Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Joss sticks in the greenhouse

The air has been very still today....a bit of a novelty for north-west Cumbria. The trouble is that when the air is still out come the midges and it becomes impossible to work outside. And before anyone calls me a wimp I can tell you that we have Scottish midges on this side of the Solway and they are, size for size, the most vicious creatures on earth.

So, it was into the greenhouse to try and get some work done away from the midges....except they were in there as well. My solution: surround myself with burning joss-sticks in the hope it would keep them at bay, and it did.  And before you ask why does a middle-aged man have joss-sticks in the house I can tell you that I have no idea. They were just in a kitchen drawer and have been there for years.

Well, with the radio on and incense in the air I was transported back about forty years to a time when the last thing on my mind was gardening. But I did manage to get some work done and have now trimmed up the onions for store. I'll leave them on the wire shelves a while longer before putting them in string bags just to make sure they are thoroughly dry and I can weed out any dodgy ones. Thirty-seven pounds was this year's crop and that should see us through to next spring.

I also sowed some more lettuce and spring onions in containers for overwintering in the greenhouse. They'll stay outside until we have frosts forecast then they can come in as I don't want them to catch cold!

No garden pics today just some crystals. One of the things I do when not pottering in the garden is collect mineral specimens. Both activities involve getting covered in muck....something my mother always said I was good at.

These are fluorite crystals from Coldstones Quarry near Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire.

Monday, 29 August 2011

frogs at the door

I think I've mentioned before that I have a healthy population of frogs in the garden which is great for keeping down the slugs and snails. Anyway, last night when I went to the back door to let out the dog for her last pee there was a frog staring up at me as if wanting to come in!

Apologies for the pic but it was dark.

I don't know if they are attracted by the light inside the house or if they just want some company but they are often waiting there.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know I'm a serial recycler and I've been at it again. Last week we got a new bookcase. Yes, another bookcase and it was a self-assembly thing with some nice sheets of expanded polystyrene in the packing. They have been put to good use lining the sides of an old supermarket produce tray to give some protection from the hard frosts we seem to be experiencing in winter now. 

I'll put four strawberry plants in the tray and bring them into the greenhouse over winter to give an early crop next year. The big problem with growing in containers in very cold weather is that the frost can easily get through the thin sides and freeze the compost solid. Hopefully this insulation will help.

I'm still sowing and planting out as space comes available but it's only fast growing crops now. Here's some Chinese cabbage almost ready to go out.

I've also sowed some Pak Choi in one of the 'square foot' blocks. Never had any success with it before as they always bolt but I'll keep trying till I run out of seeds. Then I'll probably buy another packet as it looks so good and I don't like to be beaten by a vegetable!!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

big aubergine

Today I picked the first aubergine of the year and what a whopper!
I knew it was hiding behind the large leaves of the egg plant but hadn't realized how big it had grown. Perhaps I should have checked sooner as I don't want the plant to stop producing fruit. There are more flowers but, as yet, no more fruit on show.

Peppers in the greenhouse are coming along nicely with loads now starting to turn red and we've already eaten a few. As usual, we'll have a glut but they are easy to freeze and will help out our stir-fries and soups until next spring.

When I took the dog out this evening I had a look at the wild plums and crab apples along the road. Almost every one of the plums had split but the crabs were hanging heavy on the branches. Looks like crab apple jelly instead of plum jam this year:)

No pictures of wild fruit just evening light on the estuary.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

onions drying

All of the main onion crop has been lifted now and is drying in the greenhouse.
This is part of the crop on the wire shelves of a plastic 'blow-away' which is home to most of my seedlings in spring. The open shelves make for good air circulation so the onions dry quite quickly and will then be stored in net sacks.

I had some onions growing in an old supermarket produce box about 22 x 15 inches. From it I got 21 good onions weighing eight pounds before drying which should give me six pounds for storing.
container-grown onions

We had some strong winds recently which have battered the Alderman climbing peas. Because they don't actually climb in the sense that a runner bean does I tie them to the supports with plastic coated string but the winds have pushed them hard against the string and broken the stems. A shame really as I've previously had peas till September from them.

A new cucumber for this year is La Diva. This is an F1 all female variety and is producing nicely. I've had five fruits off it so far and it shows no sign of stopping production.

three healthy cucumbers
The cukes are quite small, about six to nine inches long but that suits us as none gets wasted. Another plus is that they have very few seeds and a thin skin.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

turnips, tomatoes and more

When I netted over the brassicas I forgot that I had some turnips growing there as well. I took back the net to do some weeding today and found a clump of oversized turnips all squashed together. They are supposed to be best picked at tennis ball size but you can see that mine got a bit past that! Let’s just hope they are not too tough and woody or they’ll be going on the compost heap.

Each year I try to grow at least one new tomato variety. This year I chose black cherry which is very prolific with up to twenty fruits per truss. Nice and juicy and sweet but the skins are thick which is a negative for me. They are also not as black as I was expecting...just a dark red.

Black Cherry tomatoes
Today was nice and sunny after all the recent rain so there was lots to catch up on. A couple of weeks ago I pruned the cherry tree and some of the shrubs so I had a pile of stuff to put through the shredder. End result: a tub of chopped material which can be used either as a mulch or get mixed with grass clippings and seaweed to make compost. The bigger bits take a while to rot down but I always sieve my compost and return the un-rotted material to the pile.

These cattle-lick tubs are very useful and come in a range of sizes although this 100kg size is a beggar to shift if it's full of soil or compost. If you know a friendly local farmer see if you can scrounge a few!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

more onions

Heavy rain for what seems like ages now has left everything a sodden mess. I think it has actually rained on six out of the last eight days.

I lifted part of the main crop of onions as they were in danger of rotting in the sodden ground. The tops had bent over and were a wet and tangled mess. Some were quite slimy and in the early stages of rotting so out they came and into a bread tray to dry out. There was quite a stiff breeze today and no rain so that has helped no end. If it stays like that for a few days I’ll get the rest of the onions lifted and partly dried before putting them in the greenhouse to finish the process.

The cabbages and caulies are netted to keep off the butterflies but the swedes and turnips are open to predators so I picked off about forty caterpillars this morning and also sent half a dozen cabbage whites to the great brassica in the sky. Last year I was picking off a hundred plus caterpillars every day so a definite improvement.

Once the rain stops all the pretty butterflies come out to feed. I’ve seen peacocks, red admirals and tortoiseshells today. Thank goodness they’re not partial to my crops as well!

Greenhouse crops are all producing flat out at the moment. As well as picking tomatoes and a cucumber I removed half a dozen red sweet peppers and noticed that there are some good sized aubergines coming along nicely. The melon plant has plenty of flowers but no sign of any fruit yet. It was really an experiment as I've never tried to grow melons before and I'm not sure I'll get anything now as we're a bit late in the year.

Monday, 8 August 2011

mediocre maincrop

The maincrop potatoes have been growing away for about eighteen weeks and the tops had died back so I tipped out two of the big polypots to check on their progress. Maris Piper gave me eight pounds of spuds from three seed potatoes and the Harlequin 7.5 pounds from four seeds....quite disappointing really but inevitable given the lack of rain at critical times.

Maris Piper

I knew that my potato yields would be lower this year and if the other polypots give similar crops we'll only have enough to see us through till November. Still, seven months supply of fresh, organically-grown potatoes from my small plot is a reasonable achievement. When we run out I'll be picking up a sack from one of the farms along the road.

Harlequin, a cross between Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple - should taste good!

 It's the size of the tubers that's the problem. There are plenty there but far too many small ones to be of much use. Thankfully we have plenty of other veg to go at and maincrop spuds are cheap enough to buy. Having said that, I have noticed that prices are considerably higher than last year.

After two days of heavy rain it's been dry today although much cooler and windier than of late. Did a bit of tidying up and sowed chinese cabbage, lettuce and spring onions. I'll keep sowing small amounts of the AYR lettuce right up to the end of September. If it germinates it's hardy enough to withstand the winter in the greenhouse and then get off to a flying start in spring. There you go, I'm thinking about next spring already!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

from drought to deluge

After the serious lack of rain at critical times for some of the crops earlier in the year we are now in a  situation up here where stuff is standing in puddles of water. The last two days of more or less continuous rain is likely to end up doing more harm than good unless we get some real sunshine fairly soon.

The onion tops have bent over as they start to ripen but the plants and everything around them are waterlogged. If they don't dry out it creates a perfect breeding ground for all manner of fungal diseases.

Potato containers are standing in water so the rain can’t drain through the compost - it just sits there. Don’t you just love the uncertainty of it all.

I suppose my one crumb of comfort is that because I have small beds reachable from paths I don’t have to stand on the waterlogged soil to harvest anything.

potatoes standing in water. I've cut the tops off prior to lifting
On a brighter note I found two ripe strawberries lurking under the foliage. This means that my strawberry season has extended to fourteen weeks although two fruits hardly constitutes a harvest. Next year I intend to get half a dozen of the ever-bearing type to further extend the season.

Friday, 5 August 2011

clearing the peas

Today I cleared the main pea patch as I really need the space for winter brassicas. There were many fat pods hidden away that were past their best for eating raw so we had them cooked for tea tonight. The first time we’ve ever had cooked home-grown peas as they normally get gobbled before they reach the kitchen. The surprise was that, although large, they tasted really nice. Different to frozen or tinned peas which I suppose is accounted for by their freshness and possibly the variety.

That particular patch, after a liberal sprinkle of BFB,  is now home to some cabbage and pak choi. Yes, I'm trying once again to get a decent crop of pak choi. Will I succeed this time? Watch this space.

Because I grow in mixed blocks rather than rows I tend not to have large areas of soil vacant at any time. This means that I can more easily accommodate follow-on crops as I only need a handful of small plants to pop in when ground comes available. At this time of year most of the winter crops are now in place so I've been putting containers out to get them off the patio area. If any of the more tender crops are in danger of frosting I can easily move them into the greenhouse after the toms and cukes are finished.
assorted containers on spare ground
leeks, turnips and a red cabbage where some of the early potatoes were
I have four red cabbages where I could fit them in and that should be quite sufficient for pickling.

I'm really pleased that I planted sweet peas among the Alderman climbing peas this year. Not only do they add a splash of colour but the scent is divine when I brush past them. I've never been big on flowers because you can't normally eat them but I'm in danger of being converted. Oh well, yet more things to grow next year!

Monday, 1 August 2011

super chard

I've grown various types of chard for the last few years and had moderate success but this year's crop is fantastic. This is the variety White Silver 2 and the plant stood nearly three feet tall when lifted. The stalks were firm with no hint of stringiness and were used in both a stir-fry and as a steamed vegetable.

Today I also picked the last of the strawberries for this year. By starting some off in containers in the greenhouse I managed to extend my strawberry season to thirteen weeks as opposed to eight weeks last year. There's lots in the freezer for when jam making begins in earnest in September. What a great year it's been for soft fruit! Which reminds me I must have a look along the road and see how the wild plums are doing. Last time I looked they were still green but  once they're ready it's a case of every man for himself.