Monday, 24 November 2008

First Snow

The first snow fell on my garden yesterday. At 8am there were a few wispy flakes, but within 30 minutes the roofs of the houses were showing white. Disappointingly for the children next door, whose father had them outside by 8.45, the snow stopped shortly after and the rain washed it all away. Later the sun tried valiantly to show through, but gave way to the heavy rains.
There had been lots of notice of the falling temperatures, so I had grouped all the plants together in the greenhouse and covered them with several layers of fleece. Hopefully this was enough to protect them. I noticed the unprotected pepper plants were severely wilted today, but I haven't had a chance to check out the covered plants. In the veg garden I pulled all the beetroot of any size and dug up my last 2 yacon plants. The yacon had only made one decent size storage root, and 2 small ones, although there were a number of new growing tubers. These I packed away protected by polystyrene and bubble wrap in the garage for planting next year. I was rather disappointed in the taste of the yacon tuber. We tried the smallest one, it was crisp and juicy, but had very little flavour. Perhaps the larger one will taste better. If not I might be selling tubers on ebay next spring :)

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Review of the fruit year.

Some of the fruit did very well this year, but the frosts at blossom time, followed by so much cold wet weather didn't do any favours. However, saying that, I am pleased with the harvest I managed out of my small space this year, and I've been thinking of how I can improve on it in the coming year.
Cherries - The tree is still relatively young, so it is not giving us a full crop yet. We picked around 25 ripe cherries, but unfortunately due to a period of heavy rain just before harvest, many of these were split. They tasted delicious, and gave us an idea of what to look forward to.
Grapes- I was very pleased with these this year. Despite seeing bunches of mouldy grapes hanging in the local vineyards, mine ripened perfectly. I must curb the tendency to pick too quickly, they didn't really develop a good level of sugar until the 1st week in October. With the forecast of high winds we finally decide to pick the whole lot about 12th Oct, washed and picked them over, before storing on a tray in the fridge. We ate them over the next 3 weeks, with few going off.
Blackcurrants - Ben Sarek and Ben something else! I didn't expect to get many this year, as they were only planted in spring. We should really have pruned them right back, but Dans was desperate for jam. In another post I mention the jam, blackcurrant and blackberry, very nice. I'm looking forward to increased yields this coming year.
Plums - Neither tree produced any fruit this year, the frosts were against us. Fingers crossed for next year. the trees are going much more vigorously than I expected, pruning gets away from me!
Blackberries - Very pleased with the size and taste this year, especially as we only had one fruiting cane. There are more canes this year, so the crop should be a more useful size, although blackberry ice cream featured heavily on the menu.
Strawberries - A dead loss this year, the slugs got most of them despite nematode treatment. The plants look healthy and produced flowers and runners galore. I'm trying containers next year in the hope of getting a crop. The pink flowered ones are still going strong, but I've yet to taste one of those!
Raspberries - The autumn ones are still producing the occasional berry, lovely flavour, we just need more canes. As it was the only one that survived, hopefully I'll be able to propagate more for next year.
The summer flowering ones, Glen Ample, did not live up to their name this year, and were not as sweet as autumn bliss, but we have a lot more canes for next year, so hopefully we will get a worthwhile crop.
Blueberries - Two different varieties are supposed to cross pollinate, so I am hoping that the two bushes in containers will really get going next year. They are in ericaceous compost, watered with rain water and fed with bokashi juice. We got a small crop this year, lovely with Greek yogurt.
Cranberries - I live in hope with these. They were bought on impulse from Woolies, and still haven't flowered in the 3 years I've had them. They are planted at the based of one of the blueberries, and look very healthy, perhaps next year I will be lucky.
Rhubarb - veg or fruit, I treat it as fruit, so here it stays. I feel it's beginning to establish now, after a disastrous 1st year, when it flowered. I think it is important to keep it well fed, and give it enough space. This year it was crowded at peak time with potato pots, so I am going to treat it with proper respect next year.
Cobnuts - I was really surprised to harvest 5 nuts this year, as they had only been in one season. Interestingly they were falling, ripe, to the ground, in the second week in September, earlier than I would have thought. Plenty of catkins showing now, so hopefully a good lot of flowers will develop. The bushes did not put on much top growth, so no need to prune yet.
Lemons - I really mistreated my lemon tree last winter, it stayed outside the whole time, and lost most of it's leaves. I already have it undercover now, so hopefully it will do better next year.
Peach - This is an experiment, as it is a self grown seedling from this year, which is already 4ft tall. Pruned, confined to a pot, and undercover, I am hopeful it will do well, although it may not fruit at all.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Review of the vegetable year

Well now that the garden is beginning to sleep I decided it's time to take stock of the successes and failures of this season.
Tomatoes - I only grew 2 types, Tigrella and Sunburst. They did well in the greenhouse, and I did not have any outdoor ones, after severe blight hit last year. I think I tried to get too many plants into the space, because those on the shadier side did not do so well. Next year I think 8 plants are all I can fit in, but I've been given some seeds of a French Black tomato, and probably some green tiger ones too, so I may have to think carefully where I could manage some outside.
Cucumbers - I grew 4 plants, and these did very well. I gave a number away, and we had trouble keeping up with them, even though Vicky will happily munch away on a whole one while watching her favourite TV programmes.
Chillies - These took a while to get going, but finally came into their own, and I have a lot still to ripen. I'm hoping to successfully overwinter a couple of plants inside to get a head start next year.
Peppers - Once again these were a dead loss. I thought when I got them into flower early that I was going to get a decent crop, but what with slugs, small caterpillars, and generally bad weather, I have only picked one decent sized ripe orange pepper. I am seriously considering giving these a miss next year and using the space for a more productive crop.
Courgettes - The parthenocarpic variety was very successful from an early sowing, although they did succumb to powdery mildew quite early, probably due to the weather. The second sowing was a bit too late to do anything. I did find we were a bit overwhelmed for a while, and I have frozen quite a few for winter use.
Potatoes - These were not so successful considering the amount of space and compost they took up. The few potatoes I got were very tasty, but I think I could use the space more productively.
Broad Beans - Considering these went in quite late, and then they had to contend with the grape vine for light, these were reasonably successful. I will be trying these again, giving them better conditions next year.
Peas - For the first time I grew dwarf peas rather than the climbing variety I usually go for. I won't be growing these again, they cropped very poorly, and tasted 'harvested' even when quite small. Vicky and I usually eat any peas we get raw from the pods, but she didn't like these ones at all.
Climbing French Beans - I grew these mixed with the runners on a wigwam of canes. I got a reasonable crop, but they did get overwhelmed by the more vigorous runners. Next year I will separate the 2, and hopefully get more beans. I did manage to freeze a few packs for the winter.
Runner Beans - These enjoyed the wetter summer, we were not overwhelmed, but had sufficient for every dinner we wanted them for, and I managed to freeze some too. Next year I am trying a white flowered variety to fit in better with the colour schemes in the flower borders. Hopefully they will do as well.
Beetroot - The only problem here was not planting enough. I got a good crop of reasonable size beets. Next year I will start planting earlier, and make sure I have a succession.
Radish - The first planting did well, and I was hard pushed to eat them all before they went to seed. However the second planting was affected by cabbage root fly, which made most of them inedible. A low 'wall', or covering with fleece would prevent this, but may be a problem in the potager, as it will not look particularly pleasing the the eye.
Parsnip - These were sown direct, in April. Not that many germinated, and I've only pulled one so far, but that one was a good size. I should be able to do home grown parsnip for Christmas dinner, which what Daniel was hoping for.
Celeriac - I planted these quite early this year, so they were good size plants when they went out. Unfortunately several plants ran to seed. the others are around tennis ball size, but I haven't pulled any yet.
Yacon - After getting squashed in the post, only 3 plants grew, and these were very slow. So far they are only about 18 inches high instead of the 5 foot described. The one I've dug up so far hadn't made any growth for eating or replanting, so it is in the greenhouse. The jury is still out on this one. As they cost £5 a plant I won't buy again, but I will replant outside next year if I can get any tubers from this years plants.
Kohl Rabi - Much to Vicky's disappointment, this did not do well this year. The purple ones which did grow were not such a good flavour as the white I have grown before, and they seemed particularly popular with the slugs. Back to white next year I think.
Lettuce - We were pretty self sufficient with this for a good period of time. the red cos type, Pandero, was less attractive to the slugs, so I will go with this again next year. The space I save not growing potatoes can be utilised for lettuce maybe.
Onions - I grew some red onions from seed. The ones in the pots did better than those In the garden, although they were not huge. I think I will try some of these again as they look pretty in salads. If I had more space I would probably use onion sets for cooking onions.
Garlic - This has done very well again this year. I have been saving the largest cloves for replanting ever since we moved here, 4 years ago, and I think it does pay off, as the plants become acclimatised to local conditions. I have already replanted my garlic for next year.
Although I haven't enough space to be self sufficient in veg, I have found it worthwhile to grow what I can. However when space is a premium I think it best to concentrate on the more expensive or successful varieties. there is no point in growing anything that is not liked or does not produce well. I have already decided the larger brassicas such as sprouts, broccoli and cauliflowers are not practical for me at the moment, although it would be a different story if I managed to get an allotment!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

November Already

It's amazing that a month has gone by since I last posted. The garden is now winding down with a vengance, the grapes all picked and eaten, the runner beans cleared and the greenhouse now housing plants that need a bit more protection. This year I moved the lemon and peach trees inside before there was any frost forecast. The poor lemon overwintered outside last year, and although it survived, it lost most of its leaves and we had no lemons. My previous peach tree got peach leaf curl very badly, and never recovered. As this disease is spread by rain in winter, I have moved the tree inside to protect it. Hopefully it will flower around February and produce some peaches, although how reliable it will be, as it is a home grown seedling, I don't know.
The chillies are still covered with fruit, I made another batch of jam, which seems hotter than the last lot. It's difficult to judge what it will be like, as the chillies vary so much in heat. Hopefully the rest will ripen off in the greenhouse, I'm hoping to bring a couple of plants inside, as apparently they can be overwintered and grow on much quicker next year, rather than starting from scratch with seeds in January.
I was disappointed with my yacon. I dug one plant up yesterday, but there was very little growth. There should be small tubers for replanting and a large storage root, neither evident on my plant. I have potted it up and put it in the greenhouse, in the hope it will continue to grow and at least provide me with planting material for next year. I am now wondering whether to dig up the other two, rather than waiting for the tops to catch the frost. If they have done nothing either it would be better to move them inside while they still have leaves!
I still have celeriac, beetroot and parsnips in the ground. I am waiting for the parsnips to catch the frost as it is suppose to turn the starch to sugar so they taste sweeter. The celeriac should stand the winter well too, and hopefully keep growing. Interestingly I have found a number of dead slugs recently, although it is ages since I last treated with nematodes. Still any slug is better dead than alive, especially as they will eat into any veg still in the ground.
I do not know how they are getting in, but I found 3 slugs in my downstairs bathroom, chowing down on the cat biscuits. I couldn't see any trails from back or front doors, but can't see how else they got in, unless they hitched a lift on one of the cats! Mice seem to have been an issue for most of my neighbours too, one caught 30! I'm being vigilant, as the cats (6 of them) are not allowed in the bedrooms or kitchen, so would not be able to deal with any visitors in the time honored fashion.
I decided to brighten up the garden with some pots of colour last weekend. I planted tulips down deep in some of the old compost used for courgettes, after adding some chicken manure pellets. Then I have topped these with ornamental kale, pansies and cyclamen. Hopefully these will look good right into April next year. I had just finished and came in to watch Gardeners World online, where they were doing exactly the same thing!