Polytunnel progress

polytunnel snowWe continue to have a snowy winter.  Showers interspersed with milder days so sometimes it’s icy and underneath the soil is sopping wet.  Down the northern edge of the tree field the dogs have made a cut through path to the pond at the bottom.  I sometimes use it to go down that way, and sometimes go the longer way around the main rides.  Since the dogs don’t pay too much attention to where the baby trees are, some are rather close to the path.

dog cut through
Dogs’ short cut to pond

Last year I moved an oak that was right in the path.  S. mowed along the path in the summer and it was tricky to zigzag between all the trees.  I therefore moved three trees to improve the line of the path and make it easier to mow should we choose to do that again.  There were two birch and one hazel that were definitely in the way and I moved them to the lower windbreak line, which does still seem to have a few gaps in.  I have also been given a number of lodge pole pine seedlings (thanks again Frances) and those have been safely planted, some near the byre at the top, and some down in one of the lower windbreaks.

new pine tree
Newly planted lodge pole pine

The other things I have been doing are mainly in the polytunnel.  This week I got round to pruning the apricot for it’s second year training. Again this was a rather brutal procedure, cutting both main arms down to a length of about 12 inches.

prunging apricot year2
Fan Apricot: second year pruning

I need to be alert to how to train it during the summer growing seasons now, since this will be the last dormant pruning.  From the rhs website:

  1. “In summer, choose four shoots from each ‘arm’: one at the tip to extend the existing ‘arm’, two spaced equally on the upper side and one on the lower side. Tie them in at about 30 degrees to the main ‘arm’ so they are evenly spaced apart (using canes attached to the wires if necessary)
  2. Rub out any shoots growing towards the wall and pinch back any others to one leaf”

Not that I’m growing on a wall, but the principle will be the same I’m sure.

The other very exciting thing that I’ve been doing in the tunnel is creating the pond, that I’ve been wanting for a while.  I had some remnants of pond liner from when my mum had a large pond made in her previous house.  Unfortunately during storage both sheets have been slightly damaged by mice making nests, and I didn’t think either would be quite big enough for a pond approximately 6 feet by 5 feet and 2 feet deep.  The first step therefore was to mend the holes and extend the best liner so as to make it big enough.  While that was curing, the hole for the pond was finished off, with shelves at various depths around the edges.  I had some more bits of automotive carpet underlay which I lay mainly on the shelves and the base to protect the liner from stones in the soil.  Luckily the liner extension wasn’t needed in the end – the slope of the sides meant it wasn’t quite as deep as I’d calculated – just as well, since it was impossible to stop the liner creasing at the joint, so it would have leaked anyhow!  I used the wooden terrace side as one side of the pond, and another plank as a hard edge to access the pond on the opposite side.  Filled with water and edged with flat stones, the pond is now settling in nicely.  The few plants I’ve got so far (tigernut and sagitaria latifolia) are dormant in tiny pots at the moment, so I’ve made a very shallow shelf that they can just sit on in just a little water, as well as deeper shelves for bigger marginal plants in the future.  I’m hoping to get some other plants, and of course watercress may well be worth a try, although I’m not sure that we’d use very much.

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While I was in the polytunnel, I took the opportunity to tidy up a bit on the rhs as you look downhill: levelling out the soil (some of which had been heaped up from digging out the pond).  I also managed to clear out a load of couch grass that had grown in the bottom corner of the tunnel near the kiwi and bramble plants.  In fact it is growing around the kiwi root, and I expect it will come back again this year.  It also is able to punch it’s way through the plastic walls of the tunnel.  I’ll have to keep an eye out and keep knocking it back.  Since I choose not to use poisons it will be impossible to eliminate in this situation.  Anyway, half the tunnel us now clear and weeded.  I need to start watering it a bit, it has got very dry particularly on the surface.  Once it is damp again, I expect that some of the seeds will regrow – there are some nice claytonia seeds in there that prefers cooler temperatures so grows better in the tunnel in the winter.

I’ll write a post soon about the mashua and yacon harvests in the tunnel.


Trees for free

This year I was going to try and back fill the tree field with more local tree stock.  The first phase was taking cuttings from the willow that seems to be growing more quickly for me.  I’m not sure what variety of willow it is but it has seeded in the tree field in the pond area, presumably from the trees that line the river bank.

set set willow by pond
Willow seeded in by pond

I had already transplanted some of the nicer seedlings that were growing in what should be the track area, but there are a lot of other seedlings coming up beside the pond and in amongst the other trees.  I’m not going to bother to move them.  Willow should take easily from cuttings, so I just selected some longish twigs, removing which should improve the shape of the trees, and cut them out.  I then removed the side branches and cut the main stem (and any thicker suitable side stems) into approx 10 inch lengths.

creating cuttings
Trimming willow cuttings

I didn’t count the number of cuttings I achieved, so I don’t know whether it was 100, 75 or 130 potential trees.  I have pushed them at fairly close spacing (6 ft?) in the damper areas where there seems to have been failure of the previous plantings.  The area by the pond which is very damp, lost a fair few birch and aspen – damaged by voles mainly I think.  That area has been infilled completely.  I have also made a start up by the southern border just under the hump.

area for replanting top
Area above conifers planted with willow cuttings

This area had birch and hazel, but is often quite damp due to springs coming out at the base of the hump.  It is also on the boundary where the prevailing wind comes from.  The hazel struggled to compete with the grass and we lost quite a few.  The ones left are starting to do better as the other trees are coming on.  The birch are some of the ones that have suffered bad die back and I think it’s that they don’t like the damp soil.  The willow however should do better.  I’ve used up all the cuttings I took from down by the pond area.  There’s still more room but some of the saplings transplanted some years there are now pretty big so I should be able to take more cuttings from these to finish off.

hopeful new willow
Newly inserted willow cutting

Mulching on a slope

Almost all our holding is sloping.  There are small level areas, but generally the land slopes down from the road to the river.  A little below the barn is one of the steeper escarpments.  I have planted this area with trees that are less likely to be coppiced for fuel wood; such as scots pine, rowan, small leaved lime, beech and holly.  Most of these species also prefer it to be well drained.  Last year I also planted 6 small juniper bushes.  I discussed in a previous post using fiber insulation underlay as mulch material.

juniper in new insulation
New Juniper May 2017

One of the reasons I was keen on it was it would stay on a 45 degree slope with no additional weighing down even in our winds.  However, it is now showing signs of composting into the bank and grass seeding into it’s surface.  The plastic reinforcing fibres are quite obvious now, but are still enmeshed with the underlay.

juniper worn mulch
Juniper with worn underlay Dec 2017

I have therefore been round all the underlay patches and mulched over the underlay with cardboard on the slopes and newspaper (very old and damp) on the flatter areas.  Hopefully this time next year the underlay will have completely gone, and I can just peel back the cardboard and rake up the plastic fibres, if they haven’t got too much in the way of roots growing through them!  The newspaper on the level does not really need weighing down now – it is pretty consolidated although the birds are digging under it a little looking for treats.  It would have been too difficult to use on the slope however, so I have used 4 large sheets of corrugated cardboard.  These are overlapping with the juniper poking out the middle, and weighed down with some spare fence post stobbs that we had left over from our temporary fencing whilst evicting the sheep.  I’m pretty pleased with the way it looks, although the dogs think there is something very exciting hidden under the cardboard  – so I don’t think it will necessarily last as long as it should!

mulching on slope
Cardboard mulching on a slope!

Xmas Harvests

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I harvested the kiwi fruit recently.  They are a bit small to eat out of hand so I turned them into jam.  Because I have only one kiwi – Jenny, the fruit develop parthenogenically so have almost no seeds. That is also why they are a little small.  I wonder whether an actinides arguta or kolomitka would cross fertilise with the kiwi (a. deliciousa), or whether it would be worth getting another self fertile kiwi so they could fertilise each other?  I did a little bit of research into kiwi jam recipes online, and then made it up.  Most of the sites seemed to agree that kiwi fruit are low in pectin, so need some added to obtain a good set.  I decided to use lemon and lime eather than apple which I usually use.  I had about 2 lb of kiwi fruit, and over did it a bit on the citrus (2 lemon and one lime) which resulted in a jam that was rather more like a marmalade.  I had to add more sugar than intended also, to counteract the sourness of the citrus, and have ended up with three jars of rather precious and tasty kiwi and citrus marmalade.

Some people like to be sure to have their own sprouts for xmas dinner.  I’m never that organised, but I do like to try and include some home grown produce.  This year we had a starter of my own globe artichokes from the polytunnel.  They had been blanched and in the freezer since the summer.  A bit fiddly to eat, they made a nice change.  I also went out in the morning and dug the first mashua tubers from the polytunnel.  Roasted with other root veg they went down perfectly pleasantly.  Although they do tend to go soft rather than crispy.

mashua top growth
Top Growth Mashua in Fruit Garden (best plant)

I have now dug up all the mashua from outside.  I had four tubers planted in the fruit garden, four tubers downhill from the tea garden below the barn, and four tubers in the dog resistant garden.  There were two in each location from each of the tubers I grew last year.  I knew the ones in the tea garden hadn’t done wonderfully – there was very little visible growth amongst the buttercups.  All the upper growth seems to have died back now – including that of the ones in the polytunnel.



mashua harvesting 2017
Mashua rootball on best plant

Four tubers appear to have completely disappeared.  One of the tubers in the fruit garden had more usable tubers than all of the others put together – several had no usable tubers.  So I guess I can certainly say that the harvest is variable.  I had labelled the tubers from the two supplied last year, however, the ones that did better this year were apparently from the plant that did worse last year.  So either last year’s results were down to variability, or I mislabelled all the tubers!  Just as well I didn’t name any names!

Supplier upper growth vigour usable tuber weight (Oz)
Tea garden
A 2 4
B 1 0
A 1 0
B 0 0
Fruit garden
A 5 46.5
B 3 8.5
A 3 5
B 0 0
Dog resistant garden
A 4 7.5
B 1 0
A 0 0
B 0 0
mashua outside harvest 2017
Cleaned tubers and rest of root growth (fruit garden and tea garden)

I must admit I’m a bit disappointed with the yield outside.  I haven’t dug the tubers from the tunnel yet, but believe they have done much better.  Maybe Mashua just need a bit more warmth than we get on Skye.  I would say overall that the weather in 2017 was not bad for Skye, not too wet, not too dry, not too windy.  It could have been warmer – the best weather as usual was in May.  I suppose the fact that one plant did fairly well gives some encouragement.  I’ll dig up the polytunnel plants next – that will give me plenty of tubers to replant for next year.  The other thing I noticed is that last year the tubers grown in the tunnel had patches of quite dark maroon markings.  These tubers grown outside are all completely white – maybe indicating a lack of maturity?

I’m going to try outside again, hopefully with tubers from each source (I may try to get hold of some other varieties as well).  This time I’ll plant some nice ones straight away, as well as in pots to overwinter in comfort to see whether getting an early start makes a difference.  My feeling is that the later part of the season is more significant, but we’ll see.

Harvesting, germination and why we (sometimes) don’t like deer

I’ve not had much time in the garden recently since there are a number of issues that have arisen mostly relating to the shop.  One of my members of staff is poorly, so I had to do extra shifts.  An exciting delivery from a new supplier came during one of my afternoons off so I had to go back down to the shop again to unpack it.  Palmer and Harvey were one of my main suppliers, who have now ceased trading, so I’m having to work out where and if we can get the groceries we normally get from them.  And someone put a planning application for mirror faced cube camping pods in the Glen which I felt obliged to object to.  The weather had been better though – cool and still and a little damp.  S. has bought me for christmas (not really I hope!) two pallet loads of hardwood which arrived on Friday and we spend much of Sunday warming ourselves once by stacking it all away in the woodshed.

Back in the Polytunnel, I have managed to harvest most of the fruit.  I have four more sharks fin melons, ten bunches of ripe grapes, and a very few achocha.  I still have the kiwi to harvest.

polytunnel crops

The grapes were starting to go mouldy, it’s just getting a little cool even in the polytunnel to expect any further ripening.  I think maybe I wasn’t ruthless enough when I thinned out the bunches earlier in the year, although it felt pretty brutal at the time.  I have picked them over and placed them in a glass of water, which hopefully should enable them to keep a little longer.  I also dried some in the bottom oven to make raisins which worked pretty well.  I could do with an easy way of removing the seeds however!  I need to give the vines a good prune now.  I’ve always taken my own approach to pruning; which is to make a cordon stem of the vine from which the fruiting spurs come off.  This seems to work quite well.  I had left a lower branch as well as the high level one, but it still isn’t really growing well.  The branches that come off it are weak and tend to droop down, interfering with the crops at lower level.  This year I’m going to prune the lower branch right out, and remove the wooden framework which also gets in the way of the polytunnel beds.


I’m not sure I’ll try the achocha again.  I quite like it – it tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a courgette, but it seems not to set very many fruit with me.  Only the fruit later in the season have set.  Mind you, I have noticed a lot of spiders in the polytunnel this year and have suspected that they may be eating a lot of the pollinating insects this year.  Maybe I’ll give it one more go and try and start them off nice and early.

The sharks fin melon I consider to be a big success, despite not getting that many fruit.  They are huge and pretty, and tasty see here.  The noodles do retain their noodly texture when frozen, so I may roast the melons as I need them and freeze the noodles in portions.  I’m going to try and save seed (apparently they carry on ripening in storage) but also see whether I can overwinter the vine, since it is a perennial in warmer climates.  So far I have buried one vine root in kiwi leaves (which have mostly shed now) and covered another with it’s own vine remains.  Although it’s not been very cold for the last couple of weeks.

I seem to have got very good germination from the two lots of Akebia seeds.  Both the ones that I sowed direct and the ones I left on tissue in a polythene bag have almost all got root shoots.  I moved them inside onto a windowsill, rather than leaving them in the polytunnel.  If I can get them through the winter, then I may have rather more plants than I need!  If not then I have dried the rest of the seed and can try growing them  in the spring.

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The last few weeks have seen an intruder in the garden.  For the last few years we have seem thankfully little sign of the deer, and I have been thinking they don’t like the smell of Dyson.  However recently they have been in and caused a little damage to a few of the trees, and munched some of the greenery in the fruit garden.  Luckily I don’t grow much for ourselves outside, but I had been getting a little complacent.  We have planted a hawthorne hedge which I am hoping in the longer term will screen the garden and deter the deer, but that will be a long time before it is big enough to do any good.  I’m pretty sure I heard the stags calling in the rut this year for the first time as well.  I wonder whether one of them was looking for greenery to decorate his antlers?  I gather they do this with bracken at this time to make themselves (presumably) more attractive or impressive.  In the past when we’ve had damage to the trees it’s been in the spring, which is more likely to be them rubbing the velvet off their antlers which they grow new every year.


First frost and a different root crop

snow s
Skye Snow

Two nights running we have had a real frost.  This came together with snow, which is a little less usual for us.  So far the Yacon has sagged, the leaves on the sharks fin melon have flopped and the Achocha has had it!  The mashua doesn’t look too bad so far, although some bits are quite sad.  I have cleared out the last of the courgettes from the polytunnel.  I think the plants had died back some time ago.  One of the courgettes has a little frost damage, but the others should be alright.  One of them should be classified as a marrow rather than a courgette, but that’s fine – I love stuffed marrow!  The snow has mostly all cleared now, but the damage is done.

floppy Yacon
Floppy Yacon 😦
pond bed s
Cleared bed where polytunnel pond will be.

It’s been a bit cold and wet to work down by the river, so I have made a start clearing the bed that will become my pond/bog garden in the polytunnel.  This was much to the dogs’ disgust, since, as I have to tell Dyson quite frequently, ‘dogs aren’t allowed in the polytunnel’ and they do want to help!  The soil from this bed was covered in home made compost in the spring, and although I never got round to setting up an irrigation hose for it, it did grow a lovely crop of self seeded poppies, kale, fat hen and honesty.  The little row of lettuce leaves I sowed got swamped by everything else.  The poppies have probably self seeded again, the fat hen seed I have collected, and the honesty (Lunaria annua) dug up.  I was very surprised to see the size of the roots, up to 18 inches long and quite tender, despite having virtually no water.

roots s
Lunaria annua roots

Intrigued, I did a little research and convinced myself they were edible.  Honesty is in the brassica family which includes turnip and swede as well as cabbage and broccoli.  A tiny taste raw was quite horrid – really pungent.  I’ve not tried horse radish, but I expect that is what it tastes like, several of the references suggested it was a substitute.  However I took a few roots anyway and washed them.  I found that the skin scraped off easily with a knife like a new potato.  Cut into short lengths, I boiled the roots in water for a short time till they became tender.  I wondered a bit if I was going to regret it as I added them to my dinner of sausage casserole, but no.  Much to my surprise the roots are really quite nice with a mild turnip-like taste.  Unfortunately some of the roots are a bit stringy.  Either a core, or a skin within the root.  I guess if one was interested in this one could try and select for plants with less fibre, but I expect there are already root crops enough.  Normally honesty is grown for the flowers, not dug up after six months like these have been.  I’m really glad I tried them though, and still have plenty of roots to experiment with.

dinner s
Honesty roots and sausage casserole

Sowing Swapped Seeds

This week the weather has turned more wintry, and with the evenings closing in, the weekday afternoons I have free seem very short.  By the time I’ve had a spot of lunch there is only an hour or so before it is getting too dark to work outside.  I have continued to clear the fallen trees by the river.  Of course cutting them back is only half the job.  The cut branches then need moving through to the tree field, and will want cutting to length.  I’m eyeing up some of the nice hazel branches to make something crafty with.  Maybe shrink pots, or a wizard’s staff…..  I’ve moved some stones to make rather wobbly stepping stones over the worst of the boggy area and still have a lot of cut branches to clear away.

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One exciting thing that has happened this week is some seeds that I swapped for some perennial buckwheat seeds have arrived.  These are for Akebia – a perennial vigorous climber that should have chocolate or vanilla scented maroon flowers followed by a purple fat sausage fruit which is edible (see https://lassleben.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/autumnal/ for example)  The sweet seedy pulp is eaten as a fruit, and the skin, although bitter, can be cooked as a vegetable.  These seeds came from a fruit bought at a market in Japan, see https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1321572664620803&set=gm.1739693236041770&type=3&theater&ifg=1.  Nominally it can grow outside, but given I still don’t consider I have achieved much shelter, I will hope to plant this (if I get them to germinate) in the polytunnel.  You need two different plants to get fruit.  Hopefully if I get two plants from these seeds, they will be dissimilar enough to cross fertilise.  Apparently chiltern seeds sell Akebia seeds so if the plants grow, and if they don’t fertilise, and I find out whether my seeds are Akebia quinata (five lobed leaves) or Akebia triloba (three lobed leaves) I can get some more seeds and grow some unrelated plants (Phew!, that was getting involved there).  According to PFAF, my go-to resourse for germination information, stored Akebia seed is very difficult to germinate, luckily Kim, who swapped these with me, has kept them in damp tissue since eating the fruit, so they should germinate better.  They also need light to germinate, so I have pushed them into the surface of some damp compost in a old strawberry punnet with a hinged lid.  It is currently in the polytunnel, but I may bring it in, since I think the weather will soon be getting too cold in there, and the temperature PFAF mentions is 15 degrees, which it would gain during the day, but will soon be dropping to near freezing overnight, even in the tunnel.  I have kept most of the seeds back inside to dry, since I don’t need dozens of plants (my sad hablitzia plants are a poignant reminder not to sow more than I need – although one or two are hopefully off to good homes this autumn).  I may just pop a few in a zip lock bag on a damp tissue as well, as this apparently can work.  If I don’t get some Akebia to germinate over the winter, I can try with my stored seeds in the spring, or pass them on again if not required.

akebia seeds
Akebia seeds on paper to dry


Happiness and winter jobs

I hate it when the clocks change.  Suddenly the afternoons get very short so I can’t get much done on my afternoons off.  We’re not early risers (the shop doesn’t open until 11.00am. off season) so I don’t really appreciate having extra daylight at the start of the day.  We had a drop of cut logs last week, and worked very hard on Friday to get them all away in the woodshed.  We still have a very small amount of cured wood that needs cutting to length and/or splitting, but we should have enough wood so that I can have the stove ticking over most of the winter.  Happiness is a full woodshed in Autumn!

woodshed prior to last wood drop
Woodshed before latest logs added

As well as making the house more pleasant, and giving us plenty of hot water, it also means I can cook more easily rather than being restricted to kettle, microwave and toaster!  On Friday I cooked sausages, banana loaf cakes, and a huge pan of pumpkin soup.  These pumpkins were slightly bruised, but I overdid it on pumpkins in the shop, so am thinking of pumpkin chutney maybe on Sunday….

autumn colours glendale
Autums colours Skye

We had a little walk round the tree field with the dogs on Tuesday, admiring the autumn colours, seeing how well the various trees have been doing, and picking out a few of the spruce that may do for our xmas tree this year.  We also made a little list of jobs that were of higher priority – clearing summer grass from around some of the trees, a little bit of removing lower branches in places.  We had a little look at the routing for the drains for the new extension, and it looks like I may have to move one of my shrubs, I think it is a saskatoon, so I will probably do that this winter, before it grows another year.

river bank escarpment in spring
River bank escarpment in Spring

I had a fairly nice afternoon on Thursday.  I made a start on clearing back a few of the trees on the river bank.  We have an area of trees outside the deer fence that are basically self sown willow, hazel and the odd rowan.  There is an area at the south side of the pedestrian gate through the fence that is sheltered by a steep escarpment.  This is formed partly due to the rock shelves, partly due to river erosion and partly as a spring line.  There are springs along the whole length, particularly when we have had plenty of rain, but I think some are there all the time.  The springs make it rather boggy underfoot.  In the lee of the escarpment, and away from most of the muching sheep, the trees have grown moss covered and gnarled.  The hazel has naturally coppiced over the years, and has formed hollow rings, some are four feet across.  It would be fascinating to know how old they are.  Probably several centuries I should think.  It makes me want to be ten again, to build a den there!

hollow hazel stool jul 13
Hollow Hazel Stool in summer

Anyway, the reason for the clearance was that a couple of the trees between the escarpment and the river had been washed over in the floods a few weeks ago, so their rootball is perpendicular to the ground and the route through is impassable.  The idea is to cut the trees back (good slow grown firewood) and maybe settle the rootball back down, or at least clear enough out the way to gain access.  This will probably involve the chainsaw, but to get there and work safely some of the lower branches needed clearing away, and I’m going to take the opportunity of making a slightly drier path as well.

S and I have slightly different views on how to achieve this, but since I’m the one doing the work, I get to decide.  I’m intending to dig interceptary channels parallel to the spring line, and then a few main drainage channels down the bank to the river.  Hopefully this will make the ground generally a bit drier without changing the mystical character too much.  I cleared a few overhanging branches by the pond, so that you can walk along there without bending double, and did the same along the escarpment as far as the fallen trees.  There are still a few branches that need trimming back to the trunks, but the main weight is removed.  Most of the wood I cut is still to be extracted, but there’s no hurry.  It may come in for burning next winter.  It seemed wrong now to be cutting back tree growth having spent so much effort getting the trees in the tree field established!

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Shark’s fins and Angel’s hair

This year I have been a member of the heritage seed library (again), and and one of the seeds I selected to grow was ‘shark’s fin melon’.  I didn’t have many seeds and succeeded in transplanting three plants into the polytunnel.  Two were near the top door, and one I planted with the courgettes near the other end.  I had some netting (beach gleanings) for the two at the top to climb up, which they did quite happily, and the other was just left to scramble over the ground.  The growing tips are rather beautiful, with spiralling tendrils, and the vine is still punctuated now by enormous golden flowers.

It seems that the plant is supposed to be self fertile, although I deliberately spread pollen between the different plants and still didn’t get many fruit to develop.  There is a total of five fruits between the three plants, although these are still producing female flowers.  The fruit are enormous, dark green with white stripes, about the size of a football, but slightly elongated.  I discovered also last week that the tendrils aren’t able to support the full weight of the fruit as we had a minor collapse of part of the vine near the door.  Most of the other fruit I had already supported, and one is sitting on the ground.

supporting fruit
Fruit supported by hanging basket frame


Doing a bit of research recently, it seems that shark’s fin melon has many other names.  If I had known it was ‘malabar gourd’, I could have looked it up in Simon Hickmott’s unusual vegetable book.  My favourite alternative name is ‘Angel’s hair’.  According to wikipedia its latin name is Cucurbita ficifolia and as well as the fruit, the seeds, and leaves are also edible see also https://isustainabilityproject.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/cooking-squash-leaves/ and http://jenniferskitchen.com/2017/05/can-you-eat-squash-leaves.html . I haven’t got round to trying the leaves yet.  These also grow enormous and give it one of it’s other names : fig leaf gourd.

My vegan friend was staying with me last week, so I enlisted her help in trying the first fruit.  Since once ripe the fruit should keep well, we decided to try one that was not the first to develop, to give the others the best chance of ripening to store.  Even so it weighed in at nearly 4kg!  Since it was quite young, the rind had not fully hardened, and we were able to cut it with a strong knife without too much trouble.  The large seeds were also still white and tender when cooked.  Half of it made a huge pan of vegan ‘shark’s fin soup’ which I thought would be amusing, and was certainly tasty!

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The other half we roasted in the oven, whilst the soup was cooking on the top.  We discovered that the flesh does indeed consist of stringy glass noodles (hence ‘Angel’s hair’).  These survived being reheated and made a great base for a simple lunch with (vegan) pesto, sundried tomatoes and sweetcorn.  I’ve put a little sample of noodles in the freezer to see whether they retain their noodley form on defrosting, since there is a lot of squash between our normal two person household!

noodles n pesto s
Angel’s hair

The other interesting titbit, is that in warmer climes the plant is perennial, and may even survive light frosts!  This could be an interesting candidate for my perennial polytunnel, making good use of the third dimension!

happy climbing
Flying ‘fig-leaves’


Saving and giving away

This week I’ve been sorting my seeds out. This includes the various seed packets that I have accumulated over the years, and also seeds that I have saved from some interesting plants around the holding.

I no longer grow much in the way of annual vegetables, so have put to one side quite a few seed packets that are in date (or not much out of date) to swap or give away. I’ll put a list at the end of this post for anyone that may be interested. There are a few flower seed packets as well that I have accumulated somehow – probably on the front of gardening magazines from the shop, that haven’t sold.

I also have quite a few seed packets that are so old that I doubt that there will be a very good germination rate. Sometimes these can surprise (I had good germination from rather old courgette seed this year) but more often even rather new seed fails, and I’m sure it’s not always me (i.e. dry compost, too cold etc.). The oldest seed I have is some chinese bean sprouts or mung beans that were supposed to be sown by 2001! I always meant to get round to that stir fry, but I just can’t think three days ahead when it comes to cooking! I also have a pack of “rose de berne” tomato seed, and some late purple sprouting broccoli to be sown by 2004. These and others that are less ancient, but still well out of date I have put to be used as a green manure / ground cover next spring. Probably most won’t germinate, but where I did the same around my blackcurrant bushes in the fruit area this year, I have some recognisable cabbages, rocket (going to seed, because I don’t like the taste), and leaf beet. These have grown amongst the existing seed bank of nettles, docken, chickweed and other ‘weeds’ that have been edited as I feel like. Before I mix the seed packs together, I will give my friend who is coming for a visit next week, a chance to grab any that she fancies (along with the newer seed for swaps). Actually, I gather the technique for sowing a mixture of plants is to sow each seed separately, then you get a more even distribution of each seed.

Parsley – gone to seed in polytunnel

I have managed to save quite a few seeds from various plants this year. Mainly from local native plants which I hope will also prove desirable as swaps. This year I have tried something slightly different. As well as drying as best I could in a warmish dry place for a few days (usually on a windowsill, although I gather too hot and light is not a good idea), I have sealed the dry seeds in a foil ziplock packet together with some rice grains that have been oven dried. The rice is supposed to act as a non toxic dessicant (like silica gel – which is now considered a baddie I gather) which will hopefully give the seeds a longer shelf life. The advantage of the foil bags is that they keep the seeds dark as well as dry. The disadvantage is that you can’t see the contents without opening the bag. I’ve run out of the foil bags now anyway, so the some of my saved seeds will go into normal polythene ziplock bags.

I’ve crossed out the seed which has already been spoken for.

Seed for swaps:

Various commercial packets. Some opened. I haven’t put details against them, since with the power of the internet, you should be able to find out what the makers say:

Asparagus “argenteuil early”

Asparagus “connovers collossal”

Beta vulgaris – “sea beet”. British native, seems to grow OK for me, but I think I have enough seedlings now

Carrot “nantes 5”

Radish “kulata cema”

Rocket “wild rocket”

Lettuce “little gem”

Swiss chard “bright lights” – pretty colours, but I get loads of self sown perpetual spinach, and I don’t like the stems of chard.

Tomatillo – I wasn’t that keen on them to be honest, and I don’t think I’ll get round to trying them before the seed gets old again

Physalis peruviana: cape gooseberry “golden berry” I seem to have two packs, so one spare.


Coriander “cilantro” for leaf production

Kale “curly scarlet”

Kale “nero di toscana”

Celeriac “monarch”

Broccoli “autumn green calabrese”

Mustard spinach “komatsuna tarasan”

Cauliflower “all the year round”

Cauliflower “romanesco natalino”

Turnip “petrowski”

Saved seed from Skye:


Plain leaved parsley – went to seed in polytunnel.

Leaf beet / perpetual spinach – sows itself everywhere now!

Good king henry – british native perennial. I only have one plant, but it appear to have set seed. Now it is established it appears to be thriving on neglect – wet, windy, acid soil. I love it!

Hyacintha non scripta – british bluebell. Native perennial – seed from the tree field.

Myrrhis odorata – sweet cicely. Lovely anise scented foliage perennial.

Conopodium majus – pignut. Native forage food – grows happily here in grass like a miniature cow parsley.

Rumex acetosa subsp. acetosa – common sorrel. Native forage food, acid refreshing leaves. Beware can be a nuisance weed, but I love it. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus pratensis – meadow vetchling. Yellow flowered perennial vetch. Seed gathered from the holding.

Vicia cracca – tufted vetch. Vetch with plumes of blue flowers. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus linifolius – heath pea see previous post here. Seed gathered from the holding.

Rubus fructicosus – bramble: polytunnel blackberry. I don’t know what variety this is. Probably a seedling off a Solihull plant, but it appears to be an early fruiter since it also will crop outside in a good year. Seed may not come true, but there is no other bramble close, so it must be a self cross. Prickly and vigorous and delicious!

Stellaria media – chickweed. We eat it raw in salads, or sometimes wilted as a hot vegetable. It is often quite large and lush in leaf, I’m not sure whether this is unusual, but if you fancy some weed seeds let me know.

You can email me at nancy at p6resthome dot co dot uk. First come first served, no guarantees, but I’ve done my best at identification and cleaning.  I’ll try and update this list as the seed goes. UK enquiries only at this stage (unless you have some astragalus crassicarpus – ground plum seeds for my perennial poytunnel project, in which case we might come to an agreement…).