Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Autumn salads

Whilst most people firmly associate salads with Summertime, we like to eat salad all the year round if possible, even in the depths of Winter. It's perfectly possible to grow salad crops in the Winter (especially if you have the luxury of a polytunnel!), it's just a question of choosing the right types.

My Autumn / Winter salads this year consist mainly of endives and radicchio, with just a few lettuce. Here we see endives at the top of the photo and at the left, with young radicchio at the bottom and lettuce in the middle.

Many types of radicchio / chicory are very hardy and will survive even extremely low temperatures. The Grumolo varieties (available in both red and green) are very good in this respect. Endives are not so hardy. They will tolerate a light frost, but not prolonged sub-zero temperatures. When it gets really cold I usually protect some with individual bell-cloches. Likewise, if you choose wisely you can grow lettuce even in mid-Winter (try "Winter Density" or "Valdor"), though without protection it will normally just survive, and not grow bigger until the Spring.

My salads bed is covered with netting to deter the "diggers" (foxes, badgers and cats).

Without netting, the plants would inevitably be decimated. I think the foxes / badgers furtle around looking for worms near the roots of the plants, rather than deliberately digging up the plants. Perhaps this is the penalty for having rich soil with lots of worms in it? In that photo above the big plants in the foreground with rounded leaves are radicchio. The leaves are green at present, but as the weather gets colder they will turn darker and the inner ones will become red.

Over on the garden table I have three pots of lettuce seedlings - ones that were surplus to requirements and never got planted.

I have recently realised that these are a good source of "Baby Leaf Salad", so instead of being thrown away they are being cropped while I wait for bigger lettuces to mature.

Amazingly, the slugs don't seem to have found them up there on the table.

Although I am not growing any at present (Jane doesn't like them), Oriental Brassicas are another good cold weather crop, especially if you can provide protection - and it's not too late to sow some seed if you can. This photo shows Mizuna, whose deeply-serrated leaves provide visual impact to a salad as well as a mild pepperiness. Red Mustard, Mibuna, Komatsuna and "Green in Snow" Mustard Greens are also worth a go.

The Oriental Brassicas respond well to being grown as Baby Salad Leaves, because they are best picked young. Older leaves tend to be too peppery and sometimes unpleasantly tough. If you have one of those plastic mini-greenhouses, this is an ideal place to grow a tray of such leaves.

I would like to show you some photos of Winter Radishes too, because I know that these are supposed to be good for growing at this time of year. However, I have tried them two years in a row without success. Both times they produced lots of leaves and woody stem growth, but no useable root. Have any readers had better luck with this crop?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Second cropping

On Sunday I wrote about "Winding down" in a very end-of-year tone. However, looking around the garden I have realised that the growing season is definitely not yet over.

In one corner of the garden I have all the pots in which I earlier grew my potatoes. As the potatoes were used up, I planted each of the pots with a second crop of some description. Some of these will probably not mature before the frosts kill them off, but others just might. These Dwarf French Beans are just setting pods, and another couple of weeks without frost might allow those pods to reach a useable state.

These Leeks are hardy enough to survive the Winter, but they are growing ever so slowly. Maybe the potatoes used up all the nutrients in their pot of soil / compost?

This Brokali plant is doing OK (without any competition, you'll note).

I did have two more Brokali plants, but one succumbed to the Cabbage Root Fly, and the other has been dug up by the nocturnal animals more than once. Each time I replant it, it looks OK for a while but then the blessed creatures dig it up again! It is therefore still tiny.

The sticks are a vain attempt to deter the diggers!

Less promising are these "Cylindra" Beetroot. They never really got going. Sown too late, even for a second crop, I think.

The "Chantenay" Carrots have some lovely foliage, but I don't think they are going to produce any roots. I am guilty of failing to thin them too!

Next to the ex-potato pots I have that second-hand wicker basket I bought the other day. It plays host to some Parsley. Not enough Parsley though. I sowed loads of seeds but only a few germinated.

While we're talking pots, here's a last chance to see the Cucamelon plants in their pot. They have finished cropping now, and they will be composted very soon.

By the way, I gave Lara and Holly (2 of our granddaughters) all of the remaining Cucamelon fruits. They loved them!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Harvest Monday - 26 September 2016

The most significant harvest for me this week has been the Spanish Hanging Tomatoes, about which I wrote a few days ago.

Tomates de colgar - 1.5kgs

I also dug up the last of my container-grown potatoes. These are "Pink Fir Apple".

This was the least good of my 4 pots of PFA. Several of the tubers had worked their way to the surface and gone green, but even more worrying, some tubers had gone soft and mushy. When the rejects had been discarded I was left with a mere 547g.

The chillis are ripening nicely now (I just hope the weather holds), and I have picked and dried a few more of most types.

In the photo below you can see one big "Alberto's Locoto" Rocoto in the centre, and then around the edge, starting from the 12-o-clock position we have small red "Purira", big round "Brazilian Starfish", one fat "Nigel's Outdoor", one tiny deeply-ribbed "7-Pot Brain Strain", a few slim "Turkey, small red", some of the chubby unknown hybrid a bit similar to "Apache", and finally the yellow "Aji Limon".

On the day I picked those chillis I also got a few Runner and Borlotto beans and some more tomatoes.

As you'll note, I'm picking the tomatoes under-ripe for ripening indoors. This makes them less vulnerable to damage by blight, slugs and weather, as well as speeding-up the ripening. I think that once a tomato begins to turn colour, its flavour will be just as good ripened off the vine as on the vine. It just needs time!

This is my contribution to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Winding down

There's not much for me to do in the garden at present apart from clearing-up. This picture epitomises the season - the last of the tomatoes, with tatty foliage, scarred fruit, and blight winning the battle.

In fact, it was while I was editing that photo I noticed how bad the blight was on the green tomato, and it prompted me to rush out and pick all the remaining fruit on my tomato plants. I had to discard several, which were beyond redemption. Having brought in a fair few though, I will be keeping a very close eye on them, because almost certainly some of them are already infected and will go brown before they ripen. This year I have been very careful not to put any tomato material into my compost bins. It is all bagged-up and awaiting a trip to the tip.

These lovely Cherokee Purple toms were ripened indoors. They look good, don't they? There is a little bit of cracking on most of them, but that is normal for this variety.

I'm seriously considering taking down the climbing beans now, but I keep on hoping that they will have one last spurt of activity. Some of the best pods I got this year were the ones I picked in the first week of September. Taking down the beans is a job that I like to get out of the way before the weather turns really bad, because dealing with loads of soggy wet bean plants (in a gale of wind) is distinctly unpleasant!

I'll soon be picking my harvest of apples and pears. It won't take me long!

 I have the grand total of eight apples and two pears.

At present I'm having a big re-think about fruit trees. I've had the pear-tree for several year now and it looks strong and healthy, but it never produces much fruit. I think I need to get a pollination partner for it. Likewise the apple-tree. The one I have at present was new to me last Winter, so it's unfair to expect a big crop in its first year, but I'm sure it will do better if it has company. The fruit it does have are big, clean specimens and I'm looking forward to eating them. The variety is "Winter Banana", which is supposed to be ready to harvest in October. That's next week!

Most of my flowers are nearly "done" now too. This is Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff".

That particular bloom doesn't look so bad, but this one is more typical of the state of play right now:

Or this one - covered in cobwebs which have trapped stray seeds and pine-needles.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been a bit remiss with dead-heading. In the case of Dahlias this is something you have to be very careful with, because the difference between a new bud and an old flowerhead is not always obvious, and it is only too easy to chop off a bud by mistake!

New bud at right (rounded), old flowerhead at left (pointed)

The Verbena Bonariensis is still going strong.

I'm in no hurry to cut those ones down, because I love the way their tall lithe stems provide support for huge swathes of spiders' webs in the Autumn.

This is my Hydrangea - sporting its Autumn plumage. During the Summer it was all pink. Now it has faded to a sort of pale green with pink speckles.

Now that most of the garden is slowly "settling down to sleep", I expect that over the next few months I will be writing less about gardening, and more about cooking, so be prepared for a change...

Friday, 23 September 2016

Birch Polypore

There's not much going on in my garden at present, so today I'm going to show you some photos of an interesting fungus I saw on Velmead Common. It is Piptoporus Betulinus, the Birch Polypore.

As the name suggests, this fungus grows mainly in and on Birch trees, which are abundant in our part of the world. It seems to grow particularly well on dead wood. In fact the fungus normally enters the host tree through a wound or a broken branch. Over time, the fungus can promote brown rot, which will eventually kill the tree.

When I am walking in the woods I am continually scanning the ground around me, looking for interesting plants, creatures or fungi, and I don't always remember to look UP as well. On this occasion I more or less came face to face with a tree that had several Birch Polypores growing on it:

The Birch Polypore is a type of "bracket fungus" and the fruiting bodies of the fungus burst out from the bark of the host tree and form a sort of ledge (or bracket). They come in many different shapes and sizes. This one is typical. I looks like a huge solidified drip!

This one with the scalloped edge was a bit high up for me to photograph properly - hence the blurry photo.

This one was flatter, with a russetty-brown upper surface.

I read on Wikipedia that "The fungus can harbor a large number of species of insects that depend on it for food and as breeding sites." Zooming in on the fungus in the previous photo, you can see a tiny creature of some sort just below the wound in the fungus itself.

In theory this type of fungus is edible, or at least not poisonous. The description given in the Wikipedia entry doesn't inspire me to want to eat it though: "Technically, it is an edible mushroom, with a strong, pleasant "mushroomy" odor but a bitter taste. "  The texture doesn't sound too endearing either: "...a rubbery texture, becoming corky with age."  I think I'll confine myself to observing it!

On the same day as that on which I saw the Birch Polypore I also saw this. I'm fairly sure it is a Boletus Edulis, aka Penny Bun, Cep, Porcino etc.

If I had been sure of its identity I would probably have brought it home and cooked it (though I wouldn't have been the first to have a nibble, evidently!)

Finally, this one. I don't know what it is, but it doesn't look edible to me. Possibly a member of the Russula (Brittlegill) family?

Early Autumn is usually the best time of year for fungi-spotting, and I'm considering joining a tutored Fungi Walk taking place near us in a couple of weeks.

I've often thought it would be nice to know a bit more about fungi, so this could be my chance!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Plans for Perennials

Over the years, my veg-plot has slowly begun to include more flowers. At present I'm contemplating removing a few of my shrubs and replacing them with flowering perennials. Shrubs are all very well, (low maintenance and all that), but can be a bit dull  for large parts of the year. This year, my Dogwoods have not done well, and their Summer foliage was greatly disfigured by insect attack, so I have decided to remove a few of them. I'm not exactly sure what the plan is yet - it's only just beginning to take shape - but part of it will consist of planting perennial flowers, so I'm beginning to accumulate the necessary stock, without having to buy any new plants.

Over the last couple of days I have been out in the garden dividing and re-potting some suitable contenders, such as Helenium, Echinacia and Rudbeckia.  In each case, the root-mass of my one existing specimen was cut into a number of smaller plants (using an old kitchen knife), and re-potted into small pots for the Winter. I plan to keep as many of them as possible protected from the worst of the weather under coldframes and in mini-greenhouses. I'll plant them out in my new border arrangement next Spring.




The other day I also potted-up several self-seeded Verbena Bonariensis.

Verbena Bonariensis, and Rudbeckia

The one thing I am sure of is that the Verbenas are going to go at the back, because they do get really tall. Nevertheless, I'll probably pinch them out before they reach their full height, like I did this year, because this makes them much bushier and more in keeping with the scale of my small garden.

You will have understood of course that the beauty of my plan is that I have about six months in which to decide what comes out, what goes in, and where!

3 x Echinacea in the foreground

At this time of year, as I clear away the spent growth and faded flowers, I always keep my eyes open for self-seeded seedlings and the occasional volunteers brought in by the birds, because these are a good source of free plants for the following year!

Contaminated compost

I found a most interesting article on this subject today. In my opinion it is a Must-Read for every amateur gardener, especially those who grow beans, tomatoes and dahlias.

Here is a link to it: Detecting persistent herbicides in compost

Unless you are very scientifically-minded, you will probably want to read only the Executive Summary at the beginning and the Conclusions at the end!

The general gist of the article is that the study found that a very high proportion of commercial composts are contaminated with residues from weedkillers, and these residues have a very adverse effect on vegetables and flowers.

Please do whatever you can to raise the profile of this issue, and lobby for the use of clopyralid (and aminopyralid) weedkillers to be discontinued.