Saturday, 14 October 2017

Compost Time - Invasion Earth

My home composting system consists of two alternating daleks at the end of the garden  -  one at either side. It should be three bins (one building, one maturing and one emptying) but there are only two daleks (and two corners).  We cope with this by emptying the mature bin into sacks when the need arises.  So this week, the building bin was full to the brim and it was time to clear out the mature bin and start afresh. Lifting the bin all was revealed: a beautifully reduced pile of well rotted kitchen vegetable waste.  This result is achieved by the action of our colony of brandling worms, the bulk of which have been transported from one bin to the other year after year for the last twenty five years.  The resulting product is ideal for making a bed for the allotment potatoes, although it also benefits the flower borders and raised beds at home.  The earth is improving year on year.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Green Tomato Chutney Time

Yes it is time to accept that these tomatoes are not going to ripen.  I had enough to make a relish and a chutney, although they hardly differ in colour:

Added to the larder shelf where space is running out.

The tomatoes are San Marzano and had hardly any seeds.  They need a southern Mediterranean climate to ripen fully and while I like green tomato chutney I wouldn't grow for that purpose.

Just so you don't feel too sorry for me the Sungold tomatoes ripened just fine as usual, providing a steady flow of cherry tomatoes:

I guess some varieties refuse to grow old:

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Lesser of Two Evils

Before the Chop

After Haircut

I always grow a short row of Jerusalem Artichoke.  They never fail,  look after themselves and provide a delicious soup early in the calendar year when stores of potatoes and onions are running down and  there is not much else ready to be cropped. The tubers keep quite happily underground having their own antifreeze which maybe also puts off pests.  Because they grow tall I try to grow them somewhere where they won't overshadow other crops.  That tends to be at the end or side of a bed.  Truly this is a marginal crop. 

Well this year the Jerusalem Artichoke have found conditions ideal and put on a bid for world domination. They have grown to 10ft high.  Aside from the light issue this is a cause for concern when the autumn winds arrive. If they go over it is from the base of the stem. Aside from the disruption to the root system they can do a bit of damage to surrounding crops (leeks in this case).  So looking at the forecast last weekend I took the loppers to the plot and chopped 3ft off each central stem.  I hate doing this to a perfectly healthy row of plants but logic has to overcome emotion where food production is concerned.  6ft plants will continue to photosynthesise until the frosts kill off the leaves.  Felled plants would stop growing now.

I also took the top off the runner bean wigwam but left the sweetcorn to take its chances.  Visiting the plot on Tuesday I think I made the right call.  One or two side shoots had been stripped off the Jerusalem Artechoke but the main stems were all standing proud.  The sweetcorn took a bit of a hit and I gathered mini cobs while clearing the damaged plants. Curiously the second planting of peripheral smaller plants were more affected than the central tall plants - which I still have hopes of eating from).  So despite the misgivings I think I made the right call.

Sweetcorn Damage

Baby Sweetcorn?

Remaining Sweetcorn with Artichokes behind

Cruel to be Kind

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Bennie and the Veg

For the last five Thursdays I have been attending a course in market gardening at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE) run by the resident market gardener Ben Dell.  Ben has been sharing his knowledge with a dozen aspiring market gardeners - myself included.

How's this for an autumn scene?  Yes lots of seedlings, some of which we pupils sowed 3 weeks ago!

Ben is the custodian of a 3/4 acre site forming part of RBGE which he runs on strict ecological principles.  The site is divided into 9 plots each the size of an extra large allotment and provides fresh local produce throughout the year for 3 restaurants.

Here's the current state of play in the Brassica zone:

My first impression was one of shock to see several hundred fennel bulbs ready for cropping (I have a dozen - half of which have bolted)

And here's a cheering autumn sight: a field of leeks.

Ben has been generous in sharing his nuts and bolts knowledge and enthusiasm for local produce grown in accordance with sustainable principles.  Not a week has passed by without an insight or transferable tip.   Thanks Ben.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Allotment in September

There are signs that summer is coming to an end, so here's a celebration of the veg patch at it's best before the turn.

Squash Carrots Jerusalem Artichoke and Sweetcorn 
The Jerusalem Artichoke is taller than I can ever remember it. 9 ft.  If it gets windy I will have to chop it down to size even before the frost burns the tops. Nestling behind those leave s in the foreground are some happy looking fruit:

Sharks Fin Melon and Kabocha Squash

Main crop potatoes Rooster being lifted
 It has been a fabulous year for potatoes. Yields have been massive, but wet conditions also mean more pest damage.

Brassica Patch
 Already Cauliflower Cabbage and Kale.  Plenty more to come right up to the Purple Sprouting Broccoli next March.

Fill in Salad patch where the broad beans were

Uniform carrots

The most sensitive crop appears to be the French Beans.  They stole a march on the runners but are not lasting as well.  The runners are just going mad!
Runners (left) v French Beans (right)
I hope your 2017 season has been good too.

Time of the Season

Friday, 8 September 2017

Incredible String Garland

Yes it's time to string the onions for winter storage again.

It has been a good year for onions although a few white noses reminded me that white rot is an ever present threat.   I am glad I lifted them when I did as the weather has been dampish recently as evidenced by the blight sweeping in and the proliferation of slugs.  The  onion bulbs have been under cover in greenhouse and shed for a couple of weeks.

Most days I have been giving them a quarter turn to help even out the curing process.  Any blemished bulbs have been used first, so I am confident the rest will store well under the right conditions: that is suspended on a string in an airy place out of direct sunlight.

Here's my step by step guide to stringing onions:

First dry your onions for a couple of weeks.  You want the tops to still have some flexibility and strength rather than be bone dry so don't leave it too long.

You need to secure a hook in a location strong enough to carry the weight of the onions and with sufficient clearance below.  The doorway of a shed or greenhouse is ideal.

Cut off a length of strong twine and tie the ends together to form a loop.

Hang the loop onto the peg at the top and tie a nice big onion to the bottom end. (Shorten the loop if necessary by tying a further knot at the desired height and rehanging the new smaller loop. You will now have two vertical strings and the method is to add one onion at a time wrapping the onion top in a figure of eight around the two strings and then closing off the knot by passing the onion bulb over the top between the two strings.

Close up on the figure of eight.

Progressing  up the parallel strings
You soon learn that each additional onion is best presented from opposite sides of the string so that when they pop between the strings they fall into a free space between lower bulbs. It is not an exact science and they generally rub along together.

End result

In a week I will snip off the loose ends to improve the look and ensure the air can circulate freely around the bunch.  It is sensible to use onions of a similar size in a single bunch. Provided you do use strong cord the size of a string is only limited by the weight you can manage to support! I will need four of these this year, including one for the smaller sized onions.It has been a good allium year.

Hanging Around

Monday, 4 September 2017

Chilling Discovery

A couple of chilling sights in recent days.  Here is a text book case of blossom end rot.  These tomatoes were San Marzano (the Italian plum tomato you get in tins from the supermarket). They clearly don't enjoy the Scottish climate.  This was my last attempt to grow them and I have had to axe four out of the six plants I raised from seed so as to reduce the risk to other plants. 

Another nightmare was the state of the potato patch on my last visit to the plot:

I have, of course chopped these blighted tops off and here's hoe it looks now:

Still on the theme of nightmares we visited Chillingham Castle in Northumberland last Saturday.  It's not a National Trust Property being still in private hands, and is rather refreshingly quirky as a result. The claim that it is the most haunted castle in Britain has done nothing but good for the visitor numbers.   The very first alcove I came to rather took me aback I must admit.

I had to picture this sign for the stairs up to the dungeon!

Once you got to the roof there was a splendid view of the formal garden with the herbaceous border along the ramparts.

Here's the reverse view from the end of the formal garden

with some eerie figures keeping watch.

Mystical creatures adorn the water feature in the middle of the lawn

And a bat keeps an eye on the weather:

A quirky place, Lots to see.  Mysteriously there were no plants for sale!