One thing after another!

green path
Green path

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

polytunnel hole
Excessive ventilation in Polytunnel

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

strapped down
Limiting the damage

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

ripe enough
Ripe enough!

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

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

cooking juice
At start of heating

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

black death
Not pekmezi

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

So, not the best of week all in all!

 

 

Autumn

sunshine and showers
Sunshine and showers

Well after a rather wet August, late September was not been too bad weather wise, although October is shaping up to be a bit windy (more on that in a later post!).  We tried to get a final cut of the pathways done, but haven’t cracked the timing.  With the wet mild weather in August the grass had grown long and lush.  Strong winds with rain had led to the grass falling over making it very difficult to cut, even after a couple of days hot and dry.  S. managed to go round the main trackway with the scythe mower, but with a rather poor result.  Some of this was possibly due to a lack of sharpness on the blades, which has now been addressed, but we think that leaving the cut till this late in the season is just not practical.  I guess if the weather had been better we may have been able to cut earlier, but still after the yellow rattle is ripe, however it often is wet at this time of year.

raking out
Raking up

What took S. half a day to cut has taken me about 5 times as long to rake up, and I still haven’t finished!  It is pretty hard work untangling the cut grass from the uncut turf whilst you have a dog trying to catch the rake head!  I have to take a fetch toy as well, but Dyson gets tired and would rather have more direct participation!  Once I have cleared the cut grass away, I can sow the collected yellow rattle seed.  As I tried to explain above, I don’t know whether we will succeed in creating the right rhythm for the plant, which needs clear soil to grow anew each year.  I don’t know whether we will be able to leave it long enough to ripen seeds, as we could do with cutting the grass before it gets too long.

sprouting hazel stick
Sprouting hazel stick (new spruce on right)

I’m planning on taking the cut grass and using it to mulch the trees in the area of the field where they are doing less well, particularly the new trees that I planted this spring.  I used fresh cut hazel twigs from my new hazels to mark the tiny new trees so that I could find them again in the long grass.  Recently I have been surprised to see that some of the hazel twigs started to sprout!  I don’t know whether they have actually formed roots or not.  Often it takes a while for the twigs to realise that they are dead, so they may just be zombies.  In the spring I will need to transplant some of the spruce, where two seedlings have survived in a single plant hole, so I will dig up the hazel twigs then as well.  Thinking about it, I will need to identify the ones that are sprouting now, since they will be leafless still in early spring, I’ll tie a bit of wool around the sprouting ones this week.

fallen leaves
Fallen Alder leaves

The turning of year shows in the drawing in of the evenings (and the later mornings).  Leaf fall gathers under the trees even though only the wych elm are practically leafless.  These leaves represent the carbon and nitrogen made solid by the trees, building soil and trapping carbon.  Autumn colours show briefly before being torn away by the wind.

fleeting gold
Fleeting Autumn

 

 

Marsh Woundwort is good to eat

MARSH WOUNDWORT FLOWER
Marsh Woundwort flower

This is the most peculiar thing.  I can’t remember where I got the idea that marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) was an interesting edible weed.  I think I came across it in an ‘Agroforestry News’ article from ART in 2017, and I certainly got a plant from them subsequently which confirmed that indeed I already had this plant growing wild on the holding.  I have just checked my books and none of them seem to mention marsh woundwort as a worthwhile edible, but I really rate it highly now I have tried it.  It is not in the weed bible: “food for free” by Richard Mabey, or “growing unusual edibles” by Simon Hickmott.  It is not even in the “Plants for a Future” book by Ken Fern, which I have found so much inspiration in, although it is in his database now, with an edible rating of three out of five.  Here is quite a comprehensive article I found about it.  It is the roots that are mainly eaten, although apparently the young shoots can also be eaten.  I have not tried these.

It is a plant that likes damp soil and seems to thrive here now that it is free to sprawl across the tree field.  There are several areas where the thin nettle-like leaves and spotted pink flowers cover several square metres of the field.  It doesn’t smother the grass out, but grows amongst it quite happily.  But it is underground that the treasure lies.  Marsh woundwort spreads with underground runners, and it is these that are the parts to harvest.

marsh woundwort patch
Spreading marsh woundwort patch

According to the Fern’s database the tubers grow better in damp soil.  I had tried growing it in the polytunnel pond, but it is not a plant that likes to be confined to a pot.  The roots were all twisted round at the bottom of the pot and there was not really enough to have a reasonable portion.  The offsets I planted in the gully field don’t seem to have come back this year either, but as I said, I have a few large patches down in the tree field, so I decided this week to dig up an area to try them.  In the middle of the patch a turf one spade wide and two long was enough to provide enough roots for a couple of portions.  I did try a bit raw, but it wasn’t that great.  Tasting like mild raw potato perhaps?  Cooked however, they are very pleasant, with a sweet artichoke flavour.  I just boiled them for about 10 minutes.  S. also says “they weren’t too bad at all” so I think he would be happy to eat them again!

digging roots
Digging the roots

The Latin name: Stachys palustris, gives away the close relationship of marsh woundwort to another, still unusual, but more widely recognised edible: Stachys affinis, crosnes or chinese artichoke.  I have tried to grow this once with no success: the tubers just disappeared in the predecessor to the fruit garden.  I suspect that slugs ate them, but can’t be sure.  Crosnes’ tubers are thicker and segmented, whereas the marsh woundwort tubers are longer, thinner, but smooth, so easier to clean of dirt before eating.  The woundwort tubers I dug were about 7-9 mm (1/3 in) at the widest, but they don’t need peeling, since the skins are quite smooth.

washed and ready to cook
Ready to cook

I cut them down to a couple of inch long segments for cooking, but they were originally limited in length mainly to where the spade had cut them in the turf.  Where I dug these plants isn’t the dampest place in the tree field (which is down by the pond probably), but there are a fair amount of reeds growing there, so it is certainly not the driest.  It also grows on the riverbank where the soil is pretty dry, although I don’t know what the tubers are like there.

The only disadvantage I can see is that the tubers need to be dug up.  Therefore as the trees grow, their roots may be damaged by digging up the tubers.  Also it’s a bit of faff needing a spade, rather than just gathering leaves above ground.  I may spread some of the plants to near the pond area.  The soil there is really wet rather than just damp, so it will be interesting to see how well the tubers grow there.  It seems that marsh woundwort will stand some shade as well as sun, so should continue to do well as the trees develop.

An ill wind (off topic)

dougies grave
Dougie’s grave site

Well, we have a sad reason to plant a new tree now.  Our dog Douglas went downhill very quickly (he was diagnosed with lymphatic sarcoma about two months ago), and we asked the vet to put him down last Wednesday.  He is buried next to the pond he loved and has left a big dog sized hole in our lives.

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The soil there is pretty wet most of the time, so a willow or alder look the best contenders, although it is pretty sheltered, so there may be some other options.  Dyson seems to be taking it well and is now able to enjoy his soft toys without Douglas taking them off him and ripping the stuffing out.

dyson and piglet
Dyson and Piglet

New plant time

repotted pots
Some of the repotted plants

This week I chose to spend a few hours in the polytunnel tidying up and sorting out some of the various pots and trays that I have been attempting to grow new plants in this year.  I bought three bags of compost in Portree at Skyeshrubs last week, together with three plants, and the compost is already more than half gone!  I have potted on lots of the plants and seedlings that have been languishing outside the polytunnel for most of the summer.  Some of them were rather pot bound, including the remaining honeyberry that never made it to the orchard (I took some cuttings of this when repotting).  Some actually looked as if they had plenty of room, but will probably benefit from fresh compost anyhow.  Some are showing no signs of life in the pots other than the usual weed plants, which include lots of what I believe to be willow seedlings.  I think I’ve lost the wild garlic that came free with one of my plants bought earlier this year – there seemed to be nothing in the pot when I inspected it.  I’m not too worried about that, since it would be pretty easy to get hold of if I choose to introduce it.

house plants
Money tree, Chillean myrtle and Sechuan pepper

I also potted on my window sill plants: not the orchid (which is fine), or the christmas cactus (which I made a branched log pot for earlier in the summer), but the money plant (which I don’t know the proper name of) and the cuttings of Sechuan pepper and Chillean myrtle.  The money plant actually only seemed to have been using the top half of its pot despite being quite a large plant.  The cuttings have rooted very well, but I’m intending to overwinter them indoors to try and give them a good start.

 

road phormium #2
New Zealand flax newly planted by road

The first of the new plants I bought in Portree is a Phormium tenax: Maori queen, which is a lovely striped pink New Zealand flax plant.  It will grow to about 5ft high and wide, which is maybe a bit big, but the lovely thing about these plants, as Martin Crawford demonstrated in his forest garden, is that the leaves can be cut and split to make handy biodegradable garden twine.  I’ve planted the main plant up by the road, where it should make good ornamental screening.  Phormium are supposed to be pretty wind and water resistant so I think it’ll do OK there.  You can also see the good growth and flowers of the white fuchsia that I moved to the roadside earlier in the summer.  As I expected, it has settled in there pretty well.  I chose a flax plant that had several offsets growing in the same pot, so now have another 5 baby plants for free!  These I will leave in the polytunnel for the moment until they have established roots in the pots, then I think I’ll put about three more on the road bank to the north side of the house.

mrs popple
Mrs Popple flower

The second plant is a Fuchsia: Mrs Popple.  I wasn’t going to get another Fuchsia, but this one looks really strong, with large bicoloured pink flowers and (the real selling point for me!) large fairly sweet berries.  They are perhaps slightly insipid, not so peppery in flavour as my thin flowered plants’, but quite pleasant.  I have planted this plant in the front garden near the failed mangetout peas and had to pull out several raspberries to make room for it.  It is a little bit shady for it there perhaps, but it is reasonably sheltered which is probably at least as important.  It is also quite near my established white and  dark pink Fuchsias.  After planting I cut back some of the non flowering shoots and made several of them into cuttings, so hopefully again I will have several plants for my money.  While I was at it I took some cuttings of my murtilo (Myrtus ugni) which is flowering well at the moment.  I’d like to put some on the drivebank, since I think a bit more heat may be required to get the fruit to ripen here for me.

buy one get four free
Buy one get five free!

The third plant is a blueberry: Vaccinium floribundum, also known as mortiño or Andean blueberry, you can see it in the top photo next to the shelves.  Having since looked it up I am pretty happy that I bought this.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was when I saw it, but again I thought what a healthy looking plant it was –  and you can’t go wrong with a blueberry can you?  Although the fruit should be black or red on this variety not blue!  I need to have a think about where to plant this.  It is slightly tender, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here (they wouldn’t sell it at Skyeshrubs if they thought it was too tender for the island), but it will fruit better with a bit of sun.  I’m wondering if I can find a spot for it in the pallet garden, although it is so pretty, it is worth a place in the front garden: maybe near the front path near the snowbell tree (which seems to have survived this time – the first one I planted didn’t survive its first winter).  I will have to clear a space for it in the grass though!  I’ll try and take some cuttings from this plant, but it looks like these are less likely to take.  They apparently are more difficult to propagate.

Now I’m in the mood to plan my planting for next year.  I have already ordered some more Gevuina avellana seed (eventually found with an US ebay seller) and excitingly both japanese and chillean plum yew, which I’ll post a bit more about another time.  I’ve got a little spreadsheet of plants and potential sourcing that I try and stick to, but inevitably some extra exciting plants get bought that aren’t on the list!

log ends
Mycelium covered logs

Remember the mushroom logs I made back in March?  Well so did I this week.  I checked on them as I was passing the trailer on the way to get wood in from the woodshed.  Peeling back the rubber mats covering them, I found that the ends of the logs were all covered nicely in mycelium.  I am hopeful  therefore that the logs are now ready to start fruiting.  It was quite warm in the early part of the summer, and cool latterly but the location I chose seems to have protected the logs suitably.  The instructions say to put them somewhere shady now and they should start fruiting.  I have leant them against the north end of the workshop behind the Hablizia trellis, where I found (to yet more excitement!) that the Hablitzia has set seed.  The only odd thing is that the logs still haven’t realised they’re dead; as well as patches of mycelium on the trunks, all the logs had little twig shoots.  I’ll try and remember to check them more often now for mushrooms forming, so watch this space!

log park
Happy Habby bed (with logs)

Achocha explosion

south america
South America makes a bid for Skye takeover

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.

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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.

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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.

x super sweet 100
Super Sweet 100 tomato stating to ripen

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.

asapragus and millefleur
Millefleur tomato truss with asparagus

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.

marrow
Marrow

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!

grape lineup
Nice line up on Boskoop glory grape vine

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.

mess while pruning
Some of the debris after cutting back kiwi and bramble

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.

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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.

 

Podding along

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!).

tea garden extension 2019
Tea garden aka pallet garden

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.

wigwam
Mangetout wigwam 2 months after sowing

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.

carlin peas over pallet
Carlin peas cropping well early August

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…

windswept peas
Trial Oca under peas with kale

 

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!

skirret and artichoke
Skirret flowers (and jerusalem artichoke)

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.

yacon slug eaten
Slug eaten Yacon

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!

strawberry explosion
Strawberry explosion

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.

borage
Borage flowers

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.

wheat
Wheat ripening

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?

 

Summer rain

august view
Late Summer View

As is typical at this time of year, we are getting rather more rain and less sunshine.  Whenever we get a still day the midges make life a misery outside, so you either need a good midge repellent, keep all skin covered, or keep running!  I’m using ‘midge magic‘ at the moment which seems as good as any anti midge I’ve tried.  Last week was a bit windy, gusting to about 45mph or so.  The alder tree branches are very brittle, and quite a few have top branches partially or completely broken off.  I have also pruned a few more of the branches lower down to make the back pathways more passable in the wet.

broken branches
Broken branches

The coming of heavier rain last week also filled the pond back up with water.  It has been much emptier this year than last, although I didn’t think it had been very dry.  Douglas still likes to paddle in the puddle left when it is low, but to be frank he gets a bit stinky in the mud!  The river in spate has a lovely golden colour as it goes over the stones at the rapids, and is inky black with peat in the still deeps.  When the river is low it has almost no colour and is crystal clear.

peaty water
Amber river waters (and Dyson)

We’ve had more ‘free ranging’ sheep along the river banks this year, so there has not been so many wild flowers the other side of the fence.  The trees we cut back when they were felled by the floods have been browsed back as well, so there is still a good clearing letting in light.  There are some hazelnuts showing – usually in large clusters, but not so many as last year by far.

hazel nuts
Hazelnuts over inky water

The late summer flowers are making a show now, with meadowsweet, various vetches and knapweed the stars of the show.  Scabious and ling heather (calluna vulgaris) are also opening their flowers.  I have two of the three common forms of heather growing here: ling and bell heather (erica cincerea).  The bell heather is slightly earlier and the blooms are now fading, whilst the ling heather has paler flowers and is yet to reach its peak.  The third common heather, cross leaf heath, does grow up on the hills, but I’ve not see it on the holding.  It has fewer, larger and paler flowers.

bee on scabious
Bee on Scabious

There are more little hazel seedlings that I have noticed near the river in the tree field.  Some I can leave to grow where they are – they will probably be happiest not being disturbed.  Others, which are too close to the fence, other trees, or on the paths, I will try and remember to move this winter.  The trouble is they are much more difficult to find when they lose their leaves.  I should take down some sturdy long sticks and mark their places!  In the meantime, I try and clear the grass around them and mulch them with it, which makes them easier to find at the moment.

hazel seedling
Hazel seedling

I have pretty much cleared the bracken growing in the tree field.  There really wasn’t very much at all this year.  I should get out and pull the stems growing on the river bank as well, before it starts dying back too much.  The big builders bag of bracken that I pulled last year is still there down by the pond.  Unfortunately it is too heavy for me to move it.  I did think that as the bracken died down it would get lighter, but if it has it hasn’t made enough difference for me.  It is still not well rotted enough for compost, although would do as a surface mulch if I wanted.  I may wheel it up to the new blueberry patch when I get on with that.  Some nice light organic material will be just what the blueberries will like.

editing bracken
Editing Bracken

 

Grapes and Apricots

lush tunnel
Lush polytunnel growth

Well, the sad news is that the remaining apricot fruit didn’t make it to ripeness!  I think a drop of condensation landed on it and it started to rot during the warmer weather we had in early July.  It was definitely changing colour, but was still hard and (yes I did try it!) sour.  I’m pretty happy to have got fruit set in the first proper year of the tree and am learning more about how to prune it!  I have given it a rather more brutal late summer prune than I think will normally be required.  It has surprised me quite how vigorous the tree has been.  So much for dwarfing rootstock!  I wish the trees outside were as vigorous.  The shelter and extra warmth of the polytunnel will of course be contributing much to the lush growth.  I have taken one of the branches right back in the hope that the tree structure will improve, with more branching – I need to prune harder next time in the spring!

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I had my ‘champion of england’ peas from the HDRA growing up the apricot, they are starting to dry off nicely now, and an achocha vine is also making a tentative effort.  Those are generally doing better this year than I have achieved in previous years and have some fruit developing on the standard variety.  The large fruited achocha variety, with the pretty cannabis like leaves, is flowering, but I have not noticed any larger fruit yet.

The new grape vine Zalagyongye has a few nice bunches of grapes and Boskoop glory had lots of lovely bunches.  I think the kiwi vine is rather shading the grapevine, since most of the Boskoop grape bunches were either right at the start of the vine, or towards the far end, where there is less shade from the kiwi.  I know I should have thinned out the bunches earlier, but again we seem to have had a lovely dry summer, plus I was busy with the building work, so didn’t play in the tunnel so much.  The grapes within the bunches were also packed quite tight at that stage so it was awkward to get in there with the scissors to cut them out.  A little shuffling with my fingers was required to gain an angle of access.  I invested years ago in a special round ended short bladed pair of scissors, which minimise the damage to grapes that are left on the bunch.

grapes thinned
Grape bunches after thinning

I took quite a number of bunches out completely and have juiced them to make ‘verjus’.  At first I tried to use my hand juicer, which looks a bit like a plastic mincer.  Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the job.  I was afraid if I put any more force on the handle it would snap!  The pips were jamming it I think.  Instead I blasted the fruit in my food processor and then seived the puree.  Verjus or verjuice is a condiment used like vinegar or lemon juice.  I’m yet to experiment with it, but this recipe looks like a simple one to try.  At first the juice was cloudy, but it settled out after a day in the refrigerator, and I could pour off the clear juice from the top.  In an attempt to help it keep, I heated the juice to almost boiling, then poured it into sterilized bottles.

courgette fruit
Male (top left) and female (right) courgette flowers (tondo di picenze)

I have had a few fruit off the courgettes – I never get the gluts that other gardeners boast complain of.  They are still flowering happily however.  I probably don’t feed them enough.  The cucumbers have tiny female fruit that just seem to have been sitting there for weeks.  I don’t know if they have been fertilized, but they haven’t rotted away either.  I suspect one of the issues may be lack of light.  They are now almost completely swamped by the adjacent courgettes, but still seem to be fine otherwise.  I lose track on the pumpkin and sharks fin melon – there are certainly several vines creeping around and climbing with female flowers, but no significant swelling of fruit yet.  I live in hope!

millet
Foxtail millet and nastutium

The sweetcorn seem to have all disappeared – just a total washout there.  I have a single self seeded nastutium that is making a bid for world (or at least polytunnel) domination.  Unfortunately it is just a scarlet one, not the lovely tawny one that I had last year that I think it seeded from.  At the edges of what should have been the sweetcorn bed I planted out some foxtail millet (Setaria italica), which grew from HPS seed.  This is now showing tiny flowers, so that is exciting for me.  The fuchsia berry has grown quite lush, but is only now starting to flower.  I’m worried that the berries (if I get any) won’t have time to ripen before the frosts come, or the autumn damp rots them off.

goldenberry lanterns
Peruvian lanterns

The goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) has lots of tiny lanterns.  This page says to wait to harvest these till the fruit stem turns brown, which will be much later in the year.  I couldn’t find much else about growing it, but apparently the fruit is also effective in treating diabetes.  I found lots of recipes on goldenberry jam and using goldenberries – mostly dried.  I don’t expect I’ll get that many fruit.  I’m still not sure where the other physalis came from (near the asparagus)  I’m wondering if it could have been a seed that didn’t germinate that somehow got lost in the compost and redistributed.  The plant is much smaller, so I think it is a new season plant rather than one that overwintered.

tomato virus on right
X supersweet 100 on left, Stupice on right

Elsewhere in the polytunnel the tomatoes are doing mostly fine.  No sign of any ripe ones but plenty set on the supersweet 100 and little yellow multiflora.  I’m not happy with the stupice however.  That was new seed, but the plants are slightly strange with distorted leaves and few fruit set.  Looking this up I think it is tomato mosaic virus.  The RHS says that this can be transmitted through seed, and since this is the only variety affected I think that may be what has happened.  I’m a bit annoyed about that, since this may compromise my other tomatoes in the future.  I’m probably best off not saving seed at all this year.  As far as I can find out the only control is to pull as much of the affected plants out as possible, which i have now done.  A bit annoying to say the least when there are fruit on the vine!  Also annoying me is that I don’t seem to have noted where I got the seed from, despite trying to keep better records.  I’m pretty sure it was new seed this year, so I may have it noted in the paperwork somewhere!

tomato virus
Virus affected tomato?

An unexpected newcomer

yellow rattle close

Yellow rattle: flowers and ripe seedpods

I came across a clump of a really pleasing new plant recently: Rhinanthus minor or yellow rattle.  I sowed some near the orchard area, but none have appeared there.  These ones appeared right down by the river on the north corner of the tree field near near where I coppiced the alder earlier in the year.  There seems to be a number of plants judging by the size of the clump, so it may have been seeding around for a few years unnoticed.  It wasn’t the flowers I noticed first, but the seedheads, which are a line of small  inflated bladders.

yellow rattle clump
Yellow rattle clump

Yellow rattle is a annual plant, so needs to resow itself every year.  It is semi-parasitic on grasses and other plants.  By reducing the vigour of grasses it enables a wider range of meadow flowers to grow.  The historic practise of cutting hay for winter feed suits it’s lifecycle.  When the seed is ripe they rattle in the bladders in the wind and the farmers knew it was time to cut the hay.  The seeds readily fall out, or are added with the ripe hay as supplementary feed into other meadows.  They need to overwinter before germinating, but have a short viability, so need to grow and set seed successfully in order to propagate.  How they seem to have managed to survive in the sheep field previously I don’t know!

Since some of the seed is already ripe, I have been spreading it along the trackways a bit.  If we manage to cut the grass properly in the autumn, this will expose the soil a bit (which is important to enable successful growth).  We can cut just a strip of narrow path to walk along again next year and the rattle (hopefully) can grow in the rest of the trackway, set seed and be cut in autumn again.  I’ll save some seed to scatter after the grass is cut this year as well.

When I read up about yellow rattle I was excited by the possibility of it reducing the vigour of couchgrass, but unfortunately it doesn’t like couch grass or other very vigorous grasses which swamp it.  However it is a happy addition to the flora and hopefully will increase the diversity of wildflowers in the tree field further.