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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Courgettes: – Practising what we preach

We revealed our top tip for courgette-success in one of our previous posts, which is staking the plants and regularly tying the stalk to it. This results in the courgette plant taking up less space and also being much easier to harvest!

As you can see (albeit I appreciate I’m only 5′ 2″) the courgette plants can grow really tall by staking them, and it means you get lots of yummy courgettes to eat!

The only thing is that you really have to keep on top of the tying up, because otherwise we find that sometimes the growing points of the plant can be snapped off in the wind! 😦

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Cucumber, courgette and cucamelon update!

Our cucumber, courgette and cucamelon plants are doing brilliantly. Following a slow start, the cucumber plant is coming on strides now and is much stronger. For a start, it could only support one cucumber at a time, but now it’s growing three or four with ease!

These are the last two cucumbers that we harvested from the plant.

 

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The cucamelons are also starting to be ready to harvest. As we hadn’t tried growing these before, we were dying to taste them! It turns out they are exactly as described, a slightly sour cucumber – but still an oddly refreshing taste!

The courgette plants are also still producing well. We have had some extremely hot weather in recent weeks, so we were worried at times that they were coming to the end of their life (as it was so difficult to get enough water into their pots!) However, they have really picked up again now it’s dropped a few degrees.

In fact, we had to tie them up to their stake again for support. They don’t seem to mind this, as long as you encourage them gently towards their stake. It also means they don’t take up too much room, as they go up rather than out!

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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