Monthly Archives: April 2014

Jostaberry attacked by sawfly

The distinctive gooseberry sawfly larvae feeding on the leaves of the Jostaberry

The distinctive gooseberry sawfly larvae feeding on the leaves of the Jostaberry

There are several crosses between gooseberries and blackcurrants, one of which is the Jostaberry. We had a great specimen, planted winter before last and due to bear its first modest crop this year. However, it has been badly damaged by the most problematic pest of gooseberries, the larvae of the gooseberry sawfly. Their favoured feed is gooseberry foliage, but they will also attack currants, and clearly the hybrid Jostaberry is susceptible. Continue reading

Sowing this week

There was little time for sowing this week, but we did plenty of planting out. One has to be careful with tender plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. We usually plant these in the glasshouses and polytunnel around the first week of May. The weather has been mild, though, and the temperature has not dropped below five degrees in the polytunnel for a couple of weeks, and has barely been anywhere near freezing this year, so we decided that it was probably a suitable time to plant these out. Continue reading

New watering system for the polytunnel

We have several automatic watering systems in the kitchen garden: a network of soaker hoses in the two large glasshouses and two serving the polytunnel borders, along with micro irrigation for the chillies growing in the smaller glasshouse. These are attached to timers that turn on the water supply at set times and for set durations. They are in use from late April or May until the end of the season, when watering would otherwise take up a lot of time. Both the micro irrigation and the soaker hoses deliver water exactly where needed in a controlled manner. I tend to water infrequently outdoors, but the undercover spaces must be watered regularly, especially during the summer. Continue reading

Planting out the orchard

It was many weeks ago when the last of our orchard trees arrived. As the planting site was not ready and the weather was poor, we healed them in, in one of the vegetable beds. Before we ordered the trees we had found somebody to give us a hand preparing the planting sites, as this is quite a big job with 18 trees to deal with, but we were let down and it took a while to find somebody else to help us out. Last week, though, we finished moving them from their temporary site to the orchard. I am sure that the healing in is not detrimental, and it is, or at least was, a common enough practice, but one ought to plant out whilst the trees are still dormant. Thanks to the mild spring, they broke into growth early this year, and it was rather late to move them. We had no choice, however, so moved them with as much care as possible, aiming to minimise the disturbance of the new root growth. Continue reading

Out with the new and in with the old

It is no secret that I tend to favour old varieties of fruit and vegetables, many of which have been around for hundreds of years. They hail from a time when breeding was not concerned unduly with shelf life, robustness for transport, uniformity, suitability for mechanical harvesting, and other rather meaningless traits as far as the kitchen garden is concerned. Naturally, they were selected for traits pertaining to robustness and yield, but flavour, texture, and other characteristics of great interest to the cook and the kitchen gardener were, in my view, far more likely to be prioritised than now. I must admit that I am rather sceptical concerning the motivations behind much of modern plant breeding. I thought it was about time I explained my preference for open pollinated varieties rather than modern F1 hybrids. Continue reading

Pinching out the fan trained peaches

Some weeks ago I wrote about disbudding the peach bush growing in our polytunnel. At the time I mentioned that those in the glasshouse would need doing soon and that I would show what was needed for fan trained specimens. Well, I pinched out the unwanted shoots a few weeks ago and was only reminded that I had not yet written about it when I was thinking that it will not be long before poorly placed and excess fruitlets need to be removed, at least from the bush and Early Rivers fan; Bellegarde, being a much later sort, is slower to develop. Continue reading

Sowing this week

This week we had limited time for sowing as we finally started planting up the orchard. We did, though, tend to three timely tasks: the parsnip bed, Jerusalem artichokes, and a second potato bed. Parsnips benefit from a long growing season and sowing as early as February is sometimes recommended. However, such early sowings, when the soil is cold and wet, are not conducive to good germination, and parsnip seed is already notoriously stubborn to germinate. I prefer to wait until conditions are better and the start of April is a good time. As weather conditions improved a few weeks back, we could have sown then, but this week was our first opportunity. Parsnips, along with other root crops, such as carrots, follow on from brassicas in our crop rotation. The brassicas are one of the most greedy feeders, whilst root crops tend to fork if grown in too rich a soil. Therefore, no manure, compost, or other fertiliser was added. The bed was simply weeded and raked over until level and of good texture. Continue reading

Leek and Jerusalem artichoke soup

At this time of year the kitchen garden is looking a bit mean. Thinking back to the old walled gardens that had an estate to feed and the house to supply, it is amazing that they could provide enough food all year round when the garden yields the bulk of its crops over just six or seven months. There are two winter vegetables that did well for us last season, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes, which have the distinct advantage of standing for months and providing a crop over a long period of time. Both are left in the ground and dug when needed. At this time of year, though, the leeks are about to throw up a flower spike and the quality will rapidly decline. The Jerusalem artichokes are just starting to develop some roots and, although they are still rock hard and great to eat, they really need to be harvested and some replanted for next winter’s crop. It seemed like an ideal time to make some soup from these two great winter staples. Continue reading

Replacement peppers

I recently wrote about the poor germination from some of our peppers. I contacted one of the seed merchants who had found a problem with one of the varieties and sent replacements. This has come too late, though, for a further sowing. New seed from a different supplier sown in the second batch has germinated well, but that still left our chilli and sweet pepper collection rather lacking this year. I usually grow 44 chillies, to fill our smallest glasshouse through the summer, and 22 or so sweet peppers, plus spares. We were short by about one third of what we needed so had to resort to buying young plants instead. Continue reading

Sowing this week

This week we started sowing more of the tender crops. We started with French bean Beurre de Rocquencourt, a dwarf wax bean bearing pale yellow pods. Whilst the outdoor crop of climbing French and runner beans will provide a heavy crop over a long period, they take some time to develop. A dwarf bean will produce a crop rather more quickly as they do not need to put on so much vegetative growth before they bear. I am hoping to find some space in the polytunnel for our first crop, which might also help a little. I could, perhaps, have sown a couple of weeks ago, but beans are tender and there is still a possibility of a frost, even in the polytunnel. I sowed in pots, several seeds to each, rather than direct, as I sometimes do with beans later in the year. In pots they are easier to protect from the cold and from pests. Continue reading