Achocha explosion

south america
South America makes a bid for Skye takeover

The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber.  Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel!  They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce).  The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha.  It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.

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The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago.  I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like.  This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm.  Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would.  I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd!  I need to look up some more recipes!  I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen.  They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.

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Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes.  As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit!  These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid.  So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again.  I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many.  This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!).  My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed.  I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly.  The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.

x super sweet 100
Super Sweet 100 tomato stating to ripen

The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen.  As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi).  It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them.  They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.

asapragus and millefleur
Millefleur tomato truss with asparagus

Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered.  So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears.  However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable.  Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!).  The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows.  I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash.  If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.

marrow
Marrow

Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory,  are starting to turn colour.  There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch.  I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall.  The white grapes are actually already ripe!  Or at least some of them are.  I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch!  Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!

grape lineup
Nice line up on Boskoop glory grape vine

I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter.  It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant.  Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste.  If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta.  The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit.  They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example).  I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow!  It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it.  The kiwi I will try and transplant.  It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden.  I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.

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

The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE!  Literally some are almost taller than I am!  The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller.  I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more.  None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion.  It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby.  The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.

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Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry.  It has put on a lot of growth recently.  The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger.  I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers.  However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit.  I may try and take some cuttings.  It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.

 

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Podding along

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

tea garden extension 2019
Tea garden aka pallet garden

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

wigwam
Mangetout wigwam 2 months after sowing

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

carlin peas over pallet
Carlin peas cropping well early August

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

windswept peas
Trial Oca under peas with kale

 

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

skirret and artichoke
Skirret flowers (and jerusalem artichoke)

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

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

yacon slug eaten
Slug eaten Yacon

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

strawberry explosion
Strawberry explosion

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

borage
Borage flowers

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

wheat
Wheat ripening

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

 

Grapes and Apricots

lush tunnel
Lush polytunnel growth

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!

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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.

grapes thinned
Grape bunches after thinning

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.

courgette fruit
Male (top left) and female (right) courgette flowers (tondo di picenze)

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!

millet
Foxtail millet and nastutium

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.

goldenberry lanterns
Peruvian lanterns

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.

tomato virus on right
X supersweet 100 on left, Stupice on right

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!

tomato virus
Virus affected tomato?

Polytunnel Perennials 2019

Polytunnel 19 May
Polytunnel from Top door May 19

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.

Shisandra flower
Single Schisandra flower

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.

 

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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.

Asparagus not dying back
Asparagus – still not died down in middle of March!

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.

Globe artichoke
Globe artichoke buds swelling

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.

goldenberry year 2
Goldenberry in second year – May 27

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.

grape vines before pruning
Grape vines new (to left) and old (to right) before pruning

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.

Kiwi blossom
Worth it for the flowers?

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.

bramble blossom
Bramble blossom

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.

First Strawberries
Gardener’s treats

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.

overwintered chilli
Overwintered chilli with tiny flower buds

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!

yacon etc
Yacon with unknown citrus and one of the Schisandras

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!

Tulip
Incredible edible petals

Turning Japanese or OK in the UK

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

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

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

angels
Bracken “angels”

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

Indian cucumber root Medeola virginiana

Ostrich fern Matteucia struthiopteris, kogomi

Honewort Cryptotaenia canadensis, mitsuba

Bamboo Phyllostachys spp.

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

Japanese pepper tree Zanthoxylum piperitum kinome

Angelica tree shoots Aralia elata tara no me

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

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

Glory bower peanut butter shrub Clerodendron harlequin kusagi

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

I already have varieties similar to the following:

Solomon’s seal Polygonatum commutatum and P. odoratum amadokoro

solomons seal
Solomons seal shoots at the correct age for cutting

Arrowhead Sagittaria latifolia

wapato
Sagittaria latifolia or wapato tubers

Chocolate vine (fruit) Akebia

Dogtooth violet Erythronium japonicum katakuri

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

Orange daylily Hemerocallis fulva Nokanzou

Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga, Mioga

Japanese horseradish, Wasabia japonica, Wasabi

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

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

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

 

Spring fever

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.

violets
First Spring Violets

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….

wild fire
Wild Fire Skye

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.

Ribes odoratum flowers
Ribes Odoratum spring flowers

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.

root ball bound
Rather root bound!

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.

Ribes odoratum planting 2019
Truncated clove currant left and hopeful cuttings right

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).

wall plants
Gathering plants….

So much fun to be had….

 

 

Building walls

drive bank wall
Drive bank wall

Finally the drive bank is starting to look like I’ve been working on it (see also here for earlier work).  To any person skilled in the art, it looks like a pile of stones rather than a retaining wall, however, I know I can walk securely on the top layer of stones, so am pretty happy with it.  As a happy consequence of my ineptitude, there will be plenty of planting crevices to squeeze in a few little plants in the wall itself.  As it weathers, and with some planting to soften it, I think it will look well.

The area between the ramp (unfinished – it will have steps) and the sycamore tree should be quite a favoured microclimate.  It faces south west, but is partially sheltered by the workshop on the far side of the drive from the prevailing winds, and I’m also intending to plant some shrubs at the top of the bank behind it.  It should be well drained; being a bank with loose rocks on it’s face, and these rocks will absorb the sun through the day and protect a little from the frost.  It should be shaded first thing in the morning, so any frost can gradually melt rather than having an extreme change of temperature.  I’m therefore hoping that I can try a few things in this bed that are a bit tender.  It should certainly suit some mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender, maybe sage.  I have an Atriplex halimus (salt bush) plant that I grew from seed, that may do well there, although it may grow a little big.  If any of my Tropaeolum speciosum seeds germinate this would look stunning clambering up the tree.  In the short term I also have some perennials that I grew from my HPS seed last year.  I’ll have a bit of an audit over the weekend, since I am hoping to go to Portree next week (I need more compost) and can get some more plants if necessary.  I’d quite like this area to be a bit more ornamental in nature, rather than the more unkempt back-to-nature look that most of my garden has!

road bank
Fuchsia root by roadside

I managed to relocate two large lumps of white fuchsia roots to the road side behind the house (the house backs onto the road so our front garden is at the back, and the rear garden is just the road verge and bank).  The dogs like to run along the fence harassing pedestrians and chasing Donnie’s truck and the odd stray sheep.  The ground therefore is challenging for hedge planting, since it is compacted and trampled as well as having almost no wind protection at all.  There may be some forward protection due to the house behind and the spruce trees by the driveway.  At some point in the past it looks like someone attempted to put a second pedestrian access down the bank behind the house.  All that remains is a zigzagging canyon, forming a trip hazard and eyesore.  I have therefore planted the fuchsia roots at the top end of this zigzag, buttressing them with rocks and rubble and backfilling with soil and stones where I have been excavating the second tier retaining wall by the drive.  In my experience, fuchsia are tough plants so I expect the roots to survive both the relocation and the location to thrive.  In the event of them failing, I have got some younger stems covered with soil which I’m intending to stick in the ground to try and take new plants from.

The strawberry plants at the top of the bank by the sycamore, which got covered with soil when I was excavating the fuchsia and the ramp a few weeks ago, seem to be surviving under their blanket.  There are several fresh leaves appearing.  These are running alpine strawberries, which I bought in to try as a ground cover and am hoping will have useful berries (no sign last year).  On the bank below, near the tree, I found a single plant of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata).  By appearance it could have been a number of things, but the aniseed fragrance is a dead give away.  I suspect that I threw a few seeds around there in the hope that some would sprout.  I didn’t notice the plant last year, but this must be it’s second year judging by the little taproot.  I’ve transplanted this a bit further back near to where I have planted a bladdernut (staphlea pinnata).  I noticed that the good king henry plants, that I planted near the bladdernut last year, seem to be coming back OK.  The other plants that have been growing around the sycamore are……more sycamores.  I’m collecting them up into a little bucket and am considering planting them down in the tree field where the ash aren’t doing so well.  I didn’t plant many sycamore (just some potted seedlings I had been given) mainly because it has the reputation of being a somewhat anti-social tree.  However, I’m now just thinking if it grows….

scyamore bud
And the buds are beautiful

Forgotten Things

polytunnel tulips
Tulip in Polytunnel

It is funny how quickly I forget what I planted where.  I had a load a bulbs that I ordered from JW Parkers this autumn.  I did manage to get most of the bulbs planted at a reasonable time (although the left over lilies were a bit late getting stuck in a pot), but with one thing and another didn’t really have much of a chance to prepare planting places for them.  Really I should have planned it better.  Anyway, when these sprouts came up in the polytunnel in February near my pineapple guava (feijoa sellowiana) I was a bit puzzled.  I convinced myself that they must be camassia as I remembered that was one of the plants I had bought several of.  However I have now remembered that they are tulips!  These were free bulbs (purple and white flowers) for making an order, and I have recently found out that tulip petals are edible (although toxic for cats and people with lily allergies, as is the rest of the plant).  With no real hope of repeat flowering outside I thought I would give them a go in the tunnel and here they are!

dogs tooth violet
Dogs tooth violet (and daffodils)

Other bulbs from the same batch are dogs tooth violet (erythronium sp.).  The bulbs of these are supposedly edible and they should like Skye pretty well, as well as having exciting flowers.  I got a couple of varieties, and I have to say that the bulbs did seem to be big enough to be worth eating on at least one of the varieties I got, although I planted them rather than eating them.  The barricading rubbish in the picture by the way, is to try and stop our dog Douglas from trampling on them.  He has a thing about birds in the trees there, and likes to dance around barking up the tree (bless him!).

I also got quite a few snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris).  Not because they are edible (although most fritillary bulbs are) but because I simply adore them.  My mum used to grow some in our garden in Oxfordshire when I was a child, and I know that they grow wild in the water meadows around Oxford.  I just didn’t think that they would stand a chance on Skye.  The soil in Oxfordshire is river silt, and in the case of my mum’s garden quite alkaline clay.  A bit of a change from the acid peaty silt that I have.  However, a couple of years ago I saw some in a local garden and established that they do indeed come back in subsequent years, so I couldn’t resist trying them.  These I haven’t spotted yet.  I have planted them in the grass banks (I think!) in the hope that they will naturalise there. I’m also hoping that they will be enough out of the way of our house extension if and when we get round to that.

camassia
Camassia in top field

What I did get in the hopes that they will a) naturalise and b) be edible as well as c) ornamental are three varieties of camassia.  These are very ornamental flowers of the pacific north west US and I am hopeful that they will like it here.  They are supposed to like damp meadows and we can certainly manage the damp bit.  I have planted some in the grass, some in the dog resistant garden and some in the fruit garden.  All three are sprouting hopefully.

onion
Woodland allium

These nice little onions flowers, that were a gift from a fellow blogger (thanks Anni), have sprouted up happily under the trees in the front garden.  I forget which they were now, I was given two sorts, the others are planted in the dog resistance garden, and are happy enough, but not yet flowering.

I tried to find the collective noun for daffodils and the official seems to be ‘bunch’ or possibly ‘host’ ala Wordsworth.  I can’t see either of these doing justice to the joy of these flowers at this time of year, and others seem to agree with me.  I would probably go for a ‘cheerfulness’ since they just elevate one’s spirits with their exuberance in the garden.  Luckily the wind and hail showers recently have not been enough to destroy them.

 

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The ‘tatty’ daffs are a local variety that multiplies and flowers like mad.  It has double flowers with green tinged petals and I’m not sure I always appreciate it as it deserves.

Yacon = cake

It was actually a little while ago I harvested the Yacon in the polytunnel, the ones outside were harvested before Xmas.  I hadn’t done anything with the tubers ’til now – they have been sitting rather in the way in boxes in the hallway until I got round to finishing off weighing them etc.  Some of the tubers have shrivelled slightly, but they otherwise appear fine.  Even the one that broke in half when dug from outside still had no mould growing.

I originally had two sources for the Yacon which visually look identical, but have been performing slightly differently (the better one is from real seeds, although they appear to be out of season now).  I have been growing them side by side for comparison, and do think that these are slightly more productive for me.  I think I will search out some other varieties if they become available (lubera have a couple listed, but are only available later as plants, so are more expensive).  Unfortunately the few seedlings I managed to grow from cultivariable seed did not survive the winter last year.

Inside Yacon Oct 2018
Polytunnel plants competing for light

The plants in the polytunnel were basically just replanted in the same spots last year after harvesting – so overwintered in the soil.  There were two of each source planted in adjacent beds with a little more compost dug in around them.  They were watered when I remembered, but seemed to be thriving.  There was a little bit of caterpillar damage to the leaves (those ‘silver y’ moths again) but not enough to be a problem.  I think that the plants nearest the polytunnel wall may have suffered from overcrowding or overshading – In both cases that plant was smaller that the other.

Inside Yacon harvest feb 2019
Yacon harvest (polytunnel) February 2019

Harvested at the start of February 2019, the ‘real seeds’ plants had a total usable tuber weight of 22 Oz, the other had a total weight of 10 1/2 Oz.  I did not pull all the tubers off any of the plants.  The smallest would have been a bit fiddly and may well give the plants a bit of a start in the ground next year!  One of the plants (bottom right) has naturally split into several parts.  I may divide the larger clumps as well to give myself more plants this year.

Outside Yacon May 2018
Yacon plants for outside, growing on May 2018

The plants outside were overwintered in pots and grown on till about June, when I had enough room in the tea garden extension to plant them out.  They seemed to do pretty well considering they were fairly exposed and I deliberately did not clear the other plants from around them, since they would have been giving them a bit of shelter.

Yacon outside Oct 2018
Yacon outside on Skye October 2018

The leaves were a lot smaller and less green and the plants were far more shrubby than the plants under cover.  The holes in the leaves shown above I believe is wind damage.  The plants were harvested earlier than those inside – being killed off by frosts in mid December.   The smaller plant really had no useable tubers, the other (real seeds) had about 6 Oz; which was actually pretty similar to the poorer plants in the polytunnel.

Outside Yacon harvest Dec28
Outside Yacon harvest December 2018

Last year I concluded that the tubers are better considered a fruit rather than a vegetable and we have eaten them in various ways.  It made fantastic cake last year (based on a pear crumble cake) and also added to sweet and sour vegetables, and ‘risotto’ (a family chicken recipe actually a bit more like a paella).  As I said it can tend to discolour a bit after cooking, but still tastes fine.  Raw one could grate it into a coleslaw or dice into another salad to add sweetness.

Yacon cake #2
Yacon fruit cake

I have tried another cake recipe this year.  I want to see how much I can reduce the sugar content, since the Yacon is so sweet to taste.  This cake was based on a parsnip fruit cake recipe by Jennie Rutland in an old magazine (possibly Home Farmer again).  The Yacon was substituted for the parsnip and grated coarsely, the sugar content was reduced by about half and it still tastes delicious.  S. definitely approved and more was requested!

 

 

Oca: a first year

spring plants june
Oca plants in June before planting in tunnel

I have harvested all the oca now.  I had three tubers given to me by Frances of island threads, who lives on one of the outer Hebrides, so just over the water from me.  Her weather is probably even milder, and windier, but just a trifle drier perhaps.  I started the tubers off in pots and planted two in the polytunnel and one outside in June.  Frances assures me that she grows hers outside, but I wanted to be safe till I have enough tubers to risk.

Oca: oxalis tuberosa, is related to wood sorrel and has similar clover-like leaves that are edible but contain oxalic acid (like rhubarb leaves) so should only be eaten sparingly.  I think they are a bit tough in my experience anyhow compared to common sorrel, and with a less sharp lemon taste.  They are grown mainly for the edible tubers which come in a range of colours.  Like potatoes, they are propagated mainly vegetatively through replanting the tubers since although they flower, they appear to rarely set seed, at least in the UK.  A number of growers are aiming to get more productive varieties in the northern hemisphere, see cultivariable and the UK oca breeders project for example.

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Oca forms tubers after the daylength is less than 12 hours – generally said to be at the end of September in the UK.  This will of course vary with latitude.  On Sept 30th in Glasgow (55deg 51min N) the daylength is 11 hrs 37 min,  London (51deg 30min N) is given as 11hours 40min long.  Here on Skye we are at 57 deg north (or thereabouts) so a little shorter in daylength than Glasgow in winter.  At the winter solstice the days are pretty much as short as they get – still pretty dark at 8am and getting dark at 4pm.  Since we can expect hard frosts by the end of November that means the oca only has about two months here to form tubers outside.

I’m pretty pleased with the results from the outside plant as a first trial.  It grew happily despite having very little shelter from the wind.  It flowered at the start of September with delicate yellow flowers.  Light frosts in late October were survived, but it was knocked back completely in December.  Although I harvested the outside plant when this happened, I since read that the tubers can carry on growing for several weeks after the foliage has apparently died down – the fleshy stalks carry on feeding them for longer, so I maybe should have left it a little longer to bulk up.  However, I got almost exactly 8 ounces and all 15 tubers are of a size that can be used: up to about 6cm (over 2 in) long.   The plant received a little compost in the hole when it was planted, and otherwise was just let to get on with it.

oca harvest outside 2018
Oca harvest from one outside plant

At the start of February I harvested the two plants in the tunnel.  The plants had stayed green much longer, and it took a prolonged frost when we had the snow in January to fully knock them back.  Although the plants had never looked quite as good as the ones outside, I was hopeful that they would do better, since they were still quite green at the end of the year.  However the yield was quite disappointing: 3 1/2 Oz from each plant.  The tubers were generally smaller, with quite a bit of slug damage (or it may have been vine weevils?)  I suspect that it was a bit too dry for them in the tunnel. I have not been watering much in there over the winter, since it tends to lead to mildew.

oca harvest polytunnel 2 plants 2018
Oca from 2 polytunnel plants

I tried the smallest from outside raw and was bit disappointed in the flavour to be honest.  I had seen them described as crunchy  and lemony sharp, getting sweeter as they are exposed to sunlight.  I would describe the taste (fresh) as having a faint raw potato flavour, with a hint of lemon perhaps, but not nice enough to serve to S.  So far I have only cooked them by boiling and that was perfectly pleasant, like a creamy salad potato. The colour does fade a bit on cooking.  They can be boiled, fried, and baked just like potatoes.  In New Zealand they are known as yams and are very popular.  I have found a few suggestions for roasting them, so I may try that next.

ready to cook
Oca ready for boiling

I have enough tubers to grow next year, and enough to experiment a bit with different ways of cooking.  Some are in the fridge, and some on a cool windowsill.  I think I won’t bother with planting any in the tunnel next year, although I may try covering with fleece or cloches at the end of the season outside, if I can work out how to stop those blowing away!  They can go in orchard borders that need digging anyway to keep couch grass at bay.  I think they will definitely be worth growing again, and I have also got some different tubers of various colours from real seeds to try some different varieties!