11 Aug 2021

While I was away ... how my garden fared

It’s always a worry when you go away in midsummer and leave the garden or allotment to fend for itself, especially with the fickle weather we’ve experienced this year. I’ve been away for a few days in lovely Lancashire where it rained quite a lot. (Important for such a beautiful green county!) I gather heavy rain was not exclusive to the north so, as a priority on my first day back, I went to assess the veg garden.  

Leafless stalk of cabbage plant
Pigeons or slugs - who’s the vandal here?

As ever in food growing, there are thrills and spills. Can I blame rainfall for the devastation? Munching molluscs would have slithered easily towards my brassicas (or was it pigeons?) - regardless, my cabbages have been thoroughly enjoyed down to a stump, as have all my dwarf french beans and courgettes - even carrots are now leafless. I'm not happy.  

Is it even worth trying again with the beans at this late stage? The garden is feeling distinctly autumnal but the weather might decide to give us a bit more summer yet. I once grew a lovely bed full of Kelvedon Wonder peas in the late summer and had a good harvest before the end of autumn so I’m tempted to give more dwarf beans another go but my memory could be as fickle as the weather.

Curiously, and thankfully, the celeriac and leeks have been ignored by the munch bunch - do they have a secret weapon, I wonder? Leeks were planted out recently, following the advice of Carol Klein to grow leeks in modules until they reach pencil thickness. Mine looked more like barbecue skewers than pencils but have plumped up nicely since being transplanted. I may get only baby leeks but at this stage any veg would be something to look forward to. 

Did someone say summer pudding?

But let's not dwell on the negatives! Looking on the bright side, as I like to do, the Swiss rhubarb is looking lush and healthy, ditto my redcurrants and raspberries, plus there are sweet juicy blackberries ripening in the hedgerows. I’m tempted by thoughts of marrying those fruits with last year’s frozen blackcurrants to make a summer pudding (red fruits cooked inside a bread crust which absorbs all the juices - delicious with cream!). A few late picked stems of that red rhubarb could also become rhubarb and orange marmalade; a friend was given a jar recently and made it sound so wonderful that I went in search of a recipe. If I never speak of it again, you'll know it wasn't a success! 

Once bitten ... (grrr)

And what of the tree fruit? As happens every year in August, my Braeburn apples look temptingly tasty long before they’re properly ripe. The result? They get picked, one bite taken and then the fruit is discarded; It’s so annoying. A sign is needed when I have the time ... possibly along the lines of ‘poisoned apples, eat at your own risk’.


But now for some good news - hurrah!  Regard the Solitary Plum. Yes! It’s turned purple. Whoop! A gentle squeeze has let me know that it’s not ripe for picking yet and I will keep my fingers (and toes) crossed that nothing and no-one will have it away before I can try it myself.  

- - - - - - - - 

Today I’ve been to Suffolk to wander among the veg and flowers in the trial fields of Mr Fothergill’s seeds. Expect photos, new seeds for next year, more photos and a few top tips from the growers.  



7 Aug 2021

Presenting the Not So Humble Nasturtium


Consider the nasturtium... a cheerful little soul, persistent, occasionally very annoying but also somewhat shy at times. Since sowing the first seeds into the veg patch ten years ago, my garden has never been without them. The sight of the flowers brightens my day (and sometimes my salad plate). This year I’ve grown an absolute corker - meet Bloody Mary. (No, not the cocktail.)


Her pink tinged buds open to a clear yellow with splashes of deep blood red - fabulous in itself - but, as the flowers mature, the petals change colour!  Will they be pink, red, speckled ... or stay yellow? My favourite is the deep wine red that some change to just before setting seed. 


Even the seeds are beautifully striped... although that one was nipped off to encourage more flowers; there will be time to collect the seeds later.


At first I thought this particular nasturtium might be a compact variety so grew it next to my Cherry Falls bush tomato in the raised Veg Trug bed; not so, as I’ve discovered. She has gently lowered one stem over the sides to explore new territory and twined herself companionably through the tomatoes with not an aphid in sight. 


The first nasturtiums appeared in the veg patch after a chance comment from a local competition judge that my garden was “very green” - said in a way that conveyed his disapproval at the lack of brashly coloured bedding plants.  That stung, “What’s wrong with green” I countered but that comment started my search to learn more about edible flowers for my food growing space.

Seeds for a creamy white (Milkmaid) and a sumptuous deep dark red (Black Velvet) were duly bought. I wasn’t convinced about eating the plants (that came later with nasturtium pesto) but reasoned that they served a dual purpose of adding colour and would be useful as a sacrificial plant in attracting aphids away from other crops. (A nice idea but I’ve never found them to be very efficient at this - any aphids will colonise all plants and not selectively choose nasturtiums.)

Since then I’ve grown Empress of India, Blue Pepe (small with blue tinted leaves and red flowers), and salmon baby in the veg patch. In the salad garden last year Ladybird Rose had her moment, only to be replaced by Baby Orange this year. Both have been well behaved and not trailed everywhere.

But the nasturtium that has totally captivated me this year with her changing appearance is Bloody Mary. She was a new seed in Mr Fothergill’s range last year and they were kind enough to send me a pack. 

1 Aug 2021

The good and bad of my veg patch this week

Curly kale plant growing
Last kale standing
(and yes it is surrounded by self seeded forget me nots that will need to be moved, eventually)

Honestly, there are times when I wonder why I grow veg. With my small veg patch, my efforts are hardly a step towards self-sufficiency, especially when plants give up the good fight against pests, predators and precipitation (rain). (I do love a bit of alliteration.) But, then again, I’m an optimist by nature and have learned to roll with the heartache of seeing weeks of nurturing wiped out.

As we’ve come to expect in this very British of summers, variable weather conditions have favoured slugs and snails this past week, although I must say that lovely rain has left all the greenery looking very lush, even if my kales and cabbages have all but disappeared. Luckily I have a few spares waiting in the wings; veg growing is nothing if not a learning curve.

Yesterday was one of the brighter, yet chillier, days (perfect weather!) so I was able to grab a few photos in the evening as I inspected the patch after work. 

Green tomatoes ripening on plant

Ah! The waiting game as tomatoes gradually ripen ... they would get there quicker if grown in the warmth of a polytunnel or greenhouse but I don't have that luxury. Mine are chosen for their ability to be grown outdoors - hellooo again, British weather! Dare I keep my fingers crossed and hope for another blight free year?
 
These tiny tomatoes in my photo above are Mr Happy from Mr Fothergill’s children’s seed range and were destined for my niece’s young family to grow. Lockdown dictated otherwise and the plants stayed with me. I just love the name though - and if they ripen, I will indeed be Miss Happy! 

Single green plum on tree
Plum. Singular.
Readers may recall my very reluctant plum tree - yes, it’s still standing. Very close scrutiny joyfully revealed one solitary large plum dangling in the branches. Whoop!  Now don’t get too excited, this should be ripening by now but the tree is sending me a message - it’s reminding me that it’s the perfect time for pruning stone fruit trees, and that's long overdue here. One more for the weekend agenda, then. (I seem to be constantly chopping things down or digging things up recently - life as a gardener!)

And speaking of digging things up, the broad bean plants can come out; these were a major fail this year. I’ve never had a problem with broad beans but this year the pods refused to swell - probably the unexpected heatwave and not enough watering. The delicious primavera risotto that I make with home grown broad beans, asparagus and peas will have to wait until next year.


Turning resolutely away from the disasters, let’s look at my raspberry patch. I mulched around the canes with some of my Hotbin compost earlier year and, together with regular bouts of heavy rainfall, the difference is noticeable. The first clusters of large firm fruits have ripened - even though they're an autumn fruiting variety - several small handfuls have (in time honoured tradition) been picked and eaten straightaway and I’m hopeful of a steady crop in the weeks ahead. This variety, by the way, is Polka.

So, not all bad news then ... 

This week I'll be filling gaps in the veg patch by sowing 

  • two varieties of spinach - a hardy winter cropping variety that can be sown from now until the end of September, plus a vigorous summer variety for baby leaves. 
  • chard - can be sown again, now we're past midsummer. This sowing will give me baby leaves for salads and larger leaves in autumn and winter. Pink Passion for colour and Fordhook Giant for flavour. 
  • Coriander - delicious in salsas, salads and the lentil dhal that I make regularly. I'll be sowing this now until the end of August and hope the plants mature in time for some seeds after the pretty flowers. 
  • Plain leaved parsley - this is a last chance sowing as the window for outdoor sowing is March to July, although the temperatures now are not dissimilar to those in April. I chop flat leaved parsley into just about all savoury food so like to have some on the balcony and in the veg patch. 
  • Carrots - I sowed another batch of carrots last week; this time I used Extremo (Mr. Fothergills), a variety which crops over winter. I've not grown carrots over winter before but am really quite excited at the prospect of harvesting carrots in the colder months ... allegedly until April, if what I read comes true. 


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