Monday 30 July 2018

Harvest Monday - a return

It's been a while since I've posted - wow April seems ages ago! Hopefully I'll be back in to regular posting from now on.

I guess every growing year has its challenges - 2018 has seen a very wet spring (requiring lots of slug patrols - I lost a few plants) and a very hot, dry summer (requiring lots of watering - and I also lost a few plants to dry conditions, or pests that took advantage of stressed plants, such as one Brussels sprout plant that was totally covered in cabbage aphids, which I'd never even heard of before - I ended up cutting that plant off at the base and composting it). During the dry period it's been very easy to keep weeds at bay though, so that's one bonus - a thorough hoeing and hand weeding several weeks ago did the trick, with hardly any new weeds popping up - plus I haven't really been disturbing the soil, so no new weed seeds have come to the surface. There may be some that blow in from elsewhere though. My soil is very sandy and it dries out very quickly - I'd love to have a good supply of organic matter to improve the soil structure - there's only so much compost I can make, and I also collect leaves to make leafmould, plus get a few bags of well-rotted horse manure each year.  I really want to make some composted woodchip...sigh, one day, one day.

Anyway, the soft fruit has enjoyed the hot weather (a small example in the pic below), with very sweet harvests of raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, redcurrants and saskatoons (all of which I'd mulched around the base with cardboard and compost. They still needed watering though, which I focussed right at the base of each plant so it would go under the sheet mulch and reach the roots, and only did it during the ripening period so they swelled up nice n juicy.) It takes so long to pick soft fruit, I'm almost glad that's nearly over (Jan helped a lot with the raspberries in particular which was handy). Blackberries have started ripening now, so we've started cramming them into the freezer too. I'd normally make cakes with some but it's been too hot to have the oven on.

Earlier on in the summer I had a nice crop of radishes, intersown between the broadbeans. I really should've sown some more to get a staggered period of harvests, maybe next year.

I roasted these with almonds (I think there was a recipe in The Guardian paper) - would never have thought of that myself!

Broad beans were also really good - the Autumn sown variety (super Aqua dulce) produced a lovely large and tasty crop, and the spring sown variety (Eleanora express), which ripened a few weeks later were even sweeter. There weren't as many pods because blackfly got a few plants, but it still wasn't bad. At a community allotment I've been helping with we sowed green long pod (? Not sure if that's the right name) in May and have had an amazing harvest over the last couple of weeks, demonstrating how broad beans can provide a great harvest over a long period. That variety is incredibly tasty too so I think I'll get some seeds for myself next year.

My early potatoes did alright, and the scab wasn't too bad considering it's worse in dry conditions. I forget what variety they were - a new one for me, which I have written down somewhere.

At home in my lean-to greenhouse, the basil was very happy, though after this photo I did get some caterpillar damage.

The scent of basil is delicious. I've got more to pick now too. In fact some of the plants are starting to put up flower heads, so I've been pinching these out to keep them producing leaves rather than flowers. 

Also at home, in the back garden I have a wigwam of runner beans (variety Lady Di). The flowers were just falling off and not setting into beans to begin with due to the dry weather but now they're doing alright, and I'm picking a handful every couple of days or so. Because the growth isn't very tidy, the beans end up a bit curvy, but they still taste good. We've had very strong winds (and rain finally, yes!) over the weekend and the leaves are looking a bit shredded now, but the wigwam didn't blow over, hurray (which has happened in a previous year, ripping out the bean plants from the soil). In the back garden I also have a wigwam of borlotti beans, which hasn't started flowering yet, plus at the allotment I'm growing csar, blauhilde and a yellow climbing bean, and two dwarf bean varieties -  a green and a yellow. Some of the plants had struggled with the dry conditions so they should all appreciate the recent rain. It sounds like a lot of beans, but we'll eat some fresh, freeze some and also leave some for the bean inside to develop, for stews etc. I had wanted to do some fermenting too but I'm not sure if there'll be any spare...may be if the growth picks up after the rain...

Salad leaves have been good so far, I've surprised myself, even growing some decent little gem lettuces with nice dense heads! I intercropped the little gems with beetroot, under a couple of the bean wigwams at the allotment, and in between some strawberry plants. Here they are in the foreground earlier in the year - they were ready to harvest before the beetroot or beans really got going, so I'll try and repeat this method again next year, it makes good use of the space. The wire mesh was to keep the sparrows off - they loved to nibble the young beetroot and lettuce leaves!

At home I grow salad leaves that need more regular picking, and for the first time I've tried mustard frills - very tasty. I'll be sowing more salad leaves in August for Autumn, winter and early spring cropping. Some of them will get planted in the tomato pots in the greenhouse, when the tomatoes are over.

Kale has been good, though there seems to have been a lot of white butterflies around recently, laying their eggs and then little caterpillars hatching. I should really have netted all the brassicas. Good news is there've been lots of wasps about now as well, and they go around picking caterpillars off the brassicas...thank you natural predators. I made a pesto last week with cooked kale leaves and dry-toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds...yummy.

Chard has again been a dependable self-sown crop. It's growing well where it's near other plants I've been watering, so not needing any extra effort to get extra harvests.

Back in the lean-to greenhouse at home, the toms are picking up the ripening pace. These are 'tumbler' - very prolific for a small plant. I have a few different varieties growing in pots. Some of the varieties are definitely more susceptible to blossom end rot, which has been bad this year (caused by calcium deficiency, which in my case is because it's been so hot that the smaller pots have dried out, meaning the roots can't uptake calcium). So next year I'm not going to grow super marmande, which is a shame. May be if they're grown in the ground they wouldn't suffer so much, as the soil would have a better capacity to hold water.

There are a few tigerella in this pic too - smaller than normal due to the plants growing in small pots, but other plants I have in larger pots have much bigger fruits (yet to ripen).

So that's a whistle-stop tour of some harvests so far. Of course there's courgettes (though I'm yet to have a glut!) and the usual suspects like onions and garlic. I haven't taken many harvest photos this year but hopefully will get back into the swing again. I'm quite excited to soon harvest my first ever crop of chick peas, and soya beans!

I've been to some interesting places recently and plan to share some piccies another time - including The Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan, which I last visited over ten years's a long way to Cornwall from Norwich!

Thanks for reading and see you next time. I'm linking in to Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.