It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing the last six months, it’s rather that I’ve been doing too much! Not just on the holding however, and not just plant related. Things are changing – priorities, the way plants change the landsape, family and work commitments all change the way I interact on this platform. It looks today like WP have made some more changes to the editing software that may make it a bit easier for me to edit and post at least on the PC, so I’ll give it another go and see how I get on this time. Unfortunately they also seem to have changed the scaling, I gues to suit mobile phone screens, but it leaves a lot of blank space on larger screens.
It looks like it is going to be another really good growing year for the trees, and I didn’t lose as many plants as I thought over the winter. I thought I’d lost one of my Elaeagnus in the former Dog Resistant Garden, (FDRG) but I noticed this week that one branch is showing quite a bit of growth and is in flower. The unknown citrus in the polytunnel likewise is shooting up from the base. However the kiwi is a goner, as is my larger gevuina shrub and one of the seedlings. I still have one Gevuina seedling that looks pretty happy in it’s pot, so I need to find a slightly more sheltered spot to plant it out. I’ll have to source some more seeds, since it doesn’t look like any more of the seeds are going to germinate now. I still have a few in pots, but I am not hopeful that they are still viable. The Arbutus unedo looks a bit tatty, but still seems to be alive.
I’ve done a bit of work on the front garden behind the FDRG – trying to get out the creeping grass and plant it up. There are a few currant bushes that are doing OK, some local elder cuttings ditto. I’ve also planted out the miscanthus grass seedlings and various other things that will do better in the ground that stuck in their pots. I was lucky enough to be given some dwarf jerusalem artichoke, and some chinese artichoke, so have planted these where the grass is more likely to come back – the theory is that If I have to dig to harvest then I can dig out the grass at the same time. I could probably do with doing some more mulching in this area too. We’ve had quite a warm summer, and so far the Yacon here seem to be doing better than in previous years.
In terms of new planting, I haven’t done any broadscale tree planting this year. I had intended to replant the area that I had cleared the ash from with small leaved lime, beech, italian alder, local hazel and rowan, however I didn’t really have time for much this spring due to commitments in the shop. The experimental plantings of lime, and italian alder have done very well, however the sea buckthorn has struggled. Some of the bushes are still alive, but I wouldn’t describe it as much of a pioneer. It may be that it really dislikes my acid soil, or it might be that they take longer to get established and will romp away in a year or two. All I know is I’m not about to go out and splash out on expensive cultivars if they’re not likely to make it through. I bought four hazel cultivars this year and have been disappointed that two of them seem to have died. I probably will replace them next year though, since I do think that they have a good possiblity of good yield here. Next year I am also thinking of getting some Walnuts, and maybe some japanese heartnuts.
I managed to germinate quite a few monkey puzzle tree seeds over the winter, and have started planting the seedlings into the treefield. Ideally I would leave them to get a bit bigger, but I have a poor record of keeping things alive in pots, so I think they will do better in the ground. I have marked various places around the tree field where I think the monkey puzzles could go with long sticks, and started turning the turf over to prepare planting holes. Unfortunately the spade handle finally splintered during this process, so there are still quite a few places to be prepared, and about half the seedlings still in pots. The trees in the fruit jungle really look impressive now. I have learnt from them not to plant the monkey puzzles too close to pathways since the leaf spines are really sharp!
Rather later than anticipated I’m reviewing my unusual tuber harvest for last year. I’ve had a few distraction in my life recently, mostly in my shop – creating a “zero waste” facility in a very short timescale thanks to a Zero Waste Scotland grant, but also getting sucked into the Permies.com forums. I guess the change in the WordPress editor hasn’t helped – I find it much slower to create a post now than it used to.
I actually dug the Yacon in the polytunnel on 22 January, and a few days later outside. By the start of February we had a prolonged spell of freezing weather and the temperatures got down to about -8 degrees Celsius. This is unusually cold for here and I have lost several other plants to the cold. Annoyingly this included some newly purchased ones that I had left outside the polytunnel without thinking that they would have been better off inside. It can’t have been that cold in the polytunnel, since the pond remained frost free. This at the same time as the river was frozen.
The Yacon all seemed to grow pretty well last year. All were at least at tall as me, although not heading for the sky outside. Several had mulitple stems and all the new ones developed some lovely flowers like tiny sunflowers. The different varieties flowered at different times, so it is unlikely I will get viable seeds, see Cultivariable . I had the following harvest of tubers:
Plant2: 350g (this one got stem rot early in the summer and the upper growth remained poor)
Plant4: 2600g (this one only one with broken tubers)
White std: I seem to have mislaid my harvest information, but I remember it was a bit less than the other two.
All the NZ plants had some broken tubers with splits. The original white plants seemed to vary quite a a lot in yeild and tuber quality. The Morado tubers have the darkest colour skin, and the flesh is also slightly orange in colour. The New Zealand is more uneven in colour and the tubers are white under the skin. I found that the flavour of the original ones were the sweetest, and the tuber sizes on the Morado and New Zealand were larger, as was the yield. The plants outside did much less well, none of them had tubers of any great size, none bigger than a fat finger perhaps.
Some of the tubers did not store too well. I think that they were rather damp and cold when they came in and they got some mould developing on the skins. Surprisingly though I still have a few that appear perfect. The last one I tried though had a slight off taste, so I think I wil compost the rest.
I have also harvested the mashua from the polytunnel. This seems to have been quite happy last year despite not having had any attention, and I got a fair amount of tubers from the plants. It didn’t flower at all though. I left some nice tubers adjacent to the polytunnel side in situ to regrow this year and they survived the cold snap and are growing away nicely. I made some chutney with most of the tubers, the spicy flavour goes well in my standard chutney recipe, although I think next time I will reduce the cinnamon and cloves.
So much for the good – now for the bad.
I did not harvest the oca before the hard frosts…..
I had carefully planted out my different coloured oca harvested from last year in the pallet garden, so that I could grow out and compare the different tubers for taste and yeild. They grew away pretty well and flowered last year. Unfortunately almost all the tubers got frosted. They develop just under the surface (in fact some were on top of the ground surface and were eaten by birds, mice or slugs….) and were not deep enough to escape damage. All the tubers were pale and soft. Only a very few tubers that were closest to the pallet seem to have escaped the frost. I didn’t have results therefore for yield or flavour comparison, I had just a few tubers to plant this year and only one seems to be sprouting in its pot. However, I have several offers of new tubers for next year so will start again. Maybe the one survivor is more frost tolerant, time might tell…
I’ve got into a system now in the polytunnel (although as always it’s still evolving!). I have a number of perennial fruit and vegetables that come back more or less reliably and more or less productively year after year, then I have annuals and replant perennials which I rotate through the four quarters of the polytunnel. The four quarters are tomatoes, cucubits, yacon and grasses/legumes. I’ll explain how these are getting on in this post. It got a bit long when I started to include the fixed perennials, so I’ll make a separate post for those.
There are a number of annual, or biannual plants that have self seeded and come up as they feel like around the tunnel, these include a flat leaf kale (possibly originally pentland brig), flat leaved parsley, chickweed, fat hen, leaf beet and climbing nasturtiums. I generally don’t weed religiously in the tunnel (I’m never the tidiest of gardeners!) just clearing space for sowing or growing plants as required. When I do pull out weeds or chop back plants I will usually tuck the removed plant matter around growing plants to act as a mulch. I am convinced that the soil in the tunnel is much happier for this as the mulch acts as a layer of insulation; keeping the soil and plant roots cooler and damper, gradually disappearing into the soil and feeding it.
The climbing nasturtiums are funny. I think I had just the one plant last year, an orange one which had seeded from a single lovely tawny dark orange flower the previous year. It flowered profusely and I just left it to seed around, which it has with a vengeance! Every colour from pale primrose to dark maroon, is now represented, clashing wonderfully with the Fuchsia-berry Fuchsia flowers. The nasturtiums have rather taken over the tomato bed and I’m having to weed them out, train them up and cut them back. I assume that there is interesting hidden genetics going on there, but am just stepping back and enjoying the results. I’ll try and collect some of the seed this year, or I will be able to grow nothing else in that corner for seedlings. Unfortunately I’m not fond of the taste of nasturtium, but do enjoy the visual effect of the flowers. They are also supposed to be a good distraction plant for cabbage white butterflies, not that those are a problem for me here.
The tomatoes are lovely sturdy plants this year. I didn’t get very good germination, however I did get plenty of plants for my purposes, if a bit later than ideal. I was trying out a different compost this year: Dalefoot bracken and wool composts. I’m pretty impressed with it – a bit pricy especially after delivery to Skye, but the plants were definitely healthier than previous years, so I will be buying it again. I got a pallet load organised for myself and various neighbours in the glen and beyond. Although there didn’t seem much interest at the time of ordering, then the lockdown happened and I could have passed on twice as many bags, since compost was one of the things in short supply on the island! The fruit set well and are just starting to ripen nicely now on the vines, so it is a race against the fading summer to see if I can get most of them to ripen off. Other people locally already have had ripe fruit for several weeks, so I know I can do better….
Again this year I had poor germination of the sweetcorn. Actually I got zero germination. This means the lower northern quarter of the polytunnel is mainly growing whatever is self seeding in. I cleared and watered a couple of beds to get some fresh leaves in a few weeks. I sowed a couple of patches of the millet seed, but am a bit disappointed with the germination of this as well. If I don’t get seed off it this year, I probably won’t bother with it again.
The stars of the tunnel (other than the nasturtiums) have been the cucubits. I grew three cucumber plants myself (Tamra) and was given one (Marketmore). The marketmore has done pretty well setting several nice fruit, and ongoing… They are a bit spiny, but these rub off easily. The Tamra, which last year produced one delicious fruit the size of my little finger, has had several nice fruit on one of the three vines. I left the first fruit to try and obtain seeds, so may have done even better if this had been picked. Given the Marketmore is next to the Tamra, they may have crossed, so if I do get seed they may not be the same as the parent.
I am very happy with the courgettes, which have been setting well and ongoing. I think the large round fruit I found last year may well have been a tondo di picenza courgette/marrow, although it was sweet like a melon. I am finding that the immature fruit are also very pleasant to eat raw.
The pumpkin nut plants got away very well, and all three plants have at least one good sized fruit supported and swelling. One of them is already starting to turn orange, so I am very hopeful that I may get ripe seeds from this one at least. The plant is grown for it’s hull-less seeds, and maybe I can use some of them to grow plants from next year. I don’t think I will get sharksfin melon this year, which is a bit dissappointing. I had just one plant survive, and although it is growing away quite rampantly now, it is rather late for it to set fruit to come to anything. I may try digging the plant up, cutting it back and trying to overwinter it inside this year.
I’m pretty excited about the Yacon. Although it is too early to tell what the yield of roots will be (it is dug as late as possible, after the plants die back in the winter) the plants are getting quite big now, and I can see flower buds developing on the two new varieties I obtained this year. With a few big ‘ifs’ it would be very exciting to get seed to try and grow a new variety. The tiny plants I grew a few years ago from cultivariable seeds never made it through the winter, but it would be fun to try again. Cultivariable are unfortunately not exporting seed any more….
The weather again hasn’t been kind recently. Not really out of the ordinary; just unrelenting rain and wind, with not enough let up to get much done. It’s not true that I’ve been doing nothing, and I probably haven’t achieved nothing, it’s just that I seem to have finished nothing! The days are getting longer however. I always feel that by Valentine’s day the worst of the winter is over.
Outside I still haven’t completed the path round the hump. Nearly there however, and the gradient of the ramp down has been improved by some of the turf that I have dug out of the widened path. I have also made a bit of a ramp half way round as an alternative route down (although again this is not finished!).
I have a number of spruce and pine seedlings to bulk up the windbreaks and make some new windbreaks in the sparse area of ash. Hopefully they will be surviving OK in the bag they are in at present, since they have been in there rather longer than I had intended. The soil is rather claggy to be planting in as yet, although I have dug quite a few square holes in preparation. I am also relocating some of the self seeded hazels that have planted themselves in less than desirable positions. I have been making a little thicket of them on the lower south side of the main track loop. This spot used to go by the unfortunate name of poo corner, since that was where Dougie usually felt inclined to relieve himself during a quick outing in the tree field. It now has the alternate name of Harry’s corner, since we buried our cat Harris there recently. He had a very quick illness, not we believe related to his ear condition, some sort of thrombosis that caused paralysis of the back legs. He died probably of heart failure at the vets a day later. Apparently it is often misdiagnosed in towns as traffic accidents, since the cats one minute are fine and the next are dragging their rear legs. Anyway, now Harris has a hazel tree on his grave.
I have also started making holes along the main trackway. I noticed the piles of cut grass that still were sitting along the track sides from last year, and it occurred to me that if I planted more berry bushes along there I could just rake up the grass and mulch them, rather than carting the grass to mulch somewhere else. I’ve got some gooseberry and black currant cuttings that can be relocated, or I can strike some new ones this year still.
I received the seeds from the HPS seed scheme, and some from the Agroforestry Research Trust at the end of February, and organised them: ones to sow in spring, ones to sow straight away and ones that needed some stratification. So some have been put away, some sown in pots outside or in the polytunnel and some have been placed in bags with damp tissue in the fridge to get a chilling. Probably these could also have been sown outside mind you, since it is almost the same temperature out there as in the fridge! Already some of my apple seeds have germinated in the fridge: saved from some UK grown russets and rather delicious cooking apples grown near Carlisle. I’ll have to transfer those seeds from the fridge to pots outside as soon as possible to give them proper growing conditions. I also noticed that some damson seeds I sowed from fruit eighteen months ago are now germinating in the polytunnel. Although another job not finished, it’s nice to make a start on growing trees that may produce fruit for us in ten years or so!
I indulgently bought myself some plants that were not on my essentials list this year. I found on ebay a seller of different Yacon varieties, who also had a different Mashua and Colocasia edulis as well as Apios americana and different tigernuts. Well it seemed worth getting a few if I was going to get any! They seem nice little tubers anyhow. I have potted them all up in the polytunnel for the moment (except the tigernut which will want warmer conditions), and have also replanted a number of the Yacons I grew myself last year in one of the polytunnel beds.
Unfortunately I’ve lost quite a few of my oca tubers to mice! They had been sitting in a basket on the sittingroom windowsill, and I noticed this week the basket was somewhat emptier than it had been last time I looked. Underneath the basket was a pile of tuber shavings! I guess they liked the juiciness of the tubers, since they don’t seem to have eaten that much, just chewed them all up. Some of the tubers were probably as big as the mice! Luckily they didn’t find the different coloured tubers in their bags, so I quickly have planted four tubers to a pot in the polytunnel. I selected four large and four small of the red tubers from Frances to see if that makes any difference to the plant yield. It may take more than one generation to see a difference, if any, from selecting for tuber size.
I have also been digging up the kiwi vine: another nice indoor job, of which more later. It will also soon be time to start sowing tomato and pepper seeds. I think I have some seed compost left, but I am out of the multipurpose compost and will have to get some more for planting out seedlings and potting on. Another trip to Portree looms I guess.
For my birthday S. bought me a rechargeable reciprocating saw. I am hoping that it will be robust enough to use for most of the coppicing work. A chainsaw would be a little daunting, and using a hand saw is slow work! It has been too windy to think about cutting trees down (although it will soon be too late as the trees start to grow!), but I have christened the saw by cutting up the pile of coppiced trunks that were cut last year and have been drying up by the house. I’m pretty pleased with it. The battery pack it takes is the same as S’s tools he used on the cars, so that should be convenient. It did seem to chew through the reserves when I used it, although that was probably more intensive work than the more thoughtful process of cutting trees down.
On another happy note, my windowsill orchid seems to have enjoyed it’s holiday outside last year so much that it has put up the first flower spike in ten years! It did try when we first moved up here, but unfortunately I didn’t realise there was a flower spike, divided the plant and the flowers all dropped off. This time it seem quite content to look out the window. I must remember to holiday it outside again during the summers – it definitely looked greener and plumper than before.
As the new year started I felt it was time to dig up the Yacon tubers. We still have not had another bout of hard frost and the weather continues damp and windy for the forseeable future. They will not grow any more in the ground however, and I’m wanting to tidy things up in the polytunnel and work out where things want to go next year.
I knew that the upper plants in the polytunnel seem to have done much better than those planted later, but I was still astounded by the difference this appears to have made. The early ones were planted on 26th March and the later ones on the 10th of June, having been in pots of compost until then. Both were treated the same once planted and had the same watering and feed (a bit of dilute urine occasionally).
The early ones grew much bigger above the ground, with the plants reaching higher than me – to 6 feet or so. The later ones lagged behind, with the ones in the tunnel reaching about 4 feet, and the ones outside less than one foot. The outside ones also suffered from wind burn and slug damage.
November was quite cold, with the frost starting to damage the foliage, especially of the outside plants. By the end of December even the plants in the tunnel were blackened, with the stems pretty dead, although the crown of the plants showed pink still with life.
To recap last year, I was pretty pleased with an average of about 8 ounces from 4 plants in the tunnel. Those had overwintered in the tunnel, but had no additional food, and the watering probably was less consistent. I also thought that they needed a bit more light, since the one closest to the overhanging mashua etc. was considerably smaller.
This year all the plants were harvested on 19th January. The ones outside had very poor tubers. Although the early summer was quite good, by the time I planted these out the best of the weather had gone, and the summer was typically cool for Skye. I think at least 4 plants disappeared completely, and another 8 had no tubers at all worth eating. Of the two plants I weighed, the tubers from one had two tubers at 3 ounces total, and the other one tuber at one ounce. To be fair, I did not expect these to do well, and I only planted them out because I did not know what else to do with the plants! I guess I need to be a bit more brutal and put excess plants in the compost. Let this be a lesson!
The late planted plants in the tunnel did pretty well with an average weight of just over 14 ounces – the best had 30 ounces so a bit better than last year. The real surprise was in the earlier planted plants. I couldn’t believe it when I dug the first plant – they actually looked like those you see on the internet and in books for Yacon tubers. Subsequent plants varied, but the average from these plants was over 96 ounces (2.74 kg). Some single tubers were over one pound in weight and almost the size of my forearm! The best plant had a yield of 159 ounces (4.5 kg).
I’m actually wondering what to do with this bounty! I think I may take some down to the shop for people to try. I’m also wondering whether they would dry well and make nice low calorie sweet snacks. I know you can make low calorie syrup, but I’m not sure whether to bother with that. So far I’ve just made a yacon and apple crumble which went down well. The tubers should store pretty well for a month or so – they may get a little sweeter with time, so there is no hurry to use them up straight away.
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!