July 2016

Looking ahead to Autumn & Winter already!

Red Flare and Greyhound cabbages

Red curly kale and Ragged Jack Russian Kale

Leeks following on from the first early potatoes

Newly planted Cavolo nero, Romanesco & Cos lettuce

Parsnips

25th June - Any colour except red!

I am starting to wonder if I did actually sow any red varieties of tomato this year! We have Golden Sunrise, Black Opal, Sungella, Chocolate Cherry and now the rather beautifully striped oval Blush, but no red ones except the tiny 100s & 1000s whch are as plentiful as last year. I checked my list and out there somewhere in the wilds of the plots are several red varieties, including Moneymaker and Crimson Crush. I hope they ripen soon as I am missing red tomatoes more than I thought I would. Plenty of decent sized green fruits on most plants, but the labels are well hidden under the leaves by now so I shall have to wait and see which is which, all except for Dancing with Smurfs, which has stems of a rather fetching shade of navy blue, and Summer Cider, which is unmistakable, being the only potato leaved variety I have grown this year. Mind you, that is not a red one either, but more of an orange when ripe! Patience, girl, patience ...

I thought I'd start this week off with a slide show of some of the crops we are growing on #145 for Autumn and Winter harvesting, as we have to plan ahead so that we have fresh vegetables all year round. There are also Spring Onions and Red Mustard waiting for space to be planted out... might have to pot them on as the mini-tunnel is pretty full still... and on #146 there is Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and Savoy Cabbage, all looking hugely healthy. This week I sowed Florence Fennel too, and planted out some seed potatoes to give us new potatoes in the Autumn.

These are sold as "Christmas potatoes" but are second earlies that have been stored in the cold and dark until now, when they are bursting to grow as soon as they warm up in the ground.Twelve tubers in half a bed on #145, and four in the mini-tunnel, where the extra protection come the colder weather might be helpful. We have not grown potatoes at this time in the year before, but the taste of freshly dug new potatoes is amazing, and anticipating being able to enjoy  them in the cold midwinter is a rather enticing thought. However, as rats also like potatoes, we shall dig them up as soon as they are ready, rather then keeping them in the ground under an insulating blanket of straw (which rats might also like to be honest!) and keep them in the garage in a just-damp box of compost, to be unearthed when the fancy takes us. Well that's the theory anyway. I shall let you know how we get one! Oh, ours are Charlottes, which are a waxy salad variety. Our plot neighbours also planted some this week, of a different variety, so we can compare harvests.

Showmaster onions

Most of the onions have been harvested now and are drying on the rack, but the Showmasters and the Bedfordshire Champions are still growing away, despite the onslaught of disease and pests. Their leaves were well and truly chopped last week, but at least they are not covered in mildew. The bulbs are not going to be exceptionally large this year, but hopefully there will be three which are of a similar size and can be entered in our local Show at the beginning of September. They are watered twice or three times a week, but they will need to be taken up in the next fortnight to make sure they have sufficient drying time. Last year I made the mistake of letting them grow on longer to try to get them as large as possible, and was marked down as they were not fully ripened. I am not expecting great things this year, but it is the fun of taking part rather than the anticpation of winning really. Well, for most of us!!

 

We have plenty of beans to eat, with enough to freeze some as well:

  • Purple & yellow climbing French beans are providing really good harvests this year, and the green ones are starting to form now too.

  • Cut up and blanched, ready for the freezer. I put them in bags in two-portion sizes, which makes it easier to take out exactly what we need and not have the issue of a huge frozen lump of beans to deal with!

  • Runner beans now have pods large enough to harvest -- first fresh runner beans of 2016 this week, with our roast dinner

Courgettes are still creeping in to most meals in our house, and we are giving lots to friends (family are getting wise to the glut and politely decline now, although will happily conssume courgette cake!)

And as for marrows, who knew one plant could produce four (and counting) massive marrows each? There were even two that grew melded together! Last year neither of the two plants made it to flowering size, so I was covering my bases this year, but maybe four plants was too many? Luckily they do not need to be stored in the fridge as I haven't had time to transform some of them into jam yet!

 

And look at what has made an appearance -- parsnips!!! Curiosity (or was in impatience?) got the better of me this week, looking at those lush parsnip leaves. I have been watering cautiously as I didn't want the roots to split with a sudden deluge after such dry weather.IWhile i was taking off yellowing leaves, as they were making far too cosy a resting spot for that darned rabbit, I noticed that there were a few spots where three plants were growing quite close together. The seed tapes did spread them out pretty well, but nonetheless it was a good opportunity to investigate what has been going on down under the ground by carefully removing the middle ones .. and just look: fairly decent size parsnips!! There is nothing like the smell of fresh parsnips, and roast dinner was the only way forward. A few beetroot and some carrot thinnings joined the parsnips, the first picking of runner beans (plus a courgette of course!) and some potatoes we dug a couple of weeks back, and there we were with an "all homegrown" dinner, except the roast beef which clearly didn't grow on either of the plots!

The rest of the parsnips will be waiting for a touch from Jack Frost though, as it does make them taste even better. At least when I look at all those leaves I know that roots are a-happening!

Inside the mini-tunnel everything is growing well. Gives lots of credence to the idea of having a larger tunnel or even two next year. The dwarf beans sown on 1st March are still cropping, and the Kiwano Jelly melon has all but covered the back wall, although I am still waiting to see some female flowers.

  • In the greenhouse at home the roof is positively dripping with cucumbers, and even those in the mini-tunnel on #145 are developing well, as you can see here

  • We are harvesting lots of tomatoes, like these Sungella which are very sweet tasting indeed

The hot sunny weather has meant we need to water almost daily. The potato plants in particular  have suffered as we did not start watering early enough, but they are ready to dig now.  At least without their foliage there are fewer rabbity hiding places, although so far we have been singularly unsuccessful in persuading him to leave via an open gate. We have now had to stop leaving the gates open all the time we are there though, as there are so many young rabbits about there is a good chance ours would be joined by a friend, and then we might have our very own rabbit warren. Errr,no thanks!! 

Our plot neighbours harvested their potatoes this week and donated all their haulms to our compost -- more happy chopping up for me, but it is worth it. Coupled with the deadheading and general tidying, Bin No 3 is now full again. It won't stay that way for long as the contents will soon start to decompose and sink down again. Compost is wonderful stuff indeed!

The sunny weather suits the flowers though, and they continue to give us a great display. Here are a few of the additions to the caste this week:

  • The £1 pack of dahlias has been a bit of a surprise... never seen ones like this before!

  • The lilac pompoms are so perfect. How does any flower grow like this? Just amazing

  • The stargazer lilies are starting to open, to share their wonderful perfume, especially in the evenings

  • We planted this red penstemon four years ago alongside the mini-tunnel. It now grows waist high every Summer and bees love it

  • Leaving some of the leek plants to flower has been a success with the bees too

  • The buddleia bushes are in full flower now, and bees and butterflies feed greedily. This Red Admiral was almost too full to fly!

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

Our soft fruit harvest today

18th July - Berries abound!

Today I took the net off our fruit cage, folded it neatly and put it in the shed for next year. The reason.. I have picked all our soft fruit that has been sheltering there from the marauding blackbirds for some weeks now. There are now 2kg of redcurrants, 2.5kg of blackcurrants and half a kilo each of gooseberries and jostaberries, sitting in the kitchen awaiting transformation into blackcurrant jam cheescake topping and cordial, redcurrant jelly, gooseberry fool and some sort of concoction with the jostaberries, maybe a pie filling. I have however completely run out of energy so am having a bit of a sit down before starting on the epic cook-in! Fresh berries do go off quite quickly in the heat so I may have to freeze some of them to keep until I can make all these goodies. Looks like my recipe section might be filling up fast in the next few days!

I read this week that elsewhere in the country it is apparently too wet to even grow radishes and there are plagues of slugs and snails demolishing crops right left and centre. As you know, we have had what seems like more than our fair share of pests and diseases this season, but deluge and molluscs are not (so far!) amongst them. In fact it is so dry that we are having to water crops to keep them alive! The glorious sunny weather, which believe me I am grateful for as the tomtoes might perk up a bit, means daily watering for pots, baskets, troughs and small raised beds, as well as the beans, courgettes and squashes needing extra. Never mind, at least we have our borehole water so there is no charge from our local water authority thank goodness!

The first big handful of yellow French beans. (The green & purple ones from the mini-tunnel)

The climbing french beans are producing pods in large numbers now. The yellow variety has been quickest off the mark, followed by the purple and then, just beginning, are the green ones. It is a mix of seeds I bought with the three colours all in one packet ... Suttons, I think... and they are certainly very good, with nice long thin pods that hang down for picking.  Some have been a bit curly wurly where they were caught up in amongst the leaves, but not many and the wigwam support seems to have been successful for them (unlike the peas...groan)

They are gradually being added to our stash of frozen beans as we cannot eat them all at once of course. We shall be glad of them in the Winter when we are fed up with leeks and kale!

The runner beans are slowly creeping up the poles, and there are flowers on them now but they look a long way off providing us with anything much to eat. Patience, my girl, patience, as my Dad frequently told me.

The second early potato plants are looking very sorry for themselves, at the end of their growing season, which of course means it is time to dig them up. I managed to unearth some from a plant or two, but they are mostly fairly small, much smaller than I expected. Lots of them have split too, which sadly is our own fault really. They needed much more water, and at regualr intervals. The splitting is due to a lot of water all at once, which was our desperate attempt to keep them alive. Lots of discussion about how to plant them out next year so we can more readily give them water at their roots, as of course wetting the leaves is an invitation to the dreaded blight to visit and then they'd all be gone in a day or two.

The maincrops are soldiering on, although harvesting large healthy looking potatoes seems a vain hope right now. I took off any leaves with brown paatches in case they were harbouring blight, so I hope they will stay with us a bit longer.

The ground on #145 is hard clay with little organic matter, so a decent top dressing of rotted manure in the Autumn may well be the way forward.

100s & 1000s grow well in baskets, but the take a lot of watering

So far the tomato experiment seems to be positive. Most of the plants have been put in amongst other vegetables or flowers, in an effort to stem the blight that catches them every year. Late blight is a real destroyer and the fungal spores are airborne, taking hold in warm, damp weather. So far the dry weather has had  bonus there I suppose! I have a two plants of a blight resistant variety...Crimson Crush... which my plot neighbour had great success with last year, so I am hoping all will not be lost. Most plants outside have set fruit, and with regular feeding I hope they carry on like that. The 100s & 1000s plant in a hanging basket is covered in flowers and fruit, and the one we have in the garden has ripe fruit now.

Under cover in the mini-tunnel the plants have met over the top of the roof, and I hope the heavy trusses ripen with no losses through either blight or rats, as they are looking really good right now.

The mystery squash plant has set three ever-expanding fruits, with plenty more flowers coming along. The courgettes seem to be taking a little a holiday from producing female flowers, so we have a chance to catch up a bit with those stil in the fridge!

Our flowers are still giving us a great display, as well as lots to cut for the house: calendula, cornflowers, sweetpeas, dahlias, echium, pinks, candytuft, coreopsis and sunflowers, with non-stop begonias and delphiniums now joining the party!

  • Huge begonias fill pots and baskets round our seating area

  • This bright blue delphinium really stands out.

And here to end are the first two figs of the year! They are a variety called Brunswick which are massive, as well as exceptionally sweet. Dad bought us the tree as a twiglet when we moved to this house nearly 30 years ago. It is just as well we keep it well pruned or it would have taken over the whole garden by now! The roots are kept under control by the walls of a raised bed, which if its fruits are anything to go by, must suit it well.

Harvests are picking up now!

Champion of England certainly lived up to its name

11th July - Peas at last!!

The really good idea about how to support the tall pea plants did not work, as I had not reckoned on the hail and rainstorms arriving and the plants themselves collapsed under the their own weight -- cue the arrival of the pigeons, pecky beaks at the ready. Plants are determined to grow nonetheless, and this week we had two kilos of peas (in their pods, not podded weight ... I wish!) and there are a few more coming along. Champion of England was as good as its name implies, and Telefono did pretty well considering. Although the Purple Podded ones are pretty, they do not carry the same number of peas per pod as the others. Tens and even elevens were common with the green podded ones, plus they tasted sweeter. Decision made for next year then! The short peas were totally disastrous and I shall have to think hard about whether to give them ground space again.

Tiny squashes are starting to grow on some of the survivors from the first round of sowing

Another current success is the courgettes and marrows. Last year every marrow plant turned up its toes and died, whereas this year we have already picked several medium sized fruits and marrow and ginger jam is on the list! I haven't made this for years and it will be good to have enough to share as well as keep for the winter.

Lungo bianco courgettes grow faster than you'd believe. I swear the ones I brought home just now had visibly increased in size since I saw them this morning! They have very thin skins and are so juicy you can eat them raw. Courgette cake is on the menu later in the week for sure! At the moment we are still able to give away any surplus courgettes, but I think it won't be long before folk back away with a quiet "No thank you" when they see us coming. Lots of courgette recipes to follow this month and next then I guess!

The second sowing of squash plants seem to be surviving, so the nematodes did their work in munching up all the maggots, and four of the original plants are now romping away across the grass next to their bed. As I sowed the second batch at some speed I forgot to label them, so any squashes will have to be identified by appearance, at least I hope they can be.

The mystery plant that popped up amongst the onions, presumably from a seed in the compost, is now huge and has grown a long stem with tendrils on, escaping across the path. The fruits are like short fat green courgettes, but I have left them on in the hope that they are actually some sort of green Winter squash. Time will tell!

Seedlings in the refurbished cold frame (minus the debris netting cover for the photo of course)

I spent a happy hour or two this week re-organising my seed box, putting back packets that are finished with for this year and starting to think about vegetables for Autumn and Winter, that need sowing soon. These are all now in my allotment trug, so when I get a moment I can make a start. I also need to organise a space to replant the Saffron corms. Maybe behind the coldframe where the ground is quite well drained. I might add some sand first... thinking out loud there.

The coldframe was looking a bit the worse for wear, and so I secured the sides again and made a new temporary cover from debris netting. This has three purposes for the seedlings:  shade from hot sun, protection from heavy rain and also keeps insects out. It looks very business-like now and the seeds I sowed in the week are already germinating: Red Mustard, mixed Pak Choi, Salad onions and mixed salad leaves. This last will be able to stay in the tray for three cuts, and I shall be sowing more so that we have a succession over the next few weeks. Last Winter the mustard and salad onions overwintered well in the mini-tunnel, so hopefully will do the same this year and the Pak Choi can be planted out once the maincrop onions come up. They are already beginning to tip their leaves over now, so it won't be long before they are ready to put on the drying rack. The extremely dry weather has shortened their growing season by a couple of weeks. Strangely other local areas seem to have had a lot of rain recently, but it passes us by most of the time, so we have done the best we could with watering.

  • In the greenhouse at home the cucumber plants are growing like triffids, and we have eaten a fair few of the small Divas already. The Telegraphs are fattening up nicely now too. Their leaves are slightly yellow so a dose of Epsom salts may help a bit.

  • The first aubergine fruit is developing quickly and the flowers are setting well. Last year the plants' lives were shortened by red spider mite so I shall keep an eye out for any mottling of their leaves

  • And in the mini-tunnel the dwarf French beans are still cropping away. I shall be sowing some more this week that I hope will crop on into the Autumn. The Purple Teepee seem to curve if they touch a stem or leaf, while the Aquilon are much straighter and look better on the plate though. Both taste good!

Keeping the sweetpeas well fed and watered!

In amongst all the pests and diseases this season has brought us, there is the rabbit. The rabbit who has taken up residence on our plots and skips from one to another as it suits him. He got in when he was very tiny, now is too big to get back out the same way and does not take the hint and leave when the gates are open.

He has completely chomped the chickpeas to the ground, and chewed his way through a large pot of violas. I have gone off the rabbit big time, and am now plotting ways we can catch him with a net across the path between the two plots... I hope! The tiny cute bunny is now eating  far too much for my liking. He even has a nice little pond to drink out of now too!

Thank goodness he does not like sweetpeas -- I brought a huge basketful home earlier and the scent is amazing. I only cut the previous lot on Friday and today the plants were smothered in blooms again.

Here are more of our flowers for this week:

  • Martagon lily in the garden

  • Turk's cap lily -- nearly 2m tall this year

  • Our petunia basket outside the back door smells gorgeous. It is a new variety called Night Sky

  • Candytuft sown at the end of March from a free packet of seeds

  • The first sunflower bloom of the year, from a self-sown seedling. It is right on our boundary and faces our neighbour's plot!

  • One of our two red roses -- free bushes from an offer in the newspaper!

And sometimes a combination of flowers and vegetables works well ... rainbow chard and begonias sit together happily in this trough.

Fuchsia flowers in our garden

Rats!

4th July - All change on #146 this week!

This has been a really busy week. From the lull of all beds full, weeds down to a reasonable level and grass cut last week, we have had three beds where crops have come out and new ones planted, all in the space of a few days. No room for complacency round here!

It started with the Wizard beans, which had been growing nicely with no sign of either blackfly or chocolate spot. We went for a quick plot visit to measure up for a pond liner - more on this to follow later - and surprised Mr & Mrs Ratty feasting on our beans, thinking they were settled in for the morning. From the evidence it was obvious this was not their first visit either, so it was out with the plants straight away. By the time we left they were chopped up in the compost and we took home a large bowl of bean pods. Lots of these were immature, and rather than waste them, I cut them up and froze them, along with the larger beans. We had a tasty dish of broad beans with Garlic & Lemon with dinner though. I have added the recipe to my file in case you would like to try it: good way to use those pods, which I had never eaten before.

 

And then there was the pond. We have talked about having a small wildlife pond for ages, but struggled to see where we could fit one in. There is an area near the front gate which has never been especially well used, so ..... out with the shovel, and this is how it went:

  • The plants behind the area were cut back and a hole was dug. The spare soil barrowed off to #145, where it can be used to fill in a mysterious dip

  • Stretching out the liner... where is the fabric we planned to protect the liner from sharp stones?

  • Oh, there it is!

  • Liner in, water added slowly so the excess liner could be carefully folded to sit on the shelf and under the slabs. The shelf is needed for plants to sit on

  • We had some lumps of concrete saved from old posts, which were ideal for weighting down the back edge of the liner

  • And we certainly had plenty of stones to cover the top edge of the liner and the slope one the other side, which will enable any animals that might fall in an easy route out, as well as an exit for froglets --- one day!!

With the addition of logs and some plants, the pond looked like it had been there more than two days! Water mint will no doubt need cutting back regularly, but ii is definitely part of a how ponds in the wild should smell to me, and the inclusion of marsh marigolds will give us flowers next Spring. We have plenty of oxygenating plants in our pond at home, so some cuttings from these are now living in the new pond.

Abi worked really hard for those two days, and the results are fantastic. We have already had blue Damselflies checking it out, and a family of Great Tits spent an afternoon drinking and bathing at the edge. So far, so good. I'll let you know how things go from time to time!

The first early potato plants were starting to droop, and so out they came too. Fifteen kilos of Casablanca potatoes are now drying out on our kitchen floor. We have already eaten a kilo or two, this seems a good crop from a bed 1.2m by 3.6m. There were lots of little ones as well, which can be cooked whole, as they don't need peeling, as well as Maris  Peers from the eight tubers I squeezed in back in March, on the end of the rows. Plenty to share with the family! The ground was very dry though, depsite the amount of rain we have had, and when we looked at the second earlies on #145, they were actually wilting from lack of water. After a good long drink, they have perked up a bit, thank goodness. I guess the thick foliage stopped the rain from getting down to the soil and it rarely rained for long enough for it get through. Lesson learned: make sure we check the soil moisture when they potatoes start flowering, even if it has been raining.

These are the red onions. The brown ones are now on the rack as well

The Autumn planted onions are now drying on the rack Abi made last year. This keeps them up off the ground and the debris netting enables air to circulate to help them dry thoroughly. We have the rack under the shelter at the moment, to keep any rain off them. After the Onion Leaf Miner that damaged some of the bulbs beyond salvation, the crop is less than usual, but there are still a fair few decent sized bulbs. I am not sure how long they will store, but will dry them thoroughly before they go into trays to keep.

Jermor shallots - I trimmed part of the foliage off as there was so much of it I was worried the bulbs might rot underneath it all

The shallots planted last Autumn are now also on the drying rack. This is the first time we have grown Jermor, and they have given us a really good crop, with a generous number of large bulbs that will be less fiddle to prepare than the Red Suns we had last year. There are also enough small ones to keep for replanting too, which is helpful. This is definitely one to grow again!

Blood, fish & bone has been added to the soil where crops have been harvested, ready for new plants to go in.

The kale and Red Flare cabbage plants that have been sitting in the garden at home waiting for space are now in the ground, carefully netted against any white butterflies that might be passing. There don't seem to be many around at the moment, but the net also stops pigeons from eating the leaves, so it is worth the effort of covering them. Each plants was puddled in with a few chicken manure pellets in the hole for extra nitrogen, with the ground firmed well around them. This encourages the formation of a tight cabbage head, and also stops them tipping sideways.

  • Red Flare Cabbage planted out today, replacing the calabrese that we finished harvesting this week. There are still some Greyhounds further along the bed

  • A mix of Ursa and Red Curly Kale plants followed the Wizard beans and shallots

This week has seen the last of some of our crops -- last Calabrese, last Turnips and last Rhubarb. There are still plenty of Rhubarb stems, but from now on they become more acidic and do not make such good eating. The calabrese has been a great success and there are a few bagsful in the freezer to keep us going for a while. The turnips grown from seed tapes were spaced a very long way apart so there were far fewer turnips than if I had sown them myself. Something to remember for next time!

We also picked the last of the mangetout.. already! Sadly the plants were bashed down by a heavy rain storm, then squashed by big fat pigeons as they ate all the tops off the plants, including the flower buds, so --- out came those plants too, as they were never going to recover. In their place I planted out half a dozen Red Little Gem lettuce.

There have also been a "first" though... the first small cucumbers from the greenhouse at home, as well as ongoing harvests of french beans, courgettes and tomatoes. The strawberries in troughs at home are beginning to give us a few berries to eat, and they do taste lush! Tayberries and loganberries are prolific, and I need to think of an alternative use for them other than jam... possible cordial?

The tomato plants growing outside are looking very healthy, although a spell of sunshine wouldn't go amiss to bring the flowers on. In the mini-tunnel however they are really growing quickly, and there are ripe fruit almost daily from the Yellow Sunrise and the very sweet Black Opal

The 100s & 1000s in hanging baskets are setting fruit now, as are the un-named cherry tomatoes in pots, but those right next to them in a large tub were stunted, yellow and spindly, despite the same feed and watering as those in the pots. Last year I tried to grow carrots in this tub, and they were sickly too. Thinking back, I did not fully replace the compost at the start of the year. A friend suggested that possibly the original compost may have been contaminated with weed killer.... and she may well be right. Anyway, the whole tubful has been emptied out and the tub thoroughly washed out for use another time.

Luckily, we have plenty more tomato plants!

One flower that does seem to be enjoying the current weather are the fuchsias. We have several in the garden that are looking gorgeous right now! Here are some photos to go with the one at the top of the page:

I could not resist this -- petals from the pink rose over the arch carpet the ground underneath as they fall. Just beautiful!!