June 2019

 

17th June - Rain, shine, come what may, it is still June and the plants know it! This has been a difficult week as the sheer volume of rain has turned the soil on #145 thick and sticky, making weeding unpleasant and difficult. On #146 things are a little better though, as the soil there has had lots of organic matter added over the last nine years. It really does highlight what a huge difference this has made to the soil structure. The weeds are stiil growing  of course, just easier to pull up!

Harvests are broadening out, and it is so good to have so much to choose from. Harvest Monday has some "milestone" firsts, those harvests that really mark the beginning of Summer, whether the sun is shining or not.

First up are Tomatoes, with the Sungold plant in the polytunnel now ripening, and these three I ate at the plot. They are such a juicy, sweet tomato anyway and those first few are always so welcome

 

Next is the first Cauliflower of the year, another vegetable I haven't had fresh since the end of last Summer. I can see several more developing too, which I am really pleased about! This one made a beautiful cauliflower cheese for dinner last night, topped with some fresh chopped onion green. It is not a huge head, and lacks that solidity of some varieties, but very nice nonetheless

There are plants of other varieties coming along , so I hope to be able to cut fresh heads for some weeks yet. 

Another "first" albeit a very modest crop, are Cornichons, from plants growing up netting in the polytunnels. In the past I have left these small ones on the plant, hoping for more the develop, but in fact the opposite happened: no new ones grew as the plant didn't need them, having got fruit growing, and of course these just got bigger and bigger... hardly useful as a gherkin. So this year, off they come as soon as they reach a few centimetres and they can go straight into the jar of pickling brine then, whilst more grow, and will join them

Courgettes are now a regular, and again I am trying to harvest them when they are quite small, as they are both tastier and more dense in texture too

Strawberries have had a bit of a splurge, so there were enough to put in a large jar to macerate in alcohol. Idealy this would have been gin, but I only had vodka, which I guess will taste good. Already the liquid has turned a strong pink, so i shall keep an eye on the mixture becasue once all the colour is out of the fruit it wlll be time to strain it out to bottle the fruit drink

And then there are the Broad Beans, in their blankety beds. I picked all the beans off the plants in the polytunnel this week, and although some pods had odd dark marks on them, once shelled, there was just over a kilo of beans, most of which I blanched and froze.

Most pods had four beans in them, so they were not the heaviest cropping variety, but they taste good and have been very early too. I ate at least half of them as young pods too, so they have been very worthwhile

It always seems a bit of a shame that such a large amount of the crop is not eaten, as the pods are thick and felty inside. However, they make a useful addition to the compost bin, especially mixed with grass cuttings and shredded paper. The haulms also get chopped into the mix, and the whole layer heats up quite quickly as the rotting process begins.This week's grass cutting were quite damp, so the mix needed no additional water, but I shall be keeing an eye on the bin to make sure it all stays moist enough to rot, but not so wet it becomes slimy and starts to smell bad

I dug up the remaining Ulster Prince Potatoes from the bed in the tunnel, and there were lots of really good sized tubers. Overall, from the four sed potatoes planted, I have harvested 3. 47kg of tubers, which I am pleased with. This will certainly keep me going until the outdoor varieties start to become ready to harvest

The All the Year Round Lettuces have hearted up enough to crop, and they are quite a different texture to others I have  grown this  year, being very soft, even softer than Black Seeded Simpson, and almost buttery to eat. There are several more ready to eat , so I shall be sharing these as there are too many for me really, especially as other varieties are also now growing quite quickly

And other harvests included Spring Onions, Radishes,Rhubarb, MInt and other herbs. The Elderflowers have been too wet to harvest until this morning, so I was pleased to manage another picking this week before the flowers finish for this year. Orange & Elderflower Gin is now a certainty!

I have bottled all the Elderflower Gin & Vodka made so far, and also a batch of Blackberry Brandy from last Autumn too. I must get out the remaining fruits macerating and see if they are also ready for bottling.

Plenty of flowers for cutting now, and this week I have annual and perennial Sweetpeas, Pinks and Sweet William in vases at home

 

On the Plots:

Nature just gets better and better with Her colour schemes this year: added to the Roses and Foxgloves are now a deep maroon Clematis, and dark plum coloured Poppy and the tall silver foliage of a Cardoon seedling, and the further spires of white delphinium and frothy feverfew just hightlight the glory. Friends have taken to sitting dreamily on the bench and just smiling, which is lovely to see

There are other glories too, less colourful but still interesting: following the long period of wet weather, these bracket fungi have sprung out of the wood slices, appearing almost overnight. These very old Horse Chestnut trees were felled about three yaers ago as there were rotten areas in their trunks and it considered too dangerous for them to remain in our local park: it looks as though these fungi may have perhaps been responsible. I think it is Dryad's Saddle (Polyphorus squamosus) which would normally be found high up on a trunk, but having these felled slices has given an unepectedly close view of them

It took me two days of graft to clear most of the weeds away from amongst the fruit bushes. This year, Cleavers seems to have had perfect growth conditions and it tenacious stems were metted across and between the branches. It took ages to get the little green balls of seedheads off my clothes before I went home! Netttles, although tall and sting-y, were relatively easy to pull out from the soft ground as no-one walks in between the bushes all that often. Just got the debris cleared up this morning before it started raining again. I propped some wire netting over above the Gooseberry bushes to try to deter the pigeons until the big net goes on tomorrow afternoon.  Lots of Currants just starting to change colour, so I think the timing is about right. Plenty of Summer Raspberries too, even if these usually tend to be a bit small, they taste good and make excellent jelly

Most veggies seem to be growing well as they have so much water. The downside is that weeding on #145, where the soil is still  a bit claggy, is a muddy job, and some of the brassicas are starting to disappear under the blanket of weeds! Let's get the fruit cage sorted, and then that's my next job... dealing with the weeds out on the beds. The cauliflowers are alright though, and i can see at least three more to harvest soon

The carrot seed sown ten days ago has now germinated. It is always a bit of a relief to see the tiny seedlings appear as so often they are munched off below ground by tiny black slugs. Perhaps they don't like the sand I added to the bed?

  • The peas are growing pods now, and with all the rain I hope they fill up quickly so I can pick them

  • The long dahlia bed is looking promising for a huge display of flowers in a few weeks' time

  • The outdoor tomato plants have picked up no end and now actually look as though they will be alright after all, so I pushed some sticks in to give them some support

  • And this 3 year old Calibrochoa plant is looking just amazing. The vibrant pink really stands out against the pastel colour of the rose behind

In the Polytunnels:

The Broad Bean plants have now been chopped and are in the compost bin. They certainly earned their space, as I ended up with 1.12kg of beans, even after I had eaten all those immature pods

There is now plenty of space for the Sweetcorn plants to grow on, and the extra little space at the end has been filled by two of the Chilli plants my daughter gave me: Rocoto, which is a spreading pubecens type with plum shaped fruit, and a Padron. Three of the other are further down the tunnel: Golden Greek, Sweet Banana and and one I cannot recall right now but will add in the name when I check tomorrow. They all look very healthy and I am looking forward to trying some of these varieties that are new to me. 

I spotted an ant or two running up the stem of one of the Cucumber plants, and it was obvious what they were up to... several little colonies of Black fly had been set up and they were happily tending them. Unhappily for the ants (and the Blackfly) some serious spraying of soapy water sent them to a watery end. I checked the Melon and Cornichon plants but they were fine, thank goodness

The Radish seeds I sowed last week have germinated, but there is no sign yet of the Coriander or Basil. Fingers crossed they make an appearance soon

  • One of the grafted Aubergine plants has an opened flower, although the pollen is not yet ripe enough to transfer to the stigma... I check every day

  • Malabar Spinach is native to India and is not especially enjoying the cool damp weather, but at last it is looking as though it may climb the netting soon

  • Transplanted Pak Choi are smaller than the undisturbed plants, and wil be ready to crop a little later, which actually is helpful in avoiding a glut

This week has seen several "firsts" for moths and butterflies. Small Tortoiseshells are looking bright and perfect,feeding on the Candytuft flowers at the plot, and I disturbed a Yellow Underwing Moth this morning, hiding under the leaves of the Squash plants. I haven't seen one at the plot before, so it was a good spot.

New on the wing though are the day-flying Scarlet Tiger Moths, which are now relatively common locally. Their caterpillars feed on Forget-me-not and Alkanet, so I always leave enough growing to accommodate them, and over the years their numbers have built up well. Carried on the foliage of Forget-me-nots transplanted to the plot, there is also a thriving population there. All good for the species, and I am always pleased to see them in June each year

 

At home, everything is growing rapidly and the late rhododendrons and pink foxgloves complement each other perfectly. In between rain storms, I have managed to cut the grass thank goodness, so at least things look vaguely tidy. Well, except the greenhouse,whih I haven't had to time sort out since taking out almost everything to plant elsewhere. It needs some serious time spent in there. Perhaps if the rain keeps up that needs to be on my list

The roses are fabulous still, and the enormous William Lobb at the end of the garden by the fruit trees has made its way right up into the lilac now, and festoons of pinky-purple blooms hang above my head. This year they have been joined by the pink and white flowers of Handel, a climbing rose I bought Abi for his 60th birthday. The plant that arrived looked in poor shape and and the nursery sent a replacement, which was planted alongside the garage. The weak specimen was poked in the ground, hopefully, near the lilac tree and hasn't really done much since except grow a few leaves,.. until now! 

 

It is difficult to photograph ithe flowers in amongst the branches, so here is an image of the ones cheerily waving above the roof of the garage, itaken in a rare moment of blue skies earlier in the week. Such pretty flowers!

And that is the end of this week's epistle. I hope to be able to show you nice neat weed-free beds next week, weather permitting, and talk about follow-on crops that are being sown now too. At least, that's the plan! Oh, and the greenhouse ......

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

Harvest Monday is getting off to a flying start this week, with lots of different crops, including some "firsts"

Dwarf French Beans Speedy seem to have recovered from the attentions of a mole around their roots, and are nw producing pods. They look a bit sorry for themselves still though, so a few small sticks to keep them upright and pods off the soil plus another little feed of seaweed meal should see them right for a few weeks yet

The Parthenon Courgette is now producing fruit: the very first one had a strange sort of "waist", but I ate it anyway, and the second one was more normal in shape. Such a delicate flavour from thee little lovelies, and the first ones of the year are awlays extra special, even if one was a bit of an odd shape

I have always struggle to grow Pak Choi during the Summer months before, but growing it  ashady section of the polytunnel has been quite successful. These are thinnings, which usually would have been growing flower stalks by now, and they are really useful in stir fry and salads.  I have also transplanted some, to give the remaining ones more space, so I hope these transplants take and grow too.

Broad Beans are excellent right now, and although I am trying to only pick what is needed for one meal, the day is fast approaching when I shall have to pick a bulk harvest, with a view to freezing them. If I leave them on the plants too long, the beans will be tough and thick skinned: far less enticing to eat!

Radishes are back, and although the packet said Cherry Belle these are long and pointy. They taste fine, but don't look so good in salad. Not to worry, at least I have some to eat

And Strawberries are now ripening by the (small) bowlful. I did find two particularly large ones that had been chewed by slugs, even up on the strawberry table, so I shall be keeping  careful eye out for the culprits. I moved two of the smaller troughs under cover, as all the flowers had set fruit, and they will develop very quickly in the extra warmth. I do love that strawberry smell too when they are ready to eat, much stronger inside

Ulster Prince Potatoes seem to have a decent-sized crop. I grubbed up a few more this week, some odd shapes but other beautiful long ovals. As they do not fall apart when cooked, I used some to make some spicy tomatoey, matchstick potatoes, which were really good... haven't cooked these for years!

Nearly forgot the Carrots: thinnings from the box ... Early Nantes ... which went with the beans and courgettes in a pasta dish

Other harvests have included Lettuce, Morrocan Mint (for tea) Chive Flowers Spring Onions and thinning of  Choi Sum

Out on the Plots

The Chive flowers look brilliant, litte pompoms of mauvy pink clustered here and there. The bees certainly like them! In the background here you can just see my temporary coldframe, which is really useful. In there are brassicas waiting for ground space ... Cauliflowers, Calabrese, Savoy Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts, the next lot of Lettuces to plant out (Little Gem) and some flowers that need to grow on a bit before they are large enough for transplanting from their modules: Gypsophila, Antirrhinums, French Marigolds and some Euphorbias. It is absolutely full, and being a bit taller then most cold frames I have had, doesn't crush the leaves of larger plants.  The module-sown Beetroot is now in the ground, some outside, some under cover and some on a  friend's plot!

My main job this week has been to build a covered cage for the Blueberry bushes, and to be honest, when you look at it, it looks like something that should have taken maybe half an hour, tops. Oh no, nothing so simple. The Rosemary and Sage hedge along the left hand side had encroached half way across the bed, and the Rosmary bush at the back had grown into a beautifully, resinously scented thug, preventing me from getting the netting past it down to ground level. To make matters worse, the whole lot was entwined with Cleavers, sticking to everything including me. Three barrow-loads of prunings, clippings ,twisted up bundles of weeds and sawn off branches later, I managed make a start on the actual cage.

Some of the bushes are in pots, the ones we moved last year from the garden at home, whoch makes them taller. I have learned the hard way that if any twigs press against the inside of the netting, blackbirds take it as an invitation to sit on them and eat the berries through the net. I Managed to find a way to raise the net above the tallest bush, which is Pink Lemonade and so far has never fruited, so I gave it my best shot. Let's see how that goes!

I couldn't resist this picture of the Black Seeded Simpson Lettuces, which were self sown seedlings that overwintered: they have grown together into this amorphous bob, the centre of which looks suspiciously like a developing flower stalk. I've picked lots of leaves off, and Mr Lettuce, as it is now called, has been very productive, especially all for free like that too

I think I shall jjust let it flower and the whole cycle can begin again... they are such hardy plants. I even had them coming up in the gravek soakaway outside the garage door at home, from seeds that must have dropped off when I took the old stalks over to the compost bucket in the driveway. 

 

I have now planted out the Swift Sweetcorn seedlings, which, thanks to a spell of wet weather, are romping away. I shall have to make sure I keep this bed well watered, as both Squashes ad Sweetcorn are thirsty plants

The late sowing of carrots is now in, the same varieties as before: Early Nantes and Primo. Hoping this will give decent finger sized roots by the end of the year

In the Polytunnels

The aphid laden sweetpeas are now gone. Honestly you have never seen so many little green aphids in your life! The soil was covered, the wooden edging of the beds was covered and they tried to climb on any plant possible, including Spring Onions. I squished a lot on the wood (with gloves on!) and soapy spray did for thousands more. I had already taken the tops out of the broad bean plants as they looked far too attractive to an aphid, and now, every time I go in there I check everything carefully in case any escapees have set up home somewhere else.

Of course that left an empty space just crying out for something to grow in it, so in went some of those Boltardy Beetroot, that were growing in modules.

At the other end of the tunnel I sowed more Basil, more Coriander and more Radishes, this time French Breakfast. They shouldn't take long to come up at this time in the year

 

 

 

At home, I have been thinking about crops for early Autumn, like Florence Fennel and maybe some other Oriental Greens, so will have to look carefully at space for these, so that they would be ready to either be sown directly or planted out for modules as beds become empty. Easy to get sidetracked and start looking at things I have no space for though, so am trying to be very disciplined. I can but try!!

To finish this week is a photo of a foreign traveller: a Painted Lady Butterfly, which is in amazingly good condition given its long journey to get here. So far, this is the only one I've seen, so I am hoping this is the front runner of more to come

Hope things are going well for all you other growers. Always good to hear from any of you. I shall be back next week and maybe, having dealt with the Blueberry bed will even be tackling  that huge fruit cage

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

3rd June -  Arrival of Summer, with tropical temperatures one minute and chilly winds the next. All makes planting out seedlings tricky: do they need shading, or do they need wind protection, until their roots recover from transplanting?  One bed of Brassicas  on #146 get so much direct sun that the plants, which are quite substantial now, need an extra cover of debris netting so they do not wilt by the end of the day. All this despite regular and thorough watering.

However, growers are nothing if not versatile, so we do our best to make sure the edibles keep coming throughout the year.

The header photgraph today is part of the verge opposite my house, which has been transformed from a scrubby, litter-filled area to this glorious picture, by the ongoing efforts of Clive & Theresa. Other have helped, incuding Abi last year, and his special tree is planted at one end, although you can't see it at this angle. What a lovely addition to the neighbourhood!

Harvest Monday starts with a collection of gatherings: small Bouquet Garnis made by one of my granddaughters: Sage, Lavender, Rosemary and Calendula flowers. A lovely mixture, which she took home with her. 

Broad Beans have now finished flowering, so this is the last crop of immature pods from these plants and now there are the beans themselves to look forward to. The tops of the plants, which were nearly as tall as me, had some green aphids on them, so these were cut right down to the level of the pods. This should also help the plants focus on bean production rather than growing more foliage

And Elderflowers are giving a fantastic floral display this year: this foraged harvest was steeping in gin as soon as possible after I came home. The Elderflower and Mint Vodka is now filtered and bottled, and so is the first batch of Eldeflower Gin. I shall be making the most of the seasonal loveliness in the coming week

The Ulster Prince Potatoes in PT2 are now quite large... this is a dinner plate they are on, not a tea plate! I am extremely glad to have them, as the First Early plants outside are very late to even flower this year, after their foliage was frosted. The second early Kestrels are flowering already though, which is not what I expected

This week there have been a few ripe Strawberries, mainly eaten by my granddaughter, but there are plenty more to come. I decided not to move the stawberry tables into the polytunnel this year, as it is a long job, and a difficult one without help, but instead have protected them with a huge net. The smaller troughs will go under cover once all the flowers have been fertilised though, as it will be much easier than trying to net these. 

I am trying to resist the temptation to pick the fruit before it is fully ripe, to make sure it is as sweet and perfumed as possible. Lots of the fruit looks ripe, but then the other side is paler..... leave them 'til tomorrow!

Other harvests have included Rhubarb, pulled carefully so as not to expose the bird's nest in amongst the stalks, Mint and Flat Leaf Parsley

Out on the Plots

I am really pleased with how the parsnips look now, at least from above. You never know what is going on down there under the ground, so keeping my fingers crossed for nice straight roots later in the year. They are watered heavily once a week, which hopefully will be enough to keep them growing

The space alongside them in the bed is now planted up with some Indian Sorrel plants, initially grown in modules. It is too soon to know how productive these will be, but there are 8 pairs of plants so I am hopeful a decent harvest can be picked soon

 

The pea plants are starting to flower, so I am now giving them extra water to help swell the developing pods. The Terrain were slightly ahead of the Hurst Greenshaft, so it will be interesting to see what the peas themselves are like. It's not only about being early: Flavour is key.

Last Autumn, Abi carefully transplanted lots of self sown seedlings of what looked like cornflowers, to grow amongst the chrysanthemums, which of course flower late Summer/early Autumn. The plants did look a bit paler in colour than usual: cornflower foliage is a greyish green and these are almost pale lime

And they grew taller, and taller, and taller, then when they flowered, turned out to be corncockles, which are a wild flower. He would have been as surprised as me, especially since we have never grown any before and there are none growing on the site either. Very pretty though, so I shall let them seed around, and also save some seed to add to the mix along the verge at home. 

 

The blueberry bushes are laden with green fruit... another job to add to the ever-growing list, making a netting cage to prevent birds from eating them before I can. They do start as soon as there is the lsightest tint of colour. The whole bed needs weeding first though (as does the main fruit cage) so I shall have to crack on.

In the Polytunnels

A big thank you to my eldest granddaughter Poppy, who kindly sewed casings along the edge of the huge piece of voile I used to join the two tunnels together. This means I can leave the two rear doors, which face each other, open all the time, and there is plenty of ventilation too. 

It gives a 13m long space, and the extra section can then house plants growing in pots, currently three grafted plants of Aubergine Moneymaker and two tomatoes: Principe Borghese, a  determinate Italian heirloom variety with small plum shaped fruits used tradiaitonally for drying, and a grafted Orange Paruche, an F1 semi-determinate variety with cherry-sized sweet orange coloured fruits. I grew this in the shelter of our seating area a few years ago and it was delicious and fruited generously. I have adopted Mark Willis' method of support: a tripod of canes, which will be more stable than a single cane in the pot. Thanks for the idea, Mark!

Here are the views along the extended tunnels today. From this end, you can see the next crop of lettuces,tomato plants, three Diva cucumber plants ..not quite climbing the net yet..  chinese salad leaves and radishes in the foreground on the right. On the left are sweet peppers, aubergines, a few more tomatoes and one single Beauregard sweet potato plant. I decided to try again to get an edible crop of sweet potatoes: I have been singularly unsuccessful in the past!!

While from the other end you get a good view of the pruned back de Monica Broad Beans, (amongst which are some Goldcrest Sweetcorn plants) the last of the Perpetual Spinach plants, the dwarf French Beans recovering from mole tunnelling, spring onions, cornichons just starting to climb their net, and a mass of sweetpeas. These have lots of green aphids on them, despite strenuous efforts to get rid of them, so they will be coming out tomorrow. The potato plants and one courgette are behind the wigwam, with two Purple Sprouting Broccolis to crop next Winter. At the far end on the left are onions plants grown from seed. Can't remember the variety, but they are supposed to grow quite large. Possibly Exhibition. I shall have to find the packet!

At home, the garden is gradually being emptied of trays of seedlings and pots of plants taht are being taken to the plots, and there are flowers galore. However, I wanted the share the view from the bench at the plots, and when there is time to actually sit down, is a heartwarming sight that lifts the spirits.

I hope things are going well for all of you, and you can find tme sot sit and contemplate as well

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/