Thursday 30 June 2016

Carrying on in the face of adversity

Some people think that gardening is easy. How wrong can you be? It's not just a case of sowing some seeds and sitting back and waiting for harvest-time, is it?

If you have been reading my blog over the past few days, you will know that yet again my tomatoes are having to cope with the insidious effects of weedkiller contamination. Yet despite this, the plants are setting fruit. Their urge to reproduce is very strong! I suspect that some of their fruit will not be true to type though. These weedkillers often alter the fruits of a plant as well as the leaves and stems. This next photo is of "Maskotka" tomatoes beginning to develop:

Normally, "Maskotka" fruits are round, but to me these ones look distinctly plum-shaped. What do you think?

Still, as long as they taste nice, and there are lots of them, I don't really mind what shape they are!

The chilli plants are suffering too. Not only do they hate the cool, gloomy weather, they have also taken several batterings from exceptionally heavy rain, and hail. This "Cheiro Roxa" plant has many leaves perforated by the hail.

Some of the plants are also affected by the weedkiller problem, though fortunately not many, and not very severely this year.

Chilli plant affected by weedkiller problem

Despite all this, there are chilli fruits appearing now. This one is an "Aji Limon", on one of the over-Wintered plants that lost most of its leaves when I used the wrong washing-up liquid spray but then recovered.

This is another Good News item - all four of the side-shoot cuttings I took from a "Larisa" beefsteak tomato plant have all rooted well, and are developing into nice strong plants.

Just a couple of days ago I re-potted them into bigger pots, and with more space and fresh compost I expect they will grow quite rapidly, but I'm still not convinced they will be able to get big enough to bear fruit before our Summer (such as it is) is finished. Only time will tell.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

An uneven distribution

I have been looking closely at my tall "De Monica" Broad Bean plants. I have observed that the conversion of flowers into actual pods has been very uneven. Down at the bottom of the plants the set (formation of pods) has been pretty good, with lots of pods forming, but higher up, there are very few pods.

The formation of pods is triggered by the pollination of the flowers, in turn occasioned by the visits of bees. So why did bees visit the lower-down flowers but not the high-up ones? Are they afraid of heights, I ask?! My theory is this: the lower-down flowers appeared first, when the weather was reasonably good, and they opened out fully allowing easy access to the bees. However, at the time when the upper flowers were out the weather was appalling and the heavy rain reduced many of them to a soggy mess, and the bees just couldn't get in to pollinate them.

I think my theory is confirmed by the fact that the very much shorter "Robin Hood" beans have experienced the same effect - lots of pods down near the ground; few pods up above. It's a timing issue, not one of height.

The good news though is that the later-developing "Masterpiece Longpod" plants seem to be forming a lot more pods higher up.

They may have got in just in time, because the absolutely torrential rain we had on many occasions last week would have destroyed any flowers that were open at the time.

I have also come to the conclusion that it would be better to space my Broad Bean plants a bit further apart. This year I have two rows, each of 12 plants, in a bed which is 2.4 metres long - so in other words the plants are roughly 20cm apart. This means that their leaves are inter-twined, which may make it harder for bees to navigate between them, or even to detect the flowers in the first place. Next year I might try growing fewer plants at a wider spacing.

I'm going to continue to grow them tied to individual canes though. I think this is a good method to use if you are only growing a few beans, because it keeps them upright and stops them becoming a tangled mess that bees can't get into. Obviously if you had loads of bean plants this method might be too laborious.

Well, the quantity of beans this year may be somewhat disappointing, but there's no faulting the quality. This is a batch we ate a few days ago - BBs mixed with peas. The beans here are "Robin Hood" ones, which are small, but very tender and a glorious bright green colour.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Squeezing in a few more veg

Now that I am harvesting potatoes, some of the big 35-litre pots in which they have been growing are starting to become available again. Rather than leave them idle, I am putting them to use for producing a second crop. I know that some of the nutrients in the soil / compost mixture will have been used up, but potatoes are only in the ground for a limited time, so I believe the compost will still be OK. Furthermore, if I plant a different crop, (other than potatoes, I mean), it will probably be looking for different nutrients anyway.

Into one of these pots have gone nine "Toledo" Leek seedlings, left over from when I planted-up my main batch.

I grew a few Leeks in exactly the same way last year. They were never particularly good, but then none of my Leeks were. I think it was a bad year for Leeks in general. I'm hoping for a better result this time.

Another pot now houses my mystery Cucumber.

For the time being I have just given it a short stick to protect it from the furtling of badgers and foxes, but when it gets a bit bigger I will erect a wigwam of bamboo canes for it to climb.

Next-door to these two is a pot with several Dwarf Bean plants in it, which I have described before.

I have tucked in a couple of other Cucumbers too. My spare "Diva" was such a good specimen that I couldn't bear to ditch it, but it was getting very big. It HAD to go somewhere. There wasn't anywhere! Finally I found this rather unpromising spot, at the foot of the Philadelphus tree:

Yes, I know it is difficult to see a Cucumber plant in there, but the wigwam of canes should be a clue. here it is:-

It's a far from ideal spot, but as you can see, it does get at least a bit of sunlight, so hopefully it will be OK.

Do you remember the "Mini Munch", which was a real runt? Well, I decided to give it a chance, and put it in the big tub with the other Cucumbers and the Cucamelons. Unfortunately, I think the poor thing is jinxed because on Saturday we had another amazingly ferocious storm and the plant was battered down to the ground by hail and torrential rain.

Will it survive? It seems unlikely.

Meanwhile the diminutive Cucamelons reach up to their bigger cousins for a helping hand...

This is not one of my efforts -- this Carrot has eased itself into the Broad Bean bed without me noticing.

Still, now that it's there though, I think I'll let it stay.

Monday 27 June 2016

Harvest Monday - 27th June 2016

I have lots of harvests to report this week (makes a change from mostly Lettuce, eh?).

The potatoes are from the batch of "Lady Christl" I harvested last week!

I picked the first of my Peas this week.

These are the first few (165g) of my "Early Onward" peas. Of course it's not a big harvest by any measure, but fresh home-grown peas are just SO GOOD! Fortunately my peas have so far avoided getting Mildew, which has always been a problem in the past.

Later in the week I picked more peas - about 250g this time.

The good thing about growing veg in one's back garden is that you can judge exactly when to harvest. It's not like having to wait maybe a week until your next allotment visit. With peas, minutes count!

I'm pleased with the quality; they are (were) nice peas. As well as the shelling peas, this week has seen me harvest some pea shoots for use as a salad ingredient. I grew about 20 peas in a small pot, specifically for this purpose:

You don't need a big quantity of pea-shoots if they are going to be just one of several ingredients in a salad, so I just snipped these:

Here's a closer view:

They were extremely tasty - all the flavour we normally associate with fresh peas from the pod, but with such a different texture!

Dare I mention Lettuce? Of course the salad into which those pea-shoots went also included Lettuce - in this case another "Yugoslavian Red" butterhead one.

These three Gem lettuces were harvested as a matter of necessity. With all the rain we have had, the outer leaves were beginning to develop mould. Inside, the hearts were fine though:

2 x "Amaze" and 1 x "Little Gem"

As you will have seen in the first photo, I also took a first picking of Broad Beans. Again, not a huge quantity, but very special.

I really picked the pods just to see how big the beans inside were. They were still fairly small, but certainly viable. Mixed in with the peas and some thinly-sliced (bought) carrots, the ones I had picked made a lovely accompaniment to some baked Ham with Parsley sauce. By the way, I did look at my own carrots, to see if any were of a useable size, but regrettably the answer was No.

The Broad Beans were of two different types, "De Monica" and "Robin Hood". I have picked out a few examples of each to demonstrate the difference in size:

The smaller "Robin Hood" plants produce smaller pods, but they seem to produce more of them, and the pods have less "padding" than the bigger varieties. I have 6 plants of "De Monica", 12 of "Robin Hood" and 6 of another type - "Masterpiece Longpod", though I didn't pick any of the latter this time.

Three days later I picked another batch of beans, just "Robin Hood" this time. This is 350g.

Another batch of potatoes joined the tally this week. These are a Second Early variety called "Nadine":

This lot is the product of two seed-tubers, grown in one 35-litre pot. They weighed 1.12kgs.

My final harvest this week was some "Winterbor" Kale:

It's the first time I have grown this type of Kale (as opposed to the Cavolo Nero / Lacinato type). Jane is not very keen on Kale, but I like it, so I reckon it's fair to serve it on an occasion when there is lots of other veg available for her to eat! I used this batch of Kale in two ways - one of them was boiled, as a green vegetable, and the other was made into crisps (what folks in the US call "chips"). If you want to know how this is done, I gave the recipe for it HERE. When I cooked the Kale Chips I added a "little something extra" - some chilli flakes - and even Jane had to admit that the chips were very nice indeed!

Well that's my harvest for the week. Quite a decent one, I think!

I'm linking my post to the weekly Harvest Monday link-up, over at Dave's Our Happy Acres.

Sunday 26 June 2016

More on the weedkiller problem

Several people have contacted me to say that having read what I wrote last week about further problems with weedkiller contamination in my tomatoes, they think they are suffering from the same thing. I'm pretty sure that this issue is a lot more widespread than you might imagine - and it's certainly not something that the compost manufacturers want to own up to. What a shame that the UK has chosen to leave the EU, because the EU is currently showing much more inclination than ever before to ban the use of harmful chemicals (such as Glyphosate / Roundup) in agriculture!

To help other people to determine whether their plants are affected by weedkiller, today I am posting some more photos of the symptoms. Before I go any further though, let me say that this year my plants are less badly affected than previously. Some of them even seem to be "growing out of" the problem - in other words producing slightly more normal foliage now. But the bad news is, what I'm showing here is a mild dose!

The most obvious symptom is the pronounced inward curling of the leaves, some of which have adopted a sort of corkscrew spiral configuration.

Many of the leaves have developed a blistered texture like this:

The worst affected plants have both of these symptoms, as well as blotchy discoloured leaves.

One of the plants, the "Stupice", is exhibiting the so-called "fern-like" foliage which is a well-known characteristic of this issue. Instead of being broad, the leaves it is producing now are long and spindly, and brown at the tips.

Here's a close-up:

The brown bits are not dry and crispy, nor are they soft and mushy. They are normal leaf texture.

One of my plants ("Cherokee Purple") is very stunted - about 30% smaller than its peers - and has weak yellow leaves with brown tips:

This plant was the first of my 17 plants to set fruit. I can't help thinking that this is because it wants to reproduce quickly before it succumbs! Which sort of leads me to my final point: if you see that your tomatoes are affected by this problem, don't despair, they will probably still produce a viable crop. It may not be a big crop, and the fruits may not be particularly beautiful specimens, but they will still be worth having.

In the long run, my plan is to use less and less commercial compost, and more of my own home-made stuff. I'm also working on a plan to acquire some locally-sourced Hazel rods and beanpoles, so maybe next year you'll see me advocating the elimination of bamboo as well.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Growing Lemongrass

We eat lots of Oriental food in our house - Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, you name it, we love it! One of our favourite flavouring herbs is Lemongrass. The name says it all: it's a grass that tastes of Lemon. It is used a lot in Malay and Indonesian cuisine, and is a prominent ingredient of the dish Beef Rendang.

Mature Lemongrass. Photo by Jo Jo Yee (with permission)

Jo Jo Yee, who took the photos above, was a contestant in the TV programme "The Great Allotment Challenge" a couple of years ago. She writes the blog Fusian Living, in which she uses her Chinese heritage to write authoritatively about Asian cuisine and how it can be adapted to Western tastes. Even if you're not planning to grow Lemongrass, Jo Jo's blog is worth a browse for all the recipes! By the way, although of Chinese ancestry, Jo Jo was (like me) born in Malaysia, though until a few years ago she used to live in Australia, where I imagine growing Lemongrass is a whole lot easier than it is in the UK!

These days it's not too hard to find Lemongrass in the shops in the UK. It's usually on the shelf where you find garlic and ginger (and hopefully fresh chillis).

However, it can be expensive (at Sainsbury's it is currently 80p for 2 sticks) and it is often not very fresh when you buy it, so I thought it would be a good idea to grow some in my garden. One way of doing this is to buy some stalks of it and root them in water prior to planting-out in a pot of soil, but I decided to grow it from seed. I purchased my seeds from Simply Seeds. Theirs is an Indian variety that grows to only about 30cm tall. Interestingly it is also described as frost hardy, though I doubt that.

In the pack were approximately 500 seeds. I wasn't sure whether one plant would produce one stalk or many, so I sowed about 30 seeds. I have subsequently learned that a Lemongrass plant will produce multiple stalks, so 30 plants might perhaps be a bit OTT!

The instructions on the pack said to sow Lemongrass in April, May or June. I sowed mine indoors in a small pot of moist compost on 28th April. I think they must have all germinated. A month later they had shot up:

Now obviously 30 plants are not going to be happy in a little pot like that for very long, so just recently I moved them on a stage. I separated the clump of little seedlings into four, trying hard to minimise root disturbance, and planted them into a much bigger (10-inch) pot, filled with John Innes No.2 compost.

Each clump comprises several seedlings, so I think I will eventually need to separate them into individual plants and give each one its own pot. (I may be having a Plant Sale at that time!)

At the rate these are growing, they will probably need re-potting before the Autumn, and my plan is to bring a few of the plants indoors - or maybe into the garage (which has a window) - for the Winter. Although Lemongrass is a perennial, it is of oriental origin and I don't think it would take to kindly to being left outside over the Winter months. Of course, since I have so many plants I will be able to experiment, so I might just leave a couple outside to see what happens.

I would think that the plants would probably prefer to spend the Winter in a greenhouse or conservatory though.

Has anyone else in the UK tried growing Lemongrass? And if so, how did it go?