Friday 30 August 2013

Buy one, get one free!

We gardeners are always on the lookout for a bargain, aren't we? Last weekend was a Bank Holiday weekend (that is to say the following Monday was a public holiday), and I know that my local garden centre has an end-of-summer clearance sale at this time, so I went to see if I could pick up a bargain or two...

To be honest, most of the plants in the clearance sale were well past their prime, and you had to look very deeply to see their potential. I mean, who would want to buy Petunias in full bloom at the end of August? However, I was on the lookout for Perennials that would be a cheap investment for NEXT year.

I really wanted to get an Echinacea (Cone Flower) - something I have been hankering for for quite a while. The only ones they had were a few rather tatty-looking white ones. But then I thought: white would work well in my border, along with my white rose and my white Buddleia, and as regards tattiness, who cares? The plant wll soon be dying back for the Winter anyway. So into my basket went one Echinacea "Pom Pom White".

When I buy plants I always look carefully at the specimens offered for sale before choosing which one to buy. This is why:

The one I bought is actually TWO plants - or at least one that can be easily divided into two. Bargain! so now I have two Echinaeas.

Having accepted that white would be OK in my garden, I consciously started looking for pastel colours amongst the other plants. This one took my fancy - a Japanese Anemone:

It is a light pink one called "September Charm".  I think it is a bit of cheek to call it "Home-grown"! They mean "grown in the UK", which is not the same thing at all. Actually this was not a clearance sale item - it was still offered at full price, but at £4.99 I thought it was good value.

Apparently it likes dappled shade, so I have found it a place in the border, between the ferns and the purple Buddleia.

In one part of the Garden Centre were the vegetable plants. Most of the offerings here were very unattractive, such as Basil that had flowered and gone to seed, and Lettuce seedlings that were already bolting, but there were a few chillis! Now you know I find it hard to resist a good chilli plant... As it happens, I bought two. One was this nice Red Habanero, which has a few fruits on it, and which I'm confident will survive into next year given care and attention (like the Scotch Bonnet plant I bought this time last year, which has been fantastic).

The other one I bought was a very handsome black one called "Nosferatu" (as in "Night Creature" or "Vampire"). It's foliage and fruits are very dark-coloured, though apparently the fruits will turn blood red when ripe!

I chose wisely on this one too, because one of the pots had two very closely-entwined plants in it, which I was able to separate when I got home, and pot-up individually. One of them is quite small, but they both look very healthy:

So, in the end I got four (six!) good plants for a mere £13.99. Though none of them was a good-value as last year's 50p Scotch Bonnet, I was well pleased.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

When is a "New Potato" not a new potato?

Last weekend I harvested what I think is the last of my New Potatoes. I say "I think..." because I'm conscious that last week I said I had harvested the last of the "Orla" potatoes, yet this weekend I found another pot of them amongst the "Pink Fir Apple" ones. This year I have had something like 35 pots of potatoes, and with them having been planted at different times it is hard to keep track! Anyway, I wanted to harvest some of the PFA ones, just because I was impatient to have some of them to use in the kitchen, so I decided to harvest one pot of them along with the remnants of the "new" potatoes:

In the photo above PFA is on the left, with Ratte in the centre and Orla at the right. Each basket represents the yield from one pot.

Ratte has produced a large number of small, smooth, pear-shaped tubers which have been exceptionally clean. This is popularly reckoned to be a gourmet potato with a strong "chestnutty" flavour, but I didn't think it was particularly impressive.
Orla is a traditional First Early. The tubers are mostly round, and the flesh is very white and light in texture when cooked.

"Pink Fir Apple"
Pink Fir Apple is an early Maincrop variety, usually ready in late Summer. It has an amazingly knobbly structure, making it ugly to look at and practically impossible to peel, but it makes up for these disadvantages by being very tasty. This partcular batch was in a strange sort of way quite uniform:-

The yield from the one pot of PFA was modest for a Maincrop, so I'll be leaving the others to grow on for another two or three weeks at least. Maybe the end of September will be a good time to harvest them.

Now, onto the conundrum mentioned in the title of my post: When is a "New Potato" not a new potato?". Well, I think the answer is "When you have left it too long in the ground" (sounds too obvious, doesn't it?). The batch of Orla I harvested this time illustrates well the point I'm trying to make. Their skins had thickened and gone rough - almost scaly. No longer can they but cooked just as they come out of the ground. They need to be peeled or scraped:

Jane says this one with the snout reminds her of a baby Echidna... (Well, yes, maybe...)

I'll finish my post today on a rather cheesy note. How about this for an "Aaaaah" potato:

Isn't it *lovely*?

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Carrots - again!

Yes, I know I have written about carrots a couple of times already, but last weekend I harvested the last of my carrot crop and I was so pleased with them that I feel the urge to write more about them. If you're bored wth carrots, please come back and visit some other time!

When I picked these carrots I was only expecting to get one or two tiddlers. I went out to get the "last few" from the second of my boxes, just to finish them up, but I was amazed to find LOADs of them:

These are almost all "Amsterdam III Sprint", with just one or two "Mini Finger" (the very slender ones).

I have said this many times before, but having limited space is no excuse for failing to grow your own veg. My carrots all came from two black plastic boxes, 35cm long x 25cm wide x 20cm deep. They cost £1.97p each, so not much financial outlay there! And they were filled with about half a bag of bog-standard commercial compost.

Apart from watering them, no further attention is required. Depending on where you grow them you might need to protect them from the Carrot Root Fly, but as regular readers will know, I grew mine well above ground level and was not troubled at all by the fly, despite providing no protection whatever. No, I tell a lie: in this last batch there were actually three carrots which had a little fly damage, but that's it. What could be simpler? And it is just so nice to eat carrots that are straight out of the ground. As my daughter Fiona put it the other day "They are really CARROTY"!

All spruced-up and ready for the chef!

I felt that this batch of carrots was worthy of a few photos (I do go a bit overboard at times...)

I'm so enthused with carrots at present that I'm contemplating the idea of devoting to them the whole of my big Woodblocx raised bed. I could grow a lot of baby carrots in that, couldn't I ??? Maybe it's time for me to have another go at growing maincrop carrots...

Monday 26 August 2013

Harvest Monday - 26 August 2013

This past week has seen me harvesting a lot more tomatoes. I don't keep detailed records of what I pick, but I just know that I have harvested a LOT... This is just some of them:

The Beetroot keep on coming, a batch like this about once a week:

I also picked another (tiny) batch of Blueberries - seen here with a couple of Alpine Strawberries, which keep on producing a few more fruits every now and then:

The cucumbers are really motoring now. At the weekend I counted 18 fruits of significant size on my four plants, with many more tiny embryonic fruits following on behind.

We tend to use these mostly as a pre-dinner nibble (peeled and salted), but Jane has also made one into Tsatziki. She liked it, but I'm not fond of yoghurt, so I didn't try it. Jane is also rather partial to a smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich, but then you know my opinion of fish... It's a good job that not all of my plants made it to maturity really, otherwise we would have been inundated with cucumbers!
Of course, it almost goes without saying that at this time of year I have also been harvesting plenty of beans - Runners and French ones again. I have to pick them just about every day, and each time I seem to get at least 500g.

Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire"

French Bean "Cobra"
I'm not sure whether you will consider this a legitimate harvest for this week, but at the weekend I pickled most of my crop of shallots. As before, I kept the biggest ones for general culinary use and bottled the rest (just over a kilo), using ready-made Pickling Vinegar, which has spices already added to it. This is the end result:

If you want to see the whole (exceptionally easy) process, follow this link to a post I wrote about it this time last year... Ultra-easy pickled shallots

I'm entering this post to Harvest Monday, a good place to see what people from many parts of the world are harvesting this week, so why not go take a look?

Sunday 25 August 2013

"Cocktail" Cucumbers

The cucumbers I am growing this year are the little ones - variously described as "Lebanese" or "cocktail" cucumbers. In theory, the fruits are harvested when about sx inches long (though I know that they are still fine if you leave them to get a bit bigger. It is easy to overlook the odd one or two...).

In theory, this type of cucumber can be grown indoors in a pot (the seed packet suggests a 9" one), but I can tell you, they do get pretty big, given half a chance...

Mine are in the big Woodblocx raised bed, and I have provided them with sticks to climb up, about six feet tall.

They have used it all:

I am growing two different varieties this year, "Melen F1" and "Iznik F1". I had the latter last year too, and it did very well, which is why I have it again this year. They are actually quite similar varieties, though Iznik produces slightly plumper fruits than Melen. The number of fruits produced by each plant is respectable - I would think about 10 or 12, possibly more if the Autumn is warm.

The fruits are deliciously crunchy - much more so than the big, long cucumbers - and seem to have none of the indigestibility of some of the bigger types. You can quite happily eat a whole one, just like you might eat a banana. We actually like them best as a pre-dinner "nibble", peeled and salted, and cut into wedges.

The varieties I am growing are both F1s, so the seed is expensive. Each packet only had 8 seeds in too, so you need to be careful with them. I sowed 12 seeds, planted 8 (gave away 4), and 4 survived to maturity. They did seem a bit vulnerable to disease / pest damage. I don't really know the reason, but four of my plants succumbed to "Vegetable Sudden Death Syndrome" and died pretty rapidly after showing symptoms of unwellness. Perhaps they would have done better in a greenhouse, but I don't have a greenhouse... Still, four plants are providing me with a LOT of fruits.

This is "Iznik", well-rounded:

And this is "Melen", slimmer:

Some people think that it is only the chubby, spiky, so-called "Ridge" cucumbers that do well outdoors in the UK, but my experience shows me otherwise. For a few years I grew "Marketmore", a traditional long smooth type, and it did well enough most of the time (though one year was a total washout). It was primarily for space reasons that I tried the cocktail cucumbers, and I don't think I'll grow any others now: they are ideally suited to my conditions and to my requirements. Maybe next year I'll go for something other than the very pricey F1 seeds though. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Friday 23 August 2013

I'm harvesting tomatoes

It's tomato time!

During August we have had good growing weather - a mix of warm sunshine and heavy rain. Vegetable plants generally need lots of water if they are to do well, so it is important to keep on top of watering. It seems like a chore when we do it, but the garden will repay our efforts handsomely. In hot weather it is particularly important to ensure that plants in pots and containers (like my tomatoes) do not dry out. Their roots of course cannot just go deeper in search of moisture as plants in open soil can.

My self-watering tomato pots have been a Godsend. The plants in them are by far the biggest in my collection - "Orkado" and "Ferline" - and they would have suffered badly wthout copious quantities of water. This is Orkado, laden with fruit:

It's a toss-up whether Ferline or Orkado will produce the biggest yield. Orkado has more fruits, and fairly even-sized ones too, whereas Ferline has a smaller number, but some very big ones.

Left: "Ferline", right: "Orkado"

A point to note is that sometimes the advent of heavy rain (or an overdose of water applied with a watering-can) after a prolonged period of dry, hot weather can sometimes cause the ripening fruit to split. This is caused by the flesh expanding more rapidly than the skin. This is not the same as cracking, which is something that happens gradually. Splitting occurs quickly.

This is a cracked tomato:

"Russian Black", cracking

And these are splitting tomatoes:

"Black Cherry" splitting after heavy rain - photo from 2010
When splitting seems likely I often pick any fruit that are nearly ripe, and bring them indoors to ripen on a sunny windowsll. Very unripe tomatoes are seldom affected.

As evidenced by the photos in this post, I am already harvesting a lot of ripe tomatoes. I love to have a variety of different types for making salads with. When you are cooking tomatoes for sauce or passata you want them all the same if possible, but salads need different textures and colours! Like this, for instance:

In the salad in the picture above, apart from tomatoes (6 different types), there is lettuce, thinly-sliced shallots, and parsley - all home-grown of course. I added a sprinkling of red wine vinegar just before

Clockwise, from the top: Red Pear, Cherokee Purple, Sungold, Maskotka, Sungella, Orkado, and in the centre Tigerella.

Some of the big Cherokee Purple tomatoes got made into a tomato tart, with puff pastry, pesto and Parmesan.  Super-yummy!

Even "San Marzano" has finally deigned to produce some fruit. I thought it wasn't going to, but on close inspection I find that there are indeed a few fruits lurking in the undergrowth:

This year I have grown several more unusual types of tomato. Like this "Red Pear" for instance. It is one from the Franchi Seeds collection [ Seeds of Italy ].

Actually, that is not a classic example of the Red Pear. It is much flatter than it should be. It ought to be more, well, pear-shaped!

This year, for some reason, lots of the tomatoes - even the normally very uniform "Maskotka" - have produced some abberations, like these:

Well, thay may look odd, but they still taste nice.... :)

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Holidays in Cornwall, August 2013, Part 2

Following on from what I wrote a couple of days ago in my post Holidays in Cornwall, August 2013, Part 1, I am now going to write about some of the things we did on that holiday.

West Cornwall has a lot to offer the tourist: fabulous and very varied scenery - dramatic cliffs, rugged hills covered with heather and gorse, tiny hamlets of granite-built houses, ancient churches, castles and Iron Age settlements, as well as more modern attractions with something for all ages. Paradise Park at Hayle, for example, has not only rides and play equipment for little children, but also a fine collection of animals too (e.g. Otters and Red Pandas).

Years ago, when our children were young we took them to see the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at Gweek, near Helston, so it was great to be able to go back again to this place with adult offspring and grandchildren too!

Rescued seal pups enjoying some play-time

Feeding time for the adult seals
Another unmissable attraction is St.Michael's Mount, the dominant feature of the eponymous Mount's Bay.

Formerly a Benedictine abbey, and a Royalist stronghold in the English Civil War, this castle perched on a rocky outcrop watches over the little town of Marazion, from which you can get a boat over to the Mount when the tide is in, or walk across the causeway when it's not.

The children loved visiting the Mount - there is just so much to see. Lara was particularly enthralled with the tale of the giant who once lived there and whose "petrified heart" can still be seen by visitors!

Of course, Cornwall is famous for its beaches and coves too, so we spent some time on the lovely beach at Porthcurno:

Up on the cliffs above Porthcurno there is an open-air theatre called The Minack. I have not been to a performance there, but I know some people who have, and they say that watching a play there is an amazing experience. Even to visit the theatre when there is NOT a show in progress costs a fair bit of money, so we didn't go in, but I can show you the theatre entrance...

In my previous post about this holiday I mentioned the gardens at Trengwainton, but I just want to make a mention of the "Dig for Victory" garden that was there.

It is a re-creation of the sort of allotment that people might have had during the Second World War, when lots of gardens (including those of stately homes like Trengwainton) were dug up in order to cultivate vegetables to supplement food rations. I particularly liked the replica Anderson Shelter (air-raid shelter):

During our visit we had ample opportunity to sample some of the great food that is available in Cornwall - like Saffron Cake, Cornish Pasties, and Cream Teas (tea and scones with clotted cream and jam). Our Panamanian son-in-law Juan Fernando (aka Juanfi) is particularly fond of fish (and ate it on every possible occasion!), so a visit to the fishing port of Newlyn was a must:

On one occasion Fiona and Juanfi ate lunch in a pub in Penzance where the origin of every piece of food was clearly advertised, and it was fascinating to see moored in Newlyn harbour the very boat that had caught the fish that Juanfi had eaten the day before! (It was "Ajax", the blue-and-white one in my photo above). As many of you will know, I don't eat any fish at all, but even I was impressed with the quality and variety of fish on sale in the Newlyn shops:

Hand-dived Scallops were £5 a dozen, and a whole dressed crab only £6.60 a kilo...

These attractions are all well and good, but THIS is what holidays in Cornwall are really about:-


The only bad thing about this holiday was the journey home. Despite travelling on a Friday (supposedly less busy than a Saturday), the 250-mile trip took us 7 hours. The traffic was just crazy!