Month: September 2016

Cottage Garden Project Update: September 2016

The weather was kind in September – until the last few days’ worth of persistent, soaking rain, that is – so I’ve been taking the opportunity to push ahead with the hard digging phase of the landscaping.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a bit of a slog: weedy turf to remove (hand-picking the perennial roots out as I go) and then set aside until I’ve been able to clear the top-soil (varying in depth from about two to eight inches) and sand (mixing it together for an improved overall consistency), before breaking through the sub-surface pan by hand (and foot: standing on a fork and working it back and forth has proven the best method). Then the turf has been re-laid, broken into chunks and arranged in a rough mosaic, upside-down, at the bottom of the newly-dug section, with the sandy soil mix (or sand with added soil) piled back on top.

I’ve made good progress though: the shed bed is now dug over and shaped, ready for the addition of plenty of organic matter in the Spring, before we start any serious planting (although one or two plants may live in there over winter, nursery-bed style). I’ve also dug out a couple of the path sections and back-filled with a mass of sand, ready for a layer of weed membrane and, eventually, gravel on top.

I also dug a good-sized sump at the far end of the path, where the down-spout from the shed spews its rainwater. About eighteen inches deep, filled in with all the rougher chunks of stone and brick I’ve removed from the shed bed, all well stamped down and topped with a layer of finer gravel. As it happened, the mid-September storm hit a few hours after I’d finished it, turning sump into pond… but only temporarily, so I think it seems to be working.

I’ve dug a trio three-foot post-holes as well – they were fun, I found a sub-layer of solid clay about eighteen inches down, which had to be carved out with a hand trowel – on the off-chance that the weather clears again long enough for me to get posts in and a couple of six-foot trellis panels fixed up, although I’m not sure that’s going to be possible before the onset of Autumn’s wet season (as opposed to Summer’s wet season…)

Here’s an out-of-the-bedroom-window pic of how things are coming along, overlaid with a general outline to show how we’re intending to divide up the space:

September 2016 Cottage Garden Project progress
The general outline – click for a much larger version.

All in all though, I’m pleased with how much I’ve been able to get done so far, considering the ground conditions I’ve been working with. One more path section to dig out and sand in, up the centre of the grassy area. And then the larger bed to dig out once conditions improve again towards Spring. That should be a little easier; there’s a much deeper layer of topsoil to work with, so less juggling of soil / sand mixes etc. to slow me down.

Still to do in addition to that: installing the aforementioned six foot trellis panels, another, shorter trellis panel at the near end, a wooden arch across the path and an Indian stone seating platform nearer the house; edging the beds with split-log chestnut hurdles (we’re fetching those from a chap in York); digging compost / manure in to the main beds and mulching with composted bark; gravelling the paths, and then, the good bit: planting up. Jo and I are definitely looking forward to that, although it’s not going to happen this year as we’d originally hoped. So it goes. Slow and steady wins the race.

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We’ve Got Some Super Squash This Year

At this time of year, the greenhouse does double-duty as a giant drying-rack, first for the onions and garlic crop and then for runner and French beans. It’s also a great place to cure our winter squash harvest ready for storing, and this year we’re delighted that we’ve actually got a few squash to cure and store:

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo ahoy!

The weird and quite wonderful, knobbly-looking specimens are Cucurbita maxima ‘Turk’s turban’ and as you can see we ended up with seven good-sized fruits from our three-sisters patch. There were a few more that almost made it before the rot or the mice got them, but we’re happy with our seven; that’ll be plenty to keep us going a while(if I don’t get over-generous and start giving them away). I reckon they look like baking-squash to me, that rind will be a beggar to peel otherwise.

The three large, almost-round squash are mature Cucurbita pepo ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ (a.k.a. courgettes). An accidental discovery last year, when one last courgette matured into what a Twitter-correspondent from South Africa identified as a gem squash. So this year, I deliberately left one fruit on each Tondo plant to do its thing, and this is the result. If they’re as tasty as last year we’re in for a treat, especially once they’re steamed and then mashed with mountains of butter and black pepper. Yum.

We also have one rather small ‘spaghetti’ squash, a couple of courgettes-gone-to-marrows that we’re curing to see what happens, and a ‘tromboncino’ that isn’t going to win any prizes (more on that in another post) but will hopefully make a tasty meal or two. All in all, not bad at all, and we already have plans for boosting next year’s harvest…

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A Pretty Decent Chilli Harvest

Well, the chillis that I sowed back in January and have been nurturing in the greenhouse have been steadily growing away; setting flower, fruiting and now ripening up nicely. Here they are the other day:

September 2016 chillis
The left-hand side of the shelving, with cayenne, and prairie fire.
September 2016 chillis
The right-hand side of the shelving, with cayenne, pot black and habanero / scotch bonnet.

I’m quite pleased with the size of the plants and the number of fruits, considering that it’s my first year giving chillis a serious go, and that I didn’t get round to putting any of them in the chilligrow planter than I bought specially for the purpose. Next year, definitely (I have plans for reorganising the greenhouse along more sensible lines…)

Most of the fruits that have ripened so far are the standard ‘cayenne’ variety, probably the one you see in most supermarkets. They’ve either been shared around (it’s a minor irony that I love growing chilli plants for some reason, but I’m not all that keen on cooking with them, as I tend to prefer spice to heat) or have been set aside for a batch of chilli jam. There are a few small fruits on one of the habanero / scotch bonnet plants that have ripened to bright red already. I might sneak those into the chilli jam as well, just to give it a bit of a kick.

Here are a couple of close-ups on the more interesting varieties – ‘pot black’ and ‘prairie fire’ that haven’t quite ripened yet:

September 2016 chilli 'pot black'
These glossy purple-black fruits are lovely to look at, but I don’t think they’re ready to eat yet.
September 2016 chilli 'prairie fire'
Ripening up gradually, from yellow through purplish orange, to red, eventually (?)

I’m hoping the burst of warm weather we’re having this week will help them along towards ripening at long last.

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Harvest Monday for September 5th 2016

September 2016 bumper harvest
September is a time of plenty, and no mistake.

The do say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll briefly walk you through the above. From the top-left: a bag of apples and plums donated by a plot-neighbour; the last of this year’s maincrop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes, with three giant black radishes on top; (in the box) autumn raspberries and Japanese wineberries; this year’s onion harvest, cleaned and trimmed and ready for storage; the first of this year’s ‘turk’s turban’ squashes (we have another nine or ten at varying stages of size and ripeness); a few more courgettes and a smallish spaghetti squash (at least, I think it is…); another bag of fresh runner and French beans, plus an unruly head of bolted purple cauliflower / broccoli.

Not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves.

Coming soon: sweetcorn, which I’m leaving a little longer to enjoy this week’s forecast sunshine, and perhaps the first of the cabbages.

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

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Plot #59 Update: August 2016

Plot #59 Update: August 2016
Lush foliage everywhere, plenty of rich pickings to be had.

Ah, the long lazy days of high Summer! (What’s that? Summer? Has it arrived yet? Are we due one? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…) Definitely long, but not so lazy if you’re an allotment holder, with early crops finishing and going over that need clearing away, and later crops just starting to come into their own, with plenty of picking, preparing and preserving to do as well. And of course, that’s before you start on the weeding…

Down on Plot #59 we’re in full Summer-to-Autumn transition phase. All the onions and garlic have been lifted and dried. The broad beans have finished producing and have been cleared away. The peas will follow shortly. The strawberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants are long-finished, but the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are starting to fruit on a regular basis. Likewise the Japanese wineberry: from a single plant we’ve had a regular supply of sweet, tart, raspberry-like fruits with just a hing of wine-gum about them.

The beans are in full flow: runners and French varieties alike. We’ve been eating them and giving them away for weeks now, and our freezer is packed to the gunnels with packets of beans for winter. It’s getting to the stage now where we’re deliberately leaving the larger pods on the plants to ripen up: we should have plenty of dried beans for winter soups and stews.

August 2016 bean plants
Beans, beans and yet more beans… yum!

Our courgettes are marching on as well. The three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants each produced a full-sized fruit, so we have three large squashes maturing for use later in the year. Speaking of squashes, this is the first year we’ve grwon ‘Turk’s Turban’ and the results have been impressive: we’ve got a good dozen maturing on their vines in the ‘three sisters’ section at the front of the plot, alongside some nicely-ripening sweetcorn cobs (and yet more beans).

This year’s leeks have been planted out and the area nearby cleared, ready for the seed garlic which will be arriving before too long from the Garlic Farm.

I’ve made a start on lifting the last of the blight hit second early potatoes – ‘pink fir apple’, which a couple of folks have told me is particularly blight-susceptible – and I’m happy to say that the crop has been reasonable, if not as impressive as last year. The tubers are smallish, but perfectly usable and tasty. Thankfully, taking swift action to remove the haulms seems to have kept the blight from infecting them, so they should store quite nicely.

None of the cabbages are ready yet – they’ve only been in the ground since late July so there’s a chance they went in a bit too late, but we’ll see – apart from a bit of calabrese-style broccoli. Hopefully we’ll start to get some kale in September. The sprouts seem to be coming along nicely though, and we have lifted a few decent-sized turnips, and some very tasty black radishes that I sowed on a whim.

August 2016 brassica nets
Got to keep those pesky cabbage whites and diamond-back moths at bay.
August 2016 - Black radish and turnips
Golden and trad turnips and a couple of peppery black radish.

And of course, the floral department continues to put on a good display. The sunflowers are starting to look a little ragged around the edges, but the Dahlias, Lavender, sweet peas, Tagetes, wallflowers, evening primrose and Verbena are still going strong and the Nasturtiums are everywhere. Jo has planted out a few rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan, and Zinnia as well. We’ll have a lot more flowers on show next year, when we sort out the central path and dig out flower beds either side.

Apart from all of the above, the main work on Plot #59 has been the aforementioned weed-clearing. Unfortunately our plot-neighbour to the back moved to a new plot and his old one has been left to go to wrack and ruin, rather than taken on by new tenants. So that’s now weed-choked and is spreading seed, spores and rhizomes through to the back of ours. And another plot-neighbour hasn’t been around as much as usual (for entirely valid personal reasons), so his plot is starting to go the same way. I’d love to spend a bit of time helping him out, but to be perfectly honest there’s more than enough to do to keep our own plot in reasonable shape at the moment. I’m spending a lot of time at home digging out the first bed for our cottage garden project, so that’s keeping me from putting in the hours that I’d like to.

Well, nowt for it but to do what I can, when I can: roll up my sleeves, reach for the fork and dig out the worst of the weeds, then get the covers down and try to keep the beggars at bay until we next need the ground for planting. That’s the allotmenteers way: grin and get on with it.

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