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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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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Psychedelic salad

Chris was bought a “Psychdelic salad” growing kit for his birthday which contained: red spring onions, yellow spherical cucumbers, multicoloured radishes and beetroot and red lettuce.

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A couple of weeks ago, we set about sowing each of them. The radishes and spring onions were sown directly into 10 litre pots in multipurpose compost which were dampened before sowing. We spread the seeds out the best we could (much easier done with seeds like radishes than spring onions!) and gently pressed each seed into the compost before covering with a fine layer of compost.

The beetroot were sown into small cell trays, one seed per cell. Again, pushed gently into the dampened multipurpose compost before covering with a pinch more compost.

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The lettuces were sown into a 4″ pot in much the same way and the cucumbers were sown in individual peat pots which came with the kit.

The first thing to pop up were the radishes! Within a few days, these were showing their heads and have been growing rapidly ever since. The below photos show their progression in 4 weeks…

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Next, the cucumbers started to germinate. Two came along fairly quickly and have now had to be re-potted. The other came along a couple of weeks later and is still a small seedling at the moment!

The lettuce and spring onions weren’t as successful. In the end, one lettuce grew! But we carefully pricked him out regardless and hopefully we’ll get a red lettuce in the end.

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We had also almost given up on the spring onions. But then a few of them germinated this week!

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However, the beetroot are making better progress. We will be potting these on in the next week or so into 10 litre pots where they’ll stay to maturity.


 

We’ll keep you updated on progress!

Lettuce (let us) chill

Lettuces can be a funny one to try and germinate, albeit one of the easiest to grow once you’ve got them beyond this point. Therefore, we thought we’d given a step-by-step guide to how we sow our lettuces to get them germinated.

Most seeds require stratification before they will germinate. This is a process which imitates the natural process required for the seed to germinate. In the case of lettuces, this requires the seed to be chilled before it is left to germinate (hence the title of this blog post!)

To achieve this, we leave our lettuce seed in the fridge all the time. That means that they’re chilled whenever we want to sow them!

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When we’re ready, we prepare a quarter seed tray. I know we’ve been through this before, but in case you’re a new reader (or just as a reminder!) that means filling the tray loosely with Seed and Modular compost, gently compressing this and then lightly watering with a fine rose watering can.

Then we scatter as many lettuce seeds as we want to grow in a quarter seed tray and cover with vermiculite. This time round, it was Little Gem.

We then place the seed trays under the bench and cover with a piece of glass and a couple of sheets of newspaper. This is to stop the light getting to the seeds whilst they’re trying to germinate.

These were sown last Monday, and by today they were ready to prick out! This is the seedlings after they’ve been pricked out into cell trays. They will stay in these cells until they’re ready to be planted out, which will probably be in a couple of weeks.

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Sowing our salad

We decided to grow some salad vegetables in large pots again this year. So the weekend before last, we got started!

We put a few inches of soil in the bottom of each pot to act as anchorage if the wind gets up, and then filled each pot almost to the top with multipurpose compost. We then sprinkled a thin layer (no more than an inch) of Seed and Modular compost on the top of each pot to act as a nice seed bed to sow on to. We did this as the Seed and Modular compost is generally much finer than the multipurpose compost, and so is an easier start in life for the tiny seeds.

Before sowing the seeds, we gave each pot a good watering to moisten the compost. You want to do this before sowing the seeds as watering afterwards runs the risk of washing the little seeds you’ve just sown away!

This year, we’ve gone for Rougette radishes, Guardsman spring onions and Flyaway carrots. We grew all of these this year and they came well for us, so we’re going to give them another go this year.

The radish and carrot seeds were spaced evenly round the pot, and the spring onion seeds scattered over. Radishes and carrots ideally don’t want to be disturbed once germinated, so it’s best to space these out beforehand so that they can be left to their own devices. Spring onions are less fussy though, so we can always thin these out at a later date if we need to!

Once the seeds were sown, they were gently firmed into the compost and then covered with a sieved layer of multipurpose compost.

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We could’ve also sown lettuces straight in the pots, but there were some seedlings that Dad had sown the week before going spare, so we pricked some of these out instead! We did a couple of types: a green and a red iceberg type lettuce.

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These were pricked out into small cell trays (about an inch in diameter) filled with Seed and Modular compost. The compost was very gently firmed in before being moistened and then one lettuce seedling being planted in each cell. Once these have been grown on for a couple of weeks, we will plant them out into a pot and grow them on outside. For now, they are being kept in a cold greenhouse.

 

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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