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!

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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!

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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!

Update on our Charisma carrots

Last weekend, it was time to thin out the Charisma carrots. We sowed three seeds per station in these pots with the intention of thinning them down to one per station once they were large enough.

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We took each station in turn, determining which plant we considered was the straightest and strongest, snipping the others off at compost level with a pair of scissors.

In the past, we used to thin carrots in the same way, but we’d pull the entire plant out. However, we found that sometimes this disturbed the compost around the carrot that we were leaving to grow. Therefore, we changed to snipping the unwanted ones off at compost level so as not to disturb the compost around the remaining carrot.

You have to be careful not to attract carrot fly when thinning carrots. The smell of carrots alone can alert them to your crop, and unfortunately once they’ve found them, they are unlikely to want to leave them alone! Therefore, we made sure to collect up all the thinnings so that they could be put on the compost.

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As an extra precaution, we then watered the carrots with a strong solution of Maxicrop liquid seaweed. As the seaweed is quite pungent, we do this to mask any smell of carrot we may have created by thinning them out.

And here’s the finished product!

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A May update

We wanted to give a quick progress update on some of the other plants we’re growing that haven’t had much air time lately.

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They don’t seem to have moved much since the last update, but we’re hoping they’re doing what they’re supposed to be under the surface!

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Charisma carrots

These carrots germinated well. You may remember that we sowed three seeds per station. The photos below show their progression from a couple of weeks ago to now. These will need to be thinned out in the next week or two to leave just one seedling per station.

Lettuces

We pricked out four varieties of lettuces into cell trays a few weeks back. These have now been planted out into 10 litre pots and seem to be coming along nicely. They will stay in these pots until maturity now, so just need to keep watering them until then!

Spring onions, radishes and carrots

The other salad vegetables that we sowed at the same time as the lettuces are also coming along alright in their pots. These both take longer to grow to maturity than the radishes, which literally take a matter of weeks! But they’re coming along alright for now.

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And finally…one of our first harvests of 2019! The second harvest to come in our next post… Don’t they look delicious?!

 

 

Planning for 2019

It’s really hard at this time of year not to wish away your life in return for the early arrival of summer and the possibility of harvesting the vegetables you have grown. But whilst we have to wait patiently for the weather to warm up (extremely patiently based on the snow that has been forecast over the past week!), it’s a great time to stay indoors and plan for the year ahead.

It’s always good to try some new things, but also to stick to some of the crops you’ve grown and loved before and can look forward to growing once again. Too much change and you set yourself an almost impossible task with failure almost destined as you try to grapple with growing some many unfamiliar vegetables all in one go!

Needless to say, despite my comments above – looking through the various seed catalogues and on their websites, our list of “want-to-grows” almost doubled, with all the eye-catching photos of the crops you can grow!

So here’s our plan for the year ahead. Fingers crossed we get round to it all!

  1. Potatoes. We’ve decided on three sowings – early new potatoes (hopefully ready for harvest in May, a second sowing ready in July and a third that will hopefully give us new potatoes for Christmas! Refer to our previous blog post for the early new potatoes, as these were planted last week. We’ve gone for Red Duke of York and Charlotte.
  2. Chard. We’ve never grown this, but like its colours – so we’re going for a pink and orange selection to get that rainbow effect. We bought some from the supermarket to try it before we committed to growing it from scratch, as we wanted to make sure we liked it! It went down well – so here we are!
  3. Sweetcorn. I’ve grown this at home before as a kid, but Chris fancied his chances with it this year. Initially we were going to grow the multicoloured cobs (you can see a theme emerging here!)… until we found out that apparently it looks a lot better than it tastes. So, standard yellow it is!
  4. Kohl rabi. We think that the end product looks like spaceships – what more reason do you need to give it a try?! There are green and purple varieties – surprise surprise, we’ve gone for purple.
  5. Romanesco cauliflowers. So we grew cauliflowers last year, which we may well do again. However, fancied a slight change and wondered whether Romanesco cauliflowers taste the same. We’ve gone for one of the green (rather than purple this time!) varieties as they are so bright! I’m kind of imagining it’s going to taste like broccoli, but we’ll have to wait and see.
  6. Dwarf beans. We found a variety that advertised “easy picking” bush plants. They sound ideal. They don’t use up much space and they’re easy to pick – so we’ve gone for those.
  7. Peppers. We’re trying two varieties (so far!), and neither are similar to the bell-style ‘Gogorez’ peppers we grew in 2018. The first, is going to be Padron – a medium-sized long pepper that makes for a great Tapas dish and is harvested before it goes red (not to say we might not leave a few of them red to see how they differ!). The second, is a chilli pepper by the name of ‘Machu Pichu’ which is by no means the hottest chilli pepper, but should give a little extra spice to a few of our favourite dinners.
  8. Garlic. We like to use garlic in cooking, so thought we’d see how easy it was to grow our own. The bulbs are purchased, and are waiting for us to plant out once the weather perks up a bit.

And some firm favourites from last year:

  1. Radishes
  2. Carrots
  3. Lettuce
  4. Spring onions
  5. Cucumber
  6. Courgettes
  7. Strawberries

I’m sure we’ve forgotten something – we’ve just got to hope we remember before sowing time! We also haven’t firmed up sowing dates etc. yet, but watch this space…!

Carrot harvest

It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we sowed our carrots, but we’ve already been able to harvest some of them within 3 months.

They require regular (daily) watering to prevent them from splitting. To put it simply, if carrots are not watered a similar amount and at a similar frequency then they become susceptible to ‘outgrowing’ their own skin and that’s how they can end up split.

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We tried our best to keep all of the carrots submerged in the soil, but as you can see this was not completely possible. This may be partly because of how many carrots we crammed in to one pot!

Not a problem though, it’s just a case of cutting off the green bits and the rest is ready to go!

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(Above) Our first carrot harvest from the pot. There’s probably between 1/3 and 1/4 of the total potful here, so not a bad haul by any means! This variety is known as Ideal Red, and everyone was quick to comment on how good they tasted – particularly compared to supermarket carrots!

The majority that we pulled up looked like carrots should, there were a few that were more comical in size and shape – but they all tasted just as good…

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Once we’d harvested the carrots we wanted, we made sure to cover the carrots back up straight away. This is important, because once the carrots have been pulled out from the soil the sweet smell quickly attracts Carrot Fly, which can obliterate a whole crop in no time at all! We covered the pot with a few layers of fleece, which seemed to do the trick…

Things don’t always go to plan!

We thought it would be a good opportunity to update you on our various container growing adventures.

The onions, beetroot and carrots are all coming along nicely. It’ll be a little bit of time before they’re ready to harvest, but they’re all moving along as expected.

The lettuces are also growing well. We think we put a few too many little gem lettuces in the pot, so we’ll be thinning some of these out shortly and eating them as salad leaves. This should give the others more of a chance to heart up.

The radishes are ready to harvest! These were only sown on 7 May (and were probably ready this time last week if we’d wanted to). Therefore, a great one for growing if you only want to have to wait 3-4 weeks!

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The courgettes we have growing in containers are starting to get flowers, so fingers crossed we’ll have some courgettes coming soon. They are also starting to grow up, so they’ll need tying up the stake shortly.

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However, not everything always goes to plan. Unfortunately, our seed potato that we planted (after growing so well to begin with) succumbed to some kind of disease and we had to discard it. Equally, the spring onions we sowed at the same time as the other container salad veg never germinated. Therefore, we have recycled the pot.

First, we forked over the top of the compost with a hand fork, to loosen this after the watering it had had since we sowed the spring onion seeds. We then smoothed this over to create a bed for the seeds.

We sowed the radish seeds approximately 1″ apart in the pot and then gently pressed them in to the compost.

Lastly, we covered the seeds with a fine layer of seed and potting compost and then watered the seeds with a fine rose watering can to moisten the compost on top of the seeds.

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