Tidying up after last year: our strawberry story

Last weekend, I did a bit of tidying of the strawberry bed. We’re hoping for a slightly more successful season with the strawberries this year. There were two main reasons we think we didn’t get many strawberries last year:

  1. We only bought the bare route runners quite late on in the Spring, which meant they probably didn’t get planted out until the last possible moment that they could’ve been.
  2. We used weed suppressant fabric under the plants as we thought this would make growing them easier, as we wouldn’t have to weed them and the strawberries would be protected from the soil and wouldn’t get dirty as they were growing.

Turns out you need to let your strawberry plants get established before you can really expect them to produce any fruit, and weed suppressant stops the weeds, but also the water getting to the plants!

So this is the “before” photo:

img_0889

The first thing I did was strip off the weed suppressant. Then I tidied each plant, removing all the dead leaves and vegetation.

I then made sure that all the plants were still rooted in properly, and that there were no bare roots showing. Where there were any roots showing, I pulled some more soil up round the roots and firmed this down.

There were a couple of plants that hadn’t made it through the winter, so I replaced them with some that we have taken as runners and overwintered in pots.

img_0900

Once they were all tidied up, I gave them a good soak with water around them. A week on, they are already looking much healthier and are starting to make some more new growth.

I will keep watering them regularly to make sure they have enough moisture to really get going as the weather warms up.

Putting some of the time I’m not spending commuting to good use

We’ve been a bit quiet on here for the past few months – we bought our first house last October, and a lot of our time since then has been spent doing various bits and pieces to do with the renovation of that! We won’t bore you with too much of the detail, but hope to be able to embark on a new garden project in our new home as soon as the work has all been finished and we move in.

However, with the situation as it is, we wanted to put some of the time we’re not spending commuting, etc. to good use. Hope all of our readers and their friends and families are keeping safe and well during this strange time.

Luckily we have a garden that we can spend some of our free time in in the evenings and at weekends. And with the clocks going forward on Sunday morning, the evenings are lighter and give more time for pottering around in the garden after work. So hopefully we will be back online with new articles more regularly in the coming weeks.

We sowed some Little Gem and some Iceberg lettuces a couple of weeks ago. These have now been pricked out into small cell trays (about an inch diameter) and will be grown on in these until they are ready to be planted out. They are being grown on at the moment in a cold greenhouse, to provide them with some protection as the temperature can still fluctuate quite a bit at this time of year.

img_0884

We also have an update on the peppers we sowed a couple of months back.

img_0880

As we mentioned back then – these are quite possibly the slowest growing vegetable you could try and grow. So if you’re looking for something to keep the kids amused whilst there’s no school, or you’re just starting out with growing and want to see what it’s like, as fun as peppers are to see once they’re ready to harvest, you need to be committed to the long haul to reap that reward!

Other things that it might be better to try are salad crops like radishes and lettuces, which are much faster growing from sowing to harvest!

 

 

We’ve managed to stick to one of our New Year’s Resolutions so far…

We grew a few different types of peppers and chillies last year. Some of them we really liked, and others we were pleased we’d tried, but wouldn’t be in a massive hurry to try again. But that’s just how it goes, we live and learn, and that’s all part of the fun!

One thing we did decide was that we needed to sow them earlier. Last year we started them off in the first week of February, but we found they only really got going quite late in the season, and we wanted to be able to enjoy them earlier. Therefore, this year, we vowed to sow the seeds a few weeks earlier. And here we are…

First up is the variety that we are dying to try again: Snackbite. This one is a really tasty small sweet orange pepper when ripe, the ones you get in little punnets in the supermarket, but they’re usually more expensive than your regular bell peppers. Well it turns out you can grow your own, and relatively easily!! You don’t even need loads of space. Last year we grew ours absolutely fine in a 30 litre pot (which is about 30cm diameter to give you an idea). You just need to be patient, and prepared to give them a little TLC!

Next up, we’ve got a few new varieties to try. We’re not sure how many of these we’ll grow on to maturity (it depends how much space we have with everything else we want to try!) but we’re also not just growing them for ourselves. We’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that we’re members of the National Vegetable Society (NVS).

The NVS encourages like minded people to share their experiences of growing veg via local district association meetings, an online forum and increasingly, social media. We’ve been members of the NVS for a number of years and regularly attend Essex District Association events which are held throughout the year. One of these is a plant sale at our local Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) garden, Hyde Hall in April. We have supported this event along with a number of our other members for the past couple of years as a way to promote the NVS and veg growing more widely. If you’re interested in learning more about the NVS, their website can be found here: The National Vegetable Society website.

Therefore, some of these seeds we hope to be able to take to the plant sale in April, as peppers and chillies are often popular with visitors.

The seeds we’re sowing were kindly donated by a gardening friend we have, as well as a relatively local seed company to us, King’s Seeds, who gave us some catalogues and free packets of seeds to giveaway at another event we supported last year to promote the NVS.

There’s a real mixture here: some lovely looking yellow and red sweet peppers, D’Asti Giallo and Redskin respectively as well as some more aggressive looking chillies of various sizes, Trinidad Perfume, Basket of Fire and Bhut Jolokia.

As with the vast majority of our seeds, these were sown in 1/4 seed trays in a fine Seed and Modular compost which was slightly dampened and then firmed down gently before sowing the seeds on the top.

As we’ve said before I’m sure, we like to space our seeds out carefully in the seed trays when sowing where possible rather than just scattering the seeds over the surface willy nilly. This helps you out loads when you come to prick the little seedlings out as they’re less likely to be entangled, and so are their roots!

Afterwards, the seeds are very gently pressed slightly into the surface of the compost before covering with vermiculite. The seed trays were then placed in the propagator with a sheet of glass and a piece of newspaper over the top to exclude light until they have germinated. Whilst on the propagator, they should be checked regularly as the seed trays are only small and can easily dry out. If this happens, you can moisten the compost again with a fine nozzle pump sprayer. No huge jets of water, or you’ll wash your seeds out of the compost!

A look back at 2019

This time last year, we made a plan for the growing season ahead. So we thought it would be a good time to look back at that plan and see how we got on!

Potatoes

We’d set ourselves the goal of three sowings of potatoes for 2019, to harvest in May, July and December. Well we managed 2/3, so not horrendous. No new potatoes for Christmas though unfortunately. The other two sowings didn’t do too badly though.

The main crop sowing that we did in April and harvested in July was definitely the most successful, but I guess that was to be expected, as they were grown at the time potatoes should be! The only thing was that the pots we planted them in were too tall and narrow, which hindered tuber production (and harvest!!) It was also hard as the weather got warmer to get enough water into the pots. Even twice a day wasn’t enough at one point, as they needed so much water to swell the potato tubers.

The early sowing in February and harvested in May weren’t bad though; they just took longer as they were started off in older weather. The cold greenhouse to protect them from the frost was definitely a winner though as it meant we could eat homegrown new potatoes in May!

Fingers crossed for some Christmas dinner new potatoes for 2020!

Chard

So we were drawn to this as it was so colourful. And we can confirm that it didn’t disappoint! It was also “sow simple” to grow. The seeds were sowed in cell trays, plants planted straight out in the garden from there, and that’s where they stayed to maturity.

If anything, the chard was moe prolific than we expected and we couldn’t keep up with it. One to note for another time!

Sweetcorn

We managed to grow this one too, although the harvest was perhaps not as successful as the chard. We think this is because we had a dry spell during the period that the corns were forming, so they didn’t bulk up as much as they could’ve done and some hadnt fully formed when we harvested them. They pollinated well though, so the square formation we planted them out in must’ve helped us out there!

Kohl rabi

These are one we tried for the first (and perhaps last!) time. They were relatively simple to grow, but we weren’t massive fans of the taste. We may have let them go over the top though, as they went from zero to massive in what felt like a matter of days! We’ve heard that they are nice grated raw and eaten in a salad, so perhaps well try that if we grow them again.

Romanesco cauliflowers

These on the other hand were delicious, definitely one to grow again in 2020 if we get round to it! Both the Romanesco cauliflowers and purple cauliflowers were just gorgeous to look at too!

6028648c-fba4-465a-8b3e-2a82d13090b3img_4493

They grew exactly the same as their white counterparts, but didn’t need shielding from the light to preserve their colour! The Romanesco came out top in the taste test vs the purple ones, but we think that may have had something to do with how they looked when cooked. The purple cauliflowers went that odd blue-grey colour that red cabbage gets when boiled. The best use we found for the purple cauliflower was cauliflower rice and stir fry, as it kept most of its coloured unlike when it was steamed. The Romanescos on the other hand kept their fantastic colour perfectly even when cooked!

Dwarf beans

So we forgot all about these…woops!

Peppers

And these we grew, but with varying results to what we expected. It turns out that both the Padron and Machu Picchu varieties we were drawn to typically grow much hotter than advertised. A single Machu Picchu turned some otherwise delicious homemade tomato soup into a soup that needed to be diluted three times with water and milk and was still too hot to eat in anything other than tiny doses!

And the Padrons were the same. Eating these could only be described as tapas roulette! We have one harvest that was completely mild, and several other harvests which made for a rather unpleasant tapas experience!

 

Having read up on Padrons, it turns out that is totally normal. Apparently the Padrons they grow for the supermarkets are picked by skilled workers who learn a hot padron from a mild one, hence why almost all of the Padrons you buy in a punnet in the supermarket are mild!

But we live and learn! The Gogorez and Snack Bite sweet peppers we grew both turned out extremely well. Our learning is to try and sow them a bit earlier in 2020, as they are notoriously slow to grow, and otherwise you don’t get to harvest anything until most other crops have finished!

img_5386

Garlic

Again, not the most successful of our 2019 growing attempts unfortunately. We think this is because we planted it a bit late (even for spring grown garlic) and tried to grow it in a pot with compost that was too rich. Alliums (the onion and garlic family) are known for liking quite poor soils. So place your bets on what we’re trying in 2020!

And the firm favourites (radishes, carrots, lettuce, spring onions, cucumbers, courgettes and strawberries!)

Overall, these all grew well. We enjoyed numerous harvests of carrots, lettuce, cucumbers and courgettes. The radishes and spring onions are harder, as they peak much faster and so need to be eaten relatively promptly once ready for harvest. The key to success with these therefore has to be to sow little but often, to give yourself a succession of both crops through the summer months.

We’re hoping for better things from the strawberries this year. Don’t get us wrong, we got some strawberries, but not as many as we would’ve liked. This was for two reasons:

1. They were newly established plants and so were going to need a season to get properly established; and

2. The weed suppressant that was suppose to be a godsend was a total hindrance. It may suppress weeds well, but it is also pretty impermeable, so getting water to the plants was much harder than it needed to be, resulting in the plants having to survive on less water than they (and us!) would’ve liked!!

And that’s a wrap for 2019. Not bad if we do say so ourselves… And some learnings for future years made along the way, which is great!

We’re looking forward to sharing our gardening experiences with you again in 2020! Watch out for this year’s plan over the coming weeks!

Container courgettes

We were so pleased with how our Midnight courgettes grew last year in containers that we wanted to give them a try again this year.

We did quite a late sowing, as there were already some that Dad had grown in the garden during the first part of the season, so we wanted some that would hopefully follow on in succession.

We sowed the seeds like we do most seeds, in a 1/4 seed tray filled with moistened Seed and Modular compost. The seeds are sown on their sides (as hopefully you can see from the photo). This is because the root and first leaf come from either end, so sowing them on their side gives them the easiest route down into the soil (in the case of the root) or up into the air (for the first leaf).

Once sown, each seed was covered with a sprinkling of vermiculite.

img_4305.jpg

A week or so later, they had germinated and so we pricked them out into multipurpose compost in 3 inch pots! They stayed in these until they were planted out into their final pots.

IMG_4437

And a couple of weeks later they were planted out into 20 litre tubs. As they’ve got established, we’ve now given each courgette a stake (as we do with the ones we have planted out in the garden), and we will train each plant up these so that we don’t use up too much space.

The only thing with the container courgettes is that they need A LOT of water otherwise the compost dries out. Therefore, we always make sure to give them water every morning (and sometimes at night if it’s been a really warm day!) to make sure the compost doesn’t dry out.

LNPM9317

We tried our hand at a bit of exhibiting…

The Essex District Association of the National Vegetable Society hosts a Mini Show each year in early July. This year, our sights were set on the collection of four kinds of vegetable, one of each kind.

We had the following: cherry tomato, kohl rabi, courgette and potato. And this is our final exhibit!

JMXM7339

We were quite pleased with it, although it didn’t win a prize unfortunately. But got a few comments for its originality and colourfulness!

This was the first kohl rabi we harvested. Although we’ve since harvested most of the others! They’re a funny vegetable, quite an earthy taste and the texture of a swede or turnip. I think we will give them another go next year though.

This little guy didn’t quite make it into our collection, but he cleaned up well so we thought we’d give him a mention!

WQGS6428

 

 

This year’s trio of peppers

We’ve tried growing three types of peppers this year: Padrons, Macchu Picchu and Snackbite. As an experiment, we have been growing some of each at our respective houses.

A month or so back, the peppers needed potting up from their 3″ pots. We potted them up at this point into 4″ pots in multipurpose compost. Although it doesn’t sound like much of a step up in terms of pot size, whenever potting up you don’t want to re-pot at a pot size that’s wildly different to the previous pot as otherwise sometimes the plant can feel a bit lost. Instead, you want to try and make sure the plant is properly established before potting it up into a larger pot.

Up until this point, our peppers had been growing in a cold greenhouse. Chris’ on the other hand had been growing in the conservatory, and were looking much better, until…

GUBX8198

Although the conservatory was a great growing environment and had kept the plants warm and in the sun for most of the day, we made the mistake of not hardening them off before leaving them to grow on to maturity outside. Therefore, they got wind burn which knocked them back A LOT, and after a few weeks it was clear that they weren’t coming back from this. Again, you learn from your mistakes!

The other week, the peppers were potted up again, this time into their final pots. Again, these were just potted up into multipurpose compost.

Chris did the same with the Padron peppers that he is growing at his house. And each pepper has now got a cane in its pot that the pepper plant is tied to for support.

 

We learnt last year that peppers are quite a slow growing crop compared to some others. But, we have peppers on their way! Chris’ Padrons are just starting to flower, and the Padrons and Snack bite peppers at home now have peppers on them. The Macchu Picchu aren’t fruiting yet, but have flowers so we’re still hopeful!

End of July update

There are a few things that you haven’t heard about for a while, so we thought we’d give you an update on these.

Sweetcorn

After a number of weeks where the plants didn’t seem to make much progress at all, they seem to have got established now and have shot up all of a sudden. They are now almost as tall as me and are starting to produce cobs. It will probably still be a few weeks until they’re ready, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!

Garlic

The garlic were less of a success. We always knew we might be up against it a bit as we’d planted the cloves in Spring, whereas they are usually planted in the Autumn and then overwintered. However, several growers have had success with Spring planted garlic so we thought we’d try our hand at it too.

We think a combination of late planting, a warm spring and perhaps the compost we had them growing in led to the early dying back of the garlic. As you can see, the cloves we planted have transformed into new garlic bulbs, but they didn’t get a chance to fully form so that each one was made up of a number of cloves of its own. Instead, they are just a single, round “clove”.

Turns out they still taste just like garlic though, so we’ve been enjoying them in lots of dinners!

Lettuce

The various varieties of lettuce seemed to do quite well in their pot and have all been eaten now.

Perhaps they would’ve done slightly better if they’d had a bit more space, but it just goes to show what you can grow even where space is at a premium!

Lettuce are another funny one when it comes to watering. They’re generally fine to begin with, but once they start hearting up, we try to only water around the base and not over the top of their leaves. Otherwise the water can get trapped between the leaves and then when it gets warm can cause the lettuce to rot.

NVIE9242

Strawberries

The strawberries were a bit like the garlic – we came to the party a bit late. We decided that last year’s plants needed a refresh as they’d lost a bit of rigour over the years, but didn’t get round to ordering some new plants until quite late in the day.

Therefore, the plants haven’t had much of a chance to get themselves established, let alone produce a load of strawberries for us! They’ve done their best though, as we’ve had a few strawberries from them.

We have also had second thoughts about the weed suppressant. We thought it would be a great way to stop weeds and give the strawberries something to ripen on instead of straw which we’ve used in previous years. However, we’ve decided it also stops water getting to the plants and therefore has probably hindered their growth. Straw it is next year!

3ceddb80-15f1-4e53-a767-bcac6703cdf8 (1)

 

 

 

You win some you lose some. Update on the psychedelic vegetable kit!

The kit has been growing with varying amounts of success across the different crops…!

Spring onions

Only two germinated, and then one of those didn’t make it to this stage. The remaining one is still growing away in the pot (a pot big enough to fit 50 in!) but never mind, we’ll see how it turns out in the end.

Lettuces

The strikethrough pretty much sums it up. Again, a couple germinated, but they didn’t make it.

Radishes

These grew well, although we’re not sure what we think of the “assorted” nature of the crop. As you can see from the photo, there was lots of variation in colour, shape and size! And they were very peppery, so we think we prefer the regular red, round radishes that we’ve grown for the past couple of years. As with all radishes though, they started going to seed before we had a chance to eat them all. Next year, we either need to sow less, or eat more!

OINI3960

Beetroot

These are also growing well, although they take longer to mature than radishes, so we still haven’t harvested one yet. We’ll be sure to let you know how we get on when we do though!

MZDS7108

Cucumbers

These are a slightly peculiar one to grow, we must say. We’ve grown cucumbers before, but not round, yellow ones!

However, they seem to be getting on alright so far. We potted them up into their final pots and have started to train them up a cane, tying them up every 4-6 inches.

Cucumbers can be a bit sensitive, so we are always very careful when watering. We try avoid making the leaves or stem wet, as the stems can easily rot off and then it’s game over!

You also have to make sure you take the side shoots off cucumber plants. Otherwise, it uses lots of the water you give it, as well as the plant’s energy to grow side shoots, when really you just want it to produce cucumbers. It turns out that this particular variety of cucumber is also not female only.

Some cucumber varieties nowadays are “all-female” or “self-pollinating” meaning they only produce female flowers, i.e. the ones that actually produce cucumbers.

What this means is we need to take the male flowers off as well as the side shoots. Otherwise, the male flowers can cause the cucumbers to taste bitter.

TJAD8462

We have got cucumbers coming though! They may not be ready to harvest yet, but fingers crossed they will be soon!

JKFS5096

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: