Last week we had a couple of frosty nights and down on Plot #59 I spotted that our Yacón plants were feeling the effects:
With the frost starting to kill off the leaves and stems, and not much more photosynthesis in prospect, that meant the tubers would probably be as large as they were likely to grow. So I trimmed back the top growth and carefully up-ended the first of three pots to see what, if anything, the plant had produced. I was very happy indeed to find the following:
A few years ago, veg pioneer Mark Diacono wrote a piece on growing, harvesting and cooking Yacón for The Guardian, which explains what happens next. The larger, ‘storage’ tubers are detached from the plant and left for a couple of weeks to sweeten. The smaller, Jerusalem artichoke-like ‘growth’ tubers are the essential part of the crown that needs to be packed in moist, spent compost and stored in a cool, dark place over the winter. It’s the same sort of procedure as you might use to store a Dahlia crown.
They’re very easy to tell apart, as you can see:
With the large tubers detached and sweetening, and the crown carefully packed away for winter, the next stage will be to cook ’em, eat ’em and see if Jo and I actually like ’em or not. (I did try a small piece raw on the spot and it was rather like a juicy radish / sweet chestnut, so I’m probably a fan already). Then then there are two more tubs to come. Apparently the large tubers store really well, so either we’ll be eating them for weeks and months to come, or my colleagues on the Ordsall Hall gardening team will be getting a few more Yacón tubers to try than they’ve been led to expect.
How about you? Have you grown Yacón before? Do you have any top tips for storing crowns or cooking the tubers? Please do let me know, via the comments.
This year we’re growing three Andean tuber crops down on Plot #59: Oca, Yacon and Ulluco. It could also be the last year that we grow the third of that trio. DEFRA – the government’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs – have issued a biosecurity warning, because some Ulluco tubers imported into the UK may be infected with several non-native viruses.
The situation is a serious one: the viruses could potentially infect plants of three major families: Amaranthaceae (spinach, beets, chard etc.) Cucurbitaceae (squash, pumpkin, courgette, etc.) and Solanaceae (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) so that’s a number of our major food crops. I double-check with the head gardener where I work – Lindsay Berry, M.Hort – and she confirmed that yes, this sort of warning should be taken very seriously indeed.
Frustratingly, DEFRA haven’t updated their website with their own biosecurity alert, so I can’t point you straight to the source, but Emma at the Unconventional Gardener blog has posted details of the warning, along with a copy of the DEFRA document that was issued to tuber suppliers and sent on to me by the folks at Incredible Vegetables, from whom we bought our tubers this year.
This is the relevant section of the DEFRA document, with instructions to Ulluco growers:
Ulluco should only be harvested for personal consumption and should not be sold or transferred to other sites (and all tubers should be removed from the soil).
Tubers of ulluco should not be saved for planting in the following year.
If potatoes and species of Amaranthaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae are also grown nearby to ulluco, these should only be harvested for personal consumption and any seed/tubers should not be saved for planting in the following year.
Any remaining waste from the vegetables, including peelings, can be disposed of in general waste bins to go to landfill and should not be composted.
Remaining plant material (leaves and stems) of ulluco, should be destroyed following harvest, either by incineration (burning on site), via deep burial (to a minimum of 2 m) or bagged and disposed of with waste for land fill.
Remaining plant material or potato and species of Amaranthaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae, which you have grown, should be destroyed following harvest, either by incineration (burning on site), via deep burial (to a minimum of 2 m) or bagged and disposed of with waste for land fill.
The planting area should be cleared of all plant material, including weeds.
If any ulluco and potato plants regrow in the following year, they should be destroyed as for the plant material above.
The viruses are potentially transmitted mechanically (on people, clothes, equipment etc.), so hygiene best practice should be followed:
Wash hands with soap before and after working on a crop.
Clean any tools and equipment which have been in contact with ulluco thoroughly to remove all plant material and soil.
Once again, rather frustratingly, there’s no information on how to spot signs of a definite viral infection, or whether the viruses are likely to persist in the soil next season, which of course would prevent growing any crops from potentially infected species. Although, as DEFRA hasn’t told us to immediately destroy all Ulluco crops and remove the soil, it would seem that the viruses in question might need a living host to persist?
In any case, because of the potential risk for mechanical transmission, I spent an unpleasant couple of hours on Sunday dragging half-decomposed vegetable matter out of our large compost bay – to which for the past few weeks I’d been adding the foliage from this year’s squash plants, which had been growing right next to the Ulluco – then bagging it up and taking it to the municipal tip.
So that’s an entire year’s worth of compostable material destroyed, because DEFRA haven’t specified the precise conditions under which the viruses can persist. Still, better safe than sorry, eh? I’d rather loose a year’s compost than risk a future year or more’s potato, tomato, squash and beet harvest.
I just hope we have a decent Ulluco crop this year, to make up for all the hassle.
I’m a huge fan of the whole Cucurbitae family, but particularly squash. I love their savoury-sweet flavour – especially chopped into chunks, oiled, seasoned and baked in the oven until the edges start to caramelise nicely – but also the longevity of the fruits; picked at the right time, well-cured and properly stored they can last right through the coldest months of winter and into early spring.
But I have confession to make: this year I took my eye off the ball at the crucial time (July into August) and let the plants grow and ramble far more than I intended. The result was – rather predictably – far too much foliage and far fewer fruits than I was hoping for. As a result, we’ll be lucky if we get half a dozen good squashes this year, and at least three of those are overgrown courgettes.
But hey, next year will be better – I’ll have more time to keep on top of the plot, seeing as I’ll have finished the hard landscaping in our back garden that’s kept me so busy through the summer – and the harvest will be mighty.
In the meantime, here are a few pics of the squash / pumpkin / overgrown courgette fruits that we’ll hopefully to be able to enjoy eating later in the year.
Squash / Pumpkin
One of the new varieties I tried to grow this year is ‘Ukichi Kuri’, a compact Japanese squash. We have one decent fruit developing at the moment:
Another new-to-me variety this year is the old French heirloom ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes’, which means ‘bright red, of Etampes’, a town to the south-west of Paris. It still has some reddening to do, but is coming along nicely:
Last year one of our allotment friends gave us a ‘Crown Prince’ squash in exchange for one of our ‘Turk’s Turban’. It was delicious, and even though it’s an F1 variety – which never come true to type if you grow from their seed – I thought I’d give a second generation a go. This is the most promising of the two fruits that have come from the saved seed:
And this is the other, not quite so promising-looking specimen:
We’ll see how they turn out. You never know, they might be absolutely delicious.
Finally, this variety of squash is called ‘blue banana’:
So far, not very blue – more of a mucky dark green – and not very banana-like. But again, the proof is in the eating, so we’ll see how that one turns out.
The ‘Zephyr’ courgettes that we tried earlier in the season were very tasty, and quite unusual with their two-town green and yellow bisected colouring. It looks like they develop into some sort of crookneck squash if left on the plant long enough to mature:
We’ve also got a smallish marrow that we’ve grown from courgette ‘Midnight F1’ and a gem squash from a courgette ‘Tondo di Piacenza’, already curing in the greenhouse.
That’s it for this year. Not quite the haul we were hoping for. But as I said, next year will be much, much better. I plan to nick Monty’s idea for growing smaller squash up stout poles (in our case, Jo suggested using three bamboo canes lashed together for each ‘pole’, which I reckon is a good idea) and also set up a couple of larger manure mounds for the more rambly, ground-hogging varieties.
I’ve harvested the first batch of produce from the SoilFixer trial beds down on Plot #59.
I’ve been carrying out a soil improvement product trial this year at the invitation of the folks at SoilFixer.co.uk, testing two of their compost and/or soil enhancement products, versus ordinary compost and untreated soil.
It’s a very rough, ready and rather unscientific method that I’m following: I set up four small raised beds, planted broad beans and sowed two varieties each of turnip and beetroot. In mid-June I reported on the good growth so far.
I took a look at the beds last weekend and realised that it was past time to pick some crops. I freely admit, I’ve left the harvesting a bit too late, and should probably have done so sooner, but Jo and I were on holiday in mid-July and things have been hectic before and since.
There was really no point in picking the broad beans; the blackfly had all-but wiped them out and the few pods left on the plants had all gone over anyhow. So, I decided that for comparison purposes I’d lift the four largest ‘Boldor F1’ golden beetroot (the ‘Detroit 2’ don’t look like they’re worth harvesting yet) and the largest ‘Purple Top Milan’ turnip. Just the one? Well, yes, because frankly I’d let them get a bit out of hand:
Here are the results, table-wise:
One (C.H.A. Compost)
Boldor F1 Beetroot
Purple Top Milan Turnip
Boldor F1 Beetroot
Purple Top Milan Turnip
Three (Soil & SF60)
Boldor F1 Beetroot
Purple Top Milan Turnip
Four (Plain Soil)
Boldor F1 Beetroot
Purple Top Milan Turnip
And here’s a quick graph I threw together:
That’s right folks, I’ve picked almost 5kg of turnips so far, and there are plenty more to come. If anyone knows any good turnip recipes, please do post links or details in the comments (I’m begging you…)
Well, what can I say? Based on this very small and not-at-all statistically significant sample there’s a clear winner in terms of yield – the soil that had been enhanced with SoilFixer’s SF60 product – as long as by ‘yield’ we mean sheer mass, rather than anything relating to how usable and tasty the veg might actually be. (I hasten to add that the beetroot were fine, it’s the massive turnips I’m worried about.)
Would I be happy to use SF60 again? Most certainly, and I plan to use up the rest of the tub I was sent in next year’s greenhouse containers. Likewise, I’ll be adding a good scoop or two of C.H.A. to my home compost bin when I put the lid on it at the end of the year.
But would I be happy to put my hand in my pocket and buy a supply of SF60 or C.H.A. for my personal use? Well, that will depend on my doing some further testing, and also reading the results of the other triallists’ efforts (which were hopefully a bit more usefully clear-cut than mine).
Hedging my bets, I’d say that if I was trying to grow a specimen crop – super-hot chillies, say, or something tropical in a greenhouse, or a heritage vegetable that I wanted to save seed from – and wanted to give my growing medium a boost, then I think SF60 would be a good product to use. Commercial growers might want to investigate further.
I’m not so sure about the C.H.A. for my own use. I don’t think my compost quality requirements are stringent enough to require much in the way of amendment. Again, if I was producing a lot of compost for a commercial or specimen growing project then it might be worth trying. But I’d need to see more evidence of a clear-cut and dramatic compost improvement before I’d be able to commit.
Room For Methodological Improvement
On reflection (hindsight being a wonderful thing) I could have designed and executed the trial much better; either by growing a smaller selection of crops, or even a single crop – ideally one that wasn’t quite as prone to pest-problems as broad beans (blackfly) or cabbages (slugs) – and assessing how many plants of usable size and quality had been grown by a particular date. Either that or growing something simple to assess, like potatoes (again though, potential pest and disease problems there) and simply harvesting them all at once and weighing the yield from each bed. Or I could have tried something like strawberries; grown the same variety, then assessed both yield and flavour with a blind taste test.
I could also have done better with the production of the compost used in the first two beds. Unfortunately I used too much touch grass in the original mix (the stems didn’t break down properly) and the bags I used didn’t drain as well as I’d hoped. Plus, I started the compost off late, or rather, early in the year, which didn’t give it enough time to break down fully into the humus-rich material that the C.H.A. product is designed to produce.
What I can (and will) do next is harvest the rest of the turnips and beetroot from the trial beds and weigh them, to add to the data-set, on the off-chance that clarifies anything. Although after eating a few meals’ worth of roasted beetroot, I reckon that’s going to leave me with around 25kg of turnip to dispose of. They’ll be destined for a return trip to the compost heap, unless I can think of something more intelligent to do with them. I know for a fact there not room in the freezer for that much turnip soup…
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Edit: Guru Glyn says: “On the left, ‘Hative de Niort’, on the right, ‘Jermor'”.
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:
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:
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.
I’m participating in a trial for Soilfixer.co.uk, testing two of their compost / soil enhancement products against regular compost and plain soil. In mid-April I’ve set up four small raised beds, and planted broad beans and sowed two varieties each of turnip and beetroot in each. The simple aim of the trial is to assess whether the product-enhanced beds result in better crops.
Planting and Sowing
Each bed was planted with two broad bean ‘The Sutton’ plants (stated off in modules in the greenhouse, in identical, shop-bought compost). I also direct-sowed a row each of beetroot ‘Detroit 2’ and ‘Boldor F1’, and turnip ‘Purple Top Milan’ and ‘Petrowski’.
Good, Strong Growth
The beetroot and turnip seeds germinated well – I made a note that the germination in the SF60 bed seemed to be slightly stronger than the others, although not by much – and, along with the broad beans, have grown strongly in all four beds. Here’s a quick comparison of just one bed (the plain soil control bed) to give you an idea of how much growth they’ve put on:
May 25th – Just over a month after planting / sowing, and following an earlier thinning of every row, and everything is starting to grow away nicely:
May 31st – A few days later and the increase in leaf-mass on the turnips in particular is quite considerable:
June 11th – Another 12 days’ worth of growth and the plants were beginning to choke each other:
At this point all four beds were thinned to 10 or 11 beetroot and six turnips per row.
As for the comparative growth rates between the four beds, I have to say that there’s not much in it at this stage. Here are the four beds on the 25th May, which probably gives the clearest indication of how the individual plants were growing, before the mass of foliage makes differentiation difficult:
(Click on the images for a larger version, if you’re interested in more detail, and your screen-size allows)
As you can see, much of a muchness. But the end result that matters is the quality of the crops, so there’s still a way to go before I can draw any firm conclusions.
I’ve planted out a pair of ‘Redbor’ kale in each bed, to start filling up the as yet un-planted half. I’ll be adding two or three cabbages before too long as well.
Unfortunately, the broad beans in the trial beds have been hit pretty hard by an aphid infestation of assorted blackfly and greenfly. Or at least, three of them have, so far. Here’s a pic from June 11th of the beans in bed #4, the plain soil control bed:
The same problem was spotted on the broad beans in beds #1 and #2. However, bed #3, the SF60 bed, was pretty much pest-free:
A couple of days later I checked again, and there were now a few blackfly on the bed #3 beans. It could be that the pest just hadn’t found these beans when I took the pics on the 11th, or it could be that something in the SF60 imparts a quality to the beans that makes them less attractive to the fly. It would need a much larger trial to reach a firm conclusion, of course.
And I’m happy to say that a small tribe of ladybirds has since moved onto the beans and is hopefully making short work of the blackfly problem:
As I mentioned, it did seem as though the SF60 bed produced slightly stronger seedlings, but as all the others have performed as well in the long run, it may just have been a quirk in the seeds.
Also, all four beds have been quite weedy – as you’d expect on an allotment site such as ours; very windy and so open to incomers from all directions – but the two compost beds were the weediest. That’s more likely to do with the quality of the home-made compost that was used. Sterile, shop-bought compost might have resulted in fewer weeds, but the point of that part of the trial was to see if the C.H.A. produced better home-made compost, so the weed seeds were probably inevitable.
I’ll continue to observe and record, and the next update will hopefully include a cropping comparison.
Down on Plot #59, Jo and I are always keen to expand the range of edible crops that we grow, especially anything that stores well and can be used over winter, when there’s usually a lack of fresh stuff to harvest. This year I decided to try three South American tuber crops that I’d heard about: Yacon, Oca and Ulluco.
Smallanthus sonchifolius produces large, crisp (some say brittle) tubers that, based on the pictures at downtheplot.com look a lot like Dahlia tubers. According to Mark Diacono, writing for The Guardian back in 2010, they’re crunchy and sweet-tasting, and can be eaten raw in salads, or as a snack. Sounds great.
I bought a pack of growing tips from The Real Seed Catalogue and started them off in pots in March. I potted them on when they started to sprout and then planted them out in large plastic tubs last month. A few sources had suggested that ground-grown Yacon can be difficult to harvest due to the tubers’ habit of snapping too easily, but turning them out of pots was a lot easier.
Harvesting should take place just after the first frost, before any prolonged cold spell has a chance to damage the tubers. So that’s a job to do around the same time that I’ll be lifting and storing the Dahlia tubers.
Oxalis tuberosa is a relative of the wood-sorrel that develops clusters of small, knobbly, often brightly-coloured tubers. They’re growing in popularity, with organisations such as the Guild of Oca Breeders working to spread the word. The tubers can be eaten raw or cooked much as you would a potato: roasted, boiled or mashed, they’re apparently quite sweet-tasting.
I bought a variety called ‘Dylan Keatings’ from The Real Seed Catalogue and was sent six or seven smallish tubers. I started them off in large modules and three of them sprouted into strong, healthy-looking plants.
Once again I followed the advice on Downtheplot.com and planted them out on ridges of soil. Oca tubers don’t start to form fully until after the first frost has killed the leafy part of the plants. Leaving them a couple of weeks after the first frost could mean levering them out of cold, wet mud, and the process is meant to be much easier if you can dig them out of a ridge instead.
Ullucus tuberosus, the third of this year’s new tuber trio, is very similar in appearance to the potato, but in a much wider spectrum of colours, from golden yellow to pale green, to bright pink. Once again they can be eaten raw, as well as cooked as you would a new potato.
My stock came from Incredible Vegetables, and I’ve been following the detailed growing advice on their website, along with added notes from Downtheplot.com (very useful site, that. I wonder if it’s still being updated?) As a result, the plants are currently in pots in the greenhouse, pending planting out once the current spell of grim weather seems to have safely passed. I might even wait until I’ve harvested this year’s garlic and re-use that part of the plot.
Late November to December is harvest time, and they do need to be earthed up, so I’ll grow them on ridges as well.
Jo and I are looking forward to trying all three of these new tubers over the winter. We might even give Dahlia tubers another go and make it a foursome.
If you grow them regularly yourself and have any top tips on cultivating the best crop, please do leave a comment below. Any advice would be very gratefully received.
The other day, I spotted the tell-tale marks of a leafminer on the leaves of a pea plant down at plot #59. Here’s what the damage looked like:
On the top of the leaf you can see the obvious tracks of leafminer tunnels, caused by larvae munching their way through the soft, tender leaf tissues. On the back the leafminer pupae are equally obvious.
According to the results of my Google-based research, this could be caused by any one of a small number of leafminer species. The damaged leaves will be less photosynthetically active, slowing the rate of plant growth. And whilst it’s not a drastic problem, short of using some pretty drastic chemical sprays, the only sensible course of remedial action is to remove the affected leaf section and add it to the council green waste bin. Which of course further limits the growth rate of the plant.
The damage seemed to be limited to one pea-plant, hopefully it’s under control for now, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on all our peas and sweet peas to make sure the problem doesn’t escalate.
Over a busy Bank Holiday weekend, Jo and I managed to grab a couple of hours to head down to Plot #59 and do a bit of planting out.
First in, Jo’s sunflowers:
Jo has grown three varieties this year: ‘Giant Single’, ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Ruby Red’. They might not look like much now, but come back in a couple of months and we should have a stunning display to show you.
Whilst Jo was tying her sunflowers in to their cane supports, I planted out a row of tomatoes:
These are a variety called ‘Legend Bush’, which I sourced from the Real Seed Catalogue. It’s described as an early-cropper, which helps it to avoid the dreaded blight, and is meant to do well outdoors in cooler conditions. Hopefully we’ll be picking a few of those in a month or so as well.
I’ve been growing leeks using the same method for the past three or four years now and it seems to be working quite nicely.
Rather than tray-sowing and then pricking out individual leeks into modules, I use deep plastic troughs – the sort of thing you can find in most large supermarkets at this time of year or online of course – about half filled with general purpose compost. On top of that I layer about 5cm of seed compost, and sow the leek seed thinly on top, before covering lightly with seed compost and watering with a fine-rose can.
A few weeks later, the leek seedlings should be about 15-20cm tall and looking rather grass-like. This is when I like to thin them out and give them a trim.
If there are two or more seedlings growing within about 1cm of each other, then one or more of them has to be plucked out. Be ruthless. Better to have one good seedling with enough room to grow to planting-out stage than two or three that eventually compete each other to the point of uselessness. Plus, the leek-trimmings can be used like chives, in pasta, fritatta or anything else you fancy.
Next, take a pair of sharp scissors and give your leeks a hair-cut. I gather up a small bunch and then chop the lot off at around 10-12cm in length. Trimming the main growing shoot(s) helps to prevent them becoming hopelessly leggy and tangled. It also encourages the growth of new leaves from the basal plate at the bottom of the leek, and that’s what you want: a thickening of each seedling to roughly ‘pencil thickness’, ready for planting out in June or early July.
If you’re thorough (and brave) enough then you might only have to thin your leek seedlings once before planting out, although a second trim may be needed in another three or four weeks.
How about you? Is this how you grow leeks, or do you use a different method? Let me know via the comments.