Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Purple sprouting broccoli

The Queen of winter vegetables, little can beat the sweet flavour of home grown purple sprouting. Unfortunately the deer appreciate the flavour as well and who can blame them with their dreary, sparse winter diet.

Last year I made the decision to grow the broccoli in the polytunnel to protect it. The major problem with growing it inside is that it is a large plant and takes some months to grow. Polytunnel space is limited and therefore the vegetable has to be worth it to make the list. Seeds are sown around May in the greenhouse and the plants pricked out into individual 7cm pots and taken into the polytunnel to acclimatise. It is important to choose late purple sprouting or the heat will lead to early purple sprouting cropping during the summer.

A decision has to be taken quite early where it is to grow so that the space is available at the time of planting, which is now drawing near - you don't want your plants becoming pot bound. If the plants need potting on because the space hasn't be cleared then do it, it will be worth the trouble.

Last year they replaced some early tulips, grown for cut flowers. That didn't present any problem with timing. This year they are following a garlic crop which is not quite ready to harvest. When it is harvested I will enrich the ground with some well rotted compost. To avoid weed seed problems this compost will be buried beneath the plants, not just dug in. This will ensure that the goodness goes directly to the plant and also helps to provide moisture at the roots.

Was it worth it last year? Definitely yes! The plants started to crop around March through into late April. They provided plenty of sprouts and everyone declared the flavour to be superb. No toughness, possibly due to being grown undercover, and the leaves were also used as a kale substitute for stews etc. The plants grew so large one or two required a support, but in the winter polytunnel it was wonderful seeing something growing so strongly.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Weeds, weeds, weeds!

Days are long and nights reasonably warm, perfectly weather for the weeds.
When busy in the nursery and tackling other parts of the garden it is not uncommon for me to find that one patch of ground has sprouted weeds that are threatening to smother all and sundry.
The vegetable patch, which was looking in perfect order, suddenly seemed to have been engulfed in chickweed, creeping thistle and hemp nettle.
My generally way of tackling weeds is either to prioritise the clearing of weeds from vulnerable crops/plants or destroy an area of weeds before they shed copious seed.
This time both events were threatening to take place in the onion/carrot patch. The combination of damp cool weather and midges had driven even the most determined from the garden so when the sun shone it was imperative to tackle the weeds.
Having a positive attitude and a plan of campaign makes short work of most weeds, but I also confess to enjoy weeding. It allows you to look carefully at your ground and there is great satisfaction in seeing the end result.
All weeds are composted unless they are particularly troublesome like ground elder (which I fortunately don't have in this garden but did have in the last).
Due to the quantity and size of the weeds I initially fill up empty compost bags with them and stack them beside the compost bins. Here they will start to decompose and then when I have an empty compost bin I will be able to layer the weeds between grass cuttings and shredded paper. This will ensure more effective composting than an uneven filling of bins with whatever you happen to have gathered at the time.
When weeding between very young seedlings like carrots particular care must be taken to avoid them being inadvertently pulled out. It is definitely a two handed job with one hand protecting the seedling whilst you pull the weeds with the other. Afterwards I like to earth up around the seedlings and water them to ensure that they are settled back in and their roots are in contact with the soil.

A Primrose Summer

Each day brings a surprise with the weather in this part of the world and today it was the warmth of the wind. Yesterday was a cold wind and the day before was blazing sunshine!
Walking the dog this morning I couldn't help noticing the primroses, usually past their best at the longest day, this year the weather suits them just fine. Many are flowering and producing further flowers and they are an indicator of how slow summer has been at arriving.
Last year we were enjoying the strawberries well before Wimbledon, this year the outdoor plants are bearing plenty of flowers but no ripening fruit. We have been enjoying some strawberries from the polytunnel but sadly not as many as we would like.
The fruit trees in the orchard are showing very little fruit. I see nothing on the plums and the apple trees are still sporadically flowering! Whether they produce any fruit and what size it reaches is anyone's guess. I think the old adage "don't put all your eggs in one basket" is a useful one to remember for anyone living from the land. We may not have many strawberries or the promise of much tree fruit this year but the rhubarb has been very productive!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


The humble courgette can be a maligned vegetable but in this household it is considered to be one of the finest of summer vegetables.
Today was the first harvest of two fine sweet courgettes. Picked young with unblemished fresh skin they were greeted with delight.
I grow my courgettes in the polytunnels with great success. To keep them out of the way of other plants I grow each one in a large tub trug with good sized drainage holes. The tub trug keeps them at an easy picking height and out of draughts. It is deep enough to give them a generous root run and I fill the trug with home made compost, this doesn't need to be perfectly rotted. It feeds them as they grow and retains more water than commercial composts. The black walls of the tub trug warm up and release heat during the evening and night keeping the plants cosily warm.
I grow a number of varieties, with green, yellow and ribbed fruits. 'Tuscany' is a good smooth green variety producing many small fruits. Keeping picking the fruit before they get beyond 10 inches, or 25cm, and they will be firm and sweet with a soft skin.Frequent picking will ensure they keep producing.
Try to avoid getting the flowers wet when watering, it can cause rot at the end of the courgette. Watering is easy when the plants are contained, you can give each plant a good soaking. Better to give regular generous watering with dry intervals, the plants dislike being kept continuously damp and this, together with cooler conditions, is why they don't do well for me outdoors.
Use in a variety of dishes and enjoy as a vegetable sliced finely and fried with garlic in butter. Delicious.

Friday, 15 June 2012

What weather for potatoes!

It is alarming to think how dependent crofter were on their potato patch when you consider the weather in this part of the world.
We had a warm March and I planted some of my early potatoes outside. Then April came and it got cold and frosty. No problem the potatoes were well down, no chance of damage.
May arrived and the chitted potatoes really needed to be planted, in they go, where are the early ones? Still no sign.
Warm weather finally and all the potatoes began to come up. They start to grow strongly in the heat - up to the high 20's here, not usual even in summer! The long days and warm nights, for a full week, make for some rapid growth.
Then June arrives and the temperatures plummet. Reaching 10 degrees during the day is a struggle. On the 2nd June the frost strikes, three frosty nights later and the potatoes are gone.
Now I look at weeds with the occasional potato shoot peeking out of it's frost bitten stalks. At least the weeds are sheltering the potatoes and once I see the potatoes growing strongly again I'll hoe the weeds away.
Early potatoes will not be a feature this summer, but at least we have had a harvest from the potatoes in the polytunnel. These are grown in pots and were fleeced during the cold nights, sadly nearly all eaten now, but very tasty they were and a reminder of why we try to grow them despite the weather.

June in the polytunnel

The busy months of early spring now begin to pay off.
The first spinach harvests through March and April have been cleared out and replanted with spring onions and leeks.

The Oregon sugar snap pea, sown back in January, are providing bumper crops and have been a staple dinner vegetable for a few weeks. Shame they don't freeze well.
Turnips were a quick crop during May, growing to a suitable sweet size within a few weeks. They have been replaced with beetroot. Last year the beetroot failed outside but were good in the polytunnel. I had a similar story from other growers and have decided not to bother sowing them outdoors this year. The first row is up and looking healthy, the thinnings were used in salads, and I look forward to the first harvest soon.

We finally had a burst of warm weather in late May and I decided it was time the tomatoes were planted in the polytunnel. For days I had been carrying them back and forth getting them used to the polytunnel temperatures but not risking leaving them over night. Poor things were beginning to look quite yellow but tomatoes were setting! Finally planted they soon perked up and it began to look like we were going to have a healthy selection. June brought a return to the cold spring and overnight frosts, despite fleece, caused some damage. I am glad to say they have not been lost, but they have been severely checked. The exceptions were the ones planted in some polystyrene cold boxes which continue to look very healthy, just hope the bees can brave the cold to do their work.

Fortunately the cold nights didn't damage the runner beans, which were planted in the centre bed and probably had some protection from the cold by the sugar peas which are their close companions.

The crop I most enjoy from the tunnel at this time of the year are the autumn sown onions. For months they look incapable of forming anything usable then suddenly, around March, they begin to swell and from then on each day sees a visible increase in their girth. We begin to use them as green onions and then I lift them all to make room for other crops, celery etc. I don't need to worry about trying to store them, they will all be used over the summer, but it is so satisfying not to need to buy onions again!