Saturday, 20 July 2019

Chilli progress report

The chilli season has been one of Ups and Downs so far. Early in the season I thought my chilli plants looked the best I've ever had. They were strong, clean and (unusually) completely free of aphids.

29th April 2019

But then the weedkiller-contaminated compost kicked in. Almost all my plants were affected to some degree. Many of them lost most of their leaves, and a few died.

14th June 2019

Even the strongest plants produced weirdly distorted leaves.

26th May 2019

At this point I was despondent. I was just about resigned to having my first chilli "washout" ever. The cold dry weather during Spring didn't help. The chillis just hunkered down and did almost nothing at all.

Towards the end of June things changed. The weather got a lot warmer and sunnier, and we even had some rain. The chillis began to cheer up. I encouraged them with weekly feeds of tomato feed, and then when it became available, a couple of doses of homemade Comfrey tea. By early July I was beginning to feel more hopeful.

4th July 2019

It was also in the first week of July that I noticed the first chilli fruits forming. This is a "Paper Lantern":

I find that the Capsicum annuum varieties of chilli are usually the quickest ones to set and ripen fruit, so it was no surprise that the first fresh chilli we ate in 2019 was from one of the "Cayenne Long Slim" plants.

Cayenne Long Slim

Now, after a sustained spell of really Summery weather, the chilli plants are all looking a lot happier. Even those that were near death appear to be making a comeback. This "Hungarian Hot Wax" is one of them.

This is the "Pink Tiger" plant, seen at the start of this post, with really wrinkled leaves. It now looks a picture of health!

Pink Tiger

If you look closely though, the ill effects of the weedkiller contamination are still there to see. This plant exhibits a very strange growth pattern, with multiple flowers coming out of one leaf-junction, and a stem that veers off downwards instead of growing vertically upwards.

I've also seen some fasciation in two of my plants. I can't say whether this was caused by the weedkiller problem, or if it is just the result of weather fluctuations. All I can say is that I've never seen it in chillis before and I've been growing them for about 30 years.

The forecast is for a return of really hot weather in the middle of this coming week, which will be ideal for my chillis at this stage in their lives, so maybe I'll get a decent harvest after all. My various Cayenne types (red, golden, chocolate) will be the first ones to deliver ripe fruit I think.

The Capsicum baccatum types - Aji Limon and Aji Benito - are much further behind, but at least they have loads of flowers, which are beautiful in their own right. These are top and bottom views of an "Aji Benito" flower:

So, overall the verdict seems to be: Not a great year for chillis, but it could be worse.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Some Firsts

July is a month in which I typically get lots of Firsts - the first pickings of a particular type of veg or fruit.

This week I picked my first Runner Beans of the year. They are of the variety "Painted Lady".

There were not many of them and they were not particularly fine specimens, but they were important to me by virtue of being the first of the season. I think there is something special about that. When you grow your own veg it's not just about quantity or volume of produce; you can also get pleasure from something small - and often long anticipated!

I'm hoping that my bean plants will go on to produce a big harvest in due course, especially since Runner beans are one of the few crops I consider worth freezing.

Today also saw my first harvest of Beetroot. These two beauties are my favourite type - "Boltardy".

We don't eat huge amounts of beetroot, and I like to harvest mine young and small. Ones like this are almost certainly going to be nice and tender.

A pair of little "Maskotka" tomatoes completes my Firsts for this week:

Again, though two tiny tomatoes may seem like a very puny harvest, I'm fairly sure that many more will follow. I have lots of different types of tomato plant, and most of them have a fair bit of fruit on them, albeit mostly very green still, so I will probably be harvesting tomatoes from now until October, if weather and diseases permit!

Super Marmande

Golden Sunrise

As well as the veggies described above, I have lots of others at the "nearly there" stage, like these climbing French beans "Cobra" (only another couple of days required, I think):

I've even managed to produce a few half-decent lettuces at last (my early-season ones all bolted in the cold dry month of June). This one is "Marvel of Four Seasons".

Not such encouraging news with the onions though. For weeks and weeks they refused to grow, but in the first half of July we have had a spell of much warmer weather and they have belatedly begun to swell. I just hope it won't be too late for them to mature before we run out of Summer!

Onions "Alisa Craig", individually planted

Onions "Ailsa Craig", planted in a clump.

My chillis were slow off the mark this year too - a combination of poor weather and the damage caused by weedkiller-contaminated compost - but they are making a comeback and some of them have set fruit now. This is one of the "Cayenne Long Slim Red" ones.

Notice the contorted leaves, caused by the weedkiller

We have actually eaten one (green) chilli already - a token gesture of course! I chopped it up into a salsa I was making to go with a Mexican-style meal. It was lovely to have a fresh chilli again, after so many months of making do with frozen ones.

So, no big harvests from the garden this week, but lots of hopeful signs for the future!

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Time - a very precious commodity

These days people seem to be perpetually busy - juggling the often conflicting requirements of work, family and leisure. For me, the best thing about Retirement is that where work always used to get in the way, I now have the precious luxury of Time. Time to do stuff that makes me happy, without artificial deadlines. I love my garden and the beautiful fruit and veg that comes out of it. These lovely "Harlequin" carrots make me happy. Not only do they look good, but they also taste amazing. Homegrown carrots are completely different to shop-bought ones!

Of course, even gardens come with responsibilities and deadlines: if you don't sow your seeds at the right time, you won't get your harvest, and if you omit to water your plants they will die.

These days as well as having time to tend my garden, I also have time to cook and to make bread, without feeling rushed. This is one of my sourdough loaves (the Raisin and Fennel-seed variant), which takes 36 hours to make - and it's worth every minute.

Another interest of mine is foraging, an alternative name for harvesting wild food. Yesterday I harvested a few Cherry Plums from a place I know not far from Fleet. Most of the plums were still hard and green, (I plan to go back for more of them in a month or so) but I still managed to find enough to make into a batch of Plum Sauce, which I served with the duck-breasts I cooked for dinner. I drove 6 miles in each direction to get a mere 360 grams of plums, but it was worth it!

Since I have plenty of time to do so, I often go out looking for mushrooms (maybe 3 times a week, if the weather allows). This is mostly so that I can photograph them, but if I find anything that I know is edible and good to eat I usually bring it home. This is a Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula claroflava), which is quite common in our area. It grows in damp areas under Birch trees.

Many of the Russula family are inedible or mildly poisonous, and it wasn't until someone mentioned it on a Facebook Group that I researched the edibility of this one, only to find that it is considered very tasty indeed. Apparently, when cooked it has a sort of sweet toffee / caramel flavour. I'll be trying this when I next find some! The researching of fungi is another thing that takes time; I enjoy it, and it keeps me agreeably occupied.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about doctors prescribing doses of "The Outdoors", reminding us of the therapeutic benefits of engaging with Nature at first hand. Two hours a week walking in fields, woods or moorland is supposedly enough to preserve our mental wellbeing. I think I may have been overdosing!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Mid-July harvests

As most readers will be aware, I love "Harvest basket" style photos, so this week, with several harvests available I took the opportunity to take some...

It's very satisfying to put together a collection of several different vegetables - much more so than just one, I think. I had just harvested the remainder of my garlic, which on its own might not be particularly photogenic, but it definitely had to be in the photo.

Garlic "Mikulov Wight"

The bulbs that had had the extra 10 days were a bit bigger than the first ones (seen here at the Right), but they were admittedly still on the small size.

This past week I have also harvested more potatoes. These are First Early "Annabelle".

The yield this time as 2.148kgs, from 4 seed-tubers in 2 x 35-litre tubs.  A modest return, I'd say, but they are lovely potatoes. Some of them got scrubbed-up to have their picture taken.

This was my first little harvest of carrots. They are from a mixture called "Harlequin".

The mixture also contains some purple ones, but the only ones I could find were very much smaller than the orange, yellow and white ones, and not big enough to justify picking.

The mixed carrots were eaten shortly after being picked, but I wanted to include some carrots in my Harvest basket, so I pulled up a few of the "Chantenay Red-cored" ones, which on the outside are all orange. I presume the insides will be red!

With 6kgs to go at, we still have quite a few Broad Beans left, so I dragged some out of the fridge just for the photo-shoot!

Putting them all together, I got this:

These photographs epitomise what my garden produces - never a huge amount, but usually good quality!

Friday, 12 July 2019

Planting Winter brassicas

A few days ago I removed the old Broad Bean plants from one of my raised beds, freeing it up for planting brassicas.

I had 8 Brussels Sprouts ("Evesham Special") and 4 Purple Sprouting Broccoli ("Red Arrow") ready to go, though I'll only be using half of them - the others will be kept as spares in case of casualties. They have been growing for the last few weeks in individual pots.

Brussels Sprouts


I was eager to get these planted up because if they stay too long in little pots they get pot-bound (that's to say their roots get excessively tightly bunched) and they run out of nutrients.

Having removed the Broad Bean plants from the raised bed I sprinkled a few handfuls of pelleted chicken manure on it and worked that in very lightly with a hand trowel. Brassicas like firm soil so I didn't want to dig too thoroughly.

Then the brassica plants went in. I usually remove the lowest set of leaves from plants like this, so that I can plant them very deeply, which helps to get the roots right down into moister cooler soil. It also aids stability. Four of these plants are Brussels Sprouts (the ones with the rounded leaves), and two of them (diagonally opposite) are PSB.

You can see that I have given each plant a protective collar made of thick cardboard. This helps to dissuade the Cabbage Root Fly, which like to lays its eggs just under the soil surface right next to a plant's stem.

Actually, I'm hoping the Cabbage Root Flies won't get a chance, because I have covered the whole bed with this contraption, a huge piece of fine-weave mesh, supported on a frame of aluminium rods.

It took me three attempts to build this! The first set of uprights I put in were way too tall; then I tried another height and it was "nearly there", and finally the arrangement you see in the pic. It's still not what I'd like, but it's a compromise. The piece of mesh material is very long but not very wide (It's 10m x 3.65m), and brassicas can get very tall, so I have had to secure the bottom of the mesh by weighting it down with bricks placed on the 20cm-wide sleepers of the raised bed.

One final thought: I ought to have checked the brassica seedlings for butterfly eggs before I planted them, but I forgot! The mesh will stop butterflies from accessing the plants from now on, but I think there is a strong likelihood that there are already some eggs on those plants. I shall have to keep a careful watch for any caterpillars emerging.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The last of the Broad Beans

I've had a really good crop of Broad Beans this year, which is unusual  - they nearly always suffer from serious Blackfly infestation and Rust disease, and often produce a disappointing yield.

This year I have grown 20 Broad Bean plants, mostly of the variety "Witkiem Manita", with a couple of "De Monica". This is a number that fits comfortably into one of my raised beds, which measure 1 metre by 2.4 metres.

Last week I picked over 3kgs of pods:

After this I thought there would only be a few pods left, because the plants were beginning to look very tired and some of them had started to shed their leaves.

On Sunday I decided to pick all the remaining beans, and remove the plants.

I was surprised how many pods I found - another 2.9kgs!

Most of the pods were in very good condition, clean and well-filled.

However, there were also some small wrinkly, contorted ones - those produced by the few plants that were badly affected by the weedkiller-contaminated compost problem.

It was very evident which were the affected plants - their leaves were mottled, crinkly and pitted, like this:

I cut the plants down to a few inches above soil level, removing the pods as I went.

If I hadn't wanted the space immediately for another crop I would have left the bean plant stumps in place to gradually decay, because their roots have nitrogen-fixing nodules on them which can be beneficial for later crops.

However, I have Brussels Sprouts and PSB waiting for a turn in that bed, so the bean plants had to come out! I know from experience that if you leave them in place they often re-sprout with another (weaker) set of stems and just get in the way.

Young Brussels Sprout plants awaiting planting
I've dug a few handfuls of pelleted chicken manure into the soil of the now-vacant raised bed, and the brassicas will go into it soon. In a small garden like mine you can afford to leave any space vacant for long!