Achocha explosion

south america
South America makes a bid for Skye takeover

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.

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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.

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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.

x super sweet 100
Super Sweet 100 tomato stating to ripen

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.

asapragus and millefleur
Millefleur tomato truss with asparagus

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.

marrow
Marrow

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!

grape lineup
Nice line up on Boskoop glory grape vine

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.

mess while pruning
Some of the debris after cutting back kiwi and bramble

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.

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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.

 

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Podding along

Generally I find that crops that need a hot dry late summer to ripen are a waste of space on Skye.  Summer is our rainy season (along with the rest of the year!) so crops that like a cool damp climate seem to be doing better for me.  Luckily I have the polytunnel for things that like a bit more warmth and shelter (I’ll write again about that soon!).

tea garden extension 2019
Tea garden aka pallet garden

This year I managed to sow two different kinds of peas outside and one inside, which I wrote about previously when sown in the middle of May.  The purple mangetout in the front garden on the wigwam have really struggled to get going.  They germinated well, but a combination of slugs and lack of sunlight (it turned out to be much too shady once the trees had leaves on) has meant that I don’t think I will get any seed from them.  I may try that spot for some of my perennial japanese vegetables next year since many of them will be happy in shade.  I’m hoping that I have enough seed to try again either in the polytunnel or somewhere sunnier outside next year.

wigwam
Mangetout wigwam 2 months after sowing

The carlin peas in the tea garden (I need to think of a new name for this area – maybe the ‘pallet garden’ is more accurate now, since the tea bushes have not thrived) by contrast have done really well.  Sown thickly, typically they germinated well, got very little slug damage, and flowered and set pods nicely.  We have eaten several meals of fresh peas and Douglas and Dyson have benefitted from pea pods on their dinners (or straight from the vine while I’m picking).  There is still the odd flower, but I’m leaving most of the rest of the pods in the hope that they will dry and harden off enough to save for some pease pudding dishes over the winter.  Despite some strongish winds they have stood up well with the protection of the pallets and alder twigs.

carlin peas over pallet
Carlin peas cropping well early August

The ‘pallet garden’ is generally looking pretty productive in a slightly chaotic sort of way.  The perennial kale is large and leafy.  I haven’t picked much this year, although probably could have had more.  I made several batches of kale crisps (cut up, rub in a little veg oil and soy sauce and dry till crispy in moderate oven) which are really tasty and nutritious.  Again Dougie is benefitting from some of these (particularly the batch which got a bit burnt!).  There is lots of my lovely flat leaved kale as well.  Unfortunately it is growing amongst the trial oca tubers, so some of these may not have a fair trial having to compete with the kale.  Also I like the kale flower sprouts the following year, and I may have to dig all the plants up to harvest the oca, and hence get no sprouts…

windswept peas
Trial Oca under peas with kale

 

There were just a few carrots that survived last year, but were too small to be worth harvesting so I left in situ.  They have rewarded me with a flowering display all summer.  If we get a bit of nice weather into the autumn I may have fresh carrot seed, which I know from previous experience germinates far more reliably than shop bought seed.  With similar white flowers is the skirret.  I didn’t get round to actually eating very much of this last year, but I could do with digging up some to see whether it’s really worth the space.  Not that space is really an issue for me, and as a perennial there is actually no problem if I do leave it in another year!

skirret and artichoke
Skirret flowers (and jerusalem artichoke)

I have been given some jerusalem artichoke and potato tubers to try this year (thanks again Frances).  I have tried jerusalem artichokes in the past – I think in the first year we were here – but without shelter and in a new bed they disappeared in what has now become the fruit jungle.  Both tubers this year seem to have survived the slugs in the pallet garden.  I put one on the sunny side of a pallet and this has done much better than the other on the shady side, although both are looking healthy enough.  I have read that on the outer hebrides they crop well when grown for two years, so I think I won’t try digging these up this year.  Anyway they didn’t get the compost on planting, so won’t achieve much in the way of tubers anyhow; hopefully enough to regrow though.  The potatoes do grow well here – in the past they used to export seed tubers to Ireland from our holding.  I don’t usually bother with potatoes (running a shop we usually have some that need eating!), but since these were a gift it would be rude not to try them!  I need to check the variety and work out when to dig them up.  Anytime in the next month or so I expect.

I planted Yacon in various places in the pallet garden, including in the cardboard mulched area.  Some are doing well, and some are pretty slug eaten.  Again the  important bit is unseen underground, so I’ll have to wait till later in the year to find out how they have done.  There still seem to be a few mashua growing away in there as well, but they don’t seem to crop very well outside for me.  I think it is just a bit cool for them in the autumn here.

yacon slug eaten
Slug eaten Yacon

The himalayan strawberries don’t seem to have set fruit this year at all.  They did flower well, but we had that cold spell in May that maybe stopped the fruit forming.  However, they do form a nice groundcover and are starting to crowd out the buttercups quite well.  My friend A. gave me a few of her ground covering wild strawberries that she lets grow on her allotment and I can certainly confirm that they cover ground quickly!  One plant on the corner of one of the beds is now like an explosion of spiders crawling over the soil and paths.  They are yet to flower for me, but hopefully will yield the odd gardener’s treat in time!

strawberry explosion
Strawberry explosion

I broadcast lots of tiny amounts of seed in various places in the pallet garden at the start of June, most of which have yet to noticeably appear.  This is a little disappointing.  I guess I needed to rake them in to cover them with soil to prevent pests eating them or sun dessicating the fresh shoots.  They wouldn’t have grown very well in the packets either however, and many were saved seed, so no great loss really.  Maybe they will germinate in future years when they feel like it.  Most of the soil does have a pretty good groundcover of various planted and volunteered plants.  I’m not sure where the borage came from, but love it’s hairiness and joyous blue flowers.  There are a few surviving green manure plants from last year – particularly alfalfa and red clover, which although not surviving where I would have planted them, should come back again next year.

borage
Borage flowers

In the southernmost corner of the pallet garden I had a patch of fodder radish as a green manure last year.  I was initially disappointed this wasn’t the same fodder radish as I had grown in the polytunnel that made the lovely radishy seed pods.  However, unlike that one, it did form ball radishes that were quite edible when young, although a bit woody later on.  The dogs loved them however!  I would be weeding or doing something at the other end of the garden, and Douglas would present me with an emergency fetch ball.  Dyson also soon realised that these spicy balls were edible and that would keep him happy as well, munching away.  I think I probably won’t grow them again though, since the globe roots will be less good at aerating the soil than the longer pod radishes are (which did do well in the orchard area – more on that another time).  I will collect some seed just in case.

wheat
Wheat ripening

In with the radishes were a few overwintered wheat plants.  I had to remove some when I put up the pallets in the spring  The remainder have cropped very well.  If I can harvest them before the birds do I will have rejuvenated my wheat seeds.  I don’t remember now where these came from at all.  Probably saved from a volunteer from some bird seed?

 

Not vine weevil actually

alder sawfly
Sawfly larvae on Alder leaf

As the leaves fill out and mature on the trees, the insect larvae get busy eating them.  Hopefully the birds are enjoying eating the larvae as well.  Otherwise we are going to have a problem with the alder sawfly in future years!  This is not it’s real name, but I see a lot of them on alder trees and have not noticed them elsewhere.  I first notice just a few holes in the leaves, and then the tiny dark coloured caterpillars can be seen at the leaf edges.  When bigger they are paler with dark spots.  When disturbed they rear up in an amusing manner.  I don’t know what the adult flies look like.

 

bug on flower
Bright bug

This picture looks really tropical, but the scale is really small.  This is an unknown bug on a knapweed flower.

vine weevil
weevil larvae

I have been worried ever since we started planting trees in the tree field about the number of what I thought were vine weevil grubs I was digging up.  These are little maggots with a brownish head.  Vine weevil are notorious amongst gardeners for destroying plants from the roots – particularly strawberries.  One interesting thing about vine weevils (maybe other weevils too?) is that females can reproduce parthenogenically (they don’t need a male).

not vine weevil
Not vine weevil

However this year I spotted these beetles on some of the trees (mostly willows).  They were obviously weevils, but didn’t look like vine weevils – they are smaller and have a smoother back without the bronze speckles that vine weevils have.  I was surprised when I tried to find out what they were, how many different sorts of weevil there actually are in the UK (see here).  So I’m not sure exactly which these are – but I’m happier that I don’t have widespread wine weevils all over the holding.  I know I have them up by the house, but so far they don’t seem to cause too much damage.  Maybe the ground beetles keep the population under control; I have seen a black beetle happily eating an adult vine weevil in the polytunnel so I know they will take a few at least!

bonking beetles

I’ll just share this photo of red soldier beetles, if only because of their common name of hogweed bonking beetles.  They were happy (!) on the hogweed flowers.

 

A glut of Gooseberries

This year has been really successful for soft fruit.  Despite that frosty spell we had in May all the soft fruit seems to have done really well.  This is partly because the fruit bushes are starting to get more mature.  Larger bushes = more fruit.

The first lot of raspberries in the fruit garden, which I’m starting to call the fruit jungle, were ripening over a week ago.  They took me by surprise when I went to put some weeds on the compost heap in there.  I have picked two batches of raspberries.  On the 14th July, picking all the ripe fruit in the fruit jungle and the front garden, I picked 10oz of good quality raspberries and 2lb 4oz of less cosmetically perfect fruit for jam.  Three days later on the 17th July again I picked all the ripe raspberry fruit, achieving 6oz perfect fruit, and 2lb 3oz jamming fruit.  A small punnet of redcurrants from the tea garden, cooked separately and sieved into the raspberry pulp, gave a soft but satisfactory set to the raspberry jam.  Raspberries are rather low in pectin, so they need more adding to get a good set.  I have used apples in the past, but it is quite satisfying to use my own fruit.  Raspberry jam is one of my favourites, but two batches would see us through the year nicely.  Unfortunately rather a lot of the jar lids have not sealed properly, so the jam will have to be eaten sooner rather than stored.  This means I may have to make another batch of jam so that we have enough to last.

raspberries in fruit jungle
Raspberries in fruit jungle

I have several other raspberries varieties which are still establishing – Glen Prosen in the dog resistant garden, Malling Jewel and Autumn Bliss in the tea garden. and an unknown from AC on the hump overlooking the orchard and leach field.  I am also thinking that the leach field may be a good place to plant another patch of raspberries.  They are shallow rooting, and the spot is very sheltered in between the hump and the orchard.

gooseberries 2019
Bumper Gooseberries

The gooseberries have had the best crop this year that I have ever seen.  From the three bushes in the dog resistant garden I picked 4 1/2 lb, 5lb 4oz, and 2 1/2 lb.  Some of the fruit was a little hard still, but some had already fallen from the bushes as overripe.  This variety is Invicta, which is supposed to be more mildew resistant.  I don’t know about that.  The bush is not too prickly, and the fruit is pale green, large and slightly hairy, going very slightly on the pink side of yellow when super ripe.  It is sweet enough to eat straight from the bush when really ripe.  I picked them all over – topping and tailing them with my fingers, and selecting the larger, nicer looking fruit to sell.  The rest I bagged up and put in the freezer in the short term.  I’m hoping to make chutney  with those.  Locally not everyone has done so well, with problems such as mildew and sawfly really affecting crops, so I feel very lucky this year.

There are two more Invicta gooseberry bushes in the fruit jungle, only one of which is fruiting well.  These still want a bit more ripening, which is odd, since I thought they get more sun there than in the dog resistant garden.  I have a different variety, Pax, in the tea garden.  It is a red variety, but suffered from wind there, is rather lop sided, and does not have enough growth yet to produce a good crop.

redcurrant 2019
Redcurrant Cherry

There are still more redcurrants ripening on the bush that I was picking in the tea garden, as well as on an adjacent bush which has fruit that are just starting to turn colour. I may puree and freeze some to use as pectin additive, and I quite fancy some redcurrant jelly as well.  I think the one I have been picking is Cherry and the one yet to ripen is Rovada.  The varieties were selected to give a spread in the harvest.

blackcurrant and parseley
The main Ben Sarek bushes with accompanying parseley

The blackcurrants I finally got round to picking this week.  I now officially have more blackcurrants than I use myself.  I picked about 9 lb of my Ben Sarek blackcurrants this week when the weather was lovely and warm (we never got the horrid hot weather they had further south – just low 20s with a nice breeze).  There would have been far more to pick, but I left it rather late, so many had fallen off the bushes or gone soft.  The main crop is in the fruit jungle, however I have been planting cuttings in the orchard and further down the tree field, and some of these are now also starting to fruit well.  The other varieties in the tea garden (Ben Gairn and Byelorussian Sweet) are also ripe, so could do with picking now too.

blackcurrant in tree field

Blackcurrant planted in tree field (recently mulched)

 

Midsummer grass

We go through a period at midsummer where the spring flower start to fade and the late summer flowers are yet in bud.  The grass is overtall and swamps the smallest trees sometimes smothering them out.  We were too busy with construction projects to keep a path mown through the trackways recently.  Last week, after the damp grass made my feet so wet that I was able to wring water out of my socks even in wellies, I had to do some mowing!

cut just before the rain
The mist came down again after mowing.

 

We had a dry spell Sunday and Monday so S. made a start before lunch and I carried on on Tuesday and was able to put a single mower track down the middle of most of the rides and backways.  I made a new backway that I call the white orchid path, which matches up with one S. made to cut down from the middle to the pond area from near the royal oaks.  There is only one white orchid there, which I noticed for the first time two years ago.  It was quite a distance from the trackway, so it is nice to be able to take a closer look.  It’s just a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) I think, but it’s more unusual for them to be white rather than pink.

white orchid path
White Orchid path

The dogs are very good about machinery, they know to trot behind, or do their own thing, however when it comes to raking up the cut grass Dyson is a bit of a pain.  His game is to try and catch the rake head (or broom or vacuum nozzle)  which makes the job about twice as long!  I ended up putting them in for an afternoon nap, so I could get on more quickly.  I hate all that mulch material going to waste rotting on the path and killing grass where I don’t want it killed.  I have been raking it up into piles, then the dogs can help (they think they are helping) piling it around some of the newer or more vulnerable trees and shrubs.  I’ve still got quite a bit to do, and two or three smaller paths haven’t been mown yet.

danish elder
New Elder tree from Denmark, uncovered but not yet mulched.
mulching trees
Mulched chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa)

It was nice to see several mushrooms, a sign of the fungal mycelium below which distributs nutrients around the field.  I guess they will be changing from grass and orchid loving fungi to tree loving fungi, but there is still quite a amount of open space from one cause or another.  I also saw several butterflies, caterpillars, a dragonfly and a frog.  The advantage of the scythemower is that, as well as coping with overtall grass, it is less likely to kill wildlife, since it cuts in one direction rather than circularly.

fungi flower
Fruiting fungi

I think I’m going to have to assume that this wild cherry (below) is not going to recover.  It got hit by late frosts, which are pretty unusual here, just as the buds were unfurling.  I did think it would stage a comeback, but it doesn’t look like it now.  There are several suckers from adjacent trees, at least one coming up in the trackway, so I could transplant one of these to replace it.  Alternatively, I could put something else there.

dead cherry
Dead cherry
enjoying trackway
The dogs love a free run

In praise of small flowers

I’ve not done much around the holding this week because Douglas, our dog, is recuperating from an operation.  This means I am spending much of my time in the house keeping him company, since he mustn’t do any running or jumping at present.  Hopefully he will make a good recovery, but at the moment has some healing to do.

small flowers
Dyson on trackway: upper loop

I have been taking our other dog, Dyson, out for intensive runs in the tree field to make up.  The summer orchids are starting again to show their impressive flowerheads, and I am marking the ones near or on the trackways with sticks, to try and avoid them being trodden on or mown.  However, this post I wanted to highlight some of the little, less showy wild flowers that tend to get forgotten about.  Individually the flowers may be small, but often they flower prolifically and make the trackways look like a medieval garden lawn.  Not all of these photos were taken this week.

showy orchids
Showy wild orchids

The obvious one is the pignut, but that almost qualifies as a large flower, albeit made up of tiny ones, but I have posted about it before.  Another that gives most of the field a golden brightness is the buttercup.  I have both creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), and meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), in the tree field.

sunny buttercups
Fields of gold

I may have the third UK buttercup, globe buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), since it does grow on Skye, but I have not identified it here yet.  When the sun catches the buttercup flowers they are a delight, even if the creeping buttercup is probably my most annoying weed in the areas I am trying to grow things.  Mostly because its leaves come away from the roots, which will then regrow.  The fact it can spread about 4 feet a year is also a nuisance for a rather laid back gardener like me.

creeping buttercup
Creeping buttercup surviving mulching and spreading quickly

I would include white clover (Trifolium repens), in the small flowers category.  The pink clovers quite often have such flamboyant flowers that they stand out alone.  White clover tends to be a bit smaller and lower lying, although forms large swathes of blooms on the trackways.  It is a food source for the common blue butterfly as well as a nitrogen fixing plant.

selfheal and clover
Selfheal and white clover

Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is rather like a tiny purple deadnettle.  Sometimes you can see the bright purple of the flowers, and sometimes just the magenta flowerheads.  I found one on the mound that had white flowers, but have not seen it since the first year of sheep eviction.

speedwell
Speedwell with some colour variation

One of my favourite flowers, speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), is definitely a small flower.  I love the colour, an enhancement of the sky above (if not clouded!).  Every now and then I come across a good clump of it and it brightens my day.  It is a food source for heath fritillary butterflies.  Although the flowers are tiny, the colour is so vibrant it is difficult to miss.  They also change colour from pink to blue, as they age, which I find fascinating.

eyebright path
Eyebright growing along compacted path in gully field

When looked at in detail the flowers of eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis agg) are just a beautiful as any orchid.  Pale pink snapdragon flowers have a yellow landing strip for insects but are only a few millimeters across.  They also only open one or two at a time on the flowerheads.  Unfortunately being so small they are easily overlooked, like those of mouse ear (Cerastium fontanum).

tormentil groundcover
Tormentil competing well with grass

One of the things I like about writing up my ‘blogs is that I almost always learn something by researching what I wanted to write about.  For example another plant disliked by gardeners is cinquefoil.  It was quite a nuisance weed for us on the allotment in Solihull, but didn’t seem to be such a pest for me here.  The reason being the Potentilla we have here is tormentil: Potentilla erecta, as opposed to cinquefoil which is Potentilla reptans.  Tormentil flowers usually have four petals (rather than five for cinquefoil) and the leaves are usually stalkless unlike cinquefoils leaves.  There is quite a bit of this growing in the tree field.  It is actually out-competing the grass in some of the areas where the soil is thinner.

Lastly for now I will mention thyme (Thymus polytrichus).  A bit like heather it is ubiquitous in the highlands and I am always breaking out into ‘wild mountain thyme’ when the sun shines!  Here it grows across the rocks and scree, and I am hoping it will take on my drivebank wall with some encouragement.  It makes a great cushion of purple and often is found on the banks of the burn together with heath bedstraw, a tiny cousin of cleavers that forms a cushion of white.

thyme and heath bedstraw
Thyme and heath bedstraw

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning Japanese or OK in the UK

I need to do a bit of research at the moment on Japanese cookery.  Particularly the use of Japanese spring mountain vegetables or Sansai (山菜).  There are a couple of reasons for this:  Firstly, these are predominately perennial plants gathered from the wild in Japan (or at least that was the case originally) and I am interested in perennial plant food sources.  Secondly, the climate in the mountains of Japan is a little cooler than elsewhere in Japan and these plants are likely to do OK in the UK.

Typically sansai are the fresh sprouts of leaves and flowers of perennial plants and trees that are cut and eaten when young.  Many of the plants are already grown in the UK as ornamental garden plants, and most Britons do not know that they can also be eaten.  As we also know, everything can be edible once, and edible does not always mean tasty.

For example there are believed to be links between the eating of warabi (bracken ferns, pteridium aquilinum) and various cancers, although this site says that prepared correctly, and eaten in moderation, they are both delicious and safe.  My mum says she tried bracken fern only once, so I guess she was not impressed, but maybe she did not prepare it correctly.  I think I may give it a miss just now though.  I do love to see it at this time of year as the bracken angels unfurl.  Eating it as I weed out the young shoots could be tempting!

angels
Bracken “angels”

I’ve found a couple of lists of sansei online: shizuoka gourmet  and organic growers school  for example, although some of these are not necessarily spring vegetables.  These are the plants I am most tempted by, with the Japanese vegetable name if known:

Indian cucumber root Medeola virginiana

Ostrich fern Matteucia struthiopteris, kogomi

Honewort Cryptotaenia canadensis, mitsuba

Bamboo Phyllostachys spp.

Japanese spikenard, Aralia cordata udo and yamaudo (bundle of blanched shoots) see here for example

Japanese pepper tree Zanthoxylum piperitum kinome

Angelica tree shoots Aralia elata tara no me

Japanese sweet coltsfoot, giant butterbur (unopened buds), Petasites japonicus giganteus, fukinoto

Plantain lily Hosta fortunei  kiboushi, Hosta montana urui, and Hosta sieboldiana

Glory bower peanut butter shrub Clerodendron harlequin kusagi

Indian plantain Cacalia delphiniifolia, C. hastata ssp. orientalis shidoke, or momijigasa

I already have varieties similar to the following:

Solomon’s seal Polygonatum commutatum and P. odoratum amadokoro

solomons seal
Solomons seal shoots at the correct age for cutting

Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia

wapato
Sagittaria latifolia or wapato tubers

Chocolate vine (fruit) Akebia

Dogtooth violet Erythronium japonicum katakuri

dog tooth
Dogs tooth violet in flower (tubers are edible)

Orange daylily Hemerocallis fulva Nokanzou

Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga, Mioga

Japanese horseradish, Wasabia japonica, Wasabi

wasabi bed
New Wasabi bed – placed by kitchen door to receive teapot washings

Most of these are still being established so I am yet to try some of them.  The wapato tubers are slimy to clean, but taste innocuous like potatoes when cooked.  Solomons seal shoots were very bitter – I only cut a couple of shoots, so next year I will try changing the water.  Beneath the bitterness there was a sweet taste so I think they are worth trying again.

I’m not sure whether we will like wasabi, normally we’re not big eaters of mustard or horseradish, however when I read about it, wasabi seems to like conditions very similar to Skye’s normal weather – never above 15 celsius or below 5 celsius and wet all the time!  All it will require is protection from the strong winds.  Having an interest in expensive dining (having the three chimneys restaurant just over the hill from us) I thought it would be fun to try anyhow.  I have sourced plants from two different UK sources (hopefully about 4 varieties in total).  These I have put in an old wooden tub.  I changed half the compost for fresh peat free commercial compost.  The old stuff had been half and half soil and compost.  Mixed in, I hope it will be good enough for the wasabi plants.  They haven’t keeled over and died straight away, so I am hopeful that the bit of afternoon sun they will get on this corner of the house won’t be too much for them.  I tried a bit of leaf and stem, and these were surprisingly mild in flavour, so perhaps we will get to eat some of the harvest after all!

 

May days

dry pond
Dry Pond

It’s been staying dry.  Not bone dry but misty-isle dry.  We’ve had a bit of mizzle, even some proper rain, but not enough to make the burns run again yet.  It’s a bit odd that the burns went dry so soon.  I can only assume that it must have been quite a dry winter – although it didn’t seem that way at the time.  This year the pond by the river has dried up completely.  I don’t know whether our tadpoles managed to survive or not….  We are forecast to have rain again on Saturday night, so maybe it will be enough to water the plants a bit.  So far, the rain just makes the surface of the soil wet, rather than soaking in.  Luckily our burn in the gully is fed by a deep spring so although down to a trickle, it still flows.  I am using one of the pools there as a dipping pond; filling the watering can there when I do the patrol with the dog-boys.  Then I can use the water on my pot plants or in the polytunnel.

dipping pond
Dyson in dipping pool

The bluebells are now putting on a lovely show in the tree field.  In places it looks like a bluebell wood!  Since it has also been staying quite cool (about 9 degrees celsius overnight and 11 during the day) the flowers are lasting well.

bluebell woods
Bluebell woods!

I am starting to see the orchids coming up in various places.  Some I remember from year to year, others are a surprise.  Unfortunately one of the big ones (probably a hybrid) in Dougie’s field got caught by frost.  That’s the first time I know that has happened.  Where I see them in the trackways, I have been marking them with sticks again so that S. can easily avoid them if he takes the mower down again.

marking orchid
Marking Orchids in trackways

I am hopeful that we have had a better set of cherries this year. It is still too early to tell yet really, however there definately seem to be cherries on this tree in the orchard area, and although I thought the morello in the fruit garden had none, I can now see those developing too.

cherries
Hopeful orchard cherries

More of the first planted trees are reaching maturity.  There is blossom on more of the hawthorne, and wild cherries.  Also and for the first time, there was blossom on at least one of the cherry plums, and a couple of saskatoons.  Maybe they liked the warm weather last year, or maybe they have just reached a critical size.  I don’t expect that there will be much, if any fruit, but it bodes well for future years.  One of the more exciting flowers for me was one of the hollies in the front garden has blossomed.  Holly trees are usually either male or female, and judging by the pollen on these flowers this plant is a male.  No berries yet then this year, but hopefully one or more of his neighbours will be female, and eventually there will be berries.

holly flowers
Male holly blossom

At this time of year the sycamores also come into bloom.  They are not really showy flowers, just a pale green chandelier, but the insects love them.  As you walk round the garden you become aware of a humming, and it is coming from the sycamores.  As well as bees there are wasps feeding on the pollen, and hoverflies and other flies.

buzzing tree
Bumblebee enjoying sycamore flowers

On the drive bank things seem to be holding on.  It has been difficult to water the plants on a slope, but they all got watered in pretty well when planted, so hopefully will survive OK.  The cooler weather means they are less stressed anyhow.  The bulbs leaves have faded as expected, and some of the tiny escallonia have flowers!  There are some signs of seeds germinating, the buckwheat and calendula I can identify, but there are also weed seeds as expected.  Not much grass yet so that’s good.  It will be nice to see the earth covered.

seedlings
Buckwheat seedlings on drivebank

My hablitzia are springing forth.  I think that this year I will try harvesting some, so watch this space….

happy habby
Happy habby bed

 

Shorts and Wellies

waternish Skye
Ploughing at Trumpan, Waternish, Skye

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.

finished tea garden
Tea garden after tidying and planting

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.

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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.

melon seeds
Sharks fin melon – 17 months after harvest

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).

finished blueberry mulch
Mulched patch for blueberries

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.

 

Pink Bluebells

I was rather worried when I saw these under one of the spruce trees by the road this week.  I have not noticed them flowering in previous years.  I thought at first that they must be Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), even though I have not seen any round here, so I picked them so they would not spread.

pink bluebells
Pink Hyacinthoides non-scripta

On closer inspection I now think they are genuine pink British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).  This does happen occasionally I gather, and I know that there are quite a few white ones in this area.  Although I’ve not seen any on our holding there are some not far away.

The flowers were left in a pot of water in the kitchen, and the scent of them in the evening as they opened out was astonishing for such little flowers.  I picked the blue one for photo comparison – that is a standard bluebell, albeit at a less ripe stage – the colour does lessen slightly as they age