I’ve been a bit busy with shop projects recently, and with the daylight being so short at the moment, I haven’t actually done very much outside. It is just past the solstice and it is dark till 8 a.m. and dark again at about 4.30 p.m. The days are supposedly getting longer. Usually by the start of February the difference is appreciable. Some plants are already starting to show spring growth; the celandine leaves are already forming, others don’t seem to have realised yet that it is winter! Some of the fuchsias still have most of their leaves. Although the winter hasn’t been too bad yet, this week is set to be colder and drier, so at once will be frostier, but nicer for working outside.
In the former DRG I have staked the Gevuina, which is starting to rock in the wind a bit. I’ll prune the leader out this summer coming and see if I can start a new plant from the removed tip; it is supposed to be fairly easy to take cuttings. The two seedlings that grew this summer are still doing well. I have just left them outside in the wet and they seem to be thriving. I wonder if they prefer the cooler damp conditions, rather the drier, warmer conditions I tried in the polytunnel with previous seeds. Maybe a little warmer to germinate, then outside to the wet again? I still have several pots with seeds in that have not started to germinate but look healthy.
I am rather keen to grow many more monkey puzzle trees. They grow so nicely and shrug off the winds here. The plan would be to put them all down the hill (not near paths) and let them grow until they fruit. Then the female trees can be kept to provide nuts, and the male trees harvested for timber. To this end I bought a moderate amount of Scottish harvested seeds from an ebay seller, and have put these to germinate in the kitchen. Based on the instructions provided by the seller, I soaked the seeds overnight, placed a layer of damp vermiculite in a couple of old strawberry punnets, pushed the seeds in about half way, put the lids back on the trays and put the trays stacked on top of each other near the stove flue.
Every few days I sprayed the tops of the seeds with water to keep them damp. After a couple of weeks I taped up most of the ventilation holes in the lids, since the seeds seemed to be getting a little dry in between sprays. As I noticed that there were a few roots developing the other day I tipped the seeds out and sorted them.
About one third were sprouting so I potted them into small pots. They are still in the kitchen at present to keep them warm, I’ll transfer the pots to the study windowsill in a week or so, when they seem to be settled down, and keep spraying them till then. There were a few seeds that had rotted, so these were removed and the rest put back in the vermiculite, to carry on germinating. It may be a few months before all those that will have started sprouting.
The tomato and shark’s fin melon seem to be doing well on the window sill, however the tamarind has died. I think it was too cold for it on the window sill. I moved it through to the kitchen, but I’m pretty sure it is too late.
The dog resistant garden (DRG) was enclosed when our first dog Douglas was a youngster. He did like to ‘help’ – dig where I was digging, and so on. I constructed a windbreak fence around what was then mostly a vegetable garden in the front garden. Over the years this evolved, first into a flower garden with the idea I night grow flowers for the shop, and then into a shrubbery with interesting edibles. Now with Douglas gone and Dyson a mature dog, the fencing had seen better days and I was finding the square corners of the garden annoying. I took down the majority of the enclosure in the spring and recently took out all of the fence posts. The original paths no longer go where I want to wander, and the soil levels between the DRG and the barn bank were humped according to where the soil had been moved when the roadway above the barn (known as Lara’s road after our croft-Rover was parked there for a while) was excavated.
Over the last few weeks I have been energised to level the soil and re-landscape the area and plant up with some of the plants I have been propagating. Dyson was a bit of a nuisance helping when I was levelling the soil. He is generally very good, but when something is scraped over the ground, like a broom, rake or vaccuum cleaner, he likes to bite the head of the implement. That’s all very well for those implements, but when it came to biting at the mattock head as I was chopping the turf, I had to put him inside out of harm’s way. I cleared the soil off the barn road bank to stop it falling in, making a precarious walkway.
It was a bit of hard work to clear the old paths out of the DRG. I had laid woven weed membrane along the paths, and when it was a vegetable garden I had transferred stones I found whilst digging to the paths. These stones had then been covered with soil, so there was quite a bit of grass and the odd docken or raspberry growing through it. I have pulled it all up now I hope. One of my friends in the glen has a new polytunnel and they may be able to reuse the weed membrane, since it seems to be in pretty good condition overall, as long as they don’t mind a bit of cleaning.
I marked out the new paths, including a curved one through the DRG, with bits of wood from the old fencing. Some of the old telegraph poles that had acted as retaining walls for the raised central bed of the DRG were used to create a border to one side of the main path that curves round to the secret garden. I could do with a quantity of wood chippings to cover the path with and weigh down some newspaper to keep the weeds down there.
Having levelled the soil, I then proceded to mound it up again between the path and Lara’s road edge. Three banks were formed perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. Hopefully this will create wetter sheltered parts and drier more exposed parts at least in the short term. The whole area is fairly well sheltered and shaded by the sycamores in the front garden, and this shelter should increase as the shrubs I have planted start to grow.
The final steps I have done so far have been to lay out the plants and shrubs and plant them. I dug up some self heal and sorrel with particularly large leaves from the tree field and transplanted these to act as ground cover. Most of the plants however are ones I have propagated myself. I was going to plant out the two Gevuina avellana seedlings that have survived being repotted and are doing pretty well, but I decided that they are still perhaps a bit small to plant out. I did plant out some of the plum yews I have (both japanese plum yew; Cephalotaxus harringtonia and chilean plum fruited yew; Prumnopitys andina, which were bought as seedlings. Again they are pretty small, so I hope they will do alright in the ground. I need both male and female plants to survive if I want to get fruit in future. The Miscanthus grass is the other plant I recently bought. I’m hoping to divide it in future years to screen the barn and create a bit more quick growing shelter if it likes it here. I was very impressed with it at the East Devon Forest Garden when I visited a few years ago. The one I bought from Edulis when I was visiting my Mum last year got a bit swamped by the nettles in the early part of this year, but also seems to be surviving so far. I’ve put in about 6 asparagus that haven’t found a home yet, some blackcurrant seedlings which had self seeded in the pallet garden and various known and unknown plants that may do alright there and are big enough to plant out. When I’ve finished planting I will create an annotated planting picture like I did for the drivebank.
Still to do is to mulch between the plants, lay down paper and chippings on the main path, level the curved path in the DRG, and mulch between the DRG and the main path. I may try and seed some of the area that is less likely to resprout turf since it was dug quite deeply. I’ll leave replanting the other side of the path for a while to try and clear some of the weeds. These are not buried enough to stop them regrowing, so need a thick mulch for a few months, maybe till next autumn.
The fruit garden became a fruit jungle. This is mostly because of the raspberries, which like to move around. There is also quite a bit of nettle(s), which make it not conducive to casual browsing. The nettles are a good sign actually, since they prefer richer soil. Probably decades of manure from the byre in times past have increased the fertility of the area, although there has been no livestock since we’ve been here. I’ve tried to tame various areas in the past, but am fighting a bit of a losing battle; it looks beautiful for a few months, then nature happens. It is probably the soft herbacious layer that I don’t understand yet and haven’t got the balance for. Hopefully in time I can get the groudcover plants established so that the nettles and docken don’t dominate quite so much. In the meantime I have been pulling these perennial weeds out, sometimes by the root, sometimes not. They will probably come back next year, maybe not as strong, we shall see.
The comfrey still seems to come back in patches where I thought I had removed it. I think if I carry on digging out as much as I can it will eventually give up. In the meantime the lush growth is useful to mulch around the fruit bushes. I’ve got quite a nice patch of strawberries, although they tend to get damaged outside before they get a chance to ripen off. They do much better in the polytunnel. The Toona sinensis seems pretty happy, if not that vigorous. It can be seen sprouting earlier in the year in the strawberry picture above (at least if you know where to look). It is only it’s second year and I haven’t tried eating any yet. It is supposed to taste like ‘beefy onions’, used as a cooked vegetable in China. The patches of Good King Henry have established well. They will stop some weed seedlings coming up next year. The Japanese Ginger is very late coming into growth again, and does not show much signs of being too vigorous in my garden. I just hope it survives and grows enough that I can try that as a vegetable as well. I forgot I had some Oca in by the Ribes Odoratum last year. That seems to have come back of it’s own accord. I have a feeling that Oca volunteers will be as much of a nuisance as potato volunteers tend to be, albeit somewhat less vigorous.
I have mulched around the ‘Empress Wu’ Hosta, which I planted in the trees just beyond the fruit jungle, with cardboard. I wanted to protect it before the grass grew and swamped it too much. The bistort has come back nicely as well this year and set seed, which I just sprinkled close by. I wish now I had sowed the seed in pots so I could determine where to plant out new plants if they grow. I mulched the area between the path and the lower parking area as well. The new large fruited haw there, Crataegus Shraderiana, is growing well, and it is underplanted with a Gaultheria Mucronata cutting and a Mrs Popple Fuchsia cutting. The latter had been growing quite nicely, but unfortunately got broken off once planted, possibly by Dyson sitting on it, or the cardboard shifting against it. It seems to be growing back again OK now.
The original elder bush, which came as a cutting from Solihull is coming into it’s own now. It flowers really well, despite being on the windy side of the willow fedge that protects the fruit garden from the worst of the prevailing winds. It doesn’t seem to have set many berries again though. Hopefully some of the local elder cuttings that I took will cross fertilise it and help a set; it may just be the wind though. It’s worth it’s position just from the blossom and extra shelter it provides, although fruit would also be nice. I used to make a rather tasty cordial from elderberries…..and I read somewhere that it used to be cultivated to make a port-like drink back in the day. Certainly I have drunk some rather good home brewed elderberry wine (not mine I hasten to add).
The rest of the fruit jungle is living up to it’s name. The original rhubarb has provided a batch of jam and a batch of chutney, I could have picked more… The Champagne Early rhubarb are starting to establish well with a lovely pink colouration (I made a batch of rhubarb and ginger liqueur which is maturing as I write), and the Stockbridge Arrow is coming on, although still quite small. The Ribes Odoratum flowered well, although only one berry appears to have set. I will maybe try and take some cuttings from these this winter. They are very pretty while in bloom, although it would be nice to get a bit more fruit from them. The Saskatoon remains a bit disappointing. I was hoping it would be setting fruit better by now. There are a few but not many. It maybe that it requires more ‘chill days’ to flower well, since we have much milder winters here than it would be used to in it’s native North America. A bit of research indicates that the bushes may need pruning, or just be immature. The raspberries are starting to ripen now, and the black currants (all Ben Sarek in the fruit garden) are tempting with a heavy crop, but need a few more days yet. There is also at least one flower on the globe artichoke which is a division from the polytunnel plant (spot it in the top photo after clearing). It is encouraging that it is returning and getting stronger year on year. The cardoon seems to have succumbed this year. I don’t think any of my new seed have germinated, but I may be better getting vegetable branded seed rather than HPS seed, which is more likely to be an ornamental variety – they are rather spectacular in bloom.
All of the apple trees also flowered well. Only the Tom Putt apple seems to have set any fruit though. I’m not too perturbed about that. The Worcester Pearmain is unlikely to ripen anyhow, and the Starks Early (which I grafted myself!) is still very young. Given a halfway reasonable summer however, I am hopeful of getting more than one apple this year. There don’t seem to be any surviving fruit on the Morello cherry unfortunately, which is looking rather tatty.
The monkey puzzles as yet are far too young to expect nuts. They were planted in 2009 and have grown really well in the fruit garden. All three are about twice as tall as I am. By special request from Maureen, I’ll put a photo of one of my monkey puzzle and I above. They are also getting wider in diameter; both in trunk and in branch reach The branches are so prickly this means that the original path at the top of where the fruit tunnel once stood is no longer viable. I therefore need to have another think about path routeing this winter, particularly in the upper raspberry dominated area.
This year I have been trying to tame the next section of garden by the drivebank overlooking the barn, this is where I moved the kiwi vine to over the winter. I have been calling this The Secret Garden in my mind. It is not particularly hidden (although it will be more secluded once mature), it is just that almost all the plants in here have edible parts, although are normally grown as ornamentals in the UK. Steven Barstow has coined the word ‘edimentals’ for these sorts of plants.
I had already forked over the area and mulched it with cardboard at the same time as I planted out the kiwi vine. One of my neighbours has lots of lovely hosta, which I had been admiring and they very kindly gave me several big clumps of it, together with what I think may be Elecampane (Inula helenium), and ladies mantle. I have put most of the hosta in this area, there are at least two different varieties – one with quite blue leaves. Hopefully it won’t be too dry for it. I also planted out some of my Aralia cordata, which I had grown from seed, and my sechuan pepper (from a danish cutting), some Lady Boothby Fuchsia (from cuttings), some golden current (from cuttings) and my strawberry tree (bought as a plant). I also planted some hardy geraniums around the base of the strawberry tree. These were grown from seed from chiltern seeds: . It was supposed to be a mixed pack, but only two varieties seem to have made it – a small white flowered one and a small purple flowered one. The rest of the geraniums were planted on the drivebank.
I also got some hedging Sea buckthorne plants this spring, and have planted a number of these along the top of the bank above the barn, as well as in various places in the tree field. Hopefully these will form a protective barrier as well as fixing nitrogen, and maybe producing fruit in the future. They should grow fairly quickly, but I will probably cut them back fairly often to keep them bushy, assuming they do OK.
These plantings are all mostly doing fine. The Aralia seems to be suffering a bit from slug damage. There were three little plants, and I think one has not made it, one is OK and the other will probably be OK. The Hosta doesn’t seem to have suffered too badly from slug damage so far. One of the clumps is starting to flower, and they are all looking pretty healthy. The kiwi is not looking great, but has some new growth, so may well make it. The proof will be if it comes back into life next year! Unfortunately the sechuan pepper plant was broken by some strong north winds we had – I did not stake it since it was so tiny. It has sprouted below the broken point so I have removed the top part of the stem and stuck it in adjacent in the hope that this may form a new plant too. So far the strawberry tree is looking very happy. One of the sea buckthorne hasn’t made it, but the others look pretty happy. I may replace the failed sea buckthorne with a female good fruiting variety if the others do well in the next couple of years.
The weeds had been poking through the cardboard, so I have been going back over with some fresh cardboard, pulling out the nettles, docken and grasses that are a bit persistent. Hopefully I can weaken them enough that they don’t come back next year. I need to have more ground cover plants to stop the weeds seeding back in again (remember rule #2) The chilean plum yew plants I have are still a bit small for planting out yet I think, but could also be planted out next year. I have also thickly covered the main path through to the front garden (it comes out where I have the dog tooth violet and solomon’s seal plants growing) with old newspaper and wood chippings/bark. I still need to complete another ramp down to the barn and build a retaining wall to tidy up the join to the drivebank, however there is a Landrover parked rather long term just in the way at the moment, so this may have to wait till next year.
As the new year started I felt it was time to dig up the Yacon tubers. We still have not had another bout of hard frost and the weather continues damp and windy for the forseeable future. They will not grow any more in the ground however, and I’m wanting to tidy things up in the polytunnel and work out where things want to go next year.
I knew that the upper plants in the polytunnel seem to have done much better than those planted later, but I was still astounded by the difference this appears to have made. The early ones were planted on 26th March and the later ones on the 10th of June, having been in pots of compost until then. Both were treated the same once planted and had the same watering and feed (a bit of dilute urine occasionally).
The early ones grew much bigger above the ground, with the plants reaching higher than me – to 6 feet or so. The later ones lagged behind, with the ones in the tunnel reaching about 4 feet, and the ones outside less than one foot. The outside ones also suffered from wind burn and slug damage.
November was quite cold, with the frost starting to damage the foliage, especially of the outside plants. By the end of December even the plants in the tunnel were blackened, with the stems pretty dead, although the crown of the plants showed pink still with life.
To recap last year, I was pretty pleased with an average of about 8 ounces from 4 plants in the tunnel. Those had overwintered in the tunnel, but had no additional food, and the watering probably was less consistent. I also thought that they needed a bit more light, since the one closest to the overhanging mashua etc. was considerably smaller.
This year all the plants were harvested on 19th January. The ones outside had very poor tubers. Although the early summer was quite good, by the time I planted these out the best of the weather had gone, and the summer was typically cool for Skye. I think at least 4 plants disappeared completely, and another 8 had no tubers at all worth eating. Of the two plants I weighed, the tubers from one had two tubers at 3 ounces total, and the other one tuber at one ounce. To be fair, I did not expect these to do well, and I only planted them out because I did not know what else to do with the plants! I guess I need to be a bit more brutal and put excess plants in the compost. Let this be a lesson!
The late planted plants in the tunnel did pretty well with an average weight of just over 14 ounces – the best had 30 ounces so a bit better than last year. The real surprise was in the earlier planted plants. I couldn’t believe it when I dug the first plant – they actually looked like those you see on the internet and in books for Yacon tubers. Subsequent plants varied, but the average from these plants was over 96 ounces (2.74 kg). Some single tubers were over one pound in weight and almost the size of my forearm! The best plant had a yield of 159 ounces (4.5 kg).
I’m actually wondering what to do with this bounty! I think I may take some down to the shop for people to try. I’m also wondering whether they would dry well and make nice low calorie sweet snacks. I know you can make low calorie syrup, but I’m not sure whether to bother with that. So far I’ve just made a yacon and apple crumble which went down well. The tubers should store pretty well for a month or so – they may get a little sweeter with time, so there is no hurry to use them up straight away.
This is only the second year of growing oca, and the first year with more than a token amount. Mostly I grew oca saved last year from those sent to me from Frances at Island threads, but I also had a selection of tubers from real seeds. They had been planted direct in the pallet garden with no additional soil improvement and no attention after planting. The oca from Frances grew pretty well and flowered in early autumn (you can see them at the front of the first photo in this previous post), the multicoloured oca got a bit swamped by adjacent kale plants, so I wasn’t expecting too much from those.
I harvested two of Frances’ oca plants just before xmas. One plant did pretty well with a total of 14 ounces, the other only had one ounce. The first had several elongated tubers with fleshy stems, but top growth was very soggy and dead. Some of the tubers showed regrowth at ends, some had side tubers.
I roasted several large tubers with veg for dinner. They did not crisp up (our oven tends to keep things a bit moist), giving a rather soft texture but pleasant lemony-potato taste. I tried them thinly sliced and fried to crisp up, they had a very nice salt and vinegar crisps flavour. When just thinly sliced and dried in lower oven they taste quite bland but a bit crunchy and hard in texture. It would be difficult to cut them more thinly sliced which may help the texture. Thinly sliced, rubbed in oil and roasted in a tray at the top of the oven, they again turned out like nice crisps, even though they were slightly burnt.
I dug up the rest of Frances’ tubers early in the new year. There was still quite a bit of life in the upper growth, with some leaves still apparent. December and early January has been very mild compared to November, and the oca plants were still hanging on! I weighed the total weight of tubers, and counted them, then weighed the larger tubers (above about 1 inch) and counted those separately. Of the total 10 plants subsequently dug up, the average total weight was 8 ounces, with a maximum of 16 ounces and a minimum of half an ounce (!). There were an average of 17.3 tubers per plant (maximum 25, minumum 1). When the larger tubers were separated out they accounted for very much the majority of the weight (average 6.2 ounces) despite only having a count of 8 and a half tubers. This means that it probably isn’t worth fussing over the little tubers, most of the eating is in the easier to handle ones.
Most of the tubers were clean even shaped and waxy red, however there were one or two that were flattened and distorted (fasciated), one that was bifurcated, and one plant that had several tubers with tiny side tubers (not counted as part of large tubers). There was very little slug or insect damage.
As expected, the harvest of the assorted coloured tubers was rather poorer. I only found 11 out of the 12 tubers planted, one plant also only had two tiny pea sized tubers. There was an average of 1.59 ounces total weight (5.45 count) and there were fewer tubers of a reasonable size. I combined the tubers of similar colour and will try and grow them all again next year, and try and give them a bit more sunshine. I think it was daylight rather than root competition that was the problem, since one of the better cropping plants had a lot of grass weed competition, but may have had more sunshine, since it was at the end of the row, so more exposed to the evening light.
One of the pink tubered plants had a couple of tubers that were half one colour and half another. I think this is a spontaneous mutation – I may be able to get plants of different colours by propagating the shoots of each half separately.
Another experiment to try is to select and grow larger tubers from one set of plants and smaller tubers from another set of plants. I should be able to see how many years it takes for selection of plants which grow smaller or larger tubers. I will only be able to do this with Frances’ pink tubers, since I do not have enough of the other colours to try that with yet (numbers 6 and 8 I’ll be lucky to grow at all I fear).
The weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at the moment. We are swinging from hard frosts of -5 Celsius, to overnight temperatures of nearly +10 Celsius. However, the frosts have been hard enough already to damage some of the sharks fin melon fruit. Three of them had fallen off the vines before I could collect them, resulting in a little bruising, and a couple more were obviously frost damaged: The skin was soft and darker in colour. Since these won’t keep, I have cooked a couple, and there are a couple in the fridge that I will cook sooner rather than later. The noodley flesh, I have established freezes well. There are also four good fruit that I have placed on the windowsill to keep for as long as I can. Two of them however, I am not sure are sharks fin melon: they are darker green, and the flower scar is much bigger. Either they are ripe fruit of the Tondo de picenze courgette that I didn’t spot climbing, or they are a sport of the sharks fin melon crossed with something else, or possibly the lost pumpkin nut squash. I guess I’ll find out when I cut into them.
I have also harvested all the ripe goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) fruit. There were many more on the plant that are not going to ripen now, and it is still flowering! I have probably had about 15 or 20 fruit in total from the bush. They are tasty, but maybe not that productive. I have discovered that there is a dwarf form of goldenberry that may fruit earlier and so be more worthwhile. I’ll maybe see next year if I can get seed for that, although getting my existing plant through another winter will be a priority. I have bent over some of the branches to insulate the crown of the plant a bit, although the weather is mild again just at the minute.
I also harvested all the chilli fruit off the plant that is in the ‘mediterranean area’ of the polytunnel. It lost all it’s leaves in the cold, so I thought it was time. I’m hoping that it will over winter OK there. I have cut it back quite severely, and will put a cloche or fleece over it as well. I do have the two other chilli plants in pots inside as back up. Now I need to research how to preserve and use the chillies (ripe and unripe). I’m thinking drying may be best. In the meantime the fruit are in the fridge.
I also did a little bit of pruning in the treefield. Some of the trees were overhanging the pathways enough to be a nuisance if driving a vehicle around, so I cleared these branches back. There were also some self set willows down near the pond that made the track a bit narrow and an aspen that wasn’t very well anchored. It rocked around in the wind leaving a hollow in the soil by its trunk. I have taken this tree back to a stump, in the hope that when it regrows the top, the roots will also have strengthened.
I took back one of the purple osier willows as well. This time I left a short trunk. These have a tendency to grow very spindly, as you’d expect from a willow grown for weaving! I will use some of the longer stems I cut out as the basis for one or two Xmas wreaths. Next year it should grown back strong and tall, with lots of potential weaving stems should I chose to do something a bit more exciting. I have had a little weaving experience: enough to appreciate how much hard work it is!
While I had the pruning saw and secateurs out, I cleared a new path in the front garden. I can now go from the area under the trees by the front door to the top of the drivebank. Hopefully this won’t affect the shelter from the wind too much. There is a sycamore that had been pollarded some time before we came. Possibly it had been damaged by the hurricane in 2004. There is now quite a bit of regrowth from the bottom of the trunk, as well as branches further up. I’ve left most of them, just cleared enough to get through. I had to take a bit off one of the rowans as well. I noticed that the japanese ginger that had sprouted there was looking a bit sad from the frost now. The new path goes just past my new Mrs Popple fuchsia, which is starting to look a bit sad in the cold too.
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.