Dan and Dan puzzle over the elusive tadpoles in the polytunnel pond. We have spotted two newts in there now, but there still seem to be a fair few tadpoles around so they haven't all been gobbled! They tend to go into hiding a lot of the time which makes us panic that they have met some awful end, and then they pop merrily up to the surface again and we breathe a sigh of relief. They are getting bigger, but show no sign of frog metamorphosis just yet. Apparently the whole process takes 4-5 months, so it is not generally until August time in Britain that tadpoles make the transition to tiny frog.

It's been super warm here in Cornwall today and I thought it would be a good time to start sowing some of the hardy annuals. I sold cut flowers to Jamie Oliver's restaurant 'Fifteen Cornwall' last summer (above) and due to a sucessful season, I've decided to experiment with lots of new varieties. I sowed Cornflower 'Black Ball' today which forms deep red flower heads (seed above), as well as the traditional blue type. Also sowed were California Poppy, Nigella 'Love-in-a-Mist', Ammi Majus (delicate lace-like flowers similar to cow parsley), Papaver Somniferum (opium poppy!) and Euphorbia Oblongata which is a good foliage plant with lime green leaves.
Beware - a word of warning re Orach (as mentioned below)...make sure you take the plant out before it goes to seed (which I didn't manage to do) as I now have hundreds of them pushing through the soil (above). Luckily their colour makes them easy to spot, and it is a good sign that conditions are now right to start sowing. By the way, it's worth noting that the vibrancy of the red varies between seed batches, so if you get a good coloured plant then it's worth holding onto by saving your seed.

Following on from the post below, here are a few other suggestions for a hint of red in salads...

Above: The far red plant is Red Orach, an impressive annual that can grow up to 6ft high! Use young leaves for salads. They have a spinach-like flavour and silky texture.

The near red plant above is Perilla. An annual herb that is part of the mint family. I grow a variety called Shiso and the leaves look a little like stinging nettles. The flavour could be compared to mint or fennel.

I can also recommend the fiery purpled-leafed mustards such as Red Giant. They add a bit of a kick and vibrance to salads. Pick the leaves young, as the peppery flavour intensifies as the plant begins to run to seed and can make your eyes water! They are slower growing than the other oriental brassicas but I also use them as a cut-and-come-again crop.

Seeing Red

Above: Ruby Chard. When cropped small this adds a rich red colour to green salads. It is part of the Leaf Beet family and leaves can either be used small and raw in salads, or left to grow larger and then cooked and used like spinach.

Above: My January sown Mizuna growing at Buttervilla in 2007. This Japanese brassica is a good staple salad leaf and makes an excellent winter crop in the tunnel. It is very easy to grow all year round and seed germinates quickly - I sowed some on 11th of March and seeds had germinated in a week. Leaves are glossy, green and serrated with a mild, peppery flavour. I use it as a cut-and-come-again crop and it will keep on producing for several months. If left to go to seed it throws up dainty yellow flowers, also edible with a subtle mustard flavour.

Evening sunlight in the tunnel

I sowed some Borage (above) seed today undercover in the greenhouse. It's a good companion plant as the flowers attract bees which aid in pollination. This is particularly said to be the case with strawberries and runner beans. Like marigolds, borage also attracts blackfly, thus hopefully drawing it away from other plants. You can also buy White Borage (I got mine from CN Seeds) which is a bit more unusual. Both flowers and leaves can be eaten and are a good addition to salads or drinks like Pimms. I like using it medicinally for summer colds or flu. It is a diaphoretic so lowers fever when taken hot. For borage tea, add a small handful of fresh leaves to aprox 500ml of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. You could also add honey and lemon.

Above: A trusty Cornish shovel. I had never used one of these until I started at Heligan and I have never looked back! I found the technique quite hard to master at first but once I got the hang of it, digging became incredibly satisfying - you can cover ground far more quickly with less effort. They key is to keep your back straight and take the strain in your arms and stomach muscles. Some people also turn the shovel over their upper leg. I dug over the whole tunnel with one this winter and it really saved my back!

Creatures from around the tunnel. Frogspawn ready to go into the polytunnel pond. Cluster of snails behind a plant pot.

I decided to invest in some porous piping this year, as I spent many an evening last summer still watering with a hose as it was getting dark. Time just seemed to run out after returning from work and tending to the tunnel. The last thing I felt like after a long day at Heligan was coming home and watering for what felt like hours! I did try a sprinker device that was supposed to throw the water a long distance, but my water pressure is pretty low and it wasn't very effective. I therefore ordered 50m of porous piping from LBS Horticulture and have cut it to size so that four beds in the tunnel have piping running down the centre. It seems to be very effective, giving the ground a deep soaking, without battering leaves and foliage. 

My autumn sown Broad Beans have been flowering for well over a week now. I over-wintered them in the tunnel, hoping for an early crop, but they now look rather leggy. I thought I should sow some more now as back up because they are a firm favourite in our house. I would be devastated if this current crop didn't come to much. Luckily, Heligan let me take home some heritage Red Flowered Broad Bean seed, which we saved in 2008. I shall await these with eager anticipation as they look so pretty when flowering and taste great. Hopefully I'll be able to save some of my own seed from them for next year and for green-fingered friends.

Above: Spreading our well-rotted kitchen compost in the tunnel. Careful soil preparation is the key to a healthy plot.  
Below: The tunnel at the height of last summer with edible flowers in the foreground of the picture. 

Nicola (my boss at Heligan) and I went to talk to the people of Portscatho yesterday evening, at one of their Transition Roseland meetings. We did a question and answer session about growing your own veg. "Transition Towns" are an interesting concept. Rob Hopkins's Transition
Handbook considers the issue of Peak Oil and proposes steps communities can take in order to function effectively if/when cheap oil runs out. 

Check out http://transitionculture.org and www.transitiontowns.org/Totnes if you're interested. This book is published by Green Books, another site well worth a visit. 

An alternative perspective is offered up by Maverick environmentalist and originator of Gaia Theory, James Lovelock. He gives us twenty years

A newt (somewhat like this little eft we found in one of the cupboards last year, possibly even the very same) seemed to have eaten all the tadpoles in the polytunnel pond which caused much sadness yesterday. I poked my finger into the water as I couldn't see them swimming happily around like they usually do, and something rather huge stirred in the murky depths. It seems there are a good number back wriggling today, so hopefully newt and frogs will unite to form an awesome slug decimation team.  

Cornflower for Fifteen Cornwall 08

One year at Buttervilla - Record of a growing season - By Anna Greenland