The evenings are really starting to draw in now and we’ve already experienced our first frosts. This is a little early for Skye. It doesn’t seem to have damaged the plants in the polytunnel yet though. I have brought in the Tamarind seedling that my neighbour gave me, and have also potted on and brought in two pepper plants and two sweet peppers. The vines on the pumpkin nuts have died back, so I have brought those three fruit in to keep safe. The shark’s fin melon vine still looks healthy and I have cut it back and dug it up, so that I can try and overwinter it indoors, since the plants are perennial in milder climates. Last week I removed all the rest of the tomato fruit and made a chutney. It burnt on the pan a bit, but tastes alright. I still need to remove the remains of the plants yet.
I mulched the DRG side of the new front garden area I have been working on with cardboard, and dug up, divided and replanted one of the daylillies from the original DRG. This one has quite large orange flowers. Daylillies are another of the ‘edimental’ plants I have been growing. The flowers, known as ‘golden needles’ are esteemed in parts of China and dried to be eaten as a vegetable. I think the leaves and roots are also edible, although have not tried them at all yet. Slugs certainly like the leaves, so I have protected the newly planted divisions with a cut off plant pot collar. I’m a bit disappointed that the grass is growing back quite a bit in the new area by the DRG. I obviously did not clear as much as I had thought. Since I have seeded as well as replanted this area it is a bit difficult to know what to do for the best. I guess I will have to try and spot mulch the worst patches….
As the autumn progresses the leaves are falling audibly off the sycamores in the front garden. I hadn’t realised how well the swales I had made would trap the leaves. This will hopefully enable an auto-mulching of the plants in the dips. I’ll have to reconsider what I planted there, with a view to maximising this benefit. Certainly the asparagus will appreciate an annual mulch, so I’m extra glad now I planted them in the dips rather than on the humps, but maybe there are other herbacious perennials that would benefit similarly. It will be interesting to see whether the leaves are still there after a winter gale or three….It was pretty windy last week and the leaves still seem to be staying put.
Rather than leave it till all the leaves had fallen from the willow fedges, I decided to prune and tidy them earlier. This will reduce the vigour of the willow slightly and make the fedges less likely to get damaged in winter winds by providing less of a catchment for the wind. I painstakingly cut the willow into short lengths to put on top of a newspaper mulch along my new pathway around the former DRG. I first tied the willow into bundles to make it easier to handle, but it was still pretty tedious. I could have used the shredder, but my memory of shredding willow last time was that was pretty tedious as well, and rather noisy.
Anyhow I had a good win this week! There is a band of ‘tree surgeons’ going round the area at the moment who are cutting back trees which are too close to powerlines. I noticed them shredding the prunings onto their little tipper van and asked them if they wanted to dispose of them locally and they did! So I now have a pretty big pile of ready shredded spruce branches to use as mulch material on paths, and possibly in my blueberry patch when I get round to planting that up.
Finally a new caterpillar sighting for us. We usually joke that Dyson is a crap guard dog, and he replies that he keeps away the elephants for us. Here is one he missed:
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….
The weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at the moment. We are swinging from hard frosts of -5 Celsius, to overnight temperatures of nearly +10 Celsius. However, the frosts have been hard enough already to damage some of the sharks fin melon fruit. Three of them had fallen off the vines before I could collect them, resulting in a little bruising, and a couple more were obviously frost damaged: The skin was soft and darker in colour. Since these won’t keep, I have cooked a couple, and there are a couple in the fridge that I will cook sooner rather than later. The noodley flesh, I have established freezes well. There are also four good fruit that I have placed on the windowsill to keep for as long as I can. Two of them however, I am not sure are sharks fin melon: they are darker green, and the flower scar is much bigger. Either they are ripe fruit of the Tondo de picenze courgette that I didn’t spot climbing, or they are a sport of the sharks fin melon crossed with something else, or possibly the lost pumpkin nut squash. I guess I’ll find out when I cut into them.
I have also harvested all the ripe goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) fruit. There were many more on the plant that are not going to ripen now, and it is still flowering! I have probably had about 15 or 20 fruit in total from the bush. They are tasty, but maybe not that productive. I have discovered that there is a dwarf form of goldenberry that may fruit earlier and so be more worthwhile. I’ll maybe see next year if I can get seed for that, although getting my existing plant through another winter will be a priority. I have bent over some of the branches to insulate the crown of the plant a bit, although the weather is mild again just at the minute.
I also harvested all the chilli fruit off the plant that is in the ‘mediterranean area’ of the polytunnel. It lost all it’s leaves in the cold, so I thought it was time. I’m hoping that it will over winter OK there. I have cut it back quite severely, and will put a cloche or fleece over it as well. I do have the two other chilli plants in pots inside as back up. Now I need to research how to preserve and use the chillies (ripe and unripe). I’m thinking drying may be best. In the meantime the fruit are in the fridge.
I also did a little bit of pruning in the treefield. Some of the trees were overhanging the pathways enough to be a nuisance if driving a vehicle around, so I cleared these branches back. There were also some self set willows down near the pond that made the track a bit narrow and an aspen that wasn’t very well anchored. It rocked around in the wind leaving a hollow in the soil by its trunk. I have taken this tree back to a stump, in the hope that when it regrows the top, the roots will also have strengthened.
I took back one of the purple osier willows as well. This time I left a short trunk. These have a tendency to grow very spindly, as you’d expect from a willow grown for weaving! I will use some of the longer stems I cut out as the basis for one or two Xmas wreaths. Next year it should grown back strong and tall, with lots of potential weaving stems should I chose to do something a bit more exciting. I have had a little weaving experience: enough to appreciate how much hard work it is!
While I had the pruning saw and secateurs out, I cleared a new path in the front garden. I can now go from the area under the trees by the front door to the top of the drivebank. Hopefully this won’t affect the shelter from the wind too much. There is a sycamore that had been pollarded some time before we came. Possibly it had been damaged by the hurricane in 2004. There is now quite a bit of regrowth from the bottom of the trunk, as well as branches further up. I’ve left most of them, just cleared enough to get through. I had to take a bit off one of the rowans as well. I noticed that the japanese ginger that had sprouted there was looking a bit sad from the frost now. The new path goes just past my new Mrs Popple fuchsia, which is starting to look a bit sad in the cold too.
The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber. Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel! They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce). The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha. It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.
The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago. I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like. This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm. Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would. I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd! I need to look up some more recipes! I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen. They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.
Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes. As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit! These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid. So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again. I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many. This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!). My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed. I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly. The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.
The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen. As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi). It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them. They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.
Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered. So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears. However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable. Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!). The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows. I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash. If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.
Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory, are starting to turn colour. There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch. I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall. The white grapes are actually already ripe! Or at least some of them are. I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch! Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!
I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter. It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant. Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste. If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta. The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit. They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example). I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow! It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it. The kiwi I will try and transplant. It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden. I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.
The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE! Literally some are almost taller than I am! The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller. I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more. None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion. It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby. The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.
Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry. It has put on a lot of growth recently. The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger. I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers. However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit. I may try and take some cuttings. It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Things seem to have been a bit slow in the polytunnel – It’s been a bit cooler and damper but I haven’t been out there much – just a bit of watering and thinning out the grapes. The main excitement is the number of happy caterpillars I seem to have. There are several large ones that I see in there: A bright green one, a dull browny coloured one, a dotty one with a waist stripe and one with stripes that match the stalks on the fat hen as it goes to seed. I think most of them belong to the silver y moth which I do see in there quite often. They don’t seem to be doing too much damage: They quite like the Yacon, but prefer the fat hen to the olive tree. There are a few holes in the squash leaves but nothing the plants can’t shake off.
Something has eaten part through one of my dahlia stalks – I think it is probably a slug. they don’t tend to be too much a problem these days for established plants, but I do get a few helping themselves to my seedlings in pots by the polytunnel door. The dahlia I grew from seed, which I am quite proud of myself for. They have lovely dark coloured leaves, and are just starting to form buds. The seeds are some of those that came from the Hardy Plant Society annual selection. I had pretty good germination from most of those – probably because they were so fresh. Dahlia tubers are theoretically edible, although apparently they vary a great deal as to tastiness! I’m tempted to get some from Lubera who have selected a range of better tasting ones. You get the flowers and then the tubers to eat, and can replant again for next year. I have tried some raw a while ago now, and wasn’t particularly impressed, but then you wouldn’t eat a potato raw either would you? I’ve mounded up the soil around the stem in the hope that it will re-root like a cutting. There does seem to be another shoot coming from below the damage, but I may lose the flowers of that plant.
My fuchsia berry plant is looking a lot more happy now. It is in the ground and has a fairly respectable shoot. Hopefully it is getting it’s roots down to survive there overwinter. I have pinched off the tip, since in it’s pot last year it grew a bit leggy and tended to droop down with the weight of the fruit – yes they were quite sweet and nice. My outside fuchsia that came with the house also has quite nice berries. You have to get them when they are ripe, or they taste more peppery than sweet. The downside is that they tend to ripen gradually, so there are a few for a nibble but not enough for much of a meal. I should propagate the bush a bit though, since it would be quite good as a boundary shrub. It’s a bit late this year – maybe I’ll take some hardwood cuttings overwinter and see how they get on. The fuchsia berry is supposed to be a bit more tender. I did try taking some softwood cutting last year, but none of them took – I’ll maybe try again next year, assuming it survives the winter again.
The Yacon seem to be doing pretty well. I haven’t fed them barring the initial planting with compost, but have tried to give them plenty of water – probably still not as much as they want. The single plant I put outside in the tea garden extension is also looking pretty good – the warmer start to the summer was probably to it’s liking. I’m growing Oca for the first time this year (thanks Frances!) I’ve put two in the polytunnel and one outside. So far I would say that they don’t like it too hot. The one outside seemed to do much better than the ones in the tunnel initially when we had all that hot weather. More recently it’s been a bit cooler and less sunny, and the ones inside have cheered up a bit – a little leggy perhaps. All three plants look lush and green at the moment. Apparently they don’t make tubers until the days get shorter, which for us will be at the end of September or so. At that point the extra protection of the tunnel may pay off, since it should hold off a light frost or two. I’ve never eaten them so I won’t comment on that yet.
There are flowers starting to develop on my physalis – golden berry, and a few flowers on the courgette. Those really haven’t done so well this year, but then I generally don’t have gluts to complain of! The sharks fin melon is climbing well – almost to the roof with buds forming. The japanese squash has delightful silver splashed leaves which are quite pretty, and again shows promise of buds. The mashua isn’t looking too good still. I think the hot weather was definitely not to it’s liking. They are still really small and hardly starting to climb at all. Some of the other plants will probably be too late to come to anything. For example the achocha, which I said last year needed a longer season didn’t get planted out early enough again. Tomatillo and peppers I sowed for the sake of it, but really didn’t look after them enough to get much from them. The plants are alive, but that’s about all one can say about them. My sweet potato plants seem to be doing well. I hope I’ve given them enough water. When I grew them in our polytunnel in Solihull I think that was the main problem there. They do have lovely dark coloured leaves, a bit like an ornamental bindweed. I’ve just let them scramble over the ground, although they would climb given a framework.
The bramble has not done so well this year as previous years. As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve had a lot of flies eating the berries (Alice outside remains a complete wash out!). The flies get so drunk that you can put your finger right next to them without them all flying off. I’ve still had quite a few berries – enough to make a batch of bramble and apple jelly (clear jelly not jam with bits in), but nowhere as many as previous years. The bramble and kiwi look very precarious also. I had to cut some of the support ties for the kiwi at the start of the year, and haven’t got round to replacing them properly. I had used old tights – the legs make pretty good strong soft bindings. unfortunately the weight of the vine had made them go thin, and they were cutting in to the trunk quite a lot. It was actually difficult to extract them as the kiwi was growing around them. I have started to use strips of pond liner (plenty of that left from around the mice holes!) This seems to stay more ribbon-like so doesn’t cut in. It’s a bit more difficult to tie in a knot (especially when supporting a heavy trunk with your third hand!), but seems to be kind to the plants and lasts pretty well. Tyre inner tubes are also pretty good, but I’m not sure whether they will have the same light resistance as pond liner.
The tomatoes have done really well – lots of lovely trusses have set nicely. None are ripening yet, but I remain hopeful for a reasonable harvest in the end – so far looking like my best yet here. Some of the plants have dark spots developing on the older leaves, which I think is a sign of nutrient deficiency. I probably haven’t fed them enough – just a bucket of comfrey tea between them when I can remember to do it! It’s actually also the same comfrey residue – so there’s probably not much nutrient left in it. I should have some time off later this week so will try and cut some fresh comfrey leaves then.
As usual I’m late with planting out my plants in the polytunnel. It has just been so hot in there! Also I’ve become programmed to work outside if the weather is at all dry, since that is normally the rarer event on Skye. The tomato plants that I managed to get in a couple of weeks ago are looking quite healthy. I especially like the look of one called ‘first in the field’ – it has a lovely thick stem and a dark green colour (front right hand corner in photo). All the others look good too, and a few are starting to show flowers, so hopefully they won’t be a complete disaster this year.
I have succeeded in planting out in the tunnel two climbing courgettes, three bush courgettes, three sharks fin melon (saved seed!) and two japanese squash. They all had a good few scoops of home made, wood ash enriched, compost mixed in to the planting hole, so should get away now despite being rather weedy looking plants. No sooner had they gone in than Harry decided that the planting recesses made a really comfortable bed! Luckily the japanese squash seemed none the worse the next morning!
I also planted out some basil which came from a friends saved seed – the best germination I’ve ever had! I guess it’s because the seed was nice and fresh. I’m going to see if I can get some of mine to set seed. That would be good to seed around in the tunnel! There are also two oca plants, which I am growing for the first time (the third went outside in the tea garden extension). The chilli peppers and aubergine probably won’t come to much, but they were free seed anyway. They’re such tiny plants I’m afraid they will be swamped in the tunnel, but they never get the attention they need in pots either with me, so this is the best option. I also had some goldenberry seeds (a type of Physalis – like the ones you sometimes get dipped in chocolate with your coffee). I gather this is a rather tender perennial that doesn’t mind poor soils (according to PFAF it can grow more leaves than fruit if the soil is too rich). Hopefully this will be able to over-winter in the polytunnel, so will add to my perennial plants in there. Although the sweetcorn plants also look a bit stunted I have given them a planting hole with extra compost and we’ll see how they do. They mostly seemed to have pretty good roots on them so may still crop albeit later in the year than they should.
In the undergrowth I found my fuchsia berry in its pot. This was a present from my Mum and had been waiting for a permanent home. Unfortunately it does seem to have suffered in the hot tunnel, but somewhat to my surprise was actually still alive! I therefore have found a suitable spot near the central path for it, and will try and keep an eye on it over the next few weeks until it is established. It does seem to have larger, sweeter berries than my garden fuchsia, although these are also quite nice when properly ripe. With regard to ripe berries, the flavour of the ‘honeyberries’ do seem to be developing. One of them definitely has some richer plummy flavours coming through now. So far they are hanging on the bushes well, so I’ll keep sampling them whilst they last.
There were four sharks fin melon plants that I did not have room for in the tunnel, so I have popped them in outside in the tea garden extension. I don’t suppose they will come to anything – they really need a longer season than they will get outside, but you never know, and they will be a bit more groundcover to keep some of the weeds down as well. There were a few more goldenberry plants as well – a little on the small side, they may fruit this year, but probably won’t overwinter. There are various seedlings appearing in this area – some of which I sowed, but a lot of docken. These I find harder to get out when they are small – the leaves tend to pull off too easily. When they are a little bigger the roots come too if you are lucky. I can see quite a few buckwheat seedlings, a very few phacelia, some wheat (not grass as I found when I pulled a bit out when weeding), quite a bit of what may be clover or alfalfa (too early to tell which yet), various brassica including a lot of fodder radish (which has very tasty pods if you allow it to go to seed), the ubiquitous kale and what may be cabbage (or sprouts?). There’s definitely a bit of leaf beet (or spinach?). The callaloo seedlings I put in seem to be doing pretty well despite the dry weather. I’ve never tried it before – its a sort of amaranth that is grown for it’s leaves. It is used quite a bit in Jamaican cookery, but apparently should grow quite well outside in the UK, we’ll see. There’s still a little bit more relatively easy weeding to do, then I need to get the paths laid and the rest of the undergrowth cut back and mulched.
The outside soft fruit are just a little way off ripe. The blackcurrants are changing colour. I’m hoping for my first harvest off the new plants in the tea garden. The berries all look a little on the small side, but plenty of them. The first raspberries are changing colour, and again I’m hoping for a good harvest there – watch this space!
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