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Friday, November 18, 2011

West Cork Artisan Food Awards

Brown Envelope Seeds has been nominated for the West Cork Artisan Food Awards. We are so excited. What would we do with €5,000? Suggestions please. The photos are of our cat and some kiwanos.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Party Time

We celebrated the arrival of the 2012 Brown Envelope Seeds catalogue and calendar at the opening of Sonia Caldwell's exhibition of paintings last night ( Friday 11th of November) at the Riverside Cafe in Skibbereen. The exhibition was opened by horticulturist Kitty Scully of RTE's 'How to create a garden'. We made it our Christmas party and stayed on for a delicious meal. Thanks to all at the Riverside that made it a great evening. Both the calendar and catalogue are illustrated with Sonia's watercolours of vegetables and their flowers. The calendar is available directly from Soniasoniacaldwell@eircom.net, and the catalogue is available from seeds@brownenvelopeseeeds.com and the seeds are available from www.brownenvelopeseeds.com

Jacinta French and Eimer with Don Pollard.
The Brown Envelope Seeds team.Ruth Bulough and Mike Sweeney
Paul McCormack of Woodkerne Nurseries and Tom Atkins
Sonia, Eamon, Caoimhe and Ailbhe (hope I have spelt them correctly)
Joy Larkcom and Kitty Scully

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2012 Catalogue Cover Girl

The 2012 catalogue is going to print this week. It will be the most beautiful one yet with this painting of the Crimson Flowered Broad Bean by Sonia Caldwell on the cover.
Sonia is producing a Brown Envelope Seed calendar this year. To get one of these you can email Sonia directly at soniacaldwell(at)eircom.net They will also be for sale at all the best garden centres.

I love the story of how the Crimson flowered Broad Bean was saved from extinction by a Miss Cutbush who gave four seeds to the Heritage Seed Library in 1978. There is a great review of it by independent plant breeder, blogger and musician Rebsie Fairholm here. I see it as a symbol of survival, and of our biodiverse and global heritage of garden varieties. It occurred to me during the year that vegetables divide up into groups according to their ethnic origins and by the time of year they are sown. Well sort of, so the catalogue is arranged in these groups which I have given names like the 'woodlanders' and the 'fertile crescenters'. It is a bit like the way they move all the things around in the supermarket, so that you see things you might ordinarily miss.

The Crimson Flowered Broad Bean had a good year here. It seemed perfectly happy with the the cool dry spring followed by the cool and relatively dry summer. The critical part of broad bean seed growing is when chocolate spot hits. If the leaves blackened by the fungus lie on the pods they transmit the fungus to them and the pods begin to rot marking the beans inside and in come cases causing them to rot. We harvest the plants whole, as soon as it chocolate spot hits and hang the plants up to dry. Dry weather makes it a lot easier to get the crop in without damage. It takes us about 3 square metres to grow a kg of broad bean seed and the Crimson Flowered broad bean yielded a little better than the Bowlands Beauty even though it was on a less fertile patch. That is a about 3.5T/Ha, I think.

Friday, October 14, 2011


We have beef for sale at the moment. Every year we fatten a few heifers and sell some of the beef directly from the farm. This year the heifers came from the farm of Con and Magdalena Burns in Union Hall. This is Con below, selling his potatoes at Skibbereen Farmers Market.
And this is the bunch last May.
They spend the winter in the barn, eating silage, lying on straw and making compost for the gardens at Brown Envelope Seeds.
Finally they go to Walsh's, a local abattoir and butcher.
Price list for beef collected from the farm or delivered to Skibbereen Farmer's Market:

Sides €4/kg dead weight, plus butchering €150

10kg box of beef €100 containing approximately

2 striploin steak .4kg

1 ribroast 2.0kg

1 sirloinsteak .5kg

1 stewing steak .5kg

1 roundroast 1.2kg

1 round steak .5kg

2 bags beef pieces .9kg

8 bags mince 4.0kg

Price for individual pieces

Rib roasts

Fillets @ €33/kg

Striploin @ €22/kg

Sirloin @ €15.50 /kg

Round steak @ €11.80/kg

Round roas @ €11.80 /kg

Rib roasts @ €11.80/kg

Stewing steak @ €10 /kg

Stewing beef @ €10 /kg

Mince @ €10/kg

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Growing Quinoa: Feedback please

A young neighbour of mine, Oisin Coakey is starting his final year in agriculture in CIT. He is hoping to do a project on quinoa and would like to hear from other people who have tried growing it. So please let us know how you got on if you grew it. Here is a summary of my experience with it.

Quinoa, Chenopodium quinoa, is a small grain crop from South America. It is in the same family as spinach and beet, and is even more closely related to the weed Fat Hen or Lamb's Quarters, Chenopodium album, which which it can cross. It was domesticated in the Andes several thousand years ago. It is known there as 'the mother of all grains'. It is a hardy annual crop that is tolerant of both low temperatures and low rainfall. It grows from the coast to altitudes over 10,000 feet.

It is valued for its high protein content and the quality of the protein, which contains a complete balance of amino acids for the human diet. It is as good a source of protein for babies, as milk powder, and as it is not a cereal, it is gluten free. The leaves can also be eaten as salad or cooked like spinach.
Quinoa seedlings in May 2010
I have been growing small patches of quinoa for three years now. The first variety I tried, in 2009, was Temuco, which I chose from the Real Seeds catalogue, on the grounds that the heads stood up to bad weather better than other varieties. In 2010 I grew a larger patch of Temuco and a few plants of another variety, Red Head, which I got from Adaptive seeds in Oregon. Red Head had been selected for open heads that stood up to damp weather, by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. This year I got some seed from Kai Schulze Boeckenhoff, in Ballydehob. He has been growing quinoa for several years from multi coloured seed he originally got in the healthfood shop. I chose his variety this year as I found it difficult to get the awful tasting saponins off the Temuco. Kai said that he removed the saponins simply by washing the seeds in water. So, I am looking forward to seeing if his cleans up more easily than the Temuco.
Quinoa in June 2010

Like its relative Fat Hen, quinoa grows like a weed. It is almost indistinguishable from it when it is young. I grew it in rows about a foot apart and thinned the plants to about an inch apart. They could have been thinned a lot more. In 2010 it was sown on the 9th of April but it was a bit later in 2011, I think, but I forgot to record the date.

Quinoa in July 2010
Quinoa August 2010
Quinoa can cross with fat hen and I think some of the chunky looking plants on the left above were hybrids. They had more branched stems like Fat Hen and were very vigorous.

2010 harvest of quinoa variety Red Head
I harvest quinoa when I see the birds starting to do it. I left the Red Head a bit too long and the birds got a lot of the seed.
2010 harvest of quinoa variety Temuco
We got the Temuco in in fine weather, tied it in bundles and let if finish drying in the Poly tunnel. We threshed it by running it through the shredder and then winnowing. The Temuco yielded over 2kg from a bed about 8sqm. I think that works out at 2.5T/ha Given that a 1kg bag in the health food shop costs €6.92 this could be a valuable alternative crop for Ireland if mechanised harvesting and removal of the saponins from the seed coat were possible.

I haven't found an easy way easy way to remove the saponins from quinoa seeds yet. I have toasted it on a pan until it starts to pop like popcorn and then rubbed it in pestle and mortar, simulating the process used in the Andes of heating it and then dancing barefoot on the grains in a stone basin. Yellow dust accumulates and can be removed by sieving the seeds. This removes a lot but it must still be rinsed a good deal while cooking, several changes of water will pretty much remove the rest. Alternatively, soaking the seeds in an alkaline solution before cooking, with several changes of water also works. For an alkaline solution I have used bicarbonate of soda and wood ashes both of which worked better than plain water but it still took a lot of rinsing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Innovative 'no dig' method from Austrailia

An old Italian gentleman lived alone in Wonthaggi (Victoria) wanted to plant
his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.
His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man
wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my
tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot.
I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy
to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Papa,
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, The Piranha task force from melbourne and local police arrived and dug up
the vegie garden without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man
and left.
A couple of days later the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Papa,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now.
That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
Love you,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Does size matter? Newton Wonder Seedlings

A few years ago I grew about 10 apple seedlings from Newton Wonder pips. Now as I am sure you know, apples do not breed true from pips and each seedling is a unique 'variety'. In fact apple varieties, like potato varieties, are clones. It is supposed to be very rare to get an edible apple from a random seedling, so I stuck these seedlings behind a bit of fence on the side of the road and forgot about them. I saw there were a few apples last year but the crows got to them before me. Mike picked one from each of three trees recently and we were pleasantly surprised. The two on the right were a bit sour but might improve on storage like their mother. The one on the left was crisp sweet and tasty. It was small, but does size matter? It has been named John Hope.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tomatoes 2011

Inspite of savage balckbirds, half the polyunnel blowing away, and a crap summer we have a pretty interesting selection of tomatoes. As always the Tumbler was the first tomato to ripen here this year. Even in a rubbish summer, this little fellow produces ripe fruit outside in June. We grew some Tumblers outside in pots where they look pretty and provide a passing snack. They are really delicious when left to fully ripen which happens a few days later than they turn red.Below are a selection of the polytunnel tomatoes. The new (to us) varieties, came from Jean Perry of Glebe Gardens. These are Chocolate Stripe, Paul Robeson, (not in the picture because we ate them all) Ananas Noir, Federle and Vintage wine. The others are old favourites whose seeds we had run out of.
I really like both Paul Robeson and Chocolate Stripe, which are red/black beefsteak varieties. Like Black Crimea and Black Russian they seem to manage good flavour, even in cool sunless summers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

School Garden

I got these photos from Fionnuala Fallon today. They are of her kids' school garden in Blessington. It includes some of our seeds, Gortahook cabbage, Daniel O'Rourke peas and Hungaria Black Seeded sunflowers.
My earliest memory is of standing under the clothes line in the garden and the thing that all gardeners seem to have in common is memories of a garden as a small child.
So, if you have any small people around, get them out there a little bit. It could be life changing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Home Bred Potatoes

The central row of potatoes in the picture below is of three varieties I kept from a grow out of seedlings from Nepalese potatoes someone brought back to Ireland a few years ago. The mother plants were big and sprawled all over the garden. We didn't like the taste much, but they had terrific blight resistance. I blogged about them last year when we harvested them in the autumn. They are the central row in the picture below, which shows how much bigger they are than the Sarpos on either side. The original seed potatoes were bigger than the Sarpo seed, but the Sarpos don't seem to have coped with the dry spell, as well as other varieties. The field they are growing in only has about a foot of soil so the affects of the drought were clear when this photo was taken at the end of June.
I just lifted one plant from each variety and you can see that the white 'Autumns' yielded the best. The pink and white 'Susans' also did well but the pink 'Hollys' did not yield much at all. The small pot of white potatoes at the back are 'Colleen' which I added for comparison. They are my standard early potato.
The next photo is of them cooked. We thought they all tasted as good as the Colleens but were still pretty immature, especially the pink ones. All the plants are still growing well and showing no signs of blight.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Year on the Land

The Documentary that we participated in last year is going to be shown on TV3 on Sunday at 6.15pm. There is a promo for the series here: http://vimeo.com/20637172

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dancing on Rocket: Day 3 of Seed Saving course

The workshop today was about threshing and cleaning dry seeds and hand pollinating peas with a view to creating new varieties. The picture above sows Ciara pollinating a Bijou pea which is a giant mange tout pea, with pollen from a sugar snap pea, Sugar Anne, with the intention of breeding a larger snap pea. Lets hope some of the crosses took.
Mike demonstrated his cunning technique for cleaning round seeds by pouring them down a piece of guttering. The round heavy seeds roll to the bottom and the debris and flat broken bits of seeds stay higher up and can be removed
Then the dancing began and we threshed out a nice bit of rocket seed that had over-wintered in the polytunnel.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Living Garden

We went to Dublin for the launch of Jane Powers' fabulous new gardening book, The Living Garden. Sorry the picture is a bit blurry. It is available here, the book, I mean, not the blurry picture. I hope I find time to read it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Diamond Aubergine and Maca

For some reason the seeds of the new variety of aubergine, Diamond, that we grew last year, didn't germinate well, in the tests before Christmas. I didn't get around to putting the maca seeds onto the internet either. They are both germinating fine now and are up on the website. There is just about time to sow aubergines if you haven't done so already, I am not completely sure when maca should be sown. It doesn't like hot weather, so perhaps it is better sown in late summer. The maca in the picture was sown in spring 2009, none of it grew bigger than a golf ball, and if flowered quickly, during the following spring. One plant went to seed in the first year and produced lots of seedlings with no swollen root at all. I pulled these out to discourage that sort of thing. The plants in the foreground are the result of this cull. It was interesting that the seedlings grew and survived the winter as there were no self sown seedlings from the spring flowering plants. This picture was taken in May 2010. You can read more about maca here.
Being from the Ukraine, Diamond is an early aubergine, and did well for us last season. We haven't got a lot of seed because we ate too many of them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day 2011

We have Zach and Maggie here again. they have almost completed their year in Ireland and came to celebrate St. patricks day with us. They made us a great float using a car trailer and we had good fun taking part in the parade. The Grand Marshal was Nell Levis aged 102, you will get tiny peak at her at the end of the video.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Winter Roscoff Cauliflowers

The first few Winter Roscoff cauliflowers are ready to eat. They come at a great time of year, when the rest of the winter vegetables are coming to an end. A few have leaves coming through the curds and I suppose I should rogue them out but it doesn't make them any less nutritious. We haven't got any seed left now so we will grow these out for seed. Any cauliflower cheese we have will be made with the small imperfect ones.

I would like to know when others get there first Roscoff, to see if they are much earlier down here in tropical West Cork than in other parts of the country.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Seed Swap Sunday at Knockvicar

For the second year running we attended the Seed Swap Sunday at Knockvicar. The first time I think I was so tired by the journey that I didn't take in the importance of what this community is doing. The gardens are in a field near the very small village of Knockvicar in Co. Roscommon. Here a group of people grow food for them selves and the wider community in ten polytunnels as well as outdoors. They also take care of the commuity hall which is an old school, testament to a larger population in the past. They also run courses in all sorts of sustainable activities like gardening, soap making and poultry keeping and once a month they have a meal in the hall together. Its a pretty international group with Irish British French and Hungarian members so the dinners look really interesting. On Saturdays they have a market from 11 to 3 which features Maison Djerbi Bakery and Patisserie. Mari-Aymone of Maison Djerbi provided delicious food for the seed swap. Other delicious items were provided by Bridget of Arigna Natural Gardens. There was no sign of a recession at Knockvicar as lots of seeds were bought by them. I hope they learnt enough from the seed workshops to be confident about growing their own in future, but all the same it would be nice to visit again. The community there is a great model for sustainable rural life.

We had a request for catalogues during the week from Pierce O'Reilly of Mayo Abbey Organic centre, so we decided to hand deliver them on the way home. We arrived into the lunch break of a FETAC organic horticulture course. It was a lively group who took us in and fed us tea and biscuits as well as buying seeds. The project is run by the community council and its goal as a rural community organic centre is to empower people with the knowledge to be self sufficient. It is another great example of how well organised communities make things happen.

Now its time to start sowing the seeds of next years seeds here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Feeling grumpy about GM news and politics

I have got election fever and have mostly been feeling very cross about things, cross with the government for supporting the bank bail out and the Green Party in particular, as I was once an active member of it. Then I heard that Minister Brendan Smith had ' altered its (Ireland's) voting position and will support a number of proposals from the EU Commission aimed at authorising the placing on the market of food, food ingredients and feed containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified maize and cotton. Ireland will also support EU Commission proposals to introduce a tolerance for the low level presence of, as yet, unauthorised GM varieties in imports of animal feed.' The full press release is here. It points out interestingly that: 'Over 90 per cent of the protein feed for Ireland's livestock comes from soya and maize by-products imported from North and South America, practically all of which contains GM varieties sown in those countries' Not many people seem to know this .
The Green Party press release points out that, 'In Government, the Green Party ensured that Ireland abstained on this vote.' which shows I suppose that their being in government was better than nothing, but doesn't really carry the spirit of its declaration in the Renewed Programme for Government which states it 'will declare the Republic of Ireland a GM-free Zone, free from the cultivation of all GM plants,' but failing to mention that being a GM-free zone does not mean that food sold is GM free, nor that most animal feed is GM.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Polytunnel Book

Number 342 on my list of things to do before I die was to write a polytunnel booklet. Highbank asked me to do one to go with the seeds and I would have enjoyed it although I would probably have put too much emphasis on weird vegetables and not enough on actually feeding yourself. We lost part of our big tunnel a storm recently, so recovering it is getting near the top of that list.
Now I am off the hook (regarding book writing), because Joyce Russell of Kitchen Garden fame, who lives not that far away from me, has done it already, and much better than I could have. Its not a booklet but a big, full colour, bursting at the bindings, production manual. You can buy it here. It is really well constructed, laid out by month and giving detailed instructions for all the normal vegetables. There are masses of really informative, as well as beautiful photographs by Joyce's husband Ben. I highly recommend it. Below is our tunnel when it was young and reasonably tidy.

Monday, February 7, 2011


We went to see a horse yesterday. As a result of an ad for an Irish Draught work-horse in Done Deal, several people contacted us. No body had a horse trained to work but Patrick's mare Silver seemed the most interesting. She is five and has been ridden and driven. She seemed pretty laid back. Naturally I fell completely in love with her, as I have wanted my own horse since I was about 5. I know its a really bad idea to buy the first one you look at but I am tempted. I would appreciate any advice from all you horsey people out there. She has very nice dark eyes. The flash caused the white dot.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A year on the Land

Lat year Steven Lock and Adrian McCarthy made a series for television called; A year on the Land. They have recorded life on various farms throughout the year and they included us. We are not sure when it is going to be shown but they have put up a website about the series. We enjoyed having them around and even fed them.