Fruit Garden, Harvest

Blueberries in November

Earlier this year we planted our first blueberry bushes in lovely old bath tubs. I wasn’t expecting much from their first growing year to be honest, but was happily proved wrong.

Two blueberry bushes provided steady pickings throughout summer right through to autumn, enough to keep the blueberry fans of the family satisfied. It’s now November and we’re still picking berries.

I spotted this vintage mini trug recently from one of my favourite online garden shops, with berry picking in mind it’s perfect for the job.

The temperature has really dropped during the day and nights are chilly, the bushes are just starting to display their beautiful autumnal colour in patches. I’m so pleased we introduced blueberries to our kitchen garden, if you’re interested in growing them too take a look at our growing guide post https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/blueberries-in-tubs/ for helpful information to keep them happy.

Allotment, Harvest

Last Allotment Visit of the Year

parsnips

Today I went to the allotment to dig up parsnips for our Christmas Day meal, probably my last visit to the allotment before the new year arrives. The parsnips look and smell amazing, ‘Gladiator’ always does well for me.

The next few days ahead will keep me really busy but it won’t all be about Christmas, we have a special birthday to celebrate too, our daughter will be sweet 16 (which makes us feel old!).

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Greek Gigantes Beans

greek gigantes beans

Back in May I blogged about having a go at growing a type of rare runner bean called Greek Gigantes. You can view the post here: https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/sowing-greek-gigantes/

I grew just 3 plants up tall canes at my allotment, they grew well in the warm sunshine producing lots of lovely white flowers. Leaving the pods to go brown and papery on the plants, I picked them before the real wet weather arrived to avoid rotting. As you can see, the beans are huge and as white as snow, with a lovely buttery taste which I’m a big fan of.

dried pods of greek gigantes beans

greek gigantes beans and pods

I did rely on the runners to feed us throughout summer, but these beans are unusual and worth growing if you like buttery beans and wish to avoid a glut of beans throughout summer, considering how prolific runners can be!

Allotment, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Harvesting the Carrots

harvesting carrots

This year I grew carrot varieties that I’ve never tried before. After looking at so many tempting choices, I settled on a main crop variety called ‘Flakkee’ and a yellow-skinned variety called ‘Jaune Obtuse du Doubs’, a French heirloom with a beautiful sweet taste. Both nice varieties and trouble-free to grow if you fancy a change from your usual favourites.

carrots

I’ve just realised, I don’t have a photo of the yellow carrots! If I get to the allotment this weekend I will grab one. They’re a lovely colour and look fantastic grated into a salad.

carrots

I’m looking forward to browsing seed catalogues and websites soon, I’ll probably order new varieties for next year. I quite enjoy the challenge and unpredictability of growing new things.

Allotment, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Peas in October?

blauwschokker peas

I intended to do this post in July. Family and pet loss forced blogging out of the window for a while, along with all sense of time. I couldn’t find any enthusiasm to visit the allotment, as a consequence some of my planned posts haven’t met the publish button. So here we are, late October. Why bother to blog about peas now? Well, these particular peas, in my humble opinion, deserve a mention. The variety is ‘Blauwschokker’ and they’re definitely on my list of crops to grow next year.

blauwschokker peas

Deep purple pods with huge minty-green peas nestled inside, the plants grow very tall so you’ll need to grow them against something sturdy and high (I used 7 ft canes pushed into sheets of wire mesh, such as chicken or aviary wire). Stems and leaves are thicker and heavier than any other pea I’ve grown, with tendrils as thick as springs. Pods are easy to pick, thanks to the bold colour, and can be eaten as mange tout before the peas begin to swell. Eye-catching pink/crimson flushed flowers are large and could easily be mistaken for sweet peas, for that reason alone, a perfect addition for the allotment or veg garden.

allotment harvest

A doddle to grow, these peas are very similar in size to marrowfat peas with an earthy, punchy flavour. Shell and mix with young broad beans, mash and smash with a fork or pestle and mortar adding a little olive oil and fresh mint, spread onto warm olive bread. Yum!

Fruit Garden, Harvest

My Verdict on Cucamelons

cucamelon

I meant to post about my Cucamelon harvest a couple of weeks ago but time has just eluded me lately. I only managed to grow two plants so I wasn’t expecting great things when it came to picking the fruits, however, I filled a small punnet  with my harvest which is pretty good going. But, that’s where my praise for this quirky-looking crop ends I’m afraid. I have to admit, I don’t like them.

I find the texture of the skin strange, for me, this takes away any enjoyment of the flavour – which isn’t exactly exciting either. There’s a tiny hint of citrus, but other than that, it’s like chewing on a tough cucumber. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be growing them again.

Sorry Cucamelon fans!

Fruit Garden, Harvest

Bumper Strawberry Crop

strawberries

This year has been superb for strawberries. I’ve been picking large, super sweet fruits in great volumes at the allotment and giving away punnets to friends and neighbours to avoid waste. After doing a bit of research into the reasons why strawberries are so good this year, it seems the cool spring almost certainly played a part. Plants flowered later and had longer to put down roots. Because of a lack of sunshine up until now there was a longer gap between flowering and picking, fruit stayed on the plants for a longer period of time, absorbing extra nutrients, resulting in big, juicy and sweet fruits.

I have plenty of fruit to make jam, so that should keep me busy this week!

 

 

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Christmas Parsnips

digging up parsnips

I do love parsnips with my Christmas dinner, for me, it’s just not the same without them. The growing year wasn’t a successful one overall and despite germination setbacks due to cold, wet soils, once again my parsnips haven’t let me down. My spade and fork are at the ready, I can almost taste their sweet, earthy flavour already. Yum!

 

Harvest

Fistful of Carrots

This is my carrot harvest for the year, sparse but perfectly formed. A fistful of carrots will have to do, the weather was a real problem.

Mustn’t grumble I suppose. Did you do any better?

Harvest

Forced Rhubarb is Ready

In January I forced my crown of Timperley Early rhubarb, using my rather stylish forcing jar. Stems are ready to harvest once the leaves reach the top of the forcer. The sweet aroma of rhubarb filled the air as I pulled pink tender stems from the ground early this morning.

A bowl of warm rhubarb crumble is just what’s needed to cheer up such a wet and miserable-looking day.

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes

I was kindly sent Jerusalem artichoke tubers at the beginning of the year and promptly planted them near the wildlife pond. I knew they would eventually produce tall and dense foliage and I hoped this type of planting would serve as a screen, creating some shade for the various pond wildlife. The plants did the job well, producing small pretty yellow flowers during late summer as an extra visual and wildlife treat.Towering at least 12 ft above my head it was obvious to see how these plants were related to the sunflower.

This is the first time I’ve grown Jerusalem artichokes and I found them pretty straight forward, producing a good yield for their first year. I began digging tubers in September but they were too small to cook so I popped them back in the ground and decided to leave the other plants for at least another month. I tried again a few days ago and this time the tubers were a nice size. I cooked some tubers to go with a Sunday lunch, I’ll admit to liking the taste but not the flatulence for which they are known – I cannot complain that I wasn’t warned!

I will leave most of the tubers to grow back again next year and plant a handful at my allotment, perhaps giving a few to plot neighbours if they’re brave enough!

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Still Finding Charlotte Potatoes

Somehow I managed to miss a few Charlotte potato plants, normally I’ve pulled them all by now. I started digging over the ’empty’ potato bed at the weekend and found dried potato haulms just visible on the surface of the soil and lots of healthy Charlotte potatoes buried beneath – the best yield per plant yet!

I usually find a few rogue potatoes in the empty beds but this is ridiculous! Luckily the weather for this time of year has been beautiful, I’m pretty sure this time last year we were under a blanket of thick snow and ice. Surprisingly, only one potato from this little lot was slug damaged, the others are just asking to be boiled and tossed in butter, perfect for an autumn snack.

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Fruit Garden, Harvest

It’s a Good Year for Autumn Raspberries

It’s a good year for autumn raspberries, how do I know? – because I’m still picking them! I grow Joan J autumn canes and they’re still exploding with huge plump fruit with no sign of stopping despite a few frosty nights. The fruits are much larger than our summer variety, being darker in colour creates a dramatic statement against a heavy grey autumn sky.

Cropping can start from July right through to October or early November, weather permitting. I notice they tend to get better and better as the temperature drops off, they’re not troubled by birds either so you get the lot.

The only downside is knowing what to do with them all!

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Borlotti Beans

Borlotti beans have to be one of the prettiest legumes I’ve ever grown, the pods and beans are equally beautiful. The pink splashed pods really brighten up the veg patch and look almost exotic. Cook and eat them as you would for french or runner beans, I chose to leave mine a little longer before picking, allowing them to dry in the greenhouse spread out on a rack in their pods. This way the beans will store for a few months until I need to use them. They should be soaked overnight before cooking if used dry.

This is the first time I’ve grown borlotti, the seed packet instructions said to support them as I would for runner beans so naturally I expected them to climb tall. I planted them within a cane wigwam but it wasn’t needed, they grow pretty much the same way as dwarf french beans and support themselves pretty well. No harm done, at least I know better for next year.

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

September in the Garden Smallholding

I’m pretty sure autumn arrived earlier this year, but now it’s official I have to say it’s my favourite season of all. I recently spent a bit of time in the vegetable garden clearing away debris for composting, generally tidying up and grappling with weeds. Lovely home compost is ready to use now so I shall be digging plenty of that into empty beds as they become available, this will give the soil a really good boost. One job that I’ve been putting off is tidying the greenhouse. I didn’t opt for a concrete base or slabs so I should have put membrane cover down on the floor with gravel on top because now it resembles something like a hot-house from Kew Gardens – the grass and weeds have really done well. I think I’ll leave it through autumn and winter, just in case baby frogs from our wildlife pond have taken up residence.

It’s nearly time for planting the first of the spring garlic, I will probably grow ‘Cristo’ again, I’m really pleased with it so far and it seems to be keeping well too. I’m still deciding whether or not to autumn sow broad beans and peas, although nature has already beaten me to it thanks to some stray pods. There’s still plenty to eat from the vegetable garden including, cabbages, kohl rabi, carrots, beets, squash, autumn raspberries, runner beans, potatoes and huge parsnips although I like them to get a frosting for the best flavour. I planted two large blocks of sweet corn this year, one block went to my allotment and the rest in the garden, by doing this I managed to accidentally extend the picking season. Carrots are proving to be a big hit this year, hardly any carrot fly damage! I grew Flyaway, a variety with a higher resistance to carrot fly. Admittedly, I did wonder if the flavour would be impaired due to breeding but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now is a perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, I haven’t yet but I might pop some more daffodils in simply because I adore them. I highly recommend planting ornamental Allium bulbs, I have ‘Purple Sensation’ and they’re so striking. There are some really large-flowered varieties available if you’re after something extra eye-catching.

How are you getting on at your veg patch or allotment?

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Cabbage Harvest

I’m not a huge fan of the Brassica family, particularly cabbage but I decided to give red cabbage a go this season. I grew a variety called ‘Rodeo’ which is a long season variety that can be cut from July to December. I cut a few with nice firm heads, peel back the lovely purple tinged leaves to reveal the beautiful ruby-red colour. 

This variety didn’t become a thug, was relatively pest free and stayed in its alloted space – a great ornamental for the flower borders if you’re low on space.

Grow Your Own Guides, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Storing Onions

Having grown onions successfully year after year with good yields, I soon realised I should learn how to store onions properly in order for them to keep for as long as possible. I learnt the hard way that there’s little point putting effort into sowing seeds or planting sets, running around your veg patch like a demented scarecrow, arms-a-flapping while you try desperately to protect your tiny onions from birds and cats that seem determined to dig them up, just to end up throwing out rotting onions by the bucket load come late autumn/early winter.

If like me you grow a lot of onions, then storing is vital to see you through winter and beyond. Below is what I’ve learnt so far, it has helped to keep us in onions for some time but I did make the mistake last year of unwillingly feeding a hungry population of field mice in our garage (a hazard of living so near to farmland and woodland), so a more suitable place has to be found for the trays this year.

Lift onions on a dry day, lay them out on top of the soil for as long as possible if weather permits with bulbs fully exposed to the sun, otherwise put them straight onto racks or greenhouse staging in an unheated greenhouse, conservatory or shed. Leave them for as long as possible to fully dry, the leaves will all but wither away but that’s fine. Once the outer layer of white/yellow skin onions starts to darken to a caramel colour (red onions will darken) and become crispy to the touch, drying is well underway and your onions should store well. Drying is key to storing onions for as long as possible.

Discard any bulbs that have signs of fungal growth or disease (avoid compost heap) and use spongy or sprouting bulbs immediately – they won’t store. Once the bulbs have fully dried store them in nets, trays or tie them in bunches and put in a cool, frost-free place such as a shed or garage. If your unheated greenhouse is guaranteed to be frost-free then this would be suitable also. Red onions tend not to store as well as white/yellow onions, different varieties may vary with storing abilities too so it’s best to check this before purchasing onion sets/seeds.

As I said before, this procedure works for me (apart from mice chomping their way through a lot of my onions in the garage) so hopefully this will work for you also. If you have any other points to add with regards to storing onions successfully please feel free to drop them in the comments box.

Chickens, Fruit Garden, Harvest

August in the Garden Smallholding

August is the time to reap the rewards, a time when the garden really starts to give back what you so carefully and lovingly put into it, providing regular harvests of fresh fruit and veg, packed full of flavour. An array of crops are ready for harvest this month including sweet corn, golden-yellow cobs bursting with sweetness, a flavour so intense to rival any shop bought produce. Pick them and enjoy straight away, I guarantee you will always find the space to grow them year after year.

The fruit garden will spoil you for choice now too, jams, jellies and chutney are just crying out to be made, a great way to use up a glut of vegetables. Add apples or plums to chopped vegetables and make tasty combinations, a reminder for months to come of the wonderful produce your garden/allotment provided. August is a good month to plant a new strawberry patch using well-rooted runners, a great way to gain more strawberries for free. Perpetual strawberries will extend the picking season until the first frosts, sadly they don’t produce runners freely but it’s well worth buying plants to keep you picking strawberries much longer than usual. Autumn fruiting raspberries are kicking in now, big dark red (almost plum colour) berries are a welcome treat. The summer raspberries are still producing but are noticeably coming to an end.

The temperature has dropped quite a bit recently with a distinct autumn ‘nip’ to the air, leaves are beginning to fall from trees that have taken on a rusty autumn appearance already. I certainly think autumn is creeping up on us faster than usual. Even though I’m enjoying late summer flowers, the occasional warm day and mouth-watering fresh food, now is the time that I start to think about what I can plant or sow for the coming months ahead. Garlic can be planted out from October through to winter as long as the ground is workable, as well as autumn peas (under cloches) and broad beans. I’ve decided to sow Meteor, an autumn variety of pea in the greenhouse from October time, field mice are plenty here due to being surrounded by farmland – my peas don’t really stand a chance otherwise.

Our hens have been laying well considering they are quite old, well, in ex battery terms they are, we’ve had a steady supply of lovely eggs since early spring. Each morning for the past week the floor of the coops have been littered with feathers, a sign that moult has begun and laying will decline soon. Poultry spice added daily to the mash or pellet feed is really useful at this time of year, it helps birds get through the moult and gives them a bit of a boost during cold weather.

Don’t forget natures free kitchen cupboard, elderberries are ripe now and can be used for jelly and jam making, we’re lucky to have a free supply growing wild as well as uncultivated blackberries. Enjoy your August garden!

Flower Garden, Harvest

July in the Garden Smallholding

The garden is in full swing with frequent mini harvests of potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, soft fruits, onions, beans and squash (I could go on) providing plenty for meals, which of course generates a great sense of achievement and pride. A few days of much-needed rain gave the kitchen garden the boost it so desperately needed in order to spring back to life, sun-scorched tones soon changed to lush green – I find it fascinating how rain can change the colours and textures of a garden so quickly, almost like a magical tonic.

I’ve grown some beautiful flowers from seed this year including pretty Cosmos pictured above. Cosmos is one of my favourites for attracting wildlife, the flowers are like magnets for bees and butterflies. I’m slowly forgiving the sunflowers for their poor show this year, they’re still my absolute favourite flower.

Harvest

Sunday Dinner

Today’s harvest from the vegetable garden to use for our Sunday dinner.

Yummy!

Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Garlic Harvest

I spent a merry hour this morning harvesting the garlic whilst dodging the showers. I’m really pleased with the bulbs, they’re the biggest I’ve ever  grown. I planted cloves of ‘Cristo’ at the end of last year, they spent a few months buried under deep snow but are none the worse for it. Garlic needs a spell of cold weather – it certainly got that!

The bulbs are currently laid out on racks in the greenhouse to dry, when they ‘rustle’ they’re ready to store either in nets or old tights. I might plait the leaves this year and hang them.

Just as an experiment and for fun (because that’s what gardening is all about) I popped a few organic shop bought cloves in some spare ground when I planted the Cristo cloves. Here’s the result:

Yeah I know they’re small but look at that colour, gorgeous! They split well and are totally usable so I’m chuffed with them. If you’ve never grown a single veg in your life I’d highly recommend starting with garlic. Dead easy to do just pop some garlic cloves in a spare patch of soil (pointy end facing upwards) anytime from autumn to winter, just under the soil level will do then look forward to some home-grown garlic. Yummy!