Thursday, 7 November 2013

End of the line

The restored "Gardeners cottages" garden at Doneraile
It's tricky, I find, to type with a cat stretched across your lap, an awkward barrier between you and your laptop, his furry ginger head firmly wedging your right elbow to the couch. So excuse me if my grammar and spelling take a turn for the worst,or my spaces are uneven; today I am left handed, one fingered and handicapped by the weight of a fat purring cat. I'm getting the odd flex of claws into my leg too but compared with THE BITE ON THE ARSE I got earlier from a neighbors dog on an innocent evening walk being kneaded is positively relaxing!! I was furious/shocked/frightened(all three simultaneously it seemed at the time)  but I have calmed down now. I'm almost looking forward to the spectacular bruise tomorrow. "Almost" I said! after all you have to find the funny side in everything.

Before the dog bite I was out walking at the close of the day. There is something about this time of the year, a kind of pause as everything grinds to a halt. November is the end of the line. The Summer and the Autumn are both over. Dark nights stretch ahead. And despite roses lingering on in the borders, chillies in the glasshouse, and roots and greens in the vegetable garden, an air of finality, death and decay hangs over everything. Molds and mildew take hold, stems rot, glass inside holds condensation and moisture all day, the patio looks dirty and cold-everything feels perpetually damp.

It's a bit too early for seed catalogues and almost too late for cleaning up, (though to be honest I have 99% of my own cleaning up yet to do) but it's about the right time to look back over the growing year, assess what was good and bad, and make a big batch of chutney while thinking about what you will grow next year.

The Good

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! In hanging baskets, outdoors in the vegetable garden, indoors in the glasshouse. A great crop, huge yields and fantastic flavour, eaten in salads, made into roasted tomato soup and given away to delighted neighbours, family and friends.The best year ever!

In hanging baskets Seamus grew yellow and red tumbling tomatoes, the yellow had by far the better flavour but both fruited superbly. The yellow tomatoes also made amazing pasta sauce and looked lovely on pizzas.

Outside I grew Glacier, Totem and Aurora. All of which fruited well ( the slugs developed quite the palate for them at the later end of the year) When picked and cooked together they made the best tasting, smoothest tomato soup I have ever had.

In the glasshouse too many tomato plants jostled for the best positions. We learned a valuable lesson about space, half the amount will be grown next year! In the Tomato Jungle were Anais Noire, Rainbow, Brandywine, Golden Queen, Sweet Millions, Sungold, Weissbehart, Marmande, Tigerella, Broad ripple currant, Chocolate stripe, Yellow submarine and Gardeners delight. Sungold and Sweet Million were probably the sweetest  of the cherries. Golden queen was the loveliest salad tomato while brandywine, while only having a few fruit per plant has such enormous fruit with such great flavour that they are well worth the effort.

The Bad

Sweetcorn. It did not pollinate well, swell properly or crop well. Likewise pumpkins were wildly hit and miss. Not a good year. I'm curing the Hunter butternut squashes, a small crop of small sized fruit it must be said, but Eileen did not fare much better indoors in her tunnel. Other pumpkins I managed to harvest include one fair sized marina di chioggia, two decent green Latvian Pumpkins thanks to Liliana, Dace's mother, four small Japanese black futsu pumpkins, one tiny Hopi Pale grey and three cute but small New England Sugar Pies. Not a good year at all!

The ugly

Potatoes, or rather a lack of potatoes. Not the first earlies, they were lovely, not the second earlies they were lovely too, but the main crops-O Lord the flaming maincrops!As I dug my maincrop beds I turned up rotten spud, after rotten spud, after yet another rotten spud filled with tiger worms, burrowing  millipedes, tunelling slugs and any other insect that could stick in its head for a snack. The first lot of Tibet's were great but one of the stalks had next to nothing underneath and the two potatoes that did come up were soft turning pink after a few hours on the surface. I looked it up. Its called " Pink rot". Nice. Another soldier in the blight army. I found some depressing information about it on the UK potato councils website here.

Thank God for the Tibet's, or we'd be spud-less. I have a bag in storage but the odds of them lasting to Christmas day are fairly poor. They are a lovely baked and roasted potato, better than mashed though that's not bad either. There were a few Pink Fir apple too, God what an astonishingly delicious potato! Pity most of them rotted away to nothing.There is always next year, although I am seriously rethinking growing maincrops at all now.

Gold star

But the gold star has to go to the Brussels sprouts currently forming , I have two of the finest plants I think I have ever grown with an enormous crop of sprouts running right up the stems of both. And the final award must go to the Black Tuscan Kale, the same stuff I threatened to pull out of the ground earlier in the summer , its still growing strong, has reared two lots of caterpillars this summer and is producing a wonderful crop of delicious green leaves still. Its now two years old!

Great runners up

The golden berry pineapples are still producing fruit. The Kilkenny pearmain apples- we had the first decent crop of an absolutely delicious eating apple. There was an outstanding crop of Keegans crab eating apples, Eckinville Seedling cooking apples and Lough Key crab apples too, but they are solidly reliable any given year. Finally there is still a fantastic crop of beetroot (in the ground), as are the leeks and believe it or not there are still raspberries, peas and courgettes fruiting. Is it the end of the line after all?