Lord knows it's been a rough year for anyone in cahoots with Mother Nature.
Even in a good weather year we do have to work at getting Lawson Park productive in the fruit and veg. department. We have a short season, with soil temperatures only reaching the optimum for seed germination (8-10 degrees) in May usually, and plentiful wind and rainfall all summer. To top it all off we get slugs so big you could get a saddle on to them. Each year the Paddies get a bit more fertile with our green-manuring and general soil improvement, but this year may well tread water as the low temperatures, rain and low light levels have left the soil empty for much of the season apart from rampant couch and buttercups, especially sad as we had a garden intern for the first time ever, the irrepressible Ben Preston, who valiantly tried to counteract the summer apocalypse that beset us. We've sown some late green manures and will need to think a bit more about how to prevent what little goodness is in the soil from leaching out over the long, wet winter ahead - plastic sheet being impossible on such a large scale. Soft fruit - apart from the mice invasion that nicked our strawberries - was excellent as ever, currants galore and blissfully trouble-free.

This year we did have the foresight to erect a large new polytunnel in March, without which we really would have empty trugs and plates. In it we have done much propagation as well as growing a fair crop of very late tomatoes, plus some experiments with early carrots, lovely basil and other tender herbs, and dahlias for cutting. It's bliss to be in there with the rain hammering down outside.

So, a few notes on the best and worst trials this season:
Our very young orchard had a fair show of apples on three trees - varieties Keswick Codlin (very local), Monarch and Bardsey Island (a Welsh heritage variety). Eastern European pear 'Humbug' has made healthy growth too.

Like many, we tried grafted tomatoes alongside our seed grown this year - from seed we raised 'Stupice' and  'Latah', both from the wonderful Real Seed Company, both eastern European cool-weather hardies. ' Latah' is a bush variety but we grew it as a single cordon as usual, and both are still cropping well (to be honest they didn't start till September). Stupice has the better flavour and rather endearingly odd shaped fruits.

Of the grafted varieties we bought from Suttons, old fave Shirley did best in flavour and cropped reliably. Santorange is a yellowy-orange large cherry type and we liked its flavour and healthiness. Conchita tried to make very long cherry strings of fruit but set was very poor - weather probably. Belriccio has large, tasty, ribbed fruits, which set well. Elegance cropped heavily but isn't such a good flavour for us. Cupido has small and tasty cherry type fruit and plenty of them. I'd agree that cropping is heavier and plants are more vigorous than seed-grown ones but you'd need a decent season to truly test the grafted varieties to the max.

Our pale green indoor courgette 'Segev F1' continues to fruit healthily in mid-October. Leaves are now slightly mildewy but its been mighty impressive, the cropping starting in late June. Potatoes Cosmo and Red Duke of York remain reliable for us, and mangetout pea 'Shiraz' has yielded a heavy and beautiful purple harvest for weeks outside. Lettuce 'Reine des Glaces' had a superb flavour and stood well in the ground, and pea 'Kelvedon Wonder' never fails to crop well here.

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Just thought a word re the bracken. I returned from the Coniston Japenese-cum-Lake District food party very excited about being able to make something of the bracken shooting up on the hill. Went bracken gathering and prepared it. My hosts not so keen on eating it - and after consultation with sheep veterinary book and Richard Mabey (Guide to Edible Wild Plants) they confirm that it contains carcinogens. Admitedly the blindness in the sheep is caused from eating large amounts over time, and raw, but not sure that the boiling removes the carcinogens. I think that we'll be alright from Saturday, but export business perhaps not such a great idea. Shame!


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