In the garden, it’s August: the pumpkins are swelling, the beans are coming thick and fast, and I’m feasting on courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers.
But in my head, it’s October, or maybe November, and I’m thinking about my winter salad supply.
As the lovely students on my course, Self-Sufficient Veg Gardening will tell you, I’m big on planning. Stay one step ahead of the season and you’ll give yourself the best chance of a veg plot that’s pumping out the produce month after month, all year round.
So right now, though the summer harvest is in full swing, I’m pulling out the seed trays and taking to the potting bench again to get my winter greens under way. At this time of year seeds germinate quickly, and there’s time for them to grow to picking size by November, when the cold weather hits. Continue reading…
Harvesting this month: French beans, carrots, the last of the courgettes and patty pan summer squash, Musquee de Provence winter squash, potatoes (maincrops to store), raspberries, curled-leaf and flat-leaf parsley, baby-leaf salads from pots outside the back door.
Sowing this month: Broad beans for overwintering, beetroot (for leaves), turnips (for leaves), spring onions, and round-rooted carrots.
This month I will be:
Clearing out the greenhouses
Pricking out greenhouse salad seedlings
Turning the compost
Mulching empty beds
Planting herbs and perennial vegetables
Juicing the last of the apples (mine and other people’s!)
Remember my poor mouse-beheaded beetroot seedlings from last month?
The obvious solution was to trap the mice – and that’s certainly what I would have done before I became aware of the need for sustainability in the garden.
I don’t like killing things at the best of times: and with mice in particular they’re a really important food source for larger predators like owls, so every mouse that you trap is one removed from the wider ecosystem.
Also mouse traps are, usually, plastic, and I have vowed not to buy any new plastic for my garden (even if it’s not strictly for gardening).
The wildlife photographer Simon King once said to me that we humans are really, really clever animals: so if we can’t figure out a way to keep other animals away from our food without killing them, we’re not thinking hard enough.
Quite right: so I put my humanoid thinking cap on, and this is what I came up with.
I bought myself a big roll of 8mm gauge mesh from B&Q for about £20 and made myself a mesh cloche (the roll was big enough to make two or three, but one step at a time).
It took a while to get right: I had to staple the bottom edges to wooden battens, burying these in the ground to hold the whole thing stable and prevent mice from burrowing underneath, and the ends are squares of mesh tied in with wire, again buried a few inches beneath the ground.
But I resowed my beetroot seeds at the beginning of the month and they are already much bigger than they ever reached last month before the mice got them. It’s tricky to get in and weed, but I sow into mulch so the few weeds that have come up aren’t too troublesome. Once the seedlings have developed into sturdy young plants, of less interest to mice, I will remove the whole cloche and stash it to use elsewhere. It should last me several years of mouse-free sowing.
The big greenhouse clearout
That’s it: time to admit defeat. I had a good pick over of the last tomatoes to cook down and freeze, and now the plants are undeniably finished. They’ll go onto the compost heap (I had a spot of blight during the season where the rain got inside the greenhouse – but even blighted foliage can be composted as the disease doesn’t survive once the foliage breaks down).
Once the toms are out I’ll give the glass a good wash, then weed out the borders and refresh with a good thick (5cm/2″) mulch of garden compost before replanting with greenhouse salads (see below). My only dilemma is that I can’t bear to pull up those lovely French marigolds just yet; I sowed them back in February and they’ve been flowering their socks off all summer, no deadheading required. I guess the salads will just have to go in behind them till they’re done.
Pricking out salads
All the salad plants I sowed last month are now big sturdy seedlings and ready to move on into their own individual newspaper pots (the above are Winter Density lettuce (left) and mizuna (right)).
I’m a big fan of newspaper pots: zero plastic and pretty much zero carbon (as you’re reusing waste newspaper to make them) and the seedlings do so much better as their roots grow through the sides and don’t circle as they would in plastic. I get much better results from them every year – well worth the extra 15 minutes it takes me to fill a seed tray with paper pots.
The last of the windfalls: I have a lovely little Devonshire Quarrenden apple tree, very early eater with a lovely sweet, strawberry-like flavour. But my only slight problem is that it crops so early in the year – over by about mid-September most years – that I miss all the Apple Days and my windfalls are already long gone before I can juice them.
This year, what with the coronavirus an’ all, Apple Days aren’t really happening – or at least not the ones with the big community juicing events. Luckily, though, I’ve found a friend with access to a scratter, to chop up the windfalls into rough pieces, and a press, to make the juice.
I am taking along my own few remaining windfalls, and scavenging apples from everyone I can think of with a surplus. It’s one of the best ways I know of storing the abundance our apple trees provide: tip the juice into saved plastic litre bottles and freeze, then savour the rich, sweet flavour all through winter. Yum.
Harvesting this month: French beans, courgettes, patty pan summer squash, sweetcorn, potatoes (the last of the second earlies to eat, plus maincrops to store), apples and raspberries, plus cucumbers and tomatoes from the greenhouse, and baby-leaf salads from pots outside the back door.
Sowing this month: Autumn-sown (Japanese) onions and lots of salads, for outside (under cloches) and in pots to refill the greenhouse borders once the toms are out, including winter lettuce, mizuna, mibuna, American land cress, corn salad, chard, beetroot (for leaves), turnips (for leaves), spring onions, and round-rooted carrots.
This month I will be:
Clearing summer brassicas
Planting autumn-sown onion sets
Mulching empty beds
Taking cuttings of herbs and borderline-tender plants like salvias and pelargoniums
Planting herbs and perennial vegetables
Cooking apples (and tomatoes) to freeze for winter
New perennial crops for this year
Perennial vegetables are so much more sustainable than annual as you don’t have to continually disturb the soil (so no carbon release) and they require much less input in the way of resources compared to raising seeds and using lots of water, warmth, feed and compost.
There aren’t many of them, though, and some are very unfamiliar. So one of my projects this season has been to start a perennial vegetable garden. No soil disturbance, a fraction of the inputs (feed, water, fertiliser, compost) of annual vegetables, and you lock up more carbon with permanent planting too. And a fraction of the effort of regular vegetable gardening. But the trick is to find perennial vegetables you actually want to eat: here’s what I’ve started with.
Daubenton’s (perennial) kale is growing well: it’s under a little tent of mesh to keep the butterflies off but I’ll remove that once they go away at the end of the season.
The skirret was a total failure: sowed direct in May as instructed, absolutely no seedlings. No idea if the slugs got them or if it was too dry or if they just didn’t fancy it this year. It may have been the seeds themselves so will order from a different supplier next year just in case. And I will be sowing them into pots where I can keep an eye on them.
Salsify were more successful: several good leafy rosettes now from direct sowing in May. I am leaving them to establish for a year or two before I try to pull a few roots.
American ground nut (Apios americana): I planted these odd little tubers (they are actually beans but are more like small, floury potatoes to eat) at the foot of canes by the low wall. Not all survived, but enough did for me to think this will be an interesting taste test next year!
Chinese artichokes: Easy as anything to grow – they’re related to deadnettle. I’ve got them in an old sink in the back garden: I will wait until they die back before harvesting some of the knobbly roots to try (probably next month: watch this space).
And a new addition: Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis). It’s not the most spectacular plant, being a clump of fuzzy-felt leaves and not much else. But it is bone hardy and a useful spicy salad ingredient. And when I say spicy, I mean spicy: I had a little taste and like most things Turkish it’s ten times stronger than anything you’ve ever tasted before. I am not sure if I like it yet, but I will persevere.
New mentoring service
Well actually it’s not entirely new: I’ve been mentoring several students recently and have found it works so well I am offering it more widely.
The idea is that you have me “on tap” for advice and help about organic and sustainable methods of food growing, over email (no complicated technology to master!) and when you need it. Arrange an hour whenever it suits you and I can answer questions, give you loads of ideas and inspiration, guide you in starting up a new veg garden or help you develop an existing one. It’s entirely up to you what we talk about and it’s completely tailored to you and your garden. Book a one-off session, or a regular time each week. It’s up to you!
A lovely comment from one regular student recently: “I’m SO glad you’re there!”
For more details contact me at sally(dot)nex(at)btinternet(dot)com.
This year’s tomatoes: the verdict
I haven’t a lot of room in the garden to grow dozens of different types of tomatoes but I do like to try one or two new ones each year (there are about 7,500 varieties to choose from so there’s always one you haven’t grown before)
It has not been a vintage year. I’ve had lots of tomatoes: but only one of the three I grew came up to scratch.
Ailsa Craig Good old Ailsa. What would we do without her? There are relatively few straightforward medium-sized salad toms around nowadays – we all seem to be growing fancy cherries, black tomatoes and beefsteaks instead. But sometimes all you need is a straightforward slicing tom and this one is fantastic: reliable, prolific and great flavour too.
Coeur de Bue To be honest this is my own fault as I was being a cheapskate. I grew Coeur de Boeuf a year or two ago and loved it: all the flavour and size of a beefsteak without the difficulty (or low yields). This one came as a freebie and I thought, Bue? Boeuf? Not much in it… how wrong can you be. Insipid taste, pinkish red (so hard to tell when it’s ripe) and a sort of dry texture: a pale shadow of the original. Won’t be growing again.
Reisentomate Another freebie I should have turned down. It’s an interesting idea: a tomato that grows in segments, so you can pick off a segment at a time to eat rather than having the whole tomato. But beyond the novelty value, you’ve got to ask yourself….. why? Flavour insipid, texture dry, fruits small. Just no.
I have been battling the mice. You may think this would be something of an unequal fight, being as I’m several gazillion times their size but they are obviously far cleverer than me.
It started with them taking munchies out of my low-hanging tomatoes: I have never had this happen before in all my 25+ years of growing veg but it was definitely mice as they climbed on top of one fruit and left a lot of poo as a calling card. Yum #not.
Now they’re after my beetroot seedlings. I sowed them direct and they came up within days. Yet along came my whiskery friends and… no more beetroot seedlings.
I do have a feral cat but she is getting old nowadays and spends most of her time on the boiler. I am also starting to think a cat brings too much in the way of collateral damage: don’t mind the baby rabbits so much, but the robins are heartbreaking. So Sooty is to be my last cat and I will have to think of other ways to keep the little blighters off my food in future.
I could trap them, but I always prefer a live and let live policy so for now I am trying an alternative approach. Come back next month for news of its success (or not).
Half-finished insulation to the left, not-quite cleared cucamelons to the right: I have, it is fair to say, totally failed to sort out the greenhouse this winter.
Blimey it’s chilly. Inside and out: life got a bit hectic last autumn and I didn’t get around to my usual bubblewrap-insulation-and-greenhouse-heater routine. So my greenhouse – usually a cosy refuge at this time of year – is distinctly less than welcoming at the moment.
However: the decision not to heat the greenhouse this winter, if a little unintentional, has been enlightening. Normally I would have the heater on 24/7 when the weather is like this: I don’t heat my greenhouse to tropical temperatures but I do like to keep it somewhere around the 5°C mark. When it’s -5°C outside, as it was last night, that would mean having to lift the temperature by a whole 10°C above ambient – loading my electricity bill to groaning point and playing who knows what havoc with the environment.
I’ve always felt mildly guilty about heating the greenhouse. As well as being positively profligate with resources I normally shepherd carefully – that is, electricity and warmth – it is very expensive and makes something of a mockery of my pretensions to thriftiness. After all, when your overwintered chillies cost you at least £50 to keep alive in a frosty winter you could probably buy gold-plated ones for less.
But – avert your eyes from the weeds, please – I can’t be going far wrong when I’ve got lemons like these
Failing to heat my greenhouse, though, has been an eye-opener. Just look at my lemons! (No smutty jokes at the back, please). The scented-leaf geraniums have fared well too, and the lemon verbena.
Most of the tender herbs and edibles which I move into the greenhouse over winter to protect them from frost can survive down to a few degrees below. Lemons, for example, can tolerate -5°C; geraniums (pelargoniums), lemon verbena and French tarragon to about -1°C. The secret is to keep them dry. Soggy compost freezes at anything below zero, wrecking delicate root systems, while dry compost, though cold, will not freeze so does no damage.
So I haven’t watered my lemon tree, or the geraniums, since I brought them indoors in early November. They’re fine. So is the grapefruit, and the lemon verbena, and even the Nerine sarniensis which is the only thing in here which isn’t edible but I can’t bear to evict it as it’s so lovely when it flowers. The overwintering chilli (an Aji type, one of the more hardy) has succumbed, so I’d guess that very heat-loving Mexican types with fleshy, tender stems freeze at zero.
I brought my three-pot salad system in here this autumn too: the extra shelter has kept them growing and I’ve had salads to pick since October.
But for most, just bringing them into a greenhouse without heating it has been enough. The glass alone raises temperatures by about 5°C, after all (and much more on a sunny day, though that heat is lost by nightfall). So if you take last night, the coldest here for several years at about -5°C, inside the greenhouse it will still have been only just at freezing. Not enough to do any damage. Line the greenhouse with bubblewrap or – I’m told but haven’t tried myself – cardboard, or wrap plants individually in horticultural fleece, hessian with straw tucked underneath, or more bubblewrap – and you can raise that by a few degrees further, potentially keeping even quite tender plants frost-free without the need for heating.
Other little tricks to try include keeping a pond in the greenhouse to act as a heat sink, absorbing the sun’s heat by day and releasing it by night; and of course hotbeds, which is too big a subject to tackle here but the most natural greenhouse heater you’ll ever have.
But I think my days of artificially heating a greenhouse are over. I’m sure the environment will thank me one day. My bank account certainly will.
Actually I can’t remember being cold before Christmas before (well, a bit chilly, perhaps, but not cold of the three layers and double socks kind just yet).
We have, I think, become a bit soft in recent years what with all this global warming malarkey. Things may be a little extreme in this respect at my end of the country, around 20 miles from the south coast and never the coldest of places generally.
But since the epic winter of 2010 (when we had about 10 winters’ worth of snow, hoarfrost and ice for a memorable three or four months from November to February) we’ve been lucky to get a frost at all. Last year the lowest temperature I recorded was around 1°C, in February; the previous year we dipped to an adventurous -2°C for one night only. It was hardly the second ice age.
Anyway, all this is by way of saying that this month in the garden I have had to get my skates on (not quite literally but you never know) in a way I have not been accustomed to doing, and do all those getting-ready-for-winter things I’ve previously been putting off till about January. So here’s what I’ll be up to…
Planting garlic I have had a bit of a garlic crisis this year: every last plant succumbed to rust. I am therefore launching an experiment: I’m replanting the bulbs from the garlic which survived the longest, in an attempt to select a strain that copes better with the (now endemic) garlic rust in my garden. I will report back with results.
Collecting leaves There are so many leaves. So, so many leaves. I watched them rain down the other day like a golden snowstorm. And so to work with my trusty rake and wheelbarrow to fill as many leafmould bins as I can before they all run out.
Putting the veg garden to bed The endless task continues: clear crops, cart off to compost heap, weed, mulch, cover, repeat. I am still only halfway down the veg garden and I’ve already run out of soil improver.
Spring cabbage still going strong after around ten straight months of harvesting
Picking spring cabbage Yes, you read that right: spring cabbage. I planted it last August (that’s August 2015) and it has been going strong ever since, mainly through my laziness in not getting around to pulling it out, so it just sprouts again. A happy accidental discovery: I shall be doing this again…
Clearing the greenhouse The cucumbers are spent; the green peppers picked. Time to strip out the last of the summer crops and get the greenhouse ready for its winter role. I have only one this year, as we’re having to move the other: I am bereft.
Lining said greenhouse with bubblewrap insulation You save around 25% on the average heating bill by insulating your greenhouse, so they say. I know it keeps things much cosier, and often means I don’t have to turn on the heater at all.
Winter lettuces, ‘White Lisbon Winter Hardy’ spring onions, American land cress and a couple of rows of corn salad and radish seedlings tucked up safely in their plumbing pipe cloche
Planting winter salads under cloches Since I am deprived of my winter salads greenhouse this year I am resorting to planting out my greenery under cloches instead (or rather, one massive cloche made of blue plumbing pipe and clear polythene).
Wrapping bananas The Musa basjoo in the back garden has been going great guns this year, so the plan is to wrap it in the time-honoured way (chop leaves off, wrap in straw and hessian or fleece, big bubblewrap hat) and leave it outside for the first time.
Digging up pelargoniums My scented-leaf pelargonium collection is expanding all the time: I do need to bring it in for winter, though. This year they’ve been in containers on the front steps, making this particular job much easier.
Planting tulips Ah yes: there is some joy to be had this month. This year’s order includes ‘Ballerina’, ‘Jan Reus’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Violet Beauty’ and ‘White Triumphator’. I am looking forward to spring very much.
It’s about this time of year I start to resist writing anything about seasons, mists or mellow fruitfulness for fear of falling prey to the ultimate garden writing cliche. But there’s no denying that John Keats caught autumn firmly in his poetical fingers with this one: we haven’t got vines running round our thatch-eaves (we’ve been told not to grow stuff against the house as it causes damp on the inside) and the squirrels nick all the hazel shells long before they plump, but basically that’s autumn, right there.
What Keats failed to mention was the frantic gardener racing around like a thing possessed underneath the moss’d cottage trees desperately trying to get everything done (and catch up on all the stuff she didn’t manage in the ever-hectic school summer holidays) before it all gets too cold, wet and depressing to want to be outside any more. Here are just some of the things I’ve got on my jam-packed to-do list this month:
Drying off the onions: In my greenhouse, right now, turning a lovely coppery shade of brown. They take around two weeks of regular turning before they’re cooked and ready to plait.
Sowing sweet peas: My sweet peas were an abject failure last year, so I’m trying a different method this year. I’m reverting to the old-fashioned method of six seeds to a 10cm pot, planted out as a clump – and I won’t pinch out till spring.
Clearing spent crops: It’s that time of year when you have to admit things are definitely, undeniably Over. So it’s with a little sadness that I’ll be cutting the beans off their poles and carting them off to the compost heap. Sniff.
Mulching, mulching, mulching: Another relentless tick of the clock: each veg bed gets a thick coating of compost or soil improver from the local green waste people the moment it’s cleared, then I cover with black plastic. End of the year: full stop.
Did you ever see such a shade of red? ‘Firetongue’ borlotti beans ready for drying
Drying borlotti beans: Gorgeous brilliant red ‘Firetongue’ climbing borlottis are my comfort and joy right now: every time I see them on the poles I think how beautiful they look. But they’re now ready to hoick out of the ground and dry under cover.
Sowing overwintering broad beans: Aquadulce Claudia are the only ones for me: they may be ungainly, but they’re prolific and rock-solid reliable. It’ll be my only crop – overwintering broad beans avoid all the pests and diseases that afflict spring sowings.
Putting in my bulb order: It’s the gardening equivalent of a trolley dash: you have till the end of this month to go mad on daffodils, species tulips (my latest obsession), posh tulips and reticulate irises. Happy sigh.
‘Oy, you! Turn red!’ There. That should do it.
Speaking sternly to my tomatoes: They have another four weeks to ripen, then that’s it, so I’ll be reading them the riot act this month (and praying for some late sunshine). Failing that, there’s always green tomato chutney.
Clearing greenhouse borders: In the other greenhouse the cucumbers are sighing to a yellowish end, and the peppers are picked. Let’s not mention the aubergine. Not sure what to do with the cucamelons which have awkwardly decided now is the time to start pumping out the fruit. They’re in rude health and not going anywhere.
Planting winter salads: In the coldframe are dozens of winter salad plants: this season I have mizuna, American land cress, pak choi and ‘Winter Density’ lettuce, all destined for the emptying greenhouse borders, or a cloche outdoors. Time to plant.
This, of course, is my own silly fault. Tomatoes split for just one reason: the water content of the fruit has been allowed to fall, then all of a sudden someone has come along and guiltily overcompensated with the hose, so flooding the fruits with water. Result: the skins have to expand so rapidly to accommodate all that extra moisture that they can’t cope, and they split. It’s not the end of the world – you can still eat them, though you have to be quick about it before the mould sets in. But it is very annoying.
Splitting (along with blossom end rot, caused by a similar set of circumstances) is a daily risk you run outdoors: you have no control over rainfall of course (I wish) so a sudden downpour after a drought produces exactly the right conditions to split all your fruit. In a greenhouse under cover, where these were grown, there’s simply no excuse. Except bone idleness on the part of a hose-shy gardener, of course.
Some tomato varieties are resistant to splitting: ‘Maskotka’, ‘Terenzo’ and ‘Orkado’ are just three of those which take longer to give way than others, so they’re very well worth trying outdoors given our current yo-yoing weather conditions.
But generally I find tomatoes resistant to splitting have thick, chewy skins – partly no doubt what helps them put up with inconsistent water levels without cracking. And I do like a tomato with a thin skin.
The ones in the pic are ‘Suttons Everyday’, a 1930s heirloom cultivar I was given to try out along with a lot of other heirloom tomatoes. It’s a fine tomato: medium sized, good flavour, great all-rounder as the name would suggest: and with lovely thin skins, which need careful handling if they’re to stay intact.
The current plan is to install automatic watering next year: I have my eye on the Irrigatia solar-powered pump, which works out of a water butt and sensibly powers its battery only when the sun is out and you need the extra water. Inspired. I shall report back, so watch this space.
Cucamelons are the latest Big Thing in veg growing: everyone seems to have one or two plants about the place somewhere. So I gave it a try this year, at last, after some years of wondering what all the fuss was about.
I’m still wondering, a bit: the main benefit I can see so far is the cute value.
Cucamelons, aka Melothria scabra, are related to cucumbers, but they come from Mexico. There is in fact lots of argument among botanists as to exactly which bit of the cucumber family it should belong in, as it also counts West African gourds in its ancestry: expect one of those annoying name changes before long.
I germinated the seed with ease, some time back in April, and they romped away, making slightly weedy-looking tangles of leaf, stem and tendril. They’re much less hefty than a cucumber: more like an annual climber in habit. As a result, they’re also much more difficult to train, quickly forming unruly nests of impenetrable tangle (in fact I gave up in the end and just tied them to their supports as best I could).
You don’t have to grow them in a greenhouse, as I’ve done: they actually prefer slightly cooler conditions than a cucumber, so are happy outside in a sunny spot, too. I decided to err on the side of caution, though, and popped them in on the opposite side to my much heavier-looking cucumber plants.
They started fruiting about a month ago. Teeny-tiny little watermelons, no more than 3cm long and 1cm across, striped prettily and small enough to pop whole into your mouth. They definitely taste of cucumber, but with a little tang of citrussy lemon that’s really very pleasant.
But snacks, so far, they have remained. They aren’t cropping that heavily at the moment (though we still have a couple of growing months and you never know). I’m a bit nonplussed as to what else to do with them, to be honest: a quick Google tells me you can sprinkle them on salads, serve them in cocktails or among olives as a bar snack, or (better) try them in a salsa – come to think of it they aren’t radically different from tomatilloes in flavour, just smaller. And you can pickle them, too.
Well – ours is not really a bar snack kind of household, so we’re mostly just putting them in lunch boxes and picnics at the moment or just leaving them lying around in bowls for people to pick at. Besides, I haven’t got enough fruits to experiment with different dishes just yet. On the plus side, they’re almost completely pest and disease free – my cukes are just starting to yellow with red spider mite (as they always do at this time of year) yet the cucamelons are still brilliant green and perky. And they’re the kind of thing that grows just about anywhere, so you can just see them dangling from a hanging basket, say, or in a vertical planting system draped down a wall.
But in a good productive patch of loam in your greenhouse? Well, just now, I’m a bit ‘meh’ about them so far. Pretty, yes; curiosity value, tick, and they really are very cute – but I’m slightly resenting having handed them good growing space. I’d rather grow watermelons. Or cucumbers.
Every day I am to be found in the greenhouses behind a hose – possibly my least favourite job in the garden. Ah well, I can’t be doing the fun stuff all the time.
It’s a good time, though, to take time just standing and looking at my plants (after all, there’s not much else you can do). Stand staring for a while and you’ll spot that early outbreak of aphids, or the yellow mottling that signals the start of red spider mite. And the earlier you spot trouble, the sooner you can head it off.
In this greenhouse – the cucumber greenhouse this year, which means there are also cucamelons, peppers and an aubergine or two in here, plus an almost-finished pot of mixed salad which really needs to go outdoors – I’ve also been peering at the weed seedlings and noticicing that several are actually self-seeded French marigolds, left over from last year when I underplanted the tomatoes in here with them.
This is very gratifying, as it means a) my tardiness with the weeding has paid off and b) French marigolds can self seed – who knew?! Saves me a lot of time faffing about with seed trays and propagators – all I have to do is leave the heads on to set seed and I’m done.
The cucumbers are in full production now: and that means I’m in the middle of my annual cucumber glut. I’m picking one or two a day at the moment, far more than we can possibly eat. The plan is to slice and pickle them instead of gherkins (which have – again – been an abject failure this year): must find a recipe.
And in Greenhouse no. 2 the tomatoes are at last really getting going: I planted them out far too late this year after getting distracted just when I should have been clearing the shelving, late-sown seedlings and containers out, so they hung around in pots much longer than they should have. Just green fruits so far but all looking promising.
These are heritage varieties, and rather special ones at that: they’re from a little packet of treasure sent me by the chap who looks after the 103-variety-strong heritage tomato collection at Knightshayes in Devon. On the right are ‘White Beauty’, aka ‘Snowball’ – a hefty white beefsteak; on the left, ‘Sutton’s Everyday’ which sound nice and reliable; and at the end ‘Jersey Sunrise’ which I’m promised offers exceptional flavour. There are about a dozen other varieties in the package I’m intending to work my way through over the next few years.
And I couldn’t possibly sign off without mentioning the newest arrival in this side. Over winter I lost my beloved rocoto chilli – it was coming into its fourth year, and last year was so vigorous and enormous it hit the ceiling of the greenhouse and I needed to construct a support frame for it out of 2×1 roofing battens to stop it muscling out the plants around it. Covered in lipstick-scarlet fruits, so many I gave them to family and friends and still had bags left over in the freezer, it was my pride and joy.
I hadn’t done anything particularly different from the previous three years, so I’m thinking that rocotos (also known as tree chillies) are actually just naturally short-lived and don’t last much longer than three or four years.
Anyway, there’s no problem that doesn’t also offer an opportunity: so I took the chance to ring the changes and try another chilli you’re supposed to be able to overwinter. Introducing my Aji chilli: aka Capsicum baccatum and another of the slightly hardier, earlier fruiting varieties. This one has yellow fruits, much more like cayenne types in that they’re thin-skinned, so I should be able to dry them (unlike rocotos which are too fleshy) and also not quite as hot as the tongue-blistering fruits on my lost plant.
As before, I’ve planted it in the greenhouse border; as before, I’m expecting it to reach a spectacular height and generally become a bit of a talking point. Watch this space!
It is June! Not very flaming, so far, but very busy. Here’s what I’ll be up to:
Making comfrey tea: the first harvest from my comfrey patch is in and stuffed unceremoniously into a bucket. Six weeks and a lot of whiffiness later I’ll have potassium-rich home made fertiliser.
Tying up peas: Why is it that just when you think you’ve tied in the last pea plant another tendril makes a bid for freedom? I am getting very good at tying knots…
LOTS of strimming
Mmm…. comfrey tea stewing away (the bricks you can see just under the surface were above water yesterday)
Planting up the greenhouses: cucumbers and cucamelons in, tomatoes still waiting for the shelving-and-propagator setup to be dismantled
Shunting young plants out into the garden just as fast as I can get them out there – this time of the year we’re down to minimal hardening off (and occasionally none at all)
Fretting about my quince tree: it has developed worrying signs of quince leaf blight. It looks just like tomato or potato blight in that lots of brown blotches start spreading across the leaves. There is no defence bar picking off affected leaves – and that means nearly every leaf on the tree. And it’s a big tree.
Peas – here Oregon Sugar Pod – making a break for the border again. Now where’s my string…
Harvesting asparagus: one of the best crops of the year. The spears are still largely spindly – the plants are in their third year – but I’m now getting some promisingly fat ones, too.
Planting up the brassica beds: slightly belatedly, as the calabrese have been fretting at their pots for weeks, but everything is now ready to go out under insect-proof mesh (I have already spotted at least two cabbage whites on the wing).
Netting the gooseberries: an enterprising blackbird found its way under the bushes last year and snaffled every last berry, but this year I’m a step ahead. I don’t think I’ve ever had to net gooseberries before – far too prickly for birds to bother with – but it’s my guess that growing them as cordons as I do might make them easier to pick for other enterprising creatures as well as me…