Monday, 29 July 2013

why do cucumbers hide?

I have three cucumber plants in the greenhouse and once they start producing fruit we have to go flat out to harvest and find uses for them all.The trouble is they sometimes hide as if determined to grow as large as possible.

This is a Spacemaster which managed to fall between two containers and keep out of sight until it was the size of a marrow. It weighs over 700g and will be going into a pan of cucumber soup tomorrow.

I keep going on about the size of the blackcurrant harvest this year but it really is exceptional. So far we've picked over 11kg from three bushes and we haven't finished yet. Tomorrow we're going shopping for a juicer to give us another way to use up our harvest. The apple crop is looking good and I do like apple juice...and cider!

Some of the onions are now ready for lifting so I have the first lot drying outside but will bring them into the greenhouse if it rains too much.

These were grown from sets planted close together in order to give small bulbs but the rest are wider spaced and are thickening up nicely. I have about 150 onions which have survived the hot weather without mishap but now that we've had some heavy rain I notice that a few have bolted. A sudden change of conditions seems to be the trigger for bolting but the weather is something beyond our control.

The squash plant that has decided to climb through the privet hedge has produced one large fruit with several smaller ones. The big boss fruit is about five inches in diameter and I've had to support it on some string in case it breaks free from its moorings.

Although my wife knits and crochets she point blank refuses to make little hammocks for my squashes!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Progress report 2

I know the weather in the U.K. can vary quite dramatically from place to place but for the last few weeks it seems that the whole country has been basking in hot sunshine. So we should all be happy after the awful spring we had shouldn't we? Oh, come on, we're gardeners and we need something to moan about so if it's not too cold it must be...too hot. Well, from a container grower's point of view it is. The outdoor crops need watering at least once and day and the courgettes and tomatoes need it twice a day. The greenhouse crops are sometimes getting watered three times a day. If we could guarantee this kind of weather every year I'd invest in an automatic watering system and greenhouse shading, but we can't, so I won't. Talking of tomatoes, they are absolutely loving it. I've been picking smaller ones for the last few weeks but I got the first of the 'beefsteaks' today.

This is a Black Russian and weighed in at 244g. When sliced it looks like this:
not a pretty sight but they taste fantastic

Although this variety looks like being a heavy cropper it does seem prone to blossom end rot. That might be down to the exceptional conditions as the other varieties are doing ok.

Perhaps the most demanding crop at the moment is the celery. Even in the ground it requires plenty of water but in a fish box!

And so I'm throwing every spare bit of water at it to try and keep the compost at least moist. There are 8 plants in here with another 10 in two other containers. The variety is Loretta F1, the first F1 variety I've grown.  Last year I tried a 'heritage' variety 'Green Soup' and it was hopeless which can hardly have been down to a lack of water. It was so stringy and tough that the only way you could even use it in soup is if you blitzed it in a blender.

One of the most painful jobs in gardening has to be picking gooseberries. Some varieties are much more prickly than others and the Invicta bush was particularly troublesome this year. I decided with the Hinomaki Reds to remove some of the branches and pick the fruit from the comfort of my garden chair.

This is a much more civilized option than bending over a bush and being scratched and stabbed to bits. They 
didn't get pruned last year so I'm hoping it won't do them too much harm. I managed to get 1.7kg from this particular bush and I've left some for the birds. Most of the soft fruit harvest is going straight into the freezer until I can work out what I'm going to do with it all.

A lot of the winter crops are hanging around in pots waiting for a space to plant them out. I managed to squeeze 20 leeks into a large container but I've had to lift some of the potato crop a little before I wanted  to in order to get the rest of them into the ground. The Kestrels are averaging about 1.3kg of good spuds per seed after 14/15 weeks.
leeks in a container
I've cleared away the first of the peas and broad beans now they've finished and that's given me some space for cabbages and swedes. The heat of the day is likely to stress them a little but I'll try and give them some shade until they get established. One great advantage of sowing in modules/small pots is that things develop a good root system which does enable them to cope better with the shock of transplanting.

My food hedge has squashes as well as climbing beans this year.

This is Uchiki Kuri which started off climbing up some trellis leaning against the hedge then decided to go its own way and wandered off about 2 metres from where it started!

It should be a good year for crops like this as they really don't appreciate the cold and damp. As you can imagine, last year was not the best for squashes so I'm pinning my hopes on the good weather continuing.

So that's it. Things are going pretty much as they should be and I'm complaining about all the watering I have to do. I suppose I could also complain about the sheer amount of produce I'm having to deal with but that really would be a complaint too far.

Friday, 12 July 2013

so far it's a good year for...

well, just about everything in the garden. I'd forgotten what a difference a good summer can make to plant growth. Almost every crop is bigger and better than it's been for many years which creates a problem in that I have to keep on top of harvesting and then find something to do with it all.

These five radishes tipped the scales at 171g after topping and tailing. They were just freebie seeds of perfectly ordinary varieties: Scarlet Globe and French Breakfast but if they were any bigger I'd be inclined to say they were turnips, and all achieved with no digging and no chemicals.

The last few years have been very difficult for most growers, regardless of their methods. No matter what you do, if the weather is against you there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Organic/non-organic becomes almost irrelevant when we are all struggling to get something to put on the table. So this year could be a test. What's going to come out on top, compost or chemicals?

I know where my sympathies lie but I don't have to feed the world. 

Tipped out a tub of Belle de Fontenay potatoes today. Not a huge yield but that's not why we grow those kinds of spuds. These are supposed to be one of those 'gourmet' varieties but the flavour was nothing outstanding. It was good but then so are many others. I suppose if you've never eaten anything but generic supermarket varieties and you paid ten quid for a plateful in a restaurant you might be impressed but I haven't and I wasn't.

This year's strawberry crop is shaping up to be exceptional as well, with some huge fruit. I've frozen a kilo in the last few days in readiness for jam making later in the year. The blackcurrants are also performing ahead of expectations and will be ready in the next few weeks.

I have four bushes which are laden with fruit which is good as I have a particular liking for blackcurrant jam and a neighbour who I swap with is an expert pie maker. I give her the fruit, she gives me a pie. Seems fair to me.

The one down-side for me so far this year has been the peas. I was trying a new variety 'Meteor' which is early but rather tasteless. Isn't the whole point of growing your own peas to have that fresh from the pod taste as you wander down the garden. If you just want something green on your dinner plate it's much easier just to go to Iceland. I had some seed of Early Onward but for some reason they just failed to germinate so I'm stuck with a load of peas which are fit for nothing but cooking. 

This is a well-camouflaged frog hiding among the polypots where my main potato crop is growing. I do hope he or she is on slug patrol!

I'd like to think that what I write in this blog is some vindication of the gardening methods I use up here at Solway Towers (it's really just a three bedroom semi but I've always been a dreamer). I don't dig, I don't use chemicals and I have healthy respect for everything else that shares this living space with me. And I can grow good fruit and veg.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

things as they should be

The awful cold spring, which held things back for weeks, has given way to the sort of summer we haven't seen in years. Growth is phenomenal and I'd say things are more or less where they should be. In fact, I reckon the main potato crop is ahead of last year. The Kestrels I've lifted are averaging about 3lbs per seed after 14 weeks so they should bulk up even more over the next few weeks. Had a feel of the polypots containing the Picasso and Red Cara and the tubers are pushing at the sides as if straining to get out!
'proper' sized Kestrel potatoes
In the last two days I've harvested potatoes, peas, broad beans, carrots, cabbage, beetroot, tomatoes, courgette, radishes, lettuce, spring onions, bulb onions, strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. Looks like a normal harvest for the time of year to me.

This is yesterday's harvest of broad beans and they were delicious. When I was watching the development of the plants in mid-May I would have said that they were three or four weeks behind but these have matured around the same time as expected.

I love beetroot as a cooked vegetable and can't understand why so many people's only experience of it is pickled in vinegar. We had these tonight with a cold chicken salad and their sweetness makes a great contrast with the sharpness of raw onion.

Changing the subject slightly, when I was in the garden this afternoon I heard the distinctive mewing call and looked up to see a pair of buzzards circling above the house.They had their attendant crows trying to scare them off but buzzards seem to have the perfect life and don't seem to be scared of much. Who wouldn't love to just fly around on thermal currents all day, expending very little energy and just dropping down every now and then to peck at some carrion. Most of the time they can't even be bothered to kill for themselves, preferring to let someone else do the dirty work then nicking the proceeds! 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Progress report

Well, we're past the longest day and into July so I suppose it's all downhill from here. Not a chance, this is where it all starts to take off. After the appalling spring we had I'm amazed at how quickly everything has caught up and many crops are where they should be at this time of year.

That top tomato is looking ready to eat but I'll give it another day or two. The earliest I've ever had tomatoes is the first week in June but for the last three or four years it's been July so no change there.

A lot of the 'heritage' tomatoes I grow have these heavily ribbed fruit which is probably why you don't see them in supermarkets.
tomato: vintage wine
People have become conditioned to see tomatoes as shiny red billiard balls but, like everything else in nature, diversity is what really counts. I know I have a habit of ranting a bit sometimes but I feel that my generation was the last in this country to have any real connection with food and the land. Growing up in the country and having a grandad who kept hens and grew his own food (and tobacco) probably helped. Sorry, wandering off topic again.

The blackcurrants are ripening nicely (on track again) and it looks like a truly bumper crop this year. Last year I was trying to deal with a severe aphid infestation at this time and the crop was mediocre.

We've been harvesting potatoes and carrots for a while and have now started on the overwintered onions. This year I've grown them all in containers rather than the veg plot. They are smaller due to being closer spaced but still useful.

The main crop of seed-sown and set onions have plenty of top growth and will be swelling  now that the days are shortening. I keep trying get to get a twelve month supply of onions but usually only manage nine or ten months because the little beggars have the annoying habit of sprouting when it gets to March!

After a slow start it looks like we'll actually get a broad bean harvest.

Due to the windy conditions up here I usually only grow a dwarf variety (Sutton) but I've also got a tall longpod variety this year and guess what? We had strong winds at the weekend and they were battered and bent this morning. Lesson learned!

In case you think it's all gardening and nothing else up here at Solway Towers we had a day out today.

This is a view across Bassenthwaite Lake from the road over Whinlatter pass. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Bassenthwaite is the only lake in the Lake District....all the others are meres, waters or tarns. There, you learn something every they tell me.