Sunday 31 August 2014

Bean feast

Plenty of produce from the garden now. As well as the fruit trees and raspberries the vegetables are producing in abundance - beetroots, marrows / courgettes, squashes, lettuces and three kinds of beans.

Beetroot, squash, marrow & french beans

Runner beans
We keep bean seeds from one year to plant the next. The runner beans have been saved this way for about 30 years when Mum & Dad moved to their Dorset home and bought a new packet. This year I planted 40 runner bean seeds in a new plot (move the bean frame around each year) and nothing happened. After 3 weeks I dug around and found every bean was infested with little white grubs. Checked internet and think they were probably bean fly. (See Which fact sheet for more details - I'll be following some of their advice next year!) Luckily I had some more bean seeds so I planted them in pots to germinate and grow up a little. (We always used to do this, generally to avoid early frosts and get a jump on the weather in cold springs. It's only in the last few years we've planted straight in the ground.) The planted-out beans then got chomped by slugs but the survivors have grown up well and are giving us a bumper crop.

French beans have done really well this year. I always plant these in pots in the greenhouse because they are more tender than other beans and are only safely planted out at the end of May. However, the germination rate has been about 50-60% using saved seeds and bought seeds - no difference. After the bean fly experience with the runners I took a close look in the pots and there was some evidence of pest at work, though no visible grubs. Some of the non-germinating seeds and ones with just stubby growth had brown marks on the beans. Haven't yet discovered what causes these. Next year I will plant twice as many as we need. The surviving plants - grown up wigwams of bamboo and hazel - have produced in abundance needing to be harvested every day.

Our star performers are the broad beans. In March I planted 30 straight in the ground and 30 in pots with no noticeable difference in germination success, growth rate or productivity. The only problem this year was that they produced beans a plenty during the warm spell and it was difficult to pick and process fast enough. We leave some of the bigger pods to mature and dry off and now I've gathered those and stored the beans in a paper bag ready for next year.

Young broad beans - half grown from seeds planted in the soil and the others in pots and planted out.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Blue sky musings

The last few days of August have been patchy weather-wise. We've had the typical "sunny spells with showers" - more grey than sunny.

Yesterday during a sunny spell I lay down in the grass under the damson tree and gazed up through the branches into the blue sky.

Right above me lots of plump-looking damsons ready for picking this weekend. Last year we had a bumper crop and the cupboards are still full of damson jams of various types and damson vodka. Flitting around the damson fruit were several brown & white butterflies and an enormous dragon-fly.

Then, swallows - flying very high. I haven't seen many recently (since the babies fledged) and thought they may already have gone south. But obviously they have just moved their roosting spot further into the fields.

A big silver bird came into view - no, it's an aeroplane moving silently across the blue sky shining in the sun.

Then the engine noise followed joining the orchestra of wood-pigeons cooing, long-tail tits squeaking and woodpeckers calling as they fly and THUD! - a large cooking apple dropped a few feet from my head. Definitely time for harvesting!

Sunday 17 August 2014

First tomatoes

Yesterday we picked our first Faworyt beef tomatoes. We picked 3 lbs - one tom was 8oz. They are been growing in Mum's conservatory in grow bags sowed from seeds on 30 March. Looking at last year's diary we picked our first Big Boy tomatoes on 18th August having planted the first week of April, so very similar - despite this year being much warmer. The year before we had our first Big Boy tomato on 13 August (11 oz).

Faworyt beef tomatoes
We've grown Big Boy tomatoes for many years. They are excellent for cooking and soups as well as in salads. They provide much better flesh to skin & pip ratio than other varieties. However, they are an F1 hybrid and have been increasingly difficult to source seeds. So this year we tried the Faworyt variety.

They certainly germinated well and have grown luxuriously, perhaps a bit too much leaf which we've had to trim back quite a lot. (I know some people suggest cutting back nearly all the leaves anyway - "to prevent the leaves taking the goodness". But it's the leaves that create the tomatoes, especially the sweetness, via photosynthesis.)

Well for lunch we did the test - sliced tomatoes,with chopped chives and a splash of vinegar & olive oil - and I'd say the taste was pretty good. Nice and sweet. But I think there were a lot of pips, not so much flesh as the Big Boys.

Faworyt tomatoes in growbags in the conservatory.
In the big greenhouse I've grown Alicantes and a few tomatoes that appeared in the compost so could be anything. We've been picking and eating for a week or so and they are pretty good. Very sweet just to eat as they are but will do soup too.

Alicante toms ripening on the kitchen windowsill.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Swallow families

This year there are loads of swallows and with the sunshine following the rain on Saturday there are lots of bugs. We've had great fun watching their aerobatics and swooping down to feed their fluffy babies perched precariously on the telephone wires. The transfer takes half a second. I think the swallows have their nests in our neighbour's big barn.

Some years we've had no swallows. Last year we had martins and swallows but this year just loads of swallows. Certainly the warmer summers help.

See first swallow entry >>