With August underway, it’s high time for an update on the productive side of the garden. I’ve split this into two posts, but must apologise as they are still rather lengthy!
Our strawberry crop has been heavy this year, although we lost quite a bit of our ground fruit to slugs, and opportunistic woodlice continued where the slugs left off. Fortunately the yield was so high that this still left us with more than enough to eat for weeks, and even make sorbet and ice cream. The planters on the woodstore roof had no predators on the fruit, surprisingly not even birds, but we found watering was very awkward, so I’m not sure that we will expand this further.
The woodlice were also found abseiling from dizzy heights on the summer raspberries, which was quite unnerving, but made little dent in our ample harvests of these. The summer canes are starting to reach the end now, although there are still some bowls of fruit to be picked while the autumn varieties are just beginning to flower.
Our single blueberry plant (Bluegold) has also given a reasonable yield this year, most of which we have picked and enjoyed in the past few weeks, with a few handfuls still. Overhead, peaches are fattening and ripening on the tree, and I am determined to catch the small wild plums in the boundary this year to make jam. They go over very quickly, so must be cooked almost as soon as they are off the tree.
Despite losing the top half of one our apple espaliers to a flying trampoline in the spring, we have small fruits to come on both espaliers and our free-standing young Spartan tree. Sadly though, despite a froth of spring blossom on our two pear cordons, the same high winds that felled the apple swept every forming fruit from these trees, so we shall have no pears this year.
The three blackcurrant bushes that we bought in the spring fell prey to a few weeks of neglect this spring at the vital time; the emerging leaves and branches died right back. Careful watering since has encouraged strong new growth to come from the roots, so all three bushes have now recovered to all intents and purposes, but this set-back means that they have not yielded fruit this year. It has given them a good start in putting down roots though, and they have proven themselves to be robust plants.
Salad and other leaves
A steady stream of salad leaves, predominantly lettuce and baby spinach, has given us daily salads for our lunch, without buying any leaves for some months now. The first lettuces have just begun to bolt, so with these pulled up it’s time to sow some more, as we’ll soon make dents in the remaining younger plants that we are moving on to now.
We have also had intermittent crops of radishes, rocket, cress, mustard and lambs lettuce (Corn salad Vit and Heirloom), which have been very enjoyable, although our sowings have been sporadic, so we are determined to improve that. The first beetroot have been harvested and brightened up our lunchboxes this week, with plenty more still to harvest.
We’ve also had two crops of pak choi, a new crop for us. The first, early in the year, was quick to come and we enjoyed it in stir-fries until the yellow flowers came, the second crop was heavily attacked by flea beetles and so we did not harvest as much as we would have liked. Another recent sowing should soon give us some more leaves, hopefully not perforated this time; we may fleece the row to try and ward off the flea beetles.
A new variety next of a familiar crop: King of the Hill has not been a great fan of the chard we have grown for a couple of years, finding it a little bitter, although still being fed it under sufferance. He caught mention of a sweeter variety, Fantasy, on Gardener’s Question Time on the drive home from work one day in the spring, and so we promptly sourced some seeds and grew this selection, and it has met with favour, most recently in a new potato and chard curry from the River Cottage Everyday Veg book, which we both heartily recommend – the book and the recipe. For anybody who is similarly less than enamoured with the taste of chard, Fantasy is definitely a sweeter choice than the usual selections and well worth a try.
We have grown the same three varieties of potatoes as last year, with a brief enjoyable harvest from our first earlies, Rocket. Our second earlies, Kestrel, are more plentiful, and we are still currently digging these as we need them. One or two of these potatoes have recently shown a small slightly discoloured hole in the centre. With no ‘exit tunnels’ to indicate pests, we looked this up and discovered that it is a physiological condition known as hollow heart, most likely caused by the excessive rainfall this spring. No surprises there then! These small areas can simply be cut out and the rest of the potato is perfectly healthy.
We have also found that our potatoes are breaking up on cooking more than previous years, another result of our inclement weather. To get around this, we are cutting them to uniform size where necessary, and steaming them for 8-10 minutes; then if they are still on the firm side we remove them from the heat but let them continue steaming in the residual heat for another 5 minutes or so, giving us lovely smooth-textured potatoes to enjoy.
Our maincrop, Desiree, are still in the ground, and we have made a couple of applications of slug nematodes to try and prevent the tunnelling that we usually experience in our later crops. We’ll see how successful our defences have been when they are ready to dig up, though the mild wet weather has been perfect for slugs and snails across the country this year.
Carrots have been disappointing to say the least, and we have not yet harvested any, though they do seem to be growing at last, fingers crossed with improved weather we should manage some crops. Parsnips were slow to germinate, but appear to have caught up, and we have a row of salsify, another new crop for us, looking very handsome. Our first crop of Florence fennel bulbs are ready for harvesting this week, and I must remember to sow another batch now for the autumn. The celeriac nearby, however, has little presence above ground; or, I suspect, below.
Beans & Peas
We grew several short rows of two different varieties of broad beans, Witkiem Manita and Giant Exhibition Longpod, although we did not track which was which. After picking some as required for a few evening meals, this week we cut all the standing plants off at the ground, to leave their nitrogen-fixing roots in the ground, and harvested the remaining pods.
It was a pretty impressive haul, considering what a terrible year this has been (no pun intended) for broad beans. The plants had rust on some of the leaves and stems, so we will burn them or send them to the municipal compost, but the disease had not extended to most of the beans, which were quickly podded, blanched and frozen that evening. There were as many pods again that were empty or too small to harvest and unlikely to grow to full size unharmed; in a good year our crop would have been exceptional. Instead, we were quietly pleased with what we did pick, and come away with only one note for next year – to leave more space between our staggered double rows, to make picking and weeding easier.
We have made several sowings of French beans – climbing (Blue Lake) and dwarf (Safari) – and runner beans (Scarlet Emperor) this year, many of the earlier plants succumbing to slugs in the wet weather. On the bright side, this does mean that we will be harvesting over a longer period than usual with crops at different stages. We picked the first runner beans this week, while large numbers of fruits are still setting and growing, and we planted out our latest sowings of all types of bean this week for later harvests. We also enjoyed the first few dwarf French beans, though most of the plants are only just starting to flower, so crops will be sporadic for some weeks.
Peas and mangetout were rather half-hearted this year on our parts, more than any fault of the weather; those we grew seemed to do okay, and gave a few lovely meals (not to mention the countless peas eaten straight from the pod while perusing the vegetable garden) but we did not grow as many as usual, and rather shamefully left some to bloat on the plants.