May was a manic month down on Plot #59, and no mistake. My plate is particularly full at the moment with revision for my RHS Level 2 exams in mid June, so please do excuse me if I whizz through this month’s update.
Not a lot happened this month on the sowing front, just five varieties of cabbage in a multi-module in the greenhouse. They all germinated with at least 90% success, so after thinning I should have around 100 cabbages to pot up in due course. I had a small selection of other seeds that I wanted to sow this month, but time hasn’t been on my side. I’ll have to get them in soon though, or they’ll run out of growing season.
The courgette patch that I started planting out a couple of weeks ago is now full:
Four varieties of courgette there: ‘Tondo di Piacenza’, ‘Soleil F1’, ‘Midnight F1’ and ‘Zucchini’. The companion plants are four Swiss chard and three Tagetes, for a splash of colour amidst the eventual sea of green foliage.
Next door to the courgettes, I’ve set up and planted out the first two climbing bean A-frames:
They’re both runner beans: ‘Prizewinner’ and ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library variety, and the only one of three varieties I had from them this year that’s actually germinated, alas). I’ve got three more A-frames and a few wigwams still to go for the rest of this year’s beans.
Meanwhile, Jo has planted out her sunflowers around two edges of the three sisters section, set sweet peas to scramble up their black bamboo obelisks and provided a tray or two of nasturtiums to accompany the climbing beans, broad beans and peas. All for the good of pollinators, who are always welcome on our plot.
All good so far. A lot more to be planted out in June.
Rhubarb! We’ve got so much rhubarb from our eight crowns this year.
We’re stuffed to the gills with stewed rhubarb (and sometimes custard) and are rapidly running out of freezer room. We’re giving away as much of it as we can, but it just keeps growing. Send help… and jam recipes!
Also, lots of lovely fresh salad leaves and pea shoots from the trays in the greenhouse.
The asparagus bed seems to be coming along nicely. All but one of the crowns have sent up one or two thin, spindly shoots. As it’s just year one, we’ve left them to do their thing; which seems to be branching, setting flower buds and (rather unfortunately) blowing over in the wind. Ah well, as long as the root system is developing under the surface they should be a lot stronger next year.
The raised carrot and root beds are showing strong signs of life, albeit in a slightly irregular pattern in the carrot section:
There was a lot of annual weed in the soil I used for the beds as well, so I’ve been in and hand-cleared between and among the rows a couple of times.
I posted a few shots of our fruit bushes in flower and I’m glad to say that they’ve been visited by the bees and pushing on to set fruit:
There are signs of fruit-set on the blackcurrants, whitecurrants and the mystery fruit trees at the front of the plot as well.
Elsewhere, the broad beans are in flower, the onions seems to be bulbing up nicely, the garlic is producing scapes (very tasty) and the dahlias are just starting to hint at one or two flower buds opening. And the potatoes are doing well; I think just about all of the seed spuds I planted have sprouted, with maybe one or two exceptions. I’ve earthed them up once, but with not much risk of a frost now, I’m going to leave them to do their thing and hope for the best.
It’s all hugely exciting. Can’t wait to see what June brings (endless hours of revision aside…)
After a busy few plot sessions I’m pleased to say that Jo and I have made some good progress. Here’s a quick picture round-up:
Peas and Swiss Chard
The pea frame that we constructed last week has now been populated with a ten-pack of ‘Golden Sweet’ and another of ‘Shiraz’; both mangetout varieties. We’ve put four of our Swiss Chard ‘five colours’ plants in at the end of the row as well:
Courgettes (and more Chard)
We’re growing our courgette plants at the far end of the plot this year. A dozen plants will be going in eventually, the first to be ready are three each of ‘Soleil F1’ and firm favourite ‘Tondo di Piacenza’, which I’ve planted motte-and-bailey style, on small mounds surrounded by a water-catching reservoir. A couple more Swiss Chard have been planted as well; they should look good growing up through the courgette plants. Assuming the slugs don’t get ’em first, that is. We’ve put in a beer trap and scattered organic pellets to hopefully deal with them.
I also found time to prep this year’s three sisters patch. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a companion-planting scheme of Native American origin, involving beans, sweetcorn and squash. The corn provides a climbing frame for the beans to scramble up whilst the squash foliage shades the ground and keeps weeds at bay.
That’s in theory, anyhow. Didn’t work too well last year – the squash foliage went berserk and the dwarf beans I planted were swamped, although the sweetcorn did rather well – but hopefully this year it’ll have better results. Not much to see so far, just six large and well-manured mounds of soil, awaiting planting at the weekend, time and weather allowing.
Oh, and I weeded between the potato ridges. Actual progress, coming along nicely.
May is a pretty mad month in the greenhouse as the seedling shuffle continues apace. Last month’s sown seeds are shooting like crazy. More new seedlings need to be pricked out and potted up daily. And larger plantlets are outgrowing their starter pots and being potted on at a rate of knots. I’m loving every minute of it.
In lieu of time to describe everything in detail, here’s a quick photo gallery to convey the general impression:
What’s giving you particular joy in the greenhouse at the moment? Let me know via the comments…
January is the traditional time to post a year-in-review piece, but for me, the start of the sowing and growing season – with the last of the previous year’s over-wintered veg crops being harvested or cleared away and the first of this year’s plants being sown and planted out – seems a good time to think back on what went well and what wasn’t such a success.
Last year was an odd one: we moved house (eventually) at the end of July, which meant that from March through to October – almost the entire growing season – we were doing a lot more sorting, skipping, packing, moving, unpacking, redecorating and recovering than we’re (hopefully) likely to have to do again for a very long time.
Nevertheless, we still managed a pretty good all-round showing.
Last year we deliberately grew far too many potatoes in order to help condition and turn over a massive, newly-cleared section of the plot; almost an entire quarter of the total space. Our ‘swift’ first earlies were great, as were the ‘saxon’ second earlies – which we actually harvested as main-crop and turned out to be an excellent all-rounder – and ‘pink fir apple’ main-crop. We had so many of these latter two varieties that we were still eating them well into February, until they started shooting like crazy and depleted their starch stores.
Not so Good
Our fourth variety was ‘Golden Wonder’ which grew reasonably well, albeit with smaller yields than the other three, but turned out to be less useful from a culinary point-of-view. Their extreme starchiness meant they were okay as roasties or oven-baked wedges, if you didn’t mind the uber-crunchy exterior and quite dry interior, but rather useless for anything else; you just have to wave them in the general direction of a pot of boiling water and they start to dissolve, so you can’t even par-boil them. I even tried making crisps with them… frankly, not worth the effort. Ah, well.
We had a pretty decent harvest of regular garlic, the elephant garlic was excellent (double the amount is already planted out and growing on for this year), our ‘Musselburgh’ leeks grew well – they’re still going strong and are very tasty with it – and the brown onion ‘sturon’ sets, that one of the old boys donated from his surplus, did well.
I love beans. I love growing them, harvesting them, cooking with them and eating them. Last year we grew broad beans in Spring and then runner beans (scarlet emperor), climbing French beans (borlotti and fasold) and dwarf beans (cannelini) in Summer. All of them did very well indeed and we managed to fill a freezer tray with pods and a couple of tubs with dried beans for the winter.
Not so Good
The one failure was the variety I tried to grow as part of my ‘three sisters’ (squash / sweetcorn / beans) companion planting section. Not wanting to plant anything too vigorous, I went for a dwarfing purple variety, which were almost totally swamped by the masses of squash foliage that I didn’t have time to control. This year: a climber, and more pruning.
Around a quarter of our plot is planted up with soft fruit bushes and rhubarb, many of which were newly-transplanted from home or elsewhere on the plot at the end of year one, so we weren’t expecting anything amazing in their first full year. We were surprised and delighted though by bumper crops of blackcurrants, raspberries and rhubarb, all of which featured heavily in my jam-making. We also had an excellent blueberry harvest from our two potted bushes in the back garden. No jam there though, they barely made it inside the house. Our gooseberries and redcurrants were less impressive but still put in a good effort; the bushes should do better this year. Still to perform (hopefully this year): whitecurrants, Japanese wineberry and loganberry.
Not so Good
It was an awful year for our strawberries. The previous November we planted up three ridges, with a dozen plants on each, and looked forward to the glut to follow. What happened instead was a red-hot April that forced early blossom, followed by a cold, wet May which killed it all off again before it could be pollinated. Net result: three fruits. Not three kilos, or even three fruiting plants. Just three lonely little fruits. Here’s hoping for better growing conditions this year.
The three varieties of cabbage – all pointy-headed types – that we planted did very well and we enjoyed them immensely. Our kale was good as well and over-wintered nicely, until the pigeons worked out that the new shoots were ripe for raiding.
Not so Good
Our sprouts were a big disappointment: small, poorly formed buttons on spindly stems, barely a crop worth the name. I think I know where I went wrong: I kept them covered in enviromesh for too long, so they got a bit cramped as they were growing strongly over the summer. This year I’ll take the covers off sooner and plant them a bit further apart, too, to give them more room to stretch out. Because we couldn’t keep on top of the watering, our Romanesco broccoli bolted. It was still tasty as shoots/spears, but we didn’t get the tight, fractal-pattern heads. We’ll have another go this year and see what happens. And our purple sprouting broccoli was annihilated by the same pigeons (we assume) that did for the kale, back in February.
Cucurbits and Corn
Courgettes! So many lovely courgettes. We grew four varieties and they all did extremely well; we were eating them from late Spring right through to mid Autumn. A superb crop, they pretty much take care of themselves and will keep on producing until the frosts start to bite. Highly recommended. Our sweetcorn did rather well, too. It was the first year that I’d grown it properly so wasn’t sure what to expect. When we ended up harvesting around two-dozen good-sized cobs from a dozen plants I was rather pleased. More of the same this year, I reckon.
Not so Good
The ‘sweet dumpling’ squashes that we planted in the three sisters section didn’t work at all well. Again, it was down to a lack of time to keep on top of the masses of foliage that the vines produce; I didn’t cut them back soon enough or hard enough and they sprawled massively as a result, causing damp, humid conditions that rotted the fruits on the vine. More care and attention needed this year.
We didn’t do all that much on the roots front, except to sow a few rows in a spare patch of ground just to see what happened. As it turned out, the parsnips and salsify did rather well, with the latter a very tasty revelation. We still have the last few parsnips in the ground; they’ll be coming up shortly.
Not so Good
Carrots. Ugh. They didn’t do at all well, we got nothing at all from the row I sowed. But then I didn’t do much soil preparation and didn’t take any precautions against carrot-fly. More and better of both this year. The celeriac was poor as well; sprouted greens but failed to set roots. I’ll have to read up on that one. Likewise, the celery plants that our next-door plot neighbour donated did nowt worth mentioning. To be fair though, I don’t know if they were a trenching or self-blanching variety, so just chucking them in and hoping probably wasn’t the best strategy.
Salads, Misc. Others, etc.
We didn’t grow our usual trays of greenhouse salad leaves last year, due to the uncertainty of the move, but what we did have made a fresh, tasty change from supermarket lettuce. I didn’t go in for peas much either – I usually do pea shoots at home for salads and mange tout in tubs, as well as down the greenhouse – but those will feature more heavily again this year. No exotic or unusual fruit or veg last year (same reason as before), the chillis were a bit of a failure (I blame the wet summer) and the three bush tomatoes that I chucked in at the allotment didn’t do much (except sprawl through the courgette patch and make a nuisance of themselves) before getting blight-struck. So it goes.
This Year’s Changes
Fewer spuds, more elephant garlic and onions, hopefully a better fruit harvest, more (and better spaced) brassicas, even more beans, a new asparagus patch, improved squash-foilage control, more salads, greenhouse and outdoor tomatoes, plenty of chillis, a few exotics, an actual carrot harvest (hopefully), and all sorts of other stuff.
Courgettes are one of my very favourite allotment crops. When the weather conditions are right they grow like crazy and they’re very versatile in the kitchen, too. I’m sure everyone who’s grown courgettes will be familiar with the phenomenon of turning your back on a not-quite-ready fruit or two for a couple of days, only to find that you’ve now got a decent crop of marrows. I certainly am; last year I even discovered one foot-long specimen lurking beneath a couple of leaves that I hadn’t checked under for a week or so.
But what I wasn’t expecting was a courgette that turned into… well, this:
This one started life as a Courgette Tondo di Piacenza which (as you can see from the pic on the Mr Fothergill’s site via that link) is a round, dark green variety. I grew three Tondo di Piacenza plants last year, alongside nine others of different types, and the yield across the dozen plants was extremely good. So good that when one of the TdPs, towards the end of the season, produced a fruit that was rapidly swelling through crown-green-wood towards regulation F.A. football size, I decided to leave it on the plant, if only to stop that particular one from producing. When I cleared the patch at the end of the season, I picked my still-green, giant courgette and stuck it on the veg rack in the kitchen.
Three months later, it had matured and cured to the rather fetching shade of mottled orange that you see above. Last night (with a tomato and pepper stew with baked eggs due to go into the oven) I was curious enough to wonder what it was like inside…
That’s definitely a pumpkin, or a squash of some kind. Of course, it’s not exactly a shocking development, as courgettes, marrows, squash and pumpkins are all members of the cucurbita (gourd) family. What was a surprise, and a very pleasant one, was just how tasty it was when oven-roasted in a little olive oil with plenty of seasoning. I’ve tried roasted or baked pumpkin and marrow before now and found them a bit bland – although of course that’s most likely down to the supermarket varieties I was cooking – but my out-sized Tondo di Piacenza was very good indeed: quite sweet with a delicious, nutty flavour and very more-ish. No photo, I’m afraid. Jo and I scoffed the lot before I could think to take one.
I’ll definitely be growing the Tondo again this year and I think when the season comes to an end I’ll try to keep one fruit per plant and let them grow to football-size. They clearly store well and they definitely taste good. What’s not to like?
Edit, 16:00 hrs Via this Tweet from South Africa, a likely i.d. for the mystery squash: