Nothing much

The weather again hasn’t been kind recently.  Not really out of the ordinary; just unrelenting rain and wind, with not enough let up to get much done.  It’s not true that I’ve been doing nothing, and I probably haven’t achieved nothing, it’s just that I seem to have finished nothing!  The days are getting longer however.  I always feel that by Valentine’s day the worst of the winter is over.

ramp up
Ramp up hump

Outside I still haven’t completed the path round the hump.  Nearly there however, and the gradient of the ramp down has been improved by some of the turf that I have dug out of the widened path.  I have also made a bit of a ramp half way round as an alternative route down (although again this is not finished!).

I have a number of spruce and pine seedlings to bulk up the windbreaks and make some new windbreaks in the sparse area of ash.  Hopefully they will be surviving OK in the bag they are in at present, since they have been in there rather longer than I had intended.  The soil is rather claggy to be planting in as yet, although I have dug quite a few square holes in preparation.  I am also relocating some of the self seeded hazels that have planted themselves in less than desirable positions.  I have been making a little thicket of them on the lower south side of the main track loop.  This spot used to go by the unfortunate name of poo corner, since that was where Dougie usually felt inclined to relieve himself during a quick outing in the tree field.  It now has the alternate name of Harry’s corner, since we buried our cat Harris there recently.  He had a very quick illness, not we believe related to his ear condition, some sort of thrombosis that caused paralysis of the back legs.  He died probably of heart failure at the vets a day later.  Apparently it is often misdiagnosed in towns as traffic accidents, since the cats one minute are fine and the next are dragging their rear legs.  Anyway, now Harris has a hazel tree on his grave.

tree holes
Holes for windbreak improvements at top of tree field (baby monkey puzzle at left)

I have also started making holes along the main trackway.  I noticed the piles of cut grass that still were sitting along the track sides from last year, and it occurred to me that if I planted more berry bushes along there I could just rake up the grass and mulch them, rather than carting the grass to mulch somewhere else.  I’ve got some gooseberry and black currant cuttings that can be relocated, or I can strike some new ones this year still.

mulch mounds
Mulch spots along trackway

I received the seeds from the HPS seed scheme, and some from the Agroforestry Research Trust at the end of February, and organised them: ones to sow in spring, ones to sow straight away and ones that needed some stratification.  So some have been put away, some sown in pots outside or in the polytunnel and some have been placed in bags with damp tissue in the fridge to get a chilling.  Probably these could also have been sown outside mind you, since it is almost the same temperature out there as in the fridge!  Already some of my apple seeds have germinated in the fridge: saved from some UK grown russets and rather delicious cooking apples grown near Carlisle.  I’ll have to transfer those seeds from the fridge to pots outside as soon as possible to give them proper growing conditions.  I also noticed that some damson seeds I sowed from fruit eighteen months ago are now germinating in the polytunnel.  Although another job not finished, it’s nice to make a start on growing trees that may produce fruit for us in ten years or so!

seed sprouts
Sprouting apple seeds

I indulgently bought myself some plants that were not on my essentials list this year.  I found on ebay a seller of different Yacon varieties, who also had a different Mashua and Colocasia edulis as well as Apios americana and different tigernuts.  Well it seemed worth getting a few if I was going to get any!  They seem nice little tubers anyhow.  I have potted them all up in the polytunnel for the moment (except the tigernut which will want warmer conditions), and have also replanted a number of the Yacons I grew myself last year in one of the polytunnel beds.

new crops
New varieties

Unfortunately I’ve lost quite a few of my oca tubers to mice!  They had been sitting in a basket on the sittingroom windowsill, and I noticed this week the basket was somewhat emptier than it had been last time I looked.  Underneath the basket was a pile of tuber shavings!  I guess they liked the juiciness of the tubers, since they don’t seem to have eaten that much, just chewed them all up.  Some of the tubers were probably as big as the mice!  Luckily they didn’t find the different coloured tubers in their bags, so I quickly have planted four tubers to a pot in the polytunnel.  I selected four large and four small of the red tubers from Frances to see if that makes any difference to the plant yield.  It may take more than one generation to see a difference, if any, from selecting for tuber size.

I have also been digging up the kiwi vine: another nice indoor job, of which more later.  It will also soon be time to start sowing tomato and pepper seeds.  I think I have some seed compost left, but I am out of the multipurpose compost and will have to get some more for planting out seedlings and potting on.  Another trip to Portree looms I guess.

For my birthday S. bought me a rechargeable reciprocating saw.  I am hoping that it will be robust enough to use for most of the coppicing work.  A chainsaw would be a little daunting, and using a hand saw is slow work!  It has been too windy to think about cutting trees down (although it will soon be too late as the trees start to grow!), but I have christened the saw by cutting up the pile of coppiced trunks that were cut last year and have been drying up by the house.  I’m pretty pleased with it.  The battery pack it takes is the same as S’s tools he used on the cars, so that should be convenient.  It did seem to chew through the reserves when I used it, although that was probably more intensive work than the more thoughtful process of cutting trees down.

new toys
New toy tool

On another happy note, my windowsill orchid seems to have enjoyed it’s holiday outside last year so much that it has put up the first flower spike in ten years!  It did try when we first moved up here, but unfortunately I didn’t realise there was a flower spike, divided the plant and the flowers all dropped off.  This time it seem quite content to look out the window.  I must remember to holiday it outside again during the summers – it definitely looked greener and plumper than before.

not a stick
Indoor Orchid flowers

 

 

More than expected

As the new year started I felt it was time to dig up the Yacon tubers.  We still have not had another bout of hard frost and the weather continues damp and windy for the forseeable future.  They will not grow any more in the ground however, and I’m wanting to tidy things up in the polytunnel and work out where things want to go next year.

I knew that the upper plants in the polytunnel seem to have done much better than those planted later, but I was still astounded by the difference this appears to have made.  The early ones were planted on 26th March and the later ones on the 10th of June, having been in pots of compost until then.  Both were treated the same once planted and had the same watering and feed (a bit of dilute urine occasionally).

overwintering
Overwintering in small pots

The early ones grew much bigger above the ground, with the plants reaching higher than me – to 6 feet or so.  The later ones lagged behind, with the ones in the tunnel reaching about 4 feet, and the ones outside less than one foot.  The outside ones also suffered from wind burn and slug damage.

large yacon plants
Early planted Yacon as tall as the tunnel (flower is sunflower sorry!)

November was quite cold, with the frost starting to damage the foliage, especially of the outside plants.  By the end of December even the plants in the tunnel were blackened, with the stems pretty dead, although the crown of the plants showed pink still with life.

dead small yacon
Smaller Yacon died back from cold

To recap last year, I was pretty pleased with an average of about 8 ounces from 4 plants in the tunnel.  Those had overwintered in the tunnel, but had no additional food, and the watering probably was less consistent.  I also thought that they needed a bit more light, since the one closest to the overhanging mashua etc. was considerably smaller.

This year all the plants were harvested on 19th January.  The ones outside had very poor tubers.  Although the early summer was quite good, by the time I planted these out the best of the weather had gone, and the summer was typically cool for Skye.  I think at least 4 plants disappeared completely, and another 8 had no tubers at all worth eating.  Of the two plants I weighed, the tubers from one had two tubers at 3 ounces total, and the other one tuber at one ounce.  To be fair, I did not expect these to do well, and I only planted them out because I did not know what else to do with the plants!  I guess I need to be a bit more brutal and put excess plants in the compost.  Let this be a lesson!

harvesting tubers
Excavating treasure

The late planted plants in the tunnel did pretty well with an average weight of just over 14 ounces – the best had 30 ounces so a bit better than last year.  The real surprise was in the earlier planted plants.  I couldn’t believe it when I dug the first plant – they actually looked like those you see on the internet and in books for Yacon tubers.  Subsequent plants varied, but the average from these plants was over 96 ounces (2.74 kg).  Some single tubers were over one pound in weight and almost the size of my forearm!  The best plant had a yield of 159 ounces (4.5 kg).

large yacon harvest
Big tubers (all these from one plant)

I’m actually wondering what to do with this bounty!  I think I may take some down to the shop for people to try.  I’m also wondering whether they would dry well and make nice low calorie sweet snacks.  I know you can make low calorie syrup, but I’m not sure whether to bother with that.  So far I’ve just made a yacon and apple crumble which went down well.  The tubers should store pretty well for a month or so – they may get a little sweeter with time, so there is no hurry to use them up straight away.

A bit breezy

Once you have lived on Skye a little while, your body calibrates to a different scale of wind and temperature.  Anything above 18 degrees Celsius is “bikini weather” and the wind reaches 40 or 50 mph before we count it as “a bit breezy”.  In the last two weeks we have had two spells of “really quite windy” (= gusting to 80mph) with a few chicken houses blown over (more experienced people have them strapped down to the rock) an old tree down over the road, a tile or two blown off and an old shed exploded into bits.

We’ve got away quite lightly here: one or two holly trees rocking a bit, due to the ground being a bit damp and the normal die off of fine roots in winter, a lost tile that had been loose for ages, and few more splits in the polytunnel.

The big split originated from where the Apricot had stuck a branch through, so again it was mainly my fault for not mending the hole sooner.  The funny thing was the way it propagated straight down one of the creases from where the plastic had been originally folded.  It is interesting how that still acts as a stress concentration feature.

new tears
Split extension

Initially the split extended over one polytunnel bay and after the first winds last week I managed to stitch it together with my polytunnel tape.  This time I could reach by standing on a step stool on the outside.  Unfortunately I didn’t mend it well enough to prevent it from extending again in a second, slightier gustier wind last Tuesday.  That was a little tricky, since the adjacent bay went over the pond in the tunnel which made it a bit more exciting reaching it on the inside.  However with more stitching from the outside and fully covering on the inside with the last of my tape, the cover is reasonably ept again.

inside tunnel
Inside tunnel with previous repair

What I am pretty pleased about, is that the repair I did on the top of the tunnel last autumn does seem to have held well.  Although the cover is starting to resemble a patchwork quilt now, I am hopeful that it will be a little while yet before I have to replace it completely again.

Inside the tunnel most things have died back now, so when the weather is poorer I can look to tidy it up, harvest the Yacon (watch this space!), and evict the Kiwi.  Astoundingly my asparagus is still growing!  I’m not sure what to do about this.  Should I harvest the shoots now, or wait till later in the spring?  The shoots don’t seem to mature, they just get mildewed and die off….

asparagus shoots in Jan
Asparagus in early January

Oca harvest 2019

oca flowers sept
Oca flowers – end September

This is only the second year of growing oca, and the first year with more than a token amount.  Mostly I grew oca saved last year from those sent to me from Frances at Island threads, but I also had a selection of tubers from real seeds.  They had been planted direct in the pallet garden with no additional soil improvement and no attention after planting.  The oca from Frances grew pretty well and flowered in early autumn (you can see them at the front of the first photo in this previous post),  the multicoloured oca got a bit swamped by adjacent kale plants, so I wasn’t expecting too much from those.

first two plants
First two plants

I harvested two of Frances’ oca plants just before xmas.  One plant did pretty well with a total of 14 ounces, the other only had one ounce.  The first had several elongated tubers with fleshy stems, but top growth was very soggy and dead.  Some of the tubers showed regrowth at ends, some had side tubers.

crisps
Oca crisps

I roasted several large tubers with veg for dinner.  They did not crisp up (our oven tends to keep things a bit moist), giving a rather soft texture but pleasant lemony-potato taste.  I tried them thinly sliced and fried to crisp up, they had a very nice salt and vinegar crisps flavour.   When just thinly sliced and dried in lower oven they taste quite bland but a bit crunchy and hard in texture.  It would be difficult to cut them more thinly sliced which may help the texture.  Thinly sliced, rubbed in oil and roasted in a tray at the top of the oven, they again turned out like nice crisps, even though they were slightly burnt.

dried slices
Dried Oca

I dug up the rest of Frances’ tubers early in the new year.  There was still quite a bit of life in the upper growth, with some leaves still apparent.  December and early January has been very mild compared to November, and the oca plants were still hanging on!  I weighed the total weight of tubers, and counted them, then weighed the larger tubers (above about 1 inch) and counted those separately.  Of the total 10 plants subsequently dug up, the average total weight was 8 ounces, with a maximum of 16 ounces and a minimum of half an ounce (!).  There were an average of 17.3 tubers per plant (maximum 25, minumum 1).  When the larger tubers were separated out they accounted for very much the majority of the weight (average 6.2 ounces) despite only having a count of 8 and a half tubers.  This means that it probably isn’t worth fussing over the little tubers, most of the eating is in the easier to handle ones.

sorting and weighing
Sorting and weighing

Most of the tubers were clean even shaped and waxy red, however there were one or two that were flattened and distorted (fasciated), one that was bifurcated, and one plant that had several tubers with tiny side tubers (not counted as part of large tubers).  There was very little slug or insect damage.

fastigiated tuber
Fasciated tuber (on left, normal on right)

As expected, the harvest of the assorted coloured tubers was rather poorer.  I only found 11 out of the 12 tubers planted, one plant also only had two tiny pea sized tubers.  There was an average of 1.59 ounces total weight (5.45 count) and there were fewer tubers of a reasonable size.  I combined the tubers of similar colour and will try and grow them all again next year, and try and give them a bit more sunshine.  I think it was daylight rather than root competition that was the problem, since one of the better cropping plants had a lot of grass weed competition, but may have had more sunshine, since it was at the end of the row, so more exposed to the evening light.

multicoloured crop
Assorted Oca harvest

One of the pink tubered plants had a couple of tubers that were half one colour and half another.  I think this is a spontaneous mutation – I may be able to get plants of different colours by propagating the shoots of each half separately.

chimeara
Chimaera

Another experiment to try is to select and grow larger tubers from one set of plants and smaller tubers from another set of plants.  I should be able to see how many years it takes for selection of plants which grow smaller or larger tubers.  I will only be able to do this with Frances’ pink tubers, since I do not have enough of the other colours to try that with yet (numbers 6 and 8 I’ll be lucky to grow at all I fear).

Making a wreath

As requested, here is a description of how I go about making a wreath from willow, and  the results.  I’m not an expert, and the finished article will not last as well as some shop bought ones, since I used fresh rather than dried willow, so the shrinkage will be significant.  The shrinkage leads to loosening of the weave eventually.  I once went on a weaving workshop, and learnt a little of how difficult the craft actually is.  You may think it’s just a matter of bending a few twigs together, but the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.  I could probably knock up a wonky basket now if I needed to, but it is hard work on the hands and fingers.  You really need the sensitivity of working with bare hands, but also quite a bit of strength in the fingers to prebend the willow stems.

cut stems
Cut lengths of willow

Anyhow, I was just making a simple wreath, which is much easier.  You need at least three long stems of bendy twigs like willow.  For a rustic wreath a little branching will be fine, but the more flexible the twigs are, the easier it is to weave.  I had about eight stems that I had cut a few days previously.  If you leave them too long they will dry and become brittle, so will need soaking overnight in water to make them flexible again (this is what ‘real’ willow weavers tend to do).

Take a nice long one and first pass it through your fingers bending it inch by inch in a long curve.  If you bend it too much it will kink, but by bending a little it loosens up the stem fibres, so that the twig becomes more flexible.  This I find the most difficult and hardest part.  Somehow you get the feeling for when the willow is about to overbend, but this does take practise.  For something like this the odd kink will probably not matter, but if a fine cosmetic finish is required, then it may be worth practising on a few spare stems before you start on the real ones.

first loop
First loop

When the whole length has been prebent (maybe more than once to get an evenly flexable stem) take the thickest part and tie it in a knot: a loop of the diameter you want your wreath to be.  This time I made the wreath a bit smaller than last year’s (which is still adorning the top of the failed pea’s wigwam in the front garden).  I found that the larger wreath was knocked quite a bit when people opened the shop door, although larger wreaths are probably easier to make.  Once you have a loop of the desired size close to the thick end of the willow, tuck the thick end round again if necessary, until there is no protruding end, and do the same with the thin end.  Wind it round and tuck it through until you have the first thin loop made up of one single stem.

To make a thicker wreath, so that there are more stems to hold the greenery in place, take another willow stem, prebend it and wind it round the loop parallel to the first.  Repeat until the wreath is the desired thickness.

adding holly
Finished willow wreath and holly waiting

You can use whatever greenery you want to fill in the wreath. The stems need to be quite stiff to push in between the willow, or you could use a neutral coloured jute twine to tie them in.  I used holly, which I have plenty of growing well in the front garden.  I have used spruce before, but found that actually more prickly to handle.

bit of red
a touch of red

I don’t have any holly berries yet (only male flowers this year) but the wild rose hips from the front garden are lasting well and make a good substitute.  I got complemented on my lovely big holly berries!  I have used baubles and ribbons in the past as well.

shop wreath
Wreath on Glendale Shop door

 

The final wreath is hung on the shop door, and I hope that the birds and sheep will leave the berries in place for a week or so till twelfth night.

Living in the future

rainbow
Winter rainbow

It always astounds me at the end of the year to realise that we are in the twenty first century!  I haven’t quite got used to the 1990’s yet!  I haven’t been doing much recently at home.  Because of a staff shortage I have lost two of my afternoons off, combined with having extra to organise for Xmas, and poorly cats, it seems that I haven’t been very productive.  The weather in November was remarkably clement – dry and cold.  December has been a bit more typical with a bit of wind and rain (and some sleet, with a little snow settling on McCloud’s Tables).  The polytunnel repair stood up to winds of about 65mph this week, which I am pleased about.  I do wonder whether it will stand up to the cat standing on it, but since it was partly the cat that caused the damage I’m not too inclined to be sympathetic if it does go through.

oca tubers forming
Oca tubers developing at surface

The Yacon and Oca are really dying back.  I want to leave them as long as possible, while the weather remains fairly mild, so as to bulk up the tubers as much as possible.  I gather that even after the leaves have been killed by the frost, the stems will carry on feeding the oca tubers, and they grow significantly over a few weeks until the stems are completely gone.  I imagine that the Yacon is similar.  I will clear them out over Xmas, or at least before the frosts come back in January.

path round hump
Black line of path around hump

The tree field is just bare bones now.  I did a bit more digging around the hump, but haven’t had much time and the weather is not conducive to digging.  The path is coming on, and will really make walking along it more pleasant when finished.  When I go down the hill with Dyson I bring back an armful of kindling or a few larger branches of dry wood for the fire.  Once the kindling is in the shed for a few days it dries out nicely and starts the kitchen stove really well with a little newspaper.   A good session with a sawbench and bowsaw will be required to cut the branches to length though.

yellow pine
Golden Korean pine, with shelter and feed pellets

I managed to get in contact with the supplier of the yellow Korean pine trees and they think that the trees are just lacking in nutrients.  I’m reasonably happy with that explanation – they are quite big for the size of the pot they were in, so basically just needed potting on, or in this case planting out.  The supplier sent some slow release feed for the trees which I did use around them when planting them out.  Normally I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I’m looking on this as medicine for the trees, which will help them catch back more quickly.  If they do not seem recovered in early summer, I am to recontact the nursery.

I have planted the trees as three clumps of four trees.  One lot are planted adjacent to the one that I grew from seed, the others a little higher up the hill.  Pines are wind pollinated, so hopefully this will give me a better chance of getting pine seeds when the trees are big enough.  I have put tree shelters around each of the trees, which will hopefully stop them rocking around too much over the winter.  I also made a start at mulching them, but the weather stopped play again.  If I have an afternoon free from the shop, I generally get home about quarter to two in the afternoon, if we have a bit of lunch it is quarter to three before I get started on anything, and it is getting dark at four, so not much time to get things done outside!

peeling birch
Peeling birch

Several of the silver birch have quite suddenly developed white bark.  The darker bark has split off revealing really pale bark underneath.  Others still have quite dark bark underneath; they may not get pale like this, or they may turn silver when they get older.  It seems odd that the bark has split at this time of year.  You would have thought it would happen in the spring, as the sap rises, not in the autumn.  Maybe it’s like the leaves falling; materials getting brittle and parting company.  I’m thinking that I may be able to do crafty things with this lovely material, if and when we coppice these trees in the future.  Most of the birch are still a few years away from being big enough to be worth cutting down as yet.

 

Making its mind up

snow tops and dew drops

The weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at the moment.  We are swinging from hard frosts of -5 Celsius, to overnight temperatures of nearly +10 Celsius.  However, the frosts have been hard enough already to damage some of the sharks fin melon fruit.  Three of them had fallen off the vines before I could collect them, resulting in a little bruising, and a couple more were obviously frost damaged: The skin was soft and darker in colour.  Since these won’t keep, I have cooked a couple, and there are a couple in the fridge that I will cook sooner rather than later.  The noodley flesh, I have established freezes well.  There are also four good fruit that I have placed on the windowsill to keep for as long as I can.  Two of them however, I am not sure are sharks fin melon: they are darker green, and the flower scar is much bigger.  Either they are ripe fruit of the Tondo de picenze courgette that I didn’t spot climbing, or they are a sport of the sharks fin melon crossed with something else, or possibly the lost pumpkin nut squash.  I guess I’ll find out when I cut into them.

sharks fin melon 2019
Two on left dubious ancestry apparent

I have also harvested all the ripe goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) fruit.  There were many more on the plant that are not going to ripen now, and it is still flowering!  I have probably had about 15 or 20 fruit in total from the bush.  They are tasty, but maybe not that productive.  I have discovered that there is a dwarf form of goldenberry that may fruit earlier and so be more worthwhile.  I’ll maybe see next year if I can get seed for that, although getting my existing plant through another winter will be a priority.  I have bent over some of the branches to insulate the crown of the plant a bit, although the weather is mild again just at the minute.

goldenberry
Ripe goldenberry fruit

I also harvested all the chilli fruit off the plant that is in the ‘mediterranean area’ of the polytunnel.  It lost all it’s leaves in the cold, so I thought it was time.  I’m hoping that it will over winter OK there.  I have cut it back quite severely, and will put a cloche or fleece over it as well.  I do have the two other chilli plants in pots inside as back up.  Now I need to research how to preserve and use the chillies (ripe and unripe).  I’m thinking drying may be best.  In the meantime the fruit are in the fridge.

chillies 2019
Harvesting chillies

I also did a little bit of pruning in the treefield.  Some of the trees were overhanging the pathways enough to be a nuisance if driving a vehicle around, so I cleared these branches back.  There were also some self set willows down near the pond that made the track a bit narrow and an aspen that wasn’t very well anchored.  It rocked around in the wind leaving a hollow in the soil by its trunk.  I have taken this tree back to a stump, in the hope that when it regrows the top, the roots will also have strengthened.

aspen cut
Pruning overhangs and wobbly aspen

I took back one of the purple osier willows as well.  This time I left a short trunk.  These have a tendency to grow very spindly, as you’d expect from a willow grown for weaving!  I will use some of the longer stems I cut out as the basis for one or two Xmas wreaths.  Next year it should grown back strong and tall, with lots of potential weaving stems should I chose to do something a bit more exciting.  I have had a little weaving experience: enough to appreciate how much hard work it is!

purple osier
Purple osier stump and prunings

While I had the pruning saw and secateurs out, I cleared a new path in the front garden.  I can now go from the area under the trees by the front door to the top of the drivebank.  Hopefully this won’t affect the shelter from the wind too much.  There is a sycamore that had been pollarded some time before we came.  Possibly it had been damaged by the hurricane in 2004.  There is now quite a bit of regrowth from the bottom of the trunk, as well as branches further up.  I’ve left most of them, just cleared enough to get through.  I had to take a bit off one of the rowans as well.  I noticed that the japanese ginger that had sprouted there was looking a bit sad from the frost now.  The new path goes just past my new Mrs Popple fuchsia, which is starting to look a bit sad in the cold too.

cut through
Cut through to drivebank

 

 

Don’t do this

fasach view
Last leaves

I have been starting to buy some of the nice plants on my annual shopping list recently.  I have also added one or two that weren’t on the list but somehow I couldn’t resist!  I was very excited to find some Korean pine (Pinus Koraiensis) seedlings for sale at one of the forestry nurseries in Scotland.  They are quite slow growing pine trees, but should stand exposure and have large edible seeds on mature trees.  I have been trying to grow them from seed for a couple of years, but only managed to get one to germinate.  That was planted in the spring, down where the main trackway hits a T-junction near the river bend.  It seems to be still surviving despite being so tiny you can hardly tell it from grass seedlings!  The nursery also had some juniper seedlings at a fair price, so I added those on, winced at the delivery charge and awaited with excitement a package.

yellow pine
New saplings

The juniper seedlings look fine, but I’m not sure about the Korean pines.  They look decidedly yellow.  There could be a number of reason for this – lack of light, nutrients or they’ve sent me a yellow pine that may or may not be Korean pine.  I’ll give them a ring tomorrow and see what they say.  I don’t really want golden pines in my tree field even if they are Korean pines, and I don’t want to wait twenty years to find out they are not Korean pines either, since I am in the hope that they will produce edible seeds for me in my retirement.  In the meantime, I have been down and dug twelve tree planting spaces for the pines to go in: four by the lone pine and two other patches of four interplanting the edges of the dodgy Ash areas.  The baby trees are being hardened off by putting outside during the day and inside at night, on the chance that they are what they should be.

Whilst I was finding spaces for trees, I also checked on where to put the baby Junipers.  I thought that I had lost three of my six original seedlings.  Since I thought three was not enough of a population (you need male and female plants to set berries) I bought an  extra three seedlings.  However, whilst checking the previously planted Juniper and deciding where to put an extra three, I was happy to find one more of the original seedlings; making a total of four that have established well.  Unfortunately, I have also found, as I suspected when I planted them, that I am regretting using that carpet underlay to mulch them.  It was brilliant at staying put on the slope, and did a reasonable job of keeping down the weeds, but I hate the residual stringy bits that are almost all that is left of the original mats.  I have done my best to pull it out now, but the grass and weeds had embedded themselves pretty much through it, so it was a battle.

juniper mulch
Plastic threads from mulch around Juniper

I am now dreading the thought of removing the mulch mat roll that is fully entombed in grass from the original windbreak planting near the house.  I have been delinquent in not addressing that sooner, although I suspect that unless it was removed within a year it would still have been a horrid job to do.  It is easy for me to postpone a job like that that doesn’t seem constructive, if that makes sense?  I’m just glad I only used one strip rather than trying to mulch all the trees.

plastic mulch
Original mulch mat embedded in Alder

Having prepared an additional three planting positions for the juniper, I had a start at levelling the path that winds around the hump.  It follows one of the original sheep trails across the slope and makes it easier to ascend the steep bit of the hill.  It is really a little bit narrow, and is awkward in places, since it has quite a cross gradient which puts pressure on your ankles.  By taking a double spade cut of turf on the upwards side, and using that to back fill above and reinforce the path below, the path has virtually doubled in width.  I didn’t get very far this week, but feel it is worth persevering.  If I do the full path down to the flatter field below, we will be able to get the mower along the path, so making walking easier in the wet.

path cutting
Path widening

 

 

Five letter ‘F’ word

Any gardener in temperate regions will understand the reference above.  As autumn eases into winter we start to think about bringing in the last of the tomato fruit and tucking up more tender perennials to protect them from the cold.  For us on Skye it has been rather more of a jolt into winter than normal.  Early December is more likely to be the first penetrating frosts, but several times in the last week it has already been freezing hard as I come home from the shop at about half seven in the evening.  I have therefore spent an hour or so this afternoon tidying up a bit in the polytunnel.

frost wilt
Frost wilt

The Yacon are starting to look a bit sorry for themselves, as are the sharks fin melon vines and achocha.  So far the nasturtium and mashua are still looking fairly OK.  There were rather more sharks fin melon fruit than I spotted before.  I’m thinking I should really bring these fruit in before the frost damages them, but this time my priority were the achocha, which already look a bit the worse for wear.

hidden melon
Extra sharks fin melon spotted behind apricot

Some of the achocha fruit is definitely frost damaged, and since it is predominately close to the plastic skin of the tunnel, it will be about the coldest in the tunnel.  There was a lot of fruit from the Bolivian giant achocha.  Much of the smaller fat baby one is overripe for eating, it turns a more yellow colour, so I have left that for the moment, since I was limited for time.  I managed to get a large box of Bolivian giant, and a smallish punnet crammed full of the fat baby achocha.  I haven’t decided what to do with the fruit.  I don’t think we will get round to eating it all fresh, so I might use it in a chutney at the weekend (it’s lovely to have a glut of something at last!).  I have the marrow (that got slightly crushed when the ladder slipped as I was mending the polytunnel roof) and some overripe apples from the shop, as a good basis for some chutney.  I also found this post  which suggests making jam with it, from an adapted cucumber jam recipe.

achocha harvest
Last of the achocha

The tomatoes were looking a bit mouldery, so I cleared those out as well.  They hadn’t got frost damage, but it is too dark and cool for them to ripen off now.  Having removed the fruit and separated off the various supports, I could pull the plants out of the soil.  It is one case where it is worth removing most of the roots, since there are various soil borne diseases that affect tomatoes.  I do try and plant them in a different part of the tunnel each year, so that it is only in a bed for one year in four to give the soil a rest.  I’m pretty pleased that the roots of the supersweet 100 plants looked quite healthy.  In the past, particularly earlier in my growing in the tunnel, the roots have been stunted and corky, but these were definitely much better.  The multiflora tomato plants less so.  I’m not inclined to choose them again over ildi.  They seem to have been quite late ripening and the set was quite poor too for the number of flowers.

time over
Past time for harvest!

Although there was no sign of damage yet, I was nervous about the frost harming my unknown citrus tree (see previous post), so I wrapped that up in windbreak fabric after giving it a bit of a prune.  Hopefully that will keep the worst of the cold at bay.  In the photo you can see the tall Yacon is quite burnt by the cold.  I will leave it in situ and let the top growth protect the roots, which will still be developing the edible tubers (I hope).  The longer they are left the better.

citrus wrap
Citrus wrap

 

Seed surplus

seed windowsill
Drying seeds

As usual, this year I have been collecting and saving seeds of various plants around the holding, for propagation and to give away.  This is a list of seeds I have surplus of, so please let me know if you would like to try any of them.  They are a mixture of wild and cultivated, annuals and perennials.  Also, if I have mentioned anything elsewhere that you would like me to save seed or take cuttings of that I haven’t this year, I can maybe do next year for you.

Wild flower seeds (all Skye natives):

meadowsweet
Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Pignut (Conopodium majus)

Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

Self heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Bushvetch (vicia sepium)

Red clover (Trifolium sp.)

Perennial vegetable seeds:

Good king henry (chenopodium bonus henricus)

flowers 2019
Hablitzia flowers 2019

Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides) (from my habby bed by the workshop!)

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Salsify (Tragapogon porrifolius)

Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) (seed from surviving second year plant)

Annual vegetable seeds:

Achocha fat baby (Cyclanthera pedata I think)  This is smaller, but sets fruit sooner than the other achocha.

Achocha Bolivian giant (Cyclanthera brachyastacha I think). This has fewer, much larger fruit and takes longer to grow.

Achocha Bolivian giant (from smooth fruited plant, I don’t know how the offspring will be!)

bolivian giant fruit
Bolivian giant: smooth and not smooth!

Note: all these achocha have been grown in the same polytunnel in close proximity, so if they can cross they may have.

Carlin pea (Pisum sativum)

Others:

Flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

blue lupin
Blue lupin opening flower spikes

Blue lupin (probably Lupinus perennis)

Milk vetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos)

Some of these I have more seed of than others, so let me know quickly if you are very keen on anything in particular.