Saturday 12 October 2019

Shutting up shop for Winter

I haven't posted anything here for ages, so you probably guessed this: I'm shutting up my blog for the Winter.

My garden looks bedraggled and messy at present, and there is very little for me to write about. Who wants to see photos of my last few tomatoes, still holding out against the encroaching Blight?

My remaining cucumber plants are still producing a few fruits, but they are not very appealing!

We've already made a few jars of Sweet Chilli Sauce, so even the incentive to pick more of the chilli crop is much reduced now.

Fortunately, just as the gardening season tails off, the best time of year for my other hobby - fungi-hunting - begins. This is what I'll be doing for the next few months. Thanks for following, and see you next Spring!

Amanita muscaria - Fly Agaric

Boletus edulis - Penny Bun

Lactarius deliciosus - Saffron Milkcap

Mycena haematopus - Burgundydrop Bonnet

Calocera viscosa - Yellow Stagshorn

Laccaria amethystina - Amethyst Deceiver

Helvella crispa - White Saddle

Thursday 3 October 2019


About this time every year I do my best to sing the praises of a vegetable that is unfortunately very under-appreciated in the UK, even though it is much more popular in most of the rest of Europe (and maybe further afield too?) - it's the chicory, and more specifically the variant known as radicchio.

Although you can usually find this vegetable in the shops these days, as far as I'm aware few British amateur gardeners grow it, which is a shame in my opinion because I reckon that even if I didn't like the taste of it I would probably want to grow this vegetable in my garden just because of its spectacular good looks.

Radicchio is often grown as an Autumn-maturing crop, because it tolerates cool temperatures. In fact some varieties (e.g. Grumolo rosso) will survive several degrees of frost. Sown in Mid-Summer and planted out in say early August, it can be harvested in late Autumn. It is grown very much like lettuce, and forms a tight inner heart like Iceberg lettuce. The outer leaves generally remain green and tough, but their purpose is just to protect the more tender heart, and they get discarded at harvest. The heart is usually quite firm - crisp vibrantly-coloured red leaves with crunchy white ribs.

My radicchio are not ready for harvest yet. Many of the leaves are still quite green - they get redder as the temperatures fall.

Actually, before we assume that all chicories are red radicchios, let's acknowledge the existence of varieties that remain green, probably with yellowish inside leaves, like this one:

This year my chicories are a "mixed bag", grown from seeds out of several packs left over from previous years. I seem to have ended up with about 60% red ones and 40% green ones.

Some of them will be speckly ones, possibly the variety "Variegato di Castelfranco". I know there were some seeds of that one in the mix.

You can see that the chicory is interplanted with some curly endives, another of my favourite late-season salad vegetables. Last year I was late sowing my endives and I had to over-winter them under cloches (they did very well eventually). This year I remembered to sow at the right time - the first week of July - and they are much further forward than they were this time last year, although clearly not ready to harvest just yet.

If you haven't tried these vegetables - either eating them or growing them - I urge you to give them a try. Both endives and radicchio are sometimes accused of being unduly bitter, but I assure you this is not the case. Modern varieties are a lot sweeter than you would think, catering for modern tastes. I suppose I shouldn't say this, but I think these days many people in the UK don't like strong tastes, and most frequently prefer what I'd call bland flavours.

Monday 30 September 2019

Maincrop carrots

I've had a good year for carrots. I have grown three types - a rainbow mix called "Harlequin", some "Chantenay Red-Cored" (which turned out not to have red cores!), and a well-known maincrop variety called "Autumn King". The latter is an "old-fashioned" variety, but one which definitely deserves its popularity. It produces huge deep-orange roots which somehow manage to remain tender despite their size.

My other two types of carrot are finished now, so today I lifted my first batch of "Autumn King". Some of them are huge.

The biggest one I pulled up today weighed 376g. It's the fat barrel-shaped one seen in this next photo.

I only have one 2.4m row of these, but because of their robust stature they will produce a pretty decent yield, and keep us supplied for several weeks to come.

After my other carrots were lifted I planted the vacant space with some endives and chicories, which you can see here on the right:

They are still small, but I'm hoping they will mature in their own good time, hopefully before Christmas. Actually I think the Enviromesh which is primarily for the benefit of the carrots will give them a welcome bit of protection too!

By the way, not all the carrots were good-looking...

They may not be pretty, but there's plenty of useable material there. I often use the irregularly-shaped ones when I make stock, for which they are perfectly fine.

In the meantime I'll leave you with this. I'm keeping an eye on my carrots, but they are evidently keeping an eye on me too!

Thursday 26 September 2019


My garden is looking very much "End of Year" now. This old Sunflower head sums it up. Everything has a faded and droopy look.

It's a similar story here. This Hydrangea flower was once bright pink, but it's now pale and washed-out. It will soon be brown, I suppose...

I'm not going to be in too much of a hurry to tidy things up though, because these days I am more aware than ever of the role that the seeds contained in old flower-heads play in sustaining wildlife during the lean Winter months. I expect the birds will enjoy the Sunflower seeds, as well as the ones from these Rudbeckia:

The seeds of Rudbeckia are tiny, but the Goldfinches spend ages picking them out, so they must consider it worth the effort.

I think that the seeds from this fern might be too small even for the Goldfinches. Actually I'm not sure they are even seeds. Maybe they are spores? Anyone know?

I've been doing a bit of seed-saving myself recently, picking the dry brown pods of the various types of bean that I've grown. Despite my best efforts to pick them at their best, I inevitably miss a few and they only become visible once the leaves start dropping off the plants.

I'll dry those pods completely and when they are ready I'll take the beans out and keep them for use in soups and stews for the Winter. They will be joined by a lot more in a couple of weeks' time because I can see that there are a lot of big pods right up at the tops of the plants, where I have been unable to reach them (I use 9-foot poles). I'll only be able to get them by ripping down the whole plants, but I'm not ready for that just yet since there are still a few useable pods lower down.

Despite what I've said above, not everything is on its last legs. For instance, some of my herbs are really revelling in the cooler, wet conditions we are experiencing now, and have put on some lush new growth. Just look at this Sage:

I chopped off the old growth of this Greek Oregano about two weeks ago, and it has responded by producing a whole new set of foliage.

I keep thinking the tomatoes must be just about finished, but they are still going. When the fruit start showing a bit of colour I pick them and bring them indoors to finish ripening. These ones are "Ferline F1"

The Dwarf tomato plants I have grown from the seeds kindly sent to me by Craig LeHoullier in the USA have been very late to set fruit this year, and most of them are still green, like this "Dwarf Beauty King":

I'm hoping they will make it to maturity before the first frosts, but it's going to be a close-run thing. I expect we'll get frost before the middle of October, if not before.

Monday 23 September 2019

Chillis - a contrast in styles

Regular readers will be well aware that I'm a keen grower of chillis. However, they may not know that we (my wife Jane and me) do not actually eat huge quantities of chillis. We do enjoy a bit of Sweet Chilli Sauce on our Chinese fried rice, and we do occasionally put homegrown chillis in curries, soups and salsa, but we're not fanatical about it (unlike some I could mention...!). Furthermore, neither of us likes the blisteringly hot types of chilli, the so-called Super-hots.

The only chilli I'm growing this year that could conceivably be considered a Super-hot is this "Paper Lantern", and even this would be considered pretty tame by the standards of many chilli fanatics.

"Paper Lantern" is one of the Habanero types of chilli (botanically a Capsicum chinense) and its fruits are generally rated in the region of 300,000 SHU. [Scoville Heat Units]. Compare that with about 1,500,000 for a "Carolina Reaper" or about 5,000 for a "Jalapeno".

I wouldn't normally enjoy eating  "Paper Lantern" or indeed any other Habanero chillis - though I do admit that one is a nice ingredient for a Caribbean curry - but I just like the look of them. The teardrop shape of this particular variety is very attractive, and I also like the way the colour gradually spreads through the fruit as it ripens, often creating a sort of Red-Amber-Green traffic-light effect.

Towards the other end of the heat scale is this one, the "Hungarian Hot Wax".

Even though it looks more like a Sweet Pepper, it's a mild chilli, rated anywhere between 1,500 and 15,000 SHU. (It's surprising how much sources vary in this respect). The ones seen here are immature, and they will eventually turn orange and finally red and they get hotter as they ripen. We like to eat them as they are just going from yellow to orange, because at this stage they have only a little heat but plenty of flavour. I particularly like them cut into segments and then stir-fried until slightly black at the edges.

I have two plants of "Hungarian Hot Wax" this year. They were both very badly hit by the contaminated compost affair and at one point I thought they were doomed, but they have bounced back very nicely and each one has several fruits.

The type of chilli that we enjoy most is represented by the ever-reliable "Cayenne", which is not only a prolific fruiter, but is also conveniently positioned in the "comfortable heat" bracket of the Scoville scale, coming in at about 30,000 to 50,000 SHU.

These photos show the unusual pair of fused-together twin fruits that developed on one of my plants. I find it very interesting that the twins have fully ripened before their nearby sibling has developed any colour at all.

I have three plants of a variety called "Cayenne Long Slim" and one other plant simply called "Cayenne", which has produced some much fatter fruits, more on the lines of "Jalapeno":

As well as the red ones, I have this "Golden Cayenne". It also has very chunky fruits, which are similar in flavour and heat level.

So, expect to see lots of chilli photos on my blog during the next few weeks!

Saturday 21 September 2019

Camera problems etc

I've had a bit of an issue on the photography front... my trusty Olympus E-450 (9 years old now) has developed a fault. It won't focus! I've taken it in to a local camera shop to see if they can repair it, and I'm awaiting their diagnosis. In the meantime I'm using my spare camera, which is nowhere near as good (and I don't love it like I do the Olympus one). Because of this I've been feeling much less inclined to take any photos. Furthermore, my garden is looking very tired and end-of-season-like at present, so it's not very photogenic.

All I can offer you today is some photos of the tomatoes and chillis I have harvested. These are probably my favourite vegetables, and the colours are just wonderful!

I haven't been weighing my harvests, but the other day I did, just for curiosity,  weigh the basket you see here, when it was very nearly full of tomatoes. It weighed 6.5kgs, so I reckon today's harvest is probably about half of that - maybe 3kgs or so.

The brown-coloured chilli seen here is a "Chocolate Cayenne", and there are also several "Golden Cayennes" in the box.

The smaller yellow ones (top right) are "Aji Limon".

Thursday 19 September 2019

Harvesting "Crown Prince" squashes

Today I deemed it the right moment to harvest my crop of "Crown Prince" squashes. Their parent plants were dying down and there was no chance of the fruits growing any more. It was definitely time to cut them and leave them to cure in the sunshine before we progress to cold wet weather.

As you can see, I got a total of five fruits from my two plants. Not a huge crop, but considering the less than ideal site they had, I'm well pleased with this result.

The biggest of the five weighs 3.35kgs, the second biggest 3.28kgs and all five together come to 13.5kgs. This should keep the two of us supplied with soup material for several months!

You will notice that I have cut the squashes with a fair bit of stem, in the approved "T-shape" manner. Cutting with too little stem attached can lead to rotting of the fruit before it is cured.

The weather here at present is glorious - bright blue skies, sunshine and daytime temperatures in the low 20s - so the squashes should cure very nicely in my big coldframe, with the doors open.

At night-time the temperatures this week have dipped into single figures, so I'll try to remember to close the doors before dark!

Right, now to refresh my memory on recipes using squash...