Monday, 31 July 2017

Onion "Long Red Florence"

Today I harvested my "Long Red Florence" onions. Here is their story...

They were sown in John Innes No.1 compost in little 3-inch pots, about 5 or 6 seeds to a pot, on February 4th (coincidentally, the first seeds I sowed this year).

The pots were initially kept in one of my little plastic mini-greenhouses.

When I felt they were big enough to be transplanted, I put them in one of my raised beds, keeping the 5 or 6 seedlings together in a clump. This was on 5th April.

Bed prepared for Leeks under grilles at Left. Florence onions in Centre, protected by sticks. "Sturon" onion sets at Right.

This is 24th May, with the onions now about the thickness of a pencil.

This is 2nd July, with the onions showing definite signs of bulbing-up.

11th July - getting quite fat now.

23rd July. Some of them have developed a very deep purple colouring. They look nearly ready.

28th July. I picked a couple to test what they were like.

The test onions were used in two different salads and proved to be very nice indeed - lovely and sweet and not at all harsh when eaten raw.

So here we are today, 31st July, and I have picked all the remainder of them - a further 31 onions.

The weather forecast says that today and tomorrow will be mainly sunny for us, so the onions will be outside for a while, but I have rigged up a drying-rack in the garage, where I will put them if (when) the rain returns on Wednesday as forecast.

I think these onions are great. They look stunning, were easy to grow, and (most importantly) taste nice. What's not to like?

Growing them was very easy. After planting-out it was simply a case of watering every now and then (for instance during the very hot spell in June), and removing the occasional weed. And best of all, none of them bolted - unlike their "Red Baron" cousins!

By the way, some people have commented that these onions look like shallots. Indeed they do, but the difference is this: one onion seed or set produces one onion, whereas one shallot seed or set splits into several separate bulbs. So now you know!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Emergency work on the PSB

Torrential rain during the night has battered-down some of my plants, including a couple of the precious Purple Sprouting Broccoli.

An emergency staking job was called for.

The first thing that I noticed when I removed their mesh covering was that the plants had nearly reached the top of their structure:

The two middle PSB plants were affected. The end ones were still upright.

So as well as staking the plants, I needed to raise the height of the poles. Fortunately I have a fairly comprehensive set of aluminium rods these days, so I was able to augment the existing 1-metre rods by a further 40cm using extension rods. I think the height will now be sufficient to allow the PSB to keep growing until it no longer needs covering - i.e. in the Autumn.

I hammered-in a 4-ft hardwood stake for each plant, and then loosely tied them with a couple of turns of soft string.

I was surprised how bent the plants were, considering that they had only been on their sides for about 12 hours. Hopefully they will soon straighten up again.

In this next photo you can see quite clearly the rows of Radishes that are growing alongside the PSB. To be honest they have not done well (due to lack of light) and only about one plant in six has produced anything useful. Most of them have plenty of leaf and long lanky stalk, but little useable swollen root. In the recent cool wet weather the slugs have had a Field Day with them too.

Anyway, the mesh covering went back on as soon as possible. This is protecting the PSB from butterflies and insects such as Whitefly.

With the additional height of the frame, the mesh only just reaches the ground now.

So there we are, crisis averted! The PSB would have needed staking soon anyway, but the heavy rain last night simply forced me to do it immediately.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Picking and preserving

Almost every day now I'm picking something nice to eat from my veg-patch. Today I have harvested the last of my potatoes - a pot of "Nicola" 2nd Earlies:

These ones ought really to have been dug up a bit sooner, because some of the tubers have grown very big and may therefore be a bit coarse for a Second Early. The total yield from this 35-litre pot, starting from one seed-tuber, was 1.01kgs, the heaviest yield from all 16 of my pots, most of which were at about 850 - 950g. The largest tuber of this batch weighed 214g.

I think I'll try baking the big ones. The other day we had some of the "Kestrel" ones baked as Jacket Potatoes and they were very nice.

I very seldom grow any Maincrop potato varieties, so long-term storage is not an issue, but in the short term I like to keep my potatoes in a dark place that has some ventilation. I use some little hessian sacks that came with some coffee beans that my son-in-law brought me from his native Panama. They can each hold about 2kgs of potatoes.

Potato "Red Duke of York" in hessian bag - photo from 2014

They are ideal for the purpose of storing potatoes, because they allow the tubers to breathe. The little bags are in turn stored in an old cardboard shoe-box to keep them as dark as possible.

Of course I have been picking more tomatoes. The "Maskotka" ones are at their best just now, and I have already picked about 3kgs of them.

You'll notice that the fruits in the big round basket are fully ripe, but the ones in the oval basket are not.

Fully ripe "Maskotka"

I have deliberately picked quite a few of these tomatoes under-ripe, because I want to keep them for a while. We are soon going to be holidaying in the UK with our daughters and their families, and I know how much the grandchildren love Grandpa's tomatoes, so I'm going to try to keep some to take with us. For now, they are in green plastic  "Stayfresh" bags, which can keep them in good condition for a long time.

Under-ripe "Maskotka"

I don't normally try to preserve any of the little tomatoes - they are perfect eaten raw - but when the bigger varieties begin to ripen, we will probably make some of them into sauce to freeze for use in the Winter, because we won't be able to keep pace with them if we only eat them raw.

Over the past couple of weeks I have picked a few small batches of Runner Beans (4, to be precise), like this:

Runner Beans "Scarlet Emperor"

So far my Runner Bean plants have not produced many pods. A lot of the flowers just did not set. I'm hoping that now that we have had a few days of rain, they will do better. I think the plants know that it is not sensible to produce a load of pods when they themselves are struggling to survive.

The batch of beans pictured above weighed almost exactly 300g, and this is a nice size for a 2-person serving. As long as we get about two batches a week, I'll be reasonably happy, though it would be good to have a large quantity to freeze. Tomatoes and Runner Beans are about the only things I grow in enough quantity to make it worth preserving.

There's one other thing though.... chillis. Jane made us another jar of pickled chillis today.

That jar contains a mixture of several types of chilli (including some Jalapenos and a couple of the citrussy "Aji Limon"), weighing about 150g.

Still on the "preserving" theme, I have been struggling to dry my onions properly, due to the poor weather we have had. Those poor old onions have been in and out of the shed 100 times in the last week, and have hardly seen the sun! I noticed today that one of them is going soft, so I think I'll probably give up on trying to dry them and just eat them "green".

Friday, 28 July 2017

Reaping the rewards

For the veg-gardener, July and August are all about harvesting. It's not that you don't / can't harvest vegetables at other times, it's just that the balance if very much in favour of harvesting instead of sowing and planting. This week I have been harvesting lots more goodies from my garden.

In my trug this time I have beetroot, red onions, radishes, a cucumber, a courgette and loads of tomatoes.

The tomatoes are all small ones, mostly "Maskotka", with a few "Losetto" and one or two "Sweet Aperitif". The latter certainly live up to the expectation set by their name - they are very sweet for a tomato. I have to say though that "Maskotka" is still my favourite, because it seems to have just the right balance of sweetness and acidity.

These are mostly "Maskotka"

As well as the salads seen above, I have also today picked my second little batch of "Sturon" onions.

Well, it's not a huge harvest by any stretch of the imagination (with these 8 I will have harvested 22 "Sturons"), but I'm pretty happy with the quality, especially considering that this is my first attempt at growing this vegetable.

You probably noticed in the photos at the top of the page there are two large red torpedo-shaped onions. They are the first of my "Long Red Florence". I have about 30 more of these, and I plan to harvest them next time we have the prospect of a couple of days of sunshine to help with drying them (so not this coming weekend then!). The two I have harvested today are going to be used in a tomato-and-onion salad tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A technique for growing trailing tomatoes

One of my favourite tomato varieties is "Maskotka", which I have grown for many years now. It produces red fruits that are rather larger then the usual cherry tomato. It has a rather unruly trailing habit, and lends itself to being grown in baskets or elevated containers. Fortunately, I have such a container...

The container is officially known as a "planter". It's a wooden trough-like thing, standing on legs about 3 feet tall - very much like the things that these days some people call "veg-trugs". It conveniently accommodates two large plastic crates. I have used this arrangement several times for growing finger carrots, and it has worked well. This year I decided to have a change and grow some tomatoes in it instead.

I filled the two crates with commercial multi-purpose compost and planted each with two "Maskotka" tomato plants. This was on 11th May. I gave the plants a bit of early support with some soft string stretched between short bamboo canes.

When the plants grew bigger and stronger, I removed the string and allowed the plants to flop over, arranging them such that they were fairly evenly distributed - pointing in different directions.

I pushed a few short sticks into the compost to keep the tomato plants in place.

After this it was just a case of watering and feeding in the same way as any other tomatoes. I found that the compost in the crates dried out very quickly (small crates, poor compost!) and in sunny weather I had to water them at least daily, sometimes twice daily. In the really hot weather in June I was practically standing over them all day with the watering-can! As for feeding, my usual regime is a dose of Tomorite applied weekly after flowers appear. In this next photo you can see that the plants are very lush, and covered in flowers. This was 23rd June.

By the second week of July the plants had set lots of fruit, though it was still firmly green.

The first fruit began to noticeably change colour on 10th July.

The first ripe fruit were picked on 21st July. most of the tomatoes in this next photo are "Losetto", but there are a couple of "Maskota" in there too -they are the slightly larger ones over at the right.

At about this time, the foliage began to die down, as is normal when the fruit starts to ripen, a natural mechanism allowing more light to reach the fruit. By this time the plants were heavy with fruit and definitely trailing. Luckily the height of the planter was just right too - the plants don't touch the ground, which makes it much more difficult for slugs and snails to get at them.

If you're wondering what's in the crate underneath, it's Watercress.

One of the things I like about "Maskotka" is the fact that the fruit ripens over quite a long period, and individually rather than truss-by-truss like cordon-grown tomatoes.

You pick some ripe ones and when you back next day there are more ready to pick, which is very fortunate since my first significant batch (maybe 20 - 25 fruits) was picked on 23rd July with the help of two of my granddaughters, who promptly demolished the lot in about 3 minutes flat. I managed to rescue only one each for Jane and myself!

Looked at from above, the plants don't seem too impressive...

But when you look at the sides, the whole thing is "dripping with fruit"!

Over the next couple of weeks I expect to be taking in a steady stream of tasty little toms. Perhaps I'm going to have to keep them secret from Lara and Holly, otherwise Jane and I won't get much of a look in!

I'm pleased with the technique I have used, and the piece of kit that has made it possible, but I think that if I use it again next year I will use better compost (if I can find any!) to reduce the need for watering.