August 2019

19th August - Is there really only one more full week of this month left? Blink and I could have missed it, the speed it seems to have passed at. I know I was away last week, but even so!! It is still unseasonally blowy and cool, which is affecting crops in all sorts of ways on my plots: Courgettes are still slow, outdoor Tomatoes are only just beginning to ripen and yet Sweetcorn is galloping ahead. Sometimes there is no understanding how or why....just enjoy it for what it is and be grateful for the crops we are harvesting, including the dazzle of Dahlias

This week's Harvest Monday begins with the Sweetcorn, and bizarrely the cobs outside are ripening at the same time as thos in the polytunnel. I know they are different varieties but I would have epxected the crop under cover, which was started off several weeks ahead of the outdoor one, to have been ready first (outside:Swift, under cover: Goldcrest)

 

 

You can see the differenece in the colour of the grains, with Goldcrest being much deeper yellow than Swift,although both are tender enough to eat raw,, jsut stripped from the cob with a sharp knife. I hope there will be enough to freeze for the Winter though, as they do keep in good condition with the cobs cut into three or four, briefly blanched and packed in ziplock bags

The outdoor plants are facing some challenges though, which I shall mention later.

Our big plum tree hardly ever gives many Plums, but this year, epsite the strong wonds, there are quite a few still attached and now starting to chnage to a nice deep purple colour. These few were gathered in case the others don't make it! They were very nice stewed with a little sugar, and served with a good thick plain yoghourt. 

The tree was sold as Victoria on a dwarfing rootstock... oh? They are certainly not the colour of Victorias and the tree is several metres tall, s incorrect on both counts. The birds like it though, especially when the leaves are covered in aphids, and the ladybirds have a good feast too, so it is useful in some ways. Providing fruit every year would be helpful too, of course

Then there are the Three C's: 

Cucumbers: I expected far more to be ready for picking after my week's absence, but I had to be grateful for these two, which are both being added to Allotment Salads. Let's hope the myriad of fruitlets now start to swell!

Courgettes: One large one which escaped my notice last week, an a couple of others.. hardly what you'd expected in the second half of August, but at least I do have some

Cornichons: This is the best crop I have ever had, and eventually i may have a whole jar of pickles, who knows?

 

Another crop with a truly dismal record this year is Mangetout. The early plants, whose pods wer so eagerly anticipated, succumbed to a huge infestation of aphids, but the five little seedlings recently planted out obviously know what they are supposed to do. They were somewhat pigeon -pecked to strat with but are battling gamely on, so gingers crossed for more to follow. These four little lovelies were eaten immediately their photo was taken, and very nice they were too. 

Next year I really must be more alert and wear my glasses in the polytunnel to avoid a disaster like that again

I know this is starting to sound like doom-and-gloom roll call, but really I do have plenty to eat, just not necessarily the vegetables I thought I would. Climbing beans are not doing so well either, goodness knows why. The few Runner Bean plants are now in full production, (but four plants a glut does not make of course) whilst  the Dwarf French Beans have been real stalwarts, and are still providing plenty of pods ...thank goodness!!

Basil is its usual generous self, and there are enough plants to be able to pick large bunches too, which is lovely. That sweet, clove-like spicy smell is a real breath of Summer. This picking went into a batch of Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce.

I don't let it flower, and pinch off long stems plus leaves above a leaf node, where it then branches out with a whole further crop. It seems to like the slightly shaded area in front of the Tomato plants in the polytunnel. It is said that growing it with Tomatoes enhances the flavour of the fruit.. it does when you cook them together for sure... and allegedly deters pests such as whitefly. I don't know if this is why I haven't had whitefly on my Tomatoes or not, as I have never used some without Basil as a contro. All I do know for sure is that I like that aromatic presence in the polytunnel and on my plate!

Then there are Tomatoes. The ones in the phto are all from the blight resistant varieties grown outside: Crimson Crush, Ferline and Mountain Magic. The plants all look healthy, despite Late Blight sweeping across our site

The varieties in the polytunnel are still mostly fighting on, with hardly any leave left now, but the fruit is ripening and I don't think I shal be left with the huge amount of green ones I feared. 

 

I had a little gap in the Lettuce harvest, but the Frisee ones are ready to cut now, so normal service has been ressumed. I do have plants dotted about here and there outside as well as under cover, so that should keep me going for a while longer

 

The last of this week's harvests is Poppy Seeds, which I grow for using in he kitchen, mainly for bread but also in cakes sometimes too. They are from Opium Poppies, not the red Field Poppies , but as opium comes from the sap of the green seed heads, they are perfectly safe to use.

Last year I was a bit late in cutting the pods and most of the seeds had scattered, but this year I kept an eye on them, cutting the when they were rattling and dry, then shaking out the seeds at home into a large bowl. As you can see from the amount in the jar, I now have plenty 

 

On the Plots:

I did mention that the outdoor Sweetcorn plants are facing a challenge, which is in fact, rats. They love ripe sweetcorn as much as I do, and strip the kernels off the cobs wth great gusto, as you can see!!

There seems to be little I can do to stop them really, except pick the cobs as they reach perfect ripeness before the rats smell them out. HUH!

 

The slightly wetter weather has kept plants growing, and guess what? The weeds are growing too. The Swede plants are in dangger of disappearing again and some of the recently planted Brassicas could do with being released from their clutches.. on the list for this coming week of course.

The Dahlias are producing a huge abundance of flowers now,  in a wide range of clours and forms. The Sunflowers are also providing  a lot of blooms for cutting right now too. Some plants blew over while i was away, but their flowering stems have turned to grow up straight again, which looks odd but makes the flowers easy to cut

The semi-ripe cuttings I took this time last year have proved quite successful. They were set in compost mixed with gravel to aid drainage, the pots were topped off with gravel too, then kept in a sheltered spot outside all through last Winter. The shelter also stopped them drying out during that early spell of hot sunny weather, and apart from watering them when needed, they have had no other attention.

I knew the Cistus had rooted, as it grew nice new leaves and also flowered, and the Choisya grew some new leaves, but the others all looked a bit sorry for themselves. And now look: the Buddleia..which is a white flowered variety... has lots of new growth and the Elaeagnus definitely has new leaves visible at long last. The variegated ones are cuttings I took from a bush near where my brother and I stayed last year on the Isle of Wight, so I  am especially pleased to see these have taken

Once the roots start to fill the pots, I shall move the plants into a "Nursery" bed until they are strong enough to compete with the inevitable weeds along the boundary of the plots, which is where their permanent homes will be. 

 

  • Elaeagnus ebbengei

  • Choiysia ternate "Sundance" Cistus purpureus and Buddleia

In the Polytunnels:

Before I wernt away, I planted out a dozen Little Gem Lettuce seedlings. They looked healthy and I anticipated them doubling in size while I was away. But look, they seem to have disappeared!! No slug slime, no dead looking leaves from roots being eaten... just gone!!

The couple of plants I squeezed in further along are alright, so goodness knows where these ones went!

  • 10th August

  • 18th August

 

I took up the large onions before I went and perched them on upside down bread crates to help with air circulation. I shall have to clean them off in the next few days, as they are one of the few classes that I am hoping to enter in the year's local Show

 

At home, I laboured all day yesterday to empty out the greenhouse, clean down the staging, put away items that live elsewhere, neatly stack things thts should be in there and throw away all dsort sof accumulated stuff that was of no real use. All ready now for the late Autumn/early Winter. Took far longer than I had thought it would. It has been "rested" this Summer so I could do this, but it has taken until now for me to have time, and i am very glad it is finished

 

And to end, here is a visitor to the garden where we stayed on holiday in West Wales: a Hummingbird Hawk Moth. The children declared it to be called Heracles, or perhaps Hermione... The speed they move at is phenomenal, and spotting whether its antennae were feathery (male) or smooth (female) was nigh on impossible. I was pleased to have even managed to catch one in a photo!

 I shall be back next Monday, after doing some weeding, I hope.. will there be more cucumbers and aubergines to harvest? Hope so!

 

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/

5th August - So where did July go? And isn't August the month where I am usually swamped with harvests, and the kitchen floor is covered in trays and boxes of vegetables? Well this year there is some way to go yet before even getting close!

While much of the country is under threat of floods, or indeed actually dealing with flood conditions, here we are still dry as a bone, with dust-like soil and oppressive humidity. Hardly perfect growing conditions, and it certainly is a challenge to keep everything going, and watering both the plot and the garden takes up a large part of most days. I am trying to give plants like Camellias and Rhododendrons sufficient water for them to form next year's flower buds, and the dwarf fruit trees enough that they produce decent crops

This week's Harvest Monday is a bit thin on the ground, but I have at least had enough to feed myself.

First to the table is a crop I am incredibly proud to have: Aubergine!!! I have thrre grafted plants of Moneymaker, a variety I have not attempted before, and there are plenty of immature fruits forming, but this one looked plenty big enough to eat, so home it came. Aubergine & Potato Curry is on the menu tonight and I am soooo looking forward to it. I am hoping more mature and not just fall off, so I may have to give the plants larger pots so that soil moisture is more even. 

Next up is Cucumber, which is not a first this year, it is just that i keep forgetting to take a photo! These have been very slow to develop this Summer, but there are a lot of small, almost neo-natal fruits visible, so I can only hope for a glut to come

And then there is the not-very exciting Runner Bean crop. I did only sow a few seeds, but expected far more than this by now. Hardly a portion now, is it? Luckily Dwarf French Beans are still growing well, as clmibing beans seem poor all round for me. Glad i still have some dried beans in store from last year, or I would be having to do without for this Winter

Courgettes are still growing so very slowly, despite lots of water, and although I have re-homed a couple of yellow ones this week, it was far from an act of desparation.

Carrots are still good, although unless I soak the bed well they are difficult to chisel out of the ground undamaged

A further 2.7 kg of second early Potatoes ...Maris Peer.. were dug up this week, leaving only about six plants left to take out. I shall try to do this during the next few days, as then all the weeds around the spent plants can go too and it will look much tidier.

Another first for this season are Blackberries. In years gone by, the first blackberries of the season were always picked on our daughter's birthday, which is later in the week, so this year they are more or less on track for harvest dates. These went with a few windfalls to make a decent amount of Blackberry & Apple Compote, which was lovely with some thick Greek yoghourt

The selection of vegetables made a good accompaniment to some meatballs in mushroom & onion gravy. The Onions were home grown, but not the Mushrooms

Another fruit crop has been a first, not just for this season but the first time growing it too...Japanese Wine Berries. The plant was a birthday present last year, and it took a while to settle in, growing several new stems, which are very pretty with their dense red prickles. Each fruit has a halo of prickes too, although they are quite soft really, and when picked a bright tangerine-coloured hull is left behind. Very eye-catching.

The berries are quite small. Not sure if this is due to lack of water or the size they should be, although they are quite soft so you have to be careful how you pick them to avoid them squidging on your fingers. A lovely flavour though, quite sweet with a slight tang, and to be honest I am just picking and eating them in passing. Not really enough to make anything from this year, but as a taste of things to come, pretty good!

Other harvests have included Tomatoes... larger varieties are starting to ripen now too... Lettuce, Malabar Spinach, Raspberries, Coriander, Basil and Oregano

On the Plots:

Last week I reinforced the butterfly protection on the big Brassica cage, and now the results of their previous visits are coming to light, with holes in the leaves of lots of plants. A half hour search turned up caterpillars of all sorts of sizes, all Small Whites, which are now bird food, plus a huge number of Flea Beetles, making free with the leaves of the Cavelo Nero and Swedes. I have never seen such huge numbers of them, so I think I might try a garlic spray to try to deter them. The young brassicas in other beds do not seem to be affected, so let's hope they don't decide to wander on over

The Dahlias are flowering well, and give lots of bunches of cut flowers, as well as a nice splash of colour inside the top gate. I took out al the thistles that had grown up amongst them, and gave them a good soak, as even dahlias can't carry on for ever without water. 

This week my youngest grand daughter took part in the Big Butterfly Count at the plots, walking about for 15 minutes and recording, on the identifcation chart provided, how many of each species she saw. No surprise that the most common ones on our site were Small White and Large White Butterflies, and if you look carefully at the photo of the dahlia bed you can see that two Large Whites have been photo-bombing (top left)!!

Just for her, here is a picture of a Comma Butterfly with its wings closed, so the little white "comma" mark on its hindwing that gives it its name is visible

 

 

 

And this little one is a relative of the Meadow Brown; a Small Heath. They are pretty inconspicuous, and form very local colonies, so I was really pleased to see these again this year, as it shows we do have a breeding group on and around our plots. 

They fly very close to the ground, usually have their wings closed when resting or feeding, and as you can see, are very well camouflaged. It took a while to get a photo of this one, but eventually it obligingly settled on an old stalk of Rose Campion, after feeding from its flowers, as well as Calendula and Coriander flowers. It made no effort to fly as high as the Verbena bonariensis flowers though, preferring to stay down low

In the Polytunnels:

The Onions have now all layed down their leaves (see the top picture) and are on the way to ripening. They have had no water for a week now, so the roots should be starting to dry too, and I shall loosen them from the soil a little in another few days

The Late Blight on the Tomatoes has been slowly encroaching, although removing affected leaves does seem to have helped a bit. I am trying to keep the whole plant dry during watering, which will also reduce the speed it spreads. There are plenty of tomatoes coming along still, as oyu can see, so I hope I can stav eit off as long as possible so most of these ripen

 

Sweetcorn cobs are almost ready. I part-opened one this afternoon, but the grains are still very pale and not full enough touch each other yet. I am giving the plants lots of water in the hope it hastens things along

And one new crop is growing well. The Florence Fennel is already hinting at the shape it will become, and is looking very lush. The slightly cooler part of the tunnel really suits it, so this afternoon I planted another few tiny seedlings my plot neighbour gave me alongside them. Hopefully it will mean a bit of a succession. I usually have little success with bulbing fennel, so I am hoping this might be the year that what I have done it what is really needs!

Back at home, in the larger-appearing garden, I have started a cautious prune of the fig tree. Tow years ago, Abi pruned it drastically as it was simply enormous. The tree responded by developing an excess of new growth, which now this year is carrying  ahuge crop of immature figs. It is also putting on its annual new growth and is rapidly reaching the height it was before "the chop". I am removing a few of the lower bracnhes to give more light to plants underneath, and thinning the others a little. Next year I can retain fruiting growth and take out some older branches to make the canopy a little less dense. Sounds like a good plan, but we shall see!

And to finish, here are some young Starlings sitting on our old aerial up by the chimney pots. Their number are gradually increasing again in this area, which is really good to see, as they had become a rare sight. I think the number of people locally who feed the birds in their garden have played a large part in helping the population to recover.

I shall be taking a week off from blogging, but shall be back on 19th, hopefully with Sweetcorn, hopefully with more Aubergines, and hopefully fewer flea beetles!!

PS We had a Lesser Stag Beetle in the garden this morning.. a male this time

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/