This week I harvested my first potatoes of the year, some First Earlies called "Annabelle".
For many years now I have grown Early potatoes in containers. The current containers are 35-litre black plastic pots. It's hard to say exactly what size container is ideal for potatoes, so this year I have been trying an experiment to judge the relative performance of containers planted-up with one seed tuber and with two seed tubers. Some people assured me that one tuber would be best, since the plant would have lots of room to spread out. Others said it is better to put two tubers in each pot, because they will vie with one another to be the biggest, thus boosting overall yield. What do you think the result was? Read on...
To get a fair comparison, I planted two pots of each of my varieties of Early potato, one with a single tuber in it, and one with two. The pots were filled with exactly similar compost and fertiliser, and placed right next to each other. I have watered them with exactly the same frequency and I will be harvesting both pots on the same day. Should be a fair test then.
These are the two pots of "Annabelle". As you can see, the foliage had collapsed and was beginning to turn yellow, indications that the crop was ready for lifting.
So, the moment of truth! I just tip the pot over, spilling its contents onto a groundsheet.
This is the pot that had just one plant in it.
This is the pot that had two plants in it.
It's always an anxious moment when you do this. Will there be lots of lovely potatoes, or just a few? Will their skins be smooth, or covered in Scab? Well, these ones looked pretty good.
I placed the tubers from each pot into separate containers, impatient to see how many there were in each.
This is the yield from the pot that had just the one seed-tuber:
And this is the yield from the pot that had two seed-tubers:
And here they are side-by-side:
You'll notice that there are potatoes of many different sizes there. For a fair comparison, I discarded from both lots any tubers that were too small to be worth eating. There were probably about 10 or 12 of these in each pot. There are also several potatoes that are on the large size for First Earlies, which tells me that I could really have lifted these a week or ten days earlier. When I have grown "Annabelle" previously they have been more even-sized.
OK, so now for the results. Having taken the potatoes indoors and washed them, I weighed both batches. The 1-tuber pot yielded 628g and the 2-tuber pot yielded 1237g. So the two-tuber pot produced slightly under twice the yield of the one-tuber pot.
So what does this tell me? I think it demonstrates that a 35-litre pot can easily accommodate two seed-tubers with no effect on yield. Next year I shall revert to putting two seed-tubers in each pot! It means I can get twice the yield from exactly the same space that I would use if each pot only contained one plant.
Of course this is only the first of my four container-grown potato varieties to be harvested. The other 3 may produce different results. And just for the record, my view is that although First Earlies are typically harvested small, the yield from these "Annabelles" was on the small side. This may possibly be a result of the strange roller-coaster weather conditions we have experienced this year. On the Plus side though, the potatoes are nice and clean, with very little Scab. I attribute this to the high organic matter content of the growing-medium, which was about 50% home-made compost and 50% garden soil from a dismantled raised bed.
Well, it wasn't long ago that I was saying "In a few weeks' time this bare soil will be covered in green." Of course my prophecy has come true - if only because about half of the green is weeds! This is what the plot looks like now:
In the foreground are my potatoes, which are a definite case of "You win some, you lose some". There have unfortunately been more losses to Blackleg disease, but at least these "Desiree" and "Setanta" plants are looking OK.
This side of the potatoes, and not visible in the first photo are the Broad Beans, many of which are reaching maturity right now.
To be honest the crop is a bit patchy. Even allowing for the fact that there are four different varieties of bean, some of them are reasonably good, and some are rubbish. None of them are as good as the ones in my own garden, but this is understandable since the ones in my own garden get a lot more TLC - especially watering!
Beyond the potatoes are some shallots and onions. They look pretty good to me - though I expect some more rain would be very beneficial to them.
Beyond the onions I have parsnips, beetroot, leeks and green cabbage.
L to R: onions, parsnips, beetroot, leeks, cabbages, beans
The germination rate of the parsnips was very poor; indeed a stretch of about a metre at the near end was completely bare, so I have recently given up on it and sown a few radishes in it, just to make use of the space.
Germination of the beetroot was better, though still patchy (I think the foxes may have "re-arranged" some of the seeds). However they are looking all right and some of them are just beginning to "bulb-up". I suppose I really ought to thin them out a bit more to make room...
The improvised wire cages I made to protect the green cabbages proved to be ineffective, particularly since the ends were still almost completely open. The pigeons have ravaged the cabbages pretty comprehensively, and furthermore I have been unable to weed around the plants - at least, not easily. I have learned a significant lesson here: if I want to grow brassicas on this plot, they will HAVE to be netted.
The red cabbages may yet recover from the pigeon assault. They seem to be growing a fresh set of leaves, so I'll leave them alone and hope for the best.
The climbing beans are looking good too. In the photo below you can see the "Cherokee Trail of Tears" ones climbing up their wigwam, and to the right the other three types on the X-shaped supports. The "Tunny beans" look particularly strong, and the "Cobra" French beans are OK, whilst the "Jean's Beans" Runners are relatively weak. I don't expect a big harvest from the latter; I just need a few good pods to help me keep this variety in existence. My main crop of Runners will come from the plants in my own home garden.
Beyond the beans are more brassicas. The recovering red cabbages, the cauliflowers and the Brussels Sprouts. I am particularly hopeful of the latter, which seem good at present.
Alongside the netted brassicas is a row of "Ailsa Craig" onions, and in between a catch-crop row of radishes. I don't think this batch of radishes will be much good as the ground is far too dry for them. They will probably bolt or at least be tough and woody!
Beyond the onions are two patches each with 9 New Zealand Spinach plants, and one group of 13 Dwarf French beans. Right down at the far end is a small open space in which I plan to squeeze a few more beans.
Seen on the right in the previous photo are the Raspberry canes. They are covered in immature fruits, boding well for a decent harvest - though again I bet they are desperate for a good drink.
The blackcurrant bushes along the fence-line are laden with fruit too, and some of it is just beginning to turn colour.
There is also one rather neglected Blackberry bush (or is it a hybrid berry of some sort?).
Whatever it is, it seems to have plenty of fruit on it, so this is something else to look forward to - if the birds don't strip the lot first!
Over the other side of the grass path, the "pumpkin patch" is filling out nicely. All six of the squash plants seem healthy and some are even producing their first flowers.
One of the "Uchiki Kuri" plants has an tiny embryonic fruit on it - or perhaps more accurately, a female flower yet to open.
The final thing to report (though not strictly within my remit) is the state of the venerable old "Bramley" apple tree. It's laden with fruit!
When I first became involved with this plot last Autumn, the Bramleys were, in the words of the plot-owners, "nearly over", yet there were still vast quantities of fruit available, even though most of them were windfalls since the plot-owners had been unable to harvest them before they fell. This year, I will probably "offer some assistance", if you know what I mean...
Right now, my garden is full of young fruit and vegetables, growing rapidly. Apart from Broad Beans and the usual herbs, there is not much I can pick just yet, but lots of the plants are looking promising.
Several of the chilli plants are setting their first fruits - like this "Golden Cayenne".
I have now arranged my chillis (in their 10-inch pots) in their usual position, next to the raised beds:
Nearby, my four cucumber plants are growing away strongly:
The first little embryonic fruits are appearing too:
The tomato plants (reduced now to 18 in my garden with 4 more at Courtmoor Avenue) are looking OK, though some of them are showing that distortion of the leaves which so characteristic of the weedkiller poisoning that struck me some years back. This problem is getting less severe each year, but there is evidently still some residual contamination in my homemade compost.
The first tomato plants to produce flowers are the "Maskotka" ones:
As I mentioned at the start, the Broad Beans are cropping now. With only 20 plants, I'm never going to have a glut, but they are lovely beans and having them just outside your back door means that you can harvest them as and when you need them, at the peak of condition and absolutely fresh.
The Runner Bean plants have reached the tops of their supports, and are now putting out their first flowers, so hopefully I'll be picking some pods by about the end of the month.
Even the Parsnips have finally decided to grow! Most of what you can see in my photo are ones from the second sowing, with just one or two (I think literally 5) from the first sowing.
Within the next few days I expect to be harvesting some First Early potatoes. The foliage on these "Annabelle" ones is definitely dying down now, indicating that they are just about ready:
I don't think I have mentioned these before - "Finger" carrots, sown in a large flowerpot:
Again, a pot like this is never going to produce a huge yield, but even a few of the slim crunchy roots of these "Amsterdam II Solo" will make a fabulous addition to a salad, or a pre-dinner Nibble. If you are planning to grow carrots like this, just remember that they do make long roots, so choose a pot at least 20cm deep.
As well as the vegetables, I also have some apples and pears forming:
Apple "Winter Banana"
I'm particularly proud of this little chap - which is probably going to be my "Bramley" tree's first-ever fruit.
Planning ahead for the future, I have several more trays of young plants awaiting their turn. I have Chicories, Lettuce, Aztec Broccoli (aka Huauzontle) and several types of brassica.
I'm going to finish today's post with a little tip. I have been keeping a pot with six Runner Bean plants in it, as spares in case of casualties. They had got very tall - the leader shoots were probably about 3 feet long - so I have prolonged their usefulness to me by cutting out those shoots.
The plants will continue to grow, and the side-shoots will now take over the lead. Within a week or ten days they will also reach about 3 feet, but by that time I will definitely know whether any of them are needed in their intended role. If not, I'm afraid they will end up in the compost bin.
I'm sure that many of my readers (those who live in the UK, particularly) will have heard of the National Garden Scheme (NGS), a charity that raises funds for good causes with a nursing connection by means of charging admission to visit the gardens of selected private properties. These gardens typically open for just a few days in the year, normally at times when they are expected to be at their best. You can find out about these places via the NGS website, or the famous "Yellow Book" (NGS Garden Visitor's Handbook).
We visited one such garden a few days ago. It is Beechenwood Farm, near Odiham in Hampshire (less than 6 miles from our house).
This delightful property is in a very secluded location, approached down some very narrow country lanes with scarily few passing-places. I was very worried about meeting a farm vehicle coming the other way, because with my Fibromyalgia I have limited neck mobility and find reversing the car very difficult!
The NGS's description of this place begins "2 acre garden in many parts". This is definitely true. Almost every different aspect of gardening is represented: formal beds and borders, informal and "wild" areas, a vegetable patch, a herb garden, a pond, lawns, an orchard, statuary and garden art, even a so-called "Belvedere" - a raised platform (with plentiful seating) from which you can admire distant views of the surrounding countryside.
View from the Belvedere, looking North towards Odiham.
Right from the start I was impressed with how neat and well-organised this property is. Everything seemed so under control. Owner Michael Heber-Percy greeted the visitors, sold the tickets, issued the photocopied maps and presided over the array of homemade jams and pickles offered for sale, courtesy of the local Womens' Institute Market, while his wife Sarah ran the plant sales area. We found both of them utterly charming and most welcoming. I'm not quite sure who was manning the "Teas in the Garden" side of things...
One of the aspects of the gardens which we liked best was the profusion of benches on which to sit and admire the views both near and far - a sure sign that the garden is there to be appreciated! As you would hope, the garden was a-buzz with bees and hoverflies, making the most of the exuberant flower borders.
We saw lots of red Damselflies enjoying the water features. The soft burbling of the fountain in this little pond near the garden entrance added a tranquil note to the surrounding Herb Garden area, filled with a profusion of flowering and foliage plants.
The circular pond.
There is no denying that Beechenwood Farm has a wide range of very beautiful flowers.
However, if you know me, you probably know that I'm not hugely impressed by flowers. I often prefer the other features of a garden. I loved the Woodland Garden area, which is populated with a mix of mature native trees and smaller specimen trees, surrounded by very natural long grass and Cow Parsley in amongst which you could see the faded seed-heads of Alliums, and the yellow leaves of long-departed Daffodils. Many of the big trees here are Ashes, which have relatively thin foliage, and this allows in a very pleasing amount of dappled sunlight.
The Woodland Garden
This is another feature that I loved:
I asked what it was for, and was told that it is primarily ornamental (and it's good at that!). It was originally a rack for drying re-used milk bottles.
On the opposite side of the lane to the house and gardens, there is an 8-acre area of woodland, much of which was planted by the current owners back in 1992. It has a wide range of tree types, making it full of interest. A 1/3 mile circular walk is well marked out with red-painted wooden pegs to help visitors navigate this area. Fortunately for us the weather was perfect on the day we visited - bright and sunny but not too hot - and walking through the woodland was truly a delight. I was even more delighted to find a number of interesting fungi, including a couple of types that I have been hoping to find for ages, such as this (rather elderly) Polyporus squamosus (aka Dryad's Saddle), which was right by the car-park!
No post about this property would be complete without a mention of the resident cat, Amber. Apparently she likes to get into cars, and a sign in the car-park asks people to check their vehicles for stowaways before leaving! She evidently believes that the road / lane belongs to her too (no surprise there!).
Having said earlier that I'm not overly-impressed by flowers, is this the point for me to admit that I did succumb to temptation at the plant sales area...? This lovely Geranium was only £2 (not including the pot or home-made trellis), a bargain not to be missed!
If you are within reach of this property, I strongly recommend a visit. Full details ore on the NGS website, but here's the address:-
Beechenwood Farm Hillside Odiham Hook Hampshire RG29 1JA Admission is £4 for adults, free for children.
Some of the potato plants up at my Courtmoor plot are showing the classic symptoms of Potato Blackleg disease - specifically "Yellowing stems, stunted growth and black rot at stem bases" (Credit: RHS)
Definitely "Yellowing stems and stunted growth"!
Blackening at the base of the stem.
There is no cure for this disease, which appears rapidly and without warning. All you can do is pull up and discard the affected plants to stop the disease spreading. Fortunately, only 2 of my plants appear to be infected so far - one "Jazzy" and one "Sarpo Una", but I'm mentally prepared for further casualties.
I have disposed of the affected plants - but not via the compost bin!
On a brighter note, many of the other potato plants look fine, if a little small by the standards of the ones in containers back at my home garden. These are "Maris Piper" - a Maincrop variety, so hopefully they will get bigger.
I think all of the potatoes on the plot are suffering from lack of moisture. It's easy enough for me to water the ones in containers in my own garden, but the ones in open soil are a different matter. I have watered them with a hosepipe a couple of times, but this is no substitute for a proper soaking of rain. It keeps the plants alive, but doesn't allow them to thrive.
As you can see from the photo above, the weeds are managing to grow well enough, despite the lack of rain. I have done a bit of weeding every time I visit the plot, but it's a never-ending battle to keep them in check. In the next photo you can see some "work in progress". I was working my way along one of the rows of potatoes, removing weeds and then earthing-up the spuds before moving on.
The most promising-looking potatoes are the red-skinned ones, "Setanta" and "Desiree". This row has five plants of each, but the annoying thing is that I can't remember which ones are where!
Both varieties produce similar-looking flowers, so I can't tell you which one this is.
All I can say is that the presence of flowers on a potato plant is normally taken to indicate approaching maturity, so to see either of these Maincrops flowering now is a bit odd, considering that I have not yet lifted even my First Earlies! I think that early flowering can be caused by lack of moisture, and this in turn is likely to mean a small crop this year, because the tubers won't have had much time to swell.
I'm sure many gardeners will empathise with this: whenever I say to myself "my plot is FULL now", I realise that there is just one more thing I want to plant...
I recently planted my tomato plants in their big containers (in my home garden), but if you have been following me for a while you will know that I always have some spares left over, just in case of casualties, so this presents a problem - or an opportunity. I could give away the spares (indeed I have already given away quite a few), but then if only I had some space I could grow a few more for myself. You get the picture? This of course is where the Courtmoor Avenue garden comes in. I knew I could squeeze in a few plants up there. I decided not to overdo it, but to plant just four more. They are one more "Mountain Magic" (chosen for its high blight-resistance) and three more of the Dwarf varieties from Craig LeHoullier (chosen for their rarity value, and the fact that being shorter they will be less vulnerable to damage).
First to go in was the "Mountain Magic" - not before time either. You can see that it had developed a pretty comprehensive root-system, and would not have survived for much longer in its little 6-in pot.
I hammered in a 5-foot wooden pole to provide support, and dug a fairly deep hole a few inches from it for the tomato plant to go in, burying it up to the level of the first leaf.
After planting, I tied the plant loosely to the pole with some soft green string. Here you can see its position - next to the Dwarf French Beans I planted just a couple of days ago. I think there will still be enough room for a few more beans when the next lot are ready to go in!
I have put the three Dwarf tomato plants in amongst the Squashes.
Dipping once again into my hoard of "useful stuff", I have given each of the plants a metal pole for support. In a former life these were the arms of a rotary clothes-drier! They are only about 4 feet long, but they should be tall enough for the Dwarf tomatoes.
Of course I'll keep saying to myself "These are only spares that would otherwise have been discarded, so it doesn't matter if they don't do well", but equally, now that they are officially part of the "inventory", I will do my best to make sure they are properly looked after, hoping that they will reward me with a nice crop in due course.
Right, now the plot is officially FULL. Actually, no, it's not - there is that little vacant space next to the "Mountain Magic" tomato. It's earmarked for more beans, but you never know...
At the weekend, I took some more seedlings up to the Courtmoor plot for planting. I've mentioned how the owners of the plot were very keen on New Zealand Spinach, so I expect they will be pleased to see this...
On this occasion I planted 9 seedlings, but I have more waiting in the wings if I can find the space for them!
Having never grown this vegetable before I can't vouch for this, but allegedly New Zealand Spinach thrives in hot dry conditions, and requires much less watering than "proper" spinach. This makes it attractive to me, because I have never managed to grow spinach successfully in my garden - it always bolts prematurely in my sandy soil.
One of the reasons why I only planted 9 New Zealand Spinach plants is that I wanted to leave room for some Dwarf French Beans. Back in my home garden I have been raising two types of Dwarf French Bean. The first is "Canadian Wonder" and the other is (for want of a better name) "Jean's French Bean". These latter of course are ones rescued from the overgrown Courtmoor plot last Autumn. To be honest, I didn't hold out much hope of getting any of them to even germinate, but a few of them have come up. The germination rate for the "Canadian Wonder" has been 100%:
However, only 6 of the 9 "Jean's French Beans" came up, and two of them were "blind" - i.e. without a proper growing-point - so I discarded them.
Even the surviving 4 look a bit manky.
Still, the object of the exercise is to "maintain the succession" and to continue growing this variety of bean, which has been in cultivation on this very same plot for decades. I only need a few pods to mature, and I will take care to select good specimens and harvest them at the right time. This way, I can reasonably hope for an improvement in quality next year.
I planted all of the above (9 x "Canadian Wonder" and 4 x "Jean's French Beans") in a tight block, so that when they get bigger they will provide support for each other.
Mindful of the recent pigeon attacks on my brassicas, I have covered the spinach and beans with that old piece of lightweight netting, freed up when I installed the larger net the other day. I have supported it with some Build-a-Balls on the end of metal tubes saved from a now-defunct mini-greenhouse. [We gardeners are consummate hoarders of stuff that will come in useful one day, aren't we?]. The net is pegged down with pegs made from old wire coat-hangers too!
As well as the spinach and beans, I also planted 24 Leeks. It was hot and I was getting tired by this time, so I only have one photo to record this, and it was taken before planting.
These Leeks are of two varieties - "Musselburgh" and "Apollo". Making maximum use of the available space, they went in the ground vacated by the row of Radishes, which had all been harvested.
Finally for today, here's a pic of one of the "Crown Prince" squashes, showing that it has settled-in nicely and is growing away strongly now.
Just recently I seem to have been writing mostly about what I have been doing up at the Courtmoor Avenue plot, so I think I had better redress the balance...
As you would expect in early June, the garden is filling out with lush greenery, spurred into action by warm temperatures and the recent rain. We haven't had the massive thunderstorms and torrential rainfall that many parts of the UK experienced last week. In fact, the soil here is still a lot drier than we gardeners would like.
The first of my Broad Beans are very nearly ready for picking - just a few more days now.
Likewise, I expect to be harvesting the first of my container-grown potatoes very soon. The plants have flowered now and the foliage is beginning to turn yellow and flop over.
If the pots weren't in those plastic greenhouse things, the potato foliage would be horizontal on the ground by now I think. When that happens, the plant ceases to grow. I have even heard that some gardeners stake the plants upright to keep them growing.
This is the Carrot bed, encased in its protective Enviromesh.
The germination of my carrots (4 different types) was very variable this year, veering towards the "Must re-sow" state, but I decided not to do any re-sowing, but also no thinning either. I think I will probably get a reasonable crop in the end, though none of the types is anywhere near ready yet.
The cucumbers are looking good at present. They are starting to climb quite nicely. I have given them a couple of circles of string to help them to stay upright until they manage to firmly grip the canes.
I have started picking lettuce now. Again, the germination rate was quite poor, so I didn't need to do much thinning. These two rows are from different packs of mixed varieties.
I still have loads of little plants waiting to go up to Courtmoor. To be honest, I will be glad when they are all planted-up. My own garden seems very much like a Nursery this year!
New Zealand Spinach awaiting planting at Courtmoor Avenue
Dwarf French beans "Canadian Wonder" also awaiting transplanting
As many of you will know, flowers are not a major theme in my garden, but I do have a few ornamental plants, such as this Geum "Mrs Bradshaw".
This lovely pale Osteospermum was grown from seeds brought back years ago from a holiday in the South of France, so it has significance for me. My camera can't really do justice to its colour. It's not white, but a very pale mauve.
This fern is also one I have had for several year. It's "Dryopteris Erythrosora". At this time of year it is producing its new fronds. They start off being this sort of bronzy-orange colour, and as they mature they gradually turn green.
The last thing I want to show you today is some evidence that I'm already planning ahead for late Summer / Autumn. These tiny seedlings just emerging are Radicchio "Palla Rossa", which will mature in about September / October.
I haven't mentioned my chilli plants for a while, so here's an update.
I have reduced the number of plants, by giving away a few to friends, and I have "promoted" the best ones to much bigger (10-inch) pots.
Having been so pleased with the Sweet Chilli Sauce we made last year, this year I am actually treating my chillis as a crop, rather than as just a curiosity, so I have four "Cayenne" plants as my main croppers (this is, in my experience, a very reliable type which produces a decent yield of fruit of the right level of heat), alongside one each of *about* ten other varieties. The Cayennes are about 8 - 10 inches tall at present.
"Cayenne" chilli plant. Note how it has already naturally branched into a Y-shape without pinching-out.
I'm being a bit vague about the overall total of plants I am growing, because many of the less-promising ones have bucked-up a lot recently, and it seems a shame to discard them. For example, look at this:
The smaller of the 2 "Fish" chillis
It's a "Fish" plant. I had 2 of those, and that was by far the smaller one. Until recently it was definitely marked for probable disposal, because its sibling was much bigger and apparently much healthier. However, the big one has very little of the variegated marking on the leaves that is such a distinctive feature of the "Fish" variety, whilst the smaller one has a lot more.
The larger of the 2 "Fish" chillis
So which one should I keep? Or should I keep both? Decisions, decisions!
To further complicate things, I have five plants that successfully survived the Winter. Two of them ("Aji Limon" and "Aji Benito") have looked strong all along, but the other three looked very unpromising. Except that they are all now (albeit rather slowly) bursting into new leaf.
New leaves - and a bud - on over-Wintered "Fidalgo Roxa" hybrid
So it looks like I might be keeping all those too!
This will probably be my first new chilli fruit of 2018, an "Aji Benito". Tiny at present, but hopefully not for much longer.
Following the recent pigeon-related near-disaster at the Courtmoor plot, I decided I had to act swiftly and decisively if I wanted to save my brassicas. I have deployed a net which I use a lot in my own garden, but which is currently not in use. I'll deal with the problem of when to reclaim it at a later date - emergencies like this have to take priority.
The net is of a type marketed as "anti-bird netting". It has a fairly large mesh size so it won't keep butterflies out, but it should deter the pigeons. I have supported it on some flexible plastic hoops that I acquired a few years ago, before I started buying the aluminium rods and Build-a-Ball set that I currently use.
Here they are, in use in my garden in January 2011...
Some of the brassica plants (e.g. the Brussels sprouts) are already quite big, so I have given the hoops at one end of the net some extra height by pushing them into some of the 40cm aluminium rods.
I haven't uprooted the damaged cabbage plants. I'm hoping that maybe at least some of them will survive. Is this too optimistic, do you think?
So, maybe this is Disaster Averted - at least for now.
I would also like to record the fact that I have a new batch of brassica seedlings coming on now.
I felt that it was still not too late to sow some replacements. I have therefore sown more Kaibroc (which was wiped out by the Cabbage Root Fly), some "January King" and "Predzvest" green cabbages, and a few more of the "red Drumhead" red cabbages. In the warmer conditions they will grow pretty rapidly, I think.
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