Saturday, 7 September 2013

Harvest 2013 - what's grown and what hasn't

Slightly leaning tower of runner beans!
The weather this year has been unpredictable and the changes from one week to the next have sometimes been extreme. Cold, wet and windy at the start, then a warm spell, late frosts that knocked back anything that dared to poke it's head above ground, and then several weeks of very hot and dry weather. The weather has affected different crops in different ways and reinforces that it pays to grow a wide range of vegetables and persevere with successional sowing.

Pests, in general, have had minimal impact here with the exception of the turnip sawfly, which chomped its way through most of my sprouting broccoli seedlings ( Snails have been everywhere but controllable with eggshells, beer traps and by consigning them to the compost heap. There seem to have been fewer slugs this year and I put that down to having used Nemaslug ( last year. A couple of friends have said that its effect lasts into the the second year and sometimes longer.

So, here is the state of our harvest so far. 

Beetroot. Six beets from three sowings of different varieties. Dreadful :-(

Cabbages. The autumn/winter cabbages are doing well and it looks as though there'll be a good crop. There was minor slug and snail damage to some of the early leaves but the cabbage white butterflies seem to have left them alone. There were plenty of the blighters flitting around but I found only a couple of patches of eggs and those were easily rubbed off. I'm not sure what put them off. I had placed eggshells around the plants to deter the molluscs, but I have read that the white of the eggshells also discourages the cabbage whites. They're fooled into thinking that there's another butterfly already there and move on. I also used a garlic wash on all of the brassicas so that could have discouraged them as well. Spring cabbages have been sown in trays and will soon be ready for planting out.

Carrots. Not a good year. I think the first sowing was too early and the second was probably hit by the late frosts. The third sowing was partially successful but then we had the prolonged hot, dry spell. I had hoped to try out some new varieties such as Purple Haze but I'm not sure how many I'll finally harvest.

Cauliflowers. Nothing to report on these, yet, as I am going to try overwintering them this year.

Celeriac. A disaster. Plenty of leaves but no "bulb". The leaves are edible, but in small doses as they have a very strong flavour. The harlequin ladybirds seem to like them, though.

Chillis. I planted these out too early and about half were killed by the frosts. The ones that survived are doing well so I expect a reasonable harvest.

Courgettes (zucchini). Another good year for courgettes after a slow start.

Cucumbers. A good harvest after a slow start and there are still plenty maturing on the plants.

Dwarf french beans. It's been a mixed harvest with the later sowings faring better than the first.

Florence fennel. Like the celeriac, a disaster. Tall thin sticks and leaves and no bulb.

Garlic. The cloves that I planted last year in the spaces left by harvesting did well, but then garlic is very easy to grow.

Horseradish. I decided to try growing horseradish this year and judging by the number and size of the leaves it seems to have established itself well. I'll see later in the year how well the roots are doing. It is growing in a container as I do not want it invading the whole garden.

Jerusalem artichokes. I have been growing these for several years and it is another vegetable that never fails. Harvest time will be later this autumn. You may think you have dug up all of the roots but there are always a few left behind ready to start growing next year. Like the horseradish, I grow them in containers to stop them taking over.

Kohlrabi. I love this vegetable.The leaves can be eaten like cabbage and the bulb can be shredded and added to salads, steamed or stir fried. We have another good crop this year, having treated the plants in the same way as the cabbages to protect them from pests.

Lettuce. We have had plenty of lettuces this year and I'm going to try overwintering some Winter Density. The spell of very hot dry weather badly affected the germination of a couple of sowings but overall it has been a good year.

Mustard. This is the first time I have grown mustard since I was at primary school, where we grew it along with cress on wet blotting paper. I could never see the point of the exercise as grown this way they taste of nothing. Sow mustard in the garden, though, and you get an abundance of peppery leaves ideal for adding  to salads.

Onions. It has been at least 15 years since I tried growing onions and I'm pleased I decided to give them another go. I didn't plant many sets but they did very well indeed and were very tasty. I shall definitely try them again next year.

Parsnips. I didn't have much luck with these this year. I have a pathetic three plants from the third sowing, the first two sowings probably having been killed off by the early bad weather.

Peas. Three sowings and three plants emerged from the second only to succumb to who knows what. Never had such a terrible failure with peas before :-((

Potatoes. I tried four varieties in pots and containers, and was pleasantly surprised with the yield and taste. The trick, I was told, is to keep them well watered and it worked.

Ramsons (wild garlic). This is the first time I have grown ramsons. The flowers and leaves appear at a time when there isn't much in the garden and are a delicious addition to salads and my breakfast scrambled eggs!

Runner beans. Great crop this year from three varieties, and still going strong.

Spinach and swiss chard. Great crop, as always. I've never had a a failed crop of either of these.

Sprouting broccoli. Only two of my seedlings survived the onslaught of the turnip sawfly. This is the first time I have had problems with sawfly on brassicas and I initially thought it was slugs or snails stripping the leaves off the stems. It was when I saw an adult sawfly on a nearby herb fennel that I discovered the cause of the devastation. A quick check of the seedlings at night revealed the sawfly caterpillars munching their way through my plants.

Tomatoes. These got off to a slow start but are now producing a bumper harvest. Time to start making the chutney!

Overall, a good year and much better than last.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Harlequins take over

Most of the ladybirds in our garden this year are Harlequins, which probably explains why we haven't had any problems with aphids. Harlequins are not native to the UK and were introduced as a biological control for aphids. They breed more quickly than our native species and have a voracious appetite, making them ideal as a means of pest control. The downside is that they out-compete and now pose a serious threat to other ladybirds. When aphids are scarce harlequins will eat other ladybird eggs, larvae and pupae, butterfly and moth eggs and caterpillars.

Below is a photo I took of a Harlequin next to its pupal case on a celeriac leaf.

Harlequin ladybird next to its empty pupal case

This example seems to conform to the standard descriptions I have seen on various sites, but they are very variable in appearance. There is information on how to recognise the Harlequin on the Harlequin Survey site at, and there is also an identification guide for Harlequins and common British ladybirds. The larvae, on the other hand, are very distinctive and the Harlequin is particularly spiky. The Ladybird Survey has a good identification guide for larvae of UK ladybirds.

Harlequin ladybird larva
So, given that Harlequins have almost reached pest status in the UK, am I doing anything about it? I'm afraid that at the moment I am going to be selfish about this and leave them be. They are doing a good job of keeping the aphids at bay and I'm having a hard job finding non-Harlequin ladybirds in the garden. I may change my mind, though, should they decide to take up residence in the house for the winter.

Further information on Harlequins and other ladybirds can be found on the Harlequin Ladybird Survey and UK Ladybird Survey websites. There is also a good overview of the issues involved in an article on the Wellcome Collection blog Ladybirds: friends or foe?