Meanwhile back at the ranch

 

A rare day of sunshine on the allotment today and so we made the most of it because there’s the tail end of hurricane Lorenzo about to do one final lap of honor around the UK before finally (we hope) petering out. This is a challenging time of year for allotments because although there are a multitude of jobs to be getting on with, the weather often gets in the way.  We used to call these unsettled patterns “equinoctal storms” but the Met Office get a bit sniffy about the term, saying there’s absolutely no connection between the frequent storms and the day length. They just happen at the same time. Often!

But the last of the tender crops need to be gathered in and new ones sown almost immediately to allow germination before the cold weather really kicks in. That  means the ground needs to be weeded and prepared with compost even if you don’t dig.  Any ground that’s not going to be planted up immediately needs feeding and sheeting, or sowing with a green manure crop.  That’s not something we’ve ever done – I’m not sure what you do with the crop if you don’t dig it in – maybe if it’s tares you can cut it off leaving the roots with their nitrogen nodules intact in the ground, and compost all the green tops – it still gets fed back into the earth but a little later.

It’s this time of the year when we get a sudden mass of green material for composting. We’ve already dealt with the bean vines, but today it was the turn of the peppers, aubergines and those of the tomatoes not affected by blight – oh and the giant sunflowers which need sawing into pieces which are then either bashed with the back of an axe or split down the middle to expose the soft core to the composting bacteria. I often chop the vines a bit with a sharp spade – but you need some air circulation, so turning it all into a soggy mess will lead to slimy anaerobic conditions. The trouble with having a mass of fresh green material at this time of year is that at lower temperatures it can sit there sulking rather than composting. This is a great time to use some human urine to get things going.  We dilute it 10:1 for growing crops, but I’ve put it on the compost heap neat with no obvious ill effects. It’s rich with bio-available nitrogen and it really doesn’t smell.  We tell everyone we’re doing it to discourage the fastidious from browsing our crops! And keep the heap covered with old compost bags because it won’t thrive if it’s inundated with cold rain.

One of our success stories this year has been the outdoor chillies, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines.  The peppers were intended to be grown in the greenhouse but as ever we’d sown far too many,  so early in the season we planted some very poor and bedraggled specimens in a patch of sheltered open ground that happened to be empty. They absolutely loved it, and we’ve had our best ever crops from the open ground, leaving the pampered indoor plants standing still.  The only exception were the hot chillies, but they made the most of the greenhouse and they’ve been fantastic.  It’s touch and go whether the Habenero’s ripen fully, but I ate a tiny slice of an underripe one today and it was fierecly hot already. The mildest chillies – the Hungarian Hot Wax are still flowering and fruiting outside even now.

But all good things come to an end and so we came home with a big basket of green peppers, red cabbage and broccoli which is still cropping well plus a large quantity of green tomatoes. I’m looking for a recipe for a green pepper relish now. We ripened a few peppers on the windowsill earlier and roasted them to use as an ingredient in cooking.

The Sweet Cicily I sowed has resulted in a couple of very vigorous bushes so one of them is going to have to live in a container.  The other is on a patch of unuseable land near the greehouse and it’s very pretty and very useful – sweet and fragrant – so it can stay where it is for the time being. One major winter job is to reorganise the fruit cage and move the strawberries to a new spot.  It’s far too crowded, and a faff to get in and out of which has led to it becoming a bit neglected. Access is so important when planning beds and plots.

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Home then, thoroughly knackered with a day of gallery visits tomorrow for a change. It’s amazing, though how after a cup of tea and something to eat we felt energized again, which was just as well because the harvested  vegetables needed preparation and washing before they could be stored. It’s amazing how many slugs can live in a red cabbage, for instance.  But a soak in salted water and a couple of rinses soon gets rid of them and it’ll keep in the fridge until tomorrow evening when I’m baking anyway so I’ll make some spiced red cabbage at the same time.  Anyone for green tomato chutney?

Moon vindicated (possibly)

IMG_4246So there’s idiocy and confirmation bias. Idiocy is thinking that I possess some sort of magical power to make things grow, and confirmation bias is when I do an experiment and skew the interpretation of the result towards my preferred, or expected conclusion. For instance, many years ago when I was a curate one of my jobs was to take emergency calls from the local hospital on Saturday nights so I could say a prayer for people as they were they dying – (only if they’d asked, I hasten to add). Three times I was called out to someone who, when I went back on Sunday morning to take communion to the wards, I found sitting up cheerfully in bed. I began to suspect (hope) that my prayers were being more effective than I had previously believed.  When I mentioned it to the doctor he patted me on the arm and said he thought it was more likely to be the blood transfusions. So to backtrack a bit, idiocy would be to believe that I possessed supernatural powers, and confirmation bias would happen if I used my very limited data to prove the claim.

And so to the Habanero chillies:

 … this year I’m determined to germinate at least one Habanero after not getting any at all last season.

Habaneros (Scotch Bonnet) and the other members of the Capsicum chinense varieties have something of a reputation for being slow and tricky to germinate. This could be a rumour spread by specialist growers to inflate their sales of plants, but in my experience they can be – well – difficult.  So exactly a week ago I sowed all my chilli varieties in the propagator in my office/study/junk room. In the light of last year’s experience I changed several of the variables, making the drawing of conclusions almost impossible.  I changed the seed-sowing compost and  I increased the propagator temperature significantly to 25C and I used a different model of lamp which seems both whiter and more intense, and after I’d done all that and watered them with a very dilute seaweed growth stimulant I remarked in this blog that coincidentally the moon was waxing in its first quarter.

Even the seed packet notes that the ‘chinense’ varieties can take up to a month to germinate.  This morning – Oh Joy – they were germinating, not quite like mustard and cress on blotting paper, but lustily, vigorously, beautifully. Sensibly the little voice in my head says – don’t count your chickens – but I’ve not only counted them, I’ve mentally written to Tesco to offer a contract.  They’re going to be very short of chillies if we leave Europe. So – seven days and three of five varieties are poking their tiny heads up into my artificial chilli paradise, and the question is – is it the moon? to which the answer can only be where’s the evidence?  I’m such a hardboiled sceptic but between idiocy and confirmation bias there’s a rolling expanse of comfort blankets, lucky charms and pixie dust and I’ll buy into anything that keeps them going and avoids them all damping off, because I’m human and when I woke up today and looked at them I was so on fire with joy I made a gallon of stock, strained the raspberry vinegar and cooked meatballs in tomato sauce – our own of course – and all before Madame stirred – so the Potwell Inn will be living high on the hog for a while.

I forgot to mention yesterday that when we took the fleece off the asparagus bed, the deep layer of very smelly seaweed we mulched it with in the autumn has almost completely disappeared into the soil.  This is exactly what the gardener at Heligan said would happen – in fact she said there would be just a few bits of crispy seaweed lying on the surface. Her prediction was completely correct, so many thanks for the idea.