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.

 

Not vine weevil actually

alder sawfly
Sawfly larvae on Alder leaf

As the leaves fill out and mature on the trees, the insect larvae get busy eating them.  Hopefully the birds are enjoying eating the larvae as well.  Otherwise we are going to have a problem with the alder sawfly in future years!  This is not it’s real name, but I see a lot of them on alder trees and have not noticed them elsewhere.  I first notice just a few holes in the leaves, and then the tiny dark coloured caterpillars can be seen at the leaf edges.  When bigger they are paler with dark spots.  When disturbed they rear up in an amusing manner.  I don’t know what the adult flies look like.

 

bug on flower
Bright bug

This picture looks really tropical, but the scale is really small.  This is an unknown bug on a knapweed flower.

vine weevil
weevil larvae

I have been worried ever since we started planting trees in the tree field about the number of what I thought were vine weevil grubs I was digging up.  These are little maggots with a brownish head.  Vine weevil are notorious amongst gardeners for destroying plants from the roots – particularly strawberries.  One interesting thing about vine weevils (maybe other weevils too?) is that females can reproduce parthenogenically (they don’t need a male).

not vine weevil
Not vine weevil

However this year I spotted these beetles on some of the trees (mostly willows).  They were obviously weevils, but didn’t look like vine weevils – they are smaller and have a smoother back without the bronze speckles that vine weevils have.  I was surprised when I tried to find out what they were, how many different sorts of weevil there actually are in the UK (see here).  So I’m not sure exactly which these are – but I’m happier that I don’t have widespread wine weevils all over the holding.  I know I have them up by the house, but so far they don’t seem to cause too much damage.  Maybe the ground beetles keep the population under control; I have seen a black beetle happily eating an adult vine weevil in the polytunnel so I know they will take a few at least!

bonking beetles

I’ll just share this photo of red soldier beetles, if only because of their common name of hogweed bonking beetles.  They were happy (!) on the hogweed flowers.

 

A glut of Gooseberries

This year has been really successful for soft fruit.  Despite that frosty spell we had in May all the soft fruit seems to have done really well.  This is partly because the fruit bushes are starting to get more mature.  Larger bushes = more fruit.

The first lot of raspberries in the fruit garden, which I’m starting to call the fruit jungle, were ripening over a week ago.  They took me by surprise when I went to put some weeds on the compost heap in there.  I have picked two batches of raspberries.  On the 14th July, picking all the ripe fruit in the fruit jungle and the front garden, I picked 10oz of good quality raspberries and 2lb 4oz of less cosmetically perfect fruit for jam.  Three days later on the 17th July again I picked all the ripe raspberry fruit, achieving 6oz perfect fruit, and 2lb 3oz jamming fruit.  A small punnet of redcurrants from the tea garden, cooked separately and sieved into the raspberry pulp, gave a soft but satisfactory set to the raspberry jam.  Raspberries are rather low in pectin, so they need more adding to get a good set.  I have used apples in the past, but it is quite satisfying to use my own fruit.  Raspberry jam is one of my favourites, but two batches would see us through the year nicely.  Unfortunately rather a lot of the jar lids have not sealed properly, so the jam will have to be eaten sooner rather than stored.  This means I may have to make another batch of jam so that we have enough to last.

raspberries in fruit jungle
Raspberries in fruit jungle

I have several other raspberries varieties which are still establishing – Glen Prosen in the dog resistant garden, Malling Jewel and Autumn Bliss in the tea garden. and an unknown from AC on the hump overlooking the orchard and leach field.  I am also thinking that the leach field may be a good place to plant another patch of raspberries.  They are shallow rooting, and the spot is very sheltered in between the hump and the orchard.

gooseberries 2019
Bumper Gooseberries

The gooseberries have had the best crop this year that I have ever seen.  From the three bushes in the dog resistant garden I picked 4 1/2 lb, 5lb 4oz, and 2 1/2 lb.  Some of the fruit was a little hard still, but some had already fallen from the bushes as overripe.  This variety is Invicta, which is supposed to be more mildew resistant.  I don’t know about that.  The bush is not too prickly, and the fruit is pale green, large and slightly hairy, going very slightly on the pink side of yellow when super ripe.  It is sweet enough to eat straight from the bush when really ripe.  I picked them all over – topping and tailing them with my fingers, and selecting the larger, nicer looking fruit to sell.  The rest I bagged up and put in the freezer in the short term.  I’m hoping to make chutney  with those.  Locally not everyone has done so well, with problems such as mildew and sawfly really affecting crops, so I feel very lucky this year.

There are two more Invicta gooseberry bushes in the fruit jungle, only one of which is fruiting well.  These still want a bit more ripening, which is odd, since I thought they get more sun there than in the dog resistant garden.  I have a different variety, Pax, in the tea garden.  It is a red variety, but suffered from wind there, is rather lop sided, and does not have enough growth yet to produce a good crop.

redcurrant 2019
Redcurrant Cherry

There are still more redcurrants ripening on the bush that I was picking in the tea garden, as well as on an adjacent bush which has fruit that are just starting to turn colour. I may puree and freeze some to use as pectin additive, and I quite fancy some redcurrant jelly as well.  I think the one I have been picking is Cherry and the one yet to ripen is Rovada.  The varieties were selected to give a spread in the harvest.

blackcurrant and parseley
The main Ben Sarek bushes with accompanying parseley

The blackcurrants I finally got round to picking this week.  I now officially have more blackcurrants than I use myself.  I picked about 9 lb of my Ben Sarek blackcurrants this week when the weather was lovely and warm (we never got the horrid hot weather they had further south – just low 20s with a nice breeze).  There would have been far more to pick, but I left it rather late, so many had fallen off the bushes or gone soft.  The main crop is in the fruit jungle, however I have been planting cuttings in the orchard and further down the tree field, and some of these are now also starting to fruit well.  The other varieties in the tea garden (Ben Gairn and Byelorussian Sweet) are also ripe, so could do with picking now too.

blackcurrant in tree field

Blackcurrant planted in tree field (recently mulched)

 

Butterflies and bugs

female small blue
Common blue butterfly female

It seems to have been a slightly better year for butterflies and moths this year.  I have seen more that I remember in previous years, or maybe I’m just able to be out in the sun at the right time.  As well as male common blue butterflies I saw a female this week.  Confusingly her colouring is much more multicoloured than the male, and I thought she was a different species until I looked her up.

heather bank
Heather bank in gully field

For the last few weeks I have noticed small black and red moths perched at the top of the gully bank in the sunshine.  Taking a closer look at this one the wings seemed quite transparent.  I think they are six spot burnet moths.

six spot burnet moth drying
six spot burnet

A bit further down the bank on the heather bush I found this cocoon, so I think these are new moths just hatching and puffing up their wings (I’m sure there is a proper name for that process!).  Apparently the caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil, which I have fairly widespread over the holding, particularly where the grass is slightly shorter and the soil shallower.

six spot burnet moth cocoon
Cocoon in heather

I was pleased to get this photo of this chimney sweeper moth.  They are always quite a number of them at this time of year in the grass, but they are easily disturbed and, being small and dark, slightly difficult to focus on.  You can see how they come by their name – like flecks of burnt paper blowing about the grass!  The tips of the wings are rimmed with white, but the rest of the insect is sooty black.  The caterpillars feed on pignut flowers and seeds – so there is certainly plenty of that for them!

chimney sweeper
Chimney sweeper moth

This caterpillar I was also very happy to see.  Especially so when I looked it up.  It is the caterpillar of the emporer moth.  Which is a rather impressive moth with big eyespots on the wings.  The moths are usually about in April, but I’ve only seen an adult once or twice previously.  At least this caterpillar proves that there are still some adults about.  The caterpillars feed on heather, bramble, hawthorne as well as several other trees so should have plenty of menu options here.

emporer moth caterpillar
Emporer moth caterpilar

 

Finally a little show of some of the the other moths, butterflies and caterpillars recently seen, that I’ve been able to photograph and tentatively identify.  None are particularly rare, but each is a bit of magic.

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Midsummer grass

We go through a period at midsummer where the spring flower start to fade and the late summer flowers are yet in bud.  The grass is overtall and swamps the smallest trees sometimes smothering them out.  We were too busy with construction projects to keep a path mown through the trackways recently.  Last week, after the damp grass made my feet so wet that I was able to wring water out of my socks even in wellies, I had to do some mowing!

cut just before the rain
The mist came down again after mowing.

 

We had a dry spell Sunday and Monday so S. made a start before lunch and I carried on on Tuesday and was able to put a single mower track down the middle of most of the rides and backways.  I made a new backway that I call the white orchid path, which matches up with one S. made to cut down from the middle to the pond area from near the royal oaks.  There is only one white orchid there, which I noticed for the first time two years ago.  It was quite a distance from the trackway, so it is nice to be able to take a closer look.  It’s just a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) I think, but it’s more unusual for them to be white rather than pink.

white orchid path
White Orchid path

The dogs are very good about machinery, they know to trot behind, or do their own thing, however when it comes to raking up the cut grass Dyson is a bit of a pain.  His game is to try and catch the rake head (or broom or vacuum nozzle)  which makes the job about twice as long!  I ended up putting them in for an afternoon nap, so I could get on more quickly.  I hate all that mulch material going to waste rotting on the path and killing grass where I don’t want it killed.  I have been raking it up into piles, then the dogs can help (they think they are helping) piling it around some of the newer or more vulnerable trees and shrubs.  I’ve still got quite a bit to do, and two or three smaller paths haven’t been mown yet.

danish elder
New Elder tree from Denmark, uncovered but not yet mulched.
mulching trees
Mulched chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa)

It was nice to see several mushrooms, a sign of the fungal mycelium below which distributs nutrients around the field.  I guess they will be changing from grass and orchid loving fungi to tree loving fungi, but there is still quite a amount of open space from one cause or another.  I also saw several butterflies, caterpillars, a dragonfly and a frog.  The advantage of the scythemower is that, as well as coping with overtall grass, it is less likely to kill wildlife, since it cuts in one direction rather than circularly.

fungi flower
Fruiting fungi

I think I’m going to have to assume that this wild cherry (below) is not going to recover.  It got hit by late frosts, which are pretty unusual here, just as the buds were unfurling.  I did think it would stage a comeback, but it doesn’t look like it now.  There are several suckers from adjacent trees, at least one coming up in the trackway, so I could transplant one of these to replace it.  Alternatively, I could put something else there.

dead cherry
Dead cherry
enjoying trackway
The dogs love a free run

Tidying up the Tomatoes

I can’t convince myself there are tomato fruit yet, however the tomato plants are flowering well.  Since I hadn’t supported them, one or two had fallen over.  Usually I use a length of string to the crop bars in the polytunnel, but this time I pulled out my lovely spiral plant supports and used those for three of the plants.  These supports were a present a (cough) number of years ago and although lovely, I could never justify buying any more.  You simply put the plant up the middle, and guide it into the spiral as it grows taller.  For the other tomato plants I used the old washing line that snapped earlier this year.  It is plastic wrapped, so should be soft enough on the plants’ stalks, and may last a few years yet.

tomato spirals
Tomato spiral supports

I’m pretty happy with the tomato plants.  They look nice and healthy so far, with plenty of flowers developing.  Maybe I’m starting to get the hang of growing them!  I think some are getting a bit shaded by the kiwi and the artichoke, so I cut the artichoke back to remove all the flowering stalks to give the tomatoes a bit more space, and pinched out a few more of the vigorous kiwi shoots.

I also had a tidy round the bed opposite one lot of the asparagus.  There was a quite a bit of perpetual spinach going to seed there, so I cut back all but one of the plants.  The hoverflies love the flowers.  Although they are not showy – just green, they have a lovely fragrance.  I noticed another physalis goldenberry plant in the bed there. It had been completely hidden in the undergrowth.  Not as big as the other physalis plant (which has a flower open!) it seems to have been nibbled a bit at the base, so maybe this is regrowth.

Whilst I was there, I saw a solitary yellow bee happy at work on the milk vetch flowers.  She would pull the lower lip down, suck out the nectar and move on to the next flower, until she had done the whole flowerhead.  I planted the milk vetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos) to create a nitrogen fixing ground cover around the asparagus, and some of the other perennial plants in the polytunnel.  It tends to want to climb in a scrambling sort of way, so I should probably have pinched out the growing tips to make it more bushy.  The flowers again aren’t that special, being a pale yellowish green, but obviously appreciated by the bees!  I may try and save some seed again this year.  If it will grow as well outside as in the tunnel, it would be nice bulky legume for covering the soil in the summer.  It does die down in winter however.

milk vetch apricot and peas
milk vetch flowers, apricot new growth and peas!

The bramble is trying a flanking movement and has sent out a couple of long shoots down the side of the tunnel.  It doesn’t seem to fruiting so well this year, so I wonder whether it would be worth re-routing one of these branches to replace the main stem again.  The pruning guides all suggest renewing the stem every year, which I generally don’t bother with.  I’ve done it once before, when I accidentally cut through the main stem whilst pruning out new shoots.  It’s still a bit early to really tell what the crop will be like, although I have noticed at least one ripe fruit.  Perhaps I’ll keep one of the new stems for the time being and assess the yield later.

I’ve lost one of my apricot fruit but the other is hanging on still.  It is slightly paler in colour now, but I’m trying to resist touching it in case it also falls off.  I know I’m pushing it a bit having apricots this far north, but I did read about monks in Orkney that have apricots in their polytunnel, so I’m not alone in my optimism!

I have several sorts of curcubit in the polytunnel.  There were three courgettes (just using up old seed) two long and one round one.  I’ve lost the single ‘black beauty’ courgette that I planted out – I think Lou-Lou made a bed with it!  The others all look like they are doing fine.  One of the ‘Tondo de picenze’ plants already has a female flower developing which is nice – usually the first flowers are all male.  These are round courgettes; hopefully it will set.  The sharks fin melon are also looking OK; maybe a bit weedy but it is early days yet – they are starting to show signs of wanting to climb.  I couldn’t find the labels for the pumpkin nuts (a hull-less pumpkin for seed), so am not sure where that is!  Around the courgettes there is a nice groundcover of baby kale, chickweed and leef beet.  It doesn’t seem to be doing any harm yet, but I can pull a bit out around the plants and either eat, or use the weedings as mulch.

curcubits
Courgette Tondo di picenze on left, all green bush on right. Sharks fin melon at back

I am worried about my cucumbers though.  I haven’t tried growing them for a few years; although small ones would be useful to sell in the shop, we don’t really eat them ourselves.  These were cucumber ‘Tamra’ from real seed, and I don’t think they have put on much growth at all since being planted out.  I’m wondering at the moment if they are more susceptible to the dreaded spider mite.  I know I have this in the tunnel – It was particularly a problem in the early years, attacking the grape vine, courgettes and aubergine plants.  I don’t bother  with aubergines any more (although never say never!).  It may be that it has just been a bit cold for cucumbers.  I think they prefer it a little warmer, and we’ve not had much sun this week, and only a couple of warm days last week too.

cucumber
rather sorry cucumber (courgette leaf on right)

 

In praise of small flowers

I’ve not done much around the holding this week because Douglas, our dog, is recuperating from an operation.  This means I am spending much of my time in the house keeping him company, since he mustn’t do any running or jumping at present.  Hopefully he will make a good recovery, but at the moment has some healing to do.

small flowers
Dyson on trackway: upper loop

I have been taking our other dog, Dyson, out for intensive runs in the tree field to make up.  The summer orchids are starting again to show their impressive flowerheads, and I am marking the ones near or on the trackways with sticks, to try and avoid them being trodden on or mown.  However, this post I wanted to highlight some of the little, less showy wild flowers that tend to get forgotten about.  Individually the flowers may be small, but often they flower prolifically and make the trackways look like a medieval garden lawn.  Not all of these photos were taken this week.

showy orchids
Showy wild orchids

The obvious one is the pignut, but that almost qualifies as a large flower, albeit made up of tiny ones, but I have posted about it before.  Another that gives most of the field a golden brightness is the buttercup.  I have both creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), and meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), in the tree field.

sunny buttercups
Fields of gold

I may have the third UK buttercup, globe buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), since it does grow on Skye, but I have not identified it here yet.  When the sun catches the buttercup flowers they are a delight, even if the creeping buttercup is probably my most annoying weed in the areas I am trying to grow things.  Mostly because its leaves come away from the roots, which will then regrow.  The fact it can spread about 4 feet a year is also a nuisance for a rather laid back gardener like me.

creeping buttercup
Creeping buttercup surviving mulching and spreading quickly

I would include white clover (Trifolium repens), in the small flowers category.  The pink clovers quite often have such flamboyant flowers that they stand out alone.  White clover tends to be a bit smaller and lower lying, although forms large swathes of blooms on the trackways.  It is a food source for the common blue butterfly as well as a nitrogen fixing plant.

selfheal and clover
Selfheal and white clover

Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is rather like a tiny purple deadnettle.  Sometimes you can see the bright purple of the flowers, and sometimes just the magenta flowerheads.  I found one on the mound that had white flowers, but have not seen it since the first year of sheep eviction.

speedwell
Speedwell with some colour variation

One of my favourite flowers, speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), is definitely a small flower.  I love the colour, an enhancement of the sky above (if not clouded!).  Every now and then I come across a good clump of it and it brightens my day.  It is a food source for heath fritillary butterflies.  Although the flowers are tiny, the colour is so vibrant it is difficult to miss.  They also change colour from pink to blue, as they age, which I find fascinating.

eyebright path
Eyebright growing along compacted path in gully field

When looked at in detail the flowers of eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis agg) are just a beautiful as any orchid.  Pale pink snapdragon flowers have a yellow landing strip for insects but are only a few millimeters across.  They also only open one or two at a time on the flowerheads.  Unfortunately being so small they are easily overlooked, like those of mouse ear (Cerastium fontanum).

tormentil groundcover
Tormentil competing well with grass

One of the things I like about writing up my ‘blogs is that I almost always learn something by researching what I wanted to write about.  For example another plant disliked by gardeners is cinquefoil.  It was quite a nuisance weed for us on the allotment in Solihull, but didn’t seem to be such a pest for me here.  The reason being the Potentilla we have here is tormentil: Potentilla erecta, as opposed to cinquefoil which is Potentilla reptans.  Tormentil flowers usually have four petals (rather than five for cinquefoil) and the leaves are usually stalkless unlike cinquefoils leaves.  There is quite a bit of this growing in the tree field.  It is actually out-competing the grass in some of the areas where the soil is thinner.

Lastly for now I will mention thyme (Thymus polytrichus).  A bit like heather it is ubiquitous in the highlands and I am always breaking out into ‘wild mountain thyme’ when the sun shines!  Here it grows across the rocks and scree, and I am hoping it will take on my drivebank wall with some encouragement.  It makes a great cushion of purple and often is found on the banks of the burn together with heath bedstraw, a tiny cousin of cleavers that forms a cushion of white.

thyme and heath bedstraw
Thyme and heath bedstraw