Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Shallots "Longor"

Back in March this year I wrote about planting Shallots, and just the other day I wrote about harvesting Shallots. The very hot dry weather we have had recently has been ideal for getting them dried. They have enjoyed basking in the sunshine for several hours every day, while I have been at work enduring a stuffy classroom and wishing that the aircon was a bit more effective! Some of the places I have to go in the course of my duties leave a LOT to be desired. One place I went last week I had to prop the window open with a whiteboard eraser, because the fastening was broken, and there was no other way of getting any air into the room - certainly no aircon. Why don't employers realise that if they want their staff to be properly trained (and motivated to learn) they need to provide suitable working conditions??

Anyway, the Shallots are dried!  I'm sure most of you will know this, but for the sake of any beginners who may be reading this, drying Shallots "cures" the outer skins and thus preserves them for future use. Once dried, Shallots will keep for months if stored in the right conditions (dry and relatively cool). You need to dry them until the leaves wither completely and fall off. The remaining bulbs will have papery golden-coloured skins. Discard any that feel soft - or use them immediately if they look OK inside and don't small musty.

This is the complete harvest. Not a lot of course, but that is the norm in my plot - small quantity, but big quality!

The total yield amounts to 1.4kg.  I think that about half of these will eventually be pickled in spiced vinegar, but the rest (the bigger ones) will be used as general-purpose culinary shallots. We use quite a few of them in things like French Dressing.

I took lots of photos of the Shallots. To me they are things of beauty! The russety paper-like outer skins barely conceal the rich purple inner layers.

Although my crop has not been huge (the return was about three times what I planted), I have learned a lot about growing Shallots this year. The wider spacing I used this time (25cm) has definitely made a diference. Last year the yield was only twice what I planted, which is a marginal result - almost not worth the effort. Of course the weather may have had an influence too, and that is infinitely variable.

One other thing I learned is that growing Shallots in pots is definitely possible.

When I planted the main crop sets, I had 8 left over (the smallest ones) and I put them into two big flower-pots. Despite the reservations I expressed at the time, they did OK. They were perhaps not quite as good as the ones in the main bed, but certainly worthwhile. If you don't have space in your garden or allotment for growing Shallots, I would therefore say it is worth considering growing some in pots.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Scotch Bonnet

I have been harvesting some more Scotch Bonnet chillis, and the fruits are just so photogenic that I can't stop taking pictures of them!

I think this particular specimen is well-nigh perfect. Well, certainly it makes an exceptionally good photgraphy subject. Actually it is also a difficult subject, because it is so shiny. NB: No, I have not polished it or waxed it. It is naturally that shiny.

With the long spell of very hot weather we have had recently, the chillis have come on very rapidly and most of them have set lots of fruit. I'm beginning to contemplate what I will do with a bumper harvest of chillis. A sort of Sambal Oelek is the current favourite. Does anyone have a good recipe for this that they are prepared to share with me?

P.S. I have that Blogger problem again! It means that it takes me ages to put together a post. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Also, Jane is currently not well, and is in hospital, so I don't have so much time for blogging. I shall try to keep up the daily posts, but I will not have much opportunity for commenting elsewhere. I'll be back to usual form as soon as I can.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Harvest Monday - 29 July 2013

This past week I have again harvested some very nice veggies - and several of them have been "first of the year" ones, like these "Boltardy" beetroot:

This is my "old faithful" beetroot variety. It is a very traditional one which has been around for ages and endures despite the advent of fancy new varieties simply because (as its name suggests) it resists bolting better than any other variety. Nor does if fail on taste or texture. I cooked the three roots seen in the photo above, within minutes of harvesting, and ate them about 90 minutes later. Very tasty, and so tender that they were almost gelatinous!

I also picked the first of my "Amsterdam III Sprint" baby carrots, grown in one of the boxes in my wooden planter. Unlike the "Mignon" ones from the other box, which are quite short and plump, these ones are elegantly long and slim:-

When I sowed the carrot seeds I also put in a few Spring Onion seeds, hoping they would assist with deterring the Carrot Root Fly. Only a few of them germinated, but amongst those that did were these two beauties:

I don't know what did it, but something has kept the Fly away. Those carrots are clean as a whistle, with no damage whatsoever.

The new potatoes are still going strong. I have given up trying to keep the various varieties separate since I have found that all mine seem to have very similar properties and hence require similar cooking times. This is a medley of varieties including "Swift", "Rocket" and I think "Lady Christl"...

The "Cobra" climbing French Beans are coming on stream now, so I have had a decent picking of those:

This week I also want to recognise the efforts of my Basil plants. I have four of them, two of which have been with me since last Spring (2012, I mean). I have cropped them on several occasions, usually to make a batch of pesto. This is so easy to do, yet so rewarding. A big bunch of Basil goes into the food-processor with some pine-nuts, some parmesan cheese and some olive oil and a quick zuzz or two later you have a bright green, oozy, wonderfully fragranced pesto. I usually freeze it in ice-cube trays like this:-

When the pesto is frozen you tip the cubes out into a plastic bag and put them back in the freezer, where they will be instantly available for adding to soups, pasta dishes etc.

Harvesting (and eating) home-grown food is so rewarding!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Variations on a theme

Can anyone explain to me why the fruits on one single plant can be so very different?

This is a photo of some fruits on a "Russian Black" tomato plant:

So is this. On the same plant, I emphasise.

And what about this for a wierdo?

As you can see, it is not just one fruit that is so deeply ribbed; it is the whole truss.

In the catalogue from which I bought the seeds, the fruits are shown as smooth, like those in the first picture above. Presumably therefore something has gone wrong. Are the wierdly-shaped fruits perhaps a throwback to one of the plant's ancestors? Maybe this is a hybrid variety artificially bred from different types? Or could unusual weather conditions be the cause? This year we had a very cold Spring, but now we have had a long spell of exceptionally hot dry weather.

But variations in weather have evidently not affected the regularity of these "Orkado" tomatoes:

Or these "Sungold" ones:

And these "Zapotec Pleated" ones are supposed to be deeply ribbed:

I'm thinking now about how the "Russian Black" toms will look when they are ripe. Like something from a science fiction film, I expect!

Finally for today, here is a pic of my first ripe tomatoes of the year - two of the little "Maskotka" ones. The plants are heavily laden with fruit now, so hopefully there will be many more of these to harvest in the near future.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Invasion of the "Cabbage Whites"

Until recently, there have been very few butterflies around this year, but with the advent of really hot weather one particular type has come out in swarms - the Small White, or Pieris Rapae, aka "Cabbage White". At times I have seen 10 or 12 simultaneously - which is a lot for my little garden. In fact, too many!

This butterfly is a real menace in the vegetable garden. It lays multitudes of eggs on the undersides of vegetable leaves - usually those of Brassicas - and when these hatch they turn into voracious caterpillars which can devour a cabbage plant in a very short space of time, leaving it with that characteristic "lacy" look.

Here is one Cabbage White caught in the act of laying eggs:-

And here is a cluster of its eggs. Fortunately, being bright yellow, they are easy to spot. I can't imagine why the eggs are that colour. Surely it would have been better for the butterfly if they were a more unobtrusive colour?

Right now the Cabbage Whites don't have a lot of choice if they want to lay eggs on brassicas in Mark's Veg Plot. I have only four Brussels Sprout plants for them to choose from (as long as they don't notice the two trays of tiny PSB and Cavolo Nero seedlings!). This means that it is easy enough for me to "patrol the brassicas" and remove the eggs. I simply rub them off with my fingers. I did consider putting a net over the plants again (I had them covered when they were small), but I think that I'll manage to control the situation OK without it.

So far I seem to be winning the battle because I have only seen a few caterpillars, despite having removed dozens of clusters of eggs. I did resort to spraying the growing tips of the plants with a proprietary bug-killer because these are the most important parts, but it is not a good idea to spray the whole of the (very large) Brussels Sprout plants if you can avoid it.

On second thoughts, I have remembered that I still have some turnips left, and they are brassicas too. Better check them as well... Cabbage White = Pieris Rapae; Turnip = Brassica Rapa!

Cabbage White on a Turnip leaf

Friday, 26 July 2013

Climbing French Bean "Cobra"

"Cobra" is a variety of bean that I have grown every year for a very long time. It is very reliable. A strong plant that produces a large crop of very big pods which do not go tough even when they are twice the size of a normal French Bean. Here are some photos of it growing in my garden this year:

Those flowers, seen in close-up, are almost like orchids!

I am growing my beans up bamboo canes - the French Beans are on the left. On the right (red flowers) are the Runner Beans:-

In theory it is good practice to pinch out the growing tips of the plants when they reach the tops of the canes, since this will stimulate the production of sideshoots further down the plants. In practice I seldom manage this, simply because the canes are too tall! And also, since the plants always develop at slightly different rates it is sometimes hard to see when one has finally made it to the top. I therefore tend to end up with a thick tangle of foliage at the top ot the wigwam. However, I still usually manage to get a decent crop.

As the flowers wither, little bean-pods are visible:-

They develop very rapidly.

Within a few days they will be big enough to eat:-

Those ones are about 15cm / 6ins long, but if I leave them they will grow to nearly twice that size. When I first grew "Cobra" I thought the very big pods would probably be coarse and possibly stringy, but they aren't. They seem to remain tender even when they are huge, so if you are looking for a big crop (maybe for freezing) this is the bean for you!

The thing to remember with beans is that they really do need lots of moisture - a good long soak every couple of days if the weather is hot. Without this the number of pods produced will be much less. If they are very thirsty the bean plants will just drop their flowers and pods will not form. Nature is good at self-regulating, and plants seem to know how many fruits / pods they will be able to support. (Why don't humans do this too, eh??)

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Gaillardia "Burgunder"

One of the small batch of perennial plants I bought from my local Garden Centre in the Spring was a Gaillardia "Burgunder".

I bought this plant purely on the basis of the label. At the time there was nothing to see but one or two very small green shoots emerging from the compost in a tiny plastic pot. It wasn't much of a gamble though, at only £1.99 each!

And now look at it:-

 The stems are quite floppy so I have tied them to a cane with some soft string.

The plant is only just beginning to flower, and already it has more than 15 blooms. And what beautiful blooms they are:

The Gaillardia is a perennial, which means that it will die right back in Winter but come back up again the following year. I have also heard that it self-seeds easily, so it sounds as if my £1.99 will turn out to have been a real bargain.

You will have noticed that I put my plant (and its peers) into a pot rather than into a permanent place in a border. This is the way I like to work. I move the pots around every so often, to maximise the display when things are flowering, but then to hide a plant somewhere unobtrusive when it dies back, replacing it in the "shop window" with something else.

While I'm in a flowers mood, let me finish my post with a picture of some Lavender, which is currently at its best, seen here next to my "Black Prince" chilli plant:

Lavender "Hidcote"

With my increasing interest in decorative plants as opposed to edibles, I had considered changing the name of my blog to "Mark's Garden", but that one is already taken by a blogger who only seems to have written two posts, the most recent of which was in 2005!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Started and finished

This post is about vegetables in my garden that are either not quite ready, or have just finished.

Since the Asparagus started to produce spears much later than usual this year (due to the crazy weather) I decided to keep on cropping it until mid-July, whereas I normally stop at the end of June. However it is definitely finished now. I am leaving all the spears that come up, to allow them to develop into leaves (known as "fern").

Unfortunately all my Endives bolted before I had a chance to use any of them, so they are finished too. I blame the excessively hot, dry weather.

I have now sowed another batch of Endives (Autumn-harvesting varieties) and some Radicchio, so maybe I'll have better luck next time.

Meanwhile, some of the other crops are in the opposite phase, so to speak. The Beetroot, for instance is nearly ready. The roots seem to swell ever so slowly, but one of two are now at the golfball size, so I reckon they will be harvested in the next few days:

The Parsnips (which got off to a slow start) are still very tiny. No sign of any roots just yet; only leaves:

The peas are having a new lease of life. Their first crop was nice and very welcome, but since I robbed them of all their peas (seeds) they are producing a second set, so I will get another small harvest. From a distance the plants look "past it", with faded leaves and scrappy tendrils:

But when you look closely you can see lots of flowers forming:

The Brussels Sprouts are still nicely on track, although they are now beginning to show a few holes in the leaves due to the advent of a multitude of white butterflies and the consequent catterpillars.

Before long they will be starting to form the first of their sprouts, and I am hoping for a good harvest since the plants seem to be in such good condition.

This coming weekend I will probably remove the Broad Bean plants.

Their yield this year has been very poor, and it is time for them to make way for something different. They will be followed by Purple Sprouting Broccoli for next Spring's harvest.