Tuesday, 30 June 2009

And so it begins...

Every year it happens, and every year I am taken by surprise.  Today The Glut started.  Two days ago I picked a couple of pounds of strawberries, and thought to myself that there would be "some more" this week.  Do you think the box above qualifies as "some"?  Almost four pounds here, more to come.

Two days ago I wandered around the plot, looking at the vegetables  - "Courgettes growing well, but it will be a few weeks before we're eating them" I thought.  Hey presto...
How wrong can you be?  Just a week for this to be ready.  As for the peas, the pods were all thin, hiding among the leaves.  Today...
I picked some early pods - the peas are still small (about the size you find in most frozen pea packets), as for the broad beans...
... you can see the beans at the top of the picture, small but perfectly formed.  Given the vast quantities the plants are producing, it makes sense to start eating them now.  Then I looked at the soft fruit bed:
You have to look closely at this picture, but the redcurrants in the foreground will be ready for a first pick in a couple of days, the blackcurrants (which you can just see at the top of the picture) likewise, the red gooseberries to the right of the blackcurrants are colouring up and I will need to do a first pick of the green gooseberries (on the right) this week too.

So much for my predictions, I was wrong on pretty much everything.  I have a busy few days ahead of me...

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Back in the garden

Sorry about the lack of posts recently.  I've been very busy and the weather has been hot, Wimbledon is on and so I spend a good few hours every day in front of the TV.  Yesterday I spent the day at Woolfest in Cumbria, buying lovely things such as alpaca fleece and merino/silk yarn but this is a gardening blog so you won't want to hear about that!  Anyway, normal service is being resumed now.  Here's today's haul from the plot, excluding the lettuce which is so prolific there is one compulsory meal every day consisting of a plateful of lettuce with whatever other items I can find to go with it.  Above are 4 pounds of potatoes, and 2 pounds of strawberries.
We have had hot, sunny weather with the occasional heavy rain shower and this has suited the plants.  The brassicas I transplanted a couple of weeks ago are growing well, as you can see from these cabbages.  I am looking forward to harvesting the first peas and broad beans next week.
This year the rhubarb flowered for the first time and today I found these enchanting seeds - to me they look like jewelled earrings.  I had no idea what the seeds would be like, so this was a nice surprise.
The feverfew plant in my clematis pot is in full flow.
And this is my cream shrub rose in the evening sun.  It's not covered in flowers, but is very green this year - I did want it to put on a lot of growth as it has struggled in the poor weather of recent years.  As you can see it is very healthy, with very little fungal disease, thanks to the diet of chimney soot!  So maybe next year it will have more flowers.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

When I came across this plant I thought it was a very large bramble as they are flowering at present.  It's in a mound around 1.5 metres, covered in these white flowers.  Then I thought again, sniffed the flowers and checked in the book of wildflowers.  I think it's a field rose, something I've never seen before.  It's growing in a small regenerating woodland field, so I will keep an eye on it until the rosehips form, so I can be sure about the diagnosis.  A lovely scent, with such vivid orange anthers on the plant.
When I'm out for a walk, I always keep an eye open for wildflowers I haven't seen before.  This is Red Bartsia, quite striking in the grass and especially close up.
I haven't noticed it before, but will keep an eye out in future.
You don't see too many white foxgloves in the wild, but here is one growing by the river.
And in the same place as the marsh orchids, another orchid - the Common Spotted.  Smaller and more delicate than the marsh orchid.  It's worthwhile taking a close up on the petal patterns.
So, on to the vegetables, here are my Jerusalem artichokes, enjoying the weather, which has now warmed up markedly after a cold spring.  The rainshowers we are having too encourage all the plants to grow.
Today I picked mint for drying - I love mint and drink a lot of green tea/mint mixture.  I just hang them upside down from the curtain rail in my office - the office is always warm due to the computer, and I leave the top of the window open to get a breeze through, which also helps them dry.  This will be enough mint to see me through to this time next year.
I tried drying elderflower once, but it is more difficult to do and I think our climate is too damp.  Instead I collect some flowers and make a cordial with them.

The recipe:
Put 15 flower heads in a pan, pour over 1.5 litres of boiling water, cover and cool, making sure the flower heads are covered by water.

Strain and for each litre of liquid, add 600g sugar, bring to the boil and simmer 5 mins.  Allow to cool and bottle.

I don't find this keeps too well, so I tend to make small amounts regularly as long as the flowers are available and just keep it in a jug in the fridge.  It's a nice refreshing drink for hot days.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Shrubs in Flower

The last shrubs to flower are now in full flow.  Around the village we have lots of these old, wild roses.  Compared to modern varieties, they are rather discreet, but this is how roses looked many centuries ago.
The elder is now flowering - I will be picking flowers later this week for drying and other use.  A good remedy for colds and a refreshing taste in a drink.  The elderberries have similar uses too.
I wish this was my honeysuckle, but it isn't - growing on top of a high garden wall, it is a lovely sight.  My honeysuckle seeded itself in a derelict area of my vegetable patch and is horizontal.  I plant to lift and pot up bits of it later this year and look at how to make the best of it.
Fragrant blossoms, just starting to open.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

First Strawberries

I did get out to do some weeding (beetroot, strawberries, parsnips, beans) this morning but the batteries in my camera died, so the only picture is this one.

My first strawberries - as the temperature has been rather up and down, these strawberries are not evenly red but patchwork.  A day inside will ripen them fully.  Most strawberries grown commercially in this country are grown in poly tunnels, and not in the ground - I think the flavour is inferior as a result.  Let's not mention the strawberries the supermarkets sell all year round, which are grown abroad and, well, are disgusting.

So there is nothing better than British strawberries grown the proper way, in well fed soil, ripened slowly.  Since my plants have started producing pounds rather than ounces of fruit, I haven't bought any but if I did, the best are the Scottish ones, which are often later in the summer. Anyway, we're in for a bumper crop this year; last year I added some plants to my collection and they are now fruiting.

So let's see if I can beat last year's record, which was 13lbs 9 oz of strawberries.  Looking at the number of berries on the plants at present, I think we will beat that comfortably.  I just hope we don't have the downpours we had last year which rotted off much of the fruit!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Herbal Teas and Fruit Cordial

The weather yesterday (and today) has been very showery, with blustery winds.  So I only managed to get to the vegetable plot briefly yesterday - I did need to reinforce and tie up the peas which had been a bit battered by the wind.  I decided to dig up one potato plant (Pentland Javelin) to check if we can begin to harvest them , and looking at the potatoes in the basket, the answer is yes.
I'm not feeling too well today, and even though the weather is forecast to dry up, I don't think I will be gardening - I find extreme dizziness a handicap when weeding!  I really don't want to pitch head first into the tomato plants.

So instead I decided to do gentle jobs in the house, as I'm not the kind of person who can sit around for long.  I didn't get off to a good start when, while mixing up a blancmange, I absent-mindedly put the plastic jug containing the mixture on the hob instead of putting it in the pan and then on the hob.  Cue flames and the smell of burning plastic...

So, having extinguished the flames and thrown the jug in the bin, on to a sitting down job - sorting out my herbal teas.  I'm a big fan of herbal teas and their benefits for various medical complaints.   I wanted to make up some mixtures of herbs for things like the virus I'm currently suffering from.  I had dried some nettles and sweet woodruff earlier in the year, so they needed detaching from their stalks and breaking up.  

The first jar on the left is marigolds, which I bought a little while ago and were still sitting in the packet.  This is a good tea for helping clear the lymph system, quite nice with honey.  The jar at the back contains my anti-viral, anti-infection and tonic tea - nettles (harvested recently and dried), rosemary (from my rosemary bush), marshmallow, sweet woodruff (from my garden).  The other two contain damiana and marshmallow (reputed to be anti-ageing!).  At the front are a few sticks of licorice.  At this point I ran out of jars, will carry on when I have washed some more.
By the time I finished the herbs, I was feeling a bit better so decided to make some fruit cordial. I need to clear out my freezer for defrosting before this year's fruit deluge begins in a few weeks, but still had some redcurrants and blackcurrants left.  I drink fruit cordial regularly, so why not make my own from my own fruit? 

The recipe I used called for 13 oz black/redcurrants, 10 oz sugar and 1 3/4 pints water.  My fruit was frozen so I was stingy with the water - to be honest, the thicker the cordial the better.  Put it in a pan, heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar and until the fruit is soft/broken, simmer for a minute or so to ensure sterilisation, then pour through a sieve into a bowl.  Mash the fruit to extract as much juice as possible.

I sterilised two old cordial bottles by washing them, then placing them in the oven on a low heat.  As the first batch was finished, I realised I needed my funnel to pour the mixture in the bottles, but could I find it?  So instead I had to ladle it into the bottle with a small ladle, the bottle positioned carefully over the bowl to catch as many drips as possible.  I ended up with small puddles of cordial left over.  So if you do this, be prepared, not like me!

The result was a bottle each of redcurrant (left) and blackcurrant (right) plus extra redcurrant in a jug to be used immediately.  I'll keep them in the fridge as there are no preservatives in them.  This was fun, but I am now pretty tired, so am going to spend the rest of the day on the sofa with my knitting.  Hope to get in the garden tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Flowers and Woodland

This is a close-up of lobelia flowers, which we are more used to seeing in their massed state rather than separately.  These are just starting to flower in my pots.
The Feverfew is just beginning too - when they open fully they will be a daisy-like flower, but I really like them at this stage, when the petals are clumped together and the centre is still green.
Lady's Mantle - a plant which does well in our damp climate.  Congregations of tiny yellow flowers above round green leaves, one of my favourites.
This afternoon I went out for a walk at Hardcastle Crags with my Mum - lots and lots of woodland...
...and a rocky river...
... leading to the old mill towards the head of the valley.  And yes, those are solar panels on the top of the mill building.  The water wheel and the solar panels provide all the power in this remote spot for the mill, cafe and warden's cottage.
On our walk we came across a few late rhododendrons, such as this huge one on the hillside.  The last flowers of spring...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The plants are in charge...

After yesterday's rain, today dawned warm and sunny, just the thing for my vegetables and for these sage flowers which are very popular with the bees.

A lot of the peas have now set, this is the biggest pod so far, but there are many more flowers so more peas to come.  They have now reached the top of the netting, just above my head height and are still growing - we only get around 4-5 hours of darkness now so plenty of growth on a diet of around 20 hours light in every 24.
The courgettes are doing very well - we switched to this variety (Partenon F1) last year as it doesn't need pollination to create vegetables, ideal for the cold and wet north.  Last year's dreadful weather held the plants back, but it looks like we will have a good crop this year - I can even see mini vegetables on some of them!
After a cold spring, the tomatoes are now putting on growth quickly, so today I tied them to stakes.  I grow my tomatoes outside, the variety is Ferline which is blight resistant - I'm the only one on the allotments who managed to keep my plants last year when all the others, even those in greenhouses, succombed to the dreaded lurgi.  They may not look like much compared to the beautiful specimens grown in greenhouses or the southern USA, but I'm proud of them!

In the photo above, you can see one of the tomato plants, along with an interloper above it.  Two years ago I sowed chard in this bed, it germinated poorly, grew poorly because of the weather and so I let it go to seed in the hope that at least I would get seed from it for the next year.  Alas, it seemed the constant rain had rotted the seed.  The next year I sowed parsnip here - it germinated but then much died due to the constant rain (again!).  So imagine my surprise when, after I had staked the tomatoes, I started weeding and discovered over 10 chard seedlings and a couple of parsnips!  Sometimes we gardeners think we are in charge of our gardens, but in reality the plants just please themselves...
...another example of this above.  Several weeks ago I sowed parsley and chamomile in some specially prepared beds.  I think there may be about 4 seedlings from all those I sowed, but I found some self sown parsley plants in my clematis pot, and above you can see two chamomile and two feverfew plants in what was the brassica seedbed.  These have come from the plants which were in the herb bed next to this area last year.  
And here is one of a few fennel plants, growing among my leek seedlings.  Just as well I'm not a very tidy gardener - I'm just grateful for what I get, even if it is in the "wrong" place!
Pentland Javelin potatoes - unwashed as the skins are so thin it's best to wash them just before cooking.  This variety is slug and blight-resistant, both of which are essential qualities here.  I well remember the plagues of slugs the first year I grew potatoes, and the sorry mess which resulted so I don't bother with any varieties which are not resistant to both pests.  They are a fluffy potato, unusual among first earlies in that you can make a nice mash with them.  Delicious.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Results of Experiments

This is a flower from my shrub rose, an old plant which I inherited.  The flowers open with a slight pink tinge, but get paler until they are cream.  It's a lovely rose with a beautiful scent.  A little while ago I wrote about my experiments with (coal) chimney soot on the roses, in an attempt to ward off fungal diseases.  I should say that the roses have been fed with horse manure and an all-purpose feed as well, but I do think the chimney soot has been beneficial. This rose in particular looks better than it has in years, and the orange fungus which is normally affecting much of the shrub by this time has only got a very small foothold.  I can see the effect on the roses soon after dosing them with (small) quantities of soot, and I think regular application is the key.  So a successful test, which I will continue.
This is a broad bean, Super Aquadulce Claudia.  I switched to this variety earlier this year, from Aqualdulce Claudia, after disappointing yields in recent years.  The new variety was reputed to be hardier for northern regions, and this has proved to be true, with very close to 100% germination and an excellent pollination/setting rate as you can see from the photo (though the weather during flowering was good, which helped).  So I would recommend this variety for anyone in northern, wet latitudes - I'll certainly be sticking with it.
Now, to other things - anyone know what this plant is?  It has seeded itself in my flower bed, under a leggy wild rose so I don't object as it fills a gap at ground level.  But I don't know what it is - any ideas?
On the way back from the post office this morning I took a detour, in an attempt to get some elderflowers before the rain came.  Most of the elders are not fully flowering yet, so that part of my mission failed, as did the beating the rain objective - I got home wet.  But before that, I saw these lovely flowers - Dame's Violets, a French species which has long ago naturalised across Europe after being introduced to gardens here.  A lovely splash of colour among the green, it grows along the riverbanks.

Finally, the marsh orchids are flowering, and they seem bigger than in recent years.  This magnificent specimen was growing in a damp spot near the river.  For best effect, click on this photo to see the detail of the flowers.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Golden Plovers to Little Blackpool

I'm having a day off gardening today - after strenuous weeding and path building this week I decided to go out for a walk up to the moors to see if I could find this bird - a golden plover. We saw two adult golden plovers up there last week and I really wanted to get a picture, quite a challenge because, as you can see, the grass is tall and the bird is remarkably well camouflaged.  I actually found it due to its alarm call (didn't like the look of me), it's tough to see in the grass.  Anyway, this is a juvenile bird so that means the two adults I saw last week have had a successful breeding season, good news for this bird, which has declined in numbers.  

Summer is well on its way now, foxgloves are starting to open all over the place - these were in the valley bottom.
Wild roses are everywhere too now.
This is a weir on the river that runs past my house.  You can see a rather forlorn sluice gate here, but behind it are two more that used to control the mill leet that runs on to the site of the old cotton mill - originally water powered.  This weir is just above ...
... "Little Blackpool", where the river runs over rocks.  The perspective on this photo is a little weird - it looks like a stream, but if you look carefully (enlarging the photo) you can see a huge stone wall on the left and you realise this is a reasonably big river.  It's called Little Blackpool because 100 years ago the millworkers used to come up here to paddle in the river among the rocks on hot days!  Can't say I would have liked that - the river was very polluted then.  Now it's clean, full of little fish and the haunt of herons, dippers and grey wagtails.  A lovely spot and shady in the strong sun.

Back to the garden tomorrow...