Saturday 31 October 2015

Re-sprouting Leeks

The other day, when I wrote about a couple of my Leeks having bolted, a friend suggested in a comment that it might be worth cutting them down and seeing if they would re-sprout. I thought this would be worth a try - after all, there was nothing to lose. This is the result:

The flower-stalks have continued to grow, but as you can see, some new leaves have appeared too.

Here's another - THE other, because there were only two that needed the treatment.

The stalks had grown about another four inches since I cut them, so I have now trimmed them down again, in the hope that their energy will be diverted to leaf growth.

I'm not sure whether this is going to result in anything worthwhile, but as they say there's only one way to find out...  Has anyone else has success with this technique?

Friday 30 October 2015

The season of murk and sallow sogginess

The poet John Keats in his poem Ode To Autumn famously described Autumn as the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", but if he were here today I think he would have chosen different words. My version is "season of murk and sallow sogginess"! At this time of year it is all too easy for a garden to look scruffy and unattractive, especially when it is raining (as it is today).

The Asparagus today is a soggy heap of yellowing fern:

However, in amongst the fern there are a few little red pearls...

Most of the shingle has now disappeared under a thick carpet of wet Maple leaves:

Isn't it amazing how many leaves can come off one tree? The nets over my raised beds catch many of them.

I have to sweep off the leaves every day or two in order to stop them blocking out all the light for the plants underneath.

My two clipped Bay trees are also good at catching Maple leaves:

I wanted a photo of my sapling Bay tree (to keep track of its progress), and that too has ended up being mostly a photo of wet Maple leaves!

To be fair, it's not just the Maple that has lost its leaves - the Dogwood shrubs have too. The colour of their stems will become darker and more vivid when cold weather comes along, but they are already looking promising.

I think I might need to get another compost-bin. I have three already, one of which is devoted to storing leaves, but they are all full, and leaves decompose very slowly.

Anyway, on the Plus side I finally got round to making a couple of trips to the Council tip yesterday, and I disposed of all that suspect compost that I had bagged up. Hard work, and very unpleasant, but I feel better now that its done.

Thursday 29 October 2015

October salads

Normally I would expect there to have been a frost before the end of October, which would kill off most of the salad crops. This year, October has been mild and the salads are surviving - doing well, actually.

There are several of this type of Lettuce. It is called "Dubacek", and has been grown from seeds received in my seed-swap with Dominika in the Czech Republic. The seeds were sown at the end of July, so it has evidently grown very slowly.

This one is "Redin", another Czech variety, sown at the same time as "Dubacek".

This is one of the blanched Endives (untied moments before cutting).

I didn't really want to cut this one, because we already have lots of salad in the fridge, but it was "Use it or Lose it" time - the outer leaves were beginning to rot.

Here is another type of Endive, still tightly tied.

This one is a Batavian or Broad-leaved Endive.

This very frizzy one is called "Tosca". It is currently very tiny but will hopefully continue to grow.

The "Palla Rossa" Radicchio are also still tiny. They have grown incredibly slowly. I blame the compost. It just didn't seem to have any nutrients in it, and it took AGES for the seedlings to grow large enough for planting out. I think they may never come to anything.

Many of the bigger Endives will have to be used in the next couple of weeks, before they rot, and when the salad bed is a bit emptier I may cover some of it with my big long cloches. This will give some of those little Lettuces, Endives and Radicchio a chance to mature without being taken down by frost - which must come soon, surely?

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Winter Veg update

Until recently, I never made much of an effort with Winter vegetables, but I have now realised what a wasted opportunity that was, and I have taken steps to ensure that my harvests span almost the whole year.

This is a "Mila" Savoy Cabbage. It is one of the "Reserves" - spare plants that nearly didn't get planted at all. I'm glad they did, because although still small they look very healthy.

I love how the raindrops sit on the cabbage leaves like little silver beads!

One of my raised beds plays host to Leeks, Parsnips and Celeriac, all classic Winter vegetables.

The Parsnips are in the foreground in that photo above. I haven't harvested any of them yet. They say that their flavour improves after the first frosts, and I can afford to leave them a bit longer because I don't need the space for anything else just now. I have however had a furtle around to try to establish how big they are and I rather fear I should be saying how small they are! This year the foliage is a lot less luxuriant than normal. I wonder if that is related? I expect so.

The Leeks are also looking pitifully small. I have three different varieties growing in that bed and they are all equally pathetic. These ones are about the best, and I would say they are about as thick as my thumb.

The diminutive size is definitely not caused by problems with the soil in that bed, because I have more Leeks from the same three batches growing in some containers and they are just the same. Oh well, maybe they will taste extra special this year!

The Celeriac is growing next to the Leeks. I won't pretend that they are big...

They are slowly "getting there". In about another 3 years' time they should be ready!

In addition to all of the above I also have my Brussels Sprouts to look forward to, as well as PSB and Brokali , but I wrote about those only the other day, so I won't mention them again. And as reported last week, the Carrots are still going strong. All in all I think I am fairly well set up for the Winter.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Autumn colours

This is what most people think of when "Autumn colours" are mentioned:

On the other hand, this is what I think of:

Yes, it's a Dogwood leaf. Regular readers will know that I am very fond of Dogwoods, and have several. The leaves on this one are at present almost coppery.

There aren't many berries this year, for some reason.

Of course not all Dogwoods produce red leaves. This one has "Tiger stripes":

As well as the Dogwoods, the Blueberries are always good for a bit of colour at this time of year:

It's also the time when the Callicarpa loses its leaves and the berries become the predominant feature:

The Cotinus has had a hard time recently. It nearly died last year, but this year it has recovered a bit. The foliage is not as impressive as normal, for this reason.

This bush is scheduled for some major surgery in the Spring!

Monday 26 October 2015

Harvest Monday - 26th October 2015

Until I sat down to write this post I didn't think I had a lot of harvesting to report on this week. I soon changed my mind...

Lots of the chillis are ripening now.

Most of my chilli plants are under cover now, some indoors, some in the garage and some in plastic greenhouses. This means that they are managing eventually to ripen their fruit. Outside, unprotected, they would be struggling.

In the photo below are Blondie (white), Aji Limon (yellow), Indian Chilli Bullet (red, centre), Scotch Bonnet Caribbean Antillais (red, foreground), Brazilian Starfish (green, turning orange then red!) and Bolivian Rainbow (formerly purple, now red).

I made the chillis into a sauce, along with some onions, garlic, ginger and a spice mix similar to that which I used the other day for my Harissa - coriander, cumin and caraway. I roasted the ingredients in a medium-hot oven until they went soft, and then blended them to the right texture in the food-processor. I had to add a little water because I felt that the texture was a bit too firm.

Here's the finished product:

We haven't had any frost yet, so the salads are still going strong. Yesterday I picked more Endive and Lettuce:

My very last pot of potatoes came up too:

Aren't they pathetic? And not very pretty. They are Sarpo "Axona". These are the only ones that have had any significant amount of Scab. To be fair, they were planted very late and into a pot of second-hand compost.

The Carrots are a bit more impressive:

These ones are "Early Nantes". Most of them are straight and even (though several are short and dumpy).

This one however thinks it is one of those "Paris Market" carrots.

And what about this little beauty?

Unfortunately it was not useable. If I show you the other side you will see that it was badly split.

Well, that's my harvest for the week. Why not go on over to Dave's blog Our Happy Acres and see what everyone else has put forward for Harvest Monday...

Sunday 25 October 2015

Preparing chillis for Winter

Over the last couple of years I have been experimenting with over-Wintering mature chilli plants. If you can keep the plants alive over the Winter they will produce a crop the following year much sooner than new plants grown from seed. This is definitely an attraction when our English Summers are as poor as they have been in recent years!

Scotch Bonnet Caribbean Antillais

In the right conditions (i.e. tropical ones!) the chilli is a perennial plant, but in England even if you keep your chillis in a warm room it is far from certain that they will survive the Winter. I keep mine on the windowsill of our spare bedroom, but at night-time the temperature in that room can still be pretty low. Of course if I were prepared to heat the room constantly, just for the benefit of the plants, they would love that, and would be much more likely to survive, but my energy bills would go up a lot so I don't think it would be justifiable! The survival rate of my chilli plants over the last three Winters has been approximately 50%, which I think is acceptable. I will be prepared for some casualties but I will also expect some successes.

I don't pretend to be a guru on this subject, but I'm going to explain the procedure I use, just in case you might want to copy it.

I start with a strong, healthy plant. A weak, sickly one is not worth bothering with. This one is my Scotch Bonnet Caribbean Antillais one. It has produced some attractive and fiery hot fruits this year and it seems like a perfect candidate for the treatment.

If we look closely at the plant, you can see that it has a strong woody main stem, and lots of branches.

Using sharp secateurs, I remove about two thirds of each mature branch, and I cut out completely any immature soft branches coming directly from the main stem. I also remove the majority of the big leaves. I want the plant to more-or-less go to sleep, and if it has too many big leaves it will be too vigorous.

Having done the pruning, I spray the plant very thoroughly with warm water to which I add a tiny drop of liquid hand soap. This is literally to wash the plant, removing any aphids and any fungal spores. I suppose that specialist Horticultural Soap would be best, but I haven't got any!  Finally, I give the plant a good drink of water to help it get over the shock of its surgery.

The end result is a very compact plant, like this:

Now it goes onto the windowsill in the spare bedroom, and I hope for the best... During the Winter I will water it sparingly, without feeding it. If it pulls through I will start feeding it when the first signs of new growth appear. At that point I would probably re-pot it too, using fresh compost.

On a related theme: I have been doing a seed-viability test with some of the seeds I saved last year. I put a few seeds in some 4-inch pots, covered with plastic bags, and placed them in the airing-cupboard for a few days to see if anything would germinate. This one was from a packet labelled "Red Habanero 2014". They are definitely viable! I don't think I will be able to keep this little plant over the Winter, but it confirms for me that it will definitely be worth sowing some of those seeds in the Spring.

This is where those seeds came from - I think the variety is "Paper Lantern".

This year's chilli harvest is drawing to a close, but as you can see I'm already planning for next year's!