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.
This week I chose to spend a few hours in the polytunnel tidying up and sorting out some of the various pots and trays that I have been attempting to grow new plants in this year. I bought three bags of compost in Portree at Skyeshrubs last week, together with three plants, and the compost is already more than half gone! I have potted on lots of the plants and seedlings that have been languishing outside the polytunnel for most of the summer. Some of them were rather pot bound, including the remaining honeyberry that never made it to the orchard (I took some cuttings of this when repotting). Some actually looked as if they had plenty of room, but will probably benefit from fresh compost anyhow. Some are showing no signs of life in the pots other than the usual weed plants, which include lots of what I believe to be willow seedlings. I think I’ve lost the wild garlic that came free with one of my plants bought earlier this year – there seemed to be nothing in the pot when I inspected it. I’m not too worried about that, since it would be pretty easy to get hold of if I choose to introduce it.
I also potted on my window sill plants: not the orchid (which is fine), or the christmas cactus (which I made a branched log pot for earlier in the summer), but the money plant (which I don’t know the proper name of) and the cuttings of Sechuan pepper and Chillean myrtle. The money plant actually only seemed to have been using the top half of its pot despite being quite a large plant. The cuttings have rooted very well, but I’m intending to overwinter them indoors to try and give them a good start.
The first of the new plants I bought in Portree is a Phormium tenax: Maori queen, which is a lovely striped pink New Zealand flax plant. It will grow to about 5ft high and wide, which is maybe a bit big, but the lovely thing about these plants, as Martin Crawford demonstrated in his forest garden, is that the leaves can be cut and split to make handy biodegradable garden twine. I’ve planted the main plant up by the road, where it should make good ornamental screening. Phormium are supposed to be pretty wind and water resistant so I think it’ll do OK there. You can also see the good growth and flowers of the white fuchsia that I moved to the roadside earlier in the summer. As I expected, it has settled in there pretty well. I chose a flax plant that had several offsets growing in the same pot, so now have another 5 baby plants for free! These I will leave in the polytunnel for the moment until they have established roots in the pots, then I think I’ll put about three more on the road bank to the north side of the house.
The second plant is a Fuchsia: Mrs Popple. I wasn’t going to get another Fuchsia, but this one looks really strong, with large bicoloured pink flowers and (the real selling point for me!) large fairly sweet berries. They are perhaps slightly insipid, not so peppery in flavour as my thin flowered plants’, but quite pleasant. I have planted this plant in the front garden near the failed mangetout peas and had to pull out several raspberries to make room for it. It is a little bit shady for it there perhaps, but it is reasonably sheltered which is probably at least as important. It is also quite near my established white and dark pink Fuchsias. After planting I cut back some of the non flowering shoots and made several of them into cuttings, so hopefully again I will have several plants for my money. While I was at it I took some cuttings of my murtilo (Myrtus ugni) which is flowering well at the moment. I’d like to put some on the drivebank, since I think a bit more heat may be required to get the fruit to ripen here for me.
The third plant is a blueberry: Vaccinium floribundum, also known as mortiño or Andean blueberry, you can see it in the top photo next to the shelves. Having since looked it up I am pretty happy that I bought this. I wasn’t quite sure what it was when I saw it, but again I thought what a healthy looking plant it was – and you can’t go wrong with a blueberry can you? Although the fruit should be black or red on this variety not blue! I need to have a think about where to plant this. It is slightly tender, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here (they wouldn’t sell it at Skyeshrubs if they thought it was too tender for the island), but it will fruit better with a bit of sun. I’m wondering if I can find a spot for it in the pallet garden, although it is so pretty, it is worth a place in the front garden: maybe near the front path near the snowbell tree (which seems to have survived this time – the first one I planted didn’t survive its first winter). I will have to clear a space for it in the grass though! I’ll try and take some cuttings from this plant, but it looks like these are less likely to take. They apparently are more difficult to propagate.
Now I’m in the mood to plan my planting for next year. I have already ordered some more Gevuina avellana seed (eventually found with an US ebay seller) and excitingly both japanese and chillean plum yew, which I’ll post a bit more about another time. I’ve got a little spreadsheet of plants and potential sourcing that I try and stick to, but inevitably some extra exciting plants get bought that aren’t on the list!
Remember the mushroom logs I made back in March? Well so did I this week. I checked on them as I was passing the trailer on the way to get wood in from the woodshed. Peeling back the rubber mats covering them, I found that the ends of the logs were all covered nicely in mycelium. I am hopeful therefore that the logs are now ready to start fruiting. It was quite warm in the early part of the summer, and cool latterly but the location I chose seems to have protected the logs suitably. The instructions say to put them somewhere shady now and they should start fruiting. I have leant them against the north end of the workshop behind the Hablizia trellis, where I found (to yet more excitement!) that the Hablitzia has set seed. The only odd thing is that the logs still haven’t realised they’re dead; as well as patches of mycelium on the trunks, all the logs had little twig shoots. I’ll try and remember to check them more often now for mushrooms forming, so watch this space!
The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber. Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel! They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce). The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha. It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.
The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago. I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like. This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm. Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would. I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd! I need to look up some more recipes! I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen. They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.
Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes. As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit! These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid. So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again. I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many. This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!). My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed. I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly. The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.
The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen. As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi). It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them. They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.
Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered. So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears. However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable. Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!). The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows. I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash. If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.
Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory, are starting to turn colour. There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch. I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall. The white grapes are actually already ripe! Or at least some of them are. I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch! Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!
I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter. It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant. Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste. If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta. The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit. They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example). I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow! It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it. The kiwi I will try and transplant. It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden. I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.
The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE! Literally some are almost taller than I am! The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller. I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more. None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion. It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby. The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.
Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry. It has put on a lot of growth recently. The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger. I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers. However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit. I may try and take some cuttings. It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.
Generally I find that crops that need a hot dry late summer to ripen are a waste of space on Skye. Summer is our rainy season (along with the rest of the year!) so crops that like a cool damp climate seem to be doing better for me. Luckily I have the polytunnel for things that like a bit more warmth and shelter (I’ll write again about that soon!).
This year I managed to sow two different kinds of peas outside and one inside, which I wrote about previously when sown in the middle of May. The purple mangetout in the front garden on the wigwam have really struggled to get going. They germinated well, but a combination of slugs and lack of sunlight (it turned out to be much too shady once the trees had leaves on) has meant that I don’t think I will get any seed from them. I may try that spot for some of my perennial japanese vegetables next year since many of them will be happy in shade. I’m hoping that I have enough seed to try again either in the polytunnel or somewhere sunnier outside next year.
The carlin peas in the tea garden (I need to think of a new name for this area – maybe the ‘pallet garden’ is more accurate now, since the tea bushes have not thrived) by contrast have done really well. Sown thickly, typically they germinated well, got very little slug damage, and flowered and set pods nicely. We have eaten several meals of fresh peas and Douglas and Dyson have benefitted from pea pods on their dinners (or straight from the vine while I’m picking). There is still the odd flower, but I’m leaving most of the rest of the pods in the hope that they will dry and harden off enough to save for some pease pudding dishes over the winter. Despite some strongish winds they have stood up well with the protection of the pallets and alder twigs.
The ‘pallet garden’ is generally looking pretty productive in a slightly chaotic sort of way. The perennial kale is large and leafy. I haven’t picked much this year, although probably could have had more. I made several batches of kale crisps (cut up, rub in a little veg oil and soy sauce and dry till crispy in moderate oven) which are really tasty and nutritious. Again Dougie is benefitting from some of these (particularly the batch which got a bit burnt!). There is lots of my lovely flat leaved kale as well. Unfortunately it is growing amongst the trial oca tubers, so some of these may not have a fair trial having to compete with the kale. Also I like the kale flower sprouts the following year, and I may have to dig all the plants up to harvest the oca, and hence get no sprouts…
There were just a few carrots that survived last year, but were too small to be worth harvesting so I left in situ. They have rewarded me with a flowering display all summer. If we get a bit of nice weather into the autumn I may have fresh carrot seed, which I know from previous experience germinates far more reliably than shop bought seed. With similar white flowers is the skirret. I didn’t get round to actually eating very much of this last year, but I could do with digging up some to see whether it’s really worth the space. Not that space is really an issue for me, and as a perennial there is actually no problem if I do leave it in another year!
I have been given some jerusalem artichoke and potato tubers to try this year (thanks again Frances). I have tried jerusalem artichokes in the past – I think in the first year we were here – but without shelter and in a new bed they disappeared in what has now become the fruit jungle. Both tubers this year seem to have survived the slugs in the pallet garden. I put one on the sunny side of a pallet and this has done much better than the other on the shady side, although both are looking healthy enough. I have read that on the outer hebrides they crop well when grown for two years, so I think I won’t try digging these up this year. Anyway they didn’t get the compost on planting, so won’t achieve much in the way of tubers anyhow; hopefully enough to regrow though. The potatoes do grow well here – in the past they used to export seed tubers to Ireland from our holding. I don’t usually bother with potatoes (running a shop we usually have some that need eating!), but since these were a gift it would be rude not to try them! I need to check the variety and work out when to dig them up. Anytime in the next month or so I expect.
I planted Yacon in various places in the pallet garden, including in the cardboard mulched area. Some are doing well, and some are pretty slug eaten. Again the important bit is unseen underground, so I’ll have to wait till later in the year to find out how they have done. There still seem to be a few mashua growing away in there as well, but they don’t seem to crop very well outside for me. I think it is just a bit cool for them in the autumn here.
The himalayan strawberries don’t seem to have set fruit this year at all. They did flower well, but we had that cold spell in May that maybe stopped the fruit forming. However, they do form a nice groundcover and are starting to crowd out the buttercups quite well. My friend A. gave me a few of her ground covering wild strawberries that she lets grow on her allotment and I can certainly confirm that they cover ground quickly! One plant on the corner of one of the beds is now like an explosion of spiders crawling over the soil and paths. They are yet to flower for me, but hopefully will yield the odd gardener’s treat in time!
I broadcast lots of tiny amounts of seed in various places in the pallet garden at the start of June, most of which have yet to noticeably appear. This is a little disappointing. I guess I needed to rake them in to cover them with soil to prevent pests eating them or sun dessicating the fresh shoots. They wouldn’t have grown very well in the packets either however, and many were saved seed, so no great loss really. Maybe they will germinate in future years when they feel like it. Most of the soil does have a pretty good groundcover of various planted and volunteered plants. I’m not sure where the borage came from, but love it’s hairiness and joyous blue flowers. There are a few surviving green manure plants from last year – particularly alfalfa and red clover, which although not surviving where I would have planted them, should come back again next year.
In the southernmost corner of the pallet garden I had a patch of fodder radish as a green manure last year. I was initially disappointed this wasn’t the same fodder radish as I had grown in the polytunnel that made the lovely radishy seed pods. However, unlike that one, it did form ball radishes that were quite edible when young, although a bit woody later on. The dogs loved them however! I would be weeding or doing something at the other end of the garden, and Douglas would present me with an emergency fetch ball. Dyson also soon realised that these spicy balls were edible and that would keep him happy as well, munching away. I think I probably won’t grow them again though, since the globe roots will be less good at aerating the soil than the longer pod radishes are (which did do well in the orchard area – more on that another time). I will collect some seed just in case.
In with the radishes were a few overwintered wheat plants. I had to remove some when I put up the pallets in the spring The remainder have cropped very well. If I can harvest them before the birds do I will have rejuvenated my wheat seeds. I don’t remember now where these came from at all. Probably saved from a volunteer from some bird seed?
Well, the sad news is that the remaining apricot fruit didn’t make it to ripeness! I think a drop of condensation landed on it and it started to rot during the warmer weather we had in early July. It was definitely changing colour, but was still hard and (yes I did try it!) sour. I’m pretty happy to have got fruit set in the first proper year of the tree and am learning more about how to prune it! I have given it a rather more brutal late summer prune than I think will normally be required. It has surprised me quite how vigorous the tree has been. So much for dwarfing rootstock! I wish the trees outside were as vigorous. The shelter and extra warmth of the polytunnel will of course be contributing much to the lush growth. I have taken one of the branches right back in the hope that the tree structure will improve, with more branching – I need to prune harder next time in the spring!
I had my ‘champion of england’ peas from the HDRA growing up the apricot, they are starting to dry off nicely now, and an achocha vine is also making a tentative effort. Those are generally doing better this year than I have achieved in previous years and have some fruit developing on the standard variety. The large fruited achocha variety, with the pretty cannabis like leaves, is flowering, but I have not noticed any larger fruit yet.
The new grape vine Zalagyongye has a few nice bunches of grapes and Boskoop glory had lots of lovely bunches. I think the kiwi vine is rather shading the grapevine, since most of the Boskoop grape bunches were either right at the start of the vine, or towards the far end, where there is less shade from the kiwi. I know I should have thinned out the bunches earlier, but again we seem to have had a lovely dry summer, plus I was busy with the building work, so didn’t play in the tunnel so much. The grapes within the bunches were also packed quite tight at that stage so it was awkward to get in there with the scissors to cut them out. A little shuffling with my fingers was required to gain an angle of access. I invested years ago in a special round ended short bladed pair of scissors, which minimise the damage to grapes that are left on the bunch.
I took quite a number of bunches out completely and have juiced them to make ‘verjus’. At first I tried to use my hand juicer, which looks a bit like a plastic mincer. Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the job. I was afraid if I put any more force on the handle it would snap! The pips were jamming it I think. Instead I blasted the fruit in my food processor and then seived the puree. Verjus or verjuice is a condiment used like vinegar or lemon juice. I’m yet to experiment with it, but this recipe looks like a simple one to try. At first the juice was cloudy, but it settled out after a day in the refrigerator, and I could pour off the clear juice from the top. In an attempt to help it keep, I heated the juice to almost boiling, then poured it into sterilized bottles.
I have had a few fruit off the courgettes – I never get the gluts that other gardeners boast complain of. They are still flowering happily however. I probably don’t feed them enough. The cucumbers have tiny female fruit that just seem to have been sitting there for weeks. I don’t know if they have been fertilized, but they haven’t rotted away either. I suspect one of the issues may be lack of light. They are now almost completely swamped by the adjacent courgettes, but still seem to be fine otherwise. I lose track on the pumpkin and sharks fin melon – there are certainly several vines creeping around and climbing with female flowers, but no significant swelling of fruit yet. I live in hope!
The sweetcorn seem to have all disappeared – just a total washout there. I have a single self seeded nastutium that is making a bid for world (or at least polytunnel) domination. Unfortunately it is just a scarlet one, not the lovely tawny one that I had last year that I think it seeded from. At the edges of what should have been the sweetcorn bed I planted out some foxtail millet (Setaria italica), which grew from HPS seed. This is now showing tiny flowers, so that is exciting for me. The fuchsia berry has grown quite lush, but is only now starting to flower. I’m worried that the berries (if I get any) won’t have time to ripen before the frosts come, or the autumn damp rots them off.
The goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) has lots of tiny lanterns. This page says to wait to harvest these till the fruit stem turns brown, which will be much later in the year. I couldn’t find much else about growing it, but apparently the fruit is also effective in treating diabetes. I found lots of recipes on goldenberry jam and using goldenberries – mostly dried. I don’t expect I’ll get that many fruit. I’m still not sure where the other physalis came from (near the asparagus) I’m wondering if it could have been a seed that didn’t germinate that somehow got lost in the compost and redistributed. The plant is much smaller, so I think it is a new season plant rather than one that overwintered.
Elsewhere in the polytunnel the tomatoes are doing mostly fine. No sign of any ripe ones but plenty set on the supersweet 100 and little yellow multiflora. I’m not happy with the stupice however. That was new seed, but the plants are slightly strange with distorted leaves and few fruit set. Looking this up I think it is tomato mosaic virus. The RHS says that this can be transmitted through seed, and since this is the only variety affected I think that may be what has happened. I’m a bit annoyed about that, since this may compromise my other tomatoes in the future. I’m probably best off not saving seed at all this year. As far as I can find out the only control is to pull as much of the affected plants out as possible, which i have now done. A bit annoying to say the least when there are fruit on the vine! Also annoying me is that I don’t seem to have noted where I got the seed from, despite trying to keep better records. I’m pretty sure it was new seed this year, so I may have it noted in the paperwork somewhere!