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!

End of July update

There are a few things that you haven’t heard about for a while, so we thought we’d give you an update on these.

Sweetcorn

After a number of weeks where the plants didn’t seem to make much progress at all, they seem to have got established now and have shot up all of a sudden. They are now almost as tall as me and are starting to produce cobs. It will probably still be a few weeks until they’re ready, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!

Garlic

The garlic were less of a success. We always knew we might be up against it a bit as we’d planted the cloves in Spring, whereas they are usually planted in the Autumn and then overwintered. However, several growers have had success with Spring planted garlic so we thought we’d try our hand at it too.

We think a combination of late planting, a warm spring and perhaps the compost we had them growing in led to the early dying back of the garlic. As you can see, the cloves we planted have transformed into new garlic bulbs, but they didn’t get a chance to fully form so that each one was made up of a number of cloves of its own. Instead, they are just a single, round “clove”.

Turns out they still taste just like garlic though, so we’ve been enjoying them in lots of dinners!

Lettuce

The various varieties of lettuce seemed to do quite well in their pot and have all been eaten now.

Perhaps they would’ve done slightly better if they’d had a bit more space, but it just goes to show what you can grow even where space is at a premium!

Lettuce are another funny one when it comes to watering. They’re generally fine to begin with, but once they start hearting up, we try to only water around the base and not over the top of their leaves. Otherwise the water can get trapped between the leaves and then when it gets warm can cause the lettuce to rot.

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Strawberries

The strawberries were a bit like the garlic – we came to the party a bit late. We decided that last year’s plants needed a refresh as they’d lost a bit of rigour over the years, but didn’t get round to ordering some new plants until quite late in the day.

Therefore, the plants haven’t had much of a chance to get themselves established, let alone produce a load of strawberries for us! They’ve done their best though, as we’ve had a few strawberries from them.

We have also had second thoughts about the weed suppressant. We thought it would be a great way to stop weeds and give the strawberries something to ripen on instead of straw which we’ve used in previous years. However, we’ve decided it also stops water getting to the plants and therefore has probably hindered their growth. Straw it is next year!

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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.

Garlic

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?!

 

 

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…!

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