Friday, 29 June 2012

Going back to my roots

Friday 29th June 2012
The clearest of morning skies

Remember those carrots that never came up? No, I'm not going to tell you that they've all magically and mysteriously sprung up in the last few days. Quite the reverse. They've been an unmitigated disaster. The spring onions have fared just as poorly, as well as a couple of my beetroot varieties. A combination of three factors has caused this. First, my own miserliness, trying to use old seed that had been poorly stored. Second, the washout spring and early summer we've had. And third, the plague of slugs we've encountered this year.

In fact, things have been so bad I've been avoiding this quarter of my veg patch, letting the onions, shallots and garlic get on by themselves. They're planted to deter the carrotfly!
Of course, the easiest way to deter carrotfly is to have no carrots!!!

My root beds (after a tidy up)

Back to my roots
Today's job was to go back to my roots. I ventured in, equipped with shears, hoe and trowel. At least if I could tidy up the edges and weed out the weeds, with the sun shining I might just see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.

... And there it was. My salsify was flourishing between the sage plants I've dotted around for the general well-being of the veg patch.
Salsify and Sage doing well.
The other end of the salsify bed was waiting for my celeriac seedlings, and they went in today too. This root is in fact a form of celery where the base swells up and is the part to eat. I prefer it to celery as I find the taste more delicate. Besides, those whiskery, bearded roots always make me smile when I pull them up in the autumn. Celeriac needs a long season to succeed in this country, and home-grown plants never quite achieve the clean lines and the stature of those in the shops, but it is nevertheless a crop which I find well worth the effort.

Spurred on by my discovery of a thriving salsify crop, I uncovered just a few carrot plants, borne of the toughest seeds.

The idea of some beautifully sweet, early carrots is a distant memory now. So too the multicoloured succession of roots plucked straight from the ground and lucky to make it back to the kitchen before being munched.
But I figure it's not too late to try for a crop to enjoy in the autumn and to store through the winter. So I've resown some of my beds with seed purchased this year. The slugs are more under control, the weather seems less inclement and I reckon things might just turn out OK.

Mixed success in the beetroot bed.
Over in the beetroot and onion bed, the Red Ace beetroots have fared pretty well. About three quarters of the line has come up, so I filled the gaps today. The Chioggia, those wonderful beetroots with their rings of colour, were much more sparse. And the Burpees Golden, Sue's favourite... Two plants in a twelve foot row!
I've resown the seed I had left over from the last two varieties in seedtrays to give them as much chance as possible of at least getting a start in life, and I used any leftover seed to partially fill the gaps. I may just get a few extra plants if I'm lucky.

(please don't ask me exactly how to pronounce it. I've done well to spell it!)
The scorzonera and maincrop carrot bed is difficult to fathom at the moment. There's certainly no carrots come up and it's hard to find more than a few young scorzonera plants, but they do look so like grass and are terribly difficult to pick out in amongst the stray blades. Since my veg beds were carved out of a lush sheep paddock, eradicating the couch-grass and dandelions from them has been a drawn-out process, but one which I am definitely winning.

Scorzonera and salsify are usually grouped together as sister crops, so it won't be a disaster if I only get salsify this year. Last year I only bothered with scorzonera and was delighted to harvest a good crop of ridiculously long, gnarled black roots at the end of the year. If you can get past the fact that they are stubbornly difficult to peel (best done after coooking), you really should give scorzonera a chance. I love the taste and texture, though I can't even begin to describe it.

Thinning out the 'snips

One of last year's parsnips which I must have missed!
I do like to leave some vegetables to flower .
Salsify is a particularly good one, as is rocket.
I may try collecting the seed, though I won't rely on it.
The parsnips are, along with the salsify, the stars of the root bed show this year. I've grown lines of them interspersed with garlic and a few pot marigolds. They're supposed to be good companions. There are a few odd patches where germination has failed, but on the whole my 'snips have done well. I do know that parsnip seed is one that really doesn't stay viable for more than a year, so each year new seed is used.
I learned a valuable lesson last year, when I failed to thin. I was rewarded with a crop of long, skinny parsnips which didn't make much impact in the pot. Where I was lucky and a seedling had germinated all on its lonesome, I got the most fantastic long, chunky roots. So today I bit the bullet and thinned. Most of my plants were growing in pairs or even triplets, as I had sown the papery seeds in clusters at stations every six to eight inches apart.
(While just looking something up, I came across some valuable advice about sowing parsnips. Two bits of advice really. The first was to sow by scattering seed along a four inch drill rather than at cluster stations, as the latter often leads to gaps in the rows - I can bear testament to this. The second was to ignore the seed packet instruction and wait till early April to sow rather than February. I never make February anyway!)
Anyway, back to the thinning out. This process pains me greatly. I find it like pulling my own teeth, though I know it has to be done and is for the best. But today I pulled a couple of dozen perfect, tapering roots. I can only hope that my attempt to leave the strongest plants means that there are even better plants left in the ground with room to expand.

It just seemed such a shame, and especially with all those gaps, but I really couldn't imagine that such long, thin roots would transplant well into the gaps. So instead I filled them with a few spare celeriac plants.

Hamburg Parsley
I've saved the worst till last. Nothing. Zilch. Rien. Last year I spilled all the seed before I could sow it and had to buy in an emergency packet. In the end it didn't get sown till June 18th, but I still got a decent crop. The roots look like parsnip but have  a nuttier flavour and the leaves can be used just like normal parsley. I do like a plant with two uses.
So today I rotavated the bed and started afresh. A bit late, but I'll push my luck and see what happens.

Just one bed left to sort out now. I grow my leeks and celery in the roots quarter of the veg patch and I have some young plants thriving in seed trays at the moment. They'll move into their final positon in a couple of days time.

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