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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The word sounds like a sneeze, but the fruit tastes like a cucumber. Finally I have achieved achocha heaven in the polytunnel! They are fruiting like mad, and the only pity is that it is now a little late in the year for salads (called ‘cold suppers’ in our house and not including too much green, since S. is not keen on lettuce). The Bolivian giant is living up to its name with fruit twice or three times the size of the standard achocha. It has smoother fruit with finer tentacles.
The standard one was first to set fruit, although both were flowering months ago. I just love the exotic appearance of the fruit and they taste OK, as I said just mild and cucumber like. This means to me that they taste slightly odd warm. Not unpleasant, but they don’t really substitute for courgettes in hot dishes, which I was hoping they would. I tried some on pizza and they were fine, just odd! I need to look up some more recipes! I am intending to collect seed from both varieties to ensure fresh seed next year, so I am leaving the earliest fruit to grow and ripen. They may cross however, so I could end up with something a bit unpredictable.
Another success (so far!) are the remaining tomatoes. As I said in a previous post I had to remove the stupice tomatoes, but the super sweet 100 are starting to ripen now and I’m looking forwards to picking the first fruit! These were from my saved seed and I wasn’t sure whether they would come true, since I did see somewhere, after I had planted them, that this variety was a F1 hybrid. So far it looks like the plants are all red cherries as expected, so I’m not hesitating in collecting seed again. I have still quite a few varieties of tomato seed and I don’t have space to grow very many. This is because I grow them direct in the soil and try and rotate them in the polytunnel beds so as not to build up diseases (like that virus Grrr!). My plan is to grow the oldest varieties so that the seed that I have is rejuvenated, and then I can get rid of the older seed. I was surprised how well some of the old seed did germinate, although slowly. The seedlings didn’t thrive however and (honesty now) got a bit neglected at a critical seedling stage, so I lost them.
The millefleur tomato (which came from the same source as the fated Stupice by the way) are yet to ripen. As promised they have enormous trusses of flowers, although so far not setting as well as the other multiflora tomato I used to grow (Ildi). It is still early days yet though and I would try them again before rejecting them. They are heavily shaded by the kiwi and bramble above them, which I think hasn’t helped.
Under the kiwi and grapevine the asparagus plants are growing well and some have flowered. So far just male flowers, which is supposed to be better for prolific spears. However I have read (I think it was from Bob Flowerdew) that the female plants tend to have fatter spears, which I agree with him may be preferable. Anyway the plants seem to be doing alright this year, so maybe I’ll get to harvest some next year (if they would only stop growing over the winter!). The courgettes seem to have given up actually setting fruit, so I have left the two that remain to grow into marrows. I’m pretty sure that at least one sharks fin melon has set too, although I will have to go on a gourd hunt soon to see if I can find and protect any pumpkin nut squash. If there are any they are well hidden in the undergrowth.
Other news in the polytunnel is that the black grapes, Boskoop glory, are starting to turn colour. There are a few grapes that are going mouldy, so I am trying to pick those out without damaging the rest of the bunch. I’m not sure if these got slightly damaged when I thinned the grapes out, or whether there is another reason for that, but I’m pretty happy with the crop overall. The white grapes are actually already ripe! Or at least some of them are. I felt them and they gave a little and I sampled a few from the end of the bunch! Being green and staying green means it is a bit more difficult to tell whether they are ripe and this seems extremely early to ripen, so Zalagyongye is a good variety to try if you have an early autumn!
I have hacked back both the kiwi and the bramble in the polytunnel and have definitely decided to evict the kiwi vine this winter. It has shaded that end of the polytunnel too much, and needs more than one prune in a summer to keep it from getting completely rampant. Although the flowers are very pretty and it does set quite a few fruit, these are a bit small and sharp for my taste. If I was to plant a replacement I would try a kiwiberry – Actinidia kolomitka or Actinidia arguta. The fruit of these are supposed to be smaller, not hairy, sweeter and ripen sooner than the larger kiwi fruit. They still generally need male and female plants (although there are a few self fertile varieties: issai and vitikiwi for example). I think I will leave the bramble to grow again and see how that does by itself: it will be very difficult to get rid of now anyhow! It is nice to get early sweet clean brambles, and it has done a bit better this year than last but it has still struggled to get space and light with the kiwi adjacent to it. The kiwi I will try and transplant. It can grow up one of the sycamore in the front garden. I don’t suppose the fruit (if any) will come to much outside, but I may still get flowers.
The Yacon plants that I planted out first in the tunnel (on 26th March) have grown simply HUGE! Literally some are almost taller than I am! The ones that were planted slightly later (10th June) are much smaller. I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t catch up more. None had any compost in the planting hole, although I have been liquid feeding them both on occasion. It is possible that the later ones are a bit more shaded, with large parsley going to seed nearby. The real proof will be in the harvest of course, so watch this space.
Finally I will just mention the Fuchsia berry. It has put on a lot of growth recently. The flowers are yet to open, although are getting larger. I have pinched out quite a few of the growing tips, to make the plant more bushy, the thought being more branching = more flowers. However, we are getting quite late in the year now for setting much in the way of fruit. I may try and take some cuttings. It would be good to have a back up plant or two on the windowsill in case we have a hard winter.
Generally I find that crops that need a hot dry late summer to ripen are a waste of space on Skye. Summer is our rainy season (along with the rest of the year!) so crops that like a cool damp climate seem to be doing better for me. Luckily I have the polytunnel for things that like a bit more warmth and shelter (I’ll write again about that soon!).
This year I managed to sow two different kinds of peas outside and one inside, which I wrote about previously when sown in the middle of May. The purple mangetout in the front garden on the wigwam have really struggled to get going. They germinated well, but a combination of slugs and lack of sunlight (it turned out to be much too shady once the trees had leaves on) has meant that I don’t think I will get any seed from them. I may try that spot for some of my perennial japanese vegetables next year since many of them will be happy in shade. I’m hoping that I have enough seed to try again either in the polytunnel or somewhere sunnier outside next year.
The carlin peas in the tea garden (I need to think of a new name for this area – maybe the ‘pallet garden’ is more accurate now, since the tea bushes have not thrived) by contrast have done really well. Sown thickly, typically they germinated well, got very little slug damage, and flowered and set pods nicely. We have eaten several meals of fresh peas and Douglas and Dyson have benefitted from pea pods on their dinners (or straight from the vine while I’m picking). There is still the odd flower, but I’m leaving most of the rest of the pods in the hope that they will dry and harden off enough to save for some pease pudding dishes over the winter. Despite some strongish winds they have stood up well with the protection of the pallets and alder twigs.
The ‘pallet garden’ is generally looking pretty productive in a slightly chaotic sort of way. The perennial kale is large and leafy. I haven’t picked much this year, although probably could have had more. I made several batches of kale crisps (cut up, rub in a little veg oil and soy sauce and dry till crispy in moderate oven) which are really tasty and nutritious. Again Dougie is benefitting from some of these (particularly the batch which got a bit burnt!). There is lots of my lovely flat leaved kale as well. Unfortunately it is growing amongst the trial oca tubers, so some of these may not have a fair trial having to compete with the kale. Also I like the kale flower sprouts the following year, and I may have to dig all the plants up to harvest the oca, and hence get no sprouts…
There were just a few carrots that survived last year, but were too small to be worth harvesting so I left in situ. They have rewarded me with a flowering display all summer. If we get a bit of nice weather into the autumn I may have fresh carrot seed, which I know from previous experience germinates far more reliably than shop bought seed. With similar white flowers is the skirret. I didn’t get round to actually eating very much of this last year, but I could do with digging up some to see whether it’s really worth the space. Not that space is really an issue for me, and as a perennial there is actually no problem if I do leave it in another year!
I have been given some jerusalem artichoke and potato tubers to try this year (thanks again Frances). I have tried jerusalem artichokes in the past – I think in the first year we were here – but without shelter and in a new bed they disappeared in what has now become the fruit jungle. Both tubers this year seem to have survived the slugs in the pallet garden. I put one on the sunny side of a pallet and this has done much better than the other on the shady side, although both are looking healthy enough. I have read that on the outer hebrides they crop well when grown for two years, so I think I won’t try digging these up this year. Anyway they didn’t get the compost on planting, so won’t achieve much in the way of tubers anyhow; hopefully enough to regrow though. The potatoes do grow well here – in the past they used to export seed tubers to Ireland from our holding. I don’t usually bother with potatoes (running a shop we usually have some that need eating!), but since these were a gift it would be rude not to try them! I need to check the variety and work out when to dig them up. Anytime in the next month or so I expect.
I planted Yacon in various places in the pallet garden, including in the cardboard mulched area. Some are doing well, and some are pretty slug eaten. Again the important bit is unseen underground, so I’ll have to wait till later in the year to find out how they have done. There still seem to be a few mashua growing away in there as well, but they don’t seem to crop very well outside for me. I think it is just a bit cool for them in the autumn here.
The himalayan strawberries don’t seem to have set fruit this year at all. They did flower well, but we had that cold spell in May that maybe stopped the fruit forming. However, they do form a nice groundcover and are starting to crowd out the buttercups quite well. My friend A. gave me a few of her ground covering wild strawberries that she lets grow on her allotment and I can certainly confirm that they cover ground quickly! One plant on the corner of one of the beds is now like an explosion of spiders crawling over the soil and paths. They are yet to flower for me, but hopefully will yield the odd gardener’s treat in time!
I broadcast lots of tiny amounts of seed in various places in the pallet garden at the start of June, most of which have yet to noticeably appear. This is a little disappointing. I guess I needed to rake them in to cover them with soil to prevent pests eating them or sun dessicating the fresh shoots. They wouldn’t have grown very well in the packets either however, and many were saved seed, so no great loss really. Maybe they will germinate in future years when they feel like it. Most of the soil does have a pretty good groundcover of various planted and volunteered plants. I’m not sure where the borage came from, but love it’s hairiness and joyous blue flowers. There are a few surviving green manure plants from last year – particularly alfalfa and red clover, which although not surviving where I would have planted them, should come back again next year.
In the southernmost corner of the pallet garden I had a patch of fodder radish as a green manure last year. I was initially disappointed this wasn’t the same fodder radish as I had grown in the polytunnel that made the lovely radishy seed pods. However, unlike that one, it did form ball radishes that were quite edible when young, although a bit woody later on. The dogs loved them however! I would be weeding or doing something at the other end of the garden, and Douglas would present me with an emergency fetch ball. Dyson also soon realised that these spicy balls were edible and that would keep him happy as well, munching away. I think I probably won’t grow them again though, since the globe roots will be less good at aerating the soil than the longer pod radishes are (which did do well in the orchard area – more on that another time). I will collect some seed just in case.
In with the radishes were a few overwintered wheat plants. I had to remove some when I put up the pallets in the spring The remainder have cropped very well. If I can harvest them before the birds do I will have rejuvenated my wheat seeds. I don’t remember now where these came from at all. Probably saved from a volunteer from some bird seed?
So how are the perennials in my polytunnel fairing?
Five flavour berry (Schisandra chinensis): I have three different varieties of this, but they are all quite young plants. One did have a single flower. but it doesn’t look like it has set any fruit. One is a seedling and the other two are supposed to be self fertile. Normally you need two different plants to get berries.
Olive (Olea europaea): This has survived the winter (it was pretty mild generally). It has lots of new growth, which I have been pinching back so it grows more bushy than leggy. It seems quite happy. I have it growing in the soil in the polytunnel, but haven’t watered it this year. I am assuming that it’s roots will seek out enough water going sideways at the edges of the tunnel. I thought it wasn’t going to flower this year, but this week I spotted a single bunch of flowers. This is a little disappointing, since last year there were lots of flowers (but no fruit). Maybe as it gets older it will be able to flower more. The flowers this year were on last years’ growth, whereas last year they were on same year growth I think.
Apricot: I have given this an early summer prune, according to the RHS website instructions (as best I could). Last year I didn’t prune it hard enough, so the fan frame is a bit leggy. I may have to cut back some of the branches quite hard to rejuvenate it later this summer. The early summer last year was just too nice to be inside! I did get loads of flowers in spring this year, and two green fruit are still there.
Fuchsia berry: This overwintered alright having survived sitting in it’s pot for too long last year. Now it is in the soil it is growing quite well. It has a funny trilobal growth habit. which I don’t know if it will grow out of, although I knocked one of the branches off whilst watering! No sign of flowers this year yet. I stuck the broken branch in the soil, near the parent plant. Maybe it will root.
Asparagus: These confused me by not dying down for the winter! This meant that they didn’t get a rest period when I could mulch them (if I was organised) and watch for the new shoots in spring. I compromised when tidying that part of the tunnel, by cutting back the old shoots, but I didn’t think the subsequent shoots were really fat and prolific enough to take any this year. Some of the new leaves now have flowers. I’ll have to check what sex they are. These plants were grown from seed in about 2015 and have been in position now for two years. I have two varieties: Connovers colossal and Argenteuil early. I think that Connovers colossal is slightly the more robust looking overall, although it is probably too soon to be sure.
Artichoke: The globe artichoke is flowering well again. I thought they were going to be a little small, but the first buds are a fair size now. I am thinking of selling them in the shop, since S. isn’t that fussed about eating them. I could give them a few days and then have them for my lunch if they don’t sell. I’m not sure what to price them at – probably about 80p each. I have also planted two seedlings on the drivebank, and have one ready to plant in the tunnel on the opposite side.
Goldenberry: I thought that I had two plants that survived the winter. They had died back to the base and I covered them with dead plant material to insulate them a bit. In fact it now looks like one of these is actually a weed plant which pops up both in the tunnel and outside. I think it is nipplewort. When they were both smaller they looked very similar, but now the difference in leaf shape and texture is obvious, and the weed is preparing to flower, unlike the golden berry! I think I may have weeded another goldenberry out when preparing to plant the sweetcorn. It was quite small, so may not have done well anyhow. So far I have proved that they will overwinter in a pretty mild winter, it remains to be seen whether I will achieve any sort of harvest from the one plant this year. It is certainly more developed now than seedlings would be.
Akebia: These seem to have overwintered pretty well. Both those in pots and those in the ground in the polytunnel have survived OK. They were grown from seed last year, but it doesn’t look like they die back herbaciously; they remained green despite being very small. I accidently cut back one that was growing next to the apricot, which was probably doing the best previous to that. The foliage is not that easy to spot. I expect it will take a few years before I get flowers or fruit. I planted two little plants outside on the drivebank and they seem to be quite happy there, although not growing quite so fast. It will be interesting to see if they will over winter for me there also.
Apios americana: I thought this would be a bit more robust than it has turned out to be so far. I grew it outside in the dog resistant garden a couple of years ago, but it dissappeared the first winter. I think it may like it a bit warmer, so am trying it in the polytunnel. I am worried however that it may prefer it rather damper than I generally make it in there, since one of its names is “swamp potato”. I wonder whether it would prefer it in a pot in the pond? Anyhow, I have a few tubers from Edulis growing in the bed adjacent to the apricot. They seem to start growing quite late, even in the polytunnel, only emerging at the start of June this year. I have found two shoots so far, I think there is one small tuber that is still to appear.
Grapes: Both grape vines are starting to flower now. The new one seems to have quite big bunches. There was a little scorching from overnight frost on the new growth earlier in the year, but no real damage. I have done an initial pruning: pinching out the spurs a couple of leaves beyond the flowers and taking off a few overcrowded spurs. I haven’t yet thinned out the bunches of grapes. They should be thinned to one bunch every eighteen inches or so. I think that won’t be necessary yet for the new vine, but the old one, Boskoop glory, is quite prolific so could do with a bit of thinning out.
Kiwi: Given a reprieve and being shortened, the vine has flowered beautifully. I do like the blossom; like huge cream apple blossoms that darken to peach as they fade. I’m still not sure it is worth the space, even though I have shortened it quite drastically this year. But the flowers are pretty. It is still a little early to say how good the fruit set will be.
Bramble. The first flowers on this are fully open just now. I could do with a few more training wires near the lower door to tie back the side branches to. Hopefully I won’t have such problems with flies this year, we’ll see.
Strawberries: The first fruits were the biggest! I shared the first two with S., but he doesn’t know about the others that never left the tunnel. Only one of the plants is really doing well. I find it difficult to keep them watered enough over the winter. I have transplanted into the tunnel some more plants that came from this one that have been growing in pots outside. They are blooming well, so may set a few fruit if I’m lucky.
I didn’t manage to overwinter my sharks fin melon two years ago, although potentially it is perennial. I also didn’t get any seed to germinate last year, but this year my saved seed germinated second time trying. I’m wondering whether to try digging up the parent plant after harvest, cutting it back and moving it indoors for the winter. It may mean an earlier start to growth and flowering, although it may be a pain to accommodate the plant frost free in the earlier part of the spring.
I did manage to overwinter three little chilli pepper plants that AC gave me. They had been on the study windowsill, being watered occasionally, since last spring. They gave the tiniest little chillies, that AC says are very hot, so I am rather nervous of using! One plant I cut back quite severely in early spring, the others were left. The one that was cut back seems to be budding up already. This one I repotted into a slightly larger pot with fresh compost as I did one of the others (whilst cutting that one back slightly too). These are in the tunnel now, as is the third which I have planted out into what I am thinking of as my Mediterranean bed. This is the area next to the Olive tree. I have a bench there (although it tends to get used as a dumping ground rather than a seat) and have also planted the three surviving Astragalus crassicarpus plants there. The idea is to plant things that require little water there. I don’t think the chillies will survive in the tunnel over the winter, but I may leave this one in, to see how it does. If the ground is dry it may well survive better. I have grown some less fiery, hopefully larger chillies from seed, which are now planted out. I will try potting these up in the autumn after (hopefully) fruiting to try and over winter these inside.
I never did harvest the mashua in the tunnel. I don’t think it did so well after the hot early summer last year. Although it should have overwintered OK, most of the plants seem to have disappeared over the winter. Just one bed is growing away strongly. I guess that the tubers did not form well on the other plants. I did miss at least one tuber in the tea garden extension. The foliage is very distinctive when it starts to grow! I also have a couple of oca plants growing in the tunnel, so it looks like I missed a couple of those tubers too! One of the dahlias is growing in with the tomatoes; another unharvested plant which has overwintered well. The passion flowers haven’t made it however. I should probably have overwintered them inside until the plants were a bit bigger. Maybe next year I’ll try growing some new plants.
The Yacon(s) I potted up when I harvested the tubers, splitting the crowns slightly, where they naturally wanted to break. I potted them into smallish pots in compost in the tunnel. Some were planted into the polytunnel beds either side of the Apricot, they are still pretty small. The rest are actually still in pots. One of my jobs to do is to plant these outside, although this should probably have been done a while ago, it has been so cool since March I don’t think they would have done very much growing!
One of the last plants to mention are the pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) These are growing quite lush in the lower part of the tunnel. I have been nipping back the tips of the growth to encourage a bushy habit, since I read somewhere they have a tendency to become leggy. There is no sign of flowering this year! The flowers are also supposed to be tasty, even if the fruit doesn’t ripen. I say these are one of the last, since I am hopeful that the tulip bulbs planted adjacent to the pineapple guava will come back again next year. It is not the bulbs of tulips that can be eaten, but the petals. The flowers are toxic for cats, and some people also can have a bad reaction apparently. I did have a munch on some of the petals, and they were fine – a little sweet and quite juicy. It just seems a bit of a pity to pick flowers for eating somehow!
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!
Things seem to have been a bit slow in the polytunnel – It’s been a bit cooler and damper but I haven’t been out there much – just a bit of watering and thinning out the grapes. The main excitement is the number of happy caterpillars I seem to have. There are several large ones that I see in there: A bright green one, a dull browny coloured one, a dotty one with a waist stripe and one with stripes that match the stalks on the fat hen as it goes to seed. I think most of them belong to the silver y moth which I do see in there quite often. They don’t seem to be doing too much damage: They quite like the Yacon, but prefer the fat hen to the olive tree. There are a few holes in the squash leaves but nothing the plants can’t shake off.
Something has eaten part through one of my dahlia stalks – I think it is probably a slug. they don’t tend to be too much a problem these days for established plants, but I do get a few helping themselves to my seedlings in pots by the polytunnel door. The dahlia I grew from seed, which I am quite proud of myself for. They have lovely dark coloured leaves, and are just starting to form buds. The seeds are some of those that came from the Hardy Plant Society annual selection. I had pretty good germination from most of those – probably because they were so fresh. Dahlia tubers are theoretically edible, although apparently they vary a great deal as to tastiness! I’m tempted to get some from Lubera who have selected a range of better tasting ones. You get the flowers and then the tubers to eat, and can replant again for next year. I have tried some raw a while ago now, and wasn’t particularly impressed, but then you wouldn’t eat a potato raw either would you? I’ve mounded up the soil around the stem in the hope that it will re-root like a cutting. There does seem to be another shoot coming from below the damage, but I may lose the flowers of that plant.
My fuchsia berry plant is looking a lot more happy now. It is in the ground and has a fairly respectable shoot. Hopefully it is getting it’s roots down to survive there overwinter. I have pinched off the tip, since in it’s pot last year it grew a bit leggy and tended to droop down with the weight of the fruit – yes they were quite sweet and nice. My outside fuchsia that came with the house also has quite nice berries. You have to get them when they are ripe, or they taste more peppery than sweet. The downside is that they tend to ripen gradually, so there are a few for a nibble but not enough for much of a meal. I should propagate the bush a bit though, since it would be quite good as a boundary shrub. It’s a bit late this year – maybe I’ll take some hardwood cuttings overwinter and see how they get on. The fuchsia berry is supposed to be a bit more tender. I did try taking some softwood cutting last year, but none of them took – I’ll maybe try again next year, assuming it survives the winter again.
The Yacon seem to be doing pretty well. I haven’t fed them barring the initial planting with compost, but have tried to give them plenty of water – probably still not as much as they want. The single plant I put outside in the tea garden extension is also looking pretty good – the warmer start to the summer was probably to it’s liking. I’m growing Oca for the first time this year (thanks Frances!) I’ve put two in the polytunnel and one outside. So far I would say that they don’t like it too hot. The one outside seemed to do much better than the ones in the tunnel initially when we had all that hot weather. More recently it’s been a bit cooler and less sunny, and the ones inside have cheered up a bit – a little leggy perhaps. All three plants look lush and green at the moment. Apparently they don’t make tubers until the days get shorter, which for us will be at the end of September or so. At that point the extra protection of the tunnel may pay off, since it should hold off a light frost or two. I’ve never eaten them so I won’t comment on that yet.
There are flowers starting to develop on my physalis – golden berry, and a few flowers on the courgette. Those really haven’t done so well this year, but then I generally don’t have gluts to complain of! The sharks fin melon is climbing well – almost to the roof with buds forming. The japanese squash has delightful silver splashed leaves which are quite pretty, and again shows promise of buds. The mashua isn’t looking too good still. I think the hot weather was definitely not to it’s liking. They are still really small and hardly starting to climb at all. Some of the other plants will probably be too late to come to anything. For example the achocha, which I said last year needed a longer season didn’t get planted out early enough again. Tomatillo and peppers I sowed for the sake of it, but really didn’t look after them enough to get much from them. The plants are alive, but that’s about all one can say about them. My sweet potato plants seem to be doing well. I hope I’ve given them enough water. When I grew them in our polytunnel in Solihull I think that was the main problem there. They do have lovely dark coloured leaves, a bit like an ornamental bindweed. I’ve just let them scramble over the ground, although they would climb given a framework.
The bramble has not done so well this year as previous years. As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve had a lot of flies eating the berries (Alice outside remains a complete wash out!). The flies get so drunk that you can put your finger right next to them without them all flying off. I’ve still had quite a few berries – enough to make a batch of bramble and apple jelly (clear jelly not jam with bits in), but nowhere as many as previous years. The bramble and kiwi look very precarious also. I had to cut some of the support ties for the kiwi at the start of the year, and haven’t got round to replacing them properly. I had used old tights – the legs make pretty good strong soft bindings. unfortunately the weight of the vine had made them go thin, and they were cutting in to the trunk quite a lot. It was actually difficult to extract them as the kiwi was growing around them. I have started to use strips of pond liner (plenty of that left from around the mice holes!) This seems to stay more ribbon-like so doesn’t cut in. It’s a bit more difficult to tie in a knot (especially when supporting a heavy trunk with your third hand!), but seems to be kind to the plants and lasts pretty well. Tyre inner tubes are also pretty good, but I’m not sure whether they will have the same light resistance as pond liner.
The tomatoes have done really well – lots of lovely trusses have set nicely. None are ripening yet, but I remain hopeful for a reasonable harvest in the end – so far looking like my best yet here. Some of the plants have dark spots developing on the older leaves, which I think is a sign of nutrient deficiency. I probably haven’t fed them enough – just a bucket of comfrey tea between them when I can remember to do it! It’s actually also the same comfrey residue – so there’s probably not much nutrient left in it. I should have some time off later this week so will try and cut some fresh comfrey leaves then.
So much to do so little time! Summertime is here, the daylight and the shop hours are longer…We seemed to skip straight from winter into summer here – usually spring is the nicest time on Skye, drier weather, (often warmest too!) no midgies and fewer tourists (we love them really!) I’ve been helped on my family research by my younger sisters and my mum coming for their holiday on Skye last week. A folder of old family documents and letters shed some fascinating insights into some of the Kent branches of the family. A few seem to have been soldiers and I’ve scanned in some of the documents to transcribe. One letter is from a soldier in Madras, India in 1832 describing the effects of a cholera outbreak and urging his brothers and sisters to stay home and not be tempted abroad. I haven’t placed him yet on the family tree, but he does seem to have survived to a ripe old age despite obviously in fear of his life at the time of his writing.
I thought I’d just review the winter and what has done well or poorly this year. Amongst my losses are my rock samphire plant (grown from seed – first winter), my sea beet (both an established plant that flowered last year but did not set seed and all of my seedlings in pots), some of my Camellia sinensis plants (small plants in the fruit garden – the ones in the tea garden are thriving), the unknown citrus in the polytunnel, my baby yacon seedlings, and a Luma apiculata that never made it out of it’s pot. Considering how cold the winter has been, not so much in intensity as in length, it could have been a lot worse.
A surprising survivor is a mashua plant that appears to have grown from a missed tuber in the fruit garden. I suppose since it can be grown as an ornamental perennial (think Ken Aslet) It shouldn’t be that surprising. I will leave this one and see how it does. I haven’t in the end planted any more mashua outside this year.
The apricot is doing well – I have now trained in seven shoots as described earlier, and they are needing tying in again. Unfortunately I did get one of the shoots slightly wrong – pinched out too many earlier on and was left with one that was growing at the wrong angle. I’m hoping it will straighten out as the plant grows.
I have grown a number of plants from seed this winter including what turned out to be Akebia triloba. This was grown from seed obtained via the facebook edimentals group from someone who ate the fruit in Japan, but we weren’t sure until the leaves appeared whether it was A. quinata or A. triloba. It should be hardy outside here, but will probably do better in the polytunnel. If the plants survive I’ll try both. I have also grown some passion fruit vines (still very tiny) Passiflora edulis and P. mollissima (I think). Some of my other seedlings have struggled in the hot weather we had a couple of weeks ago – the pots dried up very quickly and the tiny plants may not have made it. I had some martagon lily that I think have gone now, and some of my vetch seedlings have also gone. These include, annoyingly, the Astragalus crassicarpus (gound plum) that I was looking forwards to establishing in the tunnel. Luckily the single chilean hazelnut that germinated seems to be doing alright, and is now showing signs of sending up a second pair of leaves. This is better than the seeding I achieved last year which faded out at a single pair.
I was busy outside trying to get on top of the creeping buttercup before it took over everywhere again, but got distracted moving more soil down the hill to landscape the orchard area. This is nearly achieved, but more work to do on the south side of the trackway. Just at the moment the buttercups in the field are making a fine display with the pignuts, and remind me that we’d be poorer if we succeeded in eliminating weeds!
I’ve been a bit distracted recently, hence the gap in postings…partly due to a lovely present my mum organised for myself and my sisters at christmas. She and my younger sisters did a bit of family research and made a photo book. This had a family tree at the start and then photos of our direct ancesters, many of which I’d never seen, and then photos of us through the years together with various niblings (nephew and nieces) as they have arrived. Anyway I thought it was brilliant, and it inspired me to try and prove out a few of the family legends. So far neither the eloping daughter of an earl, the smugglers inn in cornwall, or the rear admiral seem to have much basis in history, but I’ve had much fun on my mum’s side of the family. My dad’s side could be a bit more challenging, since his grandmother came from Switzerland. Anyway, a fascinating way to play detective, but does mean that I’m a bit behind with what’s been going on. The other reason I missed a bit of time, was that I wanted to post about the mashua and Yacon harvests, but I have mislaid the data on weight of mashua harvest in the polytunnel. I’ll just have to rely on pictures to tell the story….
First the Yacon harvest: I had grown it both in the tunnel and outside in 2016 and both were a little small. I think that the ones in the polytunnel were a little dry, and the ones outside were…….not, also I still don’t really have much shelter, and the wind and cool of a Skye summer didn’t seem to suit them much. I will say that the plants all survived and I did get some tubers, albeit small. In 2017 I propagated my saved tubers in the spring (you basically divide the crown with a knife so each bit has a growing point). Four of the shoots went on to develop strong plants which were duly planted out in the tunnel. If I had more strong plants, I would have planted a couple outside anyway, but felt they would have a better chance inside There were another two or three plants which never seemed strong enough to plant out, so I just left them in pots in the tunnel. The ones that were planted out seemed to be quite happy and grew away well. This year I did manage to water them fairly well, although they didn’t get any extra food.
I harvested the Yacon late in December. Each plant had died back on top due to frosts. Because I did not want more plants, and felt that dividing them had made them weaker, I decided to just break off the storage tubers (the edible bits) and replant the whole root crown again. The total harvest was 8 tubers weighing a total of 1lb 12oz from 4 plants. I think that the watering was alright last year, but maybe the nutrition in the soil wasn’t that good….I’ll try and make sure they get plenty of compost, and maybe liquid feed as well in 2018. I also didn’t move the plants. The original intent was to disturb them as little as possible, but in the end I dug up the whole plant, rather than just breaking off the storage tubers, so it would have been very little trouble to move the plants.
I haven’t noticed any top growth yet, I’m hopeful however that the plants haven’t died in the hard frosts that we have had this year. I covered them thickly with fleece, straw, dead top growth etc. which hopefully, together with the protection of the tunnel itself, will have been enough. I also (hopefully) have the Yacon plants in pots, which have been overwintering in a straw filled box – time now to plant these out again. I also have a couple of Yacon seedlings whuch I grew from seed from cultivariable. They may be rubbish, but they are new. I’ll find a spot in the tunnel to grow these out this year.
Yacon is the only vegetable I’m aware of which is a root that is used as a fruit. It genuinely tastes sweet, like a crunchy melon. Although there wasn’t a huge harvest, I’m unable to think of any other ‘fruit’ that can be harvested on Skye in December….Anyway, I’ve baked it into cake (adapted a pear cake recipe very successfully!) also it is very nice in place of pineapple to give a sweet crunch in sweet and sour sauces, or in our family ‘risotto’. The only thing I noticed there was that when kept as leftovers it was noticable that the Yacon had discoloured to a dirty grey colour – still tasted OK though.
I’ll post a bit about the mashua in a separate post.