July 2018

Blackbirds' nest in the rhubarb

9th July - More New Harvests This Week! (I am not going to go on about the heatwave again....it is what it is and we have to get on with watering every day and will have to for some time yet) Let's get straight in to Harvest Monday

We took the net off the big fruit cage this week, rolling it up carefully and putting it away for next year, then set to, picking fruit. It took hours, and there was still a lot left for the birds. We also discovered where the pair of Blackbirds who seem to live on one of our plots made their nest this year: in amongst the rhubarb. They were lucky that rats are scarce right now, or they wouldn't have even hatched a single egg, let alone reared four young this close to the ground. There are the remains of a couple of eggs, which might be from an unsuccessful second brood. The birds are making the most of the bounty left from our fruit picking, rummaging about amongst the bushes, rustling around, sounding much larger than they actually are

We have: Redcurrants (= savoury jelly, Redcurrant Vodka) Blackcurrants & Jostaberries (=sweet jelly) Gooseberries (= Redcurrant & Gooseberry jam, Gooseberry Fool) and Cherries (=eating!!!)

 

 

The Currant bushes were absolutely dripping with fruit, and we had the best crop of Gooseberries ever, with the two young bushes (Hinnomaki Red & Hinnomaki Yellow) giving lots of berries too. These were quite small though, as I inadvertently only watered the other large Leveller bush. The other two are set back a bit and more difficult to reach with the net on... lesson learned!

I now have the long job of transforming the bowls of berries into preserves to last us through the year: Blackcurrants are cooked, and dripping in the jelly bag, and the first batch of jam fruit is ready to rub through a sieve before adding the sugar. Have to get it done before those pesky fruit flies move in.

Really pleased to harvest so many cherries too. This little tree is inside our fruit cage and so protected from the attentions of the birds, unlike the tree at home in the garden which I netted too late this year. They are a  variety called Sunburst, which ripens to a beautiful dark maroon, and makes excellent eating

Padron Peppers

Another new harvest for us this week was Padron Peppers. These are delicious grilled with olive oil and salt, and a favourite from holidays. I grew some last year, but they somehow lacked that essential quality that makes them different from other grilled peppers. These ones were grown from "authentic" seeds from the Flower Market in Barcelona's Las Ramblas. They look the part... hope they taste it too!

Other chillies and peppers are growing well in the polytunnel, as are the tomaotoes. Next week I hope to be able to pick the first ripe ones.. very late this year, but they will be very welcome indeed

We have been harvesting Carrots for some time, but this week I thinned those growing in a deep polystyrene crate in the polytunnel, to leave about 3-4 cm between the remaining roots. They are lovely clean, well shaped roots, and they tasted pretty good raw. These are watered every day, and I'm pleased how well they are doing so far, and am looking forward to seeing their progress over the next month.  

More Maybach Cauliflowers & Marathon Calabrese

 

The roots of these showed definite signs of Clubroot, but still managed to grow to maturity. I planted them out when they were quite large, large enough to fill a 9 cm pot, with a few chicken manure pellets in the planting hole, plus I had limed the ground a couple of weeks before planting. This must have helped as previously plants had just succumbed very quickly, so I shall try the same method with new plantings on #146 that are not of resistant varieties

The curds of one head were beginning to lose their tightness: this was eaten raw with a hummous dip. Half of the remainder was made into this Mustardy Grilled Cauliflower (Recipes 2018) and the rest was blanched and frozen

I pulled out the Broad Bean plants this week, only to find that the beans were far too tough to harvest... a casualty of the dry weather ... but the Peas are still producing lots of pods unusually late into the season. I don't know if it is the growing condiitons or that these varieties crop for longer. I shall grow the same ones again next year so might find out this time next year

The last of the first early Potatoes were dug two days ago, leaving, at last, space for those very patient leek plants in the tray. They have been safely stored away for use in salads over the next cople of weeks,as they have such good flavour

  • Charlotte Potatoes

  • Hurst Green Shaft & Terrain Peas

Courgette & Pecan Muffins

And of course there have been Courgettes! I managed to use a large one up in these muffins   (Recipes 2108). These four are the ones left at the end of the feast, so have off-centre pecan nuts and slight blobs of cake mix on the cases... the result of enthusiasm from one of our grandchildren during their making, which no-one minded

A couple more courgettes were grilled with a bit of fennel for added flavour, to accompany sausages, and I daresay there will be more waiting for me in the morning, so I shall need to get a wiggle-on if I am to avoid that well-know growers' syndrome: Courgette Mountain in the Fridge. Ooh, yes, I have just remembered, a neighbour wanted some to spiralise. Who am I to deny her that opportunity???

That is the end of this week's Harvest Monday here.

Globo Onions

Mostly the week has been taken up with watering. The Runner Bean flowers are not setting beans very well, so more water needed there I think, but most things are actually growing. The Spring planted onion sets are beginning to look more like onions than shallots, and the Globos in the polytunnel are still expanding. They get a good soak on alternate days, which seem to suit them, and it is time for their last feed of the season now.

The Autumn planted onions were poor, and shallots are disappointing too, yet the garlic is amazing. It did get more water than the shallots...another lesson there perhaps?

Leaf mould has been dug into the main Brassica bed on #145, which I hope helps with water retention, and tomorrow, when the soil has been firmed well, late cabbages and cauliflowers will be planted. The weather for the next two days in marginally coller, so it seems wise to seize the chance to get things in the ground. Two more beds need prep work, so it'll be another early start in the morning, and then of course there are the leeks....

This week's Wildlife Spot has to go to... Butterflies. Honestly, they are more numerous than I have seen for years, fighting over space on the flower heads. The Buddleia is coming out, and both the purple Verbena and lavender are in full bloom. There are two huge Spear Thistles that seem to be butterfly-magnets, lots of small yellow hawksbit flowers along the edges of the grass, as well as dahlias and marigolds

Here is this week's Butterfly roll call:

  • Small White

  • Small Tortoiseshell

  • Speckled Wood

  • Comma

  • Large White (female)

  • Meadow Brown

  • Brimstone (Male)

  • Peacock

  • Red Admiral

To end this week is one of our many Nasturtium flowers. You might think it quite ordinary, but it is a really high-value plant. The leaves, flowers and seed pods are all edible;  lots of insects feed on the nectar from the flowers, and the leaves are a foodplant for their caterpillars. They self-sow, so come with no cost or effort, and they also create their own colours.  We have orange flowered ones, we have ones in various shades of yellow, but this striped nasturtium  arrived all by itself. It looks quite special

I hope you are all enjoying the sunshine, dealing with the heat and coping with the drought. 

The next blog entry will be on Monday as usual, when I hope to be able to show you lots of jars of scrummy preserves. At least, that's the plan!

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

2nd July - A Whole Month with no rain is really making its mark now. I have never seen cauliflower leaves wilted down completely flat, until yesterday. Let's start on a positive note: Harvest Monday

Maybach early Cauliflowers and Marathon Calabrese are ready to harvest, and two of each came home with us last night. Cauliflower is a great addition to curries as it absorbs flavour so well, so the little one will be used tomorrow, with the larger one going into a Cauliflower Cheese Bake later in the week. There are more to come, and with the extreme heat, they will be harvested sooner rather than later to be safely stored in the cool of the fridge rather than risking them being spoilt.

The leaves of the Calabrese are a blue-green: I have not grown this variety before to know whether it is usual or the outcome of stress, but either way they will be blanched and frozen, So glad space has been cleared in the freezer, as there are lots of crops needing harvesting right now

Also in this week's vegetable box are Peas. We have been soaking the soil around these plants every two or three days, to help the peas to swell, and it has paid off, with large pods of succulent peas. These are mainly Hurst Green Shaft, which develop two pods per stem, and Terrain, with a single but larger pod.

 

 

And then here come the Cucumbers! This little clutch are Zeina, grown under cover

With the first of the Telegraphs from the greenhouse at home, rather curled where it grew low down on the plant and rested on the floor as it grew, but it will be just fine sliced!

There are plenty more female flowers on all the plants, and they have all started to grow up their supports, so the next fruit should be clean and unmarked.

The Strawberry crop is coming to an and, but now there are Loganberries and Tayberries to pick, if I can get to them before the blackbirds. The don't usually take many, but this year I guess they are extra thirsty so nice juicy red berries are irresistable! Lightly stewed, with a little sugar, they are delicious over icecream.

The Summer Raspberries are mainly spoilt by the heat, and I shall cut the stems right out to make space for harvesting the redcurrants

 

 

  • Strawberries from the troughs under cover

  • Loganberries & Tayberries

  • A medley of Courgettes

  • and a medley of Beetroot

We have also had Lettuce, Broad Beans, Courgettes, Beetroot, Spring Onions and Dwarf French Beans, which is the last of this week's harvests.

The early cropping green podded Speedy plants in the polytunnel are running out of energy now (so I shall take them out) just as the yellow podded Orinoco (On the right) have started to crop. The Climbing French Beans outside are also now growing pods so I am hoping there will be plenty for the next week or so, and there are the green and purple ones to come too.

The crops in the polytunnel are coping much better with the extreme heat and drought conditions than those outside in the open ground. The cover protects them from the strength of the sun's rays, and the extra ventilation provided via the netted section between the tunnels is certainly helping to keep the temperature down a bit. They are all regularly watered of course, as are those outside, but possibly there is less evaporation with the protection of the cover

I have taken off the bottom leaves on the tomato plants now to expose the developing fruits, and to make it easier to keep the plants themselves dry when watering them, keeping the water on the soil itself. This time last year we had plenty of ripe tomatoes, but this year's unusual weather pattern has had an adverse effect, and they are nowhere near ready to pick yet

It is difficult to plant out new plants to give us a succession of crops later in the year in these hot, dry conditions. Waiting in the wings are Leeks (still) Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, Red Cabbages, Kale and Spring Onions. Without shade netting and plenty of water they will have no chance of survival, and almost all the netting is already being used. I shall have to get creative with that roll of voile fabric: maybe doubling it over would give enough protection. When I went to the plots earlier this evening to water, some of the chard and fennel plants were lying almost flat. They picked up after a few cans of water, and I hope that overnight they manage to get themselves together for another hot day tomorrow. It just shows how vulnerable to failure plants are right now, and 

This week's Wildlife Spot goes to... Damselflies. There are several kinds that have been around this week, possibly breeding in our pond and our neighbour's one. Unlike Dragonflies, they fold their wings back in the same way as  butterflies do when they land, bu they also catch insects to eat. They probably couldn't quite manage a Horsefly, more's the pity, as there are lots around right now, and they bite hard, but they surely must get through a lot of mosquitoes and small flies.

It is fascinating watching them around the pond, when the males hold the females by the neck so they can lay eggs in the water plants wihtout drowning. The females of all kinds are much less colourful than the males, and can be tricky to identify on their own.

Here are some I've seen this week, either at the plot or in the garden. They often sit on leaves or twigs in the sunshine, so are relatively easy to photograph. The Beautiful Demoiselle was in the polytunnel and sat still for ages... this one one we see less often so I was glad to have the opportunity for a close up

  • Common Blue Damselfly

  • Beautiful Demoiselle

  • Red Damselfly

Last week's blog began with a photo of sweetpeas, and they are still flowering their socks off, although their stems are not as long and elegant as the first blooms...  a feed of tomato fertiliser will help them get back to how they were. They still smell amazing though and look really pretty, and it would be good to keep them flowering to enjoy for as long as possible

It looks like this sunny, dry weather is going to contiue for a while yet, so I hope we can all keep plants alive and growing without too many casualites... or too many aching muscles, either!!

See you next week

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can