Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another one bites the dust...

Myrtle, leader of the Houdini sisters, stealer of blueberries and the peckiest chicken that ever lived. You came, you pecked at shoelaces, you laid eggs for eight months and lived the life of Riley for the remaining six. The garden looks emptier without you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garlic for beginners

In November last year I planted 2 types of garlic: Chesnok Wight and Picardy Wight, both sourced from the lovely people at The Garlic Farm. Garlic cloves need well drained soil and a spell of cold weather to ensure the new bulbs form properly. And aside from that they're pretty low maintenance. A bit of watering here and there to get them through periods of dry weather - not that we've had too many of those since May - and that's about it. In June the hardneck garlic (Chesnok Wight) start to produce a flower head or scape, that should be snipped off to prevent the plant's energy going into the production of the flower rather than into the bulb.

In early July when the garlic foliage started to yellow and flop over, the new bulbs were lifted carefully with a fork, the roots shaken of soil and the bulbs dried in an airy location to prevent them going mouldy or rotting. I usually use the greenhouse - either hanging them up or laying them in wooden crates.

Once dry and papery, I rubbed off any remaining dirt and loose skin, trimmed the top foliage off and then stored in a cool dry place ready to be used! Hardneck varieties will last until January so should be used first; softneck garlic will store well until late spring next year.
And as ever, before using any bulbs, I'll be selecting the biggest and healthiest from each variety to break up and replant come November. That way my garlic production is self-sustaining from year to year. Now that's what I call self-sufficiency!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pear blossom??

So, it's not only me who's confused by the varied weather recently. We've had turbulent wind, chilly nights, torrential downpours, cool grey mornings, overcast afternoons and then suddenly, a return to the heatwave with blazing hot sun for the last 2 days.
This seem to have confused one of my pear trees - which has produced these lovely little blossoms at the end of one branch. The bees are loving them at least, but I suspect any resulting fruits will be doomed long before they're ripe.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I lead, Alys follows

If you're anything like me, then every weekend you have your head deep in the papers, specifically the gardening sections, checking on what needs to be done next. One of my particular favourites is the lovely Alys Fowler - she of the 'tea dress and wellies' school of gardening - in the Guardian each Saturday. Now, I don't know if it's just that I'm getting better at this vegetable growing lark, but in recent months it seems that I'm mirroring exactly what Alice is doing - or is it the other way round? I harvest some green garlic, she writes about green garlic; I sow my winter brassicas, she writes about winter brassicas; I start saving poppy heads, she... I'm sure you get the picture.
It has been said in the past that I'm often ahead of the pack in action or thoughts - like wearing Dubes to Glastonbury or knowing that Robbie would be more successful than Gary post Take That (take 1) but this is getting ridiculous. I don't seem to be able to do anything in the suburban veg plot without it appearing in the Guardian. Is this coincidence or should I be changing the default password on my voicemail a little more often??

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer summary

I've been managing to keep up the watering regime during this week or two of hot weather and it seems to be paying off. We've had the occasional downpour to top up the waterbutts and give the raised beds a good soaking but the greenhouse crops pretty much need watering every second day.

The chilli harvest has started - hot cayenne and razzamatazz - and I'm slowly building up a freezer bag of them which will hopefully then last us through until next summer. We officially used the last frozen 2010 chilli about 2 weeks ago, so are very pleased to be self sufficient on that front. I've got about 7 different chillies growing - and I fear this is turning into something of a fetish...

The courgettes are starting to produce fruits faster and faster now. The Gold Rush variety, a beautiful solid rich yellow courgette, is very attractive on the plate and has a lovely taste.

One veg (well, fruit if we're being pedantic) that hasn't grown as well as in previous years is the Roma tomato. I'm not sure why, as the early days looked very promising. I have two plants in the greenhouse but they don't seem to have reached the size they have done before. There seems to be plenty of small fruits forming and I'm feeding them well. It's just they look quite dwarf compared to the Moneymaker plants next to them.

The salads have been a roaring success - both the loose leaf types and the butterheads. The latter were a trial seed I received free from DT Brown. They grew really well and almost took over one of the raised beds. I had to harvest some of them just to give the shallots their space back. In the end, the slugs and snails took over so the last few lettuces went on the compost heap, but one of two of the bases are re-growing so I may have another mini harvest from those before I need the space for something else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Love me tendril, love me sweet

I've recently been glued to the tv watching the ITV Botany series and am finding it absolutely fascinating. I love the history of botany and how the scientific developments and discoveries of the last few hundred years have shaped the plant and agricultural world as we know it today. I'm particularly interested in plant genetics, breeding and inheritance. They all sound so impenetrably scientific but we can all see examples in every variety of vegetable we grow.
Take, for example, this pea variety I photographed in the walled vegetable garden at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

I thought it looked a bit odd, so looked up the variety - Sancho. It's a semi-leafless type, which is apparently better for commercial growers as the harvesting is easier than with leafy varieties. It seems the harvesting machinery copes better without so much foliage. So, assuming Mother Nature did not provide this Sancho variety herself, plant breeders have, over the years, selectively crossed pea varieties with smaller amounts of foliage in order to breed out the leafy tendencies. Now, on my RHS course we learnt about leaf adaptations - and a pea tendril is one such leaf adaptation. Basically it's a leaf that has adapted (in an evolutionary sense) to serve a different purpose - in this case, it helps the plant to support itself, to grow vertically, thus maximising exposure to sunlight and gaining a competitive advantage over those pea plants that cannot climb so high.
So, in the process of breeding peas to decrease the amount of leafy growth on the plant, the breeders have selected pea varieties that produce more tendrils. This has resulted in the Sancho pea that not only has less foliage and is easier to harvest for commercial and allotment growers alike, it also produces more tendrils, leading to a better in-built support system and thus a smaller need for managed support such as pea sticks, frames and nets. A most welcome development in my book.

Monday, July 4, 2011