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September – what happens when you go away for a fortnight

The beginning of the month was warm and dry, with pea, bean and courgette crops in full production.

This is what I met when I made it back to the allotment after the break.

The courgette at the back was 15cm long when I last saw it – is a metre long here – and the little gherkins on the right had turned into these aliens.

Seeds have started to develop in the pods which have become fibrous and inedible as a result. If you leave the pods on the plant and let the seeds swell and mature, they can be used as a recipe ingredient like butter beans, but remember to boil them well during preparation.

The late sowing of peas has started cropping (this picture was taken on 24th July, though).

Late sowings are a bit of a gamble, being dependent for a crop on warm dry weather at the end of the summer since pea crops are especially susceptible to powdery mildew at this time of year.

I have found the variety Ambassador to crop well from late sowings

Blight paranoia

Its been very wet here for the last ten days or so and my plans for late plantings and sowings will probably not be realised this year.

My outdoor tomato plants are carrying a heavy crop and its usually around this time that they get infected with late blight. Warm, humid conditions stimulate the mould that has overwintered on infected potato plant or tuber debris from last season to release airborne spores  which spread the disease to other new hosts – like my tomatoes.

If you grow tomatoes or potatoes it is really important to get rid of every trace of the crop at the end of the season and dig up every tuber so that there is no host material available for the disease to survive on over winter. This habit will become more useful as the new, more aggressive strain of late blight spreads across the country.

I am still collecting and weighing the runner bean pods harvested from the bucket-bound plant in the back yard and I will let you know the results once the plant has stopped producing. From the yield so far, I reckon that four plants in a bucket are capable of supplying two adults with all the runner beans they can manage from mid-July to mid-September.

The difficult bit is managing the food supply in such a small volume of compost. I use a top dressing of blood fish & bone meal once a month and a soaking with a home made extract of comfrey (which is very smelly) every week. The Garden Organic website will tell you how to make comfrey extract – in amongst masses of other useful gardening advice.

My third crop of peas has just started to flower, so if the sun reappears I should be able to pick some pods in about three weeks’ time

Don’t forget to let us know how your crops are doing, too.

August news

Its now the middle of August and catch-up time again.

runner bean

the bean-in-a-bucket, mid August

The runner bean plants have all survived the aphid attack and I have picked a couple of handfuls of pods from the plant-in-a-bucket out the back. The weight of beans picked to date is 346g. and there are plenty more pods developing on the plant.

It’s a good idea to pick your beans regularly, before the seeds in the pods get too large as this will keep the plant flowering and producing more crop.

The borlotti beans seem to have finished flowering but the plants are carrying a heavy crop which we have started picking. The immature pods are incredibly tender and only need steaming for about two or three minutes. We have moved on to the runner beans to let the borlottis develop seeds. These look a bit like Robin’s eggs and are delicious.

My third sowing of peas is doing well and I am trying out a training method known as trellising where the pea tendrils curl round the horizontal strings you can see to keep the crop out of the mud and away from nuisances like crows, pigeons and mice who all enjoy peas. I sowed the seeds on 8th July and hope to pick the peas before bad weather in the autumn spoils the plants.

late pea crop

late peas growing up strings

Courgette frenzy is easing up at last. The plants are less productive now and the patch is looking rather scruffy as the leaves start to die back. I expect powdery mildew to move in as the night temperatures start to drop causing dew to form on the leaves. If you cut off all the yellow and brown ones it is sometimes possible to slow down the rate of infection but I have never found a reliable cure for this disease. To be honest, I am not that bothered as we have eaten more than enough courgettes already.

I set out two young plants on 31st July to extend the season into the autumn and see if young plants were better able to withstand the powdery mildew infection but oddly enough they have been infected before the mature plants from the first crop.

The cucumbers (Crystal Lemon) are starting to produce fruits at last and they are as delicious as I remember them being last year. One plant is a rogue which is producing fruits that look like gherkins. These develop into something that looks like the dill pickles you can buy in jars of spiced vinegar or over the chip shop counter so I may have a go at pickling my own if I can collect enough.

July update

July is coming to an end and we seem to be having what is generally called “a good summer” here in Worcestershire which means the weeds are growing well and the seasonal pests and diseases are thriving.

This can be a testing time for the organic gardener who has to depend on nature to deliver the crop.

Good husbandry and soapy water sprays are not enough to save the day when pest and disease pressures build up in these ideal conditions.

The good news is that we have enough courgettes to pretty much feed the village right now, and the climbing borlotti beans are thriving in the warmth.

The cucumbers are setting fruit and my experimental sowing of late peas has got away well.

Sowing peas seems to be a sure way of attracting moles – I have made three sowings this year and each one has been undermined by the blighters. Their diggings either move the seeds to the surface before they have germinated or leave the roots of the seedlings dangling in mid air inside their tunnels if they move in after the crop has established

Aphids on runner bean leafFor the first time in my gardening life, the runner beans are infested with black fly. I have sprayed them with Savona solution, but the plants quickly became reinfested. There are plenty of ladybirds on the plants and I have seen hover flies in the patch. The larvae of both these insects are great aphid eaters, so fingers crossed that they get going before the aphids cause too much mayhem – watch this space.

Interestingly, the borlotti beans which are a couple of metres away have not been bothered.

Runner bean plant

sad-looking runner bean

The runner bean plant in its bucket is not looking too good. This is a solitary plant in the back garden on its own and like the ones on the allotment, has been infested with aphids.

Unfortunately, despite being covered with flowers it is not setting any pods. Although runner beans are self-pollinating, bumble bee activity makes a big difference to the yield of pods and because I only have one solitary plant in the garden, I think it is being missed by the bees who have plenty of other pollen and nectar sources to collect and feed on.

In the Worcestershire garden…

Runner bean on plant

Runner bean on plant

This year we are looking at growing some peas and climbing beans and trying our luck with courgettes and cucumbers.

When you buy from the supermarket, you have to take what you are given but when you grow your own ingredients, you can decide how big they are and what they look like.

We are growing stripey courgettes called Romanesco Latino from Marshalls and round yellow

Courgette Romanesco

Courgette Romanesco

cucumbers which we grew from seed saved last season.

cucumber crystal lemon

Cucumber Crystal Lemon

The variety is called Crystal Lemon (also known as Crystal Apple) and can be found in most of the popular seed catalogues. These varieties taste like their plainer cousins but will add visual interest to your dishes.

The climbing beans are an Italian variety called Centofiamme from Franchi.

The crop can be picked early and used whole like runners or left to produce pods filled with large beans in late summer. These are shelled like garden peas.

The peas are a maincrop variety called Ambassador which do very well for us here. They are the same as the ones you buy, but when it comes to flavour, there’s no comparison. They don’t need support, but a few bush or hedge prunings stuck in the row will give the plants some support and improve the crop no end.

Climbing beans Cento

Climbing beans Centofiammi

At this point in late June, we are starting to cut courgettes…. and pick some peas and broad beans. The runner beans are a bit late getting established… but the one in the back yard is starting to climb up its wigwam. The small plants in the bucket with the runner bean are aubergines – not worth the effort if you are easily disappointed.

The cucumbers are just starting to grow up…so all in all, we are no threat to the supermarket share dividend yet.

We’d love to hear how you’re getting on and we’ll be back soon with some more vegetable thoughts…

Welcome to Make More of Vegetables!

Hello, my name is Peter Chadwick and together with my co-authors, Patricia Harbottle and Elisabeth Winkler, we’d like to welcome you to our blog, which is for anyone who likes to cook and has become interested in growing vegetables.

We are building on the ideas contained in the Make More Of Vegetables series of books where the recipes make vegetables the star of the show. Let’s be clear though, we are not vegetarians, just vegetable lovers.

The books started life as collections of recipes, written by Patricia Harbottle, based on a particular vegetable group. So the first one deals with peas and beans, the second one features pumpkins and squashes. The books also contain advice on how to grow the vegetables yourself.

We hope you will share our enthusiasm for vegetable edibles and have a go at growing some of your own food as well as cooking it. This is not a gardening advice blog, but we will be sharing our growing experiences here in Worcestershire as the season progresses and telling you about the ups and downs of our great vegetable growing adventure.

There will be new recipes from Patricia in Dorset together with seasonal treats and ideas on how to handle surpluses if you should be ultra successful.

And of course, we’d love to hear from you . What has worked for you in the garden or in the kitchen? And if you have the books, of course let us know how a particular recipe has worked for you or whether you’ve had any particular successes in the garden.

If you don’t have the books yet you can find out more and order them here.