Wednesday, August 26, 2009

saving tomato seeds

Choosing seeds from a collection of tomatoes

Seeds positioned on paper towel

Hanging out to dry

Using up the pieces

My new hosts are keen to expand their knowledge of gardening and we have just been discussing seed saving. This is an easy method for saving tomato seeds that I thought I should share it with you too.

I learned this technique from Christian, one of my earlier hosts here in France and it is ideal for saving a small number seed from those precious heirloom varieties that are difficult to come by. It will not work for Hybrid varieties as they probably won’t come true the following year.

It is best to take seed early in the season from one of the first ripe tomatoes of each variety as there is minimal chance of cross pollination. If this is not an option, just choose a good ripe tomato at any time and note down its name.

Gather a roll of kitchen paper, a pen, chopping board, a good sharp knife and the tomatoes from which you want to save some seeds. Spread these out on a table or flat work surface. The seeds are saved onto sheets of kitchen paper. Take one piece of paper, decide how many seeds you want to save and divide the page accordingly. The pictures show pages of individual varieties and also divided pages with many varieties. Write the name of the tomato to one side of the sheet and choose the relevant fruit.

Slice the end off a fruit with the knife and discard the end. Still using the knife, carefully scoop out individual seeds from the inside of the tomato and place them on the paper. Leave enough space between each seed so that the paper does not become completely wet with juice or it will be very difficult to move. Continue scooping out the seed from that fruit and placing them on the paper until you have enough seed for your requirements. To reach further into the fruit, slice away empty sections of pith and skin, this makes it is easier to reach more seeds. If there are not many seeds in the fruit, select another one of the same variety and continue until you have enough seed. If you are saving multiple varieties per page, draw a line under the collection to distinguish it from the next variety.

The tomato remains can be kept and eaten just as usual. Added to a salad, sauce or soup, or discarded into the compost heap just as you decide.

Repeat until you have all the seeds that you require. Hang or lie the papers somewhere warm and dry to allow the moisture from the seeds to evaporate. The jelly around the seed will disappear and the seed will be much more visible. Once they are completely dry, the seed will have adhered to the paper quite firmly and the pages are ready to store. Keep them flat in a file or box where they will get minimal disturbance, lessening the chance of individual seeds becoming detached and put it somewhere cool, dry and dark.

Christian is an avid seed swapper and has devised a cunning way of providing small collections of each variety for exchange. Each large sheet of kitchen paper of an individual variety is divided into horizontal sections, a line of 8 or 9 seeds in each section, leafing about 1/3 of the page clear down the left hand side. When the page is dry, he sticks on a printed strip of paper with the full name of the variety and a brief description, duplicated to correspond with the number if lines of seed, on the blank area, and then, as required, each individual strip is carefully cut off and sent out to the person who wants them.

With the help of this description, and the photographs, it should be fairly easy for you to collect the seeds of tomatoes that you want to grow again, store them, share them and keep them for the following season.

Monday, August 24, 2009

tarascon and foix

A selection of photos of the towers in the towns of Tarascon and Foix, not far from Donnas. Steeped in history.......

Saturday, August 22, 2009

the works

Moving on. I met Donna a few weeks ago at my first helpX host here, she appeared on various occasions with delicious desserts and bottles of wine and was good enough to take me climbing one one of my days off there. We talked about the help exchange website and before I knew it, she had signed up and now I am staying with her, just down the road from where I was to start with.

(In at the deep end. Two hours after arriving, find myself spinning and stepping around the open plan living room of her house with a group of expats in practice for a scottish ceilidh the following weekend. Rather like barn dancing, but a bit more scottish, a great way to meet people and, at the real event, wonderful to have a bit of an idea of what we were supposed to be doing. )

A smart house next to a little river at the base of the mountains, just a stones throw from the town of Tarascon and within easy reach of mountain walking, flatter valley cycling and a great location for doing absolutely nothing.

I know the house looks a bit strange, though once I found out it used to be the works depot for the local council, it suddenly looked OK again.

It is August now, and the weather is wonderful, cool mornings, warming nicely through to lunchtime, a scorching hot afternoon then pleasant evening and cool enough to sleep at night. A little siesta after lunch is a marvelous thing, just to get through the heat of the day, sandwiched between a morning of gardening and a decent cycle ride, walk or a bit of climbing later on in the day. I could get used to this in a big way.

Have enthused Donna into planting more veggies, and now that the plot if free of weeds, the whole thing should be a lot easier to look after. There was already plenty in the potager, but it appeared to have ‘got away’ somewhat and had become a task too great to attempt. Tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, strawberries and beetroot already to be harvested. Newly sown carrots radish, lettuce, spinach, rocket, more beetroot and chard. All will be ready in good time, before the frosts of autumn arrive.

Gareth, an Ozzie helpXer and traveller, and I have fixed up some supports for the soft fruit bushes and repaired the raspberry cage. Done copious amounts of clearing and weed removing, had a couple of great bonfires and generally brought the place up to a manageable state for when we leave. Caught up on some great films. Had a great night out in the local village hall, Ceilidh style. Feasted on a constant supply of wonderful food and had a thoroughly great time with the most friendly, laid back and wonderful Scottish girl that I have ever met.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fraud Alert


I have not been robbed, I need no money and all is OK here.

If you wonder what this is about, you didn't get the strange email that I appeared to send.

Someone has broken into my Yahoo account and tried to fool people into sending me money. I don't want it thankyou.

I wlll blog again soon.

Don't worry.


Friday, August 14, 2009


For the first time this trip I have taken a few days out from the helpX thing. I enjoyed Toulouse when I stopped here for part of the day a couple of weeks ago and decided that it would be a good town to have a good look round. Plenty of history, some great gardens and easy to get around on foot. The tourist information gave me a brochure of wonderful hotels and guest houses, though unfortunately far too expensive for my budget. I went back and asked again, for a cheaper option and was given the address of one of the best hostels I have stayed in. I’m not sure why, partly because it was only a few minutes from the centre of town, secondly because it was on a nice quite street, thirdly because it was one of those times that all the inhabitants of the room got on really well from the start. Glen and Kirk from Oz, spending their savings on a nine month world tour, US, europe, west to east, down through Greece, Egypt, across to Thailand and ending up in India. Maria and Louise, Swedes with the most perfect english I have ever heard spoken, between Uni and their first jobs, a month inter railing through southern europe, and Sam, another english guy, again just finished uni and having a bit of fun before trying for the inevitable job. He had been elt down by some friends who were all going to cycle from the Atlantic, la Rochelle, across europe to Italy then into greece. They all jumped ship at the last minute so he’s going it alone, which is great. And not a word of foreign language either. Apparently the rules have changed so that people can get internships in the UK and get benefits at the same time. What an excellent idea.

I was hit by how expensive everything was, and that focussed my mind to spend as little as possible whilst seeing all that I could. The parks and gardens were free, and always interesting, for me, anyway, so I spend a day doing them on my own, the intricate plantings around the bandstand were exquisite and the most trained and clipped garden displays that I have ever seen. I loved the great covered market, the smell of it all, fresh and sharp, slightly bleachy clean, a great hall kitted out with cabinets crammed full of charcuterie, cheeses, fish, meats, breads, patisseries wines, as many and interspersed with mini bars where shoppers and traders could pop to for a swift half or shot before continuing their day. Outside, some wonderful fruit and vegetable stalls, selling to the fine restaurants and hotels of the town. They really keep to high quality produce here, and so they should, for the prices they were charging. Someone recently told me that the french spend four times more of their income than we do in the UK, no wonder it all looked so appealing. Maybe I should grow speciality vegetables here. The shops locally, specialising in fine ingredients, implements and anything cookery. These merged with classy homeware stores and fashion further away from the market. I was tempted by some really smart white bladed ceramic knives that promised to stay sharp far longer than even the best steel product. I saw the price and changed my mind. Maybe when I know that I am going to have my own kitchen to play in in the future.

Caught another free concert one evening, on the banks of the Gironne, I sat up high on a wall above the main outdoor auditorium, listening to the tunes and watching the sun go down over the sluggish river whilst the world went by. It was better up there, a cool evening breeze after the stifling heat of the town during the day and a great skyline view of the old buildings on the far side of the river. What better way to end a day in the city.

checking things out

The young girl in the tourist office asked me what I wanted to see in the town. She had already circled all the museums, churches, cathedrals, yes, two of them, and other interesting old buildings in the city, before she had asked the question. Any gardens? I asked, hoping that there may be a chateau or large residence on the outskirts with a fountain or two, and some great picture-book display of aristocratic grandeur. She paused, momentarily, chose a different colour of biro, and added another selection of circles to the town centre plan. Very good japanese gardens.... the parc de plantes, lots to see there..... garden with bandstand, very beautiful..... and a double circle for the museum of natural history, it had already been included in the previous bout of circles. Anything else? The space centre flier had caught my eye, but I had already decided that there was more than enough to keep me occupied for my stay in town, so I thanked her for all the help and information that she had provided and went outside to find a bench in the shade and make a plan for the day.

the bandstand

A truly amazing piece of horticultural art. Not particularly my cup of tea, but wonderful, enchanting and perfectly kept. All in the middle of a roundabout in the centre of toulouse. I love it.

cite de l'espace

It got me on the third day. I had seen a great deal of things in the city centre and fancied a trip out. A metro train and bus ride later, arrived amongst an amazing collection of rockets, satellites and space ships at the european space museum. Toulouse is big on space I have discovered, fabricating many of the items that we as europeans have sent into space.

A large, and very informative museum enthused about all things space and how much the world had advanced since the first missions into the sky. Telecommunications, climatology, crop monitoring, space travel, black holes, deep space and more. Displays of space clothing, food that the astronauts ate through the ages, moon rock.............

I should have arrived earlier, as the afternoon passed by in a flash and I left with the last stragglers having absorbed as much as I could in french in a day.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

No visa ..... yet

News, at last. Though not the good news that I have been waiting for all this time. US Homeland Security has turned down the visa application, although with the invitation to appeal the decision. I am not entirely sure how this works, or what difference it can make, but Cynthia, the owner of Love Apple Farm has to put in the effort and has decided that, for the additional investment, it is worth pursuing.

It is great to know that there is still the opportunity to go, but after nearly a year of considering, working towards, and a lot of waiting, I shall be glad to know one way or the other whether or not I am going to return to the farm. It is strange to be in this vacuum of indecision, especially when it is completely out of my control. If the result is positive, my life has direction for the next three, possibly six, years. If not, I then have to decide what route to take. Until that time arrives there seems little point in expending huge amounts of energy in planning and arranging what I am going to do. Life continues with only short term considerations and decisions to be made.

There are plenty of ideas being mulled over, and opportunities arising as I travel around France. A very interesting offer of setting up a vegetable garden for a local restaurant here in the Pyrenees, although the downside is challenging mountain terrain and a remote mountain location. Fun to think about, but definitely not something I would consider long term. I have plenty of other ideas, some mere fantasy and other options that would be quite achievable with a bit of effort and some determination. All to do with plants, and, as time goes by, more specifically to do with vegetables and food production in one way or another. May be doing, teaching, or educating, in association with others or independently. Only time will reveal what shall actually happen.

Until then, life continues apace, searching out new opportunities and experiencing new things. Scottish dancing last night, in a small village hall with a group of expats and some french locals, something completely new, immense fun and great to meet more people.

the gauls

Maylise asked me if i knew what gauloise was, I said they were cigarettes, they are, but more properly, the ancestors of France, the gauls!! Oops. Anyway, she had been out with the hosts for the evening and had seen signs to a museum last night, on their way back from a concert (I had slept again, trying to shake off a cold) that looked as if it could be interesting. A replica gauloise village, it was pretty impressive, with smokehouse, carpenters, blacksmith, coinmaker, weaver, clothmaker, potter, bronze cast maker........... all in their low steeply pitched thatched barns, complete with sleeping quarters in each and most with live demonstrations which was excellent and completely in french. It is getting a little bit easier to understand. More reminders of Maori, the shapes of the buildings and their uses, though out of very different materials and a complete lack of metal down under, more stone though. Some interesting similarities and a fascinating visit.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I have been watching them since i arrived, a several fields away. Every time i thought I would get the opportunity to go and see them something happened. We worked late, Pascale had some errand to run, the weather threatened rain, or there was just not enough time.

Still, they were there, not going anywhere, waiting till i got the chance to go and see them. We frequently went out in the car, to town, a concert, the market or to the mountains and I saw others in fields throughout the region and I got close, but that was in the car, always going somewhere, en route from one place to another, never for the purpose of a visit. Some that we passed were old and fading, heads facing the ground, disappointed that their time had passed. Others bright and new, rising up towards the sky, enjoying the sunshine and benefiting from the recent rains. There were plenty of them, I guess they like the climate here.

Finally, after nearly two weeks, i got the chance to stop and see them at close hand. It was Sunday, a day without work and Maylise had gone for an afternoon nap following an unusually large lunch with plenty of wine. Surprisingly for me I had plenty of energy, usually wine at lunchtime is more than enough encouragement to take a siesta. But not today. I took a bicycle and set off for an afternoon in the french countryside. Heading out and down the road, remembering to be on the correct side, more difficult on a bicycle than in a car, I took the route that I knew would take me passed their field. To the bottom of the valley, over a little bridge with a stream and turning right at the crossroads. About one hundred yards or so and there they were. I left the bicycle on the verge and went over to take a better look. They were magnificent, tall and proud. Amazingly all facing the same way, just as you see them in photographs, all in neat lines just as they had been sown. Some were taller than others, but on the whole, one huge, deep carpet of sunflowers. Vitalite. (for those of you that remember)

the sunflowers

Saturday, August 01, 2009

up the mountains

Maylise and I took a trip into the mountains to look at old churches, I think that she quite likes them, and to get some mountain air. We managed to get plenty of both. I am fascinated by the old buildings, the architecture and the work that must have gone into construction would have been enormous, it’s just the religion bit that I don’t get. All that toil, effort and money spent on grand buildings for worship when people were living in squalor and poverty, barely managing to scrape by in their tiny cold and drafty houses. (I suppose not much has changed in some places through the years) I imagine how much better their lives could have been if all that effort had been spent on well being and enjoyment instead. Castles and forts are different in a way, they are more for protection and survival, though with less religion, there would probably have been less to fight about in the first place. Enough!!

The mountains were amazing, I always like mountains, the air and the views and the enormity of the landscape, but I was amazed in a different way this time. I was looking at the ground. They, whoever they are, always go on about the mountain pastures in summer and how diverse and colourful they are. I agree, and I have only seen one.

We walked up a steep valley, above the tree line, snow still lurking in the shaded areas, probably from an avalanche, judging by the amount of debris sticking out of it, along the line of a mountain stream until the going got too steep, then zig zagging up a narrow path through the lush green grass. Well, it looked green from a distance, but up close, there was much much more than green. And so many plants that I recognised from gardens back home. Blue geraniums, bugles, campanulas irises and violets. Yellow wallflowers, pink alpine dianthus, white astrantia........ , plenty of others that I have never seen before as well. So this is where they all come from, well, most of them I expect. Some have probably escaped from gardens and become naturalised over the years, but the rest have evolved on the slopes, covered by snow every winter and bursting into life each spring. Some covered the whole slope, others restricted to bands across the hillside, maybe to do with altitude, or sunshine or the soil beneath the dense vegetation, it didn’t matter, I just enjoyed being there ever so much more than I had expected to, even at the start of the climb.

We got far further than we had initially expected to get, the mountain hut by the car park a mere dot on the landscape below. As far as the sign that said 29km to the next town, I can’t remember the name, but it must have been in Spain and I knew that we weren’t going to go that much further. Just a little way, to the foot of a cascade, to enjoy the cool draught of moist air, brought down by the tumbling water, for a breather, a cool drink and a few minutes to take in the enormity of one small corner of our tiny planet. Wow.

Going down was much quicker. We feasted on wild blueberries and, later on, collected enough wild strawberries to take back to the house to go with dessert. Enough that is, to get that wonderful flavour and add colour to a bowl of creme frais, a little demerara sugar to provide some crunch, it finished off the meal rather well.

Pascale & Christian

A proper rustic, run down french farmhouse, complete with french people, just what I had been expecting. The building almost looked deserted from the outside, though many french houses do. Walls with bits falling off, old wooden shutters on rusty hinges, not a lick of paint for years. The garden, or, more aptly described, land around it had a neglected air about it too. Plenty of garden shrubs in no particular order, some scrubby grass with long stalks all over it, mounds of brambles, elder trees and long grass going to seed everywhere. The whole place looked a mess.

First impressions. My outlook has changed since I first arrived. There is plenty of method in the initial madness, and good reason for most of it, though it is still appears to me like a form of organised chaos.

Pascale and Christian have been here for several years and are slowly restoring another part of the farm to live in using traditional methods. They live in the main building, but as it is sound, have done very little to it as there is so much else to do.

They are also passionate about providing for themselves from the land and have a vast potager where they grow all their fruit and vegetables. Seeds are very expensive in France, so they collect some seed from everything that they grow for the following year and also extra to swap with others. That explains all the plants that have been left for far too long, just one or two, in strange places, I guess the end of a row at some stage. Huge towers of parsnip plants that have gone to seed, similar clumps of lettuce, carrots, parsley etc etc. All waiting in the sunshine until the seeds are ready to harvest. I spent several hours painstakingly clipping dry heads off brown stems and carefully putting them into trays ready for sorting and storing. They are also active in keeping rare and heritage vegetables going, government regulations here, and I guess throughout the EU are making it more and more costly to register varieties, and, if not registered, it is forbidden for the seed of those varieties to be sold. Thankfully there is an active seed exchange movement that helps to limit the demise of such old and treasured varieties.

The brambles have arrived to cover over piles of earth and subsoil that remain from excavations to dig a large pond and install rainwater storage tanks. The water is saved from the roofs for irrigation and the excess ends up in the pond. The subsoil is clay of a quality that is ideal for traditional building methods. Crushed, sieved and mixed with chalk and dry stalks from the long grass, it makes a durable plaster like substance and also a traditional mortar. Sieving the clay isn’t that much fun, but using the resultant product is interesting and gives great, rustic results. The brambles are just there for the berries and because there is too much else to do. As are the elders, the flowers are used in conserves and wine, as are the berries, and to make a mixture that is supposed to ward off colds and promote a healthy respiratory system. The wine cleared the cold I arrived with in a couple of days and the concentrated jam is taken every morning for breakfast, either in coffee or on bread.

Christian is another tomato fan. During the summer, when he has finished working, you can find him in the potager tending his pride and joy. He grows 100 heritage varieties every year, changing about twenty so that they can try something new and also to increase their seed collection. It has been great to learn so much more and, more enjoyably, to be here as the first fruit ripen and are ready to eat. Tomato salad almost every meal. Excellent.

My french has improved dramatically, although the enormity of completely understanding a second language is something I think I will just admire. Just when I think that I am getting to grips with a subject, it changes and I am at a complete loss again. A couple of days later most of the vocabulary that I had discovered has gone and been replaced with words that are no longer immediately required. I am sure that it is getting easier every day. Perhaps I will stay a while longer if my visa does not appear and at least get a decent accent going. That, I suppose, will depend on finding other french hosts, they are few and far between.