Elephants in the Garden.

chaffinch
Chaffinch on seeding mallow

The evenings are really starting to draw in now and we’ve already experienced our first frosts. This is a little early for Skye. It doesn’t seem to have damaged the plants in the polytunnel yet though. I have brought in the Tamarind seedling that my neighbour gave me, and have also potted on and brought in two pepper plants and two sweet peppers. The vines on the pumpkin nuts have died back, so I have brought those three fruit in to keep safe. The shark’s fin melon vine still looks healthy and I have cut it back and dug it up, so that I can try and overwinter it indoors, since the plants are perennial in milder climates. Last week I removed all the rest of the tomato fruit and made a chutney. It burnt on the pan a bit, but tastes alright. I still need to remove the remains of the plants yet.

sharks fin melon
Single Sharks fin melon before potting up

I mulched the DRG side of the new front garden area I have been working on with cardboard, and dug up, divided and replanted one of the daylillies from the original DRG. This one has quite large orange flowers. Daylillies are another of the ‘edimental’ plants I have been growing. The flowers, known as ‘golden needles’ are esteemed in parts of China and dried to be eaten as a vegetable. I think the leaves and roots are also edible, although have not tried them at all yet. Slugs certainly like the leaves, so I have protected the newly planted divisions with a cut off plant pot collar. I’m a bit disappointed that the grass is growing back quite a bit in the new area by the DRG. I obviously did not clear as much as I had thought. Since I have seeded as well as replanted this area it is a bit difficult to know what to do for the best. I guess I will have to try and spot mulch the worst patches….

As the autumn progresses the leaves are falling audibly off the sycamores in the front garden. I hadn’t realised how well the swales I had made would trap the leaves. This will hopefully enable an auto-mulching of the plants in the dips. I’ll have to reconsider what I planted there, with a view to maximising this benefit. Certainly the asparagus will appreciate an annual mulch, so I’m extra glad now I planted them in the dips rather than on the humps, but maybe there are other herbacious perennials that would benefit similarly. It will be interesting to see whether the leaves are still there after a winter gale or three….It was pretty windy last week and the leaves still seem to be staying put.

Catching leaves
Catching leaves

Rather than leave it till all the leaves had fallen from the willow fedges, I decided to prune and tidy them earlier. This will reduce the vigour of the willow slightly and make the fedges less likely to get damaged in winter winds by providing less of a catchment for the wind. I painstakingly cut the willow into short lengths to put on top of a newspaper mulch along my new pathway around the former DRG. I first tied the willow into bundles to make it easier to handle, but it was still pretty tedious. I could have used the shredder, but my memory of shredding willow last time was that was pretty tedious as well, and rather noisy.

mulching
Mulching DRG path with willow and cardboard

Anyhow I had a good win this week! There is a band of ‘tree surgeons’ going round the area at the moment who are cutting back trees which are too close to powerlines. I noticed them shredding the prunings onto their little tipper van and asked them if they wanted to dispose of them locally and they did!  So I now have a pretty big pile of ready shredded spruce branches to use as mulch material on paths, and possibly in my blueberry patch when I get round to planting that up.

mulch pile
If you don’t ask you don’t get

Finally a new caterpillar sighting for us. We usually joke that Dyson is a crap guard dog, and he replies that he keeps away the elephants for us. Here is one he missed:

elephant hawk moth caterpillar
Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar

Achieving Courgettes

 

 

polytunnel chaos
Exuberant polytunnel in August

I’ve got into a system now in the polytunnel (although as always it’s still evolving!).  I have a number of perennial fruit and vegetables that come back more or less reliably and more or less productively year after year, then I have annuals and replant perennials which I rotate through the four quarters of the polytunnel.  The four quarters are tomatoes, cucubits, yacon and grasses/legumes.  I’ll explain how these are getting on in this post.  It got a bit long when I started to include the fixed perennials, so I’ll make a separate post for those.

There are a number of annual, or biannual plants that have self seeded and come up as they feel like around the tunnel, these include a flat leaf kale (possibly originally pentland brig), flat leaved parsley, chickweed, fat hen, leaf beet and climbing nasturtiums.  I generally don’t weed religiously in the tunnel (I’m never the tidiest of gardeners!) just clearing space for sowing or growing plants as required.  When I do pull out weeds or chop back plants I will usually tuck the removed plant matter around growing plants to act as a mulch.  I am convinced that the soil in the tunnel is much happier for this as the mulch acts as a layer of insulation; keeping the soil and plant roots cooler and damper, gradually disappearing into the soil and feeding it.

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The climbing nasturtiums are funny.  I think I had just the one plant last year, an orange one which had seeded from a single lovely tawny dark orange flower the previous year.  It flowered profusely and I just left it to seed around, which it has with a vengeance!  Every colour from pale primrose to dark maroon, is now represented, clashing wonderfully with the Fuchsia-berry Fuchsia flowers.  The nasturtiums have rather taken over the tomato bed and I’m having to weed them out, train them up and cut them back.  I assume that there is interesting hidden genetics going on there, but am just stepping back and enjoying the results.  I’ll try and collect some of the seed this year, or I will be able to grow nothing else in that corner for seedlings.  Unfortunately I’m not fond of the taste of nasturtium, but do enjoy the visual effect of the flowers.  They are also supposed to be a good distraction plant for cabbage white butterflies, not that those are a problem for me here.

clash
Wonderful clashes

The tomatoes are lovely sturdy plants this year.  I didn’t get very good germination, however I did get plenty of plants for my purposes, if a bit later than ideal.  I was trying out a different compost this year: Dalefoot bracken and wool composts.  I’m pretty impressed with it – a bit pricy especially after delivery to Skye, but the plants were definitely healthier than previous years, so I will be buying it again.  I got a pallet load organised for myself and various neighbours in the glen and beyond.  Although there didn’t seem much interest at the time of ordering, then the lockdown happened and I could have passed on twice as many bags, since compost was one of the things in short supply on the island!  The fruit set well and are just starting to ripen nicely now on the vines, so it is a race against the fading summer to see if I can get most of them to ripen off.  Other people locally already have had ripe fruit for several weeks, so I know I can do better….

tomatoes close
Tomato truss ripening late August

Again this year I had poor germination of the sweetcorn.  Actually I got zero germination.  This means the lower northern quarter of the polytunnel is mainly growing whatever is self seeding in.  I cleared and watered a couple of beds to get some fresh leaves in a few weeks.  I sowed a couple of patches of the millet seed, but am a bit disappointed with the germination of this as well.  If I don’t get seed off it this year, I probably won’t bother with it again.

 

tamra cucumber
Tamra Cucumber

The stars of the tunnel (other than the nasturtiums) have been the cucubits.  I grew three cucumber plants myself (Tamra) and was given one (Marketmore).  The marketmore has done pretty well setting several nice fruit, and ongoing…  They are a bit spiny, but these rub off easily.  The Tamra, which last year produced one delicious fruit the size of my little finger, has had several nice fruit on one of the three vines.  I left the first fruit to try and obtain seeds, so may have done even better if this had been picked.  Given the Marketmore is next to the Tamra, they may have crossed, so if I do get seed they may not be the same as the parent.

achieving courgettes
Setting courgettes

I am very happy with the courgettes, which have been setting well and ongoing.  I think the large round fruit I found last year may well have been a tondo di picenza courgette/marrow, although it was sweet like a melon.  I am finding that the immature fruit are also very pleasant to eat raw.

pumpkin sling
Pumpkin nut squash in Y-front sling

The pumpkin nut plants got away very well, and all three plants have at least one good sized fruit supported and swelling.  One of them is already starting to turn orange, so I am very hopeful that I may get ripe seeds from this one at least.  The plant is grown for it’s hull-less seeds, and maybe I can use some of them to grow plants from next year.  I don’t think I will get sharksfin melon this year, which is a bit dissappointing.  I had just one plant survive, and although it is growing away quite rampantly now, it is rather late for it to set fruit to come to anything.  I may try digging the plant up, cutting it back and trying to overwinter it inside this year.

Yacon flowerbud 2020
Yacon flowerbud

I’m pretty excited about the Yacon.  Although it is too early to tell what the yield of roots will be (it is dug as late as possible, after the plants die back in the winter) the plants are getting quite big now, and I can see flower buds developing on the two new varieties I obtained this year.  With a few big ‘ifs’ it would be very exciting to get seed to try and grow a new variety.  The tiny plants I grew a few years ago from cultivariable seeds never made it through the winter, but it would be fun to try again.  Cultivariable are unfortunately not exporting seed any more….

 

Eviction

Having decided that the Kiwi vine wasn’t worth the space and the daylight it took in the Polytunnel, I spent a few wet afternoons in January and February digging it out.  Since it was pretty much in the corner I had to be careful of the polytunnel sides when digging.  I wasn’t certain when I started whether I was taking the bramble out as well.  Actually I rather though I would be digging that out too, despite the great crop of sweet early brambles it usually gives.  However in the event, it really was too close to the polytunnel corner to take out.  Also it seems to be quite separate to the kiwi root mass so didn’t naturally come out at the same time.

kiwi roots
Kiwi roots

Although I tried hard to take up as much root as possible, the kiwi roots are surprisingly fragile, so most of them got broken quite short during the excavation.  Eventually the last roots going out under the tunnel wall were cut through and the rootball was undercut and freed.  It was interesting that most of the larger roots were extending into the tunnel rather than out into the damper soil outside the tunnel.  I think this indicates that the kiwi will prefer drier soil.  That corner of the tunnel outside however, is also particularly wet, since there is a shallow drainage ditch I dug along there quite early on, which doesn’t yet have a destination except just by the corner of the tunnel.  It usually fills with water there after any significant rain.

kiwi triffid
Out of polytunnel – giant Dufflepud

I had decided to plant the kiwi against the largest of the sycamores in the front garden.  I don’t expect it to be quite as vigorous outside as it is in the warmth of the tunnel.  It may not like the extra wet as well as the cooler temperatures.  However I remember seeing kiwis swamping a tree in the Fern’s field, so don’t want to plant it somewhere where the trees are still establishing.  In addition, it will be more difficult to prune the vine in a tree so I’m actually intending to let it run free as much as possible.  This means that I may not get so many flowers, but since I am not expecting to get any fruit outside it doesn’t really matter.

new position
Kiwi in new position

I started by working out roughly where the kiwi was going to be planted; a little way from the tree trunk.  It means that there will not be a way around between the tree and the road above the barn.  However, there wasn’t before either due to the way the soil has been heaped up, and the clump of branches growing from the bole of the tree.  I managed to get the kiwi up the drive bank and in position, with a bit of a struggle.  I loosened the soil where it was to go, and dug just a little bit out, since I needed to adjust the soil levels to a bit higher there to blend them in more.  I didn’t give the kiwi any extra compost; I’m expecting it, if it survives, to be quite vigorous enough already!  Having backfilled the hole to level, I lifted soil from adjacent to the barn roadway to smooth out and level the area between the kiwi and the drivebank.  There is quite a bit of nettles well established there.  Although I pulled out quite a bit of root, there is plenty more undisturbed there still.  I threw those roots I did pull out between the kiwi tree and the barn roadway.  There will be a little shaded wild spot where I don’t mind the nettles staying.  There were a few dock roots and couchgrass too, which will probably persist.

kiwi mulched
Newly mulched and levelled

Luckily over the past few months I have built up quite a reserve of sheet cardboard, so was easily able to mulch the whole area pretty thoroughly.  I weighed the sheets down with rocks that had been used to weigh down the cardboard at the top of the drivebank last year.  That cardboard is pretty much gone, and the soil underneath looks pretty weed free.  I’m now thinking about planting this area in the next few months.  What I found pretty exciting is that the soil I was moving from the edge of the barn driveway was pretty dry.  Despite the fact that this January was the second wettest month locally for about ten years.  I can therefore think about planting things that prefer to be well drained.  I’ve got several plants growing nicely already (for example those japanese and chilean plum yew may like it there) but also I’m thinking that along the drivebank edge may be just the spot for some sea buckthorne.  I’ve really fancied this shrub for ages,  especially after trying the fruit in Cornwall and Devon.  My research so far suggests it doesn’t like a damp soil, but should be OK with salt winds, although fruiting better with some shelter.  I’m intending to get some general hedging plants, but will maybe get some fruiting cultivars too.  I’m not sure whether I should get these at the same time, or instead, or try out the cheaper varieties before spending a lot on something that doesn’t do well.  Difficult decisions!

More than expected

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).

overwintering
Overwintering in small pots

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.

large yacon plants
Early planted Yacon as tall as the tunnel (flower is sunflower sorry!)

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.

dead small yacon
Smaller Yacon died back from cold

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!

harvesting tubers
Excavating treasure

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).

large yacon harvest
Big tubers (all these from one plant)

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.

A bit breezy

Once you have lived on Skye a little while, your body calibrates to a different scale of wind and temperature.  Anything above 18 degrees Celsius is “bikini weather” and the wind reaches 40 or 50 mph before we count it as “a bit breezy”.  In the last two weeks we have had two spells of “really quite windy” (= gusting to 80mph) with a few chicken houses blown over (more experienced people have them strapped down to the rock) an old tree down over the road, a tile or two blown off and an old shed exploded into bits.

We’ve got away quite lightly here: one or two holly trees rocking a bit, due to the ground being a bit damp and the normal die off of fine roots in winter, a lost tile that had been loose for ages, and few more splits in the polytunnel.

The big split originated from where the Apricot had stuck a branch through, so again it was mainly my fault for not mending the hole sooner.  The funny thing was the way it propagated straight down one of the creases from where the plastic had been originally folded.  It is interesting how that still acts as a stress concentration feature.

new tears
Split extension

Initially the split extended over one polytunnel bay and after the first winds last week I managed to stitch it together with my polytunnel tape.  This time I could reach by standing on a step stool on the outside.  Unfortunately I didn’t mend it well enough to prevent it from extending again in a second, slightier gustier wind last Tuesday.  That was a little tricky, since the adjacent bay went over the pond in the tunnel which made it a bit more exciting reaching it on the inside.  However with more stitching from the outside and fully covering on the inside with the last of my tape, the cover is reasonably ept again.

inside tunnel
Inside tunnel with previous repair

What I am pretty pleased about, is that the repair I did on the top of the tunnel last autumn does seem to have held well.  Although the cover is starting to resemble a patchwork quilt now, I am hopeful that it will be a little while yet before I have to replace it completely again.

Inside the tunnel most things have died back now, so when the weather is poorer I can look to tidy it up, harvest the Yacon (watch this space!), and evict the Kiwi.  Astoundingly my asparagus is still growing!  I’m not sure what to do about this.  Should I harvest the shoots now, or wait till later in the spring?  The shoots don’t seem to mature, they just get mildewed and die off….

asparagus shoots in Jan
Asparagus in early January

Living in the future

rainbow
Winter rainbow

It always astounds me at the end of the year to realise that we are in the twenty first century!  I haven’t quite got used to the 1990’s yet!  I haven’t been doing much recently at home.  Because of a staff shortage I have lost two of my afternoons off, combined with having extra to organise for Xmas, and poorly cats, it seems that I haven’t been very productive.  The weather in November was remarkably clement – dry and cold.  December has been a bit more typical with a bit of wind and rain (and some sleet, with a little snow settling on McCloud’s Tables).  The polytunnel repair stood up to winds of about 65mph this week, which I am pleased about.  I do wonder whether it will stand up to the cat standing on it, but since it was partly the cat that caused the damage I’m not too inclined to be sympathetic if it does go through.

oca tubers forming
Oca tubers developing at surface

The Yacon and Oca are really dying back.  I want to leave them as long as possible, while the weather remains fairly mild, so as to bulk up the tubers as much as possible.  I gather that even after the leaves have been killed by the frost, the stems will carry on feeding the oca tubers, and they grow significantly over a few weeks until the stems are completely gone.  I imagine that the Yacon is similar.  I will clear them out over Xmas, or at least before the frosts come back in January.

path round hump
Black line of path around hump

The tree field is just bare bones now.  I did a bit more digging around the hump, but haven’t had much time and the weather is not conducive to digging.  The path is coming on, and will really make walking along it more pleasant when finished.  When I go down the hill with Dyson I bring back an armful of kindling or a few larger branches of dry wood for the fire.  Once the kindling is in the shed for a few days it dries out nicely and starts the kitchen stove really well with a little newspaper.   A good session with a sawbench and bowsaw will be required to cut the branches to length though.

yellow pine
Golden Korean pine, with shelter and feed pellets

I managed to get in contact with the supplier of the yellow Korean pine trees and they think that the trees are just lacking in nutrients.  I’m reasonably happy with that explanation – they are quite big for the size of the pot they were in, so basically just needed potting on, or in this case planting out.  The supplier sent some slow release feed for the trees which I did use around them when planting them out.  Normally I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I’m looking on this as medicine for the trees, which will help them catch back more quickly.  If they do not seem recovered in early summer, I am to recontact the nursery.

I have planted the trees as three clumps of four trees.  One lot are planted adjacent to the one that I grew from seed, the others a little higher up the hill.  Pines are wind pollinated, so hopefully this will give me a better chance of getting pine seeds when the trees are big enough.  I have put tree shelters around each of the trees, which will hopefully stop them rocking around too much over the winter.  I also made a start at mulching them, but the weather stopped play again.  If I have an afternoon free from the shop, I generally get home about quarter to two in the afternoon, if we have a bit of lunch it is quarter to three before I get started on anything, and it is getting dark at four, so not much time to get things done outside!

peeling birch
Peeling birch

Several of the silver birch have quite suddenly developed white bark.  The darker bark has split off revealing really pale bark underneath.  Others still have quite dark bark underneath; they may not get pale like this, or they may turn silver when they get older.  It seems odd that the bark has split at this time of year.  You would have thought it would happen in the spring, as the sap rises, not in the autumn.  Maybe it’s like the leaves falling; materials getting brittle and parting company.  I’m thinking that I may be able to do crafty things with this lovely material, if and when we coppice these trees in the future.  Most of the birch are still a few years away from being big enough to be worth cutting down as yet.

 

Making its mind up

snow tops and dew drops

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.

sharks fin melon 2019
Two on left dubious ancestry apparent

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.

goldenberry
Ripe goldenberry fruit

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.

chillies 2019
Harvesting chillies

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.

aspen cut
Pruning overhangs and wobbly aspen

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!

purple osier
Purple osier stump and prunings

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.

cut through
Cut through to drivebank

 

 

Five letter ‘F’ word

Any gardener in temperate regions will understand the reference above.  As autumn eases into winter we start to think about bringing in the last of the tomato fruit and tucking up more tender perennials to protect them from the cold.  For us on Skye it has been rather more of a jolt into winter than normal.  Early December is more likely to be the first penetrating frosts, but several times in the last week it has already been freezing hard as I come home from the shop at about half seven in the evening.  I have therefore spent an hour or so this afternoon tidying up a bit in the polytunnel.

frost wilt
Frost wilt

The Yacon are starting to look a bit sorry for themselves, as are the sharks fin melon vines and achocha.  So far the nasturtium and mashua are still looking fairly OK.  There were rather more sharks fin melon fruit than I spotted before.  I’m thinking I should really bring these fruit in before the frost damages them, but this time my priority were the achocha, which already look a bit the worse for wear.

hidden melon
Extra sharks fin melon spotted behind apricot

Some of the achocha fruit is definitely frost damaged, and since it is predominately close to the plastic skin of the tunnel, it will be about the coldest in the tunnel.  There was a lot of fruit from the Bolivian giant achocha.  Much of the smaller fat baby one is overripe for eating, it turns a more yellow colour, so I have left that for the moment, since I was limited for time.  I managed to get a large box of Bolivian giant, and a smallish punnet crammed full of the fat baby achocha.  I haven’t decided what to do with the fruit.  I don’t think we will get round to eating it all fresh, so I might use it in a chutney at the weekend (it’s lovely to have a glut of something at last!).  I have the marrow (that got slightly crushed when the ladder slipped as I was mending the polytunnel roof) and some overripe apples from the shop, as a good basis for some chutney.  I also found this post  which suggests making jam with it, from an adapted cucumber jam recipe.

achocha harvest
Last of the achocha

The tomatoes were looking a bit mouldery, so I cleared those out as well.  They hadn’t got frost damage, but it is too dark and cool for them to ripen off now.  Having removed the fruit and separated off the various supports, I could pull the plants out of the soil.  It is one case where it is worth removing most of the roots, since there are various soil borne diseases that affect tomatoes.  I do try and plant them in a different part of the tunnel each year, so that it is only in a bed for one year in four to give the soil a rest.  I’m pretty pleased that the roots of the supersweet 100 plants looked quite healthy.  In the past, particularly earlier in my growing in the tunnel, the roots have been stunted and corky, but these were definitely much better.  The multiflora tomato plants less so.  I’m not inclined to choose them again over ildi.  They seem to have been quite late ripening and the set was quite poor too for the number of flowers.

time over
Past time for harvest!

Although there was no sign of damage yet, I was nervous about the frost harming my unknown citrus tree (see previous post), so I wrapped that up in windbreak fabric after giving it a bit of a prune.  Hopefully that will keep the worst of the cold at bay.  In the photo you can see the tall Yacon is quite burnt by the cold.  I will leave it in situ and let the top growth protect the roots, which will still be developing the edible tubers (I hope).  The longer they are left the better.

citrus wrap
Citrus wrap

 

One thing after another!

green path
Green path

Starting on a positive note, I noticed the other day as I walked through the alder grove in the centre of the tree field, that the field is starting to smell like a wood.  I hadn’t really appreciated that woods have a specific scent, but realised that it wasn’t just the normal fresh air smell that we get, but the damp, woodsy smell of rotting leaves and fungi.  I wish that we had “smellovision” so that I could capture it!  The paths in this area are also much more green than the ground under the trees either side.  This is a bit deceptive I think, since the grass there hasn’t died out fully.  The grass on the path was mown at least once through the year and therefore is fresh regrowth, whereas the grass under the trees is straggly mature growth, admittedly covered a bit by leaves as well.

polytunnel hole
Excessive ventilation in Polytunnel

Then the trouble – Earlier this week it was a bit windy.  Not excessivly so.  Nothing to write home about, I would have said, except that my polytunnel got torn!  The wind was probably gusting to approaching 60mph (update – possibly a bit more; I’m told that over the hill the gusts were approaching 80mph, and since the energy goes by the cube of the speed that’s significantly more likey to cause damage), but the problem really was that earlier in the year the kiwi and the bramble had each decided that the polytunnel wasn’t big enough, and had punched their way through the cover.  This had been aided by the fact that one of our cats (Harry) sometimes uses the polytunnel as a look out station, so had made several tear-along-the-dotted-line holes near the frame hoops, as he climbed about on it.  I pruned out the growth from underneath and it fell outside the tunnel but left a bit of a hole, which is now rather ginormous!  I’m hoping that I can patch it up, since the tunnel cover is only a few years old.  Although it ripped across the width of one of the sections, it didn’t rip too far down, so at the moment is providing extra ventilation!

strapped down
Limiting the damage

I hastily threw the hose across the tunnel to try and stop it flapping in the wind and hence propagating down, weighting the hose ends with car tyres.  This may have helped, since we did have quite a bit more wind after it happened, but it is still only the top that is torn.  Now I need a dry still day to try and patch it up.  Tricky, since it is right at the top of the tunnel, so I can only really reach from the inside.  I have some spare polythene from the old tunnel, so I may stretch that over the top as well, and some ‘gaffa tape’.  I think I’ll need some ‘belt and braces’ if I can keep this cover going for a few more years!

ripe enough
Ripe enough!

I was wondering whether to harvest the Boskoop glory grapes, or whether to leave them a bit longer to sweeten up a bit.   They were mainly getting ripe, just a little bit tart to the taste perhaps.  Since the tunnel had ripped, I decided to cut all the bunches down and have a go at making grape molasses; see here for example method.  The idea was that since we don’t get round to eating all the grapes fresh, it would be a way of preserving them, as well as a fun way of creating a sugar substitute.  I did a bit of internet research and came to the conclusion that the wood ash was optional (some sites suggested adding chalk).  I think the purpose of the additive is to precipitate out the tannins; perhaps making the juice sweeter and less liable to crystallise.

All went well at first.  I picked all the grapes and saved three of the best bunches (1kg) for eating.  There was another 6kg initially, although quite a few were a bit mouldy – I think I missed a few bunches when I was thinning them out!  I crushed the grapes in a sieve and strained the juice through a jelly bag into my jam making cauldron. On the wood stove I then simmered it down from 4 litres down to 1 pint (excuse my ambi-units!), which took about 5 hours, and left it to cool overnight. We had the stove on anyhow – it is our heating source – so no extra fuel required for this operation.

cooking juice
At start of heating

The juice started off a light pink colour with terracotta flecks (not all had strained off).  As it boiled it did seem to create extra flocky bits in the juice and darkened to a dark brown.  It still tasted pretty sharp and hadn’t thickened much.  I think my grapes aren’t very sweet (I should have measured the specific gravity, but couldn’t be bothered to climb into the attic for the hydrometer).  On the following day I decided to boil it again and left it on the stove whilst I picked some achocha in the tunnel – big mistake!  I came back to a kitchen (and house!) full of acrid smoke and a black gooey mess in the pan!  I had left the firebox door open, so the top hot plate just got too hot!  On the bright side, the black mess did seem to comprise of burnt sugar, so I know if I had done it more gently I had a chance of achieving molasses!  I’m hoping I can recover the pan!

black death
Not pekmezi

Next year (or maybe not) I may try a variety on the theme.  First, maybe I’ll try adding chalk (or perhaps sodium bicarbonate) to precipitate out some of the tannins.  Or maybe I’ll do that secondly, since in my research I discovered that cream of tartar comes from grapes.  Actually it seems to come mainly from the bits left over from wine making. Unfortunately I had thrown my residue in the compost before I found this out!  The tartaric acid salts are less soluble in cold water than hot, so precipitate out when the solution is cooled.  When I had cooled the part-formed molasses overnight I did get a very small amount of crystals on the pan.  Again there are lots of articles that you (eventually) find when searching for this, this is one that I think may be most useful.  Since I use cream of tartar a bit in cooking, I think it would be fun to try and make my own another time!

So, not the best of week all in all!

 

 

New plant time

repotted pots
Some of the repotted plants

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.

house plants
Money tree, Chillean myrtle and Sechuan pepper

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.

 

road phormium #2
New Zealand flax newly planted by road

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.

mrs popple
Mrs Popple flower

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.

buy one get four free
Buy one get five free!

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!

log ends
Mycelium covered logs

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!

log park
Happy Habby bed (with logs)