July 2018

16th July - Let's Hope St Swithin is Wrong This Year, as 40 further days without rain will be hard to take. It feels like we should be nicknamed WateringRUs, given the hours and hours that are spent keeping our crops and garden plants alive. It is hard to watch on TV that just a few miles away there have been flashfloods after a deluge of rain, while here there has been nary a drop.

Nonetheless, most crops seem to be coping enough for us to harvest decent quantities, so we shall have a look, on Harvest Monday. First up are, at long last... Tomatoes!  This time last year we were knee deep in tomatoes, but we are grateful for a small harvest this week. There are Golden Sunrise, Black Cherry, Apero, Ailsa Craig and a variety we have called Lanzarote Stripe, which was grown from seeds acquired on holiday earlier this year. Enough for a mixed tomato salad, but given the weight of fruit on the plants in the polytunnel, I am hoping we stay blight free so there can be kilos to come

This is the view long the tomato/chilli/pepper/cucumber end of the tunnel, so you can see what I mean. We have picked several Cucumbers this week, including a couple of Telegraphs from the greenhouse at home

We also harvested lots of Dill, which self sowed all over the place to give a good crop, and this joined the Cucumbers in several jars of Dill Pickles (Preserves October for recipe) which are already stored in the garage. 

Green & Yellow Dilly Pickled Cucumbers

There are lots of young fruit developing, which hopefully means more to harvest and enjoy in the coming week. With sufficient water, they do grow quickly

Our next harvest is Lettuce. This is one of the Cos Lettuces which were given to me by our plot neighbour Jane as small seedlings, and planted in the polytunnel. They are softer than those I have grown outside in the past, but this year lettuces grow outdoors have run to seed very quickly. The frilly leaved ones in the Calabrese bed are already showing signs of developing a flower stalk, which is such a shame. I must try to find something that uses a lot of lettuce at once to utilise them up before they are too bitter. 

The seedlings I was growing on at home were all munched by something.. possibly a snail... at home, so I have none available to plant out as a follow-on crop. I shall look out for a tray of cut-and-come-again salad in the supermarket,as there small plants usually give a good harvest

Our next harvest this week has been Carrots. Unlike the perfect ones harvested from the box last week, the ones grown in the outside bed are a real mixture of shapes and sizes. Usually I take out as many stones as possible in the previous Autumn and add some of our compost, but I didn't do it as thoroughly as usual, and the roots responded by growing around the stones. At least the fine netting kept off the carrot flies so there are no horrible tunnels in them. Home grown carrots have a much more "carrotty" flavour, than those bought from the supermarket, so even when they are an odd shape they still taste good.

This harvest of carrots went into Carrot & Cardamom Muffins, Beef Curry, as well as a large bowl of coleslaw, together with some Duncan Cabbage. I pulled two up, whilst they were still solid, in case the prolonged heat affected them, leaving one more, which will hopefully survive for a while longer. 

 

 

 

Climbing French Beans are cropping heavily, and these here are now all blanched and frozen, together with the yellow Dwarf French Beans from the polytunnel. The plants are already covered with beans again, so there will be plenty more harvests

This is the last big picking of Peas for the season. There might be a few odd pods here and there still to come, but not many. Apparently it has not been a very good season for peas, but to be honest we seem to have done quite well. Only two peas had a maggot in them, and we have been pleased with the amount to pick. We shall never be self sufficient in peas, but there is nothing like the taste of freshly podded peas, lots of which get eaten before they even get home, so giving space to grow some is an easy decision

The yellow pods are mature ones which will be kept to give us seeds for the coming season, drying thoroughly on the desk at home before being stored in a labelled envelope in the seed tin

Beetroot are growing really well, and this week we have had some of the deep maroon Subeto roots roasted, and these bright pink Chioggia, which have concentric pink and white rings when sliced. Really, cooking turns them a kind of muddy beige, and their fresh flavour seems to be lost, so these are best served raw and finely sliced, with a salad dressing. Very good indeed! I took two to our daughter's house as she has not grown any Chioggia this year so I hope her family enjoyed them. 

That is the last of the harvest photographs for this week, so we shall move on to see what else we have been doing .... although there have been plenty of Courgettes

At long last I have managed to plant out half of the Leek plants. I sowed three varieties: Bulgarian Giant, Bleu de Solaise and Porvite, and it was certainly easy to see which was which from the thickness of the stems.  I had to trim the roots to get them in the holes, and pinching back the leaves gives them a chance to settle in without losing too much water through transpiration and they will soon start to produce new leaves

We have serious issues with Leek Moth in our area, so I now grow leeks under fine netting to protect them from moths laying eggs on them. Usually I use a version of enviromesh, but all I have is already in use, so I have used a length of voile we had left over from a project at home some years back. It has the added advantage of providing some shade from the intense heat of the sun, and it easy to lift the edge to give the soil a good soak every few days. The remaining plants will be planted out when the second early potatoes are dug up, which should be fairly soon I hope

It does look a little odd having voile tents with a design of cow parsley over some of the beds, but it does the job. I used it last year on one of the brassica beds and it held up well through the Winter, so hopefully it will last as well this time too. Currently, as well as the Leeks, there is a bed of Red Cabbage seedlings and one of Kale similarly dressed, as well as Calabrese and late season Cabbages & Cauliflowers with enviromesh topped by debris netting against the heat of the sun, plus of course the netted carrots too. Carry on like this, almost everything will be grown under some sort of covering to protect it from pests of various kinds

This is the other side of the polytunnel, where the Globo onions, early leeks, sweetcorn and various roots & beans are growing. The onions are starting to bow down now, and I have stopped watering them so that they can start to dry out. I have now trimmed the leaves back a bit, which makes them look tidier and hopefully will hasten the drying a bit. I shall take them up soon and keep them somewhere cool to dry fully. 

The sweetcorn has two cobs on most plants, and it won't be long before they are ripe, maybe within a couple of days. Really looking forward to eating them, as home grown corn is nothing like the cobs you buy, as it is so fresh.

 

The Winter Squash plants are thriving so far, lthough keeping up with their water needs is demanding. On #146, I have put up some strong tripods to support the growth of some of the smaller kinds, and you can see it seems to be working so far.  This one is a Spaghetti Squash, which seems very prolific: there are several more fruits on runners growing at ground level. If the one on the tripod gets too heavy, I shall rig up some netting to support it so that it doesn't tear loose from the plant before it ripe. I am not sure what size these grow to

This is an Ute Indian Squash, which is especially tasty with dense, dryish deep orange flesh. I am aiming  to save seed from this variety to share via a Seed Circle, so it is important the seeds will come true next season. Squashes are notoriously promiscuous, so I used a male flower from another Ute Indian plant to manually fertilise a female flower slightly before it opened, before any bees had visited, and then tied it closed with soft string so no passing bees could introduce any other kind of pollen. Now that the fruit is fully set, I have tied some string loosley around the stem to mark it as the "special" one, although as it is right at the top of the post it is unlikely I shall forget which one it is. It should only grow to about 15-18cm across so might not need extra support, but I shall keep a close eye on it as this is one I definitely don't want to fall off

North Georgia Candy Roaster

We have several other varieties, and one which we grew last year that was exceptionally sweet, is North Georgia Candy Roaster. I swapped some spare plants with my Son-in-Law, and it turned out he had also bought some seeds and we exchanged plants of the same variety: between us we should have quite a few of these at the end of the season. Luckily they store well, and their flavour improves further with keeping.  As they ripen, they will develop a fetchng shade of pink, and the nose-end will turn blue

In this week's Wildlife Spot are Goldfinches. These little fellows sit up on our aerials and sing their hearts out for hours on end. They feed on sunflower hearts in the garden and now that the new broods have fledged, there are several together at a time. Towards the Autumn they will form up into larger flocks, when they are very visible feeding on seeds of plants such as teazels and thistles at the field edges

Down at the plots, they visit our small pond to drink and to bathe every day, and as it is very quiet, we can get quite closee to watch them,  but I've not yet been able  to take any photos for far. Such pretty birds, that have increased in numbers steadily over the past few years

And finally this week, here are our new lilies, which are about 75cm tall and very sweetly scented as well as being a striking colour. 

I shall be back next Monday. We are planning a week of clearing up, as there are all sorts of bits and pieces that need to be put away, from canes to bricks and pieces of wood and pots, as well as a large pile of dry stems and tree prunings that need to be burned. Things will look all the better for it

I hope the week goes well for you all!

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

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