Friday, 22 June 2018

Some moments of calm

I know this will sound like Tempting Fate, but I think the Spring / Early summer sowing and planting frenzy is over now - at least in my garden and plot. Yes, it is still possible to sow seeds that will mature into a harvest this year, but most of the hard work has been done.

What I need now is a few warm Summer evenings so that I can sit outside and enjoy my garden. This is where I would do it...

Unfortunately we haven't been able to use this sitting-out area much this year. although we have had plenty of dry (and some sunny) weather recently, it has always been so windy that sitting outside is not pleasant at all.

As you can see, most of my garden is devoted to growing vegetables, but I do have a few shrubs and flowers - the latter mostly in pots.

Although most of my planting is finished, my garden is still littered with trays of seedlings. For instance, I'm keeping these brassicas as possible replacements for casualties in the war against the pigeons up at the Courtmoor plot.

I also have a couple of trays of chicory coming along, for planting out in a month or so. I'm not convinced that sowing them in those little modules was a good idea. Keeping them in good condition is difficult. With the weather being so dry and warm I find I have to water them about twice a day.

I have one other thing to mention today. One of my daughters sent me this lovely Bug Hotel as a Father's Day present. I hope it proves popular!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Harvesting Broad Beans

One of the chief advantages of growing vegetables in your back garden, as opposed to on an allotment or plot some distance away, is that you can pick what you want when you want - be it a lot or a little. This is very true with my Broad Beans. It only needs about 200g of beans (unshelled) to make a serving for one person, so unless there is any pressing reason to do otherwise, this is how I pick them - in small quantities, as required.

This year the situation is complicated by the fact that I sowed seeds for four different varieties of Broad Bean, so they are maturing at different rates, which is good is you want to adopt the "pick little and often" approach, but maybe not so good if you want to harvest a big load of them all at once for freezing. When I picked a batch on Saturday I didn't know want type they were:

This particular batch, weighing 475g, contained pods from two different varieties, one of them a lot longer than the other.

The difference between the two was even more obvious once the beans were shelled!

I'm fairly sure now that the green beans in long pods are "Imperial Green Longpod", and the shorter grey ones are "Witkiem Manita" - but I may be wrong!

By the way, the herb with which I cooked these beans is Winter Savory, which is perfect for this type of bean. It has a sharp flavour, a little reminiscent of Mint, but more citrussy.

With reference to the question "How do I know if my beans are ready for picking?", I offer this little tip. The pod should feel taught / firm, and you should be able to see and feel the outline of the beans within it. If it is soft and seemingly full of air, the beans inside will still be quite small. Of course there is a judgement to be made here: if the pod is TOO firm, the beans may well be over-mature, so you need to give a couple of the pods a gentle squeeze every few days once they look as if they might be ready. In any case, if the beans are over-mature, you can still rescue them by removing their skins as well as their pods (sometimes referred to as "double-podding"), which is really not necessary if the beans are young and tender.

In terms of yield, I expect to get something like 2kgs in total from the 20 plants I have in my back garden. This will be augmented by others from up at my Courtmoor Avenue plot, where I have a further 30 plants. The ones at the Courtmoor plot are much smaller and have fewer pods on them though, and the yield will certainly be proportionately smaller. I'll definitely not have enough beans to make it worth freezing any, and we shall be eating them "little and often".

Beans from the Courtmoor plot. Nice enough, but not very plentiful:

Monday, 18 June 2018

Cutting some losses

I've mentioned before that some of my potato plants at the Courtmoor plot have been afflicted with Blackleg disease. It was obvious to me that they were not going to produce much of a crop, and were just taking up valuable space that could be used for something else, so I made the decision to cut my losses and pull them up.

I also lifted five very small plants grown from tubers I "rescued" from the plot when I was digging it over during the Autumn and Winter. They were of the variety "Foremost", which is apparently a favourite of the plot-owners.

Although the foliage of the affected plants was seriously affected, such tubers as there were didn't seem to be affected at all, and I feel sure they are safe to eat. This is what I got:

It's a total of about 1.1kg - a pathetic yield, but better than nothing, I suppose. The round ones are "Foremost" and the oval ones are "Jazzy".

After lifting the potatoes I dug over the soil where they had been, and levelled the ridge with a rake, before planting some more brassicas in the vacant space. This time I'm taking no chances and I have installed anti-pigeon defences right from the start!

Said defences are made from pieces of spare chicken-wire, bent into a rough tunnel shape and held in place with short sticks. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure this will be effective, because the wire is not supported by anything and the pigeons may discover that by landing on the wire they can push it down and get access to the plants. On the other hand, pigeons are not noted for their intelligence and may never work this out. Now that I have identified this potential danger I will have to think of a way of supporting the wire. Some Y-shaped sticks might do the job...

For the record, these are the brassicas I planted today:
4 x "January King" cabbage
2 x "Predzvest" cabbage
2 x Kaibroc.

While I was in the mood for planting, I also planted four Aztec Broccoli (Huauzontle) plants.

The only place I could find for them was over near the squashes.

Never having grown this stuff (or even seen it), I'm not really sure what to expect, but I believe the plants can reach about 5 feet tall in suitable conditions. I suspect that these ones will not consider their location ideal, so they will probably not get very big. The soil they are in is very dry and sandy, so I watered them copiously after planting, to help them settle in.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

First Early potato "Annabelle"

This week I harvested my first potatoes of the year, some First Earlies called "Annabelle".

For many years now I have grown Early potatoes in containers. The current containers are 35-litre black plastic pots. It's hard to say exactly what size container is ideal for potatoes, so this year I have been trying an experiment to judge the relative performance of containers planted-up with one seed tuber and with two seed tubers. Some people assured me that one tuber would be best, since the plant would have lots of room to spread out. Others said it is better to put two tubers in each pot, because they will vie with one another to be the biggest, thus boosting overall yield. What do you think the result was? Read on...

To get a fair comparison, I planted two pots of each of my varieties of Early potato, one with a single tuber in it, and one with two. The pots were filled with exactly similar compost and fertiliser, and placed right next to each other. I have watered them with exactly the same frequency and I will be harvesting both pots on the same day. Should be a fair test then.

These are the two pots of "Annabelle". As you can see, the foliage had collapsed and was beginning to turn yellow, indications that the crop was ready for lifting.

So, the moment of truth! I just tip the pot over, spilling its contents onto a groundsheet.

This is the pot that had just one plant in it.

This is the pot that had two plants in it.

It's always an anxious moment when you do this. Will there be lots of lovely potatoes, or just a few? Will their skins be smooth, or covered in Scab? Well, these ones looked pretty good.

I placed the tubers from each pot into separate containers, impatient to see how many there were in each.

This is the yield from the pot that had just the one seed-tuber:

And this is the yield from the pot that had two seed-tubers:

And here they are side-by-side:

You'll notice that there are potatoes of many different sizes there. For a fair comparison, I discarded from both lots any tubers that were too small to be worth eating. There were probably about 10 or 12 of these in each pot. There are also several potatoes that are on the large size for First Earlies, which tells me that I could really have lifted these a week or ten days earlier. When I have grown "Annabelle" previously they have been more even-sized.

OK, so now for the results. Having taken the potatoes indoors and washed them, I weighed both batches. The 1-tuber pot yielded 628g and the 2-tuber pot yielded 1237g. So the two-tuber pot produced slightly under twice the yield of the one-tuber pot.

So what does this tell me? I think it demonstrates that a 35-litre pot can easily accommodate two seed-tubers with no effect on yield. Next year I shall revert to putting two seed-tubers in each pot! It means I can get twice the yield from exactly the same space that I would use if each pot only contained one plant.

Of course this is only the first of my four container-grown potato varieties to be harvested. The other 3 may produce different results. And just for the record, my view is that although First Earlies are typically harvested small, the yield from these "Annabelles" was on the small side. This may possibly be a result of the strange roller-coaster weather conditions we have experienced this year. On the Plus side though, the potatoes are nice and clean, with very little Scab. I attribute this to the high organic matter content of the growing-medium, which was about 50% home-made compost and 50% garden soil from a dismantled raised bed.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Courtmoor plot in mid-June

Well, it wasn't long ago that I was saying "In a few weeks' time this bare soil will be covered in green." Of course my prophecy has come true - if only because about half of the green is weeds! This is what the plot looks like now:

In the foreground are my potatoes, which are a definite case of "You win some, you lose some". There have unfortunately been more losses to Blackleg disease, but at least these "Desiree" and "Setanta" plants are looking OK.

This side of the potatoes, and not visible in the first photo are the Broad Beans, many of which are reaching maturity right now.

To be honest the crop is a bit patchy. Even allowing for the fact that there are four different varieties of bean, some of them are reasonably good, and some are rubbish. None of them are as good as the ones in my own garden, but this is understandable since the ones in my own garden get a lot more TLC - especially watering!

Beyond the potatoes are some shallots and onions. They look pretty good to me - though I expect some more rain would be very beneficial to them.

Beyond the onions I have parsnips, beetroot, leeks and green cabbage.

L to R: onions, parsnips, beetroot, leeks, cabbages, beans

The germination rate of the parsnips was very poor; indeed a stretch of about a metre at the near end was completely bare, so I have recently given up on it and sown a few radishes in it, just to make use of the space.

Germination of the beetroot was better, though still patchy (I think the foxes may have "re-arranged" some of the seeds). However they are looking all right and some of them are just beginning to "bulb-up". I suppose I really ought to thin them out a bit more to make room...

The improvised wire cages I made to protect the green cabbages proved to be ineffective, particularly since the ends were still almost completely open. The pigeons have ravaged the cabbages pretty comprehensively, and furthermore I have been unable to weed around the plants - at least, not easily. I have learned a significant lesson here: if I want to grow brassicas on this plot, they will HAVE to be netted.

The red cabbages may yet recover from the pigeon assault. They seem to be growing a fresh set of leaves, so I'll leave them alone and hope for the best.

The climbing beans are looking good too. In the photo below you can see the "Cherokee Trail of Tears" ones climbing up their wigwam, and to the right the other three types on the X-shaped supports. The "Tunny beans" look particularly strong, and the "Cobra" French beans are OK, whilst the "Jean's Beans" Runners are relatively weak. I don't expect a big harvest from the latter; I just need a few good pods to help me keep this variety in existence. My main crop of Runners will come from the plants in my own home garden.

Beyond the beans are more brassicas. The recovering red cabbages, the cauliflowers and the Brussels Sprouts. I am particularly hopeful of the latter, which seem good at present.

Brussels Sprouts

Alongside the netted brassicas is a row of "Ailsa Craig" onions, and in between a catch-crop row of radishes. I don't think this batch of radishes will be much good as the ground is far too dry for them. They will probably bolt or at least be tough and woody!

Beyond the onions are two patches each with 9 New Zealand Spinach plants, and one group of 13 Dwarf French beans. Right down at the far end is a small open space in which I plan to squeeze a few more beans.

Seen on the right in the previous photo are the Raspberry canes. They are covered in immature fruits, boding well for a decent harvest - though again I bet they are desperate for a good drink.

The blackcurrant bushes along the fence-line are laden with fruit too, and some of it is just beginning to turn colour.

There is also one rather neglected Blackberry bush (or is it a hybrid berry of some sort?).

Whatever it is, it seems to have plenty of fruit on it, so this is something else to look forward to - if the birds don't strip the lot first!

Over the other side of the grass path, the "pumpkin patch" is filling out nicely. All six of the squash plants seem healthy and some are even producing their first flowers.

One of the "Uchiki Kuri" plants has an tiny embryonic fruit on it - or perhaps more accurately, a female flower yet to open.

The final thing to report (though not strictly within my remit) is the state of the venerable old "Bramley" apple tree. It's laden with fruit!

When I first became involved with this plot last Autumn, the Bramleys were, in the words of the plot-owners, "nearly over", yet there were still vast quantities of fruit available, even though most of them were windfalls since the plot-owners had been unable to harvest them before they fell. This year, I will probably "offer some assistance", if you know what I mean...

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A time of 'potential'

Right now, my garden is full of young fruit and vegetables, growing rapidly. Apart from Broad Beans and the usual herbs, there is not much I can pick just yet, but lots of the plants are looking promising.

Several of the chilli plants are setting their first fruits - like this "Golden Cayenne".

I have now arranged my chillis (in their 10-inch pots) in their usual position, next to the raised beds:

Nearby, my four cucumber plants are growing away strongly:

The first little embryonic fruits are appearing too:

The tomato plants (reduced now to 18 in my garden with 4 more at Courtmoor Avenue) are looking OK, though some of them are showing that distortion of the leaves which so characteristic of the weedkiller poisoning that struck me some years back. This problem is getting less severe each year, but there is evidently still some residual contamination in my homemade compost.

The first tomato plants to produce flowers are the "Maskotka" ones:

As I mentioned at the start, the Broad Beans are cropping now. With only 20 plants, I'm never going to have a glut, but they are lovely beans and having them just outside your back door means that you can harvest them as and when you need them, at the peak of condition and absolutely fresh.

The Runner Bean plants have reached the tops of their supports, and are now putting out their first flowers, so hopefully I'll be picking some pods by about the end of the month.

Even the Parsnips have finally decided to grow! Most of what you can see in my photo are ones from the second sowing, with just one or two (I think literally 5) from the first sowing.

Within the next few days I expect to be harvesting some First Early potatoes. The foliage on these "Annabelle" ones is definitely dying down now, indicating that they are just about ready:

I don't think I have mentioned these before - "Finger" carrots, sown in a large flowerpot:

Again, a pot like this is never going to produce a huge yield, but even a few of the slim crunchy roots of these "Amsterdam II Solo" will make a fabulous addition to a salad, or a pre-dinner Nibble. If you are planning to grow carrots like this, just remember that they do make long roots, so choose a pot at least 20cm deep.

As well as the vegetables, I also have some apples and pears forming:

Apple "Winter Banana"

Pear "Concorde"

I'm particularly proud of this little chap - which is probably going to be my "Bramley" tree's first-ever fruit.

Apple "Bramley"

Planning ahead for the future, I have several more trays of young plants awaiting their turn. I have Chicories, Lettuce, Aztec Broccoli (aka Huauzontle) and several types of brassica.

I'm going to finish today's post with a little tip. I have been keeping a pot with six Runner Bean plants in it, as spares in case of casualties. They had got very tall - the leader shoots were probably about 3 feet long - so I have prolonged their usefulness to me by cutting out those shoots.

The plants will continue to grow, and the side-shoots will now take over the lead. Within a week or ten days they will also reach about 3 feet, but by that time I will definitely know whether any of them are needed in their intended role. If not, I'm afraid they will end up in the compost bin.