As usual, this year I have been collecting and saving seeds of various plants around the holding, for propagation and to give away. This is a list of seeds I have surplus of, so please let me know if you would like to try any of them. They are a mixture of wild and cultivated, annuals and perennials. Also, if I have mentioned anything elsewhere that you would like me to save seed or take cuttings of that I haven’t this year, I can maybe do next year for you.
Wild flower seeds (all Skye natives):
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Pignut (Conopodium majus)
Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Self heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Bushvetch (vicia sepium)
Red clover (Trifolium sp.)
Perennial vegetable seeds:
Good king henry (chenopodium bonus henricus)
Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides) (from my habby bed by the workshop!)
Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Salsify (Tragapogon porrifolius)
Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) (seed from surviving second year plant)
Annual vegetable seeds:
Achocha fat baby (Cyclanthera pedata I think) This is smaller, but sets fruit sooner than the other achocha.
Achocha Bolivian giant (Cyclanthera brachyastacha I think). This has fewer, much larger fruit and takes longer to grow.
Achocha Bolivian giant (from smooth fruited plant, I don’t know how the offspring will be!)
Note: all these achocha have been grown in the same polytunnel in close proximity, so if they can cross they may have.
Carlin pea (Pisum sativum)
Flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Blue lupin (probably Lupinus perennis)
Milk vetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos)
Some of these I have more seed of than others, so let me know quickly if you are very keen on anything in particular.
Well, I’m back safely. The drivebank planting is now approaching the end of it’s first season growth, so I thought I’d do an update on how it is getting on. Generally I’m pretty pleased. I think most of the perennial plants have at least established OK. I lost the Philadelphus, thanks to Dougie (bless him!) using it as a toy and pulling it out and chewing it, but the other shrubs seem OK. The Elaeagnus look a bit bare – I think they lost a few leaves in the wind, which is a bit disappointing. I thought they would be reasonably wind resistant. The Escallonia of course is looking lush, and the Gaultheria is also doing well – just flowering and with small berries at the moment. I have quite a few babies of this that came from cuttings I took back in the spring which are doing quite well too. The variegated laurel, like the Elaeagnus, has lost a few leaves, but otherwise seems OK. I’ve poked in a few cuttings from one of my murtillo (Myrtus Ugni) in the hope that a slightly warmer spot may incline it to ripen fruit. The bushes in the tea garden grow and flower well, but the fruit never seems to come to much, and I’d really like to try making jelly with this! The fruit smell divine and taste like sherbert strawberries, incredible! They are quite small and pippy though, so I think jelly will be more successful than jam.
At least one of the broom are doing very well, having put on quite a bit of growth this year. Fingers crossed it survives the damp winter ahead. I’m wondering whether to plant some of this down the hill in the patch with ash trees that don’t seem to be doing very well. It is a native plant (I’ve seen it growing on the island), the bees love the flowers, it is a nitrogen fixer and tolerates dry soil, so should be OK where the soil is a bit shallow there. Broom does in fact need it well drained, so won’t grow happily just anywhere here.
from same seed
I was a bit disappointed with the lack of germination from the seeds I broadcast. I was hoping to get a bit more coverage and blooms from the Calendula, but there were only a few came up early on and then some stragglers at the tail end of the season. These are still blooming now, but rather sparse. They all seemed to be different colours and forms too, whereas I thought I was expecting just single orange flowers from the packet. There was more coverage from the unknown buckwheat, but these aren’t particularly colourful examples; I will leave the debris overwinter to protect the soil a little bit. There seem to be one or two of the other herby things I broadcast, I’m not sure whether they are chervil or caraway or coriander, a bit tiny to pick the leaves from. Maybe more will come up next year.
Initially I got quite a good coverage from the bittercress weed plants, which I just left to get on with it – they are too tiny to be a problem in my opinion. I do try and take out the buttercup, docken and nettle seedlings and the various grasses that seem to have come back either through missed roots, or seeds. The buttercups and docken are the worst, because the leaves come off, leaving the roots intact. Sometimes I left them, but generally I tried to lever them out, because chances are they will regrow. I pulled the leaves off the weeds and scattered them on the soil to create a bit of mulch, although this was pretty ineffective – actually the weeds were much less prolific than I was expecting, although I don’t suppose I have seen the last of them! In fact, the bittercress seem to be making a second coming now in the cool of the autumn.
A few things I planted to climb and/or spread, all of which are pretty tiny still. I seem to have mixed up the Lathyrus linifolius and Lathyrus tuberosa when planting them. I don’t expect this will matter too much, although the L. tuberosa should become a much taller plant, so may (hopefully?) be a bit much where I was expecting the smaller L. linifolius to be growing. The Akebia again is very tiny, but is alive and looks healthy enough. Hopefully it will survive the winter and do better year on year, to climb the sycamore. The wild strawberry I planted at the top under the tree, is spreading enthusiastically. I think this is supposed to be a better fruiting form that I bought from someone (I can’t remember where now). No fruit yet, but maybe next year….
All the perennial herbs have established well. The little oregano plant was a mass of blooms which the bees really appreciated earlier in the year. Again, it seems to be having a second wind with another batch of flowers now. The marjorum (unknown) from the polytunnel has been fine. The lavender bloomed quite late. This is a pity in a way, because it leaves it too late to take cuttings after it has bloomed. I will have to take a few in the spring, and hope that I still get the flowers. These are on tall stems, and I think the plant has the potential to get a bit big. It doesn’t matter too much if it overhangs the steps a bit. The sage also seems fine. I left the main plant in a pot, which I have brought in to the polytunnel to keep it drier over the winter. There were several smaller plants that I had grown from cuttings which I tucked in at the top of the main wall. These I hope will be well enough drained to overwinter outside OK. The chives as expected have been fine, they went in a bit late for flowers, but should look good next year. I may get some other clumping alliums to go with them, as they generally seem to do OK here. The little rosemary seems to be fine, and again at the top of the wall should be OK to overwinter.
I have been quite pleased with most of the perennials I planted out. The daylillies, which had never a flower in three years in the shop planters, have bloomed quite happily on and off this summer. Indeed they still seem to have buds coming now! The dahlia have bloomed quite well, with simple red daisies and dark foliage. Also from the shop planters are the tall lillies. These all seem to have white flowers, whereas the shorter ones left in the shop planters are yellow. This is not quite the mix I was expecting, but the shop flowers match my icecream flag nicely. The various campanula seem to be growing bigger now than they did in the summer, which is a bit unexpected. Maybe they would prefer somewhere a bit more shady. I did tuck some in by the pea wigwam in the front garden (which turned out too shady for peas) so they may do better there. All I can say for the asparagus and artichoke is that they seem to be alive still. Hopefully they are established enough to come back next year. There is no sign of the nerines, which should be in flower just now, so I may have lost those.
Slightly tender plants include the salt bush, Atriplex canescens, which I grew from seed. It still looks a bit small, but reasonably OK. The leaves make quite a nice salad leaf with a salty juicy crunch. The bush needs to get quite a bit bigger before it is useful for eating though! The little Trachycarpus is forming new leaves. This will be a slow growing plant I expect. There is one I donated to Glendale Estate house, Hamera lodge, when I didn’t realise the uses of it, which is still only about eighteen inches tall after 8 years or so. Admitedly they planted it in a rather shady spot I think, so it could have done better. I’ve just agreed to look after the gardens there as well (excepting the lawn mowing) which should be fun! It has a large walled garden, which has been virtually unmanaged for several decades, but has a few apple trees and a lot of potential.
I have been very pleased with my “strawberry steps”. I planted out some white alpine strawberry plants, which I had grown from saved seed (originally a James Wong seed grown plant). The white strawberries are supposed to be less likely to be taken by birds, but still have a lovely sweet strawberry taste when properly ripe – they go suddenly bigger and paler, but it can be a subtle change. These have bulked out nicely and ripened some fruit. Next year they should do even better, and give a nice coverage to the steps. Since the steps are a bit narrow, being made of curb stones I had dug up from the pedestrian gate path, it is a bit difficult not to step on the strawberries when ascending the steps. Some of the sedum seeds I sowed there have also germinated. I’ll have to decide whether to transplant those, or to leave them in situ.
All in all a pretty good first season. My task next year is to finish off the wall around the corner by the barn, with more steps or a ramp for access there, and maybe continue above the steps to the pathway by the willow fedge.
This is the most peculiar thing. I can’t remember where I got the idea that marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) was an interesting edible weed. I think I came across it in an ‘Agroforestry News’ article from ART in 2017, and I certainly got a plant from them subsequently which confirmed that indeed I already had this plant growing wild on the holding. I have just checked my books and none of them seem to mention marsh woundwort as a worthwhile edible, but I really rate it highly now I have tried it. It is not in the weed bible: “food for free” by Richard Mabey, or “growing unusual edibles” by Simon Hickmott. It is not even in the “Plants for a Future” book by Ken Fern, which I have found so much inspiration in, although it is in his database now, with an edible rating of three out of five. Here is quite a comprehensive article I found about it. It is the roots that are mainly eaten, although apparently the young shoots can also be eaten. I have not tried these.
It is a plant that likes damp soil and seems to thrive here now that it is free to sprawl across the tree field. There are several areas where the thin nettle-like leaves and spotted pink flowers cover several square metres of the field. It doesn’t smother the grass out, but grows amongst it quite happily. But it is underground that the treasure lies. Marsh woundwort spreads with underground runners, and it is these that are the parts to harvest.
According to the Fern’s database the tubers grow better in damp soil. I had tried growing it in the polytunnel pond, but it is not a plant that likes to be confined to a pot. The roots were all twisted round at the bottom of the pot and there was not really enough to have a reasonable portion. The offsets I planted in the gully field don’t seem to have come back this year either, but as I said, I have a few large patches down in the tree field, so I decided this week to dig up an area to try them. In the middle of the patch a turf one spade wide and two long was enough to provide enough roots for a couple of portions. I did try a bit raw, but it wasn’t that great. Tasting like mild raw potato perhaps? Cooked however, they are very pleasant, with a sweet artichoke flavour. I just boiled them for about 10 minutes. S. also says “they weren’t too bad at all” so I think he would be happy to eat them again!
The Latin name: Stachys palustris, gives away the close relationship of marsh woundwort to another, still unusual, but more widely recognised edible: Stachys affinis, crosnes or chinese artichoke. I have tried to grow this once with no success: the tubers just disappeared in the predecessor to the fruit garden. I suspect that slugs ate them, but can’t be sure. Crosnes’ tubers are thicker and segmented, whereas the marsh woundwort tubers are longer, thinner, but smooth, so easier to clean of dirt before eating. The woundwort tubers I dug were about 7-9 mm (1/3 in) at the widest, but they don’t need peeling, since the skins are quite smooth.
I cut them down to a couple of inch long segments for cooking, but they were originally limited in length mainly to where the spade had cut them in the turf. Where I dug these plants isn’t the dampest place in the tree field (which is down by the pond probably), but there are a fair amount of reeds growing there, so it is certainly not the driest. It also grows on the riverbank where the soil is pretty dry, although I don’t know what the tubers are like there.
The only disadvantage I can see is that the tubers need to be dug up. Therefore as the trees grow, their roots may be damaged by digging up the tubers. Also it’s a bit of faff needing a spade, rather than just gathering leaves above ground. I may spread some of the plants to near the pond area. The soil there is really wet rather than just damp, so it will be interesting to see how well the tubers grow there. It seems that marsh woundwort will stand some shade as well as sun, so should continue to do well as the trees develop.
This week I chose to spend a few hours in the polytunnel tidying up and sorting out some of the various pots and trays that I have been attempting to grow new plants in this year. I bought three bags of compost in Portree at Skyeshrubs last week, together with three plants, and the compost is already more than half gone! I have potted on lots of the plants and seedlings that have been languishing outside the polytunnel for most of the summer. Some of them were rather pot bound, including the remaining honeyberry that never made it to the orchard (I took some cuttings of this when repotting). Some actually looked as if they had plenty of room, but will probably benefit from fresh compost anyhow. Some are showing no signs of life in the pots other than the usual weed plants, which include lots of what I believe to be willow seedlings. I think I’ve lost the wild garlic that came free with one of my plants bought earlier this year – there seemed to be nothing in the pot when I inspected it. I’m not too worried about that, since it would be pretty easy to get hold of if I choose to introduce it.
I also potted on my window sill plants: not the orchid (which is fine), or the christmas cactus (which I made a branched log pot for earlier in the summer), but the money plant (which I don’t know the proper name of) and the cuttings of Sechuan pepper and Chillean myrtle. The money plant actually only seemed to have been using the top half of its pot despite being quite a large plant. The cuttings have rooted very well, but I’m intending to overwinter them indoors to try and give them a good start.
The first of the new plants I bought in Portree is a Phormium tenax: Maori queen, which is a lovely striped pink New Zealand flax plant. It will grow to about 5ft high and wide, which is maybe a bit big, but the lovely thing about these plants, as Martin Crawford demonstrated in his forest garden, is that the leaves can be cut and split to make handy biodegradable garden twine. I’ve planted the main plant up by the road, where it should make good ornamental screening. Phormium are supposed to be pretty wind and water resistant so I think it’ll do OK there. You can also see the good growth and flowers of the white fuchsia that I moved to the roadside earlier in the summer. As I expected, it has settled in there pretty well. I chose a flax plant that had several offsets growing in the same pot, so now have another 5 baby plants for free! These I will leave in the polytunnel for the moment until they have established roots in the pots, then I think I’ll put about three more on the road bank to the north side of the house.
The second plant is a Fuchsia: Mrs Popple. I wasn’t going to get another Fuchsia, but this one looks really strong, with large bicoloured pink flowers and (the real selling point for me!) large fairly sweet berries. They are perhaps slightly insipid, not so peppery in flavour as my thin flowered plants’, but quite pleasant. I have planted this plant in the front garden near the failed mangetout peas and had to pull out several raspberries to make room for it. It is a little bit shady for it there perhaps, but it is reasonably sheltered which is probably at least as important. It is also quite near my established white and dark pink Fuchsias. After planting I cut back some of the non flowering shoots and made several of them into cuttings, so hopefully again I will have several plants for my money. While I was at it I took some cuttings of my murtilo (Myrtus ugni) which is flowering well at the moment. I’d like to put some on the drivebank, since I think a bit more heat may be required to get the fruit to ripen here for me.
The third plant is a blueberry: Vaccinium floribundum, also known as mortiño or Andean blueberry, you can see it in the top photo next to the shelves. Having since looked it up I am pretty happy that I bought this. I wasn’t quite sure what it was when I saw it, but again I thought what a healthy looking plant it was – and you can’t go wrong with a blueberry can you? Although the fruit should be black or red on this variety not blue! I need to have a think about where to plant this. It is slightly tender, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here (they wouldn’t sell it at Skyeshrubs if they thought it was too tender for the island), but it will fruit better with a bit of sun. I’m wondering if I can find a spot for it in the pallet garden, although it is so pretty, it is worth a place in the front garden: maybe near the front path near the snowbell tree (which seems to have survived this time – the first one I planted didn’t survive its first winter). I will have to clear a space for it in the grass though! I’ll try and take some cuttings from this plant, but it looks like these are less likely to take. They apparently are more difficult to propagate.
Now I’m in the mood to plan my planting for next year. I have already ordered some more Gevuina avellana seed (eventually found with an US ebay seller) and excitingly both japanese and chillean plum yew, which I’ll post a bit more about another time. I’ve got a little spreadsheet of plants and potential sourcing that I try and stick to, but inevitably some extra exciting plants get bought that aren’t on the list!
Remember the mushroom logs I made back in March? Well so did I this week. I checked on them as I was passing the trailer on the way to get wood in from the woodshed. Peeling back the rubber mats covering them, I found that the ends of the logs were all covered nicely in mycelium. I am hopeful therefore that the logs are now ready to start fruiting. It was quite warm in the early part of the summer, and cool latterly but the location I chose seems to have protected the logs suitably. The instructions say to put them somewhere shady now and they should start fruiting. I have leant them against the north end of the workshop behind the Hablizia trellis, where I found (to yet more excitement!) that the Hablitzia has set seed. The only odd thing is that the logs still haven’t realised they’re dead; as well as patches of mycelium on the trunks, all the logs had little twig shoots. I’ll try and remember to check them more often now for mushrooms forming, so watch this space!
The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber. Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel! They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce). The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha. It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.
The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago. I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like. This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm. Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would. I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd! I need to look up some more recipes! I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen. They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.
Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes. As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit! These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid. So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again. I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many. This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!). My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed. I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly. The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.
The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen. As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi). It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them. They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.
Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered. So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears. However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable. Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!). The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows. I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash. If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.
Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory, are starting to turn colour. There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch. I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall. The white grapes are actually already ripe! Or at least some of them are. I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch! Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!
I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter. It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant. Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste. If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta. The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit. They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example). I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow! It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it. The kiwi I will try and transplant. It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden. I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.
The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE! Literally some are almost taller than I am! The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller. I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more. None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion. It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby. The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.
Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry. It has put on a lot of growth recently. The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger. I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers. However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit. I may try and take some cuttings. It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.
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!).
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Well, the sad news is that the remaining apricot fruit didn’t make it to ripeness! I think a drop of condensation landed on it and it started to rot during the warmer weather we had in early July. It was definitely changing colour, but was still hard and (yes I did try it!) sour. I’m pretty happy to have got fruit set in the first proper year of the tree and am learning more about how to prune it! I have given it a rather more brutal late summer prune than I think will normally be required. It has surprised me quite how vigorous the tree has been. So much for dwarfing rootstock! I wish the trees outside were as vigorous. The shelter and extra warmth of the polytunnel will of course be contributing much to the lush growth. I have taken one of the branches right back in the hope that the tree structure will improve, with more branching – I need to prune harder next time in the spring!
I had my ‘champion of england’ peas from the HDRA growing up the apricot, they are starting to dry off nicely now, and an achocha vine is also making a tentative effort. Those are generally doing better this year than I have achieved in previous years and have some fruit developing on the standard variety. The large fruited achocha variety, with the pretty cannabis like leaves, is flowering, but I have not noticed any larger fruit yet.
The new grape vine Zalagyongye has a few nice bunches of grapes and Boskoop glory had lots of lovely bunches. I think the kiwi vine is rather shading the grapevine, since most of the Boskoop grape bunches were either right at the start of the vine, or towards the far end, where there is less shade from the kiwi. I know I should have thinned out the bunches earlier, but again we seem to have had a lovely dry summer, plus I was busy with the building work, so didn’t play in the tunnel so much. The grapes within the bunches were also packed quite tight at that stage so it was awkward to get in there with the scissors to cut them out. A little shuffling with my fingers was required to gain an angle of access. I invested years ago in a special round ended short bladed pair of scissors, which minimise the damage to grapes that are left on the bunch.
I took quite a number of bunches out completely and have juiced them to make ‘verjus’. At first I tried to use my hand juicer, which looks a bit like a plastic mincer. Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the job. I was afraid if I put any more force on the handle it would snap! The pips were jamming it I think. Instead I blasted the fruit in my food processor and then seived the puree. Verjus or verjuice is a condiment used like vinegar or lemon juice. I’m yet to experiment with it, but this recipe looks like a simple one to try. At first the juice was cloudy, but it settled out after a day in the refrigerator, and I could pour off the clear juice from the top. In an attempt to help it keep, I heated the juice to almost boiling, then poured it into sterilized bottles.
I have had a few fruit off the courgettes – I never get the gluts that other gardeners boast complain of. They are still flowering happily however. I probably don’t feed them enough. The cucumbers have tiny female fruit that just seem to have been sitting there for weeks. I don’t know if they have been fertilized, but they haven’t rotted away either. I suspect one of the issues may be lack of light. They are now almost completely swamped by the adjacent courgettes, but still seem to be fine otherwise. I lose track on the pumpkin and sharks fin melon – there are certainly several vines creeping around and climbing with female flowers, but no significant swelling of fruit yet. I live in hope!
The sweetcorn seem to have all disappeared – just a total washout there. I have a single self seeded nastutium that is making a bid for world (or at least polytunnel) domination. Unfortunately it is just a scarlet one, not the lovely tawny one that I had last year that I think it seeded from. At the edges of what should have been the sweetcorn bed I planted out some foxtail millet (Setaria italica), which grew from HPS seed. This is now showing tiny flowers, so that is exciting for me. The fuchsia berry has grown quite lush, but is only now starting to flower. I’m worried that the berries (if I get any) won’t have time to ripen before the frosts come, or the autumn damp rots them off.
The goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) has lots of tiny lanterns. This page says to wait to harvest these till the fruit stem turns brown, which will be much later in the year. I couldn’t find much else about growing it, but apparently the fruit is also effective in treating diabetes. I found lots of recipes on goldenberry jam and using goldenberries – mostly dried. I don’t expect I’ll get that many fruit. I’m still not sure where the other physalis came from (near the asparagus) I’m wondering if it could have been a seed that didn’t germinate that somehow got lost in the compost and redistributed. The plant is much smaller, so I think it is a new season plant rather than one that overwintered.
Elsewhere in the polytunnel the tomatoes are doing mostly fine. No sign of any ripe ones but plenty set on the supersweet 100 and little yellow multiflora. I’m not happy with the stupice however. That was new seed, but the plants are slightly strange with distorted leaves and few fruit set. Looking this up I think it is tomato mosaic virus. The RHS says that this can be transmitted through seed, and since this is the only variety affected I think that may be what has happened. I’m a bit annoyed about that, since this may compromise my other tomatoes in the future. I’m probably best off not saving seed at all this year. As far as I can find out the only control is to pull as much of the affected plants out as possible, which i have now done. A bit annoying to say the least when there are fruit on the vine! Also annoying me is that I don’t seem to have noted where I got the seed from, despite trying to keep better records. I’m pretty sure it was new seed this year, so I may have it noted in the paperwork somewhere!
So how are the perennials in my polytunnel fairing?
Five flavour berry (Schisandra chinensis): I have three different varieties of this, but they are all quite young plants. One did have a single flower. but it doesn’t look like it has set any fruit. One is a seedling and the other two are supposed to be self fertile. Normally you need two different plants to get berries.
Olive (Olea europaea): This has survived the winter (it was pretty mild generally). It has lots of new growth, which I have been pinching back so it grows more bushy than leggy. It seems quite happy. I have it growing in the soil in the polytunnel, but haven’t watered it this year. I am assuming that it’s roots will seek out enough water going sideways at the edges of the tunnel. I thought it wasn’t going to flower this year, but this week I spotted a single bunch of flowers. This is a little disappointing, since last year there were lots of flowers (but no fruit). Maybe as it gets older it will be able to flower more. The flowers this year were on last years’ growth, whereas last year they were on same year growth I think.
Apricot: I have given this an early summer prune, according to the RHS website instructions (as best I could). Last year I didn’t prune it hard enough, so the fan frame is a bit leggy. I may have to cut back some of the branches quite hard to rejuvenate it later this summer. The early summer last year was just too nice to be inside! I did get loads of flowers in spring this year, and two green fruit are still there.
Fuchsia berry: This overwintered alright having survived sitting in it’s pot for too long last year. Now it is in the soil it is growing quite well. It has a funny trilobal growth habit. which I don’t know if it will grow out of, although I knocked one of the branches off whilst watering! No sign of flowers this year yet. I stuck the broken branch in the soil, near the parent plant. Maybe it will root.
Asparagus: These confused me by not dying down for the winter! This meant that they didn’t get a rest period when I could mulch them (if I was organised) and watch for the new shoots in spring. I compromised when tidying that part of the tunnel, by cutting back the old shoots, but I didn’t think the subsequent shoots were really fat and prolific enough to take any this year. Some of the new leaves now have flowers. I’ll have to check what sex they are. These plants were grown from seed in about 2015 and have been in position now for two years. I have two varieties: Connovers colossal and Argenteuil early. I think that Connovers colossal is slightly the more robust looking overall, although it is probably too soon to be sure.
Artichoke: The globe artichoke is flowering well again. I thought they were going to be a little small, but the first buds are a fair size now. I am thinking of selling them in the shop, since S. isn’t that fussed about eating them. I could give them a few days and then have them for my lunch if they don’t sell. I’m not sure what to price them at – probably about 80p each. I have also planted two seedlings on the drivebank, and have one ready to plant in the tunnel on the opposite side.
Goldenberry: I thought that I had two plants that survived the winter. They had died back to the base and I covered them with dead plant material to insulate them a bit. In fact it now looks like one of these is actually a weed plant which pops up both in the tunnel and outside. I think it is nipplewort. When they were both smaller they looked very similar, but now the difference in leaf shape and texture is obvious, and the weed is preparing to flower, unlike the golden berry! I think I may have weeded another goldenberry out when preparing to plant the sweetcorn. It was quite small, so may not have done well anyhow. So far I have proved that they will overwinter in a pretty mild winter, it remains to be seen whether I will achieve any sort of harvest from the one plant this year. It is certainly more developed now than seedlings would be.
Akebia: These seem to have overwintered pretty well. Both those in pots and those in the ground in the polytunnel have survived OK. They were grown from seed last year, but it doesn’t look like they die back herbaciously; they remained green despite being very small. I accidently cut back one that was growing next to the apricot, which was probably doing the best previous to that. The foliage is not that easy to spot. I expect it will take a few years before I get flowers or fruit. I planted two little plants outside on the drivebank and they seem to be quite happy there, although not growing quite so fast. It will be interesting to see if they will over winter for me there also.
Apios americana: I thought this would be a bit more robust than it has turned out to be so far. I grew it outside in the dog resistant garden a couple of years ago, but it dissappeared the first winter. I think it may like it a bit warmer, so am trying it in the polytunnel. I am worried however that it may prefer it rather damper than I generally make it in there, since one of its names is “swamp potato”. I wonder whether it would prefer it in a pot in the pond? Anyhow, I have a few tubers from Edulis growing in the bed adjacent to the apricot. They seem to start growing quite late, even in the polytunnel, only emerging at the start of June this year. I have found two shoots so far, I think there is one small tuber that is still to appear.
Grapes: Both grape vines are starting to flower now. The new one seems to have quite big bunches. There was a little scorching from overnight frost on the new growth earlier in the year, but no real damage. I have done an initial pruning: pinching out the spurs a couple of leaves beyond the flowers and taking off a few overcrowded spurs. I haven’t yet thinned out the bunches of grapes. They should be thinned to one bunch every eighteen inches or so. I think that won’t be necessary yet for the new vine, but the old one, Boskoop glory, is quite prolific so could do with a bit of thinning out.
Kiwi: Given a reprieve and being shortened, the vine has flowered beautifully. I do like the blossom; like huge cream apple blossoms that darken to peach as they fade. I’m still not sure it is worth the space, even though I have shortened it quite drastically this year. But the flowers are pretty. It is still a little early to say how good the fruit set will be.
Bramble. The first flowers on this are fully open just now. I could do with a few more training wires near the lower door to tie back the side branches to. Hopefully I won’t have such problems with flies this year, we’ll see.
Strawberries: The first fruits were the biggest! I shared the first two with S., but he doesn’t know about the others that never left the tunnel. Only one of the plants is really doing well. I find it difficult to keep them watered enough over the winter. I have transplanted into the tunnel some more plants that came from this one that have been growing in pots outside. They are blooming well, so may set a few fruit if I’m lucky.
I didn’t manage to overwinter my sharks fin melon two years ago, although potentially it is perennial. I also didn’t get any seed to germinate last year, but this year my saved seed germinated second time trying. I’m wondering whether to try digging up the parent plant after harvest, cutting it back and moving it indoors for the winter. It may mean an earlier start to growth and flowering, although it may be a pain to accommodate the plant frost free in the earlier part of the spring.
I did manage to overwinter three little chilli pepper plants that AC gave me. They had been on the study windowsill, being watered occasionally, since last spring. They gave the tiniest little chillies, that AC says are very hot, so I am rather nervous of using! One plant I cut back quite severely in early spring, the others were left. The one that was cut back seems to be budding up already. This one I repotted into a slightly larger pot with fresh compost as I did one of the others (whilst cutting that one back slightly too). These are in the tunnel now, as is the third which I have planted out into what I am thinking of as my Mediterranean bed. This is the area next to the Olive tree. I have a bench there (although it tends to get used as a dumping ground rather than a seat) and have also planted the three surviving Astragalus crassicarpus plants there. The idea is to plant things that require little water there. I don’t think the chillies will survive in the tunnel over the winter, but I may leave this one in, to see how it does. If the ground is dry it may well survive better. I have grown some less fiery, hopefully larger chillies from seed, which are now planted out. I will try potting these up in the autumn after (hopefully) fruiting to try and over winter these inside.
I never did harvest the mashua in the tunnel. I don’t think it did so well after the hot early summer last year. Although it should have overwintered OK, most of the plants seem to have disappeared over the winter. Just one bed is growing away strongly. I guess that the tubers did not form well on the other plants. I did miss at least one tuber in the tea garden extension. The foliage is very distinctive when it starts to grow! I also have a couple of oca plants growing in the tunnel, so it looks like I missed a couple of those tubers too! One of the dahlias is growing in with the tomatoes; another unharvested plant which has overwintered well. The passion flowers haven’t made it however. I should probably have overwintered them inside until the plants were a bit bigger. Maybe next year I’ll try growing some new plants.
The Yacon(s) I potted up when I harvested the tubers, splitting the crowns slightly, where they naturally wanted to break. I potted them into smallish pots in compost in the tunnel. Some were planted into the polytunnel beds either side of the Apricot, they are still pretty small. The rest are actually still in pots. One of my jobs to do is to plant these outside, although this should probably have been done a while ago, it has been so cool since March I don’t think they would have done very much growing!
One of the last plants to mention are the pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) These are growing quite lush in the lower part of the tunnel. I have been nipping back the tips of the growth to encourage a bushy habit, since I read somewhere they have a tendency to become leggy. There is no sign of flowering this year! The flowers are also supposed to be tasty, even if the fruit doesn’t ripen. I say these are one of the last, since I am hopeful that the tulip bulbs planted adjacent to the pineapple guava will come back again next year. It is not the bulbs of tulips that can be eaten, but the petals. The flowers are toxic for cats, and some people also can have a bad reaction apparently. I did have a munch on some of the petals, and they were fine – a little sweet and quite juicy. It just seems a bit of a pity to pick flowers for eating somehow!
I 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!
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 elatatara no me
Japanese sweet coltsfoot, giant butterbur (unopened buds), Petasites japonicus giganteus,fukinoto
Plantain lily Hosta fortuneikiboushi, Hosta montanaurui, and Hosta sieboldiana
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
Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia
Chocolate vine (fruit) Akebia
Dogtooth violet Erythronium japonicumkatakuri
Orange daylily Hemerocallis fulvaNokanzou
Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga, Mioga
Japanese horseradish, Wasabia japonica, Wasabi
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!
Now comes my favourite time of year. From the winter dark, wind and rain, the days suddenly get longer and with the clock change to summer time at the end of March we also tend to get a change to dry settled weather. Long days, wall to wall sunshine and a drying breeze soon turn the sopping muddy soil to a workable consistency and now is the opportunity to do any weeding or digging projects. I start far too many things and still achieve half of what I want to get done! The grass starts growing and seemingly overnight violets and celandines join the early primroses in the parade of spring flowers.
It is also the time that the crofters set the hills afire. The top growth of heather and dead grass is burnt away every few years. This lets fresh new grass have it’s share of the sun and rain in order to feed the sheep when they return to graze on the moors after lambing. There are rules now that should be adhered to, including not burning after mid April, so as to allow ground nesting birds to breed safely. These (and other reasons) mean that the hills don’t get burnt so often, so every now and then the fires get a bit out of hand. There was one that was burning at the far end of the glen for two days and nights last week, fanned by a strong breeze (it was mostly the other side of the hill). They can sometimes set the peat underneath on fire, if it gets too dry, and can carry on burning underground, springing into life again seemingly from nowhere. Someone locally whimsically wrote ‘here be dragons’ on one burnt road sign….
I’ve been moving plants in and out of the polytunnel day and night this week, to try and harden them off ready to plant out. I have also managed to plant out my ribes odorata or clove currant which was sat outside all winter. This is a black fruited shrub from the US that has clove scented berries. I hadn’t realised however, how ornamental the flowers would be. Attractive yellow with a pleasant scent, they will make a nice show at this time of year.
Unfortunately I have had to prune the bush right back after planting, since it was quite root bound in a small pot. I have cut through the roots at the surface to try and encourage regrowth, since they are very congested. The top growth would have been far too much for the root ball, so I felt that removing most of the branches was the best thing.
Unfortunately it means I won’t be likely to get many berries this year. I have stuck the cuttings in the ground adjacent to the bush in the hope that they will root, (removing most of the flowers and leaves) although it is really too late for that to be very likely.
I was excited to be given some crug zing japanese ginger roots. Having seen this at Eden project last year, I was keen to see whether I could grow it here. It seems likely to do well. Jim at garden ruminations was happy to get rid of it, since it was a bit of a garden thug for him, with inconspicuous flowers at the base of luxuriant top growth. However both spring shoots and autumn flower buds are esteemed as vegetables in Japan, so I look forwards to trying it here in future. Since Jim gave me a substantial number of crowns (thank you!), I have been able to try it in several different places. Notably near my Toona sinensis shrub where I may create an oriental themed planting area. I was excited to note several Hablitzia plants sprouting along the willow bank around the fruit garden. They actually look pretty happy so that is encouraging. I think they could be a staple leaf crop through the spring and summer once established.
I have managed to get the steps on the drive bank completed, and am gathering up suitable plants ready to plant up the freshly bare soil before the weeds get a chance to recolonise it (hence the polytunnel daily migrations). I was able to get a nice looking lavender and broad leaved thyme plant in Portree along with some house leeks – thanks Frances for that suggestion for wall crevice planting! The picture below shows how much drier the soil is and how much the leaves on the sycamore have come out in just a week (even more so now).