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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Fruit and veg successes and failures 2012

Time to make a note of last year's harvest so that I can look back and compare in later years.

This wasn't a good year due mainly to weather and germination problems. It was really dry Jan through March, wet April through mid July, dryzabone mid July to mid September, and it hasn't stopped pouring with rain since! Hence much of the tree fruit which relies on insect pollination didn't do very well at all. The problems I had with germination and growing on of seedlings I already documented in an earlier post called 'Germination woes'. And then there was the first time Chateau Moorhen has ever been subject to ..... Slug Attack!


Despite later sowings being eaten by slugs, I sowed more than enough earlier and have loads pickled for winter use, yet still some in the ground!

Spring Onions
Did very well, although I find that the Japanese varieties don't germinate as well as 'White Lisbon' and 'Performer', the latter being the best performer! Again, I still have some unharvested in the ground.

Chinese Leaves/Cabbage
Earlier they were attacked by slugs and I was quite put off eating them as I found so many inside the folds of the leaves - now the slugs have gone and the last of this crop are still pickable despite having had -4C!

We did have blight, but by spraying with Bordeaux Mix we were able to keep the maincrop Desirees going for about a month after the blight appeared, so the spuds were of a decent size when harvested. The earlier Belle de Fontenays produced well. They loved the wet spring and I had much less scab than normal, and didn't need to irrigate them.

Soft Fruit - exceptional for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants (except blackberries, which weren't great as the fruit wasn't very juicy and there were hard bits in them, but it was their first year).

Loved the wet spring and produced tons!

Mange Tout

Broad Beans

French Beans
After a slow start due to germination problems they eventually grew well, and I had a pretty mixture of yellow, purple and green beans.

Only grew a small amount of pink Roscoff onions but they grew well and I've just finished them, having saved them more for salads rather than use them as general purpose onions.

Did fine, as usual, despite having rust, as usual! Rust doesn't seem to harm them and they store well. What I can report though, is this was the first year I had bought real garlic 'sets' (are they called sets?) from a garden centre, as opposed to planting any old supermarket garlic. Result? Absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Is still growing and flowering right now!

Cayenne Chillies
Did really well, and I had far more red chillies from four plants than I can probably get through in a year. I have dried them all.

Flat leaf Parsley
Was very slow to grow especially during the dry period mid July to mid September. After the rains came in mid Sept it started to really grow well and is still alive despite the frosts! It must be hardier than the curly leafed parsley. 

Mange tout in the foreground, peas in the middle
and broad beans at the back, all of which did really well

Peas and raspberries we had aplenty!

Belle de Fontenay on left, the last of the earlies,
and Desiree, the red ones on the right, the first of the maincrops


This is the first year in our eight years here that my leeks have not grown very big. I'm not sure if this was due to the dry conditions in late summer or not, because we normally have dry conditions at some point during the summer, so it's a bit of a mystery. I had two varieties which normally do well for me, 'Bleu d'Hiver (big French winter leeks) and 'Prizetaker', an English autumn variety from a packet of seeds that my mum gave me.  

Cherry tomatoes grown from seed didn't do well due to huge problems with germination and growing on afterwards, a fact I am putting down to the potting compost I was using. Eventually they came to life but were well behind, so many fruit never had a chance to ripen. The bought tomatoes were a disappointment, especially the heirloom varieties which produced very little fruit. The best all rounder and good producer and the one I am going to stick with as it has been good in previous years too, is 'Fournaise', a medium sized, nice round tomato that is good to either eat raw or make into sauce. 

We did have blight but kept it at bay with Bordeaux Mix. However the wet weather coming early in the autumn meant cooler conditions so I gave up and harvested the tomatoes green for chutney and ripening indoors much earlier than I would normally do. Some of the cherry tomatoes blighted whilst indoors.

Earlier flowering than the other plum trees, we managed to harvest a whole 1kg of fruit!

We have quite a few apple trees which flower at different times, so some managed to get pollinated during the wet spring, but overall it wasn't a very good harvest. 

Purple Curly Kale
I sowed a couple of weeks later than the previous year so the plants never grew that big. We've had a few meals from them but despite mild winter weather they just aren't growing any more. I found two plants completely bitten off at the base by my friends the mulots (burrowing mice), with a huge mouse hole around where the roots should have been. Never seen that before!

I can't grow radishes until after about mid August due to a problem here with flea beetles. The first few sowings produced OK, after that they either refused to germinate or were eaten by slugs.

Potimarron (pumpkin)
Not sure whether to count this as a failure or not! Not one seed from a brand new packet germinated and only two plants self seeded. Normally I don't even bother with sowing new seed as I'm usually hoeing off self seeded pumpkins galore. Then of these two plants, they produced precisely three fruit, which is a ridiculously low harvest. Still, it was better than nothing!

Jalapenos (mild chillies)
Oh they produced all right, but they were tougher than last year, so not so nice baked and stuffed. Don't think I will bother with them again.

Jalapeno in early Sept -
looked good, but was bit tough fleshed

A few courgettes, a solitary early tomato
and three different kinds of French beans

'Fournaise' - the only tomato that was
laden with fruit like this


Succumbed much quicker than normal to downy mildew (I think) so we had very few cucumbers, and this is after all the germination problems I had.

I've never known a year like it! I think I harvested about eight in total, from two plants. About four more were produced but just rotted. Normally we have dozens and don't know what to do with them all!

Grew well to start with but then just bolted quicker than normal - totally bizarre given the cooler wet spring which should have suited them. After that practically every seedling got eaten by slugs. Complete disaster.

The self seeded coriander germinated as usual in the spring, but never again afterwards. I had to sow seed and that had about three leaves then bolted, far quicker than normal. The next sowing barely germinated and those that did, were eaten by slugs. I expected loads more self seeded coriander to germinate after the rains came in September but it didn't! Really odd.

Piment d'Espelette (mild chillies)
Slow to grow and never ripened, and anyway there seemed to be two different kinds of chilli from the very expensive seed that I bought. Waste of time and money.

Parsley (curly kind)
Well that didn't even bother germinating.

I think I harvested about eight from one tree out of three trees! Our usual good performer, the Conference tree, had not a single fruit.

Apart from the damsons, out of the four dessert plum trees I think I picked about three red ones. 

These blossomed early during the warm sunny weather we had in March, so were all pollinated. However even my good tree in the veg patch which I keep well watered succumbed to black rot at harvest time which is so disappointing. Black rot is very common here and attacks plums too.

There seemed to be plenty on the trees; however there seemed to be many more thieving squirrels around because instead of my usual 1000+ I think I got about 50!

Slug eaten Batavia lettuce, some rare courgettes
and some tomatoes

Smokey checking out the tomatoes!

Cucumbers went like this in no time at all

I can't yet really report on the the PSB (Purple Sprouting Broccoli), other than to say that two out of the four 'Rudolph' plants have a few little sprouts appearing, but they are supposed to be an early variety (Dec/Jan) so they are late! The variety 'Red Arrow' seem to be quite healthy and robust too, but the unnamed variety have not done well as two plants are stunted and the crown of another has completely rotted in the wet. Time till tell.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Frosty grass

This morning I have finally figured out how to get outside and take some macro photos of frost without losing my fingers to frostbite. I just went straight outside whilst I was all toasty warm after being in a hot bathroom, wearing fingerless gloves, and managed to last about 15 minutes before my left hand froze. Strangely my right hand, the one clutching the camera, stayed warm! This works a lot better than doing my outdoor chores first and then trying to hold a camera when my hands are already half frozen and I don't know why I didn't think of it before!

As you can probably guess, there is next to nothing happening in the gardening department. I always wanted a bog garden, but not one like this. The only news on the self-sufficient-ish front is that Rachel the Rouen duck has come back into lay after stopping around September. We haven't had a single egg of any sort since well before Christmas so this is a nice surprise and it's duck egg tortilla (the Spanish omelette kind) for dinner tonight. 

The following are pics of ice crystals and frozen raindrops on grass, a feverfew leaf, a primrose, moss and an unknown weed.

In the absence of bugs, I've been photographing water droplets and feathers and water droplets on feathers, and raindrops on grass, involving sitting on the soggy lawn in my fetching waterproof trousers. Here's a couple of these shots which I already shared on facebook and G+ but not here, as I didn't know where to put them. They sort of fit this post.

One day I may get back into my veg patch, but whilst the temps are supposed to go back to unseasonally mild again, the rain is not letting up any time soon. In the meantime, I'll just take photos of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens..... (I really have been taking loads of photos of Hallie too so will share them soon!).

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snow and more garden birds

For once the weather forecast was correct and snow arrived on Friday. It wasn't very much, about an inch in total, but I felt cheated! I had this romantic notion of waking up to a couple of inches of lovely fresh snow and then the sun would be shining, the sky would be lovely and blue and I'd go out there and take all sorts of pretty photos including having a go at macro photos of ice crystals and the like.

Not so, it snowed all morning interspersed with freezing rain, it was cloudy (for that read really dull and dismal) and it was freezing! Really after I'd seen to my chickens (who steadfastly refuse to set one foot outside when they see that white stuff) and mucked out my mucky duck shed (pond wasn't frozen so the ducks were quite happy) I had to come inside and warm up. I then went out to see that all the garden birds had plenty of food and fresh water. Ditto the coming inside to warm up again! 

And so it went on with me managing to nip outside, take a few photos here and there in between having to warm my hands up on hot coffee in between. My fingers were so cold the best I could do was set the camera on Idiot Mode, point and shoot and hope for the best. Forget any fancy macro shots as even wearing gloves (not easy to use a camera with) my hands were like blocks of ice.

Now most of the snow has gone but it's raining, and it's even more muddy around the chicken and duck sheds where somehow when you stomp on snowy grass it turns it into even more of a quagmire than it was before. So rather a disappointing kind of snow!

Anyway, here are a few photos that I did manage to take.

Rose bud not looking very happy - I think I can safely say that's the end of the roses!

A view from my bedroom window taken through the double glazing hence a few blobs
which are actually the snow (or dirt!) on the panes

My lake - apart from that bit of green in the field beyond
everything was looking so monochrome

The 'moorhen tree' (the willow growing out over the water)
and the weeping willow on the left giving a faint hint of colour

And so to the wild birds. We have more blue tits here than great tits or sparrows, which I find quite surprising as in previous gardens the great tits have always outnumbered the blue tits, and we'd be feeding hundreds of sparrows! However we don't seem to have very many interesting or different birds coming to our feeders - we saw more variety of birds in the first couple of years that we lived here and since then most have never been seen again. I wonder if it is anything like the other wildlife such as partridges, pheasants, hares and deer that we see so little of any more?

Here's one of my feeding stations with bird bath.
There are a number of birds waiting in the wiggly hazel on the left.

Blue Tit on left and Great Tit on right

Not very clear shot but I wanted to show this Greenfinch on the seed feeder,
along with a couple of Great Tits.
Greenfinches are common birds but we don't see them here very often.

Mrs Chaffinch taken from a distance. The Chaffinches are common birds
and like to eat the duck food that I put out!

A really distant shot hence not clear at all but I wanted to show that we do have
Blackbirds and Robins here - again common birds, but not easy to get close to!

This was taken at a distance through my bedroom window and double glazing.
It's a Fieldfare which are winter visitors and we tend to see them only when
the weather is particularly harsh.

The rest of the shots are all of Blue Tits. They are small birds and one of my favourites. Being small they were so desperate to feed that I was able to get closer to them than the other birds, so some better shots of them.

Friday, 18 January 2013

French Friday - le Marais de Sougeal

My OH loves to remind me of the time we drove a 300km round trip to a lake which one of my 'where to watch birds in France' books recommended as a fantastic place full of interesting overwintering and migratory water birds. I think we saw such rarities as a lone coot and a mallard, and the locals walking their dogs looked pitifully at us with our binoculars and told us that the birds had disappeared some years previously. It was my OH's birthday that day too and it was supposed to be a special day out for him! It was certainly memorable.....

Sunday afternoon at the Marais reminded me of that day.

Seagulls!!! Oh yes, and crows too. Harumph.

The Marais thankfully is only about 25 minutes drive from home, and is the only place I know of within driving distance of here that actually has a hide. The bird watching round these parts is not good, and whilst there are plenty of nature reserves they are not really geared towards bird watching. I also find it rather laughable that whilst this is a nature reserve, it is still hunting season so there were many hunters and their dogs walking around and lots of gun shots - so any ducks would have been scared off anyway. I have no idea if the hunters are actually allowed to shoot birds on the lake (I would imagine not) but in the areas around the perimeter there are obviously no rules against this.

The Marais is basically a water meadow in a low lying area near the Couesnon river that has a small lake in the middle which is there all year round, but for several months from winter to early spring each year the meadow is purposefully flooded. Amongst other things such as a breeding ground for pike, it is an important stopping off place for migratory water fowl and we have in the past seen all sorts of interesting ducks, although they are quite distant to view, even with binoculars. You really need a serious telescope to get good views of them.

So the main reason for going at this time of year was to test out my new superzoom camera, the Canon Powershot SX50HS, against my reasonably good binoculars, Minox 10x42 field glasses. (By 'reasonably good', I mean that to me they are excellent, and cost about €200 which is not cheap, but you can go up to the €thousands for really serious binoculars!).

Not much in the way of bird shots but there is a 'posh house' across the lake from the hide.

A couple of Grey Herons and a Coot, thoughfully posing in front of someone's garage door! Both very common birds but I could see the herons better through the camera lens than through my binocs - although I hardly needed it for ID purposes. The other side of the water meadow is a very long way away so I'm quite impressed.

I was very annoyed that I missed this Grey Wagtail which I noticed out of the hide window just beside us, but only got one not in focus or zoomed in shot, before it disappeared out of view below the hide!

Afterwards we moved on to another spot where you can park up with views of the water meadows/lake, but there is no hide at this place and it was getting a bit chilly!

There were a few Lapwings, but we see them regularly in winter in the fields round and about in great flocks, often mingling in with seagulls on recently ploughed land.

So I turned my attention to the trees as there wasn't much else to try to photograph here! It's quite a scenic place, except from where the 3 places are that you can park up. It's not always so easy to just stop the car and start taking photos as there is nowhere to pull off the road except in the designated parking spots.

The above is a good photo to show you the power of the zoom of this camera. Look at the tiny white blob in the water in the middle right of the pic, just to the right of the last tree. It's not hard to know that it is a swan, but the image below will show just how much I can zoom in with the 2x digital zoom as well as the x35 optical zoom! Not bad, eh?!! It's never going to be a good photo from that distance, but for ID purposes I am sure this camera is going to be invaluable.

A few more trees - the image below shows a tree full of mistletoe which is very common around these parts and makes the winter landscape far more interesting, as well as being a good source of food for various thrushes.

One last shot, this time of a Breton horse! Well, I was getting desperate. :-)

If you can read French there is far more explanation about the importance of the marais and the reasons for the flooding of it on this website. We'll be going back again about March which is when we hope to see some interesting ducks and hopefully a few waders or even the White Storks which sometimes visit and even nest here.

Today we have had snow so I have taken many photos of my garden birds as they have, not surprisingly, been in a feeding frenzy, and have allowed me to get closer to them than they normally would. Will post a few snowy photos in due course. Don't expect much as I just can't cope with cameras and cold hands, much as I would have loved to attempt macros of ice crystals etc!!!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Little signs of life in the garden

Up until a couple of days ago the weather has been unseasonally mild for weeks but it's turning colder now - no complaints from me as that's meant some much needed sunshine! It's supposed to get even colder with the possibility of snow later in the week which means more photo opportunities if my fingers can cope with the cold.

However the mildness has meant that the late winter flowers have started to show themselves, even if only in bud form, and some of the flowers from last year are still hanging on (although some of these are, of course, weeds - the toughest of plants!).

Japonica as some of us know it - actually Chaenomeles or Flowering Quince.
This does normally start to flower early although it won't be flowering properly for
a few months yet.

Buds galore on one of my ornamental
Cherry trees - this is the tree in my cover photo
at the top of the page

Snowdrops (Galanthus) have shot up really quickly in the last 10 days

Hellebore covered in flower buds.
I think this is one of the orientalis hybrids.
They do look better when the old foliage is cut off, but seeing the
likelihood of cold weather coming I'd rather keep those leaves
there for now for protection.

Bud covered in dew.
My other hellebores have buds that come out from ground level and
are just emerging.

Rhododendron. Now this may seem an oddity but occasionally they
have a few flowers in the late autumn, but this year there are
about a dozen blooms trying to open up!

Then there are the evergreen plants that look good all through the winter.

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' with berries from last year.
I grow this in a pot and it's high time I divided it up. I think it looks
better grown in a pot with gravel on the top to highlight the black leaves.

Euphorbia myrsinitis - my favourite Euphorbia as it is evergreen
and provides year round interest. It will be flowering about March.

Here it is in the sunshine all self seeded by the steps leading up
to the garage. Can you see the little red blob in the centre top?
That's a Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus) commonly known
as Gendarmes in France and don't seem bothered by the weather
and are still out and about. You may need to click on the photo to see it.

The leaves have long gone from the Smokebushes but their fluffy seadheads
remain continuing to give interest. I've seen birds picking at these to use for
nesting material!

Finally, a rosebud looking a little faded by the wet weather -
it's never going to open up into a flower but still retains
a beauty all of its own.