Floods, flea beetles and feasts

The cucumber crisis is over. Having contented itself with taking over half the polytunnel, the ‘Crystal Lemon’ has at last settled down to producing fruits – LOTS of them. Picking them is interesting as the flowers are literally heaving with bumble bees who don’t take kindly to the disturbance, but it’s worth it.

A bumble bee doing the business in the cucumber flowers.

They are funny looking little things but then looks aren’t everything: they are sweet, juicy and have a great flavour, especially picked young.

Juicy fruits: ‘Crystal Lemon’ cucs.

I think the tunnel ‘Akito’ has given up in the face of fearsome opposition but it’s going well outside and we’ve picked enough for salads and tzatziki.

Happier outdoors: cucumber ‘Akito F1’

However, I’ve run into an unforeseen problem with the whole Sunflower Support System thanks to the weather, of which more later…

Taking a leaf out of the cucumber’s book, the butternut squashes are also trailing all over the tunnel: yesterday, I counted 15 squashes on two plants.

Squash ‘Winter Butternut’ in the tunnel…

Outside, they’re marching off across the orchard and the ‘Sweet Dumpling’ variety is fruiting well. I’m worried that we may not be blessed with too many brassicas this autumn but at least the curcubits are really doing us proud.

…and ‘Sweet Dumpling’ outside.

The storm clouds that had threatened for so long finally dumped their rain on us – and how! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life: 25 minutes of unleashed fury, more than an entire month’s worth of rain and lashing winds that uprooted an old oak in a neighbouring field and kept the emergency services busy for hours. The row of poplars at the end of the orchard bore the brunt and prompted an unexpected logging session for Roger and Sam.

After the storm: poplar branches strewn across the orchard.

The veg patch took a right bashing but fortunately most things have recovered. The Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers were worst hit: having to prop up the sunflowers with stakes so the cucs can carry on climbing up them does seem a bit daft! Several plants, including the French beans, ended up at crazy angles.

The French beans look a little drunk.

 For me the saddest sight was the young brassica patch. Is there anything else that life can throw at these poor things? They’ve had to contend with pigeons, rabbits, flea beetle, whitefly, caterpillars, intense heat, drought and now a flash flood trying to wash them out of the ground. I’m an optimist by nature but I’m really not too sure what we’re going to get from this poor bunch.

Poor bashed brassicas.

On the same theme, I’ve had to come up with an emergency plan to save my tiny kale plants which have been totally trashed by flea beetles. Grrr, what to do about the nasty hopping little creatures? 😦  I’m not so bothered about the ‘Cavolo Nero’ as I’ve got plenty of seed to replant if necessary, but only had a small pinch of the ‘Fizz’ seed which I’m desperate to grow. I cadged some offcuts of the fleecy stuff Roger is laying under wooden floorboards and made a protective tent around what were basically stalks with scraps of leaf attached. I feel nervous every time I lift the fleece to check them but the brave little things seem to be fighting back.

Come on, little ‘Fizz’ – beat those wretched beetles.

We definitely need to rethink brassicas next year. I want to learn some basic carpentry skills from Roger over winter so it’s beginning to look like a fine mesh cage would be a sensible project; if we can stop the birds and beasties, then at least we’ll only have the weather to contend with.

On a happier note, it’s been good to get planting again this week. In the tunnel I’ve sown Chinese cabbage, pak choi and a vegetableseeds.net oriental leaf mix which I’ve not grown before. I know the cabbages are bug magnets outside but they went well in the tunnel last summer so I’m hoping for a repeat performance. The tunnel is full of wildlife  and I’ve found myself far too easily distracted from the gardening.

Little beauty: one of the many distractions in the polytunnel this week.

Ouside, I’ve transplanted ‘Little Gem’ lettuce seedlings and put in small rows of mesclun, coriander and rainbow chard. I also put in a couple of rows of dwarf French beans, a yellow wax pod variety called ‘Roi de Buerre.’ Given the warmer climate, there is still plenty of time for them to grow and we should be picking them well into the autumn. The beans we’re picking at the moment – ‘Canadian Wonder’ – are rather strange as they are dual purpose. They can be picked young and eaten whole or left to form red beans for drying.

Two for the price of one? Old pod on the left, youngster on the right.

They are cropping well and taste fine but the problem is that they run to fat pods far too quickly: I’m not sure I’ll bother with them again.

When it comes to eating garden produce we are unapologetic gluttons. Sam and Adrienne are doing a daily survey of what’s ready to eat (Adrienne is keeping a VERY close eye on those melons…) and we are enjoying some fantastic veg-based feasts. The first aubergines were teamed up with courgettes and spuds in a delicious moussaka; the next ones are lined up for chargrilling on the barbecue and (when the ‘Marmande’ toms are ripe) a ratatouille or two… or three…or several…

Mmm…moussaka in the making.

An evening picnic at a local beauty spot turned into a celebration of what’s good in the garden, including a spicy hummus made with the first beetroot, verbena lemonade (both River Cottage recipes), masses of salads and a clafoutis made from our yellow and black cherries.

Summer spread: the veg patch in a picnic!

Peppers stuffed with herby rice and deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with mozarella cheese made a tapas meal very special (thanks to our resident student ‘chefs’). Sam’s invented pud of spiced black cherries in calvados, white chocolate custard, dark chocolate mousse and borage flowers was divine.

Sam’s ‘sedimentary’ layered cherry pud: well, what else should we expect from a geology student…?

Yum, yum, yum: surely this is what the whole veg gardening lark is about? 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Floods, flea beetles and feasts

  1. Hmm, we’re battling rabbits too. Only solutions that seem to work:
    1. proper rabbit fencing with 6′ to 8″ below the surface;
    2. raised beds 3′ to 4′ high. Sneaky little beggars.

    Your picnic looks idyllic.

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  2. Wow, you are really living the life at the moment. That picnic looks super. Clafoutis is one of my favourites. My aubergines have only just started to produce a couple of flower buds, but they have grown a lot in the last week, so hopefully they will give me something before the summer is out, otherwise I may have to accept its too cold here. It’s certainly bug time for me here too.

    Congratulations that all your hard work is paying off abundantly.

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    • Well, I have to say that bugs and beasties aside, it certainly is easier gardening in a kinder climate (with the time to do it, too). Our aubergines used to be ready by the end of September if we were lucky so it’s a real treat to have them so early. Good luck with yours – and the bugs! 🙂

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  3. Yum yum! love your moussaka basket at the end! Hey, take a look at allotment diary on youtube, he did a great video on building a simple cloche with wood, piping and netting for the brassicas.

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    • Hi, thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. Being a complete ignoramus with a hammer in my hand I need all the help I can get 🙂

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