Saturday, 30 July 2011

trying to keep on top....

At this time of year I seem to be working flat out to keep on top of harvesting and finding something to do with all the produce coming from the garden. Every day we go out and pick a load of peas to eat straight from the pods but after a couple of days away I came back to find loads of pods bursting with fat peas. Past their best for eating fresh so tonight I made some pea soup.

A lot of stuff is going straight into the freezer and I'll figure out what to do with it when things calm down a bit. Luckily we have a large commercial chest freezer which we got from the village shop when it closed a few years ago. At first we didn't think we'd ever fill it but, as most of you know, the feast period of summer soon gives way to winter's famine and it's nice to know that there's always something we can turn into a meal (as long as the electricity keeps flowing!)

We’ve had very warm weather for the past week so I’ve been frantically trying to keep all the containers supplied with water. Even after lifting all the early potatoes I’ve still got seventy-four containers with crops in them. I revitalize the potato compost with BFB and chicken manure and recycle it for things like salad crops, turnips and chard, and more spuds which I’m hoping will give us new potatoes in the winter.

Her indoors is having a well-earned rest at the caravan. I'm never sure if the rest is from me or world in general! Anyway, when I took her through I had a wander along the river and photographed this heifer. Those big eyes always seem to make them look sad. Perhaps they have an inkling of their fate.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

that's shallot!

This year's shallot harvest has been very disappointing. Most of them bolted in May as you can see from the photo. Even though I nipped off the seed heads I'm left with one thick tubular stem and very little bulb.

I'll get something from them but they won't store well so will have to be eaten fairly soon after they've dried fully.

The main onion crop and the little picklers are doing fine which is odd because they've all had the same growing conditions. Perhaps it was the particular variety of shallots but I can't remember what it was. Doh!!
Here's some of the little pickling onions which I lifted yesterday. I grow a lot just as clumps which I pop in to any spare bit of ground I can find. Scatter seed thinly on top of the compost in a five or six inch pot and when they get to a reasonable size just dig a hole, put the clump in it and leave to grow. They push each other apart as they grow and can be easily lifted when needed. Because they are so close together I do give them a regular liquid feed.

Talking of pickles, I currently have about 400g of nasturtium seeds soaking in brine in preparation for pickling in the next few days. They are said to taste like pickled capers but we'll have to wait and see.

This afternoon I gave a tub of cherries to a neighbour and got six fresh free-range eggs in exchange, and the promise of a cherry tart when she bakes next week. Little things like that really make my day and prove that the world is not such a bad place....bombings and disasters excepted.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

cherry harvest

This year, for the first time since we moved here, I was determined to actually harvest some of the cherry crop which our prolific tree produces. Guess what? I actually managed it and here's the proof....

600g of lovely red cherries which are not quite ripe yet and a bit sharp but plenty of sugar will sort that out. These were taken from the parts of the tree that I couldn't manage to net so there will be plenty more which I will allow to fully ripen.

Today wasn't just about cherries, though.

I picked peas, broad beans a cauliflower and a turnip. Oh, and  small cucumber but I can't show that as we had it with our sandwiches for lunch.

I've often heard it said that cauliflowers are difficult to grow but I've had no real problems for the last five years. You get the odd one that 'blows' but as long as they get plenty of water they seem to thrive in my soil. One little tip which does seem to help is to add a sprinkle of pelleted chicken manure into the planting hole.

After the recent rains the water butts are full again, along with four watering cans and five buckets. Because I grow such a lot in containers I need to store as much water as I'm able. In hot weather I need to go round twice a day to stop my crops wilting. I know it would be easier just to stick a hosepipe on the mains tap but that's not really in keeping with what I'm trying to do here.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Charlotte delight...

After the poor show with the Carlingford potatoes in the green wheelbarrow I was delighted with the yield of Charlottes that I got today.
Nine pounds of good-sized tubers from three plants growing in black flower buckets.

So, for all those people who say you can't get decent yields from container grown spuds, na na ni na na!

Today I also harvested my first courgettes of the year and for the last week we've been wandering down the garden every day to pick peas and eat them straight from the pods. All the effort of the first half of the year is paying dividends, but we still can't manage to eat it all. A friend who visited last Thursday left with a bag of spuds, three onions and a lettuce.

When I planted out the Alderman peas I also put some sweet peas in among them. At first I thought they had been strangled by the Aldermans but the recent rain has brought some of them into bloom.

They add a bit of colour and interest to a two metre column of green.

The dwarf french beans now have plenty of small pods so they are getting a high potash feed now and then. The secret with these is to pick them small so that they keep on producing.
dwarf bean 'Tendergreen'

Their cousins the climbing beans have almost reached the top of the wigwam and are producing flowers so they won't be far behind. Last year some high winds in September blew over one of the wigwams so this year I've put in a central support pole and sunk it well into the ground.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Tippin' oot t' tattie barra

Or for those of you who don't do funny northern dialects: Emptying the potato barrow!

Today I emptied the green wheelbarrow that had five Carlingford potato plants growing in it. Yield was a disappointing nine pounds with many small tubers. I was expecting at least fifteen pounds but when I got down into it the compost was quite dry. They've been in for sixteen weeks and I've watered often but obviously it was only getting to the first few inches of compost. A lesson, if it were needed, that potatoes like a LOT of water if they are to develop properly.

On the plus side they were nice and clean with no sign of disease. After refreshing the compost with some BFB and giving it a drenching it is now home to more potatoes. Yes, once again I'm trying to get freshly-dug spuds for Christmas dinner.

Now, I know this makes the tree look very silly but this year I'm determined to have some cherries to eat. The local bird population seems to think that my cherry tree is only there to provide a tasty treat for them. All I ask is enough to make a pie and a jar of jam but they steadfastly refuse to share the harvest. Well, tough luck birdies. If you can get through the nets and the sacks you're welcome to the cherries but I think I've got you beat this time.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Friends and frogs

Been away from the garden for much of the last few days due to having friends to stay. I’ve had to fit in my horticultural activities between bouts of being sociable. This is something I normally leave for my wife, Cath, as she’s much better at it than me. I like having friends to stay but they don’t share my passion for growing things. They did, however, share my passion for eating what I grow and were impressed with the potatoes, broad beans and strawberries. (not on the same plate!!)

The tops on the overwintered onions had turned over and were yellowing so I lifted them yesterday and now have them drying off. This lot should see us through to the end of August when the maincrop onions will be lifted.

I’ve also lifted most of the early potatoes and have a bare patch so today I put in the maincrop leeks. Only about eighty this year as we really had too many and got a bit sick of leeks last year. If the weather this coming winter is a little milder than last we should have a greater variety of veggies to choose from.

I think I've mentioned before that I have a healthy frog population in the garden. They help to keep down the slugs which is a much better method of pest control than throwing poison all over the place. This little beauty was waiting outside the back door this afternoon.

I wonder how many people with neatly manicured lawns and perfectly weeded flower borders ever see frogs. I'd bet that many of them don't even realize that frogs exist outside of fairy tales where they change into princes!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

ladder allotment

In my striving to get ever more growing space I’m in a constant battle with my wife who threatens dire consequences if I dig up any more of the back lawn. So, what’s a poor man to do?

I know, build a ladder allotment. It can sit on the lawn but the lawn is still there underneath it. What a brilliant and, dare I say it, cunning plan!

Actually it won’t sit on the lawn but on a flagged area near my shed and it’s not so heavy that it can’t be moved around to take maximum advantage of the sun.

Being an inveterate hoarder I managed to find enough scrap timber and angle-iron lying around so putting it all together has kept me occupied for the last few days. It’s built like a brick you know what and would probably withstand an earthquake. And the total cost was three quid for a pack of bolts to hold it together.

I just put the various containers on it for display purposes but my idea is to sow winter crops (lettuce, chard, dwarf kale and turnips) and bring the containers into the greenhouse after the tomatoes, peppers, etc. have finished. If they survive the next winter they can go back outside in spring.

The green container with onions is a supermarket produce tray which is about nine inches deep and great for a wide range of crops. (No, I didn’t steal it from a supermarket)

Friday, 1 July 2011

cauliflower calamity

I was looking forward to fresh cauliflower cheese tonight but when I got the first cauli out from under the debris netting it had 'blown'. It was still usable but we had to augment it with a few florets from the freezer.
blown cauli
 The others nearby seem fine with small but very compact heads. I gave them a good soaking and must hope they don't go the same way.  In the same piece of ground the cabbages are really beefing up.

The head on this one tipped the scales at over three pounds, far too much for a meal so most of it went in the freezer.

The blackcurrant crop is amazing this year. I have two varieties: Wellington and Ben Sarek and I took the first crop off one of the Wellington bushes today. Two pounds of fruit from about four or five branches. Last year this bush gave me eleven pounds but I should easily beat that this year.

Taking the advice of Stephen Shirley I gave all the soft fruit a good helping of wood ash in spring and they also had a thick mulch of compost. There's no doubt that feeding them pays dividends.

today's picking of blackcurrants
I need to start looking out for recipes using fruit in different ways. Jams, wine and crumbles are about the limit of my fruity skills.