Monthly Archives: February 2016

nothing, nothing but blackberries…

(the title is a snippet from a Sylvia Plath poem which can be read in full here).

I learnt a new word the other day. Batology, the study of the taxonomy of members of the Rubus genus.  Which includes blackberries.  Apparently the genus is so complicated it needs its own -ology.   I’m very fond of blackberries, but I think I’m too flippertigibbety for the -ology.


Not so fly is the lovely OH who has worked very hard on the lane so that we can plant the line of blackberries.   Just over a fortnight ago I ordered a selection of blackberry cultivars from RW Walpole; I chose a range from early, main and late season ripening options, picking those that are reputed to have excellent flavour.  The resulting  list was Obsidian; Karaka Black; Loch Maree; Asterina; Chester and Triple Crown.  I also had a specimen of Black Satin and Waldo.



Whilst some of the cultivars have semi- erect canes I’ll train to the fence rather than end up with a thorny thicket.  The mypex will be covered with wood chippings sourced from a local tree surgeon.

It is still chilly, chilly here.  Too cold for sowing outdoors and so all window sills are covered in seedling.


We keep the fires stoked and fill up on hearty casseroles.


and I pick jugs of sunny daffodils.


waifs and strays…

DSC_0018I acquired some livestock the other day.  Temporarily.  Sitting reading the headlines on the laptop a few mornings ago, I caught the sound of munching.  Looking over my shoulder, out the window, I caught sight of a furry back.  My first reaction was ‘that dog’s got huge..’ – the neighbouring farmer’s dog sometimes goes wandering.  Kneeling on the sofa, I saw a couple of sheep at the front of the house.  Pulling on my wellies I went to investigate and came face to face with a small flock.  I shepherded them into our field and shut the gate.   Then turned on the water and filled 2 large trugs.

Now tracking down the owners isn’t that straightforward.  If you can get close enough to get a CPH number from an ear tag then DEFRA should be able to trace the owners, though as there was a large ram with the ewes I decided against a close encounter.  I left messages with the local police station and the local vets which paid dividends later in the day.  The owner asked if I could hold the sheep overnight.

So the flock had a good old munch and departed the next day.   Straying farm animals can cause quite a lot of damage, in our case the this was limited to a broken bird bath in the old orchard and as we aren’t grazing I was happy for the flock to eat the grass.

Even so – good fences definitely make for good neighbours….

swings and roundabouts….

Potato Day came and we went!

IMG_20160207_103001163IMG_20160207_103224159This year I stuck to a very modest 2 tubers per variety, with an initial intent to have 3 or 4 different varieties for each maturity category (First Early FE, Second Early SE, Main Crop MC). Of course this is the joy of a local Potato Day, because you can buy a single tuber instead of a bagful, which means you can track down a favourite potato for mashing, boiling, baking ……

The concept of a ‘Potato Day’ was an idea of Henry Doubleday Research Association’s, (HDRA, now Garden Organic), directors Jackie and Alan Gear, back in 1994 and the first Potato Day took place at HDRA’s headquarters, Ryton Gardens.  Today, there are numerous Potato Days taking place up and down the country, throughout January, February and even March.

We struck out with obtaining Epicure; Anya; Golden Wonder and Mayan Gold, though we could have bought Anya by the bag.    I’ll dig out a couple of good Anya tubers from storage for planting this year as it is such an excellent salad potato and not as knobbly as Pink Fir.  As we cast around for alternatives, I and the lovely OH overhead other growers singing the praises of Chopin (FE) and Roseval (MC) so we came home with these as well.  The final list was FE: Winston, Red Duke of York, BF15 and Chopin; SE: Charlotte, Belle de Fontenay, International Kidney; MC: Ratte, Pink Fir and Roseval.


I’m chitting the potatoes in the potting shed – I do this every year for all, though probably only the earlies really benefit from chitting.  Some of the these I’ll put into bags and grow on in the polytunnel. The rest will go into the ground once it has warmed up.

We are still using last season’s crop.  Each year the lovely OH goes sea fishing, braving the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  Which means we can have a home cooked, fish and chip supper most Fridays.  Chunky oven chips, skin left on, salt and ground pepper then served with malt vinegar and tomato sauce – a celebration of the humble spud!





long live the ‘oignon’…

Oh dear, there seems to be a bit of a kerfuffle across the channel concerning some changes to spelling.  Too late for me I’m afraid. It took a great deal of effort to learn French the first time around so now I am immune to the changes – OIGNON it is.

However on the subject of longevity – here is where I am open to change.  Storage of our onions has never been as successful as the shallots.   We still have good solid strings of shallots in the lean to –

DSC_0009and not an onion in sight.

In my experience the red and white onions don’t store as well as the brown. Even so we do take quite a hit with spoiled brown onions,  so I’m always on the look out for an onion with superb flavour AND good storage capability.  This year, at the local Potato Day, I picked up a bag of ‘Jagro’ and ‘Jet Set’ onion sets alongside the potato tubers.  I can’t find a huge amount of information about ‘Jagro’ – though at the event it was described has having ‘excellent flavour and good storing’.  ‘Jet Set’ is a recent introduction and seems to have favourable reviews – some comments even describe it as ‘outstanding’.  We shall see.

For the first time I have sown the sets in modules rather than directly in the soil.

DSC_0008The idea is to give the onions a head start in growth rather than having the sets rattle around in the potting shed or risk planting out into saturated soil.  I use multi-purpose compost and push the set down by a third into the compost.  I’ll plant them out in about a month’s time.

The lovely OH has also been hard at work – amongst other things he kindly cleaned and sharpened all the tools:

DSC_0003DSC_0001The tools are now looking GORGEOUS!


a walk on the wild side…


We have always hankered after a wildflower meadow. In the very dim and distance past our land may have been lowland meadow, or it may have been deciduous forest, but for many hundreds of years the land has been farmed.  The previous owner was, (and still is), an organic dairy farmer , so whilst the fields wouldn’t have had any pesticides or herbicide sprayings in the last decade or more, the native plant species have long disappeared, ploughed up and replaced by species poor grass pasture.   The soil in the principal fields is now too rich to easily establish a wildflower meadow so the lovely OH is scalping the grass alongside the drive.

He has left a metre strip along the length of the fence.  The soil is much deeper here, and as the ground slopes slightly towards the fence, will be damper.  Along the fence line we shall plant blackberry cultivars, through 1m width weed suppressing membrane, and fan train the canes on the wires. I’ve ordered the plants from the nursery and they should arrive next week, (exciting!).

We will mix spent compost with sand and gravel to spread this to level out the remaining strip.  Initially we intend to sow this with a British native wild flower and grasses seed mix, though as we are members of the local meadow management group we will take some green hay for strewing later in the year from members with established meadows.   If you are very nerdy here is Natural England’s method for applying green hay.

The snowdrops in the old orchard are emerging – spring is round the corner.

DSC_0753 (PS Tomorrow is National Libraries Day – go and support your local library before that too becomes an endangered species).


the big tidy….

DSC_0736I’ve been clearing the decks in the potting shed.  Which is exactly the sort of job to do on a blustery January day.   It also means I can actually work again in the shed as the pots are stacked on shelves rather than piled on the floor and the table.

DSC_0740I still need to clean down and oil the tools, a job I should have done at the end of the last growing season – even so – a clear table to work at and space for a kettle and radio though it is our local ‘Potato Day’ this coming weekend hence the appearance of the egg boxes, (for chitting) competing for space.

We have started the sowings in the polytunnel; peas in guttering as well as radish and salad crops.

IMG_20160115_123532611In the beds – turnips, more radish, flat leaf parsley and coriander, in modules – cauliflower and globe artichoke.  More herbs and leaf salad sowings to follow.


Reading this week: In Pursuit of Butterflies by Matthew Oates