Winter has finally arrived, we have a little snow that has stuck around for a few days, gradually refreezing as ice as it is trampled and melts a little during the day. I quite like a bit of quiet time to look around and see the structure of the ground under the plants. You can see the pathways made by people and dogs as the slightly flattened grass remains whiter with snow than rougher areas.
I have done a little pruning, although you are not supposed to do this when it is frosty! The remaining gooseberries in the fruit garden didn’t take long, and I have cut down the sapling sycamore tree that would have crowded one of the apple trees there. It may grow back, but I can just prune it out each year for pea sticks until it gives up! The apple that I grafted before I came to Skye and that was living in a pot for a while has unfortunately grown a little one sided. I assume it is just the prevailing wind that has achieved this, and am not sure if it is possible to reverse….
With the freezing weather there is little plant wise to do outside, but I have been able to get a little done in the polytunnel. As threatened I have drastically pruned back the kiwi vine. As well as shortening it, I have also taken out some of the larger fruiting side branches. This should encourage new ones to grow and be more fruitful. I tied the main trunk a little tighter to the overhead wires, as it was hanging a little low and even interfering with my headroom. The grapevines are far simpler to prune. I simply cut back all the side branches close to the main trunk.
I am very hopeful that what I am seeing here is flower buds on my apricot. I’m still not really sure whether I’m doing the right thing with the pruning of this. I think I now need to cut back the main branches by one third to an upward facing bud and tie in new branches in between the existing ones, and then I’m into ‘maintenance pruning’ whatever that means! I know I’m not supposed to prune when the plant is dormant so I need to leave it a couple of months.
There is a little weeding to do, and I also need to start watering a bit more in the tunnel as well in preparation for some early sowing. I think the akebia is surviving nicely, but I’m not sure about the passionflowers. I think they were a bit small and I should have brought them into the house last autumn. The propagation area keeps expanding. I could really use more space for putting the growing on plants. I’ll have to have a think about this. Maybe I just need to tidy up a bit more efficiently! Theoretically there is lots of space on my little greenhouse frame, so perhaps I’ll just concentrate on getting that properly sorted again. It just keeps filling up with empty pots!
Summer is, as yet, the fruit season for me. The orchard is a dream for the future; not a single apple this year, despite the good weather. I have been picking currants and raspberries however over the past couple of weeks. The original Ben Sarek black currants did pretty well, over 13 pounds in total. Not up to their usual quality however: quite a few split, and smaller than usual. It’s been a slightly odd year due to a relatively hot and dry early summer, and I think this affected the berries. Maybe the skins hardened too soon, since the Ben Gairn currant, which had a really good crop, had a lot split, which made the picking over quite difficult. I like to remove the remains of the petals as well as the stalks, but it was a slow messy job. I’ve made two batches of jam and still have some in the freezer. The Belorussian sweet currant I didn’t even bother picking. The fruit was the first to ripen, but was really tiny and split. Hopefully in a more normal summer it will do better. So far the Ben Sarek wins hands down. It’s only the first year for the other two to fruit properly however, so we’ll see how they do next year. The black currant bushes in the front garden didn’t have many berries. I haven’t been pruning them, and they are getting a bit leggy. I’ll try and make a point of pruning them hard this year. The cuttings in the fruit garden are now quite productive bushes. I’ve decided that the other currant next to the original Ben Sarek black currant bush must be what my friend calls the ‘nancyberry’. It grew as a seedling in my garden in Solihull (originally between the paving stones of the path as they do!), I think it is a blackcurrant-gooseberry cross. There it had lovely large sweet berries, but here it sets hardly any. I have been gradually removing the bushes again, since they obviously don’t like Skye. By removing this last bush it will give me a suitable space for my Charlotte Russe mulberry bush. That was a present from my Mum when she came up this spring. I am quite excited about this. The garden is still pretty exposed, but I’m hopeful that the fruit garden is starting to get a bit more sheltered.
The raspberries looked really promising, but the initial picking was a bit disappointing. I had a awful lot that were wormy. I have had this to a certain extent in previous years, but probably more than half were wormy to some extent. I’m not one to be too fussy about a few insects, but this was ridiculous! It’s been a bit damp to pick the berries this last week. The second picking was a bit better than the first: not so many ripe ones, but fewer with worm problems. I’ve made a big batch of strawberry and raspberry jam (strawberries from the shop as yet, although I now have some plants getting established so watch this space!). I have about four different sorts of summer raspberries, I was given a load of canes of an unknown variety from someone locally. They fruit well, but have been worst affected by the worms and have a slightly watery taste. I have another which does pretty well, some of the berries have a tendency to be slightly double, but good cosmetic quality generally. Malling Jewel is in the tea garden, struggling in a still rather exposed position. One that came with the house: Glen Prosen, which is starting to do quite well in the dog resistant garden but took a long while to get established, this is the best tasting fresh I think. I’ve found that neither of the autumn fruiting raspberries do very well in our short summers. They are too late getting started in the spring to flower in time before the weather gets colder and the days shorter.
Talking of strawberries, just a note on the himalayan strawberries in the tea garden. It looks like getting some other plants from different sources was the right thing to do, since despite being set back by my weeding at a time of hot dry weather a few fruit did set. Unexpectedly they have turned out to be white. They are like large alpine strawberries, difficult to remove from the stem, with a pleasant citrussy resinous flavour when fully ripe. They become very soft, so easy to crush. Hopefully they will fruit better next year if I can avoid digging them up at the wrong time! They do seem to make a very dense ground cover, which was their primary purpose.
I’ve now picked the last of the Haskap/honeyberries. It is impossible to tell whether they are ripe or not, until you bite into them. When ripe, they have a quite plummy sweet/sour flavour and are coloured right through. Before fully ripe they are sharper and less pleasant. I’m very pleased with how well they fruited, considering this is their first year. I’m pretty sure they will make a rather nice jam when I get a few more fruit. They should be pruned by removing about a quarter of the mature branches to avoid overcrowding and should live for decades. I need to try and not let them get taken over by weeds in the orchard area. So far they are a successful experiment I think. I’ve saved a few seeds so I can try to propagate them, they should germinate well when fresh, so I may try sowing some straight away. They also propagate by cuttings, better from summer cuttings apparently, but I may try some of the prunings this winter since that is easier for me.
I’ve not harvested the grapes in the tunnel, but have thoroughly thinned them out. I don’t think I thinned them enough last year, so I have been a bit more brutal this year. I collected the thinnings as much as possible, and had enough to make a small batch of green grape jelly. I had contemplated making verjuice, but I may try that next year. The new vine (a white, Zalagyongye, which for some reason I thought would be seedless but apparently isn’t) has just one bunch of grapes, but they are not so far along as the Boskoop glory, so I’m not sure whether they will ripen off. The vine is growing well, so I’m hoping that it will do better next year.
I still have redcurrants and gooseberries to harvest. The invicta has done quite well. The new red gooseberries, Pax, have mostly dropped, and are rather small. I have two new red currants in the tea garden: redcurrant cherry and rovada. I don’t think any of the redcurrants from Solihull survived, but I have a couple of small plants in the fruit garden. These were grown from cuttings taken from a tough little plant growing in a dry stone wall in full force of the sea winds. I’d like to take cuttings from a plant I pass going to the shop which blooms profusely, but the berries seem to either nor set or quickly get picked by birds. It is such a dwarfed plant that finding a decent bit of stem will be difficult.
The blackberry in the polytunnel is just starting to ripen, as is the new one ‘Helen’ outdoors. It looks like this may be a disappointment, as I have yet to try the berries! They are quite prolific and large but seem to be very attractive to blue flies which destroy the drops and make them discoloured and unappetising! It may be they are ripening too slowly due to the damp weather this week and may do better in drier weather. They certainly have been early, but I am at a bit of a loss about what to do about this. It looks like I will have to move the vine pretty soon anyway, since we are intending to extend the barn to where this is currently planted now. Maybe I should try it in the polytunnel? But that wasn’t the point!
So much to do so little time! Summertime is here, the daylight and the shop hours are longer…We seemed to skip straight from winter into summer here – usually spring is the nicest time on Skye, drier weather, (often warmest too!) no midgies and fewer tourists (we love them really!) I’ve been helped on my family research by my younger sisters and my mum coming for their holiday on Skye last week. A folder of old family documents and letters shed some fascinating insights into some of the Kent branches of the family. A few seem to have been soldiers and I’ve scanned in some of the documents to transcribe. One letter is from a soldier in Madras, India in 1832 describing the effects of a cholera outbreak and urging his brothers and sisters to stay home and not be tempted abroad. I haven’t placed him yet on the family tree, but he does seem to have survived to a ripe old age despite obviously in fear of his life at the time of his writing.
I thought I’d just review the winter and what has done well or poorly this year. Amongst my losses are my rock samphire plant (grown from seed – first winter), my sea beet (both an established plant that flowered last year but did not set seed and all of my seedlings in pots), some of my Camellia sinensis plants (small plants in the fruit garden – the ones in the tea garden are thriving), the unknown citrus in the polytunnel, my baby yacon seedlings, and a Luma apiculata that never made it out of it’s pot. Considering how cold the winter has been, not so much in intensity as in length, it could have been a lot worse.
A surprising survivor is a mashua plant that appears to have grown from a missed tuber in the fruit garden. I suppose since it can be grown as an ornamental perennial (think Ken Aslet) It shouldn’t be that surprising. I will leave this one and see how it does. I haven’t in the end planted any more mashua outside this year.
The apricot is doing well – I have now trained in seven shoots as described earlier, and they are needing tying in again. Unfortunately I did get one of the shoots slightly wrong – pinched out too many earlier on and was left with one that was growing at the wrong angle. I’m hoping it will straighten out as the plant grows.
I have grown a number of plants from seed this winter including what turned out to be Akebia triloba. This was grown from seed obtained via the facebook edimentals group from someone who ate the fruit in Japan, but we weren’t sure until the leaves appeared whether it was A. quinata or A. triloba. It should be hardy outside here, but will probably do better in the polytunnel. If the plants survive I’ll try both. I have also grown some passion fruit vines (still very tiny) Passiflora edulis and P. mollissima (I think). Some of my other seedlings have struggled in the hot weather we had a couple of weeks ago – the pots dried up very quickly and the tiny plants may not have made it. I had some martagon lily that I think have gone now, and some of my vetch seedlings have also gone. These include, annoyingly, the Astragalus crassicarpus (gound plum) that I was looking forwards to establishing in the tunnel. Luckily the single chilean hazelnut that germinated seems to be doing alright, and is now showing signs of sending up a second pair of leaves. This is better than the seeding I achieved last year which faded out at a single pair.
I was busy outside trying to get on top of the creeping buttercup before it took over everywhere again, but got distracted moving more soil down the hill to landscape the orchard area. This is nearly achieved, but more work to do on the south side of the trackway. Just at the moment the buttercups in the field are making a fine display with the pignuts, and remind me that we’d be poorer if we succeeded in eliminating weeds!
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.
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.
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!
upper growth vigour
usable tuber weight (Oz)
Dog resistant 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.
I’ve not had much time in the garden recently since there are a number of issues that have arisen mostly relating to the shop. One of my members of staff is poorly, so I had to do extra shifts. An exciting delivery from a new supplier came during one of my afternoons off so I had to go back down to the shop again to unpack it. Palmer and Harvey were one of my main suppliers, who have now ceased trading, so I’m having to work out where and if we can get the groceries we normally get from them. And someone put a planning application for mirror faced cube camping pods in the Glen which I felt obliged to object to. The weather had been better though – cool and still and a little damp. S. has bought me for christmas (not really I hope!) two pallet loads of hardwood which arrived on Friday and we spend much of Sunday warming ourselves once by stacking it all away in the woodshed.
Back in the Polytunnel, I have managed to harvest most of the fruit. I have four more sharks fin melons, ten bunches of ripe grapes, and a very few achocha. I still have the kiwi to harvest.
The grapes were starting to go mouldy, it’s just getting a little cool even in the polytunnel to expect any further ripening. I think maybe I wasn’t ruthless enough when I thinned out the bunches earlier in the year, although it felt pretty brutal at the time. I have picked them over and placed them in a glass of water, which hopefully should enable them to keep a little longer. I also dried some in the bottom oven to make raisins which worked pretty well. I could do with an easy way of removing the seeds however! I need to give the vines a good prune now. I’ve always taken my own approach to pruning; which is to make a cordon stem of the vine from which the fruiting spurs come off. This seems to work quite well. I had left a lower branch as well as the high level one, but it still isn’t really growing well. The branches that come off it are weak and tend to droop down, interfering with the crops at lower level. This year I’m going to prune the lower branch right out, and remove the wooden framework which also gets in the way of the polytunnel beds.
I’m not sure I’ll try the achocha again. I quite like it – it tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a courgette, but it seems not to set very many fruit with me. Only the fruit later in the season have set. Mind you, I have noticed a lot of spiders in the polytunnel this year and have suspected that they may be eating a lot of the pollinating insects this year. Maybe I’ll give it one more go and try and start them off nice and early.
The sharks fin melon I consider to be a big success, despite not getting that many fruit. They are huge and pretty, and tasty see here. The noodles do retain their noodly texture when frozen, so I may roast the melons as I need them and freeze the noodles in portions. I’m going to try and save seed (apparently they carry on ripening in storage) but also see whether I can overwinter the vine, since it is a perennial in warmer climates. So far I have buried one vine root in kiwi leaves (which have mostly shed now) and covered another with it’s own vine remains. Although it’s not been very cold for the last couple of weeks.
I seem to have got very good germination from the two lots of Akebia seeds. Both the ones that I sowed direct and the ones I left on tissue in a polythene bag have almost all got root shoots. I moved them inside onto a windowsill, rather than leaving them in the polytunnel. If I can get them through the winter, then I may have rather more plants than I need! If not then I have dried the rest of the seed and can try growing them in the spring.
The last few weeks have seen an intruder in the garden. For the last few years we have seem thankfully little sign of the deer, and I have been thinking they don’t like the smell of Dyson. However recently they have been in and caused a little damage to a few of the trees, and munched some of the greenery in the fruit garden. Luckily I don’t grow much for ourselves outside, but I had been getting a little complacent. We have planted a hawthorne hedge which I am hoping in the longer term will screen the garden and deter the deer, but that will be a long time before it is big enough to do any good. I’m pretty sure I heard the stags calling in the rut this year for the first time as well. I wonder whether one of them was looking for greenery to decorate his antlers? I gather they do this with bracken at this time to make themselves (presumably) more attractive or impressive. In the past when we’ve had damage to the trees it’s been in the spring, which is more likely to be them rubbing the velvet off their antlers which they grow new every year.
I’ve been trying to take photos of the same views every 3 months to give a record of how things have changed over time. I didn’t start from the word go, but some of the photos date from when we first bought the site in 2007, since they are good views! It has been ten years that we have been here now, so I thought I would share some before and after shots.
View from above the road.
This is taken from the prevailing wind direction (South West) As you can see we have been trying to establish a wind break of trees along the top of the bank. Our property boundary is the middle of the road The ones by the road have done fairly well, the ones further along to the SE/right less well. The soil is either too shallow, or too wet (the rock shelf holds the water) for them to thrive. The spruce that were by the house have all provided their tops as christmas trees in the past to stop them getting too big (they are very close to the house).
These aren’t quite the same angle but give an idea of how the fruit garden has evolved. The willow fedge was planted in 2009, and is still a bit sparse in places due to the soil being a bit shallow. I put rubbish such as dock roots and bramble thinnings on the uphill side of it to try and build up the soil. The tree that you can see in the centre on the earlier picture was a pear tree that did not survive. The soil is a bit shallow there, even though I had built it up a bit I think the tree got a bit dry. The morello cherry that was planted at the same time is doing well, you can see it in silouette against the polytunnel in the recent picture. I pruned it to open it up a bit this year. It had one cherry last year! The monkey puzzles here were planted as 2 ft trees in 2009. You can’t see them in the earlier shot, but I can see two ( towards the left) in this year’s shot.
From above orchard looking towards river
Again, not quite the same view point. The picture from 2009 must have been just after shearing! I can just see the fenceline at the bottom where we had started planting the trees in the pond area at the bottom. Note no deer fence in the earlier picture. They are definately starting to look like trees now, and even woods maybe in places!
From North corner by river towards house.
The trees here had been in a couple of years by 2012. The deer fencing however had only just been erected, and we soon noticed a difference in the growth of the trees – or at least the growth which has survived. Two houses to the north of us have been erected since we’ve been here. These alders are amongst the best grown trees now. We may consider coppicing them soon, before they get too big.
River from viewpoint
The first picture was taken as we were planting trees along the south boundary. You can see the temporary fence that excluded the sheep. The deer fence on the perifery went up a few months later. The spruce in the centre are slightly close together pehaps, but won’t grow back once cut down. That will leave a clear space for planting something else. It’s fairly damp there, so maybe more willow. We’re especially pleased with the growth of the alders on the right hand side here. In six years they have grown from foot high transplants to being able to exclude vegetation partially underneath them, and becoming an effective wind break.
I grew this for the first time last year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I had never, to my knowledge, seen it growing. Usually these things can turn out a little disappointing, but mashua has been an exception for me. First a little about mashua. It is a plant grown as a food crop in the Andes in South America. Although we tend to think of South America as either desert or tropical jungle, in fact much of it has a similar temperature range to the UK. The altitude keeps it cooler and damper, at least in the west. This means, much like those from the Himalayan valleys, many of the plants find themselves quite at home in Britain. Mashua is a tuberous climbing vine closely related to the nasturtium flower, and all parts of it are edible – tubers, leaves and flowers. It can grow quite tall in a single season, but will die back to the tubers over winter. Typically these tubers don’t start growing until the day length is shorter, which can be a problem in our latitudes, since that is not until later in the autumn and it can run out of growing time, so have a reduced cropping potential. This was also the case for potatoes when first introduced, and daylength neutral varieties of mashua are now available, Ken Aslet being the one usually mentioned.
I got tubers from two different sources, the Agroforestry Research Trust, and Pennard Plants. I’m not sure what variety either of them are, but they look similar at a glance. Because I had so few tubers I decided to plant them in the polytunnel, although unless you are exceptionally exposed, they would probably do fine outside. I used my usual slug protection of a cut off pot, although in my experience they don’t suffer too badly from slug damage. The foliage is bronzed, and similar to a nasturtium leaf, but lobed. If you like nasturtium leaves in salads (which we don’t), you would like mashua leaves. They have a similar peppery flavour. The plants climbed happily up netting, sticks and strings. The individual leaf stalks wrap around in a rather endearing way. Towards the end of the season I did get flowers, but this was so late that they were frosted, and I didn’t get to taste them and there was no chance of seed. I couldn’t see when the tubers started developing, the lower part of the plants being obscured by other vegetation. When the tops died back after the first hard frosts at the end of November, I could see that the tubers were formed by the tips of new shoots burying themselves back into the ground, forming a mass quite close to the plant centre. I think that earlier in the year new growth from the ground forms climbing shoots, and later in the year they form tubers.
When dug up the tubers were of various sizes ranging from very small – an inch or so – to maybe six inches and an inch or more broad. I was impressed by the yield considering I had basically neglected them.
I got one pound of good tubers from one tuber and three pound two ounces from the other tuber, not including some smaller tubers that weren’t worth eating. Since I only grew one of each source, I wouldn’t make any conclusions based on this. It may be that one got more or less watering, or more or less of some nutrient in the soil. If the same happens again on a larger sample I will let them know – apparently they can accumulate virus infections. After planting they got no real attention, except trying to get a bit of water to them, but as usual I struggled with my water supply at various times in the tunnel, so they probably got a bit drier than they would like. Even so the yield was more than I usually manage from potatoes outside, not great by good gardener standards, but pretty good for me! In appearance they are a bit like the smoother sorts of jerusalem artichoke you get – pointy ended and a bit scaley. Creamy coloured with pinkish tinges, they are quite attractive. When tried raw – again they have that spicy radish taste of nasturtiums, and are firm with a crunch. We did not like them raw, but if you are a fan of radish, you might like them in a salad, or grated in a coleslaw. Cooked, the spicy flavour and much of the crunchiness disappears and they become quite bland. One of the plants (the lower yielding one) appeared to be more spicy than the other, again this could be a factor of the way it was grown rather than the variety. We didn’t have a huge amount to eat, because I was impressed enough to want to save the best tubers to grow more this year, but we tried them stir fried with spices, in stews, and pot roasted with other vegetables and meat. S. said he’s happy to eat it again, so we’re sorted. I didn’t tell him that the South Americans regard it as an anti-aphrodisiac. Apparently it may have an effect on sperm count rather than testosterone.
I stored the best tubers in pots of compost in the shed. This was intended to keep them cool and frost free, but since some of the scrappy tubers I planted outside did survive and grow this spring, I may experiment a bit more with that this winter – I didn’t risk any of the good tubers, so am not that upset that several disappeared in the ground over winter. They started to sprout of their own accord quite early in the spring (by Skye standards), so they came out of the shed into the polytunnel to save them getting too leggy. Some were planted out around the garden. I have not given them supports to climb up, since I have read they do not do so in South America, rather left them to scramble over the ground to smother weeds. If I was growing closer to other vegetables, I might give them canes like runner beans. Some I have planted in the polytunnel again, since they did so well last year. I have planted them along the outer edges with netting to scramble up.
So far (end of July) the ones in the tunnel are climbing at crop bar level. They are getting watered when I water the rest of those beds (I have a trickle hose system set up), although I also try and give the corner ones a bit more water, since the hose system doesn’t tend to reach that well into the corners.
The ones outside are more variable. I planted some in the tea garden below the barn, where it is quite open. Two out of the four appear to have been eaten by slugs (I didn’t give them any protection), the other two are still very small. Some of the ones in the dog resistant garden have also disppeared, but at least one is doing quite well and is climbing happily with the beans up the poles. I also planted some in the fruit garden. These seem to be doing better – one of those is one that over wintered. I suppose to be fair, I should have pampered some of those more, although the ones inside haven’t been particularly pampered either. At this stage I can’t say which will do better in terms of yeild. The ones in the tunnel have certainly put on more growth above the ground, and are likely to persist later, having a little more protection from frosts and winds. However the ones outside will get more moisture, which may be more significant….
The only pests I’ve seen is a bit of slug damage, although I have read that like nasturtiums they can get affected by cabbage white caterpillars. Apparently in the autumn, voles can eat the tubers in the ground, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Overall an exiting new crop for me that appears to tolerate a bit of neglect!
I love May on Skye. Actually, as soon as the clocks change for summertime, life seems to get that much better. The day light gets longer and longer, technically it never gets truly dark now. The weather also starts to cheer up. Spring tends to be our dry season, and midge free whilst it lasts. Surprisingly that can actually be an extended period without rain, despite Skye’s reputation. We’ve only been here 10 years and have experienced one spring where we had about 16 weeks with no rain. This year wasn’t that dry (thankfully) and actually it didn’t dry up until towards the end of April. Then we had an idyllic week of almost unbroken sunshine, and day by day the vegetation on the croft started to unfold. I also start getting too excited and start digging and germinating far too many seeds with nowhere to put them!
This week I have shuffled almost all the logs on the log pile. For reasons I won’t go into, this particular delivery of softwood arrived sopping wet about 2 and a half years ago and we’ve been stuggling to get it away dry ever since. Finally the week of sunshine and drying north wind enabled us to get a whole lot cut and away (with a little help from our friends – thanks Dave). The ones that remain are still pretty wet, some were resting on the ground, so were getting wet from underneath, and they also have a lot of bark adhering which keeps them damp longer. So I have restacked, brushed off the loose bark as best I can, and moved the whole lot forwards back onto the ground bearing logs. As part of that exercise, I managed to bag up loose bark from under the pile to try and get some air flow through it, and also much of the sawdust created by the sawing operations. Hopefully now they are able to air off again we will get enough more dry weather to get most of the rest away soon. We’ll also have to estimate whether we will need another delivery to get us through the next winter. We do most of our cooking as well as all the hot water and heating using a wood fired range and it’ll be some time before we can harvest our own wood – although some by the river could do with a tidy up.
I have used up the bark mulching round newly planted Glen Coe raspberries. These were belated birthday presents from my in-laws. The Glen Coe is supposed to be a clumping raspberry that fruits on this year’s growth. It has attractive dark purple berries and I’ve fancied one since I’ve seen them in gardening catalogues. Anyway, I have planted them in the front garden where hopefully they should be pretty sheltered – we have some big (well c. 25 ft, which is tall for here) sycamore trees, and I have also planted a willow ‘fedge’ to one side of the path which cuts through from the front door to the lower drive. To the north of the fedge are blackcurrant and raspberry bushes. These are under planted (well OK, I never planted them, but they make a good ground cover) with ground elder. This is also growing on the other side of the path, which is where I am starting to plant some of my ‘interesting edibles’, and these new raspberries. I have tried an experiment therefore: rather than digging out all the ground elder, I have planted the raspberries in a small hole, cut back the vegetation, then heavily mulched with cardboard weighed down with stones and covered with bark. I expect that the ground elder will grow through, which is probably OK, but it does look quite smart just now!
I’ve also taken a first cut of the comfrey in the fruit garden. This is on the south side of the polytunnel and again is partially enclosed by a willow fedge. This fedge was very slow to get going. Partly because the soil depth is pretty shallow in places and willow does not like to dry out, and partly I don’t think that variety of willow likes the salt wind, and it has very little shelter until the other trees on the top of the gully bank start to get a little bigger. The comfrey is interplanted around the fruit bushes. The idea is that the comfrey will grow and mulch the bushes – feeding them and keeping the weeds down, also hiding them from the birds slightly. The difficulty is in getting the spacing right. Too close and the comfrey smothers the bushes. Too far apart and they don’t keep the weeds down enough. I seem to have erred on the too close side, so I am going to have to cut the comfrey and remove the growth elsewhere. I think this is probably some of the best soil on the property. It is deep enough to have been the burying ground apparently for several dead livestock in the distant past, much to the dogs’ delight! It is almost impossible to remove comfrey once it is established. The roots are thick, long and fragile and, like dandelion, will regenerate a new plant from a small fragment of root. Luckily it does seem to be the non spreading/seeding version, possibly even Bocking14 which is supposed to be the best for green manures, but since it came with the property, I cannot be sure of this. Anyway, hopefully by cutting the comfrey, this will curtail it’s growth a little in the future so it won’t swamp the bushes so much. I have cut up some of the leaves quite finely and pressed them into two buckets in my shed, which I hope will make good tomato food later in the year. The rest is still in a wheelbarrow ready to be used to mulch around whichever plants I feel need it most.
I need to try and do a little more civil engineering in the fruit garden as well. Both nettles and couch grass are making takeover bids, as well as the creeping grass and buttercups. I have used woven fabric under the paths, but it doesn’t seem to be very effective at keeping the weeds down, and is difficult to get the roots out of. I’m thinking of using newspaper topped with sawdust on the paths. I have enough to get a fairly deep layer down, but I think I’ll have to dig as much couch as possible out first. I’m hoping to grow a load of skirret, silverweed and other exciting root vegetables in the worst weedy areas, so will have an excuse to give it another fork over in the autumn to get rid of some regrowth then.