It seems to have been a slightly better year for butterflies and moths this year. I have seen more that I remember in previous years, or maybe I’m just able to be out in the sun at the right time. As well as male common blue butterflies I saw a female this week. Confusingly her colouring is much more multicoloured than the male, and I thought she was a different species until I looked her up.
For the last few weeks I have noticed small black and red moths perched at the top of the gully bank in the sunshine. Taking a closer look at this one the wings seemed quite transparent. I think they are six spot burnet moths.
A bit further down the bank on the heather bush I found this cocoon, so I think these are new moths just hatching and puffing up their wings (I’m sure there is a proper name for that process!). Apparently the caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil, which I have fairly widespread over the holding, particularly where the grass is slightly shorter and the soil shallower.
I was pleased to get this photo of this chimney sweeper moth. They are always quite a number of them at this time of year in the grass, but they are easily disturbed and, being small and dark, slightly difficult to focus on. You can see how they come by their name – like flecks of burnt paper blowing about the grass! The tips of the wings are rimmed with white, but the rest of the insect is sooty black. The caterpillars feed on pignut flowers and seeds – so there is certainly plenty of that for them!
This caterpillar I was also very happy to see. Especially so when I looked it up. It is the caterpillar of the emporer moth. Which is a rather impressive moth with big eyespots on the wings. The moths are usually about in April, but I’ve only seen an adult once or twice previously. At least this caterpillar proves that there are still some adults about. The caterpillars feed on heather, bramble, hawthorne as well as several other trees so should have plenty of menu options here.
Finally a little show of some of the the other moths, butterflies and caterpillars recently seen, that I’ve been able to photograph and tentatively identify. None are particularly rare, but each is a bit of magic.
We go through a period at midsummer where the spring flower start to fade and the late summer flowers are yet in bud. The grass is overtall and swamps the smallest trees sometimes smothering them out. We were too busy with construction projects to keep a path mown through the trackways recently. Last week, after the damp grass made my feet so wet that I was able to wring water out of my socks even in wellies, I had to do some mowing!
We had a dry spell Sunday and Monday so S. made a start before lunch and I carried on on Tuesday and was able to put a single mower track down the middle of most of the rides and backways. I made a new backway that I call the white orchid path, which matches up with one S. made to cut down from the middle to the pond area from near the royal oaks. There is only one white orchid there, which I noticed for the first time two years ago. It was quite a distance from the trackway, so it is nice to be able to take a closer look. It’s just a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) I think, but it’s more unusual for them to be white rather than pink.
The dogs are very good about machinery, they know to trot behind, or do their own thing, however when it comes to raking up the cut grass Dyson is a bit of a pain. His game is to try and catch the rake head (or broom or vacuum nozzle) which makes the job about twice as long! I ended up putting them in for an afternoon nap, so I could get on more quickly. I hate all that mulch material going to waste rotting on the path and killing grass where I don’t want it killed. I have been raking it up into piles, then the dogs can help (they think they are helping) piling it around some of the newer or more vulnerable trees and shrubs. I’ve still got quite a bit to do, and two or three smaller paths haven’t been mown yet.
It was nice to see several mushrooms, a sign of the fungal mycelium below which distributs nutrients around the field. I guess they will be changing from grass and orchid loving fungi to tree loving fungi, but there is still quite a amount of open space from one cause or another. I also saw several butterflies, caterpillars, a dragonfly and a frog. The advantage of the scythemower is that, as well as coping with overtall grass, it is less likely to kill wildlife, since it cuts in one direction rather than circularly.
I think I’m going to have to assume that this wild cherry (below) is not going to recover. It got hit by late frosts, which are pretty unusual here, just as the buds were unfurling. I did think it would stage a comeback, but it doesn’t look like it now. There are several suckers from adjacent trees, at least one coming up in the trackway, so I could transplant one of these to replace it. Alternatively, I could put something else there.
I can’t convince myself there are tomato fruit yet, however the tomato plants are flowering well. Since I hadn’t supported them, one or two had fallen over. Usually I use a length of string to the crop bars in the polytunnel, but this time I pulled out my lovely spiral plant supports and used those for three of the plants. These supports were a present a (cough) number of years ago and although lovely, I could never justify buying any more. You simply put the plant up the middle, and guide it into the spiral as it grows taller. For the other tomato plants I used the old washing line that snapped earlier this year. It is plastic wrapped, so should be soft enough on the plants’ stalks, and may last a few years yet.
I’m pretty happy with the tomato plants. They look nice and healthy so far, with plenty of flowers developing. Maybe I’m starting to get the hang of growing them! I think some are getting a bit shaded by the kiwi and the artichoke, so I cut the artichoke back to remove all the flowering stalks to give the tomatoes a bit more space, and pinched out a few more of the vigorous kiwi shoots.
I also had a tidy round the bed opposite one lot of the asparagus. There was a quite a bit of perpetual spinach going to seed there, so I cut back all but one of the plants. The hoverflies love the flowers. Although they are not showy – just green, they have a lovely fragrance. I noticed another physalis goldenberry plant in the bed there. It had been completely hidden in the undergrowth. Not as big as the other physalis plant (which has a flower open!) it seems to have been nibbled a bit at the base, so maybe this is regrowth.
Whilst I was there, I saw a solitary yellow bee happy at work on the milk vetch flowers. She would pull the lower lip down, suck out the nectar and move on to the next flower, until she had done the whole flowerhead. I planted the milk vetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos) to create a nitrogen fixing ground cover around the asparagus, and some of the other perennial plants in the polytunnel. It tends to want to climb in a scrambling sort of way, so I should probably have pinched out the growing tips to make it more bushy. The flowers again aren’t that special, being a pale yellowish green, but obviously appreciated by the bees! I may try and save some seed again this year. If it will grow as well outside as in the tunnel, it would be nice bulky legume for covering the soil in the summer. It does die down in winter however.
The bramble is trying a flanking movement and has sent out a couple of long shoots down the side of the tunnel. It doesn’t seem to fruiting so well this year, so I wonder whether it would be worth re-routing one of these branches to replace the main stem again. The pruning guides all suggest renewing the stem every year, which I generally don’t bother with. I’ve done it once before, when I accidentally cut through the main stem whilst pruning out new shoots. It’s still a bit early to really tell what the crop will be like, although I have noticed at least one ripe fruit. Perhaps I’ll keep one of the new stems for the time being and assess the yield later.
I’ve lost one of my apricot fruit but the other is hanging on still. It is slightly paler in colour now, but I’m trying to resist touching it in case it also falls off. I know I’m pushing it a bit having apricots this far north, but I did read about monks in Orkney that have apricots in their polytunnel, so I’m not alone in my optimism!
I have several sorts of curcubit in the polytunnel. There were three courgettes (just using up old seed) two long and one round one. I’ve lost the single ‘black beauty’ courgette that I planted out – I think Lou-Lou made a bed with it! The others all look like they are doing fine. One of the ‘Tondo de picenze’ plants already has a female flower developing which is nice – usually the first flowers are all male. These are round courgettes; hopefully it will set. The sharks fin melon are also looking OK; maybe a bit weedy but it is early days yet – they are starting to show signs of wanting to climb. I couldn’t find the labels for the pumpkin nuts (a hull-less pumpkin for seed), so am not sure where that is! Around the courgettes there is a nice groundcover of baby kale, chickweed and leef beet. It doesn’t seem to be doing any harm yet, but I can pull a bit out around the plants and either eat, or use the weedings as mulch.
I am worried about my cucumbers though. I haven’t tried growing them for a few years; although small ones would be useful to sell in the shop, we don’t really eat them ourselves. These were cucumber ‘Tamra’ from real seed, and I don’t think they have put on much growth at all since being planted out. I’m wondering at the moment if they are more susceptible to the dreaded spider mite. I know I have this in the tunnel – It was particularly a problem in the early years, attacking the grape vine, courgettes and aubergine plants. I don’t bother with aubergines any more (although never say never!). It may be that it has just been a bit cold for cucumbers. I think they prefer it a little warmer, and we’ve not had much sun this week, and only a couple of warm days last week too.
I’ve not done much around the holding this week because Douglas, our dog, is recuperating from an operation. This means I am spending much of my time in the house keeping him company, since he mustn’t do any running or jumping at present. Hopefully he will make a good recovery, but at the moment has some healing to do.
I have been taking our other dog, Dyson, out for intensive runs in the tree field to make up. The summer orchids are starting again to show their impressive flowerheads, and I am marking the ones near or on the trackways with sticks, to try and avoid them being trodden on or mown. However, this post I wanted to highlight some of the little, less showy wild flowers that tend to get forgotten about. Individually the flowers may be small, but often they flower prolifically and make the trackways look like a medieval garden lawn. Not all of these photos were taken this week.
The obvious one is the pignut, but that almost qualifies as a large flower, albeit made up of tiny ones, but I have posted about it before. Another that gives most of the field a golden brightness is the buttercup. I have both creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), and meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), in the tree field.
I may have the third UK buttercup, globe buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), since it does grow on Skye, but I have not identified it here yet. When the sun catches the buttercup flowers they are a delight, even if the creeping buttercup is probably my most annoying weed in the areas I am trying to grow things. Mostly because its leaves come away from the roots, which will then regrow. The fact it can spread about 4 feet a year is also a nuisance for a rather laid back gardener like me.
I would include white clover (Trifolium repens), in the small flowers category. The pink clovers quite often have such flamboyant flowers that they stand out alone. White clover tends to be a bit smaller and lower lying, although forms large swathes of blooms on the trackways. It is a food source for the common blue butterfly as well as a nitrogen fixing plant.
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is rather like a tiny purple deadnettle. Sometimes you can see the bright purple of the flowers, and sometimes just the magenta flowerheads. I found one on the mound that had white flowers, but have not seen it since the first year of sheep eviction.
One of my favourite flowers, speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), is definitely a small flower. I love the colour, an enhancement of the sky above (if not clouded!). Every now and then I come across a good clump of it and it brightens my day. It is a food source for heath fritillary butterflies. Although the flowers are tiny, the colour is so vibrant it is difficult to miss. They also change colour from pink to blue, as they age, which I find fascinating.
When looked at in detail the flowers of eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis agg) are just a beautiful as any orchid. Pale pink snapdragon flowers have a yellow landing strip for insects but are only a few millimeters across. They also only open one or two at a time on the flowerheads. Unfortunately being so small they are easily overlooked, like those of mouse ear (Cerastium fontanum).
One of the things I like about writing up my ‘blogs is that I almost always learn something by researching what I wanted to write about. For example another plant disliked by gardeners is cinquefoil. It was quite a nuisance weed for us on the allotment in Solihull, but didn’t seem to be such a pest for me here. The reason being the Potentilla we have here is tormentil: Potentilla erecta, as opposed to cinquefoil which is Potentilla reptans. Tormentil flowers usually have four petals (rather than five for cinquefoil) and the leaves are usually stalkless unlike cinquefoils leaves. There is quite a bit of this growing in the tree field. It is actually out-competing the grass in some of the areas where the soil is thinner.
Lastly for now I will mention thyme (Thymus polytrichus). A bit like heather it is ubiquitous in the highlands and I am always breaking out into ‘wild mountain thyme’ when the sun shines! Here it grows across the rocks and scree, and I am hoping it will take on my drivebank wall with some encouragement. It makes a great cushion of purple and often is found on the banks of the burn together with heath bedstraw, a tiny cousin of cleavers that forms a cushion of white.
So how are the perennials in my polytunnel fairing?
Five flavour berry (Schisandra chinensis): I have three different varieties of this, but they are all quite young plants. One did have a single flower. but it doesn’t look like it has set any fruit. One is a seedling and the other two are supposed to be self fertile. Normally you need two different plants to get berries.
Olive (Olea europaea): This has survived the winter (it was pretty mild generally). It has lots of new growth, which I have been pinching back so it grows more bushy than leggy. It seems quite happy. I have it growing in the soil in the polytunnel, but haven’t watered it this year. I am assuming that it’s roots will seek out enough water going sideways at the edges of the tunnel. I thought it wasn’t going to flower this year, but this week I spotted a single bunch of flowers. This is a little disappointing, since last year there were lots of flowers (but no fruit). Maybe as it gets older it will be able to flower more. The flowers this year were on last years’ growth, whereas last year they were on same year growth I think.
Apricot: I have given this an early summer prune, according to the RHS website instructions (as best I could). Last year I didn’t prune it hard enough, so the fan frame is a bit leggy. I may have to cut back some of the branches quite hard to rejuvenate it later this summer. The early summer last year was just too nice to be inside! I did get loads of flowers in spring this year, and two green fruit are still there.
Fuchsia berry: This overwintered alright having survived sitting in it’s pot for too long last year. Now it is in the soil it is growing quite well. It has a funny trilobal growth habit. which I don’t know if it will grow out of, although I knocked one of the branches off whilst watering! No sign of flowers this year yet. I stuck the broken branch in the soil, near the parent plant. Maybe it will root.
Asparagus: These confused me by not dying down for the winter! This meant that they didn’t get a rest period when I could mulch them (if I was organised) and watch for the new shoots in spring. I compromised when tidying that part of the tunnel, by cutting back the old shoots, but I didn’t think the subsequent shoots were really fat and prolific enough to take any this year. Some of the new leaves now have flowers. I’ll have to check what sex they are. These plants were grown from seed in about 2015 and have been in position now for two years. I have two varieties: Connovers colossal and Argenteuil early. I think that Connovers colossal is slightly the more robust looking overall, although it is probably too soon to be sure.
Artichoke: The globe artichoke is flowering well again. I thought they were going to be a little small, but the first buds are a fair size now. I am thinking of selling them in the shop, since S. isn’t that fussed about eating them. I could give them a few days and then have them for my lunch if they don’t sell. I’m not sure what to price them at – probably about 80p each. I have also planted two seedlings on the drivebank, and have one ready to plant in the tunnel on the opposite side.
Goldenberry: I thought that I had two plants that survived the winter. They had died back to the base and I covered them with dead plant material to insulate them a bit. In fact it now looks like one of these is actually a weed plant which pops up both in the tunnel and outside. I think it is nipplewort. When they were both smaller they looked very similar, but now the difference in leaf shape and texture is obvious, and the weed is preparing to flower, unlike the golden berry! I think I may have weeded another goldenberry out when preparing to plant the sweetcorn. It was quite small, so may not have done well anyhow. So far I have proved that they will overwinter in a pretty mild winter, it remains to be seen whether I will achieve any sort of harvest from the one plant this year. It is certainly more developed now than seedlings would be.
Akebia: These seem to have overwintered pretty well. Both those in pots and those in the ground in the polytunnel have survived OK. They were grown from seed last year, but it doesn’t look like they die back herbaciously; they remained green despite being very small. I accidently cut back one that was growing next to the apricot, which was probably doing the best previous to that. The foliage is not that easy to spot. I expect it will take a few years before I get flowers or fruit. I planted two little plants outside on the drivebank and they seem to be quite happy there, although not growing quite so fast. It will be interesting to see if they will over winter for me there also.
Apios americana: I thought this would be a bit more robust than it has turned out to be so far. I grew it outside in the dog resistant garden a couple of years ago, but it dissappeared the first winter. I think it may like it a bit warmer, so am trying it in the polytunnel. I am worried however that it may prefer it rather damper than I generally make it in there, since one of its names is “swamp potato”. I wonder whether it would prefer it in a pot in the pond? Anyhow, I have a few tubers from Edulis growing in the bed adjacent to the apricot. They seem to start growing quite late, even in the polytunnel, only emerging at the start of June this year. I have found two shoots so far, I think there is one small tuber that is still to appear.
Grapes: Both grape vines are starting to flower now. The new one seems to have quite big bunches. There was a little scorching from overnight frost on the new growth earlier in the year, but no real damage. I have done an initial pruning: pinching out the spurs a couple of leaves beyond the flowers and taking off a few overcrowded spurs. I haven’t yet thinned out the bunches of grapes. They should be thinned to one bunch every eighteen inches or so. I think that won’t be necessary yet for the new vine, but the old one, Boskoop glory, is quite prolific so could do with a bit of thinning out.
Kiwi: Given a reprieve and being shortened, the vine has flowered beautifully. I do like the blossom; like huge cream apple blossoms that darken to peach as they fade. I’m still not sure it is worth the space, even though I have shortened it quite drastically this year. But the flowers are pretty. It is still a little early to say how good the fruit set will be.
Bramble. The first flowers on this are fully open just now. I could do with a few more training wires near the lower door to tie back the side branches to. Hopefully I won’t have such problems with flies this year, we’ll see.
Strawberries: The first fruits were the biggest! I shared the first two with S., but he doesn’t know about the others that never left the tunnel. Only one of the plants is really doing well. I find it difficult to keep them watered enough over the winter. I have transplanted into the tunnel some more plants that came from this one that have been growing in pots outside. They are blooming well, so may set a few fruit if I’m lucky.
I didn’t manage to overwinter my sharks fin melon two years ago, although potentially it is perennial. I also didn’t get any seed to germinate last year, but this year my saved seed germinated second time trying. I’m wondering whether to try digging up the parent plant after harvest, cutting it back and moving it indoors for the winter. It may mean an earlier start to growth and flowering, although it may be a pain to accommodate the plant frost free in the earlier part of the spring.
I did manage to overwinter three little chilli pepper plants that AC gave me. They had been on the study windowsill, being watered occasionally, since last spring. They gave the tiniest little chillies, that AC says are very hot, so I am rather nervous of using! One plant I cut back quite severely in early spring, the others were left. The one that was cut back seems to be budding up already. This one I repotted into a slightly larger pot with fresh compost as I did one of the others (whilst cutting that one back slightly too). These are in the tunnel now, as is the third which I have planted out into what I am thinking of as my Mediterranean bed. This is the area next to the Olive tree. I have a bench there (although it tends to get used as a dumping ground rather than a seat) and have also planted the three surviving Astragalus crassicarpus plants there. The idea is to plant things that require little water there. I don’t think the chillies will survive in the tunnel over the winter, but I may leave this one in, to see how it does. If the ground is dry it may well survive better. I have grown some less fiery, hopefully larger chillies from seed, which are now planted out. I will try potting these up in the autumn after (hopefully) fruiting to try and over winter these inside.
I never did harvest the mashua in the tunnel. I don’t think it did so well after the hot early summer last year. Although it should have overwintered OK, most of the plants seem to have disappeared over the winter. Just one bed is growing away strongly. I guess that the tubers did not form well on the other plants. I did miss at least one tuber in the tea garden extension. The foliage is very distinctive when it starts to grow! I also have a couple of oca plants growing in the tunnel, so it looks like I missed a couple of those tubers too! One of the dahlias is growing in with the tomatoes; another unharvested plant which has overwintered well. The passion flowers haven’t made it however. I should probably have overwintered them inside until the plants were a bit bigger. Maybe next year I’ll try growing some new plants.
The Yacon(s) I potted up when I harvested the tubers, splitting the crowns slightly, where they naturally wanted to break. I potted them into smallish pots in compost in the tunnel. Some were planted into the polytunnel beds either side of the Apricot, they are still pretty small. The rest are actually still in pots. One of my jobs to do is to plant these outside, although this should probably have been done a while ago, it has been so cool since March I don’t think they would have done very much growing!
One of the last plants to mention are the pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) These are growing quite lush in the lower part of the tunnel. I have been nipping back the tips of the growth to encourage a bushy habit, since I read somewhere they have a tendency to become leggy. There is no sign of flowering this year! The flowers are also supposed to be tasty, even if the fruit doesn’t ripen. I say these are one of the last, since I am hopeful that the tulip bulbs planted adjacent to the pineapple guava will come back again next year. It is not the bulbs of tulips that can be eaten, but the petals. The flowers are toxic for cats, and some people also can have a bad reaction apparently. I did have a munch on some of the petals, and they were fine – a little sweet and quite juicy. It just seems a bit of a pity to pick flowers for eating somehow!
This was going to be an update on the polytunnel, but I’m excited about some things in the tree field, so those come first.
Usually the dryish weather lasts into the middle of June, but this year it has broken a bit early. There was a nice bit of rain last weekend, and again through this week so the burns and the river are now overflowing.
The first exciting thing then (not chronologically, but logically) is that the pond at the bottom is once again full. During the week it just had a little puddle from it’s own catchment, but either the shallow springs are going again and/or the burn on that side is full enough to have water all the way down (often it disappears again on the way down). This would have been quite exciting, but more exciting (especially to the dogs unfortunately) was what we found on the pond. The dogs saw them first, and then I saw a lady mallard flying off with a squawk over the fence to the river. Left behind were about three frantically cheaping baby ducks. They are very tiny, and I have no idea where the nest is. I’m thinking it must be on the river bank, otherwise the dogs probably would have found it before now. The pond would have made quite a nice nursery swim for the babies if it wasn’t for my bad dogs. The river is in full spate after the rain, so the little ones would be swept quite away. Eventually the dogs came to me. They had been more interested in the mother than the babies, so noone was hurt. Hopefully the mum would soon have returned to the babies again. We’ll have to keep the dogs away from the pond for a bit. This is difficult, as due to some building work, part of the deer fence to the garden area is down at the moment. I was going to put some temporary fencing up anyhow, so I’ll escalate that task for when the rain clears.
On the way back up the hill again I was on the lookout for something that I had found the previous day. On the grass there had been what I thought was a tiny rotten birch twig. I wondered how it had got there and had turned it over with a twig that I was hoping to mark orchids with. To my surprise the twig moved! Not a twig but a largish moth! On that occasion I did not have my camera with me (it was raining!) so I was very glad to find the moth still in the (birch) tree to which I had moved it. Looking it up later I found it was a buff tip moth. Although quite common in the south of the UK it is less so in the north.
The other interesting thing, is that I may have seen this moth as a caterpillar. I didn’t post about it at the time, but last summer I noticed one or two alders that had clumps of caterpillars in them. They were distinctive in the way they formed a mass of caterpillars. I’m pretty sure now that they were buff tip caterpillars, so it is nice to see that at least one made it to adulthood. They pupate in the soil, so that may be why this one was on the ground. It must have just emerged.
The rain has come in good time to keep watering the seedling trees I have planted in the tree field. As well as the tiny spruce, I have also relocated about a dozen tiny rowans (why do they like to germinate in the driveway!), a couple of sycamore (ditto!) and several plums, damsons and apples from shop fruit that was past it’s best, or used for jam making. The latter’s seeds had been placed in small seed trays (actually fruit punnets) outside and I got quite a few germinating this spring. Rather than leave them to starve in the seedtrays I was able to plant them out last week, with a proper double spade square hole. They may not have good fruit that ripens here, but they may at least have blossom to cross pollinate my orchard fruit. I could try and graft good fruiters onto the trunks in the future. I am hopeful that the damson seedlings and the plums that we ate in late september in Devon may have useful fruit, if only for jamming.
When we planted the trees in 2011 we experimented with planting comfrey around some of them to see if they would act as a living mulch. I had found this quite successful in Solihull around established soft fruit so, since we had been having difficulty finding enough time to mulch the newly planted trees, I wondered whether this would be an easy way to keep the grass down. We just stuck ‘thongs’ of comfrey, of which I had plenty growing in the fruit garden, into the turf about two feet from the trees. It wasn’t that successful as it turned out. We found that although most of the comfrey took OK, it was a few years before they could out compete the grass, and by that time the trees were already established. They do make lovely flowers for the bees though through the summer.
I had read in one or two of my books that other people had found that a bank of comfrey several plants deep could be used as a weed barrier around planting areas. Last year I planted several thongs below the newly mulched orchard area to the north of the trackway, in the hopes that these would eventually keep out the worst of the couchgrass. It is dramatic that the only ones that have grown well have been the ones adjacent to the mulch. The ones planted with turf on each side are still really tiny (although mostly still there). I don’t remember there being any difference between them when planted out. So on my mental list of things to do is to mulch between the comfrey there if I get time. It’s probably not a high priority, since the comfrey will probably still grow and in a year or so form a canopy by itself.
The grass has grown lush and green with the rain, and the buttercups and pignut have started flowering. So pretty with the rain dewdrops sparkling in the sun. The buttercups seem particularly profuse in the area just below the orchard, and the pignuts in the southernmost strip along Jo’s field. The midges are here now too, so the rain is definately a mixed blessing. We change to longer hours next week in the shop next week so I will have to get to bed a bit earlier. The sun was still setting at about 9.20 last night. I could still see the sunlight on the hill opposite us.
I need to do a bit of research at the moment on Japanese cookery. Particularly the use of Japanese spring mountain vegetables or Sansai (山菜). There are a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, these are predominately perennial plants gathered from the wild in Japan (or at least that was the case originally) and I am interested in perennial plant food sources. Secondly, the climate in the mountains of Japan is a little cooler than elsewhere in Japan and these plants are likely to do OK in the UK.
Typically sansai are the fresh sprouts of leaves and flowers of perennial plants and trees that are cut and eaten when young. Many of the plants are already grown in the UK as ornamental garden plants, and most Britons do not know that they can also be eaten. As we also know, everything can be edible once, and edible does not always mean tasty.
For example there are believed to be links between the eating of warabi (bracken ferns, pteridium aquilinum) and various cancers, although this site says that prepared correctly, and eaten in moderation, they are both delicious and safe. My mum says she tried bracken fern only once, so I guess she was not impressed, but maybe she did not prepare it correctly. I think I may give it a miss just now though. I do love to see it at this time of year as the bracken angels unfurl. Eating it as I weed out the young shoots could be tempting!
I’ve found a couple of lists of sansei online: shizuoka gourmet and organic growers school for example, although some of these are not necessarily spring vegetables. These are the plants I am most tempted by, with the Japanese vegetable name if known:
Indian cucumber root Medeola virginiana
Ostrich fern Matteucia struthiopteris, kogomi
Honewort Cryptotaenia canadensis, mitsuba
Bamboo Phyllostachys spp.
Japanese spikenard, Aralia cordata udo and yamaudo (bundle of blanched shoots) see here for example
Japanese pepper tree Zanthoxylum piperitum kinome
Angelica tree shoots Aralia elatatara no me
Japanese sweet coltsfoot, giant butterbur (unopened buds), Petasites japonicus giganteus,fukinoto
Plantain lily Hosta fortuneikiboushi, Hosta montanaurui, and Hosta sieboldiana
Indian plantain Cacalia delphiniifolia, C. hastata ssp. orientalis shidoke, or momijigasa
I already have varieties similar to the following:
Solomon’s seal Polygonatum commutatum and P. odoratum amadokoro
Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia
Chocolate vine (fruit) Akebia
Dogtooth violet Erythronium japonicumkatakuri
Orange daylily Hemerocallis fulvaNokanzou
Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga, Mioga
Japanese horseradish, Wasabia japonica, Wasabi
Most of these are still being established so I am yet to try some of them. The wapato tubers are slimy to clean, but taste innocuous like potatoes when cooked. Solomons seal shoots were very bitter – I only cut a couple of shoots, so next year I will try changing the water. Beneath the bitterness there was a sweet taste so I think they are worth trying again.
I’m not sure whether we will like wasabi, normally we’re not big eaters of mustard or horseradish, however when I read about it, wasabi seems to like conditions very similar to Skye’s normal weather – never above 15 celsius or below 5 celsius and wet all the time! All it will require is protection from the strong winds. Having an interest in expensive dining (having the three chimneys restaurant just over the hill from us) I thought it would be fun to try anyhow. I have sourced plants from two different UK sources (hopefully about 4 varieties in total). These I have put in an old wooden tub. I changed half the compost for fresh peat free commercial compost. The old stuff had been half and half soil and compost. Mixed in, I hope it will be good enough for the wasabi plants. They haven’t keeled over and died straight away, so I am hopeful that the bit of afternoon sun they will get on this corner of the house won’t be too much for them. I tried a bit of leaf and stem, and these were surprisingly mild in flavour, so perhaps we will get to eat some of the harvest after all!
It’s been staying dry. Not bone dry but misty-isle dry. We’ve had a bit of mizzle, even some proper rain, but not enough to make the burns run again yet. It’s a bit odd that the burns went dry so soon. I can only assume that it must have been quite a dry winter – although it didn’t seem that way at the time. This year the pond by the river has dried up completely. I don’t know whether our tadpoles managed to survive or not…. We are forecast to have rain again on Saturday night, so maybe it will be enough to water the plants a bit. So far, the rain just makes the surface of the soil wet, rather than soaking in. Luckily our burn in the gully is fed by a deep spring so although down to a trickle, it still flows. I am using one of the pools there as a dipping pond; filling the watering can there when I do the patrol with the dog-boys. Then I can use the water on my pot plants or in the polytunnel.
The bluebells are now putting on a lovely show in the tree field. In places it looks like a bluebell wood! Since it has also been staying quite cool (about 9 degrees celsius overnight and 11 during the day) the flowers are lasting well.
I am starting to see the orchids coming up in various places. Some I remember from year to year, others are a surprise. Unfortunately one of the big ones (probably a hybrid) in Dougie’s field got caught by frost. That’s the first time I know that has happened. Where I see them in the trackways, I have been marking them with sticks again so that S. can easily avoid them if he takes the mower down again.
I am hopeful that we have had a better set of cherries this year. It is still too early to tell yet really, however there definately seem to be cherries on this tree in the orchard area, and although I thought the morello in the fruit garden had none, I can now see those developing too.
More of the first planted trees are reaching maturity. There is blossom on more of the hawthorne, and wild cherries. Also and for the first time, there was blossom on at least one of the cherry plums, and a couple of saskatoons. Maybe they liked the warm weather last year, or maybe they have just reached a critical size. I don’t expect that there will be much, if any fruit, but it bodes well for future years. One of the more exciting flowers for me was one of the hollies in the front garden has blossomed. Holly trees are usually either male or female, and judging by the pollen on these flowers this plant is a male. No berries yet then this year, but hopefully one or more of his neighbours will be female, and eventually there will be berries.
At this time of year the sycamores also come into bloom. They are not really showy flowers, just a pale green chandelier, but the insects love them. As you walk round the garden you become aware of a humming, and it is coming from the sycamores. As well as bees there are wasps feeding on the pollen, and hoverflies and other flies.
On the drive bank things seem to be holding on. It has been difficult to water the plants on a slope, but they all got watered in pretty well when planted, so hopefully will survive OK. The cooler weather means they are less stressed anyhow. The bulbs leaves have faded as expected, and some of the tiny escallonia have flowers! There are some signs of seeds germinating, the buckwheat and calendula I can identify, but there are also weed seeds as expected. Not much grass yet so that’s good. It will be nice to see the earth covered.
My hablitzia are springing forth. I think that this year I will try harvesting some, so watch this space….
I’ve been on holiday this week. My friends AC and DC have been staying locally and have been pottering round with me. The weather has just turned from cool and dry to warm and dry, hence the title. I have been practically running round naked, (which I think of as when I’m down to single layers of clothing) and actually showing my knees today! There is no danger of frost now, but I have noticed a little damage to the new growth on the grape vine in the polytunnel. I have bought S. a weather station recently with an extra temperature and humidity sensor for the polytunnel. We are still playing with it, since the signals are getting interfered with by our wifi, but the temperatures in the polytunnel were varying from over 30 deg. Celsius during the day to only 2 deg. Celsius at night. The temperature at night is much warmer now (about 12 degrees or so) and I’m opening the doors more to keep it a bit cooler during the day.
Although on holiday, we have managed to achieve quite a bit (even some of the things I had on my list to do). DC has been going round taking off tree shelters, and keeping the dogs amused. It’s quite nice to think that these are some of the trees that he himself helped plant just a few years ago. AC and I have been clearing and planting in the tea garden extension. The ground is lovely to weed at the moment; so dry the earth just falls off the roots of the weeds. I cleared out some docken and buttercups, but was quite pleased to find only a little couch growing in from the edge which had just been mulched last year. I pulled off the tops of the weeds, left the leaves on the beds, and threw the roots to add to the soil around the adjacent trees, where the rock is rather close to the surface. We planted the artichokes and potatoes that Frances of island threads sent me (thanks again!), as well as my saved oca (and some more from Frances). AC also re-mulched with cardboard the area by the track that I left under mulch last year. I had a trial clearing the end of the bed where I’d planted the peas. Although the couch came out nicely, there was too much of the thinner stringy grass that creeps over the surface, so I’m hoping that another year will clear that a bit more. We cut back and thinned out the kale that was flowering. I think it will regrow again to provide another crop. The tops we used to mulch around the lowest of the ‘new’ blackcurrant bushes. Hopefully they will fruit a bit better this year than last year.
The other blackcurrants in the tea garden had a lovely lush new lawn growing round them! I didn’t manage to clear out the grass in the bed next to them before it went to seed and regretted it! Hopefully cutting it back with shears and mulching with it’s own leaves and cardboard will be enough to clear it again. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of nasty weeds there, which is pleasing. I was hoping to transplant in some of the sweet cicely and good king henry that has seeded in, but that will have to wait till next year now.
The weather is really too nice to be spending much time in the polytunnel (a bit like last year), however we have managed to clear the beds for the tomatoes (although not planted yet). I have decided to plant them in the lower southern beds. There is a awful lot of parsley going to seed in there, so we stripped off the leaves and have dried about four batches in the lower oven. The kale was unfortunately a bit mildewy, which it usually is in the tunnel at this time of year, but there was a fair amount of leaf beet for spinach.
AC has sown my curcubit seeds. We ate the last sharks fin melon a few weeks ago (nearly eighteen months after harvest and still perfect!) so I scraped out and saved some of the seeds before cooking it. I have plenty of seeds as well for next year, just in case I get another failure. The curcubit seeds have all gone in the propagator, although they could probably be sown direct in the polytunnel with the temperatures as they are now. It looks like all my sweetcorn seeds have failed: both those that were sown direct, and those in the propagator. I can only assume that I drowned them. I sowed them at the same time as the peas (which have germinated well). They were fresh seed. I presoaked them for a few days to rehydrate before sowing, but maybe I soaked them for too long. It probably isn’t too late to try again. I’ll see if I have any more of that seed and just soak it overnight, and sow direct this time.
While the earth is so dry I’ve been doing more weeding/editing around the fruit garden as well, getting out some of the comfrey that is persisting. and transplanting some strawberry plants. I also was going to transplant some rowan seedlings in amongst the ash trees in the tree field. They seem to like to germinate in the rocky scree of the driveway. I managed to get out about a dozen little trees and one rather larger one, that were growing in less than optimal positions. Then I started to turn some turfs for planting holes, in between the two bands of new spruce trees (that we have been giving a little water to in this dry weather). When digging the second hole, I found my right calf muscle seize up painfully with cramp, and it has been a bit painful the last day or so. I think it was all the digging in the tea garden extension that worked it too hard. It seems a bit better now with rest and ibuprofen, but I may have to heel the little rowans in somewhere else (they are in a pot of water at the moment).
DC and AC also helped me mulch the area where I am hoping to plant blueberries in the tree field. First we had to shift all the conifer branches that I had placed there from the driveway tree pruning. The grass had started to grow through them, but it wasn’t too difficult to disentangle them yet. We then spread out several lengths of black plastic underlay (reclaimed a few years ago from the local hall when it flooded) and used the tree branches to weight them down. This was easier with a few extra pairs of hands. I’ll assess the couch grass at the end of the summer and decide whether to leave the plastic down for another year then. I’m thinking of making slightly raised beds for the blueberries (since the area there is a bit of a bowl) and planting the ‘ditches’ in between with comfrey for mulching. I’m thinking some well rotted sawdust and lots of bracken leaves is what I need to plant the blueberries into.
I was rather worried when I saw this damage this week. Many of my ash trees are showing blackened leaves. Particularly towards the bottom of the trees. Some are fine however with fresh green leaves and unbroken buds, although some dieback over winter means that some of the buds are dead. I thought this was chalera dieback for sure and was envisaging having to dig out and burn all my ash tree saplings.
I was glad then to see similar damage on other trees – first wych elm, then oak and sweet chestnut. Not perhaps so many, but similar scorched new growth.
My conclusion is that we have actually suffered a light frost that has damaged the new growth on some of the trees. Up by the house we don’t seem to have been affected and nothing in the polytunnel seems to have been damaged. The weather recently has been cool and fairly clear – dry with a north east wind. I hadn’t realised it had been quite so cold as it obviously has been.
The fresh young growth of the trees is beautiful at the moment. The translucent leaves catch the light glowing vibrant shades of light green. The larch in particular are lovely with soft fountains of bristles from the branches. Many of the evergreen trees show a contrast in colour between the old and new growth. The new holm oak leaves are a pinky cream colour, and the spruce tips lime green against the british racing green of the older leaves. Actually the spruce are looking a bit sparce as they shed their older needles before regrowing new needles later.