Saturday, 22 July 2017

Spuds and Co.

Yesterday I harvested my penultimate pot of potatoes, one of the variety "Nicola", a Second Early type. .

This plant was definitely ready for harvesting. The foliage had completely died down.

I have had high hopes of "Nicola" because I have grown it before and it usually produces an excellent yield of very fine tubers. This time I think it has to take second place after "Charlotte" - to which in truth it is very similar. This pot of "Nicola" gave me 925g, from one seed-tuber grown in the one 35-litre container.

In terms of weight this is pretty much par for the course, but there were more very small tubers than usual, and a wide disparity between those and the biggest ones. I prefer tubers that are all more-or-less the same size, if possible.

Nevertheless, when washed they looked very nice:

The skins were mostly very clean, with only some tiny traces of scab, and no slug damage at all.

The difference between "Charlotte" and "Nicola" seems to me to be marginal, and to be honest I wouldn't recommend growing both simultaneously because of this. I have no hesitation in recommending both of them separately though.

My one remaining pot is also of "Nicola", though it seems to be a few days behind in terms of maturity, since its foliage is still mainly green.

Apart from the spuds, this week I have also been harvesting more beetroot, more Runner Beans and (at last) a significant quantity of tomatoes. I forgot to photograph the beans, but here are the others:

Beetroot "Boltardy" and "Cylindra"

Tomatoes "Losetto" and "Maskotka"

Friday, 21 July 2017

Empty beds = wasted space?

I think that most of my regular readers will agree that I manage to get a fair bit of produce from my small garden (it's approx. 10 metres by 10 metres). To do this takes careful management. In many respects gardening is akin to Project Management. There are lots of factors to be taken into account: you have to know what crops to grow where; how long they will take to mature; how big they will be when fully-grown; what light and soil conditions suit them best; what their watering requirements will be, etc. A successful harvest does not come about just by bunging a few seeds in the ground and sitting back to wait for them to mature!

May 2017

Anticipation and forward-planning is key. All too often I read about people forgetting to sow seeds at the right time, and leaving it too late. There are ways to avoid this: why not arrange your seeds in a box in sowing-date order, so that you know what is next to go in? Or if you're into the technology, you could set up a diary reminder in Outlook or a similar email programme on your computer or phone? In my case, I rely mainly on my feel for what is right, based on my 30+ years of gardening experience!

The other day I harvested my onions, and as I said at the time, I took them up perhaps a bit earlier than I should have done for best results, but I was conscious that if I didn't get some Chicory and Endive plants in the ground soon then I wouldn't have any of them ready until very late in the autumn, at which time they would probably succumb to frost. This is the half-bed that was released by lifting the onions:

And here it is 24 hours later:

You can see that I have already begun to re-populate it. The little plants are six lettuces and six radicchio. More will follow very soon. In ideal circumstances it would have been good to add some home-made compost to re-invigorate the soil, but I didn't have any available (having used it all in the Spring), so I had to make do with a few handfuls of pelleted chicken manure. After planting the lettuce and radicchio I watered them in very thoroughly because the soil was very dry. This bed is also quite sandy because I have previously added sand in order to grow carrots in it. I find that as long as I keep adding at least one good dose of compost every year I can cultivate my raised beds more or less constantly if I want.

Leeks at the back, then lettuce, then radicchio

You will have noted that I planted not only radicchio but also lettuce. This is because I know that the lettuce will mature much more quickly and will be harvested and out of the way well before the radicchio reaches maturity. In a few days time I will add another row of lettuce between the radicchio and the endives that are due to go in next - for the same reason.

Back to the Project Management theme... In order to maximise the use of space, I tend to grow many of my vegetables initially in seed-trays, pots or modules rather than direct sowing them into their final positions. This means that one crop can be occupying a raised bed while another is kept "waiting in the wings" until the space becomes vacant. For instance, carrots sown in March can normally be lifted in July or August and replaced with module-grown cabbage plants that will grow slowly over the Winter, maturing in the spring. This method needs careful time-management too, because plants kept too long in small containers often become root-bound, or bolt. At best they will be stunted. Here's an example:-

Those are spare PSB plants, kept as reserves in case of casualties in the main crop. I have kept them and kept them "just in case", but you can see that they are now dull, pale and weak because they have exhausted nearly all the nutrients in their little pots. Sadly, they are never going to get planted, though if they were planted in the next few days they would probably still be OK. [By the way, I have already given away some of my other spare PSB plants, so they have not all been wasted.]. Compare them with the main-crop plants (their exact contemporaries in terms of sowing) which went into the ground at just the right time in the first week of July:

As they say "Timing is everything"!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

How to maximise your tomato harvest

Normally I grow my big (indeterminate) tomato plants using the so-called "cordon" method, making them grow tall and thin by removing all the sideshoots. Done this way, they can normally support 4 or 5 trusses, so they give me about 20 - 25 fruits each - if I'm lucky and don't lose any to Blossom End Rot, Blight or any of the other ailments that beset tomatoes. This year a fortuitous mistake may give me a higher yield...

These are fruits of "Ferline", which when ripe will be big, red and "meaty". I want lots of those!

Normally when I put a tomato plant into its final pot, I bury it to a level just below its first set of leaves. I must have accidentally buried this one a little deeper than usual, such that its leaves were actually below the soil. From those leaf axils, two big strong sideshoots appeared, and I decided not to pinch them out, but to grow them on, so that the plant effectively had three stems instead of one.

The first truss of this Ferline plant unusually only set one fruit, (see next photo) so it is fortunate that I decided on this approach. The first truss is often the best one, with the biggest and most fruit.

Note single fruit on the first (lowest) truss

The plant is a very vigorous one, and with the three main stems it has produced a prodigious amount of foliage.

I had to do a fair bit of de-leafing, to allow some light and air to reach the flowers and then fruit. I also had to tie-in the extra stems to give them some support - you can see some of the loops of string in the next photo. So now I have fruit on the main stem that are already quite large, and the first trusses on the two sideshoots setting as well.

The big fruits are on the main stem, and the tiny ones poking through are on a sideshoot

First truss on one of the sideshoots.

If my tomato-growing layout was conducive to this I think it would have been worth spreading out the sideshoots to make a V-shaped plant, and providing separate support for each stem. If the plant was in the ground - especially in a greenhouse - this would have been a practical proposition, but since it is only in a 35cm pot, then it's not.

The downside of this venture is that this particular plant needs an awful lot more water than its peers, to support the additional growth, but I think it will be worth the effort. As long as the weather remains favourable, and blight stays away, this plant should produce an above-average yield!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Onions - results of my first attempt

This year I have been growing onions for the first time ever. I have grown Shallots before, and Spring Onions, but never "proper" onions. In order to educate myself about this subject, I planted sets of two different varieties and I also grew some from seed. The ones grown from sets were "Sturon" and "Red Baron", whilst the ones grown from seed were "Long Red Florence".

I harvested a small number of them last week as a sort of trial run to see if they were mature, as a result of which I decided to harvest most of the remainder on Monday this week.

I suspect that the purist would say "You should have left them a bit longer", because the foliage on most is still quite green. However, I didn't think they were going to grow much bigger, and anyway I wanted the space freed-up for planting my endives and chicories.

There were 14 pretty decent "Sturon" ones, seen in the foreground here. None were huge, but nor were any tiny.

In terms of quality I'm fairly happy with these - though of course with the amount of cooking we do here, a quantity like that is only going to last us 10 days if we're lucky! It hardly seems worth drying them because they are not going to be stored for long.

"Sturon" - some nice specimens

The "Red Baron" ones were a big disappointment. About 60% of them bolted and are unusable. This week, I got six that were worth having (and small ones at that). Added to the 3 from last week, that's hardly a big crop.

"Red Baron" - the good ones

The ones that had bolted produced big thick fleshy stems, even though I had pinched-out the "scapes" as soon as I saw them appear. The bulbs went incredibly dense and hard - completely useless in culinary terms.

"Red Baron" - the bolted ones

As I have said before, I believe that the difference in results is due to whether the sets were heat-treated or not [this process inhibits bolting]. The "Sturon" ones definitely had been heat-treated, but I don't know whether the "Red Baron" ones were or not. There was certainly no mention of it on their packaging. All other factors were the same, because both types were planted in the same raised bed on the same day.

I still have another 8 "Sturon" to come, because I planted them a bit later than the main batch. They are still quite small, so I will leave them for another week or two.

"Sturon" - second planting

Meanwhile, the "Long Red Florence" ones are still growing very nicely. From a maximising yield point of view I think they are still too small to be worth picking (though they would probably be very nice to eat), so they too are going to be left for a while.

"Long Red Florence"

When assessing my crop of onions, you have to consider that it all came out of half of one of my raised beds (which are 1 metre x 2.4 metres). When you take into account the row of leeks which is still there, it means that all those onions came out of a space approximately one metre square. At least I now a have a bit of space to plant my chicory!

Those leeks are not looking too bad either, but they will probably be happier now that the onions have gone, since they will get more light and breathing-space.

As long as they don't bolt beforehand, I planning to harvest the leeks in the Autumn.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Harvesting at last!

Harvesting is the culmination of a veg-gardener's efforts, and for many it's the most enjoyable part of the whole hobby. This week I have finally been able to harvest some of those vegetables that I have been waiting so long for. Well, it isn't actually a very long time since I sowed these, it just seems like it!

First we have Beetroot:

Beetroot "Cylindra"

These ones are of a variety new to me, called "Cylindra", on account of their cylindrical shape.

Beetroot "Cylindra"

I do also have some of my favourite variety, "Boltardy", but I was keen to try the new variety first. The beetroot was in the pan and cooking less than 5 minutes after harvesting - just long enough to take some photos! Once cooked they were lovely and tender and tasty. I made my share into a salad (served tepid) with some thinly-sliced red onion, salt and a splash of red wine vinegar. Jane prefers beetroot left dead plain.

Next up, Courgettes. My single plant has so far yielded 7 fruits, which I have picked young so that we don't get overwhelmed. At present, they are keeping pace with our needs.

Courgette "Defender F1"

It's difficult to tell from my pics how big this courgette is, so let me tell you that it was about six inches (15cm) long.

Courgette "Defender F1".

On Sunday I pulled another batch of carrots, taking one or two from each of my 5 varieties. I chose the biggest ones, whose removal will allow the others more room to develop.

Mixed Carrots

Most of the carrots were smooth-skinned and regular-shaped, which I attribute to the fact that the soil of the bed in which they are growing is well-nigh perfect for carrots - it contains lots of home-made compost and loads of sand. The bed is also protected with Enviromesh, which keeps the Carrot Root Fly off very effectively.

Not all the carrots were perfect though!

Sunday also saw the harvesting of my first batch of ripe tomatoes. These are mostly "Losetto", but there are two "Sungold" in there as well. It's not a big batch, but hopefully the first of many.

Mostly "Losetto", with 2 x "Sungold, Top Right

To be perfectly honest, the tomatoes, whilst nice, would certainly have improved from another day or two on the vine, but you know how it is - once they colour-up it's very hard to resist picking them!

The same goes for these Runner Beans, I suppose. I could have left them on the plants for another day, but I really wanted to pick them! Harvested young like this they will be especially succulent, and the big firm ones can come later.

Runner Beans "Scarlet Emperor"

From an aesthetic point of view I find that the first few pods are seldom the best though. They are often quite curved, like some of these. Later on I hope to get some much longer, straighter ones (not that they taste any different...)

Runner Beans "Scarlet Emperor"

Then there were the onions:

Onions "Sturon"

I'm going to write more about my onions in another post, but for now let's just say that they were "a mixed success".

The final harvest to show off today (picked early this morning) is another of the "Passandra" cucumbers.

Cucumber "Passandra"

The cucumbers have been a bit few and far between so far. This is only the third one I have harvested. Several of the embryonic fruits shrivelled-up before developing, so I guess they were not pollinated. I was hoping for a lot more fruit (say perhaps 7 or 8 from each of my two plants?), because they are not huge. To give you a better impression of the size, here's this latest one posed next to a pair of secateurs.

Still, along with everything else I've harvested, it makes a very welcome addition to the larder.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Preparing for Autumn salads

It's no secret that I'm a fan of the often under-appreciated Endives and Radicchios. I love them and grow them every year. I also like to do my bit to try and increase their popularity. Here in the UK you seldom see Endives for sale in the supermarkets, and only occasionally Radicchio. I think this is because of lack of customer demand. The shops won't stock them if they don't think they can sell enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe if I write about them some people will see my post and start asking for their local shops to stock them...?

Most types of chicory do best in coolish conditions (many of them are very hardy) and seem to prefer not to have to endure really hot sunshine. For this reason, I generally grow my Radicchio in the Autumn, sowing it in late June or early July, and planting it in its final position in late July or early August, for harvesting in October and November. With Endives, I do much the same, having tried unsuccessfully many times to grow Spring-sown ones. They always bolted, so I have given up on that approach. Here are the seedlings I sowed in June, currently about two inches tall. I'll be planting these out soon.

Earlier this year I grew some "Provencal Mix" (mixed lettuce, herbs and chicories) as a type of Baby Leaf Salad, and I extracted just a few (4, to be exact) chicory plants from the mix and have been growing them alongside my lettuces.

I'm hoping they will go on to be specially-strong plants, having had a lot longer than normal to develop. Of course this relies upon giving them the right conditions. The raised bed in which my salads are growing is comparatively shady, overshadowed as it is by a couple of trees, so the chicories seem to be managing OK, though I am still being careful to water them frequently.

This is how they look now:-

To be honest, I have no idea what type of chicories these four plants are. The one in the photo above looks more like a Treviso-type, which is typically tall and pointed, rather than the ball-headed type such as "Rossa di Verona" . On the other hand, it could also perhaps be "Pan di Zucchero" (Sugarloaf)

The other day I realised that I had loads of very old packs of Endive, Radicchio and Lettuce seeds - some dating back to 2005! I sowed a seed-tray of mixed varieties of each, sowing them very thickly on the understanding that it was unlikely that many of them would germinate.  I have been pleasantly surprised, and quite a few of them have come up - though they are currently still tiny. Of course I have no idea which ones have come up and which haven't.

Endive seedlings

I'll thin these out as they grow, retaining the strongest ones, and when they are a few inches tall I'll plant them in a raised bed. They are going to go in the bed currently holding onions and leeks. The leeks will be there for a few more months, but the onions are nearly ready for harvesting, so there should be enough room.

Hopefully, having made all these preparations I'll end up with "saladings" well into the Autumn. For now though, Lettuce rules the roost...

Lettuce "Yugoslavian Red" (immature)