August 2017

21st August -  Tomato Time's here at last!!!! After a late start, cooler weather than usual plus of course a vicious attack of blight, we are actually harvesting a bowlful of tomatoes daily, mostly from the polytunnel but also Crimson Crushes from outside. All the other "outsiders" are gone now.

As you can see here, I have taken all the leaves off the plants in the polytunnel to try to delay the spread of blight, leaving the plants looking quite sad, but to be honest, any fruits that set now would have little chance of maturing, so cutting back like this gives the existing fruits plenty of light and air. When watering, I aim at the ground, and make sure the fruits stay dry, which might help too

And that takes us nicely into Harvest Monday, with... tomatoes. In the header photo, from left to right, there is some of this week's haul so you can see what they look like: Kibit's Ukrainian Plum, Yellow Pear, Moneymaker, Crimson Crush (not quite ripe) Chocolate Cherry, Reisetomate, Sungella, Rosella, 100s&1000s, Golden Sunrise and Marmande.

All the Oxhearts have been used as green tomatoes, and there are just two more we have stll going:

  • Costoluto Genovese are heavily ribbed, with these strange extrusions from their base. I picked these ones to ripen fully at home away from blight spores They do produce plenty of fruit with a good flavour

  • This Summer Cider is a more typical colour, and at four inches across makes good slices to grill or have in sandwiches. Such a shame it is so blight sensitive. I might try one plant at home next year

It is great having a mix of different colours of tomato for salads and salsas, and lots get eaten from the bowl in the kitchen as passing snacks. The majority though will be used for a batch of unseasoned passata/tomato puree. This is something Dave, who hosts Harvest Monday, does and so rather than make jars of completed curry or pasta sauces this year, we can use this as base for anything we would like to cook. Water bathing the jars will ensure they are properly sterilised and so the contents will keep for a good long while. Being greatly reduced, there will be fewer jars to store as well.

Runner bean production is slowing now, so I have given the plants a good deep soak of tomato fertliser to help along some further flowers. That usually does the trick. I tried dehydrating some sliced pods, bu the taste of them reminded my of chewing the base of grass stems, so I doubt if I shall do this again.  Thinking of making a batch of bean bhaji to freeze in portions, and some chutney similar to a picalilli, as I do need to use them up!

The best crop of the week has certainly been sweetcorn. After years of not being able to grow this as rats ate it before we did, I planted a few plants in the polytunnel. I was worried that they would not be pollinated, so shook the flowers every time I went through the door, and the cobs that resulted are very full and delicious enough to eat raw. It is a variety called Swift, and one I shall certainly grow again next year!! This is the very first one I picked, and although each plants only produced two cobs, we are delighted to have some after so many years with none... so much sweeter than the ones we have bought

There are still plenty of blackberries and raspberries,we have eaten some of the apples from the early yellow fruiting tree on the plot, picked in passing, and the last few figs are fat and ripe. They are large enough to eat on their own and are just gorgeous. Goodness knows if the second crop will get to ripen, but this year I shall not be making jars and jars of green figs in rose syrup: we still have plenty left, thank you!

Greengages and Czar Plums

Two other "firsts" this week are greengages and plums.The little Old Green Gage tree is only three years old and has never fruited before, and the plum tree, which we bought as a Victoria but I think is probably Czar, has only ever had two or three plums on it in its six years. This year there are about a dozen, hanging huge and purple above our heads, so maybe now it knows how to do it, we might get more in the future. I did read that plum trees take six or seven years to be mature enough to fruit, so I hope this is correct. The gages were very sweet, and the plum, duly shared bewteen two of us, had an excellent flavour. We are keeping  careful eye on the remaining ones, until they ripe enough to pick.

Divas

Lettuces are still a regular for salads: Butterhead and Red Frills; Courgettes are enough for our needs, wth a few to share and, last, but far from least, there are the ongoing cucumbers. The three Divas are spreading along the side of the polytunnel, where there is now space without the Marmande tomato plants, and the side bars make a handy support to keep the fruits up off the ground. Salads, pickles, raita, there is always something to do with them!

Although harvested a few weeks' back, the Summer onions grown from sets (Stuttgarter, Sturon and Red Baron) and the Autumn planted shallots (Jermor) are now dry and ready to bring home to store. There are no onions big enough for the Large Onion Class at the Show, but we might be able to squeeze five for the Medium Class. The onions grown from seed are still drying, so these will figure in another blog entry when they are ready to take home.

  • Jermor shallots

  • Spring planted onions from sets

This is what Winter Tares looks like growing

And that is the last of our harvests for this week. 

Green manure is now sown in two of the beds on #145: Winter Tares, otherwise known as vetch, with the plan of chopping it down when the plants get to 25cm or so, and digging in the soft green growth, then covering the beds with black plastic until after the Winter. The purpose is threefold: their top growth smothers weeds, the roots take nutrients from deep in the ground, that are then available in the shallower top soil for newly planted crops next season,  once the plant is chopped up nd dug in, and the stems and leaves add to the organic matter in the soil. 

Green manures can protect the soil surface over Winter too, but as the soil can get very wet and boggy here,  we cover it to do this, as well as prevent it getting waterlogged and of course warming it slightly in the Spring.

As usual, here are some of our flowers to end with..more gladioli, that we are enjoyaning at home, along with asters and dahlias. 

I ran out of time this week for sowing of crops to overwinter under cover, and also been a little worried that there may not be space available to plant these out when needed. Today I realised that both sweetcorn and tomaot plants will soon be out of course, so there is not need for concern. I have the ssed packets out now...

And the entry list for the local Show has to be in by next Friay, so deciding on our entries is also now a priority. It won't be such a long job this year, as some crops...beetroot for example...are non-existent, and others ...leeks and parsnips etc... are no where near the standard to exhibit. Fine to eat when they are ready of course, just not ready yet!

I'll let you know how the week progresses. Thank you once again for reading all this.

 

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

Roses are having another flush of flowers

14th August - Flowers galore! Both plots are so filled with blooms now that it is difficult to choose favourites. Our plan had been to grow enough flowers to cut and have at home throughout most of the year. With the extra space that having Plot 145 gives us, it seems to be working, and currently we have:

  • Rudbeckia Goldsturm with Calendula Indian Prince

  • Highly perfumed mixed Sweetpeas

  • New dahlias, including that surprise collarette

and a wonderful display of Gladioli. These were all corms being sold very cheaply, and we have already decided to plant more next year as they make excellent cut flowers as well as lots of colour to enjoy at the plots

Although the flowers are a harvest of sorts, it is time to take a look at the fruit and vegetables we have also enjoyed this week, for Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave from Our Happy Acres, over in the US.

First, lets look at tomatoes. At last they are beginning to ripen, so almost every meal has a side salad of tomatoes. Here we have Yellow Pear, Sungella, Golden Sunrise, Kibitz Plum and Chocolate Cherry. Sadly, the blight is still with us and I have another lot of large green tomatoes sitting in the kitchen awaiting insipration. Even the plants in the polytunnel are beginning to be affected, so we may not have our usual glut at the end of this month. I guess the spores must blow in through the mesh vents

 

A rainbow mix of tomatoes

  • This is the first of the Summer Ciders, much redder than they were last year. It is a potato leaved variety so I know I haven't got the labels mixed up. The rest of the truss is so heavy that it is tearing off the main stem, so I shall cut it and bring the whole thing home to ripen

  • These are the green ones: Oxheart and Costoluto Genovese. I suspect that if I don't use them up, they will gradually begin to go brown and rot from blight, so perhaps a green tomato cake and some fried with polenta and parmesan...

The battle for the beetroot has come to an end, as this is the last crop I have managed to pull up before rodents eat them. The head count of mice trapped is now up to twenty seven, from around the beetroot and of course amongst the carrots I have taken up some of the larger ones to store, before they get gnawed, and am thinking of putting some in dampish compost in a box in the garage. 

I hope the seedling beetroots sown three weeks ago have time to develop some nice little roots before the Winter. I shall have to make a wall of mouse traps around them if things carry on like this! 

 

James Grieves apples

Another new harvest this week is apples. We have a James Grieves tree on #146, and the fruit is suitable for both cooking and eating. Thinning the apples has led to some better sized fruit this year, and although some of them are slightly damaged, a bit of trimming when they were peeled soon sorted that, and they were just right to add to blackberries for jam. 

I try to pick over the blackberry bushes every other day, and there are plenty of them. Seven pounds of blackberry & apple jam is definitely enough though, and there are already two litres of blackberry liqueurs macerating on the table. What next? Two more bowlsful are in the fridge, and more will be joining them in the morning......

Diva cucumbers

Cucumbers of course are still arriving in numbers, but our consumption of dilly pickles is beginning to slow. I think it might be time to prepare some that will store through the Winter, to enjoy as a taste of Summer. 

These are Divas, which are parthenogenic, meaning that the female flowers develop cucumbers without having to be fertilised. I had started off removing male flowers, but recently have left them on, and there is no change to the taste of the fruit. I had been told leaving the male flowers would mean the female flowers would be pollinated and make the resulting cucumbers bitter, but obviously not so far, which is good as I can just let them get on with life.

Our final harvest for this week: blueberries. Earlier this year we repotted the bushes at home and moved them to a sunnier spot, and they responded with a much larger crop, which partly made up for all the ones at the polt which were eaten by greedy blackbirds before I realised there was a hole in the netting supposed to be protecting the bushes.

The blueberries all went to make muffins. I haven't made muffins before, plenty of cupcakes, fairy cakes and so on, but not muffins, but they turned out very well and I shall be repeating them, perhaps with raspberries next time. 

Raspberries are providing a half bowlful every other day, and so far we seem to be able to use them for after dinner treats, but raspberry muffins do sound tempting

Other harvests include runner beans, french beans, lettuce, herbs, gherkins and courgettes

Several adult frogs appeared from amongst the plants taken out of the pond

This week has been quite quiet on the plots really, with harvesting taking up part of most days, together with the odd bit of weeding, watering of course, and dealing with tomato plants.

At home, the plants in our large pond have needed thinning for months now, so Abi stepped in... literally... and raked out vast quantities of water weeds, cut back the irises and zantedeschias and things now look much better.  It took several hours though, and a couple of dips right in the water too, before it was done. The plants all lay out on the lawn overnight for creatures to wriggle, crawl or hop their way back to the water, before it was all collected up and taken to the green waste dump. These weeds seem to take a long time to rot down in the compost bins, so taking them eslewhere seemed a better idea. There are always little bits of duckweed that escape the cull, but for now we can see open water

 

One of the bluetits that regularly visit our feeders

The birds will miss their bath in the shallow water above the mat of weeds, but they do have an actual birdbath to use if they like. The fat stick feeder outside the back door tempts them very close to us, and very occasionally I manage a photo. There are usually large families of squabbling sparrows here, but just for once, this bluetit made a solitary visit and stayed still long enough for me to find my camera. 

This is the point in the Summer when there are far fewer caterpillars around than previously, but berries and seeds are not yet ripe, so putting out food for the birds really helps them, especially young and inexperienced ones, or adults which are moulting.

These lilies are growing in pots either side of the pathway between our two plots, and their scent fills the air, especially when they are warmed by the sun. It encourages us to stop for a moment, and enjoy their beauty

This happy note marks the end of this week's blog. 

Thank you for reading, once again.

PS The recipe for Blueberry muffins will follow tomorrow, and before I forget totally, here is a picture of our Brunswick fig tree in the garden at home. You can see how many immature figs there are, which sadly will have little chance to ripen before the Autumn is upon us. The tree needs pruning as it is far too tall and far too wide now, as well as overshadowing the greenhouse,so I must check the best time to do this

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

Begonia sempervivum flowers are edible... they taste quite spicy!

Rescued green tomatoes

7th August - The Curse of the Blight Cometh!! All was well yesterday, and then this morning, the tell tail dark staining on the tomato plant stems and leaves gave the game away... the dreaded Late Blight has arrived. {{{Deep sigh}}}  Ten minutes later the still green tomatoes were stripped from the four infected plants, ready to take them home. If I act fairly quickly, they will be useable, and be a good opportunity to try out a new chutney recipe.

Blight is a fungal infection, that thrives in warm, damp conditions, and every year it a race to get outdoor tomatoes ripened before it arrives. It is the same disease the affects potato plants too, but this year our crops have been safely gathered in, and stored in the garage at home already. 

This will test the resistance to blight of Crimson Crush and the second generation (Gen2e, known fondly as The Penguins). Resistant is different to being immune, but last year the Crimson Crushes did stand up well. Fingers crossed they do this year too, as there are some splendid looking tomatoes beginning to ripen.

 

A medley of harvests!

So, with green tomatoes, our Harvest Monday is underway. The ribbed fruit are Costoluca Genovese, the largest ones Marmande, the pointy ones Ox Heart and the round ones are Moneymaker. 

I avoided the polytunnel after dealing with the blighty plants and have brought my secateurs home to disinfect them properly. Let's hope that the spores haven't encroached. We did pick some ripe fruits a couple of days back: Kibit's Plum and Golden Sunrise, and very good they were too. The first of many I hope.

Cucumbers are pretty much a daily event, with bowls and bowls of delicious Dilly Pickles being consumed, as well as Cucumber Raita and additions to stir fry. Neighbours have appreciated the occasional one too, which means there are not too many stacking up in the fridge!

Pickle Bush Gherkins

The short, fat Pickle Bush Gherkins are still arriving. These are for a more traditional pickle to store, so we can still enjoy their flavour over the Winter months. The plants are very small and quite unpromising to look at, but they set fruit regularly and take up so little space they've got to be worth growing

 

And really, I can't go another week without showing you our wonderful Dill plants. They have given us lots of leaves, lots of flowers and now green seed heads too. I shall harvest any remaining seeds to dry again, as I did last year. A real star of a plant, not just for us but for insects too!!

Hungarian Sweet Wax

 I grew far too many sweet pepper plants to fit them all in the polytunnel, so the Hungarian Sweet Wax had to be planted in the giant coldframe, and they have really thrived! Each plant has already grown several fruits, and is still flowering. so I picked a decent amount so add to our salads and to our store of jarred preserves too. I have found they are at their sweetest when they are still pale coloured, so tried to gather these before they turned red.

The mixed varieties in the tunnel are fruiting away too, in various shades of cream, orange and green. Nice big plants, thriving in the extra shelter.

Green Chillies

The Chillies are also thriving, with most plants around knee height, and with so many fruits we are picking lots of them green, both to use now and to freeze, as they can be used straight from frozen, when they are every bit as good as fresh. In previous years I have waited until they were mainly red before picking, and ended up with far more than we could use, so this year I am trying to be more sensible.

These ones, left to right, are Jalapeno Early, Yukari Baken and Serrano. The gigantic Hangijiao1 fruits are ripening and are a vibrant shade of scarlet... I'll show you some next week. I didn't pick any today as I was avoiding the polytunnel!

The Climbing Beans are cropping heavily and I try to pick them at least every other day so the pods don't get too "beany" and tough. We have been able to share lots of bundles with family and friends this week too!

  • Runner beans blanched ready for the freezer. I try to deal with each picking the same day, and freeze them in two-person portions so we don't end up with massive unmanageable bags of beans

  • I sowed fewer French Beans than last year, but we still have ample to be able to freeze as well as eat day-to-day. They are excellent in stir fry or vegetable curry, or a side vegetable

I reduced the number of fruiting canes for the blackberries last Autumn, so that there would be less weight on the wires, but there is still plenty of fruit. One of the good things about them all being thornless varieties is that our youngest grandddaughter can join in with picking the berries without lacerating herself. Blackberry & Apple crumble was popular, and today's harvest will be turning into jam very soon!

The raspberry foliage is looking a bit yellow, although the canes are fruiting well enough. I shall be watering in some Epsom Salts within the next day or two to boost Magnesium for them, and help them regain chlorophyll to green up a bit more. Raspberry Jelly is next on the list to begin: the juice will need to drip overnight so the berries will be cooked up later tonight ready for the jelly bag. It is one of my favourites to make, as that glorious ruby red glows in the jar,  and it tastes as good as it looks too, especially to fill sponge cakes or on warm buttered toast

Discovery apples, crab apples and damsons

We have had some new fruit harvests this week, some of them unexpected,  due to high winds and heavy rain bowing down the branches on some of our trees in the garden to the point that they broke. We lost the top of one of the pear trees ...although the pears are still small they are edible so I shall try to turn them into pickled pears to keep for Christmas... and a large branch from the Discovery apple tree. Abi has staked and supported the other branches as much as possible, as there are still lots of apples to come.

The wind also blew off some of the crimson crab apples, which are too few to do much with, so they will be joining the windfall  Bramleys in the blackberry & apple jam, and I knocked some damsons off the tree on #145 whilst I was pruning it. Not sure what they are going to do...maybe into the jam as well! The tree looks better for its haircut, with a good, open goblet shape again

And best of all were the figs: these are Brunswicks, which are huge, sweet and juicy. Sadly, there are not as many as usual this year, due to a frost in mid-May, but we really appreciate the ones we do have. Nothing fancy done... we just ate them, with much enjoyment

All the usual suspects were there too of course: lettuce ... first of the butterheads...  carrots, nasturtium leaves, edible flowers and mint, with a handful of  turnip tops from the thinnings, to add to a dhall dish.

We also pulled up the remaining onions on #145 now that the tops have turned over. Some of them are actually quite a decent size, better than those from #146.

And that is the end of our harvests for this week.

Weeding goes on, of course. All the seedlings of pak choi, choy sum,florence fennel, coriander, beetroot and perpetual spinach sown recently are now weed free and looking  healthy. I hope sowing the beetroot in a single row with nothing growing close to it will reduce the opportunity for rodent gnawing as the roots swell, after losing so many of our main crop to the little blighters.

Today I weeded the bed where the young brussels sprout and purple sprouting broccoli plants are. There were lots of nasturtium self seeded plants growing in amongst them, and the brassicas almost breathed a sigh of relief as they were released from their embrace. Abi put up the tall frame, covered with debris netting to keep off butterflies and pigeons right through until the Autumn. The plants had been a bit squashed as they grew under the low tunnel, so I hope they straighten up alright. Their stakes went in too, as it was easier to hammer these in firmly before the cover went on, and as they do not like their root ball moving in the soil, strong winds should not cause an issue now.

Caterpillars of Large White Butterfly

Now that all our brassicas are so well covered, there is little chance of any white butterflies laying their eggs on the leaves, so we have lots of nasturtiums around for them instead. One corner has been taken over by Large White caterpillars munching away, and shortly after I took this photo they all trekked off to wherever they have chosen to pupate in peace and quiet. So much nicer to see them like this than eating huge holes in our cabbages! (That other leaf is Spanish Flag, which they do not eat)

Common froglet

It has been quite damp this week, hence the arrival of the Blight, but some of our residents have enjoyed it. This little fellow was sitting watching the world go by. At about 2cm long, I am not too sure if it is one of this year's babies. I guess it could be. There are some larger ones that live in amongst the squash plants, safely hidden under the shady leaves, that hop about when we are watering, but this one looked cute enough to photograph

The wet and windy weather has not favoured the flowers though, and some of the dahlias have suffered, dropping petals or needing an additional stake or two. This one however, has come through looking beautiful, so seems a fitting end to this week's blog.

Thank you for reading about our harvests, and for the lovely comments so many of you have sent. It is always good to know there are real people out there!!

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