Friday, 30 June 2017

Last and first

Yesterday I picked what will probably be the last batch of Broad Beans for the year. There are just a few pods left on one or two plants, and they may or my not mature. This is sad in a way because we do love Broad Beans and they have such a short season. However, there is good news too - I also picked my first Courgette of the year.

The courgette is not a particularly fine specimen - it's a bit "club-shaped" (thicker at one end than at the other), but I'm hoping there will be more to come. Actually, if the truth be known, this fruit is the third one my plant has produced, but the other two were not fertilised so they never grew beyond a couple of inches long. The plant is now happily producing both male and female flowers at the same time, so with a bit of luck it will soon be pumping out a fruit every couple of days for the next two months or so.

The Broad Beans are the Longpod ones (variety not known), from my second row. As I have mentioned before, the second row has not been as good as the first one, because the plants were overshadowed by their older cousins. Still, mainly due to the near-absence of Blackfly this year, even this second row has produced a reasonably respectable crop.

Because we have had quite a lot of Broad Beans this year, we have been able to experiment with more different ways of cooking and eating them. We normally eat them just plain boiled, as an accompaniment to something else (usually a meat dish), but this year Jane used some of them in an oriental-style stir-fry with Tofu and Chinese leaves, and I invented a dish with new potatoes cooked in chicken stock, onions, smoky bacon and carrots as well as the Broad Beans. We haven't yet made any into Broad Bean Hummus or Bissara, but then there is still a kilo of them left in the fridge...

In my opinion, the Broad Bean is a vegetable with a high VSR (Value for Space Rating), mainly because it is not available in the shops for very long each year, and the ones you do see are usually quite pricey. In our local supermarkets at present they are about £3 per kilogram or £7.48 if you buy the premium ones from Natoora. This certainly makes them worth growing if you can find the space.

Thursday, 29 June 2017


Yesterday I harvested another pot of potatoes. This time it was "Kestrel", the first of my Second Early types.

Because of its attractive colouring, this variety is one that is often chosen for the showbench. Mine are not up to Show standard, because the skins are not smooth enough, but they are quite acceptable for use in the domestic kitchen.

This batch weighed-in at 940g, which seems to me to be a fairly reasonable yield from a single seed-tuber. More would be nice, but this was OK, and there were several good-sized tubers.

They look better after washing...

If you look carefully you will see that some of them have a little bit of Scab - the rough brown lesions on the skin. This is what would prevent them from being any good for Showing.

After removing the potatoes, I put the soil back in the container (a 35-litre black plastic tub, diameter 40cm) and planted in it five of my spare Leeks:

In this shot you can just see one of the slightly smaller pots with Dwarf French Beans in.

Empty growing-space is a rarity in my garden!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Rolling along

A garden never stands still; there is always something happening, some changes, however small, occur every day. You sow seeds, you plant seedlings, you weed and water them; you harvest the crop, you dig up the old plants and replace them... (Repeat).

My Broad Beans are mostly gone now. The first row has been cut down to just a few inches above soil level:

I have left the stumps in the ground for now. Their roots will be laced with nodules that fix Nitrogen in the soil, where it will be appreciated by the crops that follows on - in my case Purple Sprouting Broccoli.

The Longpods of my second row of BBs are still producing pods, so I can't prepare this bed for the PSB just yet. Overall, my two rows of BBs (24 plants in total) have so far yielded about 3.5kgs of pods, with maybe 500g still to come. I am satisfied with that, especially as I have seen several bloggers reporting a poor year for Broad Beans.

My interest is now turning to the cucurbits. The "Defender F1" courgette plant is already huge:

The first flower on this plant to open was a female, and due to lack of male flowers it didn't get fertilised and therefore didn't develop beyond about two inches in length. Now however, the plant is producing flowers of both sexes, and I think the first viable fruits are developing. Once they get going these things grow very rapidly, so I think this will be my next harvestable crop.

Courgette "Defender F1"

The two cucumber plants in the same tub as the courgette are growing quickly, and I keep tying them in to the bamboo canes at intervals of six inches or so. The "Passandra" plant has about 5 or 6 little fruits forming already, but so far "Diva" has none (playing the Prima Donna role, some might say...)

Cucumber "Passandra"

The "Boltardy" beetroot are beginning to bulk-up, though I can't yet see any that are big enough to pick. Despite the name, Boltardy is not entirely immune to bolting, and I am making sure I water them often so that they are not put under stress. With only a few plants, I can ill afford to lose even a couple!

Beetroot "Boltardy"

Another crop on its way out is my little pot of peas, grown for the shoots. I have picked shoots from these few plants three times, but they have now managed to get ahead of me and produce some flowers so their days as a salad ingredient are at an end. I think I'll leave them to set some pods now - even half a dozen would be nice to have, wouldn't they? (I'm fairly certain they would not make it as far as the kitchen though).

Talking of salads, let me just mention for the record that over the past weekend I sowed seeds for more lettuce, rocket and cress, plus a few Radicchio ("Rossa di Verona") and a row of "Misticanza" which is an Italian version of Mesclun - a mixture of lettuces, chicory, radicchio etc. It makes sense to sow salad crops little and often throughout the Summer so that you always have enough without having too many. Several of my lettuces bolted during the very hot weather we had last week, so my stock is considerably depleted. Fortunately this didn't happen to my "Warpath" ones. This is a crisphead variety like a very compact "Iceberg", especially suited to small gardens like mine.

Lettuce "Warpath"

My onions are looking a right mess, but then I think this is probably normal for onions. They still have lots of upright green leaves, so I judge that they are not yet ready for harvesting.

Some of them are bulbing-up quite nicely too.

They are not all like that though, and I think my first attempt at growing onions is going to be like the proverbial curate's egg - good in parts!

The last thing I want to mention today is tomatoes. My plants are setting tons of fruit now. Some years I get a few very sparsely-populated trusses, but this year seems to be better than average. Here are a couple of examples. First, "Maskotka". The (4) plants in the wooden planter are covered in fruit and flowers:

None of the fruit are ripe yet, but there are loads like this, so it won't be long, I think.

This is "Sungold". The plant has already set 3 trusses and more are forming. Each truss has about 20 fruit, with more appearing at the tips.

Lastly, "Marmande" also looking very promising. Fortunately the distortion caused by the weedkiller in the compost has not been severe this time and the plants seem to have "grown through it".

PLEASE will the blight stay away this year?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Succeeding with Beans

My post title is a play on words: I am referring to the "succession sowing" technique.

I have been growing my potatoes in big 35-litre black plastic containers, and I have been harvesting them for about a month now.

This potato plant is just about ready for harvesting. Notice how the foliage is mostly dry and brown.

If you haven't seen it already, you might be interested to read my recent review of this year's Early potatoes, HERE.

Harvesting the potatoes gives me a further opportunity for growing something. As each pot is emptied, I fill it up again with the soil that has just come out, and sow / plant something else. This time I have sown some seeds for the Dwarf French Bean "Processor". So far I have sown two pots-worth at an interval of about a week. The first ones have germinated, but the second ones have only just gone in so they haven't appeared just yet.

The seeds were from a packet sent to me last year by a friend in Holland, so not fresh, and probably because of this the germination rate has been poor. I sowed 10 seeds but only 6 have come up. Maybe the others will eventually show...

It's worth mentioning that since the soil in these pots has already supported one crop this year, it may be a bit tired, so it needs refreshing. I have added some pelleted chicken manure, but if I had some homemade compost available I'd probably use that instead / as well.

Last year my second crops included Leeks, using up spare seedlings. I think I will do this again. The Leeks never grew very big, but they were nice (and worthwhile) nonetheless. I have some Leek seedlings going spare again, so I have nothing to lose by planting them in the potato-pots.

I've been thinking what else I could grow as second crops and have concluded that it might be worth trying Radishes and some salads - maybe Rocket or Greek Cress. All of these are quick-growing plants, so they would have time to mature before the end of Summer. Last year I tried Beetroot and Carrots, but neither of those made it to maturity before the growing-season finished.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Square Foot Gardening - Growing Perfect Vegetables

I have to be honest and say that this book is not what I expected.

I am familiar with the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) technique, which has apparently become quite popular in the USA (though much less so over here in the UK, I believe), and in theory it is a technique that should appeal to me - an orderly, disciplined way of gaining the maximum yield from a small piece of ground, with the minimum of effort. This is what I thought the book would be about, but it isn't. There is a very brief introduction to the SFG technique at the beginning of the book, but the vast majority of the book is devoted to understanding when a vegetable is "ripe" - i.e. ready to be picked - and also (curiously) what to look for when buying vegetables in a shop / market. 126 pages are devoted to "Ripeness Listings", vegetable by vegetable. Each vegetable has at least one photograph, and approximately half a page of text, devoted to it.

There are basic tables indicating sowing / planting and harvesting times for each vegetable, shown mostly in relation to first / last frost dates, but precious little about actually cultivating it. In view of the title of the book, I find this disappointing.

Chapter 3 at the end of the book has a couple of short sections covering "Care and handling", "Short-term produce storage at a glance" and "Kitchen Wisdom", but they are extremely superficial. Who needs to be told that cucumbers are best stored in the fridge, but potatoes aren't?

Oddly, considering the title of the book, there is a complete chapter entitled "Outside the box", devoted to things that would not normally be practical to grow in an SFG bed, such as fruit trees (including exotics like durian, lychee, papaya and coconut!).

The real odd one out in this section is the kohlrabi which I would have thought would be fine for SFG - especially since Brussels Sprouts are reckoned to be so. The main emphasis of this chapter is understanding what to look for when buying these fruits / vegetables ("In the Market") and how to store them at home to enjoy them at maximum ripeness ("Extending Ripeness"). There are a few quirky bits of advice in this section which might just work - like storing pears at a temperature just below freezing for a couple of days to help them ripen. I've not heard this before, but it might be worth a try.

Interspersed throughout the book are little sections like "The 10 healthiest ripe fruit and vegetables" and "10 incredibly beautiful ripe fruits and vegetables" - with photos to match of course. I don't really think these sections add much - they are too subjective - but if you like looking at nice photos, then they are OK!

In fact, perhaps the best aspect of the book is that it includes lots of really good, clear photos. They are not always to be relied upon though - one the photos of "Flat-leaf Parsley" on page 69 is definitely of coriander / cilantro.

My personal opinion is that this book has little to offer for the serious gardener, and I find its title misleading. I suggest instead "A guide to selecting and storing perfect fruit and vegetables" - omitting all reference to SFG, which is not really relevant to this subject. Overall, a disappointing book, which seems to me like a jumble of miscellaneous bits and pieces.

P.S. I should point out that the book is aimed at the American market, and uses U.S. spelling and names - e.g. "Scallions" as opposed to "Spring Onions" and "Eggplant" as opposed to "Aubergine".

"Growing Perfect Vegetables" is published by the Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Price in the UK is £11.99.

Disclaimer: This book was provided FOC for review purposes.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Chilli progress report

Following on from my post yesterday about harvesting my first chillis of the year, here is a more general update on how my chillis are performing.

Well, obviously the "Cayenne" and that unknown "Turkish" variety had done well to produce big fruits already - even if I didn't let them ripen.

The theory is that since I have taken an early crop of their fruit, those plants will react by producing a second set of flowers, resulting in an overall higher yield. Actually, I have two "Cayenne" plants and they both had more flowers and fruits on them, in addition to the ones I picked.


The unknown (possibly Turkish) plant is the tallest of this year's plants - rather gangly and sparsely foliated:

Most of the plants are now either flowering or setting fruit. This is "Aji Benito", a compact bushy specimen which looks as if it will produce a big crop.

"Aji Benito"

"Aji Benito"

And this is "Fidalgo Roxa".  It has very attractive dark stems and foliage.

"Fidalgo Roxa"

Look at that, four flowers/fruits from one node!

"Fidalgo Roxa"

My two "Aji Limon" plants demonstrate quite nicely the effects of pinching-out, which I described a couple of weeks ago. The unpinched one has a tall stem, which has now branched naturally at a height of about 12in / 30cm, and has some small secondary growth at the base:

"Aji Limon", unpinched

The other, pinched-out, one has no "top growth", but four big strong sideshoots emanating from near the base:

"Aji Limon", pinched

Significantly, it is also starting to produce flowers - before its "natural" sibling.

Flower bud on "Aji Limon"

The same is happening with my two "Cozumel Fat" (nickname!) plants, even though they are much smaller:

2 x "Cozumel Fat"- left one has been pinched-out

Strong new basal growth on the pinched-out "Cozumel Fat".

The Hungarian chilli whose seeds were kindly sent to me by Jeff English is looking a lot better now, after a slow and shaky start. It doesn't look as if it will ever be a big plant though.

"Hungarian, small, red"

My "Ring of Fire" plant is slow to flower again. I had been told that this was an early one, but based on this year and last year's experience, I can say that this is definitely not so!

"Ring of Fire"

This particular plant seems to be very attractive to Ladybird larvae. Today I counted 7 larvae / pupae on it.

The "Challock Chilli" looks superficially very similar to the "Ring of Fire":

"Challock Chilli"

It has several beautiful plain white flowers, but none have set fruit yet.

"Challock Chilli"

The very hot conditions we have had just recently have evidently suited "Panama 6" (another nickname, of course), which has had a growth spurt. This plant (possibly a Habanero of some sort) was grown from seed last year and over-Wintered. It has grown very slowly up till now, but it is beginning to look more promising.

"Panama 6"

One of my Jalapenos is doing fine, but its sibling is still curiously much less enthusiastic:

Both of these are "Jalapeno"

The "Redfields Orange" (nickname) remains absolutely tiny, but even it has some buds now. I wonder how big (small) the fruits will be?!

"Redfields Orange" (possibly a "Demon" type)

Well, that's the state of play for now. Judging by the BBC weather forecast, we are due for about 10 days of much cooler weather now, so my chillis will be less happy, but at least most of them have developed into reasonably strong plants by now, so they should be able to cope.