The war in Syria has been devastating for farmers and the country’s position as the bread basket of the middle east.  Fortunately the Syrian seed bank has been safely smuggled out of the country and the vast gene pool is now in deep-frozen security in neighbouring countries and the seed bank in Svalbard, Norway.  However, I believe it is important to conserve as much as we can of Syria’s food heritage by growing their vegetables and sharing the seed with others who appreciate their special eating qualities. This year I am growing fava beans, courgettes and cucumbers from my small collection of seed I hunted down during  a visit to the country at the start of the civil war in 2011.Syrian fava in basket wideThis basket of blackened pods, when shelled becomes a basket of delicious fava beans.Syrian Fava shelled 1
A total of 1.2 kilos from just 24 plants. This bean came from a farmer near Aleppo.  Fava beans are man’s first cultivated crop and have been grown in Syria since the dawn of civilisation in the Tigris Euphrates valley some 10,000 years ago. This bean is a direct descendant – not forgetting, it is delicious too.  This what the plant looks like as the pods swell and ripen.Syrian Fava bean 18712
As well as beans I am growing two wonderful Syrian courgettes. This dark green variety is from seed I found on a market stall in ancient Damascus.  Syrian dark courgette2I am growing on a fruit for seed having hand pollinated to ensure it is true.  It will get even larger and is not for eating!

Syrian green courgette ripening

I hand-pollinated the female flower on the right with the male flower on the left to grow on my second Syrian courgette which is a truly delicious pale green variety that was grown commercially in Syria.  The seed company Al Shibli based in Aleppo and now I fear no longer functioning.

male and female courgette flower cu

This is the result.  I am hopeful that the variety is open pollinated and not a hybrid as it has both sexes of flower.  Next year I shall grow again to check and if so will include them in my library to share.Syrian pale courgette ripening
I also bought some commercial cucumber seed from Syria Future Seed, again a company no longer in existence.  This variety is open pollinated and the crop this year from seed I saved in 2014 is prolific and utterly delicious. Sweet and tender small tear-drop shaped cucumbers that I hope to have more seed of in 2016.




This year I am conducting an experiment in how to conserve genetic purity when growing a highly promiscuous runner bean for the Heritage Seed Library.
Stenner 2 wide

Stenner is a wonderful old English variety which produces an abundant crop of very long – often prize-winning – delicious beans. However, runner beans cross-pollinate for a pastime so growing them for seed means they need to be isolated from other runner beans; not an easy thing to do if you have neighbours who also grow beans… unless of course you persuade them to grow the same one, which is exactly what is happening on my lane. Yesterday I delivered every household around me a packet of my own Stenner seed that my son had grown in isolation in Switzerland. No one on his allotment in Zurich grew any runner beans so I knew they were pure. I had also grown a few last year to see how they performed, (see photo). Now, knowing there will be only Stenner being grown within a kilometre of my garden I am confident the fresh seed I have been given by the HSL can be grown outside without fear of being impregnated by a bee carrying alien pollen! I plan to document the experiment. It will be interesting to see who can grow the longest bean for the flower show, who gets the best crop and what variations in cultivation techniques are employed by my neighbours. Watch this space!
Stenner young beans CU


a fridge full of seeds

It’s that time of year, when I start to fantasise about my vegetable successes in 2015. Of course everything will grow perfectly but the reality is always different. Successes are tempered by failures and lessons always learned. Already I have the HSL onion Up to Date growing in the greenhouse so I can be sure of a good crop which i can then store through next winter to grow on for seed in 2016. In the first polytunnel that I have erected in my new vegetable garden Omani garlic is growing strongly despite the cold weather – or maybe because of it and I have a small crop of Bowland Beauty broad bean coming on hopefully to yield a nice crop for the table in May.

Every day the postman delivers requests for seeds from HSL members and visitors to the website. It is an exciting time and great to share what seed I have packaged up just for that purpose.

I have a number of new additions to my library including several Canadian heirloom beans and most exciting for me an heirloom pea from my new friend and fellow vegaholic Jesus Vargas from Girona in Catalonia, Spain. two seed savers comapre notesJesus comes from a long line of Catalan farmers and vegetable growers and a treasured part of his collection of some 150 local varieties is a pea grown by his grandfather and named after his grandmother Avi Juan.
The pea grows to about 1.5 metres Avi Joan cropAvi Joan pea and yields heavy crops of large, tender and delicious peas avi joan peas in pod Imagine my delight when a large envelope full of Avi Juan arrived in the post – enough for me to grow plenty for the kitchen and freezer and to share next year. watch this space for a full report later in the summer!

This weekend I will fire up the propagator to around 22 degrees and sow the first of my 2015 crop of tomatoes, chillies, early brassicas and salad crops – varieties yet to be decided. Time to get into that other fridge!A fridge full of seeds


It’s that time of year when the veggie plot is operating at full capacity and daily harvesting yields lots of yummy goodies. This year I have a number of heirlooms and unusual vegetables in my collection I am growing both for the table and for seed. A lot of these will be available later in the year to share and swap, although much is for the benefit of Garden Organic and the HSL. So, here’s a start.
TOMATOES I was given some seed by a lovely Swiss collector of a green variety which when fully ripe has a yellow blush called Smaragd Apple. It is sensationally sweet when picked really ripe and a wonderful salad tomato.Smaragd Apple early August1
Another lovely eater is the American heirloom Purple Cherokee.Purple Cherokee 2
I am having success, probably due to a very warm July, with a very tasty outdoor variety Jaune Flamée. This photo was taken in July.Jaune Flamee CU
My absolutely favourite French bean is the HSL variety Emperor of Russia, which I have been growing for many year. The stiletto thin pods grow to 15cms or more but must be harvested before the seeds begin to swell otherwise they go stringy. I can harvest enough every other day right now to feed four hungry folk from just a dozen plants. they are unruly plants and require a web of string on short canes to keep them in order.Emperor of Russia harvestEmperor of Russia 3
I am also growing an off-list dwarf French bean for the HSL called Fowler. It is a remarkable bean. It can be harvested over a long period, remaining stringless for several weeks. very heavy crops as you can see.Fowler ripening mid-August 2
I am also growing a lovely climbing French bean for the HSL called Bonne Bouche. A very nice green bean which holds up well, it will be another month or so before they pods will be ripe enough to harvest.Bonne Bouche 2
A lover of kale, I grow a number of different varieties but this year I am trying an orphan variety for the HSL, not strictly a kale but an open-hearted brassica from the USA which is home to the southern dish Collard Greens called Georgian Southern Collard. I will allow the plants to go to seed next year when the flower in the spring. Meanwhile, a few tasty leaves will be harvested through the winter.Georgian Southern Collard 4


Madly floweringThis lovely Lima bean is from seed that was given to me by fellow vegaholic Anne Wafer who lives in the Slovak Republic. Anne believes it is the same as the Angry Bean I discovered in Burma last year and I think I agree with her. If this is the case then this bean is also known in the US as the Christmas Bean, a very rare heirloom. The flowers look identical but Annne’s seed is more prolific with a fabulous set. I am pinching out the plants at two metres, although, like my crop last year, they will grow to three metres or more if left alone! I shake the wigwam a few times each day and a shower of old yellow petals fall to reveal yet more embryo beans.A tub full of beansIf anyone can tell me any more about this wonderful bean, which I hope to start eating towards the end of August as the beans swell and ripen, then please get in touch.a mass of flowers


I am often asked, “What should I sow now?  What can I do when it is so wet? What can I do to be able to garden now?”  Well, it may be raining and pouring, the ground may be sodden, but all is not lost.

I am a passionate believer in working with raised beds.  Anyone who has them will be able to start work sooner because with a raised bed you avoid compacting the soil by walking all over it.  I am currently living in a little cottage with a tiny garden whilst I search for a new home.  Fortunately I have been able to prepare some ground for growing vegetables.  Three weeks ago during a lull in the rain I double-dug a strip of ground some 1 metre wide by 7 metres long.  Double digging is hard work but you only ever have to do it once, and if you create a raised bed as I have done you will never need to dig the ground again.  I covered the new bed with black polythene to keep any more rain off, having first put a good 5cms layer of well-rotted manure on the ground.  Yesterday the sun shone and I put two polythene cloches over the bed.

new raised bed with cloches

new raised bed with cloches

I have early seed potatoes chitting on a windowsill and next week I shall plant them through the black poly under the cloches where, hopefully they will grow on through wind and rain snug and warm. Don’t be put off by this ghastly weather. So long as you do not need to walk all over your vegetable patch and if you can either make cloches as I describe on the website, or, like me, renovate and resurrect old and forgotten frames, you can get lots of things started now. I dug over an old fruit bed during Christmas and created two raised beds which I duly covered with polythene. I had started some garlic off in pots in the greenhouse the month before and now I have planted them out, again through black mulch as I fear the beds are infested with weeds and I need to keep the ground clean. I have reduced the shock of transplanting by covering the young bulbs with frames and after a week or so, removed them. the large frame in this picture contains some of my Omani garlic that likes it hot, so I will leave the frame on until mid-summer.

Large cloche contains Omani garlic.  In the foreground is Chesnock Wight and Carcassone Wight

Large cloche contains Omani garlic. In the foreground is Chesnock Wight and Carcassone Wight

Herbs in pots like chives, mint, and parsley should be given a good high nitrogen feed and put under a frame if possible to bring them on

Parsley, thyme and garlic keeping warm and growing on

Parsley, thyme and garlic keeping warm and growing on

I have a green house so am growing early crops and finishing off over-wintering salad crops, all grown in troughs and pots. If you don’t have a greenhouse then do try and sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, radish, rocket, carrots even in deep pots or long troughs and place under a frame or cloche.spinach seedlings in foreground, radish and salad crops background S Continue reading


Omani garlic in pots January 2014After a very mixed harvest of the Omani garlic I received back in June 2012, planted up in the autumn of 2012 and harvested in late July 2013, both in a polytunnel and outside I selected the best cloves to plant again to see if I could get a better harvest this year.  At the end of November I planted up cloves as well as cloves of Provence Wight and Chesnok Wight.  As you can see from the photographs taken in the middle of January, the Omani garlic is racing ahead, although the habit is somewhat different.  Over the coming weeks I will move the plants out of the greenhouse and into a cold-frame ahead of transplanting the Omani under cloches in March where I hope they will respond better to more warmth than the English Wight varieties.Omani and English young plants January 2014


My friend John Tamplin likes to sow his over-wintering broad beans on Guy Fawkes day and I will be doing the same.  However, I first must clear squash out of one of my greenhouses to make room.  The F1 variety is a cross between Crown Prince and a butternut type and is called Autumn Crown and tastes fab.  They are great keepers too.  The fruit are a golden yellow and nice and ripe now.  I’ll store them in the potting shed where they should keep into late winter.

In place I plan to sow home saved seed of the classic bean Aquadulce and  also a row of home saved pea called Douce Provence and a few more Omani garlic cloves too.  I like to grow these over-wintering crops under cover these days as the winters can be so cold and damp that once trusty varities suffer.  At least in the greenhouse I am reasonable sure I’ll get a good early crop.

I have harvested the last of the beans I am saving for seed to put in my library, grow next year and share.  They include the black-seeded runner bean Meesner, the show bean which is also delicious to eat when young called Jescot Longun.  This runner bean has grown to 23 inches this year.  A guaranteed show-winner.  Other beans include a fantastic climbing French bean called ryder Top of the Pole and a Swiss pole bean and a dwarf French bean also from Switzerland called Brown Swiss.

Yesterday I had a great harvest from my polytunnels which I brough home in the back of the car.  In the picture you will see Crown Prince squash and a small Pompeon squash too; Italian Treveso onions courtesy of Franchi seed, ruby chard, winter radish called Pasque, Jescott Longun pods, some salad leaf, Mizuna and red Japanese cress and hidden in amongst it all a few beetroot too and also some sweet pepper from Syrian seed I found in Aleppo last year.

Great news for garlic-lovers

Back in March this year I visited Oman.  (see my earlier post). I had wanted to visit this corner of the Arabian Gulf to witness the great diversity of flora and fauna it is famous for. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.  The great surprise was coming across large amounts of garlic being grown on the Sayq plateau at Jabal Al Akhdar.  There I met a wonderful, hospitable and very enthusiastic garlic-grower, Nabhan, owner of the delightful Sahab Hotel.  He promised to send me some of his crop to both taste and cook with, but most importantly, to grow.  Last week a large sweet-jar full of garlic arrived with the post.  How it made it through customs I have no idea – you could smell the contents from down the street – a heavenly sweet garlic perfume.

Nabhan tells me that this garlic is unique to his region of Oman and probably originates from a French garlic brought to the Middle East in the 18th century. However, this quite magnificent variety could have a more ancient provenance and is certainly a distinct variety having been grown in Oman for centuries. I plan to share some of the cloves with other collectors and will be planting myself in the autumn in one of my polytunnels. I do believe though, that this garlic will do well here. The Sayq Plateau is high at over 1,000 metres above sea-level. The winters are short but can be very cold with snow and freezing temperatures. Nabhan plants his garlic in the autumn and harvests in June.  My guess is that I will be able to harvest in July from a late Octobetr planting.  Only time will tell.


A couple of weeks of decent May weather and sanity is restored.  The polytunnels are yielding a wonderful harvest of broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, potatoes, radish and beetroot and finally everything is growing like fury on the allotment.  The last few weeks have been madness, up with the sun to open the glasshouses and polytunnels, to water, to nurture, to transplant and to sow seed for summer and autumn crops. The garden at The Brockweir Inn is coming along really nicely. Check out developments.

I am thrilled so far with my broad bean finds in Syria last year.  Syria Small grow to around 70cms in height and have been full of flower.  Now, the young pods are starting to come fit to eat.  I have picked some at between 10 and 12cms in length. They are delicious chopped up like French beans and sauted in oilve oil with garlic! The pods are prolific and I hope to be able to allow many to grow on to maturity for seed in 2012. A very nice discovery indeed.