28 October 2009

The Red Cockerel had lost his tail feathers

He's been fighting - so it's time to cull the young cockerels for the pot !

8 October 2009

Chickens feasting on the Amaranthus Gangeticus (Elephant Head Amaranthus)

This summer has been another extremely dry one - with a lot of very hot days up until a few days ago when the temperature outside was 30°C. There's very little grass anywhere and we've been supplementing the sparse grazing for our sheep and goats with hay for the past few weeks. The geese are going further and further away from their normal circuit to find something to eat and we've been giving them extra corn to keep them in condition and build up their fat reserves for winter.

With the lack of fresh vegetation around, I suppose it's inevitable that the chickens have started pecking food in the vegetable plot which they normally leave alone. A week ago they started eating the remaining courgettes and then pecked away the leaves until each plant has almost disappeared.

I don't mind them eating the courgettes, everyone is fed up with them anyway and they're hard and tasteless at this time of the year especially since it's been so dry.

The chickens normally start to peck the veg towards the end of October when there's very little for them to eat after a hot summer but this year they've started early, snipping off the lower leaves of the sweet peppers and Aubergines when they're still plenty of fruit left on them. I've noticed them pecking the new growth of Globe artichokes, they've even started to peck out the Foxgloves and they've almost totally destroyed the leeks I planted a few weeks weeks ago !

Thankfully, I had a lot of Amaranthus self seed last year and this variety "Elephant head" have been really rich and beautiful this year growing alongside Cleome Spinosa which also self seeds freely. The chickens love the Amaranthus, so I've started pulling up a plant or two to let them eat the leaves and seed heads. They peck away furiously at each one for about two days until there's nothing left but the stalks.

I'll keep giving them a few plants each week to give them something to squabble over and keep them of mischief until the rain (hopefully) encourages the grass and weeds to appear - and I mustn't forget to save a few seeds for myself for planting next year.

3 October 2009

Seed saving and two of my favourite annual climbers

Seeds of the annual climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThis is exactly the right time to collect seeds from your favourite plants from your own or other people's gardens. That's what I've been doing a lot of this week.

Aren't these big seeds with a little heart really sweet? They're from a lovely annual climber with an interesting name, Cardiospermum halicacabum (Sometimes called Love in a Puff or Balloon Vine).

I got my original seeds a couple of years ago from some friends who run Rose Cottage Plants. I planted four which did really well and since then I've gathered the best seeds to give away, to plant and to save.

climber Cardiospermum halicacabum or Love in a Puff or Balloon VineThe plant climbs to about two metres, gives a light feathery shade and the tiny white flowers produce green seed cages. I grow them in various spots around the garden especially where a dark background can show them off to their best advantage. It's classed as a noxious weed in some parts of the United States of America but here in France the plant self seeds rarely and is very easy to keep under control.

As well as being pretty, this plant's useful because it's leaves are edible and I often nip off a few to add to salads and use them to decorate dishes - in the hope that the more varied our diet is, the better our bodies will be able to look after themselves. Here are some of the medicinal uses of the plant.

The whole plant is diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, laxative, refrigerant, rubefacient, stomachic and sudorific. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, nervous diseases, stiffness of the limbs and snakebite. The leaves are rubefacient, they are applied as a poultice in the treatment of rheumatism. A tea made from them is used in the treatment of itchy skin. Salted leaves are used as a poultice on swellings. The leaf juice has been used as a treatment for earache. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, laxative and rubefacient. It is occasionally used in the treatment of rheumatism, lumbago and nervous diseases.

For more information on growing and using this plant see the Plants For A Future database.

Cheeky little Black-eyed Susan seedsAnother climbing plant which has a fascinating, cheeky little seed is the Black Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata). It's normally grown as an annual in northern climes but it's a perennial native to tropical Africa where it can grow up to 20 feet.

With regular watering, the plant grows very fast in France. If it's well supported it can climb up to two metres and one plant can easily cover a square metre, so it's useful for quick cover. It flowers from June until the first frosts and I've used it for an effective screen to hide the water butts in front of our chicken shed.

The Thunbergia is also available in white and the beautiful Blushing Susie - a lovely pinky/orange colour but I've found that the yellow is much more vigorous and produces flowers more profusely and for much longer than the white and orange varieties.

There's a lot more information about this plant in THIS African plant site. Where I got this information :

Medicinally it is used for skin problems, cellulitis, back and joint pains, eye inflammation, piles and rectal cancer. Gall sickness and some ear problems in cattle are also treated with this plant.

NB. Some people can get contact dermatitis from it.

Click HERE if you'd like to see a slideshow of the Black Eyed Susan growing on the screen throughout the year.

2 October 2009

Using Quinori - and a recipe I want to share

QuinoriIn the summer there's so much to eat that we really are spoiled for choice.

Rather than eat heavy meals with meat I prefer not to cook the new peppers, sweet tomatoes and crunchy lettuce, shallots, new carrots, chives or whatever else I can find but eat them raw tossed in vinaigrette and a little salt.

From the middle of summer until the start of the hunting season we tend to eat mainly vegetarian food. It seems to fit in with the rhythm of the seasons when the body doesn't need so much protein and the sun goes with every meal eaten outdoors.

Once Autumn comes, it's good to have recipes which use garden vegetables but perhaps we need the addition of pulses - a little bit more protein to help prepare us for winter. I'm not one for recipes, tending to just make up as I go along or use tried and tested recipes with variations according to the ingredients we have - but this is worth passing on.

I saw this packet in our local bio shop in Villamblard and although it's a bit more expensive (3.15€ for 500g) that plain quinoa it has chick peas, rice and sesame seeds in it too. I'd spent a long time talking to the owner of the shop and wanted to buy a bit more than I had, so I though I'd try it. This dish takes about 25 minutes preparation then another few minutes under the grill.
Vegetables from the garden
Stir-fry the veg, adding them to the pan in this order:
Two small carrots
1 Aubergine
2 small courgettes
small chunk of fresh ginger sliced finely
2 long small sweet peppers
1 small onion
A few cashew nuts is nice too and crushed garlic can be added and stirred in after the cooking process is finished

I used about 70g of Quinori and cooked it in water for about 7 minutes then drained it and put it at the bottom of a fire-proof dish.

While everything is still piping hot, slide the veg on top of the quinoa, dribble a couple of beaten eggs into the dish then place a few tomatoes cut in half. Top it off by sprinkling some grated cheese and a big pinch of herbes de Provence and put the dish under the grill.

Dish made with Quinori and mixed vegetablesQuick, cheap and cheerful dishes like this are useful and this was one of the best we've had. I think what makes this dish special is to not overcook the vegetables - especially the carrots and add each ingredient to a wok cooking on a fast heat.

I've since used a tiny amount Quinori with just aubergines and a few red peppers as a starter in small individual dishes and all our guests asked what it was that made the dish nutty, not too "bulky" and very tasty.

A small packet goes a very long way and should keep well, so that's another useful addition to the larder.