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. Jesus 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 and yields heavy crops of large, tender and delicious peas 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!
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.
Another lovely eater is the American heirloom Purple Cherokee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A week in the Garrotxa region of Catalonia has proved most productive for this humble seed collector and saver. It all started with a chance conversation and an introduction to Jesus Vegas, (pronounced Begas), who lives near Montagut close to the border with France. A passionate protector of both Catalan and Spanish native and heirloom vegetables, I was able to spend several happy hours checking out his library of some 150 varieties and admire his wonderful garden where he grows heirloom and local varieties for food, to sell and to share the seed with a group of about 50 like-minded souls throughout Spain.
I stayed near the medieval town of Santa Pau, which is now famous for its small white bean which is about to get special denomination status. It has a firm texture and nutty flavour and is usually eaten with the famous local sausage called Butifarra. or as I had it, pearled barley and crispy onion. Needless to say, I have brought some home to grow myself as well as two other beans I found in a little shop in another medieval town in the mountains called Rupit. Mongeta del Ganxet D’en Pere de Slica D’Amunt is a small white flagelot type from the Valies region and from near the town of Olot and very similar to Santa Pau, Mongeta La Val d’en Bas.
Catalans like to squeeze tomato onto their bread. It is a delicious alternative to butter or oil. They grow a special type of tomato for the purpose which they call Tomate de Penjar which are often sold on strings like onions for storing through the winter, but are grown and eaten from late spring onwards. Jesus had several varieties and gave me two of his favourites, Llagostera, which is the name of the place it comes from and Piel de Melocoton, or Peach Skin. I shall be growing both next year and will hopefully have seed to share. Jesus’ library was a rich trove of goodies. He gave me a purple broad bean called Reina Mauva, (Purple Queen), which is very rare but was widely grown in the region at one time and a purple seeded pea called Negra del Bergada. He has promised me some seed from another pea called Avi Joan, (Abi Juan) which was named after his wife’s grandfather who grew the variety for decades. It is a genuine heirloom with large, sweet peas on plants about 1.5 metres tall. I cannot wait
Finally I believe I have found a new home for my veggies, and even though we have yet to complete on the purchase, I have started work on a plot that has been sadly neglected for many year, but promises much.
A gently sloping south-facing blank canvas
The plan is to initially create 14 raised beds in an area of approximately 12metres by 10 metres which will be fenced against all four-legged intruders. To the north of the plot in full sun will be two 10 metre x 5 meter polytunnels and one 10 x 5 fruit cage. To the east of the vegetable plot will be one 12ft x 8ft greenhouse and an assortment of cold-frames and propagating beds.
The first raised bed under construction
As of today I have beans, potatoes, onions, shallots, beetroot, carrots, parsnips and peas growing with about 50% of the garden covered to supress weeds.
The first raised bed awaiting black mulch and planting with beans and a few heirloom potatoes
My approach is to use as much of the plot as I can with the minimum of weeding. Some of the land had been covered so that is now growing roots and onions. I plan to work bit by bit on creating new raised beds and plant through black mulch as much as I can through this year.
Already starting to look more like a vegetable garden
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
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
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
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.
It was with delight and surprise that I received a tweet the other day (my Twitter tag is vegoutwithadam) from a lovely lady whose tag is Skannie. She suggested that the Angry Bean might well be the Christmas Lima. So I Googled the bean and found this wonderful site. http://diaryofatomato.com/2013/10/23/christmas-lima-bean-stew/
I have no doubt it is the same bean. See my earlier blog about the story of the Angry Bean. Now I want to try and discover just how this wonderful bean has found itself in both the US and also Burma/Myanmar. Being a Lima bean it must have originated in South America. I wonder if it was cultivated by native Americans or found its way into vegetable plots in recent times being imported from the south? My guess is that the bean found its way to indo-China courtesy of Portuguese traders and colonisers who crossed the Pacific with many of the vegetables that are native to South America. Any thoughts or information will be much appreciated.
If you have stories about this wonderful bean please tell all!
After 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.
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.
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.