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...

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Does pinching-out chilli plants really help?

Some people pinch out (remove) the growing tips of chilli plants, which allegedly makes them bushier and perhaps more vigorous. I don't normally use this practice, but this year I thought I'd give it a try. This post describes the results of my trial.

I find that most chilli plants naturally branch out when they get to about 30 or 35cm tall, like this one:

Here's a close-up.

This year I did a comparative trial with three types of chilli - "Aji Limon", "Aji Benito" and "Cayenne Long Slim". In each case I pinched-out one plant and left the other to grow naturally.

Here's one that has been pinched-out. You can see that the plant's immediate response is to channel its energy into producing new growth at the leaf axils.

Over the growing season I treated all my chillis in exactly the same way - watering them when I felt they needed it, but not too often or too copiously, and once fruit had begun to set I fed them weekly with proprietary tomato food ("Tomorite").

Due to problems I encountered with weedkiller-contaminated compost (described elsewhere on my blog) the chillis got off to a very poor start. However most of them eventually recovered and they produced a good number of fruits, which are just beginning to ripen - which is about 3 weeks later than usual.

Ripening "Aji Benito"

However, the experiment with pinching-out reveals that this practice makes very little difference! Here we see two "Aji Benito" plants side-by-side. The one on the right was pinched-out, and the one on the left was not.

Allowing for a little bit of natural variation, I believe that they are very similar in shape, structure and yield. A more interesting comparison can be made when I introduce a third plant of the same variety - one which was over-Wintered from last year. It is the middle one in this next photo.

You can see that the over-Wintered one is taller and its leaf-cover is much denser. If you were able to look more closely you would see that the main stem is also much more robust and woodier, which presumably gives the plant greater ability to support foliage. I would also say that the fruits are probably more numerous and slightly bigger, though most of them are behind those of the other two plants, in terms of ripeness.

The "Aji Limon" plants have performed in similar fashion: no appreciable difference in overall size or in number of fruit.

Pinched-out one on the Right

However, I thought it might be useful to show you how the pinching-out altered the structure of the plants. This photo shows the Aji Limon" plant that was pinched-out. It has no dominant main stem and all the side branches are low down on the plant.

The unpinched one on the other hand does have a dominant main stem, and its branches are spaced further apart on that stem.

Overall though the total number of branches and their robustness is very similar in both plants. I suppose the pinched-out one is marginally more compact, but I believe that if I had wanted a more compact plant I could have achieved this by much less drastic pruning. I sometimes do this anyway. If a plant is looking too straggly I trim off the tips of some of the branches. Where the cut is made two smaller branches form.

I won't bore you with photos of the third variety - "Cayenne Long Slim" - because the results were the same. Indeed I had three plants of this variety and they are so similar that I had to look at the labels to tell which was the one I had pinched out.

In conclusion, my experiment has convinced me that there is no special merit in pinching-out chilli plants, but no damage is done either. In future I propose to let the plants "do their thing" naturally, as I usually do.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Harvesting apples

How do you tell when apples are nearly ripe? Answer - "When the birds start pecking them"!

I've lost a couple of my apples in this way this week, and I only have a few so every one of them is precious. Today therefore, I picked all the remaining ones from my "Laxton's Superb" tree. They are mostly pretty small but this is probably because the tree is still a youngster (this is its third productive season).

However, I'm quite proud of the two big ones at the front. Although they are a good size they unfortunately lack the rosy blush that most of the others have, presumably because they have been shielded from direct sunlight.

To be honest, I'm not fussed if the apples are small, as long as they taste nice - you can always eat two if you want to! This variety tastes very much like the well-known "Cox's Orange Pippin" (commonly referred to these days as simply "Cox's"). The texture is good too - firm and crunchy but still juicy.

At the other side of my plot is my "Winter Banana" apple tree, whose fruit ripens about a month later than the "Laxton's Superb". This year it has a lot more fruit than ever before, although they are smaller this time.

I have been progressively thinning the fruit, but it appears I have not been ruthless enough because one of the tree's branches has snapped.

I have rescued the fruit from the snapped branch, in the hope that they will be edible. Do apples continue to ripen after picking, or do they just decay??

My final apple tree is the one which is supposedly a "Bramley". I say "supposedly" because I'm not convinced that it is. Certainly it's most unlike all the other "Bramleys" I have encountered!

These look to me more like "Granny Smith" than "Bramley"!

This tree is also relatively new - it produced its first fruit 2 years ago, and last year it had 3, none of which made it to maturity. This year it has had 9, but again I have lost some to the birds (probably the destructive and malicious Magpies!). I think they peck the fruit to see if it's ripe, and when they find that it isn't they just leave it. The hole they have made lets in rot though, and eventually wasps move in, so the apple is lost (to me as least).

Three of my nine "Bramleys" have been lost in this way, so I have picked the remaining six.

We are planning to cook these ones tomorrow, and then we shall find out for sure if they are "Bramleys" or not.  One of the hallmarks of a real "Bramley" is that unlike other apples it falls (disintegrates) completely when cooked.

For now though, I leave you with this picture of my basket filled with apples of all three types.

And the best thing is, I still have most of the "Winter Banana" ones to come - birds permitting...!

UPDATE: Cooked the apples today (16/09/19), and they did not fall, so definitely not "Bramleys". Nice apples nonetheless.