Wednesday 31 August 2016

A welcome return

If you have been wondering why I have been a bit low-profile recently, and posting less often, it's because we have been away for a week, looking after Jane's elderly mother. Being away from my garden is always a difficult thing for me, so I'm sure you can imagine how glad I was to get back to it yesterday!

The weather this past week has been mostly fine and sunny, so the plants have grown a lot. I'll be doing a fair bit of harvesting later today I think. I haven't had much time to write a blogpost yet, so I'll just show some photos.

The mystery Italian cucumber is laden with fruit now:-

And the Cucamelons have done what everyone warned me they would do. After a slow start, they have produced loads of fruit:

Many of the chillis are starting to ripen. This is "Brazilian Starfish".

Most of the tomato plants are laden with ripe and ripening fruit now, like this "Ferline" one.

This is "de Colgar".

Over the next couple of days I will be having a big tomato sauce-making spree. The ones in the fridge look just as good as they were when we went away, so the Stayfresh bags have done a good job. The fruits I left out in trays on the Dining Room table have ripened nicely too, so add these to the ones I picked yesterday evening and I must have at least 10kgs available even if I resist picking more today!

A mixture picked yesterday

We're off to the shops this morning to re-stock the fridge and larder, but after that I'll be harvesting...

Monday 29 August 2016

Harvest Monday - 29 August 2016

My harvests this time are a bit scant, because we have been away from home for most of the week. Nevertheless...

I'm putting Blueberries at the top of my list this week, simply because they were unexpected. When I picked some the other day I thought that was it, so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to pick another 270g:

Unsurprisingly, almost all of those came from the one plant that I managed to protect with a net. The other plants are mostly bare by now.

I picked a few Cucamelons:

The jury's still out on these. I'm not overly enthused. A novelty, I would say, which probably won't appear in my garden again. I prefer the traditional type of cucumber, like these:

That's one each of "Passandra" (top) and "Diva". In terms of quality, I think these two are equal. In terms of appearance, "Passandra" is lightly slimmer than the chubby "Diva", but that's not necessarily a good thing.

Before we left home, I picked all the tomatoes that were nearly ripe and stashed them in the fridge in some of those green plastic "Stayfresh" bags. It was just over 3.5kgs.

I don't normally put fresh tomatoes in the fridge, because I think it can impair their flavour, but this was an emergency measure, to ensure that the fruit wouldn't spoil during our absence.

I pulled up another small batch of carrots.

I was specifically looking for small ones, to take for Jane's mother, who likes nibbling them raw. I found that what seems like a small carrot is not always a small carrot. And this bunch is very diverse anyway, because it contains specimens from three of the four varieties I'm growing. There a several short dumpy ones, which I wasn't expecting. They are all supposed to be long varieties, and they are growing in a very deep bed full of lovely stone-free sandy soil. Very odd.

Well, that's my harvests for another week. I'm linking my post to Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres, where I'm sure you will be able to see loads more lovely veggies.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Flowers - a strange year.

OK, so flowers are not the No.1 priority in Mark's Veg Plot, but I do still like to have a bit of colour in the garden. Just like with the vegetables though, the flowers have had a strange year. Some things have done well (not many), but others have been very poor. I shall blame the weather!

Our Living-Room has a sliding glass door that opens out onto the garden. Just outside is this:

The little splash of yellow is a Rudbeckia Fulgida "Goldsturm". It is usually pretty vigorous, but this year it is pathetically small, and I don't know why. It has been in the same pot for three years now, so I suppose it needs re-potting, though I always feed it generously.

In stark contrast, my Salvia Cardinalis is looking really good, its tall slender dark-coloured stems tipped with fiery red blooms (supposedly the same colour as the robes and caps worn by Roman Catholic cardinals!).

I have found it hard to photograph those flowers - they are just so vivid.

Another poor performer is my Helenium, which normally has a huge mass of russetty-golden blooms at this time of year. Currently it has about 10, and the stems are soft and floppy instead of the usual perky upright ones. Strange.

No such trouble with the "Bishop of Llandaff" dahlia though.

This time it is much taller than before, standing nearly four feet high. You can see it in the background of the first two photos of this post.

Gardening is definitely not a precise art. Plants perform differently from year to year, even when you think you are treating them exactly the same. But that's what makes our hobby so interesting, isn't it? It would be dull if there were no challenges to overcome!

Friday 26 August 2016

Moving the PSB to the next stage

My Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants are getting quite big now, and beginning to be top-heavy. In the gale-force wind we had last weekend they were swaying to and fro like crazy, so I decided they needed to be staked before they came to any harm. I also decided that since my "Winterbor" Kale was not going to get used, it might as well go, so I have pulled up the plants and disposed of them. The PSB will be glad of this because it will allow them to get more light.

I have given each PSB plant a sturdy 4-foot hardwood stake, which I hammered well into the soil with a heavy hammer to make sure they are secure. I tied the plants very loosely to the stakes, using several turns of soft string. The idea is to provide stability in strong winds without restricting the plants' growth.

Since I had the netting rolled back to facilitate the putting-in of the stakes, I took the opportunity to weed the bed and to give the PSB a dose of general-purpose plant food (liquid Growmore in this case).

As soon as I had finished the job the netting went back on, because there are still quite a few white butterflies around - though all the other varieties are conspicuous by their absence. I noticed a few Whitefly lurking under the leaves of the PSB, so sometime soon I will need to spray them with washing-up liquid like I did with the Brussels Sprouts the other day.

In my photos you can see the Leeks along the edges of the PSB bed. I don't know whether they will be any good - they may perhaps be too shaded - but it's always worth a try, to maximise the yield from a small space. The ones between the rows of Parsnips have been completely swamped, and I don't expect them to be worth having.

Incidentally, I didn't need to use any of the spare PSB plants that I raised. Most of them were eventually given away to a friend and the last remaining one went in the compost bin last Sunday. My "insurance" paid off.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

An unidentified chilli

Earlier this year a friend gave me some chilli plants. One of them has developed into this:

The trouble is, no-one seems to know what variety it is. It was given to me in good faith as "Purple Gusto", but it is evidently not that. "Purple Gusto" has long, pointed fruits, but the fruits on mine are bulbous. Some of them are a light "plum" colour like this:

Others are much darker, like this:

Someone suggested this might be "Cheiro Roxa", but I think not, although there is some similarity.

Whatever this is, it's a very attractive chilli! I haven't tried eating any of the fruits yet, so I can't comment on the taste or heat. In fact I will struggle to tell when they are ripe. Perhaps they will turn red or something?

If you recognise this chilli / pepper, please tell me in a comment!

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Tomato times

Late August / Early September is probably the peak of the tomato-harvesting season in the UK, and despite some "issues", I am managing to harvest a fair few fruits. First thing in the morning each day I'm out in the garden picking anything that is ripe.

"Maskotka", "Montello" and "Supersweet 100"

The little cherry toms "Maskotka", "Montello", "Primavera" and "Supersweet 100" are delivering a steady supply, but for me the greatest satisfaction comes from getting ripe fruit on the bigger (more difficult to grow) varieties. This one is "Caspian Pink", which I tried to grow last year too, without success - the plant succumbed to blight before producing ripe fruit.

"Caspian Pink"

You might recall that I had to dispose of my "Costoluto Fiorentino" plant a couple of weeks back, on account of blight infestation, but I saved some of the fruit. Some of these also fell victim to blight, but a few have survived and ripened OK, like this pair. They are not Class 1 specimens because they are a bit wrinkly on account of their slow off-the-plant ripening.

"Costoluto Fiorentino"

"Dynnye" is another variety with which I have previously had limited success, but has done better this year. This is the first of its fruits to come to maturity - although at the stage when I photographed it, it was not completely ripe. When ripe this variety is more orange than yellow - like the uppermost section visible in this photo:-


The underside of this specimen is not very pretty! It has a lot of scarring (aka "Catfacing"), which is very common in large Beefsteak-type tomatoes. It certainly presents a challenge when preparing the fruits for eating.


These four are "Stupice". They are about 2 inches in diameter, and very regularly-shaped and uniform in size. Nice tomatoes. They were grown from seeds sent to me in a seed-swap with my friend Dominika in the Czech Republic.


Perhaps the most attractive tomatoes I have grown this year are the "Grushkova" ones. This is a bush variety, but one that produces quite large, pinkish-red fruits. They are mildly ribbed and many of them (like the small one in my photo) are heart-shaped.


My thanks to Alex Taylor in Scotland for the seeds for "Grushkova", which I will definitely be growing again.

In our house the sign that we have "enough" tomatoes is that we start making some of them into sauce for freezing. We don't freeze much in the way of veg, but tomato sauce is one thing that we make as much as possible of. It is a very versatile product to have available, and livens up many Winter dishes for us.

Making tomato sauce

We generally make our tomato sauce very plain - just adding a little chopped onion. We don't include any herbs or garlic, because these can be added later if required, whereas they can't be taken out!

Monday 22 August 2016

Harvest Monday - 22nd Aug 2016

August is definitely my premier harvesting month!

The tomatoes are rolling in now. Earlier in the year I thought I was going to lose the lot, what with compost contamination, blight and BER, but in fact many of them have made it to maturity after all. In terms of numbers, the little cherry toms are the most numerous, though weight for weight they can't compare to the Beefsteaks.

I've not been weighing the tomatoes. It's too much of a chore when I pick them little and often! Suffice it to say that we have reached the stage where I feel justified in dehydrating some, which I only do if we have LOTS.

The bigger types of tomato have also been ripening:

In the next photo the two big, dark-coloured ones are "Cherokee Purple" (L) and "Black from Tula" (R). Also seen are a couple of stripey "Tigerella", one "Stupice" and a few of the little "Maskotkas" creeping into the shot.

More beans, both Runner and French:

More "Boltardy" beetroot:

The first of the "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes (890g), the yield from one seed-tuber grown in a 25-litre pot.

More of the "Amsterdam 3 Forcing" Finger carrots:

What about this? My first (maybe only) Pepper of the year.

It is one of the little "Turkish Bell Pepper" ones, as I call them. Unfortunately most of the fruits have gone soft and blackened before maturity, probably as a result of our poor weather, but I managed to save this one. I don't like Peppers of this type, and Jane prefers them green. If you leave them to ripen they eventually turn red though.

After barren period in which they produced mainly male flowers, my "Diva" and "Passandra" Cucumber plants have started producing fruits now. I picked the first one of the "Divas" at the weekend, and there is a "Passandra" nearly ready.


That's my harvests for the week. I'm linking my post to Harvest Monday, hosted as ever by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Sunday 21 August 2016

"Challock Chilli" update

I'm sure you remember that I'm trialling a couple plants of Stephen Shirley's new chilli currently known as the "Challock Chilli". A fruit on one of the plants has just turned colour, indicating imminent ripeness.

That particular fruit (which was the very first one to set) exhibits the characteristics of one of this variety's parents - "Bird's Eye Baby", whereas most of the others look more like the other parent - "Jalapeno", being longer and more bullet-shaped.

Actually most of them are what I would call "wedge-shaped", like this one:

One aspect of my trial has been to grow my two plants in two different composts to see if it makes any difference. One has been in Levington's John Innes No.2, and the other in Melcourt Sylvagrow (peat-free). The plant in Sylvagrow has grown taller and stragglier than the one in John Innes, which is stockier and more compact.

Both plants have set quite a few fruits, as seen here:

This is the plant in John Innes No.2

The plant in Sylvagrow, whilst it has plenty of fruit, has smaller fruit, many of them like the ones in my first photo. They also seem to be a much darker shade of green. Whether this is anything to do with the compost is a moot point, but it seems likely, since all other factors are the same. Both plants are in identical pots and have been treated exactly the same.

I'm looking forward to being able to taste ripe fruits from these two plants pretty soon. My recollection of the taste (as experienced last year at Stephen's Challock Chilli Fest) is of a fairly mild heat, but very fruity taste.