Tuesday 22 March 2011


I've just put in Serpette Guilotteau peas, on the windowsill, and All the Year Round lettuce, and Spanish Black carrots, under cloches.

All the Year Round is mentioned in Christopher Stocks' 'Forgotten Fruits', which is mainly about vegetables despite the name. It was around before 1856, and it's a selection from an 18th Century variety, Tennis Ball. This used to be pickled in brine. I've heard of pickled cabbage, but never of pickled lettuce!

Friday 18 March 2011

Slow spring

It's slowly getting warmer. Too slowly for me. The bees seem happy; they were busy bringing in bright yellow willow pollen at nine degrees today, in full sun. They need sun to be active at that temperature, but willow is good. I've always found that bees would only start raising significant brood after it started. If it was too cold for them to fly while the pollen was on the catkins, they were going to be very late.

They've got three and a half frames of brood, and were in a very nice mood; they took no notice of me pulling their home apart at all. There's quite a lot of pollen in there; quite a bit of it under the brood, which is supposed to be a native bee characteristic. These are hybrids, but with, I suspect, a fair bit of native blood.

The broad beans are coming up slowly at last. I've put together two more mini greenhouses, since I couldn't get the right size covers for the old ones. I'm going to use those as shelving for stuff that can go outside. The brassicas I started the other day are now up, and are in one of the new ones. Digging is proceeding fairly well, and I'm managing to move a bit faster. I don't feel any better, but something has to be improving.

LL sent me some oca to replace what I lost last year; there are three varieties, where I only had two before. You can tell because the tubers are different colours. That gives me more chance of getting seeds. Different varieties have different types of flower, and without going into the technicalities, you need flowers of two different types to get pollination. Seed gives the only chance we have - and it's not much, given the number of people interested - of getting a new variety which can form tubers early enough to cope wit our climate. The problem with the existing ones is that tuber formation only occurs as the plant begins to die back, and then the frost is likely to catch it.

Monday 14 March 2011

First planting of the year

Greyhound cabbage, All The Year Round cauliflower, Green Heading Calabrese and Gloria de Portugal, a variety of couve tronchuda. I'm going to try to resist further temptation until these have come up. Meanwhile they're sitting on the windowsill.

Saturday 12 March 2011


My Seed Guardian seeds arrived today; Boothby's Blond cucumbers, and Cooper's Bean Pea. It's a little confusing when there are small, rounded beans known as pea beans, and large peas known as bean peas! There's even a Mr. Bound's pea bean and Mr Bound's bean pea, which got me totally mixed up last year.

I read that you can start couve tronchuda indoors in February for an early crop. It's a little late for that, but I'm going to start it on the windowsill in a couple of days, along with a few other brassicas. It'll be good to get a few things started again. There's ben some discussion of the HSL variety Spis Bladene, a white-flowered kale. Apparently the name originated as a mix-up; they acquired it as nameless seed with 'spis bladene' (eat the leaves) on the envelope, and nobody knows what it actually is. So many old varieties have come down to us without their names; it's infuriating. They say it 'appears to be a perennial kale', which is interesting. there used to be a lot of perennials; some flower rarely if ever, while others have to have the flowers picked off to make them last. Over the years, some of them appear to have been selected for biennial flowering; Hungry Gap, if it is the same one, is now a biennial rather than a perennial. I wonder whether anything could be done to breed the perennial tendencies back in? I'd love to try some brassica breeding, but I'm acquiring so many rarities, I'm probably going to be stuck with just perserving them.

Thursday 10 March 2011


I had a look at my remaining hive yesterday. The temperature was at an in-between stage; they weren't really flying, but they weren't clustered either. Bees are always difficult to handle at that point; they fly up freely when disturbed, then crawl over you and get into your clothes. There's nothing I hate worse than bees up my sleeves or my trousers!

Anyway, they had eggs and young larvae on three frames, and a little pollen stored. That's all good. They'll be hatching out at the end of the month - it takes three weeks from the egg to the bee - and the hive will probably expand fast after that. Meanwhile, it's obvious they've been systematically shutting down egg-laying in cold weather. That's a good sign in our climate, when we get significant periods when the bees can't forage. Brood eat them out of house and home, and that's when they starve.

Meanwhile, I'm making slow progress with the digging, but otherwise nothing much is happening. Broad beans planted over a month ago still aren't showing, though there are healthy-looking roots sticking out of the bottom of the pots. Things should speed up now, as there's no more really cold weather forecast. It's a frustrating time of year.