Tag: French bean

Our Allotment Year in Review: 2016/17 Edition

Plot #59 Update: July 2016
Plot #59 at the height of August 2016

A year has rolled on by since I posted the first Year in Review piece here on Notes From the Allotment, and a lot has changed down on Plot #59.

After three years of hard graft, we’ve finally reached the point where almost the entire plot has been transformed from a weed-choked, debris-strewn nightmare into a usable, cultivated growing space. There’s still one small area of midden-ground that I’ll be clearing later this year, and a problem section or two at the back. Once those are tackled though, Jo and I can draw a line under phase one (disaster response) and get on with the serious business of full-scale growing.

In the meantime though, here are the particular high-points and low-points of the last twelve months:

Legumes – Beans and Peas

Last year we grew a stupid amount of beans – we’re still eating through the freezer stocks of blanched pods, and have a couple of kilos of dried beans that we probably won’t get around to using, unless we get a lot more creative – and it was great.

As well as the traditional ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners and ‘Fasold’ climbing French, we tried a couple of new-to-us varieties, the best of which had to be the ‘Blackpod’ cultivar that we received through our Heritage Seed Library membership. Very tasty when young and still in the green, maturing into deep, burgundy pods filled with purple-black beans, they were a visual feast and a delicious accompaniment to many a pork chop.

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is just superb.

We also had a good year for broad beans, with Spring-grown ‘The Sutton’ and ‘Red Epicure’ providing us with a rainbow of colours. And the mangetout peas ‘Shiraz’ and ‘Golden Sweet’ grew like crazy up the pea-harp that we constructed for them, and provided us with fresh, sweet pods for weeks and weeks. We’ll be growing both varieties again this year, along with a couple from the Heritage Seed Library.

August 2016 broad beans
A selection of tasty broad beans – ‘Red Epicure’ and ‘The Sutton’

Cucurbits – Squash and Courgettes, and Corn

We had our best year yet for the Cucurbitaceae family, with a dozen courgette plants performing at their usual prolific rate and then a harvest of around a dozen good-sized, firm-fleshed and very tasty ‘Turk’s Turban’ squash to brighten up our autumn and winter dinner plates. (I think I might be getting the squash-growing bug, if the dozen varieties poised and ready in the seed-box are anything to go by.)

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo ahoy!

The sweetcorn performed well again last year. It seems to like the spot we grow it in – at the front of the plot, in full sun (when the sun is out) – and we ended up with another good haul of sweet, juicy cobs. This year we’re trying a heritage variety called ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’ which promises multi-coloured kernels. Sounds like good fun.

Alliums – Onions, Leeks, Garlic

Our over-wintered garlic did very well indeed. We harvested a good dozen or so large bulbs of ‘Elephant’ garlic around 30-40 of the ‘Extra Early Wight’ and ‘Carcassonne Wight’, although the latter’s bulbs were a little on the small side.

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

A good year for onions, with around 80 of assorted sizes from the ‘Sturon’ sets that we started off in modules before planting out. They kept well in an old dresser drawer in the shed and had a good, strong-flavour to them. Same again this year.

The leeks went in rather late, at the tail-end of August rather than in June, so they didn’t get much growing done before winter set in. We’ve been happily harvesting every other one for the past few months though and they’ve been very enjoyable indeed. The last few dozen are starting to put on new growth now, thickening up a treat. We may even end up with some decent-sized specimens before we need to clear the patch for this year’s courgettes.

September 2016 leek patch
Lots and lots of lovely leeks.

Spuds and Toms

Alas, we suffered from a double-dose of potato disease last year. Our first earlies were hit by potato leaf-roll virus which killed off about half the plants, and then a rather vicious attack of early blight ripped through our allotment site back in late June and early July. That meant the haulms had to be removed before the tubers had reached their maximum potential, and cropping was affected as a result. We still managed to harvest a decent haul of ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and ‘Saxon’ but nothing like 2015/16’s enormous piles of tubers. This year I’m sticking to Saxon and crossing my fingers that we have a drier spring.

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

Same story with the tomatoes, alas. We didn’t actually grow any down the plot, they were all in the back garden at home, where we’d hoped they’d be isolated from blight. But we must have brought some spores back with us from somewhere, because it took hold and destroyed the lot. We didn’t get so much as a single usable green tomato… one more try this year, and then we’ll have to decide whether they’re worth the inevitable disappointment.

Soft Fruit

It was another great year for blackcurrants, rhubarb (I know, technically a veg stem, but if it goes in a crumble it gets a mention here) and raspberries, with kilos and kilos of fruit filling up the freezer, or being turned into delicious jam. We also enjoyed our first really good crops of gooseberries and redcurrants. Our potted blueberries did okay, but they were re-potted earlier in the year, so we thought they might rest up and recover a bit.

July 2016 - berry harvest
How’s this for a berry selection? By no means the entire crop, either.

The real discovery though was the Japenese Wineberry. The fruit of this spiny, long-stemmed bush is small, bright red, and slightly tacky to the touch. When the berries are ripe they come away from the bush with the slightest encouragement and taste like slightly tart wine-gums. They don’t keep all that well, which means you have to eat ’em up quick – a terrible shame, that – but they’re great in a summer fruit salad. This year we’re going to try to increase our stock by layering in a couple of branches.

July 2016 - Japanese wineberries
These wineberries are something of a taste revelation – a lovely balance of sweet and sharp.

The one disappointment was our strawberry patch. We did have a reasonable crop back in June, but we lost a hell of a lot more to botrytis grey mould, which ripped through the tightly-packed plants in May and destroyed most of the early fruit. The plan this year is to thin out every other plant and then keep on top of trimming back foliage to increase ventilation. Then at the end of the year we’ll probably re-plant the whole section with brand new stock.

Roots etc.

Despite having big plans and high hopes for a carrot crop, the carrot fly managed to get in and ruin about 75% of what we grew last year. We did harvest a few small, stunted, but still quite tasty roots, but nothing worth shouting about:

We did have a pretty good year for roots of other types though: mooli and black radish, scorzonera and salsify all grew well and were tasty additions to our baked root veg dishes. We also tried root parsley, but it didn’t really get going. We’ll give that one more go this year on the off-chance we were just unlucky.

October 2016 root veg
Carrots, salsify, scorzonera and mooli.

Brassicas – Cabbage, Kale and More…

We went big on brassicas this past year, planting out four varieties of Brussels sprout, purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, calabrese, red cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, green kale, red kale, and walking stick kale.

The best performers were the cabbages, which grew strongly despite a late planting and we’re still finishing off the last few red and savoy. The worst were the romanesco, which bolted again, and Brussels sprouts, of which only one variety (Rubine) produced anything decent-sized enough to eat. We’ll try sprouts again this year, and get them in a bit earlier, see if that helps.

The walking stick kale was an interesting novelty, growing to around 6′ in height with huge leaves, but those leaves were pretty tough and leathery. They did cook down, if you fried them for long enough, but the flavour wasn’t so spectacular that we’d rush to grow them again. Not when smaller varieties of kale are generally tastier, and more manageable too. As for drying the stems to use as plant supports or even walking sticks, we’re giving one a go, but we’ll have to see how useful it turns out to be.

January 2017 Plot Planning #10
The Big Brassicas section – something of a disappointment, truth be told.

Experimentals

Last year we grew a few novelty items just for the fun of it. One of them was the aforementioned walking stick kale. Another was the electric daisy, and the third was an allegedly highly-edible Fuschia called ‘Berry’.

Electric daisies were kinda fun. The plants and flowers themselves aren’t much to write home about – straggly, thin stems with not much leaf and strange, lumpy daisy-type yellow flowers – but it’s the effect you get when you eat a flower that’s the point of growing them. It’s a bit like licking a 9 volt battery with a mouth full of popping candy. Not entirely unpleasant, unless you really hate the dentist-esque sensation of your mouth going steadily numb, but it wasn’t something that either of us were hugely enamoured with.

James Wong, who champions the variety via the Sutton’s Grow For Flavour range, suggests breaking up the flowers and sprinkling them into a lime jelly for a more gentle, fizzing sensation. But I don’t think we have time to make lime jellies from scratch. And really, we just grew them so we could see the look on Jo’s Dad’s face when we made him try one. That particular moment was well worth the time and effort.

The same can’t really be said, alas, for the Fuschia ‘Berry’, which you may have seen touted last year by Thompson & Morgan. We bought five plugs (they’re now selling them in packs of 10, but you probably won’t want or need that many) and four grew to a decent size.

The flowers were rather lovely, in shades of deep pinkish-red and purple. But the berries, although large, were… meh. Bland and tasteless, not very juicy, hardly anything to recommend them. It could be because they were grown in pots in the greenhouse, rather than the open air and rain, or it could be because the berries just aren’t all that nice. We’ll grow on any plants that have survived the winter, but for their flower display rather than their fruit.

Honourable Mention – Asparagus

We established and planted up the asparagus section of the plot in March and April last year. With no harvests for the first year or two – to give the crowns plenty of time to develop – we haven’t actually tasted any just yet. But we saw plenty of good, strong growth last year, and the first spears have just about broken ground this year, so things are looking good for next year’s first cropping.

September 2016 asparagus patch
Lots of leafy growth in October, just before we cut back for the winter.

The Floral Department

Our plan has always been for Plot #59 to be somewhere to grow an abundance of flowers as well as edibles. Mainly as a food-lure for pollinators, but also because they’re so gosh-darn pretty. Jo is in charge of the floral department and over the past year she’s sown and grown some absolute stunners.

I’ll just leave this gallery here for you to browse through…

Plans for 2017/18

As discussed back in January the aim for this year is to make the entire plot as productive as possible. There’s some infrastructure work to do – the central path will finally be laid, and a seating / hard-standing area at the back, hopefully – and of course the regular rounds of maintenance, watering and weeding. But at long last, the focus will be set firmly on growing and harvesting, rather than clearing and sorting.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop. Please feel free to drop in from time to time to see how we’re doing.

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New Seeds: Heritage Seed Library 2017

February 2017 Heritage Seed Library
This year’s selection plus a few from 2016 that still need sowing…

A couple of weeks ago, we took delivery of our annual selection of seed from Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library club. The H.S.L. aims to maintain and distribute heritage, or non-commercially available varieties of vegetables and herbs, encouraging its members to save their own seed and keep these varieties going as long as they can. It’s a great way to get hold of either reliable croppers that for some reason are no longer in favour, or varieties that just aren’t available in the regular seed catalogues.

The seed-requesting process has changed since last year. There’s now an online order form for club members which lets you know which seed varieties are still available. This means you can ask for more of your first-choice varieties, if you’re quick enough. I left it until early January to put my order in and a fair few of the seeds I really liked the sound of had already been divvied-out. Next year I’ll be online within half an hour of the catalogue coming through.

Here’s what I opted for this year, including a bonus ‘lucky dip’ freebie that’s available as an optional extra:

  • Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) ‘Dinah’s Climbing Blue’
  • Lablab Bean(Dolichos lablab) ‘Ying’s’
  • Sweetcorn (Zea mays) ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’
  • Leek (Allium porrum) ‘Kelvedon King’
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Asparagus’
  • Pea (Pisum sativum) ‘Kent Blue’
  • Callaloo (Amaranthus spp.) ‘Bangladeshi Dhata’ (lucky dip)

I also have three packets of my 2016 selection that I didn’t get around to sowing last year:

  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Georgia Southern Collard’
  • Squash (Cucurbita maxima) ‘Zapallito de Toscana’
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa) ‘Kaskinauris’ (lucky dip)

Plus, I’ve signed up to be a ‘variety champion’ – with the aim of saving seed and sending stocks back to Garden Organic – for the following:

  • Dwarf French Bean (P. vulgaris) ‘Black Valentine’

And, because I had a problem with a couple of bean varieties that refused to germinate last year (‘Major Cook’s’ and ‘Peewit’ both completely failed to break dormancy, alas), Garden Organic very kindly sent me a replacement packet of ‘Peewit’ when I mentioned it to them, so I have those to go in as well.

As for the Heritage Seed Library crops I did sow last year, results were generally good. Leek ‘Walton Mammoth’ went in late and so hasn’t yet achieved its ‘Mammoth’ stature, but the young leeks we’ve been eating over winter have been very tasty indeed, with a good, strong flavour. Runner Bean ‘Blackpod’ was superb:

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is worth the ticket price alone.

Vigorous growth and a good, heavy cropper. You do have to catch the pods early, when they’re still mostly green, if you want to eat them sliced and steamed, otherwise once they start to darken to their beautiful deep purple colour, they’re a bit too tough. The dried beans store well and are very good in soups and stews. I’ve saved a few seed beans for this year as well, so I’m hoping for a repeat performance.

For more information on joining the Heritage Seed Library and helping to preserve these old varieties, see Garden Organic’s website.

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Harvest Monday for October 10th 2016

Autumn is in full swing down on Plot #59 and we’ve got the seasonal veggies to prove it.

A few weeks back we harvested our squash and were quietly impressed with a decent showing in our first year of semi-serious squash growing:

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo di Piacenza / Gem Squash curing in the greenhouse

We also called time on our single, lonely tromboncino squash. Not worth entering in the Sutton’s Cup, but definitely tasty – we oven-roasted chunks of it to accompany our Saturday sausages and it was pleasantly firm in texture with a lovely, nutty squash flavour.

Also on that plate were the first pulled roots of the year: a few trimmed-back but mostly manky carrots (not a good crop after all, by the looks of things), and some much nicer salsify, scorzonera and mooli (although at the risk of seeming indelicate, one of those last three gave me terrible wind yesterday… just a word to the wise, there).

October 2016 root veg
Carrots, salsify, scorzonera and mooli.

We’ve continued to pick bags and bags of runner and French beans for drying. We I deliberately planted a lot of beans this year and we’ve got the pods to prove it. Here’s a small selection drying in the greenhouse at home, and there’s another batch just like it at the allotment greenhouse, plus the couple of kilos of dried beans already packed away, and a whole lot more still on the plants:

September 2016 drying beans in the greenhouse
A quite small sample of the vast number of beans we’re drying this year. Anyone for cassoulet..?

We’ve started to pick out first kale leaves and cabbages. They went in late and the slugs have had a field-day on the latter, so there’s a fair bit of livestock to remove before the cabbages can be cooked, but they’re very tasty once you get them properly cleaned up.

September 2016 - freshly washed kale
This lot is destined for a date with a hot frying pan and a big knob of butter.

We’ve had a pretty decent chilli harvest from our main greenhouse at home as well. Here are a few ‘cayenne’:

September 2016 Chilli 'cayenne'
A few artistically arranged chilli fruits; many more went into a batch of chilli jam.

Most of them went into a few jars of chilli jam. One of the jars – the last to be filled from the jam pan – had re-crystalised and I was going to ditch it, until my Mum suggested it might make a good chilli glaze for pork chops. Good call, Mum.

Fruit-wise, we’re all about the Autumn rapsberries at the moment, although everything else has finished for the year. We’ve been stewing most of them up with apple and some of our frozen blackcurrants, for use as a breakfast porridge topping or custard-drenched pudding. Delicious either way.

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

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Plot #59 Update: September 2016

September 2016 Plot #59 Update:
It’s all starting to die back and quiet down as Autumn begins to kick in.

September turned out to be a really good month, weather-wise, so I ought to have been down at Plot #59 for most of it, working my backside off to finish a few infrastructure projects, clearing the last few patches of stubborn weeds, sowing a few winter crops and prepping for next year’s growing season. Instead, I spent most of the month working on our cottage garden project – digging, digging, and more digging – so progress wasn’t quite as dramatic as I’d hoped.

Still, with a few good weather days on the weekends, Jo and I were able to get down to the plot and put in a good few hours’ graft. Here’s what we achieved:

Harvesting

September is, of course, the month of multiple harvests. At the beginning of the month we lifted the last of our main-crop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes and a bit later on we picked our squash and put them to cure in the greenhouse. We’ve also had the last of the fresh runner and French beans and have been picking dozens to dry for winter stores.

September 2016 drying beans in the grenhouse
A quite small sample of the vast number of beans we’re drying this year. Anyone for cassoulet..?

Our chilli harvest has been pretty good this year as well; a first attempt at chilli jam was made, with reasonable results. We’ve also been picking and eating sweetcorn – served up in smoked paprika butter, more often than not – and have lifted a few turnips – they’re surprisingly tasty when oven-baked – and picked the first cabbage and kale of the year late (we planted them out quite late) last week.

September 2016 cabbages under cover
The enviromesh does a really good job of keeping the cabbage whites at bay.

I deliberately planted the cabbages out quite close, the aim being to grow smaller, two-person heads, rather than football-sized monsters. Of course, what’s happened is that every other plant seems to have out-grown its neighbours, crowding them out and developing into big ‘uns. Nature, eh?

And of course, the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are in their element at the moment. We’re picking a good-sized clip-top boxful every few days and we’re managing to eat our way through most of them, either fresh or stewed down with apple and blackcurrant as a topping for our morning porridge.

September 2016 autumn fruiting raspberries
Plump, juicy and tart-sweet – what could be better?

All in all, we’re doing quite well; we’ve not had to buy much veg from the market or supermarket to supplement what we’ve been able to pick from the plot, and if I was spending a bit more time down the plot and a little less in the back garden then we’d be eating even more of our own-grown, I’m sure. Next year we’ll see if we can get to 100% plot-grown for the whole of the Summer and as much of the Autumn as we possibly can.

Projects

I’ve finally been able to get to grips with the tricky central section of the plot and have started digging and levelling a channel for the main path. Again, progress has been a little slow, mainly due to the presence of a rubbish midden right in the middle of where I’m working; more on that in another post.

September 2016 Path Progress
The plan: a central path, paved with recycled flagstones.

Soon to be tackled: the asparagus patch is looking like it’s ready for cutting back, once the stems begin to turn a little more yellow:

September 2016 asparagus patch
Not long now until we take the clippers to this lot.

Growing On

The leeks that I planted out at the end of August have put on some good growth. It’ll soon be time to start thinning out a few baby leeks for eating, to give the others more room to grow and develop.

September 2016 leek patch
A mass of foliage is a good thing at this stage. Time to thin then out a bit to improve air-flow.

It’ll soon be time to start pulling our root crops – for roasting and mashing with some of our squash and ‘Saxon’ spuds – as well. The salsify and scorzonera seem to be doing well, we’ve got massive mooli radishes coming along, and I think the carrots – presumed fly-eaten and useless – might actually have made a comeback. I’m not too sure about the Hamburg parsely, but I’ll lift some in the next couple of weeks and see where we stand.

Floral Department

The sunflowers have finished and gone over – we’re leaving the seed heads for the birds – but Jo’s Rudbeckia and Cosmos are lovely at this time of year, adding bursts of late-season colour in splashes of yellow, orange and red.

September 2016 rudbeckia mixed

September 2016 rudbeckia red

September 2016 rudbeckia yellow

Our Dahlias are still going strong as well; they’ll keep flowering until the first frosts and then we’ll need to see about lifting, drying and storing the tubers. Likewise the Tagetes among the courgettes and the Nastutiums that have run rampant across about a third of the plot; they’ve dropped so many seeds we’ll be seeing them for a few years to come, I reckon.

September 2016 Dahlia 'Christmas Carol'
We’ve had months of glorious colour from our collarette dahlias.

It’s been a good month, lack of time notwithstanding. Let’s see what the rest of October brings.

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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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Harvest Monday for August 15th 2016

I spent a happy couple of hours this weekend lifting the last of our second early potatoes down on Plot #59 . They’re a variety called ‘Saxon’, which is fast becoming a firm favourite. They have a lovely, creamy texture when boiled or steamed as new potatoes, store really well and make great mash, roasties and even jackets, if they get large enough. A true all-rounder.

This year’s crop was hit by the potato blight that has swept through our site this damp and dreary summer, and I took the haulms off at the beginning of July. Luckily a decent number of tubers had been able to form before I took drastic measures, and although we’re well down on last year’s epic crop, we should have enough to last us through to the end of the year at least.

They’re currently drying in the greenhouse before cleaning up a bit and sorting for either immediate use or storage, depending on the degree of slug damage.

August 2016 spud harvest
A shelf full of Saxons drying out in the seldom-seen sun…
August 2016 spud harvest
…and another shelf full of Saxons.

(There’s a third shelf full as well, but honestly, it just looks an awful lot like the first two…)

Jo and I also picked several kilos worth of assorted beans – runner, French and broad – which I spent my Sunday evening trimming, chopping, blanching and freezing for our winter stores. We picked another few tubs of mixed berries, too: raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and Japanese wineberries (see last week’s post for pics).

August 2016 broad beans
A selection of tasty broad beans – ‘Red Epicure’ and ‘The Sutton’
August 2016 redcurrant sprig
No-one does jewellery quite like nature does jewellery…

And we’ve picked the last of the peas, most of which are too dry for eating fresh, but we’ll try storing them for soaking and adding to winter stews, see what happens. Oh, and more courgettes (which rather goes without saying) and a bit more purple calabrese.

Still to come: sweetcorn (forming up nicely, let’s hope they get enough warmth to ripen), winter squashes, chillis, cabbages (not long gone in, let’s hope they establish before winter), kale (likewise) and hopefully more turnips. Hardly any carrots though. The carrot-fly have ripped through them and destroyed around 95% of the crop. More on that set-back in another post.

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

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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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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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A Quick Mid-June Plot #59 Photo Update

Phew! That’s the exams done and dusted. Until I start the next RHS Level Two course in September and sit the next set of exams in February 2017, that is.

My pre-exam weekend was spent down the allotment, on the grounds that I’d already crammed about as much into my head as was going to fit, so a bit of fresh air and exercise was likely to do me more good. Here’s what the place was looking like:

June 2016 courgette patch
Not long now until the start of the courgette glut, and the spuds are looking good.
June 2016 bean canes
The bean army marches into the distance, with a few flowers showing at the far end.
June 2016 carrot bed
Yeah, those carrots are going to need to be thinned out a.s.a.p.
June 2016 peas and broad beans
The mangetout peas and broad beans are coming along nicely. First pickings before too long.
June 2016 allium patch
Onions romping away, garlic looking like it’s ready for lifting.
June 2016 Three Sisters
The corn, squash and beans are co-habiting well, so far. I’ll need to keep an eye on the squash foliage though.
June 2016 Parsnip Plant
Ever wondered what parsnips do if you leave them in the ground for season two? They do this…

It’s starting to look a lot like Summer. My next few Harvest Monday posts should be a bit more interesting and varied, too.

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