Month: July 2017

Harvesting our Onion, Shallot and Garlic Crops

Jo and I have not long returned from an eight-day break down in beautiful Devon and Cornwall, touring gardens, sampling the regional cuisine (particularly the ice cream section of the menu) and quaffing a few of the local ales. I’ll be talking more about the rather wonderful gardens we visited – RHS Rosemoor, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Hartland Abbey, Docton Mill, Baddesley Clinton, Barrington Court, Trelissick, Glendurgan and Cotehele – in later blog posts.

We got back to Plot #59 to find that weeds had sprung up everywhere (of course), Jo’s flowers were blooming (you should have seen the A-frame of sweet peas before we picked them…) and, most of our edible Allium crops were ready for harvesting.

June and July are the best months, depending on the weather, for lifting and drying the edible members of the Allium family – onions, garlic and shallots – before putting them into store for autumn and winter. This year we grew all three, and through a combination of plenty of sunshine, tempered with occasional bouts of rain, they’ve all done rather well.

Onions

This year we grew ‘Sturon’ from sets. I did sow some other varieties from seed back in January or February but they didn’t do too well, so I’ll have to try those again next year.

Unfortunately, our plot has a pretty endemic problem with onion white rot. The best advice is to not re-grow alliums anywhere that’s suffered white rot, but as that could be anywhere, for the past couple of years we’ve just planted anyhow and taken our chances.

Luckily around half of this year’s crop managed to escape infection. I laid them out for drying in old plastic bakers’ trays that I rescued from the skip earlier in the year:

July 2017 onion harvest
Four trays of pristine onions drying in the greenhouse.

The bulbs that have any sign of white rot have been temporarily quarantined out on the surface of the onion bed. When I have a bit more time at the weekend, I’ll clean each one up, removing any infected material, and then assess them for usefulness. If they’re edible then we’ll use them as soon as possible, otherwise they’ll go in the bin, rather than the compost heap.

July 2017 onions in quarantine
These bulbs are all showing some signs of white rot and will need careful cleaning.

Shallots

Last year, Dad-in-Law Guru Glyn gave us half a dozen seed sets of two varieties of shallots. Of course, I can’t remember which varieties they are (I’ve emailed him to check.) Anyway, they grew rather well and divided nicely:

July 2017 shallots ready for harvest
Plenty of shallots on this clump, they’ve divided and grown quite well.

Each set has split into between four and ten new bulbs – plenty enough for a fair few portions to eat, with seed stock left over for next year:

July 2017 shallot harvest
Two varieties of shallot laid out for drying.

Edit: Guru Glyn says: “On the left, ‘Hative de Niort’, on the right, ‘Jermor'”.

Garlic

We’ve always had mixed results with garlic and this year was no exception. Back in October we planted three cultivars: Extra Early Wight, Red Duke Wight and Elephant Garlic, with two rows of the latter, one of seed cloves from The Garlic Farm and one of our own, plot-grown cloves.

Both the Extra Early and the Red Duke started developing allium rust back in May and by the end of June it had completely covered the plants, killing off the outer foliage, preventing photosynthesis and effectively halting the growth of the plants.

Luckily, the Extra Early has already developed decent-sized bulbs:

July 2017 garlic harvest
VAriety: Extra Early Wight. Yield: good enough.

But the Red Duke was next-to-useless; small, barely-divided bulbs good enough only for chucking whole into winter stews, or saving to use in next year’s garlic spray.

The elephant garlic, interestingly enough, managed to avoid the rust problem completely. The outer foliage died back and dried up, as you’d expect, but there were no signs of the orange pustules that affected the other two, despite them being grown next door and so within easy infection distance.

The plants grown from the Garlic Farm seed stock germinated, grew, developed and went over much faster than those grown from our own cloves, even though those were originally grown from the previous year’s Garlic Farm seed stock. The environmental conditions are obviously very different in the Isle of Wight to North Manchester, which probably accounts for the disparity. So the Garlic Farm plants have been lifted and put to dry, whilst our own stock plants are still in the ground:

July 2017 elephant garlic harvest
Elephant garlic grown from the Garlic Farm stock bought last September.

I’ll wait to lift the second row before I make a firm decision, but I think this year I’ll just re-plant from our own stock, rather than spend extra money on bought-in cloves, which do tend to be rather pricey.

How have you done with your edible Alliums? Do let us know, via the comments below, or on Twitter.

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A Quick Mint-Cuttings Experiment – Conclusion

Back in April and May I posted about three different mint cuttings that I’d taken from an old ‘Eau de Cologne’ mint plant that I wanted to propagate.

Here are the original cuttings again, for reference:

April 2017 mint cuttings
Various amounts of stem, root and leaf left on the propagules, to see which, if any, perform better.

All three cuttings have grown strongly in the nearly three months since they were taken and potted.

July 2017 mint cutting

This cutting was taken mostly bare stem, with a small amount of leaf, seen at the bottom of the original pic. The main stem has developed really nicely, there are several leafy side-shoots developing, and runners have begun to colonise the edges of the pot as the plant seeks to expand its territory. All signs of a healthy mint plant.

July 2017 mint cutting

This cutting was originally taken as a length of bare stem only, seen top right in the original pic. Again, once main stem has grown well and started sending out both side shoots and runners to extend its reach around the pot. Growth hasn’t been quite as vigorous as it was for the plant that started off with a little extra leaf on it as well.

July 2017 mint cutting

Finally, this cutting was one that was taken with a couple of decent-sized leaf clusters attached and it seems to have performed the best of the three. Growth is strong on two main stems, and a strong runner has circled a third of the inside of the pot and sent up another vertical stem.

To conclude this brief and not-very-scientific-at-all observation: it seems as though the best way to take mint cuttings might be to trim a length of stem that has one or two leafy nodes already in growth, rather than just a bare length of stem, but the latter method clearly works just fine as well. This does make some sense: the leaves will provide energy through photosynthesis that the cutting can use to establish its new roots.

On the other hand, if the cuttings were taken at a different time of year, the rate of moisture loss from the leaves might have depleted the cutting’s stores before it could take, and killed it. And of course, this conclusion doesn’t take into account all the various and sundry factors that could have affected the relative growth of these three particular plants, such as the possibility that predation – they all look a little slug-bitten in places – could have held them back at times. But it was an interesting little test to run.

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Thank You to Basil Labels

Recently, I was contacted by Ashley Basil of www.basillabels.co.uk. Ashley asked if I’d be interested in helping promote a Twitter giveaway that he’s running this week, in return for a set of his laser-printed stainless steel plant labels. I said I’d be happy to, and asked for a cheeky favour in return: would Ashley mind doing a bespoke set of labels for the trees in our Air-Pot mini-orchard?

Here’s what arrived in the post not half an hour ago:

Ashley Basil stainless steel plant labels
Shiny! And hard-wearing, too.

Thank you Ashley, I love ’em! They’ll look great attached to the tree stakes that we’ll be using when the Air-Pot denizens are moved to their final positions later in the year.

If you fancy a chance to win a a set of plant labels, check out Ashley’s competition, which closes on Sunday 9th July:

Please note: you’ll need to re-tweet the original tweet and follow @Basil_Labels for a chance to win.

Or, if you’d just like to go ahead and place an order – standard price £10.00 for a standard set of 5, or for 3 custom labels – you can do so via www.basillabels.co.uk, or Ashley’s Etsy.com shop.

Full Disclosure: As I mentioned, Ashley asked me to help promote his Twitter competition in return for a set of labels. This ‘ere blog post is because I like the product and am happy to endorse it.

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Time To Thin Out The Apples

The three apple trees that we potted up into our Air-Pot mini-orchard are all doing very well so far. After blossoming profusely back in May they’ve all set fruit quite well; a couple of them maybe too well.

Here’s a cluster of developing fruitlets on our ‘Cornish Aromatic’:

July 2017 Cornish Aromatic fruitlets
Coming along nicely, but a bit too crowded for comfort – time to thin them out.

As you can see, there are four healthy fruitlets developing at the tip of one branch. This is lovely to see, but it poses several potential problems.

Firstly, too many fruit at one branch tip, getting heavier as they grow, will cause the branch to bend and possibly break off later in the season.

Secondly, if the tree puts out too much fruit in one season it may exhaust its energy reserves and that could prevent it developing fruit buds for next year.

And the main reason: we’re establishing these trees for long-term growth in their Air-Pots and so we’d really like them to focus on developing their roots, rather than fruiting.

It’s all about establishing a healthy basis for longer-term harvests, and that’s why I’ll be out later on with my sharpest scissors to thin those clusters of fruitlets down to one or maybe two fruitlets in each, rather than the three or four that are there at the moment.

The same applies to our Herefordshire Russet:

July 2017 Herefordshire Russet fruitlets
Small but perfectly formed, these russet apples will be delicious when ripe.

This one is a spur-bearer and so the fruitlets are more widely spaced, which makes them easier to assess for thinning. Again though, I won’t be leaving more than maybe five or six fruitlets on the tree this year. It’s best not to be greedy now at the expense of future growth and harvest size.

Finally, our Belnheim Orange only has three fruitlets on it this year, so I’ll be leaving that along to do its thing.

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