This weather though!*
Never mind spring flowers, either: we have summer flowers in bloom here. Asparagus peas in brick red, marigolds and celandines, pretty little pinks and neon-coloured salvias still going strong. The sweet rocket has been in bloom since April; we have hellebores and strawberry flowers and even the tree chilli is gamely putting out a few purple blossoms.
I don’t blame them: I’m confused myself. The temperatures we’ve got right now, in the mid-teens, are more akin to what you’d get in June.
Mind you, the torrential rain and stormy weather is of more normal December quantities, so you still get the horizontal rain blowing your hat into the next county and ankle-deep mud to slosh through on your way to get up the veg garden to pick the kale for tea. Only difference is, you’re doing it in a t-shirt (bare arms dry so much quicker than jumpers, don’t you think?)
Apparently it’s something to do with the Azores, a straggle of half-forgotten islands about four hours’ travel off the west coast of Portugal. Maybe they’re getting their own back for nobody knowing or much caring where they are on the map. I can’t help noticing their weather is more-or-less exactly the same as ours right now. Rather worryingly it goes up to 18°C next week. Hope that’s not coming our way.
It’s not going to stop till at least the middle of next month. After that, who knows: maybe we’ll get the deep freeze the Express was screaming about last month (rather laughably, as it turns out).
I do hope so, or we won’t have any apples, blackcurrants or garlic next year. All three depend on a prolonged spell of chilling: 7°C day and night for three weeks is the figure generally bandied about.
Rhubarb and strawberries need chilling for good crops, too: and goodness knows what’s going to happen to my strawbs this year. They were flowering in November, then we had one atypical night of hard frost and all the centres turned black. I thought that was it, but no: they’re off again.
At the moment my inclination is to pick off the flowers to persuade the plants to keep their energies for themselves for the time being: let’s just hope they’re not exhausted by spring.
The daffs are unlikely to be back, though: they have a once-only performance, so once you’ve had it, you’ve had it. This, though, is the new normal: for we have forgotten what the old normal even means any more. So we’d better get used to it, I’m afraid.
*Apologies to those of you who prefer their sentences grammatically correct: my ability to write in adult is dwindling the longer I live with two teenagers. Roughly translated, for those of you over the age of, oh, 15, this means ‘Goodness, isn’t the weather remarkable for the time of year!’ Which makes you sound like Hyacinth Bucket instead.
I’m not doing very much.
In fact so dreadful is the weather that I’ve been reduced to indoor gardening: I have three hyacinth bulbs to pot up, plus a packet of interesting-looking sweetcorn shoots which were a freebie from Suttons to try sprouting on the windowsill, a bit like microgreens. Should be interesting.
Just occasionally, though, there has been a gap in the clouds: and that’s my chance to finish doing my no. 1 task this month, putting the veg garden to bed for its winter snooze.
Video courtesy of the crocus.co.uk Youtube channel!
While we’re on the subject of seeds…
The imminent arrival of my little package of heritage seeds from the HSL has prompted me to have my annual clear-out.
I do this every year: the routine goes 1) throw out any seed packets more than two years old 2) throw out carrot and parsnip seed regardless (I buy these in fresh each year – better germination rates) 3) put aside seeds to give or swap with other gardeners.
And then of course 4) go get loads more seed!
Since I’ve now reached stage 3, and it’s coming up to Christmas which seems a nice time to start giving people stuff, I thought it was about time I revived the annual CG Big Seed Giveaway (last held in 2013 when I was still sane and my schedule hadn’t been hijacked by 48,000 words and a book publisher).
So first come, first served: get your free seeds here!
Here’s what’s available this year:
Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’
Beetroot ‘Boldor’ (yellow-fleshed)
Broccoli raab ’60 Days’
Buddleja ‘Butterfly Hybrids’
Cauliflower ‘All the Year Round’
Cauliflower ‘Romanescu natalino’
Chilli pepper ‘Bhut Jolokia’
Chilli pepper ‘Ember Explosive’
Chilli pepper ‘Hotscotch’
Chilli pepper ‘Rocoto’
Cornflower ‘Black Ball’
Cucumber ‘White Wonder’
Eryngium planum ‘Blue Hobbit’
Fennel ‘Di Firenze’
New Zealand spinach
Radish ‘Mooli Mino Early’
Sorrel ‘Red Veined’
Strawberry ‘Baron Solemacher’
Tomato ‘Artisan TM – Bumble Bee Mixed’
Tomato ‘Baby Pink Plum’
Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’
White mustard ‘Tilney’
Zinnia ‘Hot Mix’
How to claim your free seeds:
- comment below giving the names of the seeds you want
- then send an email to sally dot nex at btinternet dot com confirming your request and giving me an address to send your seeds to. I will reply giving you an address to which you’ll need to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope
- I’ll update this post regularly giving details of what’s gone and what’s left
- the giveaway will last for two weeks, until Monday 21 December: follow me on Twitter (@sallynex) for updates. Any seed not taken at the end of the two weeks will be… well, not sure yet, but I’ll find a use for them!
- if you enjoy growing your seeds, please blog about them later in the year if you can!
- no more than 5 packets of seed per person.
- first to place their order in the comments below gets the seed (no orders via Twitter accepted – you can only order in the comments below so everyone can see your seed has been taken)
- if I don’t receive your SAE within a week your seeds will be re-offered
- sorry but the offer is only open to UK respondents
Now here’s an exciting early Christmas present. Just chosen my six varieties from the Heritage Seed Library’s catalogue, which plopped into my email inbox on the first day of this month – about the most eagerly anticipated bit of virtual mail I’ve had for a long time.
The HSL is a fine institution, dedicated to preserving some of our oldest (and more recently most unusual) vegetables.
Heritage veg are increasingly finding their way into catalogues, and all sorts of things are making something of a comeback, from red-flowered broad beans to Telephone peas, baby ‘finger’ carrots and Lazy Housewife beans.
But the HSL deals with the extreme end of heritage: those varieties which have been passed on from father to son and mother to daughter, kept in packets in the back of sheds, collected again at the end of the season and resown the next.
True heirlooms, in other words, often passed on only to neighbours in a scruffy brown envelope without a second thought, the owner barely aware of what a little nugget of unique history they have in their guardianship. Many of these hand-me-down varieties are balanced precariously on the knife-edge of existence, the only ones left of their kind.
It’s these rarities which the HSL preserves in the interest of maintaining the diversity – genetic and general – of the vegetables we grow. Without them we’d all be condemned to circling around an ever-dwindling handful of veg approved by the supermarkets for uniformity, ease of mechanical picking and reliability. And where’s the fun in that?
The HSL is not allowed to sell its seed: they don’t conform to EU rules because their inherent variability means they can’t pass the tests on distinctiveness, uniformity and stability. That means they can’t be listed on the National List of approved vegetable cultivars: so they can’t be sold.
The get-around for this has been simply to make HSL a charity, and give away six packets of seed to each member in return for the membership fee. Heritage varieties preserved; interesting varieties spread around more gardens; members happy. Simples!
So here are the six varieties I’m going to be growing next year. None of them I’ve ever grown before: all are hug-yourself exciting for different reasons. Can’t wait!
Asparagus kale: I’ve grown this one before, actually, but it never quite made it to the asparagus stage so I’m having another go. The plant grows just like kale, then in spring – just in time for the hungry gap – sends up delicious flower spikes which you eat just like broccoli. So it’s a dual-purpose veg really: my favourite kind.
Lablab bean ‘Vasu’s 30 Day Dwarf Papri’: Last time I grew lablab it was gorgeous but never made it to podding stage (flowers were lovely though). My conclusion was it needs more heat and light then we can give it here in the UK: but this one is said to get to flowering stage in 30 days, so I’m giving it another try.
Lettuce ‘Soulie’: I’m always up for a new variety of lettuce, and this has many things going for it. It’s French: tick. A cos variety; tick. Slow to bolt: tick. And it even has a red tinge to the leaves so the slugs should leave it alone. Sounds great.
Pea ‘Magnum Bonum’: I first saw this tall pea in a polytunnel at Knightshayes in Devon and have wanted to grow it ever since. It’s got the huge yields of all tall peas and the pods are said to stay well on the plant too.
Shark Fin Melon ‘Joe Dalgleish’: oooh shark fin melons… no idea what they taste like, no idea what to do with them, but anything that produces a triffid-like plant of stems 2m plus and massive watermelon-sized fruits has to be worth a go.
Squash ‘Sucrette’: good job I’ve got quite a big garden as this one’s a monster too. Huge yellow squashes with warty skins, weighing in at about 1kg each. And it’s French, so should have a good flavour too.