September 2016

Autumn crocuses at Wisley this week

19th September - Super hot... then Winter clothes ... and the Harvest Moon, all in one week!

This has definitely been a week of extremes: 30+ °C , meltingly hot on the day I decided to clear away all the remains of plants in the mini-tunnel and giant cloche, a massive thunderstorm with torrential rain and then days when the temperature stayed in the low teens. Amazingly the plants just seem to get on with it!!

The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, which this year falls on 22nd of this month, is known as the Harvest Moon. Unusually this year there will be a partial (or penumbral) eclipse of this full moon, when the Earth' shadow falls across the edge of the moon's face. Unfortunately it is likely to be cloudy here at 3:00 am tomorrow, so I shall not be staying up to see it. Anywhere the skies are clear though in most of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia you might get a good view though.

Harvest Monday has a little less than recently to report, and I daresay as the Summer bounties come to an end it will be less as we move through the Autumn.

One of the "lasts" this week has been tomatoes. Most of the large ones picked green have ripened and all the useable cherry tomatoes are also now harvested. A huge batch of cook-in sauce is cooling in jars in the kitchen, and lids are sealing with satisfyingly loud pops. This is the final batch: the bowlful of small tomatoes will be turned into chutney with fennel within the next couple of days. Overall the tomato harvest has been very good, weighing in at 27.45kg

I am leaving the remaining runner beans to develop into next year's seeds. We have had an amazing crop totalling 30.68 kg this year, and we have more than enough frozen to see us through until next Spring, as well as some very good looking pickles. The final pickings went in that sauce, which might sound rather odd but when they are blitzed up they are not easily indentifiable, but add to our vegetable intake alright! I also put in another of the large pattypan squashes

 

Baby pattypans with lemon and garlic... these also have onion with them, as they are going in the pasta

Last week I said I was going to try these baby ones cooked with lemon and garlic, as they reminded me of artichoke hearts. I am pleased to say they were very good, and we are having more tonight for dinner, halved and added to pasta. Maybe they are back on the list for next year after all

There was one lurking beneath the leaves, which escaped and turned into a white beast that had to join the others in the pot outside, making 23 we have harvested so far. I am still managing to find homes for them, and using up one here or there too, so none will be going into the compost. (That total does not include the baby ones) There are only four left in that pot though, thank goodness!

Here are some other "last harvests":

  • Four more aubergines, which are only just ripe, but I picked them as I needed to empty out their pots and use the space for something else. We have had 16 overall. The grafted plants grew vast, and flowered earlier than the seed-sown ones, which still gave a good crop. More choice with seed sown too.

  • The last Pak Choi from the sowing made a few weeks back. It is a bit holey, thanks to a slug or two, but went well in a stir fry nonetheless. Another crop is now planted out in the giant cloche. It might be a bit late but I hope the protection they have helps.

Our dried beans

Most of the drying beans are now in their jars. From left to right here are: Cherokee Trail of Tears, Polatschka, Borlotti and Greek Gigantes.

The CToT flowered quickly and were harvested and dried several weeks ago, whereas the pods of the Polatschkas are still not even ready to pick. The plants flowered late and beneath the foliage, so I had no idea how many pods there were until the leaves started to die back.

Annoyingly, the reliable climbing borlotti harvest was severely reduced when that little rabbit munched through lots of the stems at ground level so the flowering shoots all died back. Although the plants grew again, it was far too late for any flowers, let alone pods. The few that escaped his attention did well, so at least we do have a crop of sorts.

The Greek Gigantes which Real Seeds had told me might have poor germination, grew well from the off, and from 18 plants, this is our harvest, plus a handful that I wasn't sure if they would store well as they have cracked skins. I have kept these separate and we shall eat them first, unless they rot of course. They look good, but until we taste them I cannot say whether we shall grow them again.

There are just two more vegetables we have harvested as a "first" this week, and for both it will be the last for sure! Just remind me not to grow things that take up a huge space for little return!!

  • I grew Fat Baby achocha a few years back and didn't find the fruits that appetising. This year I was tempted by Giant Bolivian achocha as I had seeds via a Seed Circle. Oh my! The plant has climbed up into the cherry tree and despite masses of flowers has so far only set three fruit which taste like grassy cucumbers. They went into the batch of sauce and I'll not grow them again

  • I am such a sucker for a new fruit. Kiwano or Jelly melon sounded so delicious! The single plant filled a third of the mini-tunnel with foliage and it only when I started to clear this away that I found these three tiny spiky fruits. All that for three titchy ones. Leave it off the list, in the same way as I now avoid growing cucamelons.

Cosmos "Cup Cakes"

And that is the end of this week's harvests.

It has been a really busy week and I have not had as much time as usual to work at the plots, but I have managed to plant out some small plants in the giant cloche and the minitunnel. Some of these are only there temporarily whilst Abi finishes off the sides of the beds on #145: Spring Green Cabbage, Chinese Kale (Kailaan) and Perpetual Spinach. The Pak Choi plants will stay until they get eaten ...hopefully by us, not by slugs ... and the Giant Red Mustard will grow in the mini-tunnel all Winter. This gave us such a good crop last year that this time I have planted 12 plants rather than 6.

I went with my friend Beryl to Wisley again. I like to see what they are growing in their vegetable garden, and we had a very interesting lesson on how to grow Lemon Grass successfully from one of the gardeners, using stems bought in the supermarket, so that is now on my list of something new to try next year. It sounded straightforward, and well worth trying, especially as it is expensive to buy it very often and it would be great to have a good quantity

Their orchards are aweinspiring at this time in the year, with so many different varieties of apple it almost becomes a blur. I saw a couple of cosmos that are now on my list of must haves for next year: an orange flowered variety of C sulphureus that is as tall as me,  and a cosmos with a single pinked-edged petal that runs all the way around the centre to form a large cup in pure white, or with a faint pink tint:  C. bipinnitus "Cup Cakes". Just gorgeous and I was totally rapt.

The long flower borders are full of Autumn colour, with grasses and hibiscus looking amazing,  but after taking the long way around to the trail grounds, we didn't explore the whole site this visit. There's always another day

I usually end each week with a photo or two of our flowers, but this week the plants at Wisley are the ones to share. I hope you enjoy them!

If you would like a message when updates are posted, please send an email to updates@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk. Thank you very much for your support

 

If you'd like to check out what other people are harvesting, have a look on http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

where Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave

 

Ready for the oven - cherry tomatoes with rosemary & garlic

12th September -  Tomatoes rule, ok!!

After I wrote about the possibility of blight last week, I decided it was tempting fate too far to leave all those lovely tomatoes sitting out on the plot, so I cut the trusses and brought them home to the safety of our kitchen, boxes and boxes of them! It was definitely the right decision though as the plants in the giant cloche succumbed, and even some of the fruit I brought home developed the telltale brown patches. These were Roma, which must be especially sensitive. I left the Crimson Crush ones, which are advertised as "blight resistant" and so far they are fine. I hope they continue, as they are decent sized juicy tomatoes and I would happily grow them again next season.

This week's Harvest Monday obviously includes tomatoes, many, many tomatoes, but by the end of the week the mountain is down to two bowlsful in the fridge, plus two trays of green ones sitting in the kitchen. They were transformed into more Yellow Tomato Jam with Basil, two large batches of "cook-in" sauce - one spicy and one with garlic & basil - and jars of roast tomatoes in oil, with rosemary & garlic, plus another batch of tomato ketchup .

I am still harvesting Runner Beans, which have found their way into one of the batches of sauce as well as gifting plenty. There are only so many photos of the same produce you can take, so please imagine the large boxful of beans, as well as plenty of cooking apples and a few more courgettes.

Baby pattypans

One of the new-but-continuing harvest are pattypan squashes. I still have several left from last week, and had a sudden brainwave as to how to avoid gathering even more large white flying saucers to sneak into our meals ... cut them when they are tiny! They look quite inviting like this, and remind me a bit of artichokes. Tomorrow these will be quartered, fried in olive oil with garlic and lemon and make a different side dish for our dinner. They still have their flowers attached but I shall be taking these off, as by tomorrow they will be less fresh and not be very nice to eat.

These were all cut from the one remaining plant, and I wonder if taking them so small will lead to more being quickly produced. They are a variety called Pale Green Tint, and now you can see why!

We are still harvesting blackberries & raspberries, and this year I have been determined to avoid freezing big bags of these. It is difficult to use them, and does not make the most economical use of our precious freezer space either. Instead, I have cooked pie/crumble fillings of blackberry & apple, raspberry & apple, and rhubarb with ginger and frozen these in blocks using the dish I usually cook crumble in as a mould. By oiling the dish and lining it with two layers of clingfilm, the block was fairly easily removed, to be tightly over wrapped and stacked in the freezer. Lots of warming puddings to look forward to, although as the fruit is already cooked the blocks are not restricted to being used in hot puddings. Once they are thawed, the fruit can be served cold too.

A quick mention of strawberries too: the late fruiting variety is doing well now. The plants are in a growbag up on a table, awaay from the attentions of rodents. Next season we shall grow all our strawberries raised up like this. A net easily keep birds off too.

New harvests this week include seeds. For the first time I remembered to cut the poppy seed heads before all the seeds scatter. These will be added to breads and poppy seed cake. This amount (see the large photo at the end) is from just two plants that arrived from goodness knows where, and I think enough seeds will have escaped to give us some  plants next year. At least I hope so!

  • Fennel seeds will add their aromatic flavour to chutneys, curries, quiches, sauces, chicken or fish dishes... in fact anything that comes to mind when we are cooking to be honest. It is a very strong flavour though and a few seeds can provide that background aniseed-like taste. They are also good chewed just as they are.

  • The dill seed heads are beginning to dry on the plant and so I cut them before too many seeds are lost. Given the amount of flowers I have cut for adding to pickled cucumbers, there is an amazing number of seeds heads! When the seeds are fully dried they will last for ages. They go especially well with potato salad and cabbage-based dishes.

  • The Sweet Peppers are beginning to ripen at last. From left to right, there is Bullhorn, Sweet Spanish (red & green) and Mila's Bulgarian and Sweet Purple at the bottom. The green one has some damage, probably initiated by a slug, but the other half is sound so it'll be in batch of sauce tomorrow

  • Chillies are very good this year, and Little Elf plants are loaded with ripe fruit. The Bangalore Torpedos are still green, but look juicy and I shall find out how hot they are with that next batch of sauce And the little orange Scotch Bonnets have the fruitiness to their heat you would expect

I am gradually bringing the  shelling beans home so that they can dry thoroughly before being stored in airtight jars.  Most of the Greek Gigantes are on a large tray and they go out into the sunshine at every opportunity. Interestingly, the ones that are completely dry sound quite musical as you run them through your fingers, but the others sound dull. Good way to tell if they are ready to put in the jar or not!

More about these and the borlottis to follow in a week or two.

Now this might not seem very exciting to anyone else, but... it is a chickpea, a real live, ripe chickpea grown on our plot!!

After that dastardly rabbit nibbled off the plants 10cm from the ground when they were in flower, the chance of any sort of harvest seemed remote indeed. But I reckoned without the driving force that plants have to grow wherever possible, and the cut-off stems grew new shoots and some of them even flowered. There are several that have set pods and this is the first one to ripen. Our very own home grown chickpea. There are a few more to come, and they won't even make enough for a meal, but it proves that it is worth having another go next year. Minus the rabbit!

Here are all the preserves from this week: Yellow Tomato Jam with Basil, two different cook-in sauces (8 jars of each)  dill pickled cucumbers, pickled nasturtium "capers", cherry tomatoes in olive oil with rosemary & garlic, tomato ketchup, raspberry gin and rhubarb & ginger vodka. Usually by now we leave the rhubarb plants to rest, but we picked some for last week's Show and this seemed a good use of what was left after making the pie filling. The jar of poppy seeds is ready to put away too.

The storage shelves in the garage are almost full. We spent a whole day checking through what was left from last year: what was still good was brought to the front and anything past its best or not able to be eaten, such as the solid-as-concrete blackcurrant jam and the grey looking pickled cucumbers for which I used the wrong salt, were disposed of, jars washed out and labels removed. Some of them were well and truly stuck and no amount of soaking would dissolve the glue. It took Abi a lot of scraping and white spirit to get them off, but at least the jars are sparkly clean and ready for re-use now. I just need to decide what to make with the rest of the tomatoes!

Most of this week has been taken up with harvesting our produce and trying to get it used or stored while it is still fresh. The idea of a bowl of tomatoes on the worktop, that we can snack on as we go past is great, but sooner or later a few fruit flies appear as one of the tomatoes has split, and these rapidly increase to a cloud of fruit flies. Yuck! And then they spot the blackberries ....

So it is worth putting in the time right now for sure!

We still have masses and masses of flowers: dahlias, indian and french marigolds, calendula, lavender (due for harvesting next week) zinnias, pelargoniums, petunias, cosmos, carnations and now, penstemons. These have been grown on all Summer and this one has the most beautiful orchid-like markings inside each flower.

Despite the hustle and bustle of these few weeks, taking time to appreciate and enjoy such beauty is really important. You can't be head down over a pickle jar eveyr minute of the day!!

Thank you for sharing all this again.

Best in Show!!

5th September - Autumn Days!

The start of Autumn is marked each year by our local Show, when we gather together the best of what we have grown to compare with others' produce on the showbench. The little Razzamatazz chilli plant in the top photograph won The Best in Show for plants, and as I grew it from a seed saved from a plant the previous year, I was over the moon. It has pride of place on our table in the garden. More about the show later, much more, in fact!! 

Harvest Monday, where we share what we have taken home this week, comes first as usual.

The last of the maincrop potatoes was unearthed! These are Ambo, which we grow every year because they get to a decent size and make very good roast potatoes indeed. Altogether this year we have harvested 48 kg of potatoes, which is pretty good from 3 beds 1.2m by 3.6m I think.

They are safely stored in the garage in hessian sacks, on heavy duty cardboard so that the bottom ones are protected from freezing in the event of a severe winter. There is a thick cotton cloth over the sacks as well to ensure light is excluded totally. It might seem a bit of a palaver but there is no point in growing crops to store of you are not going to look after them to make sure they survive as long as possible. Any tubers damaged by slugs or wireworms, or an inadvertant stab of the fork when digging, are in a basket in the kitchen cupboard to be used up first.

New this week we have Savoy cabbages. We pulled up three, two of which had already been eaten before I remembered a photograph! These have been grown under debris netting to escape the attentions of Diamondback moths, which reached plague proportions in some areas this year, and of common white butterflies. The ground around them was solid, which helped them make a good hard head, and the dry weather reduced the amount of slug damage too.

  • Runner beans are still producing pods, although I noticed today when I picked this boxful that there are very few flowers left. I do not need to encourage more flowers as we have had a huge crop already ... we are up to 28.48 kg!

  • These are almost the last courgettes for this year. As we have had 64 so far, we can hardly complain! Our daughter made a beautifully moist chocolate cake using courgettes yesterday, from the BBC recipe. I must remember this next year

  • Polka raspberries are at their best this week. These are destined for Raspberry Vodka later today. We haven't had as large a crop as usual, mainly due to dry weather I think, but the modest crop of just under 3kg has been appreciated

  • Here are some of the Alberto Locato chillies harvested this week, sitting proudly at the Show with their Second Place card. These have a good heat and enough flesh to add plenty of flavour too, when used in cooking.

  • Also new are Crimson Crush tomatoes, which are a really good size. In fact they were such a good size they were too large for the Medium-sized Tomato class and were disqualified!

  • The huge and varied tomato harvest continues, as without any sign of blight so far they are still growing strongly. I may speak too soon.. the weather has turned very humid and a Smith Period alert is pending, I'm sure!

  • Here is this week's total tomato harvest, minus of course any we ate along the way. I shall be cooking continuously for the next couple of day

  • Patty Pan squashes still abound... all except for one was from a single plant! No plan for cooking them as yet but I shall be checking out what other people have created for their bounteous crop, for sure

  • The blackberry harvest this week has been turned into Bramble Jelly, and, together with some Bramleys, the Blackberry & Apple Jam shown here.
    The 20 blackberries we took to the Show were awarded Second Place, as were both preserves

And now for more about the Show. As readers of Alittlebitofsunshine (and other growers) will know, this season has seemed one long round of battling with pests in various guises, disease and drought, so we were not optimistic about the qualaity of our produce on the show bench this year. But with the thought that we can only show what we have, we pressed ahead and entered most of the vegetable classes, some of the fruit, some of the flowers, every category for plants and for preserves and, rather ambitiously, all the photography classes as well. Four of our granddaughters boosted the children's entries, which was great!

Here are a few of our entries. Don't worry, I am not going to bore you with all ninety one of them!! (The photographs are in the Tab above)

  • Let me point out these are NOT our carrots but brought by Pearl, GD No 2, from her garden. Really good, aren't they?
    PS. Ours were unplaced

  • Big is not always better! These Amour potatoes are very small indeed, but well matched, so took Second Place. Our white Casablancas were First in their class.

  • One of the flat onions had too many marks in the skin to win a place, but the five small round ones were another Second

  • Poppy (GD No 1) won Second place for her vase of three herbs; ours were Third

  • Mixed fortunes for the tomatoes, but this green truss was awarded a First

  • The Ruby Grapefruit marmalade made in extreme haste the day before the Show, won a First, with all six of the other preserves coming Second in their classes

  • Two First for us in the Rose Classes, for three matching blooms and a specimen rose. Our entries in the other two classes were awarded Seconds. Bearing in mind that our initial flower for the specimen rose class had its petals blown off on the way into the Hall, this was amazing

  • We chose sunflowers for our Vase of Annuals, which won another First. Our Perennials also won a First place, with Verbenas, Rudbeckias and white Japanese anemones. The vase of fuchsias was awarded a First as well.

  • Not to be out done, Pearl had a First Place for her jam jar of flowers in the under 10s Category.

  • and Poppy had a First as well in the Over 10s.

And at the end, we were awarded The President's Cup for the most points in the Vegetable, Fruit and Flowers classes combined (14 First, 12 Second & 10 Third) The Rose Cup, The Pot Plant Cup, The Fothergill's Cup for the best pot plants grown from seed (The chilli plant that won Best in Show) the Preserves Cup and I also won the Photography Cup, with Abi coming a close second. Pearl was awarded the Junior Youth Cup, and Poppy was second by one point in the Senior Youth Cup. It all got a bit overwhelming to be honest, but here, for posterity is a photo of our cups, with their temporary wooden bases... they have gone away to be engraved.

What was lovely was how pleased the judges seemed for us, and how upset they were that our entry to the Show Tray was disqualified as it had only five tomatoes instead of six. Yes, those same big, fat red ones that were disqualified from Medium Tomatoes for being, well, too big and fat!! We were were very grateful to the committee, who organised the event seamlessly again this year.

And other members of the family seem inspired to have a go next year, which is really great.

This us being given The Presidents' Cup by the Deputy Mayor of Reading, who is a past member of Southcote Gardeners' Association

And Pearl receiving her Cup too. Thank you to Poppy for taking the photos at the presentation!

It was a very long and tiring day, and when we arrved home with a car absolutely stuffed to the gunwhales with all our exhibits we then had the job of having to put flowers in water, fruit and vegetables in the fridge or the garage, potted plants in the garden etc, and it started pouring with rain too! It was so good to just sit down with our feet up at the end, reflect ... and start to think how we could improve the crops that did not grow so well this year. Every year is different and we learn as we go along, no matter how long we have grown fruit and vegetables

And we must not miss out the other Star of the Show: our Jermor shallots won the Best In Show in the vegetable classes!! That was the icing on the cake for me, as every year I think our shallots are good, until we arrive and see other exhibitors' plates. But this year ours were really good. We are so proud of them that we have them sitting on the table here still. Eventually they will have to make their way to the tray in the garage, and be lined up for use in the kitchen of course, as happens to them all.

(And yes, I have saved some small ones to plant again in October, ready for next year)

And here are some of our rather beautiful flowers. Thank you for reading to the end!