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molluscs

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Roman snails reappear to enjoy the sun

baby Romans 08.04.15 In August last year our first baby Roman snails emerged from the soil in their pen at Littlebourne Allotments. I counted about 30 but they were so tiny and it was so late in the year I wondered if they would survive the winter. But yesterday I was delighted to see the warm weather had brought the little snails out to graze during the day and I counted 33. I gave them some water and dry food and they were soon tucking in.

Most of the other snails were collected up in October/ November and taken indoors either to hibernate or to carry on growing in a warm shed. But I left a few out just to see how they would get on outside. These were mullers (petit gris) and I reasoned they might be more hardy as they are smaller and more like our common garden snails. Well, some of them died but most have survived I think and they too were out snacking while the sun shone:

overwintered mullers 08.04.15When they are tiny like this the Helix aspersa mullers and the Helix pomatia (Roman snails) look very similar. But if you look at the foot you can see a difference in the shape: the foot of the Roman snail looks as though it has a skirt round the edge while the mullers don't have that. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed the weather doesn't suddenly turn very cold again and catch them out. Only a few more weeks before Slow Summer Snail Farm moves outside for another English summer.

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@BBCGoodFood Show #GFSwinter

Winter Bursary Sometimes you just have to boast! In two weeks time Rachel and I will be putting the finishing touches to our stand at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC Birmingham.

photo snails eating

Would you believe, we are the first snail farmers the BBC Good Food Show has ever had and we just had to take the molluscs with us. This is the beautiful new packaging for our mini snail farms - ready for Christmas.

H&RH Mini Snail Farm Box

And this is the package for the Grow Your Own Escargots gift. We can't let the children have all the fun! Here's a quirky gift for the grow your own food fans in your family.

H&RH Escargots Box

The last few weeks have been full of finishing off all the paperwork, ordering everything we needed, getting everything printed and putting packs together. Then there was the stand to design - choosing a colour for the backdrop and to cover the table. We decided to go for burgundy and it's amazing what you can achieve with a stack of cheap double sheets. Then there's a couple of tall bookcases to display the packs and we're all set. I just hope I can get it all in the car - mustn't forget the stepladder. This has all been achieved in the middle of a muddy building site - the kitchen wall was demolished today. Why does it always rain as soon as you dig a big hole?

And we haven't forgotten the crowdfunding campaign which we'll be promoting all through the show with some delightful little snail-y gifts for stocking fillers.

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Makegood Festival

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I'm just beginning to feel almost human again after spending a frenetic four days with the molluscs at Makegood Festival in the Old Selfridges Hotel promoting snail eating. It was definitely worthwhile going because of the interest the escargots sparked in all the trade visitors especially, but it was exhausting!

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Miss Papercut (Steph Hosmer) was there demonstrating the way she works to produce those gorgeous images. Steph designed my lovely new business cards and suite of colours and fonts for the new website. So I've asked her to help with the design of some new packaging - looking forward to some lovely curly snail patterns.

I'm always interested to see new small food businesses and Sweet Victory is well on the way to getting started:

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Georgina has tapped into that nostalgia for wartime combined with the resurgent passion for baking so evident in today's TV programmes. We met Frances Quinn the winner of the 2013 Great British Bake Off over the weekend too as she was chairing a panel of food entrepreneurs. Georgina is planning to produce a range of baking kits so you can make heritage recipes at home.

ImageThe first range of historical cakes are based on 1940's recipes taken from sources such as Ministry of Food leaflets tweaked a little to suit modern tastes.

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I tried the Carrot rock cakes and enjoyed them very much. It took me back to cookery lessons at school and my pathetic attempts - somehow my rock cakes always ended up hard and inedible but Georgina's were delicious. If you want to know more contact Georgina Coveney by email : georginacoveney@gmail.com

 

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The first intrepid molluscs venture out

ImageWarm weather has arrived - don't anybody remind of the summers when we've had snow in June - I don't want to know! The first of this year's babies has ventured out and Snow Summer Snail Farm is re-opened causing great excitement at Littlebourne Allotments. On the day I arived with the first trolley loads of boxes I was conscious of a certain frisson in the air as I unloaded and gradually more and more people came round to have a look, reassuring themselves no doubt that the fortifications were strong enough to prevent escape. I'm pleased to say the vegetation has grown well with regular watering and now it's started raining again I'm sure the molluscs will think they've gone to heaven.

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There's 400 snails in there - can you see them?

 

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Even the snails have a spring in their step!

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Cowslips on Barham Downs! When the sun's out you can almost overlook the grey sludge on the village green left by the receding flood. Most of the roads have re-opened now the big blue water pipes have nearly all gone home. There's a few cellars still being pumped out and we're told the River Nailbourne will probably be running across all those normally dry fords until June. Come to think of it - if anyone's looking for a business idea, I imagine flood rescue is booming.

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It's amazing the effect on the spirits of a row of treees covered in pink blossom. But that unobtrusive dark green box is the significant feature of this picture. It's a telecommunications junction box. We had to put up with traffic lights in the most inconvenient place while 'they' dug up the road but I'm told it's all going to be worth it. At last, our4 broadband service might improve! And you can't sell escargots without the internet.But the molluscs seem to have other things on their minds at the moment. Let's hope we get lots of little babies.  

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Taking snails to market

>When I started to look for farmer’s markets I found that nearly every village or town in Kent had one. In theory, it looked as though you could make a living travelling from one to the next, without the commitment and overheads of a shop. But so much depended on the fickleness of the crowd: their decision on whether to go, and their frame of mind if they did, were vital to my profit margin. Negotiating with market organisers wasn’t easy either: with most I had to wait to be invited. It's quite easy for the molluscs and me to get an invitation as we’re offering something unique, but the fees are often too high to be able to make a profit. So next time you dine out on free samples, think for a moment about the poor stall holder who probably had to get up at 5am and is just trying to make a living.

I have pitched my stall in every unsuitable place and ghastly weather imaginable: by a cliff top bandstand in a force seven, in muddy puddles and snowdrifts, alongside a filthy gutter full of cigarette ends, on cobbles outside a strip club in Soho and on a pebbly car park in the pouring rain behind a village pub. But is it any better on sunny days? Sun brings the crowds out but if you are selling perishable goods, hot weather can be more of a problem than cold. And the snails don’t like it hot and dry. The molluscs always come with me and join in the jolly fun but by midday we’ve usually both had enough and just want to curl up and go back to sleep. But every time I think this is going to be the one where the customers want to buy my wares. So it’s off to Beckenham this Saturday to Copers Cope Market on the Green, with car loaded to the roof again and fingers firmly crossed.

http://coperscope.wordpress.com/market-on-the-green/ with 34 stalls, a fun fair and free entertainment from 10am to 4pm Saturday 3 August

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Migrant snails with migrant people

I’m amazed at the number of people who heard this snail story on radio 4 a few days ago. It was about a piece of fascinating research into the distribution of Cepaea nemoralis – the brown lipped banded snails - which has been a food source in the Eastern Pyrenees for thousands of years. ImageThey are pretty little snails which come in a variety of colours and can be kept as pets.(http://petsnails.proboards.com/thread/11040) This one has a lot of stripes but the number of stripes varies and I also have yellow ones in my garden. (Note: the snail pictured is Cepaea hortensis - they mainly differ by the colour of their lip) The experiment involved looking closely at their mitochondria – those energy generators of every cell. The results suggest that a human population in Mesolithic times migrated from the Pyrenees to Ireland and took their favourite food with them. In a wave of colonisation 8,000 years ago it seems Cepaea wasn’t the only thing the people took with them because they also seem to have transported the strawberry tree, the Kerry slug, and the Pyrenean glass snail. They’ve even worked out how they were transported from the Pyrenees down the river Garonne and across the sea - amazing!

Migrant people have taken edible snails all over the world with them as they travelled.

(Grindon AJ, Davison A (2013) Irish Cepaea nemoralis Land Snails Have a Cryptic Franco-Iberian Origin That Is Most Easily Explained by the Movements of Mesolithic Humans. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65792. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065792)

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Meet the Snails day

Festival time again! It’s the Strawberry Fayre at Brogdale this weekend so Sunday is the first ‘Meet the snails’ day of the summer season. I will be there with snails big and small explaining how they live to anyone who wants to listen. You can handle the big snails and let them explore your fingers. They’ll probably give you a gentle nibble to see what you’re made of but it doesn’t hurt – it tickles.Image People are often surprised to find that snails lay eggs but gardeners usually say ‘Oh that’s what they are!’ They’ve seen them in the garden, probably in the soil round a potted plant, but didn’t know what they were. The baby snails, for the mini snail farms, will wow everyone as usual – even people who don’t like snails have to admit that the babies are cute. Their shells are translucent and they move so fast, waving their ridiculously long antennae.Image

As well as the Roman snails I’ll be taking some petit gris – the little snails that are so popular in France.Image

(a reader who is more observant than I am noticed that this photo has been reversed so that the snail shell is spiralling the wrong way!)

Look forward to seeing you there!

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What sort of week have you had?

When I get my copy of Mslexia I always read the guest week of tweets which give a brief insight into someone else’s life. I decided to have a go at writing one myself but got stuck:

Monday - cleaned out and fed snails, posted orders, dull and cool

Tuesday - cleaned out and fed snails, collected large order, slightly warmer and sunnier

Wednesday - cleaned out and fed snails, posted orders, dull and drizzly

You get the picture?

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Not very riveting for the reader really.

But on Monday evening I met Whitstable Women Writers for the first time and enjoyed their company a great deal. We did a writing exercise on similes. It’s played like consequences. Each person takes a sheet of A4 and at the bottom writes the beginning of a sentence, e.g. The sky was as bright as …; His face looked like…

The sheets of paper are passed round the group and each person in turn writes as many responses as they can think of, at the top of the sheet and then folds it over and passes it on. You couldn’t easily put that into a tweet!

I spent most of Tuesday morning writing an article for Smallholder magazine. There’ll be a double page spread with 4 pictures in the August edition which comes out on 3rd July.

Wednesday evening was a meeting with Nanowrimo friends. It is so good to get together with other people struggling with the writing and publishing process and talk things over. I came out feeling refreshed.

On Thursday I posted out an order and then got an email from the customer asking if he could cancel it and get a refund because he’d ordered by mistake! Looking at the time when he placed the order – early hours of the morning - I’d guess he was probably drunk… or maybe it was a practical joke played by a ‘friend’. Told him to send them back as soon as they arrived and impressed on him the urgency. If the poor creatures survive I might give him a refund.

Friday brought in another request for me to tell someone everything I know for nothing in return. I get several of these every week.

Spent a couple of hours on Saturday weeding the outdoor snail pen which is quite a pleasant activity on a fine day. But it was irritatingly windy and it hasn’t rained enough to keep the soil malleable so it was hard work getting a fork into the ground.

Today is another day. Hope there aren’t any more orders from the USA. I have to spend time refunding their money and explaining – yet again - that the USDA won’t allow live snails to be imported. There’s a note to that effect on every page of the online shop but people keep on ordering anyway. Perhaps they’re hoping the computer won’t notice their address.

Lots of hungry mouths to feed as usual!

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