One thing after another!

green path
Green path

Starting on a positive note, I noticed the other day as I walked through the alder grove in the centre of the tree field, that the field is starting to smell like a wood.  I hadn’t really appreciated that woods have a specific scent, but realised that it wasn’t just the normal fresh air smell that we get, but the damp, woodsy smell of rotting leaves and fungi.  I wish that we had “smellovision” so that I could capture it!  The paths in this area are also much more green than the ground under the trees either side.  This is a bit deceptive I think, since the grass there hasn’t died out fully.  The grass on the path was mown at least once through the year and therefore is fresh regrowth, whereas the grass under the trees is straggly mature growth, admittedly covered a bit by leaves as well.

polytunnel hole
Excessive ventilation in Polytunnel

Then the trouble – Earlier this week it was a bit windy.  Not excessivly so.  Nothing to write home about, I would have said, except that my polytunnel got torn!  The wind was probably gusting to approaching 60mph (update – possibly a bit more; I’m told that over the hill the gusts were approaching 80mph, and since the energy goes by the cube of the speed that’s significantly more likey to cause damage), but the problem really was that earlier in the year the kiwi and the bramble had each decided that the polytunnel wasn’t big enough, and had punched their way through the cover.  This had been aided by the fact that one of our cats (Harry) sometimes uses the polytunnel as a look out station, so had made several tear-along-the-dotted-line holes near the frame hoops, as he climbed about on it.  I pruned out the growth from underneath and it fell outside the tunnel but left a bit of a hole, which is now rather ginormous!  I’m hoping that I can patch it up, since the tunnel cover is only a few years old.  Although it ripped across the width of one of the sections, it didn’t rip too far down, so at the moment is providing extra ventilation!

strapped down
Limiting the damage

I hastily threw the hose across the tunnel to try and stop it flapping in the wind and hence propagating down, weighting the hose ends with car tyres.  This may have helped, since we did have quite a bit more wind after it happened, but it is still only the top that is torn.  Now I need a dry still day to try and patch it up.  Tricky, since it is right at the top of the tunnel, so I can only really reach from the inside.  I have some spare polythene from the old tunnel, so I may stretch that over the top as well, and some ‘gaffa tape’.  I think I’ll need some ‘belt and braces’ if I can keep this cover going for a few more years!

ripe enough
Ripe enough!

I was wondering whether to harvest the Boskoop glory grapes, or whether to leave them a bit longer to sweeten up a bit.   They were mainly getting ripe, just a little bit tart to the taste perhaps.  Since the tunnel had ripped, I decided to cut all the bunches down and have a go at making grape molasses; see here for example method.  The idea was that since we don’t get round to eating all the grapes fresh, it would be a way of preserving them, as well as a fun way of creating a sugar substitute.  I did a bit of internet research and came to the conclusion that the wood ash was optional (some sites suggested adding chalk).  I think the purpose of the additive is to precipitate out the tannins; perhaps making the juice sweeter and less liable to crystallise.

All went well at first.  I picked all the grapes and saved three of the best bunches (1kg) for eating.  There was another 6kg initially, although quite a few were a bit mouldy – I think I missed a few bunches when I was thinning them out!  I crushed the grapes in a sieve and strained the juice through a jelly bag into my jam making cauldron. On the wood stove I then simmered it down from 4 litres down to 1 pint (excuse my ambi-units!), which took about 5 hours, and left it to cool overnight. We had the stove on anyhow – it is our heating source – so no extra fuel required for this operation.

cooking juice
At start of heating

The juice started off a light pink colour with terracotta flecks (not all had strained off).  As it boiled it did seem to create extra flocky bits in the juice and darkened to a dark brown.  It still tasted pretty sharp and hadn’t thickened much.  I think my grapes aren’t very sweet (I should have measured the specific gravity, but couldn’t be bothered to climb into the attic for the hydrometer).  On the following day I decided to boil it again and left it on the stove whilst I picked some achocha in the tunnel – big mistake!  I came back to a kitchen (and house!) full of acrid smoke and a black gooey mess in the pan!  I had left the firebox door open, so the top hot plate just got too hot!  On the bright side, the black mess did seem to comprise of burnt sugar, so I know if I had done it more gently I had a chance of achieving molasses!  I’m hoping I can recover the pan!

black death
Not pekmezi

Next year (or maybe not) I may try a variety on the theme.  First, maybe I’ll try adding chalk (or perhaps sodium bicarbonate) to precipitate out some of the tannins.  Or maybe I’ll do that secondly, since in my research I discovered that cream of tartar comes from grapes.  Actually it seems to come mainly from the bits left over from wine making. Unfortunately I had thrown my residue in the compost before I found this out!  The tartaric acid salts are less soluble in cold water than hot, so precipitate out when the solution is cooled.  When I had cooled the part-formed molasses overnight I did get a very small amount of crystals on the pan.  Again there are lots of articles that you (eventually) find when searching for this, this is one that I think may be most useful.  Since I use cream of tartar a bit in cooking, I think it would be fun to try and make my own another time!

So, not the best of week all in all!

 

 

Marsh Woundwort is good to eat

MARSH WOUNDWORT FLOWER
Marsh Woundwort flower

This is the most peculiar thing.  I can’t remember where I got the idea that marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) was an interesting edible weed.  I think I came across it in an ‘Agroforestry News’ article from ART in 2017, and I certainly got a plant from them subsequently which confirmed that indeed I already had this plant growing wild on the holding.  I have just checked my books and none of them seem to mention marsh woundwort as a worthwhile edible, but I really rate it highly now I have tried it.  It is not in the weed bible: “food for free” by Richard Mabey, or “growing unusual edibles” by Simon Hickmott.  It is not even in the “Plants for a Future” book by Ken Fern, which I have found so much inspiration in, although it is in his database now, with an edible rating of three out of five.  Here is quite a comprehensive article I found about it.  It is the roots that are mainly eaten, although apparently the young shoots can also be eaten.  I have not tried these.

It is a plant that likes damp soil and seems to thrive here now that it is free to sprawl across the tree field.  There are several areas where the thin nettle-like leaves and spotted pink flowers cover several square metres of the field.  It doesn’t smother the grass out, but grows amongst it quite happily.  But it is underground that the treasure lies.  Marsh woundwort spreads with underground runners, and it is these that are the parts to harvest.

marsh woundwort patch
Spreading marsh woundwort patch

According to the Fern’s database the tubers grow better in damp soil.  I had tried growing it in the polytunnel pond, but it is not a plant that likes to be confined to a pot.  The roots were all twisted round at the bottom of the pot and there was not really enough to have a reasonable portion.  The offsets I planted in the gully field don’t seem to have come back this year either, but as I said, I have a few large patches down in the tree field, so I decided this week to dig up an area to try them.  In the middle of the patch a turf one spade wide and two long was enough to provide enough roots for a couple of portions.  I did try a bit raw, but it wasn’t that great.  Tasting like mild raw potato perhaps?  Cooked however, they are very pleasant, with a sweet artichoke flavour.  I just boiled them for about 10 minutes.  S. also says “they weren’t too bad at all” so I think he would be happy to eat them again!

digging roots
Digging the roots

The Latin name: Stachys palustris, gives away the close relationship of marsh woundwort to another, still unusual, but more widely recognised edible: Stachys affinis, crosnes or chinese artichoke.  I have tried to grow this once with no success: the tubers just disappeared in the predecessor to the fruit garden.  I suspect that slugs ate them, but can’t be sure.  Crosnes’ tubers are thicker and segmented, whereas the marsh woundwort tubers are longer, thinner, but smooth, so easier to clean of dirt before eating.  The woundwort tubers I dug were about 7-9 mm (1/3 in) at the widest, but they don’t need peeling, since the skins are quite smooth.

washed and ready to cook
Ready to cook

I cut them down to a couple of inch long segments for cooking, but they were originally limited in length mainly to where the spade had cut them in the turf.  Where I dug these plants isn’t the dampest place in the tree field (which is down by the pond probably), but there are a fair amount of reeds growing there, so it is certainly not the driest.  It also grows on the riverbank where the soil is pretty dry, although I don’t know what the tubers are like there.

The only disadvantage I can see is that the tubers need to be dug up.  Therefore as the trees grow, their roots may be damaged by digging up the tubers.  Also it’s a bit of faff needing a spade, rather than just gathering leaves above ground.  I may spread some of the plants to near the pond area.  The soil there is really wet rather than just damp, so it will be interesting to see how well the tubers grow there.  It seems that marsh woundwort will stand some shade as well as sun, so should continue to do well as the trees develop.

Grapes and Apricots

lush tunnel
Lush polytunnel growth

Well, the sad news is that the remaining apricot fruit didn’t make it to ripeness!  I think a drop of condensation landed on it and it started to rot during the warmer weather we had in early July.  It was definitely changing colour, but was still hard and (yes I did try it!) sour.  I’m pretty happy to have got fruit set in the first proper year of the tree and am learning more about how to prune it!  I have given it a rather more brutal late summer prune than I think will normally be required.  It has surprised me quite how vigorous the tree has been.  So much for dwarfing rootstock!  I wish the trees outside were as vigorous.  The shelter and extra warmth of the polytunnel will of course be contributing much to the lush growth.  I have taken one of the branches right back in the hope that the tree structure will improve, with more branching – I need to prune harder next time in the spring!

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I had my ‘champion of england’ peas from the HDRA growing up the apricot, they are starting to dry off nicely now, and an achocha vine is also making a tentative effort.  Those are generally doing better this year than I have achieved in previous years and have some fruit developing on the standard variety.  The large fruited achocha variety, with the pretty cannabis like leaves, is flowering, but I have not noticed any larger fruit yet.

The new grape vine Zalagyongye has a few nice bunches of grapes and Boskoop glory had lots of lovely bunches.  I think the kiwi vine is rather shading the grapevine, since most of the Boskoop grape bunches were either right at the start of the vine, or towards the far end, where there is less shade from the kiwi.  I know I should have thinned out the bunches earlier, but again we seem to have had a lovely dry summer, plus I was busy with the building work, so didn’t play in the tunnel so much.  The grapes within the bunches were also packed quite tight at that stage so it was awkward to get in there with the scissors to cut them out.  A little shuffling with my fingers was required to gain an angle of access.  I invested years ago in a special round ended short bladed pair of scissors, which minimise the damage to grapes that are left on the bunch.

grapes thinned
Grape bunches after thinning

I took quite a number of bunches out completely and have juiced them to make ‘verjus’.  At first I tried to use my hand juicer, which looks a bit like a plastic mincer.  Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the job.  I was afraid if I put any more force on the handle it would snap!  The pips were jamming it I think.  Instead I blasted the fruit in my food processor and then seived the puree.  Verjus or verjuice is a condiment used like vinegar or lemon juice.  I’m yet to experiment with it, but this recipe looks like a simple one to try.  At first the juice was cloudy, but it settled out after a day in the refrigerator, and I could pour off the clear juice from the top.  In an attempt to help it keep, I heated the juice to almost boiling, then poured it into sterilized bottles.

courgette fruit
Male (top left) and female (right) courgette flowers (tondo di picenze)

I have had a few fruit off the courgettes – I never get the gluts that other gardeners boast complain of.  They are still flowering happily however.  I probably don’t feed them enough.  The cucumbers have tiny female fruit that just seem to have been sitting there for weeks.  I don’t know if they have been fertilized, but they haven’t rotted away either.  I suspect one of the issues may be lack of light.  They are now almost completely swamped by the adjacent courgettes, but still seem to be fine otherwise.  I lose track on the pumpkin and sharks fin melon – there are certainly several vines creeping around and climbing with female flowers, but no significant swelling of fruit yet.  I live in hope!

millet
Foxtail millet and nastutium

The sweetcorn seem to have all disappeared – just a total washout there.  I have a single self seeded nastutium that is making a bid for world (or at least polytunnel) domination.  Unfortunately it is just a scarlet one, not the lovely tawny one that I had last year that I think it seeded from.  At the edges of what should have been the sweetcorn bed I planted out some foxtail millet (Setaria italica), which grew from HPS seed.  This is now showing tiny flowers, so that is exciting for me.  The fuchsia berry has grown quite lush, but is only now starting to flower.  I’m worried that the berries (if I get any) won’t have time to ripen before the frosts come, or the autumn damp rots them off.

goldenberry lanterns
Peruvian lanterns

The goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) has lots of tiny lanterns.  This page says to wait to harvest these till the fruit stem turns brown, which will be much later in the year.  I couldn’t find much else about growing it, but apparently the fruit is also effective in treating diabetes.  I found lots of recipes on goldenberry jam and using goldenberries – mostly dried.  I don’t expect I’ll get that many fruit.  I’m still not sure where the other physalis came from (near the asparagus)  I’m wondering if it could have been a seed that didn’t germinate that somehow got lost in the compost and redistributed.  The plant is much smaller, so I think it is a new season plant rather than one that overwintered.

tomato virus on right
X supersweet 100 on left, Stupice on right

Elsewhere in the polytunnel the tomatoes are doing mostly fine.  No sign of any ripe ones but plenty set on the supersweet 100 and little yellow multiflora.  I’m not happy with the stupice however.  That was new seed, but the plants are slightly strange with distorted leaves and few fruit set.  Looking this up I think it is tomato mosaic virus.  The RHS says that this can be transmitted through seed, and since this is the only variety affected I think that may be what has happened.  I’m a bit annoyed about that, since this may compromise my other tomatoes in the future.  I’m probably best off not saving seed at all this year.  As far as I can find out the only control is to pull as much of the affected plants out as possible, which i have now done.  A bit annoying to say the least when there are fruit on the vine!  Also annoying me is that I don’t seem to have noted where I got the seed from, despite trying to keep better records.  I’m pretty sure it was new seed this year, so I may have it noted in the paperwork somewhere!

tomato virus
Virus affected tomato?

Pignuts are OK to eat

Pignuts (conopodium majus) are a common wild flower in the tree field here.  I had read about them being edible; the tubers are quite pleasant to munch on raw, with a flavour a bit like hazelnuts.  When I have tried them in the past, I got a slightly unpleasant nauseous feeling, so haven’t explored eating them much.

I have a fondness for the plants.  The foliage is one of the first to show new growth in early spring, and the tiny white flowers cover the field for much of the summer.  Rather than repeat what so many others have written I’ll give a couple of links that are interesting:

https://originaloutdoors.co.uk/wild-food-directory/pignut-conopodium-majus/

https://scottishforestgarden.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/and-pignuts/

and a few pictures from the tree field illustrating their growth:

spring shoots
Pignut foliage growing in early spring
flowers
Pignut blossom in midsummer
seeds
Burgundy seeds in late summer

When I was digging holes for the new spruce trees I could not avoid digging up several pignut tubers.  Often they were cut in half by the spade.  I guess the field is pretty thick with them now, as can be seen in the flower picture above.  In the past I have sometimes given them to Dyson to eat (he knows them as ‘nuttys’) and he obviously enjoys them with no ill effects.  This time he had the small, or damaged ones and any larger ones I collected in a bag for me.  They were quite easy to find with my (gloved) fingers in the soil of the upturned turfs.

turning turf
Pignut – cut through on face of turf (possibly a whole one to right?)

Most foraging guides suggest you follow the roots down from the flowering stems to the tuber, so as to be sure what you are harvesting.  This would be very hard work in turf like mine!  I would suggest also, that once seen, the tubers are quite distinctive and nothing like bluebells or celandine tubers, both of which are quite white in colour, rather than covered in dark brown skin.  The lumpy shape of the pignut tubers is also quite distinctive.

measuring
Bag of tubers with rule for scale

I collected about 8 ounces of tubers once they were cleaned and trimmed.  The ones I kept were generally just over an inch in diameter, although there were a few that were nearly two inches.  Most of course were much smaller, and these I left in the turf (or Dyson ate!).  They seem to carry on growing quite happily having been inverted, if left in situ, judging by the later emerging leaves.  I believe that the plants form very small tubers in the first year of growth (about the size of a pea) and the tuber grows larger and larger year on year.  I suspect some of those I gathered may have been decades old.  I don’t suppose they grew very much when the sheep were grazing on them!

Gathering nuts was a by-product of an activity I was doing anyway.  I will point out however that digging the turf like this is quite hard work!  So although I gathered more than enough for a meal for two in a few hours, this would not compare for ease to say digging potatoes.  Also, these tubers took several years to reach this size, so you would have to leave the ground for a few years to recover and regrow sizeable tubers again.  They do self seed readily and grow happily without any intervention from me, so it is quite nice to feel there is a bit of a larder there should I need it.

washing mud
Washing tubers

Because the tubers are quite uneven in shape they were tricky to wash.  I gave them a quick rinse in a bucket outside, them scrubbed them with a brush under the kitchen tap.  I couldn’t be bothered to remove all the skins, which is quite fine, and did rub off a bit anyhow.

cross section
Washed and halved tuber

We tried a few tubers simply boiled or baked and ate them as an accompaniment to our main meal.  They were quite pleasant, with a spongy texture not unlike parsnips, and a somewhat similar mild sweet taste.  The resemblance to their rooty relatives is more obvious when cooked.  S. preferred the roasted ones, so, having established that neither of us suffered the nauseous feeling induced by eating the raw tubers previously, we had the rest of the tubers roasted in a little oil.  Again they passed the test and we may well have them again when I need to dig holes in the field.

Yacon = cake

It was actually a little while ago I harvested the Yacon in the polytunnel, the ones outside were harvested before Xmas.  I hadn’t done anything with the tubers ’til now – they have been sitting rather in the way in boxes in the hallway until I got round to finishing off weighing them etc.  Some of the tubers have shrivelled slightly, but they otherwise appear fine.  Even the one that broke in half when dug from outside still had no mould growing.

I originally had two sources for the Yacon which visually look identical, but have been performing slightly differently (the better one is from real seeds, although they appear to be out of season now).  I have been growing them side by side for comparison, and do think that these are slightly more productive for me.  I think I will search out some other varieties if they become available (lubera have a couple listed, but are only available later as plants, so are more expensive).  Unfortunately the few seedlings I managed to grow from cultivariable seed did not survive the winter last year.

Inside Yacon Oct 2018
Polytunnel plants competing for light

The plants in the polytunnel were basically just replanted in the same spots last year after harvesting – so overwintered in the soil.  There were two of each source planted in adjacent beds with a little more compost dug in around them.  They were watered when I remembered, but seemed to be thriving.  There was a little bit of caterpillar damage to the leaves (those ‘silver y’ moths again) but not enough to be a problem.  I think that the plants nearest the polytunnel wall may have suffered from overcrowding or overshading – In both cases that plant was smaller that the other.

Inside Yacon harvest feb 2019
Yacon harvest (polytunnel) February 2019

Harvested at the start of February 2019, the ‘real seeds’ plants had a total usable tuber weight of 22 Oz, the other had a total weight of 10 1/2 Oz.  I did not pull all the tubers off any of the plants.  The smallest would have been a bit fiddly and may well give the plants a bit of a start in the ground next year!  One of the plants (bottom right) has naturally split into several parts.  I may divide the larger clumps as well to give myself more plants this year.

Outside Yacon May 2018
Yacon plants for outside, growing on May 2018

The plants outside were overwintered in pots and grown on till about June, when I had enough room in the tea garden extension to plant them out.  They seemed to do pretty well considering they were fairly exposed and I deliberately did not clear the other plants from around them, since they would have been giving them a bit of shelter.

Yacon outside Oct 2018
Yacon outside on Skye October 2018

The leaves were a lot smaller and less green and the plants were far more shrubby than the plants under cover.  The holes in the leaves shown above I believe is wind damage.  The plants were harvested earlier than those inside – being killed off by frosts in mid December.   The smaller plant really had no useable tubers, the other (real seeds) had about 6 Oz; which was actually pretty similar to the poorer plants in the polytunnel.

Outside Yacon harvest Dec28
Outside Yacon harvest December 2018

Last year I concluded that the tubers are better considered a fruit rather than a vegetable and we have eaten them in various ways.  It made fantastic cake last year (based on a pear crumble cake) and also added to sweet and sour vegetables, and ‘risotto’ (a family chicken recipe actually a bit more like a paella).  As I said it can tend to discolour a bit after cooking, but still tastes fine.  Raw one could grate it into a coleslaw or dice into another salad to add sweetness.

Yacon cake #2
Yacon fruit cake

I have tried another cake recipe this year.  I want to see how much I can reduce the sugar content, since the Yacon is so sweet to taste.  This cake was based on a parsnip fruit cake recipe by Jennie Rutland in an old magazine (possibly Home Farmer again).  The Yacon was substituted for the parsnip and grated coarsely, the sugar content was reduced by about half and it still tastes delicious.  S. definitely approved and more was requested!

 

 

A nice problem to have

seedlings small
Self sown seedlings in polytunnel bed

I’ve said before that I don’t keep a very tidy polytunnel.  A bit like Anni Kelsey, who curates glorious polycultures by letting things do their own thing a bit, I’ve been more hands off in the tunnel over the last few years.  By letting the good things go to seed (fat hen, leaf beet, claytonia, chickweed, kale), and trying to remove the undesirables (nettles, docken, grasses, buttercups….).  I usually have a range of lovely edible salads coming up in the empty beds.  Even over the winter there has been plenty of kale, but as the day length has increased and as soon as the beds are watered a carpet of seedlings soon appear.  For instance I wrote this on Friday, so as I have staff covering the shop through most of the day, I’m trying to get up to speed with my seed sowing.  These are mainly the perennials and the later sown summer crops that will need potting on later.   Whilst  I was out there taking stock of what needs doing in the tunnel I cut a swathe of salad from this bed to go with some scrambled eggs for lunch.

seedlings large
Or….Mixed leaf salad!

Needless to say, I didn’t sow any of this, the original kale and claytonia were sown many years ago.  I can’t find anything non edible in the bit I cut.  Normally I would steam the fat hen for a little, but this is still pretty young and I think we’ll get away with it – too much and the saponins could give an upset stomach.  I just picked over a few older leaves, rinsed for livestock, and cut out the larger kale stalks, which S would probably not appreciate (I’ll hide the greens under the eggs for him).  Anyway weeds….or self sustaining salads!

cut salad
Fresh cut for lunch

Polytunnel harvest #1

I’ve been a bit distracted recently, hence the gap in postings…partly due to a lovely present my mum organised for myself and my sisters at christmas.  She and my younger sisters did a bit of family research and made a photo book.  This had a family tree at the start and then photos of our direct ancesters, many of which I’d never seen, and then photos of us through the years together with various niblings (nephew and nieces) as they have arrived.  Anyway I thought it was brilliant, and it inspired me to try and prove out a few of the family legends.  So far neither the eloping daughter of an earl, the smugglers inn in cornwall, or the rear admiral seem to have much basis in history, but I’ve had much fun on my mum’s side of the family.  My dad’s side could be a bit more challenging, since his grandmother came from Switzerland.  Anyway, a fascinating way to play detective, but does mean that I’m a bit behind with what’s been going on.  The other reason I missed a bit of time, was that I wanted to post about the mashua and Yacon harvests, but I have mislaid the data on weight of mashua harvest in the polytunnel.  I’ll just have to rely on pictures to tell the story….

First the Yacon harvest:  I had grown it both in the tunnel and outside in 2016 and both were a little small.  I think that the ones in the polytunnel were a little dry, and the ones outside were…….not, also I still don’t really have much shelter, and the wind and cool of a Skye summer didn’t seem to suit them much.  I will say that the plants all survived and I did get some tubers, albeit small.  In 2017 I propagated my saved tubers in the spring (you basically divide the crown with a knife so each bit has a growing point).  Four of the shoots went on to develop strong plants which were duly planted out in the tunnel.  If I had more strong plants, I would have planted a couple outside anyway, but felt they would have a better chance inside  There were another two or three plants which never seemed strong enough to plant out, so I just left them in pots in the tunnel.  The ones that were planted out seemed to be quite happy and grew away well.  This year I did manage to water them fairly well, although they didn’t get any extra food.

yacon2017
Yacon growing in polytunnel 2017

I harvested the Yacon late in December.  Each plant had died back on top due to frosts.  Because I did not want more plants, and felt that dividing them had made them weaker, I decided to just break off the storage tubers (the edible bits) and replant the whole root crown again.  The total harvest was 8 tubers weighing a total of 1lb 12oz from 4 plants.  I think that the watering was alright last year, but maybe the nutrition in the soil wasn’t that good….I’ll try and make sure they get plenty of compost, and maybe liquid feed as well in 2018.  I also didn’t move the plants.  The original intent was to disturb them as little as possible, but in the end I dug up the whole plant, rather than just breaking off the storage tubers, so it would have been very little trouble to move the plants.

digging yacon 2017
Digging Yacon root in polytunnel
harvest2018
Total Yacon harvest from 4 plants

I haven’t noticed any top growth yet, I’m hopeful however that the plants haven’t died in the hard frosts that we have had this year.  I covered them thickly with fleece, straw, dead top growth etc. which hopefully, together with the protection of the tunnel itself, will have been enough.  I also (hopefully) have the Yacon plants in pots, which have been overwintering in a straw filled box – time now to plant these out again.  I also have a couple of Yacon seedlings whuch I grew from seed from cultivariable.  They may be rubbish, but they are new.  I’ll find a spot in the tunnel to grow these out this year.

yacon_cake
Cake made with Yacon root

Yacon is the only vegetable I’m aware of which is a root that is used as a fruit.  It genuinely tastes sweet, like a crunchy melon.  Although there wasn’t a huge harvest, I’m unable to think of any other ‘fruit’ that can be harvested on Skye in December….Anyway, I’ve baked it into cake (adapted a pear cake recipe very successfully!)  also it is very nice in place of pineapple to give a sweet crunch in sweet and sour sauces, or in our family ‘risotto’.  The only thing I noticed there was that when kept as leftovers it was noticable that the Yacon had discoloured to a dirty grey colour – still tasted OK though.

I’ll post a bit about the mashua in a separate post.

Xmas Harvests

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I harvested the kiwi fruit recently.  They are a bit small to eat out of hand so I turned them into jam.  Because I have only one kiwi – Jenny, the fruit develop parthenogenically so have almost no seeds. That is also why they are a little small.  I wonder whether an actinides arguta or kolomitka would cross fertilise with the kiwi (a. deliciousa), or whether it would be worth getting another self fertile kiwi so they could fertilise each other?  I did a little bit of research into kiwi jam recipes online, and then made it up.  Most of the sites seemed to agree that kiwi fruit are low in pectin, so need some added to obtain a good set.  I decided to use lemon and lime eather than apple which I usually use.  I had about 2 lb of kiwi fruit, and over did it a bit on the citrus (2 lemon and one lime) which resulted in a jam that was rather more like a marmalade.  I had to add more sugar than intended also, to counteract the sourness of the citrus, and have ended up with three jars of rather precious and tasty kiwi and citrus marmalade.

Some people like to be sure to have their own sprouts for xmas dinner.  I’m never that organised, but I do like to try and include some home grown produce.  This year we had a starter of my own globe artichokes from the polytunnel.  They had been blanched and in the freezer since the summer.  A bit fiddly to eat, they made a nice change.  I also went out in the morning and dug the first mashua tubers from the polytunnel.  Roasted with other root veg they went down perfectly pleasantly.  Although they do tend to go soft rather than crispy.

mashua top growth
Top Growth Mashua in Fruit Garden (best plant)

I have now dug up all the mashua from outside.  I had four tubers planted in the fruit garden, four tubers downhill from the tea garden below the barn, and four tubers in the dog resistant garden.  There were two in each location from each of the tubers I grew last year.  I knew the ones in the tea garden hadn’t done wonderfully – there was very little visible growth amongst the buttercups.  All the upper growth seems to have died back now – including that of the ones in the polytunnel.

 

 

mashua harvesting 2017
Mashua rootball on best plant

Four tubers appear to have completely disappeared.  One of the tubers in the fruit garden had more usable tubers than all of the others put together – several had no usable tubers.  So I guess I can certainly say that the harvest is variable.  I had labelled the tubers from the two supplied last year, however, the ones that did better this year were apparently from the plant that did worse last year.  So either last year’s results were down to variability, or I mislabelled all the tubers!  Just as well I didn’t name any names!

Supplier upper growth vigour usable tuber weight (Oz)
Tea garden
A 2 4
B 1 0
A 1 0
B 0 0
Fruit garden
A 5 46.5
B 3 8.5
A 3 5
B 0 0
Dog resistant garden
A 4 7.5
B 1 0
A 0 0
B 0 0
mashua outside harvest 2017
Cleaned tubers and rest of root growth (fruit garden and tea garden)

I must admit I’m a bit disappointed with the yield outside.  I haven’t dug the tubers from the tunnel yet, but believe they have done much better.  Maybe Mashua just need a bit more warmth than we get on Skye.  I would say overall that the weather in 2017 was not bad for Skye, not too wet, not too dry, not too windy.  It could have been warmer – the best weather as usual was in May.  I suppose the fact that one plant did fairly well gives some encouragement.  I’ll dig up the polytunnel plants next – that will give me plenty of tubers to replant for next year.  The other thing I noticed is that last year the tubers grown in the tunnel had patches of quite dark maroon markings.  These tubers grown outside are all completely white – maybe indicating a lack of maturity?

I’m going to try outside again, hopefully with tubers from each source (I may try to get hold of some other varieties as well).  This time I’ll plant some nice ones straight away, as well as in pots to overwinter in comfort to see whether getting an early start makes a difference.  My feeling is that the later part of the season is more significant, but we’ll see.

First frost and a different root crop

snow s
Skye Snow

Two nights running we have had a real frost.  This came together with snow, which is a little less usual for us.  So far the Yacon has sagged, the leaves on the sharks fin melon have flopped and the Achocha has had it!  The mashua doesn’t look too bad so far, although some bits are quite sad.  I have cleared out the last of the courgettes from the polytunnel.  I think the plants had died back some time ago.  One of the courgettes has a little frost damage, but the others should be alright.  One of them should be classified as a marrow rather than a courgette, but that’s fine – I love stuffed marrow!  The snow has mostly all cleared now, but the damage is done.

floppy Yacon
Floppy Yacon 😦
pond bed s
Cleared bed where polytunnel pond will be.

It’s been a bit cold and wet to work down by the river, so I have made a start clearing the bed that will become my pond/bog garden in the polytunnel.  This was much to the dogs’ disgust, since, as I have to tell Dyson quite frequently, ‘dogs aren’t allowed in the polytunnel’ and they do want to help!  The soil from this bed was covered in home made compost in the spring, and although I never got round to setting up an irrigation hose for it, it did grow a lovely crop of self seeded poppies, kale, fat hen and honesty.  The little row of lettuce leaves I sowed got swamped by everything else.  The poppies have probably self seeded again, the fat hen seed I have collected, and the honesty (Lunaria annua) dug up.  I was very surprised to see the size of the roots, up to 18 inches long and quite tender, despite having virtually no water.

roots s
Lunaria annua roots

Intrigued, I did a little research and convinced myself they were edible.  Honesty is in the brassica family which includes turnip and swede as well as cabbage and broccoli.  A tiny taste raw was quite horrid – really pungent.  I’ve not tried horse radish, but I expect that is what it tastes like, several of the references suggested it was a substitute.  However I took a few roots anyway and washed them.  I found that the skin scraped off easily with a knife like a new potato.  Cut into short lengths, I boiled the roots in water for a short time till they became tender.  I wondered a bit if I was going to regret it as I added them to my dinner of sausage casserole, but no.  Much to my surprise the roots are really quite nice with a mild turnip-like taste.  Unfortunately some of the roots are a bit stringy.  Either a core, or a skin within the root.  I guess if one was interested in this one could try and select for plants with less fibre, but I expect there are already root crops enough.  Normally honesty is grown for the flowers, not dug up after six months like these have been.  I’m really glad I tried them though, and still have plenty of roots to experiment with.

dinner s
Honesty roots and sausage casserole

Shark’s fins and Angel’s hair

This year I have been a member of the heritage seed library (again), and and one of the seeds I selected to grow was ‘shark’s fin melon’.  I didn’t have many seeds and succeeded in transplanting three plants into the polytunnel.  Two were near the top door, and one I planted with the courgettes near the other end.  I had some netting (beach gleanings) for the two at the top to climb up, which they did quite happily, and the other was just left to scramble over the ground.  The growing tips are rather beautiful, with spiralling tendrils, and the vine is still punctuated now by enormous golden flowers.

It seems that the plant is supposed to be self fertile, although I deliberately spread pollen between the different plants and still didn’t get many fruit to develop.  There is a total of five fruits between the three plants, although these are still producing female flowers.  The fruit are enormous, dark green with white stripes, about the size of a football, but slightly elongated.  I discovered also last week that the tendrils aren’t able to support the full weight of the fruit as we had a minor collapse of part of the vine near the door.  Most of the other fruit I had already supported, and one is sitting on the ground.

supporting fruit
Fruit supported by hanging basket frame

 

Doing a bit of research recently, it seems that shark’s fin melon has many other names.  If I had known it was ‘malabar gourd’, I could have looked it up in Simon Hickmott’s unusual vegetable book.  My favourite alternative name is ‘Angel’s hair’.  According to wikipedia its latin name is Cucurbita ficifolia and as well as the fruit, the seeds, and leaves are also edible see also https://isustainabilityproject.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/cooking-squash-leaves/ and http://jenniferskitchen.com/2017/05/can-you-eat-squash-leaves.html . I haven’t got round to trying the leaves yet.  These also grow enormous and give it one of it’s other names : fig leaf gourd.

My vegan friend was staying with me last week, so I enlisted her help in trying the first fruit.  Since once ripe the fruit should keep well, we decided to try one that was not the first to develop, to give the others the best chance of ripening to store.  Even so it weighed in at nearly 4kg!  Since it was quite young, the rind had not fully hardened, and we were able to cut it with a strong knife without too much trouble.  The large seeds were also still white and tender when cooked.  Half of it made a huge pan of vegan ‘shark’s fin soup’ which I thought would be amusing, and was certainly tasty!

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The other half we roasted in the oven, whilst the soup was cooking on the top.  We discovered that the flesh does indeed consist of stringy glass noodles (hence ‘Angel’s hair’).  These survived being reheated and made a great base for a simple lunch with (vegan) pesto, sundried tomatoes and sweetcorn.  I’ve put a little sample of noodles in the freezer to see whether they retain their noodley form on defrosting, since there is a lot of squash between our normal two person household!

noodles n pesto s
Angel’s hair

The other interesting titbit, is that in warmer climes the plant is perennial, and may even survive light frosts!  This could be an interesting candidate for my perennial polytunnel, making good use of the third dimension!

happy climbing
Flying ‘fig-leaves’