strain it through a cloth, and pour it into glasses. A teaspoon thereof may be taken several times in the day for subduing a troublesome cough, or as a quieting nervine cordial."
Meals Medicinal Curative Foods from the Cook; in place of Drugs from the Chemist by W.T.Fernie 1905
The 'Purple Dragon' carrots are coming up in a variety of colours but mostly not purple. Which is fine. They taste good. Below is a guide to the health benefits associated with the various pigments you find in carrots, courtesy of the USDA. Click on the picture to make it readable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Smith Period

We had a 'Smith Period' in our back yard sometime last week I think. It wasn't a 'Beaumont Period' because it hasn't been warm enough, but the net net is that I've taken up all the outdoor tomatoes - still green (on the left). I'm hoping some of these will turn red rather than brown, because I've already made all the green tomato chutney that we can possibly stomach. The plants in the greenhouse haven't been affected yet but they have nearly finished producing anyway. It has been 3 fine months of tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with jars of catsup and confit squirreled away for the winter. So, no complaints.
But, for next year, I have devised a cunning plan (well, read 'Tomatoes - The Inside Story by Terry Marshall) to extend that to 5 or 6 months. Firstly, I'm going to start the initial sowing much earlier with fewer plants - February possibly, now that there is a greenhouse. I think I'll restrict them to 4 or 5 trusses. And then I'm going to start to root the shoots that I pinch out along about mid May for a second crop to follow on fruiting after the first dwindles. It didn't occur to me this year until after my July 16th post and ensuing discussion with Patrick. I took some cuttings July 20th (on the right) which have now produced flowers and while it's unlikely that there will be any decent fruit it was a good dry run.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Complete Guide To Health

I've just come across 'The Reformed Botanic & Indian Physician - A Complete Guide To Health' written in 1855 by Dr. Daniel Smith and available to be perused online here. The Doctor is a great believer in the healing power of a cold water bath (for involuntary urine, diabetes, cholera, scorbutick atrophy & more) and although he hasn't any suggestions for beets (see last post), there are a great many curatives which call for the use of other foodstuffs. I have illustrated below what I consider to be the '12 best food remedies you aren't wearing'.

1. For A High Fever If delirious, use cold bathings, give a little port wine after plunging. Apply warm lamb's lungs to the head.
2. Deafness, With Head Ache and Buzzing In The Head Peel a clove of garlic and dip it in honey, and put it in your ear at night with a little black wool. Lie with your ear upwards, and put it in the other ear the next night, if needed, for eight to ten days.
3. For The Ear-Ache Rub the ear hard for fifteen minutes; or be electrified; or put in the ear a roasted fig, hot.
4. For A Cold In The Head Pare the rind of an orange very thin and roll it up inside out, and put a roll in each nostril.
5. Hard Breasts Apply turnips roasted till soft, wash and mix with a little oil of roses. Change this poultice twice a day, and keep it warm with a flannel.
6. For A Stitch In The Side Apply hot toast spread with molasses.
7. Fever Sores Put on a poultice of stewed pumpkin as warm as can be borne. Repeat it once every two or three hours till cured. It will bring out the loose bones. Or bath the sore in the water where a blacksmith cools his iron.
8. For Falling Of The Fundament Boil one ounce of red rose leaves in one gill of red wine, dip a cloth in it and apply it as hot as can be borne, till all is used, and drink cherry bark tea freely.
9. To Give Action To The Bowels Poultice with powdered carrots. Add and moisten with essence of sassafras.
10. For Warts Rub them daily with radishes.
11. For A Broken Shin Bind on a plaster of balsam, beeswax and mutton tallow, equal parts, melted together.
12. To Cure Chilblains Rub with salt and onions when powdered together; or a poultice of roasted onions kept on two or three days - change often. Seldom fails.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Huddled Masses Food

One crop that has been growing well in spite of there being no sunlight is the beets. We've eaten a few of the 'Bull's Blood' (on the left) and there are enough 'Lutz' (right) to see us through until spring and then some.
The beetroot looks set to be in fashion this year, a superfood even, topping Dr. Jonny Bowden's list of '11 best foods you aren't eating'. While he stipulates that beets should be eaten fresh for maximum antioxidant power, it is frozen blueberries and canned pumpkin which finish in 10th and 11th places respectively. Ms. Parker-Pope who writes the column (and has never cooked a beet) dug deeper in a follow up article. She asked a Leading Beet Expert Irwin L. Goldman, point blank, why it is that the beet is getting no respect. "They are a huddled masses sort of food. They are thought of as peasant food and old-fashioned," said the Beet-Believer,[but] "They really are wonderful, and there are a lot of good things that you can do with them." (?)
Yeah, anyway, I really like them, most especially baked. But I've only just found out (and not in that vacuous bit of reportage) that not everyone's pee is pink the next day. The ability to metabolize the betacyanin is controlled by a single genetic locus and people (like me) with two recessive genes will pass the pigment in their urine.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


According to the Met it was the dullest August since 1929 with only 105 hours of recorded sunshine - 67% of the average. That's about 3 1/2 hours a day. It must have been before I got up. Anyway, now we can move on and talk about what an uncommonly mild autumn it is.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No More Free Lunch

Days are shortening, beans are drying on the vine and apples are dropping. It is about this time of year that the drones destiny is sealed.
"One morning the long expected word of command goes through the hive; and the peaceful workers turn into judges and executioners. The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the melliferous walls, are rudely torn from their slumbers by a wrathful army of virgins. They wake, in pious wonder; they cannot believe their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their sloth as a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them, convinced that they must be victims of some mistake; and the mother-idea of their life being first to assert itself in their dull brain, they take a step towards the vats of honey to seek comfort there. But ended for them are the days of May honey, the wine-flower of lime-trees and fragrant ambrosia of thyme and sage, of marjoram and white clover. Where the path once lay open to the kindly, abundant reservoirs, that so invitingly offered their waxen and sugary mouths, there stands now a burning-bush all alive with poisonous, bristling stings. Before the bewildered parasites are able to realise that the happy laws of the city have crumbled, dragging down in most inconceivable fashion their own plentiful destiny, each one is assailed by three or four envoys of justice; and these vigorously proceed to cut off his wings, saw through the petiole that connects the abdomen with the thorax, amputate the feverish antennae, and seek an opening between the rings of his cuirass through which to pass their sword. No defence is attempted by the enormous, but unarmed, creatures; they try to escape, or oppose their mere bulk to the blows that rain down upon them. Forced on to their back, with their relentless enemies clinging doggedly to them, they will use their powerful claws to shift them from side to side; or, turning on themselves, they will drag the whole group round and round in wild circles, which exhaustion soon brings to an end ... The next morning, before setting forth on their journey, the workers will clear the threshold, strewn with the corpses of the useless giants; and all recollections of the idle race disappear till the following spring."
M.Maeterlinck The Life of the Bee

I've just purloined over 30 pounds (11 litres) of honey from our army of wrathful virgins. The early honey is very light and flowery tasting while this late harvest has a much more complex and, I think, interesting flavour. Let's say, the first goes well in tea and the second is better on toast. As you can see it's much darker as well.

The Way Forward

"Let's extensively raise goats in all families." North Korean Poster

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Emsworth Village Show

I just stumbled on this virtual garden show in time to send in a few entries before the deadline. There was no category for Curiously Lumpen and Hirsute Root Vegetables which is just as well as I haven't unearthed most of mine yet. But I put in 6 Tomatoes on a Plate, a Misshapen Vegetable and a Collection of Six Different Vegetables (pictured).

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Growing from True Seed

There is just one day left to enter your photos in the International Year of the Potato Photo Competition. I'm feeling singularly uninspired right now. I'll blame the drear mid-grey, windless, room temperature 'weather' we've had, day after day, for what seems like months (I griped about this last year around the same time I'm afraid). Most of my potatoes are yet to be harvested but I did reach in and pull out a few Arran Victory tubers which made me smile.
This year I saved some of the true seeds from the fruits, in the hope that I will be the discoverer of a noteworthy variety of hitherto unimagined curiousness, and I've been casting about looking for information on growing them. Alan Romans kindly replied to an email and said to treat them much as tomato seed, which I had guessed, and expect to have small tubers by the end of the year that I can label and store and use as seed potatoes the following year. What I wanted to hear was that I could start them straight away in the greenhouse and have tiny tubers by Christmas that I could plant out in the new year. I have read that the shorter the diurnal duration of light (9-10 hours), the earlier the initiation of tubers. Has anybody out there ever tried this? I'm going to experiment with a few seeds that I'm pre-chilling now in the fridge. What the hey.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Home-Grown Porridge

First sow, water, weed and 9 months later harvest the oats. Second, thresh, separate and clean the oats. Then you can follow this Recipe for Gruel. It's that easy !
Blessed Hildegard has a few things to say about oats.
"They are both rich and healthy nourishment for healthy people; they provide a rich mind and a pure and clear intellect; and they provide good colour and healthy flesh. And oats are good for those that are somewhat and moderately ill. It does not hurt them , whether eaten in bread or cereal. But let whoever is worn out with paralysis and as a result has a split mind and empty thoughts, so that the person is somewhat insane, be in a sweat bath when the 'wheat' in the hot water in which it has been cooked is poured over the hot stones. Let them do this often; they will return to themselves and regain sanity."