Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Autumn and oca

My life is looking a bit like this just now, as the leaves fall and fall faster than I can grind them into mulch.

My last harvest included large green and small red peppers, some overgrown fennel stalks, small and slug-nibbled eggplants, and a nice albeit holey cabbage, which is in large mason jars fermenting into sauerkraut even as I write. And then there's oca (Oxalis Tuberosa) - with a couple of mislaid small sweet potatoes.

Many, in fact, are the oca I have harvested so far from one little tuber, with three other plants to go. I should be able to seed the neighbourhood next year with the smaller ones I'm finding. I ate the larger ones, roasted with sweet potatoes, and they were delicious.

It's hard to describe the flavour: lemony is close. Fresh and raw, they are crisp and acidic and would sit proudly in a vegetable salad (though I've seen advice not to eat too many of them raw; due to oxalic acid content I'm guessing?). Roasted they are like potatoes, but with a pleasing tang, and would be wonderful in soups and stews as well.

When the foliage dies back and you dig them up, they rise from the dirt on their runners in rosy and peachy tints.

The oca plants started off in large pots, and were happy there for a while. By June they had become rather decorative.

Here's what they looked like when I finally transplanted them into my wading pool planter in August.

By September they were looking impressive.

Early November, they were large and inclined to sprawl everywhere, but still upright.

And now they are ready for harvest. I'll be storing them in a box in my garden shed, protected from frost, but kept cool and dry.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Septembering in the garden

So much going on at the end of a late summer. I have denuded my tomatoes, hoping to evade the dreaded blight by removing the leaves that so willingly transmit the spores. Not a pretty sight, unless you're fond of green tomatoes.

The oca is rampant. No other word for it. Hoping I'll be able to catch the harvest before it gets too frosty. This mass of greenery erupted from three tiny tubers, each about half an inch long, planted early last spring.

The harvest, September 3, while the blackberries were still edible. I have in my basket: (front row L-R) collard greens, watermelon radish, yellow transparent apples, cucumber grown in a wine barrel, broccoli and yellow zucchini grown in pots, red onion & Egyptian nodding onion, Bedfordshire onion, shallot; (front row) scarlet runner beans, Black Trifele tomato, Flamme tomato, Speckled Roman tomato, cherry tomato, Himalayan blackberries.

How lovely is the watermelon radish?

Three cucumber plants in three different locations (one in a wine barrel; two in raised beds) are all bearing fruit. the one in the darkest part of the garden is of course the slowest. The one in the wine barrel raced ahead of the one in the raised bed under cover, but raised bed under cover plant is now proving the most fruitful.

The peppers looked like they would never get going, tiny and slug-eaten for most of their childhood, but they have picked up and produced some very large fruits.. now taking forever to ripen.

The slug-bitten cabbage is finally starting to find its head.

Abundance of mint, chocolate and peppermint. The peppermint died off during the summer but then revived for a second crop.

Tiny diamond eggplants, growing in a pot with some beets.

And sweet potatoes flowering and leafing and hopefully tubing peacefully in their 5-gallon pails.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Salute to the Solanum lycopersicum

Tomatoes.. it must be summer!

My first tomato, harvested last weekend: a hefty Japanese Black Trifele. Delicious and worked well in the Piemontese peppers I made for supper on Sunday. Many more on the way.

My second tomato, harvested August 21: a Black Krim, but its shape looks more like a Costoluto to me. Oh well. Mysterious goings on in the tomato patch.

I am waiting eagerly to see what comes of my one Speckled Roman plant as the fruits are shaping up well, but look like they have a little way to go before they reach full heft and start to colour.

Also in process: Roma, Persimmon

and some very vigorous Bearo plum tomatoes. I'm told the plants can grow up to 15 feet, and one of mine is certainly trying, but it's hit that old ceiling and will have to stop and spend some more time cultivating its fruit while the season lasts.

All very happy, but there is a dark spot or two to report. Early blight has hit my tomato patch. I think what happened was that after I'd potted them up (seeded them early March) they grew rapidly but too fast for the unseasonable weather - the spring was so chilly I didn't want to plant them out before I went away for a week or so in late May. So I hit on the idea of rigging makeshift greenhouses out of a plastic compost bin, a wading pool previously used as a planter, and some Reemay (row cover) held on with clothes pegs.

It worked brilliantly: the plants were kept nice and warm and they didn't dry out while I was away. They grew like gangbusters and were busting out of the top of the enclosure by planting time the beginning of June. Unfortunately, the conditions inside my little greenhouses were also perfect for early blight which needs heat, humidity and poor air circulation to flourish. When I planted them I noticed a couple had stem lesions

and others had spotty leaves.

Nothing for it but to watch closely for signs of leaf lesions (note characteristic "bullseye")

and get rid of them as soon as possible (not in the compost). I can spray the plants with compost tea or horsetail tea to boost their immunity, and the tomatoes seem to be developing well,

but I'm guessing the spores are all over the tomato patch now so I will just have to plant something different in there next year.

Nonetheless, they're plucky plants, these tomatoes, with a real passion to grow. I had some very healthy prunings - some with flowers - and was curious to see how they'd do if I stuck them in a bucket of water

and voila! they sprouted generous roots,

and are even bearing fruit in a few cases. I assume the fruit will be pretty tasteless... but will let them go to see what happens. I'd also just stuck prunings into soil to see if they'd root: thought they might given the vigour of anything I've put into my compost in the past, and indeed they did. They rooted even faster than the ones in the bucket, I'd say. But were slower to fruit: could be they didn't have as well-developed stalks as the ones in the bucket. I planted one of the bucket plants and will see what develops of its fruit:

Monday, 8 August 2011

Summer scourges

As ever life is a battle here in the plague garden. The enemies this year are familiar foes, with a few newbies thrown in to keep life interesting.

Last couple of years have seen leaf miner damage on chard, spinach and beets; this year the victim was my new sorrel plantings. Here's what it looks like when the situation gets out of hand:

I finally pulled all the diseased leaves off and sprayed with neem oil and it seems to help, though I do find that neem seems to burn the leaves. Apparently the trick is to spray in the evening. when the good bugs have gone to bed and the leaves have time to absorb the neem and avoid sunburn. Perhaps I need to adjust the dosage.

Codling moths have been at my apples again this year - slackness with tree banding on my part; now I gather I'm supposed to pick and destroy infected fruit - it's edible but doesn't store well once it's been tunnelled. None for the compost, since that would just give them a nice warm place to overwinter. Apparently they have 2-3 generations per year. Here's what the entry channel looks like from outside and in:

Two damp springs in a row have escalated the scab on my poor yellow transparent apple tree. Quite a few more apples affected this year, but such a heavy crop it may not matter. Bordeaux Mix dormant spray is said to help as a preventive measure; I'm also told to use compost tea as a foliar spray to generally boost the tree's immunity, but the tree's very large and I'm just getting up to speed with the tea production this year. And pruning is supposed to help as well, but the tree is so big and lush it's hard to know where to begin, although I've worked at it - summer pruning of water shoots and shaped for easier picking.

The zucchini I bought as seedlings from two different nurseries are both developing blossom end rot. Depending on who I ask, I get the answer that it's either due to lack of calcium, lack of water, or lack of pollination. I've put finely crushed eggshells on them now and hope that will help with the calcium; being in pots they are most likely thirsty too so am trying to be more diligent there.

I don't think there's any question who's been eating the healthy zucchini either:

This year's slug battles have been very hard on a couple of bean plants; this one is making a plucky comeback now the overshadowing pea trellis is gone, and is even producing beans now, though is still embattled.

and these beets which were nibbled down to the stem - probably by birds - are growing new leaves!

But. It's not all bad. My plum tree yielded a fair crop of small, tart plums before it was decapitated (leaning heavily on the fence) - as did the neighbour's - two batches of jam and one of chutney so far. And I made some Rote Gr├╝tze with plums and other fruits (cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries) from this year and from the freezer, and canned that to have on my yogurt through the winter. And my zucchini is coming - not too fast

and there are some footsoldiers working hard to keep the ecosystem in balance: