17th October - The compost bins are bulging now.
The great Autumn Clear-up continued this week, with a huge amount of greenery consigned to the compost bins as harvests slow.. that pattypan plant (no more trying to think of ways to use them), the rest of the pepper plants, soft weeds from #145, most of the french marigolds and plenty of old cabbage leaves, together with a whole sack of shredded paper. All combined to start the magic that leads to wonderful brown crumbly compost next year. Really look upon this as a sort of harvest, although I realise some may find that odd!
We have had more recognisable harvests this week too, a couple of which came as a bit of a surprise, so, here is our Harvest Monday round up:
First out of the traps are these, our unexpected Chocolate Cherry tomatoes hiding up above the shade net in the greenhouse at home, together with a few Yellow Pears, and perfect, unmarked fruits they are too! A welcome additon to salads, made even more so as we thought there would be no more until next June/July! There were also three cucumbers, which I forgot to photograph, and these were pretty good as well.
Emptying the greenhouse is one of those jobs I dread, as it always gets terribly overgrown by this time in the year, with the grape vine almost out of control. Now it is all neat and tidy, with the glass cleaned inside and out and the bushes outside cut back to allow as much light as possible in during the dull months to come. It did seem slightly bizarre putting up the bubble plastic insulation on a bright sunny day with temperatures touching on 20°C... I have made sure the windows can still be opened ... but it was much easier to do when the greenhouse was actually empty. The vine is pruned back to its new framework, after being completely cut down two years ago, and the chilli plants that I am overwintering are already on the staging
Plenty more chillies picked this week:
Another less obvious but very important harvest has been chilli seeds. All of these are open pollinated varieties and should come true from seed. They are spread out on kitchen paper, with names written on each piece of course, unitl they are completely dry. They will be sown early next year in the propagator.
The sweet peppers have ripened nicely since last week, and this is the last of them.
One of the new crops has been pears. Our small trees provide a few fruits to store and eat as they ripen, plus enough for a jar of pickled pears. When I was a child, pickled pears were an annual family ritual, with us scrumping cooking pears from the hedgerow over the back of Portsdown Hill, mainly those that had fallen in the nettles, as I remember. Mum used to preserve these in spiced syrup, to be ceremoniously opened as an accompaniment to Christmas lunch. Some years they were amazing, and other years a bit too hard, but we looked forward to them with great anticipation, all gloriously pink and glowing in their jar.
I used our small Conferences and Concordes to make a jarful, although using brown sugar hides their natural colour more than I had realised it would. I hope they taste good though!
And the last harvest this week was also a surprise: new potatoes! A few weeks back I planted some seed potatoes, with the fond idea that we might have some new potatoes around Christmas-time. The plants quickly succumbed to late blight, so I cut the haulms off and promptly forgot all about them. Until this week, digging over a patch of ground, just look what came to light! Slightly scabby but still good-enough-to-eat new potatoes!!! Just right for a potato salad with some onion green from the salad onions in the mini-tunnel. Mmmmmmm
I haven't posted yet more photos of pattypan squashes or achocha. The last of the patty pans came home today, but the achocha are still going strong. We also still have a good supply of lettuces from the cut and come again that I bought from the supermarket, an idea I shall use again next year for certain.
This time in the year is not only about giving some of the beds a rest, but also starting off crops that will be harvested before next Summer. This week I put in sets of Autumn onions, the Jermor shallots I saved from this year's crop and the Elephant Garlic. I bought some cloves of this last one from the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, and they were truly massive, bigger than a pointy golfball, and so I am hoping for a really good crop next July. They are so much larger than the ones I have grown before!
Another job I look forward to with a distinct lack of enthusiasm is clearing old leaves out from the Winter brassica bed, made even less appealing by the dense snowstorm of whitefly that have taken up residence on their leaves this year.
As we took the debris netting cover off, made especially to keep out the Diamondback Moths earlier in the year, clouds of tiny whiteflies made breathing without coughing almost impossible. They feed on sap and exude any excess, which falls onto the leaves and enables black sooty mould to grow. Altogether hideous. They have a three day breeding cycle and so any controls need to be regular and frequent, in this case spraying with dilute washing up liquid. I also took off all the leaves that had huge numbers of egg scales on their undersides, and washed off as much sooty mould as I could
After a couple of hours' work the leaves looked much better and the infestation of whitefly was much reduced. I just need to stay on top of things to make sure they don't build up again. I also had extremely clean hands after all that soapy water!
Abi installed the wooden edging to the bed and staked the Purple Sprouting Broccoli, before we put the lighter netting over the plants to prevent the pigeons from feasting on them.
The Brussel Sprout plants are developing buttons; I hope they will now stay green rather than getting swamped by the whitefly, and the last few savoys are looking very tempting. Funnily enough their puckered leaves seem far less interesting to the whitefly.
Good job, well done all round!
Abi also layed landscape membrane over the paths on #145, and then we carted woodchip until they were all covered. They do look very tidy, and will be much easier to manage than the grass/weeds originally planned. Two views here, plus some of pictures of #146.
Thank you to the many of you who sent us messages of congratulations last week on our Gold award. Your good wishes were so much appreciated and really valued. Thank you again!
I always like to end with a photo or two of flowers, something new where possible. This Calendula plant sprung up again after I took out the bean plants, its flowers glow brightly in the sun. offset by maroon reverse to their petals.
I have saved seeds as well, so am hoping for a really good display of these through next Summer.
10th October - Wow! We won a Gold!!!
The results of the Reading in Bloom competition were announced last week, as we were awarded the Gold for the "Most Attractive Allotment! It made all that dead-heading and path weeding worth it, and it was great to see our plot so much appreciated. None of it stands still to be admired however, and after last week's glorious sunshine and temperatures up to 20°C, this morning came as a bit of a shock. Almost frosty!! It certainly spurred us on with the Big Autumn Clear-up at the plots, with feet firmly on the ground wearing extra socks to keep warm!
Harvest Monday is first though, as usual. There have been some "firsts" this week, reflecting how the year is moving on.
The Greyhound cabbages have nice solid hearts now. They are usually grown as spring cabbage but I sowed them later than usual, hence they are ready now. The older leaves have a small amount of damage but the hearts are perfect, and absolutely delicious. One half, cooked with butter, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and some dill seeds accompanied our beef stew and roast potatoes, and the other half will be joined by some of our carrots and onions to become coleslaw later this afternoon.
The next of the "firsts" is our sweet pepper harvest. The cold weather helped me decide to cut them all, as they are not likely to ripen fully now. We grew two main varieties, six plants of each: Mammoth Sweet Spanish and Bullhorn. The latter turn a glorious yellow or orange when fully ripe (we have eaten a few already) and are very tasty, whilst the MSS ripen to red. Both gave us decent crops of four or five fruits per plant, and nice sized peppers too, so they are both still on the list for next year. The Sweet Purple however, had smaller and fewer fruits and although there is some novelty value in their colour, I'd rather give the space to a heavier cropping variety.
They were all grown under the partial shelter of an old cloche with holes in the cover, so I ma hoping that we shall have a polytunnel next year to give them more heat.
Not quite sure what to do with them now. I am thinking of perhaps preserving some in oil with thyme and garlic. As you can see, most of them are green so I hope it would actually look appetising. A couple of red chillies might enliven it in more ways than one! I'll probably just do one jar to start with and see what it is like ... any suggestions are welcome (please!)
The sunflowers are the last for this year: the remaining seed heads have been put up n the plum tree for the birds, soft foliage in the compost bin and thick stems to the green waste recycling.
Another "first" for us is chard. I planted a few tiny plants in a space on #145, and they have at last grown enough leaves to harvest. They will be baked in a cheese sauce with a crispy breadcrumb and parmesan topping, then frozen in the dish for another day as we can't eat everything we harvest at the same time!
Chard is not really one of our favourite vegetabkes, but cooking it like this was a pleasant surprise and offsets the iron-y flavour of the leaves very well.The stems are a nice mix of colours which will look good on the plate too.
This is our first Goji berry harvest. The bush is massive, with branches waving all over the place, and the little purple flowers have developed into very small red berries. What to do with them is the question. They have hardly any flavour and if we dry them they will be even smaller.
The bush may be on a last warning and be replaced with an Apothecary's Rose!
One rose hip would outweight this whole harvest.
The chillies have done well again this year and there are enough red ones to attempt a fermented hot sauce. I'll let you know how it turns out... I am hoping for great things from this so I hope it is a success.
From the top, left to right, there is Razzamatazz, Hungarian Hot Purple, Orange Habanero, Little Elf, Alberto Locato, Lemon Drop, Baskte of Fire and Joe's Long, with an un-named round red variety in the centre. I was given some of these by a German in Lanzarote 15 years ago and I grow a few plants every year, and in our family it is now just known as Mum's Round Red.
This morning I picked all the fruits off the plants growing outside, and the green Little Elfs are now frozen in a plastic bag. They can be added to cooking straight from the freezer and the beautiful fresh taste is preserved really well like this.
The juicier looking green jalapenos will go towards a hot green sauce. This might be a bit ambititious as I haven't even made a red one yet, but hey, you have to aim high!! I still have a lot of green Bangalore Torpedos on the plant I moved into the mini tunnel about ten days ago, so there should be enough if I put the all together. I think next year the jalapenos would do better under cover, and might need feeding a bit more. One plant has only just started to flower so I have put a cloche over it in the hope that I might get some small green fruits, but it is really only a slight chance to be honest
After a week away, I wasn't sure how big any remaining pattypans might have been, and I was quite relieved to find there was only one which ad escaped being picked on that last plot visit. There were lots of little ones though, as you can see! And that one achocha plant is going great guns!
The smaller patty pans will be cut into quarters and added to our spicy meatballs this evening, just for the last five minutes of cooking. The large one will be "amalgamated" invisibly when we next have a pasta dish
It turns out that achochas are pretty good in stir fry dishes, or fried up with onions and black mustard seeds or fennel seeds. Not sure how to preserve any of them though and so we are having to eat them often right now
Along with the clearing away of the debris from finished crops, there is of course the planning ahead for next year, including onions, shallots and garlic. The onions that are planted in the Autumn are varieties that can stand the winter conditions and grow away quickly in the Spring, whilst garlic and shallots both need a decent cold period (vernalisation) to make sure they split to form a head of cloves or a bunch of shallots. Planting them now in nice warm soil helps them grow strong roots before the really cold weather sets in.
I usually plant garlic cloves saved from the previous harvest, but decided this year to try two new varieties: Casablanca and Germidor. Garlic cloves can be quite expensive, but Wilcos were selling two heads for £2, and I was really pleased that each head had an average of 8 fat cloves as well as some skinny ones. With 6 heads this gave plenty to plant, but I put the skinny ones in as well, in their own row, thinking that they could make useful small heads or maybe used as green garlic before the main crop is ready. Seemed wasteful to throw them away really.
I have to clear enough space now for the elephant garlic and the shallots, as the garlic has filled the half bed allocated to them all!
Wild harvests are often plentiful at this time in the year, and when I was away last week I had time to walk through the woods and long the cliff paths looking to see what might be available to forage.
Brambles were still in an edible condition, which is unusual in October. Legend has it that the devil spits on the on Michaelmas Day (30th September) and turns them bitter, and to be honest ther flavour does change around then and animals often stop eating them too. This year however there was late ripening fruit around
Rosehips were prolific, both on Dog Roses and on some clumps of Apothercary's Rose that had made its way to live on the landslip by the cliffs. I was tempted to gather some for rosehip syrup, but they were not qquite ripe
Haws, or Hawthorn berries, can be used to make a syrup, or a ketchup, and with the berries being recognised as "good for your heart" in folk medicine, could be worth a second look... but not until the middle of this month as they are very bitter until fully ripe. There is an amazing crop this year, with branches weighed down with berries ... does this mean a hard winter to come? Country folk might say so.
Sloes are the fruit of blackthorn, and some years cover the bushes like little blue dusted black plums. This year they were few and far between, and those I saw too high up to pick, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to using some for Sloe GIn
Which all meant I came away empty handed of course, but the sight of such splendour in the hedgerows was good the soul if not for the stomach.
The fishing however, was good for both soul and stomach! Standing out on the beach at night, in absolute silence, with clear skies but no moon, you can see sooooo many stars, and if you stay there long enough you can see how the constellations appear to move across the sky as the hours go by. Obviously it is really an illusion as the Earth is turning, but it is certainly awe inspiring. The sight of two red meteors zooming silently past heading over us towards France was amazing, as was the sudden rushing glint of a satellite out in space.
We fished most days, sometimes at night and sometimes in daylight, and managed a total of 25 fish, of 8 different species, most of which were returned safely to the sea. There are very strict rules about the size of different fish you are allowed to keep, and those which you can never keep as they are endangered such as the English Eel. We did however have a good meal thanks to a large Whiting Pout and a Pollack, and the heavy Black Bream caught by my brother the night before we left accompanied him in the cool box!
You know how sometimes people have surplus crops and offer them to you? Well, our neighbour from two doors along came to the door yesterday and said a colleague of her husbands had given them a couple of leeks and would I like one?
That sounds nice, I said.... and this appeared from behind her back!! I must admit there was a moment when I actually thought it was plastic but luckily didn't say so out loud. What a whopper!!!!
Another gift from a friend were some Monks Hood plants, which, after months of anticipation, are now in bloom. Such a gorgeous, clear blue. We have planted them to the back of the border as they are actually poisonous, as I suppose someone might try to eat a flower ..... hmmmmm.
Thank you for reading to the end again! I really appreciate your support.
More next week of course, hopefully with onions and shallots safely planted
3rd October - Hello from the Isle of Wight!
I am away this week on a fishing holiday with my brother, but trust me, before I set off on Saturday I had worked hard all week to reduce the tomato mountain to zero, the apple mound to just one small tray, to bring home any crops that were able to be harvested and have a good clear up both at home and at the plots. Can't just take a week out without leaving all in order behind you, you know!!
Here is the first offering at the harvest table: Giant Bolivian Achocha, which are amazingly prolific all of a sudden. I know I said I would never grow them again, but the long row of succulent baby fruits is making me think again ... they are tasty raw, no seeds or anything, I think they would be good stir fried too. And it is only one plant, climbing up an arch where nothing else is growing anyway, and a bit into the cherry tree, which looks quite nice really.
Hmmmm ... what shall I do?
There are a few old favourites still going strong, including a handful of young runner beans, which surprised me. There are also a couple of flowers on the Benchmaster plants, so you never know, there may be afew more. In the meanwhile the large pods are still green so the seeds are nowhere near ready yet. Plenty of time as they won't be sown until late Spring next year after all!
The French beans were also a pleasant surprise, with a huge handful hiding in the leaves when I came to take the wigwam down. They were too big to eat, so I am going to dry the seeds to use next season. They are F1 plants, which means that they will not come true though, although they willl be french beans of some sort for sure, and I am happy to save a pound or two on the cost of my seeds next year like this. Bean seeds are always quite expensive, so hopefully with these and keeping back some of the drying beasn, I shan't need to buy any at all. Good harvest to have I reckon!
(Internet connection is so intermittent I am going to have to complete this week's next weekend, so over and out for now!)