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...?

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Harvesting tomatoes

The tomato harvest has begun in earnest!

"Maskotka"

I now have 5kgs of those "Maskotka" ones in the fridge now. They are ripening quicker than we can eat them. Putting them in the fridge slows down their ripening.

This week we have eaten a lot of tomatoes. One evening we had this Caprese salad, made with "Marmonde" tomatoes:

Caprese salad with "Marmonde" tomatoes

We also ate some of the "Marmonde" fried, coating them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then shallow-frying them. Picked slightly under-ripe they were perfect done this way because they didn't go mushy like a fully ripe tomato might.

"Marmonde"

Jane made a tomato-and-cheese puff pastry tart for out lunch one day. She also prepared one of our all time favourite dishes called "Barbecued pork fillet in tomato sauce" (in which the pork is curiously not barbecued, but since it uses Worcestershire sauce, tastes as if it has been.).

I have made a batch of semi-dried tomatoes, using my dehydrator.

Semi-dried "Maskotka"

Dehydrating tomatoes makes their flavour even more intense. They are lovely as an ingredient, but also on their own as a nibble.

It has been a week of harvesting the "Firsts" - the first fruits of several different varieties of tomato..

This is "Costoluto Fiorentino":

"Costoluto Fiorentino"

These are "Grushkova" - not yet completely ripe.

"Grushkova"

"Grushkova" has a very distinctive ripening sequence. It starts with a blush of pink at the blossom end, and gradually spreads upwards to the stem end until the whole fruit is pink.

I often pick fruits that are not 100% ripe, because it means I can move them around the garden in a container, keeping them constantly in full sun so that they ripen quicker. The parent plants seem to respond to the loss of their first fruits too, by hastening the ripening of the remainder.

These are "Ferline":

"Ferline"

"Ferline" is a heavy cropper, producing quite regularly-shaped fruit that are big but not huge. It also has high disease-resistance. (Just don't expect it to survive blight!)

These are the first "Ailsa Craig", picked under-ripe because they were beginning to split. This can happen to nearly-ripe fruit when a dry spell is followed by an excess of rain - which is exactly what happened here.

"Ailsa Craig"

The fruits will be OK if used quickly, but they do not keep well once they have split.

The rest of the fruits on the "Ailsa Craig" plant are still green, but there are LOTS of them!

"Ailsa Craig"

On some of my plants (particularly the "beefsteak" ones), the trusses are so heavy they are beginning to tear away from the stems, so I have been busy tying them up with string.

"Ananas"

As long as the truss is still at least partially attached to the stem it will probably still be OK, and the fruit will continue to ripen. Here I have tied the tear with some soft string to try to keep it going.




Saturday, 5 August 2017

Leeks


Until recently the Allium family hadn't been well represented in my veg-plot. I grew some garlic once and it was pathetic; I have produced some reasonably competent shallots a couple of times, though they were not of prize-winning quality. Likewise, my Leeks have been, shall we say, "variable". The first time I grew them (in 2014) they did very well, but that turned out to be Beginner's Luck, and the next couple of attempts were a bit feeble. I'm not one to give up easily though, and I am having another go this year.

Some of my first Leeks - Sept 2014

Thinking about the results I have had with Alliums, I believe that the critical factor is light. If they don't get enough of it they aren't going to do well. This was particularly brought home to me last year when I tried to grow some spare leeks in a big plastic pot which had previously held potatoes. There just wasn't a good place to put the pot. It ended up underneath a tree and was in the shade most of the time. The results were predictable - puny Leeks.


This year I have planted two different types of Leek - "Winter Giant" and "Musselburgh".
They were sown on February 12th.


This is them on 8th April.


They were planted out (maybe a little small) on 14th April.


This is them now.


My main crop is a mere 15 leeks, but they are in prime position, in a raised bed that gets lots of direct sunlight. So far they seem to be doing well, and bulking-up quite nicely. As long as they don't bolt, I hope to keep them growing (and getting bigger) well into the Autumn.


As always, I had a few spares, and once the main crop was established I planted them in a couple of big 35-litre pots that had previously held potatoes. I did this last year, but put too many seedlings (9) in each pot. This year, I have only put in 5 per pot.


They are looking good so far - much better than last year!


After putting 5 Leeks in each of those 2 big pots, I still had a few more "spare spares", so they went into a third pot. There are 8 of them, and I don't expect them to do so well, because they will be very cramped.


Those ones will end up being used as "Baby Leeks" I expect.