Tuesday 4 August 2020

Successes and failures

When I first started my blog I set out with the intention of showing my gardening exploits GOOD or BAD, and not shying away from admitting any failures. So, with that in mind, I admit a failure: this year my onions have been very poor.

When I planted out 20 multi-sown clumps of onion seedlings on 16th March, I had high hopes, because I used this technique with success in 2019. However, the onions have done very badly. I put this down to three factors:
1. The weather. It has been exceptionally dry here for several months.
2. Poor light (=bad siting). I planted the onions next to a row of beetroot, which produced a lot of foliage that shaded the onions too much. Also, I kept the bed netted to deter "diggers", which will also have reduced the available light.
3. A plague of Blackfly (aphids) which weakened the onion foliage. It has been the worst year for Blackfly that I have ever experienced.

Today I decided to cut my losses and dig up such onions as there were. Their foliage had well and truly flopped and I assessed that they were unlikely to grow any bigger.

This is definitely a disappointment, but looking on the bright side I do now have a couple of pounds of usefully-small onions. The ones you get in shops are usually quite big - often too big, meaning that you end up having to use half of one and keep the rest in clingfilm or something. 

If I was a pickling sort of person, I'd probably be overjoyed with onions like this. They are probably just the right size for pickling!

Anyway, to offset the negative vibes from these onions, let me just show you a picture of my tomatoes, which are beginning to ripen in quantity now:

This year I made a conscious decision to grow fewer tomatoes than usual. Last year I let many of my bigger plants produce 5 or 6 trusses of fruit, which not only made the plants top-heavy and hard to keep upright, but also gave us a huge harvest. Much of this was made into sauce / passata, and we still have some of it in the freezer. This year, I have stopped most of my big plants after 3 or 4 trusses. Even so, I think we will have plenty of tomatoes...

Saturday 25 July 2020

More little harvests

My garden is "trundling along" as is normal for this time of year. There are few major tasks to be done, so my job is just to keep things tidy and continue to pick stuff as it ripens.

This week I pulled a nice batch of Beetroot, consisting of three "Crosby's Egyptian" and one "Boltardy". The "Crosby's Egyptian" ones are quite flat, almost like turnips, while the "Boltardy" is the more normal ball shape. To my mind they both taste pretty much the same - lovely and earthy.

I managed to get a decent batch of "Cobra" climbing French beans too. Some of the beans are a bit distorted due to damage caused by Blackfly, and they need a very good wash to make sure all the insects are removed, but they are still nice beans.

The Green Sprouting Broccoli and Brokali is still going strong. The spears they are producing now are better than ever - really thick and succulent.

I even pulled a little batch of carrots, the first of the year. These ones are almost all from the "Harlequin" mixture. I find that this mix produces orange, yellow and white carrots that are big, strong, regular and tasty, but the purple ones are always pathetic. They are so much less vigorous than the other colours. For my photo I had to pose the purple one prominently on top of the bunch, otherwise you would have missed it!

On Monday I lifted another pot of potatoes. These ones were "Purple Eyed Seedling". Very nice potatoes, similar in many respects to the better-known "Kestrel". The yield was 736g from two tubers in one 35L pot. In terms of qaulity, these are my best potatoes so far this year - very clean, regular even-sized tubers, and only two that were too small to be usable (not illustrated).

I nearly forgot to mention the tomatoes... I'm picking some every day now. So far it has only been the small varieties because the big ones are still not ripe, but even so I have "Maskotka", "Montello", "Sungold" and "Artisan Pink Tiger" to keep us supplied.

To finish my post for today, a bit of non-harvesting news. I have replaced the wide-mesh netting over my Winter brassicas with some much smaller-mesh stuff, intended to keep out Whitefly, aphids etc, as well as butterflies.

Before putting it in place I carefully inspected every leaf of the six plants in that bed, and removed as many as possible of the butterfly eggs. I'm bound to have missed a few though, so I must remember to regularly check for caterpillars. Once they hatch I'll soon see holes appearing in those leaves and prompt action will be required.

Sunday 19 July 2020

Small but special

Many amateur gardeners will agree with me when I say that growing huge quantities of veg is not necessarily the object of the exercise with Grow Your Own. A lot of people grow tiny amounts, but still find pleasure in doing so. I don't know if you would consider my garden large or small - it's a relative thing. My patch is very roughly 10 metres by 10 metres, so there is no way I'm going to be self-sufficient in veg, but my goal is to supplement shop-bought vegetables with small amounts of fresh high quality special treats, of whose provenance I can be 100% certain  - and ones that have no food-miles associated with them, as well as the barest minimum of artificial chemicals. I think I manage to achieve that fairly well. Here are some examples:-

These are not the world's prettiest beans, but they are almost certainly the most welcome! My garden is currently experiencing a massive assault from Blackfly, and I was seriously beginning to doubt whether I would be able to harvest any climbing beans at all this year. This little batch of "Cobra" climbing French beans gives me hope!

We ate them last night, and though I say it myself they were lovely beans - much nicer than anything you can buy in a supermarket (remember, their beans have been in transit for several days before you even get to buy them, whereas mine were still growing a couple of hours before being cooked.)

Yesterday I also picked these tiny cucumbers:

Immature fruits of cucumber "Vorgebirgstrauben"

They are about 4 inches long, so not fully grown. To be honest, they were never intended to be picked at this stage, they were supposed to have been picked at less than a quarter of the size, to be used for making pickled cornichons, but I somehow missed them amongst the foliage of their parent plants. I have other cucumber plants which are for producing full-size fruits, so I thought we should try eating these ones at this in-between stage. They were delicious; very firm and crunchy, but with only very tiny seeds inside. I know that you can sometimes buy tiny cucumbers in shops like Middle Eastern delis, but you don't normally see them in the supermarkets, so to me these are very special.

Another example of the "small but special" harvest is this Tenderstem-style broccoli.

This type of broccoli is not grown for the big flower-heads like the Calabrese type, but rather for the succulent stems of the sideshoots. The texture when cooked is somewhat akin to that of Asparagus, and the taste is very subtle for a brassica - nothing like as strong as say, a Brussels Sprout. Before cooking them, I usually remove most of the leaves, though of course they are edible too, producing when cooked a soft texture a little like spinach.

One of the best features of this type of plant is that it has a habit of putting up "suckers" or underground side-shoots, which appear from the roots near the base of them main plant, so that just when you think your crop has finished it starts all over again!

Then of course there are the tomatoes...

I think it would be fair to say that you very seldom find a commercially-produced tomato that's as tasty as a homegrown one.

I rest my case!

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Still battling the Blackfly

Not content with decimating my Broad Bean harvest, the Blackfly have moved on to my climbing beans - Runners, French and Borlotti - which are now infested with the damned things.

I have been doing my best to keep them under control, but I admit I am losing the battle. I initially sprayed them selectively with a proprietary bug-killer product, but it doesn't seem to have had much effect, and I certainly don't want to spray it onto my plants repeatedly. I've also tried the diluted washing-up liquid method, which again has had some effect but nowhere near enough. I've also tried blasting the aphids off with a hose. The net effect of all these methods has been to reduce the problem, but it hasn't reduced it enough. I now fear that my climbing bean harvest will be as poor as that of my Broad Beans - and that would be a very serious issue, because climbing beans are one of my biggest and most reliable crops!

Today I harvested my first two beetroot, with which I would normally be thrilled...

But, on removing the netting covering the beetroot and their neighbouring onions, I find that the onions too are covered in Blackfly! I have quickly applied the washing-up liquid and hosepipe remedies in the hope of arresting this outbreak before it gets too serious, but now I have a mess of tangled onion leaves all battered down by the powerful jets of water!

The netting over this bed has been in place primarily to deter what I call the "Nocturnal Diggers" (foxes, badgers etc), but I think (hope) the plants are now big enough to fend for themselves because I'm going to leave it off so that the little birds and maybe predatory insects might be tempted to eat a few of the offending critters. The onions are mostly swelling quite well, but they won't keep growing if their foliage is sucked dry by aphids.

It's not all doom and gloom though - several of my tomato plants are now producing ripe fruit.

The smaller-fruited varieties rend to ripen first, and those seen in the basket above are mostly "Maskotka", with a couple of "Montello".

Some of the "Sungold" are nearly ready, though I confess that I have been holding back on picking any of these because I really want to have a complete truss of them all ripe at the same time, with no green ones!

The bigger tomatoes are always later to ripen, and all of mine are still firmly green. This is "Larisa".

And this one is "Ailsa Craig", which has now produced three very even and plentiful trusses of fruit, with more on the way. I have stopped the plant after the fifth truss has formed (it's only flowers at this point), so that it doesn't get too top-heavy.

The chillis are ticking along quite nicely too, and some have now produced ripe fruit. This one is "Orange Cayenne".

I'm continuing to harvest new potatoes every few days. The latest to be lifted were the Second Early varieties "Spunta" and "Charlotte". The former was not bad at 632g from a 35L pot, but "Charlotte" was disappointing at only 556g. It's normally one of the best performers.

"Charlotte" in the round container and "Spunta" in the rectangular one.

To finish off for today I just want to show you some mushrooms I foraged yesterday. They are Cantharellus cibarius - Chanterelles. I was pleased with this batch, which weighed-in at 430g, because I don't normally find this many at once.

Quite apart from being delicious to eat, the Chanterelle is a thing of beauty, in my opinion!

Thursday 9 July 2020

Tomato update

It's nearly mid-July and my tomatoes are beginning to ripen. This is a long-awaited joyous moment for me!


This year, as always, I am growing a wide variety of types of tomato - big, small, round, pear-shaped, red, yellow, stripey, I have something of everything. This is my way of "hedging my bets". Surely, if one variety under-performs, another will excel?

So far, things are looking pretty good, and most of my plants have set lots of fruit. Perhaps the most heavily-populated is this "Ailsa Craig", a good old-fashioned variety that has stood the test of time.

"Ailsa Craig"

"Super Marmande" is heavily laden too...

"Super Marmande"

I'm not surprised to see this "Maskotka" with its branches bending under the weight of fruit. It always does well for me.


The first plants to deliver ripe fruit are some other Maskotkas, growing in my tall wooden planter so that they can trail downwards.


One of my all-time favourites is "Larisa". When ripe, its huge heart-shaped fruits are pink. Unfortunately it is a tricky one to grow because it has practically no resistance to blight. Luckily there is no sign of blight here yet this year!


This is "Yellow Zebra", seeds for which I got from a Facebook friend in Holland. I'm assuming the fruits will be mainly yellow, but probably with green stripes.

"Yellow Zebra"

These ones are a similar torpedo-like shape. They are "Artisan Mix" from Thompson and Morgan. The mix contained seeds for two different but fairly similar varieties, Artisan Blush Tiger (pink blush on golden skin) and Artisan Pink Tiger (pink and gold stripes). I have two plants from this mixture. What are the chances of them being one of each type???

"Artisan Mix"

Aiming off for the possibility of blight, I sowed some seeds for "Mountain Magic", a variety with strong blight-resistance. It produces small red fruits, bigger than cherry size, but not much. I have two of this type - one in a pot in my main growing area and another (which was intended as a reserve) which has been squeezed in at the bottom of the garden, in the soil in a less-than-ideal spot.

"Mountain Magic"

Last year, one of the varieties that did best for me was "Red Pear", so I'm growing it again this year. Actually, it has produced rather less fruit than I had hoped for, but they look as if they are going to be big ones.

"Red Pear"

Another of the large-fruited varieties is this "Cherokee Chocolate" one. The Cherokees are usually big vigorous and very prolific plants, but this one seems to be small for its kind (which is actually a bit of a relief because it will be easier to keep it under control!)

"Cherokee Chocolate"

Tucked away in a corner next to my water-butt (it was another Reserve that I couldn't bear to part with) is "Little Lucky", living up to its name by avoiding being given away! This variety produces golden yellow fruits flushed with pink.

"Little Lucky"

Out at the front of our house, in smaller pots, I have four more tomato plants... This is "Divinity", a very compact red-fruited variety.


Two of the others here are "Montello F1", and they demonstrate very clearly the problems with self-saved seeds from F1 varieties: they seldom come true next time round! One plant has very round fruits:


The other one has very pear-shaped fruits:


To be honest, I don't really care what they look like; I just hope they taste OK! Possibly compounding the error, or maybe seizing a good opportunity, I have found three self-seeded "volunteers" from out there in the front where "Montello F1" grew last year, and I've potted them up to grow on. Two of them are still very tiny, but today the biggest one seemed OK to put into a large pot, one of those recently freed-up by harvesting new potatoes:

Probably the offspring of "Montello F1"

Who knows what these ones will turn out like, but hopefully it means that I will be harvesting a late second crop when all the others have finished, which would definitely be a good result!

Sunday 5 July 2020


I haven't posted here for a few days, but that's because I haven't been doing much gardening, mostly just watering and tying-in. The weather has been really nasty, with constant strong winds, grey skies and the odd bit of rain, though not really enough rain to make much difference to the levels of moisture in the ground. An hour after the rain stops, the ground is dry again. I've had to do a fair bit of tying-in to keep things like beans and cucumbers upright: they have had a right old battering, with several leaves being ripped off by the wind!

I have now harvested all my remaining Broad Beans. The ones from the main bed were pathetic, but those from the spare plants came good in the end.

These ones were "Imperial Green Longpod", and I have to say that, nice as they were, the pods were not as long as I would have liked. I have grown this variety in the past and I remember them having six or seven beans per pods, but these ones mostly had four or five. Next year I will be thinking very carefully before attempting to sow Broad Beans again!

Today, I picked the very last of the Broad Beans, but also a few more nice things - a couple more of the purple Kohlrabi, a bunch of Tenderstem Broccoli, some potatoes and three different types of Lettuce.

The potatoes this time are "Sherine", the last of my First Early varieties.

The yield was about the same as the other varieties at 750g from two seed-tubers in one 35L pot, but these are the first ones to have any irregular shaped tubers. Not that knobbly tubers are necessarily a problem, they just don't look so nice.

Hopefully in the next two or three days I'll be picking my first ripe tomatoes, which will be one of the highspots of the season for me.