This week I have been harvesting more potatoes. This time they are my two types of Second Early, "Charlotte" and "Nicola".
As with all my other potatoes, these were grown in 35-litre plastic tubs, 2 seed-tubers per tub. Two tubs of "Charlotte" yielded 1.19kgs, and two tubs of "Nicola" yielded 2.27kgs.
I have been growing potatoes for many years now and I have tried a lot of different varieties. Each year I have at least six, sometimes as many as ten, varieties. I have a few favourites that I grow most years, but I also usually try at least one new variety to see how it performs and whether I like it. I tend to grow mostly First Early and Second Early varieties, mainly because they mature more quickly than Maincrop varieties and are thus likely to have been harvested before the threat of Blight materialises. This year my only "new to me" potato variety is "Highland Burgundy Red", which unusually for me is a Maincrop variety. Don't ask me why - I bought it on a whim!
At present we are still eating First Early potatoes - "Annabelle" and "Belle de Fontenay"- so I have put most of the "Charlotte" and "Nicola" crop in the garage for storage. They are in a loosely-closed cardboard box which will keep them in the dark but allow them to breathe. I don't usually need to store any of my potatoes for more than a week or two, but I think this year we must have been eating more rice and pasta and fewer potatoes! Unlike First Earlies which need to be eaten promptly after lifting, Second Early potatoes will keep for quite a while - several weeks at least, though not six months or more as Maincrops do. I can't vouch for this personally, but I have heard that the very popular "Charlotte" is NOT very good for storage, because it tends to sprout easily. This is presumably why supermarkets keep them in cold storage.
"Belle de Fontenay"
Anyway, getting to the point of this post... Having grown all those different varieties of potato over the years, which is my favourite? Well, until recently I would have said "Charlotte", which is an excellent all-rounder variety, and hugely popular with amateur gardeners, but I think I have changed my mind. I have been growing "Charlotte" and "Nicola" side-by-side for five years now, and I'm beginning to veer towards favouring "Nicola". The two types are in truth very similar. They both produce good-looking long oval tubers with waxy yellow flesh which cooks nicely without disintegrating. I think the flavour, though not very strong, is also more or less the same. They both stand well in the ground once mature, which is a big advantage if you don't get the opportunity to lift them as soon as they are ready.
My view that "Nicola" is the best of the pair is based on two factors. First, "Nicola" matures just a bit later than "Charlotte" - indeed some suppliers list it as an Early Maincrop. For me this is a valuable feature because I like to grow several First Early varieties and we need to get through all of those before moving on to Second Earlies. And then there is the yield. Maybe it's because it matures that little bit later and thus has more time to bulk-up, but "Nicola" usually produces a bigger crop than "Charlotte" does. Since the two types are so similar in other respects, maybe this is the deciding factor?
Of course, there are loads of other good varieties of potato available, and different people like different ones, for different reasons. Influencing factors include weight of yield, appearance (e.g. shape and colour of skin and flesh), taste, texture (e.g. waxy or floury), pest and disease resistance, time to maturity, availability to purchase, etc, etc. If you haven't grown potatoes before I strongly recommend going to one of the Potato Day events that take place every year in Late Winter / Early Spring. These events offer a much better choice than most mail-order suppliers, at much better prices, and expert advice it usually available if you need it.
For the record, these are some of the ones I particularly like:-
Best for texture: Sharpe's Express - very light and 'airy', Charlotte - very firm and waxy Best for flavour: Belle de Fontenay, Lady Christl, Pink Fir Apple, Ratte Best for appearance: Juliette, Charlotte Best for yield: Nicola
The chilli season has been one of Ups and Downs so far. Early in the season I thought my chilli plants looked the best I've ever had. They were strong, clean and (unusually) completely free of aphids.
29th April 2019
But then the weedkiller-contaminated compost kicked in. Almost all my plants were affected to some degree. Many of them lost most of their leaves, and a few died.
14th June 2019
Even the strongest plants produced weirdly distorted leaves.
26th May 2019
At this point I was despondent. I was just about resigned to having my first chilli "washout" ever. The cold dry weather during Spring didn't help. The chillis just hunkered down and did almost nothing at all.
Towards the end of June things changed. The weather got a lot warmer and sunnier, and we even had some rain. The chillis began to cheer up. I encouraged them with weekly feeds of tomato feed, and then when it became available, a couple of doses of homemade Comfrey tea. By early July I was beginning to feel more hopeful.
4th July 2019
It was also in the first week of July that I noticed the first chilli fruits forming. This is a "Paper Lantern":
I find that the Capsicum annuum varieties of chilli are usually the quickest ones to set and ripen fruit, so it was no surprise that the first fresh chilli we ate in 2019 was from one of the "Cayenne Long Slim" plants.
Cayenne Long Slim
Now, after a sustained spell of really Summery weather, the chilli plants are all looking a lot happier. Even those that were near death appear to be making a comeback. This "Hungarian Hot Wax" is one of them.
This is the "Pink Tiger" plant, seen at the start of this post, with really wrinkled leaves. It now looks a picture of health!
If you look closely though, the ill effects of the weedkiller contamination are still there to see. This plant exhibits a very strange growth pattern, with multiple flowers coming out of one leaf-junction, and a stem that veers off downwards instead of growing vertically upwards.
I've also seen some fasciation in two of my plants. I can't say whether this was caused by the weedkiller problem, or if it is just the result of weather fluctuations. All I can say is that I've never seen it in chillis before and I've been growing them for about 30 years.
The forecast is for a return of really hot weather in the middle of this coming week, which will be ideal for my chillis at this stage in their lives, so maybe I'll get a decent harvest after all. My various Cayenne types (red, golden, chocolate) will be the first ones to deliver ripe fruit I think.
The Capsicum baccatum types - Aji Limon and Aji Benito - are much further behind, but at least they have loads of flowers, which are beautiful in their own right. These are top and bottom views of an "Aji Benito" flower:
So, overall the verdict seems to be: Not a great year for chillis, but it could be worse.
July is a month in which I typically get lots of Firsts - the first pickings of a particular type of veg or fruit.
This week I picked my first Runner Beans of the year. They are of the variety "Painted Lady".
There were not many of them and they were not particularly fine specimens, but they were important to me by virtue of being the first of the season. I think there is something special about that. When you grow your own veg it's not just about quantity or volume of produce; you can also get pleasure from something small - and often long anticipated!
I'm hoping that my bean plants will go on to produce a big harvest in due course, especially since Runner beans are one of the few crops I consider worth freezing.
Today also saw my first harvest of Beetroot. These two beauties are my favourite type - "Boltardy".
We don't eat huge amounts of beetroot, and I like to harvest mine young and small. Ones like this are almost certainly going to be nice and tender.
A pair of little "Maskotka" tomatoes completes my Firsts for this week:
Again, though two tiny tomatoes may seem like a very puny harvest, I'm fairly sure that many more will follow. I have lots of different types of tomato plant, and most of them have a fair bit of fruit on them, albeit mostly very green still, so I will probably be harvesting tomatoes from now until October, if weather and diseases permit!
As well as the veggies described above, I have lots of others at the "nearly there" stage, like these climbing French beans "Cobra" (only another couple of days required, I think):
I've even managed to produce a few half-decent lettuces at last (my early-season ones all bolted in the cold dry month of June). This one is "Marvel of Four Seasons".
Not such encouraging news with the onions though. For weeks and weeks they refused to grow, but in the first half of July we have had a spell of much warmer weather and they have belatedly begun to swell. I just hope it won't be too late for them to mature before we run out of Summer!
Onions "Alisa Craig", individually planted
Onions "Ailsa Craig", planted in a clump.
My chillis were slow off the mark this year too - a combination of poor weather and the damage caused by weedkiller-contaminated compost - but they are making a comeback and some of them have set fruit now. This is one of the "Cayenne Long Slim Red" ones.
Notice the contorted leaves, caused by the weedkiller
We have actually eaten one (green) chilli already - a token gesture of course! I chopped it up into a salsa I was making to go with a Mexican-style meal. It was lovely to have a fresh chilli again, after so many months of making do with frozen ones.
So, no big harvests from the garden this week, but lots of hopeful signs for the future!
These days people seem to be perpetually busy - juggling the often conflicting requirements of work, family and leisure. For me, the best thing about Retirement is that where work always used to get in the way, I now have the precious luxury of Time. Time to do stuff that makes me happy, without artificial deadlines. I love my garden and the beautiful fruit and veg that comes out of it. These lovely "Harlequin" carrots make me happy. Not only do they look good, but they also taste amazing. Homegrown carrots are completely different to shop-bought ones!
Of course, even gardens come with responsibilities and deadlines: if you don't sow your seeds at the right time, you won't get your harvest, and if you omit to water your plants they will die.
These days as well as having time to tend my garden, I also have time to cook and to make bread, without feeling rushed. This is one of my sourdough loaves (the Raisin and Fennel-seed variant), which takes 36 hours to make - and it's worth every minute.
Another interest of mine is foraging, an alternative name for harvesting wild food. Yesterday I harvested a few Cherry Plums from a place I know not far from Fleet. Most of the plums were still hard and green, (I plan to go back for more of them in a month or so) but I still managed to find enough to make into a batch of Plum Sauce, which I served with the duck-breasts I cooked for dinner. I drove 6 miles in each direction to get a mere 360 grams of plums, but it was worth it!
Since I have plenty of time to do so, I often go out looking for mushrooms (maybe 3 times a week, if the weather allows). This is mostly so that I can photograph them, but if I find anything that I know is edible and good to eat I usually bring it home. This is a Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula claroflava), which is quite common in our area. It grows in damp areas under Birch trees.
Many of the Russula family are inedible or mildly poisonous, and it wasn't until someone mentioned it on a Facebook Group that I researched the edibility of this one, only to find that it is considered very tasty indeed. Apparently, when cooked it has a sort of sweet toffee / caramel flavour. I'll be trying this when I next find some! The researching of fungi is another thing that takes time; I enjoy it, and it keeps me agreeably occupied.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about doctors prescribing doses of "The Outdoors", reminding us of the therapeutic benefits of engaging with Nature at first hand. Two hours a week walking in fields, woods or moorland is supposedly enough to preserve our mental wellbeing. I think I may have been overdosing!
As most readers will be aware, I love "Harvest basket" style photos, so this week, with several harvests available I took the opportunity to take some...
It's very satisfying to put together a collection of several different vegetables - much more so than just one, I think. I had just harvested the remainder of my garlic, which on its own might not be particularly photogenic, but it definitely had to be in the photo.
Garlic "Mikulov Wight"
The bulbs that had had the extra 10 days were a bit bigger than the first ones (seen here at the Right), but they were admittedly still on the small size.
This past week I have also harvested more potatoes. These are First Early "Annabelle".
The yield this time as 2.148kgs, from 4 seed-tubers in 2 x 35-litre tubs. A modest return, I'd say, but they are lovely potatoes. Some of them got scrubbed-up to have their picture taken.
This was my first little harvest of carrots. They are from a mixture called "Harlequin".
The mixture also contains some purple ones, but the only ones I could find were very much smaller than the orange, yellow and white ones, and not big enough to justify picking.
The mixed carrots were eaten shortly after being picked, but I wanted to include some carrots in my Harvest basket, so I pulled up a few of the "Chantenay Red-cored" ones, which on the outside are all orange. I presume the insides will be red!
With 6kgs to go at, we still have quite a few Broad Beans left, so I dragged some out of the fridge just for the photo-shoot!
Putting them all together, I got this:
These photographs epitomise what my garden produces - never a huge amount, but usually good quality!
A few days ago I removed the old Broad Bean plants from one of my raised beds, freeing it up for planting brassicas.
I had 8 Brussels Sprouts ("Evesham Special") and 4 Purple Sprouting Broccoli ("Red Arrow") ready to go, though I'll only be using half of them - the others will be kept as spares in case of casualties. They have been growing for the last few weeks in individual pots.
I was eager to get these planted up because if they stay too long in little pots they get pot-bound (that's to say their roots get excessively tightly bunched) and they run out of nutrients.
Having removed the Broad Bean plants from the raised bed I sprinkled a few handfuls of pelleted chicken manure on it and worked that in very lightly with a hand trowel. Brassicas like firm soil so I didn't want to dig too thoroughly.
Then the brassica plants went in. I usually remove the lowest set of leaves from plants like this, so that I can plant them very deeply, which helps to get the roots right down into moister cooler soil. It also aids stability. Four of these plants are Brussels Sprouts (the ones with the rounded leaves), and two of them (diagonally opposite) are PSB.
You can see that I have given each plant a protective collar made of thick cardboard. This helps to dissuade the Cabbage Root Fly, which like to lays its eggs just under the soil surface right next to a plant's stem.
Actually, I'm hoping the Cabbage Root Flies won't get a chance, because I have covered the whole bed with this contraption, a huge piece of fine-weave mesh, supported on a frame of aluminium rods.
It took me three attempts to build this! The first set of uprights I put in were way too tall; then I tried another height and it was "nearly there", and finally the arrangement you see in the pic. It's still not what I'd like, but it's a compromise. The piece of mesh material is very long but not very wide (It's 10m x 3.65m), and brassicas can get very tall, so I have had to secure the bottom of the mesh by weighting it down with bricks placed on the 20cm-wide sleepers of the raised bed.
One final thought: I ought to have checked the brassica seedlings for butterfly eggs before I planted them, but I forgot! The mesh will stop butterflies from accessing the plants from now on, but I think there is a strong likelihood that there are already some eggs on those plants. I shall have to keep a careful watch for any caterpillars emerging.
I've had a really good crop of Broad Beans this year, which is unusual - they nearly always suffer from serious Blackfly infestation and Rust disease, and often produce a disappointing yield.
This year I have grown 20 Broad Bean plants, mostly of the variety "Witkiem Manita", with a couple of "De Monica". This is a number that fits comfortably into one of my raised beds, which measure 1 metre by 2.4 metres.
Last week I picked over 3kgs of pods:
After this I thought there would only be a few pods left, because the plants were beginning to look very tired and some of them had started to shed their leaves.
On Sunday I decided to pick all the remaining beans, and remove the plants.
I was surprised how many pods I found - another 2.9kgs!
Most of the pods were in very good condition, clean and well-filled.
However, there were also some small wrinkly, contorted ones - those produced by the few plants that were badly affected by the weedkiller-contaminated compost problem.
It was very evident which were the affected plants - their leaves were mottled, crinkly and pitted, like this:
I cut the plants down to a few inches above soil level, removing the pods as I went.
If I hadn't wanted the space immediately for another crop I would have left the bean plant stumps in place to gradually decay, because their roots have nitrogen-fixing nodules on them which can be beneficial for later crops.
However, I have Brussels Sprouts and PSB waiting for a turn in that bed, so the bean plants had to come out! I know from experience that if you leave them in place they often re-sprout with another (weaker) set of stems and just get in the way.
Young Brussels Sprout plants awaiting planting
I've dug a few handfuls of pelleted chicken manure into the soil of the now-vacant raised bed, and the brassicas will go into it soon. In a small garden like mine you can afford to leave any space vacant for long!
In a change from writing about my own garden, I want today to describe a recent visit to the Sculpture Park in the Surrey village of Churt, just south of Farnham.
We had heard about this place from my brother, who bought a small piece of sculpture from there a couple of years ago. To be honest, I'm usually not particularly interested in sculpture, but I think that is because I associate it with stuffy old museums and corporate HQ buildings. Sculpture in a garden environment is another matter altogether though. The Sculpture Park at Churt is situated in 10 acres of beautiful woodland / wild garden, and contains several small lakes or ponds. A stream runs through the middle of the garden, connecting the lakes and everywhere is full of the sound of gently flowing water.
This little "Victorian folly" scene was very reminiscent of something out of a Harry Potter book!
The park has over 2 miles of winding pathways. Four colour-coded signposted routes of differing lengths allow for varying levels of ability and interest. We had two of our grandchildren (ages 7 and 10) with us and they had a lot more energy than us! The paths do have a lot of steps, so it wouldn't be suitable for people with physical disabilities or in wheelchairs. At every corner a new sculpture or series of sculptures is revealed, so there is always something interesting to look at.
The actual sculptures are the work of about 300 different artists, and cover a huge range of styles - some realistic, some stylised, some just downright bizarre. People come to this place not just to look at the sculptures, but also occasionally to buy them. Almost all the pieces are for sale, but some of the prices are eye-watering. On entering the park (price £10 per adult, £5 per child / senior citizen) you are given a map-book which also includes brief descriptions of the sculptures and their prices. One piece, a giant dragon made of thousands of old iron horseshoes, was priced at £495000! There is also a gallery / gift shop where those with smaller budgets can buy smaller items.
My preference is for the more realistic types of sculpture, like this magnificent gorilla:
Or this immensely powerful bull.
However, I think if I were to be able to afford my pick of everything in the park, I would choose this:
My photo doesn't really do it justice. It was about three feet in diameter and made of thousands of tiny pieces of ceramic (or were they glass?). Close inspection revealed lots of enchanting details, such as this cute Bumble Bee.
If I had a big (VERY big) garden, this pair of Agapanthus would probably look nice in it. they were about 10 or 12 feet tall.
Talking of pairs, how about these "Dandelion clocks"?
Is this brightly-coloured tank in the "realistic" category, do you think? (I seem to remember it was priced at a mere £65000).
I liked this sort of wave pattern piece, inset with ammonite fossils...
Just next to it was this simple but very atmospheric "people crossing bridge" piece which looked very beautiful silhouetted against the surface of the pond behind it.
Here's another nice light-and-shade one:
This one definitely falls in the bizarre category:
As does this. Is it aliens touching toes...?
I think this sinister swamp-man would perhaps be too scary for most people to have in their lily-pond!
There were lots of sculptures made of wood, many of them single pieces of wood carved into very complex garden furniture, but also many skillfully assembled from small wood fragments like this one:
Since the Sculpture Park has about 650 sculptures at any given moment (the stock changes as purchases are made), this blogpost could go on for a long time, but hopefully I've shown you enough to give you a flavour of the place. Let me just end with one more photo, linking aptly to my other hobby of fungi-hunting...
The Sculpture Park exceeded all our expectations and I have no hesitation in urging you to visit it if you ever get the opportunity.
It certainly feels like Summer now. We've had several days of hot sunny weather, and my plants are loving it (as long as I play my part with the watering). I even have a couple of fruits on some of my chilli plants! (For comparison, last year my first chillis appeared on 10th June).
Chilli "Paper Lantern"
Chilli "Golden Cayenne"
My chillis got off to a bad start, suffering a lot from weedkiller-contaminated compost, but many of them are looking more hopeful now.
Most of my tomato plants have now set fruit too, and those that haven't are covered in flowers. As usual, the smaller-fruited varieties will be first to ripen, like these "Maskotka":
A couple of weeks ago I thought my cucumber plants were doomed. They hated the cold windy weather in the latter part of June. The two "Marketmore" plants withered and died, but the "Delikate B" ones hung on. I replaced the "Marketmores" with one spare "Delikate B" and one "Vorgebirgstrauben", so all my spares have been used now.
Also on the cucurbit front, the two "Crown Prince" squashes are romping away now, threatening to take over the whole garden.
The climbing beans - French and Runner - look OK too. Lots of flowers have opened but only one or two pods have set so far. I'm used to this though. Almost always I get poor setting to begin with, followed by better results when the plants are more mature.
One of the "Cobra" climbing French bean plants has died (none of them were ever very strong after suffering from the weedkiller problem), so I have pushed a couple of seeds into the soil where it was, in the hope that I'll have a few pods from them when all the others have finished.
The Shallots seem all right too, although still small.
Actually, small shallots are good, because it makes them easier to fit in the jar when they get pickled!
The raised bed in which I'm growing the shallots and most of my onions is rather too shady, and since it is overshadowed by a big Maple tree is gets little rainfall either, so I have to be especially careful with watering it. The onions I planted in clumps are still tiny - only just beginning to swell. Still, if we get decent weather in July and August there is plenty of time yet for them to bulk-up.
There are still more Broad Beans to be picked, even after I harvested 3kgs of them last weekend. I'm leaving them to put on some more weight, but I expect to be harvesting the remainder within the next few days. Annoyingly, both rows have matured at the same time, even though they were planted about 3 weeks apart.
Once the Broad Beans have been harvested, the plants will be removed and immediately replaced by winter brassicas, which are waiting in the wings for their opportunity.
Brussels Sprout "Evesham Special"
I plan to plant four Brussels Sprouts ("Evesham Special) and two Purple Sprouting Broccoli ("Red Arrow"). As I explained a while ago, I'm going to grow less PSB from now on, because my wife Jane is not really very keen on it, whereas we both love Brussels Sprouts.
Even my apple trees look as if they are going to perform better this year. The most promising is this one, which is "Winter Banana":
The most fruit it has borne in one year so far is 7 (I've only had it 3 years), but even after losing a lot of fruitlets during the June Drop it still has quite a lot left. I have taken off some fruit where I felt they were too crowded, but I think I may have to remove some more, because they do develop into very large apples.
Overall then, the garden seems to be doing OK so far. As long as we get more of the current warmth and sunshine - with some occasional rain too please - I ought to get some pretty good harvests.
Well, the advice given for my "Mikulov Wight" garlic was to harvest in July, and it's now July so I have pulled some up to see how it has performed!
Many of you will remember that I have been growing my garlic in black plastic crates. It was planted on 5th October, as described HERE. I chose the crate with only 4 plants in it for the trial harvest (the others have 5 each).
Anxious moments of anticipation...! Then the big reveal:
Hmm. Disappointingly small. I had hoped for better. Still, they look to be in good condition and have a very pungent aroma.
In the light of this trial harvest I think I will leave the other three crates for another couple of weeks or so, in the hope that the bulbs will swell a bit more.
Meanwhile, I shall put the four harvested bulbs to dry in my big coldframe with all the vents open.
Looking on the bright side, even these small bulbs are bigger than the ones I produced on the only occasion I grew garlic in the past, so that's progress of a sort! I think the real problem is that my garden is too shady. Even the best parts of it only get full sun for about half of the day. I also reckon that the containers I used were a bit too small - more depth would have been a good thing.