Sunday, 15 July 2018

Beans, Bugs and Brassicas

July is bean month, for sure! For the last couple of weeks my Climbing French Bean "Cobra" has been pumping out pods at a rate of 200g every other day. The plants are taking a rest now, though I hope they will have a second flush later on. Now the Runners must move up to take over the baton.


So far I have only been able to pick a very small number of Runner beans, because so many of the flowers have dropped without setting pods. I'm sure this is because of the very hot dry weather. I have watered the plants practically every day, but it doesn't seem to have helped the formation of pods. Still, it has kept the plants alive and when (if) we get a cooler spell and some rain they will probably perform better.


Up at my Courtmoor Avenue plot I have two types of shelling bean coming along. The first is the Tunny Bean. It produces beans that are 2-tone cream and pinkish brown. These are ones that you dry and keep for Winter use. The pods are swelling nicely and you can see the outline of the beans inside.


I have 8 of these plants and they are all laden with pods, so I ought to get a reasonable harvest.


Growing up a tepee I have 14 plants of "Cherokee Trail of Tears" beans.


This again is a shelling bean, and the beans are small and black. They are nowhere near ready yet, but lots of pods are forming.


While photographing the beans I saw this rather attractive shield bug. I love the sort of scalloped edge to his body.


Moving now to the brassicas... Many of them (having survived the ravages of the pigeons) have grown quite tall - particularly the Brussels Sprouts - and I felt the need to re-arrange their protection. Unfortunately I don't have enough nets to protect them all properly, so a certain amount of shuffling around needs to take place. The biggest net I have has been covering the Sprouts, Caulis and Red Cabbage, but it is an anti-bird net, not an anti-butterfly net. It has successfully kept the pigeons off, but the Cabbage Whites fly in and out of it with impunity.

I decided to move the anti-bird net to the row of Winter cabbages and Kaibroc which until now has been protected with chicken wire, held in place with sticks. The plants have grown too tall for this arrangement and were pushing against the wire.


This is the same row, after deploying the net, which is draped over some flexible plastic hoops.


Since the net is now covering a single narrow row I was able to fold it over so that it is double-thickness. This might keep the butterflies out. If you are interested in the hoops, I got them from a firm called Gardening Naturally. Here's a LINK. I bought 2 sets of 10 of these a few years ago but never used them much in my home garden because the Build-a-Ball system and aluminium rods worked so much better with my raised beds. I gave one set away, but the second set is earning its keep very well at the Courtmoor plot.

Meanwhile, I have weeded around the Brussels sprouts and given each of them a stout wooden stake, to which they are now secured with soft string.



The chicken wire that was over the cabbages is now balanced rather precariously on top of the stakes (no photo, I'm afraid). I hope this will be enough to deter the pigeons, but I can't say I'm confident!

Talking of pigeons, I scored a point against them today: I harvested a cabbage!

Cabbage "Golden Acre"

It's not big and it's not pretty, but it's quite heavy and certainly edible (most of it, anyway). Considering that a few weeks ago I thought ALL my cabbages had been lost, I count this as a significant victory!

Saturday, 14 July 2018

First harvest of carrots

This week I picked a few of my carrots, just to see how big they were. I didn't really expect them to be mature yet, but it's hard to tell for sure until you actually pull some up, isn't it?

Well, the verdict is that they are still too small to be picked in quantity, but this little bunch was pretty damn good for a first test!


I sowed four different types of carrot this year, and these are a mix of two of them: "Nantes" and "James Scarlet Intermediate". The bigger, more regularly-shaped ones are the "James Scarlet Intermediate" ones. For some reason a high proportion of the "Nantes" ones were forked.


As I have reported earlier, germination of my carrot seeds was very poor this year and I decided I would not thin the rows. However, picking that bunch this week convinced me that this had been a mistake. It was evident that the carrots were in some places far too closely packed. I decided that they were unlikely to mature into decent roots unless I thinned them out, and fiddly though it might be, the job had to be done.

Before doing the thinning I watered the carrot bed very thoroughly because this helps to minimize root disturbance in respect of the ones being left in the ground. I did the job early in the day too, before it got too hot for me or the carrots! Gently teasing out the superfluous roots, I was eventually left with this:


Some of the carrots were very tiny and not worth keeping, but I managed to save this little lot, which are certainly useable. When you grow your own vegetables it's very seldom that anything even remotely edible gets wasted!


Tiny carrots like these make a delicious snack - they seem to have all the flavour of a mature carrot, but concentrated in a small space! We like eating them with a drink before dinner.


It was encouraging to see that although my carrots are still small, they are nice and clean, with no sign of Carrot Root Fly damage. I'll leave them another 2 or 3 weeks and try another lot.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Potato "Charlotte"

This week I harvested my Second Early "Charlotte" potatoes.


In common with the other varieties I have grown in my garden this year I planted one container with a single seed-tuber and another with two. Here we see the results of the comparative trial.

The single-tuber pot produced a yield of 1182g, and included some very big tubers. The biggest weighed over 300g.



The pot which had two seed-tubers produced a smaller yield both in weight and in the size of the tubers. The weight was 1048g.


The total yield from both pots (3 seed-tubers) was therefore 2.23kgs.


The quality of the tubers is a bit down on previous years, but still not bad. Despite frequent watering I know that the soil/compost growing-medium has at times been too dry. I know I have said this before, but if you are going to grow potatoes in containers you do need to incorporate masses of moisture-retaining organic matter, and you need to water thoroughly and regularly!


A couple of the tubers had a little bit of Scab, and one from each pot had worked its way to the surface and had gone green in the sunlight, but apart from that I think I can be pretty pleased with these. "Charlotte" really is one of the best potato varieties of all time! I shall definitely be growing it again next year.


My experiment shows that in this particular instance, you can get just as good results (better, even) from sowing one tuber per pot instead of 2 or more, but with some of the other varieties it was the other way round, so I reckon the overall result (with one variety - "Nicola" - still to come) is probably inconclusive! To do this scientifically of course a bigger sample would be necessary...

Thursday, 12 July 2018

More harvests from the Courtmoor plot

Despite the continuing hot dry weather the plot has been giving me some more harvests. Amongst the most attractive was this bunch of "Long Red Florence" onions:


You may remember that I planted these in little groups, like this:


I grew this variety last year, and let them become fully mature before harvesting and then drying them. In retrospect this was not the best thing to do, because they didn't keep very well. They began sprouting after only about a month or so.  This year I have decided to pick them very young and to use them as a sort of super-sized Spring Onion. They are lovely sliced thinly and steeped in red wine vinegar for a short while...



Less picturesque, but more significant was this "All Year Round" Cauliflower:


Despite its name, this variety of cauliflower (I have / had 5 of them) is probably best grown in the cooler months. The recent hot weather has brought them on prematurely. This, my first-ever homegrown cauli had just about bolted. It looked more like Sprouting Broccoli!


However, despite is appearance it had a good texture when cooked, and tasted nice too.


I have also brought home more New Zealand Spinach.


Despite my assurances that "it's not really spinach at all", Jane, having nobly tried it the first time I cooked it, has decided she definitely doesn't like it, so from now on it's all mine! I ate the batch pictured above alongside two poached eggs and a couple of slices of homemade sourdough bread. Delicious!

The "Cobra" Climbing French Beans are delivering now too.


So far I have picked four batches, each of about 200g, like this one:


I'm giving alternate batches to my hosts, because I know they like green beans, and for the same reason I now have four batches each of 9 plants of Dwarf French Beans on the go - two of "Canadian Wonder" and two of "Jean's Beans" saved from the plot's 2017 harvest.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Harvesting potatoes and protecting Blackberries

A few days ago I lifted some more potatoes up at my Courtmoor plot. This time they were the "Sarpo Una" ones. This is a Second Early variety marketed mainly as a salad potato, but one which will grow bigger if left longer than normal for a Second Early, so it is effectively an Early Maincrop. In common with the other Sarpo varieties, it has high levels of disease-resistance.


The potatoes on the plot have not done well, to be honest. The light sandy soil has been incredibly dry, and we have had no significant rain for weeks and weeks. My efforts with the hosepipe have been just about adequate to keep the plants alive, but that's all.

The yields so far have been very poor, so much so that I'm seriously questioning whether it will be worth growing any potatoes at all there next year. This is the yield from FIVE plants - 1.56kgs!


If the quality of the tubers had been outstanding I might have said that growing them was worthwhile, but they are not that great. Their skins are rough and they have a fair bit of scab. Definitely not up to the standard of the ones I grow in containers in my own garden! Having eaten some of them now, I have to say I'm not impressed. They were dry, hard and tasteless!

Well, even if the potato crop was a bit disappointing, the red tubers looked nice in one of my signature "Harvest Basket" photos!




The other thing I want to mention today is that I have finally found something with which to protect those ripening Blackberries.


I found an odd-shaped scrap of old Enviromesh in my shed at home, and I have fixed it in place with some twist-ties. Not pretty, but hopefully it will do the job. It just needs to be there for a couple of weeks to keep the pigeons off the berries.


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Harvesting shallots

Last Autumn when I took over my new plot I was able to rescue some shallot bulbs. They didn't look like prize specimens because they had been lying on wet soil for far too long.


I selected 45 of them that looked as if they might be viable, and planted them in modules, on the 19th February.


I hadn't expected them all to sprout, but they did - every single one!


I planted them up at the plot as soon as I thought they were big enough. Since they developed at different rates, the planting was done successively. In the past I had tried growing shallots in my own home garden, but they never did particularly well. I think the key to success (apart from frequent watering in conditions like the present ones) is to give them plenty of space and full sunlight for as much of the day as possible. I planted these ones about 8 inches apart.


Well, cutting a long story short, they grew. And so did the weeds. In fact, keeping the weeds in check was the hardest (certainly the most labour-intensive) part of growing these shallots.


Still, I think the hard work paid off.


By the end of June the leaves had mostly flopped over and begun to go brown. I judged the shallots to be mature.


On July 6th I harvested most of the crop. Some of those at one end of the row had been shaded by the fence and the Blackcurrant bushes, and they were not as far advanced as the others, so there will be another small batch to harvest in a couple of weeks' time.


This is what came home with me:


They are now spread out on my trusty groundsheet to dry in the sun. With current levels of temperature and sunshine, it shouldn't take long.


My plan for these is to make the smaller ones into Pickled Shallots using spiced malt vinegar, and to use the bigger ones fresh in the kitchen. We use quite a lot of shallots and it will be especially nice to have homegrown ones available. Oh, and I will keep some of the best ones to use as next year's sets, in order to maintain the continuity of cultivation.


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P.S. A friend on Twitter has helped me to identify that weed that I mentioned a couple of days ago. It's Galinsoga parviflora - known colloquially as Gallant Soldiers. No wonder it's fighting back at me!