Saturday 30 June 2012

Six months of sunrises and British weather

Saturday 30th June 2012
Well, here we are, the last day of June, half way through the year. I have been enjoying my extra 2 minutes sleep for the last few mornings and I guess it won't be long now before I start to notice the sunrise moving back along the horizon. It's got about 5 months to get back to the Millennium Copse.

I've seen my fair share of grey, overcast mornings. It's hard to find the beauty and inspiration in too many of those. But in between I've seen some awe-inspiring sunrises, a selection of which appear down the sides of this post.
Scrolling through my picture files selecting these has made me doubly determined to carry on my sunrise worship till the end of the year. And I'm sure I'll be making a lot more effort to witness the occasional sunrise for years to come, though I'll keep an eye on the weather and avoid the grey ones.

It's been a strange old year so far. Worrying times in late winter, as Lincolnshire's drought continued in ernest. Deep cracks in the ground in February where standing water would be more usual. Then, of course, that frost. Minus 16. The coldest place in the whole country. Amazing to see the crystalline world of the hoar frost, but so damaging to my poor plants.

Then the April showers, the May downpours and the June torrents. The drought well and truly ended!
And, in the middle of that, a surprise hard frost on 7th May which caught the plants by surprise.
Fifteen months of drought followed by the wettest April to June period on record. It's not surprising at all. That's the way it goes.

We've been lucky here the last couple of weeks, as other parts of the country have endured crazy weather with extreme storms and flooding.

But all I want now is some normal weather
I don't mean the same every day, I don't mean bathing in sunshine, I don't mean no weather 'events' to behold and to surprise. I just mean a normal mix of British weather, nothing too extreme.
I don't mind rain, I don't even mind the wind and I definitely like a bit of sunshine. I'm not a great fan of grey, nondescript, overcast days, but they have their place too.

But what we all need now, and especially the plants, is a nice British summer.
Most importantly a bit of warmth. The veg blogging world is full of tales of woe, vegetables weeks behind, a bad year for cucurbits, strawberries rotting on the ground, plagues of slugs, straggly beans struggling to climb up wigwams, carrots failing to germinate (it's not just me).
Now I'm relatively new to the world of veg growing and I'm just beginning to understand that there will be some sort of crop disaster every year, that my idyllic plan will never quite come to fruition (well, at least not all in the same year). But surely it can't be this testing every year??

It's been a good year for peas. And potatoes, if you can get them out of the ground. (We won't mention the threat of blight). My onions and shallots seem to be doing very well too.
So come on British weather! It's not too late to redeem yourself. A nice, warm, sunny summer, showers overnight and a late flourish in September. That'd be perfect!

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.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Patriotic potatoes

Patriotic potatoes!

Fears of potatoes rotting in the ground were unfounded. They've enjoyed the moist conditions and the horse manure that I dug in over winter. Those that got bitten by the frost in early May seem to have easily caught back up too.
I harvested a few from three different varieties today and it suddenly hit me. If only they'd been ready a few weeks ago I could have made a lucrative profit selling jubilee potatoes!

I like to grow as many different types of potato as possible. That way, if any varieties fail me, I'll always have plenty of others. It also gives me cover against the various afflictions that can strike potato crops.
But the main reason I grow so many varieties is for the range of texture, taste and colour. The floury ones are better for chipping and roasting, the waxy ones for boiling and salads.

So, here are the Earlies I have planted this year:

Salad Blue
More purple than blue. Purple flesh too which stays purple on cooking. This variety has always cropped very well for me and gives bucketloads of sweet tasting pototoes for boiling. Only downside is they can suddenly turn watery if overcooked, but purple mash is always a spectacle!

Red Duke of York
Dating from 1942, this heritage potato has a marvellous deep red skin colour and firm, yellow flesh. It is dry and mealy in texture and gives excellent chips and roast.

An excellent new potato which crops by the bucketload. Very firm flesh. I have found that Dunluces keep that new potato taste even if allowed to grow big. For this reason, I often harvest a few early on, then leave the others for later.

The jubilee chips made from the first three varieties.
I can never believe how much these sell for in the supermarkets. Although they are classed as Second Earlies, I already have a bumper crop of these lovely salad potatoes. Shame it's not really the weather for salads!
On that point, what on earth is a salad potato? Just a boiled potato gone cold I guess? Though they do stay nice and firm.

Arran Pilot
Around since 1930 and a gardeners favourite. A good yield last year so hoping for a repeat performance.

Edgecote Purple
Purple skin (surprise, surprise) and firm yellow flesh. Has been around since 1916. This potato is supposed to be an excellent all-rounder and I'm hoping it does well for me.
I will harvest this variety later on, as it supposedly shows good blight resistance. It's a Second Early too.

Bonnie by name... These white potatoes have rosy cheeks!
They produce an even size, large round spud, ideal for baking.

Supposed to be a high yielder and to produce the earliest potatoes. Mine seem to have been outperformed by other varieties. They have produced few leaves and the yield is nothing special.
Maybe not one for next year.
We have plenty more potatoes than we can manage anyway.

Thursday 28th June 2012
A stormy day in store
This warm, damp weather is ideal for fungi to take hold. The only redeeming factor is that it's been accompanied by a stiff breeze which should give enough airflow between the plants. This is one of the reasons for observing the advised planting spaces.
Still, today I received a text. I don't recieve that many texts, so I was half expecting it to be news of some far-flung mega rare bird. Unfortunately it was not.
It was a FAB text. (Fight Against Blight) warning of a full Smith period. You can sign up for these alerts with the Potato Council. It's easy to do and a useful tool in trying to avoid this decimating disease.

You may well be wondering what on earth is a full Smith period. I guess with so many Smiths in Britain, one had to have something named after him or her in the end!

This information is selected from Please visit the website for more detailed information.

Smith Periods

Smith Periods for blight control are calculated from hourly temperature and relative humidity values.

A full Smith Period has occurred if, on each of 2 consecutive days:

  • the minimum air temperature was at least 10oC, and
  • there were a minimum of 11 hours with a relative humidity of at least 90%


    Smith Period conditions are conducive for sporulation of the potato blight pathogen on lesions - leaf wetness is also necessary for infection to occur. If Smith Periods occur at frequent and regular (7-10 day) intervals, there is a greater chance of blight development.

  • Display incidents from to date
    Click on a dot to see incident details
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    13 reported incidents to date for the selected region
    Id Outbreak Size Variety Reported Source Area Result
    9082Several PatchesMarfona13 Jun 2012Crop/OtherCT7
    9086Patch (1m2)Maris Peer14 Jun 2012Crop/OtherCT7
    9102Patch (1m2)Other Maincrop19 Jun 2012Crop/OtherGU29
    9114Scattered through fieldDesiree21 Jun 2012Crop/OtherCT7
    9118Scattered through fieldUnknown22 Jun 2012Crop/OtherNR10
    9126Scattered through fieldKing Edward25 Jun 2012Crop/OtherCT7
    9130Scattered through fieldKing Edward26 Jun 2012Crop/OtherCT7
    9134Several PatchesUnknown26 Jun 2012Crop/OtherNR14
    9138Single PlantMaris Piper27 Jun 2012Crop/OtherPE20
    914227 Jun 2012PE11
    9146Single PlantOther Maincrop28 Jun 2012Crop/OtherGU28
    9154Patch (1m2)Unknown28 Jun 2012Crop/OtherNR11
    915829 Jun 2012DA13

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