Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A welcome gatecrasher

In amongst the Beetroot seeds I sowed this year a couple of "gatecrashers" (aka volunteers) came up.

Perpetual Spinach / Spinach Beet

They are Perpetual Spinach, sometimes called Spinach Beet. They are very closely related to the Beetroot, and their seeds look very similar, so maybe they got mixed up during the seed-packaging process.

The main difference is that Perpetual Spinach does not produce the bulbous swollen root that Beetroot produces, and it has plain green leaves rather than ones deeply veined with red. These leaves are used like normal spinach, namely eaten raw in salads when young, or cooked when older.

Beetroot leaves

The stems are also edible - a bit like those of Swiss Chard, another close relative - but definitely need cooking because they are a bit too tough to eat raw.

Stems of Perpetual Spinach

I haven't harvested any leaves from the volunteers, mainly because Jane doesn't really like spinach in any guise, so I would most likely be eating it on my own. In any case there isn't yet much of it (3 plants), so I'm planning to leave it to grow. It will die back over the Winter, but hopefully it will start up again in the Spring. It will probably give me a few green leaves very early in the season, before any of the freshly-sown plants are available. If I use the tiniest leaves (like the one shown below) in a salad, even Jane might tolerate them! Failing that, I shall use some to make Eggs Florentine, a favourite lunchtime snack for me.

Perpetual Spinach is easy to grow. It tolerates most types of soil (though it prefers it moist), and it bolts less readily than "normal" Spinach. In my opinion it's a good plant to tuck into an odd corner of the garden somewhere as a standby, but perhaps not one to grow in any great quantity. As its name implies, it also lasts longer than the very short-lived normal Spinach. I think it is technically a Biennial (in other words, it runs to seed in its second year), but I have in the past had plants that were effectively perennial - and it certainly self-seeds profusely. It is one of those plants that responds well to regular picking. If you pick frequently, it will produce more leaves. Removing the woody flower-stalks as they appear also prolongs its productive life.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

More shades of Autumn

There is not a lot going on in my garden just now - from a human's point of view - just the occasional bit of tidying up and cutting back of spent plant growth, but from Nature's point of view a lot is happening. The plants are briefly putting on their Autumn attire for one final display before their annual "long sleep".

A fashionable colour-scheme right now would be red, with tinges of orange and yellow...

The part of my Cotinus bush that was not affected by what may have been an attack of Verticillium Wilt has now adopted its normal Autumn colours, so I hope that at least part of it will come back in the Spring.

Cotinus "Royal Purple"

Cotinus "Royal Purple"

Cotinus "Royal Purple"

These are Blueberry leaves:


 In this next photo you can see next year's buds already forming before this year's leaves have fallen.


The Callicarpa has a very brief show of Autumn leaves, doubtless because it wants to shed them to better show off its array of purple berries:



My little Fig tree is joining in too, though it is less showy...

Fig "Brown Turkey"

This is almost the last flower in my garden for this year. It's a Gaillardia "Burgunder", whose colours definitely fit the theme.

Gaillardia "Burgunder"

The Hydrangea on the other hand is being obtuse and bucking the trend. During the Summer its blooms were pink, and vestiges of that colour still remain:

 But some of the blooms seem to have decided to turn green.


I have only had this Hydrangea since March, so I have a lot to learn about its behaviour. For instance, I have read that it is best not to dead-head it, but to leave the old flowers on the plant until it begins to grow again in the Spring. What do you think of that advice?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Harvest Monday - 20th October 2014

As you would expect in the middle of October, the harvests are beginning to slow down now.

However, as you probably guessed, I have picked a few more chillis, like these lovely "Aji Limon" ones:

We have an ample supply of chillis now, so those ones are being dried for their seeds, which I am going to send to a couple of my chilli-loving friends.

Last week I erroneously reported that I had picked the very last of my cucumbers. However, I didn't pull up ALL of my cucumber plants, and one of those left behind has produced these:

I have picked them very young because I expect we will get our first frost very soon, and that would be the death of them. Picked this small they are nice eaten as a snack before dinner.

I have also lifted another small batch of Beetroot:

My beetroot have behaved themselves very well this year. They have matured successionally, even though I only sowed two batches of seed about 3 weeks apart, and none of them have bolted  - as you would hope with a variety called "Boltardy"! I think there are now only about 3 or 4 left. Despite having been in the ground a fair old while, none of them have grown to a huge size. The biggest has been about the size of a tennis ball.

One more of the "Toledo" Leeks found its way into the kitchen:

It was another good-sized one. I have draped it over one of the compost bins in order to demonstrate its size.

Lots of the Radicchio is maturing now. It's best to pick it and keep it in the fridge in one of those "Stayfresh" bags, rather than leave it outside where it will rot.

The trouble is, these things are pretty dense, and we can eat them fast enough! One head of Radicchio like this provides enough leaves for several two-person salads.

This is my entry for Harvest Monday, hosted as ever on Daphne's Dandelions. Why not pop across and see what everyone else is harvesting...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

October salad update

My salad crops have been very successful this year, and are still going strong. We are not eating much salad at present, having moved on to more Winter-style meals, but it's there when we want it.

I still have several lettuces, although their growth rate has slowed down a lot, so whether they will make it to maturity before the frost gets them is a moot point.

"Marvel of Four Seasons"

"Can Can"

"Rossa Romana"

"All Year Round"

The "All Year Round" Lettuces are quite pale and delicate. Despite its name, this variety seems to do better in warmer conditions.

I have lots of Endives on the go, and they are all jumbled up so I have no idea what variety each one is.

Curly Endive - variety unknown!

I would grow this Radicchio even if we never ate it - it's very decorative.

This Radicchio is ready for picking. You can tell that it's ready when the outer leaves of the heart (not the main outer leaves) begin to go brown and slimy.

Radicchio "Palla Rossa di Chioggia"

Don't be put off by the brown slimy leaves - they are normal - just peel them back and you will find a bright red / white / pink core inside.

The last few remaining beetroot look as if they should be woody, but they are not. Well anyway, the last batch I cooked, on Thursday, weren't. They were lovely and tender.

Beetroot "Boltardy"

Photographed in the sunlight, the beetroot stems are such a beautiful colour.

Beetroot "Boltardy"

Here's a fitting conclusion to a post about salads: I found these by one of my raised beds. They are slugs' eggs.

After photographing them, I squashed them, because I'm not letting those darned slugs get my salads!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Autumn colours - Dogwood

It's that time of year when I do a post about Dogwood (Cornus) leaves! I know I do one (or two...) every year, but they are different every time, because the leaves are different each year. Although there are some similarities, there are always differences too.

This is the 2014 version...

In a few days' time they will all be lying on the ground like this one:

Then with the leaves all gone, it will be time to admire the beauty of the stems, in an array of yellow, orange, red and black.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Earthstar fungi

A couple of days ago I was trimming back some of my ferns, getting rid of some of the shrivelled fronds, which revealed a big clump of Earthstar fungi:

I knew I had some of these in my garden, but I have never seen as many as this simultaneously.

Searching on the internet for more information about these fungi, I see that there are two very similar-looking types; the (True) Earthstar genus, Geastrum and the False Earthstar genus Astraeus hygrometricus. I'm not an expert on fungi, but I suspect mine are the Astraeus type. They certainly have the distinctive cracking on the leathery rays of the outer layer.

The spherical spore-sacs start off a pale beige colour, and gradually mature to a dark brown. Spores are ejected from the sac as a result of external pressure, e.g. being touched by an animal, or by raindrops falling on them. They come out in a cloud like smoke. (Look closely at the nearest one in the photo below...)

It is generally agreed that this type of fungus, whilst not poisonous, is inedible. What a shame! If they were edible, I'd have a valuable resource at my disposal.