Undercover Harvest

Early vegetables
Shallots, onions and main crop potatoes just emerging. Cauliflowers protected Shallots, onions and main crop potatoes just emerging. Cauliflowers protected by enviromesh (wind and against cabbage root fly protection). The house on the horizon is the new croft house where I live and the original croft house is now Croft Garden Holiday Cottage

We now have over 16 hours of daylight and there is no lack of sunshine, but with the northerly winds the temperature barely rises above 12°C even on calm days. Even with this lovely weather the vegetables beds are still empty and forlorn. The main crop potatoes were planted at the end of April as were the shallots and onions and they are just emerging – in beautifully straight lines as I did not plant them! Still no sign of the parsnips but the first wiggly row of carrots is making a very tentative appearance. Impatient as ever I have broad beans, Florence fennel, some early cauliflowers, beetroot and lettuce (Winter Density) sheltering under enviromesh and growing very, very slowly.

Vegetables in the polytunnel
Vegetables in the polytunnel: carrots, spinach, fennel, lettuce and potatoes
garlic and shallots
Garlic and autumn shallots

The garlic and autumn shallots, planted in January are coming along nicely, but if we have bad weather forecast they might disappear under a mesh tunnel. A series of severe westerly gales in May 2011 destroyed my entire crop of garlic!
In the polytunnel the atmosphere is a balmy 25°C (if not ventilated it will shoot up to over 35º) and the vegetation is lush and verdant. We are now harvesting new potatoes, spinach, rocket, lettuce, mizuna, radishes, carrots and Florence fennel. Perfect ingredients to make a spring salad to go with the first lobsters of the year. A minor digression: mayonnaise (made with free range eggs, Scottish cold-pressed rapeseed oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a touch of English Mustard) flavoured with some finely chopped fennel fronds is a magic combination with shell-fish.
The night-time temperatures still drop to 1 or 2° which makes growing some of the tender crops: tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, tricky. As our growing season is short they have to be potted up or in the raised bed by early May – even though the conditions are not ideal. I’m still struggling to get these to grow really well, I suspect that variety is the secret to success this far north.

Plants hardening off
Please form an orderly queue! Plants hardening off and waiting for the weather to warm up.

I’m still experimenting with the succession of vegetables in the polytunnel to ensure that we can achieve something which resembles self-sufficiency. As the outdoor vegetable beds don’t produce a harvest until the start of June (if May is warm) and from September onwards we’re down to brassicas, leeks, carrots and parsnips, there is a long “hungry gap”. Maximizing the potential of the undercover growing system right is vital if we want to eat anything green after Christmas. As one crop is harvested there are always young plants or a packet of seeds ready to fill the space. With this repetitive cropping maintaining the soil health and fertility is important. After each crop is removed we add garden compost and a top-dressing of slow release organic fertiliser – this is either nitrogen or potassium rich depending on the crop. I will also use liquid seaweed to help maintain the micronutrients and have to help the tomatoes along with a liquid feed that is high in potash and magnesium. Fortunately our very freely drained soil means that we don’t have a problem with the build up of mineral salts.

We also need to be vigilant and try to keep the aphids under control – hand squishing is good, if messy, liquid soaps will also work. If a plant gets badly infected it is removed to the compost heap (no last chance or appeal it has to go). I also plant Tagetes in the tunnel to encourage the hoverflies, sadly ladybirds are as rare as hens teeth here.
The wind is moving into the SW in a day or so bringing severe gales and heavy rain, so my queue of plants waiting to be put out grows longer and longer. If the weatherman is right I’ll be confined indoors, catching up with the household chores and getting more and more grumpy. If it is really bad I might even blow the dust off some half-written blogs.

17 thoughts on “Undercover Harvest

  1. We have thought about a polytunnel. We are divided as usual on gender lines. Me: have just spent hours and hours on my new wildflower meadow, seed now sown but looking sadly bare. Him: Where else could a polytunnel go?

  2. It looks like your poly tunnel works well.

    • It has been an outstanding success and after 2 years I’m still learning how to maimise its potential

  3. Aphids must be everywhere if they are a problem even on your windswept croft.
    Your persistence is impressive and I look forward to seeing your harvest.

    • Aphids and whitefly are only a problem in the polytunnel, you’re right its too windy elsewhere!

  4. Christine – I’m really impressed with the progress of your veg. I planted florence fennel last year and it bolted, apparently because I planted it too early and it reacted to the temperature change when summer arrived. I accepted this explanation and held back on sowing the seeds this year. Just wondering when you sowed your fennel seeds ?

    • The first thing I learnt about growing vegetables here was to ignore the gardening books and instructions on seed packets. I had seen fennel growing in Southern Italy in December which gave me a big clue as to how to grow it. I think my success is due to our cool summers. I sow my firts seeds in mid-March in modules and then move then to 5cm pots. The plants go in the garden during the first week of May – covered with enviromesh for wind protection. Last year I sowed a second batch at the start of May, planted out the middle of June. This year I’m fitting in an early April sowing to plant out mid-late May. Excellent results and no bolting. I grow “Finale” a slightly flat bulb but good flavour.
      In think you’re right about the effect of temperature and with our summer weather you may have to try small repeat slowings. You could probbaly get away with a very early crop – the plants seem very hardy. I grow them in an unheated polytunnel in the winter and the only limiting factor appears to be light levels.
      If you are having problems with seedlings “damping off” (fungal infection normally due to seedlings getting too wet) try the module system and in your mild climate you could probably just plant the plugs and not bother with the pot stage.
      Hope this helps.

      • Thanks for the reply. I shall stop reading the seed packets and follow my gardener’s instincts from now on!

        • I have a feeling that sowing dissent and rebellion in an engineer’s garden is a treasonable offence. I applaud your courage!

  5. I’m usually excited by rain but if I had as much as you do, I might be grumpy too. I usually squish my aphids, too, if the lady bugs are slow in coming. It’s a bit gross but effective. Here’s hoping for warmer, drier days for you. :o)

    • Yesterday was like a monsoon with 60mph winds – mmmm exciting but not for my garden! I love watching the storms but then there is the anxious moment of the garden walk and damage report. Apart from a stiff breeze predicted for Thursday I think we are reasonably ok for the rest of the week. Must admit we needed the rain though! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed checking out your marvellous blog which I found through Jeans garden. It is gardeners like yourself that is getting me a little interested in edibles. Hard to change after forty years of ornamental gardening. However this year I am trying a few things in the greenhouse, like tomatoes, they wont grow outdoors in Aberdeen, as if you didn’t know. Tried searching for you on blotanical under croft garden and gardening in a gale, are you using a different name there. Ah well hope it gets a bit warmer soon, apparently the hottest Summer on record 1976 had snowfalls in early June, keeping fingers crossed.

    • Thank you Alistair. Growing vegetables is a very different challenge to ornamentals. I never took it seriously until we moved here and was faced with the dilemma of either grow your own or risk scurvy. Greed won and now I find the challenges and the endless opportunities to experiment totally absorbing. It’s still cold, but I’m hoping that as the wind moves to the south that it will warm up. I see no reason why we shouldn’t grow tomatoes this far north, but be prepared to make some green tomato chutney!

  7. Your polytunnel looks wonderful – and what a lot of useful information, too.
    The weather is beyond belief this year – today in Snowdonia we have had gales, hail, sleet, sun, and an overall temperature of about 9 degrees. I am desperate to get some of my veg out, and it’s good to know we’re not alone…

    • Hi Kate, you’re definitely not alone. You’ll be surprised how quickly your veg plants will catch up provided of course that the weather improves in June!

  8. Bravo! I am completely inspired to grow more vegetables. Wish I could be there for the salad and lobsters.

    • I’m looking forward to see a very stylish veg garden featured in your blog. Fishermen are out this morning, so I’m expecting a delivery of lobsters this afternoon. You’re very welcome to come to lunch anytime.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.