Artichokes to Zucchini

parsnips, carrots
Parsnips and carrots before and after the storm.

It is interesting that so many of us have rituals which precede the starting of a job and I find it difficult to start a post unless I have a title. This one was almost entitled ” Stable, Horse, Bolted” but on reflection I decided that it was probably too confusing for the Google algorithms!
It could be said that artichokes (Jerusalem) and zucchini (courgettes) are the alpha and omega of the vegetable garden with beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, celeriac, carrots, fennel, onions, parsnips, peas and shallots providing the substantial middle. The success of each crop is totally weather dependant, but even in really abysmal summers I can just about manage to produce something.
Last summer so was cold and wet that even the most hardy and reliable crops failed, so I began this year with the optimistic hope that it couldn’t get any worse. The summer began well, blue skies, sunshine, very little wind and no rain. The soil was warm and still moist from the winter rains, so the seeds germinated and I was so confident that I even planted a courgette and butternut squash outside. May moved into June and the sun shone and there was no rain. My seedlings began to look a little crispy and although I watered twice a day, it was like pouring buckets on water into the moat of a sandcastle.
Fortunately help was at hand, Scottish Water declared that South Uist was about to run out of water and while a hosepipe ban was not imposed we were told to be frugal with our water while they shipped in transporter loads of blue pipe to pump water from Benbecula. This left me a little confused as Benbecula is a small island just to the north and has the same climate. Had they borrowed our water and not given it back? While I was puzzling over this conundrum, the announcement by Scottish Water, even though they had not used the D(rought) word, had done the trick, it started to rain and for good measure when it wasn’t raining we had mist!
A rainy July merged into a wet and windy August and on several occasions I was “caught napping” when the strength of the wind was more than forecast and I’d not protected some of the young plants with mesh! So a premature end to my experiment with growing spinach outside and the finale of the Florence fennel!  A summer storm can also reduced an established crop to a mess of burnt and crushed foliage, but given time most seem to recover.
As usual there were successes and failures, surprises and disappointments. The root crops, carrots, parsnips and celeriac have all grown well despite regular battering from the wind. The crop of onions and shallots was respectable, although they would have benefitted from some more sunshine. I’m still having problems with the beetroot, in my very light soil the plants are lifted from the soil by the wind, even when protected by enviromesh; provided of course, I remember to cover the plants! Perhaps I should try one of the cylindrical varieties?
The standard peas cropped well, but the very dwarf variety I tried was just too short and fed the slugs rather than us. So it’s back to a scaffolding of bamboo sticks and twine – how I miss a supply of “pea sticks”. For the first time the broad bean crop failed! After two wet winters wrapped around a cold wet summer the populations of bumblebees are in trouble, as indeed are many of the other insects. Bumblebees were scarce for most of the summer and so my lovely broad bean flowers remained unpollinated.  To compound my woes we had an invasion of diamond-backed moths which devoured the rocket and made growing brassicas a waste of time!

Once again we had a bumper crop of currants, enough rhubarb to fill the freezer, the usual glut of courgettes to turn into cakes and enough tomatoes to gorge on for lunch every day and to make sauces for the winter. I’m even optimistic about the state of the peppers which are beginning to look more red than green.
We’re currently enjoying the equinoctial gales so work in the vegetable garden awaits some calmer drier days. It is time to take stock, make plans for next year and sort out the polytunnel for the winter regime.

14 thoughts on “Artichokes to Zucchini

  1. [J] Well as fellow Uisteach this post could almost be ours! Contrary to -apparently – the expectations of most, the high walls of our garden are not without problems, certainly as regards wind, but the limitations of temperature, sunshine, soil etc etc etc trump all other considerations, and the walls almost become irrelevant. So notwithstanding our the high walls of our garden, Christine, our gardens are not so different. So, to the beetroot. And for that matter to similar root-crops like turnip, swede etc. They don’t do well in light soils and buffeting winds. Grow them in a small enclosure formed of timber (ours are 2.4m x 0.6m x 0.3m high formed of treated off-saw) and within that improve the soil with your very best compost, which should be compacted by foot. Call round and see ours, if you wish. The results are not astonishing, but better than nothing. And there is no vegetable, none, absoluutely none, than freshly harvested beetroot, cooked the minimum to soften it, sliced, and in a sandwich with a good cheese. It makes all the construction, preparation and care worthwhile! Beetroot is the most under-rated vegetable of all. Oh, one last thought: asparagus: the soil conditions are perfect, but it is the damp during winter and the chilling of spring winds that kill them off.

    • The combination of our hedge and wooden slat fences helps ameliorate the wind and the enviromesh helps too, when I remember to get it in place! We have small enclosed beds similar to yours, but despite the tons of muck and seaweed I put on each year I still can’t keep the beetroot in the ground. Fortunately it grows well in the polytunnel, but as I love beetroot, I’d like to have a little more.
      The asparagus bed is still a work in progress and siting it in the fruit cage helps. The new crowns are growing well, so we’ll see what next year brings.

  2. it has been an odd season, things didn’t grow half as well as last year. Though my green manures have germinated in 2 days! Must buy myself a big greenhouse / polytunnel. How is your greenhouse standing up to the winds?

    • I suppose it is the very nature of the wide range of plants that we all try to grow well that depending on the summer some do better than others.
      The greenhouse and the polytunnel seem to be ok in the wind, the biggest problem is the corrosion caused by our moist salty air. Although everything is either aluminium or galvanised, we still seem to have problems. So all joints, bolts etc. get sprayed with engine oil, which is not a solution, but so far the best we can manage.

  3. Liz Morton

    Wonderful description of the vegetables & fruit. I only wish I could sample them. Very interesting, the water coming from Benbecula – how fascinating.

    • Thank you Liz, somehow the garden always produces enough to keep us well fed.
      I’ve still not got to the bottom of the missing water – but we’re well topped up now and it’s raining again!

  4. Glad to hear your latest news Christine – obviously another challenging year, Re the beetroot I tried the cylindrical ones this year, and they seem to force themselves right out of the ground up to 4 inches of root above ground with the bigger ones- so maybe not such a good idea. I’ve been following Ross Geach(?)’s veg growing tips this year in the D.Tel with interest, and I think he suggested sowing beet seed 2 inches deep. I thought this was plain silly, but maybe it’s to prevent beets pushing themselves so far out of the ground? Anyway, I might try it next year, since several of his other points have worked really well for me.
    Though of course we’re less extreme than your patch!
    best wishes

    • Thank you Julina, perhaps I’ll stick with good old Boltardy, it is delicious and performs well in the polytunnel. I usually start my beetroot in plugs and then transplant outside, so next yeear I might try direct showing at 2in depth, cover with mesh and see what happens. Thanks for the tip.

  5. Didn’t realise you almost had a drought Christine – there will be people who were regretting saying they wished it would stop raining! It was intersting to read you your different veg compared – and what a great crop of redcurrants in that photo! After years of weather battering on my Mum’s front door she is now having to consider what to do with the seized up mechanisms and whether it is worth having a new door altogether at the astronomical price Everest have quoted – hopefully she will be able to get someone local to fit spares…

    • An early spring “drought” is not that unusual here, but it is predictably followed by a deluge. Perhaps it just makes us enjoy the good days even more.
      I really feel sorry for your Mum, the west coast islands really get a battering and the infra-structure suffers accordingly. I’ve just been round all the window catches in the cottage with the WD40, it’s the only way to stop them seizing solid. Pity it doesn’t work on my creaking joints.

      • Yes, I suspect neglect has contributed to the problems (of my Mum’s door, not your joints!) 😉

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