Saturday 31 August 2019

Potato "Highland Burgundy Red"

I harvested the last of my potatoes this week. They were "Highland Burgundy Red", grown in a 35L plastic tub like all my others. This was the only Maincrop variety I have had this year. All my other varieties were First Early or Second Early ones. I've never really had a lot of success with Maincrops, I just don't think they are well suited to growing in containers, especially in a hot dry Summer. The meagre crop from this tub proves the point:

This is the yield from two seed-tubers (both grown in the same pot) and amounts to just under a kilogram. A disappointing result. I don't think they would have grown much more even if I had left them another couple of weeks, because the foliage had already died down.

The quality of these potatoes remains to be seen, but outwardly it doesn't look too promising. Yes, the skins are a lovely carmine pink colour, but they are also very rough.

Still I suppose that is what you have to expect from a Maincrop variety. Peeling them before use would be normal, unlike in the case of Early varieties where you either just rub the skins off or eat the potatoes with the skins on (we usually do the latter).

After-note: We ate some of them as mini Jacket Potatoes last night. Texture was good - almost floury and creamy at the same time. Taste also good. As a bonus, the flesh stayed pink too - not the dirty grey that some red-fleshed potatoes go!

Thursday 29 August 2019

Second-cropping "Cobra" beans

I know that like me, lots of my friends and Twitter / Facebook acquaintances grow the climbing French Bean "Cobra". It's a very reliable and prolific variety, deservedly popular.

I usually interplant this type of bean with my Runners. The "Cobra" plants always set pods very early - well before any of the Runners are ready. Once this first flush of pods comes to an end there is always a temptation to rip out the plants, which by this time often look dried-up and practically dead. However, I know from experience that if you leave them in place they will often "get their second wind", so to speak, and produce another flush of pods. This is particularly so it you strip the plants of every single pod in the first flush. The plant's urge to reproduce is strong and it will "fight back" by having another try!

This is happening to my plants now. At first I saw only one bean, as I was picking some of the Runners, but once I started looking I saw quite a few "Cobra" flowers and tiny pods.

This second flush of pods is unlikely to be very big, but it will be nice to have a few French beans again, after several weeks of eating mostly Runners.

Partially hidden amongst the foliage I have found a few quite large pods, so it won't be many days before I can accumulate enough for a couple of servings.

A few days ago I gave my beans (Runners and French) a dose of general-purpose liquid plant food, and this has hopefully contributed towards the "Cobras" having enough energy to give me some more pods. Of course, it almost goes without saying that in hot dry weather like we had over the Bank Holiday period it is essential to make sure that your beans don't get parched. A generous soaking, getting the water right down to the roots is also much better than a superficial sprinkle.

By the way, I thought you might be amused to see that some of my Runner beans have decided to grow up into an overhanging tree:

As if 9-foot Hazel poles were not big enough! There are loads of pods up there too, out of my reach...

The official plan for these is that I leave them there to mature, and in the Autumn when the plants die back I'll rip them down, pods and all. The beans inside are nice to use as shelling beans. They are very similar to Red Kidney Beans, and you can use them in the same way.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Harvesting big tomatoes

Most of my cherry tomatoes are nearing their end now, but their place is being taken by the big-fruited varieties.

When I say "big-fruited", I mean ones like these:

"Cherokee Purple" - 20p coin for scale

These two dusky beauties are "Cherokee Purple". The bigger one weighed 522g and the smaller one was 436g.

Big tomatoes like this often develop cracks and scabby bits that spoil their looks to a certain extent, but I think this is only a minor problem when you consider the huge amount of lovely tasty flesh each one contains.

As well as the "Cherokee Purple" ones I have picked several other types, such as these, which are "Super Marmande":

"Super Marmande"

Yesterday I picked this selection:

The four at the left are "Noire Charbonneuse", grown from seeds given to me by my Facebook friend Eddy Ceyssens in Belgium:

"Noire Charbonneuse"

In the next photo the two at the back are "Super Marmande" (L) and "Cherokee Purple" (R), while in the foreground we see (an unrepresentatively small) "Marmonde" (L) and two of the unknown type originally labelled as "Green and Black Mini", though as you can see they have turned out very red! I think they are probably "Italian Red Pear" or something similar. Very nice, whatever they are!

We also eaten a some of the "Ferline" tomatoes (a much more regularly-shaped variety). You can see that a couple of fruits are now missing from the lowest truss in this next photo.


My only tomato varieties that are NOT doing well this year are the two dwarf ones - "Dwarf Beauty King" and "Dwarf Caitydid". Last year both of these did pretty well, though they were late to mature. This time round "Dwarf Caitydid" has set the grand total of one fruit!

"Dwarf Caitydid"

It looks like a nice fruit, but it's disappointing to see a big plant like this delivering such a sparse crop. It us certainly put to shame by its neighbour, "Golden Sunrise"!

Anyway, after the good long spell of hot sunny weather over the Bank Holiday weekend, I'm looking forward to harvesting a lot more tomatoes in the coming days.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Harvesting Blueberries

Last year my Blueberry harvest was almost nil. Very few fruits formed on my plants, and most of those were eaten by the birds. There was very little I could do about the former problem - which was probably just the result of strange weather patterns - but the latter was mostly my fault, because I failed to provide adequate protection. The trouble is that I don't really have a good place in which to grow my Blueberries. All the best space is taken up with raised beds!

I have four Blueberry plants and they are all in pots, which at least means they can be moved around if necessary. They are several years old now, and quite big plants.

In the absence of a proper fruit-cage (and somewhere to put it), the only protection I have been able to arrange is a net draped over a length of washing-line tied between two trees.

It's certainly not ideal, but it works reasonably well. I've only had to eject one bird from inside it, and that was a young Robin who probably didn't do much damage whilst he was in there. If the intruder had been a Blackbird it would have been a very different situation!

My plan for next year is to cut down to two plants, and to provide more efficient protection. One of the plants I will discard is the one that produces pink berries. It has never produced more than a handful of berries, and I just don't think it is worth the effort of keeping it going. I don't know what varieties the other three plants are, but two of them seem quite similar and produce very large dark-coloured berries, like these:

The third one produces much smaller berries which have a very pronounced grey-blue bloom, like these:

So, over the Winter I will have to make a choice...

Anyway, this week I harvested the 2019 crop. It amounted to just over 1100g:

It's not a huge crop, but then the plants don't require very much attention (mainly watering and a once-a-year pruning), so it's a fair return.

We have several ideas for using these berries, but some of them have already been used to make a batch of Blueberry muffins. Jane has a recipe that uses Sweet Freedom instead of regular sugar, and it makes some really nice muffins.

I have also "bagged" some for making Blueberry Compote, which is very nice with ice cream, but I suspect that many of them will end up as "Nibbling Fruit". We put a bowl of fruit on the kitchen worktop and every time we pass a couple get popped in the mouth. An easy way to ensure we maintain our Five A Day!

Friday 23 August 2019

Planting Chinese Cabbage

Yesterday I planted out some little seedlings of a very interesting variety of Chinese Cabbage. It's called "Scarvita F1". Its distinguishing feature is that unlike normal (green) Chinese Cabbage it is purple.

Since this is an F1 variety I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find that the seed-pack only contained 16 seeds, but it does mean that I need to use the seeds sparingly. I sowed 7 of them in individual 10cm pots of compost. They all germinated very quickly and I have been bringing them on inside my coldframe. This week I lifted enough of my onions to make room for planting the cabbages, which were beginning to outgrow the little pots.

When I tried growing Chinese Cabbage once before the slugs went mad for them and the whole lot was destroyed before I got any harvest, so this time I'm applying maximum protection. Also, I'm not planting them all in one go. I planted 5 and kept back 2 as spares, just in case...

This raised bed now contains a real mix of stuff! The last of the onions; a row of beetroot, a row of chicory, one solitary Iceberg lettuce, and now these 5 Chinese Cabbage. Actually there is also a little volunteer plant of Watercress in there too - you can see it beside one of the chicories in this next photo (bottom right).

I'm very conscious that after dark my garden becomes the domain of what I call the"night-time diggers" - foxes, badgers, cats etc - so I usually cover any young plants with something to protect them. Today I erected this contraption:

It's a piece of scrap Enviromesh, supported by wire hoops and held in place with some stones. It might work, but then again...

The long cloches seen in the photos serve the same purpose for the chicory plants. I take them off during the day because they would make the plants too hot.

My spare Chinese Cabbage plants got a change of scenery today too. I re-potted them into 15cm pots, to allow them to keep growing until they are either needed to replace casualties, or they get a space of their own - which will be when the last of the onions are lifted.

I'm saving the rest of the pack of seeds for next year!

Wednesday 21 August 2019

August bounty

It's late August already, but my veg-plot is in full harvest mode.

I keep thinking the cherry tomatoes must be coming to an end, but they are still ripening in droves.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that we seldom cook with the cherry tomatoes, and generally eat them raw, but this year we have had so many that I have made some of them into sauce and frozen it for Winter use. I have 8 cherry tomato plants and between them I think they must have produced well over 5kgs of fruit.

We have had a few spells of rain recently, which has prompted me to pick some of the tomatoes just a bit under-ripe, because sudden over-abundance of water after a dry spell can cause the fruit to split. The deep red tomatoes in the oval basket (here mostly the plum-shaped "Montello") have been ripening indoors for a few days, whereas the other ones in the rectangular basket are recently-picked and a much lighter shade of red.

Now the first of the bigger tomatoes are just about ripe. This is "Cherokee Purple", which has produced a couple of really huge fruits as well as a good number of more normal-sized ones.

The so-called "Black and Green mini" have as I suspected, started to turn red!

The most regularly-shaped tomatoes I have are these fine specimens of "Ferline".

This is the parent plant, which is just setting its 5th truss of fruit.

The recent rain has given the Runner beans a new lease of life too. During the dry spell in July most of the pods they produced were small, quite tough and mostly very curved. The most recently picked pods are long, straight and succulent.

We have a lot of beans in the fridge now, waiting to be used. In fact today I went through them all and threw away all the "sub-optimal" ones. "Heresy!"  I hear you say, but honestly there's no point in eating the poor ones when I have such a lot of really nice ones! I know from experience that the best Runner beans are often the ones produced late in the season, when it's cooler and wetter. Looking closely at my bean plants today I can see that there are a lot more pods on the way.

I also make a habit of pulling off any pods that don't develop properly, or show signs of swelling seeds before the pods are a decent size. This prompts the plants to produce even more pods.

My cucumbers are beginning to look a bit tired now. End of season cucumbers are often a bit pear-shaped, liked these "Delikate B" ones:

I'm not saying I don't have any nice ones to harvest though. Take a look at this lovely pair of "Vorgebirgstrauben":

The "Crown Prince" squashes are looking good too.

Until a couple of days ago I thought I had four maturing fruits, but then I discovered two more which I hadn't previously seen. One of them is wedged between a compost bin and a fence-post:

That one looks as if it might develop OK, but this one is another matter...

If it does manage to grow in that silly place it will surely end up being the shape of a brick!

My chillis are doing better than I had dared hope. Looking at them now, you would never guess that they had had such a traumatic early life, with that weedkiller-contaminated compost. They are simply a bit behind schedule. Most of the plants have plenty of fruit, but it is still firmly green. As an example, this is one of the "Aji Benito" plants.

The "Boltardy" beetroot, grown this year in clumps, has been successful too. The roots have matured at different rates, which suits us well since we never want to eat many at any one time. I still have quite a few left from the original row, which I expect to continue harvesting now and then for the next few weeks, but I have also planted out a few more in the hope that they will mature in late Autumn or early Winter.

I keep anxiously looking at the apples, willing them to ripen quickly! I've noticed the wasps burrowing into one or two of the fruits, so it really is a race against time. These "Laxton's Superb" don't look too bad though, do they?

So there you have it - the garden is producing lots of lovely stuff, and there's plenty more to come!

Monday 19 August 2019

Harvesting onions

Like so many other things in my garden this year, my onions got off to a bad start, but once the weather improved (about the end of June), they began to grow a bit more rapidly. The trouble is, I need their space for other things, and although I think the onions are not 100% mature I felt it expedient to pull some of them up.

The signs that an onion is mature include foliage flopping over (check!) and going brown (not check!). This one is probably about 90% mature.

This year I planted onions in two ways, as a comparative experiment. 30 of them were planted individually, in three rows of 10. They are almost all "Ailsa Craig", but a couple of gaps were filled with "Globo" (though I lost track of which! They all look the same now)

I also planted six clumps with several seedlings each. I had intended to put about 6 or 7 onions in each clump, but it seems I wasn't that accurate...

Unsurprisingly, the onions in the clumps have not grown as big as the individually-planted ones. I think this is a good thing, because we like to have onions of lots of different sizes for use in our kitchen. The small ones are particularly attractive since you seldom see ones like this in the shops.

Anyway, on Saturday I harvested one row of 10, plus a few of the bigger ones from the other rows (a total of 15), and two of the clumps, so a bit less than half of my crop.

I'm pleased with the quality of the onions. Even if they are not huge, they are clean and unblemished. I'm sure they will be lovely to eat.

I've spread them all out on a groundsheet on my garden table, to dry, so I'm hoping for plenty of sunshine in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, I have already planted a row of 8 Chicories in the place where the onions used to be. They are covered with a couple of my long cloches, not to keep them warm but to protect them from "nocturnal diggers".

That bed now contains the remainder of the onions, a row of beetroot (foreground), the 8 Chicories and one solitary Iceberg lettuce (bottom left). At the same time I planted more lettuce and 8 endives in another bed, so hopefully I will be able to keep us supplied with Autumn salads.