Thursday, 30 July 2009

First garlic, last strawberries

A gap in the torrential rain today, so it was possible to get out in the sunshine and do some gardening. I decided to dig up one of the garlic plants to see if they are ready yet - the answer is "nearly" - good size bulbs this year, so a great success.
There was one courgette, should be more but given the very wet weather the small ones are mostly being massacred by the slugs and snails. So I picked the remainder of the gooseberries - a couple of pounds of red berries, and a massive 15 lb 9 oz of green ones. Gooseberries aren't to everyone's taste - my Mum hates them - but I don't think you can beat a gooseberry crumble with custard as winter comfort food!

A few ounces of raspberries and the last few strawberries - these have been magnificent this year, easily our best year ever.

The very heavy rain has left the ground fairly saturated, so there are limits on what I can do outside at the moment. The rain washes all the goodness out of the soil, so this weekend's project will be to feed the plants again. Let's hope we get some sunshine to dry things out a bit...

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A sunny day at last

Finally - a sunny, warm day so I was able to get a few jobs done. First the leeks - this ground was prepared last week, so it was a relatively quick job to spread some organic fertiliser, prise the leek seedlings out of the seedbed next to the cabbages and pop them in the holes made by the dibber in the picture. We're expecting a lot of rain tomorrow, so they'll be watered in well! I grow a late winter variety, if you're wondering why they're so small - I'll be eating these early 2010.
These are the jerusalem artichokes, which are now taller than me. They've grown well this year - they suffered in the rain and poor light of the last two summers, but this year's weather has been better overall.
I dug up the last cosmos potatoes - again a good size of potato, with a little slug damage but nothing excessive. I wasn't sure when there would be another dry day, so took the opportunity to get them out this morning.
The first cucumber flower (crystal apple) - if these cucumbers fail to produce again this year I'm giving up on them!
The triffids - these were tiny little lettuces a few months ago, now they're monsters! I hope to have enough seed not to need to buy any next year.
But not everything is a success - the frequent, heavy rain of the last two weeks has encouraged the weeds and with the weeds and rain come the slugs. My onions have been severely nibbled, as you can see.
This is the first pumpkin - it's stopped growing now and is starting to change colour. I grow a small pumpkin - Small Sugar as it is very convenient size if you don't have lots of mouths to feed. This is the earliest pumpkin I have ever got.
Spinach and chard, some slug damage but generally doing well.
This is the yellow patio rose I bought on a whim earlier in the year, it's now in its second flush of flowers. A cheerful sight as I hurry through the front door in the pouring rain!

Friday, 24 July 2009

A wet week

It's been a difficult week for gardening - torrential downpours interspersed with sunny spells. The soil is much too wet for much work now, so we have to hope for a dry spell. The good news is that August and September are forecast to be drier. Above is my pink busy lizzie.
So it was a quick dash out to pick the veggies, then back in. Here's yesterday's collection - peas, beans, courgettes and raspberries.
The red busy lizzie on the windowsill.
My New Dawn rose is now approaching the end of flowering - here are some of the last blooms for this year. A shame, but always a pleasure while it lasts.

It's been so cold in the evenings I got a sack of coal yesterday to generate a little bit of heat in the living room. The Met Office is forecasting heat in August - not sure if I believe them. I do, however, believe the man on Accuweather.com who, having correctly forecast the cold winter last year, is forecasting more of the same this year for the US, Europe and China. So I will need to get all my garden preparation done by November! Lots to do...

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Mystery of the Flabby Peas

Today when I checked the peas to see if any were ready, I found some pods were "flabby". For those not familiar with peas, pea pods are firm to the touch, even when the peas are tiny. Today some of the pods were soft and squishy - something I've never seen before. I could also see some faint brown marks on some of the soft pods. So I picked all the soft ones as they clearly weren't going to grow anymore, along with other firm pods which were ready for picking and checked with Dr Hessayon's excellent book when I got home.

The diagnosis - probably a fungal condition due to the excessive wet of the monsoon-like weather we are experiencing (more due tomorrow). I haven't had this problem before, but apparently it's more common with early peas like mine, in excessively wet conditions. So why didn't I have it in the last two years? I think the answer lies in the cold spring - this year spring was much later than the warm springs of 2007 and 2008, so the peas were ready later. Last year they were over before the monsoon rains. The answer of course is to spray the ground with chemicals - not an option - and rotate crops, which I do anyway. In the meantime, I will keep an eye on them and pick any soft pods - the peas are nearly finished anyway now.
Today I took the flower heads off the sage and picked some stems for drying, along with some rosemary and lavender flowers. The seed heads in the paper bag next to them are sorrel seeds, an early salad leaf native to Europe, and a very hardy plant so I plan to grow them in the spring. The other bag contains some chamomile seed heads.
Here's today's collection (left to right): raspberries, green gooseberries, red gooseberries, blackcurrants (all finished now), potatoes, peas and strawberries.

The potatoes are the second early, Cosmos and they are monsters! A bit of slug damage on a few, but nothing serious. I'll let these dry out and then pack them in a hessian sack for use later in the year.

No gardening tomorrow due to the wet, again. Did manage to clear one potato bed today to prepare it for the leeks, but so much weeding to do if it ever stops raining...

Sunday, 19 July 2009

First cut flower

Each year I grow flowers from seed to bring into the house. As most of the garden flowers finish by August, it's nice to have some flowers later in the year, but it is difficult to find plants which the slugs and snails don't attack. This is Cosmos Sensation, which comes in a number of shades - this first one is white. I germinate these in the shed and then plant them out when they are big enough.
The strawberries are now slowing up production, but the raspberries are now gathering pace. I cut the last rhubarb stems for this year - for a rhubarb and strawberry crumble, which was delicious! Four pounds of peas and a couple of courgettes completed the vegetable set.

We are now suffering the July monsoons, with very heavy downpours interspersed with sunny spells. After the reinforcements I made, the peas are standing up well but it really limits time in the garden - any time is spent on picking, rather than weeding, and there is a lot of weeding to do now. Maybe later in the week...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Upright peas once more...

I'm having a day off the garden today - we're now on top of the produce, but I still have a pile of strawberries in the kitchen which I need to deal with. This is yesterday's collection; strawberries, small raspberries (top left), blackcurrants, a courgette and large raspberries which are now in the freezer.
The peas slipped down further yesterday so I decided I had to do something about it - they were leaning into the beans further down the slope. One of the canes had broken under the strain, so I took two sturdy pieces of wood and propped them up. In the process I spent about 20 seconds with my hair caught firmly in the plants - a regular hazard for me due to my very curly hair. I broke free eventually! Anyway, the plants are now firm and should be safe from any further wind damage.

In the background of this picture you can just see the white hoops and netting of the cabbage frame. I forgot to mention this the other day - the white hoops are polythene tubing/piping which I got from the diy store - cheap, removable and very flexible. It's a good cheap way to cover plants with netting or with anything else.

So a slightly less strenuous day today, but now I'm catching up with my housework, which has suffered in the last couple of weeks. No rest for the wicked....

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Plant Supports

Another day, another harvest. More blackcurrants, some red and green gooseberries, one large courgette and a basket of broad beans. Most of the broad beans are now in the freezer. I left some pods on the plants to provide seeds for next year.
Today I needed to build supports for my apple trees, as the fruit is getting heavy. I grow M27, extremely dwarfing trees for reasons of space and for manageability. I built a tripod of canes/willow, then supported each fruit laden branch with a long string. This is the Worcester Pearmain tree.
These are the red gooseberries (green in the background) - I just picked the ripest berries today.
The pea supports have more or less collapsed now, the bulk of the plants is holding them up. These willow canes used to be upright not at 40 degrees!
There are three pumpkins, one on each plant. I'm hoping for more - since I started growing pumpkins we have had atrocious summers and poor harvests. I put them on a ceramic tile to stop them sitting on wet ground and rotting before they harden off.
Lots of tomatoes flowers now, it's too early to see if some have set but it's looking good!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Today's Harvest

I'm now well into the second week of the glut and there's no time for gardening, just picking. Today's produce, clockwise from top left, whitecurrants, strawberries, peas and raspberries.

The whitecurrants are a pretty transluscent berry, but not as fleshy as red or black currants. Some will go in my freezer, some will be made into jam.

The strawberries are now slowing down, but there were still over 3 lbs today. The peas have never been as good, so for the first time I have blanched and frozen a batch for the winter. They are so productive they have partially collapsed the supports holding them up, so I will have to devise something stronger for next year.

The raspberries are a mixture of a modern, large variety which freezes well and an old, smaller variety which is best for cooking. The smaller ones come from the plants which I moved in the winter - they have produced decent fruit, though not as big as normal.

I didn't have the time or the inclination this afternoon to pick blackcurrants or gooseberries, which are both ready, not to mention broad beans. That's for tomorrow...

Friday, 10 July 2009

End of the Redcurrants

Today's produce - broad beans, spinach, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants.

The redcurrants are all finished now, a total harvest of 20 lbs 13 oz, which comfortably beat last year's total of 17 lbs 12 oz. Each year I think the single redcurrant bush cannot produce any more, but each year it does. This last crop contains a good proportion of underripe fruit, so will make excellent jam which will keep well.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

And the glut goes on...

With the vegetable garden in full swing now, I really don't have time to do any gardening. Every afternoon and early evening is spent picking fruit and veg and dealing with the consequences.
I have made a lot of strawberry tarts and redcurrant tarts for the freezer, stewed and frozen strawberries, I have several pounds of redcurrants and blackcurrants whole in the freezer too.
And the jam making has started - these are from yesterday, have just made some more redcurrant, also redcurrant + raspberry. I haven't yet finished picking all the redcurrants so there is more to come.

Almost four pounds of peas today too, so I'm not short of things to eat, if I ever have the time!

Monday, 6 July 2009

A Picker's Eye View

I have posted a lot of pictures of plants growing, and fruits collected, but I realised yesterday that I had never posted any showing the process of picking. So having spent all afternoon gathering produce, I thought I would share it - if you could share my backache too that would be great.

So starting with the potatoes I took up the last of the first early Pentland Javelin today - about 12 pounds. The photo above shows a typical plant with the potatoes underneath - most of them grow directly under the top of the plant and this is why "earthing up" is so important, whether you grow them in a tub or directly in the soil. The original seed potato is beneath the potatoes on the right, and the mound of earth above it encourages the formation of roots. But as you can see from the potato on the left, some always grow away from the plant, attached by a long root. So you have to excavate carefully - even so I do miss a few each year.
Here you can see that I lifted the soil underneath the plant with a spade and on the left you can see the roots of the plant with some potatoes attached, others have fallen off as I lifted it. Each of these plants has produced 8-10 potatoes, which is a good crop. The soil will be dug over carefully again and then leeks planted for a winter crop.

According to the textbooks you should use a special potato fork with flat tines to lift potatoes. All I can say about that is that they don't garden on a clay soil - a spade is the only way to do it here, but I do damage the odd potato as a result. Potatoes are often recommended as a ground breaker on a newly cultivated plot. Good idea, but remember the ground is broken by you digging it, not by the potatoes themselves!
The redcurrants look easier than the potatoes to harvest, but they're not, partly because of the quantity. The fruit in this photo is about 3 minutes picking, I spent over one hour at it this afternoon!
Each string of berries has to be pulled off the plant, some I can get at kneeling next to the shrub, some sitting but most standing in the middle of it, bending down and sideways in what I call "garden yoga" - a vigorous workout for every muscle in the body!
At least the redcurrants are on long strings - the blackcurrant bush produces much less, and most fruit is on very short stalks or no stalk at all. Add to that the really staggered ripening - you can see from the photo there are only a few dark purple berries and this means I have to pick every ripe berry individually. If I wait too long the ripe berries fall off and are lost, so I have to pick over the bush every few days.
So this afternoon's collection is a vast quantity of redcurrants, some blackcurrants, more strawberries and a basket of potatoes. A good haul, and a good workout! Above is the longest and most perfect string of redcurrants I found today - 5 in/12 cm long!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A walk round the vegetable garden

As everything is growing well at the moment, I thought today I would post an update on many of the plants in the garden. First the courgettes (zucchini to Americans) - these are now flowering well as you can see from the plant above. You can also see spots of mildew on the leaves - the mildew is receding as the weather is less humid now.
Runner beans - most runner beans have red flowers but I have been growing these white ones (White Emergo) for years. These have just started flowering, so we should have beans by early August.
The Florida-like weather of last week meant the tomatoes doubled in size - no I'm not exaggerating, they really did! The first flowers are just opening, and I don't think these outdoor tomatoes have ever flowered so early. We should have tomatoes in August if the weather is clement.
Another early flower - the pumpkins are starting. The bad summers of the last two years meant we only got one or two pumpkins, so I'm hoping for more this year and so far the signs are good.
Lettuce - this has been producing leaves since early May and shows no signs of stopping. It is starting the process of going to seed, which I want it to do so I can collect the seed for next year's crop. I expect we will be able to eat lettuce until the end of July, which will be 3 months, the best crop ever.
The Victoria plums are just starting to change colour (they go an orangey-yellow) - a good few more weeks for these, but since this is the first crop, I'm very excited!
I picked some of these peas today, but as you can see there are plenty more to come!
The Katy apple - the fruit is starting to fill out and I will need to build supports for both trees this week. The apples should be ready in August.
Garlic - growing well in a weed-ridden plot. Two weeks ago there wasn't a weed to be seen here, but the sun and rainshowers have encouraged the weeds as well as the vegetables.

Today I picked peas, spinach, chard, strawberries, and raspberries. Off to the kitchen now...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Today's Haul

Today's haul includes 12 lbs of Pentland Javelin potatoes, broad beans, over 6 lbs of strawberries, more blackcurrants and more redcurrants. I have now dug up a little over half of the Pentland Javelin, which are a first early potato; I'll dig up the rest of them this week, leaving the second earlies to grow on for a while. The small and damaged Pentland Javelin I'll use up straight away, the rest have gone in a hessian potato sack in my kitchen, where they'll keep for 2 months or so.

The broad beans got flattened by the very heavy rain yesterday, but are producing lots of beans. Today I noticed blackfly starting to congregate at the top of the beans, so I have snapped off the tops of all the plants to get rid of them.

The strawberries - well, what can I say? The best crop ever, a good number of these will be stewed and frozen for winter use - there's nothing like a strawberry crumble with custard in the middle of winter to remind you of warm summer days.

The redcurrants and blackcurrants will make their way to my freezer over the next day or two.
Lobelia, one of my favourite annuals because it puts on such a great show.
Finally, a picture of my front door with the New Dawn rose over it. The rose is not as full as it has been, two years of very poor growth due to constant summer rain have reduced the plant a bit, but it's on the mend now. What I like about it is that the flowers come out gradually, so I'll have a few weeks of blooms as new buds open and then fade. If you look carefully at my door you will notice that my door knocker is in the shape of a trowel - appropriate I think!