I was reminded of just how far we are into this year when I started planting out Winter brassica and preparing the beds for Autumn onions.It’s been a trying summer with some of the fruit and veg really disappointing while others have been bountiful.
Greatest disappointment was the complete non performance of the tomatoes I planted straight into the soil in the old beds next to the wall. I’d covered them against rain to avoid blight but after high winds the Heath Robinson structure was shredded and I took my chances. The fruit just didn’t take and I was left with clusters of non pollinated flowers even though there were plenty of bees and other insects flying round the area and landing on adjacent flowers.Did the tomatoes flower too late and end up not as attractive as others on the pollen menu? There was lots of green growth; maybe there was too much nitrogen; but nevertheless I ended up with no fruit and eventually the plants, with all the alternating extreme wet and sunny weather, were whacked by blight. One solitary ‘Latah’ , an early tomato, gave us quite a few really sweet fruits but I think that was down to the pot position. Otherwise all the outdoor varieties were a waste of time with the few growbags I had positioned on the sunny kitchen wall all regularly flooded out as they were held in trays and emptying them regularly became a forgotten task..
The greenhouse tomatoes were a mixed bunch. A lot were lost to ‘blossom end rot’ ,which was down to my erratic watering and a bad uptake of calcium, but we did manage a decent crop from the rest. Cucumber tailed off after a prolific burst, again due to bad watering, but the ‘shooting star’ yellow courgettes came on late in big crowds and all the peppers and chillis have been producing well. The greenhouse is becoming sad and dilapidated with the vents needing attention. The doors are hanging off now and beyond being saved by a sanding and a lick of paint. It’s lasted well, over 12 years, but we have to take a long hard look at what we are going to do as we desperately need a bigger space that is easier to work. With the weather prospects in the coming years expected to be similar to recent years I can see us relying a lot more on indoor or undercover spaces to grown things where we can control the environment to some degree. The heavy rains interspersed with sunny blasts from blue skies are confusing the plants and we’ve had a lot of vegetables go straight to seed as they are stressed out. Carrots were patchy with some varieties such as ‘Solo’ and ‘Bangor’ doing well while ‘Amsterdam’s’ were stunted and went to seed.
Best by far were the onions which delivered big time this year across different soils and beds. Trying to dry them off was the problem and we have them stacked in the cold frames and hanging on the beams in the studio as we’re running out of storage space..’Shakespeares’ and ‘Red Barons’ took the prizes.
The garlics were ok but not as great as we had hoped and the sweetcorn so far despite the ‘ 3 sisters’ planting experiment haven’t performed. The squashes in the experiment seem to be doing well but we lost all the pumpkins. Beans were hit by rabbits as were the first sowing of peas. We sowed more behind a rabbit proof fence and had some luck but they were a bit late and ended up fighting against an ocean of nasturtiums and knot weed.
The nasturtiums exploded in the last weeks and are taking over some areas. Great for the white butterflies which are leaving the cabbages alone under the nets. The rabbits however are devious wee bastards and took 16 cauliflowers in a night when they found an unpinned area of netting on the front bed which we thought they’d never go for as there was a low wall only on one side that we hoped was inaccessible. It may sound cruel but I was glad the myxomatosis arrived on the farm and in a few days it seemed the orchard became rabbit ghost town. However they are back and we know there are residents under the wooden shed in the front garden as every morning I catch them staring in the bedroom window from
beneath the lavender bushes. There’s a hare out there too but so far the nets around everything green seem to be doing their job. Pigeons are one of the main problems and we awake in the morning to a Hitckcockian chorus. I’d hoped that after seeing a recipe for pigeon breasts on a ‘River Cottage garden’ programme Simone might relent and let me get the air rifle out but they are still off limits. The only positive is that sometimes when I lay in bed I make up rhythms from their cooing and try and build melodies around the endless racket from next doors roof. Anything left uncovered is raided and an entire bed of spinach and radishes disappeared in a day before we got round to netting it.
I couldn’t find time to summer prune the orchard and had really hoped I’d get a week to get it into better shape and prepare for the winter prune that should have been a mere tidy up. There are a lot of apples despite last winter’s savaging and this year we had the best cherries to date and which made it to our kitchen thanks to the huge nets we draped over the trees. The grey aphid that hit the apple hedge was sprayed with organic pesticide at least 3 times and we managed to save a good number of stems that have fruited well. I was told by ‘old hands’ that when a pest arrives its predator arrives soon after to redress the balance. I was so pleased to see swarms of hoverflies appear a month ago and feast on the aphids that have been a headache this year. The insect population in the garden has been amazing but I have notices a lack of black bees and general honey bees. Bumblebees and wild bees are prolific and there’s been a decent smattering of butterflies outwith the dreaded cabbage whites. There’s enough food out there for them all and the planting plan for flowers and shrubs to attract our wee flying and crawling friends is paying dividends.
If the rain gives us a break for a few days I can get into the orchard with the Stihl strimmer and get back on the tractor. It’s all a bit unkempt just now and the downpours have battered the dahlias and perennials into submission in some cases. I have to uplift all the diseased tomato plants and burn them on the bonfire which keeps growing on the wasteland next to the studio and general clear a lot of the beds , some of which are being sown with mustard seed to give me a green manure. One thing I have to get more into is measuring the Ph’s of the various beds as they are out of balance judging by some returns.It’s a lot of work but we are just managing to stay on top of it all. The big question is what to do with the greenhouse and when. That provides great meditation and doodles galore at night as we both dream about the space and what we can do with it. I have a fantasy to install a solar powered unit that can heat it relatively cheaply throughout the winter months and carry on growing using LED lights. Whether that can be achieved is at the moment doubtful as there’s too many other things including an album recording that have to be paid for. Maybe it’s time to brush up on my dubious carpentry skills!
The water tinkles in the Japanese garden and I keep my eye on the maple outside the office window. There are slight touches of flame in the leaves to remind me autumn is not far away and that winter is coming. Now a dragon to torch the damp bonfire, get rid of the knotweed and clear the garden paths would be something ! 🙂