Slow painting

Monday 31 August 2009

Catch it while you can

That's what we've been doing this summer in Scotland when the sun has shone. Foxes and people alike.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Field beans harvest

If we'd wanted to harvest a crop from the green manure field beans we'd have been in luck. As it was I racing to cut off the seeding heads before they scattered their largesse onto the soil. It hardly seems any time since I was opening the packet and pouring the brown triangular seeds into my hand.

After the chop, the stems went in the compost, leaving the roots and short stalks behind to keep doing green-manure-ish things for a while longer.

Sunday 9 August 2009

Green manure

For the first time I was organised enough to sow a green manure. Organisation didn't extend to some crops that I meant to sow, but life's been busy. The shot above is of the two rows of field beans that have been the most vigorous crop on the plot this summer. Taken on 2 August, compare it with the shot below, taken on 19 July.

The bean flowers have been hugely attractive to bees and flying insects in general.

The thing now of course is that I need to cut them down before the flowers set seed, and we're about to go away shortly for a few days. There may be some vigorous hoeing in store for me next year, but at least I've done something to start enriching the soil. We seem to have been making compost forever, and have only used half a bin full so far. But because this summer has been so wet the soil has remained rich, warm and soft, like coffee grounds rather than dried out to a lumpy hardness.

With several rows of new potatoes now lifted, I decided to sow another green manure, this time crimson clover. I've been looking for manures that will please the bees as well as doing my soil good. Here's the area I sowed with clover on 3 August, broadcasting it in what I fondly imagined was a competent medieval peasant style. We'll see what happens!

At the left of the shot you can just catch a glimpse of the utter failure of the green pea crop. I think I sowed too late, or kept the young plants hanging on in their cardboard tubes too long, or... it was just one of these things. Pity, because I was looking forward to fresh green peas. I would never buy them fresh in pods from a supermarket, because they're less fresh than the frozen variety, for an exorbitant price. But green peas eaten straight from the plant are better than any sweets.

Friday 7 August 2009

12:34:56 on 07/08/09

Confessions - at 12:34:56 I was actually asleep in the sun in the back garden, but this is the scene minus the sun-soaking bodies of my daughter and me. We have had a week without significant rain, and it has been blissful.

Cultural features to note: the indestructible tartan "travelling rug", a traditional ingredient of Scottish picnics. I have a photo of me as a toddler sitting between my grandparents on such a rug spread out over the heather somewhere in the Braes of Glenlivet. Early 1960's. Grandmother wearing best Sunday cardigan buttoned up tight. Grandfather, a trawler fisherman, looking disconcerted by this landlubbers' custom. White bread tomato sandwiches, the juice from the tomatoes bleeding into the bread. A tartan Thermos flask of strong tea.

Moving to more recent times, two France '98 World Cup (football) cushions, bought for a snip in a supermarket in Brittany a few weeks after the final. And a waterproof-backed polar fleece rug, bought in a general store in a little village on the edge of Dartmoor, down in Devon. Just the thing for those many summer days when the sun shines but the grass may be a tad damp.

Veg Plotting is hosting a gathering of photos of what other gardeners were doing at 12:34:56 on 07/08/09, using UK date notation.

Broccoli art

One of last year's broccoli plants, drying out before being chopped up for the compost heap. I thought we might as well get some allotment art out of it at the same time.

It always surprises me just how small the broccoli root system is, considering what a huge edifice it supports.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Raspberry removal

The raspberry situation has been going from bad to worse. Plentiful berries, but malformed, scabby fruit, fruit withering before it can ripen, dry and brittle canes, wilting top-growth, yellow-mottled leaves, this season's green canes snapping, and the biggest yuck factor, pale wriggly larvae in the berries. Any unaffected berries we've been able to find have been delicious and sweet, so it took us a while to accept that the canes had to come out.

Researching the cause has thrown up a nexus of ghastly possibilities. Ken Muir's 'Grow Your Own Fruit' has a lurid 20 page section on pests and diseases, with the sort of photos of bugs and beasties that when I was young made me try to turn the page of National Geographic magazine without touching the technicolour specimens displayed for my education.

By the time I'd finished with Ken's pests and diseases, I'd turned into a raspberry hypochondriac. It seems that our canes have not just one, but several afflictions, each more horrible than the last. Raspberry beetle: that's obvious because of the larvae, which as Ken says more graphically than is perhaps necessary, "can often be seen crawling around the punnet after the fruits have been picked." "Ultimately, there will be many small malformed fruits and heavy crop losses...Attacked drupelets turn brown and hard...The presence of the grub inside the fruit renders (for most people) the fruit inedible." We're definitely in the 'most people' category here, and we've got all these symptoms.

But wait! There's also raspberry leaf and bud mite. "The feeding on the leaves gives rise to distortion and irregular yellow blotching on the upper surface of leaves which to the inexperienced observer can be confused with virus infection. Apical buds of young canes are sometimes killed, leading to the development of weak lateral shoots. Attacks on fruits cause irregular drupelet development, uneven ripening and malformation." Yes, yes and yes.

Here's raspberry cane midge: "The failure of canes to break into leaf at the end of the winter and the wilting of the fruiting canes at any time between bud burst and picking are the obvious signs that has been an infestation by cane midge during the previous summer."

We've got the lot - larvae, blotching, wilting, distortion, the failure of the other row to break into leaf at all. Ken notes again and again, with some regret, "There are no label approved chemicals available to the amateur gardener for this pest." So we followed one of his solutions, which was to cut off all growth at ground level, to be followed by cultivation of the ground around the stools over the winter to expose overwintering bugs to the birds.

Taking a chance because they've outgrown their temporary pot, I put in the six new canes of Tulameen into the row we'd dug out earlier. I realise now that I left them with too much top growth, but I'll cut them back next visit, so that they're encouraged to throw out more growth from the root.

Beyond the new row of rasps the strawberry bed is all vigorous green leaf. Time for that to come off, now that fruiting is over. The season is turning.