We enjoyed our first apples in late August, and we’ve recently been harvesting our late apple varieties .
There are three varieties – Annie Elizabeth*, Pixie and Katja. We (my children, husband and I), did a taste comparison of each. All four of us voted the Annie Elizabeth as our favourite. It being the sweetest of the three; our vote may just indicate we all have a sweet tooth! In fact, the Pixie apples were very similar in flavour but were very firm. So we’ve put these into store. The Pixie is also a smaller apple. An ideal size of a children’s lunchbox.
The Katja apples have a good sweet flavour too. The flesh shows some pink flushes, and is softer than either the Annie Elizabeth or Pixie.
In terms of cropping, both the Katja and Pixie have given a reasonable crop for the size of tree. In fact, it is the best crop we have had from the Pixie. The Annie Elizabeth however had a much heavier crop last year, compared to this year. So we will savoured the few apples we did have and hope that next year it will return to it’s bounty of the 2016 season.
It always pays to grow a couple of varieties of fruit tree, as we have certainly found they all have good, and bad years.
*Interestingly Annie Elizabeth is listed as a cooking apple on many websites. The Victorian Nursery website (UK) does say it is so sweet it doesn’t require sugar. So I am not sure we have it properly labeled. I double checked in my garden notebook and it is definitely listed as Annie Elizabeth and was planted in 2006, but it could be the original label was incorrect.
October is knocking and the dark nights are rolling in. It is the time of year for warm fires, stews and hot soups. But still the garden is providing despite the early frost of a fortnight ago. Cabbages have had a good year, as have onions. I do wonder though if the onions will store well as they have grown so big. The tomatoes were late but are still ripening. We’re enjoying apple and raspberry crumble too.
We haven’t bought any eating apples for a good two months now and these red pixie apples are still to harvest.
One of the great things about autumn is free seeds. I have been harvesting some from my flowers and already have lupins, delphiniums, campanula and some wild flowers including ox-eyed daisy, foxgloves and ragged robin germinating and growing.
The chicks are growing too, and are spending most of their day in the greenhouse in a little enclosure that keeps the from digging young lettuce plants up!
We have had an exceptionally mild October. It has had it’s advantages as we were still harvesting a few beans and courgettes in the last couple of weeks, but on the other side some of the leeks have started to go to seed! This morning we woke to our first proper frost; plants were transformed into sugar-coated candy!
One of my reader’s, Helen from Silverbells, asked if I would do an update on our forest garden as I describe on Murtagh’s Meadow about page. Really the forest gardening I leave to my husband, while I concentrate on the vegetable patch, and the flower garden, though it doesn’t stop me using the produce.
To quote the Agroforestry Trust in the UK , forest gardening is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The idea being that you try and re-create a sustainable natural forest with all it’s complex product producing layers. So food products may include fruits, nuts, leaves, and possibly medicinal plants and spices. In addition, you may have plants that produce fodder for animals or resources such as bean poles, wood for fuel and so on.
From our point of view it has been a bit of a struggle. To start with you are constantly battling with weeds and in our case grass, and until we get some kind of canopy cover this will continue. So any low growing shrubs have really struggled to get a foot hold. And even plants such as raspberries, which are naturally a woodland edge plant, struggle to keep going. Perhaps, if we had more time (this is supposed to be a low maintenance form of gardening) it would be better, because in reality you’d need to be out every few days cutting the grass back from spring right into late autumn.
Somethings have done well, such as the chokeberries. But then the birds come along and eat them all before they are even ripe!!! We have Nepalese raspberries which are good ground cover. They certainly are, and they try to take over. What is more I have yet to find any fruit – though the carder bees do seem to appreciate the flowers.
The cobnut shrubs look good and are healthy but we have yet to get more than a handful of nuts. The nuts we did grow this year were nearly all empty and those that had fallen to the ground has been opened by mice (but I wonder if they found them empty too?). Though this coming year we should have some very decent bean poles.
The slugs loved the bark of the Szechuan pepper (a substitute for black pepper) and ring barked it a couple of times before we put it in a pot.
The autumn olive flowered but did not set fruit this year, but there were some fruit last year (see photo). We had a good crop of sea buckthorn which again are thriving (though last year did not crop so well). And this is the first year we have had quinces (a grand total of six!).
In general, success has been better with the more traditional orchard trees, apples, plums and to lesser extent pears. Having a number of varieties seems to be the key, as not all well fruit well every year.
In terms of work, you need to be prepared initially to do a lot of maintenance. And it is certainly trial and error with what will crop well in a given year.
September is here and the garden year is beginning to wind down. Despite our wet summer we have had reasonable crops – warmer temperatures than last summer probably helping.
We’ve been enjoying juicy Victoria plums and Beauty of Bath apples (an early variety).
Many of the apple trees have cropped well and we are looking forward to tasting them all. I see each apple as having its own melody; smell, taste, texture are all different.
Pears have not done well this year – the few we have are covered in scab and are now beginning to crack. But it is the first year we have had Japanese Quince (only six though!).
In the vegetable plot, beans have done well. Garlic definitely benefited from being planted last October. Cabbages have thrived in the damp conditions. Squashes are few and far between and onions which I planted late are understandably small! All and all not too bad a harvest though.
Fruit is ripening but the birds are trying to get them before we do. The plums are coming on nicely, but then I noticed some of the fruit was being attacked by birds (didn’t think to photo damaged plums).
So I asked the kids to make me some scary faces, which we laminated and hung from the tree. These, with some hawk silhouettes, seemed to do the trick.
At least I thought they did. But then I noticed the birds had moved on to the apple tree instead. Beauty of Bath is an old (1864) English early apple variety. Personally I find them a bit sharp but the kids love them! They are supposed to get sweeter as the season progresses. Ours have a lovely pink flush to the flesh. The apple tree now had it’s own collection of scary faces and a couple of old CDs too. We’ll just have to see where the birds move on to next!
Well things are busy in the garden this month but at least we are reaping some of the benefits. We’ve been enjoying broccoli from the greenhouse from over wintered plants, which are being gradually cleared out and replaced by cucumbers and tomatoes, and also a few early beans. We’ve also had a few early strawberries, and the first courgette is just coming.
In the polytunnel things are getting a bit overgrown, as the early potatoes need to start coming out. The broadbeans have cropped well and we are enjoying them for dinner. The mange tout seem to have suffered from our recent dry and sunny spell as I think they prefer cooler conditions, so leaves are looking a bit yellow but they are still producing peas.
Outside plums are forming as are some pears and apples – though I am a bit concerned that the pears are already looking a bit scabby.
In the vegetable garden things are a little slow. Cabbages though have benefited from the warm weather as there has been minimum slug damage. Beans and onions are just coming slowly. I am gradually catching up with weeding but they seem to continue to grow!!
In the local primary school, we have started an after-schools gardening club as part of the school’s biodiversity green-school project.
With over 40 (about a third of the school) children attending it takes a bit of organising, but thankfully other parents have come on board to help out. It is wonderful to see the kids get so enthusiastic about not only gardening, but also making the school more wildlife friendly.
Our first task was to make some bird boxes, which have subsequently gone up in the hedgerow which surrounds the school.
There are a couple of existing flower beds which were weeded and planted with some primulas to brighten them up. Daffodils were already present. The kids have since set seeds of other flowers and these will be planted out in the coming weeks.
There is one quite small raised bed from a previous attempt to grow vegetables. The first part of this has been filled with compost and planted with onions, beetroot, radishes, peas and lettuce. People have been very generous and donated seeds, pots, tools and compost. The kids are keen to grow pumpkins so last week we started of some pumpkin seeds. They have also planted up strawberry plants into a large pot which the kids have to keep watered and hopefully they will be rewarded with some strawberries before the summer holidays come.
We’ve also planted a selection of apple trees. The soil at the site is poor and water-logged but we hope that over the years the trees will produce some apples that the kids will be able to harvest. We’d also like to incorporate some other soft fruit bushes like raspberries and currants. It’s very much a work in progress. But even if we can inspire just a couple of children to become avid gardens I will feel rewarded.
The garden is starting to show a bit of colour and when the sun shines it certainly warms the heart. One of my spring favourites are the fruit tree blossoms which are just beginning. The plum blossom has a particular delicate, sweet smell which I wish I could share.
The lollipop primula where a gift from my sister a couple of years ago. The daffodils are nearly over but the pale ones are still looking good. The pansies are the first pansies I have successfully grown from seed!
Of course there are wildflowers too. Though the wood sorrel is currently growing in a pot where it seeded itself. I love daisies and of course dandelions are great for early pollinators.