Thursday, December 31, 2009


A few final images from 2009. The medlar tree yielded nine kilos which we bletted - basically left to rot - and then made into a 'meh' medlar cheese. A good harvest of beets, especially Cylindra, but Egyptian Turnip Rooted were the finest tasting so I'll grow more of these next year. It was a first for Yacon and Oca, the latter seems the most versatile for cooking as it is very like a lemon flavoured waxy potato. Yacon is sweet and quite tasty raw, I just don't know what else to do with it. I'm overwintering the crowns in the potting shed so will hopefully have shoots for anyone wishing to try growing them. Thanks again to Belgian Frank and German Klaus Peter for sending me cuttings.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In A Bleak MidWinter

I'm off to the fens for a week to chill out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wing-ed Things

Herds (Mutations?) of song thrushes have been passing through the garden, feasting on the fruit of our Cotoneaster frigidus. As many as 20 to 30 at a time. I was out in the snow briefly today foraging for some kale and parsley and unearthing a few tubers. Unbeknownst to me, the robin, never far away when I'm digging, followed me back into the potting shed. How different it looks indoors, and how different the room looks with something wild trapped in it.

Song Thrush, Starling, Wood Pigeon and Magpie from the Featherbook (Il Bestiario Barocco) of Dionisio Minaggio, Chief Gardener of the State of Milan, 1618

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cordial & Restorative

"For delicate persons, who find it best to dine in the middle of the day on plain foods, an excellent supper vegetable is a fair-sized Carrot boiled whole so as to retain its aromatic properties; then split into quarters, and warmed afresh for being served hot. It acts as a nervine sedative, whilst being cordial and restorative. A sense of mental invigoration will follow, and the digestion of the estimable root will be readily performed, without preventing the sleep."
Meals Medicinal W.T.Fernie, M.D.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bent Cucumbers

Last year I grew 'Kyoto Three Foot' cucumbers in the greenhouse where the fruit hung down from the rafters thus.

This year I let them meander along the ground outside and this was the result.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oxford '09

Yesterday was the 2nd (annual?) get together of garden bloggers in Oxford organized by Patrick. Vegplotting, Alternative Kitchen Garden, Ben from Real Seeds, Vicki Cooke from Heritage Seed Library and Dr.Simon Platten/British Homegardens each spoke about their projects/interests for 20 - 30 minutes. Most of the afternoon session was reserved for maverick potato & tomato breeder Tom Wagner - father of Green Zebra, Banana Legs and Schimmeig Creg tomatoes, to name a few. This was the final stop for him on a 2 month tour of Europe - giving workshops on breeding techniques and just spreading around his enthusiasm. Very inspiring!

This year I had a go at growing potatoes from true seed, and the results were unremarkable but I've had a lot of fruit set on both Verity and Skerry Blue so I'm thinking I'll sow some more next year. And I got a few pointers for increasing the yield.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


My first really successful year for growing cabbages - 10 heads of Mammoth Red Rock - the one on the left was 7 lbs. A few slug holes on the outer leaves but the netting was pigeon proof and excluded all but the most persevering cabbage whites. The pantry shelf now groans under the weight of a gallon of sauerkraut and three quarts of Rotkohl, the yield of the five pictured. (If you want to try making sauerkraut for the first time, this youtube video demystifies the process. Watch and feel empowered!)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Day...
The weather continues to be mild and fair, but after last week's rain I shifted my drying chilies to the airing cupboard. There's feathers everywhere as Doris and Gladys are in moult and just about one egg a day is all we get from the five of them. Tomatoes continue to ripen in the greenhouse (mostly cherry tomatoes now - Riesentraube and Peacevine), 32 kilos to date.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Next Year...

Nights are drawing in, and I'm already sending off for seeds and planning next year's crops.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato Cakes for Tea

A few nice white potatoes must be cleanly pared, and all the eyes cut out, boiled until quite soft, and then strained from all the water; the potatoes must be well mashed up with some flour, sufficient to admit of their being rolled out to a paste. The paste must be well rolled out several times until about half an inch thick, then cut into cakes with the top of a tumbler, or into squares of a similar size. The best way to bake them is on a girdle, or, as it is called in the North, a "griddle". The cakes must be very lightly done and not allowed to become crisp. They require turning once or twice. When sufficiently baked they must be split open and buttered, and then laid together again as muffins are.
from Our Wartime Kitchen by Tom Jerrold

I lifted 21 lbs. of Pink Fir Apple potatoes today, the return on just 7 seed potatoes (I think that's good). There are two maincrops - Arran Victory and Verity - still to harvest now. So far it seems to be a better than average haul this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hot Peppers

Both hot peppers have been successful this year. Compact and well suited to growing in a pot in the greenhouse they are yielding dozens per plant.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Portugese Cabbage

Two varieties of Brassica that I am trying this year for the first time are fattening up nicely under some pigeon proof netting. The friend who gave me the seeds has promised to give me her mother's recipe for caldo verde.
Yesterday I defoliated most of the beets in the back garden in an effort to halt the spread of rust which has inhibited the swelling of the roots. I then sprayed with dilute milk as this seemed to work on leek rust. Happily there is no sign of it at the allotment.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vegetable Morals

"...But I have no doubt at all of the advantage of giving up meat. I find already much good from it in lightness, and airiness of head; whereas I was always before clouded, and more or less morbid after meat. The loss of strength is to be expected. I shall keep on, and see if that also will turn, and change into strength. I have almost Utopian notions about vegetable diet, - begging pardon for making use of such a vile, Cheltenhamic phrase. Why do you not bring your children up to it? To be sure, the chance is that after guarding their vegetable morals for years, they would be seduced by some roast partridge, with bread sauce, and become ungodly."
Edward Fitzgerald writing to his friend Donne (September 1833)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Menaced by Monsters...

Pictures by Brendan Amphlett at the Lemon Monkey Mezz Gallery, 188 Stoke Newington High Street until September 27th.

Time for a Corn Boil

"These novel tongs provide a sanitary means of holding hot roasting ears. Made of stainless steel, they permit the ear to be grasped securely without the fingers touching the corn. Claws on the ends of the tongs are shaped in 'fish hook' manner so that the corn cannot possibly slip."
(from ModernMechanix)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mess O' Tomatoes

Here's this summer's assortment. (last year's are here) They are coming thick and fast now but still to ripen are a late start Peacevine and outdoor-reared 'Off the Vine' Brandywine. Taxi has now finished fruiting and I've replaced them with rooted cuttings, taken late May, of Riesentraube and Purple Calabash. Note to me: Grow more Copia next year.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plum Marmalade

Take two Pounds of Damsons, and one Pound of Pippins pared and cut in pieces, bake them in an Oven with a little Ginger, when they are tender, poure them into a Cullender, and let the syrup drop from them, then strain them, and take as much sugar as the Pulp doth weigh, boil it to a Candy height with a little water, then put in your pulp, and boil it till it will come from the bottom of the Skillet, and so put it up. Hannah Woolley 1670
A bumper crop of plums this year on the wild thorny tree by the garage, I've made a double dose of the above.

The Queen Mother Plum from Tradescant's orchard (Bibliodyssey)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Today's Pick

Tomato with piles.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Progress Report

"Our American cousins persuade themselves that they are never in such perfect health as during Tomato season; and with ourselves this comparatively modern vegetable has become valued, not simply as a refreshing, cooling salad, or when appetizingly stewed, but essentially as a reputed antibilious article of salutary nutrient."
Meals Medicinal W.T.Fernie, M.D.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

World DominAnt

Over the years that we've lived on top of this hill in south London, I've come to regard it as one big anthill. Every time I turn over a flagstone in the garden, it's teeming with ants beneath. They relentlessly try to establish aphid ranches on my artichokes and beans. Walking to the train, I see little eruptions of sand and ant activity betwixt most of the paving stones. Yesterday I saw hundreds of wing-ed ones issuing out of a crevice in the garden path. Well now I read that I've got that wrong by an order of magnitude. There are super colonies in Europe, Japan and America. Billions of ants all belonging to one global mega-colony. In light of this news, my pouring boiling water on one lot (or feeding the grubs to the chickens) looks a bit feeble.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Small Yellow Taxi

First ripe tomato from the greenhouse! Taxi, a determinate variety, so all the rest of the tomatoes on this plant will likely ripen in the next week or two.
Notice the bank in the illustration on this old seed catalogue. The first and second questions on the 'FAQ' page of a site I happened on which offers courses on greenhouse tomato growing, "Are greenhouse tomatoes a good business for me?" "How many greenhouses do I need in order to get rich?" Photo (doctored by me) from the Smithsonian Institute Library.

Monday, June 22, 2009


"Longest day: a cold hard solstice! The rats have carried away six out of seven of my biggest Bantam chickens; some from the stable, & some from the brewhouse." Gilbert White 1792
We finished up the longest day of the year with a picnic at the allotment, the weather mild. The corn there - Inca Rainbow - is very cheering. Most of my crops seem to be progressing much slower than last year. Lots of green tomatoes but still no ripe ones. Perhaps it's all the cloud cover we've had lately - today is dark again. Oca that I got from Patrick (on the left) has just put shoots above ground and Yacon plants (right, also sourced by Patrick) are about 15 inches tall. Having never before grown these tubers, I'm not sure how well this measures up. Still, five eggs today, and the chickens are all present and accounted for.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Things I don't have to do this week:
1. Water the garden

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Noble Thistle

"But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grasshopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, then the goats are plumpest and the wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat. But at that time let me have a shady rock and wine of Biblis, a clot of curds and milk of drained goats with the flesh of a heifer fed in the woods, that has never calved, and of firstling kids; then also let me drink bright wine, sitting in the shade, when my heart is satisfied with food, and so, turning my head to face the fresh Zephyr, from the ever-flowing spring which pours down unfouled, thrice pour an offering of water, but make the fourth libation of wine." Hesiod, around 700BC

I've just harvested 15 artichokes (well in advance of their flowering) and spent a pleasant half hour preparing them whilst listening to Hooting Yard on Reasonance. But as with broad beans, at the end of it all there is a lot more for the compost pile than for the pot. I wish we had a pig.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cold-Hearted Cicada

The feelings of a cold-hearted lover
are like a cicada:
it cries constantly
but never shows its face

Miwa no Sugikado

Found on BibliOdyssey along with a couple of woodcuts by Utamaro. Although we heard them all through the dog days of August, I only once found one, a mature wing-ed one, dead, when I was about 10. I pinned it to an acoustic ceiling tile and it was my bug collection. I'm just back from a visit to Toronto where I unearthed this while planting potatoes in my mother's garden.

Unless someone tells me otherwise I'm calling it a cicada. It still seemed to be in a state of suspended animation but definitely still alive, so I buried it again. It's not due to see the light of day until May 18th by this calculation - E=(19.465-t)/0.5136 - where E is the emergence start date in May and t is the average April temperature.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shook Swarm 2

Today we shook the bees onto fresh frames and foundation, about two weeks later than last year, but then winter seemed to hang about longer this year. The colony looks to be a healthy size but I'll find out if we were successful in about 10 days when I remove the two frames of grubs that we left as bait comb.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Under Ground

All my potatoes are buried now. Phew. Fifty seed potatoes at the allotment and 40 grown from true seed in a patch of the back yard. The little plants from seed are pictured below - quite promising I think, and hopefully big enough to fend for themselves in the great outdoors.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

A few more cards from my collection of Victorian & Edwardian Easter greetings. Click on image to enlarge.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Fridayes Pye

[Without eyther Flesh or Fish]
Washe greene Beetes cleane, picke out the middle string, and chop them small with two or three well relisht ripe Apples. Season it with Pepper, Salt, and Ginger: then take a good handfull of Raizins of the sunne, and put all in a Coffin of fine paste, with a piece of sweet Butter, and so bake it: but before you serve it in, cut it up, and wring in the juyce of an Orenge, and Sugar.
John Murrell: A New Booke of Cookerie 1615

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Three Eggs

"A baked egg is good eating, and easy of achievement. Break a new-laid egg on to a thickly-buttered plate, strew it with pepper, and salt, and cook slightly in a moderate oven. It must be eaten exceedingly hot from the same plate, which may be attractively surrounded by a narrow frill of crinkled tissue paper."
Meals Medicinal

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Diet of Worms

Today I did my worm survey. Pictured above are some of my finds. The chickens were utterly undiscerning when they dispatched them later, the different varieties are apparently equally tasty.
It was sunny and warm and I planted out some little pea plants (Magnum Bonum from Rebsie and self-saved Uncle Fred). Also sowed Champion of England pea in situ and, in modules in the greenhouse, Cabbage 'Mammoth Red Rock' and two interesting (new for me) brassicas from a Portugese friend, 'Couve Galega' and 'Repolho Bacalan Grande'. She says the stem of Couve Galega can grow many many feet tall and the head of Bacalan Grande will be 50 cm. across. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Place for Everything...

... and everything in it's place.

" Nothing shows more, perhaps, the difference between a tidy thrifty housewife and a lady to whom these desirable epithets may not honestly be applied, than the appearance of their respective store-closets. The former is able, the moment anything is wanted, to put her hand on it at once; no time is lost, no vexation incurred, no dish spoilt for the want of 'just a little something' - the latter, on the contrary, hunts all over her cupboard for the ketchup the cook requires, or the pickle the husband thinks he should like a little of with his cold roast beef or mutton-chop, and vainly seeks for the Embden groats, or arrowroot, to make one of her little boys some gruel. One plan then, we strenuously advise all who do not follow, to begin at once, and that is, to label all their various pickles and store sauces... It will occupy a little time at first, but there will be economy of it in the long run."
Mrs. Beeton

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Potatoes

This week's 'Food Programme' on Radio 4 discusses potatoes, with sound bites from our local Potato Fair. You can listen again on line if you've missed it.

Here is an update on the growth of my true potato seedlings sown January 18th. I've pricked out 50 - though there was no way of telling which ones might be of real interest - I had to limit the numbers as I haven't yet figured out where I'm going to grow them on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Darwin Blogging

We had our own little Darwin 200th birthday celebration last night (it had nothing to do with my birthday being the same day - but I do support the movement to make it a national holiday). There are lots of programmes at BBC which can still be 'listened again' to, at least for a few more days. Also the folks at Agricultural Biodiversity have been busy on the subject.
Meanwhile, the sun shone today, temperatures soared to 8°, and the bees were out flying around. Which saved me the trouble of getting the stethoscope out to check for signs of life after this latest cold spell.
I won't keep a daily tally à la George Orwell, but - three eggs this morning! Two of the chicks we hatched are now laying regularly.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Candlemas Day

Gladys was the only one to venture into the snow today, the others stayed cowrin' and timrous indoors. At any rate, she didn't see her shadow so winter should be short. We took part in the 'mass skive', and spent the day wisely, having snowball fights and a walk in the woods. And the Met says there's more to come.

The RAF Arctic Survival guide can be studied here.