On a Chalk Hillside – November 2023

Published: November 11, 2023

As I finished last month talking of bees on beans, here is a shot of the flowers of my Runner Beans this year – showing, I think why they were originally introduced as ornamentals here:-


The white flowers are “Moonlight” and the red are “Best of All”. I try and grow a mixture of Red and white flowered runner beans as they each supposedly set fruit best in different weather conditions – the white being better at setting fruit in hot dry weather. (I don't know how Painted Lady works as it has bicoloured red and white flowers!)

I grew three different climbing French beans, which have smaller flowers – two have mauve flowers – Cobra, which I started picking beans from in mid-July, and Violette, which I started picking beans from at the end of July (can you tell which is which?)

The third type of climbing French bean was Blue Lake, which was the second sowing as the first failed to germinate, so they were planted out two weeks after the others as very small plants indeed, but by the end of July were taller on the supports than the Cobra, but only just flowering:-

fbbluelakeflower edited

I know there's a push to get people to grow some leafy veg in their ornamental garden – Chard Bright Lights for example being one, and here a local garden centre had grown curly kale redbor in the flower bed:-


But I would say any of these climbing beans would look attractive in the flower bed or a big pot growing up a wigwam. In terms of harvesting, it was a good bean year this year, the wet not too hot weather suited them all. Though the Blue Lake which was the run of canes at the top of the bed and therefore first in line for the sun got scorched by the heatwave at the beginning of September, and stopped flowering much earlier than the other lines of beans. We were still harvesting copious beans through September, and I was busy blanching and cooking into recipes for freezing, or pickling beans to preserve the harvest to see us through the year til the next harvest. The French bean haulms withered by early October, and pickings were then sparse, but the Runner Beans still had healthy green leaves, and produced the odd flower through October, as well as setting some more beans for us. We picked a handful on Halloween. I always want to extend the harvest as long as I can, as we eat all we grow, and I DON'T want everything to be ripe or ready to harvest all in one go, unlike commercial growers.

Surprisingly, the wet not too hot summer caused the Perpetual Spinach to bolt quicker than usual, though the Yellow Chard, which I would also say is extremely ornamental, was a good grower, and has provided us with tasty leaves and stalks all summer and autumn. (The picture shows the Yellow Chard, backlit at the end of September with the bolted flower spikes of the Perpetual Spinach at its feet.)


Equally surprisingly the wetter summer did not help the winter greens grow better, and we still lost a fair number of the dwarf curly kale that I planted in the winter leaves tunnel. The Cavelo Nero has coped better, as you can see here – still very small Cavelo Nero with space to their right that should have been the dwarf curly kale also at the end of September:-


Other winter greens that survived are the Kalettes, which we are trialling this year for the first time, but smaller than we expected. The Kalettes are a cross between sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli according to the seed catalogue, making little “flowers” of leaves instead of sprouts in Feb-April. I will let you know how these work. Here they are at the “Leaf only stage” at the end of September:-

kalettes end sept

It has been a good year for our tomatoes though, and even without too much sun, we got many good flavoured fruits to eat and cook with – our summer joy and treat. We don't buy fresh tomatoes in the rest of the year, just tinned ones for cooking with, as we don't feel they have any flavour. We like to try and prolong cropping throughout September in our polytunnel and greenhouse, and into October if the weather cooperates, though we stop feeding the tomatoes by the end of August, as the flowers they make we hope will become ripe fruit in October. As I write during Storm Ciaran, we are still harvesting a pot of ripe tomatoes every other day, though through November it takes longer and longer for them to ripen.

Also surprisingly our chilli harvest was good, and the chillis were very hot indeed – making one happy husband (albeit one with hiccups from the heat!) I harvested most of the Chilli ‘Armageddon' in early October to make chilli sauce for him. The Chilli ‘Carolina Reaper' fruit was not yet red, so will be frozen until he runs out of the Armageddon sauce, when I will make him some more. However hot these are on the Scoville scale, I can confirm that even touching the chopped up fruit with my bare hand caused “burns” and soreness for more than 12 hours, so note to self REMEMBER to wear gloves for dealing with the Carolina Reaper!

We had a poor plum harvest this year, despite all the blossom in the spring, and the apples didn't do too well either, though this year I had my first russet apple from my new tree at the end of September – here it is looking gorgeous at the end of August, with the Guelder Rose behind it showing early signs of red leaves:-

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The fact the grass is so green in the orchard shows how much rain we have had this year. The hawthorn has had many red berries from September onwards – signs of a hard winter ahead?


The dog rose has been dripping in hips this year:-


Moving on to autumn jobs:– obviously, seed collection is ongoing. For some reason this year I decided to sow some seed fresh as it was going to seed so early in the year and leave it to go through the winter outside before germinating. Imagine my surprise when the seed germinated within a couple of weeks and grew on in the mild August and September, weather. I pricked the seedlings out on 11 September, netting 15 good-sized seedlings and two tiddlers:-

Hopefully, the second photo clearly shows the difference between the seed leaves (the bottom two), and the “true” leaves, (the top two). You know seedlings are ready to prick out when they produce true leaves.

From late September onwards I have been saying it's time to prune the yew topiary in the front garden. This finally got started after Storm Babet, between torrential rain showers, and as I write during Storm Ciaran, we are at this stage:-


You may notice many bare branches within the green, as we are trying to drastically reduce the height and girth of the yew tree, as we want to be able to prune it almost entirely from the ground, rather than having to balance precariously on tall stepladders. This is the “first pass” and will be further reduced at the top – here is a close-up of it so far, the topknot will be removed and the whole top bit reduced further in height – but the trunks in the centre where the topknot still needs a saw to cut through them as they are at least 10cm diameter:-


As usual, I wait for all the autumn colour in my mixed native hedge to go before starting its annual prune/cut.  This year it means I haven't started pruning it yet – a job for November!

Another job half done is rehoming a blackberry from a neighbour.  He decided after almost 20 years he didn't want his Oregon Thornless Blackberry any more, and in mid-October offered it to us (I just had to dig it up from his lawn….)  As my cousin pointed out, all the torrential rain we had had made the ground much softer for my enterprise on 22 October, but even so it was not possible for me to wrestle it out of the ground without snapping most of the huge roots.  What I thought had split into two big plants, in fact, was three, with several rooted bits too:-

As you can see above, I have heeled in the largest pieces of blackberry in a hastily cleared bit of vegetable bed, and November's job is to make a structure for them on one edge of another of our vegetable beds and them in there. The ground, as well as saturated currently, is still warm, so I hope to get this achieved in time for the blackberry to acclimatise before the ground gets too cold. I have cut back lots of the top growth to compensate for the roots being snapped, so we shall see if it copes.
Next month, thinking ahead to plant propagating and growing next year.

Sheila May