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!

Container courgettes

We were so pleased with how our Midnight courgettes grew last year in containers that we wanted to give them a try again this year.

We did quite a late sowing, as there were already some that Dad had grown in the garden during the first part of the season, so we wanted some that would hopefully follow on in succession.

We sowed the seeds like we do most seeds, in a 1/4 seed tray filled with moistened Seed and Modular compost. The seeds are sown on their sides (as hopefully you can see from the photo). This is because the root and first leaf come from either end, so sowing them on their side gives them the easiest route down into the soil (in the case of the root) or up into the air (for the first leaf).

Once sown, each seed was covered with a sprinkling of vermiculite.

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A week or so later, they had germinated and so we pricked them out into multipurpose compost in 3 inch pots! They stayed in these until they were planted out into their final pots.

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And a couple of weeks later they were planted out into 20 litre tubs. As they’ve got established, we’ve now given each courgette a stake (as we do with the ones we have planted out in the garden), and we will train each plant up these so that we don’t use up too much space.

The only thing with the container courgettes is that they need A LOT of water otherwise the compost dries out. Therefore, we always make sure to give them water every morning (and sometimes at night if it’s been a really warm day!) to make sure the compost doesn’t dry out.

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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!

Super sweetcorn

We also wanted to try growing sweetcorn this year. Firstly, we wanted to grow the coloured sweetcorn, but turned out this is only ornamental, and we’re all about things we can eat, so traditional yellow sweetcorn it was!

We decided on a variety called Earliking, which was supposed to be a really sweet variety. So we thought we’d give them a try. We sowed one seed in cell trays that were about 1″ x 2″. Sweetcorn seeds are an interesting one. They are one of the biggest seeds we’ve probably seen, and also are exactly like the dried up corns we know and love.

We sowed these on the Easter weekend, and they were ready to plant out today.

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We planted them 6-8″ apart in a square. We added our few plants to the square Dad had already started to give them the best chance.

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It’s important to plant sweetcorn in a square to try and ensure you get sweetcorns! This is because in order to produce the sweetcorn cobs, the plants need to be pollinated. This is achieved when the “tassels” appear, which need to sway in the wind and pollinate one another. Without this, no sweetcorn cobs will be produced. As you can’t guarantee which way the wind will blow when the pollination needs to happen, planting out in a square block is the safest.

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After planting, we watered the plants in to settle the soil around them.

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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Somewhere over the…Rainbow Chard

We sowed our Fantasia and Intense rainbow chard on 24 March. One is orange, and one is red, so we’re hoping to grow a nice colourful crop with these!

We sowed one seed per cell in Seed and Modular compost, pushing each seed gently into the compost. We then covered these with vermiculite, a sheet of glass and some newspaper until they germinated.

After a couple of weeks, they had mostly germinated and were large enough to transplant. We potted them up into 3″ pots in multipurpose compost.

And now, another couple of weeks on – they look like this!

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These will be ready to plant out soon. So we’ll keep you updated on progress!

Charisma carrots

As we’ve mentioned before, we are members of the National Vegetable Society (“NVS”). Being a member of the NVS has lots of benefits, including:

  • Quarterly magazine which includes lots of growing hints and tips
  • An online forum where members can pose questions and share their growing experiences
  • Access to local District Association meetings where you can meet liked minded people and share your experiences
  • Access to NVS shows where you can exhibit vegetables (if that takes your fancy!)
  • A few free packets of seeds each year

And all for just £20 a year (for an individual membership!)

The NVS has a number of affiliations with gardening organisations, one of these being Marshall’s Seeds. This year, Marshall’s are sponsoring a class at the NVS branch and National shows  a dish of three Charisma carrots. These are supposed to be a super-sturdy late maincrop Chantenay carrot. I’m not sure whether we’ll get any on to the show bench, but we wanted to give them a go anyway!

We wanted to give the carrots as much space as possible to grow down, so we decided to sow them in these recycled paint buckets that were lying around! They’re about 2 foot tall. The buckets were filled with multipurpose compost and then lightly watered to moisten the compost and settle it where the seeds were to be sown.

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We then made seven small holes in the top of the compost and placed 3 seeds in each hole.

You may think it’s a bit of a waste of seed to put three in each hole when you only intend to grow one carrot on to maturity in each, but when you may be looking to exhibit them, you don’t want any “misses”, i.e. when none of the three seeds in the hole grow so you’ve wasted that one. It also means that once they germinated and started growing, you can thin them down to one, leaving the strongest seedling to grow on to maturity.

When sowing, the seeds are placed around the hole away from one another. This means that in the event that all three seeds germinate, when you come to thin them down to one, you don’t disturb the roots of the others. Like we said before, carrots can be a bit fussy if they feel like they’ve been disturbed, and the last thing you want is a wonky carrot to put on the show bench!

After sowing, we covered the seeds with some fine Seed and Modular compost, firming this gently so there were no air pockets left in the hole.

Carrots take a couple of weeks to germinate, so we’ll update you shortly! In the meantime, we will keep the compost damp so that the seeds don’t dry out as they germinate.

And two weeks on, they’ve started to germinate! It looks like most of them are coming!

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!

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