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!

This year’s trio of peppers

We’ve tried growing three types of peppers this year: Padrons, Macchu Picchu and Snackbite. As an experiment, we have been growing some of each at our respective houses.

A month or so back, the peppers needed potting up from their 3″ pots. We potted them up at this point into 4″ pots in multipurpose compost. Although it doesn’t sound like much of a step up in terms of pot size, whenever potting up you don’t want to re-pot at a pot size that’s wildly different to the previous pot as otherwise sometimes the plant can feel a bit lost. Instead, you want to try and make sure the plant is properly established before potting it up into a larger pot.

Up until this point, our peppers had been growing in a cold greenhouse. Chris’ on the other hand had been growing in the conservatory, and were looking much better, until…

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Although the conservatory was a great growing environment and had kept the plants warm and in the sun for most of the day, we made the mistake of not hardening them off before leaving them to grow on to maturity outside. Therefore, they got wind burn which knocked them back A LOT, and after a few weeks it was clear that they weren’t coming back from this. Again, you learn from your mistakes!

The other week, the peppers were potted up again, this time into their final pots. Again, these were just potted up into multipurpose compost.

Chris did the same with the Padron peppers that he is growing at his house. And each pepper has now got a cane in its pot that the pepper plant is tied to for support.

 

We learnt last year that peppers are quite a slow growing crop compared to some others. But, we have peppers on their way! Chris’ Padrons are just starting to flower, and the Padrons and Snack bite peppers at home now have peppers on them. The Macchu Picchu aren’t fruiting yet, but have flowers so we’re still hopeful!

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.

Potting on a peck of Machu Picchu peppers

The Machu Picchu peppers had already gotten too big for their initial pots, so a week or so ago we moved them on!

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Carefully holding only the leaf, we gently lifted them out of their trays – keeping all of the roots in tact.

Using a dibber we made enough of a hole in the new pots and gently pushed them into position, pressing them down a little. Then it’s just a case of covering the compost up around them up again so that only the leaves were showing.

They immediately looked a lot happier!

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However, the above photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, and they’re doing really well now. Here’s a photo of how two of the plants look about 10 days later: –

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Although we know from last year that any pepper plants are going to take a long time until they’re ready to harvest, so there’s a good few months to go yet!

Growing our own…tapas!

We are both quite into our food. Any excuse and we spend hours rustling up something for dinner. One of our favourite easy starters/meals is antipasti. And then last year, we discovered Padrons! They are best fried in a little oil until they blister and then sprinkled with some sea salt – delicious!!

So this year, we wanted to grow our own. What could taste better than one of our favourite foods, but homegrown?!

Like with most of the seeds we sow, they were sown in slightly moistened and gently compressed Seed and Modular compost and then covered with vermiculite. The peppers need a bit of heat to germinate, so they were popped on the propagator until they started poking their heads out.

Peppers take slightly longer to germinate than some of the other seeds we’ve been growing. Sometimes up to 2-3 weeks, so patience is a virtue!

Once they were large enough to handle, we pricked them out into 3″ pots in multipurpose compost. They should stay in these pots until they are planted out in a few weeks’ time.

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Not only are peppers quite slow to germinate, but they generally grow much more slowly than most other vegetables we’re used to growing. Therefore, you just have to be patient, as it can be several months from sowing until you see any signs of a pepper. But it’s all worth it in the end!

April update

We haven’t had a chance to write a post for a couple of weeks, but there’s been lots going in!

Potatoes

These were planted in late January, but have been kept indoors as we are still getting a few sharp frosts here in Essex.

Firstly, they were growing in the lean to greenhouse with a little heat, but now they’ve been moved to the polytunnel. The first photo was two weeks ago, and the second today. It’s amazing how much they’ve grown! We’ve also put some cane supports in for each one now, as their haulms were getting a bit unruly. And we didn’t want them to break off!

 

Kohl rabi

We sowed our Purple Delicacy kohl rabi last week. These were sown into Seed and Modular compost in a quarter seed tray and covered with vermiculite. As kohl rabi is part of the brassica family, and therefore quite a hardy plant, they didn’t need to be germinated on the propagator. Instead, we covered them with a sheet of glass and some newspaper.

They had already germinated by this weekend!

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So we pricked them out into 3″ pots into multipurpose compost.

 

Pricking out the chilli peppers and colourful cauliflowers

Just a week after sowing, the Machu Picchu, Navona and Graffiti were ready to prick out. Unfortunately, we haven’t got round to writing this post until now though, so they’ve moved on a bit from now (see updated photos at the bottom of the post!)

The cauliflowers were pricked out into 3 inch pots which we filled with multipurpose compost, and the peppers were pricked out into cell trays (60 cells per seed tray), filled with seed and modular compost.

We use different composts depending on the size of the pot/cell tray that we are pricking out into. Multipurpose compost can sometimes be coarser than the seed and modular compost, and therefore the finer compost works better in the smaller cell trays.

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Seedlings are usually pricked out when they have grown their first two true leaves. Therefore, they are big enough to handle, but still quite small and delicate in the whole scheme of things.

We prick the seedlings out with a dibber, being careful not to disturb or break off any of the roots that the seedling has produced where possible. The dibber is dug in the compost a little way away from the seedling, and then underneath where the roots are likely to be to achieve this. The seedlings are then handled only by their leaves (not their stems) and pricked out into the pot/cell tray.

As you can see, the seedlings produce quite a root even after a week!

And this is the finished product! Always making sure to label the plants up as you go along so they don’t get muddled up.

And as we didn’t manage to write this post for a couple of weeks. This is how the cauliflowers look now…! They will stay in these pots until they’re planted out now, but we’ll keep you updated.

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It’s finally hotting up! – Sowing the Chilli Peppers

The sowing season is now very much upon us, and this weekend we sowed our Machu Picchu Chilli Pepper seeds.
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It was a very simple process, and didn’t involve anything out of the ordinary! 

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First of all we filled the seed tray with seed and modular compost (which is much finer than regular compost, therefore ideal for sowing).

Our next step was to use a block of wood to flatten out/compress the compost…

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Then, we carefully placed the seeds on top of the compost, an equal distance apart – and pressed them down a little.
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Once they’d been pressed down, the seed tray was covered with vermiculite, as shown below…

It’ll now go onto the propagator until the seeds are showing – which will be roughly 2 weeks (hopefully!).

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In other news, we had a little check on our early new potatoes, and whilst we had to move out a little soil before we could find them – they’re certainly not far away from showing!

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