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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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.

Strawberry progress

Having checked on the strawberry runners we potted up a couple of weeks ago, each of these have now rooted into their pot. Therefore, it was time to cut them loose from the parent plant so they can form their own plant.

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These will just be kept watered now until they have formed their own strong plant. They will then die back over the winter and grow back next Spring to be planted out for next year’s strawberries.

Starting to think about next year already!

Now that the strawberries have stopped producing fruits, it is time to think about planning for next year’s crop. This doesn’t take much thinking about, as the plants do this all by themselves, by starting to throw “runners”. These are elongated stems which grow leaves and roots out periodically with the aim of finding some nice soil to anchor themselves in and produce more plants next season.

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To ensure the strawberry bed is kept in an orderly fashion, we pot the runners up rather than letting them root wherever takes their fancy. First, we filled several 3″ pots with a little bit of soil to give the pots some weight.

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Then we filled the pots to the top with some multipurpose compost.

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Lastly, we identified the runners we wanted to pot up, and pushed their root nodules into the surface of the compost, holding them down with a U-shape of plastic coated wire.

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The job was finished off by giving each pot a good watering to settle the runner in. We will keep watering them regularly now until the runners start to root.

 

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