Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Summer Summary

I've been too busy in the garden to blog this month. August has seen mixed weather - but mostly quite sunny and hot. In between some showers, often quite heavy, so in general things have been growing OK. We had a spell a couple of weeks ago when we had to get the hose out to the veg and the fruit trees each evening.

The raspberries are between harvests at the moment. We had a good harvest during July and I put some in the freezer and made lots of raspberry jam as well as eating raspberries with cream, yoghurt, in trifles or just off the bush. All the other soft fruit has finished but the raspberries are just starting to set for the second flush.

The fruit trees are starting to produce. A few plums are ready. The Bramley apple is absolutely loaded. Surprising, because last year it gave a good harvest and Bramleys are notorious for "one year on - one year off". With the strong winds there are a lot of fallers, so blackberry and apple crumble was on the menu on Sunday. (Blackberries from the hedge).

The runner beans are nearly finished but have done well. This year we put the brussel sprouts in a cage to keep out the cabbage white butterflies and the pigeons. So far they are doing well and hopeful for sprouts for Christmas. A first for us this year is sweetcorn. Again, we caged these to keep off the rabbits and squirrels. The cobs are beginning to form nicely and should be ready in a couple of weeks I should think.

We've had a couple of meals from the chard which is going very well and on Sunday I planted a second row. The beetroot in the veg plot are really good and I popped half a dozen in the oven alongside the roast beef yesterday. The beetroots in the "leek bed" are rather poor. It's quite shaded under the ever-expanding cherry tree and also very dry. Planted another row of beetroot in the veg plot, because you can never have too much beetroot.

In the greenhouse the tomatoes continue to amaze. I pick them as soon as they start turning and ripen them off on the kitchen window sill. Plenty for us and for the neighbours too. There's also 5 pepper plants with some small fruit just forming.

So everything is doing well on the produce front.  After last year's neglect the shrubs and flower beds are pretty desperate and we've all been out there digging and chopping to try to get the jungle under control. Good exercise! Oh, and while clearing weeds and overgrown bamboo fromt the top of the rockery I stood on a wasps nest - OOUUCCH! They got inside my trainers and stung both ankles. Decided to leave the rockery until the wasps move on.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Do slugs drink beer?

I'm not a big beer drinker, I usually prefer a glass of red wine. However, last weekend I partook of a can of John Smith's - but didn't finish it.

While inspecting the sorry butternut squash plants with munched leaves and buds I remembered someone telling me about using a dish of beer to catch slugs. Waste-not-want-not as they say - so I Googled "slug beer traps" and came up with a few suggestions. I found one website Garden Myths www.gardenmyths.com/how-to-get-rid-slugs-with-beer/ run by Robert Pavlis, who lives in southern Ontario. He's been gardening for many years and dedicates his website to exploring the validity of various gardening myths. In the case of SLUGS he set up various beer traps and videoed the night-time goings on. (Take a look - it's a hoot!). Bottom line - slugs like beer, take a sip and carry on with their nightly munching, occasionally one has a sip too many and falls in and dies happy. But as a serious strategy for getting rid of slugs beer is a failure. Robert recommends enjoying your beer yourself (perhaps to drown your sorrows over the depredations of your precious plants by garden pests).

Two other myths he investigated which caught my eye:
My Mum used to cut off leaves of the tomatoes on the basis that they take the goodness from the fruit. And I've read accounts of tomato growers who cut ALL the leaves off once the fruit has set. My feeling is that leaves are where the plant generates it's energy - using photosynthesis - and removing them just reduces the amount of sugar available to the fruit. Only reason for cutting off leaves is so you can actually see the fruit to harvest them. (My 9 tomato plants are a small jungle!).

Alicante tomatoes in the greenhouse
As for weed barriers - well we've tried them and they fail in similar ways to what Robert found. Weed seeds blow in and settle on the top and get established quickly, couch grass, bindweed and ground elder just run underneath and come up several feet further along. Same applies, only worse, to gravel paths and beds.

I think a lot of perceived wisdom (or myths) about gardening are perpetuated by people just following what other people say, what there hear on the TV or read in books. Those experts don't know your garden and your environment. And a lot of them are professionals. Creating an instant garden at Chelsea or landscaping for a newly built house is different from managing a productive garden yourself year in year out. Also some of the rules that farmers or commercial growers use are bound to be different. For example, cutting raspberries right down each year - it makes it easier to harvest so they don't mind losing the early crop, which this year has been amazing for us. One of the delights of gardening is working with your own patch and finding your own balance. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Hot harvest

Crazy hot, sunny weather!

Last Monday the temperature was 14C and raining; today 30C and not a clound in the sky.  The soft fruit bushes are producing big-time - redcurrants, raspberries, tayberries, loganberries with blackcurrants nearly ready. The gooseberries are not doing so well. The new bush is fine but the old ones under the plum trees are rather sorry. I think I should take some cuttings to get new bushes to take over in a year or two. The two jostaberries have produced a significant crop for the first time. They are like big blackcurrants but sweeter. very nice with cereal and yoghurt for breakfast!

At the weekend I lifted a couple of rows of Orla potatoes. Very nice indeed! Generally a good size (for early spuds) and just a few with worm-holes. The middle bed potatoes still look like they are swimming with standing water at the top of the bed. This heat should dry things up a bit I guess. I planted out 20 beetroot seedlings where the Orlas were and set up another batch of seeds in modules (you can never have enough beetroot!).

Broad beans are doing well. We've had several meals and I have a box in the freezer. They freeze really well and are easy to do - just shell them and pop in a plastic ice-cream box. Looking forward to some runner beans by the weekend.

With all the harvesting comes processing. As well as big pies and crumbles and raspberry trifles we've made some gorgeous redcurrant jelly. Most of the rest of the redcurrants and raspberries are in the freezer, ready for jams, jellies, whatever during the winter.