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).
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?
I’ve been on holiday this week. My friends AC and DC have been staying locally and have been pottering round with me. The weather has just turned from cool and dry to warm and dry, hence the title. I have been practically running round naked, (which I think of as when I’m down to single layers of clothing) and actually showing my knees today! There is no danger of frost now, but I have noticed a little damage to the new growth on the grape vine in the polytunnel. I have bought S. a weather station recently with an extra temperature and humidity sensor for the polytunnel. We are still playing with it, since the signals are getting interfered with by our wifi, but the temperatures in the polytunnel were varying from over 30 deg. Celsius during the day to only 2 deg. Celsius at night. The temperature at night is much warmer now (about 12 degrees or so) and I’m opening the doors more to keep it a bit cooler during the day.
Although on holiday, we have managed to achieve quite a bit (even some of the things I had on my list to do). DC has been going round taking off tree shelters, and keeping the dogs amused. It’s quite nice to think that these are some of the trees that he himself helped plant just a few years ago. AC and I have been clearing and planting in the tea garden extension. The ground is lovely to weed at the moment; so dry the earth just falls off the roots of the weeds. I cleared out some docken and buttercups, but was quite pleased to find only a little couch growing in from the edge which had just been mulched last year. I pulled off the tops of the weeds, left the leaves on the beds, and threw the roots to add to the soil around the adjacent trees, where the rock is rather close to the surface. We planted the artichokes and potatoes that Frances of island threads sent me (thanks again!), as well as my saved oca (and some more from Frances). AC also re-mulched with cardboard the area by the track that I left under mulch last year. I had a trial clearing the end of the bed where I’d planted the peas. Although the couch came out nicely, there was too much of the thinner stringy grass that creeps over the surface, so I’m hoping that another year will clear that a bit more. We cut back and thinned out the kale that was flowering. I think it will regrow again to provide another crop. The tops we used to mulch around the lowest of the ‘new’ blackcurrant bushes. Hopefully they will fruit a bit better this year than last year.
The other blackcurrants in the tea garden had a lovely lush new lawn growing round them! I didn’t manage to clear out the grass in the bed next to them before it went to seed and regretted it! Hopefully cutting it back with shears and mulching with it’s own leaves and cardboard will be enough to clear it again. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of nasty weeds there, which is pleasing. I was hoping to transplant in some of the sweet cicely and good king henry that has seeded in, but that will have to wait till next year now.
The weather is really too nice to be spending much time in the polytunnel (a bit like last year), however we have managed to clear the beds for the tomatoes (although not planted yet). I have decided to plant them in the lower southern beds. There is a awful lot of parsley going to seed in there, so we stripped off the leaves and have dried about four batches in the lower oven. The kale was unfortunately a bit mildewy, which it usually is in the tunnel at this time of year, but there was a fair amount of leaf beet for spinach.
AC has sown my curcubit seeds. We ate the last sharks fin melon a few weeks ago (nearly eighteen months after harvest and still perfect!) so I scraped out and saved some of the seeds before cooking it. I have plenty of seeds as well for next year, just in case I get another failure. The curcubit seeds have all gone in the propagator, although they could probably be sown direct in the polytunnel with the temperatures as they are now. It looks like all my sweetcorn seeds have failed: both those that were sown direct, and those in the propagator. I can only assume that I drowned them. I sowed them at the same time as the peas (which have germinated well). They were fresh seed. I presoaked them for a few days to rehydrate before sowing, but maybe I soaked them for too long. It probably isn’t too late to try again. I’ll see if I have any more of that seed and just soak it overnight, and sow direct this time.
While the earth is so dry I’ve been doing more weeding/editing around the fruit garden as well, getting out some of the comfrey that is persisting. and transplanting some strawberry plants. I also was going to transplant some rowan seedlings in amongst the ash trees in the tree field. They seem to like to germinate in the rocky scree of the driveway. I managed to get out about a dozen little trees and one rather larger one, that were growing in less than optimal positions. Then I started to turn some turfs for planting holes, in between the two bands of new spruce trees (that we have been giving a little water to in this dry weather). When digging the second hole, I found my right calf muscle seize up painfully with cramp, and it has been a bit painful the last day or so. I think it was all the digging in the tea garden extension that worked it too hard. It seems a bit better now with rest and ibuprofen, but I may have to heel the little rowans in somewhere else (they are in a pot of water at the moment).
DC and AC also helped me mulch the area where I am hoping to plant blueberries in the tree field. First we had to shift all the conifer branches that I had placed there from the driveway tree pruning. The grass had started to grow through them, but it wasn’t too difficult to disentangle them yet. We then spread out several lengths of black plastic underlay (reclaimed a few years ago from the local hall when it flooded) and used the tree branches to weight them down. This was easier with a few extra pairs of hands. I’ll assess the couch grass at the end of the summer and decide whether to leave the plastic down for another year then. I’m thinking of making slightly raised beds for the blueberries (since the area there is a bit of a bowl) and planting the ‘ditches’ in between with comfrey for mulching. I’m thinking some well rotted sawdust and lots of bracken leaves is what I need to plant the blueberries into.
For the first time in a few years, I have planted peas outside this year. In the past they have done pretty well for me, and it was more that I didn’t really have anywhere to put them that put me off growing them. I have grown them in the polytunnel, and they do grow well in there also. They don’t generally make it as far as the kitchen however! With the tea garden extension, I have a fair amount of space. So this year I have used some longish side branches cut from the alders that I felled, and some side branches from the alder grove just below the hump at the south side, for pea sticks.
The pallets in the tea garden don’t quite overlap enough to give brilliant wind reduction at the moment. I have enough pallets to finish the job, thanks to the delivery driver arranging a few spare pallets to be dropped over. But I still need to dig out the couch and nettles along the edge by the trackway, so the ground levels still aren’t right there to complete the fences. Anyhow, I planted out the bare root hazels that had been ‘heeled in’ in one of the sections and cleared it in preparation. The peas went in a row parallel to the windbreak, and the pea sticks leant up at an angle just past them. These were carlin peas that I had saved from peas grown in the front garden in 2011. They had been put in water to soak a couple of days prior. There were lots of them, so I just sowed them really thickly. Between the peas and the pallet I transplanted some good king henry and sweet cicely seedlings that had self sown near my plants in the tea garden.
Along the edge by the access path I have planted the colourful oca tubers that I bought from real seeds. I have tried to put colours not too similar next to one another so that I can keep the resulting tubers separate when it comes to harvest. There did appear to be some duplication of tubers (as expected) so some will bulk up numbers more quickly than others. One tuber also does look like the variety I have grown before.
Also planted at the edge are a few heath pea (lathyrus linifolius) plants that I grew from seed last year. They have been neglected in modules, but most seem remarkably to have survived no watering and little compost, they are tough little plants it seems! Also planted in here were the last perennial kale plants. The ones that I had planted out as soon as they rooted grew far bigger than the ones left in pots. I also planted out an angelica plant that I had bought from Pointzfield herbs this spring.
I had three varieties of peas I wanted to grow this year. As well as the carlin peas, I wanted to try the tall purple mangetout, that I have grown only in the polytunnel till now. Because I want to try and save fresh seed from these, I have planted up a wigwam of alder peasticks in the front garden. This is the other side of the barn from the tea garden, so there is little chance of the plants cross-pollinating. I have also planted out in this area some of the plants that have been (mal)lingering in pots. I put a few of my new sweet violet plants against the sycamore trunks, a little honeysuckle to grow up them, a few campanula latifolia along by the path and some rather small martagon lily seedlings that I grew from my HPS seed last year. I’m currently debating with myself as to whether to plant one of my new mint plants in there too, or whether to confine it to a pot to keep it in restraint.
The third variety of peas that I have planted are some Heritage Seed Library seeds that I didn’t grow last year. Champion of England is a tall (could be up to 10 feet!) marrowfat pea. Since I only have a few seeds I decided to grow these in the polytunnel. I have planted then in the bed below the apricot (which I must read up about pruning!). When preparing the bed I inadvertently dug up some Apios americana tubers that I had forgotten were there. They have only just started into growth. Hopefully I haven’t damaged the growing tips too much.
It all looks great before the weeds start to grow!
It was actually a little while ago I harvested the Yacon in the polytunnel, the ones outside were harvested before Xmas. I hadn’t done anything with the tubers ’til now – they have been sitting rather in the way in boxes in the hallway until I got round to finishing off weighing them etc. Some of the tubers have shrivelled slightly, but they otherwise appear fine. Even the one that broke in half when dug from outside still had no mould growing.
I originally had two sources for the Yacon which visually look identical, but have been performing slightly differently (the better one is from real seeds, although they appear to be out of season now). I have been growing them side by side for comparison, and do think that these are slightly more productive for me. I think I will search out some other varieties if they become available (lubera have a couple listed, but are only available later as plants, so are more expensive). Unfortunately the few seedlings I managed to grow from cultivariable seed did not survive the winter last year.
The plants in the polytunnel were basically just replanted in the same spots last year after harvesting – so overwintered in the soil. There were two of each source planted in adjacent beds with a little more compost dug in around them. They were watered when I remembered, but seemed to be thriving. There was a little bit of caterpillar damage to the leaves (those ‘silver y’ moths again) but not enough to be a problem. I think that the plants nearest the polytunnel wall may have suffered from overcrowding or overshading – In both cases that plant was smaller that the other.
Harvested at the start of February 2019, the ‘real seeds’ plants had a total usable tuber weight of 22 Oz, the other had a total weight of 10 1/2 Oz. I did not pull all the tubers off any of the plants. The smallest would have been a bit fiddly and may well give the plants a bit of a start in the ground next year! One of the plants (bottom right) has naturally split into several parts. I may divide the larger clumps as well to give myself more plants this year.
The plants outside were overwintered in pots and grown on till about June, when I had enough room in the tea garden extension to plant them out. They seemed to do pretty well considering they were fairly exposed and I deliberately did not clear the other plants from around them, since they would have been giving them a bit of shelter.
The leaves were a lot smaller and less green and the plants were far more shrubby than the plants under cover. The holes in the leaves shown above I believe is wind damage. The plants were harvested earlier than those inside – being killed off by frosts in mid December. The smaller plant really had no useable tubers, the other (real seeds) had about 6 Oz; which was actually pretty similar to the poorer plants in the polytunnel.
Last year I concluded that the tubers are better considered a fruit rather than a vegetable and we have eaten them in various ways. It made fantastic cake last year (based on a pear crumble cake) and also added to sweet and sour vegetables, and ‘risotto’ (a family chicken recipe actually a bit more like a paella). As I said it can tend to discolour a bit after cooking, but still tastes fine. Raw one could grate it into a coleslaw or dice into another salad to add sweetness.
I have tried another cake recipe this year. I want to see how much I can reduce the sugar content, since the Yacon is so sweet to taste. This cake was based on a parsnip fruit cake recipe by Jennie Rutland in an old magazine (possibly Home Farmer again). The Yacon was substituted for the parsnip and grated coarsely, the sugar content was reduced by about half and it still tastes delicious. S. definitely approved and more was requested!
I have harvested all the oca now. I had three tubers given to me by Frances of island threads, who lives on one of the outer Hebrides, so just over the water from me. Her weather is probably even milder, and windier, but just a trifle drier perhaps. I started the tubers off in pots and planted two in the polytunnel and one outside in June. Frances assures me that she grows hers outside, but I wanted to be safe till I have enough tubers to risk.
Oca: oxalis tuberosa, is related to wood sorrel and has similar clover-like leaves that are edible but contain oxalic acid (like rhubarb leaves) so should only be eaten sparingly. I think they are a bit tough in my experience anyhow compared to common sorrel, and with a less sharp lemon taste. They are grown mainly for the edible tubers which come in a range of colours. Like potatoes, they are propagated mainly vegetatively through replanting the tubers since although they flower, they appear to rarely set seed, at least in the UK. A number of growers are aiming to get more productive varieties in the northern hemisphere, see cultivariable and the UK oca breeders project for example.
Oca forms tubers after the daylength is less than 12 hours – generally said to be at the end of September in the UK. This will of course vary with latitude. On Sept 30th in Glasgow (55deg 51min N) the daylength is 11 hrs 37 min, London (51deg 30min N) is given as 11hours 40min long. Here on Skye we are at 57 deg north (or thereabouts) so a little shorter in daylength than Glasgow in winter. At the winter solstice the days are pretty much as short as they get – still pretty dark at 8am and getting dark at 4pm. Since we can expect hard frosts by the end of November that means the oca only has about two months here to form tubers outside.
I’m pretty pleased with the results from the outside plant as a first trial. It grew happily despite having very little shelter from the wind. It flowered at the start of September with delicate yellow flowers. Light frosts in late October were survived, but it was knocked back completely in December. Although I harvested the outside plant when this happened, I since read that the tubers can carry on growing for several weeks after the foliage has apparently died down – the fleshy stalks carry on feeding them for longer, so I maybe should have left it a little longer to bulk up. However, I got almost exactly 8 ounces and all 15 tubers are of a size that can be used: up to about 6cm (over 2 in) long. The plant received a little compost in the hole when it was planted, and otherwise was just let to get on with it.
At the start of February I harvested the two plants in the tunnel. The plants had stayed green much longer, and it took a prolonged frost when we had the snow in January to fully knock them back. Although the plants had never looked quite as good as the ones outside, I was hopeful that they would do better, since they were still quite green at the end of the year. However the yield was quite disappointing: 3 1/2 Oz from each plant. The tubers were generally smaller, with quite a bit of slug damage (or it may have been vine weevils?) I suspect that it was a bit too dry for them in the tunnel. I have not been watering much in there over the winter, since it tends to lead to mildew.
I tried the smallest from outside raw and was bit disappointed in the flavour to be honest. I had seen them described as crunchy and lemony sharp, getting sweeter as they are exposed to sunlight. I would describe the taste (fresh) as having a faint raw potato flavour, with a hint of lemon perhaps, but not nice enough to serve to S. So far I have only cooked them by boiling and that was perfectly pleasant, like a creamy salad potato. The colour does fade a bit on cooking. They can be boiled, fried, and baked just like potatoes. In New Zealand they are known as yams and are very popular. I have found a few suggestions for roasting them, so I may try that next.
I have enough tubers to grow next year, and enough to experiment a bit with different ways of cooking. Some are in the fridge, and some on a cool windowsill. I think I won’t bother with planting any in the tunnel next year, although I may try covering with fleece or cloches at the end of the season outside, if I can work out how to stop those blowing away! They can go in orchard borders that need digging anyway to keep couch grass at bay. I think they will definitely be worth growing again, and I have also got some different tubers of various colours from real seeds to try some different varieties!
Being as the year is just about over, it seems appropriate to have a little look back at this point in time.
I haven’t written about some of the trivia that I’ve been doing more recently at home, partly because much of it is unfinished yet, and partly to catch up with my holiday garden visits. Over all we have been pleased with the way the trees have grown this year. S. managed to pick a nice tree to bring in and decorate this Xmas. It’s getting a little more difficult to find a spruce tree that is small enough and isn’t being an important part of a windbreak.
The ash and alder as usual, along with the spruce, have grown well. You can also see how the trees with a little more shelter grow a bit better. Even some of the hazel is growing a bit better in places. I’m a bit worried about the ash however. Although it grew well again this summer, as we saw, as usual there is quite a bit of die back. This time the bark staining seems to match the characteristics of chalera. I had a look online at the woodland trust and forestry commission sites and the way the staining goes up and down from the leaf buds does seem to match chalera, however, there is no internal staining of the wood when I split it down the middle. I’ll send the pictures off to the woodland trust. These ash trees were ones they helped us buy, so they should be able to give us some advice about it.
I have grown a few new unusual edibles for the first time. Oca, wapato (sagittaria latifolia), marsh woundwort (although I also found this growing natively in the tree field I think) and edible lupin. This last was part of Garden Organic members’ experiment. In summary I’d have been better off eating the lupin seeds they sent rather than planting them. I’ll do a brief post about them separately however.
I’ve managed to grow some new perennials from seed, now I just need to get them through the winter. Some of them came from the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution list, and some were bought from various suppliers. I have a number of cornus kousa, a couple of canna indica, several akebia triloba, two different passiflora, broom, watercress, astragalus crassicarpus, a couple of campanula varieties and dahlia coccinia. A few others germinated and perished including gevuina avellana (second time of trying) and hosta. Many more seeds also never managed to germinate for me. I have quite a few little plants waiting for their “forever home”. One korean pine is still alive, but very small. A saltbush plant is doing quite well in a pot, but I’m not sure if its atriplex halimus or a. canescens.
Crop wise I grew physalis peruviana for the first time on Skye. I seem to remember growing it in Solihull and not being particularly impressed. Here in the polytunnel it has grown quite huge and is still alive at the end of December, although with a little mildew. It could grow as a perennial if it isn’t too cold, which was one reason I gave it a go. The berries are nowhere near ripe however. Along with many of the things that needed potting on and watering it got a bit neglected due to the super hot early summer. I don’t think it was a fair trial therefore, since it didn’t get an early start. The plants have grown huge compared to the fruits produced. I seem to remember reading that this can be due to good nitrogen content of the soil (producing lush foliage and little fruit) however this does seem unlikely for me!
Another plant that got a slow start, but made good growth is tomatillo. These were so stunted when I planted the few survivors out that I nearly didn’t bother. Once in the ground they grew away fine. I’ll have to check how they are doing now.
The tomatoes managed to ripen a few delicious fruit before I had to harvest them due to mildew on the vines. The supersweet 100 was earliest and quite prolific. The first in the field wasn’t but did pretty well for a standard salad tomato. I like it because it is a bush variety, and it stayed quite compact. This makes it easier to grow close to the edges of the tunnel. Spread out on the window sill we did get a few more fruit to ripen, but many just went mildewy there.
Achocha needs to go in earlier. I couldn’t resist ordering the giant bolivian variety from real seeds again this year even though I know it really struggles to get going for me! This year I didn’t get any fruit before the plants got killed by the frost! S. doesn’t really like globe artichoke. He finds it a bit of a fiddle to eat. This is a pity, since I have managed to get a few more plants of a known variety to germinate and hopefully get them through the winter. I will try one more in the tunnel and the others outside anyhow. I want to try eating the cardoon stalks next year. It is a case of remembering to tie them up to blanch at the appropriate time.
I’m fairly pleased with the way the apricot is growing: a bit more quickly than I was expecting. I’m hoping I may get a few blossom this spring with any luck! Still got a bit more formative pruning to do, but it’s looking good so far, as long as it stays small enough for the tunnel! The boskoop glory grapevine did well. I didn’t manage to harvest all the grapes before they started to go mouldy. The autumn was a bit cool and windy, although not unusually so I would say. The new Zalagyongye vine started to set the single bunch very late and they stayed very small, although were quite sweet. Hopefully it will do better as it gets older.
I’m wondering whether to give up on the kiwi vine. I picked the fruit a week or so ago, they were starting to drop off the vine, but still don’t seem very sweet. Judging by the grape, it hasn’t been a good year for ripening, but considering the size of the vine and the use we get of the harvest (there are more pleasant jams to make) I’m not sure it’s worth the space it takes. S. wasn’t keen on getting rid of it because it is a lovely big plant. It does also produce a huge amount of large leaves which have dropped off and formed a mulch layer in the tunnel which is nice. I’ll need to rake them off the paths though. Since S. spoke up for it I’ll prune it back a bit, give it one more season and then we’ll see. If I do take it out I was thinking of replacing it further up the tunnel with a kiwi-berry actinidia arguta, or kolomitkes. These have smaller, hairless berries that ripen earlier, so are likely to be more successful for me. The plant is also a little less vigorous, so takes less pruning.
I have two pineapple guava at the bottom end of the tunnel. These have not flowered yet, but are growing well. I have been nipping out the longer shoots to encourage the plants to grow bushily. This will stop them getting too big too soon and also maybe more dense flowering if and when that happens. I don’t know whether they will ripen fruit for me. They need a hot summer to ripen. However the flowers are supposed also to be delicious, so I would be happy to settle for those!
A number of strawberries fruited in the tunnel. I had them from two different sources, and I can’t remember now which is which! I did get a few very delicious berries, but struggled to keep them watered and lost a few plants. I have managed to pot up a number of runners from one of the successful plants, so can move those into some of the gaps. I also have a number of different strawberries outside some of which managed to ripen a few berries, but need a big of feed and weeding really.
Still in the tunnel the asparagus is starting to look promising. It is still shooting up spears now however! I’m hoping that next year I can try and harvest a few shoots, so watch this space. Another success has been the milk vetch which I grew from seed. In one of Martin Crawford’s books he suggests it as a non competitive perennial ground cover with shallow roots. I’ve planted it in various places around the tunnel. I’m hoping it will cover the ground around the asparagus plants, since they don’t like competition from weeds. If they managed to fix a bit of nitrogen that also wouldn’t be bad!
The sweet potato harvest was rather small. I think I didn’t manage to water the plants enough. They were lovely big plants when they went in. I’m wondering whether they were actually a bit too big. One of them had rather more tubers than the other, but they were all a bit tangled up, as if the plant had been a bit pot bound and never really developed tubers beyond the roots already started. The other had longer roots, but several only just starting to thicken. Either it had been cut back by the cold too early, or it just didn’t grow quickly enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these plants or tubers are likely to survive the winter. I’ll give it a go however, since it will be silly to fork out that value again. If I can plant them out earlier, and feed and water them better, they may stand a better chance….
Somewhere near the sweet potato are two dahlias. These were dahlia coccinia. I grew them from seed from the HPS list, and they have attractive burgundy foliage and pretty red single flowers. I didn’t try eating the petals of these, although they should be edible along with the tubers. I have a couple more that grew and flowered in pots. These need to be moved somewhere frost free over the winter so they don’t rot. I’ll try and post about harvest another time when I’ve tried them. Apparently the taste and texture is variable….
The climbing nasturtiums were a little slow to get started. I think they got a little dry in the hot earlier summer. Once things cooled down there were a couple that did very well, including one growing through the apricot that hasn’t got killed by the frosts yet. The one opposite this had the most beautiful tiger red flowers however. I’ll try and get seeds from this! I’m not keen on eating them, although I believe all parts are edible, but I do like the flowers. I also like the way outside that the circular leaves catch rainwater and form droplets.
The unknown citrus is still looking quite green. While it is still mild I will wrap it in some fleece to try and protect it a bit this year. Unless it has some established branches it will never flower and we won’t find out what variety of fruit it has.
The polytunnel pond has held water which is a good start considering I had to repair the liner before using it! I grew watercress, marsh woundwort and sagitaria latifolia in pots in it. The watercress has escaped from its pot and seems to be mainly floating round on the surface. I think it will die back overwinter, so am not sure whether it will return or not. The pond was also very useful as a means of soaking seeds trays and watering from the bottom. I’m very glad I designed some very shallow shelves around the edges, as well as much deeper ones! It was certainly welcomed by Mr. Toad, and although there were insect larvae and algae it never got stagnant or a noticable source of pests. Midges breed on damp vegetation of which there is plenty outside, so it didn’t contribute to those Scottish pests either!
Having seen Sagara’s successful olive fruit, I have to conclude that none of my olive flowers did set fruit. The plant itself looks pretty healthy though. It has grown a bit and bushed out. I’m hoping it will overwinter alright in the ground in the tunnel, since the soil in there should be fairly dry and it is protected fully from the wind. Fingers crossed for more flowers next year. I have read that olives fruit better with cross fertilisation, so maybe I should look out for another variety. I’m not quite sure where I would plant it though!
Since I only got one surviving five flavour berry, I have obtained another two plants from two different suppliers. They are both supposed to be self fertile, but should also fertilise each other, and the surviving seedling. Both are planted out in the tunnel and mulched now for the winter. The passionflower and akebia were still very tiny plants as we went into the winter, so I’m not sure they will survive. I’ll try and remember to bring some into the house to overwinter as insurance if I can find the spare plants!
The yacon grew quite huge in the tunnel, at least above ground. It has pretty well died back now, but the oca is still green in there, so I may leave digging both until the oca has finished its stuff. I had not split the Yacon plants which I think did give them a better start this year. I think I will maybe try and propagate a few more plants for outside growing, but generally leave the inside plants as undisturbed as is compatible with digging up the edible tubers! The oca and Yacon outside have been harvested (I’ll write about that together). The oca seemed to be doing better outside, but died back more quickly. The Yacon outside seemed a lot smaller: we’ll see what the harvest is like!
I’m reasonably pleased with the landscaping I achieved in the tea garden extension and orchard area. I need to carry on eliminating perennial weeds (couch grass particularly) and get on with ground cover planting. I’m also putting up some windbreaks in the tea garden extension, thanks to our new grocery supplier at the shop, who make their delivery on a pallet. I was particulary pleased to recieve a scarlet pallet! Next year I also want to do a bit more work in the fruit garden to change the path layout, and maybe get rid of the autumn fruiting raspberries, which are really too late to be worth the effort. I also have started a retaining wall along the driveway. This gives me a nice south facing well drained site. I need to get a good windbreak planting along the top. I have some escallonia cuttings coming on nicely, which I know do very well here. These have nice raspberry pink flowers. Although the plant is not edible, it is tough, quick growing, evergreen and attractive, which I think will be enough in this location.
I’m definitely looking forwards to 2019 and all the exciting things growing next year.
It’s been a few weeks since I got back and I’ve not done a lot. Skye has been doing ‘misty isle’ again, just this last day or so turning colder and brighter. The tree field does have some autumn colour. Particularly down by the pond where it is a bit sheltered, the birch and willow have a few more leaves holding on. There is a lovely clumping grass turning a golden shade by the pedestrian gate to the river.
While the winds in the north we should have some fine weather, but I need to tuck some fleece or similar round the tea bushes to protect them from the winter cold. We actually had our first frost this weekend, which was a bit of a surprise. The green manures I sowed in the orchard just before the holiday have been a resounding failure. The field beans were eaten by crows, no sign of the vetch or clover, and the remaining fodder radish is going to be too small and sparse to create any coverage! I should have sown about a month earlier….I do have a nice crop of grass and buttercups coming, so I guess I’ll just have to sheet mulch in the spring, but this will kill off the desireable seeds I put in as well.
The tea garden extension is still looking quite green and lush. I’ll tidy this up a bit when we get some frosts, since I’ll need to think about harvesting the outside yacon, oca and mashua then. The oca has had some tiny yellow flowers, rather bashed by the wet winds.
Neither the oca or mashua really like the exposed position. Of the mixed selection of plants that went in, the self seeding kale has done well, and I have a few nice looking carrots along the edge. The fodder radish has some good size roots, so I may pull some of these over the winter. I think there will still be enough to give coverage. Phacelia and borage are still blooming lovely! In the original tea garden unfortunately I have a lawn of grass growing under the blackcurrant bushes, I’ll try mulching that in the spring also. The himalayan strawberries had a second flush of flowers, but none have set this time.
The experimental sheet mulching with combined paper and cardboard has not been a great success. I think that the cardboard really does need two layers. It seems to have disintegrated more quickly, and then does not keep the newspapers protected. I do have some more cardboard, and have re-mulched the bit by the tea garden, I’ll need to try and do the orchard as well whilst we’ve got this nice weather. The cardboard alone double layers have also suffered a bit, but some of this is definately dog damage, so I still think this is the better way to go.
Actually it’s mainly the orchard area within the tree field that I have been clearing of docks in the past few weeks. I have very nearly finished getting the levels sorted out, and managed to mulch with card some of the new surfaces (see here). Some of the area I managed to sow with some left over green manure seeds (buckwheat and clover) and these did germinate and grow to a certain extent but have not managed to outcompete the dock seed that is present in apparently vast quantities! There is also some established docken from previous years that was probably growing on the site previously, or was in the soil before it was moved down to the orchard area and regrew. The main priority was to get out the docken that were going to seed before they have a chance to spread more seed into the soil. This involved going round with a spade and cutting through the taproot of the plants. The tops were then loaded into a barrow along with a few bits of nettle and some of the couch grass that has apparently become established there also. The barrows were dumped just below the original gateway to the lower field, which still stands like the doorway in Narnia, although the gate is lying down rather than hinging. There is an area of soil below the gate which either didn’t have trees planted, or the trees didn’t take. I think it was the former, since the soil was very compacted, full of docken and stones in the gateway. Hopefully the loads of fertility in the form of weeds will help to rejuvenate the soil. I think of it as a bit like segregating nuclear waste – concentrating all the nasties in one area. I do the same with the rubbish I find: bits of rusty metal, glass, string, coal and brocken crockery get put into piles (or bags) until I can get round to deciding what to do with them.
I had to go over the cardboard I laid on the north side of the trackway, since there were several docks that had punched their way through. This has made a bit of a mess of the cardboard, so I will have to cover the area again before winter. I have cut back all the seeding docken, and made a start at pulling out the juvenile plants that would go to seed from next year. The slightly larger plants often come out cleanly with the taproot when pulled firmly with a twist. I have been twisting off the leaves and leaving them on the soil surface and putting the roots in a bucket before adding them to the weed mountain. Some may not be big enough to regrow, but there’s no point tempting fate. The smaller plants will need digging out. It seems counter intuitive, but the younger leaves tend to just come off in your hand leaving the tap root to regrow in the ground. If the soil is gently loosened with a fork then the whole plant is more likely to come cleanly. I’ve still got some of the larger plants to do, and almost all of the smaller plants. I think I will go over the whole area lightly with a fork anyway and try and remove as much as possible of the couch grass. It will probably grow back anyway, but if I can reduce a bit it will be worthwhile. I’m going to quickly order some green manure seed: fodder radish, red clover and field beans to overwinter and keep down the weed seeds. I may try and spread some of my vetch seeds and plants as well.
I’ve made a start on the final area of the tea garden extension: there was a strip along by the trackway which didn’t need levelling, so is still full of weeds: docken, nettles, couch, creeping thistles, other thistles……I’m going to take the worst out and then mulch over the whole area. The couch will grow back, but I’m hoping that the soil under the mulch will be nice and friable by spring, and a light forking will be sufficient to remove the couch. I am trying out a variation on mulching again. Since I seem to need an awful lot of cardboard to cover an area, I am going to make it go further by combining it with newspapers. Previously when I’ve used newspapers I have weighted them down with grassy materials: old haylage, grass clippings, cut reeds etc. These work to a certain extent, but there always seems to be a deal of work in cutting and moving the clippings, and then they sometimes blow off and I end up with newspaper decorating the fences. This time I am going to spread a single layer of cardboard over the newspapers and weight it down with stones as usual, of which I have a plentiful supply collected out of the tea garden extension when moving the soil earlier in the year. A double layer of cardboard does seem to last pretty well by this method, so we’ll see if a single layer with paper underneath does as well.
They say the camera doesn’t lie, but I wanted to see whether I could take a picture that made my weed infested tea garden extension look great. These pictures were taken from the same position, just crouching or standing up and show how easy it is to be misled.
Summer is, as yet, the fruit season for me. The orchard is a dream for the future; not a single apple this year, despite the good weather. I have been picking currants and raspberries however over the past couple of weeks. The original Ben Sarek black currants did pretty well, over 13 pounds in total. Not up to their usual quality however: quite a few split, and smaller than usual. It’s been a slightly odd year due to a relatively hot and dry early summer, and I think this affected the berries. Maybe the skins hardened too soon, since the Ben Gairn currant, which had a really good crop, had a lot split, which made the picking over quite difficult. I like to remove the remains of the petals as well as the stalks, but it was a slow messy job. I’ve made two batches of jam and still have some in the freezer. The Belorussian sweet currant I didn’t even bother picking. The fruit was the first to ripen, but was really tiny and split. Hopefully in a more normal summer it will do better. So far the Ben Sarek wins hands down. It’s only the first year for the other two to fruit properly however, so we’ll see how they do next year. The black currant bushes in the front garden didn’t have many berries. I haven’t been pruning them, and they are getting a bit leggy. I’ll try and make a point of pruning them hard this year. The cuttings in the fruit garden are now quite productive bushes. I’ve decided that the other currant next to the original Ben Sarek black currant bush must be what my friend calls the ‘nancyberry’. It grew as a seedling in my garden in Solihull (originally between the paving stones of the path as they do!), I think it is a blackcurrant-gooseberry cross. There it had lovely large sweet berries, but here it sets hardly any. I have been gradually removing the bushes again, since they obviously don’t like Skye. By removing this last bush it will give me a suitable space for my Charlotte Russe mulberry bush. That was a present from my Mum when she came up this spring. I am quite excited about this. The garden is still pretty exposed, but I’m hopeful that the fruit garden is starting to get a bit more sheltered.
The raspberries looked really promising, but the initial picking was a bit disappointing. I had a awful lot that were wormy. I have had this to a certain extent in previous years, but probably more than half were wormy to some extent. I’m not one to be too fussy about a few insects, but this was ridiculous! It’s been a bit damp to pick the berries this last week. The second picking was a bit better than the first: not so many ripe ones, but fewer with worm problems. I’ve made a big batch of strawberry and raspberry jam (strawberries from the shop as yet, although I now have some plants getting established so watch this space!). I have about four different sorts of summer raspberries, I was given a load of canes of an unknown variety from someone locally. They fruit well, but have been worst affected by the worms and have a slightly watery taste. I have another which does pretty well, some of the berries have a tendency to be slightly double, but good cosmetic quality generally. Malling Jewel is in the tea garden, struggling in a still rather exposed position. One that came with the house: Glen Prosen, which is starting to do quite well in the dog resistant garden but took a long while to get established, this is the best tasting fresh I think. I’ve found that neither of the autumn fruiting raspberries do very well in our short summers. They are too late getting started in the spring to flower in time before the weather gets colder and the days shorter.
Talking of strawberries, just a note on the himalayan strawberries in the tea garden. It looks like getting some other plants from different sources was the right thing to do, since despite being set back by my weeding at a time of hot dry weather a few fruit did set. Unexpectedly they have turned out to be white. They are like large alpine strawberries, difficult to remove from the stem, with a pleasant citrussy resinous flavour when fully ripe. They become very soft, so easy to crush. Hopefully they will fruit better next year if I can avoid digging them up at the wrong time! They do seem to make a very dense ground cover, which was their primary purpose.
I’ve now picked the last of the Haskap/honeyberries. It is impossible to tell whether they are ripe or not, until you bite into them. When ripe, they have a quite plummy sweet/sour flavour and are coloured right through. Before fully ripe they are sharper and less pleasant. I’m very pleased with how well they fruited, considering this is their first year. I’m pretty sure they will make a rather nice jam when I get a few more fruit. They should be pruned by removing about a quarter of the mature branches to avoid overcrowding and should live for decades. I need to try and not let them get taken over by weeds in the orchard area. So far they are a successful experiment I think. I’ve saved a few seeds so I can try to propagate them, they should germinate well when fresh, so I may try sowing some straight away. They also propagate by cuttings, better from summer cuttings apparently, but I may try some of the prunings this winter since that is easier for me.
I’ve not harvested the grapes in the tunnel, but have thoroughly thinned them out. I don’t think I thinned them enough last year, so I have been a bit more brutal this year. I collected the thinnings as much as possible, and had enough to make a small batch of green grape jelly. I had contemplated making verjuice, but I may try that next year. The new vine (a white, Zalagyongye, which for some reason I thought would be seedless but apparently isn’t) has just one bunch of grapes, but they are not so far along as the Boskoop glory, so I’m not sure whether they will ripen off. The vine is growing well, so I’m hoping that it will do better next year.
I still have redcurrants and gooseberries to harvest. The invicta has done quite well. The new red gooseberries, Pax, have mostly dropped, and are rather small. I have two new red currants in the tea garden: redcurrant cherry and rovada. I don’t think any of the redcurrants from Solihull survived, but I have a couple of small plants in the fruit garden. These were grown from cuttings taken from a tough little plant growing in a dry stone wall in full force of the sea winds. I’d like to take cuttings from a plant I pass going to the shop which blooms profusely, but the berries seem to either nor set or quickly get picked by birds. It is such a dwarfed plant that finding a decent bit of stem will be difficult.
The blackberry in the polytunnel is just starting to ripen, as is the new one ‘Helen’ outdoors. It looks like this may be a disappointment, as I have yet to try the berries! They are quite prolific and large but seem to be very attractive to blue flies which destroy the drops and make them discoloured and unappetising! It may be they are ripening too slowly due to the damp weather this week and may do better in drier weather. They certainly have been early, but I am at a bit of a loss about what to do about this. It looks like I will have to move the vine pretty soon anyway, since we are intending to extend the barn to where this is currently planted now. Maybe I should try it in the polytunnel? But that wasn’t the point!
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