With September fast approaching it is a time of harvest, but also time to get the polytunnel ready for the autumn/winter. I’m really please with my onion crop. I have never had such big specimens. I think it may be a combination of a good growing season and the new ground they were in. Today, I gave up waiting for a nice sunny day and started to dig them up. I have laid some out in the hope of a bit of dry weather this coming week. But the kids also helped me transport (using a little wheelbarrow and toy tractor & trailer) some to the greenhouse and polytunnel. There isn’t much space in either but where we can we have left them drying. Once dry, we’ll hang in an open woodshed for use throughout the autumn and winter.
Onion harvest drying
We also cleared out a couple of the less productive cucumber plants from the poly and planted some stir fry greens, winter purslane and rocket. The salad crops I set a few weeks ago are doing well. We’re harvesting them everyday for lunch. I think they may have benefited from the cool temperatures we’ve had this month.
Polytunnel – autumn salad crops
While out with my camera I noticed that despite the cool, cloudy day the thistle flowers were still attracting butterflies (and just a couple of bees) though not as many as that sunny day a week ago as in my previous post.
Red admiral on thistle
It’s a wet and pretty dearly day here today, so after making another lot of pickled cucumber I made some raspberry jam from some frozen raspberries I found while cleaning out the freezer! These were last years crop and as this years autumn ones are just getting ripe it was time to use them up!
I came across a great post (http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/04/basic-jam-for-beginners/) as I was keen to try making some low sugar jam. So I have experimented with a ratio of 2:1 fruit to sugar. It looks like it has set and the kids were happy to clean the spoon and ladle afterwards! With a wet week forecast I am not sure how many raspberries we will get. We also picked some wild blackberries yesterday but they would also benefit from some dry days!
This beautiful dragonfly was also having a rest on one of the raspberry plants. I think it is a female common hawker.
Our thistle patch came into its own again today. I have written in a previous post about the value of these so called ‘weeds’ for wildlife. Today, I counted seventeen peacock butterflies feeding on the flowers, though the show was stolen by the single Red Admiral. It was much more fickle than the peacocks and proved harder to photograph.
Red Admiral Butterfly
At rest, it doesn’t look quite as beautiful but still amazing patterns.
Red admiral – wings closed
The peacocks are not looking quite as fresh as my previous photograph but still stunning. I don’t think I have ever seen so many at one time. There were often 3 or 4 feeding on one plant.
Along with the butterflies, there were numerous bumblebees feeding on the thistle flowers too. These included some new queen bees. New bumblebee queens emerge from colonies at this time of year. They mate and then feed on pollen and nectar. This allows them to build up fat so they can hibernate over the winter (often underground in old mouse holes) before emerging next spring to start the process all over again.
White tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) – queen
Autumn is coming early to the west of Ireland and while I hate to see the summer go it is a lovely time in the garden. So I took some photographs to share. The first photo shows the area we look out from our kitchen table. The recently clipped beech hedge makes it look neat and tidy. It’s the only area of planted flowers I have but I have a plan to expand this autumn – more of that in posts to follow.
Pond and flowers
So many things are looking great – if you ignore the weeds! And even the beans survived the gale we had the other day, though unfortunately the sunflower, that was under attack from the wasps, didn’t!
Runner bean, French bean and mange tout
Newly planted cabbages for next spring
Even on a dull day our sunflowers are shouting ‘hey look at me!’ And we have had quite a few dull days recently and a cool northerly wind which has left a few of the sunflowers leaning! The sunflower my son planted has not grown as tall as his younger sister’s so he wants to claim one of mine instead! The tallest are just over 2m high.
The wasps have found a couple of them and appear to be stealing sap from the lowers part of the stem. So far I have noticed them on two of the stems and the smaller of the two plants is looking somewhat unhealthy, so they may be having a detrimental effect.
Wasps on sunflower stems
While we were picking some chokeberries (Aronia) today I also noticed a wasp checking them out too. The berries have done well and we picked close to 2kg. They are okay to eat but have a sort of mealy inside and somewhat bitter tasting skin so we have to experiment cooking with them. For now they are in the freezer. They are said to be very high in antioxidants and vitamins so well worth having in your garden.
You may think it is a strange time of year to be talking about bluebells, but now is a good time to collect bluebell seed and that is one of the reasons we went to Raheens wood, near Castlebar in Co Mayo (http://www.coillteoutdoors.ie/index.php?id=171&rec_site=168&activity=&no_cache=1) over the weekend.
Raheens wood, is a semi natural woodland dating from about 1840. There is hazel, birch, ash and rowan trees and some oak including a relatively recently planted area of oak.
We collected bluebell seed here last year too, and planted it in pots which we then placed in our own woodland. They did germinate and grow, but we’ll have to be patient as it will take anything from 3-7 years before they will flower. It is important never to dig bluebell bulbs up from the wild. The seed we collected this time we have both scattered in our wood and sown into two large pots.
Ivy on tree trunk
It’s a lovely wood for a walk, plenty to see at any time of year.
At the moment meadowsweet is flowering in all the damp, wet pastures and along the damper hedgerows. As it’s name suggests it has an amazing sweet aroma – which unfortunately I can’t share with you.
Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria
It was once used by monks to sweeten mead, hence the name meadowsweet. Though it also has may traditional medicine uses. It’s a naturally anti-inflammatory and contains salicylic acid (main constituent of aspirin). A few years ago we dried some of the flowers and made a tea, which has a very pleasant taste. I have recently come across a recipe for a cordial (http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/outdoors/gardening/meadowsweet-ripe-for-picking-and-brewing-239939.html) and read that it was used to flavour vinegars, jams and stewed fruits.
In the greenhouse, the cucumbers are doing well. Today, I picked fifteen of them. And their are plenty more to come.
The plants are slowly taking over the greenhouse. It is probably just as well as the late planted tomatoes, while they have some green tomatoes, are not looking as if they will do so well.
Cucumber plants in greenhouse
Luckily, as far as the cucumbers go, I have a lovely pickled cucumber recipe I got from a Latvian friend and have so far made about eight jars. The recipe involves cutting the cucumber up and combing with salt, sugar, vinegar, oil and some dill. The mix is then left overnight and then pack into jars the following day. These are then sterilized using a water-bath canning method.
I spotted two of these shield bugs while out for a walk along a track, we call the bog road, close to our house. It is a Hawthorn shield bug.
Hawthorn Shield Bug – final instar nymph
This is not it’s final adult stage. The female lays eggs that hatch into nymphs. These are wingless and crawl among plants and feed. They go through a number of instars. It takes about six weeks to reach an adult. They will hibernate during the winter months as adults. They feed mainly on hawthorn berries (hence their name), though this one was feeding on rowan berries.