OMANI GARLIC RACING AHEAD

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

THE STORY OF THE ANGRY BEAN

It has been a very long time since I last posted or did anything to update this website, for which I apologise. Torn between time growing, time in front of the computer and time looking after this website, only the first action has proved well spent! Today I am gardenless, having sold up and moved temporarily into a small house with a small garden. Fortunately I have been able to erect a decent-sized greenhouse in order to feed my addiction whilst I look for a new place to live and a new garden to create. The plan is to bring all my growing needs into one place. Until we moved I had gardens, greenhouses and poly tunnels within walking and driving distance of my home. Now I plan to devote more time to pursuing my passion to grow interesting and rare vegetables and fruit and to expand my seed-saving and seed-sharing efforts, starting, with luck, in the spring of 2014. But first a quick update and, what I think is a great story!

Back in late January I spent a month in Myanmar, aka Burma, travelling widely to visit the sites and check out what everyone was growing. For the last half a century or more, Myanmar has been isolated and inward-looking. Trade has been primarily with the Chinese. It is a country of diverse climates, but for the most part, being tropical, grows pretty much anything and everything. Until the outbreak of WW2 the Irrawaddy delta was the most productive and fertile rice-growing region in the world, with more than 20% of the world’s crop grown there. The vast majority of the population have lived as subsistence farmers growing traditional crops on small plots. From a seed-collectors point of view, this is most exciting. as farmers have been selecting and saving their own seed for generations. Only now, with the country opening up and trade with China and also Thailand increasing exponentially have farmers had access to modern commercial varieties. this may be a good thing in terms of yield, but is potentially disastrous for the genetic diversity of many native and indigenous vegetables that could be lost over time.

I spent much time visiting small growers, snooping around vegetable plots and checking out local markets and was thrilled to see a wide range of locally grown varieties, especially beans and capsicum. But by far the most exciting discovery was of a wonderful butter-bean with not only a colourful skin but a colourful story behind its name. I travelled along the China Highway to a little town in the east of the country called Hsipaw, a hang-out for back-packers and others wanting to trek into the hinterland to meet some of the tribal minorities. I spent a day with a delightful guide who showed us the impact of Chinese business on the local agriculture, especially the cultivation of water melon and pineapple.

In the market I had seen a large red and white bean being sold. The beans were boiled and skinned. My guide was able to tell me that this bean is called The Angry Bean because Burmese superstition says that if a pregnant woman tries to harvest a crop the beans will stop growing. His mother had been growing this bean for many year and seed had been passed through the family for generations. He gave me a handful the next day and I have grown them successfully this year, both in a bed in a green house and also in a large pot in a sheltered sunny spot. This bean is of the same family as our runner bean – as are all butter beans – with tiny white flowers which turn yellow once pollinated. The pods grow slowly filling with thumb-sized beans, up to three per pot. The beans are mottled pale green and red when freshly shelled, drying to red and white. They are best eaten as shelled beans, rather like a Borlotto. Steamed for eight minutes they can be skinned if required but I like the whole bean. They have a distinctive chestnut flavour and are delicious eaten on their own with a little butter, salt and parsley.  I have never seen this bean before and believe it is certainly native to this part of the Far east and may well be native to Burma.  I found six beans I did not recognise in my travels.  Some appeared tro have been grown commercially, others are definitely heirloom types which I will trial over the coming years.  I plan to grow the Angry Bean regularly and hope to have some to share from next year.

MORE AUTUMN SOWING AND SAVING

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.

FAME AT LAST HA HA

Back in July I was filmed communing with my broad beans and runner beans for the next series of The Great British Food Revival.  I have just been told that my modest cameo part can be seen at 7pm on Tuesday 6th November at 7pm on BBC2.

But to more prosaic matters.  Today I have been enjoying working in the warmth of my polytunnels transplanting Winter Gem lettuce and two brassicas, All The Year round cauliflower and Delaway, a delicious open hearted cabbage that I first got from the HSL at Garden Organic, but now grow from my own seed.  I have had a few problems with mice eating onion sets and have had mixed success trapping them.  The wooden little nipper is really no good because the wood swells enough to stop the traps from closing.  I have some palstic ones which are better and it is official, mice prefer peanut butter to chocolate.  They go to the peanut traps before the chocolate ones!  I have ordered a new type of trap and will post result!

I have been having a few problems with my leeks because many have started to bolt.  It’s a bore, but I am still able to use them for soup, once the tough central flower spike is removed.  Tomatoes continue to ripen.  I am often asked about the merits or otherwise of removing the leaves as the fruits ripen.  I only start to remove any leaves once the lower ones have started to fade and only then will I take off leaves up to the highest ripening truss.  A good test of whether a leaf should be removed is to see if when you bend it upwards it snaps off.  If it doesn’t then I leave it.  the danger of removing too many leaves is that the plants struggle to photo-synthesis effectively.  The best way to encourage ripening is to leave a couple of ripe bananas amongst the plants.  The methane given off by the decaying bananas aids ripening.

A LOT OF SEED TO SAVE

It’s now, as we enter autumn proper, that much of my seed-saving activities peak.  This weekend I have completed drying and cleaning the seed from a crop of the loose cabbage Delaway – a Heritage Seed variety – I last saved in 2008.  Despite the wet summer I was able to get about 2 ounces of good qaulity seed from nine plants.  I was able to shake out most of the seed when I pulled the plants at the beginning of September.  I hung the stems up in my potting shed within fleece bags to air and for the last of the seed to full out.  Cleaning brassica seed can drive one to drink, but gentle blowing and winnowing works wonders.  I have also been able to save a considerable quantity of several pea varieties; Douce Provence, an over-wintering pea that I grew a lot of in a polytunnel.  I will be sowing again later in October.  Also Robinson, one of my favourite peas, which grows to 2 metres with large, well-filled long pods of delicious peas.  I also grew an HSL orphan variety, Tom Thumb, which, as the name suggests, are very sqwat, requiring no support.  The crop was not large so I will hold the seed back to grow more next year, this time under cover.  I have a number of beans that I have already harvested and dried.  Two are from Syria.  The first is a delicious bean that is grown primarily to be eaten as an immature bean whole, but the beans are delicious when harvest young too.  I have plenty of seed of this now and will put them on my seed swop list which will be updated this winter. I also grew a Syrian fava bean which was not so prolific with small pods containing 3 fat large beans.  I will grow these again in a sunnier location next year to multiple and also to eat.  I also grew a good crop of my favourite broad bean, Bowlands Beauty.  Again, this bean will be available on my seed swap page later.  Whilst in Switzerland in May I attended a major vegetable event run by Switzerland’s equivalent to Garden Organic and came away with two local French beans, one dwarf called Brown Swiss and the other a climbing bean whose name I have written down somewhere away from this computer.  Both are being grown for seed.  Both make good eating as green beans, so I will have some to swap hopefully.  They are still growing so we need more dry weather to help ripening.  Also I have managed to get a very good crop of Ryder Top of the Pole, a great multi-purpose French bean I will have seed of.  I have been growing Borlotto beans for many year and am currently picking them when just ripe, blanching and freezing.  However, I fancy growing seed from a fresh source in 2013 as a comparator to my own seed.  I have also grown two runner bean varieties in isolation in polytunnels.  the first, Jescott Longun is a show bean that can grow to a couiple of feet.  The beans are also very fleshy and tasty when eaten young.  I should have seed of this to swap this winter.  I also was given a French butter bean called Haricot Gros de Soissons.  It is a runner bean with short pods that contain fat white butter beans.  Sadly the seed guardian sent me seed that was not true as my crop is speckled like most runner beans.  This crop will get composted sadly.  Isolating runner beans is essential if one is to grow seed that is true.

I am only saving one tomato variety this year, Fox Cherry, another HSL orphan.  I have two greenhouses with the crop in isolation.  The tomatoes are delicious, sweet and walnut-sized.  good crops too.  I am sending most of the seed back to the HSL, but will retain some to grow again next year to eat more of!  The good thing about saving tomato seed is that once the seeds have been removed the pulp can be turned into passata, soup, sauces, chutneys and pickles.  Nothing goes to waste.  I will be collecting this seed for at least another month, until the last trusses have ripend.  I have also grown some Syrian peppers in isolation but they are slow to ripen so I may not get seed this time.  I have been able to save my Ukraine hot, sweet pepper and will have fresh seed again.

TOO BUSY GARDENING TO WRITE BUT I AM ON TWITTER

It has been a trying but very busy summer and it is with considerable guilt that I see it has been three months since I last blogged.  Quelle domage.  A number of people have been giving me a hard time, so now I shall do my best to make amends.

Firstly, despite all the shite weather I have had more success than failures.  Last year I suffered terribly from white rot on my onions and garlic.  So awful was it that I thought I should abandon trying to grow these vegetables on my allotment for several years.  I then did some research and discovered that growing brassicas as a green manure on infected ground could help to limit the disease, which is caused by a pesky nematode.  To that end I sowed Calente mustard seed on one of the raised beds I had earmarked for onions last autumn.  In the spring I ran the mower over the crop to shred it and then turned it into the soil.  I allowed it to break down over a few weeks bedore planting up onions.  And this year I have no white rot.  This is a method I will now continue to employ for next year’s spring crop.  I have just sown some more mustard seed in a bed I would like to plant garlic into in November.  Hoepfully the next couple of months should be long enough to get the mustard to grow sufficient to kill aberant nematodes.

since the British weather has been going loopy I have decided to grow more crops in my polytunnels for everyday use.  My over-wintered peas and beans were fantastic this year, so I have now planted a bed of the red onion variety Electric for an early summer crop next year.  I have also planted up some of the garlic I rreceived from Oman with a comparator crop planted on the allotment.  I have also got the fabulous kale Ragged Jack as well as January King cabbages gowing under polythene as well as a late sowing of beetroot, carrots and some tasty winter crops of mizuna, red mustard, lettuce – with more to follow soon – spinach, chard and the fabulous winter radish Pasque.  With summer over and the nights about to become longer than the days I hope we stay dry to allow my squash and sweet potatoes to ripen in the polytunnels.

Back in May I bough for a tenner a half-hundred weight sack of Charlotte spuds which I put in an empty fridge at a temperature of 5 degrees centigrade.  Although some of the tubers sprouted mutant-looking chits I have planted a large number which are now taking over one half of a polytunnel!  When I see spuds for Christmas being sold for as much as fifty pence each I am glad I have tried this way to save money.  Also, with spuds likely to cost an arm and a leg this winter it is good to know I will be digging the beauties from December through to the end of February.  If you have can lay your hands on a few Charlotte or Duke of York it is not too late to plant now; ideally into a greenhouse border, or tubs or bags in a greenhouse or very sheltered spot.

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.

FULL OF BEANS

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.

FULL STEAM AHEAD FOR SUMMER CROPS

It may bea shitty, cold, wet day but that should not stop us from getting lots of stuff going for planting out in May when all danger of frost is past. At the weekend I sowed runner beans – an HSL black-seeded variety called Meesna, Borlotto climbing French beans and Ryder top of the Pole, all from seed I have saved in previous years. I sowed seed individually into root trainers and put on the greenhouse shelf to germinate. I already have squash, courgettes and cucumbers growing on in the greenhouse, but it is not too late to sow seed of these vegetables now. Being lucky enough to have several greenhouses and polytunnels to grow crops in, right now it is gratifying to see early potatoes making good growth, broad beans flowering and setting freely – helped by an army of bumble bees – and peas swelling in their pods.

I transplanted sweetcorn into one of my polytunnels which should be ready to eat in July. I will sow a second crop next week to give me cobs in August. Again using root trainers and the greenhouse so the plants will be hardened off and ready to plant outside at the end of May. If you have got room in your greenhouse border or polytunnel then sowing carrots, beetroot, salad crops including radish, rocket , spinach and lettuce in early February promises crops throughout the spring.

If you haven’t got salad crops on the go start now outside and continue to sow a pinch of lettuce seed every couple of weeks for the next few months to give a constant supply of leaves into winter. Now is also an excellent time to plant up your main-crop of potatoes. Plant 30cms apart in rows 75cms apart using a dibber to make a deep hole so the tuber is at least 10cms below the surface. As the shoots appear in a few weeks time earth up to protect from frost and encourage a bigger yield.

A JOURNEY TO OMAN

It is now more than a month since I have returned from a very enjoyable trip to Oman; a country of mountains, desert, vast empty coastline, diverse wildlife, lovely people and some spectacular produce! There was one particular discovery I made that I hope will add to the pleasures of life in the kitchen.

Oman has some of the most fertile and productive land in the Arabian Gulf. It is home to the widest variety of flora and fauna in the region and grows the finest dates I have ever eaten. The mountains are full of wadis and springs that provide water to some of the most amazing and impressive terraces I have ever seen. The Sayq plateau is where roses are grown to make Oman’s famous rose water. On the terraces are also grown pomegranite, olives, mangoes, dates, oranges and lemons, apricots and almonds.

When I visited these terraces in early March the roses were still in bud as were most of the fruit trees. But there was one crop that really surprised me, a delicious purple garlic, which I found growing in a large terrace – a variety I understand was introduced to the region centuries ago and is now effectively a native as farmers grow from their own saved cloves. I was able to buy some garlic locally which I now have growing in one of my raised beds and as of today it is looking good!
Oman’s fertile and productive plains north of Muscat are where most of the vegetables are grown and I was able to see just how varied and productive the country is when I visited the main fruit and vegetable market just outside Muscat.