Continuing my review of progress in our kitchen garden at the start of August.
The hardneck plants, Sprint, pushed out their characteristic scapes very early this year; after picking and enjoying these, we soon dug up the rest of the crop, very early in mid-June, to try and beat the first signs of garlic rust that appeared with the incessant rainfall. They really had lived up to their name, and grown fast and well, so that an early harvest did not appear to be a problem.
The softneck Solent Wight plants, however, were still far behind, and I left them in the ground as late as I could, cutting off the worst affected leaves to try and arrest the spread of the disease. On a dry day in the second week of July it had caught up again, and I had no choice but to dig up the row, consigning the rust-speckled foliage for burning. The bulbs had at least formed cloves, but are much smaller than hoped for. Still, we managed to salvage something, and it is not a bad harvest all told.
The onions are quietly getting on with their thing nearby. While a couple of last year’s leeks are flowering, this year’s seedlings, sown directly into the ground as an experiment, are almost ready to be planted out to their final spacings.
Beneath the rather ramshackle cage of enviromesh, various cabbage, cauliflower, cavalo nero and Brussels sprouts plants are coming on. Besides the occasional weeding session, we have been neglecting them rather since sowing them and planting them out, but must make sure we start checking them regularly for eggs and caterpillars. The cage will deter some butterflies, but there are a few holes where the mesh has been pulled from the frame, mostly by cats using it as a hammock or wrestling site, so if we don’t stay vigilant, it will work against us to keep a colony of caterpillars munching through our plants safe from predation by birds, and away from our casual glance.
The favourite winter squashes from the past couple of years: Turks Turban, Crown Prince and Marina di Chioggia, are growing again, this year joined by Musquee de Provence and Rouge Vif d’Etampes. Several sowings of Butternut Harrier F1 have ended in almost abject failure: germination was very slow, we had almost given up when the seed leaves appeared, but then they grew on steadily and we planted them out. Each time, the plants soon disappeared, presumably they are a favourite of the slugs. We have just one plant remaining, but it is still sulking and not looking in much danger of fruiting.
The other squash plants, however, have taken off, and we have small fruits forming on many of the vines. Inspired by images of Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden, King of the Hill was keen to build a simple sturdy support to grow them more vertically, and the leftover coppiced ash poles from our hornbeam screen framework were employed to this effect. I love the natural look of this structure, and the plants that we have gently encouraged up its legs seem happy to scramble here, leaving more space on the ground for the remaining plants to romp.
In our cursory nod towards the Three Sisters growing system, we have once again interplanted sweetcorn in a grid amongst the squashes. We had a low germination and growing-on rate with these plants, but those that have survived seem to be getting into their stride, though their relative development varies wildly, which is bound to hamper pollination.
With a few squash seedlings to spare, we maximised our space by planting one into the top of the dormant compost heap, where it also seems happy, a few fruits beginning to swell. The butternut squashes that originally accompanied were among those which disappeared without a trace alas.
Two courgette plants, our trusty Defender F1, are gently producing a manageable stream of small tender fruits, while the ‘third sister’, runner beans in our case, scramble up a double row of bamboo canes along the edge.
In the greenhouse, we are growing Shirley and Sakura tomatoes again, along with San Marzano, a new selection for us. Sakura have been the first fruits to ripen, and we have been eating them for a couple of weeks now, while the larger Shirley tomatoes are starting to turn now. We hadn’t considered the semi-determinate nature of the plum tomatoes when we planted them alongside our usual cordons, so the greenhouse has become rather a tangle in places where these plants have formed more compact, bushy growth. With so many leaves, we’ll need to keep a careful eye on the blocky fruits so that we don’t miss them ripening.
Outside, we are growing a few Marmande plants, each in half an up-ended grow-bag. These have quite a few green fruits on, but we desparately need some more sun for any to begin to ripen.
Back in the greenhouse, our cucumber plants (Burpless) have been producing long tasty fruits for some weeks now. Alongside, two aubergine (Moneymaker) plants, again in half-grow-bags, are covered in pretty purple flowers and a dozen small shiny black fruits of various sizes. While this is good news, in the past week we have found the aubergines and cucumbers covered in whitefly and greenfly, the first year they have appeared in our greenhouse – and the first year I haven’t planted marigolds in here. Perhaps they do indeed work to keep these pests away: I will make sure we have some again next season.
To try and combat this attack, I have steeped some crushed garlic and chilli in water, adding a little milk to help the solution adhere, and begun to spray the plants with this. It certainly made my face and lungs burn, so fingers crossed it will have a strong impact on these pests. I even sprayed a little excess onto our decimated hostas outside, as it is supposed to work to keep slugs off too.
There are two small chilli plants (Habanero ) in the greenhouse, and one sweet pepper. I sowed seeds for another chilli, Filius Blue, but there was no germination for the second year running. The chillis are slow this year, with no sign of flowers yet, though the sweet pepper has its first small fruit forming.
Herbs have been more of a success story so far, with established plants of thyme, rosemary, sage, hyssop, lavender and oregano now doing well in the small herb border, and a pot of mint on the path. The lemon verbena is planted out alongside these, and has flowered prettily. I must take cuttings, or lift it to overwinter in the greenhouse again, lest we lose it to cold or damp.
In the greenhouse and the kitchen are lush basil plants raised from seed, and being picked often along with the others; and in the ornamental beds, dill grown from seed floats in a haze of beautiful acid yellow flowers. I never got around to growing parsley or chives, these are on the must-try-harder list for next year.
If we were growing borage as a crop, though, then this would be one of our biggest successes this year. I made the ‘fatal’ error of throwing last year’s spent plants on the compost heap. Flowers and all. Yes. Indeed.
When we spread our compost around our garden in the spring, hundreds, if not thousands, of familiar seedlings sprang up everywhere. It was about then that I read Jekka McVicar’s advice in her lovely Complete Herb Book on just this occurrence, albeit a little late. Borage has now become a standing joke in our household. Romping through the kitchen garden, and more gently through the ornamental beds, we constantly rip out three-foot high plants that get in our way, and still their blue flowers hum with bees all over the garden. Probably one of the nicer plagues we could have, but I shan’t compost them again once they’re in flower!