Each year brings its surprises – its sad failures and its magnificent successes. 2019 has been no different. Spring was a strange one – mostly dry and cold but things have caught up rapidly and I have never seen the field grasses, flowers and thistles so large and prolific! My scythe has had plenty of work to do – and there's more to come as my next group of students will discover!
Once again the pea crop has been a disaster for me but a bonanza for the mice and blackbirds who avidly consume both seed and plant – so far all protective measure have failed. The birds have even taken to ripping up the fleece which I tried to impose to protect my french beans – it failed. I have now taken more radical action and planted a smaller crop of peas and french beans under strong green nylon netting – too strong for the birds I hope.
On the plus side the carrots, parsnips and beetroot are simply bursting with life – better than ever and (so far) defying the field voles. Parsnips are fantastically vigorous plants – once their tiny seeds have decided to germinate they grow quickly and energetically to enormous size.
The runner beans have survived their early battles with the slugs and are now racing up their netting (I made a mistake putting the netting up so the square are diagonal rather than square up and down – the poor beans are being forced into a zig-zag climb!I am optimistic now about some strange beans I bought last February on our annual wine buying trip to Gernany. I thought the packet said dwarf french beans but my German obviously let me down because these beans are crazinly desperate to climb. I've given them 6 foot hazel poles to climb up and this they have done most energetically – I can't wait to find out what sort of beans will materialise!
Pictures: 1. Here are the beetroots and carrots, 2. A great crop of parsnips, 3. The mysterious German beans, 4. Runner beans doing their thing
We are trying 2 new crops this year – celeriac and fennel. I started both off by pricking out in the greenhouse – they were not the fastest germinators. The first crop of fennel I planted out was demolished in less than 24 hours by busy blackbirds. ( I have a “trail-cam” now which takes a video when movement is detected.) I have now started again and made sure the small seedling are protected by wire cages when planted out – we'll see how that works out but it's looking good so far.
As always the potatoes have done well and we've already enjoyed a good few meals of nice tender new pots. Some of the plots have now got the dreaded blight – one has already been harvested, the other will be harvested by next week's students. The salad crops have done fine – plenty of spinach, rocket and lettuce. The onions as always are a pretty bullet proof crop – almost ready to harvest now.
In the greenhouse we now have sprouting broccoli seedlings ready to plant out – this will be done by next week's students. The challenge this year is to find a way to protect these tasty brassicas from both butterflies and birds. I bought a large roll of fine green nylong netting (it's used by builders to protect their sites.) With a little skill we should be able to construct a walk-in cage – again it will be another challenge for the students.
The tomatoes are, as always, growing like mad things just like the grape vine which needs to be constantly cut back before it takes over the entire greenhouse.
The new seedless vine I planted this year has now grown a good strong shoot about 1 meter long so I have pinched off the end so this will harden up and make a good base for next year's growth. As the new vine grows I will cut back the old one – so far so good.
The only other plant growing in the greenhouse is the big box of basil which we will use to make pesto very soon now – wonderful stuff as it keeps so well in the fridge.
We had a great crop of strawberries this year. The raised bed where they grow beside the greenhouse is easily covered with fleece to defeat the birds – we were able simply to pin it to the support wire put up for the thornless blackberry, using clothes pegs.
We have 3 thornless blackberries just trying to establish themselves now. The one on the greenhouse wall is growing at enormous speed this year – we should get a decent crop of berries next year. The small one I bought at the Embleton plant sale is thriving now on the outside wall.
My other somewhat speculative purchase at that sale was a rare grafted red apple seedling. It was about 10 cm long when I planted it in the spot where I had to grub out a dead plum tree – now it's about 40 cm long and growing fast and sturdy.
Trees really do grow much faster than people think – once there ina good spot and in good fettle.
The blackbirds have taken their fill now of the first crop of blackcurrants – something I neverr experienced in Ireland where the red currants were always the main target. But the sheer size of the crop has now beaten them and we've already put a dozen bags in the deep freeze – here again next week's students will have some lengthy picking to do.
I have picked a couple of bushes of the gooseberries but left the prickly rest for the students to have a go at. It's alwas salutary to realise that every single gooseberry has to be topped and tailed before it finds its way onto the dessert menu.
The autumn fruiting raspberries have raced up to their full height of over 6 feet now and the new planting of a single raspberry (supposedly summer fruiting) bought again from the dreaded Homebase has multiplied into a forest already. It will be interesting to see what sort of berries this lot produce – the canes are very prickly.
On the top fruit side the apple crop looks big – already we have thinned out all the triple set bunches. The plums look patchy – temperatmental things – but we should have plenty for the deep freeze one way or another. The little peach tree has grown vigorously – still too early to say if we will every get peaches from it. Out in the orchard the walnut trees are now showing signs of the massive vigour I know they are capable of – several have already put on more than a foot of sturdy new growth. Several have put out energetic new shoots from near their bases – I realise now - I would have been better to cut them off a couple of inches above the ground as soon as a planted them. All these trees which are forced up by the nurseries find themselves really stressed once planted out in the (real world) open orchard. The fig tree is battling on as I knew it would – in a rather dark corner near the rhubarb – just the sort of place the fig tree loves. The medlars and mulberries are doing OK.
I have been doing regular sessions of scything to keep the orchard clear and the compost heap has already been heaped up twice to the 3 meter height of the garden wall. This year I gave 2 scything workshops to the community volunteers who much prefer the scythe to the strimmer for keeping paths clear in the communal woodlands. Many of the students are really keen to improve their skill and many are doing just that. But the more I teach scything the more I realise there is a great mountain for the beginners to climb in learning the very tricky skill of sharpening their scythes. In my own teenage scything years I battled to learn this skill myself. One problem is that you really cannot let anyone else sharpen your own scythe – they are more likely to make it blunt by having a slightly different sharpening angle. This is why I never let beginner scything students sharpen my scythes. It may be frustrating for them but first it's vital for them to actually have sharp scythe to learn with and second they would probably simply ruin the edge I had already created.