Thursday, October 31

Book Review - One for the Rooks

A couple of weeks ago by sheer coincidence I received emails on almost the same day asking if I would review a couple of books. As the steadier gardening months are upon us I decided that I would. If nothing else, it would give me some extra subject matter for blog posts.

I get quite a few similar requests, as I know many gardening bloggers do, but one request was different in that it wasn't a gardening book but a novella. If like me you are unsure of what a novella actually is, it's 'a fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel'. This novella is 79 pages long in manuscript format but is estimated to have 117 pages in Kindle format.

The reason the author approached me was that the story was set on an allotment site.

The book arrived in manuscript format so I had my first foray into reading a book on an Ipad, something that Martyn has been trying to get this resistant paperback reader to try.

The book itself will be available on Kindle as of today.

The title of the book 'One for the Rook' intrigued me but I was soon to learn that the disappearance of the resident rooks from the edge of the allotment site was considered to be a bad omen and the events that followed were, by some, attributed to this disappearance.

The author D S Nelson has been an Agatha Christie fan from a young age and her books are very much of this genre. It isn't the type of book that I would choose to buy but the story did keep my interest. It is an easy read written from the perspective of the main, Miss Marple type, character. 

Blake Hetherington is an elderly miliner who in his spare time tends his allotment plot with his young friend Delilah. His dream is to grow a giant pumpkin that will win a prize at the garden show. When the allotment site becomes a scene of murder, the pair cannot resist trying to unravel the mystery.

Despite being a murder mystery the book is a light-hearted read with humour creeping in, for example Hetherington can't help reflecting on how the murder is affecting his chances of winning a prize for the best pumpkin.

Being an allotment gardener, I read the book with an eye to any glaring gardening errors but I found nothing serious enough to have me shouting "That's rubbish!" at the screen. A few of the allotment tenants in the story would struggle to keep their plots but I'll allow this for artistic licence.

If you go for the Agatha Christie type of story and don't mind  only being able to read it in Kindle format then this may be a 'book' for you but be warned it may also make you view fellow allotment tenants in a new light.

The price is £1.56

Wednesday, October 30

The Cosmos

Tuesday, October 29

It can pay to break the rules.

We always grow a wide variety of potatoes as we have found that weather conditions, which in turn affects soil conditions, can give very varied performances from one year to the next even on the same plot. Our choice this year were:
  • Charlotte - 60 seeds 
  • Marfona - 30 seeds
  • Swift - 30 seeds
  • Nadine - 30 seeds
  • Nicola - 60 seeds
  • Winston - 60 seeds
  • Vales Emerald - 20 seeds
  • Harmony - 20 seeds
It's always difficult to recommend potato varieties as ones that produce tasty tubers in one area may well be complete flops in another. Jersey Royals may produce good tasting potatoes in Jersey suiting their soil and climate but the equivalent International Kidneys were nothing special when we grew them. It's better to experiment and find the best variety for your own patch. The following is our assessment of how the varieties we chose have performed for us.

We started planting potatoes on 15 April using our lazy method described here and planted our last lot of leftover seeds on 16 June (a whole month after the deadline quoted by all the gardening 'experts').

Our total potato haul this year was:

Although the overall yield was good on the whole the individual potatoes were smaller.

As differing amounts of tubers were planted I have adjusted the yields to reflect what the equivalent yield from 10 tubers per variety would have been. This has been arranged in order as follows:
  • Marfona 9.0kg (about 50% of tubers had mild slug damage so maybe the equivalent of 6KG of useable potato)
  • Nicola 8.29kg 
  • Vales Emerald 7.06kg
  • Harmony 6.2kg
  • Winston 5.64kg (about 50% of which were damaged by slugs so about 2.82kg of useable crop)
  • Nadine 4.59kg (one bed was badly affected by couch grass)
  • Charlotte 4.73kg
  • Swift 1.65kg
Our most disappointing variety was Swift which proved not to live up to its name by hardly growing at all. This variety made hardly any top growth and consequently little happened below ground! It was a poor performer last year too meaning they performed poorly in both wet and dry conditions. They are off the list for next year. Last year's yield is shown in the chart below. The real chart is here if you have difficulty reading the screen grab below.
Left over Nicola seeds made up the largest proportion of those planted on 16 June and these produced a good crop - just over half the total weight of the Nicola harvest. It paid to break the rules this year as being unaffected by blight the tops continued growing. Another year the outcome could have been very different.
Although Winston produced a good crop it had the highest level of slug damage. Almost 50% of tubers were unusable.The slugs seem to enjoy the flavour. They also seem to be partial to Marfona. Other varieties planted in rows alongside Winston had comparatively little damage. Rows of Winston planted in different areas of the plot suffered equally so positioning wasn't the reason for special attention from slugs.

Last year, for the first time, we tried a sample pack of Vale's Emerald  and liked the flavour so it was included in this year's list and was one of the top performers.

We trialed Harmony this year. It produced potatoes of a good size and quality with little damage and also was a good performer so this will be likely to be a variety that we try again next year.

Sunday, October 27

Barrington Court

A second property that we visited during our short stay in Somerset a couple of weeks ago, was Barrington Court which I briefly mentioned in my previous as its gardeners shared our enthusiasm for weed control fabric.

The first thing that I noticed as we were driving up to the car park was the colour provided by the Michaelmas daisies. I hadn't expected such a colourful display in early October. At a distance I was almost fooled into thinking they had rhododendrons flowering.
The flowers were swarming with bees. As you walked past the air was alive with the sound of their buzzing but the flowers were also being enjoyed by quieter diners.
The garden is divided into garden rooms which are considered to follow the Arts and Crafts style. The original plans were produced by Gertrude Jekyll. There was certainly plenty of interest even at this time of year.
 Not forgetting the wall kitchen garden mentioned in my earlier post.
If you want to see more photos and the video Martyn took they are available on our web page here 

I have links to other garden visits we have made from this page of my website

Friday, October 25

It's not just us

Anyone who regularly visits my blog cannot fail to have noticed that we have gone into using weed control fabric in a big way. One of my posts about it is here.

Having been pleased with the results we are gradually (well maybe not that gradually) using fabric to cover other areas of our plot. As an uncovered area is cleared the fabric is going down under a mulch. The only trouble is that the mulch has run out and we need to wait for a new supply to arrive.
Where beds were already covered - for example the broad bean bed pictured below - the plants have either been uprooted or in the case of the beans cut off and the fabric left in place. The broad bean bed was quickly tidied. It wasn't totally weed free as weeds sprout around the edges of the bed or squeeze through the planting hole alongside the plant. One or two very determined individuals also manage to pierce through the fabric. 
The edges of the bed just need a bit of a clip. This fabric will be moved at planting time to the new broad bean bed.

We have also covered one of the blackcurrant beds which involved me being sent to crawl about under the bushes.
It seems, however that we aren't the only ones to use copious amounts of weed control fabric. During our recent few days in Somerset, one of the places that we visited was Barrington Court - I'll be posting photos of our visit at some point soon. Barrington Court has a walled kitchen garden and during our visit what do you think we saw peeking out from under a thin layer of soil. 
As we walked round there were areas where the fabric use was more obvious.
 I was a bit surprised at how far apart the strawberries were planted though!

Wednesday, October 23

Male House Sparrow

Tuesday, October 22

Modest harvest

Our pepper harvest was a modest one but better than nothing.
Jimmy Nardello (long thin red one) produced the most individual peppers but the three Solero bell peppers produced twice as much pepper by weight. 

The other two varieties were the yellow Palladio and King of the North. All are now chopped and in the freezer.

Monday, October 21

Final fruits of the season?

As you will be aware if you follow Martyn's blog we try and leave the quinces on the tree for as long as possible but with threats of possible frost these fruits have now been picked. 
Some were already going brown and rot was setting in so I had to try to process them quickly. As Martyn mentioned the fruits are extremely hard so I was ready for a tough time. In the event it turned out to be disappointing as when peeled many of the fruits had brown spots throughout the flesh which I think is bitter pit disease which can affect apples, pears and quinces. Reading up on this, it seems the cause is similar to the cause of blossom end rot in tomatoes - an irregular water supply - so another casualty of our erratic weather.

The plot tomatoes have also been picked off and those that are still green are still trying to ripen.
In the garden our Issai kiwi has disappointed once again. This year it didn't suffer a spider mite attack, which is typical as I was ready for it, but the fruits are tiny. I know they are meant to produce miniature fruits but there is miniature and there is minute.
We did taste one and the jury is out on the taste at the moment. Has anyone grown an Issai that has produced decent sized fruit? 

The Nimrod grapes in the garden greenhouse are a match on size and infinitely better tasting.
Also in the garden greenhouse some of the sweet peppers are now ripe and ready for picking. Not many fruits here but in many ways they suffer from competition from the tomatoes, not in space etc but with respect to the time and attention devoted to their care. That is partly down to the tomato plants blocking access for watering.
One type of fruit still left on the tree is the medlar. The tree grows in the garden and was really planted as an ornamental. To be honest we really aren't all that bothered about picking the fruits.
Once we did make medlar jelly but medlars do tend to confuse us a bit - I wonder whether the birds would enjoy them?

Friday, October 18

Dunster Castle

Recently we had a few days away in Somerset and one of the places that we visited was Dunster Castle.

The tropical garden shown below was in quite a sun trap and for early October the plants looked remarkably well.
As well as the tropical garden in which to sit and enjoy a drink, there was also a wooded walk alongside a small stream.
I overheard one of the staff telling someone that she had seen a kingfisher that morning but I'm afraid that we were out of luck.

Wednesday, October 16

October Colour

Saturday, October 12

Off to a flying start

On 21 September we planted some autumn onions and garlic.

We planted two varieties of garlic - Germidour and Thermidour - and four varieties of autumn onions - the imaginatively named, Thompson and Morgan's Autumn Onions, Senshyu, Radar and a red variety called Electric. Even though the reds seem fussy we still are sticking with trying to get a good harvest. This year we bought the sets and bulbs from local nurseries rather than online so we had less choice and just had to buy what was available. Last year our planting times were dictated by whenever the online suppliers decided to dispatch our orders so we figured that we would prefer to get the sets planted as soon as we could rather than have a wider choice. We also planted cloves from one of last year's elephant garlic bulbs

The weed control fabric which had been used for last year's autumn onions and garlic had been moved to the appropriate bed a while ago and so all we had to do was plant. 
Soon after planting we noticed that something had dug up some of the garlic cloves and made off with them. so I laid some chicken wire over the bed to provide a bit of a deterrent.

We had a few days away last week and so had a plot break and when we visited the plot at the beginning of this week we were surprised to see that all the varieties of onions were already shooting. Some had produced some fairly tall shoots!
This has given me a bit of a problem - should I remove the chicken wire so that the shoots don't end up growing through the mesh and spoiling?
Not a problem I thought I would encounter so soon after planting!