June flamed briefly but has now retreated into a sulk adopting a grey cloud mantle and a cool demeanor. The vegetable beds still look very forlorn, the plant growth can only be described as sluggish even though the levels of moisture in the soil are good and we’ve had plenty of sunshine. It is obviously time to go round with the liquid seaweed tonic.
It is normally too windy to grow early potatoes here – it is a case of now you see it, now you don’t, as luxuriant top growth can be reduced to brown shreds in an instant in a spring gale. As I only have one wish for my midsummer birthday – freshly dug, home-grown new potatoes, Himself had to come up with a solution! So we have started planting early potatoes in the polytunnel in March. I think it must have been the copious amounts of manure and seaweed which we had added to this section of the bed during the winter, but the growth has been phenomenal and the first tubers were harvested in early June. Is there anything more delicious than the first new potatoes served with melted butter and some chopped mint?
Until the outdoor vegetables begin to perform we have to rely on the tunnel, this tends to be spinach, early spring carrots, lettuce, mizuna, radish and mixed salad leaves. No shortage of greens in our diet! Normally the early fennel is very successful, but this year the fluctuating temperatures caused the bulbs to bolt. I’m hoping that the first outdoor crop will be more successful.
By early June we are harvesting the first of the indoor courgettes. Last year I grew Tuscany which was prolific but tasteless, I’m now trying Best of British. The plants have a good upright, open habit and are producing one fruit a day. The flavour is good, but they are very long, even the baby fruits have to be sliced. Delicious raw (thinly sliced and served with a light dressing of olive oil, lime and lime zest) they will keep me going until the cucumbers are ready. As more space becomes available the summer plants begin to demand space – French beans, basil and coriander have priority. No more spinach until the winter!
We always have one experimental crop and this year it is Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana). We have some in pots and some growing directly in the bed – in the area where we have cleared the first row of potatoes, so the soil is rich in organic matter. The plants are just starting to flower, it will be interesting to see how they develop. We are always desperate to grow more fruit, as much as we adore rhubarb and currants, a little variety is nice, so we are always looking for new ideas.
The strawberries (var, Alice) have been excellent this year and so we can indulge in strawberries, muesli and yoghurt for breakfast. You know you are cherished when the Head Gardener brings you freshly picked strawberries for breakfast! Last year we tried growing them outside and the what the slugs didn’t devour turned grey and furry. I swear every slug on the island congregated to feast on our fruit. So although they take up a lot of bench space they are back under cover and I’m working out how we can accommodate more plants. I doubt if we’ll every produce enough strawberries for jam, so it will be case of waiting for a glut of cheap local (Scottish mainland or even English rather than Spanish) fruit to appear in the supermarket. As we can only produce small amounts I like to make a French style conserve, it doesn’t last as long as a more traditional jam but it is delicious. This is June on a spoon and has to be eaten with scones. So a new recipe for the Croft Kitchen pages: Strawberry and Sichuan Pepper Conserve.