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 are 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.

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Hazelnuts and truffles

You know the best presents?  They are the things that you really would like, but don’t buy yourself because they are just that bit extravagant.  Well my clever sisters got it spot on this year.  First to arrive was a pack of mushroom spawn to inoculate logs.  There are three different varieties of edible mushroom, and enough spawn to inoculate two largish logs.  What I may do is use half to innoculate a log each, and the other half to try again with newspaper ‘logs’.  I had a go a couple of years ago making huge rolled up newspaper logs fron unsold papers from the shop (we don’t get them collected so just recycle or otherwise use them locally) and incorporated spawn dowels in the layers.  Nothing happened.  I think that what went wrong was I was over concerned with the logs not drying out, so I wrapped the newspapers in black bin liners, and I think the mushrooms suffocated.  Given our rainfall, I think I will just stack them somewhere out of the sun and just water them a bit if we do get a dry spell.  In the meantime the spawn should be safe in the fridge door.

The second part of the present (it was a joint one) was a hazel tree innoculated with truffle spawn.  I could be digging up my own truffles in seven years or so!  I had looked at these a while ago, but decided against buying myself one since I had many other plants to spend my money on.  It really is a bit of a long shot anyway.  I hadn’t realised for example, that the truffle fungi likes it quite alkaline.  Thin soil over chalk is what they like.  I’ve got thin soil, but generally rather acidic.  What I’ve done therefore is select a spot, as close to south facing as I’ve got, on a slope, so well drained.  It hasn’t got a huge amount of shelter yet, but isn’t as exposed as some spots either, and as the surrounding trees grow up (other hazels and oaks) they will shelter each other.

truffle location
Truffle tree location

I dug my standard, two spade width turf turned over, hole for the tree and used all of a bag of ground dolomite limestone (probably 1kg? the label had long since gone).  I bought the linestone when I thought I might be doing more annual veg growing.  I mixed half in the soil below the top turves, and sprinkled the other half around the tree once planted, for a distance of about a metre radius.  Hopefully that will just give the truffle spawn enough of a pH change to get it started.  If the truffle fungi doesn’t make it we should at least have another hazel tree!

truffle planted
Truffle ‘tree’ with added limestone

I meant to do a separate post about hazelnuts, but it’s bit past time now.  Suffice to say that I got a fair share of the bumper harvest that happened last year.  In a few hours at the start of October I collected a carrier bag and all my pockets full.  Normally the birds and mice strip the trees, but there was enough for everyone this year.

nut hunting
Hazelnut hunting ground

I dried the nuts on top of the stove (I think that some may have got a bit scorched).  They have kept well in the shells, but I have shelled most of them with a hand cracker and have got about 8 Oz of hazelnut kernels.  A fair proportion (maybe 20% – 30%) had no kernel, or a shrivelled up one, but the rest were fine, if a little small.  Apparently getting empty nuts is quite normal for hazels.  The full ones should sink in water, so I may wash them next time to save some of the labour until I get a nut cracking machine!  Interestingly one of the trees appeared to have quite a few nuts with twin kernels.  Not really what you want however, since they end up a little small.

twin kernel
Twin kernel

Anyway, this bumper harvest has inspired me to look again at hazels as a nut crop tree.  We may not have the optimum climate for nuts, but that hasn’t stopped me planting apple trees, which also won’t crop well here most years.  What we do have is no squirrels, which are such a pest elsewhere in the UK as to present quite a challenge when getting any of the harvest.  I’ve still got a lot of other projects on the go this year, but I think over the next nine months I will try and work out where hazels for nuts might do best.  As usual they want somewhere sheltered and sunny (!), but I’ll also need to fit them into the existing tree planted areas.  Maybe interplanted in with the ash is one option (if I do lose the ash, there will be plenty of space) but there are other possibilities.

nut production line
Nut cracking production line

To help with nut tree selection and planting planning I also asked for and got for xmas, Martin Crawford’s book on nut growing.  This has got me over-excited about all the other nuts I could try.  Maybe not almonds (even I’m not that optimistic, although maybe in the tunnel…) but walnuts, or japanese walnuts may be a possibility to try, and perhaps I could find a more sheltered spot for some sweet chestnut, and there’s a few cute little nut trees related to horse chestnuts that are edible and may crop here…..

Orchard revisited – more pH testing

toad
Toad in orchard area

I had second thoughts about just re mulching the orchard area.  I knew there was couch grass in there, so I thought it made sense to try and dig that out a bit before re mulching.  I have therefore been gently forking over the area that had been mulched and removing any couch, buttercups etc.  I have made a compost area at the top corner which the buttercups and other less noxious weeds can go, and the couch and the odd persistent dock root is bucketed and removed to my foul weeds pile where they can live happily together.  The soil does seem quite light.  I’m trying not to turn it over, just lift and separate out the weeds so as not to destroy the structure too much.  There already seem to be mycelium in the soil which should help to distribute nutrients to the orchard plants from the alder and other nutrient rich areas of soil.

orchard clearing
forking over the orchard

I’ve been mulling over what I want to plant and how to manage it, although the plan is still very fluid.  I know I want more fruit bushes and some good ground cover plants.  I don’t want it to be too much like a garden, since it is only once removed from a grassy field, so more conventional fruits and discrete herbaceous plants or natives will be preferred.  I have a few black currant bushes on the other side of the orchard that I can transplant, and I’ll take some more cuttings whilst I’m at it.  I may try and stick in some gooseberry cuttings as well – they make a good cordial.  The good king henry has done really well in the tea garden and has taken well as seedling transplants elsewhere.  I’m pretty sure there is still quite a few self seeded plants up in the tea garden, so although I probably won’t use much of it I’ll see if I can transplant some down.  I also have a rather tall fennel plant in the dog resistant garden that would benefit from being divided soon.  I think it would be slightly less tall if in a sunnier spot and that will be a good insect attractant plant.  I did want to put my asparagus plants down there, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough if the couch is still coming back….

S. has moved more rotten rock down to improve the gradient down the steep bit of the trackway (pity I’ve just about finished moving the soil down now!) and this has brought the trackway level up more like that of the orchard soil.  Since the couch grass seems to be in the trackway, I have devised a strategy for the orchard on this side – I will keep a two foot band adjacent to the trackway clear of shrubby perennials and leave it for annuals and root crops.  This way I will have a chance to dig out the couch grass as it comes through again as a natural part of harvesting the root crops each year.  We quite like salsify, but I seldom get round to harvesting it, so that is one possibility.  I could also try Yacon down there – I think it will be a bit more sheltered than the tea garden.  Oca and Mashua are other replant perennials that I may have more of next year.

On the other side of the triangle that makes up the north part of the orchard I have a grass path alongside the burn.  Again this has a bit of couch grass in it.  I’m going to try mulching that out rather than leaving it as grass.  I’ve got on pretty well with the newspaper paths I have made, although I think my supply of sawdust may be running short.  I know I put loads in the fruit garden just to have somewhere to put it a couple of years ago, so I may go and mine some back out!  Hopefully I can pull the couch out from the newspaper if necessary!  At the bottom of the orchard I stuck a load of comfrey roots. Hopefully they will out compete any couch that is liable to come in from that direction.  I still have all the lower part of the orchard to clear as well – that has been growing silverweed (amongst other things!)

blueberry plot
View to holding from opposite hill (taken Sept 2017)

I’m wondering a little whether I worry too much about couch grass.  What would happen if I just left it be?  How competive is it as a weed?  I have a patch of ground further down in the tree field that I am eyeing up as a potential blueberry patch.  It is nice and sheltered by some well grown alder just below the hump towards the south side of the field.  I left it clear of trees deliberately when we planted them since it seemed a little damp (well grown clumps of rushes) so I thought it might suit blueberries who like it wetter in the summer.  I haven’t had much luck with my blueberries in the fruit garden – I think I need a more vigorous variety (I got distracted online the other day choosing some for my fantasy blueberry patch).  Anyway, I took a soil sample from there recently and guess what I found – yes more couchgrass!

pH testing kit
pH indicator chart

I was re-doing a number of pH tests to see how things are now that my earthmoving has nearly finished.  I bought some more barium sulphate and indicator fluid off the internet, but it didn’t come with a colour chart.  The colour chart from my previous test kit is quite difficult to use – the difference between 6.5 and 5.0 is difficult to see so I’ve taken a best guess approach.  All the samples I took from various areas of the garden and tree field, including the polytunnel, were I believe between 5 and 6 except interestingly the tea garden extension which appears to have the highest pH at 6.5.  The polytunnel came out at 5.5 whereas last time it was 7.  I forgot to take a sample from the Habby bed this time.  Anyway 4.5 to 5.5 seems to be the preferred pH range for blueberries and I measured the pH in my proposed spot to be 5.0, so that at least should be fine.

pH test potential blueberry plot
pH test for potential blueberry plot

 

 

 

Happy Habby garden, pH testing

DSCN2199
Hablitzia Tamnoides plant in tea garden

I’ve had a Hablitzia Tamnoides plant for about 18 months now. To say it is not thriving, would probably be pretty accurate. It’s a relatively unknown plant in the UK, at least until quite recently. Originating from the caucasus region, it is (supposed to be) a vigorous scrambling perennial plant, growing to about 6 ft with tasty leaves that can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Steven Barstow (http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=8606) has helped to popularise the plant with his ‘around the world in eighty plants’ book, which I heartily recommend by the way. My plant came from Alison Tindale of backyard larder (http://backyardlarder.co.uk), as a swap for some local Skye plants, and I planted it in the tea garden, where I thought it would be quite sheltered. As it turns out the tea garden hasn’t been as sheltered as I’d hoped. Also, I’ve since found out it’s native range is in limestone cliffs, so it prefers quite an alkaline soil.

(edit: I seem to have made up the limestone based on this comment from Steven Barstow, https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154986079450860&id=655215859
I think I just assumed the cliffs in the picture were limestone.  Having done some hasty research online https://www.britannica.com/place/Caucasus, does mention limestone, so perhaps my guess was right. Alison Tindale also says it dislikes acid soils (which seems to bourne out by my experience) so I think I have added 2 and 2, whether my answer is right is luck rather than judgement!  What Stephen actually says in his book is that ‘It is found in spruce and beech woods, amongst rocks and in ravines and along rivers’)

It also benefits from quite a fertile spot. I don’t think the tea garden is particularly fertile, but relatively good for round here. Because I was so keen on growing this plant, I had also obtained some seed from Mandy at incredible vegetables (http://www.incrediblevegetables.co.uk) this spring, and got lots to germinate.

DSCN1337
Hablitzia Tamnoides seedlings

Potted on, they soon outgrew the fertility in their little pots and turned quite yellow. I’ve since potted them on again, and so far they are looking a bit more happy. I decided to make a ‘habby bed’ to make my hablitzia happy. This is in the shelter of the workshop by the drive. I dug out the soil and rocks as deep as I could (not very deep – a foot or before I hit bed rock). I then back filled with builder’s rubble (some of the old render from the byre which was falling off). On top of this I put compost from last year’s compost heap which was rather full of wood ash from the stove, so hopefully both nutritious and low in pH. Having mixed these two together (difficult with the stones) I topped the lot with not quite ready bracken compost, which hopefully will be relately weed free as well as adding to the nutrients in the longer term. I’ve planted three of my new hablitzia in the bed and so far they are just sitting there! Hopefully next spring I should see them putting on good growth in appreciation.  I need to think about some sort of climbing frame for them, since they should now grow quite tall.

DSCN2250
Hopefully Happy Hablitzia in Habby bed

This week I finally got round to doing a pH test on the soil here. I’m not sure why I hadn’t done it before. I think I had just gone on the gut feeling that it is quite acidic, without needing to put a number on it, and let’s just say I was right! The hydrangea here can have lovely blue flowers, and rhododendron thrive. I’m a bit surprised now that anything else grows – it just goes to show that plants don’t read books! I took a soil sample from approximately the centre of the tree field between the royal oaks, and the pH came out as very acidic. I tested the soil in my happy habby bed as well, and at this early stage my terraforming has been successful as it has come out as alkakine. It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. Hopefully the lime from the render will keep the worst of the acidity away. If necessary, I have a ready supply of ash from the house fires which could be used to top up.

I think I will do some more pH testing nearer the house to see if there is a difference in the cultivated areas. They may have been ‘improved’ by previous gardeners, or from lime leaching from the buildings. I do occasionally dig up what seems to be a bit of chalk, so the land does seem to have been modified in the past. I can’t think of any other reason for rock chalk to be lying about anyway.