Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Gooseberry Miracle

No matter how many times I watch it, I can never quite get over the fact that these lime green gooseberries turn into this...
... a gorgeous claret-coloured jam. I suppose there's a perfectly straightforward scientific explanation for it, but it amazes me every time.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Leek Planting

Yesterday I decided it was time to start getting the leeks in. I had removed half the potatoes, so all I had to do was dig over the bed, add a bit of compost and food, then pop them in. Actually, putting in leeks is back-breaking work so I was glad only half the bed was free! Above is a picture of one of the leeks- really good roots on these seedlings.
And here is my dibber, with which I make the hole, pop in the leek and then water it in using the watering can direct into the hole. This way the leeks have soft soil around them, which allows them to expand.
Hey presto, a (small) field of leeks. These are late winter leeks, they won't be ready to eat until after Christmas. As we have lots of vegetables for autumn/early winter, I like to have a few very late vegetables to fill the gap a bit.
And here is one of the late vegetables - it doesn't matter how well you dig up the bed, there is always one parsnip that escapes. Actually, I have two this year. This plant has gone to seed, so I can save seed for next year. One of the stalks has been bent over by the recent heavy rain, but there are hundreds of seeds on this plant, with more to come on the second one. I've propped it up with a cane and will put the seed heads to dry in the shed when they're finished developing. I've found that self-propagated seed works well for me, so this is very handy and a good way to save money.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Back to Work

The last few weeks have been dominated by picking and processing fruit, and little physical work has been done. Yesterday I picked the green gooseberries (destined for jam making) and that's the fruit glut over. We're still picking strawberries, raspberries and there are still some red gooseberries to come, but the quantities are much smaller now and so today it was back to some digging.
I really need to be getting the leeks in, so I dug up the last of the first earlies today (the leeks follow the potatoes). These are Pentland Javelin and this is a good example of the problems with the drought. In the foreground are some really big potatoes, they shouldn't be that big. What seems to have happened is when the ground dried up, the plants stopped producing new tubers. When the rain came, they did start putting out new tubers again but first they pumped all their energy into filling out the tubers that were there - hence some ridiculously large first earlies. But the plants were nearly finished, they didn't have time to make a normal crop. So they sacrificed quantity for size. I reckon the crop is about half what it should be, due to the conditions.
Now it's onto some serious weeding - here are the garlic plants, surrounded by weeds, including forget-me-not. Now forget-me-not is my favourite weed, but I think the garlic needs its space, so they had to go.
And here is a shot of part of the garlic bed after (you can just see the cabbages behind). This bed was created out of a bank which divides the upper part of the plot from the lower one - I took this picture standing on the path above the bed. I had the retaining wall rebuilt a couple of years ago, which made the bed slightly bigger, and then had to import more soil as well as continue building it up. I think I have finally conquered the couch grass in here, it was easy to weed today and relatively quick. The garlic is a late variety, and should be ready in August - the rain of the last couple of weeks has certainly helped it grow on and I'm confident of some good sized bulbs in due course.

More weeding tomorrow...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Picking Vegetables in the Rain

There's a kind of grim inevitability of being under water restrictions - the day after they are announced, the heavens open and it doesn't stop for weeks. So it has been this week - hardly a day without heavy rain showers, lots of thunder and the cat hiding behind the sofa so often she's started to sleep there. So this morning we went out to do our gardening in the rain which was supposed to clear up but didn't. While the downside of the rain is that the weeds and grass have zoomed up this week, the upside is the vegetables have loved it. Here is my first ever marrow, and very tasty it was too - picked at this size the skin is still soft and doesn't need peeling.
Here's a snap of the spinach (right), chard (left) and lettuce (extreme right) bed. I tried for years and years to grow spinach, but it always ran to seed immediately. I tried so-called non-bolting varieties with no success, but in my research it was suggested that perpetual spinach would do better. So last year I bought a few perpetual spinach (also known as spinach beet) plants which did well and I took the plunge with a packet of seed this year. A great success, on two counts - an excellent crop and this bed was fully reclaimed this year, so increasing our croppable area.
After the very cold winter and slow start to spring, it's amazing how well things have done. Over the last few years we have been working to reclaim land from weeds and build it up so we could become more self-sufficient and this year we are seeing the fruits of our labours. This area here hosts broad beans (foreground, a little disappointing due to the dryness), courgettes (right), runner beans (left) and two rows of peas (back) plus a little lettuce and spring onions in the corners. It's around 16 square metres/yards in size so there's a lot in here. The peas are at peak production at the moment, with picking every few days, half of which goes straight into the freezer for the winter. The courgettes are just getting going, while the runner beans are flowering and I hope the rain will encourage the beans to set.
This is another successful bed - the cucumbers are just out of shot, but you can see a marrow (one of the two that pretended to be a cucumber when I was planting out) from which the vegetable above came, with the pumpkins further up the slope (three set so far) and the parsnips on the right, which are having a storming year. Parsnips and beetroot are very vulnerable to changes in the weather; our later but warm and dry spring was good for them.
Here are the rest of the marrows and some more lettuce, with some salad leaves flowering behind. These marrows have started flowering and fruiting now, so we should have some to keep in the autumn/winter, with the pumpkins.
The cabbages are better than they have ever been - this is one of the two cabbage beds, and you can see how the grass has grown in the last week.
The purple sprouting broccoli next door is also growing very well - we've been trying to figure out why the brassicas are so good this year. The soil here is very good now, it's where we started 10 years ago so it's had a lot of manure and compost and that may be a reason, but the other one may simply be the amount of sunlight we had during the longest days of the year, which fueled monster growth.
So here's this morning's haul - spinach, marrow, peas, broad beans, shallots, strawberries (thankfully past their peak now) and summer raspberries (just starting).
And here's yesterday's white currants, in my jam pan ready for jelly making. I'm spending a couple of hours a day at the moment processing whatever we pick, freezing, cooking, preparing. It's a busy time of year but we have a fridge bursting with produce, which is kind of the point, isn't it?
And my Other Half has made good progress in his mission, uncovering the flags by the shed. The soil you see is full of bits of brick, stones and stuff cleared from the plot decades ago. I need to think what to do with this sloping area - there's an old tree trunk behind, and a lot of brambles, but if I could get them under some sort of control, I could grow things over this, with the help of some compost. Something to think about for the autumn. Any ideas?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The fruit glut continues

This is the progress so far on the messy corner shown in the previous post - we can now open the shed door fully, and a section to the right of the compost bin has been dug out. More to do, but loads better, thanks to Other Half who has worked very hard on this in addition to his training as an Undergardener. :-)
We're now under water restrictions, after a very prolonged dry spell. You can see the effect on these broad beans - they're about half the size they should be, and there is a distinct yellowing of leaves. We're still watering these as they have beans on, but stopped flowering prematurely. We have started to mulch them to assist - this bed is a more recent one and the soil is not as good yet as the beds which have been in cultivation for 10 years.
This is the first runner bean flower - a drought tolerant variety called White Emergo.
And these are the first marrows. Being a rather inept gardener, I didn't label my pots very well, but tried to put each type of similar plant in a different set of pots, labelling each type of pot once. Ridiculously stupid, and my system failed so two marrow plants are now in the cucumber bed. A cucumber planted between them is struggling to find the light. I really must do better next year...
I cut bunches of mint and sage today for drying, they're now hanging from the curtain rail in my office with the window open behind them. The sage recovered well from the winter freeze, more than can be said for my rosemary - I bought another one and put it in a pot so I can bring it inside this winter.
You can see the effect of the drought on the disappointing potatoes at the bottom of this picture - my crop is going to be smaller this year. We're still watering the potatoes, but digging up the poorliest looking first earlies now. It took well over an hour, but I finished picking the redcurrants today - probably about 25lb of fruit in total. A decent set of blackcurrants today, another few pounds of strawberries, a few raspberries and some vegetables, including the first courgettes. It will take me 3 days to get all this fruit processed and away, then I start on the whitecurrants. Thankfully the gooseberries are not nearly ready yet, so that's one less to deal with. So three days of stripping and freezing redcurrants awaits...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The harvest begins...

With all the planting behind me and the weeds in the veg beds largely under control, it's time to tackle some problem areas. So after a lunch of a spinach and onion omelette, it was off to the plot to start this:
On the left is the shed, whose door now barely opens as the brambles encroach, on the right is the compost bin which is being swallowed up. This area was a dumping ground for previous tenants, and I unfortunately carried on the practice, allowing the weeds and brambles to grow over it. Underneath all this green are a number of plastic bags containing compost for the beds and coal ash for the paths. This was Other Half's job and after an hour or so of hacking and digging out, he has made good progress. Updates to follow...
While he was doing that, I was doing this. The first picking of redcurrants (about one third of the crop), blackcurrants and more strawberries. I also picked some shallots, spring onions, broad beans, peas and lettuce. It's a lovely time of year, starting to use my own fruit and veg every day in the kitchen again. But the strawberries are getting a bit wearing already and Other Half is beginning to laugh when I produce them at every meal, so most of these will go into jam. The blackcurrants are in the freezer, and the redcurrants will follow once I have de-stalked them.
On Friday our area will officially be in a water shortage situation, with a hosepipe ban, so the rain today was welcome, although rather light. The New Dawn rose looks lovely with water droplets on the petals and leaves (you can just see them in close-up) and I do enjoy smelling the roses as I go in and out of the door. This is the best showing in years, so I make no apologies for another photo of this lovely rose!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Finally ... rain!

This week we have had a couple of good heavy rain showers, which has been most welcome after the dry, hot weather. It's a little cooler now, perfect weather for most plants and as you can see from the picture above, the New Dawn rose I grow around my front door is now at its best.
Unfortunately the weeds grow as fast, if not faster than the vegetables. This is my spinach, lettuce and chard bed, which is also occupied by self-seeded fennel, feverfew, sage, dandelions, grass and various other unwanted plants. Lots to do here.
The first courgette of the year - lots more to come, no doubt I'll be sick of them soon so I'm reviewing the recipe books to find ways to deal with the glut. This courgette is Partenon F1, a variety which does not need to be pollinated to set fruit, perfect for those of us in northerly climes, where the cooler weather tends to delay fruiting. It is very early and prolific. Really good eating too.
The rain has also resulted in my apples growing extremely fast - this tree now needs stakes to support the branches.
These are the marrows and a good example of why I grow the Partenon courgettes. These flowers are male flowers, none of the female flowers have opened yet. Same with the pumpkins - it will be a couple more weeks before the female flowers start. If I didn't grow Partenon, my courgettes would be likewise delayed.
The cabbages have trebled in size this week. The brassicas have been a disaster for the last couple of years, mainly due to the excessive rain reducing light levels so they just don't grow at the right time. This is the time of year, with 18 hours of light every day, when they need to put on most of their growth, and this year we have the right conditions. I grow small cabbages, Minicole and Golden Acre as the big ones are just too large for us. That's why they are planted quite close together.
The strawberry glut is starting; this is today's basket, I'll need to pick them every day now. The rain has brought out the slugs, but the cold winter seems to have killed a lot of them off so the damage is minor compared to last year. I grow early and mid season varieties so I get several weeks of fruit. I don't do what the "experts" recommend - replace the plants every few years. I just manure and mulch them, allow the runners to grow and they produce lots of fruit.
The peas and beans aren't quite ready yet, but I am picking something most days. On the left of the basket is a bunch of fennel, weeded from the spinach bed. I'll use it is some mayonnaise with poached salmon. In the centre are salad leaves, now growing well after the rain. On the right are spring onions - I have to confess I bought these from the garden centre and planted them up. Cheating, I know, but they have grown well.
And finally, this is for my Mum away in Canada. She bought two bare rooted roses which arrived in April. I soaked them for a bit, then potted them up. One grew away very quickly, the other showed no signs of life (according to her). I was convinced otherwise and told her to leave it be, but she insisted it was dead and would never grow. So here is a picture of the "dead" rose - Mum, I told you so.