I’ve got into a system now in the polytunnel (although as always it’s still evolving!). I have a number of perennial fruit and vegetables that come back more or less reliably and more or less productively year after year, then I have annuals and replant perennials which I rotate through the four quarters of the polytunnel. The four quarters are tomatoes, cucubits, yacon and grasses/legumes. I’ll explain how these are getting on in this post. It got a bit long when I started to include the fixed perennials, so I’ll make a separate post for those.
There are a number of annual, or biannual plants that have self seeded and come up as they feel like around the tunnel, these include a flat leaf kale (possibly originally pentland brig), flat leaved parsley, chickweed, fat hen, leaf beet and climbing nasturtiums. I generally don’t weed religiously in the tunnel (I’m never the tidiest of gardeners!) just clearing space for sowing or growing plants as required. When I do pull out weeds or chop back plants I will usually tuck the removed plant matter around growing plants to act as a mulch. I am convinced that the soil in the tunnel is much happier for this as the mulch acts as a layer of insulation; keeping the soil and plant roots cooler and damper, gradually disappearing into the soil and feeding it.
The climbing nasturtiums are funny. I think I had just the one plant last year, an orange one which had seeded from a single lovely tawny dark orange flower the previous year. It flowered profusely and I just left it to seed around, which it has with a vengeance! Every colour from pale primrose to dark maroon, is now represented, clashing wonderfully with the Fuchsia-berry Fuchsia flowers. The nasturtiums have rather taken over the tomato bed and I’m having to weed them out, train them up and cut them back. I assume that there is interesting hidden genetics going on there, but am just stepping back and enjoying the results. I’ll try and collect some of the seed this year, or I will be able to grow nothing else in that corner for seedlings. Unfortunately I’m not fond of the taste of nasturtium, but do enjoy the visual effect of the flowers. They are also supposed to be a good distraction plant for cabbage white butterflies, not that those are a problem for me here.
The tomatoes are lovely sturdy plants this year. I didn’t get very good germination, however I did get plenty of plants for my purposes, if a bit later than ideal. I was trying out a different compost this year: Dalefoot bracken and wool composts. I’m pretty impressed with it – a bit pricy especially after delivery to Skye, but the plants were definitely healthier than previous years, so I will be buying it again. I got a pallet load organised for myself and various neighbours in the glen and beyond. Although there didn’t seem much interest at the time of ordering, then the lockdown happened and I could have passed on twice as many bags, since compost was one of the things in short supply on the island! The fruit set well and are just starting to ripen nicely now on the vines, so it is a race against the fading summer to see if I can get most of them to ripen off. Other people locally already have had ripe fruit for several weeks, so I know I can do better….
Again this year I had poor germination of the sweetcorn. Actually I got zero germination. This means the lower northern quarter of the polytunnel is mainly growing whatever is self seeding in. I cleared and watered a couple of beds to get some fresh leaves in a few weeks. I sowed a couple of patches of the millet seed, but am a bit disappointed with the germination of this as well. If I don’t get seed off it this year, I probably won’t bother with it again.
The stars of the tunnel (other than the nasturtiums) have been the cucubits. I grew three cucumber plants myself (Tamra) and was given one (Marketmore). The marketmore has done pretty well setting several nice fruit, and ongoing… They are a bit spiny, but these rub off easily. The Tamra, which last year produced one delicious fruit the size of my little finger, has had several nice fruit on one of the three vines. I left the first fruit to try and obtain seeds, so may have done even better if this had been picked. Given the Marketmore is next to the Tamra, they may have crossed, so if I do get seed they may not be the same as the parent.
I am very happy with the courgettes, which have been setting well and ongoing. I think the large round fruit I found last year may well have been a tondo di picenza courgette/marrow, although it was sweet like a melon. I am finding that the immature fruit are also very pleasant to eat raw.
The pumpkin nut plants got away very well, and all three plants have at least one good sized fruit supported and swelling. One of them is already starting to turn orange, so I am very hopeful that I may get ripe seeds from this one at least. The plant is grown for it’s hull-less seeds, and maybe I can use some of them to grow plants from next year. I don’t think I will get sharksfin melon this year, which is a bit dissappointing. I had just one plant survive, and although it is growing away quite rampantly now, it is rather late for it to set fruit to come to anything. I may try digging the plant up, cutting it back and trying to overwinter it inside this year.
I’m pretty excited about the Yacon. Although it is too early to tell what the yield of roots will be (it is dug as late as possible, after the plants die back in the winter) the plants are getting quite big now, and I can see flower buds developing on the two new varieties I obtained this year. With a few big ‘ifs’ it would be very exciting to get seed to try and grow a new variety. The tiny plants I grew a few years ago from cultivariable seeds never made it through the winter, but it would be fun to try again. Cultivariable are unfortunately not exporting seed any more….