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.
Followers of our garden here will remember that the orchard is filled with competing English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh varieties all chosen for their suitability for this windswept spot.
First into blossom on these young apple trees are local variety 'Keswick Codlin', with Welsh varieties 'Croen Mochyn' (pictured) and 'Bardsey Island'. Also interesting to note was the early leafing up of the quinces - an unnamed variety gifted to us by Brantwood, a seedling from the Russian estate of Tolstoy and a new Eastern European variety 'Humbug'.
A very tragic recent night when 4 of our 5 runner ducklings were killed by a badger breaking in to their housing, but on the plus our young orchard has been in blossom for about a week - lovely sunny weather after a few very wet and cold April weeks which had them in cold storage.
In fact a crowd of people helped to name these, our 5 new runner ducklings hatched ourselves from our own Maurice's eggs....
Lawson Park's new orchard of UK-wide heritage fruit varieties has been finished, with the last few trees from Irish Seed Savers - a heritage nursery in Co. Clare, from whom we have the deliciously named Cavan Sugar Cane, Keegan's Crab, Armagh, and Yellow Pitcher.
I've also pruned the trees that went in last winter and added a quince, Serbian Gold.
Every tree has received ample well-rotted manure and / or garden compost, and we are trying a biogegradable fibre mulch mat around each to keep off weed growth for as long as possible.
Here are the varieties we are growing this year:
Beauty of Bute, Cara, Highland Burgundy Red, Pentland Squire, Picasso, Red Duke of York, Sarpo Axona
Our Beemaster General, guru David Walmsley,
kicks off a new season of bee-keeping classes on 4 Thursday
evenings (7.30-9pm) at Greenodd Village Hall near Ulverston, from
March 8th - 29th 2012.
If you are very nice to him he might even be able to fix you up with a hive of bees, and believe me they're rarer than a sunny day at Lawson Park.
Call 01539 721501 for more info and booking.