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!

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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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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You win some you lose some. Update on the psychedelic vegetable kit!

The kit has been growing with varying amounts of success across the different crops…!

Spring onions

Only two germinated, and then one of those didn’t make it to this stage. The remaining one is still growing away in the pot (a pot big enough to fit 50 in!) but never mind, we’ll see how it turns out in the end.

Lettuces

The strikethrough pretty much sums it up. Again, a couple germinated, but they didn’t make it.

Radishes

These grew well, although we’re not sure what we think of the “assorted” nature of the crop. As you can see from the photo, there was lots of variation in colour, shape and size! And they were very¬†peppery, so we think we prefer the regular red, round radishes that we’ve grown for the past couple of years. As with all radishes though, they started going to seed before we had a chance to eat them all. Next year, we either need to sow less, or eat more!

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Beetroot

These are also growing well, although they take longer to mature than radishes, so we still haven’t harvested one yet. We’ll be sure to let you know how we get on when we do though!

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Cucumbers

These are a slightly peculiar one to grow, we must say. We’ve grown cucumbers before, but not round, yellow ones!

However, they seem to be getting on alright so far. We potted them up into their final pots and have started to train them up a cane, tying them up every 4-6 inches.

Cucumbers can be a bit sensitive, so we are always very careful when watering. We try avoid making the leaves or stem wet, as the stems can easily rot off and then it’s game over!

You also have to make sure you take the side shoots off cucumber plants. Otherwise, it uses lots of the water you give it, as well as the plant’s energy to grow side shoots, when really you just want it to produce cucumbers. It turns out that this particular variety of cucumber is also not female only.

Some cucumber varieties nowadays are “all-female” or “self-pollinating” meaning they only produce female flowers, i.e. the ones that actually produce cucumbers.

What this means is we need to take the male flowers off as well as the side shoots. Otherwise, the male flowers can cause the cucumbers to taste bitter.

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We have got cucumbers coming though! They may not be ready to harvest yet, but fingers crossed they will be soon!

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2019’s potato harvest

Our maincrop potatoes were ready to harvest a week or two ago. The haulms had stopped growing, and were starting to lay over and die off. Although maincrop potatoes in the ground wouldn’t usually be ready just yet, we think we had hindered ours slightly by growing them in the pots.

Although handy for handling and harvesting, the pots do slightly restrict the number of potatoes that you can get from each tuber.

The plants had still done well though. I may only be 5′ 2″, but the haulms were nearly as tall as me!

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We harvested one of each variety: Cara and Carolus. One white variety and one pink eyed variety.

Despite the plants starting to die off slightly prematurely, they didn’t produce a bad crop at all!

And a throwback to the harvest of some our Charlotte potatoes we planted back in February, that were harvested at the end of May. They were grown in the same way as the Cara and Carolus, but just earlier in the year.

These were very tasty, and went in the saucepan with a bit of fresh mint the same day!

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.

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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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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Carrot harvest

It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we sowed our carrots, but we’ve already been able to harvest some of them within 3 months.

They require regular (daily) watering to prevent them from splitting. To put it simply, if carrots are not watered a similar amount and at a similar frequency then they become susceptible to ‘outgrowing’ their own skin and that’s how they can end up split.

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We tried our best to keep all of the carrots submerged in the soil, but as you can see this was not completely possible. This may be partly because of how many carrots we crammed in to one pot!

Not a problem though, it’s just a case of cutting off the green bits and the rest is ready to go!

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(Above) Our first carrot harvest from the pot. There’s probably between 1/3 and 1/4 of the total potful here, so not a bad haul by any means! This variety is known as Ideal Red, and everyone was quick to comment on how good they tasted – particularly compared to supermarket carrots!

The majority that we pulled up looked like carrots should, there were a few that were more comical in size and shape – but they all tasted just as good…

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Once we’d harvested the carrots we wanted, we made sure to cover the carrots back up straight away. This is important, because once the carrots have been pulled out from the soil the sweet smell quickly attracts Carrot Fly, which can obliterate a whole crop in no time at all! We covered the pot with a few layers of fleece, which seemed to do the trick…

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