November 2019

18th November - The Autumn colours have been very late in arriving this year, and I was beginning to think leaf-fall would arrive before the trees were able to put on a good show, but this week, with colder nights and the occasional mild day, there is colour all around!

The Beech trees by the allotment gate looked just glorious in the sunshine yesterday, and this little fellow was enjoying rootling throught the leaf litter around their base, looking for food. He seemed to be doing quite well, too. 

I have only managed two plot visits this week, but when I have been able to get there, I can feel my spirits lift as I arrive at the site gate, and when I open the little gate to my plots, the calm and quietness of that solitude is wonderful. 

I always walk around, just to see what's what, and out of the corner of my eye i spotted movement in one of the netted Brassica beds over on #146.  A small brown bird had made his way inside the netting, and in his panic at seeing me, tried to escape through the mesh, trapping himself around his wings. 

 

I managed to extricate him unharmed, and that gave me a really good close up view of him, with loveyl reddish coloured eyes and a bright yellowy orange inside his beak. I thought it might be a Dunnock, but I thought these had black or dark brown eyes, but when I checked in my bird book, I could see that in fact their eyes are red. Never knew that before!

This is not the bird I held so carefully, but one photographed by someone else, and yes, you can see in this picture that his eyes are certainly not black. Just shows you that however many birds you can recognise at a quick glance, there are always details that surprise you

At this time in the year harvests start to get a bit "samey", so it is good to be able to start this week's Harvest Monday offerings with a First for this year: Oca foliage. Oca are those little South American tubers that remind me somewhat of long, pinky coloured grubs. Their leaves though are a very pretty pale green trefoil, which have a lovely sharp lemony flavour almost like Sorrel. Usually by now they would be cut down by frosts, but the small amount of extra protection provided by the polytunnel has kept these going. They made an interesting addition to a salad of cucumber and lettuce.

I shall leave the tubers to continue to grow, as they gain nourishment from an odd swollen part of the underground stem for some weeks after the foliage has died back. There is a tiny one visisble towards the top of the photo, far too small to harvest really, but it got pulled up accidentally as I was removing the spent Courgette plant growing above it

 

Next we have Perpetual Spinach, which for me is an all round perpetual crop, not necessarily from the same plants though. IT is a relative of Beetroot, rather than a true Spinach, but makes a reliable sustitute. There is one pretty huge plant in the polytunnel, which appears further down the blog, which gives me enough of a crop at least once a week. This cutting is going to be made into curry with some potatoes, onion and chickpeas for tomorrow's dinner

Black Tuscan Kale is also a long term, reliable cropper. The plants did suffer from the attentions of Small White caterpillars this Summer, due to some gaps in the netting, but have made a good recovery now. The netting does keep igeons from feasing on them though, or really they wud just be  naked stems.

Kale in all its forms is such a versatile vegetable: I am planning to make some Pakoras in a day or two ... the leaves are in a jar of water to keep them fresh ... and the finely sliced stems give some extra texture to these. Usually I tear the softer green leaves off the stems as they take longer to cook and can be a bit tough, but finely sliced from relatively young leaves works well

And last but far from least are Peppers, both Chillies and Sweet Peppers. Despite the cold nights, these Dedo de Mocha Chillies have continued to ripen in the polytunnel. I have not grown these before I somehow I imagined them to be much smaller. These originate from Brazil, where they are grown for everyday use. They  are not especially hot, but have a genlt heat and a good flavour

Also here are some of the late set Long Red Marconi Sweet Peppers. These plants have been fruiting since late August, so have certainly done well again this. Eaten green like this, they are slightly sharp, but not bitter. 

Both are "on the list" for next year

On the Plots

I have come to the conclusion that leaving empty bed untended until the decorating at home is finished will not really matter, as long as crops that are growing are sufficently tended. Guilt now assuaged, I have carefully hand weeded the little Yellow Senshyu onion plants, ensure the sets have not been turfed out of their bed, and checked the netting over Brassicas on both plots to make sure pigeons cannot eat the leaves

At this time in the year, pigeons are even more voracious, and although they are not the brightest bird on the block, they can do incredible damage very quickly. One of my plot neighbours was unlucky enough to actually seal up the endges of his large netting compound with a Wood Pigeon actually inside. Sadly for the pigeon, there was litle to eat in ther, but I did go and let him out as he might have been there some time at this point in the year, beacuse, like me, my neighbour doesn't visit every day. They might not be very bright, but those pigeons do have a crafty look in their eye alright!

There seems to be lots more grey squirrels around than usual this year, a positive scurry of them wherever I look. They dig up bulbs and eat them, they bury nuts and acorns, which then sprout next Spring, This on top of munching through sweetcorn cobs galore, stealing a whole range of fruit, eating small bird chicks, chewing into bird feeders to steal peanuts and seeds. They might look very entertaining and cute, but they are a serious pest that. as a non-native species, have a negative impact on the environment

One plant that certainly needs netting if it is to crop well, is Purple Sprouting Broccoli. I spotted some tiny purple buds in the leaf axils, which I hope is a sign of things to come

In the Polytunnels:

Yesterday I took off the netting that has joined the two tunnels together over the Summer, roviding plenty of ventilation during the hottest months, as well as a slightly shaded outdoor growing area  at the same time

The voile netting is now washed ad folded ready to re-use next year, and the long section sof blue waterpipe put away in the woodstore so I don't inadvertently cut them up to make something from.  The back doors of the two tunnels are closed, so they are now two separate areas once more

 All the Brassicas are together in one tunnel: Spring Cabbage is still growing fairly quickly

 

And Kohl Rabi is almost ready to crop, although next to the ones I saw in one of our local shops, there are mere babes! I've noticed that Khol Rabi is becoming  a more popular ingredient in cookery programmes on TV. This week it was cooked in the style of fondant potatoes, which sounds interesting, and something i would not have thought of

There are also Tenderstem Broccoli, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Green Curly Kale and one large Red Cabbage overwintering in there

 In the other tunnel, there is the single Perpetual Spinach plant that has been so prolific. The next seedlings are large enough now to carefully prick out. I shall try to gett ot them this week, but next week will be just fine too. Thes plants should then be cropping by mid March, around the time this one will be thinking about growing a flower stalk. There are also some Lollo Rosso and  Winter Radishes, although both are still fairly small, the Welsh Onions, the remaining Pepper plants and the potted onion and shallot sets

 

At home, most of my time has been spent wielding a paint brush in the two bedrooms overlooking the back garden. There are so many different varieties of bird that visit the feeders. I counted eleven this morning, with a further six that didn't feed in the garden. Sometimes I thnk we are too busy to notice what is around us, and i am enjoying  a different view of the familiar garden for a change

 

When not painting  or watching the birds, I have been working on an upcycling project, to make two bedside units out of sections from an old dressing table. I have never attempted anything like this before, and this style of decoupage is also new. 

i have got one ready for varnishing now, so thought you might like a look: so far, so good: we can never get anything done if we don't give it a go, whether it be on the plots, in the kitchen or just in life

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

11th November - Several hard frosts toward the end of last week, followed by foggy mornings as the sun rose, making me think of the poem by John Keats "Ode to Autumn" which he wrote 200 years ago, after moving to the Winchester area from the Isle of Wight. A great favourite of mine, which I had to learn off by heart when I was at primary school, for a choral speaking competition. The line "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" is particularly appropriate in recent days

So let's look at Harvest Monday, when a range of growers share photos of what they have gathered in this week, as well as what they may have done with them (Link at the end)

First to my harvest table this week are Apples. It has been a very good Apple Year all around, but I do think that thinning the crops right down has resulted in much much larger fruits. These are Golden Delicious, from the tree which started out life in my Mum & Dad's garden, planted then in the garden of our first house and for the past 33 years has flourished here. It is a late ripening variety (which of course makes it a good keeper) and when my son was younger, he used to pick the first apple of the year on his birthday (which was a week ago). I picked the largest, least spotted fruits, and left the rest for the Blackbirds. The spots do not go into the flesh, but are only on the skin itself, so all these apples are perfecty edible. Once they are fully dry, I shall put them on trays in the garage when they last well, right into February at least. Their flavour is far superior to apples of the same name bought in supermarkets, too!

My Pear harvest finished a little while ago, but the tree in my neighbours' garden shed the rest of its fruits in the wind this week, and having been asked to help myself to these, I gathered a tray of fruits that looked suitable for making a batch of Pear Vodka. Pears float, so I shall weight them down under the  surface of the liquid with some pebbles in a polythene bag. It should be ready in time for Christmas, so if my neighbours read this, there are no prizes for guessing what your present may be!!! They won't keep long  so I shall have to crack on with this task pretty soon.

I dug up the Alberto Rococco Chilli plant a fortnight ago, and transferred it to a pot in the greenhouse at home. Although the plant is looking very sorry for itself, the fruits are ripening nicely now. These three are good and solid and I anticipate them having a good bite to them. They will last in the salad drawer of the fridge for quite a while, so I didn't need to use them up immediately

These are a pubescens variety with soft downy leaves,and their fruits have big, rather alarning looking black seeds, which are quite hot. I usually remove them as they are very hot, and being so large I find them difficult to eat. I shall save a few though, and sow them early next year, as they do need a long growing period. 

Once the fruits are off this plant though, I shall cut it right back and it may well overwinter successfully. I have kept them going for several years in the past, so perhaps this one will also be long-lived

This small Cauliflower was a surprise when I took the netting off one of the beds on #146. Its was the only survivor from the Calptons that I planted out in the Summer, after the voles had chewed off most of the leaves with their little snippy teeth. They have been the cause of really poor Brassica harvests trough the Summer, so I was grateful for this cauli alright!

The Curly Kale plants in the polytunnels have enough leaves now to start to harvest. This cutting went into some beef stew for the last five minutes or so of cooking, after which is was very tender, but still had plety of texture

I am hoping that these, together with the Black Tuscan Kale out on the plots, keep me going right through until the Spring, when their harvest should overlap with starting to cut Spring Greens

Not a lot of fresh harvests this week (forgot to photograph the Parsley) but enough to supplement crops in store

On the Plots:

I managed to repair the supports of the large brassica cage, which had come adrift in the wind, and took the fine mesh covers off  two of the other beds. They were pretty muddy, so I brought them home to wassh before they get put away. One bed has only two small red cabbage plants left after the vole onslaught, and the other has some very small savoys, so I have netted these so the pigeons do not demolish them. If it is not one thing, it is another!

The BIg Clear Up is much later this year, and much slower, due to both the very wet weather as well as me trying to get the bedroom renovations finished. I take the view that I am not going now to be planting anything else in the ground this year, so I can afford to take my time with clearing and covering these beds, with no harm done. 

The frosts saw the end of the Dahlias, and I am not looking forward to the great dig-up of the tubers, as it is always such a heavy and muddy job, but I can do them a few at a time when I need to escape from the paint brushes. The ground is not about to freeze solid yet!

One task that couldn't really wait though was bringing the succulents in under cover, and I transported them home in one of the two "miniature greenhouses" I was given for Christmas about three years ago. These are beginning to look a bit the worse for wear now, and need a bit of a spruce up and some small repairs: these are also now on my list. The plan is to have these indoors once they are nice and clean again, as a decorative way of displaying house plants. The paintbrushes and paint are out already of course, I have glue and I have glass cleaner, so it shouldn't be too demanding a task. I just have to find the time. One has a very wet base, so I shall wait until it is properly dried out before I start work on them. Not sure how long that will take..

I managed to plant out all the bare root shrubs this week, after clearing one of the triangle beds, and some dwarf daffodils, and Winter flowering irises went in too, together with some wallflower plants. IT started raining before I could clear th eother bed, so I hacked back some of the Verben bonariensis to make enough space to work, and just quickly dug holes for three more shurbs, and the remining three went in the ground outside on the verge at the front of #146. Although htye are all labelled, I am sure I shall forget what is planted where by the time they begin to grow. Surprises to come I expect!

In the Polytunnel:

There has been a bit of a disappearing act from the onion sets I potted up two weeks back: severl pot now appear to be empty. I did find one set sitting on the path, and it had already grown some roots. I re-potted it, and moved the big trays that the pots are sitting on up onto the top of two of the water butts. Not sure if it was a squirrel, mice or voles but whichever it is, their attention is most unwelcome. I checked the pots over yesterday when I watered them, and no more bulbs seem to have gone. The ones planted out in the ground are still in place howwever... bit odd, never had this before

The Aubergine plants are over now, so will need to come out of their pots and go off to the compost bins. There are a few small fruits, but hardly enough for a side dish, let alone a meal. They have done well overall though this year, so I am certainly not complaining. 

The remaining Peppers are starting to go red now. I have been loathe to pick them too soon, as if they are not fully grown they never ripen properly. This week though, I think it will be time to bring home the remaining fruits and pull out the plants.

 

At home in the garden, the bonsia Cotoneaster plants have nice ripe red berries on them now, and look very seasonal. The variegated one did not flower, but has made up for the lack of berries with a beautiful pink flush to its leaves, thanks to the frosts last week. Really pleased with the way the group looks right now.

With severe weather warnings in place in this area for mid week, there may not be a huge amount of bed clearing happening, but maybe a lot of painting and decorating!! I really do need to start to sort the seed tins though, in case there is anything I still need to buy. Some of the more choice varieties do sell out very quickly.  It migth not be this week, as the carpet fitter is coming next Monday, but I shall do my best!

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

4th November - I can hardly believe it is really November!! The days are just rushing by, far too fast for me to keep up. By now, the plot is usually well on the way to enjoying Winter blankets on lots of beds, but this year..., well this yesr, no. I am spending as much time as possible sorting the contents of the bedrooms and moving on with decorating. There has been lots of progress on this front, and one room is almost ready for a new carpet...almost, but not quite. Those last few jobs, like removing the old carpet while there is still furniture in the room, do seem to take forever though.

Harvests have been virtually non-existent, due to the above work, but also due to more torrential rain, which was almost horizontal some of the time. Not conducive to gathering kale really. I do have plenty of vegetables in store, either fresh, or frozen or otherwise preserved so have not been thrown on the mercy of the local supermarket so far. 

Harvest Monday is still on the cards (only just!)  as there were Pumpkins harvested from a local farm, in preparation for the annual carving competition. I confess to not having harvested these myself, but relying on my grandchildren, plodding through the mud in ther wellies for the ultimate selection.

I did learn something interesting about pumpkins however, which is key to both grwoing ones to eat and growing ones to carve. Thos eones that look like the traditional Cinderella's carriage style with heavy ridges down the body have a much smaller cavity, and therefore much thicker walls, than the taller, smooth ones.

You can see most of the family line up in the photo above (Mine was too dreadful to even share, as I struggled unsuccessfully with a huge volume of very dense pumpkin flesh)

 


  • Indigo's Phoenix


  • Kitty's Human Heart


  • Pearl's Scroll with Quill Pen

And Poppy, now 14, entered the "adult" class... which she won with this rather fetching Octopus!

The entries to the children's category were amazingly imaginative... here is part of the line up the following morning:

There was one further harvest though... Pumpkin Seeds!! After rinsing off as much of the flesh as I could, these were roughly dried, put on a metal tray, given a quick spray of oil and roasted (200C) for about 15 minutes. I didn't season them in any way, but in the past have added a sprinkle of sea salt, or even a drizzle of maple syrup. Plain though, they were still totally delicious, and yes, you can eat the seed cases, you don't need to peel them. I shall certainly be roasted the seeds from this season's squashes too

Out on the Plots, nothing has really happened, and in the Polytunnels it is pretty much the same story.

At home though, I did crack on with putting up the insulating bubble plastic in the greenhouse, in a brief spell of dry and relatively calm weather.  I pruned back the remaining green stems of the grapevine and gave the path abit of a sweep, but the main work of cleaning had already been done a few weeks back. I gave the heater a good clean....saves the smell of burning dust when the temperature drops..and made sure it as working properly.  I left the insualtion off the door for now, as it is not that cold yet, but will be attaching it with sticky pads very soon

The Chilli plants that are being overwintered now have a snug home, and there is plenty of space for the first round of seed sowing in the coming season, as well as tender plants that need to brought in now, once i have searched them for slugs and snails. They can stay outside, thank you!

All the leaves fell off the Fig tree overnight on Friday, making a carpet of yellow on the lawn. Look at all those immature fgs that now have no chance of ripening. Always makes me feel a little sad that they have to all be taken off, as there are just so many of them, but it does save the tree from using any energy trying to maintain them. One year I made dozens of jars of Green Figs in Rose syrup, but as I still have some left, I am passing on that opportunity this time around.

The bonsai Copper Beech tree has beautiful bronze coloured leaves now, although most of these will stay firmly attached until new leaves push up underneath them next Spring.  It is looking good for a tree 37 years old (It is on the right of the Fig tree)

One unexpected benefit I found from spending time at the window in the back bedroom, painting, is that I have a very good view of the bird feeders next door. , so here is a round -up of some of the larger visitors:

Large groups of noisy Starlings, mainly made up of this year's youngsters and their parents, arrive regularly 

I have noticed there are far more around this Autumn than usual, and flocks of migrants seem to be arriving early this year. They line the tops of the street ligths , well over a hundred at a time along the roadside

Another species that has greatly increased in number this year are Jays. They used to be a rare sight, but both in the garden and around the allotment site they are seen regularly. They do only come to the feeders one at a time: large aggressive birds that even see off ther cousins the Magpies. 

And a less common but very welcome visitor to our garden is the Great Spotted Woodpecker. He scurries up and down the trunks of the lilac trees, and it is fascinating to watch him cleaning his beak once he has finished at the fat feeder

 

The smaller birds, such as House Sparrows and various Tits, stay well clear of their larger brethren, and prefer to feed at the seed feeders by the back door. THis Sparrow though was clearly rather fed up at being turned out of the fat feeder area...just look at that expression!

On my list of jobs at the plot this week is plenting the bareroot shrubs in one of the beds previously used for annual flowers. I hope the weather styas dry tomorrow as I can make a start on it... compost and mycorrhizal fungus is ready, to give their roots a good chance of developing strongly before the very cold weather begins. If i can, I shall remove all those figs, and make sure I wear gloves too to protect my skin from the latex they exude, which is an irritant

I'll let you know how it goes!

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/