Not a regular post, but there have been questions about when beans are ready to be harvested. This post aims to help.
These are Mrs Lewis's Purple Podded Climbing French Beans. The one on the left is dark purple and the beans can hardly be felt so it is good for eating whole without shelling. The one on the right has lost all its purple, the beans can be felt hard, and the shell feels dry and crisp. It is ready to harvest as seed for future sowing or as a dry bean for soaking, cooking and eating.
These are also Mrs Lewis's but no longer purple all over. The shell will be tough but the beans inside good for eating fresh. The beans inside are not mature enough to be viable as seed beans for future sowing.
These are Cherokee beans. They are a fat climbing bean. The three on the left are good for eating, still really green with beans showing. The two hanging at the bottom of the picture have lost their deep green colour so the pods will be stringy but the beans inside will be good to eat fresh though they are still immature and not viable for future sowing. The ones above them are brown and the pods dry and crisp. These can be used for seed to grow next season or as dried beans to soak, cook and eat.
These are Jesse Fisk dwarf french beans. The green one at the bottom of the picture is good to eat pod and all. It is still fairly flat and green all over. Three of those above it have become speckled with red which makes the pods tough but the beans are good fresh (but not mature enough for seed saving). The centre one has lost all its red and green, has dried off and is ready for harvesting or eating as a dried bean.
This is the one hundredth post we have loaded on to this blog and, for a while, the SCG Members Facebook. So a celebratory firework picture from one of the village events when we lived in Sawtry. We are now taking a break from posting new items as we need to devote our efforts to working on our garden to increase its self sufficiency and ability to produce a good range of Heritage crops and seeds. So to mark the end of this phase, and remembering our years living on the edge of the Fens, here are some distinctively non-Peak images.
We have now gathered a wide range of seeds and this is an example of what happens next. These are seeds of the Heritage Climbing French Bean Mrs Lewis's Purple Podded. They stayed on the plant until the pods were "crisp" and were then shelled and fully dried off ready for the next stage.
We then outsorted any which we didn't think were of sufficient quality to use as future seed - too small, too wrinkled, split, brown etc. We also removed any that didn't "look right" - potential "rogues". These will not go to waste as most will be suitable for cooking (though a few will end up on the compost heap).
As this is a Heritage variety, we are committed to sending a proportion of the harvest to the Heritage Seed Library. It varies from year to year depending on the harvest and some years we have not been able to send anything because our crop has failed. This year we have decided we can send HSL 100 grams which is between 160 and 170 seeds.
We package them up and complete a Return Form describing where we have grown them, what problems if any we have experienced, and what we think of the crop both as growers and consumers. This information will feed in to the HSL database and be used to inform other growers. The seeds will be preserved but also distributed to other Seed Guardians and to seed swaps to ensure the variety is preserved and grown.
As well as choosing 100 grams for HSL, we have selected seed for us to grow at SCG and in our plot next year. We plan to grow 20 plants in each location so have selected 25 seeds for each place. This still leaves us with the "eating quality" seeds and a further 100 grams which can be shared out for others to cook, or packaged to be given away to visitors and the community at large. We also refreshed our reserve stock held in case of a future crop failure. This is a very satisfying output from an original sowing of 20 seeds especially as we have also harvested some of the beans as fresh for immediate consumption.
At harvest time, it is easy to forget how many other activities go in to a good growing season, and an enjoyable gardening experience. We have made notes of each session since the beginning of 2017 to inform our growing activity and remind ourselves of some of the non-growing highlights. Here are a few snippets from our records of three Septembers.
2017: spreading woodchip on the paths; first delivery of leaves from the Parks Department (27th September); spreading ferret bedding in the greenhouse and tunnels to deter rodents (it worked on volunteers as well).
2018: Tomato tastings (seven varieties); visit from a toad; packeting seeds; spreading MOT stone; bean frame destroyed by wind; kingfisher seen on the river; harvested outdoor tomatoes ahead of a forecast frost.
2019: Sharing edible flowers; three external talks delivered in a week (U3A, Tangent, Trefoil Guild);turned the compost bays; moved water around to keep all the butts full (rainfall 30% higher than 2018 for year to date); held a seed workshop.
And 2020 is different again!
There is still time to preserve herbs for use over the winter. The "woody" herbs are best dried - sage, thyme, mint, balm, rosemary - and the softer herbs are best frozen. We hang bunches of the woody herbs until they are bone dry and "crunchy" then strip off the leaves and store them in a dry container. We freeze the softer herbs in ice trays, chopping them first. Here we have chives, two varieties of parsley and basil. Then when we need some for flavouring the cooking, we just drop in a cube to melt and add its flavour. Job done, just drop a borage cube into a glass of pink elderflower and celebrate!
Harvesting at SCG continues apace and harvesting is itself a sign of autumn with the hedgerows filling with fruits and nuts and the colours changing and fungi appearing. Here are a few images we have collected (along with several pounds of elderberries, blackberries and sloes).
Gil was a founder of Sawtry Gardening Club and one of the first members was "DaisyDee" who works as a gardener and grower and has an organic and wildlife friendly garden in Conington. The posts on her Facebook site are always interesting and informative and she posted recently on woodlice which led me to do some research.
Often complained about for eating strawberries, they actually only eat fruit damaged already, such as by slugs. They are a crustacean, like crabs, and there are 45 species in England, though only five are common. They can roll into a ball (hence "pillbugs") and rear their young in a pouch like kanagaroos. As they feed on decaying matter, they are major recyclers converting garden detritus into a rich growing medium. Amazingly, they can also remove heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead by ionising it, so preventing metal ions leaching in to groundwater. This means they are able to live on very polluted ground.
They were one of the favourite bug hunt finds of last year's Nature Tots too who enjoyed turning over stones to see what was there.
We are now harvesting tomatoes and our records show this is about a week earlier than in 2019. There is a good range of shapes, sizes and colours as shown in the slide show below (and that is just a selection).
Tomatoes are easy to save seed from because if they are ripe enough to eat, then the seed will be ripe enough to germinate. So you can pick a tomato, slice it, remove a few seeds and then eat it! We arrange the seeds on pieces of toilet paper, suitably distanced and with the variety written on the paper. Ideally, collect tomatoes from a number of different plants. When it comes to sowing in the spring, then we cut off a strip with the number we want to germinate, lay the paper on a quarter tray of sowing compost and lightly cover it. There is no risk of the seeds being overcrowded, it is easy to assess germination percentage, and the paper is absorbed into the sowing compost and disappears.
Not to do with gardening but I couldn't resist sharing some images to commemorate the 80th anniversary.
In 1968 our squadron's summer camp was at RAF Bassingbourn on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border. My instructor, "the Boss" was a former Spitfire pilot. As we were nearing the end of an aerobatic sortie in our elderly Chipmunk trainer, we saw to our right a flight of Spitfires and an accompanying camera plane. The "Battle of Britain" film was using the airfield at Duxford, just down the road, for the flying sequences. The Boss said "I have control" and put on full power and into a climbing zoom. "We will come at them out of the sun!" They were pottering along at somewhere over 300 knots. The best we could do, even in a dive, was less than half that. We were never going to catch them, but for a brief time I had a feel for the adrenaline, quick reaction, skill and commitment that the Boss had needed in his Spitfire. "Next time, we will try to get more height sooner."
A reminder of some of last year's harvest. Granddaughter Elizabeth entered a school competition for a harvest picture. This is her photograph of the things she gathered at SCG. Every year is different. We wonder what this year's harvest photo might look like. Anyone up for sharing one?
John & Gil Boardman, Growers at Serpentine now keeping SCG things going and growing from home.