Xmas Harvests

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

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

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

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

 

 

mashua harvesting 2017
Mashua rootball on best plant

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

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

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

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

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Harvesting, germination and why we (sometimes) don’t like deer

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.

polytunnel crops

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.

grapes

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.

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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.

 

10 years on – Photos

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.

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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).

Fruit Garden.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

 

Exploring Mashua

mashua 2016
Mashua in polytunnel 2016

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.

leaf stalks twining
Mashua leaf stalk twining

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.

growth habit july 2017
growing mashua shoots July 2017
forming tubers
dug up mashua plant November showing developing 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.

harvesting mashua 2016
Harvesting Mashua 2016

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.

DSCN0027
Weighing mashua tubers 2016

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.

polytunnel 2017
Mashua in poytunnel up netting

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….

outside planting july 2017
Mashua in fruit garden
dog resistant garden
Mashua in dog resistant garden climbing with beans

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!

May

DSCN1227I 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.

ground elder cover
Ground elder groundcover

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!

newly planted glencoe
Raspberries in cutback undergrowth
cardboard mulch
mulched with cardboard
finished front path 2017
finished planting and mulching

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.