Saturday, 6 December 2008

Back from the Americas

well it's been a while but I'm back in cornwall, ready for Spring. Mexico and the USA were amazing, i've seen what a semi-tropical paradise Mexico is for the gardener, and America in Winter with only a few hardy kale plants managing to survive. I'll be posting some pics of my travels before starting my garden's proper blog again.
So as an quick intro here are 2 of the main plants in traditional mexican agriculture.
Introducing the Mage(MA-Gay)

This is Don Luiz, he's a Mage farmer, 87 years old still working away..Mage is principally known for being the main ingredient in tequila. Tequila begins as the sap of this plant. When they are about 15 years old the hart is dug out of the centre and the insides scratched twice a day. when you scratch in the morning you get what's called "agua miel" - honey water, pooling in the hollow in the centre. this is the unfermented sap and is delicious, kind of like diluted maple get about 3 litres a day...but have to keep it up or the plant stops producing this.
this can then be fermented to become "Pulque" a kind of beer which is becoming popular in mexico again
after distillation it becomes Tequila.
And the Worm? Well, there are 2 worms found in and around the Mage- a white and a red one, both very tasty fried up and eaten i'm assured...

The other plant grown nearby and in conjunction with Mage is the Nopal Cactus. Legend has it Mexico city was founded where the people saw an eagle land on a Nopal cactus. Our Teachers call it a myth because it is known by the indigenous people to be a metaphor-the eagle the sun landing on a symbol of immortality- so where the sun was directly overhead is where they founded the city-how could an eagle land on a thorny cactus anyway?

So the Nopal is cultivated for it's leaves-big spiny pads which are cut when young and sliced up-they taste like young green beans,very nice. They also produce different fruit according to what kind-some make big green fruit which are tart, and some make kind of sweet red ones. It's got some vicious spikes on it and i found to my cost(while trying to pocket one) that the fruit also have masses of tiny spines!
It also has many medicinal uses.

As i said it's a gardeners dream-most tropical countries can't grow things like apples because they need some cold to fruit but the cold nights in mexico and broad geographical region ensure both standard fruit like we are used to and things like "Mamey"- a beautiful, luxurious fruit. which i'm totally in love with but will never grow in cornwall..
More soon

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Well the season is over and most of the boxes are sent out. It's really feeling like winter now with the cold winds bringing the temp in the tunnel down to 6 degrees at night. We are off on our first big holiday in 5 years in a couple of days time- i still don't quite believe it's happening but i'm sure when i get on the plane i'll start to.
We are off for 1 month, mexico then the states back in time for xmas. I hope to have gathered lots of exotic seeds and seen how mexican and american gardens grow.
Will be reposting when we come back.
Thanks to all who helped out and supported us this year, next year is to be the best yet!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Golden Days

Well after a dreary, dripping "summer" we are now enjoying the sun through September. All the plants are enjoying a growth spurt and things are ripening like they should be.
We are heading into the last month of the boxes for this season, all our onions are dried and most of them braided. carrots are looking good:

some of the tomatoes are getting big- here's a 1 pounder (400 grms if you're from brussels) called "sarah black" which has kind of black streaks in it's skin and a nice fruity taste.

Being a Veggie geek we had to go to the "giant and unusual veg show" at kehellend garden centre where i work sometimes. It was pretty amazing, some of the pumpkins were big enough to sit in,

giant cabbages, and 5 foot long leeks.

This weather is also perfect for putting up a tunnel so watch this space..

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Seasons Change

I haven't posted much for a while because not much has changed. It's been rainging on and off for weeks now. Our winter squash patch is a graveyard and slugs stalk the beds, daring anyone to mess with them. Here's a bucket of slugs i picked in about 5 minutes in a few beds:

Nevertheless we keep working away, saving what we can. Things like tomatoes are doing well despite the lack of sun. Our indoor beans are really prolific and when the rabbits aren't getting in we have some salad!!

You can feel autumn in the air these mornings, seems a lot earlier this year. With the change of season comes a change of activity - it's time to start storing for winter, saving seed and to begin planning for next year.

Monday, 11 August 2008


well it's wet, what can i say? It's carnage out there, we've lost 60 young lettuce plants in one night and the rain is still coming.
As you can see the paths have turned into canals...

I just hope we get the rest of the pond dug before it stops!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Let the Fruiting Commence

July is a great month in the Gardening year, after all the digging and seeding, the planting and praying, you finally begin to see what you've been hoping for.
As i wander round the garden I can see signs of this everywhere. The flowers are all out

Things like courgettes and artichokes were quite slow to establish but now we've had some sun they are beginning to take off.

Our 4 peaches are slowly turning a lovely golden colour, and the first of the purple tomatoes are nearly there.

AS i'm writing this the rain is pouring down so will have a post on water soon enough!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Action day

What a beautiful day we had, The sun was shining and the mood was mellow. This was the second action day this year with about 7 people showing up to work in the midday sun.

Once again I was amazed at how much can be done when a group of people get together with a common aim. The pond was dug down even further, beds were made, wheelbarrows repaired, and we finally got some courgettes in the ground!

We also got beds tilled, lawns mowed and most importantly got to taste rose's blueberry muffins...

Thanks to Martin, Mike, Vivian, John, Theresa, John, WindRose, and Adrian for such a great day.
Bees to follow

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Recipes for May

Some of you will have noticed a strange looking item in your boxes this week, if you're not sure what it is or how to cook it i've included a recipe for Globe artichokes.
They really area a gourmet food item and I hope you enjoy them, our plants are quite young but will produce bigger fruit as they grow.

Preparation: Cut off the stem to make a flat base and remove any tough outer leaves. Position the artichokes snugly in one layer in a suitable saucepan or steamer. Sprinkle over some salt and lemon juice. If boiling, pour in enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Likewise, make sure there is enough water in the base of the steamer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer or steam for 40–45 minutes.

Artichokes are done when a leaf pulls easily out of the centre and the base is soft when pricked with a knife or skewer. Drain and leave upside down in a colander for five minutes.

To serve: The artichoke can simply be placed on a plate as is. For a neater presentation, push back the outer leaves and pull out the centre cluster of purple-coloured leaves. Beneath that you will find the 'choke', an inedible stringy substance that should be carefully scooped out with a spoon to reveal the prize – the dense, meaty bottom of the artichoke.

To eat: Pull the leaves off one at a time and dip the base of the leaf in the butter or sauce. Drag it between your teeth, eating only the thick base of the leaf. There should be a 'discard' bowl provided for the uneaten leaves. When you come to the central group of small, purple leaves, as described above, scoop away the choke and eat the base with a fork, dipping it in the sauce or butter

This weeks Box

It's all green at the moment as we are still harvesting winter greens like Kale and chard. The first peas were available this week along with herbs like coriander. A nice tea can be made with the mint and oregano is always useful in small amounts in salad and of course with pasta!

Our Peach tree has had Peach leaf curl: A fungus that can result in dropped fruit and even a dead tree, we are addressing the issue by remineralising with sea solids

We've gone for green peas this year(last years were yellow), and while they don't have the multi-coloured flowers like the others they are still a lovely sight to see in the tunnel.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Tulip Time

In spite of the voracious rodents that inhabit this garden, some of our Tulips that we bought in Amsterdam have survived to welcome the Sun. A nice Pinch of sharp gorse on top of each bulb soon stops their little paws from digging them up :-)

Speaking of the sun it's been so hot here, it's hard to believe it was so cold only a week or so ago. It's a real pleasure to cycle up the hill to the field:

And it being May, the deliveries of boxes have begun. It's a slow start but things like peas and beans will soon be along:

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Admiring the view

I had a clamber up the hedge today to see what i could see, see, see..
I'm trying to work out where do i go next with the design and was looking to get a different perspective.
From here you can see the terraces, and all hand dug i should say.

It's beginning to take shape it's just where to go next?

Will have to do some more thinking.

Everything is beginning to speed up now the weather is getting milder, peaches are getting bigger by the day and I should have a nice load of greens for the first boxes on saterday

It all looks pretty except for the bad side of town- this is the part i don't like showing people.

More work needed

Monday, 21 April 2008

Flight of the Bumble Bee

It being a lovely spring day there were lots of bees coming into the tunnel to see what flowers were on offer. I took this clip of a fat bumble bee as she made her way around my pak choi plant.

I'm letting it flower so as to save seed from it. This gives me a plant that's adapted to local climatic conditions.
As you can see they are quite nifty on their feet once they get on to a flower, thoough they do tend to get covered in pollen!

Friday, 11 April 2008

A touch of frost

Today i'm mourning the loss of my spuds. Frost isn't something you usually have to worry about here in Cornwall, but we've had some really cold weather recently.
So right now this is what my spuds are looking like:

now because i'm not used to frost down here i panicked.. oh my gahd!! no spuds for the customers!!, but luckily it seems that they will regrow after a while, it just means a much later crop. I know i should know this being an irishman, but hey you can't know everything

Just before this i'd planted some more asparagus, a purple variety from Italy.
here they are all laid out like terrestrial squid

and the peach has bloomed, followed by little fuzzy baby peaches. By July they should be beginning to swell, ripen and smell real good.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Beans Beans

While our Tomatoes and cucumbers are growing steadily in the tunnel, we also have lots of outdoor crops to be planting. Broad beans are a great hardy crop to have, they are lovely with new potatoes and onions in june ;-)

We've been planting them for what seems forever - 6 Kilos - roughly 3,000 of them!

And a few weeks later...

I'm just finishing the tables inside the tunnel, the theory is that it doubles the space on that side of the tunnel: we can grow plants like lettuce that like cooler conditions under the tables and melons on the top of the tables. I'm trying to maximise the use of the space that i've got. And on these cold, windy days I really appreciate this tunnel!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

sowing the seeds

Here's a typical bootload of seedlings going up to the site from our conservatory..Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers...all ready for the season.

As usual i've planted more than i need but it's a kind of insurance against slugs and their ilk..

The grapes are beginning to show their leaves, i'm really looking forward to seeing how they shape up this year..

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Fruit Cake

So my girlfriend thinks i'm a fruitcake! Why? Well, i've got this addiction you see... It involves visiting discount stores in the Springtime and buying AS MANY FRUIT TREES AS I POSSIBLY CAN!!!
Yep it's terrible, I can't seem to stop myself.

I think part of it is the names you see, like "Denniston's Superb" or "Opal", "Discovery", "Fantasia", "Czar", "Heldenfinger", "Doyenne Du Comice" you get the picture...
Last year it was tropical fruit seeds, this year it's fruit trees. To date we now have 34 trees..
So what did I get? well to name a few:
Grapes, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, plums, damson, nectarine, blueberries, cranberries, gooseberries, and on and on....

I guess the names conjure up images of bounty at this time of year. Of walking through a rich orchard, plucking ripe peaches in the sunlight, gorging myself on plums and blueberries- madness
Because at this time of year there ain't no such thing mate.

Or is there?

This picture was part of our talk. It shows our landlords tunnel and what is fruiting there as i type. Yep, cornish kiwis. They begin in December and continue right through till April. So i guess things aren't so bad. Crops like these can be grown in Cornwall, doing away with fruit such as these being flown halfway across the world.
And if you think we would be doing some poor new zealand farmer out of business, well hey, they took them from China in the first place!

Pond Party

So we had our talk last weekend, it went really well. I was quite surprised to find myself being quite calm on the day, had a kind of a "let's get on with it" attitude!
The soil assocation(who were hosting it) did a great job of organising it and providing lovely locally sourced food.
It was a slow start but once we got into it, I had a great time, being able to talk about our project and especially the future of a self-reliant Cornwall! So not bad for a first-timer and after only 5 hours sleep due to our car breaking down the night before.

The next day was our action day, we were looking to put in a pond to encourage wildlife and have a definite water supply.

It was forecast for rain so not as many as expected showed up. However we did get 7 dedicated people who got stuck in. It was truly amazing how fast the work progressed in only a few hours!

It was quite cold so we had to keep moving, our new rocket stove made the tea in much shorter time than the previous one and so we would sit down and eat muffins and drink tea either in the warmth of the tunnel or outside when the sun came out.

There's only a bit more to do now.
So thanks to Steve, Martin, Mike, Rusty, Denise, Pez and Pippa for your help and company. Ye really saved my back!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A Wee Chat

Just a note to anyone in the cornwall area, we will be giving a talk on our CSA, it's setup, how we got funding etc in Truro this Saterday the 8th of March.

It looks like being a great event. I'm a bit nervous - haven't really done public speaking before But i'm sure it will be fun.

It's part of a program initiated by the soil association: cultivating communities whose aim is to promote community agriculture and help support the setup of lots of these projects..

View a Poster

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Surrender to the Blender

So it's the mad time of year at the moment. Everything needs to be in the ground since last week, the animals are active- mice eating beans, and i'm flat out!!

Because we are still short on open ground i've had to take in the Rotovator again. I call it the blender because it's like taking the soil and blending it up. All the structure of the soil is destroyed, worms are cut to bits and the ground turns into a spongy mess.

But hey it's quick!

and at the moment quick is what I need. Looking back on the last few years I can see the difference in the amount of seed we've been using. 2 years ago was we used about 30-50 broad beans. Last year was 120, this year....


Same goes for everything else, much more spuds, tons of corn, and about an acre's worth of Winter squash and courgettes.

It's our biggest year yet.

And speaking of "our", My partner WindRose has decided to come in from the sidelines and be a business partner too for this year. I've noticed the difference already as everything is getting done much quicker..

The tunnel is coming together:

The peach we bought recently is now covered in pink blossoms, which we need to hand pollinate as the bees are only peeking their proboscis's out of the hive on a sunny day.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Spring has sprung

So February is here, and we are halfway through it already. Hard to believe it seems to be going so fast. Looking back at last year's journal I see we are planting everything a lot earlier, and I seem to have a bit of a better plan together.
How long that will last I don't know! But at least with some crops in the ground I feel more confident about this year.

We decided on more potatoes this year -"Desiree" - a nice red skinned one which makes glorious chips, and "Sante" a nice fluffy, white spud which has been very reliable and tasty the last two years.

I'm putting them in where the souds and onions were last year mainly because it's the easiest patch to dig. I'll be getting more into rotations next year.

It's lovely rich soil, improved with compost and should be perfect for them.

We are also starting to expand up into the rest of the field- we only use about a quarter at the moment. I have been madly purchasing apples, peaches, plums and cherries and can now boast of a 20 tree orchard!

it feels great to have the extra fencing in, opens up the field and really makes it seem like the project is progressing...

Updates on the tunnel coming soon......

Monday, 4 February 2008

Thinking of Summer

It's real Winter weather at the moment and while I can hide in the tunnel when it gets really rough, i'm missing the pleasure of wandering round the garden in the sunshine.

So i've been looking at some old clips of the garden from last summer.

I thought i'd include one to both remember how lovely it can be and that these howling winds and hailstones won't last forever!

Thursday, 31 January 2008


A quick update on a crop I was quite excited about last Winter. It's called "Pepino" (Solanum muricatum).

I was interested in it for many reasons: taste- it's supposed to taste like a melon and pear combined, productivity, season - November to December, it's also a perennial so will last from season to season if given a helping hand.

The main reason was it was strange looking so i had to have it!

Anyway I obtained some seeds from Trade Winds Fruit

A great site with one of the biggest collections of hard to find seeds I have ever come across, they even have purple kiwis.

They grew extremely well, just like tomatoes and share that wonderful trait of putting out aerial roots so you can literally snap off a branch and it will root readily.

The only hard thing was working out when they were at their ripest. A light yellow tinge told you it was almost time, but if you took too long they were soft and pretty horrible.

When you got it right- around mid December, they were really good: crisp, refreshing and mildly lemony, peary and melony. They had lots of fruit some of which the birds got their beaks into.

The best thing was being able to go to the tunnel around Christmas and be able to harvest something that wasen't a lettuce or a bit of kale..

So the plants are still here and i plan to use them next year. They are slowly creeping into fashion, I see places like Thompson and Morgan stock them.

It's late and there's more diggin to be done.

until next time.