14th May - Heralds of Summer! The hedgerows are glowing with the brilliance of hawthorn blossom, more so than I have seen it for some years, and with its petticoat of Cow Parsley flowers peeping out at the base, punctuated here and there by Three Cornered Leek, a relative newcomer here, it is a sight to lift the spirits alright.
The season is definitely moving on, and harvests are changing, with some of the "cold weather" crops now finished... we harvested the last of our leeks last week... beginning to gather crops sown in the Spring.
First to the table for Harvest Monday are Mangetout. These Indian Golden Mangetout were sown at the every end of January in modules at home, and their flowering has defintely been delayed by poor weather, even in the shelter of the polytunnel. Now they are a regular addition, with a decent sized handful being picked every other day. These ones went into a pasta dish, added at the last minute to keep their crispness, and more have been sliced to add to mixed salads, or just eaten raw straight from the plant
The time has come to take out the rather large plants of Perpetual Spinach growing in the polytunnel, and the first two plants produced the large bag of leaves seen in the header photograph when they were stripped, weighing in at almost 500g. That sounds like a lot of spinach, but in reality it went into a spicy beef curry, and then this Squash & Spinach Curry with lentils, and it seemed to melt away. There are three portions of curry frozen away for coming weeks (And yes, I have remembered to label them!)
We still have quite a few Winter Squashes in store, and must use these up while they are still in good condition. This recipe used one of the Ute Indian ones, a Buttercup variety which has very dense, firm flesh, ideal to cook like this as it holds its shape well. An added bonus was that the skin is not too hard for me to cut the squash open and peel it
Hopefully the two small plants for this year will be as productive
At long last the Coriander is large enough to be able to use for garnishing, if not yet a main ingredient in dishes. The method of rolling the seeds before sowing, until they crack and then not overwatering them, as certainly been a success. I need to sow some more if we are to have a continuous supply though. I think there are more seeds in the seed tin: I need to decide whether to grow them in a container under cover, or in the ground outside. Inside keeps the leaves clean, and maybe will stop the plants from bolting, plus I am not sure there is space in any of the outside beds right now.
That is our last harvest for this week really, although our plot neighbour generously shared his asparagus with us.. thank you, Joe!
The exciting news, for us at least, is that the second polytunnel is now up and running. The tomato plants are now in their final home: planting them deeply has given them the chance to develop extra roots and so strong plants. There are:
1 each of: Orange Banana, Marmande, Apero, Ailsa Craig, Costoluco Genovese, Yellow Pear
2 each of: Golden Sunrise, Ox Heart, San Marzano, Black Cherry, Lanzarote Stripe (saved from a tomato we enjoyed on holiday)
Also in there are 16 Dwarf French bean plants (Speedy) and some Rocket plants, with chillies and peppers to come later this week, all being well
Next to the first tunnel, this does look quite empty, but that won't last long once everything starts growing.
Out of the picture are two large polystyrene boxes, in which are sown carrots (Nantes 5 & Sweet Candle) Beetroot (Subeto) and Radishes (Amethyst). I hope the carrots and beetroot do better than the previous sowings in the ground inside, where they are regularly disturbed by rodents underneath the soil. I do wonder whether keeping it wetter, and firming it down daily might discourage them. Anyway, there is another chance fro decent carrots now!
The two tunnels are one behind the other, with a space of about a metre between them, The plan is to add a debris netting cover over this gap, supported by stout water pipe, enabling the two zip up end doors to stay open during hot weather to improve ventilation, whilst keeping insects and birds out. The main doors are at each opposite end, and these can then remain closed when we are not working inside. Sounds OK... have to see how it works out in practice.
Out on #146,the bean poles are now up, and the plants are almost ready to plant out, just another day or two sitting in the garden at home "hardening off", before they are subjected to the rigours of being planted out on the plots
I tried this X-shaped structure out last year, to try to avoid the end of season congestion at the top of the poles, which always resulted in pods getting caught up and twisted as they grew. The cross-over point was lower down, and picking pods that formed early in the season was a bit tricky, so this year the poles cross higher up, whilst still allowing their ends to be free of each other. Bracing with additional side canes will help it stand up to strong winds. Amazing what can be done with a few sticks and some cable ties, isn't it??
I've also installed a narrow temporary path along behind the adjoining flower bed, otherwise I won't be able to get to the beans on that part of the frame.. I can just dig the woodchip in at the end of the season. There are a few large foxglove plants in the bed, but as they give such pleasure, we decided to leave them in and grow the beans around them. I shall make sure no wayward beans climb their stems instead of the sticks though, as the foxglove plants will be finished and removed before the bean harvest is finished
As the season moves round, different insects start to appear again. This week I saw the first Common Cardinal Beetle sitting in the sunshine on some stinging nettles, combing its toothed antennae with its forelegs. These are predatory beetles and not to be confused with the scarlet Lily Beetle, which is altogether rounder.
And to end, here are the rhododendron flowers, the ones that were in bud last week, showing a bright magenta colour. As you can see, their colour has changed so much a week later it is hard to believe this is the same plant!
By next week, I hope to have the beds for the Winter and Summer Squashes prepared and the plants in the ground, and the Sunflowers planted out too. Always good to have a plan .....
I'll be back next Monday with more photos so you can see how things are progressing and what we have been able to harvest
PS The recipe for that curry will be in Reipes 2018 by Wednesday
7th May - Record breaking temperatures again!!!! Hard to believe it is only the first week of May, with 32°C at 5:00pm today. The sunshine and warmth is welcome, in that seeds sown outside are starting to germinate quickly, but the downside is that under cover crops are in serious danger of death by dessication. The greenhouse at home is well shaded, and with both of the windows and the door open wide, plus a twice daily check on water levels, plants, which are in pots and modules, are surviving. It is a harder job with the polytunnel as we cannot leave the doors open when we are not there for reasons of security, so with only the twelve side vents, temperatures can quickly rocket, so plants must be well watered: it helps that most of them are growing in the soil, not containers
I'll come back to news aabout the polytunnel later, but first, lets have a look at this week's harvests , linking to Harvest Monday as usual:
First to the table is the final harvest of Leeks from plants set out last June. The great thick beasts are Elefant and the more slender ones are Jolant. I am tempted to make three dishes of cheesy leeks and freeze them, but really I should try to think of something different to cook with them. In these temperatures Leek & Potato Soup loses its charm..maybe another quiche and some Leek & Cheddar Bread?
Lettuce is more in keeping with the weather right now, and the Black Seeded Simpsons are doing well both under cover, and, as you can see from these ones, outside as well.
Lettuce seed does not reliably germinate if the soil temperature is over 24 °C, and as I like to sow them in a pot and grow them on before planting out, it is not really the right time to start any more off. Luckily there are already some small Red Little Gems growing away, so I can wait for a cooler period before the next lot of seeds need to be sown... a Little Gem-type called Maureen. I might try another variety as well, because it is good to have a choice when it come to salad leaves. I'll have to have a look in the seed box
Another addition to salads this week were Baby Perpetual Spinach leaves. These plants have been producing for months, and this week as well as a bagful of mature leaves to add to meatball & spinach curry, we picked these smaller tender ones. There won't be many more of them though, as the plants have developed flower buds and will soon be consigned to the compost bin. That'll give the peas and mangetout a little more light and space
The last few overwintered Spring Onions were harvested this week, making space for a single Parthenon Courgette plant to go in. With plenty of space and water, I hope this romps away to give us early courgettes in a month's time
Even a small bunch of herbs is relatively expensive to buy, and it always feels so good that we have space to grow enough to use them generously. This week we have Flat Leaf Parsley, which has overwintered in the polytunnel, and it is just beginning to go to seed. We have more plants growing outside and these will be left to flower. Insects love the flat heads of flowers and the seeds that follow self sow very successfully, providing us with more plants of course.
Spearmint pops up all over one of our flowerbeds and in the adjoining path, but I don't really mind, as roots that really are in the wrong place are easily pulled out, and it means we can cut big handsful of stems. This was chopped to use with the Chives in a potato salad. This was our first cutting of chives, and as we have a border of them growing in the front of the rose bed, as well as odd plants dotted here and there, it will be a regular feature throughout the Summer months
And lastly are Fennel leaves: we have two very large bronze fennel plants, which we were given as tiny seedlings by our daughte, and they provided us with a good harvest of seeds to dry and use in cooking. Some of course escaped and have germinated: much to our surprise one of these has resulted in a green leaved plant. Finely chopped, the leaves were added to a cucumber raita.
The last of our harvests was Red Cabbage. There were three small Loderos left, that had stood all Winter. They were far from perfect, with slug nibbles and in one, a flowering stalk developing, but cleaned up and finely sliced they looked pretty good
Together with some chopped green apple, sliced celery, walnuts and mayonnaise, they made a very pretty salad, similar to Waldorf, which was a side dish at our weekend family barbecue.
Overall, Lodero have been the best red cabbages we have grown, being not too large, standing well without splitting and resistant to club root, which seems to pop up from time to time, so we shall be growing them again
And as always at this time in the year there is Rhubarb. In my quest for new ways to use it, I found a recipe for Rhubarb & Almond Cake, which I adjusted to make a larger cake with less rhubarb, as I thought it might be a bit soggy otherwise. We have no light in our oven at the moment and I didn't notice the back of the cake was rather dark, so some people had a slice with the edge cut off, the edge described by one of our grandchildren as "burnt". If i say there was only a piece of one serving actually left,well, it must have been OK really. Another time I shall reduce the cooking time a little bit!
Moving from this week's harvests to ones that are coming along:, there are Indian Golden Podded Mangetout almost ready to pick in the polytunnel. These have certainly been delayed by the extended dull, cold weather. The first flowers are very high up on the plants, and their tops are now crowding againt the cover, so I shall have to find a way to divert them so they can keep producing. Possibly having the Perpetual Spinach plants behind them has also been a factor... something to remember next time around
The Kent Blues, a green podded mangetout, are flowering profusely and at a more normal height however, depsite being planted right alongside the golden ones. They are very pretty flowers, as you can see from this week's header photo, and could easily be mistaken for small flowered sweet peas
The seedlings in the salad tray are growing really quickly now, and the Pak Choi and Mizuna should be large enough to harvest in the coming week. Usually when we grow Pak Choi, the leaves have some slug damage, but growing them in a tray up on the staging in the polytunnel means they are completely free of holes and slimy nibbles. I am not sure if these are "cut and come again" plants, but I shall gather them carefully to give them the best chance. More Pak Choi will certainly follow though, and harvesting them small will hopefully avoid them bolting.
Not everything in the polytunnel has been a success though. The seedling carrots and beetroot are constantly disturbed by mice or voles tunnelling underneath them, digging through the soil from outside. They don't poke their heads up very often, although those that do are met with snappy traps. The roots are not developing properly in shifting soil, no matter how often a re-firm it. This was a problem in the outside beds towards the end of last season too, and as the beetroot grew, it was eaten, but sadly not by us!
I shall be sowing more of both carrots and beets in deep boxes, and keep them under cover up on the staging. I'll have to water them whether they are in the soil or in a box, so there will be no extra work involved I hope. We learn as we go along .....
The second polytunnel is well underway, and the tomato and chilli plants etc are ready to plant out as soon as it is complete.
The area was covered by a light-proof tarpaulin for 18 months, which killed off the weeds and grass. Last week the trenches to hold down the edges of the cover were dug out, and the nettles along the fence removed as far as possible. They're bound to grow back and it'll be a constant job for a few years to get rid of them completely
The main path and the beds were marked out. The wooden edging for one bed went in, and the frame was put together. Not sure how many nuts and bolts there were... hundreds ... and it took ages to tighten them all. The ground under the frame itself had to be levelled before it was secured to the ground with deep, screw-in, auger-like metal pins
By the end of today, both beds were in and rough dug, ready for compost to be added, and the path was levelled. Tomorrow the hot spot tape will be go on the frame to protect the cover from wear or overheating, and then the cover itself can go on and be trenched in round the edges.. by this time next week I hope it has plants in it, and maybe even staging...
Whilst Abi has been beavering away with the polytunnel prep, I have planted the brassicas on both plots: Duncan Cabbage, Cauliflower Maybach and Calabrese Marathon, three of each, in each bed. These have been grown on in 3 inch pots at home in the garden for a few weeks, and with some chicken manure pellets in their planting holes, plenty of water, and the ground well firmed around them: I hope they'll get off to a good start.
They have been covered with fine mesh now, to ensure they stay free from flying pests, and seem to be standing up well to the high temperatures
(The plants to the right are flat leaf parsley)
There is always something interesting to see, either in the garden or at the plots; this Speckled Wood butterfly sat quietly on the grass so i could take its picture. These are regular vistors to the garden, flitting along the side of the shrubs in and out of patches of sunshine, each patrolling their own little territory in their search for a mate.
AND... the Swifts returned today from their overseas travels, dashing through the sky, screaming like banshees. You can hear why they are called Devil Birds!!! They are the last of the family to arrive... we have already seen a Swallow and some House Martins, but, as in the past few years, the Swifts arrived promptly on the 7th May. These ones will not breed here, but fly further north...."ours" wiil be here in the next few days.
So with that sign of Summer being almost here, I shall end for this week, and be back next Monday.