Up the Apples and Pears

 Fun Fact: 'Up the Apples and Pears' is well-known Cockney rhyming slang for ascending the stairs. But did you know that children of a more elevated social status were told to 'go up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire'?

The apple and pear crop is now safely gathered in ...

Concorde Pears (top), Red Windsor Apple (left) and Red Falstaff Apple (right)

This year has produced an excellent crop of Concorde Pears (115 good-sized fruits from the single espalier). The Comice pears continue to disappoint yield-wise though not taste-wise.

Excluding crab apples, we have 8 apple trees - all different varieties:

  • Reverend W Wilks - crops biennially, heavy crop last year, nothing this year
  • Golden Delicious - heavy crop of small apples last year, 2 large apples this year
  • Red Windsor - Supercolumn, small first crop lat year (4 apples), heavy cropping this year with 16 good-sized apples
  • Red Falstaff - Supercolumn, first year of cropping 10 good-sized apples
  • Blenheim Orange - Supercolumn, nothing this year, 2 medium-sized apples last year
  • Arthur Turner - Supercolumn, yet to crop
  • Hereford Russet - First crop last year (1 apple), nothing this year
  • Gala Must - First crop last year (2 apples), nothing this year

The Supercolumns were planted in the Autumn of 2018, so this is their fourth season. The Golden Delicious apple tree is the oldest - between 15 and 20 years old but stunted from spending too long in a pot! The Rev Wilks is somewhere between 10 and 15 years old (probably) and the tree looking most like an apple tree.

The Supercolumn trees are on super dwarfing M27 rootstock for growing as closely-spaced (two foot) columns. The Red Windsor and Red Falstaff cropped so heavily that I had to provide addition support.

Red Windsor Supercolumn (late August)

Red Falstaff Supercolumn (late August)

I would highly recommend the Red Windsor and Red Falstaff fruit trees, no matter what format they are grown in. Tasty apples and heavy croppers and relatively disease-free for apples. The Blenheim Orange, Hereford Russet and Rev Wilks were somewhat 'emotional' buys - our abode in Hereford is Blenheim House and we had a Rev Wilks tree when we lived in London. Arthur Turner (cooking apple) and Gala Must are partly there for cross-pollination purposes. Probably best to leave your 'emotions' at home when buying your fruit trees - go for modern varieties if you want regular and consistent croppers. I did hear on the radio that Red Windsor is now being grown (in Kent, I think) for the commercial market so you may see it in the shops.

Toms & Cukes

I grow tomatoes and cucumbers in our polytunnel - usually, four cucumber plants and up to twelve tomato plants (salad and cherry) using a Quadgrow system; see here and here. By this time of year (mid-October) the plants are looking a little ragged ...

Polytunnel in mid-October 2022
... but still producing ...

Polytunnel Cukes and Toms (October 18th)

Cukes still flowering in mid-October

I have already harvested the chillies, aubergines and bell peppers ...

Jalapeno Chilli Peppers (2022 crop)

Aubergines (August 2022)

Sweet or Bell Pepper (September 2022)

... and emptied the Salad/Veg Planters to start the Autumn clearout of the polytunnel.

Fortunately, the weather is still mild in this part of England so I can leave the tomatoes to ripen a little longer and the cucumbers to bulk out a little more.

Mary made a delicious ratatouille using produce from the garden: onions, garlic, celery, bell peppers, aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes.

Broad Bean and Leek Update (17th October)

 It is just over a month since my last full update and about ten days since I last mentioned these vegetables!

The main broad bean and leek plot is still looking good ...

Broad Beans and Leeks (17/10/22)

... good sturdy pest-free growth and plenty of flowers on the broad beans.

On a small test plot, separate from the main broad bean/leek plot, are nine broad bean plants (Luz de Otono) sown directly into the ground on 5th August. This photo, taken on the 17th October (i.e. just over 10 weeks after sowing), shows the first beans (about 3 - 4 cm) developing ...

First Broad Beans spotted on 17th October

This test plot is exactly where I dug up my blackfly-infested, Spring-sown broad beans earlier in the year. As such it provides a good test for the late-sowing of broad beans to avoid blackfly. Three of the plants (out of nine) were attacked by a minor blackfly infestation - successfully treated by pinching out the growing tips and only two applications of SB Invigorator.

The main broad bean patch (top photo) was planted from mid-August onwards and has been blackfly-free. Next year I would be interested in earlier, as well as later, sowings to provide a longer cropping period from September to November. Sowing instructions say from June onwards but I shall, initially, try some July sowings to see if these give a pest-free autumn crop.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed the kitchen garden remains frost-free until the crop is harvested. The bargraph below displays minimum (i.e. overnight) daily temperatures in my kitchen garden from August 1st to date (October 17th). September had one night when the overnight temperature dipped to below 5 ℃ while October has had two such nights so far - one when the temperature dropped to 1 ℃.

Overnight Minimum Temperatures From August 1st to October 17th

The outlook for the remainder of October looks fair but I'll dig out some horticultural fleece just in case.

Guernsey Lily - 2022 Flowering

September/October is the flowering season for our Guernsey Lilies brought back from our trip to that island in 2015. This year's display was a little later than last year's but did not disappoint. On October 9th, both lilies were in the unheated greenhouse ...

Guernsey Lily - 9th October 2022

... and were moved the following day into the house ...

Guernsey Lily - October 12th

Truly a work of art ...

Guernsey Lily - October 12th

[photos taken with Pixel 4a in natural light]

Spot the Difference

On an early October evening (13/10/22), I was busy shredding some corn stalks after bringing in the sweetcorn harvest. From the crab apple tree in the wild garden, there came the unmistakable screeching tea-cher, tea-cher call of the long-tailed tit.

From my position, I took these two photos. Can you spot the difference? 

In total there were about eight birds and they appeared to be a family group.

Some interesting facts:

  • It can take up to 3 weeks to build a nest
  • The nest is lined with up to 1500 feathers
  • Eggs are laid in batches of 8 to 12
  • Long-tailed tits that have failed to breed or have lost their nest/brood will help other parents feed the young
  • A group of long-tailed tits is called a volery (from the French voler = to fly)
[FYI: two long-tailed tits in the first photo and five in the second]

Gwenffrwd Dinas, Twm Shon Cati and Pied Flycatchers

Gwenffrwd Dinas - RSPB Reserve

 Gwenffrwd Dinas sounds like something out of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings but is, in fact, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve in mid-Wales. We visited over a decade ago when the bluebells were in full bloom and the display and scent were wonderful. Our second visit in June 2022 was less floral but equally as impressive.

As far as I can decipher, Gwenffrwd Dinas translates into Fortress by the White Stream - or something along those lines. It is an example of a temperate rainforest (aka Atlantic Oak Woodland or Celtic Rainforest).

On our previous visit, we parked in the bottom car park (left of centre) from where the carpet of bluebells could be seen in all there glory ...

Gwenffrwd Dinas RSPB Nature Reserve

This time we parked in the other car park (far right) and made our way along the boardwalk (brown path)...

Boardwalk from the car park

... to the T-junction before turning right onto the hardest part of the path - lots of scrambling over rocks next to the River Towy ...

Rocky path adjoining the River Towy

You might want to avoid this part if you have mobility issues.

We took a small detour to see the 'somewhat underwhelming' cave where Twm Siôn Cati hid to avoid capture ...

Twm Siôn Cati's Cave

Fortunately, there is an information board near the car park ...

Information Board for Twm Siôn Cati

... which includes a brief biography ...

The Story of Twm Siôn Cati

Walking is much easier now through woodland and woodland edge. There were still a few bluebells to be seen ...

Last of the Bluebells at Gwenffrwd Dinas (11th June 2022)

On the way back to the car we saw a good number of pied flycatchers. Many like this one, perched on barbed-wire and ready to dive into the adjacent field to pick up a tasty morsel ...

Pied Flycatcher

From the boardwalk near the car park, I managed to film this pied flycatcher feeding young in the nest box before flying off to find more food ...

A great day out and we will be back.

Hot Composting #3 (Part II)

In my earlier post, I listed the equipment used for hot composting. Perhaps not unexpectedly there were a few things I forgot or missed. So I've got 4 more items to add with no guarantee that there won't be more.

1. Biochar

Biochar Delivery from SoilFixer

Not strictly speaking equipment but an important additive to use during composting. I have already posted about the advantages of adding biochar to your soil. You can add biochar directly to your soil either in a newly dug plant hole or as a general soil dressing. The preferred method, however, is to add biochar to your compost pile because this supercharges the biochar with nutrients during the composting process. The compost-conditioned biochar effectively becomes a slow-release natural fertilizer [soak biochar in liquid nutrient to achieve a similar effect if you don't have a compost heap]. The biochar may also confer some benefits to the composting process - e.g. as a bulking reagent or moisture control agent.

I buy my Biochar from SoilFixer and also receive lots of free advice from Tony (of HotBin fame) Callaghan, the proprietor. I add at the rate of about 60 g per 6L shredded green waste (equivalent to 12L of chopped garden waste).

2. Bulking Agent

As with Biochar, an additive rather than equipment. In order to encourage air circulation within the hot composter, it is important to have larger, bulkier structures mixed in with the garden matter. [Note: in a normal compost pile you would be turning the heap regularly to achieve the same aeration effect]. Bark chippings will do the job and will rot down in the composting process. My garden waste includes plenty of woody material so I do not require extra bulking agent. If you are processing mainly greens then adding a handful of bark chippings with every batch of garden waste will help.

3. Hot-Water Bottles

Hot Water Bottles

HotBins come with a free hot-water bottle but these don't last forever. My current 2.5L bottles originally contained Algon Organic Patio Cleaner but have been repurposed as hot-water bottles. 

Why use a hot-water bottle? Mainly, to add a heat boost in Winter if the temperature is below 0 ℃. I keep at least one of my hot composting bins going throughout the winter so I can continue to add kitchen waste and the odd bit of garden material. Just fill with the hottest water you can and place just below the compost surface. For particularly frosty nights, I will use two hot-water bottles per bin and also add an insulating mat (see below) to help keep the compost snug and cosy (i.e. above 40 ℃)

If you don't want to bother with composting in the colder months then just leave your bins to cool down and empty/restart them in Spring. In which case, you don't need the hot-water bottles!

Occasionally, I will use a hot-water bottle to start off a new compost bin in Spring or Autumn. Fill bottles with the hottest water available and place at the bottom of the bin before burying them in shredded garden waste until the bin is at least half-full. Remove the bottles on the next day and repeat if necessary.

Starter Hot-Water Bottles

[Note: my preferred method for starting a new hot-compost run is to use hot (50 - 60 ℃) partially-composted material from an existing bin but this is not always possible or convenient]

4. Insulator/Water Control Mat

This is something I am still trialling but it seems to be beneficial in some instances. The type of mat I am talking about here is the thick capillary matting widely used in horticulture. There are quite a few reasons why I think using a mat on top of the compost is worth considering.

(i) in colder seasons it provides an extra insulation layer and can be used in conjunction with the hot-water bottles to keep your compost hot & viable. On especially cold nights, I will double up on the mats.

Insulating Mat

(ii) When starting a new hot composting run with a less-than-full bin, a mat will encourage the heat to stay within the compost, instead of heating the air above, and allow the bin contents to achieve higher compost temperatures faster.

(iii) Once the composter is working at full speed (i.e. 60 - 70 ℃), the capillary mat will prevent the compost from drying out too quickly by condensing the hot water vapour and returning some of it back into the compost. Water can still escape through the capilliary matting as this short video shows ...

(iv) If the compost is too wet and is preventing the heap from heating up, the capillary mat can help by wicking away the moisture.. Simply replace the mat with a fresh dry mat on a daily basis to help control the moisture content.

(v) A very active (i.e. hot) compost generates ammonia (you can smell it when you open the lid) which will dissolve in the water held within the passages of the capillary matting. Capillary matting can therefore be used to remove (replace wet matting daily) or retain (squeeze out mat into the bin) the ammoniacal solution. Ammonia is part of the recipe for a homemade compost accelerator and/or too much ammonia will slow the composting process by increasing the pH above 8.5. In my experience, ammonia is not detrimental to the composting process on the scale typical of a home composting set up. Composting generates acids which will be neutralized by the ammonia and help to buffer the compost around its ideal pH (6.5 to 8.0). I suspect the inclusion of Biochar into my compost mixtures also helps to control excess ammonia by adsorbing ammonium salts. Clearly an area where more research is required.

A Ringing Endorsement for Bell Peppers?


2022 Crop of Sweet Peppers

October 9th and we are getting the occasional chilly night (1 - 3 ℃) though the days are still quite warm (17 - 20 ℃). Time to bring in the crop of Bell Peppers (aka Sweet Peppers) from the Salad/Vegetable Planter in our polytunnel. Sweet and Chilli Pepper are best grown under glass (or under plastic in the case of our polytunnel) in this part of the UK. The Salad/Veg Planter ensures they get all the water and nutrients they need while the hot summer has helped produce a bumper crop.

Seeds were sown in early April and the 6 best plants transferred to a large Salad/Veg Planter in the polytunnel on May 10th. Picked first decent-sized pepper on August 10th.

From past experience, I have found that Bell Peppers (and indeed, Chillies and Aubergines) grow and fruit better when planted as a group which is why I use the Salad/Veg Planters rather than the linear Quadgrow System that works great for tomatoes and cucumbers. Each Bell Pepper plant yielded 10-12 good sized peppers.

We will enjoy the peppers raw in salads and cooked as stuffed peppers or ratatouille. Extras will be sliced/diced and frozen for use later in the year.

2022 Bell Pepper Crop (6 plants)

View from the Rear Window - September 2022

 September is the first month of Autumn - at least in the meteorological sense. A time for harvesting and tidying so a busy month for composting too. Just a couple or 'rear window' photos this month from the beginning and end of the month. Roses at the start with fuschias and dahlias at the end and just a hint of autumn colours -see Acer (middle foreground).

Jobs in the Kitchen Garden

  1. Harvesting Cucumbers, Celery, Bell Peppers, Jalopeno Chillies, Tomatoes, Aubergines, Red Cabbage, Marrows, Courgettes, Red Windsor & Golden Delicious Apples, Blue Danube Potatoes, Beetroot, Sweetcorn, Raspberries, Butternut Squash
  2. Concorde Pears (115) picked underripe and stored at 4 ℃ in fridges. Comice pears (30) were picked late August
  3. Late sowings of lettuce and radish
  4. Sow more broad beans for autumn harvesting

September 2022 Weather

Weather parameters for September are summarised in the table below. September continues run of warm months reported the UK Met Office. Also noteworthy was that the first nine months of 2022 were the warmest on record (records go back as far as 1884). Most of the extra warmth was in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland; Wales and Southern England (including Herefordshire) were around the long-term average (1991-2020). Rainfall in Herefordshire was about average while sunshine was a little below average.

September 2022

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

15 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

27 oC


Minimum Monthly Temperature

4 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

37.8 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

15.2 mm

4th - 5th

Number of Dry Days


Monthly Sunshine Hours (estimated)


Average Wind Speed

3 km/h

Highest Wind Speed

34 km/h


Maximum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1027.1 hPa


Minimum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

995.3 hPa


Daily min/max temperatures for the whole month are presented below [click for larger image]. Consistently warm day-time temperatures though noticeably cooler towards the end of the month. Night-time temperatures falling steadily as the month progressed. 

August ended on a dull cloudy note and September continued that trend. Rainfall was average though sporadic.

Comparing the last three years' weather data, September 2022 looks distinctly average in all the weather parameters

A few photos from the garden ...

Salvia Hot Lips

Red Cabbage

Sweetcorn Incredible F1



Fuschia in the Paradise Garden



Who Put the Bee in Beans?

I may have mentioned once or twice that I am trialling late-sown leeks and broad beans in an attempt to avoid the usual pests and diseases that afflict these vegetables. This is what the leek and bean bed looked like on 7th October 2022...

Leeks & Broad Beans - 7/10/22

... with some plants now flowering...

Broad Bean Flowers - 7/10/22

... and no sign of the dreaded blackfly.

Broad beans self-pollinate but will benefit from some extra help from the bees and other insects. The nectar of the broad bean flower is not as sweet as that of many other flowers so may not be the first port of call for the bees. It is fortunate, then, that at this time of year there are fewer flowering plants to distract them.

Adjacent to my leek and bean plot is a large flowering ivy full of the sound of bees and the chirping sparrows that nest there...

Flowering Ivy buzzing with Bees

... such as this buff-tailed bumblebee...

Bombus terrestris on Ivy Flower
... and a honey bee...

Honey Bee on Ivy Flower

Not all the ivy residents are friendly to the bees ...

Garden Spider on Ivy

Anyway, it's good to know the bees are on hand to help with the broad bean pollination if needed. We just need fair weather for the next month or so to give the broad beans time to develop and grow.

PS The leeks are doing fine as well

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