A taste of the tropical in an English garden

Valentina Raspberries

I swore I was going to stick to what I know this year; tried and tested varieties of fruit and veg, minimise and streamline the amount of work needed to tend to my little edible garden. But when I read a couple of reviews about an unusual variety of raspberry, I couldn’t resist. After all, I had some space going in my newest no-dig plot, so why not?

The Valentina raspberry is a floricane variety, and apparently produces apricot-pink fruits abundantly from June. My older Polka raspberries are primocane, so in the past I have had to wait until the heady summer days of late July and August to enjoy the fruits, and it can feel like an eternity. Now, I’ll have a much longer raspberry-laden season to enjoy.

But it wasn’t the consistently high yields, resistance to pests and diseases or frost hardiness of Valentina that caught my attention – it was the promise of a distinct tropical-like flavour. I’m definitely a fan of heritage varieties of fruit and veg, as some newer varieties do seem to have been developed more for their disease resistance and yield, rather than flavour. But a small army of allotment growers have waxed lyrical about Valentina’s ‘taste of the tropical’ and I wanted to see for myself if the fruits live up to the hype.

Valentina Raspberry

© Marshalls Seeds 2017

I bought six Valentina raspberry canes from Marshalls Seeds* and planted them in alongside my Cambridge Favourite strawberry patch, forgetting that eventually I’ll need supports to tie in the new growth… since this is a floricane (summer fruiting) variety and not an easy-as-pie cut-it-all-back-down-to-the-ground-in-winter primocane raspberry. But I’m sure at some point this summer, I’ll cobble something together to ensure that the new growth is supported and ready for next year.

I’m really looking forward to a taste of the tropical from my little corner of England – just a few more weeks and we should be in business.

*I have not been asked to mention/promote/link to Marshalls Seeds!

Successful Autumn harvests

On a personal level, 2015 has been difficult, sad and very challenging. One thing that’s kept me going, kept me grounded and kept me sane is my veg plot. And this year, after putting no-dig into action, I’ve had one of my most successful growing years ever. One of the greatest successes of the veg plots has been the arch.

Munchkim pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

Climbing munchkin pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

I’ve been growing Spanish flag (mina lobata) up and after a very slow start, they’ve been romping away with wild abandon. I’ve also weaved in the munchkin pumpkins, hoping to have a little crop later in the year. The munchkins are also a bit on the late side and have yet to flower, but I have hope that they’ll get there eventually. If not, then we’ll just have some pretty squash leaves adorning the arch too!

Spanish flag scrambling

The raspberries have been producing fruit for picking on a daily basis for the last fortnight at least, and we’ve got more than enough in the freezer ready for some jam. This year I’m going to try seedless jam so it’s a case of getting a few bits and pieces before the jam pan comes out again.

Polka raspberries

The peas came out and straight away, in went some salad leaves and leeks so I have a ready supply for some serious soup making later in the autumn. There’s nothing like snuggling down with a steaming bowl of leek and potato soup and a chunk of crusty bread on a cold but sunny Saturday lunchtime.

Knucklehead pumpkin

I’ve been digging up monster sized Picasso potatoes, but they’re not the only super-sized produce we’ve been growing at The Smallest Smallholding. The knucklehead pumpkin has grown about six metres long and is looking to produce some hefty fruit for the Autumn, with leaves about twice the size of my head. Meanwhile, the yellow courgettes have been popping out fruit for harvesting, but Rich isn’t eating them fast enough. Courgette cake may well be on the menu.

Yellow courgettes

Small, and Not-So-Perfectly Formed… But Packed With Flavour!

The title of this blog post sums up most of my vegetable harvests so far this year. With not much on the menu to start with – mostly potatoes, onions and garlic, the yields have been spectacularly small and poor.

Grow your own potatoes and garlic - Picasso Potatoes and Cristo Garlic

Just a snapshot of the kind of yields I’m harvesting – some potatoes are a decent size, but many fall under the ‘pebble’ size category. The garlic is small, but packed with flavour.

But putting my positive hat on, I can vouch that my homegrown veg might be a disappointment in the size department, but not so in terms of taste – everything I’ve eaten so far is packed full with flavour. The Cristo garlic may not have swelled to gargantuan proportions as it has done in previous years, but just two small cloves of my homegrown garlic have literally transformed my cooking. The depth of flavour is second to none, and I have never come across the same in shop-bought fare.

I once made the heinous mistake of buying organic garlic from Tesco without reading the label… only to find that it had been shipped all the way from China. The garlic itself was bland, bland, bland, so there was no consolation for my purchase. So although my garlic harvest will likely only sustain us for a few weeks at best (we must use at least one bulb a week), for that short time, I shall be able to revel in the almost-indescribable deep, multi-toned, fragrant richness that comes from my own homegrown yield.

The onions – well, they’re rather pathetic, if I’m honest. It’s my own fault – I barely prepared the soil, bunged in slightly soft onion sets and hoped for the best…. and was promptly met with a miserable start to Spring, and a sustained heatwave where our soil turned to sand. Must do better.

The potatoes have been a mixed bag – yes, they’re small, but boy are they good. The Picasso in particular have peaked my interest, as they’ve somehow evaded the perpetual blight (no, not that kind of blight) of scab that I had resigned myself to facing each year, on account of our sandy soil. But no, the Picasso have proven me wrong and emerged from the earth as modest-sized hunks of cream and pink, a little rough around the edges but generally no worse for wear. That’s a success in my book. Their flavour is outstanding, and as a roastie/mash spud, they’re up there with Maris Pipers, Desiree and Roosters. I’ve even go as far as to say that they might actually oust our perennial favourite, the Maris Piper, as my favourite roastie spud… the creaminess of Picasso is out of this world, and if you haven’t given them a go, then they come highly recommended from me!

The Majestic potatoes were not so lucky and seem to have succumbed to scab – but a cursory scrub and peel, and they’re good to go.

The raspberries are finally beginning to ripen, and the plan is to scrump a few apples from the windfall from our neighbour, or just ask around generally if anyone has any cooking apples spare, and put together a nice apple and raspberry strudel, or crumble. As a gardener, Mum is often handed bags of cooking apples from clients, who are desperate to give away surplus, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few coming our way within the next few weeks. Cooked apples are one of my favourite foods ever ever ever. In fact, we’re thinking of getting a couple of cooking apple trees in to replace the ancient Victoria Plum – last year or the year before, it gave up the ghost after about 90 years.