Wednesday, 24 August 2016

An unidentified chilli

Earlier this year a friend gave me some chilli plants. One of them has developed into this:

The trouble is, no-one seems to know what variety it is. It was given to me in good faith as "Purple Gusto", but it is evidently not that. "Purple Gusto" has long, pointed fruits, but the fruits on mine are bulbous. Some of them are a light "plum" colour like this:

Others are much darker, like this:

Someone suggested this might be "Cheiro Roxa", but I think not, although there is some similarity.

Whatever this is, it's a very attractive chilli! I haven't tried eating any of the fruits yet, so I can't comment on the taste or heat. In fact I will struggle to tell when they are ripe. Perhaps they will turn red or something?

If you recognise this chilli / pepper, please tell me in a comment!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tomato times

Late August / Early September is probably the peak of the tomato-harvesting season in the UK, and despite some "issues", I am managing to harvest a fair few fruits. First thing in the morning each day I'm out in the garden picking anything that is ripe.

"Maskotka", "Montello" and "Supersweet 100"

The little cherry toms "Maskotka", "Montello", "Primavera" and "Supersweet 100" are delivering a steady supply, but for me the greatest satisfaction comes from getting ripe fruit on the bigger (more difficult to grow) varieties. This one is "Caspian Pink", which I tried to grow last year too, without success - the plant succumbed to blight before producing ripe fruit.

"Caspian Pink"

You might recall that I had to dispose of my "Costoluto Fiorentino" plant a couple of weeks back, on account of blight infestation, but I saved some of the fruit. Some of these also fell victim to blight, but a few have survived and ripened OK, like this pair. They are not Class 1 specimens because they are a bit wrinkly on account of their slow off-the-plant ripening.

"Costoluto Fiorentino"

"Dynnye" is another variety with which I have previously had limited success, but has done better this year. This is the first of its fruits to come to maturity - although at the stage when I photographed it, it was not completely ripe. When ripe this variety is more orange than yellow - like the uppermost section visible in this photo:-


The underside of this specimen is not very pretty! It has a lot of scarring (aka "Catfacing"), which is very common in large Beefsteak-type tomatoes. It certainly presents a challenge when preparing the fruits for eating.


These four are "Stupice". They are about 2 inches in diameter, and very regularly-shaped and uniform in size. Nice tomatoes. They were grown from seeds sent to me in a seed-swap with my friend Dominika in the Czech Republic.


Perhaps the most attractive tomatoes I have grown this year are the "Grushkova" ones. This is a bush variety, but one that produces quite large, pinkish-red fruits. They are mildly ribbed and many of them (like the small one in my photo) are heart-shaped.


My thanks to Alex Taylor in Scotland for the seeds for "Grushkova", which I will definitely be growing again.

In our house the sign that we have "enough" tomatoes is that we start making some of them into sauce for freezing. We don't freeze much in the way of veg, but tomato sauce is one thing that we make as much as possible of. It is a very versatile product to have available, and livens up many Winter dishes for us.

Making tomato sauce

We generally make our tomato sauce very plain - just adding a little chopped onion. We don't include any herbs or garlic, because these can be added later if required, whereas they can't be taken out!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Harvest Monday - 22nd Aug 2016

August is definitely my premier harvesting month!

The tomatoes are rolling in now. Earlier in the year I thought I was going to lose the lot, what with compost contamination, blight and BER, but in fact many of them have made it to maturity after all. In terms of numbers, the little cherry toms are the most numerous, though weight for weight they can't compare to the Beefsteaks.

I've not been weighing the tomatoes. It's too much of a chore when I pick them little and often! Suffice it to say that we have reached the stage where I feel justified in dehydrating some, which I only do if we have LOTS.

The bigger types of tomato have also been ripening:

In the next photo the two big, dark-coloured ones are "Cherokee Purple" (L) and "Black from Tula" (R). Also seen are a couple of stripey "Tigerella", one "Stupice" and a few of the little "Maskotkas" creeping into the shot.

More beans, both Runner and French:

More "Boltardy" beetroot:

The first of the "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes (890g), the yield from one seed-tuber grown in a 25-litre pot.

More of the "Amsterdam 3 Forcing" Finger carrots:

What about this? My first (maybe only) Pepper of the year.

It is one of the little "Turkish Bell Pepper" ones, as I call them. Unfortunately most of the fruits have gone soft and blackened before maturity, probably as a result of our poor weather, but I managed to save this one. I don't like Peppers of this type, and Jane prefers them green. If you leave them to ripen they eventually turn red though.

After barren period in which they produced mainly male flowers, my "Diva" and "Passandra" Cucumber plants have started producing fruits now. I picked the first one of the "Divas" at the weekend, and there is a "Passandra" nearly ready.


That's my harvests for the week. I'm linking my post to Harvest Monday, hosted as ever by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

"Challock Chilli" update

I'm sure you remember that I'm trialling a couple plants of Stephen Shirley's new chilli currently known as the "Challock Chilli". A fruit on one of the plants has just turned colour, indicating imminent ripeness.

That particular fruit (which was the very first one to set) exhibits the characteristics of one of this variety's parents - "Bird's Eye Baby", whereas most of the others look more like the other parent - "Jalapeno", being longer and more bullet-shaped.

Actually most of them are what I would call "wedge-shaped", like this one:

One aspect of my trial has been to grow my two plants in two different composts to see if it makes any difference. One has been in Levington's John Innes No.2, and the other in Melcourt Sylvagrow (peat-free). The plant in Sylvagrow has grown taller and stragglier than the one in John Innes, which is stockier and more compact.

Both plants have set quite a few fruits, as seen here:

This is the plant in John Innes No.2

The plant in Sylvagrow, whilst it has plenty of fruit, has smaller fruit, many of them like the ones in my first photo. They also seem to be a much darker shade of green. Whether this is anything to do with the compost is a moot point, but it seems likely, since all other factors are the same. Both plants are in identical pots and have been treated exactly the same.

I'm looking forward to being able to taste ripe fruits from these two plants pretty soon. My recollection of the taste (as experienced last year at Stephen's Challock Chilli Fest) is of a fairly mild heat, but very fruity taste.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Keeping things going

For me it is not a busy time in the garden. I'm harvesting a fair bit of stuff, but it doesn't take very long or involve a lot of effort. Tomato recipes are very much on the menu at present!

Some of my plants have "got their second wind", so to speak, particularly the beans, which are producing another set of pods.

Climbing French Bean "Cobra"

Runner Bean "Tenderstar"

With the beans my only jobs (apart from harvesting) are removing any old yellowing leaves, and making sure the plants get enough water. I have had to do quite a lot of watering recently because the weather has been dry (and still very windy). Today we have had the first significant rain for about two weeks.

My "unknown" Cucumber plant is finally producing its first fruit, though it won't be winning any prizes in the Good Looks department:

This plant has several more small fruits forming, and it rather looks as if they will all be curved ones.

Again, looking after the Cucumbers (this one and two others I have) is not an onerous task. I have tied the plants to canes to help them climb, which takes a couple of minutes every few days, and apart from that it's just watering.

Today I have pulled up the Baby Leaf Endive patch, which was beginning to bolt. I saved anything useful (now in a big bag in the fridge), and replaced it with some more young Endive seedlings which will hopefully mature in the Autumn.

New Endive seedlings at left in foreground.

The Endives join a variety of other salad crops, such as Spring Onions, Lettuces and Radicchio.

The Radicchio ("Rossa di Verona") is coming along nicely, but it's still too early to expect them to be hearting-up. In the Autumn these loose green outer leaves will be augmented by dense cabbage-like hearts of deep red leaves.

I'm also hopeful that this year I will get to harvest some apples. Not a lot - there are only 8 fruits on my tree - but they look good:

Apple "Winter Banana"

Hitherto I have not been successful with growing apples. The tree I had previously really struggled even to survive and its fruit always suffered from Bitter Pit, which is associated with excessively dry soil. My new tree is planted in a big plastic tub filled with new soil, and it seems to be doing well. I am being very careful to ensure that it gets enough water. "Winter Banana" is a late-cropping variety so I don't think these fruit are mature yet. I'll probably be picking them in October. Until then, I shall just admire them!

The crops I sowed in the containers which had previously hosted the potatoes are coming along steadily, though with a few setbacks. On 3rd August I sowed two of the tubs with Dwarf French Beans, 16 to a tub, one lot of green and one lot of yellow. This experiment has proved that snails prefer the green variety - only 4 of the plants are still surviving, whereas of the yellow ones there are 8 and a couple of stumps!

Dwarf French Bean "Berggoud"

2016 has definitely been a bumper year for snails and slugs.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Pink Fir Apple

If ever there was a potato variety with character, "Pink Fir Apple" is it. Its knobbly shape defies all the conventions on how a potato should look; some would call it ugly; to others it is just quirky.

The variety was originally bred in France, and was first marketed in 1850. Since then it has remained a firm favourite amongst potato connoisseurs on account of its delicious nutty flavour. It is Maincrop variety, with long, knobbly, pink-skinned tubers with creamy, firm, waxy flesh. I have been growing it for many years and I have found that it is quite variable in shape and colour. Sometimes it comes out very pale; other times it can be quite dark-coloured. As the photos in this post will show, the tubers can also be quite smooth rather than knobbly.

Just like my other potatoes, my Pink Fir Apples have been grown in big plastic pots filled with mix of soil and compost. Their containers are slightly smaller than the 35-litre ones I have used for the other varieties. I think their capacity must be about 25 litres. The significance of this is that I judged them big enough to take only one seed-tuber each, whilst the 35-litre containers can accommodate two. They were planted on 6th April, and the first pot was lifted on 18th August. There are three more to follow. No special care is needed - just make sure you water the pots frequently and thoroughly.

This is the yield from one plant - 890g.

As you can see when the tubers have been washed, they are hardly knobbly at all - more sausage-shaped. Some of them are quite dark pink too.

The flesh of the Pink Fir Apple is much denser than that of Early "new" potatoes, and is thus more filling when eaten, meaning that portion size can be smaller. This batch of 890g will probably feed the two of us for three meals.

Being a Maincrop variety, Pink Fir Apple will in theory keep for ages, but in our household it never gets the chance because we like it so much that it gets eaten very soon after harvesting!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A short break in the Cotswolds

It was Jane's birthday last Saturday, and we decided to mark the occasion by spending a couple of nights in a little hotel in Winchcombe, in the Cotswolds. As I'm sure most of you know, the Cotswold Hills are an area of outstandingly beautiful countryside, situated broadly West of Oxford and East of Cheltenham. Fortunately we can drive there in about 90 minutes, which means that it's not a major journey.

Regrettably the hotel in which we stayed fell a long way below expectations, but this didn't prevent us visiting some nice places and seeing some interesting things, some of which I'm going to show you here. First, a few photos of the historic town of Tewkesbury, site of a most impressive abbey originally begun in the year 1102, and of a famous battle in 1471 during the Wars of The Roses. Today it's a tranquil and picturesque town offering lots of opportunities for tourism - particularly "messing about on the river"...

Tewkesbury Abbey is visible in the distance

We visited the abbey first, and were very impressed by the organ with 4162 pipes, alleged to have been played by the poet and author John Milton. While we were at the abbey, the organist was practising for a Recital, and was playing some very stirring music!

We also took a very peaceful and relaxing trip on a small electric boat which took us along a stretch of the River Avon just near its junction with the River Severn. I loved the name of the road where we joined the boat - "Back of Avon". Here we are passing under the 12th Century King John's Bridge:

After spending the morning in Tewkesbury our first stop in the afternoon was at a pottery. We collect small pieces of pottery as holiday souvenirs, and we were very pleased to find the pottery of Toff Milway in the village of Conderton. Toff's work is amazing - each piece is an exquisite and unique work of art. Unfortunately it is also (and justifiably so) very expensive, so we were only able to afford a small piece. Nevertheless it is really nice, and just the sort of thing we like:

On next to a very special National Trust property - Snowshill Manor. This property is where Charles Wade lived, and he was the quirkiest of quirky collectors. He collected "stuff". Stuff of every description. Things which were of interest not because they were valuable, but because they were good examples of craftsmanship or design. Wade felt that such things ought to be preserved for posterity. The whole property is crammed full of interesting artefacts, in no particular order and with no labelling or classification. The visitor has to interpret for himself - which is sometimes far from easy!

This, for instance, is an early Fire Engine:

And this is one of many dove-cotes:

The gardens at Snowshill are in many ways like the buildings - a collection of very different "rooms". This one is a model village:

This was one of our favourites.

Above the little recess from which the previous photo was taken was this very impressive 24-hour clock:

On a hot sunny day like the one on which we visited Snowshill, the numerous water-features seemed particularly attractive.

On the walk up to the manor I spotted this amazing bracket fungus. It was huge!

After a very welcome pot of tea at the NT tearoom we headed back to our hotel. The following morning we left early. We were quite glad to get away, because the hotel was not to our liking. The benefit of this was that we were able to get to another location we wanted to visit very early in the morning. This was the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, not far from Stow-on-the-Wold. It's a lovely village, very typical of the area, but it is often exceptionally crowded with tourists (like us!). We got there at about 0830, and it was practically deserted. Very peaceful...

That's our car. No trouble finding a parking-space this time!

The mill on the river Windrush

This is an interesting juxtaposition, don't you think? I'm sure it's not a coincidence!

This gargoyle reminds me of Gollum from Lord of the Rings!

Our final stop before heading home was in Stow-on-the-Wold, a very picturesque little town much favoured by the tourist coach companies. Of prime interest from our point of view is the fact that it has a very good Cook Shop, with a huge range of useful kitchenware and gadgets!