Monday, December 5

Harvesting a chicken stew - well almost

We had a couple of plot visits last week. There are quite a few areas that we want to work on over winter if the weather allows.

I also had a couple of fruit plants still to prune. Being thornless, the blackberry is a doddle. The wrestling with long vicious canes that were intent on maiming is just a long forgotten nightmare. I always think I have cut out too much but so far the new growth as been more than enough to exceed our needs in terms of fruit production.
Our whitecurrants have only ever produced very small berries so I decided to see whether reducing the number of stems would encourage it to do better.
I've no idea whether I have pruned this correctly, I just went with my instincts.

We also carried out some major renovation of the redcurrant patch but that will have a post to itself later in the week.

Our visits also gave us chance to harvest a few things. Our first harvest was very small. We didn't need any vegetables but having read about Mark's parsnip canker problem I was keen to check our parsnips. Fortunately I didn't detect any canker when I dug a root for my sister.
I also cut a posy of chrysanthemums from the greenhouse.
I wanted to make a chicken stew and so on our next visit we collected the necessary ingredients.
Some of the leeks are still quite small and thin but still very usable.
On the other hand the parsnips that we have lifted so far are probably the best we have grown. Maybe a lesson to be learned here. Poor germination meant that the seedlings were space further apart. Martyn posted more about our parsnips here.

Not all of the harvest went into the stew so the rest are left outside undercover until required. We find this way they keep better.

Today I am linking to Harvest Monday over at Dave's blog  Our Happy Acres

Friday, December 2

Photographs - size and shape

One thing that writing blog posts about my photography has made me do is to explore options and compare my cameras. In all the time that I have been using my cameras I have stuck to just one picture size and never really considered changing it depending on what I wish to photograph.

I wanted to compare the lenses of my two cameras to try and show the differences between the images obtained when setting the lens of each camera to its widest option. For the FZ72 that is 20mm and for the FZ1000 it is 25mm. To be honesty all this means to me is that 20mm takes a wider view than the 25mm.

I took my cameras to the plot to find out what this actually means in resulting image terms. As I was preparing to take some photos I remembered that my cameras were taking images with different proportions and if this was to be a fair comparison then I needed to set them up so they produced the same shape image.

To say that the two cameras are the same make surprisingly they refer to this feature differently the FZ72 has a picture size option which gives more detail and the FZ1000 more accurately refers to 'aspect ratio'.
I set both cameras to 16:9 and took my two photos.
Unfortunately the photo on the left isn't quite straight but I didn't want to straighten it as this would crop some of the image. As it is you can see that the FZ72 takes in more of the scene. (If you click on the image you access a larger photo.

I decided to compare the other aspect ratios.

As expected the FZ72 always capture more of the scene, however the image produced by the FZ1000 is sharper.
Obviously there is some trade off in increasing the angle width.

The above photos are just quick shots so not the best of photos, however, another thing this exercise has taught me is to try and make more use of the aspect ratio setting by trying to consider which shape is best for the image that I am trying to capture.

Putting this into practice at a recent visit to RSPB Old Moor.

The top photo was at 4:3  and the one below was 16:9.
I don't really think I got the composition right in the bottom photo - too much of the reeds on the left - I could crop but that would change the shape. 

Click on the image for a larger view.

Which do you prefer?

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Wednesday, November 30

Dusk at RSPB Old Moor

Tuesday, November 29

It was a pea year

Despite some failures I would class 2016 as a good year for peas. 
We had one complete failure, Delikett - a sugar snap variety didn't produce at all and the other sugar snap - Oregon Sugar Snap - and mangetout - Delikata - varieties sowed at the same time and in the same bed didn't fare much better.

The seeds germinated but due to weather conditions, the seedlings grew very slowly and were ravaged by pea and bean weevils.
Our pea and broad bean plants usually attract the attentions of these weevils which feed on the leaves of the plants. The nibbled leaves have U-shaped notches around the edges. Most years the plants outgrow the damage but last spring the slow growing seedlings just couldn't cope. We did manage to hartvest a few mangetout.
We also had poor results from peas sown in another bed on the 9 June. This bed though showed evidence of the soil being disturbed so maybe mice or some other hungry creatures dug up the seeds.

Despite these setbacks in other ways it was a good year for peas and we had a decent harvest and were able to stock up the freezer.
As you can see from the table we rely heavily on Onward, so much so that we bought a large bag of seed.
We sow all our peas directly in the soil. We have tried sowing in pots and transplanting but it never seems successful which is strange as it works for sweet peas.

As you can see above we sow into trenches cut in weed control fabric. You can also see that we pay absolutely no regard to seed spacing and sow very generously to allow for poor germination. Now you understand the need for the large amount of seed. The hazel twigs are an attempt to prevent animals such as cats and foxes from walking all over the newly sown seed beds.
The first lot of Onward were sown on 5 May, a few days before the devastated sugar snaps and mangetout but these were unfazed by weevils. There was evidence of nibbling but the plants grew away strongly.

They were grown in a double row and  supported by hazel twigs.
The next sowing on 9 June was the row that germinated poorly. I did furtle about in the large gaps in germination and didn't find any seeds. I resowed the bare patches but the second sowings fared no better which is why I suspected mice.

Due to this failure, on 13 June we sowed another long row in a fairly rough area of the plot, alongside a row of late sown annual flowers.
To be honest after the previous sowing I didn't expect much from this row but they did really well. What's more we didn't find as many pea moth grubs as normal which is appreciated when it comes to podding.

As we still had some pea seeds left we decided that there was nothing to lose on using up the seeds on a really late sowing on 17 July. We planted a row in the bed that had previously housed our early Casablanca potatoes. These germinated well but by the time the pods had filled the plants had begun to suffer from mildew and the pods began to blacken.
I was going to write the row off but decided to check the pods first and found perfectly good peas inside.

There is always room for improvement so next year:
  1. I think I will cover the newly sown peas with enviromesh in an attempt to thwart the weevils, that is unless they are ready and waiting in the bed. 
  2. I'm not sure whether this is enough to keep mice away or whether I need to use some wire netting for the later sowings.
  3. I also found that a single row was easier to harvest than a double row as I could get along each side easier. The two rows planted side by side tended to mesh together.
  4. We maybe need to plant a second sowing of mangetouts or sugar snaps.
  5. Finally we will try to remember to use up the remaining pea seeds a little earlier that we did this year, maybe the end of June, to try and give the latest sowing a better chance to do well.
Of course it isn't as simple as that is it? Next year could be completely different.

Sunday, November 27

At least the robin came to say hello

It was a typical visit to the RSPB reserve. The water birds kept their distance.
 The kingfisher deserted its post just as we arrived.
The starlings gathered on the pylon ...
 ... but the expected murmuration was a mere series of murmurs.
Can you spot them?

The returning geese provided more of a noisy spectacle.
But at least a friendly robin came to say hellop.

Martyn's video

Saturday, November 26

We don't put all our eggs (potatoes) in one basket.

This year we grew eleven varieties if potatoes. It sounds a lot more potatoes than it is as we only had five seed potatoes of six of the varieties. A local garden centre held their version of a potato day and we had the opportunity to just try a few varieties that were new to us. This way if there were any that we didn't like we wouldn't have wasted too much space on the plot and time. On the other hand if we liked a variety we could add it to our main list next year. As it happened both these scenarios occurred but more of that later.
Our main choice varieties were supplied in 2.5kg packs which have between about 25 - 35 seed potatoes depending on size.  Usually we use up the small seed potatoes by planting two to a hole.
Our choice of early potato was Casablanca. This was the only variety not to be planted through weed control fabric. The tubers were planted with a trowel and earthed up in the usual way. As roots of the early potatoes are dug as needed before the tops have died back the use of weed control fabric would make harvested more of a problem.
As you can see from the above chart in spite of being an early variety, Casablanca was our best cropper. It produced a good harvest last year too and it also scored highly on the taste test. It easily earned its place in next year's list.

We planted up the trial potatoes in one bed and the rest of the varieties were planted in two large beds. All were planted through weed control fabric.
Although it would appear that the variety grown without wcf fared best, this is just a coincidence. Last year we did a controlled test and found that the potato harvests were not affected by the use of wcf.

To compare the yields I multiplied the yield from the trial potatoes by five. Of the trial varieties Amour produced an excellent crop and had hardly any damage to the potatoes.

Martyn's comment after lifting the Blue Belle harvest was that it was hardly worth digging up. This is one that will definitely not feature on next year's list.

Orla produced a good crop which had little slug damage and Setanta a red skinned variety performed similarly.

Valor produced an excellent crop but the potatoes were badly affected by wireworm damage.

Vivaldi produced a crop comparable to Kestrel and the potatoes had little slug damage and it also impressed in the taste test. Kestrel too was almost completely free of any slug damage.

We were not impressed by Vales Sovereign. The crop was very badly affected by blight so to all intents and purposes was a failed crop. Nadine which was growing alongside Sovereign was completely damage free and produced an OK crop. Last year Nadine only had minor slug damage so seems to be a reliable choice but Vales Sovereign is definitely off next year's list.

Winston was on a par with Setanta and Orla cropping wise. Last year Winston was badly affected by early blight but escaped this year. The variety was given a second chance on the grounds of its taste.

It's always difficult to recommend varieties of potatoes as the taste and performance varies according to soil and the conditions that prevail during the season so the above are only meant to describe how things went for us. 

We will be looking out for potato day again so we can try more different varieties. Anyone else trying something new or are you sticking to tried and tested?