A summer of mixed fortune

It’s been a summer of mixed allotmenting fortune – good sunflowers, cosmos and courgette; fair-to-middling salads and sweetpeas; rubbish beans and tomatoes. This is the time of year when, although humans are deep into their summer holidays, the natural world is turning towards autumn: the sun falls lower in the evening sky, leaves are crisping, blackberries are ripening.

Time, then, for a spot of reflection on how things are going.

Well, the sunflowers are going great guns! The Sunflower Club seeds are well over 2m tall, but they’re actually overshadowed by the cutting sunflowers, which must be closer to 3m. We’re getting a few jolly bunches a week. At their feet, the cosmos are forming a wall of dazzling pink colour.

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The Sunflower Club seeds went to 2m 22cm!

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The wall of cosmos ‘dazzler’ with ‘purity’

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You can see just how tall those sunflowers have become!

Puzzlingly, the crysanths – taken from cuttings from 6 different plants – have turned out to be uniformly pink or orange. Even more mysteriously, they’ve been in flower for a month already, which is about 8 weeks earlier than last year. I think they’ve suffered from some wind or rain damage though as the blooms all look slightly mottled, slightly bashed.

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The crysanths have been out for a few weeks already – a good two months earlier than last year

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Up close (and weather-battered)

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A few asters survived the slugs, now out in flower

The calendula and ammi are a disaster. Least said about these the better.

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But the ammi and calendula this year are a no-show. I have no idea what went wrong.

In happier news, the brassicas have bounced back convincingly after the slug wars of May and June. The unusual frills of hex kale is now a small, rounded bush of frothy leaves, resembling some kind of sea vegetable.

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The ‘frills of hex’ kale has completely rejuvenated itself

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It really is frilly – it reminds me of some kind of maritime plant

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The less exotic PSB and sprout flower plants are coming along

After three failed sowings, I had one last go with the parsnips back in July and lo and behold, we now have seedlings!

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Miracle of miracles: parsnip seedlings, at last

The courgette are still cropping well but the ornamental squash have essentially taken over the plot with their bulbous green fruit. Come September I’ll crop these and use them with the crysanthemums for an autumnal display.

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The ornamental squash are now as big as my feet

The beans have finally grown back after the slug wars, but it’s been a disappointing year. We may still get a good crop of borlotti – essential in a chilli con carne in my view – but the green beans have caused far more pain than pleasure. In a triumph of hope over experience, however, I will sow some runner beans next year for the first time; I grew up with those towering plants and their quirky red flowers, and now feel them to be an essential element of the veg patch.

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It is not a great year for beans, but they are regrowing after the slug wars

One of the hops didn’t grow at all this year and one other has shed half of its leaves, but the other two are now massive compared to previous years. The cones are now forming… Will Matt actually get around to making any beer this year? Who knows.

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Hop flowers!

The autumn raspberries are just about coming into ripeness and we look set for a bumper crop. The patch is humming with bees taking their fill of nectar.

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It’s looking like a bumper year for the autumn raspberries, the plants humming with bees

In the greenhouse, the combined efforts of a cold spring, hungry slugs and pesky caterpillars has decimated the tomatoes harvest. The chillies, on the other hand, are rampant. I don’t even eat that many chillies – what to do with all these?!

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Chillies, chillies, chillies. I don’t even use that many chillies in my cooking.

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The black krim tomatoes have not been particularly abundant, but they are now thinking of turning black

In a new first, we also have two aubergine plants this year and, joy of joys, there are two baby black fruit ripening daily.

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And for the first time – aubergine!

Taking the long view, it’s not been an outstanding year – but perhaps our expectations are too high. We need more manure, more organic matter, more water, fewer weeds, fewer grasses and more time!

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Taking the long view on an August evening

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As I leave, I spy blackberries coming into ripeness

Most importantly, there is a daily harvest. Have I bought any fruit, flowers or veg lately? No, not really…and that is the most important point of all.

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A standard mid-August harvest – flowers, tomatoes, berries

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The last of the summer sweetpeas with zinnia…

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…as the vases now fill with sunflowers and crysanths

Harvesting: Sunflowers, crysanths, cosmos, chard, spinach, courgette, tomatoes, green and purple beans, rocket, oregano parsley, basil, blueberries, raspberries

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