July 2017

Somewhere to sit in the sun, listen to the birds and enjoy the view

17th July - St Swithin's Day (15th) : It was breezy and cloudy here on Saturday, so if the old rhyme is correct, we are in for more than a month of dry weather now. St Swithin was an Archbishop of Winchester who died back in the mid 800s. He was originally buried outside the cathedral, but his remains were moved to a large tomb inside, as this was felt more fitting for an Archbishop. On that day, so the story goes, there was a fierce and longlasting thunderstorm, which was thought to be him showing his displeasure at being moved. The rhyme has persisted down through history:

St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain

Full forty days, it will remain

St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair

For forty days, t’will rain no more

Mind you, we do really need some rain, so let's hope it is not actually an accurate weather forecast!

Our plot inspection for part of the Reading in Bloom event is tomorrow, so most of this week we have been trying to tidy everything. Empty pots and trays seem to accumulate, and the thought of an inspection has spurred us on to finish jobs we started and then got sidetracked, so now all the paths are covered in woodchip, weedfree and unobstructed. The big apple tree that blew over in a gale recently is securely staked rather than being held up with guy ropes, the seating area is clean and tidy, the raggedy looking onion bed has all the onion leaves lying down pointing in the same direction, not all over the place in a tangle and all the fruit and vegetables growing are labelled properly

Here are some views around Plot 146 this afternoon. Glad that dahlias are starting to flower, and the verbena and buddleia are doing a great job in attracting insects as well as looking lovely. We counted up and have twelve different kinds of soft fruit, five top fruits, thirteen herbs, at least nine different edible flowers and twenty six types of vegetables (counting beetroot once  for example, not three time for three different varieties, and not including crops like broad beans, mangetout etc which are finished, or any growing on Plot 145 or in the polytunnel, or those that are still in the packet like florence fennel or spinach) Never counted up like this before... no wonder we eat such a varied diet! 

We have had some new harvests this week, so I can share their photos with you for Harvest Monday. 

First up are the long awaited climbing French beans, succulent and tasty cooked simply, or sliced raw in salads. The dwarf yellow beans are also cropping, and I noticed some green pods on the arch too.. bean medley!

Violette de Cosse climbing French beans

And then there are the first crop of Runner Beans too. All varieties are producing pods, and it is important to pick them once they are large enough to eat, or the plants stop flowering. This is because the plant notices seeds are forming in mature pods and so ... job done. There is no need for it to carry on growing as the next generation is then secured. It is easy to miss pods that form low down on the plants, so a good search through the foliage near ground level is a good idea!

Also in the picture are more carrots: the battle with the mice goes on, with one and often two being trapped every day. There are still some nibbled and chewed roots, but just think how bad it would be with all those other mice feeding there too!

Beetroot are large enough to eat. These are Boltardy, and really I sowed them too close to a row of dwarf calendula, so they haven't had the best growing conditions so I am pleased to have some to eat. We roasted these with potatoes, and they were really good.

Courgettes are growing well.. You wouldn't think that fruit this size could grow unnoticed under the leaves, but this week we have had two large ones from Lungo Bianco, fortunately not large enough to be "seedy". One was used with sliced onion in spicy pakoras, and the other added to our roast dinner, sweated in butter with caraway seeds. The stripy Coucouzellas are regular additions to almost anything, and with two plants there are plenty, but not an overwhelming amount! We ate them before This photo was taken!

Two Divas and a Telegraph to enjoy

We are still harvesting the first early potatoes, with another four rows still left to dig. I had really wanted to get the leeks planted out this week, but that had to be postponed once we knew the date of the plot inspection, which is two weeks earlier than it has been in recent years. 

In the polytunnel, the Diva cucumbers are cropping quickly, with enough for us to eat daily and some to share with friends. I picked the first of the Telegraphs in the greenhouse at home: beautiful! 

Other Summer crops like lettuce, sweet peppers and salad leaves are doing well, cropping fast enough to keep us well supplied.

That is end of our harvests for this week.

 

Concorde Pears

This seems to be a good year for pears. Everyone we know who has a tree is saying the same, and even our little trees on #145 have some fruit on them. In the garden, both trees are heavy with fruit: we are trying to keep them all well watered so that the fruits continue to swell. These are some the Concordes: you can see why we are looking forward to the coming harvest!

Cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on groundsel

This week I visited a friends' plot across the river, to see what she is growing. Some crops are the same of course, but others are different: Malabar spinach for example, which is a climbing plant with a beautiful purplish-red stem, and minipop sweetcorn. I always enjoy seeing how other people organise their growing, so this was a real treat

That wasn't the only treat though... just look at these caterpillars! You might wonder why I was so excited by a plant covered in Cinnabar moth larvae, but it was a real blast from the past for me. When we were children, my brother and I collected literally hundreds of these and kept them in netted potato barrels in the garden, feeding on ragwort, until they pupated, when we packed them up in cotton wool inside old tobacco tins wrapped in brown paper,and sent them off to Worldwide Butterflies, who were acting as a collection point before shipping them to Australia to help tackle their ragwort problem. We got old sixpence each per tin, so you as you can imagine, we were very keen. We had to keep them well supplied with ragwort, as otherwise the larvae would eat each other, and our profits would rapidly diminish!

Cinnabar Moth

This is the adult moth, which is around  from May until early July in this area. If it is disturbed, it flies about in the day time and is very visible with its bright coloration. Like its caterpillars, the moths taste unpalatable to predators, and these colours act as a warning to them not to try to eat it. Pretty though!

 

Two slow worms.. the golden one is a female, the dark one a male

And then, even better, she has a small colony of slow worms that enjoy sunbathing in the top of her compost bins. Another memory of childhood, when we rescued several dozen from certain death when the local pre-fabs were demolished. The slow worms lived in the gardens, so were re-located to our garden, where their descendants still live, enjoying sunbathing in the top of my brother's compost bin. I am sure today there would be a team of naturalists called in to capture them, but we managed very well with our small cloth bags and some perseverance. They are one of my favourite native reptiles, and I wish we had some in our garden at home! People sometimes mistake these for snakes, but they are in fact legless lizards and they enjoy eating small slugs, which means they help with pest control

Once again, thank you for reading this week's blog. I hope you found it interesting, even if the week didn't go quite according to the original plan!

Those leeks really must go in the ground of course, and the onions on #146 are nearly ready to take out of the ground for drying off... space for sowing spinach then, and some Florence Fennel too.  The onions on #145 have not started to leaning over yet, so they can carry on growing for a while longer.

And I wonder what the weather will do???

Here are some more of our flowers on Plot 146, to end this week's post

 

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

10th July - Colourful Summer harvests are well underway! 

We'll go straight into Harvest Monday, the link-up hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres. The header photo shows what we brought home on Tuesday last week, with several "firsts"

- Cucumbers: our daughter gave us a Lemon Cucumber plant, and it has it's own little trellis to clamber up. It did take some time to settle in but now is growing away and has further fruits developing. Nice crisp texture. The Divas in the polytunnel are totally rampant (probably need to start pruning back side shoots) and we get a couple of nice neat little cucumbers a week at  the moment

- Pak Choi: grown in a deep tray in the shade from some bargain basement plug plants. Growing like this restricted damage from slugs and snail, flea beetles and pigeons, and gave us some great cuts for stir fry and slicing in half, brushing with oil and grilling on the barbecue

- Carrots: these are Sweet Candle, which are well named. In fact they are so good the mice decided to tunnel in under the protective enviromesh and eat the tops of any that were above ground. We have found traps baited with peanut butter to be irresistable and the mouse population is reducing daily for now. 

- Dwarf French Beans: These Orinoco were sown in modules  on 29th April, and really suffered when they were planted out, as the high temperatures and strong winds nearly finished them off. However, with hardly any leaves left at the time, they developed flower buds ... I reckon they thought they were going to die and this was their survival strategy for the future... and now have small, crisp beans to gather, plus new leaves too! 

- Sugar Snap Peas: more of the Magnolia Tendril peas, which are prolific croppers. Unfortunately a rodent ate the low down pods I was saving for seed, so I have identified some more and hooked them up high on the net in the hope they can swell and ripen uninterrupted

- Courgettes: We are picking about five or six a week now, which is fairly easy to keep up with. I did find a large one lurking under the leaves this morning, but gave it to my neighbour as soon as we arrived home. Luckily she was happy to rehome it. In the photo above, you can see three small stripy courgettes which were from the poorly looking plant on #145. These were just right to make a filling for some open puff pastry tarts, lined with lemon flavoured cream cheese, together with some lightly cooked beetroot leaves and sliced onion. They turned out rather well, and are worth repeating for sure

- Lettuce: We have moved on to eating the Little Gems, which, as always, are full of flavour and crunch. 

- Peas: This is the last of this season's fresh peas. I pulled off the pods today that have been drying for next year's seeds: these can finish drying on a tray in the sunshine at home. If there is ground space I shall try to grow a late crop too, using a fast maturing shorter variety

- Beetroot: This week we pulled the first of the Chioggia roots. They are the most gorgeous shocking pink, with a bullseye design of pink and white rings inside. Eaten as carpacchio, with some watercress and goats cheese, their colour and flavour was exquisite. If they are cooked, the colour does fade though. The leaves are also very tasty, either in salad or cooked like chard.

- Sweet Peppers: These are from the mixed varieties packet of seed, and are very juicy indeed. This cream coloured ones seem to grow much more quickly than the others, and we have both blocky ones and pointed ones. The Hungarian Sweet Wax plants in the giant cold frame are also fruiting now so we shall have plenty of peppers to eat for a while!

Then there are the herbs ... Dill and Flat leafed Parsley for potato salad, Mint for adding to iced drinks, and, not photographed, Lavender to infuse the Gooseberry ripple icecream.

And the flowers: gladioli, the last cutting of feverfew, mulitcoloured cornfowers, calendula and deep purplish sweetpeas

And potatoes. These monsters are, believe it or not, Lady Christl! They have been watered well through this long spell of hot, dry weather and it seems to have paid off. These are from the three plants I dug this morning. Once the skins are dried off, they will go into a hessian sack in the garage to be stored. Their space is needed for the leeks, which are bursting out of their tray now!

Due to the issues with Leek Moth I plan to cover the leeks with enviromesh through the rest of the Summer and early Autumn. The cost of this seemed extortionate, but after a search around I ordered some from Hong Kong, which took two weeks to arrive... £30 cheaper!!! Worth considering, I'd say. Now we have enough to also cover the leeks that will follow the pea plants too, so they can stay healthy and unaffected by these pests. 

Just one more little harvest, which was a bit unexpected: Strawberries! There are some new pink flowered plants in a hanging basket at the end of the garden, and I didn't expect much in the way of fruit from them this year, but lo and behold! Enough for a cake (recipe ... Strawberry Pudding Cake... already posted) They really are finished now though.

The plants that were in the polytunnel have had a major trim and been resited outside to have a rest after their sterling performance. They can stay out now until next Spring, so that they can have sufficient hours of cold to form flower buds again. I'll give them some Blood, Fish & Bone around February to set them up for their next crop.

The plants in the ground, which were at least five years old, have been dug up. It is difficult to protect plants grown in the ground from rodents, so we shall be getting in new stock in the Autumn and shall plant them in windowboxes, kept up on racks

And that is the end of our harvests for this week.. we feel privileged to have such bounty!

Someone asked how our chillies were faring so far this year. Here they are, as of this morning:

  • Serrano from Mexico, with soft hairy leaves and white flowers.

  • Yukari Baken from Turkey, growing in upright facing clusters at the top of the plant

  • Hangijiao1 from China. These are enormous fruits, but with only one or two per plant so far

  • Padron peppers from Spain.. some are hot, some are not!

  • Joe's Long Cayenne from Italy. These fruits should grow well over 30cm long

  • Alberto's Locato Roccato from Peru. Hairy leaves and purple flowers

  • Razzamatazz from Mexico. Upright fruits that turn purple, orange and red

  • Trepadeiro Werner from Brazil. White fruits just starting to form

  • Atris Sweet peppers. Slow to start flowering but this first fruit looks a decent size

Mostly this week we have been watering, watering, and watering. The runner beans are beginning to set pods, maybe by next week we may have a few to pick. Most of the squash plants are also setting fruit: I have taken off their shade netting now and they seem to be coping well enough.

The sweet potato plants haven't grown at all yet, but they must surely be enjoying the hot weather. They look OK, I am just impatient to see some action!

Last Winter we lost most of our dahlias, when we absentmindedly left them out in a shed, so we bought in some new tubers. They were mixed, un-named varieties, and some are beginning now to open their buds. We have white, dark red and dark maroon so far, with one really lovely star shaped single pink flower. Popular with bees too, as you can see! 

And here to end this week are pictures from our garden at home: two hanging baskets, the apple trees, some of the blueberries and some pears. Looks like there is plenty of fruit to come in the Autumn.

Thank you again for reading this. Next week I hope we have at least some of the leeks planted, which will mean the first early potatoes are all up and the old pea plants taken out. We shall see how the time goes!

 

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

3rd July - The currants nearly overwhelmed me! After four hours of picking, this was the outcome two days ago. The blackcurrant bushes were bowed down with the weight of fruit, and the single jostaberry bush had more fruit per centimetre than I have ever seen. The redcurrants hung down in glistening scarlet cascades, whilst hiding amongst the prickles were pink gooseberries! This bush has never fruited before, and I was amazed to see so many just hanging under the branches like rows of pretty lanterns.

And so begins Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave from Our Happy Acres... see the link at the end.

The huge net has been taken off the fruit cage, having done a sterling job in protecting our harvest from the ravages of pigeons and blackbirds, and it is now tightly twisted and stored away for next year. There were so many berries, I didn't pick them all, so the birds can now enjoy what is left.

There was also a large number of raspberries that ripened this week, and as these looked like the end of their fruit for this year, I pruned out the canes and then picked off the fruit. That left next Summer's nice fresh green canes with plenty of space to grow, and made it easier for me to get in amongst those currant bushes too. I pruned them as I went along as well, so although it took ages, the job is done! Abi also replaced the old wooden edging to the bed, so all in all it is looking quite smart. The original was old pieces of mismatched wood, whatever we had to hand at the time seven years ago, so it is luxury to have level boarding along the edge of the path now, in a proper straight line!

Of course, harvesting all this fruit means cooking/preserving it, and this year I have been determined not to just put it all in the freezer and forget about it. I have frozen some of the raspberries for each of our children's families, and there is a tray of redcurrants now in the freezer, but they have a purpose later in the Summer, and will be transformed into a cheesecake and redcurrant coconut slices when required.

I am pleased to say that as of this afternoon there are no bowls of soft fruit sitting on the floor in the kitchen, attracting the unwanted attention of fruit flies. We now have:

- raspberry jelly, summer puddding, and enough frozen raspberries to fill a sponge cake when needed

- gooseberry & redcurrant jam, pink and green gooseberries in the fridge for ripple sauce for icecream, and something with lavender...not quite worked this out yet but the bushes in the front garden smell so good right now 

- blackcurrant, mint and orange loaf cake (recipe to be posted tomorrow), enough black currants frozen for another cake as it is really good, sieved, cooked blackcurrants for jam and icecream ripple sauce.. ran out of sugar, so will be going shopping tomorrow

- jostaberries dripping through a jelly bag, ready to become jelly once I have sugar available, as well as some juice to make a "shrub" with brandy. Not made this drink before, but it sounds intriguing. 

.... and I have purple fingers, and a lingering aura of blackcurrant sweets!!

Here are some of the jars of gooseberry & redcurrant jam and of raspberry jelly, just a couple so that you can see their colour: the redder ones are the jam.

The Blackcurrant, Mint and Orange cake

Our Wizard beans harvest

Back to harvests: the Wizard bean pods had suddenly swelled, and so I took up all the plants, pulled off the pods and cut the plants up for the compost bin. There were plenty of beans, and we had a good serving of them with our roast dinner yesterday. The others are frozen so they stay as fresh as possible. There were two pods nibbled by rats, so it looked as though I had harvested them in the nick of time

I had foolishly left the remainder of the Red Epicure beans in a bag in the kitchen, and their skins had started to get a bit tough. I didn't want to compost them, so tried a new idea: roasted bean crisps. They were a bit laborious to prepare as I had to take all the skins off the beans first, but they were rather good and worth the effort. I had to put the remainder away or we would have eaten them all straight away (Recipe, as usual, to follow tomorrow)

Moving the bean plants out left a whole empty bed, so after a bit of weeding, watering and a feed with blood, fish and bone, in went a couple of sweet potato plants under a large cloche, and some lettuces: red salad bowl and butterhead, still sticking with my lettuce succession!

There were some other vegetable harvests: carrots and potatoes:

  • I took out the rest of the early carrots, and sowed Mooli ...Mino Early... and some turnips. The enviromesh should keep flea beetles off, and provide the plants with some extra protection into the Winter months

  • These are from two plants of Lady Christl. They are a really good size, and were delicious with a little butter and a sprinkle of chives. We'll dig them a row at a time to make space for the leek plants to go in

  • And here are the spicy bean crisps, or what was left of them by the time I thought of taking a photo! These were flavoured with ajwain and chilli, and plenty of sea salt. Any spices you like could be used

We have continued to gather courgettes, and to pick peas, which are blanched and frozen as soon as we come home, unless they are going to be eaten that day of course. The early mangetout have finished, and the giant Bijou plants have mysteriously died. Very odd indeed. One minute they were fine and then suddenly the foliage turned yellow and that was that. Can't win them all! 

One new crop that is certainly a success is a sugar-snap pea called Magnolia Tendril Pea. It does grow lots of tendrils, more tendrils than leaves really. I had a few seeds from my friend Beryl, of Mud and Gluts, enough to provide a taster or two... and they are just lovely! So lovely that I have already earmarked several pods ot grow to maturity and provide seeds for a larger crop next year

And that is the end of our harvests this week. 

The other big job at the moment is keeping up with watering to ensure plants are not stressed. We have had a couple of showers overnight, but not enough for a good soak, so it has been out with the hosepipes. Last year we did not water the potato plants regularly and the tubers grew strange split-smily shapes, so this year we are trying to give them all a decent watering every week, directing the water under the foliage into the ground, rather than onto the leaves.

The plants in the polytunnel need watering every other day at the moment. The cucumber plants have nearly reached the top of their supporting net, and there are lots of baby fruits growing, and the tomatoes are in full flower, with obvious green tomatoes now showing too. Lots of flowers on the aubergine plants but no fruit setting... Is the air too dry?...and the chillies and sweet peppers are covered in green fruits. Might be time to start using some of the chillies now. And the sweetcorn plants are more than knee high now. These did go in very late, but with the tunnel extending the season I hope they have time to develop cobs.

 

Usually at this point I have lots of pictures of flowers to share, but I have been so busy I haven't taken many! There are two lovely pictures though... the first Red Admiral of the Summer on our plot, feeding on one of our many buddleia bushes, and the second is one visitor we were very excited to see...

Last year we installed a small log pile next to the pond, part buried in the mulched down woodchip on the path. Now that there are so many froglets living around the pond margins, we wanted to extend the amount of greenery there, so they have more shelter. This meant moving the logs over half a metre. And when we moved the lowest one, there she was...a female Stag Beetle. (The males have the huge "stag's horn" jaws: females' ones are more modest)

This is an endangered species and so having one on our plot was something to be pleased about alright! When we released her back onto the repositioned logs, she made a bee-line for the bark mulch and burrowed her way in, which is what mated females do to lay their eggs. When these hatch, the larvae, which eat rotting wood, take eight years to grow large enough to pupate and then hatch out as adults. We shall be part burying another oldish log as well, to increase their chances of future success.

And on that happy note I shall sign off for this week! I hope you enjoyed sharing this update, and as always, thank you for reading it.

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