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!

When it got too hot for our Romanesco cauliflowers

We asked a gardener friend of ours that has experience of growing Romanesco cauliflowers to recommend a variety for us to try when we decided we wanted to give them a go this season.

At the time, we were advised that Romanesco cauliflowers are an “autum” cauliflower, i.e. they grow best when maturing during the autumn months, like September onwards, rather than a “summer” cauliflower. This is usually because different varieties are better/worse suited to the warmer temperatures and drier conditions we typically experience in the UK in June, July and August.

However, we were so excited to give them a try that we sowed them anyway, with an estimated harvest date of July.

And now we know why we were given the advice…although the best way to learn is always by your mistakes I suppose!

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Don’t get me wrong, the plants produced cauliflowers. However, the purple cauliflowers were on the small side and the Romanesco plants started to “blow”, i.e. go past their best, before they’d reached full size. You can see from the photo below how they’d started to go slightly purple where they were going over the top, but they hadn’t reached their full potential in terms of size.IMG_4489

Both were still very tasty to eat though! And Dad’s done another sowing that should be ready to harvest once the weather is a bit cooler, so we’ll see how they compare in a couple of months time.

Romanesco and purple cauliflower update

Our Purple and Romanesco cauliflowers are growing nicely since we planted them out a few weeks ago. These are starting to get a few weeds around them now, so we’ll need to clear these soon otherwise they’ll be taking over the place.

It also won’t be long before the plants bulk up really rapidly and start to produce cauliflowers (hopefully), by which time the plants will be too big to get in between to clear the weeds anyway.

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We also took a couple of close up shots. We really hadn’t expected the purple cauliflowers to have purple leaves in the centre. I don’t know why really, but just really didn’t expect them to.

When we weed these, we’ll probably give them another sprinkling of chicken pellets to get them some much needed nitrogen to help bulk up the plants before they start producing cauliflowers.

An update on the colourful cauliflowers

 

The weekend before last, our Romanesco and purple cauliflowers were ready to be planted out. We had five plants in total, as unfortunately we’d lost one of the purple cauliflowers between pricking out and planting out. It’s stem had rotted off for some reason, so we’d had to throw that one away.

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We dug a hole to plant each one in with a hand trowel and then gently eased the plant out of the pot, making sure to keep the plant and its roots in tact. The best way to do this is usually to hold the plant upside down, supporting its stem and roots between two fingers and gently squeezing opposite sides of the pot until it loosens and comes free.

Each plant was placed into the hold we’d dug, and the soil brought back around the plant, making sure to firm this in around the newly planted brassica. It’s important to firm the soil back around the plants to ensure there aren’t any air gaps around its roots where you dug the hole to place it in – as that wouldn’t do it any good at all!

When digging each hole, the aim should be to plant each brassica up to its bottom set of leaves. If you leave too much stalk above the ground, the young plants can easily get broken off in the wind before they get a chance to get established.

After we’d planted them all out, we gave them a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone. This is a general organic fertiliser and should help them get going!

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Finally, we gave them a good soaking in with a watering can to settle the soil around each plant, a sprinkling of slug pellets to stop our slimy “friends” devouring them immediately and covered with bird netting to stop our feathered friends doing the same.

We’re hoping to be able to start harvesting these in early July – but that all depends on the weather!

Pricking out the chilli peppers and colourful cauliflowers

Just a week after sowing, the Machu Picchu, Navona and Graffiti were ready to prick out. Unfortunately, we haven’t got round to writing this post until now though, so they’ve moved on a bit from now (see updated photos at the bottom of the post!)

The cauliflowers were pricked out into 3 inch pots which we filled with multipurpose compost, and the peppers were pricked out into cell trays (60 cells per seed tray), filled with seed and modular compost.

We use different composts depending on the size of the pot/cell tray that we are pricking out into. Multipurpose compost can sometimes be coarser than the seed and modular compost, and therefore the finer compost works better in the smaller cell trays.

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Seedlings are usually pricked out when they have grown their first two true leaves. Therefore, they are big enough to handle, but still quite small and delicate in the whole scheme of things.

We prick the seedlings out with a dibber, being careful not to disturb or break off any of the roots that the seedling has produced where possible. The dibber is dug in the compost a little way away from the seedling, and then underneath where the roots are likely to be to achieve this. The seedlings are then handled only by their leaves (not their stems) and pricked out into the pot/cell tray.

As you can see, the seedlings produce quite a root even after a week!

And this is the finished product! Always making sure to label the plants up as you go along so they don’t get muddled up.

And as we didn’t manage to write this post for a couple of weeks. This is how the cauliflowers look now…! They will stay in these pots until they’re planted out now, but we’ll keep you updated.

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Sowing pretty cauliflowers and planting garlic

This year we wanted to try Romanesco cauliflowers. We bought a lovely bright green variety, Navona which caught our eye, as well as Graffiti, a purple cauliflower! The seed packets recommend they are grown as autumn harvesting varieties, which would mean sowing in April/May.

However, we couldn’t wait to give them a try, so we sowed a couple of each today. All being well, we should be looking to harvest these at some point in mid-late May.

All our seeds get sown in a very similar way. The seed tray is filled with Seed and Modular compost, watered with a fine rose watering can and then gently compressed to make a smooth seedbed.

The seeds are then carefully spaced around the seed tray to make sure they are easier to handle when it comes to pricking out.

We then cover the seeds with a fine layer of vermiculite and make sure that the seeds are named so we don’t get them confused!

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As brassicas are quite hardy, their seeds don’t need bottom heat to germinate, even at this time of the year. Therefore, the finished seed tray was placed under a sheet of glass with newspaper over the top, and will be left until the seedlings start to show through. This shouldn’t take too long – probably about a week.

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In the meantime, the seed tray may be moistened with a fine spray of water if it appears to be drying out.

Next up was the garlic which we bought from the garden centre a couple of weeks ago. Although it didn’t look like it, this was starting to shoot. The variety is Cristo.

First, we peeled the dry outer skins from the garlic and separated each of the cloves, making sure they were all firm.

Next, we filled a cell tray with multipurpose compost, making sure to firm this down as we filled it. We then moistened this with water from a fine rose can.

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A garlic clove was then pushed into each cell, until it was about half submerged in the compost.

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As you can hopefully see from the photo, some of the garlic cloves have already started to sprout, but we hope that the rest will start doing the same before long!

We’ll keep you posted!

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…!

Weeding out the brassicas

We planted out our cauliflowers and broccoli plants a few weeks back now, but the plants require a little maintenance throughout their growing period. A couple of weeks ago, some weeds had started growing around the base of the plants, so we carefully removed these with an onion hoe. However, this isn’t the best method of weeding (as you don’t remove the weed and, more importantly its roots, from the soil). Therefore, the weeds still come back quite quickly). Nevertheless, it does tidy the bed for a short while.

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When we checked on the plants today, they were almost being overtaken with weeds again. So we set about tidying them back up!

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It didn’t take long – about 20 minutes, and the plants looked so much nicer afterwards. They’ll also be able to enjoy much more of the water we give them now they don’t have to share it with chick weed!

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We also had a lovely surprise – we spied a broccoli head forming! The cauliflowers are still a little way off, but they’re coming along nicely so we hope to give you an update before long!

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Planting out the brassicas

The brassicas we sowed and pricked out a few weeks ago are now ready to plant out. We had a few cauliflowers and one broccoli plant to plant out.

Dad gave us a bit of his vegetable patch to plant them out in as they need a fair bit of space to grow properly. We have tried them in 30 litre pots before (with some success), but they are definitely better if they can get their roots in the soil.

First things first, we had to dig over the soil which had already been used once this year!

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Then, before planting out, we soaked each plant in a solution of maxicrop seaweed. We find that this gives them a little bit of a boost as they start to get established in the soil.

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We then planted the plants out, around a foot apart. Making sure to firm the plants in so that their roots can get away into the soil as quickly as possible.

The plants were then watered in thoroughly to settle the soil around the plants.

Unfortunately, some of the wildlife in the garden is not as beneficial as you’d like it to be. Therefore, we always have to cover the brassicas to protect them from pigeons and rabbits! We therefore built a corral out of pieces of wood and then covered the plants with some netting.

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