It is unusual to get heart-shaped potatoes but that is exactly what I dug up from the garden the other day!
We have moved the chickens to a new area. My husband has been busy making them a new house, adapting a plan from “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers“, by Harvey Ussery.
The chickens seem to like it.
The roof perches are high but all the chickens are using them (even the older ladies). And all eggs are being laid in the nest boxes provided.
There is plenty to eat in the new area too. It’s an area we’ve grown our potatoes and onions in for last two years. It had become over run with weeds though so we thought the chickens could do a good clearing job. Meanwhile, we hope to grow this year’s potatoes in the area where the chicken’s have been for the last two years. There wasn’t much growing so it is easier to dig. We hope to get the potatoes that have been chitting in the ground this week.
Moving the hens from the old area to new one was a little challenging and involved the four of us trying to herd them. It was pretty successful with the exception of one of the black chickens who kept breaking ranks. I eventually caught her and carried her to her new quarters, much to her indignation!
July is fast coming to an end so I thought it was time for another garden update. It is not proving to be the best of summers. There has been lots (too much) of rain but thankfully temperatures are not as low as last summer, but it is not looking like we will have bumper harvests.
In the greenhouse, tomatoes and cucumbers are producing but not in big quantities so there has not been surplus for pickling. My cucumbers (and also the courgettes and squashes) have all got this strange virus – it looks like mildew, but starts as perfect circles and increases and multiplies till the whole leaf is covered. I keep taking off the affected leaves and so far the plants are surviving. One variety of cucumber (marketmore), shows no sign of the virus so I may concentrate on growing that variety next year.
In the polytunnel, the early broadbeans did well as did the Charlotte potatoes which we are about half way through. I have some beetroot to harvest and also started harvesting these purple kohlrabi. We all prefer them raw to cooked so will probably have the rest with salads. I just planted some more seed in the hope that I can get some to crop in late autumn or over winter for next spring.
Outside the first of the runner beans are appearing ( I put five plants in the poly on a wigwam and they are really not happy, and I don’t know why), and I am hoping for a better crop than last year. The dwarf beans are really suffering, probably because it is not warm enough. I did plant a couple in the greenhouse and it turns out this was a good idea because they are cropping well! Cabbages do seem to enjoy the wet and we’ve been enjoying the first (variety Greyhound), and I am hopeful that we will get a decent crop of red cabbage. Courgettes are small and slow.
We’ve had a few nice summer raspberries but the loganberries are proving very popular with the blackbirds!! We’ve picked over 2kg of blackcurrants and there are still some more. The kids are enjoying blackcurrant cordial and it’s a “bribe” to get them picking some of their own! Blackcurrants are always one of our best croppers.
As autumn takes a firmer grip, I am in a reflective mood. After 2014’s bumper year in the garden, 2015 has probably been one of our worst. A summer of low temperatures, limited sunshine and excessive rain has meant even some of our usual staples have cropped very poorly. Runner beans have been few and far between, while last year the freezer was full of them. Autumn raspberries too have cropped very poorly, so that again we have frozen none in. While we harvest over 50 squashes last year we have none (and I mean none) this year. It is very disappointing.
And then when things do grow, like two lovely big cauliflower heads, the slugs have a field day – I removed about 20 slugs from one head! And I’m not talking small slugs either – I am talking of those about an inch long! The damp weather has been perfect for multiplying slugs! No photos of the cauliflowers but here is what they are doing to the cabbages.
In general, the brassicas have done quite well where they have manage to grow big enough to avoid being decimated by the slugs. The purple potatoes I grew – or at least tried to grow have been another failure. The plants did not thrive at all. And then when I harvested some last week I was very disappointed with the flavour – well actually there was no flavour at all! Another disadvantage is that when you dig them up they are hard to see – looking more like stones than potatoes. So I certainly won’t be growing them again.
On the positive side we have just finished the last of the Victoria plums (though admittedly the birds, either crows or magpies, had more than their fair share)! Some of the apple trees have reasonable crops too but again we are wary of birds making off with them!
The new flower garden, while now passed it’s best, also brought some cheer and fed the bees, and they certainly needed feeding this so-called summer.
These beautiful Orange tip butterflies are quite plentiful at the moment – or at least when the sun’s shining! The caterpillars of this species feed only on the cuckcoo flower. It’s a spring flower than grows in our meadows and has many local names including Hail Marys. I know the second photo isn’t in focus but I liked the way I had accidentally captured the hoverfly too. I think it is from the species Platycheirus, but open to correction.
We’ve finally planted the potatoes. I am about a fortnight behind this year with planting despite the good weather we had for part of April. I have planted three varieties. Charlotte will be the first to crop – most of these are already growing well in the tunnel but the rest I have planted out. Catriona are one of my favourites. They are fluffy, but not too fluffy and have a lovely flavour. This year I’m try a purple variety for the first time. It’s called Purple Majesty and the tubers are purple in colour.
The apple trees are really coming into blossom now – so I hope the frost keeps away. We keep having to chase a pair of bullfinches off the trees. It appears they like variety in their diet and are not content on eating just dandelion seeds!
We’re harvesting our broad beans and enjoying plenty of courgettes too. The runner beans are flowering and first beans setting. My daughter has been busy fishing-out all the fresh raw carrots from the lunch-time salad bowl but I don’t complain. It’s one of life’s little pleasures watching your kids eat with relish food that you have grown yourself.
A month ago (8th June), I was worried about the early appearance of blight on our potatoes. Today, many of the plants are over a metre high and most are flowering and looking healthy with no sign of the disease. So I am pretty happy. Though it pays to be vigilant as those damp and muggy conditions are back again so it’s ideal weather for the blight pathogen to return.
The onions are looking good too, and so far there is no sign of the onion virus that has effected them over the last few years. Even the autumn sown onions have done well and we’ve been using them for over a month now. The garlic on the other hand are pretty small despite having been put in in November.
Today, I heard Mary Reynolds (Garden designer and Chelsea Flower show gold medal winner) interviewed on the radio. Here is a lady after my own heart. She talked about growing your own vegetables, forest gardens and bees. Check out her interview on (http://marymary.ie/). It’s great to hear these topics being covered on one of our national radio stations.
Some of our potatoes are already showing signs of blight. Potato blight is cause by a fungus-like pathogen called Phytophthora infestans. Every year we get blight, but most years it is in late July or August when we can just cut away the affected stems and still have a good crop of potatoes below ground. This is the first time I remember seeing blight so early in the season. Blight thrives in warm, damp conditions and that is exactly the type of weather we are experiencing at the moment here in the west of Ireland. Also the new area where we have planted our potatoes is much more exposed than our vegetable plot. And as the blight spores are spread by the wind the plants are probably more prone to attack. So far the number of affected leaves is relatively small so we have removed all we can see and sprayed with a copper based fungicide (https://fruithillfarm.com/p-255-blight-spray.aspx). With the warm, damp weather forecast to remain for the week we will need to check the plants daily to make sure there is no further outbreaks.
As well as the blight, a rabbit has eaten it’s way through half of our purple sprouting broccoli plants (we have now fenced the area off with chicken wire fencing). The slugs and snails are not only enjoying the damp weather but also seem to love leaf celery!! And the flea beetles are making it hard for the newly planted-out brassicas to get established. So it’s a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment.
We did have a beautiful cinnabar moth in the garden a couple of days ago. It’s one of those moths you will see flying during the day, though it flies at night too. I knew they were around as I have seen the caterpillars the last couple of years. The caterpillars feed on ragworth and have an amazing yellow and back banding pattern. This is the first year I have seen the adults.
I am always impatient at this time of year, hoping, wishing and thinking plants should be growing faster and better! A prime example are my tomatoes. They finally got out of the upstairs shower yesterday, where I had them growing in pots waiting for the completion of the greenhouse. While the greenhouse isn’t finished the glass is mostly in and so we created a bed in the middle and planted in the tomatoes. There are small, weedy plants which should have been planted into bigger pots all long time ago. Whether now, with a little but of TLC, they can recover I do not know – but even a few green tomatoes are a valuable chutney crop!
On a positive note, the polytunnel is looking bright and colourful, with flowering sage, calendula and comprey. We are also harvesting our first mangetout peas and yesterday enjoyed our first Charlotte potatoes. The ones we harvested where in a large back pot and were a good couple of weeks ahead of those on the ground.
Outside pear, plum and apple have all set to some degree. The hope now is that most will remain on the trees for us to harvest in the autumn.
Carrots and parsnips have germinate well but the carrots have suffered quite a bit of slug damage. The beetroot has not done well and of the hamburger parsley I can only find a handful of plants. Whether this is a result of poor germination or slugs I am not sure. It’s the first time I have tried to grow these and I have read they need a long growing season so I probably won’t try setting more. The beetroot, on the other hand, will hopefully be set again over the weekend!
A beautiful spring day today and just as well with so many jobs to do in the garden. Part of the field to the south of the house has also been landscaped for new planting. This is a sloping area. The top is gravel and the bottom is peat so very different soils. This time swales have been created. These are mounds running across the slope to manage rainfall and nutrient loss. Sea buckthorn have been planted on the top mound, followed by cobnuts interspersed with apples and then small leaved lime. The bottom area has just been dug over and here I hope to plant potatoes, cabbages and onions.
St Patrick’s Day has many traditions, but one of them is sowing your potatoes. I’m afraid I am never organised enough to get potatoes in so early in my outside beds though I have Charlotte potatoes planted in the polytunnel for the last couple of weeks.
Yesterday we watched a male wren collecting nesting material from the flower bed (mainly bits of moss and dried grass). He appears to be nesting in the beech hedge that surrounds the vegetable plot. The males do all the nest building, often building a number of nests. His mate will then come along and choose the one she likes best!