Monday, February 28, 2011

St David's Day - Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

welsh flag

March 1st is a big day in Wales.    It's the Saint's day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales.   As you can see from the title, in the Wewelsh-folk-costumelsh language it's called Dydd Gŵyl Dewi.   However, maybe I should also explain that this translates back to Saint David's Festival rather than day, which might give you a clue about it's perceived importance.

David was a cleric in the sixth century, born near the west coast of Wales, near to what is now the cathedral city of St. David's, the smallest cathedral city in the United Kingdom.

Many of you will know that before I came to live here in south west France a few years ago, I lived in Wales.   In fact I lived there for over 30 years, more than half my life.  I was born in Lancashire and apart from a few holidays didn't have much involvement with Wales until I took a job there.   However, once I had started working there I quickly fell in love with the country and it's people. I very much enjoyed living and working there and learning about it's customs.  During my time in Wales it gained devolution and it's own Welsh language tv channel.  I even tried, very unsuccessfully, to learn it's language.

The Welsh language is one of the old Celtic languages of Britain, dating back to about the time of David and deriving from the ancient language of British.

The national flower of Wales is the daffodil.   I am always pleased when I go out into the garden on St David's day and see those first blooms of spring waving hello.  I love the synergy that brings the blooms of the national flower out on the day dedicated to the patron saint.

BBC - sportBut 2011 has delivered another string to add to the celebrations.  Rugby is the national sport of Wales , well, it may not be considered the national sport by every one in Wales any more, but it is still considered the national sport by the majority of Welsh people.  so how very fitting that in the week that finds the daffodils blooming and St David celebrating his festival, the national rugby team also delivered another win in the prestigious RBS Six Nations tournament, defeating Italy by 24 points to 16 in Rome.

Wales also has it's own food.   Welsh cakes are a delicious light fruit cake much like a drop scone.  They are traditionally baked on a bakestone or griddle.

Another Welsh delicacy is Laverbread.  If you ever find yourselves in Wales then you really must seek out this treat and try it for yourselves.  But don't let the name confuse you.    It's not a traditional bread.  Indeed, you should pay more attention to the Laver part rather than the bread part.  Laver is an edible seaweed.

My own favourite, although it's hard to choose, is cawl (pronounced cowl).  Cawl is the traditional meal of St David's day, forming an important part of the festivities.

Cawl is a thin soup or broth.  The number of recipes around is roughly equivalent to the number of people that speak Welsh!  daffodils However, on the whole it's a thin broth containing meat and vegetables.  The meat is, more often than not, lamb and the vegetables usually contain leeks.   Of course, leeks are also a popular symbol of Wales.....  I guess they could even be considered the national vegetable.   If you have ever watched Wales' comedian/singer Max Boyce then you can't have failed to notice his enormous leek buttonhole!

Then there are the delicious Welsh Cheeses.  Traditional Caerphilly has been made for almost 200 years.   There are lots of others, Llanboidy, Y Fenni and Tintern to name a few.

Of course, entertainment is also virtually a national endeavour,  from Tom Jones to  Shirley Bassey, from  Dylan Thomas to the Manic Street Preachers, from Anthony Hopkins to Catherine Zeta Jones... the list is almost endless

I think all that's left for me to say - Diwrnod Dewi Sant Mwynhau's.   Enjoy St David's Day

Oh, in my own garden just  small cluster of daffodils arrived to trumpet in St David's Day, but plenty more are just around the corner

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring arrives with....

I've always reckoned that my big Forsythia bush was the herald announcing spring in my garden and for several years, around this time, I've looked forwards to it's sudden outburst of deep yellow flowers. The Forsythia is one of a number of large shrubs that enclose my parking area.  I have an forsythiaarea to the east side of the house that is big enough to get about three cars off  the road and it is this area that is bounded by by some six or seven very well established shrubs.

As it's where I park my car, I get to enjoy it's blossom whenever I go out.      As you can see from the photo, taken today, it won't be long now before those flowers are once again adorning the area


This year a little upstart of a thing has decided to vie for the position.   Indeed, not only has this primroses delicate little plant decided to go for it, it has won....  Today there is a small cluster of these beautiful primroses already in flower in the garden.  

I'm sad for my good old trusty Forsythia bush, getting knocked off it's "first to bloom" pedestal, but I'm just absolutely delighted that the signs of spring are now all around in the garden and things are once again waking up.

You may recall that last year, I suffered a twelve week drought, going well into October.  By the time some rain returned it was too late for a few of my shrubs and things to really recover.  Couple that with a pretty harsh winter and I'm looking at quite a few things that have simply not made it through.     I'm particularly sad about a very pretty rose, given to me many years ago by an artist friend who, subsequently, died of cancer.   The rose sat by the door and I was reminded of her throughout the summer by the delicate pink and yellow blooms.

Now the weather is turning warmer I have realised how much preparation work I have let slide.   I need to spend a lot of time in the garden getting the beds ready.  Those seedlings, and more still to come, will very soon be looking for a place of their own.

Last week, I started to sow new seeds in earnest and now have several trays of tiny seedlings clamouring for attention as they cling on to life trying to do no more than grow strong and healthy.

Over the past ten days or so, I have sown various tomatoes, basil, cauliflower, marigolds, malva, coriander and lettuce amongst others

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ian's Red Cherry Tomato

Ian's Red Cherry 1week

Here's a photo of my Red Cherry Tomatoes at just 10 days after sowing.  Yes, I found some batteries!!!!  I'm really not sure I can use the term sowing for burying a piece of paper kitchen towel, but I don't know what other term to use!!

I always love the way the seedlings take their first tentative steps into the world with their heads bowed, and then, once up, stretch themselves.  In fact, tentative steps and then a good stretch sounds a lot like my own routine in the mornings.

I hope I prove to be a worthy father and they reward me dutifully.

Good luck, little ones.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Seedlings of 2011

About 10 days ago I carefully unfolded a piece of my kitchen roll, placed it over a seed tray full of damp compost and scattered  some more compost on top.    Then I put a plastic cover over it and placed it on a shelf in the little room that houses our central heating boiler.

Today, I took out that tray to discover the first new seedlings pushing through.   The kitchen paper was where I had dried my Cherry Tomato seeds during the autumn of last year.

I love seeing the first shoots appearing out of a tray of little more than dirt.   The delicate stems pushing their way up as they unfold themselves from the very seed that gave them life are truly an inspiration.  I often wonder that such tiny spindly things can bear such beautiful fruit.

There should be a photo here....but, as so often happens, there isn't!!!    Tuesday is my "shopping day""    The Kitchen Garden in France is in a fairly rural part of France and, although there are a couple of small villages within a few kilometres, the nearest real town is about 20kms (15 miles)away.     Because of this, I try to keep my trips to the shops to a weekly affair and, normally, that is Tuesday.  Today was no exception and immediately after breakfast, I set off with my list of several businesses to visit.      It was only when I got home again and started to think about this piece that I discovered the batteries in my camera were flat....  and yes, it could be next Tuesday before I replace them....  So that's the photo excuse!  and I'm sure you can all imagine a tiny seedling in it's first few days of life!

As I said, I really love seeing the tiny shoots of a new plant appearing out of the compost.  I guess it's a kind of pride, a bit like watching your own child taking their first tentative steps.      I'm not really sure just how proud I should be though.  True, these tomato plants are growing from seed I saved last year from my own tomatoes, also grown from seed I'd saved the year before.    In fact, this year is now the fifth year of growing these plants.  I have worked a little magic on them over the years and now, they are beautifully acclimatised to the climate in this part of the world.  For the past couple of years I have also shared the seeds with friends and neighbours.

But, as I said, I'm not sure how proud I should be.

I guess what I'm getting at is this....  Have you ever thought about it from the point of view of the tomato?  I wrote a piece about this a couple of years ago.  Follow the link to Who'd Be a Tomato if you'd like to see what I said.

I must say, having reread it, maybe I was a little harsh on myself....    True, mostly those fabulous fruits are being torn away from the mother plant to be eaten, but now, at least, some of them will be saved and for those few, their mission will be accomplished and they will father the next generation of tiny seedlings

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mistakes I Make

I decided to sow tomatoes today....  Well, I actually decided to sow them on Monday but didn't get around to it, so, this morning, I decided to complete that task.

tomatp seeds I grew tomatoes last year and saved the seeds.   I have adopted a simple method for seed saving of tomato seeds.   I get rid of as much pulp as possible and then spread the wet seeds onto several layers of paper kitchen towel and let the whole thing dry.  Once dry I carefully fold the towel so that the seeds are safe inside and put it away in the dry.  Then, when today comes,along and it's time to sow, I simply prepare my seed trays with moist compost, lay the kitchen towel over the top, bury it with a couple of mm more compost and leave them to germinate.  If I have too many seeds, I tear the paper up, keeping the seeds buried in the middle.  and use only part.   As you can see, it's not very pretty, but it's easy and it works.

To be honest, I've been a bit ashamed of this lazy practice so have not mentioned it much, but I was heartened today when searching blogs for something else and came across The Cottage Smallholder's blog post "How to Save Tomato Seed Easily" and discovered that she also uses a similar "lazy" method.  It works every time for me, although if the seeds are destined to be exchanged I treat them rather differently.

I mentioned earlier that I intended to sow tomatoes on Monday.  Well, that was why I was reading Fiona's blog...  I have a  workshop where I do things like sowing and had got out my saved seeds.  Sadly, at the end of the day, as  time avoided me, I forgot to put the seeds away again.... and, as I was occupied all day yesterday, they had sat there for about 36 hours.

Although, in fact they hadn't.  When I finally got around to doing the task, I discovered that my seeds for "Golden Sunrise" tomatoes had all been eaten.... Every last seed..... gone.

It's a pity, because, over the past three years I have acclimatised these  seeds and was hoping that this year they would provide a good crop.   On a side note, I noticed that Fiona lists this variety as pretty tasteless.   I have to say, my own experience is contrary to that.   Last year I truly enjoyed these medium sized golden tomatoes, but perhaps they need the longer summer get here as opposed to the UK?

Hopefully the experience will teach me to take more care of my precious seeds.

Oh, in the end. the only tomato seeds I sowed were Ian's Red Cherry, Veeroma, Marmande and some seeds which I think are Ananas.     I was given the Ananas seed a couple of years ago by chaiselongue  and have grown them since and the Veeroma were also given to me, this time by Miss Fuggle.   I did also sow a pot of Marigolds and a pot of coriander though

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seed Exchange List

The Seed Exchange is a network of people offering seed.  My own seed is now all saved by myself here in France.

Please come back and visit this page again soon, I intend to update it regularly as I establish what seeds I have available.

Anyone can ask for seeds by emailing me at .    If you have a blog then why not offer some of your own spare seed?    To find out more about the Seed Exchange Network, why not take at look at Patrick's comments on

Bifurcated Carrots

Please note.  This is only the second year I have offered seeds for exchange and I have tried to keep the seeds pure.

Seeds for 2011


  • Black Turtle Beans  -  These are a pole bean. The seeds were saved by myself.
  • Purple Podded Pole Bean.  These beans are beautiful.  They are a deep purple on the vine and change to green when cooked.  The pods are long and full.  Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Borlotto Bean - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Poletschka Bean - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Pumpkin, Courge and Melon etc

  • Monsieur Gary's Charentais Melon. M. Gary is a local farmer here at the Kitchen Garden in France and for years he has grown his own sweet Charentais melon, saving the seeds from one year to the next.  I'm pleased to have grown a few of these myself and kept the seeds to offer here.
  • Courgette d'Italie - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Queensland Blue Pumpkin - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Butternut Pumpkin - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Bari Cucumber - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010


  • Ian's Red Cherry Tomato.  A delicious variety of cherry tomato which grows successfully here, giving truss after truss of delicious rich red cherry tomatoes.  These are seeds I've saved myself after several years acclimatising the plant to the climate here.


  • Cath's Red Cornos Capsicum - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Yellow Cornos Capsicum - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Cabbage and Lettuce

  • Joy's Cos Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Lollo Rosso Batavia Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Reine des Glaces Batavia Lettuce - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Red Cabbage - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010


  • Dill - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010
  • Chives - Seeds saved by myself at the end of the season 2010

Email me if you would like any of the above seed.


What do you do with your seeds?

When I started vegetable gardening a few years ago, I obviously, acquired a lot of seeds.  To start with I just threw all the packets in a box, after all, most of the seeds had been bought at local stores.  Then over time, the box became two boxes and soon a third was added.  As I collected my own saved seeds jam jars, used carrier bags and coffee filter papers were all pressed into service.  The boxes were joined by the kitchen Welsh Dresser, which proved a great place to keep coffee filters containing all manner of seeds as they dried.

I have found I have a couple of problems with this approach.   The first is that, although I tend to remember what I've collected, I never remember what packets I have bought.

seed box I'm not one of those people who meticulously spend their winter evenings poring over seed catalogues wondering what to buy this year.   I'm the guy who sees a packet of radish seeds in a supermarket whilst picking up some toilet cleaner, and buys them because the picture is nice!   I try to make my garden generally organic but I've never worried about my seeds.  As long as they are good seed and not from hybrid stock I'm happy.

Well, all this discussion has come about because, this week, I sowed my first seeds of 2011, some of my Cherry Tomato seeds, saved last autumn.     I found the seeds, still in a coffee filter, tucked behind a rather nice designer vase on the Welsh Dresser in the kitchen.  This was after I'd looked in the four drawer plastic storage unit, an empty paint container and a couple of used carrier bags.....

You get the picture.  Now, one of the consequences of the second problem..... is that I have loads of packets of seeds, some full, some half empty, and, quite often, I forget to sow them until a couple of months after the time.... causing either, a game of catch up, or more often, that plant to be abandoned for this year!

It was whilst reflecting on all this that I decided to make 2011 the year of seeds!

I have organised my seeds and, hopefully, as I go through the year, I can make decisions based on something more relevant than my memory.

I decided the first thing was to break the year down into segments.  At first I thought about seasons but quickly discarded that idea in favour of months.  Once I had made that decision, it was simply a case of putting some marker cards in for each month and then sorting the seed packets.

Firstly, I dealt with all the seeds in packets.  If the packets were open, I simply folded the top over and fixed it with a paper clip.  Then I filed each packet behind the month marker corresponding to the earliest sowing date.  Of course, I'd only just got going when I came across the first packet that could be sown all year round.  So I soon had a few packets filed before the year started in that interesting space created before the start of January, but which is not in the previous year!!!!   Before long I had sorted all my seed packets and could see exactly what was due to be sown this month.  This was quite a shock.  I think of March as being the start of the sowing year.  I know I sow a couple of things before then but I was quite surprised to find about 20 things in the February file!   I'll need to get sowing underway if I'm to keep up.

This was a great start but I still had seeds in bags, seeds in coffee filters, seeds in jam jars, seeds in little plastic pots,, in fact, seeds in virtually anything that would contain them.  In fact, all the seeds that I have either been given by other gardeners or seeds I have saved myself were stored like this and none of these fit neatly into my file!

What I ended up doing was making a card for each loose seed   The card just  names the seed and gives the month to sow it.   It might in the future tell me where the seeds are stored!!!! and of course, I'd only written the first couple of cards before I thought, "Oh, I could make a note about that on the card!!".   So now, as I look at my seed file, I can choose a month, look at all the seeds I need to sow and all my saved seeds are included in the same system.

Another side effect of this sudden burst of organisation, is that I have ended up with a coherent list of seed that I have saved and that I can offer through my participation in the Blogger's Seed Network.  For details of what seeds I am offering take a look at my Seed Exchange List.   Now I just need to update that list of the seeds I'm offering!!

Oh, at the end, here, there was supposed to be a photo of the newly organised seed boxes....  However, I got them out of the storage unit to photograph them but decided that I'd just file a couple of packets I had found since I finished....   As I put them down on the table I must have completely misplaced them and pushing the first seed packet in was sufficient to drop the whole lot on the floor.  Of course, the boxes decide to animate them selves and turn upside down, before mixing all the packets in big mess!!   The photo will be along soon!