Saturday, 25 August 2018


There are two plum trees in the garden, they were here when we moved in. Neiher has produced much for us, but this year the one nearest the house, mainly enjoyed as a bird magnet in winter, has rather a lot of fruit. They're not great quality but still welcome.

I finally hit the wall that always looms in the summer, although it came much later this year. The weather's continued mediocrity and a couple of brief but intense illnesses have contributed, but essentially I've lost my drive to be outside for the time being. And in fact there's less to do in some regards - until and unless I can clear a lot more space, the ground is full, and the crops must be left to grow.

Above and below: there are lots of unripe tomatoes, and now I've heavily pruned the plants, they have a chance to ripen before blight kills them off.

A little harvesting, but no glut. Signs of hope maybe - outdoor sweetcorn is flowering, but I have no idea if it'll produce a crop. More courgettes, but only a few. The first fennel, although it had begun to bolt, was delicious. Cabbages starting to heart up. And indeed some of the crops sown in summer, especially brassicas, are looking super healthy, but in want of a home.

The best fennel plant, starting to heart up, although the lengthening suggests it, like its brethren, will bolt (try to flower) before getting much larger.

But there have been signs of the season in a bad way, too - tomato blight has struck. Ironically on the same day I picked the first perfect fruit (all the first ones had cracked, although they were otherwise okay) I noticed a little blight on one of the plants, and then as I got my eye in, I realised there were little patches all over, on many of the others. At this stage, it's not a total disaster, and it spurred me to do something I'd put off, namely trim back the plants and stop them growing any more. It's not really surprising - I've had numerous blight alerts over the past few weeks (I signed up to a service in 2011 that emails you when conditions are ideal for blight to hit), and the greenhouse has been terribly damp - when the temperatures are in the mid teens and there's no sunshine, or it's raining, then opening it up seems a bad idea, but then there's no air flow and the glass is covered in condensation, so I'm not sure how best to deal with this in future. I'll start them earlier though, in February most likely, and as the greenhouse is now in place I can get them planted nice and early, in mid May say, which means they have the best chance to grow and fruit before prime blight season.

An outdoor winter squash, I think this is 'Musquée de Provence'. It's a big variety, so may not have chance to reach maturity in the time that's left, but it looks good right now.

To offset the gloom, I'm planning how the vegetable garden will look in six months' time. At present, mostly because it's been brought into cultivation a bit at a time, it's lots of small patches, but once these are cleared, I want simplicity. A big swathe of overwintering onions and garlic, cabbages, etc. This will help with protection - it's been very difficult to cover small groups of plants with netting, for instance. And aesthetically too, I think it will be better to be less busy.

A savoy cabbage, starting to heart up.

I got a new garden fork to replace the one that snapped on its first day. I've been thinking about compost again, reading about techniques, and turning the second heap onto the first (both have halved in volume as they have decomposed) is essential to provide room for the next load - I'm at that awkward stage with buckets and bowls of food waste piling up, waiting to be added. Hopefully combining the first two, which are at a similar stage, will reinvigorate things, and get the temperature up (the one disappointment when I turned the first heap a week ago was its coolness).

One more tomato, probably the largest, the variety is 'Hillbilly Potato Leaf'. Will it ripen?

21/08 - 175g courgettes, (20g raspberries)
22/08 - 120g tomatoes*, (150g plums)
24/08 - 335g kale, (50g plums)
25/08 - 340g courgettes, 350g mangetout
YTD total: 14.95kg
*the first fruit without cracking

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Mid August

 One success: this will be the first year I grow aubergines from seed successfully! The one on the right was the flower photographed a couple of weeks ago. Despite subdued temperatures, it's swelling gradually. They're a narrow-fruited variety called 'Little Fingers'.

The weather continues to disappoint, but I can't let it get me down too much. That's how it is here. I am getting weary of the reaction from people further south though - I don't envy their intense drought this year, but they keep commiserating with my forlorn tweets by trying to reassure me that it's not my fault things aren't going as well as I'd like, it's the weather's. Well, in a sense that's true, but not everyone has the same weather! Here in Scotland we did indeed have a hot, dry spell in May and June. But July turned back to normal conditions, and August has been dismal so far. So I can't take solace in there having been nothing I could do - nor do I get any comfort from other people's disasters. This is normal weather here, and I erred by trying some things - maybe the outdoor sweetcorn will be okay, but who knows, but half the fennel has bolted, and I was unwise to try growing it outside. There's a balance - cabbages, lettuce, kale, carrots, swede, spinach, brussels sprouts, leeks, parsnips, peas, maybe even runner beans will do fine in this. But tomatoes, aubergines, and peppers - even under glass - will not thrive, and winter squash, courgettes, French and shelling beans, and the aforementioned fennel and sweetcorn may not. Growing a range of crops is insurance as much as anything, and it is perhaps naive to imagine everything, or even most things, will thrive in a given year, but it is still sad to think I must wait another nine to twelve months for some of them.

I've not been doing as much outside either. It's no fun working when everything is sodden, and I'm running low on compost again. But I have sown more seeds, including overwintering onions, and turned the first compost heap of the growing season (I guess this was piled up in May-June), and it looked and smelled good (a clean mushroom scent). I got a new garden fork to replace the one that broke a few weeks ago, but it shattered in less than ten minutes, so that was a setback. I won't be doing much digging eventually, as I'm a convert to 'no dig', but first I have to lever out all the invading undesirables, like spiraea and excess raspberries. Strange that clumps of roots I can yank out by hand (with difficulty) can snap stainless steel tines, but I've learned that the shiniest tools aren't necessarily the strongest. It's a learning process, if nothing else...

Mixed lettuces, from the third sowing, planted where beetroot was before (older lettuces at the top, and runner beans to the right). They're pretty, mostly oak-leaved varieties, and should be less bitter than some of the ones I've grown this year, especially the dark purple 'Bijou'.

Returning to the subject of mushroom smells, I'll probably start growing my own again. I did it once before, in the winter of 2011/12, turning coffee grounds into a respectable batch of oyster mushrooms. I finally got a new espresso machine here, so I will have a ready supply of fodder for them, but also I want to try some others - button mushrooms on compost, "king stropharia" on woodchips, and shiitake and maybe chicken of the woods on a few spare firewood logs. I love that they can be grown on such disparate and otherwise not very useful materials - oysters will even grow on old books and magazines - and after you get a crop, the remains are even more amenable to composting. It's also a harvest in the cooler, wetter, darker months.

The best winter squash has grown a bit, and is now resting on a small tile to keep it dry.

In the meantime, some promising growth: the winter squash I shared a photograph of here recently continues to swell and darken. Some of the others may have aborted, but there are 8-10 scattered across the plants, so I may yet manage to get one or two through to harvest. There's a fresh flush of courgettes and summer squash, and the plants haven't yet succumbed to mildew as they usually do (the rain helps, I expect). The first aubergine (the flower was photographed here a couple of entries ago) is swelling and taking on colour. And despite my reservations, the sweetcorn have started producing male flowers - but no females yet that I can see.

As we tip into the last half of August, what must be done? Other than more clearing, which feels like a neverending task, a lot of seeds can still be sown. Overwintering brassicas, more onions, salad leaves and oriental greens, that sort of thing. Some old crops will come out - peas are pretty much finished now - and I'll replace them with new ones, probably brassicas like cabbage or cauliflower. I must choose and order next year's tulips, I want some fruit bushes and trees to go in before winter, and then it'll be onion sets and garlic. It's time to abandon any unrealised plans for this summer, and concentrate on making the next growing season more successful. An iterative process, and hopefully I can improve the outcome.

11/08 - 50g tomato, 1710g onions*
12/08 - 135g courgette
13/08 - 30g spring onions
14/08 - 95g tomatoes
15/08 - 195g courgettes, 400g peas, (~30g raspberries, 4~0g rowan berries)
16/08 - 30g lettuce, 50g tomato, 295g fennel**, 150g mangetout (~5g raspberry)
18/08 - 70g spinach beet, 10g spring onion, 175g courgette/summer squash***, less than 5g chilli****
YTD total: 13.63kg
*These were harvested in late July and dried in the greenhouse, then trimmed and weighed.
**I harvested the plants that had bolted before they flowered, they tasted good but hadn't bulked up.
***Including the first patty pans.
****Too little to be added to the total, but notably the first ripe fruit off the plant I overwintered from last year.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Too short a date

Current pickings, including the first tomato!

Well, it's August somehow, summer is two thirds gone (by meteorological standards; even by astronomical reckoning we're nearly halfway). It's one of the oldest and most often-repeated clichés, but time is going so fast. Some might say too fast, and sometimes I feel that way, but in a garden, it's easy to be impatient. Balancing impatience is the anxiousness that one has not done everything necessary by this point, and if they can hold each other in check, it feels okay.

The last week of July felt more like October. The temperatures plummeted, the clouds thickened, and we've had intermittant rain and lots of strong gusty winds. Not, sadly, enough rain to lay down stocks of water, but enough to keep everything outdoors happy, and to make many tasks unpleasant for a fair weather gardener like me.

One plant that doesn't mind cooler temperatures is the Brussels sprout. The best plant is still in a pot, albeit a large one now. It's not been as ravaged by pests as most (though note the butterfly eggs upper left), and is growing strongly.

Thank goodness for the greenhouse, and to a lesser extent the polytunnel. They feel mild, even warm on most days, and are dry, although the greenhouse is rather humid. I know good air flow is critical, but the plants in there are tender, and if I open it up too much, the temperature will be too low - mid teens is no good in the day, it needs to be twenty degrees at the very least. So it's probably too damp, the windows permanently covered in condensation, but some plants will be okay with that - aubergine flowers (of which there are now several open, and many more in bud) need misting, they say, but I don't think this will be necessary.

I got stuck into the polytunnel too, it having hung over me and caused even more anxiety. I put a lot of semi-tender plants in there, in pots, ages ago - back in May, probably. But I haven't watered them enough, and the weeds have grown. The half I didn't clear in spring is shoulder-high with nettles and mint, and there are other unwelcome things like horsetail, coltsfoot, and chickweed popping up elsewhere. The no-dig approach has worked, though - the part I cleared, laid with cardboard and then manure has remained mostly clear, and it took no time to remove the few bad'uns that had come up from beneath. Next to no weeds have germinated, because their seeds are buried too deep, and the manure was essentially sterile.

So after weeding and pulling out the previous crops - onions and garlic that are still clinging to life, but which have scarcely grown in months - I've added a surface layer of compost, and in has gone all those things that are far too late but might as well be planted anyway: winter squash, summer beans, sweetcorn, etc. They're big plants, and indeed some fruit has set on the squash already, so perhaps there will be enough time. I reckon they've got about eight to ten weeks before it gets too cold, and conditions in there are benign enough to tough out normal summer weather.

They say it will get warmer - I really hope that's true. One upside is, cold wet windy weather keeps most of the butterflies at bay. Leaf miners are an increasing scourge, however, despite my efforts. If it's not one thing, it's another...

A week later...

Well it hasn't warmed up much. The weather has been very mixed, rather typical summer fare for these parts - plenty of rain (though not generally prolonged spells), high humidity, not very high temperatures (rarely going above 20ºC). Most plants seem fine with it - some of the midsummer sowings like cauliflowers are racing away - and it's reduced the butterfly influx somewhat. On that subject, I applied the bacterial insecticide and await its effects - although with rain, it'll need regularly re-applying. After several days of this poor weather, with no harvests and an unexpected illness, some excitement: the first Brussels sprouts are forming on the 'Evesham Special' plants that went in the ground recently (see image below), and the first tomato has ripened. In the latter case, it was not 100% ready, but it had split all round, so needed picking. Others are starting to take on colour, and the plants are reaching the greenhouse eaves.

 Above: the most advanced winter squash were still in pots until recently, but they'd been in the polytunnel so probably benefited from the warmer conditions (and I had fed them); this 'Baby Blue Hubbard' is about an inch across, and now it's in the ground it has a chance to ripen before the end of autumn. If I can grow just one it will be a new achievement, and I will be content.

In the polytunnel, more progress was made. It's now half cleared, amended, and planted, with sweetcorn, winter squash, dwarf runner beans, and huauzontle ('Aztec broccoli'). This last plant has been attacked by the beet leaf miners, despite being in a totally different plant family, so I'm hoping these will be unnoticed under cover (I had to rub off eggs from every leaf before planting, a little demoralising). More clearing and planting is to come: I'm shoving in everything semi-tender, like the remaining summer squash plants that haven't yet found a home, more winter squash, and any tomatoes that still look alive. If they do nothing, it's no loss.

01/08 - 180g courgettes, (~180g mint)
07/08 - 115g courgettes, 240g mangetout, 250g peas, 60g spinach beet, 35g tomato, 65g lettuce
08/08 - 95g turnips
09/08 - 510g kale
10/08 - 510g garlic*
YTD total: 10.235kg
*This is the 2018 planting, that I pulled up two and a half weeks ago, now dry and trimmed.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Hope and despair

Note I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but didn't publish as I wanted extra photos.

It's a trying time again. A couple of months ago, slugs and snails were the bane of my garden, destroying plants, especially brassicas. Well they haven't been a problem for a while, although why is not clear. I moved the plants to a new spot, and frankly killed all the molluscs I could find, especially the big fat garden snails that seem greediest and most destructive. But also, it's been mostly very dry as all the news reports will tell you, so perhaps it's that.

But now there's a new public enemy: butterflies. I love butterflies, although growing up as a gardener the white ones were always viewed with suspicion. And lo, they are here by the dozen, fluttering about and surreptitiously laying eggs on every brassica they see - apart, so far, from the main stand of kale. At first there was an egg here and there, but now every single plant has dozens, even small seedlings, and the red cabbages that at first seemed uninteresting to them are succumbing too. If they all hatch, the plants will be stripped of leaves in a couple of weeks and that'll be it for my dreams of cabbage, Brussels sprouts, more kale, cauliflowers, broccoli, swedes, and kohl rabi. That's far too big a chunk of my time and effort potentially wasted, so action must be taken.

The foolproof way is netting the crops, which is to say, laying netting over a frame, be it canes or hoops, or sections of flexible pipe, so the butterflies can't physically reach the plants. But I am growing most in pots before finding somewhere for them, so there's no practical way to net them, and the ones I have planted are all in different beds and containers, so netting them all is impractical (although some will be done). However, someone reminded me of a treatment I read about earlier this year, based on bacteria that kill the developing caterpillars before they can do much harm, and although it's hard to get in the UK, I have found some for sale, so I will try that. I don't use chemical pesticides (although the distinction is a bit arbitrary), and this is safe to other wildlife and the wider environment, so it should be fine. It riles me that being a gardener naturally sets you against nature to some extent, but if I want heavy crops of food rather than caterpillars, then this must be done.

As if to emphasise this message, I have been chasing blackbirds off the raspberries again. They've been landing and gorging while I was working nearby, utterly brazen, and they seem unwilling to fly off until I run at them hissing and waving. This is all energy I could be putting to better use, and to be honest, I'll be glad when the soft fruit season is over. Indeed, there aren't many butterflies in the colder months, so autumn is for once an appealing prospect.

Incidentally, another pest has also been trying my patience, the beet leaf miner. I mentioned this before I think - basically it's a tiny fly whose larvae burrow into the leaves of beets (another major family of vegetables) and consume them from within, making leaf beet and chard unusable. I recently removed and disposed of every affected leaf I could find, but upon planting some spinach beet yesterday, I find tight clusters of tiny white eggs on every single leaf. I rubbed them off but it is another depressing thing. It's much harder to guard against, because netting is too coarse and lets the insects through - you can use fleece but that's rather unsightly and I'm not sure it would be practical. So I must now check every plant thoroughly, regularly, and it's another pain. Hopefully regular harvesting will help, but I'm starting to wonder why anyone bothers trying to grow produce, especially organically. It's all very well talking about encouraging natural predators, but some pests don't seem to have any, or at least by the time the predators or parasitoids arrive, you've already lost a crop of healthy plants.

Above: the parsnips that germinated first are huge, with leaves a metre long, and they are growing strongly at the base. Below: lots of purple vegetables! Clockwise from top left: lettuce 'Bijou', kale, probably 'Scarlet', spring onion 'Lilia', red cabbage.

So what of hope? Well some crops are managing fine. The courgettes are growing, albeit slowly, and producing a few smallish fruits here and there, but no glut. The kale (curly kale of two varieties, 'Scarlet' and 'Redbor', neither of which is really red in most cases) is healthy, largely untouched by pests (save a few eggs on plants in a container), and cropping quite heavily. Sweetcorn, fennel, and peas are all fine, and all the greenhouse vegetables seem very happy. Borlotti beans I sowed amongst the corn are now the same height as it, and growing strongly. Parsnips are enormous - above ground at least, three feet tall and producing lots of foliage, with more germinating as time goes on (it's been very erratic in that regard). Lettuces are untroubled, except for the variety 'Yugoslavian Red' (again not really red, but pink), which although very pretty, has all bolted, even the third sowing. Maybe it's best left to the colder months. Some ornamentals are also doing fine, a batch of rooted dahlia cuttings that were delivered in June are already big plants, some flowering freely. At this point I must accept that, as I knew back at the start of the season, not everything can be a success, and the more you grow, the more will fail, and the more problems you will encounter. But I may well manage to grow more crops - in terms of sheer weight, and certainly variety - than I've ever done before, so I can't let it get too upsetting. Besides, in a few months, the insects will be gone, and the winter veg - including many of the cabbages curently in peril - will be swollen and sustaining.

The first aubergine flower has fully opened. This is 'Little Fingers', which has small, narrow fruits, but the flower is big! Amazingly, I checked and this was sown late April, but the plant is nearly chest high now - it must be happy in the greenhouse!

27/07 - 115g elephant garlic*, 170g peas, 50g leaf beet, 35g chard, (40g redcurrants, 180g raspberries, 395g blackcurrants)
28/07 - 215g kale, 120g spring onions, 80g mangetout
29/07 - 165g courgettes, 45g onion**, 15g courgette flowers
30/07 - 100g peas, 5g chilli***
31/07 - 70g spinach beet****
YTD total: 8.175kg
*harvested a few days ago but left to dry
**accidentally pulled up whilst weeding a couple of weeks ago, now it's dry and I wanted to use it, so I've weighed it (the rest of the onions are still drying)
***accidentally snapped off; full size, but green
****I'm starting to think some of what I planted as spinach beet is in fact white-stemmed chard, but they're very similar, and I can't be sure, so I'm counting them as this.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

In with the new

These pink broad beans (probably 'Karmazyn') are lovely, but this year the crop was a failure overall, many more plants yielding far less than last year. The green ones lower left are 'Crimson Flowered'.

I didn't stay away too long. There are too many plants needing attention for me to leave them for more than a few days at a time, and besides, the garden is where I want to be right now. In my absence there was some rain, so I wasn't worried about watering what was outdoors, and I'd given the greenhouse and polytunnel a thorough soaking before I left, so that didn't trouble me.

The first major job on my return should have been doubly uplifting: harvesting, clearing, and replacing the first crops of the year. The two small raised beds I built in April have now reached maturity, but they haven't been a raging success. In the first, I planted onion sets and sowed a catch crop of radishes. The latter were picked in May and early June, and although the onions started to swell to full size earlier this month, I held off pulling them up until now, to give them every chance to be as good as possible. In fact, they were still growing so maybe I could have left them even longer, but everything is a balancing act - two more weeks' onion growth will not outweigh (literally or figuratively) two weeks for carrots or other fresh crops. The quantity I got looks to be okay, with a range of sizes from small to largish, and they should keep me going for a few weeks, but if I want enough for a year, I need to be much more organised in future.

Multiple courgette varieties are starting to mature, although there's not many yet. Above, left to right, are 'Diamant', 'Burpee's Golden', and 'Trieste White Half Long'; below you can also see round 'Tondo di Piacenza', and an unknown striped yellow one that might either be an unnamed 'Yellow' courgette from a mixed seed kit, or possibly 'Zephyr', which is meant to have a green tip.

In the second bed, I planted peas, broad beans, and three tiny spinach plants. One pea and one spinach died right away, but the rest did really well, alhough the spinach only gave a couple of crops before bolting. I've picked peas from this bed for a couple of weeks, but they slowed down pretty quickly. The broad beans looked perfect, covered in crimson blossom, but then they had the twin shocks of a summer storm, which battered them (although I pre-emptively supported them with a network of canes and twine, they were still much less upright afterwards), and then the hot, dry early summer weather - which is absolutely not what they want at that point, when the fruit is setting. Perhaps I wouldn't have got the harvest I expected anyway, but I think this was the main problem - although I did water them as often as I thought they needed it.

 The bed with, from left to right, leeks, huauzontle ('Aztec broccoli'), spinach beet, and Brussels sprouts 'Red Bull'.

Anyhow, all of this was harvested on my return the day before yesterday, the plants and any weeds composted (a harvest in itself!), and the beds raked and amended with a little extra compost and seaweed fertiliser pellets. It's a great pleasure to have beds ready so quickly, pristine, rather than going through the palaver of clearing, as I have done elsewhere - this is the long-term goal, not having to begin afresh every year, just making minor adjustments as I go along. After much consideration, I decided to plant what looked good in the 'nursery' (all my potted plants lined up on the patio); so in the broad bean/pea bed I put one row each of leeks, 'Aztec broccoli' (huauzontle), leaf/spinach beet, and red Brussels sprouts. In the former onion bed I sowed a lot of carrots, because this is a crop I've never succeeded with in my own garden, and the ones I sowed this spring never grew past seedling stage (I used a large, deep container and fresh compost, they germinated, but then stalled and never grew any more, though they didn't die either) - different varieties in blocks. I also planted some green Brussels sprouts and the few celery plants from my first sowing, which have grown terribly slowly (but I haven't lavished them with attention, so it's mostly my fault). Very satisfying to turn around the space so fast - one advantage to growing so many plants in pots, rather sowing direct (the exception to this method is carrots and parsnips, as they really don't transplant).

The other bed with celery, Brussels sprouts 'Evesham Special', and five kinds of carrots (sown direct).

Another crop that came out was the last of the early beetroot. I sowed this direct into the soil in March (before I'd discovered no dig, and got into sowing in modules), and covered with polythene cloches (essentially mini-polytunnels) until the weather warmed up. They were slow to get going, but finally took off at the end of spring, and again I've been picking these for a few weeks. However, I noticed a massive amount of leaf miner damage, and although this isn't really a concern in this crop (although it may slow their growth a little, I'm not sure), the problem is, it's a source of infection for chard and spinach beet, which as they are grown for their leaves, can't be allowed to succumb. Sadly all the spinach beet I'd been growing in pots was afflicted, almost every leaf, before I realised what was happening, so now I'm being extra careful (I picked off every bad leaf, they will regrow as if they've been cropped). It's not too hard to deal with - you can put fine netting or fleece over the plants, and any leaf miners found can be squished, the leaves composted or burned, but I can't really cover plants in pots (this has also been a problem with regard to white butterflies laying eggs on the brassicas). Now I've started planting chard in the vegetable garden, I had to ensure as little risk of reinfection as I could, so the beets, ready or not, had to come out. This liberated a small amount of space, into which I may plant more summer beans.

Next to the beets I grew a couple of short rows of garlic, about a dozen plants. I ordered the bulbs from a specialist supplier last autumn, but predictably I didn't plant them then, because by that stage the veg beds were overgrown after a few months of neglect. They were still mostly healthy by spring, so I sowed them in modules and small pots, but most never got planted, as I still didn't have anywhere for them. But those that did grew fine, and although they've recently been coated with tiny black flying insects (which don't appear to be a pest) and seem to have a little rust, they have done what they should. The bulbs aren't huge, but it's still a crop! I sowed runner beans a fortnight ago between the garlic and they've germinated, so all I needed to do was put in some canes for support, and the next crop is ready to go. The garlic, along with the onions, has gone in the geenhouse to cure and dry for a week or two, then they'll be cleaned, weighed, and stored.

Onions and garlic in the greenhouse, waiting to be strung up or put on a rack to dry.

After that, it's back to what I was doing before I left. The latest bed to be brought back into cultivation is half done, with vigorous spiraea (a hateful invasive shrub) removed, along with other inappropriate things like Japanese quince and Solomon's seal, and a thick layer of compost laid over corrugated card. In this I've planted two rows of fennel, a row of module-sown beetroot, and most importantly winter squash and shelling beans. Once this is finished, I can turn to other areas that need the same treatment - and yes, this means another sack of compost had to be ordered. I refuse to fall behind.

24/07 - 400g beetroot, 40g peas, 190g broad beans, 55g turnip
25/07 - 230g mangetout, 230g kale, (280g raspberries)
26/07 - 280g courgettes, 5g garlic scape (680g blackcurrants)
YTD total: 6.99kg*
*Note: although I harvested onions and garlic on the 24th, I won't weigh them until the tops have dried, as that will give a more accurate result

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Mid July

Not quite a glut, but a nice quantity of beetroot. On the left, 'Chioggia' (which when cut open reveal concentric red and white stripes), on the right 'Cheltenham Mono', with long roots (but which have disappointed me by growing very slowly and not swelling much).

I have to go away again. It'll be for no more than a week, like last time, but once again I feel stressed. This time it feels like a tipping point - there are summer tasks I need to have done before I get back, because the end of July really is too late for some things. I can't expect runner beans sown that late to do very much, so any cheeky late sowings of anything remotely tender must be done before I go (and even then, I'm pushing it, but what do I have to lose?). I have got a few things done, planted the first bulb fennel, which should be ready by mid August, the second sowings have germinated - and there's still time for more. At last, the winter squash are being planted. Once again, this is very late - I sowed them at the 'right' time, and can only hope that by potting them on and feeding them, they have grown enough already to set fruit before too long (they're good-sized plants, 18 inches to 2 feet long in most cases, with flowers either open or budding, but they have been a bit constrained). I sowed cucumbers again, because all the previous plants died one way or another, but this time they went in the greenhouse, mostly sown straight into the beds. They'll compete for space with what's already planted, but it's better than nothing. I'm hoping by the time they start taking up space, the tomatoes' lower leaves will all be stripped (this is usual practice when growing indeterminate or vine tomatoes), so they can form an understory. Basil, ditto, but that's not a worry.

My first courgette! I believe this is 'Diamant' (from the first plant put in its final position, a large pot).

Some winter squash will be planted in the polytunnel, as insurance and because there's space in there - they should have extra time to grow and mature in the warmer conditions. Also sweetcorn, which was an unexpected success in there the first year here. Some of the largest brassicas are being fed in their pots as they too ae desperate to be planted. At least some can go in the onion and/or broad bean-pea beds once those are cleared, but in the meantime I have potted the largest ones on again (from 1 litre to 4 litre pots). In principle they can be grown in pots all the way to harvest, if the containers are large enough, but I'd rather not do that because it will involve much more watering. We'll see...

Most other things are fine, at least. The middle sowing of brassicas - cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower done in May - that I repotted a while back are bouncing into growth again (they'd reached a bottleneck), and the last sowing of these have germinated and been thinned to healthy seedlings. Barring slug and snail damage (which has wreaked havoc with them on and off this year so far), they should be good to plant in autumn, for cropping over winter and into spring. That's reassuring, at least - knowing the beds won't be empty in the colder months.

Nine kale plants went into the ground, and I took the three lowest leaves from each for this harvest - it weighed 200g. I could have picked twice as much, but I want the plants to concentrate on growing for now.

Harvests are quite plentiful, with the first courgettes ripening, although they're not prolific (will they ever be?). Lots of soft fruit, leaves, and legumes. Returning to the greenhouse, there's plenty of growth, with lots of green tomatoes and chillies, and even the aubergines are getting ready to flower, so it's not all stressful. The greenhouse so far has been a joy - I don't have to water too often, as the beds are deep and the plants can root into the subsoil, plus I'm using cut-off inverted plastic bottles to drip water deeply, which helps even things out (rather than watering then letting things dry out, back and forth). I get lots of pleasure going in there - especially on a grey day when it's much warmer under the glass than outside - and pinching side shoots, twisting the supporting twine around growing plants, and just enjoying the atmosphere. I don't expect any ripe fruit for a couple of weeks at least, but I can be patient.

13/07 - 110g mangetout, 120g lettuce, 80g (elephant) garlic*
14/07 - 80g lettuce, 95g courgette, (15g raspberries)
15/07 - 200g kale
16/07 - 120g broad beans, 95g mangetout, 20g peas, (315g raspberries, 30g blackcurrants)
17/07 - 95g peas
18/07 - 75g chard, 305g beetroot
19/07 - 110g courgettes, 45g kale, 95g lettuce, (400g raspberries)
YTD total: 5.56kg

*harvested at the beginning of the month, but left to dry a bit before weighing

Strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, and blackcurrants, stewing with a little sugar for a summer pudding. The smell was delicious!

Thursday, 12 July 2018


The colours of July: pink-tinged mangetout 'Spring Blush', redcurrants, and garlic.

As I have mentioned before (or you could infer from previous years' blogging), normally I give up on the garden about now. But not this year. However, now I know what both alternatives are like, I'm not sure which I prefer.

I keep getting a lot done (by my standards at least) - sowing, pricking out, potting on, removing dead or dying leaves, checking for and attempting to counteract pests and disease, harvesting, planting, pruning, tying in, and all the other small tasks that a garden of any size requires, as well as larger ones like taking delivery of, and shifting the second sack of compost. But it never feels enough, and every day I seem to fall further behind.

When I gave up in years gone by, I felt sad, guilty, and a failure. This time I just feel worn down. There's still a small voice saying 'it won't be this bad in the future, because all those big jobs - building the greenhouse, thoroughly clearing and amending beds, etc - will have been done, and from then on it's just keeping things ticking over'. Well, maybe.

I've had to contend with unforeseen issues. Blackbirds have been a pain since the soft fruit started ripening. We inherited a lot of soft fruit here - redcurrants, blackcurrants, and raspberries - and they have continued to grow and even spread (raspberries are actually quite invasive) without our input. This is the first year I've made a proper effort to harvest them - in the past I picked a bit here and there, but most was left. Well, clearly the blackbirds think it's their fruit, and the laden boughs have started turning bare. They're doing what I've seen them do with elderberries and rowan in previous years - stripping the fruit before it's fully ripe. This is particularly annoying because some fruit can't be picked like that (raspberries just won't pull off the plant easily), and none is worth collecting in that state, as mostly it doesn't ripen properly off the plant. So if they take it before I can, then it's a complete loss.

I constructed a fruit cage around the bulk of the currants (which took a day out of my time that could have been used elsewhere), so they started attacking the raspberries. I put up CDs on string and it seems to have repelled them (it's actually very effective in the sense that I keep catching movement out of the corner of my eye and being startled by them, so perhaps it does upset the birds), and so they moved back to the currants and got in any gap they could find in the netting. Today I decided the fruit was ripe enough (though not fully) and time was short, so I've picked them. Raspberries are trickling in, and will do for some time, but currants are a one hit wonder. There may be enough for a summer pudding and a bottle of cassis, but that's about it.

Another problem I've not really noticed before is beet leaf miner. On the beetroot it doesn't matter, though it's unsightly, but the spinach beet have been ruined - I've not managed to harvest any yet. I have to remove every affected leaf on both crops - and the chard - because if they hatch out they will transfer from one to the other endlessly. The regular spinach all bolted, every time I sowed it (sometimes whilst still in the seed tray), so I'm not doing well on that front.

However elsewhere, harvests are ramping up. I cleared the polytunnel garlic and it should do for some months, and there are around another dozen bulbs from this year's planting still in the ground. I sowed runner beans in between these a few days ago, as I've let earlier sowings linger in their pots for want of somewhere to go, and this should mean they're a good size when I pull the garlic out (carefully!) in a couple of weeks' time. Incidentally, I also sowed borlotti beans amongst the sweetcorn, not because I want to go down the three sisters route (two thirds at least), but because once again space is wanting, and they should do okay if the theory holds. Peas are thriving - I must grow more next year - both shelling and mangetout. The first courgettes did what they always do for me: start to form, then wither before reaching any size, but more are growing and I must just hope they perk up. Kale is a stalwart, although I'm picking lightly as I want them to continue for months to come. The beetroot I sowed direct is still cropping well, I can just grab some when I want it. But so many plants are waiting to go in, some more desperate than others. I have nonetheless sown more, as I need things for later in the year - cabbages for winter, broccoli for late autumn, etc. One good thing is that some of the early crops will be coming out soon, onions, broad beans, and peas specifically, so I will have some bed space for *something* at least, although what takes priority isn't yet clear.

Peas, fresh from the pod! I've always dreamed of growing them well, and this seems to be the year, even though half the varieties I sowed never went in the ground. In my previous garden, they tended to fall prey to snails, but here they've been utterly trouble free.

06/07 - 440g garlic, 15g broad beans (shelled weight; 45g in pods), (110g redcurrants)
07/07 - 70g kale, 115g garlic, 20g courgette flowers
08/07 - 110g mangetout
10/07 - 230g garlic, 50g mangetout, (35g raspberries)
11/07 - 650g beetroot, (90g raspberries)
12/07 - 115g peas, (170g blackcurrants, 385g redcurrants, 10g raspberries)
YTD total: 3.915kg