Saturday 31 March 2007

Vegetable inventory for 2007

Here's an inventory of all the vegetable varieties I've got on the go so far. There are more still to be sown, and some of these listed below may not make it through to harvest, but it'll give you some idea of what you can expect to see featured on my blog over the coming year.

I haven't bought any F1 hybrids this year, so the ones you see in the list below are from previous years and I haven't yet managed to grow them successfully. I'm increasingly feeling that the supposed superiority and vigour of F1 hybrids has more to do with marketing hype than any practical reality in the garden.

Beans, climbers
Caseknife heritage variety (Beans and Herbs)
Coco Bicolour heritage variety (Beans and Herbs)
Pea Bean heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue)

Beans, dwarf
Canadian Wonder heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Dog Bean (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)
Early Warwick heritage variety (Beans and Herbs)
Nun's Belly Button heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)

Cheltenham Green Top heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue and Thomas Etty Esquire)
Egyptian Turnip-Rooted heritage variety (Thomas Etty Esquire)
Golden heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Rouge Crapaudine heritage variety (Thomas Etty Esquire)
White Beetroot (The Real Seed Catalogue)

Broad Beans
Martock heritage variety (W Robinson & Son)
Red-flowered heritage variety (W Robinson & Son)

Bordeaux (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Veronica F1 (Organic Gardening Catalogue)

Brussels Sprouts
Rubine heritage variety (Thomas Etty Esquire)
Trafalgar F1 (Thompson & Morgan)

Jaune Obtuse de Doubs heritage variety (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Rainbow (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
St Valery heritage variety (W Robinson & Son)

Bright Lights (Organic Gardening Catalogue)

Music (Really Garlicky Co.)
Persian Star (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)
Solent Wight (W Robinson & Son)

Bleu de Solaise heritage variety (Thomas Etty Esquire)

Australian Brown heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Cipolla di Genova (Red Onion of Genova) (Franchi Sementi)
Purplette (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Rouge Pâle de Niort heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)

Alaska heritage variety (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)
Alderman heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Carruthers' Purple Podded heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Champion of England heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Clarke's Beltony Blue heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Corne de Bêlier heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Desirée (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Ezetha's Krombek Blauwschok heritage variety (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Golden Sweet heritage variety (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Kent Blue heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Magnum Bonum heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Mr Bethell's Purple Podded heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Ne Plus Ultra heritage variety (W Robinson & Son)
Oregon Trail (Penya Seeds)
Salmon Flowered heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
Sugar Ann (Thompson & Morgan)
Telefono (Telephone) heritage variety (Franchi Sementi)
plus my various breeding projects ...

Cochiti heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Fresno (Association Kokopelli)
Georgia Flame (Association Kokopelli)
Hungarian Semi-Hot (Association Kokopelli)
Jupiter Elite (Association Kokopelli)
Lemon Drop (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Lipstick (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Napia (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Ortega (Association Kokopelli)
Perfection (Association Kokopelli)
Red Marconi (Marconi Rosso) heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)

Red Duke of York heritage variety (home-saved tubers)
Shetland Black heritage variety (home-saved tubers)
Witch Hill heritage variety (home-saved tubers)

Butternut (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Waltham Butternut (Association Kokopelli)

Black Cherry (Tomato Growers Supply Co.)
Black Prince (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)
Boondocks heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Caro Rich (Association Kokopelli)
Copia (Tomato Growers Supply Co.)
Clementine (Organic Gardening Catalogue)
Des Andes (Association Kokopelli)
Golden Sweet (blogger seed swap: Spade Work)
Green Tiger (grown as an experiment from Marks & Sparks tomatoes)
Isis Candy (Tomato Growers Supply Co.)
Muskovite heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Peacevine (Association Kokopelli)
Pink Jester 3 (dehybridising experiment)
Purple Calabash heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Roma (Franchi Sementi)
Salt Spring Sunrise heritage variety (Heritage Seed Library)
San Marzano (Franchi Sementi)
Siniy heritage variety (Association Kokopelli)
Speckled Roman (Association Kokopelli)
Venus' Nipple (Teton de Venus) (Association Kokopelli)
Tigerella heritage variety (Thompson & Morgan)
Yellow Taxi (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)

Noir Long de Caliure heritage variety (The Real Seed Catalogue)
Orange Jelly heritage variety (blogger seed swap: Bifurcated Carrots)

I really do buy too many seeds, don't I?

Sunday 25 March 2007

Purple pea project photo gallery

My own personal F1 hybrid, which I got by crossing Alderman with Mr Bethell's Purple Podded. The flowers have a colour different from either parent, two-tone with deep maroon wing petals underneath. This one is just opening so the colour is at its most intense. All photos taken September and October 2006.

The standard petal (the wide main petal) is a kind of pinky blue, or more precisely it has streaks of pink and blue all swirled together. It looks more like a sweet pea than a culinary one.

There was some variation in pod colour in this batch of plants. This one was mostly purple, but they all had some green in them too.

Marbled pods. There are several possible reasons for this mish mash of purple and green. It's most likely co-dominance between the genes for green and purple.

When I was planning out the project I predicted that my F1 hybrids, which are the first generation of plants grown after making the cross, would have purple pods. That's because I'd read that the purple pod gene is dominant, and so I would expect purple pods to assert themselves as the default type. And some were indeed almost entirely purple. But they all had some green in them, and they all stayed blotchy and semi-purple until quite late in their development, purpling up a little as they matured. And some just remained blotchy. F1 hybrids are not supposed to show much variation, so I was a bit surprised, but nature is full of surprises and she's no great respecter of one-size-fits-all genetic theory. And there may have been environmental factors involved too.

The blotchy mixed up colouring looks to me to be a case of co-dominance, where the dominant purple gene has found itself matched up with a dominant green gene, and their struggle for dominion over one another produces the halfway house you see in the pod picture above. There are other possible reasons for it, but in my limited experience that's the most likely one.

I'll find out more when I grow the next generation (these plants didn't survive, but I'll be growing and saving seed from more of the same). If it is co-dominance, I will know because the offspring (F2 generation) will come out approximately a quarter green podded and a quarter purple podded, with the remaining half being blotchy bi-colours like their parents. That's because when plants reproduce they inherit one half of the genome from each parent, and so each parent can pass on either the purple gene or the green gene, but not both. The result of this is four different possible combinations: green-green, green-purple, purple-green, or purple-purple. It's entirely down to chance which of these each seed inherits. Green-purple and purple-green both result in blotchy pods as the two colours fight for dominance, so they pretty much count as the same thing.

If the colour mixture is caused by something else other than co-dominance, I won't see these ratios. For instance, if it turns out the green gene is actually recessive rather than dominant, I will end up with roughly three quarters purple podded and only a quarter green. That's because the purple gene will dominate in three out of the four possible combinations, leaving only 'green-green' capable of creating green pods.

*sigh* I keep meaning to write a post on basic genetics ... then my strange ramblings would make more sense!

It's complicated but it's all great fun.

Another variation: one of the plants produced two flowers per node, as shown here (the blue flower is older and has started to fade). This is a trait not usually seen in either parent.

Saturday 24 March 2007

My new purple pea projects

My hand-pollinated hybrid pea (sadly destroyed by a storm before it set seed) was an absolute beauty, made from a cross between two heirloom varieties

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you'll know all about my purple pea quest, a project to breed my own personal idealised pea using the genes of my favourite heritage varieties. To start with, the project involved hand-crossing Alderman, a voluptuous Victorian pea in a flavour class of its own, with Mr Bethell's Purple Podded, a British family heirloom purple-podded variety with moderately good flavour compared to other purples. My aim is to breed something with the gorgeous looks and flavour of Alderman but in a purple version with pink or blue flowers. Why? Just for the hell of it. Alderman is lovely but I like pink or blue flowers better than white.

Or, to look at it the other way round, I love Mr Bethell's Purple Podded as it is but I'd love it even more if it had sweeter peas.

Although my plants were destroyed I'm starting again with another lot from the same 'sessions' and hope they'll turn out the same. They certainly should do, because they're F1 hybrids, which tend to be quite uniform. The next step in the project is to grow the F1 hybrids to maturity and collect as much seed from them as possible. Those seeds will be F2, and the offspring from them will be a hotchpotch of diversity from which I can select the plants I like best.

In fact these are so beautiful I think I'll do another gallery post soon to show them off ...

The purple colouring in pea pods is created by anthocyanin, which I mentioned in my purple sprouting broccoli post. It's a vacuolar flavonoid pigment. That didn't help did it? I don't know what it means either, but anthocyanin is also a very beneficial antioxidant, and it's not present in most green varieties. So purple varieties have nutritional advantages as well as looking quirky. (This applies not just to peas but to most other vegetables that have red or purple forms, like beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower ... and dark fruits like blackcurrants.) But only if you actually eat the purple bits. Alderman is a shelling pea and if I breed purple colouring into it I won't get any benefit from the anthocyanin because the pods just get discarded. The peas inside are green and don't contain the magic pigment.

So clearly while I'm at it I ought to try breeding a purple mangetout (snow) pea and a sugarsnap. And that's exactly what I'm planning to do this year.

I'm not the only person with an interest in purpling up the available pea range. Carol Deppe in her wonderful fabulous and unequalled plant breeding manual for amateurs Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties describes her own purple pea projects along with enough genetic information and practical detail for you to try it at home. You can also see some varieties under development at And Ben and Kate at The Real Seed Catalogue would like to be able to offer a really good purple mangetout in their catalogue. There isn't anything quite right at the moment but they have ideas about how they could develop one. Except that they're engrossed in courgette breeding projects and don't have time to take it on at the moment. So they asked me to do it for them.

It's very flattering to be asked to take on a project like this, because I must own up to being an entirely amateur plant breeder with no training whatsoever. Everything I know I either learned from Carol Deppe or the internet, or from the hours spent in my garden prodding things with a scalpel. But I think there's a huge need for people doing what I'm doing at the moment. Plant breeding has become almost entirely the preserve of commercial enterprise, and a totally different mindset prevails in the industry from that of people who just enjoy gardening and want to grow a few nice veggies. It's not that plant breeders don't care about gardeners. But they have to make a living from what they do, and there's not much funding available to breed new vegetables just because they look pretty or taste nice. It's only us amateur dabblers who have the luxury of being able to experiment with whatever takes our fancy.

Ben and Kate run a not-for-profit seed company in South Wales. They select everything in their catalogue from their own experiences of growing it and eating it, and produce much of the seed themselves. The varieties they offer are collected from all over, many of them heritage or traditional types and eclectically sourced from seed banks and individuals across the world. They also offer some of their own new varieties, which you occasionally come across as you browse the catalogue. The thing that makes them stand out from other seed companies is that they only sell open-pollinated varieties, not F1 hybrids, because they promote seed saving as good gardening practice. That's right, they actively encourage you to save and replant your own seeds rather than buying it from them again next year. And just to be sure you know what to do, they give seed saving instructions for all their vegetables on their website and with the seed packets.

So where do you start when you want to create a new purple mangetout pea? Ben thinks Golden Sweet is the best mangetout pea around. It has smallish yellow pods, blue flowers and purple-flecked seeds. I bought some from them last year and it did well. The texture and flavour are good, and the plants are vigorous. He's also keen on a purple-podded pea called Desirée, which is one I've never grown myself so I don't know much about it yet. So this is the first stage of the breeding project, to cross those two varieties. Ben sent me the seeds and I currently have a batch of each variety growing in Rootrainers. I got 100% germination from the seeds he sent, which doesn't happen all that often with peas. Now I just have to hope they'll both flower at the same time.

Golden Sweet and Desirée in Rootrainers, being hardened off for planting out. They were both sown at the same time but Golden Sweet (on the left) is faster growing!

It will of course take a few years to produce a stable new variety and trial it sufficiently, and then it may take more time to bulk up the stocks of available seed before it can be offered for sale. And there's no guarantee I'll come up with anything that's worth selling anyway. But it's going to be a lot of fun to try and I'll be blogging its progress as it goes along.

And of course as a little sideline project I mustn't forget the purple sugarsnap. I'm currently growing a few plants of Sugar Ann, a shortie height-wise but well esteemed for flavour, and my intention is to cross it with one (or several) of the purple podded varieties I'm growing this year and see what happens.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Today in the garden ... brassica bounty

Purple sprouting broccoli, a favourite in British gardens since at least 1777. I've already harvested the main head and now it's producing loads of these sideshoots.

Well, here we are at the Spring Equinox, and the weather in the UK has turned bloody cold in the last few days which has thwarted my intentions to plant stuff out and resulted in some serious windowsill congestion. I have peas trying to climb up the curtains, turnips straining towards the light, a bathroom full of beetroot and trays of as-yet-ungerminated seeds stashed on top of bookcases because there's nowhere else to put them. I even have a crop of purple peas on the lid of the downstairs toilet (don't ask).

Meanwhile the things I've already planted out have survived remarkably well, and the old lady's net curtains get a big thumbs up for their weather-shielding properties. I've been using them around my early pea crops, and although the plants are looking a bit fed up after three days of buffeting by icy winds and hailstones, they are undamaged. I have some really thick bunched up super-frilly curtains in the shed which may come in useful for tender crops.

One thing that's completely unfazed by the wintry storms is purple sprouting broccoli, which is just coming to fruition now. Although there are now several named cultivars and hybrids available with different maturity times, 'purple sprouting' is often used as a generic name for assorted unnamed varieties, and certainly there's a lot of variability in mine, which came from three different sources. Some have large loose florets while others produce tight compact little drumsticks. Some have purple stems, some thick and others thin, some have a violet flush in the leaf veins ... they're all slightly different. But they all taste good, even if I slightly prefer the texture of the ones with small compact florets.

After a few minutes' steaming ... mmm, tasty! These two heads are clearly not the same variety, although they were both called Purple Sprouting.

I can't vouch for other cooking methods, but when steamed they do keep much of their colour. The stems and leaves go an intense green and the florets darken to purple-black, and will stain other food on your plate with purple colour. But that's a good thing ... the purple pigment is anthocyanin, a natural chemical with powerful antioxidant properties which is very good for you.

Also rich in anthocyanin and even more gorgeous in colour is the Purple Cape winter cauliflower, which is now coming to maturity. I've only got the one, I admit, but hey ... I've never successfully grown a cauliflower before, ever, so I'm quite excited by it. It's another heritage type, introduced into the UK in 1808, but it's still widely available, and rightly so. The colour is astonishingly beautiful ... much richer than that of purple sprouting broccoli. It darkens with age but is still gorgeous. I'm looking forward to finding out what it tastes like (and reviewing it).

Purple Cape cauliflower. This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago when the colour was at its most intense. The heads darken as they mature to a deep royal purple.

Other than the brassica excitement, most of the work that needs doing in the garden at the moment is digging and tidying. I tend to put it off because it's not much fun, but I really must get stuck into it before it gets out of control. My sandy soil dries out very quickly in spring so the ground is plenty diggable. At this time of year it's relatively easy to remove couch grass roots, as they pull through the soil like spaghetti through bolognese, so efforts made now will pay off later in the year. But it's still a chore, so I don't do as much of it as I should. Ah well, the sun is shining and I must brave the freezing cold and get on with cutting back some more brambles ...

The garden in March. Most of the ground is mulched with grass cuttings. That big barn thing is not mine, sadly, it's in next door's garden.

Monday 19 March 2007

Seeds Without Frontiers

I'm sure most of you are aware to some extent of the wonderful work done by the Seeds Savers Exchange in the US and the Heritage Seed Library in the UK. Both are playing a vital part in protecting biodiversity and resisting the commercial exploitation of garden vegetables. This is especially important in the UK and Europe where restrictive and short-sighted laws introduced in the 60s mean it's illegal to sell vegetable seeds which are not on the official National List. As it costs hundreds of pounds to get each variety listed, it's only worthwhile for large scale commercial varieties and the result has been a catastrophic loss of heritage and heirloom varieties.

So I just wanted to mention another lesser known organisation in Europe which does similar work but on a much wider scale than the Heritage Seed Library. Association Kokopelli is based in France but its reach is global. It was founded in 1999 after its predecessor, Terre de Semences, was forcibly shut down under pressure from the French Ministry of Agriculture for selling unregistered heirloom seeds. Association Kokopelli operates under the same threat, existing as it does on the fringes of legality.

I discovered Association Kokopelli during my searches for a US-bred sweetcorn which I've coveted for a while, a beauteous multi-coloured open-pollinated variety called Rainbow Inca. It's quite easy to find in the US but apparently only from companies that don't do overseas shipping. I searched high and low for a UK supplier, to no avail. Maybe the seed companies know something I don't and it won't grow in the British climate, but I'd like to have the option to give it a go at least. I was on the verge of asking one of my American friends to order it on my behalf and forward it on to me, when I found that the UK branch of Association Kokopelli (based at an organic farm in Kent) stock it in their online catalogue, along with 1000 other organically (and sometimes biodynamically) grown heirloom vegetable varieties.

Their website is a little eccentric ... it's not very well organised for casual browsing so the best thing is to type something simple like "tomato" into the search box at the top. That will bring up a list of around 200 tomatoes of extraordinary diversity, from Uralskij Mnogoplodnij to Venus' Nipple, all open-pollinated (no F1 hybrids) and certified organic.

Association Kokopelli is way more than an heirloom seed catalogue though. It runs a project called Semences sans Frontières (Seeds without Frontiers) which encourages ordinary home gardeners to donate their surplus seeds to be distributed free of charge in parts of the world where seed availability is poor or non-existent. In the last few years the project has supplied hundreds of thousands of packets of seed in countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America and set up seed banks and educational facilities to help some of the planet's neediest people to grow their own vegetables. The seeds they distribute are all open-pollinated varieties. This is important because it enables farmers to save and replant their own seed. The Association helps out people who have no seeds at all and those who have been misguidedly given seed aid in the form of F1 hybrids (a favourite poisoned chalice of the seed industry) which lock them into a cycle of debt as they're unable to save seed from their crops and are forced to buy more each year.

When I bought my Rainbow Inca seeds I also bought a copy of their book The Seeds of Kokopelli written by the association's founder Dominique Guillet. Originally in French but now available in English translation, it comes with three free packets of tomato seeds (!) and is a truly encyclopaedic manual for the home vegetable gardener. Again there's an idiosyncratic homespun flavour to it and the translation has given me a few smiles but it's a unique and extraordinary book and I've never seen anything else like it. It gives descriptions of 2500 heirloom vegetables and grains, including many I've never heard of, with several colour plates full of lovely photos ... particularly of unusual tomatoes, peppers and squash. Seeds for most of them are available to the association's members free of charge, and many are also available for sale to non-members via the website. It also gives cultivation advice and detailed instructions on seed saving and cross-pollination issues for each vegetable. And an explanation of the importance of seed saving and biodiversity, plus a description of some of the charitable work they do in India and elsewhere. There's absolutely no way any commercial publisher would have produced a book like this and it's a delightful rough-edged gem. It's written with a profound respect for the earth and the seeds and a spiritual delight in the act of growing vegetables, but is still full of practical hands-on advice and scientific explanations. For vegetable nerds it's a joy to browse.

Association Kokopelli has a branch in the US too, called Kokopelli Seed Foundation, and their website is worth visiting just for the tomato diversity picture on the front page. This branch doesn't sell seeds (it doesn't really need to, since heirloom seeds are so much more easily available in the US and much of their work is already covered by the SSE) so the focus is on encouraging American gardeners to donate seeds. They will take any organically-grown seeds of open-pollinated heirloom varieties, and if requested they'll send you free packets of seed to get you started. As they point out on their website, a single tiny cherry tomato can produce 70 seeds and a single flowering lettuce can produce 10,000, so even gardeners with small plots can make a difference.

Association Kokopelli has three stated aims:
-- to promote the preservation of biodiversity through the distribution of organic and open-pollinated seeds of heirloom varieties of vegetables and grains.
-- to create a network of gardeners involved in seed saving.
-- to help Third World countries to develop sustainable organic agriculture through the gift of seeds and the setting up of seed grower networks.

You can read a wonderful little article about them here: Sowing seeds of change across the world

Saturday 17 March 2007

Do Ireland a favour ... don't buy peat

Appropriate that it should be St Patrick's Day when I saw the first slow-worm of the season, lounging around underneath a blackcurrant bush

Meanwhile, 'tis the season to start getting through vast amounts of potting compost, so I thought it would be a good time to recommend the things I've found useful.

The big problem with potting composts is that (in the UK at least) they're usually made of peat. I haven't knowingly bought peat since I stood on the summit of Croagh Patrick in the west of Ireland and saw the hideous gouges ripped across huge areas of what was otherwise a breathtakingly magical landscape. It really shocked and upset me. There's no shortage of beautiful scenery in Ireland, but even so, the destruction of vast areas for commercial peat extraction (mainly to feed an English addiction to cheap compost) is a sickening thing to behold. And since then I've tried to find a less environmentally damaging substitute ... with varying degrees of frustration.

Peat bogs are ancient and irreplaceable habitats supporting their own unique range of flora and fauna. They take hundreds of years to develop. Destruction of these ecosystems damages the wider environment too, because peat bogs play an important part in the spongelike absorption of carbon dioxide. Although Ireland suffers the brunt of the damage, peat-rich habitats in the UK and Europe are also being pillaged.

Things are going the right way, very slowly. The late lamented Geoff Hamilton outraged the peat industry more than a decade ago by urging BBC viewers not to buy it, and after his death Alan Titchmarsh took up the gauntlet. Retailers have started to work towards reducing or diluting peat products. But the reality is, despite the good example set by TV gardeners and recent government targets to reduce its use, most of the stuff available to buy in garden centres is either peat or it contains peat. Most people still buy it rather than put up with the hassle of finding substitutes. To make matters worse, many of the peat-free composts which have started to appear in recent years to cater for the environmentally-conscious are totally crap. Some go mouldy. Some are full of weed seeds. Some are so dense, stodgy and heavy they're unusable unless you mix them with something else. And they're often more expensive. No wonder so many people just buy the peat and stuff the environment.

Rainbow chard seedlings growing in pure coir

My compost preference has always been for the John Innes types, but I've been completely frustrated in my attempts to find a peat-free John Innes. It may be that somebody somewhere is making one, but I certainly can't find it at any garden centre in my local area. So these days I mix my own composts.

I started doing it as a last resort, after I bought a large bag of so-called multipurpose peat-free compost which turned out to consist of soggy black half-rotted tree bark which was so completely useless for its stated purpose it probably violated the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act. Rather than write to my MP in disgust or throw it away and buy something else I tried mixing it with horticultural sand and coir to break it up and aerate it a little. I ended up with a lovely compost ... and found the process of mixing it quite rewarding. It certainly wasn't any more trouble than driving down to my local soulless B&Q megastore and trying to hump bloody great bags of the ready-made stuff into the boot of the car. It only takes a couple of minutes and I make it up in small batches and adjust the mix for whatever I'm planting in it.

My basic compost recipe is just coir and sand with a sprinkle of fertiliser. It's a bit lazy but most things grow in it happily enough. For seed composts I often just use pure coir on its own, and that works well too. If I need something more specialised I might add perlite (for aeration), vermiculite (for extra moisture retention as well as aeration), coarse sand (for drainage), dried blood (for boosting leaf growth) or bonemeal (for growing good roots). Home-produced compost and leafmould are also excellent, though I can't produce either in very large quantities.

My basic material is coir bricks which I get from Chase Organics by mail order. They're lightweight and don't take up much space in the shed. They look rather like giant slabs of hash (I should be so lucky) but are actually made from compressed coconut fibre. They cost a couple of quid each and when you dunk them in warm water they mushroom into a great mound of fluffy compost, albeit with a rather odd resinous smell. And even when reconstituted they weigh less than most composts, which saves backache when lifting large pots around. They contain little or no nutrients, so I add that myself as and when it's necessary (for seeds you don't need it ... I just start watering them with a liquid fertiliser once they get established). Coir blocks are not the perfect earth-friendly solution ... they come from Sri Lanka and the Philippines and have to be flown in, but seem to me to be the lesser evil compared to peat. They're a by-product of the coconut industry and would otherwise go to waste.

Pipe dreams: no it's not a slab of finest pressed Moroccan, it's just a coir brick ... light, convenient and renewable

Also available from Chase Organics are these biodegradable coir pots called Green Start sets, a very fine alternative to the popular Jiffy-7 peat-pots. The pots themselves are formed from stringy coconut fibres, and have very good aeration and drainage. Each one comes with a compressed coir disc at the bottom. You just add a little water and within five minutes the tiny discs swell up to fill (and overflow from) the pots with compost. I tried them out last year and they gave me very good results. The open fibrous structure of the pots keeps the compost contained but allows the roots to grow through freely. They have an amazing ability to conserve water within the compost and stay dry on the outside while remaining very open and permeable.

Tomato seedlings growing in Green Start coir pots. Six pots fit snugly into a Tesco's mushroom punnet.

Whether coir is as good as or even better than peat is something that can be endlessly argued over, because it really depends what you're growing and what you expect from a compost. One of the disadvantages of peat is that it's difficult to reconstitute when it dries out and forms an impermeable crust on its surface ... coir doesn't have this problem. On the other hand, if you grow azaleas, coir can't compete with the natural acidity of peat.

Going completely peat free is a tricky matter because many of the plants you buy in the garden centre are still grown in peat. None of my local garden centres seem to stock peat-free container grown plants. One solution of course is to grow everything yourself from seed, and not buy container-grown plants at all, but that's not really the point ... it would be nice to be able to go out and buy a tray of pansies without having a guilt trip over it.

There is one peat-based product which is more or less environmentally sound, Moorland Gold, which is produced from peat and silt deposits built up from natural erosion by the filtration of water off the Yorkshire moors. It's high quality and I've heard a lot of good things about it. Local availability is another matter though.

The magnificent Eden Project has had a peat-free policy since its inception. The National Trust has adopted one. So has Kew Gardens. It's time the garden centres and manufacturers of composts got their act together ... but they won't do it unless consumer pressure forces them to.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Support for tall peas

Tall peas growing on a simple wigwam made of 6ft twigs lashed together at the top

In my huge post on pea-growing I didn't think to mention the issue of how to support tall peas. It's another topic that often isn't covered adequately in gardening books, probably because most readily available pea seeds in the shops and catalogues are not tall varieties.

Picture yourself in the situation of a market gardener or farmer. You're faced with the task of planting a profitable crop of peas. Are you going to go through the whole field putting sturdy staking structures over all the plants? Of course not. You're going to want to plant something which only grows a couple of feet high and doesn't need support. You also won't want to be picking the crop by hand, so you'll choose a variety which ripens all its pods in one go, then you can mow the whole lot with a tractor and have done with it. If it was a tall variety you'd have to go and pull out all the supports before harvest, and it would still get itself tangled up in the tractor, but if it's a shortie you can just stick one wheel either side of it and gung ho.

That's why tall peas have gone out of fashion. Seed companies and plant breeders make way more profit from commercial growers than from gardeners, so there isn't much incentive for them to introduce new varieties specially bred for the garden. They mostly focus on steering gardeners towards the same shortie commercial varieties they're already selling to farmers. There's also not much of a market for F1 hybrid peas at the moment because they're not very practical to produce, and as F1 hybrids are the seed companies' main moneyspinners, they have a tighter profit margin on peas.

There's nothing wrong with growing commercial pea varieties in the garden, but they have some disadvantages. You don't want a glut of pods all ripening in one go, you want to be harvesting them in manageable amounts over several weeks. You don't particularly want short plants that set their pods low down where they get spattered with mud and snail trails either. And it would be nice not to have to bend over to pick them.

This is where the old-fashioned tall varieties come into their own. They are still there in the catalogues, you just have to look a bit harder for them. The Organic Gardening Catalogue have six tall varieties (plus 20 shorties) and Thompson and Morgan have ... er ... one out of 16 (well it's better than nothing). I define tall varieties as anything over 3ft. One of those offered by the Organic Gardening Catalogue is Alderman, which I bought from them a couple of years ago and found to be the most gorgeous voluptuous high-yielding ambrosial-tasting pea I'd ever encountered in my life, and I was an instant convert to the joy of tall peas and have collected many more since.

But you do have to stake the buggers, or they'll keel over.

My Alderman crop outgrows me ... and its bamboo frame. It went on to grow about another two feet.

I think the ideal solution for supporting tall peas is to get some very long, very straight and very sturdy brushwood with plenty of rough spiky bits on, and set them upright in the ground at an angle, in pairs, with the tops crossed over and lashed together. Each pair about a foot apart. But I don't have this option myself because I don't have access to that kind of brushwood, and even if I did I probably wouldn't have the physical strength to set it deep enough in the ground to keep it sturdy.

I do have some shorter branches and twigs though, because I have several trees which need pruning every year. I use damson and lilac branches to make pea sticks up to 5ft tall and twigs from the ceanothus tree to provide shorter, spikier support nearer ground level. It isn't very strong on its own though, so I often make a basic structure out of bamboo canes and then fill it in with spiky twigs. Peas don't twist around poles the same way beans do, they put out tendrils which coil round sticky-out twiggy bits and hold the plant up as it grows. So bamboo canes are not much cop on their own because they're too slippy for the tendrils to grip and too fat for them to coil round. That's why I generally combine the two.

You can use the bamboo and twig combination in lots of different ways: wigwams, crossed poles, square frames ... as long as they're tall enough for whatever variety you're growing on them. If they outgrow their supports, the tops will flop over.

A favourite method of mine is the homemade bamboo frame which I described in an earlier post. It works brilliantly for peas up to 5ft tall. I had a slight problem last year when I grew Alderman in one of these (see photo above) as it's supposed to be a 5ft variety but managed to reach between 7 and 8ft, at which point the wind caught the top of it and I ended up with an Alderman avalanche at one end and a creaking frame underneath only just holding it up. But for a less rampant variety it's ideal.

Another method I used last year and found very worthy was this large salvaged plastic trellis (my friend Roz found it in a skip and thought of me) held up with a series of crossed bamboo canes. It's very sturdy and flexible and gives the peas plenty to hang on to, although I did end up putting spiky twigs in the ground as well to help start them off.

This is what I do with my module-sown peas. It works for me, but you may have a different experience in your garden, so follow your own instincts. The first thing I do is give the soil a good digging over to break up the lumps and get some air and movement into it. If you can see some grass blades in the picture, it's because a week or so ago I dug in a sprinkle of lawn clippings ... not too many though 'cause they're high in nitrogen! Any organic material or compost is helpful. I then put up the main structure of whatever support I'm using. If it's a bamboo frame, I bed it in deeply over the newly dug plot and put a row of tall twiggy sticks down the middle.

After that I dig a wide trench on each side of the frame and dig a shovel or two of compost or manure into the bottom of it. Maybe some bonemeal if I can be bothered to trek back to the shed for it. A scoop or two of old pea roots from last year's crop, to help build up rhizobia in the soil. Then I plant the pea modules fairly randomly within the space.

Once they're snugly in the ground I start putting more sticks in, making sure all the plants have a bit of twig within easy reach of a tendril. It's quite labour intensive, but peas seem to have an instinct to hold back unless they can feel there's something there for them to climb up. Push a few twigs against the tendrils and they will soon grab a firm hold and then start growing much faster. They don't usually need tying in because they can do that for themselves.

This is what Rootrainers should do. See how the ridged edges have guided the roots straight down. Slide the plants upwards out of the module to get them out.

If it's an early crop I attach an old net curtain to the frame with clothes pegs, on whichever side the cold blustery winds tend to come from. You have to be vigilant though because given half a chance the tendrils will attach themselves to the curtain and start growing through it, and then you'll never get it off.

Blogger technical irritations

Has anybody else been having minor but nevertheless irritating technical problems since switching to the new super-duper version of Blogger?

I'm a bit miffed, because most of the sparkly new features are things I don't need, and the only one that is useful (the template editing) won't work in my browser. And now it seems I can't upload pictures with my browser either. I'm a Mac user so I normally use Safari, but Blogger doesn't fully support Safari. It's worked fine up till now (albeit with some of the editing buttons missing) but now I can't upload images any more I'm having to open Firefox just to make blog posts. (I don't want to have to adopt Firefox as my main browser 'cause I'm not hugely fond of it and everything else on the internet works fine in Safari.)

* mutter - grumble - grizzle *

Sunday 11 March 2007

Garden gallery ... early March

On the whole daffodils don't really do it for me, if I'm honest. I know a lot of people love them, and they are very welcome at a time when not much else is flowering, but I've never been a big fan. I do have a few nice ones though, and my favourite is this one, the native English wild species daffodil, enigmatically named Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

It may not look much different from a garden daff, but it is smaller, finer and more delicate looking and catches the light so beautifully. Although they're native to the UK (they were the subject of that daffodil poem by Wordsworth) I've only ever seen them twice: once in some ancient woods in Essex and later in the wooded grounds of an Oxford University college. This one is part of a clump I'm establishing in the 'wild' patch at the bottom of my garden, but of course I was careful to source it from a firm who supplies cultivated stock, not plundered from the wild.

Part of the legacy from the garden's previous owners are some very old fruit bushes, including this lovely eccentric gooseberry. The lady who lived here before was a soft-fruit enthusiast and brought them from her previous garden which she had been tending since the 1940s. I have no idea what variety any of them are but they're all different and all delicious. They've been here since 1967 but most are older than that and although they're aged and diseased I'm making every effort to keep them going.

This symbolic hedge-witch bridal effigy is made every spring as a gift to the garden goddess to ensure fertility for the coming season.

Only kidding. It's a novel way to protect my early pea crops from the ravages of March winds, using recycled old lady's curtains to break the airflow up a bit on the western side without losing too much sunlight. So far it seems to be really helping.

I use twigs pruned from my various trees to protect newly planted crops from being scraped up by toilet-crazed cats. With garlic it's fairly easy, I just place a row of short crossed twigs over the row at planting time, as I did with this rare Persian Star garlic kindly supplied by Patrick. It works very well, unless of course you have a kitten who eats twigs. Oi! .... gerroff!!

Not sure what's going on here. I started off this small batch of Ezethas Krombek Blauwschok, a Dutch heirloom purple-podded pea, and one of them shot up like a rocket. I don't know if it's down to a genetic mutation or whether it just felt like growing like that. But I'll be keeping a close watch on it anyway to see if it really is different from the others.

Friday 9 March 2007

Peas: another whopping great post

Alderman, an old-fashioned tall pea, after summer rain

When I got my own garden for the first time nine years ago and started growing vegetables, I learned everything from The Vegetable Expert by Dr D.G. Hessayon. Published and endlessly reprinted in the 1980s, it's got to be the most ubiquitous veg-gardening book in the UK. I read it over and over again, so carefully that even now I can remember bits of it by heart. I used to follow its advice absolutely to the letter, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It's still one of my most-used garden books and it's brilliant as a quick reference, but now, after a few years' experience, I more often than not find myself flinging my hands up in horror as I read it. It blithely recommends using all kinds of environmentally reprehensible products like peat and Chlorophos, and routinely sprinkling your soil with poisons to kill off pests before they even think about approaching your plants. I wouldn't dream of doing any of those things now. Many of the products recommended in the book have since been banned.

It's good to do things differently from what the books say sometimes, and flout the instructions on the seed packets. They're only given as general guides anyway, and it's only by experimentation that you find out what works or doesn't work in your garden. Don't be afraid to try things out just because the books tell you not to, or that it's better to do it some other way.

Over the years I've learned a few things about peas that differ from the received wisdom. I'm not an expert on pea growing. Far from it. I'm learning all the time. And I'm also still experimenting, because the more time I spend with peas the more I find much of the common knowledge about them is at best outdated and at worst misleading. For some reason, peas in particular seem rife with misunderstanding and non-information.

I think part of the problem is that once an idea is published it tends to get repeated and copied and passed around and nobody thinks to question it.

I remember seeing a tip about peas on that greatest of British institutions, BBC Gardener's World. Plant sweet peas in amongst your vegetable peas, a head gardener suggested, because the bees will be attracted to the scent and will pollinate your crop better. So I tried it, and it looked very lovely, but as soon as I'd planted it I thought - hang on ... unless I'm missing something, that's a complete misunderstanding of what peas do. You don't need to try to attract bees to them. Their flowers are sealed and enclosed. The male bits grow alongside the female bit inside a closed bag and dump their pollen all over it before the flowerbud has even opened. Super-efficient. No bees involved.

Growing sweet peas among your garden peas looks gorgeous but it won't make a sod of difference to pod set.

And another thing. These days I very rarely sow peas directly into the ground. For years I did, because that's what it says in the book and on most seed packets. But I invariably ended up wasting most of the seed as only a handful managed to survive long enough to grow into slug-ravaged stumps. Peas are hugely vulnerable to rotting in cold damp soil, and too much rain during the week after sowing can wreck a crop. Even if you're able to avoid that, the seeds are often gobbled up by mice or birds. And if they survive long enough to poke their heads above ground, the slugs and snails get 'em. In my garden, direct-sowing just doesn't work.

Baby peas in Rootrainers

So I generally start them off in modules indoors. It's more work than sowing direct, I admit, but the success rate for germination is many times higher. Like most leguminous crops they produce long roots which need space to develop freely, so it's best to sow them in deep open-ended pots. You can buy purpose-made "Rootrainers", which are deep modules with ridged sides designed to 'train' the roots straight downward. They're hinged at the base so that you can open them easily at transplant time with minimal root disturbance. They always seem to take ages to fill though and swallow up stupendous amounts of compost. They do work pretty well and are re-useable but I'm not absolutely convinced they justify their rather opportunistic-looking purchase price (around ten quid in the UK for what is essentially a pack of plastic flower pots).

Cheaper and in many ways just as good are the cardboard centres from toilet rolls. Lightly fill them with compost and stand them upright on a tray. They have the additional advantage that they're porous and retain moisture, which helps to keep the compost evenly moist between waterings, and as they're biodegradable they can be planted out just as they are without disturbing the roots at all. You can buy purpose-made biodegradable grow-tubes if you prefer, which work the same way and look less toilet-roll-like. Sow two or three peas in each tube. The key thing is to add water to the tray underneath and let them suck it up from below rather than watering from the top. That way they develop nice deep roots as they search for water and the compost around the seed itself stays relatively dry. The roots will quickly grow out of the bottom of the tube so it's important to keep them moist when they do.

Baby peas in bog rolls. This is a heritage variety, Ne Plus Ultra. And no I didn't choose that wallpaper.

"B-b-but..." I hear you say with a quivering lip, "what if I'm starting a large crop of peas and don't have the space or the time to sow them all in modules?" A good compromise is to pre-sprout the peas indoors before sowing them direct in the garden. Spread all the seeds out evenly between sheets of kitchen roll (I think that translates as paper towels in the US) and keep it well-plumped up with water but not so as it's floating. In a couple of days most of them will have developed small white shoots. You can then take them outdoors and sow them as normal. You will probably still get some losses but not as many as you would if you sowed unsprouted seed, and at least you won't have to wait three weeks for them to germinate in the cold ground.

There's a common misunderstanding that peas are frost tender. It does vary with different varieties and climates, with round-seeded varieties being hardier than wrinkle-seeded, but on the whole most peas cope well with spring freezes. The usual advice to delay sowing until the soil warms up in March is based on the assumption that you're sowing them directly (unsprouted) in the ground, because peas germinate so slowly and erratically in cold wet soil. So you can actually start them earlier than the packets suggest if you pre-sprout or sow in modules. With luck you can even plant them out before the slug and snail season has got underway, so the plants can establish themselves and the apical tip can grow beyond the snails' reach without being molested.

The most crucial thing if you want to get a decent crop is to encourage the plants to develop really good roots, as deep as possible, as quickly as possible. Which is why Rootrainers and bog-roll tubes are worth the extra hassle and compost. Adding some bone meal at planting time will benefit the roots, but any other kind of fertiliser may be counter-productive. What they do like though is a nice bit of organic matter dug into the soil. I use either leafmould or a spent mushroom compost made from horse manure. Another thing which I found made a huge difference was to apply a layer of the horse manure compost as a mulch around the pea plants once they've got established. Multi-benefits: it breaks down gradually and enriches the soil, it retains much-needed moisture around the roots and it stops a few weeks worth of weed growth, which is much appreciated later on when the plants are so big and tangly you can't weed around them anymore.

This is thought to be one of the pea varieties used by Mendel in his discovery of genetic laws in the 1860s, a yellow-podded beauty called Golden Sweet. The seeds come in many different shades and are speckled with purple.

And now for another nugget of pea wisdom I learned the hard way. My first vegetable plot was in the garden of a newly built house. The site had previously been a television factory, and before that it was a pig farm. It had never been a garden before. My first crop of peas failed dismally, and the second wasn't great either. I had no idea why.

It's fairly well known that peas and other legumes are able to accumulate and fix nitrogen through nodules on their roots. The usual advice is to leave the roots in the soil after harvesting, so that the root nodules biodegrade and release nitrogen to feed the next crop. What I didn't know, and only discovered in a post on Bifurcated Carrots last year, is that it doesn't just happen on its own. In order to perform this miraculous function peas need access to a specific soil bacterium called rhizobium, and although it builds up in the soil over time if you grow leguminous crops, it's not naturally present in useful amounts in 'virgin' soil. And without it, yields can be very low.

The relationship between pea plants and rhizobia is symbiotic. The bacteria can survive in the soil quite happily but can't start fixing nitrogen until they find a legume as a host. They 'infect' the plant by entering through the root hairs, and the plant responds by developing swollen nodules on the roots. The bacteria multiply rapidly within those nodules then set about transforming nitrogen from the atmosphere into a plant-usable form, effectively feeding the pea plant from within its own root system. In return for this free fertiliser the pea plant supplies the rhizobia with the oxygen they need, in the form of haemoglobin (which is why the nodules are sometimes red inside when you cut them open). If you want a nice clear explanation of the science involved, try here.

Because of their unusual nitrogen-fixing properties, peas don't need to be fed with conventional fertilisers or anything else high in nitrogen. As well as being harmful to the environment in excessive amounts, it encourages plants to produce masses of leafy growth which will attract pests, and fewer pods. The air is about 79% nitrogen so there's plenty of it about, but plants can't use it in this form. The beauty of rhizobia is that they convert that inaccessible nitrogen into a usable form, enabling peas to grow healthily without depleting the soil and without the need to add synthetic nitrogen compounds. In fact, growing them actively benefits the soil if their roots are left in the ground to biodegrade as a natural slow-release fertiliser for the next crop.

If peas have never been grown in the plot before, you need to use an inoculant to get them working their nitrogen magic. That means buying the appropriate strain of rhizobium (there are different ones for different legumes) and applying it at planting time, usually by mixing it into a paste and dipping the seeds in it before sowing. According to the University of Minnesota, who have a research programme on rhizobia and legumes, the use of an inoculant will often increase yields by around 30%.

I felt a bit of a chump for not knowing anything about this before. But when I started researching it I found a black hole of non-information, at least in the UK. It's a different story in the US ... you can buy rhizobium inoculants very cheaply from garden stores. Over here though they are non-existent. There appears to be only one inoculant product in the UK, with the brand name "Natures Nitrogen". However, in all my googling I've not been able to find a single supplier, nor any indication of its price. Clearly nobody in the UK inoculates their peas! There's no information about it in any of my gardening books either. It's a total blank.

Pink flowers and purple pods: Mr Bethell's Purple Podded

I'm perplexed by this situation, because it has significant environmental implications. For the last 60 years or so farmers here have been throwing artificial nitrogen products all over the land, causing algae blooms in ponds and streams which suffocate fish, harm other wildlife, and contaminate our drinking water. Growing leguminous crops with the help of rhizobia has the opposite effect; it utilises nitrogen from the air rather than the soil and contains it in a form that will not contaminate the soil or the groundwater. It also reduces the need for fertilising the subsequent crop, which has economic as well as environmental benefits. Unlike conventional nitrogen products, it's benign and sustainable.

Maybe once again it's a case of everybody doing it the way everybody else does it and not questioning whether or not there's a better way.

But anyway, as far as me and my tiny patch of land are concerned, I can't try rhizobium inoculation because I can't get it. So here's what I'm doing instead. I'm digging out some of the old root systems from last year's pea crops, mashing them up with a little soil and distributing them around other parts of the garden, specifically the areas where I haven't grown peas before, and digging them in with a sprinkle of seaweed meal. One of the things seaweed meal does is stimulate microbial activity in the soil, which I'm hoping will help the rhizobia to thrive as the nodules break down. I must emphasise though that this is just an experiment ... I have no idea whether or how well it will work.

Blimey, I didn't intend to write this much, but those are my tips for growing peas, anyway.

I would love to hear from you all about whether your pea flowers are visited by bees. I don't think I've ever seen them taking an interest in mine, but I'd be curious to know whether there are occasions when they do. Sometimes when bees are desperate they bite their way into flowers they can't normally get into, but that may or may not include peas. If you've ever had accidental cross-pollination with peas, I'd be interested to hear about that too.

Postscript: I've just found a UK supplier for "Natures Nitrogen". One of the seed companies in my recommended list, Seeds of Italy, are offering it at £1.25 a pop.

To summarise:
Peas are reasonably hardy. Germinate them indoors, harden off and plant out.
Sow them in deep modules and water them from the bottom.
Manure or compost dug in before planting will keep them happy all season.
Mulch the plants to conserve moisture and smother weeds.
Peas ideally need rhizobium bacteria, which are not always present.
Peas do not need nitrogen fertiliser.
Peas do not need bees or other pollinators.

Sunday 4 March 2007

Today in the garden ... stuff in pots

This is the time of year when blogging has to take second place to the frenzy of seed sowing and labelling. And I really ought to clean that keyboard.

I dunno about you, but this is one of my favourite times of the gardening year, when spring is just looking imminent enough that I can allow myself to start sowing a lot of the seeds I've been stockpiling over the winter.

As you can see, if the labels are legible, that includes all my special rare varieties of pea from the Heritage Seed Library, and some of my home-made F1 hybrids. I'm having to start again with a new batch of seeds for my purple pea experiment after a nasty storm last October destroyed my F1 plants just as the pods were starting to swell (c'est la guerre). Like a good little plant breeder I had kept a stash of spare F1 seed, so although it was very frustrating at the time it isn't a complete disaster. It just sets me back one generation, and at least I had the pleasure of seeing how beautiful they were and finding out their flower colour.

Newly sprouted Cheltenham Green Top beetroot seedlings. At top right you can just see one of my other beetroot seedlings, Golden, which already has golden yellow stems in contrast to the pink and green. Both of these are very old heritage varieties but still commercially available.

There are a few things already sprouting away in various trays and pots on window sills, like these cute beetroot seedlings. Beetroot usually sprouts two or three plants from each 'seed', because the seeds are actually not single seeds at all, but multi-seeded corky fruits rather charmingly known as glomerules. You have to thin them of course, but I'm too sentimental to kill them so I carefully separate them all and replant them ... they seem to cope quite happily with that.

No matter how experienced a gardener you think you are there's always plenty of scope to screw things up. I sowed some onion seeds a couple of weeks ago in a module tray in the cold frame, and when the bubblewrap which was supposed to be providing frost protection got a big puddle of water in it, I managed to dump it straight onto the seed tray in a great kersploosh which washed all the compost and seeds into oblivion. D'oh!

These are gorgeous and I've never seen anything quite like them. Purple Prince on the left has a vibrant true purple colour and every bean is different, while on the right with its striking blood-like sploshes is the less romantically named Dog Bean.

And the seeds are still coming in: these lovely beans just arrived from Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots as part of a blogger seed swap (he'll be getting some of my groovy coloured spuds in return). It's too early to sow these yet, so I'll have to restrain myself until the season is properly underway. Beans grow very rapidly and they're sensitive to cold buffetting winds as well as frosts, so sowing them too early is a recipe for shredded and bedraggled plants.

Talking of shredded and bedraggled, kitten crashed through a wickerwork fence today. *sigh*

Saturday 3 March 2007

Tonight above the garden ... lunar eclipse

I took these time-lapse pictures of the lunar eclipse from a window of my house. The ghosting effect on the lower ones is caused by reflections because the pictures were taken through glass. If I'd been more dedicated I'd have taken the camera outside and done it properly ... but it was so fricking cold out there I'd probably have ended up with camera judder instead.

Friday 2 March 2007

First daffs

I thought I'd better get this up before everyone is sick of the sight of daff pictures. I don't know what variety it is, it was left here by the previous owners.