Six on Saturday: The fruits of our labours

Harvest time is certainly upon us and this week’s ‘Six on Saturday’ highlights some of the autumn produce coming out of the garden.  It has been a rather strange year with some plants and trees setting really well and other producing absolutely no fruit at all.


One:  Grapes

Last autumn we described the process of pruning the red and white outdoor grape vines ( Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines ).  They have both really enjoyed the hot weather this year and produced (after thinning) large juicy bunches of sweet grapes.  When we planted these a few years back I was rather sceptical as to whether we would get anything worth eating here in the UK Midlands but they have both exceeded all my expectations.

You can eat them fresh but they also make a lovely grape juice.  This is simply done by putting them in the food processor for a very quick pulse to mash the fruits and then straining.  Absolutely delicious.

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Two:  Apples

It is not quite apple picking time but the Golden Noble, Bramley seedling, Lord Lambourne and Egremont Russet (pictured) have all done very well.  The Tydemans Late Orange, however, has no fruit on it this year and we have no pears at all (see:  The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn for further details of the varieties we grow in the orchard).

Next month (October) will be peak harvest time for the apples and on a warmish, sunny day I will get out my cider making equipment for the annual cider making bonanza. ( see:  How to make cider from all those spare apples  ).  With so little water this year it may well take some time to get a decent yield of juice out of the apples.

P1020133 Russet


Three:  Greenhouse and polytunnel fruits

At the peak of the heatwave the greenhouse fruits were certainly struggling a bit and we suffered a lot from bottom end rot on the early tomatoes.  This is supposed to be caused by irregular watering but I seemed to be watering all the time.  I think the plants were just unable to cope with the temperatures and were in a semi-wilted state for a number of weeks.

However, as the temperatures cooled the tomatoes have recovered and are now producing a regular crop of large red, tasty fruit.  I have grown the variety ‘Shirley’ for the last few years and found it very reliable and full of flavour.

The cucumbers did not seem to mind the heat and produced a huge crop.  The variety I have most success with is the variety ‘Euphya’ from Marshalls. You only get 5 seeds but your get five plants from them and they produce far more high quality cucumbers than we could ever eat.  Most of the hamlet here receive free cucumbers at some point in the summer.

The final fruit crop in the polytunnels has been the Sweet Peppers.  The variety I have most success with in both hot and cold summers is the ox-horn type pepper Diablo.  They produce huge sweet peppers (pictured) and are currently ripening to red in the polytunnel.

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Four:  Plums

Our plum tree is now over 25 years old and beginning to show its age.  When we saw this variety (Warwickshire Drooper) in the catalogue when we were first planting the orchard we just had to include it.  We live in Warwickshire after all.

This year it has had a huge crop despite an increasing number of dead looking branches.  It is a lovely plum to just eat fresh off the tree with a slightly plum wine flavour. Yum!

P1020130 Warwickshire Drooper Plum


Five:  Quince

Another tree that has had a bumper crop this year has been the Quince.  You could grow it purely as an ornamental tree as it has a mass of large pink flowers in the spring.  When ripe, the fruit has a delicate and beautiful fragrance.

They are a lovely fruit to eat if prepared well (see:  Quinces ).

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Six:  Enjoying the harvest throughout the winter

Although it is lovely to eat all this seasonal produce at this time of year now is the time to preserve the harvest for those long cold winter months.  This is probably the topic of a separate blog still to be written but we do make a lot of use of a wonderful little kitchen gadget – our Tefal jam maker.

Home grown fruit jam on hot buttered toast on a cold winter morning.  I will leave you with that thought!

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

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Man cannot live by flowers alone – time to start sowing the Broad Beans

Believe it or not our life is not all about colourful flowers!  The vegetable garden also plays an important part in our enjoyment, getting us out in the fresh air and harvesting what we grow.  As it is now the 6 March and the sun is out it seemed perfect for sowing the first broad beans of the year.

Each year we tend to grow a mix of old favourites that we know will do well in our soil and we also have fun trying out some new varieties.

This year we are growing three (descriptions by Marshalls Seeds):

  • The Sutton – “perfect for small or exposed gardens on account of the bushy, compact plants which grow to a manageable 35-45cm (15-18in) tall.
  • Masterpiece Green Longpod – “a reliable and popular long pod Broad Bean variety with up to 6 or 7 flavoursome beans per pod  … excellent for freezing and have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit for its great qualities.
  • Scabiola Verde –  “vigorous spring-sown, longpod variety of broad bean that produces pods up to a whopping 40cm (16in) in length with up to 10 beans per pod.

Although you can plant direct into the ground we always have much more success by sowing in pots in the greenhouse and planting out when the soil is warmer and the new plants are more robust.  We have more luck in staying on top of the mice and voles this way.

We plant two seeds to each 3 inch pot filled with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.   When the seedlings emerge I remove the weakest one and let the other grow away strongly.  I hate to end up with some pots with nothing growing in them.

Broad Beans are sown in 3 inch pots with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite
Broad Beans are sown in 3 inch pots with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite

The trays of pots are watered well, covered with cling film and placed in a cold greenhouse to germinate.  I cover the trays with cling film so that I do not have to worry about watering again until the seedlings emerge.  The seedlings are uncovered immediately the shoots break the surface.

The strong plants will be planted out in neat (very satisfying) double rows in April/May. The beauty of growing in pots is that you get complete rows with no gaps.

As the summer moves on the bees will come and the beans will form usually cropping from around May until August depending on when they have been sown.  For me the beans are best picked young and eaten fresh.

I have to say it is an extremely pleasant activity just sitting in the evening sun with a glass of wine, quietly podding the beans ready for supper.  I am looking forward to it already!

Further information

Scientific name:  Vicia faba

Family: Fabaceae

Origin:  Western Asia  (ref:  Kew Science)

 

An easy method to provide a continuous supply of fresh herbs for cooking at the weekend

We really enjoy using fresh herbs in our cooking but if you are growing your own it is so easy to get a glut at times and then nothing at others (just when you want it of course).

Supermarket buying also has its problems with a standard pack of cut fresh herbs usually much more than you need.  It then languishes in the fridge until it becomes rather sad and limp.

However, creating your own supply of growing herbs and salad leaves is really very straight forward as long as you get yourself organised.  If you have a greenhouse or cold frame then all the better.

We use a lot of  coriander, rocket, basil and parsley in particular and grow them in the following way.

Every three weeks fill a small 9cm pot with standard multi-purpose compost mixed with some perlite for better drainage.  Water the compost and then sow a small amount of coriander seed onto the surface.  Water before you sow the seed so it remains evenly spread over the pot and does not all end up in one corner.  Cover lightly with vermiculite (or more compost), label and then cover with a piece of clingfilm until the seedlings emerge.  Uncover as soon as the seedlings begin to show.

We do the same with the salad rocket in a slightly large 1 litre plastic pot.  The seedlings of rocket will emerge in just a few days.

For the basil we tend to use a broader 9 inch wide terracotta pot/bowl as the basil likes better drainage and does not like to get waterlogged.  There are a wide range of basil varieties and these can provide you with both leaves for a salad and for use in cooking.  Once sown the technique is the same.

Just grow these on in the light and very rapidly they will reach a point where you can bring them into the kitchen, place on the windowsill and pick what you need, when you need it.

I am sure the same technique would work equally well for parsley but we find that rather than bring the pots into the kitchen we plant them out in the vegetable garden where they establish quickly and produce fresh green leaves deep into winter.

Remember:  Keep sowing every 3 weeks or so (don’t wait until you start to run out) and you will have a ready supply throughout the year.

A recipe to try:  If you like parsley then you might like to have a go at this recipe for egg, bacon and parsley pie which is a favorite of ours and makes great use of the parsley from the garden.