Saturday, 10 October 2015

Worst job of the year?

Gardening is not all fun, you know. As well as all the pleasurable tasks like sowing, planting and harvesting, there are some horrible, dirty, unpleasant tasks - the ones that only really dedicated gardeners understand, and the ones that put off the new gardeners who sometimes think everything is easy.

Here's an example:

This year I grew my tomato plants in big plastic containers (as I always do) using a growing medium with a high proportion of composted stable manure. As regular readers will know, I have been plagued with problems stemming from weedkiller contamination in commercial compost, and I decided that instead of recycling the used compost as I would normally do by distributing it around my garden, this time I would dispose of it completely by taking it to the Council tip. Easier said than done!

I spread my trusty old groundsheet on the shingle, and then tipped out each pot of compost onto it. As you can see, it made a pretty big pile:

That compost was really squashy and smelly!

The empty pots got a thorough wash with the hosepipe before being stored away in the garage. That was the easy part.

The hard part (and the most unpleasant part) was to put the compost into old plastic sacks, in which it will be transported to the tip. fortunately, whenever I buy compost I always keep the bags in which it comes, for occasions like this.

I will evidently need to make several trips to the tip! Fortunately it is only about four miles away. I'll have to be careful to avoid soggy compost leaking out and contaminating the car though.

Let's just hope this is a one-off job. Next year I will be trying to source some better (safer!) compost for my tomatoes, so hopefully I'll be able to revert to my normal procedure.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Flowers welcome and unwelcome

Most of the flowering plants in my garden have finished for the year now.


Any little splash of colour is welcome, so this is definitely a welcome flower:

At this time of year my white rose bush (variety unknown) usually produces a new flush of blooms. The Autumn blooms tend to have a very pronounced pink tinge to them, whereas the ones in high Summer are completely white.

The Pelargoniums are surprisingly also putting up one or two more flowers. I had thought them finished some weeks ago. So this is another welcome flower.

This however is an unwelcome flower:

Regrettably, some of my Leeks are bolting. I must say that I'm not really surprised. For the last three months or so they have just sat there doing nothing, and not getting any bigger. However they have now produced some pretty impressive 'scapes'.

Once this has happened, the leeks are more or less worthless. I know from experience that they will have a tough core which makes them unpalatable. Possibly they might be used to add flavour to a stock?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Earthstar fungi

More Earthstar fungi have appeared in my garden this week.

They are really strange things, but weirdly beautiful!

For a long time, the fungi just sit there unobtrusively. Each one is about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. It has a brown, leathery skin.

When it's ready, the outer layer splits open, forming its characteristic star shape.

Here's one just beginning to split:

The spores of the fungus are contained in the inner sac.

When subjected to pressure - for example by heavy raindrops falling on it - the sac puffs out spores through the hole in the top.

Notice the black slug exploring this one

In the photo below, the sac of the newly-opened fungus at the left is full and tight, whereas that of the older fungus at the right is now partially empty, and is soft and slack.

This colony of fungi has been in my garden for several years now, and it gets bigger every year, which is no wonder really, when you see how many spores each one puffs out!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Chilli Heaven

As I mentioned a few days ago, Jane and I attended the "Challock Chilli Fest" at Stephen and Serena Shirley's Victoriana Nursery Gardens last Sunday.

Indian Chilli Bullet

Having been to the same event last year too we knew what to expect, so there were few surprises, but I didn't go for surprises, I went to see chillis!

Entrance. There's no mistaking this is a CHILLI festival!

The two-day festival is a celebration of all things chilli. Apart from being able to see at close quarters (and taste, if desired) Stephen's extensive collection of chillis, there was an array of food and craft stalls to be explored, all with at least some connection to the chilli, even if it was just a jewellery stall that had one or two chilli-themed ear-rings in amongst the other items, or a greetings card stall with some cards featuring the chilli. There was a Jamaican food stall offering curry, jerk chicken, Rice-and-peas etc; there was a coffee stall offering chilli flavoured beverages, and so on. Most of the stalls were ones belonging to small and mainly local businesses. It is nice to patronise such businesses rather than "giving" more money to the huge corporates that dominate our 21st Century world.

This is Jane peering at a huge specimen of "Dulce Dolor" (Sweet Pain?). It's about 5' tall.

One of the stall-holders was Claire Burgess who I know via Twitter as @clairesallotment. She has written some children's books about growing vegetables, and she gives talks at schools aiming to get children involved in understanding where food comes from and what is involved in producing it. We bought one of her books for our granddaughters. They don't need any convincing about the merits of GYO, but I think they will enjoy the story anyway. It's called "Lottie and Dotty Sow Carrots".

The festival I'm describing is not a major affair. It doesn't draw in huge crowds. I don't know how many people attended last weekend, but I imagine it was probably hundreds rather than thousands. That suits me fine. I don't like enormous events. I like to be able to see what I want to see without jostling through crowds. I like to be able to park my car close by and not have to trek a mile from the car-park to the show. I like to be able to have a proper talk with stall-holders without feeling under pressure to move on. And in particularly I like being able to talk to a real expert on gardening, such as Stephen who hosted the show. I must also acknowledge that his charming wife Serena also knows a fair bit about chillis too! Furthermore we had the privilege of meeting Stephen's father Jerry, from whom he inherited the business (and presumably much of his horticultural expertise). Despite being in his 80th year, Jerry was happily digging up Parsnips in the vegetable garden, whilst telling us all about his impending operation (something to do with Arthritis I think...). It just goes to show that gardening keeps you young! By the way, the nursery doesn't just produce chillis, or indeed just veg. They offer a very wide range of plants of all types, like these enormous Dahlias:

Yes we did buy a couple of things - Jane got a chilli-emblazoned scarf, and I got some chilli-flavoured chocolate, but the main event was definitely the close inspection of the chillis. To be honest with you, I only tasted one chilli variety, and that is currently nameless because it is one that Stephen has bred himself and it is not yet commercially available. Hopefully he will eventually start selling it because it looked and tasted wonderful. It was very fruity in flavour. Other people were enthusiastically tasting loads of chilli varieties. I should think there were well over a hundred varieties available to try. What I wanted however was the opportunity to see examples of chilli plants that I usually only get to see photos of.


The label says it all.
Stephen grows his chillis in a polytunnel, and the benefits of doing so were abundantly clear. His plants were mostly about three times the size of my outdoor-grown specimens. The day we visited was a nice day, with plenty of sunshine, but bear in mind that it was October. The outdoor temperature was about 12 or 13 degrees Celsius, but inside the polytunnel it was hot and steamy like a tropical rainforest. I have decided that if I ever win a big prize on the National Lottery I will buy myself a polytunnel immediately!

Having seen so many chillis of different colours, shapes and sizes I have plenty of ideas for what I want to grow next year - though I probably won't have the space. Being there at the nursery, surrounded by so many lovely chilli plants is such a great source of inspiration. Growing chillis is a hugely addictive hobby!

I offer here for your delectation a selection of my photos. Enjoy!

7-Pot Brain Strain Yellow

Habanero Paper Lantern


Fatalii White

Tokyo Hot


Holy Mole


Cheiro Roxa

Christmas Bell

Mata Frade

Peiot de Moca

Pinocchio's Nose

 I could go on, but I had better not....

Monday, 5 October 2015

Harvest Monday - 5 Oct 2015

So, Harvest Monday is under new management... Thank You, Daphne for hosting the linkup for all that time. Your efforts are much appreciated. And Thank You, Dave at "Our Happy Acres" for agreeing to take on hosting the linkup.

So here's my harvest for the past week:

More beans of course. The Runners have been very good this year, and so have the purple French Beans, but the yellow ones were pretty much a flop.

I picked my "Mystery" beans too. I still can't identify them.

That basketful weighed 825g, and that is all from one plant. The pods are now spread out in a bigger basket, in the airing-cupboard, where they will remain until they are fully dry. The colouring on the pods is very variable: the ones that have been most exposed to the sun are mainly purple, whereas the ones that were shaded have remained mostly green. I'm dying to see what the beans inside look like.

I harvested a few more potatoes. Three tubers each of "Kifli" and "Shona". This meagre harvest is the result of the very delayed planting of some leftover seed tubers. I suppose in a way this is not such a bad result - one very small tuber planted in a container that had already produced its crop has now returned a second crop with a yield of three to one.

I harvested the penultimate pot of "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes:

I've been harvesting potatoes a few at a time for several months now, so it is going to seem odd when they are all gone. However, it has been another good year for spuds, so I'm not complaining. This batch (from one seed tuber) weighed 682g.

I'm getting quite a few ripe chillis now. These ones are all from outdoor plants. I'm leaving the indoor ones a bit longer, but I keep expecting there to be a frost, so I'm picking the outdoor ones as soon as they look ready.

The green ones are immature pods of "Aji Limon", which would be bright yellow if they were ripe. Jane particularly likes to have some green chillis for cooking with, so I harvest a few before they ripen and keep them in the freezer. The pale ones are "Blondie".

After visiting the Challock Chilli Fest yesterday (of which more later), I was inspired to make a batch of tomato and chilli sauce / ketchup. It tastes wonderful!

These are the very last of my Cucumbers. Their parent plants have down been pulled up and composted. In keeping with this year's pattern, they are pretty scruffy specimens, but I expect they will be OK when peeled.

I hate to think how many Lettuces we have consumed this year. Little ones like this are a constant feature of our diet!

We had another decent punnet of "Autumn Bliss" Raspberries - this was about 170g.

And then (you don't see this very often)... my Pear harvest!

Yup, that's it - two pears. Well, there may not be many of them, but I'm confident they will be good. They are big too, weighing in together at 522g. The variety is "Concorde". They will need a few days indoors in the warm to ripen fully.

I'll leave you with a medley photo.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

I expect that some of you will remember that I have been experimenting with growing Sweet Potatoes this year. I haven't mentioned them for a while, because nothing needed doing to them, but with the prospect of frost very close now I decided to dig up the Sweet Potato plants and see what the harvest was like.

Well, it wasn't very impressive:

(As an aside, don't you think the lid of our blue wheelie-bin makes a good photo background?!)

That's it. There are four tubers of a useable size, and about a dozen wispy "tiddlers". However, you have to see this in the light of the fact that they were grown from some sprouts on some Past-Their-Sell-By-Date supermarket vegetables. And by someone with zero prior experience of growing this vegetable. And in a year in which we had no perceptible Summer!

I think in future I will leave growing Sweet Potatoes to people who live in warmer climes.

I will be completing the procedure in the approved manner by "curing" the tubers for 10 days or so before attempting to cook them. Apparently this improves their flavour and sweetness, as well as their keeping properties (though this latter will not be of much concern to me!)

If you are interested in reading more about how I grew these things, you might want to read or re-read this: Planting Sweet Potatoes.