Tag: climbing bean

Our Allotment Year in Review: 2016/17 Edition

Plot #59 Update: July 2016
Plot #59 at the height of August 2016

A year has rolled on by since I posted the first Year in Review piece here on Notes From the Allotment, and a lot has changed down on Plot #59.

After three years of hard graft, we’ve finally reached the point where almost the entire plot has been transformed from a weed-choked, debris-strewn nightmare into a usable, cultivated growing space. There’s still one small area of midden-ground that I’ll be clearing later this year, and a problem section or two at the back. Once those are tackled though, Jo and I can draw a line under phase one (disaster response) and get on with the serious business of full-scale growing.

In the meantime though, here are the particular high-points and low-points of the last twelve months:

Legumes – Beans and Peas

Last year we grew a stupid amount of beans – we’re still eating through the freezer stocks of blanched pods, and have a couple of kilos of dried beans that we probably won’t get around to using, unless we get a lot more creative – and it was great.

As well as the traditional ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners and ‘Fasold’ climbing French, we tried a couple of new-to-us varieties, the best of which had to be the ‘Blackpod’ cultivar that we received through our Heritage Seed Library membership. Very tasty when young and still in the green, maturing into deep, burgundy pods filled with purple-black beans, they were a visual feast and a delicious accompaniment to many a pork chop.

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is just superb.

We also had a good year for broad beans, with Spring-grown ‘The Sutton’ and ‘Red Epicure’ providing us with a rainbow of colours. And the mangetout peas ‘Shiraz’ and ‘Golden Sweet’ grew like crazy up the pea-harp that we constructed for them, and provided us with fresh, sweet pods for weeks and weeks. We’ll be growing both varieties again this year, along with a couple from the Heritage Seed Library.

August 2016 broad beans
A selection of tasty broad beans – ‘Red Epicure’ and ‘The Sutton’

Cucurbits – Squash and Courgettes, and Corn

We had our best year yet for the Cucurbitaceae family, with a dozen courgette plants performing at their usual prolific rate and then a harvest of around a dozen good-sized, firm-fleshed and very tasty ‘Turk’s Turban’ squash to brighten up our autumn and winter dinner plates. (I think I might be getting the squash-growing bug, if the dozen varieties poised and ready in the seed-box are anything to go by.)

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo ahoy!

The sweetcorn performed well again last year. It seems to like the spot we grow it in – at the front of the plot, in full sun (when the sun is out) – and we ended up with another good haul of sweet, juicy cobs. This year we’re trying a heritage variety called ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’ which promises multi-coloured kernels. Sounds like good fun.

Alliums – Onions, Leeks, Garlic

Our over-wintered garlic did very well indeed. We harvested a good dozen or so large bulbs of ‘Elephant’ garlic around 30-40 of the ‘Extra Early Wight’ and ‘Carcassonne Wight’, although the latter’s bulbs were a little on the small side.

July 2016 elephant garlic
Properly dried and stored, these giant Elephant bulbs will last us well into next Spring.

A good year for onions, with around 80 of assorted sizes from the ‘Sturon’ sets that we started off in modules before planting out. They kept well in an old dresser drawer in the shed and had a good, strong-flavour to them. Same again this year.

The leeks went in rather late, at the tail-end of August rather than in June, so they didn’t get much growing done before winter set in. We’ve been happily harvesting every other one for the past few months though and they’ve been very enjoyable indeed. The last few dozen are starting to put on new growth now, thickening up a treat. We may even end up with some decent-sized specimens before we need to clear the patch for this year’s courgettes.

September 2016 leek patch
Lots and lots of lovely leeks.

Spuds and Toms

Alas, we suffered from a double-dose of potato disease last year. Our first earlies were hit by potato leaf-roll virus which killed off about half the plants, and then a rather vicious attack of early blight ripped through our allotment site back in late June and early July. That meant the haulms had to be removed before the tubers had reached their maximum potential, and cropping was affected as a result. We still managed to harvest a decent haul of ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and ‘Saxon’ but nothing like 2015/16’s enormous piles of tubers. This year I’m sticking to Saxon and crossing my fingers that we have a drier spring.

June 2016 potato blight
The last thing you want to see on your spud foliage…

Same story with the tomatoes, alas. We didn’t actually grow any down the plot, they were all in the back garden at home, where we’d hoped they’d be isolated from blight. But we must have brought some spores back with us from somewhere, because it took hold and destroyed the lot. We didn’t get so much as a single usable green tomato… one more try this year, and then we’ll have to decide whether they’re worth the inevitable disappointment.

Soft Fruit

It was another great year for blackcurrants, rhubarb (I know, technically a veg stem, but if it goes in a crumble it gets a mention here) and raspberries, with kilos and kilos of fruit filling up the freezer, or being turned into delicious jam. We also enjoyed our first really good crops of gooseberries and redcurrants. Our potted blueberries did okay, but they were re-potted earlier in the year, so we thought they might rest up and recover a bit.

July 2016 - berry harvest
How’s this for a berry selection? By no means the entire crop, either.

The real discovery though was the Japenese Wineberry. The fruit of this spiny, long-stemmed bush is small, bright red, and slightly tacky to the touch. When the berries are ripe they come away from the bush with the slightest encouragement and taste like slightly tart wine-gums. They don’t keep all that well, which means you have to eat ’em up quick – a terrible shame, that – but they’re great in a summer fruit salad. This year we’re going to try to increase our stock by layering in a couple of branches.

July 2016 - Japanese wineberries
These wineberries are something of a taste revelation – a lovely balance of sweet and sharp.

The one disappointment was our strawberry patch. We did have a reasonable crop back in June, but we lost a hell of a lot more to botrytis grey mould, which ripped through the tightly-packed plants in May and destroyed most of the early fruit. The plan this year is to thin out every other plant and then keep on top of trimming back foliage to increase ventilation. Then at the end of the year we’ll probably re-plant the whole section with brand new stock.

Roots etc.

Despite having big plans and high hopes for a carrot crop, the carrot fly managed to get in and ruin about 75% of what we grew last year. We did harvest a few small, stunted, but still quite tasty roots, but nothing worth shouting about:

We did have a pretty good year for roots of other types though: mooli and black radish, scorzonera and salsify all grew well and were tasty additions to our baked root veg dishes. We also tried root parsley, but it didn’t really get going. We’ll give that one more go this year on the off-chance we were just unlucky.

October 2016 root veg
Carrots, salsify, scorzonera and mooli.

Brassicas – Cabbage, Kale and More…

We went big on brassicas this past year, planting out four varieties of Brussels sprout, purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, calabrese, red cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, green kale, red kale, and walking stick kale.

The best performers were the cabbages, which grew strongly despite a late planting and we’re still finishing off the last few red and savoy. The worst were the romanesco, which bolted again, and Brussels sprouts, of which only one variety (Rubine) produced anything decent-sized enough to eat. We’ll try sprouts again this year, and get them in a bit earlier, see if that helps.

The walking stick kale was an interesting novelty, growing to around 6′ in height with huge leaves, but those leaves were pretty tough and leathery. They did cook down, if you fried them for long enough, but the flavour wasn’t so spectacular that we’d rush to grow them again. Not when smaller varieties of kale are generally tastier, and more manageable too. As for drying the stems to use as plant supports or even walking sticks, we’re giving one a go, but we’ll have to see how useful it turns out to be.

January 2017 Plot Planning #10
The Big Brassicas section – something of a disappointment, truth be told.

Experimentals

Last year we grew a few novelty items just for the fun of it. One of them was the aforementioned walking stick kale. Another was the electric daisy, and the third was an allegedly highly-edible Fuschia called ‘Berry’.

Electric daisies were kinda fun. The plants and flowers themselves aren’t much to write home about – straggly, thin stems with not much leaf and strange, lumpy daisy-type yellow flowers – but it’s the effect you get when you eat a flower that’s the point of growing them. It’s a bit like licking a 9 volt battery with a mouth full of popping candy. Not entirely unpleasant, unless you really hate the dentist-esque sensation of your mouth going steadily numb, but it wasn’t something that either of us were hugely enamoured with.

James Wong, who champions the variety via the Sutton’s Grow For Flavour range, suggests breaking up the flowers and sprinkling them into a lime jelly for a more gentle, fizzing sensation. But I don’t think we have time to make lime jellies from scratch. And really, we just grew them so we could see the look on Jo’s Dad’s face when we made him try one. That particular moment was well worth the time and effort.

The same can’t really be said, alas, for the Fuschia ‘Berry’, which you may have seen touted last year by Thompson & Morgan. We bought five plugs (they’re now selling them in packs of 10, but you probably won’t want or need that many) and four grew to a decent size.

The flowers were rather lovely, in shades of deep pinkish-red and purple. But the berries, although large, were… meh. Bland and tasteless, not very juicy, hardly anything to recommend them. It could be because they were grown in pots in the greenhouse, rather than the open air and rain, or it could be because the berries just aren’t all that nice. We’ll grow on any plants that have survived the winter, but for their flower display rather than their fruit.

Honourable Mention – Asparagus

We established and planted up the asparagus section of the plot in March and April last year. With no harvests for the first year or two – to give the crowns plenty of time to develop – we haven’t actually tasted any just yet. But we saw plenty of good, strong growth last year, and the first spears have just about broken ground this year, so things are looking good for next year’s first cropping.

September 2016 asparagus patch
Lots of leafy growth in October, just before we cut back for the winter.

The Floral Department

Our plan has always been for Plot #59 to be somewhere to grow an abundance of flowers as well as edibles. Mainly as a food-lure for pollinators, but also because they’re so gosh-darn pretty. Jo is in charge of the floral department and over the past year she’s sown and grown some absolute stunners.

I’ll just leave this gallery here for you to browse through…

Plans for 2017/18

As discussed back in January the aim for this year is to make the entire plot as productive as possible. There’s some infrastructure work to do – the central path will finally be laid, and a seating / hard-standing area at the back, hopefully – and of course the regular rounds of maintenance, watering and weeding. But at long last, the focus will be set firmly on growing and harvesting, rather than clearing and sorting.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop. Please feel free to drop in from time to time to see how we’re doing.

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New Seeds: Heritage Seed Library 2017

February 2017 Heritage Seed Library
This year’s selection plus a few from 2016 that still need sowing…

A couple of weeks ago, we took delivery of our annual selection of seed from Garden Organic‘s Heritage Seed Library club. The H.S.L. aims to maintain and distribute heritage, or non-commercially available varieties of vegetables and herbs, encouraging its members to save their own seed and keep these varieties going as long as they can. It’s a great way to get hold of either reliable croppers that for some reason are no longer in favour, or varieties that just aren’t available in the regular seed catalogues.

The seed-requesting process has changed since last year. There’s now an online order form for club members which lets you know which seed varieties are still available. This means you can ask for more of your first-choice varieties, if you’re quick enough. I left it until early January to put my order in and a fair few of the seeds I really liked the sound of had already been divvied-out. Next year I’ll be online within half an hour of the catalogue coming through.

Here’s what I opted for this year, including a bonus ‘lucky dip’ freebie that’s available as an optional extra:

  • Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) ‘Dinah’s Climbing Blue’
  • Lablab Bean(Dolichos lablab) ‘Ying’s’
  • Sweetcorn (Zea mays) ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’
  • Leek (Allium porrum) ‘Kelvedon King’
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Asparagus’
  • Pea (Pisum sativum) ‘Kent Blue’
  • Callaloo (Amaranthus spp.) ‘Bangladeshi Dhata’ (lucky dip)

I also have three packets of my 2016 selection that I didn’t get around to sowing last year:

  • Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Georgia Southern Collard’
  • Squash (Cucurbita maxima) ‘Zapallito de Toscana’
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa) ‘Kaskinauris’ (lucky dip)

Plus, I’ve signed up to be a ‘variety champion’ – with the aim of saving seed and sending stocks back to Garden Organic – for the following:

  • Dwarf French Bean (P. vulgaris) ‘Black Valentine’

And, because I had a problem with a couple of bean varieties that refused to germinate last year (‘Major Cook’s’ and ‘Peewit’ both completely failed to break dormancy, alas), Garden Organic very kindly sent me a replacement packet of ‘Peewit’ when I mentioned it to them, so I have those to go in as well.

As for the Heritage Seed Library crops I did sow last year, results were generally good. Leek ‘Walton Mammoth’ went in late and so hasn’t yet achieved its ‘Mammoth’ stature, but the young leeks we’ve been eating over winter have been very tasty indeed, with a good, strong flavour. Runner Bean ‘Blackpod’ was superb:

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is worth the ticket price alone.

Vigorous growth and a good, heavy cropper. You do have to catch the pods early, when they’re still mostly green, if you want to eat them sliced and steamed, otherwise once they start to darken to their beautiful deep purple colour, they’re a bit too tough. The dried beans store well and are very good in soups and stews. I’ve saved a few seed beans for this year as well, so I’m hoping for a repeat performance.

For more information on joining the Heritage Seed Library and helping to preserve these old varieties, see Garden Organic’s website.

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Now Sowing: Beans, Beans and More Beans

Beans!
Borlotti, fasold, cannellini.

2016 is apparently the International Year of Pulses, so I thought I’d mark the occasion by sowing and growing a quite ridiculous number of beans this year.

Actually, I really didn’t need any encouragement. I love growing beans. They’re easy to germinate, easy to grow on, largely take care of themselves as long as you see to their basic watering and nutrient requirements, they look great when they’re in full flower and they produce masses of edibles: fresh green pods for summer salads and side dishes, soft new beans in late summer and early autumn, then dried, haricot versions to liven up any winter stew. Pick the right variety and they’ll freeze beautifully as well. Honestly, what’s not to love?

This year I’m growing twelve (count ’em: twelve) varieties of bean (including the broad beans already hardening off in the cold frame…) and I’m aiming to have between four (new-to-me varieties, to see how they do) and twelve (reliable favourites) plants of each. I spent a good couple of hours on Monday preparing my planting tubes – recycled toilet roll inners have always done the job for me – and another good couple of hours yesterday sowing around 120 runner and French beans (always a good idea to have a couple of spares of each, in case some of them do fail to germinate) in tubes and small pots.

May 2015 soaking the beans
Don’t forget the labels – sometimes they can look pretty similar…

There’s not a huge amount to tell in terms of method. I did soak the beans overnight in tepid water prior to sowing; I understand that it’s optional, but I have experienced failed germinations before, and I do know that getting water into the bean is always the most important part of the germination process, so soaking occurred. Then it was just a case of 1) add bean to tube, 2) top up with compost, 3) drench in water (albeit gradually, to avoid washing the bean back out of the tube / pot) and 4) leave on a shelf in the greenhouse to get going.

May 2015 bean tubes
A mass-germination event in the making…

Here’s a full list of the varieties I’m trying this year, and where I sourced them from:

  1. Vicia faba (broad bean) ‘red epicure’ – Suttons
  2. V. faba ‘The Sutton’ – SowSeeds.co.uk
  3. Phaseolus coccineus (runner bean) ‘Scarlet Emperor’ – from my own stock of saved seed.
  4. P. coccineus ‘blackpod’ – Heritage Seed Library.
  5. P. coccineus ‘prizewinner’ – Mr Fothergill’s (free with Grow Your Own).
  6. Phaseolus vulgaris (French bean) ‘fasold’ (climber) – my own saved seed, originally from my Dad-in-law, Guru Glyn’s saved seed.
  7. P. vulgaris ‘cobra’ (climber) – Thompson & Morgan.
  8. P. vulgaris ‘Medwyn’s exhibition’ (climber) – saved seed from Guru Glyn.
  9. P. vulgaris ‘Major Cook’s bean’ (climber) – Heritage Seed Library.
  10. P. vulgaris ‘peewit’ (dwarf) – Heritage Seed Library.
  11. P. vulgaris ‘purple queen’ (dwarf) – Unwins.
  12. P. vulgaris ‘cannellini’ (dwarf) – Unwins.
  13. V. faba ‘aquadulce claudia’ – Thompson & Morgan (to be sown in late Summer / early Autumn for over-wintering).

Those three Heritage Seed Library entries are heirloom varieties, so you won’t find them in any commercial seed catalogues. I highly recommend getting hold of ‘fasold’ if you’re in the market for a climber that’s vigorous, prolific and produces very tasty pods that freeze well, and black beans that you can use in all sorts of dishes. ‘Scarlet Emperor’ is pretty ubiquitous, but a solid performer and my go-to runner bean (so far, at least). The others should be pretty easy to track down as well.

Next bean-related job (potting-on aside): putting up a whole lot of bean support frames down at Plot #59. And when harvest season rolls around, we might have to invest in a new chest freezer…

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