Tuesday 30 July 2019

Rain stopped play

It has been a really awful day today - weather-wise, I mean. Very strong winds and lots of heavy showers. Definitely not a day for gardening! Unfortunately our Living Room looks directly out onto my veg-patch, so I have to sit and watch my poor plants being battered by the elements.

Between the showers I went out to have a look around and take a few photos. I also managed to pick a few ripe "Maskotka" tomatoes.


I took a close look at my two little plants of "Minibel" too. Having been exceptionally pale - almost white - whilst unripe, the fruit are now ripening to (or through) a sort of pink colour.


I think this is just an intermediate stage, because all the photos I have seen of this variety show deep red fruit.


The tomatoes were probably not enjoying the weather today either. They don't generally like cold wet conditions. Still, at least these are not classic Blight conditions! Most of the plants have set plenty of fruit, though it is in most cases still very green.

"Little Lucky"

"Golden Sunrise"

This is the one the friend who sent me the seeds labelled "Black and Green Mini", though both the plant and the fruit are anything but mini. The shape of the fruit is very reminiscent of the variety "Italian Red Pear", but of course I have no idea yet what colour these ones will turn out to be when they ripen.

"Black and Green Mini"

At present I am watching with interest how my "Crown Prince" squashes develop. They grow very quickly, I can tell you! I have photographed this one several times and it is very apparent how much it has grown. Editing the photo I noticed that pesky snail (at base of tree), which had probably been feasting off the surrounding Parsley. I hope snails don't attack squashes...do they?

This is one of my "Vorgebirgstrauben" cucumber plants (photo taken a couple of days ago - note absence of raindrops).


I have four plants of this variety, and they seem very prolific. I'm not growing them to produce mature cucumbers (other than one or two to see what they're like), but instead I am harvesting them very small - barely past the embryonic stage - in order to use as cornichons, which are basically very tiny gherkins for pickling. I don't like those, but my wife Jane loves them, so she will have the cornichons whilst I have the full-grown cucumbers.

This tiny cucumber is nearly ready for picking as a cornichon - maybe another day of growing is required...

So, not a lovely Summer's day today, but hopefully my plants have been enjoying a good drink and the sunshine will return tomorrow???

Sunday 28 July 2019

Unidentified tomatoes identified

I have mentioned a couple of times that last Autumn I rescued a few tiny self-seeded tomato plants from the shingle outside my kitchen window and grew them on indoors over the Winter...

Up till now I wasn't sure what variety they were, but I presumed they would be either "Maskotka" or "Montello", which were the two varieties I grew in that location last year. One of the plants produced a couple of fruit very early on:-

21 April 2019

From the shape of the fruit, I was able to determine that these were definitely NOT "Montello", which has plum-shaped fruit. This year I have one "Montello" plant out there, whose identity I'm sure of, because I grew it from seed. Its fruits are just turning colour now.

"Montello", 27 July 2019

Since the mystery plants were not "Montello" I jumped to the conclusion that they must be therefore be "Maskotka".  This would have suited me just fine, because this is my favourite variety of small-fruited tomato.

"Maskotka" 28 July 2019

Well, the plants in question have been growing away steadily in that spot below the kitchen window - a very good spot for growing tomatoes, by the way, since it gets most of the afternoon and evening sun.

"Montello" at the Left

All three of the mystery plants have set quite a lot of fruit, and it is now beginning to ripen. As it does so, it demonstrates that these are not "Maskotka" either. The way the clusters of fruit are arranged is different, and most obviously of all, the fruit have dark green shoulders before they ripen, which "Maskotka" does not.

So, realising that my original assumptions are completely wrong, I have been back through my records and I see that in 2017 I grew "Losetto" in this place, and the characteristics of both plant and fruit fit this variety. So the seeds that germinated in October 2018 had been there for at least a year!

This plant in the corner is definitely a "Losetto".


I'm still not convinced that the other two plants are 100% "Losetto" though. Their fruits are much bigger - though they still have the distinct green shoulders - and to me they look a bit plum-shaped. Maybe they are a hybrid of "Losetto" and "Montello"?

None of the fruit from these plants is fully ripe yet, so I can't tell you what they taste like, but looking back in my records I see that I have grown them twice before and one time I thought they were good - "thin-skinned and very tasty" - but the other time my verdict was "unimpressive and with tough skins". It will be interesting to see what they are like this time round. I should also point out that "Losetto" has good blight-resistance, which was put to the test when I grew this variety back in 2012. The plant did develop blight, but it survived, produced new foliage even after being infected, and went on to produce a decent crop.

This has been an interesting experiment, but I still think I would rather know in advance what sort of plants I'm growing!

Friday 26 July 2019

Iceberg Lettuce

This year I have not done very well with lettuce. Apart from a few over-wintered seedlings given to me by a friend, all my early lettuces bolted before reaching maturity. I sowed two lots of "Marvel of Four Seasons", one of "Biscia Rossa" and one of mixed hearting varieties. No luck with any of them, probably because of the cold, dry, windy weather we had in May and June.

However, I am pleased to report success with at least one variety - "Great Lakes", an Iceberg type. The seeds were ones kindly supplied to me for review by Gerry at Growseed. I only had room to plant six, because this is a big lettuce - about the size of a cabbage!

Here's one posed on a garden chair to give another impression of its size:

Of course they are a lot smaller once you strip off the outer leaves!

Even so, you're left with a lot of useable lettuce, because it's densely packed, like a ballhead cabbage.

Our favourite way of using Iceberg lettuce is to make it into a Wedge Salad. You cut the lettuce into wedges (usually half or quarter of a lettuce, depending on the size), wash it carefully to remove any grit or lurking insects, but keeping it intact rather than separated into individual leaves, then chill it in the fridge for a few hours. Then, at the appropriate moment, put the wedge into a suitable small bowl or dish and smother it with your chosen dressing. We like Blue Cheese dressing best (preferably Roquefort), and traditionally top the wedge with one or two halved cherry tomatoes. This cold crunchy salad goes beautifully with grilled steak!

Just because they don't really merit a post of their own, today I also want to show off some other recent pickings. My climbing French Beans "Cobra" have begun to deliver. I've already had two pickings of about 250g each. This variety is an old favourite, which I have been growing for many years. The pale green pods remain tender even if you let them grow very big - and they do reach an enormous size if you let them. I prefer to pick them before they reach that stage.

French bean "Cobra"

And here's another small batch of "Boltardy" beetroot. Again, I'm deliberately picking them before they get too big, because that way they are guaranteed to be tender.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Harvesting shallots

Yesterday I harvested my shallots. I thought it seemed like a good time to do it because they were evidently not going to grow any more. The leaves had flopped over and were mostly brown. Besides, with three days of exceptionally hot and sunny weather coming up they ought to dry off in double-quick time!

These shallots are ones whose parents are some of those which I grew last year on the plot I looked after in nearby Courtmoor Avenue. I have no idea what variety they are. This year I planted 24 of them. They split very nicely and each bulb has produced about 6 to 8 new bulbs, like this:

None of them are particularly huge, which I attribute to the fact that they have been growing in a partially shaded location. Still, they are an ideal size for pickling, which is what they are intended for.

Right now they are drying on racks made from wire shelves out of some of my mini-greenhouses, supported between pairs of upturned plastic crates (the ones recently vacated by my garlic). This allows air to circulate all round them, hastening the drying process.

For the time being I have not tried to separate the clumps (though some have fallen apart on their own). I think it will be easier to separate them without causing damage after they are dry, because they will inevitably shrink a bit.

As I said, most of these shallots are destined to be pickled, but I will select about 30 to become next year's planting stock.

Monday 22 July 2019

Do you have a favourite potato variety?

This week I have been harvesting more potatoes. This time they are my two types of Second Early, "Charlotte" and "Nicola".

As with all my other potatoes, these were grown in 35-litre plastic tubs, 2 seed-tubers per tub. Two tubs of "Charlotte" yielded 1.19kgs, and two tubs of "Nicola" yielded 2.27kgs.



I have been growing potatoes for many years now and I have tried a lot of different varieties. Each year I have at least six, sometimes as many as ten, varieties. I have a few favourites that I grow most years, but I also usually try at least one new variety to see how it performs and whether I like it. I tend to grow mostly First Early and Second Early varieties, mainly because they mature more quickly than Maincrop varieties and are thus likely to have been harvested before the threat of Blight materialises. This year my only "new to me" potato variety is "Highland Burgundy Red", which unusually for me is a Maincrop variety. Don't ask me why - I bought it on a whim!

At present we are still eating First Early potatoes - "Annabelle" and "Belle de Fontenay"- so I have put most of the "Charlotte" and "Nicola" crop in the garage for storage. They are in a loosely-closed cardboard box which will keep them in the dark but allow them to breathe. I don't usually need to store any of my potatoes for more than a week or two, but I think this year we must have been eating more rice and pasta and fewer potatoes! Unlike First Earlies which need to be eaten promptly after lifting, Second Early potatoes will keep for quite a while - several weeks at least, though not six months or more as Maincrops do. I can't vouch for this personally, but I have heard that the very popular "Charlotte" is NOT very good for storage, because it tends to sprout easily. This is presumably why supermarkets keep them in cold storage.

"Belle de Fontenay"

Anyway, getting to the point of this post... Having grown all those different varieties of potato over the years, which is my favourite? Well, until recently I would have said "Charlotte", which is an excellent all-rounder variety, and hugely popular with amateur gardeners, but I think I have changed my mind. I have been growing "Charlotte" and "Nicola" side-by-side for five years now, and I'm beginning to veer towards favouring "Nicola". The two types are in truth very similar. They both produce good-looking long oval tubers with waxy yellow flesh which cooks nicely without disintegrating. I think the flavour, though not very strong, is also more or less the same. They both stand well in the ground once mature, which is a big advantage if you don't get the opportunity to lift them as soon as they are ready.


My view that "Nicola" is the best of the pair is based on two factors. First, "Nicola" matures just a bit later than "Charlotte" - indeed some suppliers list it as an Early Maincrop. For me this is a valuable feature because I like to grow several First Early varieties and we need to get through all of those before moving on to Second Earlies. And then there is the yield. Maybe it's because it matures that little bit later and thus has more time to bulk-up, but "Nicola" usually produces a bigger crop than "Charlotte" does. Since the two types are so similar in other respects, maybe this is the deciding factor?

Of course, there are loads of other good varieties of potato available, and different people like different ones, for different reasons. Influencing factors include weight of yield, appearance (e.g. shape and colour of skin and flesh), taste, texture (e.g. waxy or floury), pest and disease resistance, time to maturity, availability to purchase, etc, etc. If you haven't grown potatoes before I strongly recommend going to one of the Potato Day events that take place every year in Late Winter / Early Spring. These events offer a much better choice than most mail-order suppliers, at much better prices, and expert advice it usually available if you need it.


For the record, these are some of the ones I particularly like:-

Best for texture: Sharpe's Express - very light and 'airy', Charlotte - very firm and waxy
Best for flavour: Belle de Fontenay, Lady Christl, Pink Fir Apple, Ratte
Best for appearance: Juliette, Charlotte
Best for yield: Nicola

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!