Monday 30 June 2014

Harvest Monday - 30th June 2014

Despite the issues caused by contaminated compost, it is not all bad news in my garden!

The Strawberries are producing some fine fruit. Never very many - just a handful every couple of days - but even so, this is the greatest quantity I have ever had! You have to make allowance for the fact that the space devoted to growing them is only about 6 square feet.

My Strawberries are mostly munched immediately after harvest....

This week I also had a few Spring Onions to harvest. I sowed them in among the Carrots in the plastic boxes in that tall wooden planter of mine, as a way of reducing the likelihood of Carrot Root Fly damage. That may just be an Old Wives' Tale, but a few Spring Onion seeds don't cost a lot so I thought it worth a try. The onions were getting long and lanky and were beginning to block some of the light from the carrots, so I decided to pull them up. This is what I got:

They are the variety "Ishikura", a non-bulbing variety.

This unexpected little bonus duly found its way into a Chinese-style stir-fry.

This week I have not harvested any more Lettuce! This is because the fridge was already full of Lettuces, so we have been eating plenty, just not harvesting any more. On the other hand I HAVE been harvesting more Broad Beans.

Once BBs are ready to pick, you have to pick them. Otherwise they will go tough and leathery.

By the way, thanks to those of you who gave me ideas for ways to eat the Broad Beans and their pods. There were some interesting suggestions.

I have made a start on the Second Early potatoes now. The First Earlies are all finished. These are "Charlotte" (approx 1kg) and "Blue Kestrel" (approx 650g).

The "Blue Kestrel" are certainly very impressive to look at (though the blue colour is only skin-deep). I wonder what they will be like to eat.

No doubts about "Charlotte" though. This is justifiably one of the nation's favourite potato varieties.


Just one other harvest item to report... As I sit here writing this I am inhaling the aroma of some chicken stock simmering on the hob. As well as the usual stuff like onion, carrot and Bay, the stock has several stalks of Leaf Celery in it. It smells absolutely heavenly, and I hope the taste will be of a similar standard!

Sunday 29 June 2014

Second thoughts

Regular readers will be aware of the problems I have been having with compost contaminated with weedkiller of some sort. My initial diagnosis was that the cause of this was aminopyralid weedkiller in the composted stable manure I had bought earlier in the year, because the plants most seriously affected are the ones in containers filled with the said compost. This includes all the tomato plants, all the potatoes and all the chillis. Also affected are the beans, planted in a raised bed to which more of the suspect manure was added, and a few others.

Chilli plant affected by the weedkiller - note the puckered leaves

This week I have had a talk with a representative from the company from whom I bought the suspect compost. He was adamant that the manure that goes into their compost is taken from the most reliable sources - such as the stables of the Household Cavalry and the Mounted Section of the Metropolitan Police, who are most unlikely to contravene the regulations that govern these harmful substances. Furthermore, their products are supplied to some very high-profile customers, such as the RHS gardens at Wisley. We discussed the way my plants are raised, and I told him that my seeds were sown in small pots of multi-purpose compost prior to transplanting into the big containers in which they are grown to maturity. At this point it dawned on both of us that there was a possibility that the problem was introduced earlier than I had previously imagined - that is to say, in the multi-purpose compost.

According to the person with whom I was speaking, at least 50% of the material used for all the Big Name multi-purpose composts comes from recycled domestic garden waste, collected by the local Councils. This material could easily contain lawn clippings contaminated with weedkiller. It is not supposed to, because instructions for the use of such products tell the user not to put it in the green waste - but then it only needs one illiterate or negligent person to upset the whole scheme! Looking at the website of Dow AgroSciences (the manufacturers of the products in question) I see that it would take only one drop of this stuff in an amount of water equivalent to an Olympic swimming-pool to cause damage to garden plants. Frightening, isn't it? Why are such products licensed for use? They should never be allowed. Domestic gardeners are not even allowed to use Jeyes Fluid any more, yet Big Business is allowed to sell these dreadfully toxic substances. Why?

I have had a really good look around my garden, and I have concluded that it is in all probability the multi-purpose compost that has caused me all the problems, not the composted stable manure, since lots of plants are affected, many of which have not been near the stable manure. the compost I have used recently is called "Westland Multi-purpose Compost with added John Innes", coincidentally sold by the same place, although I bought mine from my local Garden Centre (part of the Diamond Group). I shall be thinking VERY carefully before I buy any more commercial compost of any sort.

Endive seedling showing weedkiller damage symptoms

Radicchio seedling showing weedkiller damage symptoms

The outcome of my discussions with the compost supplier is that they have agreed to refund the price of my purchase. In the circumstances (in the absence of any concrete proof that their product is at fault) I suppose this is fair, but it hardly compensates me for the loss of a substantial proportion of my Summer's crops - especially my beloved tomatoes! This is particularly galling since most of them were very special ones, from seeds supplied to me by a blogging friend in Belgium... Look at this aberration, surely a symptom of the problem described:-

This tomato seems to have produced a "viewing window" so that you can watch the seeds develop!

In future, I will be making strenuous efforts to maximise the amount of home-grown compost I produce, and to minimise my use of commercially-produced products.

Saturday 28 June 2014


I haven't written about my chillis very much recently. I'll put that right...

Most of my plants (and not just the chillis) were damaged in a big hailstorm about a month ago. Many of them lost a lot of leaves at that time, and even the leaves that didn't get ripped off are still showing the effects. This is one of my "Nosferatu" plants, with its leaves riddled with holes:

After the storm, I adminstered a generous dose of "Tomorite" tomato food to anything I thought would benefit from it - tomatoes, chillis, peppers, cucumbers - basically all the "fruiting" vegetables. This coupled with some much better weather, including a fair bit of warm sunshine, has brought about a noticeable recovery. Most of the plants have a good number of fresh young leaves.

Unfortunately my plants have been affected by the same weedkiller-contaminated compost as that which has struck my tomato plants. The obvious symptom is distortion or puckering of the leaves.

I'm hoping that the damage is superficial and that the plants will recover from this, but at very least it has retarded their growth.

This is my array of chilli plants now, mostly lined up on the paving-stones around the raised beds. A few of the bigger plants (the ones from last year) are elsewhere.

Some of them are setting fruit now, for instance this "Red Jalapeno":

The fruit pictured here is still tiny, but it is round rather than long and thin as I would expect. I just hope this is not another effect of the weedkiller contamination.

This is "Piment d'Espelette":

And this one with the masses of tiny flowers is the one I nicknamed "Redfeilds Small Red".

 If you look really carefully you might just be able to make out one or two tiny fruits forming.

This is Sweet Pepper "King of the North", worryingly small for this stage of the game. The plant is about 25cm tall and so far has only one fruit:

One of the two "Turkish Sweet Pepper" plants has no fruits at all yet, but the other has these two, which are looking fairly satisfactory:

"Ohnivec" is looking the most promising at present:

I have two plants of "Ring of Fire", which I thought would be a fairly safe bet for my "main crop" chillis. Guess which type has yet to set any fruit at all...

Friday 27 June 2014

A progress report - late June

Among the many reasons why I write this blog is the fact that it gives me a good record of what has happened amd when - it is in effect a garden diary. Today's post has no particular theme, other than that it shows the state of play.

One of the jobs I did last weekend was re-potting the Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants. Previously they were in 3-inch pots. Now they are in 5-inch pots. This will allow them to grow without becoming cramped, and the additional compost around them will mean improved moisture-retention and less chance of becoming parched during a hot dry day.

I have 11 PSB plants at present - one accidentally got broken while I was moving them around - but it is still plenty, since I will probably only grow either 4 or 6 (still undecided).

I stopped cutting Asparagus a couple of weeks ago, but of course the plants are still putting up spears. They probably feel safe from execution now!

When the spears get to about two feet tall they begin to open out.

And then they become identifiably "ferns":

In the bed next door are the beans. A couple of the Runners have reached the tops of the canes, so I have pinched them out to promote the growth of sideshoots. The Climbing French Beans are perhaps a little less vigorous, but when it comes to deciding which will produce the first pods it will be a close race. Flowers are already forming on both.

Climbing French Bean "Cobra"

Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire"

Despite issues with compost contaminated with weedkiller, I think I'll still get at least some tomatoes:

Tomato "Banana Legs"

The "Iznik F1" cucumbers have set a few fruit, even though the plants are still very small. Once they get going they grow very rapidly.

The Pineapple Mint from the "Rocket Gardens" set has evidently settled in well. I'm glad I put it in a pot, because this one would probably take over the garden if given half a chance.

I must say, white Mint is a real novelty for me!

This is what my Rhubarb looks like just now:

Not very impressive is it? There used to be four plants there, but I think two have them have died. I have plans for this stuff. Next year I will do better!

My Parsley is also "under par" at present.

When it develops a red tinge in the leaves this is normally a sign that it is in trouble. Something has attacked its roots. I don't think it is Carrot Root Fly because I have treated this area with nematodes. I suspect ants. They nibble away at the roots and the plant collapses. And until a few days ago they were looking so good too. Grrr!

My Leeks are looking healthy enough though.

Ironically, it is the spares that are doing best! I put them in a couple of pots full of new compost, and they are loving it.

I have also (finally) managed to get some Landcress to germinate. I gave up on the old packet of seeds after two attempts, and bought a new one. This lot is from the fresh packet, but even so the germination rate is not so special. I must have put 50 seeds in that pot, and look, maybe 10 have come up.

These days my garden has lots of visual treats as well as edible ones, and I would like to put in a few photos of flowers, but I think this post is long enough already. I'll just leave you with this shot of the "Bishop of Llandaff" Dahlia.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Broad Beans (again)

The Broad Bean is one of the few vegetables that seems to have remained predominantly seasonal - in other words, apart from the frozen ones that are available all the time, they only appear in the shops during a certain season. For us here in the UK that season is late Spring / early Summer. Jane and I are not great fans of frozen veg, so we tend to take full advantage of the fresh Broad Beans when they are available. In my little veg plot I am unable to devote much space to growing them, but they appear every year on my Growing-list. Harvest time is -- NOW!

My first harvest, a few days ago, was 552g of the "Stereo" beans, about which I have recently written in detail, but this batch includes not only another 390g of "Stereo", but also 811g of "Witkiem Manita".


"Witkiem Manita"
The basket of "Witkiem Manita" looks by far the larger of the two, but funnily enough once they are podded it will probably be the smaller (in terms of weight). The big pods have lots of padding, whereas the smaller pods of "Stereo" will be much more tightly filled. This type of bean should not be left to get too big, because they can easily become tough and leathery. It's best to pick them at the right time and if necessary keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge. Broad Beans will happily keep for at least a week that way.

The pods of "Witkiem Manita" are quite short by Broad Bean standards - they are definitely not a "longpod" variety. Most of mine are about 20cm long.

The pods of "Stereo" are usually about 10 - 12cm long, and much slimmer.

Does anyone know whether you can make anything edible with Broad Bean pods, like you can with pea pods? It seems such a waste to put such a high proportion of one's harvest straight on to the compost heap.

Since we currently have BBs available, who would like to give me a recipe for cooking them? It would be nice if you would share with me your favourite way(s) of using them.

Here's a photo of some ingredients that went into a meal Jane cooked last weekend. Broad Beans, Sherry, Toasted Almonds, Lemon, Smoked Paprika, Marjoram... Guess which country's cuisine we're talking about!

The dish was a Spanish-style tortilla - a bit like an omelette - filled with Broad Beans braised in sherry. A very different way of using the beans, and very delicious too! The recipe came from Holland and Barrett's "Healthy"  magazine.