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!

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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Turns out chard is extremely fast growing

After planting the chard out on 11 May, it has got going really quickly. This is some photos of our second cutting of chard, one a fortnight ago, and one yesterday.

The colours are fantastic – and it tastes good too! We’ve also found out that growing chard is very simple to grow. Now it’s planted out, we’re watering once a week and that seems to be working fine! So it looks like a little bit of water and some weeding quite soon and they’ll be happy as Larry!

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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.

The Grand Old (Red) Duke of York

Our second harvest of 2019 was our Red Duke of York potatoes that we planted on 26 January. The plants haven’t done too badly, but with some of the weather we’ve had, they’ve taken a bit of a battering. However, we noticed last week that the compost was starting to push up out of the pot, so we thought the potatoes might be nearly ready.

After a little bit of poking around, we also found a potato right near the surface. So that was that, we knew we wanted to harvest them and see what we’d managed to grow!

First, we cut down the haulms and removed the canes that had been supporting these. These we upturned the pot and carefully pulled away the peat to unveil the potatoes.

And this is some of what we ended up with!

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Once we’d turned out one pot, we decided we’d need to harvest a second to have enough for 5 of us for Sunday dinner. We couldn’t resist washing one up right away – as the colour was just fantastic!

And this little guy was our favourite. It just goes to show that not everything that you grow can be perfectly formed, but he still tasted just as good!!

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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?!

 

 

Progress on what can only be described as small purple spaceships…

We decided to grow Kohl Rabi this year. We’ve never tried it before, but thought it looked nice so wanted to give it a go. In fact, we think the plants when mature look like little purple spaceships. But maybe that’s just us…

Last weekend, the plants were ready to be planted out. Well we think they were. We’ve never grown them before, so we can’t be sure. But we understand that they’re part of the brassica family, and they were the same size as we would usually plant out cauliflowers, etc. so we went for it!

We dug a hole with a trowel about 4-5″ deep and then upturned each plant one by one. As you can see, they’ve got a pretty good root system, so probably the right decision to plant them out.

Each plant was placed in the hole and then the hole backfilled with soil and the plant firmed in.

The plants were then carefully watered in to firm the soil around them a little bit more.

 

 

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