Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Lavender - making a fresh start

I have recently read several articles about how to prune Lavender, the gist of which is to prune it very hard - right down into the brown wood. This is alleged to make the plants "come back with a vengeance", putting on lots of vigorous new growth in the following year. Hmmm, I'm not convinced. But then I'm no expert on this subject. My usual technique is to use shears to clip the plants just after the flowers have died, taking the stems down to just above the brown wood. I have had limited success with this, I admit. The plants do produce new growth, but it has never been as vigorous as I would like, and it has meant that the plants end up being straggly and rather unsightly except when actually flowering.

Old woody Lavender (Photo from 2014)

It was therefore with some relief that I accepted the offer of three young Lavender cuttings from a friend. They were already well established and just required potting-up.

With these, I'll be able to make a completely fresh start!

My immediate action on receiving these new plants was actually not to plant them up, but to cut down and discard the old woody plants first. However, I did keep one, to which I am planning to apply the Prune Extra Hard treatment, just to see if I can get it to work, so for the record, here it is:

Today I also want to show you photos of two other flowers currently in my garden. The first is this Lobelia Cardinalis, whose first flowers are just opening. It usually begins flowering in late August or early September. Notice the raindrops dripping from the petals!

The other one I want to show you is this tiny Cyclamen:

I'm very pleased to have this one. It is the one that came up in the shingle of my back garden as a volunteer (i.e. not planted by me) in the Autumn of 2015. I spotted its leaves, dug it up and potted-it up. This is the first time it has flowered.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Feast, not famine

At present I don't have much gardening stuff to write about except for harvesting.

But as you can see, I have been harvesting lots of different vegetables:

The tomatoes in that basket are just representative of their type, because I have picked huge quantities of them. I noticed blight on a couple of my tomato plants on Saturday, which prompted me to pick all the fruit which was showing any sign of colouring-up, with a view to ripening it off the plant - indoors if necessary.

So far, the blight is under control. I removed all the affected fruit and leaves, and I am watching very carefully for any further infection.

You'll notice that in today's basket are a few French Beans, the first from those plants I am growing in the pots that formerly held the potatoes. It's not a lot, but they will make a nice change from the Runners (not that I dislike Runners though).

There are a few chillis in there too. They are "Cayenne" ones, which are tasty but not too hot - ideal for cooking with.

I have quite a few of them ripening now, so I'm saving them up to make a batch of Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Chilli "Cayenne"

The "Aji Benito" chillis are ripening in quick succession too, so some of these may join the Cayennes in the sauce, whilst the others will be frozen for use in the forthcoming months.

Chilli "Aji Benito"

That's all for today. I hope your harvests are proving plentiful too...

Saturday, 19 August 2017

That's more like it!

As predicted a couple of days ago, my Runner Beans ("Scarlet Emperor") have responded to the wetter conditions and begun to produce pods in greater quantity.

In that trug there's just over a kilogram of beans (1019g to be precise!). In other words, about enough to serve the two of us four times.

They are not huge beans, and that's because I don't allow them to get too big. Runner Beans that have grown over-large are very unpleasant. They develop a fibrous inner membrane between the pod and the actual beans, which is extremely tough and chewy, with a texture much like plastic! Harvesting the beans small means a lower yield in terms of weight, but they will be far superior in terms of quality. Regular readers will remember that this year I am focussing very much on quality before quantity!

The Runner beans will soon be augmented by a few French Beans, from the plants I put into pots used earlier this year for potatoes.

Dwarf French Bean "Processor"

The French Bean plants don't look too impressive, being quite small and with pale leaves, but I think this is because the soil in those pots is a bit tired after hosting the spuds. Before planting the beans I added some pelleted chicken manure, and just recently I have given the plants a feed of liquid "Growmore" general-purpose plant food, so they ought to be doing all right.

Still, the fact that these plants are right outside my window means that I can keep a close eye on them and pick them at the perfect stage. There will be enough for one or two uses from each pot, and I have 3 pots sown with beans a week apart.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The tomato-processing factory

The tomato harvest is in full swing now!

Every day I pick more of them. Today it was this basket of cherry tomatoes - mostly "Losetto", with a few "Sweet Aperitif".

Now, much as we like tomatoes, you can only eat so many of them. They are lovely eaten raw in salads, but you can't really eat tomato salad for three meals a day, so some of this fruit needs to be preserved.

We make a lot of what we call Tomato Sauce, and freeze it for use over the coming months. Actually our sauce is more like Passata, because it is just tomatoes with some onion. We make it plain at this stage and add any required flavourings later, when the sauce is used in cooking. It's more flexible that way.

An indispensable piece of equipment at this time of year is our trusty "Mouli-Legumes" which very efficiently converts the cooked tomato and onion to a smooth pulp and removes the pips and skins.

Our sauce normally gets frozen in these little plastic boxes. They hold about 400ml, which is a convenient size for a 2-person meal, when used as an ingredient.

As I mentioned yesterday, we also usually make some semi-dried tomatoes, using the little cherry-sized fruits. Done this way they don't keep for very long (unless immersed in oil or something), but we never make huge quantities of them and they get used up within a couple of days. We eat them as snacks, often with a drink before dinner.

Today Jane has made a batch of tomato ketchup, which has filled five and a half jars.

The ketchup is made to a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It uses a method quite similar to the sauce, but with the addition of sugar, spices and vinegar (the latter for its preservative qualities). It comes out really strong, sweet and tangy. Unfortunately it does need to be kept in the fridge.

OK, so now we just have to decide how to use all these...

And the best thing is, most of the bigger tomatoes are yet to be harvested!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Not good drying weather!

When I harvested my onions the other day I had every intention of drying them in the sun. The sun however had other ideas! For the first few days I dutifully laid out the onions on a groundsheet each morning - but then found myself having to rush out and rescue them from rain several times a day. I soon got fed up with that and decided it would be more sensible to dry them in the garage. I therefore rigged up a low-tech drying-rack using some of the ubiquitous wire shelves from my mini-greenhouses. (They have so many uses!)

The wire shelves are balanced on top of some empty flower-pots, so the onions are exposed to air on all sides.

There are only 8 of the "Sturon" brown onions left, because we have eaten all the others (14 of them). I had never intended to keep them for long-term storage. They were lovely onions - very crisp and firm - and very strongly-flavoured too.

I still have about 30 of the "Long Red Florence" onions though. They are in my opinion 'gourmet veg', and thus not for everyday use. We will use them in dishes where their qualities can be fully appreciated!

Back in the Spring, when I planted my onion sets, I put a few of them into a couple of vacant pots, aiming to use their leaves as a Spring Onion substitute, cutting them repeatedly.

In this role they didn't perform as well as I had hoped and I think we only used two lots of leaves. Due to the restricted space available to them, they haven't grown big either. Today I have pulled them up, and plan to use them in a sort of Boeuf Bourguinon-style casserole dish, in which they should be just right.

Since my post today is essentially about drying, let me end by mentioning that today I have been making another batch of semi-dried cherry tomatoes, using my dehydrator.

If you're interested in such things, my dehydrator came from Lakeland, priced today at £52.99. It is very basic (e.g. the only controls are an On / Off switch), but it does the job well enough.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Runner Beans

Runner Beans are one of the most popular vegetables for amateur gardeners in the UK to grow. I think they are a relatively easy crop to grow too. Even though you may not get a brilliant crop if you don't treat them well, you are still fairly sure to get at least something useable - which is not the case with many other vegetables.

When I wrote about Runner Beans back in June one of the tips I offered was "make sure you provide some strong support". I definitely stand by this. Just look at the amount of growth that has been produced by my 12 plants:

Not a vestige of the Hazel poles can be seen! That amount of foliage is very heavy, especially when wet, and it is no surprise that the most common "Allotment disaster" one reads about is the collapse of an inadequate Runner Bean support-system.

This year my Runner Bean harvest got off to a very shaky start. I picked my first few pods on 17th July, but during the rest of that month and the early part of August I was only able to pick a small quantity. By "small" I mean about 10 or 12 pods per week - decidedly unimpressive. I don't know what caused this, but most of the early flowers fell without setting pods, presumably because they had not been pollinated. Something changed about 10 days ago though. While we were away on holiday in Kent (7 - 14 Aug) the plants decided to start setting pods in earnest, and they are now covered in them.

I understand that while we were away there was a day of very heavy rain, and it may have been this that made the difference. Runner Beans are notoriously thirsty plants, and they can struggle if they don't get enough moisture. As you know, I grow mine in a raised bed, and such things are well-known for their good drainage properties, so despite my efforts with the hosepipe the beans may have been unhappy. They look all right now though - every flower-stem is loaded with little pods.

Yesterday I picked another little batch of beans (the usual 10 or so), but I think tomorrow or Friday there will be a lot more ready.

Something to remember with beans is that you have to keep picking the pods. If you stop, the plant will put all its energy into ripening a small number of pods. If you keep picking, the plant will produce more pods, so if you go away on holiday while your plants are cropping, ask a friend or neighbour to pick the pods for you every day or two. If you offer to let them keep what they pick I'm sure someone will be happy to help.

With a bit of luck my plants will now go on producing pods up until early October, especially if we get a mild early Autumn. If I find we have too many beans for our immediate requirements I will freeze some for use during the Winter. I'm really hoping to find myself in that situation very soon!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Homecoming harvests

You probably guessed from the absence of posts here on my blog that I have been on holiday for a while - and thus distanced from my Veg Plot. Jane and I have just returned from a self-catering holiday in Kent, which we shared with our two daughters, their husbands and the four grandchildren. Whilst it was a rare and enjoyable opportunity for us all to get together like that, it is also a wrench being away from the garden in prime harvesting season, even though it was in safe hands while we were away.

Over the last 24 hours I have been inspecting everything carefully to see what has grown, what needs harvesting, what has been infested with pests (or not), what needs pruning, what needs tying-in, etc, etc. The best part of all that has been the harvesting!

The tomato plants are absolutely groaning with fruit. Some of them are so heavily laden that it is a major challenge to keep them from collapsing in a heap. I picked another huge basketful of the "Maskotka" and "Losetto" ones, and a few fruits from several of the bigger varieties.

The ones in the white bowl are "Sungold". I have segregated them to remind me that not all tomatoes are red when ripe! I'm not sure my camera can cope properly with this, but in the big green tray are some red tomatoes, some yellow, some pink and several partially-ripe ones which are somewhere in-between.

Earlier today I made my first batch of tomato sauce for the year. This is one of the few things I feel it is worth freezing for Winter use.

The Blueberry bushes were also once more covered in ripe fruit, so those needed picking too.

I harvested just over a kilogram of them. This was the second significant harvest from my three bushes, and there are not many more berries left now. The 4th bush is the one that bears pink berries and it seems to have a total of only about a dozen of them!

About half of the berries have already been made into a Blueberry compote (for spooning over ice cream), and we haven't yet decided what to do with the rest.

I also pulled a couple of beetroot and half a dozen carrots - just enough for one "use".

The carrots are again pretty much perfect, with no Carrot Root Fly damage. One of them is almost an albino though.

Before we went away I wrote that the Runner Beans had not done particularly well this year (yet), but I'm pleased to report that during the last week lots of pods have finally set.

I did pick just a few pods, but I'm looking forward to a better (bigger) harvest in the next few days.

Lots of the chillis are ripening now, so I picked a few of those too. These are mostly "Cayenne" and "Fidalgo Roxa", with one "Aji Benito" (the chubby one seen at bottom right).

Last of the harvests for today was a colander full of salad leaves.

Not bad for one day's harvest, I think you'll agree.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Further Fungi Foraging

A recent walk around our nearby Velmead Common confirmed that there are loads of interesting fungi to be seen at present. I think the recent heavy rain has prompted them to shoot up - and of course August is prime fungi time anyway.

Regular readers will know that I don't claim any special expertise in relation to fungi (though I have learned a lot in the last couple of years), but I am very interested in them, and keen to photograph the varieties I see. Here is a little selection of the ones I saw yesterday.

I think this may possibly be Paxillus Involutus, the Brown Roll-Rim. If so, it is a particularly nasty one, and best avoided!

This is possibly Scleroderma Citrinus, the Common Earthball.

I'm fairly sure this is Leccinum Scabrum, Birch Bolete. The dark brown scales on the stem are very distinctive.

This appears to be an Agaric of some sort. The little scales on the cap remind me of the Fly Agaric, Amanita Muscaria.

I saw loads of different Russulas / Brittlegills. They come in many different colours. The name "Brittlegill" reflects the fact that fungi of this genus are very fragile and break easily. It is therefore rare to find perfect specimens.

This strange one looks as if it is mouldy, or perhaps dusted with flour!

The two smaller mushrooms in this photo are almost certainly Laccaria Amethystina, the Amethyst Deceiver. When young it is a very dark purple colour, but it fades as it matures. I have no idea what the bigger, desiccated one is.

Finally for today, a tiny brown fungus with a bright white stipe (stem). I have no idea what it is, but there were many of them, popping up in amongst the pine-cones on the forest floor.

Perhaps someone will tell me what it is...?