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!

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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!

Main sowing of potatoes

You may remember that we sowed some early potatoes back at the end of January. We are hoping to harvest these mid-late May, but in order to do so they have had to be grown on for most of their lives indoors to protect them from the cold weather and frosts.

However, we also wanted to grow some a bit later in the season, so planted Cara and Carolus last weekend. We haven’t grown either of these before, but they took our fancy in the garden centre a couple of months back!

We planted these up exactly the same as we did for the earlier planting, recapped below for ease of reference.

We mixed up some compost as follows:

  • 4 x 3 1/2 gallon buckets of medium grade peat
  • 10oz calcified seaweed
  • 16oz Q4

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We then filled each pot to a third full, and placed a tuber in each pot before filling to the top with the remaining compost.

Exactly as before, we thinned down the number of shoots left on each potato tuber before planting to one. The idea behind this is to cut down the number of roots and therefore get larger potatoes. We’ll see what happens when we turn them out in a couple of months’ time!

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You can just knock the shoots off if you prefer, but we find digging them out completely either with your fingernail or a penknife to work the best. Otherwise, you run the risk of the potato re-shooting where you just rub off the excess shoots.

Once planted up, we gave the pots a good watering and these have been placed outside.

A general update

The courgettes are growing well in their pots and are starting to produce lots of courgettes. Once ready, carefully cut the courgettes with a knife, ensuring the main stem of the plant is not damaged.

The cucamelons are growing away well – we think they’ll be ready to plant out next week! However, as they’ve been growing in a cold greenhouse so far, we have now put them outside in a slightly protected area to harden them off before we plant them out.

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The beetroot that we planted outside are also doing well and are starting to swell. They’ll still be a little while longer, but it’s always good when you start to see them forming beetroot! Going back to successional sowings, you can see that three different sowings of beetroot have now been planted out across this bed.

Our second sowing of radishes are germinated and growing away nicely. All being well, these should be ready to eat in 2-3 more weeks!

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Keeping up with our runner beans

We took a look at our runner beans today. Each plant is now making its way up the cane, and any that were straying to a neighbouring cane were gently unwound and wound back round their own! As the plants are only about 6 inches apart, the sideshoots that runner beans throw up mean that the beans weren’t going to get a lot of space.

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Therefore, we have decided that we will only look to get runner beans off the main stem. For each plant in turn, we cut the side shoots off the main stem off to give the plants more space.

For smaller sideshoots, these can be nipped off between your thumb and first finger.

It was surprising how much extra foliage the runner beans were carrying!

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And the plants look much happier afterwards.

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We also harvested our first courgette! Although its possible to get courgettes larger than this one, it’s normally best to harvest the first couple of courgettes from any plant a little bit prematurely. This is because the plant is still quite small at this point, and so the courgette takes up a lot of energy to produce. It’s better to remove these once they get to a reasonable size to give the plant a chance to rejuvenate and grow stronger.

Container courgettes

There are an increasing number of great varieties of courgettes these days that are bred specifically to be grown in containers. Some examples are Parador (which is also a lovely yellow variety of courgette), Patio Star and Midnight.

Last weekend, I planted a Patio Star and a Midnight in 30 litre pots. We’ve grown these varieties for a number of years now and they are both fantastic croppers and very tasty to eat – which is key!

With anything we plant in containers, we always put some soil in the bottom to give the pots a bit of weight and keep them anchored if the wind creeps up.

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We then filled each container with multipurpose compost before planting one courgette per pot.

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We then put a stake in each pot for the courgette to grow up, securing this to the fence so that the plants can’t blow over once they get courgettes growing on them. As you can imagine, the plants get quite heavy once fruiting, so its important to make sure they’re tied up the stake at regular intervals to prevent the plant falling over.  The ones we grew up stakes last year grew taller than me, so let’s hope for some of the same from this year’s plants!

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