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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Charisma carrots

As we’ve mentioned before, we are members of the National Vegetable Society (“NVS”). Being a member of the NVS has lots of benefits, including:

  • Quarterly magazine which includes lots of growing hints and tips
  • An online forum where members can pose questions and share their growing experiences
  • Access to local District Association meetings where you can meet liked minded people and share your experiences
  • Access to NVS shows where you can exhibit vegetables (if that takes your fancy!)
  • A few free packets of seeds each year

And all for just £20 a year (for an individual membership!)

The NVS has a number of affiliations with gardening organisations, one of these being Marshall’s Seeds. This year, Marshall’s are sponsoring a class at the NVS branch and National shows  a dish of three Charisma carrots. These are supposed to be a super-sturdy late maincrop Chantenay carrot. I’m not sure whether we’ll get any on to the show bench, but we wanted to give them a go anyway!

We wanted to give the carrots as much space as possible to grow down, so we decided to sow them in these recycled paint buckets that were lying around! They’re about 2 foot tall. The buckets were filled with multipurpose compost and then lightly watered to moisten the compost and settle it where the seeds were to be sown.

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We then made seven small holes in the top of the compost and placed 3 seeds in each hole.

You may think it’s a bit of a waste of seed to put three in each hole when you only intend to grow one carrot on to maturity in each, but when you may be looking to exhibit them, you don’t want any “misses”, i.e. when none of the three seeds in the hole grow so you’ve wasted that one. It also means that once they germinated and started growing, you can thin them down to one, leaving the strongest seedling to grow on to maturity.

When sowing, the seeds are placed around the hole away from one another. This means that in the event that all three seeds germinate, when you come to thin them down to one, you don’t disturb the roots of the others. Like we said before, carrots can be a bit fussy if they feel like they’ve been disturbed, and the last thing you want is a wonky carrot to put on the show bench!

After sowing, we covered the seeds with some fine Seed and Modular compost, firming this gently so there were no air pockets left in the hole.

Carrots take a couple of weeks to germinate, so we’ll update you shortly! In the meantime, we will keep the compost damp so that the seeds don’t dry out as they germinate.

And two weeks on, they’ve started to germinate! It looks like most of them are coming!

Sowing our salad

We decided to grow some salad vegetables in large pots again this year. So the weekend before last, we got started!

We put a few inches of soil in the bottom of each pot to act as anchorage if the wind gets up, and then filled each pot almost to the top with multipurpose compost. We then sprinkled a thin layer (no more than an inch) of Seed and Modular compost on the top of each pot to act as a nice seed bed to sow on to. We did this as the Seed and Modular compost is generally much finer than the multipurpose compost, and so is an easier start in life for the tiny seeds.

Before sowing the seeds, we gave each pot a good watering to moisten the compost. You want to do this before sowing the seeds as watering afterwards runs the risk of washing the little seeds you’ve just sown away!

This year, we’ve gone for Rougette radishes, Guardsman spring onions and Flyaway carrots. We grew all of these this year and they came well for us, so we’re going to give them another go this year.

The radish and carrot seeds were spaced evenly round the pot, and the spring onion seeds scattered over. Radishes and carrots ideally don’t want to be disturbed once germinated, so it’s best to space these out beforehand so that they can be left to their own devices. Spring onions are less fussy though, so we can always thin these out at a later date if we need to!

Once the seeds were sown, they were gently firmed into the compost and then covered with a sieved layer of multipurpose compost.

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We could’ve also sown lettuces straight in the pots, but there were some seedlings that Dad had sown the week before going spare, so we pricked some of these out instead! We did a couple of types: a green and a red iceberg type lettuce.

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These were pricked out into small cell trays (about an inch in diameter) filled with Seed and Modular compost. The compost was very gently firmed in before being moistened and then one lettuce seedling being planted in each cell. Once these have been grown on for a couple of weeks, we will plant them out into a pot and grow them on outside. For now, they are being kept in a cold greenhouse.

 

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