Scarlet Ladies

painted-ladiesEach year I try to grow something different and as I’d been given a packet of runner bean seeds the subject of my experiment was self selected. A few years ago I’d tried growing them in the polytunnel – beautiful plants and a mass of flowers, alas no beans.
Fortuitously there was room in the fruit cage and although I was probably a little late in planting and I’d not prepared a well-manured bean trench in advance, the results were surprisingly good.
As my broad bean flowers had not been pollinated I was not too confident that we would actually get any beans, but we did get a small crop. I was also surprised how well the plants stood up to the windy weather – they’re still flowering and producing a few beans!
So I am encouraged to try again next year, although I might look for a dwarf variety or perhaps try some climbing French or even borlotti beans. Runner beans were originally grown for their flowers and that is probably a good enough reason to continue to grow a few plants each year.



Artichokes to Zucchini

parsnips, carrots

Parsnips and carrots before and after the storm.

It is interesting that so many of us have rituals which precede the starting of a job and I find it difficult to start a post unless I have a title. This one was almost entitled ” Stable, Horse, Bolted” but on reflection I decided that it was probably too confusing for the Google algorithms!
It could be said that artichokes (Jerusalem) and zucchini (courgettes) are the alpha and omega of the vegetable garden with beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, celeriac, carrots, fennel, onions, parsnips, peas and shallots providing the substantial middle. The success of each crop is totally weather dependant, but even in really abysmal summers I can just about manage to produce something.
Last summer so was cold and wet that even the most hardy and reliable crops failed, so I began this year with the optimistic hope that it couldn’t get any worse. The summer began well, blue skies, sunshine, very little wind and no rain. The soil was warm and still moist from the winter rains, so the seeds germinated and I was so confident that I even planted a courgette and butternut squash outside. May moved into June and the sun shone and there was no rain. My seedlings began to look a little crispy and although I watered twice a day, it was like pouring buckets on water into the moat of a sandcastle.
Fortunately help was at hand, Scottish Water declared that South Uist was about to run out of water and while a hosepipe ban was not imposed we were told to be frugal with our water while they shipped in transporter loads of blue pipe to pump water from Benbecula. This left me a little confused as Benbecula is a small island just to the north and has the same climate. Had they borrowed our water and not given it back? While I was puzzling over this conundrum, the announcement by Scottish Water, even though they had not used the D(rought) word, had done the trick, it started to rain and for good measure when it wasn’t raining we had mist!
A rainy July merged into a wet and windy August and on several occasions I was “caught napping” when the strength of the wind was more than forecast and I’d not protected some of the young plants with mesh! So a premature end to my experiment with growing spinach outside and the finale of the Florence fennel!  A summer storm can also reduced an established crop to a mess of burnt and crushed foliage, but given time most seem to recover.
As usual there were successes and failures, surprises and disappointments. The root crops, carrots, parsnips and celeriac have all grown well despite regular battering from the wind. The crop of onions and shallots was respectable, although they would have benefitted from some more sunshine. I’m still having problems with the beetroot, in my very light soil the plants are lifted from the soil by the wind, even when protected by enviromesh; provided of course, I remember to cover the plants! Perhaps I should try one of the cylindrical varieties?
The standard peas cropped well, but the very dwarf variety I tried was just too short and fed the slugs rather than us. So it’s back to a scaffolding of bamboo sticks and twine – how I miss a supply of “pea sticks”. For the first time the broad bean crop failed! After two wet winters wrapped around a cold wet summer the populations of bumblebees are in trouble, as indeed are many of the other insects. Bumblebees were scarce for most of the summer and so my lovely broad bean flowers remained unpollinated.  To compound my woes we had an invasion of diamond-backed moths which devoured the rocket and made growing brassicas a waste of time!

Once again we had a bumper crop of currants, enough rhubarb to fill the freezer, the usual glut of courgettes to turn into cakes and enough tomatoes to gorge on for lunch every day and to make sauces for the winter. I’m even optimistic about the state of the peppers which are beginning to look more red than green.
We’re currently enjoying the equinoctial gales so work in the vegetable garden awaits some calmer drier days. It is time to take stock, make plans for next year and sort out the polytunnel for the winter regime.