Friday 30 September 2011

One last day of September

dragonflybluegreenSouthern Hunter dragonfly

Wonderful late days of summer. So hot and dreamy that blogging is the last thing on my mind.

A few more days in the UK and then we'll be back to see what the deer have left of the vegetable patch. See you then.

Friday 16 September 2011

Another Long Gap

Sorry, I'm pretty much away with the fairies as far gardening is concerned at the moment. I'm planning and plotting stuff for the Stripey Cat Supper Club Underground Restaurant gigs (about which I promise to shut up now, here at least.), the end of the season is fast approaching with all the stress and confusion of the move back to the UK and my hand was asked for in marriage, which after 14 years or so of side-stepping the issue I have gladly agreed to. There's a lot on my mind.


So I've been drifting around, in the mostly rather lovely weather, doing things like picking rosehips to make Parfait Amour (from this recipe in the Guardian, not sure where they got it from, it seems unique on the web and not much like any commercial effort) which is very good and only possible because I had a stash of Rosehip Syrup from last year. These rosehips are to replace that so I can make it again next year.

autumn strawberries

I've also been enjoying a late bounty of wood strawberries, just as well since the blueberries are finished now.

hazelnuts on tree

Foraging for hazelnuts most days now for over a week. I did have a whole post planned on this but everyone and his dog seems to have covered it now so I'll confine myself to a few top tips:

  • Don't pick too early. Unless at least one of the nuts will come out of its leafy cluster fairly easily then it's unlikely any of them will be mature enough to ripen off the tree.
  • Don't bother with anything small, picking the biggest and the best is much less heartbreaking.
  • Take care not to damage the newly forming catkins and female flowers if you want to pick more nuts next year.
  • When you get your nuts home, clean them up from the leaf husks and then dump the whole lot into a bowl of water. A lot will float. The ones that sink are mostly good, with solid kernels. The ones that float are between 50% and 85% (I did tests) empty shells or full of maggot and unless you're a masochist should be discarded.
  • Obviously you don't need me to tell you that anything with a neat little hole already drilled in it is a non-starter.
  • Dry them in a shallow tray, not more than one or two nuts deep and riffle through them regularly to turn. When they're dry store them in the fridge for a few weeks but they won't last forever.
nasturtium seeds

Yesterday I gathered seed pods from the nasturtiums to make pickles. People describe these as false capers but I think that's misleading as they are far spicier and  more pungent. Pick only fairly young crisp seeds, they can become tough when they're nearly mature. The reddish ones in here are from the variety Cobra but they taste the same.

Soak them overnight in a strong brine (10g salt to 100g water) then rinse and drain well before packing in cider vinegar. You can add extra pickling spices like coriander seed or fennel for more flavour.

Map butterfly

The first and last Map butterfly of the year. Still loads of Peacocks out there but it's nearly all over. Until next time.

Sunday 4 September 2011

What worked and what didn't


It's a strangely end of term title, indicative that it's all over and the challenge is finished. It's not by any means, of course, but a few days of brilliant late summer followed this morning by the grey skies of a warm autumn fill a person with thoughts of closure. The swallows went home on the 2nd of September, the evenings are noticeably shorter and the blackberries are beginning to turn. The change in seasons has become obvious.

What worked?

trenched beans

Lots of things actually, but a notable success this year was with the climbing beans which have been profuse and prolific if a little deer bitten. I put this down (although it's only one year's experiment) to the traditional bean trenches I dug back in the spring. It helped them through the dry start and seems to be feeding them into the autumn.  Worth the effort.

wasp achocha

The achocha, not because it was a great addition to the vegetable selection; the small fruit are mildly cucumbery in salads and the large ones only fit for curry, but because of its exuberance and attractiveness as a climber and food plant for insects. We found all sorts of lovely little creatures to photograph and have plans to use it as a green screen around the outdoor dining area next year. It was also the first and only place we've ever spotted a Brown Hairstreak butterfly around here but I think that was just resting on its way past to more appropriate shrubs.

sarpo mira

The Sarpo Mira. When the blight finally came for the potatoes about three weeks ago now every plant on the plot was wiped out, practically overnight, except for the Sarpos. We knew they were good but in other years I've usually sprayed all the plants together and so the differentiation  has not been so clear. I didn't spray any Bordeaux mixture at all this year.

I will still say, loud and clear, that I'm not convinced the Sarpos are the solution to all troubles. I've had plants of them that have succumbed to blight when they were the only variety growing and the eating qualities of the potato are only so-so but, as we did this year, it's worth having a row as insurance.

The potatoes in the background of the picture are the last few Pink Fir Apple as I dug them. We have lost quite a lot of crop to tuber blight this year and may lose more in storage. Not spraying at all was a mistake but we so nearly got away with it I know I'll be tempted to avoid the poison again next year...

What didn't?

ugly flesh fly

No pictures for this section, it's just all too too gruesome.

What didn't work can best be summarised by calling it anti-companion planting. I'm not a proponent of companion planting, at best it's common sense of grouping plants with similar needs together and at worst it's close enough to crystal worship to give me the willies but there were definitely some combinations of plants on the plot this year that didn't work well.

The ridge cucumbers were planted next to a row of volunteer oca. All the cucurbits suffered from mildew a bit in the dry this year but the cucumbers were devastated by disease. I had six small fruit from the entire planting early in the season and that was that. Was it the oca? I'm not sure but I suspect it was, their fleshy shade and acid dew was quite inappropriate for the preferences of the cukes.

I thought it would be amusing to plant tall sunflowers between the trailing stems of the pumpkins but although this is similar is concept to the three sisters planting system the pumpkins suffered in the fight for moisture. Yield is a long way down on normal expectations and the plants are weedy and struggling.

It was suggested that garlic and strawberries were a good combination, by chance I had them in close proximity this year but saw no benefit to either plant, unless the harvesting of the garlic allowed the the slugs to enjoy the fruit more comfortably but I think that was a change in the weather rather than anything to do with allium smell.

And direct planting of sweetcorn failed. I like wherever  possible to direct sow because it saves resources and energy, potting compost, protection etc but sweet corn in this climate needs that extra boost at the start. Something to remember for next year.