Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shake, rattle and …. rhubarb

YellowRattleI’m checking out yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor.   We have a field that used to be grazed by an organic herd of dairy cattle.  It isn’t quite a monoculture of rye grass. We also have – in no particular order of dominance – dock, creeping buttercup, bull thistle..and if you clear an area – a spectacular crop of bittercress and groundsel appears .  I quite fancy some corn cockle or poppies, perhaps a smattering of ox eye daisy, plus any native orchid that might want to mosey along – because if I stretch my memory back to when I was a nipper of oooooh…. round about seven, that’s what fields were like – cornflowers, poppies and daisies.

Hence the yellow rattle research.  Yellow rattle is an annual plant which is also hemi-parasitic.  It invades the roots of other plants and takes nutrients therein weakening the host – in our case rye grass.  It’s also not that easy to get established.  I’ve been reading a number of articles – it seems to be a bit of a palaver….and the seed costs a fortune.  So I’m thinking of buying a small packet of seeds to start with.  I’ll try  sowing a patch in the old orchard area to build up, (hopefully), a stock bed the offspring of which I can then cast amongst the tussocks.

DSC_0427In the veg. plot the stems of Timperley Early rhubarb have already made good progress and the knobs of Glaskins Perpetual and Raspberry Red are poking through. I haven’t harvested much from the rhubarb as yet – I left the crowns for a few years to bulk up.  Here’s hoping for enough stalks to pull for some crumble, fool or a spiced rhubarb sauce to have with fresh mackerel.

There is blossom on the wild cherry plum tree.

Reading this week:  Do we need pandas? The uncomfortable truth about biodiversity by Ken Thompson.


Oh! the irony

I squelched off down the field to take some photos of the shelter belt plantings.



Our county council have a generous scheme whereby they give, ABSOLUTELY FREE, forestry whips plus canes and guards.  We have been recipients over the last 3 years and so I thought I would send them some pictures for some such  website they have – except I’ve lost the piece of paper with the details so I can’t load the photos.  Still, not to let my photographic talent (ha-ha) go to waste I’ve decided to post here.

In the first year (spring 2012) we asked for ash, oak and hazel thinking that these would be good for coppicing, particularly for firewood, (the link has useful little table comparing woods for burning).



Of the 3 – the ash is by far the most advanced (they were all 40/60 whips); the oak had a higher failure rate but once it struck then it appears to have come on. The hazel lags and lags behind.

Of course we CAN’T get ash now because of Chalara fraxinea. I pour over images of symptoms and then rush out to check my trees – all is fine though the rabbits have managed to have a chew in spite of the guards – drat them.  I shall keep checking the ash throughout the seasons though; having stop/started the videos of Chalara symptons I think I can clock black leaves hanging on a branch!

The field dribbles and oozes.  Hopefully the end of February will see the last of the very heavy rain. To cheer myself up I wandered off to check out my snowdrops. They are the species Galanthus nivalis which I transplanted in small groups from another part of the holding (a lawn) about 2 years ago.  I think nivalis is by far the best snowdrop for drift planting – it bulks up so well so quickly.  Even though it is wet, wet, wet, this shot of the snowdrops alongside the leaves of Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’ and Cyclamen hederifolium makes my day. Put on some boots, find a snowdrop walk and get happy!


To chit or not to chit…

I had a Saturday off work recently.  Very unusual and very disorienting.  But I had appointments.   First up was the annual elbows at dawn that is my local Potato day at the village hall.  I arrived bright and early, (well just gone 9 o’clock),  thinking that I would have time to mooch around – check out the spuds, cast an eye over the bare root soft fruit and seed offering and much, much more importantly – have a bacon bap plus mug of tea before the hordes descended.

No such luck…. the hordes were already there.

Parking was 3 deep.  It was a case of grab and run or risk being stuck in the car park.  So grab and run I did.  Good thing I had done my potato selection list the night before – preparation, preparation. Spud choice this year consists of: Winston – first early, Red Duke of York – first early, Charlotte – second early, Belle de Fontenay – early main crop, Ratte – main crop, Golden Wonder – late main crop and Sarpo Axona – blight resistant variety (just in case). It’s a mix based mainly on flavour (of course), reliability, sentiment (Golden Wonder) and sense (Sarpo).

The great thing about a Potato day is that you can buy individual seed potatoes, (15p a pop), not great honking bags of ’em. Which means you can mix it up – try a number of varieties  – get a spread across the season without rivalling Tyrells in potato production.  I took my selection home and set them into egg boxes to chit.  I do this every year in spite of loads of evidence that chitting makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to the end result except for maybe getting an earlier crop from the first earlies.  Still, it makes me feel like I’m doing something towards veg. production. I’ll leave them for the next 4 weeks or so in a light part of the potting shed to develop nice stumpy shoots before planting out.

So, Solanum tuberosum, the potato, probably originated in the Andes. It is likely that Spanish conquistadors brought back tubers to Europe during the latter part of the 16th century. Rumour has that potatoes arrived in England in the late 16th century, possibly snatched by pirates from Spanish ships which lead to the story that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to England – a story which apparently has no basis in fact.

That’ll teach me to believe what I read in my ladybird book on Queen Elizabeth the First.

Rory McEwenReading this week:  The Colours of Reality by Rory McEwen (not so much reading as gazing at his wonderful artwork – stunning)