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!

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.

Chirpy Chard

Our chard was ready to plant out last weekend.

We found a little spot down the garden that we could squeeze it, so levelled the soil out and got ready to plant.

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Before we planted the chard out, we gave them the “seaweed treatment”. This involves mixing up some Maxicrop Triple seaweed with water in a bucket and then submerging each plant for a minute or so until the plant has taken up some of the seaweed mixture.

When you first submerge the plant, air bubbles will come up from the pot, so you know that there’s room for some more seaweed to be taken up. When these bubbles start to slow down or stop, you’re done!

We then planted each chard about 6 inches apart. We’ve been reading up on it, and you can plant chard up to 1 foot apart. But we are going to settle with “mini leaves” to see how we get on.

We only had space for 10 out of the 11 plants, so the final one has been planted out into a 10 litre pot. We’ll see how this one does in comparison.

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An update on the colourful cauliflowers

 

The weekend before last, our Romanesco and purple cauliflowers were ready to be planted out. We had five plants in total, as unfortunately we’d lost one of the purple cauliflowers between pricking out and planting out. It’s stem had rotted off for some reason, so we’d had to throw that one away.

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We dug a hole to plant each one in with a hand trowel and then gently eased the plant out of the pot, making sure to keep the plant and its roots in tact. The best way to do this is usually to hold the plant upside down, supporting its stem and roots between two fingers and gently squeezing opposite sides of the pot until it loosens and comes free.

Each plant was placed into the hold we’d dug, and the soil brought back around the plant, making sure to firm this in around the newly planted brassica. It’s important to firm the soil back around the plants to ensure there aren’t any air gaps around its roots where you dug the hole to place it in – as that wouldn’t do it any good at all!

When digging each hole, the aim should be to plant each brassica up to its bottom set of leaves. If you leave too much stalk above the ground, the young plants can easily get broken off in the wind before they get a chance to get established.

After we’d planted them all out, we gave them a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone. This is a general organic fertiliser and should help them get going!

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Finally, we gave them a good soaking in with a watering can to settle the soil around each plant, a sprinkling of slug pellets to stop our slimy “friends” devouring them immediately and covered with bird netting to stop our feathered friends doing the same.

We’re hoping to be able to start harvesting these in early July – but that all depends on the weather!

Strawberries: it’s fruit too, not just vegetables!

We’ve grown strawberries for the last couple of years, but we felt like they needed a bit of a refresh this year for a couple of reasons:

  1. The plants we had been growing were becoming less prolific and the runners we’d taken weren’t looking too great
  2. The plants we had been growing were given to us and the varieties were unknown. But what we found were that some tasted much better (or worse!) than others and so we wanted to try afresh with varieties that we hoped would all be tasty!

It turns out planting out strawberries is quite an operation! And who knew they were going to look like this when they arrived?!

We chose two varieties, Cambridge Favourite and Sonata. The former is an old favourite with very good reviews and the latter was described on Ken Muir’s as “sweet, large fruits with a very good flavour…” – how could we resist?!?!

First, we had to turnover the bed that we’d previously used to grow the strawberries. We started this with a rake, but to no avail. So then Dad lent us his Mantis tiller which did a fantastic job at breaking up the sticky clay soil. It was hard work though!

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We still had to rake it to level out the grow though. Although I think this may have been to Before we created two ridges to plant the strawberries on top of. The idea of this is to ensure that the strawberries (once they’ve grown) are not left laying in water as they ripen which may cause them to rot off.

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We then covered the ridges with weed suppressant. This is something else to help us both now and when the strawberries come along. Now, to stop the weeds taking over as the strawberries take hold, and later for the strawberries to rest on as they grow and ripen without them having to sit on the soil itself.

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After securing the weed suppressant, we planted one strawberry plant per hole in the seed suppressant and then watered these in well to settle the soil around each one. The left hand photo is the strawberry plants when we just planted them out, and the right hand plant is them two weeks later once they’ve started getting established.

Main sowing of potatoes

You may remember that we sowed some early potatoes back at the end of January. We are hoping to harvest these mid-late May, but in order to do so they have had to be grown on for most of their lives indoors to protect them from the cold weather and frosts.

However, we also wanted to grow some a bit later in the season, so planted Cara and Carolus last weekend. We haven’t grown either of these before, but they took our fancy in the garden centre a couple of months back!

We planted these up exactly the same as we did for the earlier planting, recapped below for ease of reference.

We mixed up some compost as follows:

  • 4 x 3 1/2 gallon buckets of medium grade peat
  • 10oz calcified seaweed
  • 16oz Q4

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We then filled each pot to a third full, and placed a tuber in each pot before filling to the top with the remaining compost.

Exactly as before, we thinned down the number of shoots left on each potato tuber before planting to one. The idea behind this is to cut down the number of roots and therefore get larger potatoes. We’ll see what happens when we turn them out in a couple of months’ time!

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You can just knock the shoots off if you prefer, but we find digging them out completely either with your fingernail or a penknife to work the best. Otherwise, you run the risk of the potato re-shooting where you just rub off the excess shoots.

Once planted up, we gave the pots a good watering and these have been placed outside.

2019 sowing planner

As promised, we have now put some suggested (hopeful!) dates to all the things we are looking to grow this year!

We have set this out below – so let’s see how closely we manage to stick to it!

Already sown/planted

  • Early Potatoes – Red Duke of York/Charlotte – 26/01/19
  • Chill pepper – Machu Picchu – 16/02/19
  • Romanesco – Navona – 17/02/19
  • Purple Cauliflower – Graffiti – 17/02/19

Still to come…!

  • Spring Onion – Guardsman – mid-March
  • Chard – Fantasia/Intense – mid-end March
  • Kohl Rabi – Purple Delicacy – end of March
  • Radish – Rougette (and other salad goodies!) – beginning of April
  • Sweetcorn – Earliking – mid-April
  • Maincrop potatoes – mid-April

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!

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