Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pumpkins Galore!

At the weekend I put all the marrows and pumpkins in the shed to start to dry off, and today we brought them home. Here they are - marrows in the foreground, pumpkins in the background. The marrows are Tiger Cross and have been magnificent - for a first attempt, I'm very pleased. The pumpkins are supposed to be Small Sugar, a small pumpkin, but you will notice there are three smaller and oranger (just invented that word, I think!) fruit in there. It's either a genetic throw back or a seed from a different variety in the packet, as the small pumpkins were all on the same plant. These will keep for months in the house, so plenty of good winter eating there.

It's been a good year for these plants; although I did lose a few seedlings in the late frost, the replantings grew well. The only thing I did different this year was to put a dollop of horse manure and good compost in the planting hole rather than fertilising the whole bed, so I think that's something I'll do again next year.

A note on the colour - I rarely get my pumpkins completely orange while they're still outside, but they ripen well indoors.
The last couple of months have also been good for the weeds due to the rain, so we've started clearing them systematically. Here are the leeks, which are growing on well and are now being freed from the weeds. A late winter variety, for eating after Christmas so they're not very big yet.
And somewhere in here there are strawberries!
The cabbages have also done well, we have enough to carry us into November.
And we have these sprouts to look forward to in November/December. I've never had success with sprouts before, only sowed these as I had a few seeds left from my last attempt. Not sure if it's the weather or the bed I put them in or a little of both. Anyway, this is a rather nice surprise.
And these are the purple sprouting broccoli, which will be ready next March/April. Something to look forward to, a treat you really struggle to buy in the shops.

I'll be doing a review of the year; good, bad and ugly later when I sit down to do next year's seed order and I'll compare varieties then.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Passionate about apples

I'm passionate about apples, having worked in a place in the early 90s with a large orchard and apple store. You just can't beat an English apple for taste, after that I never bought anything else in the shops. I learned all about the different varieties, how to grow them, how to store them and while I don't have the land for such things here, I decided I had to grow them on my little plot. Most people these days don't know how an apple should taste, think they should be green and tart (the fault of all those golden delicious apples) and a lot of growers didn't bother to grow traditional varieties for many years. Thankfully, that is changing a bit now, and it is easier to buy English apples, at least in the autumn and winter. With dwarfing M27 rootstocks, anyone can grow an apple tree somewhere.
These are the Katy apples which I picked a few weeks ago and which are now perfectly ripe. I left them in their crates for a while, and then sorted them, putting those with damage or no stalk to one side for quick use as they won't keep. Then I used some paper kitchen roll to wipe them over and remove the dirt. These apples have a waxy coating when ripe (like a lot of early apples), as a result you can't really wash the dirt off, wiping is the best way and then they're really shiny.
This is the first of the fruit from my new Spartan tree. This fell in the high winds recently, far too early, so I've put it with the Katy in the hope it will ripen. Another little known fact about apples is that they are ready to pick when you gently lift an apple, move it 90 degrees from the branch and it gently detaches - no need to pull. Or you can wait until they start falling off! Spartan is probably my favourite apple, and this does make it into the shops in October. One side will turn a deep purple colour when ripe and it has a very distinctive taste, quite unlike any other apple.

Once you know about apples, you can identify them by shape and colour pattern. Here are three of my four types (the Blenheim Orange is still on the tree). The one on the left is a Worcester Pearmain, a 19th century variety which I picked today but which isn't ripe yet. Dark red, with a distinctive pattern around the stalk and in shape rounded but bigger at the top than the bottom. In the middle is Spartan, a flatter type (like many late apples), with one side which will turn purple when ripe. On the right is Katy, which is more rounded and bright red with yellow streaks. The only main type of apple I don't have is a russet, the very latest apple which has a thicker skin and lasts through the winter, often only becoming ripe after Christmas. Maybe I'll have one someday.

So this autumn if you can find some homegrown apples in your local shops, do try them. Sweet, tasty and I can guarantee you'll never eat a Golden Delicious again!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Seeds and Other Autumn Things

It's been hard to get out in the garden due to the strong winds and incessant rain. So I have done a few indoor things - firstly the parsnip seeds. These came from a couple of parsnips which I inadvertently left in the ground last winter - there are always one or two which escape. So as the seed heads matures, I cut them and put them in the shed to dry off, and finally brought them in last week.
Ten minutes of stripping them from the vegetation, and here we have a good collection of parsnip seed for spring. I generally find it germinates quite well, but I will get a commercial packet of seed to bulk up the numbers.
Meanwhile, the pumpkins are continuing their bid for freedom, this one is climbing the plum tree.
But the vegetation on the pumpkins is now dying back and I can see the fruit - ten in total, four in this picture (two yellow, two green). I'll leave them out a bit longer to ripen more.
One of the supports from the Worcester Pearmain apple tree snapped in the wind so I've had to prop it up.
This week, if it ever stops raining, I'll pick all the small beetroot for pickling.
And this afternoon I put away the sage and mint leaves I dried over the summer.

I finally got around to repairing the shed this week, with the help of a neighbour who volunteered. In the process we discovered that the shed is dead,with rot setting in at the base of two sides. So that's another project for next year, not to mention expense. Still, it's survived ten years in the soggy northwest, which is pretty good. Thinking of a plastic storage shed next - anyone got any recommendations?

Anyway, I have removed the snails which had moved into the shed, and the mice shouldn't be able to get in either, so mission accomplished for now.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day _ September 2010

After the high winds and heavy rains of recent days, I'm amazed I have any flowers at all. At this time of year activity is in the pots outside the house - this is Rudbeckia Goldsturm. I've had this plant for years and it has failed to flower, so this year I repotted it and moved it to a slightly less sunny position, as drying out has been a problem. It rewarded me with good growth and a few flowers, so I'm tempted to split it this autumn and repot it again.
And these are white pelargoniums, underplanted with mimulus which are sadly past their best now. A cheerful sight in the wet weather we;re experiencing now.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Mid-September

Mid-September and the leaves are turning, the weeds are still growing (unfortunately) and the rain is making a rather too frequent appearance. This means time in the vegetable plot is rather limited. I have a hole in the back of the shed that needs fixing, the strawberries have disappeared under the weeds and the pumpkins are trying to escape onto the plot next door, but the only thing I can actually do is pick produce. So last week I picked the last of the Victoria plums - a small crop this year, I suspect the tree may turn out to produce mostly biennially.
The runner beans are now doing well, too well for my taste. I'm not a huge fan of these things, but Mum is, so I grow them mainly for her. Mine tend to end up in soups.
And I picked the Katy apples - again not as big a crop as last year, but the dry spring led to a severe June drop and indeed apples continued to fall off through the season. Still, enough apples to keep us going for several weeks!

And as you can see from the photo, the courgettes are still going - they're not growing as long as they were, instead they're growing short and fat. Has anyone else seen this phenomenon?

There are plenty of cabbages too, all a good size for small cabbages. And there is lots to look forward too - pumpkins, chard, parsnips, sprouts and broccoli, not to mention more apples and raspberries. Let's hope we have a few days without rain.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

More Gorgeous Flowers

Now my Mum has this little obsession. Every year she has to take a trip to the seaside. She was in Canada earlier this year when we had our summer, and since she got back it has rained incessantly, so facing the prospect of a nice, warm weekend, and since Other Half was working, we decided to take ourselves off to Lytham on the Fylde coast (south of Blackpool). We walked along the front, I was excited to spot three Little Ringed Plovers, and then we went to have a look at Lowther Gardens which have recently been given a makeover. It's your standard Victorian park, with beds, rose garden, fountain, and bowling greens, but it was the long bed at the back of this photo which caught my eye. Do click on any of the photos for a closer look.
The rectangular beds alongside the paths were planted up in vivid red or yellow begonias mainly, and very striking they were.
But when we went over to the long border, we found these mystery plants. A man was walking along the edge too, so we asked him if he knew what they were. He said he wasn't sure, but thought they may be a kind of lobelia. He was right - Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria. A stunningly tall red flower, with red foliage to match. It's a half-hardy perennial in this part of the world. In this patch of planting, they had put it in front of some delphiniums, which I think was a mistake as the lobelia is taller.
But here, the delphiniums were in front and I love the combination of red, electric blue and yellow.
What was nice about the planting of the border was that it contained fairly random plant and colour combinations, with no repeats. Here we have red dahlias, lamb's ears in the foreground and white late-flowering foxgloves on the right. In other parts, there were yellow dahlias, heleniums and lower growing plants; a real mix of hardy and half-hardy perennials.
And here you can see the full sweep of this long border, with the clock in the middle and one of the rectangular beds in the foreground. A lovely border, and that lobelia is definitely on my plant list for next year! I just wish I had enough ground to be able to create something imitating this, maybe one day when I'm rich, sigh....

Friday, 3 September 2010

Edenfield Flower Festival

Today we went to the Edenfield Flower Festival. It's held in the parish church, this is an old picture which shows the building quite well. If you think that the tower is leaning, you're quite right - it's about 2 feet off, and is the only part of the earlier church built in 1540 which survives. The rest was built in 1778. Interestingly, when they were working on renovating the panelling and pews inside recently, they discovered subsidence in the stone floor and there will be an archaeological dig here soon to look at the earlier churches, one of which was allegedly built in wood.
This was my favourite - a marble font with a lovely flower arrangement in top.
The village school submitted some vegetables and sunflowers they had grown - rather impressive!
Here is the inside - it surprised me by being smaller than I expected based on the outside. Potted chrysanthemums in the centre. The balcony (not common in an Anglican church) was added in the 19th century.
One of the strange things is you cannot access the balcony from inside the church but have to go outside and in another door, by which is this lovely hydrangea, in full flow.
And every village in Lancashire has its cricket club - here is their window.
Away from the church, I thought I would share a bit of this planting. The local authority experimented one year with wildflower/mixed seed planting in one of the large grass verges. They cut a large, wavy bed out of the grass and scattered seed there. Everyone loved it, so they've done a few more now, and this is a small section of one of them. A great idea, cheap and cheerful.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pruning Week

So, after the coldest (and very wet) August in 17 years, we've finally got some settled, sunny and - yes - even warm weather. It was time I got round to pruning. I started with the Victoria plum (above). Plums should have all their pruning done in dry, warm weather in summer - if you prune in winter, you run the risk of introducing disease into the wood due to damp. I prune the leaders (the part of the branch which produces the framework of the tree) back to 8 leaves in length, and the laterals (the side branches) back to 6 leaves. This induces the tree to form flower buds on the laterals.
My plum tree is grown on a Pixie rootstock, so it's technically a dwarf tree, but I still needed stepladders to reach the leaders this year. There's not a lot of fruit on it this year, but there has been a lot of good quality growth, which bodes well for next year.
Next to the apples. One of them is what is called a tip-bearer, so I don't prune it. The others are spur bearers, i.e. they form fruit on spurs along the branches, so summer pruning is important to encourage the formation of flower buds. Above is a picture of the Blenheim Orange - you can see the leader in the centre, surrounded by lots of laterals.
On apples, you leave the leaders alone until winter, but cut the laterals back to 3-5 leaves. The same applies to gooseberries, so I did those too.
Then I cut out the old canes from the summer raspberries, the ones that fruited this year. They're easy to see - they're the brown ones. The green stems are the ones that will fruit next year. Removing the old canes creates space and air around the plants, and I should be able to weed in there now.

Of course, having curly hair my pruning activities generally end with my finding bits of leaves and plants in my hair. I took out all the bits I could see, but still found a few leaves and an old raspberry flower in there when I washed my hair this morning!
Elsewhere, I trimmed my little Box bush into a tidy mound.
And I took out several old stems from the flowering blackcurrant, to ensure we get constant new wood growing. Above is a picture of a berry - a rare thing on a flowering blackcurrant. Not edible by humans, but the birds might like it.
And here's the biggest marrow I've grown this year, with the secateurs next to it for scale. A monster!

If you're keen on growing fruit, the best book on the subject is "Growing Fruit" by the Royal Horticultural Society - it covers absolutely everything and is invaluable.