Month: July 2016

The Cabbages Are (Finally) in the Ground

I’ve probably left cabbage-planting a bit late this year. The plan was to plant them out in June, but the weather was so atrociously wet, the section of the plot I’d ear-marked just wasn’t diggable. The young plants were starting to get very leggy in the greenhouse, to the point where they were in danger of going over before I could get them in the ground. So last weekend, I rolled up my sleeves, dug out a decent-sized section of soil, and got on with the job:

July 2016 - cabbages going in
Fairly close planting, as we’re not looking for monster-sized heads.

A couple of seasons back, on Beechgrove Garden, presenter Jim ran an experiment to see how the spacing of cabbage plants affected their size. He concluded that you could plant them fairly close together, as long as what you wanted were smallish heads of cabbage suitable for a couple of portions, rather than a football-sized mega-cabbage that could feed a family of six for a week. As we’re planting four different hispi / sweetheart (pointy) cabbages – ‘Jersey Wakefield’, ‘golden acre’, ‘red cap F1’ and ‘greyhound’ – they’ve been spaces at around 6-8 inches, which will hopefully keep them nice and compact.

July 2016 - Cabbages under cover
Netting is essential to keep the ravenous pigeons at bay.

Some sort of netting protection is an absolute must: pigeon attacks are inevitable, so you have to keep the beggars at bay, and it’s always a good idea to at least try to keep the cabbage whites and diamondback moths off your crop if you can.

We’ve got a batch of ‘Siberia F1’ Autumn-harvesting cabbage plants to go in at some point, and I’ll be making a late sowing of ‘January King 3’ before too long, as well. That should keep us in fresh greens for a while, all being well.

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Harvest Monday for July 25th 2016

Summertime (down on Plot #59) and the harvests are mighty! Here’s what we’ve been picking for the last couple of weeks:

July 2016 - courgettes #1
A selection of lovely courgettes…
2016 - courgettes #2
…and a few days later, another selection of lovely courgettes.

Our four varieties of courgette are all producing like crazy, as you can see from the above. Not a few of those ended up in this year’s batch of courgette and tomato chutney, now maturing nicely in the cupboard.

And all three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants have decided to throw off their mere ‘courgette’ appellation and make a bid for full ‘squash’ status:

July 2016 - Tondo di Piacenza
Not a bad week’s worth of growth on this courgette…

I’ll leave those to mature and toughen up, before bringing them inside for curing into gem squash (at least, that’s what someone from South Africa told me the larger versions are called and who am I to argue?)

In other news, the (predicted to be) truly epic bean harvest has begun:

July 2016 - three beans
The first (of very many) beans have been picked.

From left to right there, we have ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library runner bean variety), ‘Fasold’ French beans and good old ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners. Still to come: ‘Prizewinner’ runners, ‘Medwyn’s Exhibition’ French and maybe a few ‘Cobra’ French as well. Oh, and we had a few ‘Purple Queen’ French from the plants in the greenhouse (which I tried to blanche to keep their colour, but they turned dark green. I’ll steam the next batch instead.)

Further down the plot, the broad beans and peas have been doing very nicely indeed:

July 2016 - broad beans
Plenty of pods ready for picking.
July 2016 - peas
A bumper crop of golden and purple peas this year.

The ‘Shiraz’ (purple) and ‘Golden Sweet’ (yellow) peas grew like crazy while we were down in Kent and no-one was around to pick them. Luckily the latter variety more than lives up to its name, delicious as a crunchy mangetout and, as it turns out, equally sweet and tasty as a young pea, either raw from the pod or lightly steams. We’ll be growing those again next year.

Just next door, we’ve lifted this year’s elephant garlic crop:

July 2016 elephant garlic
Properly dried and stored, these giant bulbs will last us well into next Spring.

I forgot to add a pound coin for scale so you’ll have to trust me when I say those bulbs are as big as my fist. I brought them home for drying in the shed – the recent heatwave will have helped with that – and as long as they’re stored well we’ll still be eating them in March next year.

We also lifted an initial batch of onions and the ones we left in the ground seem to have swelled nicely while we were away:

July 2016 - onions
The rest of these onions will be ready for lifting soon.

Meanwhile, over in the fruit patch, the strawberries might be over (and in desperate need of reorganising and thinning out) but we’ve enjoyed a good-sized crop of gooseberries:

July 2016 - gooseberries
Sweet enough to eat raw, but delicious in a crumble.

And just this weekend, we picked a big bowlful of redcurrants, the vast majority of which I turned into redcurrant jelly.

July 2016 - redcurrants
A big bowl of juicy fruit destined for the jelly pan.

Still to come: many more courgettes, beans and peas. The blackcurrants need picking; a dozen rows of potatoes need lifting, drying and storing; I need to check the carrots to see if any of them have escaped carrot-fly attack; cabbages and kale are going in at the moment (a little late, I know, but the weather was against us earlier in the year); and we need to re-check the seed packets to see what we can sow now for late Autumn and/or winter harvests.

Damn, I love this time of year!

Harvest Monday is a GYO meme hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

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We’re Back! (With Good News and Bad)

July 2016 - Wimpole Estate borders
A beautiful summer border on the Wimpole Estate

Jo and I have not long returned from our annual summer break. This year we took a week to head South and tour a few gardens that we’ve been meaning to see for years. ‘Garden Inspiration’ posts will follow at some point, covering our visits to RHS Wisley and Sissinghurst Castle, as well as Upton House, the The Wimpole Estate, Smallhythe Place, Owletts and The Potton Nest.

Meanwhile, the Good News: we returned to find that the plants in the greenhouse were understandably parched but hadn’t died off completely in the weekend heat-wave. And down at Plot #59 we had bumper pickings of courgettes, broad beans and mangetout peas to enjoy, plus a riot of colour in Jo’s flower beds.

The Bad News: the evil blight had spread from the first and second earlies to our main-crop spuds, so the haulms had to come off those as well. And judging by the few small carrots I picked for a salad, our anti-carrot-fly measures haven’t been entirely successful. More on that in a future post.

I’ll be getting back into the swing of posting regularly again next week, so until then, have a great weekend!

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Quick Greenhouse Update

Our 8’x10′ greenhouse has been a hive of activity – seed sowing, pricking out, potting up, potting on – since early March. But as most of the plants have now been moved outside to their longer-term homes, things are a bit more sedate now, with a few of the more tender and/or heat-loving plants settling in to some serious growing.

Here’s a whole shelf-full of chilli plants, happily doing their thing:

July 2016 greenhouse chillis
Larger specimens at the back are producing fruits, smaller ones still thinking about it…

The taller plants are all ‘Cayenne’ – the standard red chilli sold in most supermarkets – and they’re all producing fruits quite happily. The smaller plants in front of those and on the lower shelf are an assortment of ‘pot black’, ‘prairie fire’ and ‘habanero / Scotch bonnet’ (t.b.c.). They’re healthy and have all flowered, but have been slower to produce fruit, I suspect because they’re hotter varieties and therefore need more sustained heat that we’ve had of late? A more seasoned chilli grower than me might be able confirm that one.

Sneaking in from the left of the pic, you might spot the flowers of Fuchsia ‘berry’ – a variety from Thompson & Morgan that’s meant to produce large, edible, tasty fruits.

The flowers are certainly large and impressive enough:

July 2016 fuchsia 'berry' flower
A big, bold and bright bloom on this fuchsia variety.

We’ve also managed to grow a decent basil plant or two, which is a first for us:

July 2016 greenhouse basil
Green, bush and red varieties.

The green at the top and the red at the bottom have been grown from seed. The ‘bush’ basil in the middle is one we bought from a nursery the other week (I might take a few cuttings and see if I can multiply it along.)

It turns out that we’re growing indoor beans this year as well. Not deliberately – I started off a few climbing French bean ‘Purple Queen’ and instead of climbing they ended up draping themselves down the staging. It seems to be working for them though: there are flowers and even a couple of proto-beans:

July 2016 purple bean flower
‘Purple Queen’ seems to like the indoor living conditions.

Yeah, I think they can be left to do their thing.

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Tromboncino Update – We Have Fruit!

Reqular readers with a long memory may recall that this year I’m attempting to grow a tromboncino squash or two with a view to entering the inaugural Suttons Cup competition. Just a bit of fun, like, and as it turns out, a rather useful comparative growing experiment as well.

There are two plants on the go, both grown from plugs sent by Suttons. One I’m growing at home, in a compost-filled air-pot container, which I’m feeding on a regular basis with a high Potassium solution. The other is planted in open ground down on Plot #59. Here’s how they were both doing recently:

Tromboncino @Home

A week or so ago, I took a couple of pics:

June 2016 home tromboncino
Tromboncino #1 is growing well in a sheltered spot by the greenhouse door.

June 29th 2016 tromboncino fruit
The fruit is just starting to swell and develop nicely.

And then just yesterday, I snapped another:

July 8th 2016 tromboncino fruit
A week or so later and the fruit is noticeably larger and thicker…

Definitely a little longer and with more girth. Coming along nicely.

Tromboncino @Plot #59

Alas, I can’t say the same for the tromboncino that I planted in the ground down at the allotment:

July 2016 plot 59 tromboncino
Not looking too good for this specimen. Hopefully the weather will improve and help it along.

Although the plant is in good soil and was given a compost boost when it went in, the weather has been poor – wind, rain, repeat – and the foliage has clearly suffered. Perhaps if conditions improve it might turn a corner, but so far, not so good…

Looks like all my hopes will be resting on the home-grown fruit(s). Judging by some of the pics posted to the Suttons Cup Facebook page mine are a little way behind at the moment. But the final judging date is September 30th, so it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Again though, just a bit of fun, I’m not taking this at all seriously. (No, Sir. Not at all.)

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Plot #59 Update: June 2016

Plot #59 Update June 2016
What a difference a month makes.

June was a quieter month than you might think, down on Plot #59, thanks to a combination of wet weather and exam revision. Nevertheless, Jo and I forged ahead as best we could and kept things moving on several fronts.

Projects / Maintenance

June 2016 middle section
Our guilty secret, the middle section of the plot that’s usually hidden from view…

The ground was too wet for most of the month to allow any serious digging, but we have made a start on clearing the last properly overgrown section of the plot. More progress in next month’s update, all being well.

Sowing

We found a spare patch of ground in-between the carrot bed and the pea harp, so we’ve sown a couple of rows of swede and a few of turnip for later in the year. The turnips have germinated well and need thinning, but the swedes are a bit sparse. We might have to re-sow to fill the gaps.

Planting

June 2016 - netted brassicas
There are sprouts under all that enviromesh and caulis next door, with a light anti-pigeon drape.

We finally managed to get the first batch of this year’s brassicas planted out and covered over with enviromesh. There are a dozen sprout plants of four different varieties under there, and next door I’ve planted out a few cauliflowers. They’re staked and well-spaced, and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on the watering and clearing dead foliage a lot quicker this year, so hopefully they won’t suffer from the same problems as last year’s plants – sooty mould and wind-rock mostly – and we’ll actually have a decent sprout harvest this winter.

A cauli or two would be nice as well, but it’s the first time we’ve grown them, so we’ll have to wait and see there. We’ve draped a loose net over the top of those to hopefully make the pigeons think twice, and have companion planted a few chives to hopefully keep the brassica pests at bay, but I suspect the diomandback moths have found them already. So it goes.

June 2016 courgette patch
The courgettes are romping away in the mild, wet weather.

The courgettes that we planted out at the end of last month are doing really well. They seem to be doing well in their sheltered location, with a greenhouse to one side, and runner beans / potatoes providing wind-breaks on two others.

Harvesting

As per the latest Harvest Monday post the summer fruit and veg is starting to flood in. Strawberries, raspberries, broad beans, mangetout peas, Swiss chard, potatoes, carrot thinnings, courgettes and garlic are the main crops at the moment. We’re still getting rhubarb, too, with the crowns showing no signs of needing a rest just yet.

June 2016 Extra Early Wight harvest
Three dozen lovely cloves of good-sized garlic – enough to last all winter.
June 2016 -strawberry harvest
Strawberries! A much better showing than last year.
June 2016 first spud harvest
That’s a decent return on a single planted tuber.
June 2016 courgettes, broad beans, peas
Broad beans, golden mangetout peas and a selection of courgettes.

Lovely stuff, and lots more to come.

Floral Department

Jo’s flower beds are really coming into their own as well, with dahlias (an update post on those shortly), lavender, sunflowers, foxgloves, sweet peas, geraniums, lupins, toadflax, ox-eye daisies, marigolds, nasturtiums, tagetes, evening primrose and cornflowers all doing their bit to add splashes of colour and bring the pollinators to the plot.

Here are a few highlights, and I’ll see if I can persuade Jo to put together a floral-themed blog post at some point, too:

June 2016 nasturtium
Trailing nasturtiums are winding through the broad beans
June 2016 mini sunflower
This dwarf sunflower is a miniature star-burst at knee-height.
June 2016 wallflower
Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ is a perennial favourite with bees and allotmenteers alike.
June 2016 toadflax
The tall spires of the freely self-seeding toadflax come in both purple and pink.
June 2016 foxglove
A slightly darker-than-usual shade to this common Digitalis purpurea.
June 2016 yellow lupin
These golden lupins really catch the sunlight.
June 2016 red lupin
These lupins shade from red to dusky pink, depending on the light and weather.

It’s all coming along rather nicely, and judging by the way things have already moved on and changed there’s lots more to come in next month’s round-up.

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Harvest Monday for July 4th 2016

Summer is here! Although you wouldn’t know it to look at the weather records of late. But the crops are starting to come in down on Plot #59 and we’re beginning to enjoy a wider range of the fruits of our labour.

Here’s a quick photo-montage of the foodstuffs that we’ve been able to harvest recently:

June 2016 -strawberry harvest
Strawberries! A much better showing than last year.

Last year adverse weather conditions meant we harvested a total of three ripe strawberries. This year we’ve done much better, although the grey mould has ripped through the patch, so we’ve thrown away three times as many as we’ve picked, but it’s still a good result. A lot of these were a tad mushy, and so they went in to a batch of mixed fruit jam. The rest went into us, with a dollop of natural yoghurt and a handful of early summer raspberries.

June 2016 potatoes and radishes
The very first of this year’s potatoes – second early ‘Saxon’ – and a few radishes.

Having spotted blight patches in the second earlies and lifted a plant to make sure we had tubers to rescue, it would of course have been daft not to enjoy the spuds. Many, many more to come, all being well. Those radishes are called ‘China rose’ and are probably a bit bigger than ideal, but have a good, peppery kick.

June 2016 courgettes, broad beans, peas
Broad beans, golden mangetout peas and a selection of courgettes.
June 2016 swiss chard, courgette, garlic
Bright yellow Swiss chard, a more courgettes and some green garlic.
June 2016 carrot thinnings
White and purple carrots, thinned out and crunchably sweet to eat.

Our summer veg is in full swing now, with broad beans, Swiss chard, peas and the inevitable courgette glut kicking in. I’ve been thinning our < a href="https://allotmentnotes.com/2016/04/24/we-need-to-talk-about-carrots/">carrot patch and we’re eating any thinnings big enough to crunch in a salad or chuck in a stir-fry. And having lifted garlic t’other week and saved a few bulbs from allium white rot, we had some green garlic to cook with as well.

All of which went into…

June 2016 allotment medley
Courgette, broad bean, radish, swiss chard, mangetout peas, carrot thinnings – yum!

…our first allotment medley stir-fry of the year. That was our Sunday dinner, along with a few sausages, those new potatoes and steamed chard leaves – delicious! And of course there was far too much there for just two of us, which meant allotment bubble-and-squeak for my lunch today – bonus!

Harvest Monday is a GYO meme hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

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Potato Progress: Tackling Blight on Second Earlies

This year’s potato harvest was always going to be something of a mixed bag, as you can see from this pic of the main Plot #59 potato patch, taken a couple of weeks ago:

June 2016 Potato Patch
Spot the difference…

On the right: Solanum tuberosum ‘Swift’, a previously reliable first early variety, which this year doesn’t seem to have performed. The bald patches are where I’ve removed plants affected by potato leaf roll virus – which certainly didn’t help – but I think a quick sprinkling of potato fertiliser granules on planting wasn’t enough of a feed.

On the left: S. tuberosum ‘Saxon’, last year’s star performer, and growing strongly again this year, probably helped along by the generous measures of well-rotted horse manure that went into each trench.

On closer inspection though:

June 2016 potato blight
The last thing you want to see on your spud foliage…

Yep, the dreaded Phytophthora infestans, a.k.a. potato late blight, a.k.a. “ah, crap!” – a rather nasty fungal infection which, if left unchecked, has the potential to run riot through a spud patch, destroying foliage and tubers alike. It’s especially prevalent in the wet but still warm and humid conditions we’ve been having of late.

Only one thing for it: clear the haulms, leave the tubers a couple of weeks before lifting – which should be long enough for any motile spores that fall from the foliage to the soil to die off before they can come into contact with the tubers – and then hope for the best.

Before I started, I thought I’d best check to make sure there were actually some tubers in there worth saving. The initial dig-and-lift was promising:

June 2016 second earlies lifted
There’s gold in that thar dirt…

And the haul from the one plant that I dug was reassuringly ample: plenty of good-sized spuds, perfect for boiling, steaming, mashing, roasting or anything else; Saxon is a really good all-rounder variety, highly recommended if they will grow in your soil-type:

June 2016 first spud harvest
That’s a decent return on a single planted tuber.

Here’s the spud patch before I started:

June 2016 spud patch before clearing
Lots of lush green foliage, but dotted here and there with patches of blight damage, alas.

And here it is once I’d done clearing the haulms into a heap as far away from the – so far unaffected (knock on wood) – maincrop spuds across the path as I could:

June 2016 spud patch after clearing
Haulms all gone, the tubers will sit there until we’re ready for ’em.

The tubers will be happy enough under those ridges until I’m ready for them. The longer I leave them, of course, the greater the risk of slug damage, but they should be alright for a couple of months at least. Hopefully at some point we’ll have a dry spell and I can lift, dry and store a batch or two. Hopefully…

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