We got back to Plot #59 to find that weeds had sprung up everywhere (of course), Jo’s flowers were blooming (you should have seen the A-frame of sweet peas before we picked them…) and, most of our edible Allium crops were ready for harvesting.
June and July are the best months, depending on the weather, for lifting and drying the edible members of the Allium family – onions, garlic and shallots – before putting them into store for autumn and winter. This year we grew all three, and through a combination of plenty of sunshine, tempered with occasional bouts of rain, they’ve all done rather well.
This year we grew ‘Sturon’ from sets. I did sow some other varieties from seed back in January or February but they didn’t do too well, so I’ll have to try those again next year.
Unfortunately, our plot has a pretty endemic problem with onion white rot. The best advice is to not re-grow alliums anywhere that’s suffered white rot, but as that could be anywhere, for the past couple of years we’ve just planted anyhow and taken our chances.
Luckily around half of this year’s crop managed to escape infection. I laid them out for drying in old plastic bakers’ trays that I rescued from the skip earlier in the year:
The bulbs that have any sign of white rot have been temporarily quarantined out on the surface of the onion bed. When I have a bit more time at the weekend, I’ll clean each one up, removing any infected material, and then assess them for usefulness. If they’re edible then we’ll use them as soon as possible, otherwise they’ll go in the bin, rather than the compost heap.
Last year, Dad-in-Law Guru Glyn gave us half a dozen seed sets of two varieties of shallots. Of course, I can’t remember which varieties they are (I’ve emailed him to check.) Anyway, they grew rather well and divided nicely:
Each set has split into between four and ten new bulbs – plenty enough for a fair few portions to eat, with seed stock left over for next year:
Edit: Guru Glyn says: “On the left, ‘Hative de Niort’, on the right, ‘Jermor'”.
We’ve always had mixed results with garlic and this year was no exception. Back in October we planted three cultivars: Extra Early Wight, Red Duke Wight and Elephant Garlic, with two rows of the latter, one of seed cloves from The Garlic Farm and one of our own, plot-grown cloves.
Both the Extra Early and the Red Duke started developing allium rust back in May and by the end of June it had completely covered the plants, killing off the outer foliage, preventing photosynthesis and effectively halting the growth of the plants.
Luckily, the Extra Early has already developed decent-sized bulbs:
But the Red Duke was next-to-useless; small, barely-divided bulbs good enough only for chucking whole into winter stews, or saving to use in next year’s garlic spray.
The elephant garlic, interestingly enough, managed to avoid the rust problem completely. The outer foliage died back and dried up, as you’d expect, but there were no signs of the orange pustules that affected the other two, despite them being grown next door and so within easy infection distance.
The plants grown from the Garlic Farm seed stock germinated, grew, developed and went over much faster than those grown from our own cloves, even though those were originally grown from the previous year’s Garlic Farm seed stock. The environmental conditions are obviously very different in the Isle of Wight to North Manchester, which probably accounts for the disparity. So the Garlic Farm plants have been lifted and put to dry, whilst our own stock plants are still in the ground:
I’ll wait to lift the second row before I make a firm decision, but I think this year I’ll just re-plant from our own stock, rather than spend extra money on bought-in cloves, which do tend to be rather pricey.
How have you done with your edible Alliums? Do let us know, via the comments below, or on Twitter.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my very favourite jobs of Autumn is planting out next year’s garlic crop. For me, it marks the first step towards growing a whole new year’s worth of tasty food, even though this year’s are still very much in evidence and harvesting will continue for some time.
For the past few years I’ve bought my seed garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. It’s always good quality, well dried, and ordering it gives me a chance to grab a couple of bulbs of their fantastic smoked garlic (which is properly smoked; long enough for the cloves to change to a rich golden colour and a softer texture, rather than just colouring up the outer skin as is the case for most other “smoked” garlic I’ve found).
This year’s order arrived on Friday and so on Saturday, with the ground still warm from a week of early Autumn sunshine, I took the opportunity to get it in the ground. Planting in Autumn gives the young shoots time to develop before winter’s cold kicks in and holds back any further growth, and a sharp frost or two will help the cloves to divide and grow on into full bulbs.
Preparation involved re-raking a patch of ground that had previously grown this year’s ‘Saxon’ potatoes and been covered over since they were lifted. There wasn’t too much weed to deal with and no need to rake too far down; garlic is an Allium so its roots are shallow and well-spread, rather than deep. As long as the tilth is nicely crumbed, they should be just fine.
Here’s the garlic, ready for planting out:
I ordered three varieties this year: Extra Early Wight (Allium sativum) which grew very successfully this year, Red Duke Wight (Allium sativum) which is a new (to me) variety that I’m trialling, and firm favourite elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), which is supplied by the giant clove, rather than as a whole bulb.
Splitting the smaller bulbs into individual cloves yielded a total of 28 Red Duke and 36 Extra Early; if they all develop that will be a handsome harvest to keep us going through winter 2017/18.
And this is the planting arrangement, before they went in.
Row (A) is the Garlic Farm’s elephant garlic, the two rows (B) are Red Duke, then (C) is Extra Early and finally (D) is a row of cloves from our own elephant garlic harvest this year. I’ll be interested to see whether our own stock will perform any differently, given that they’re from plants that have grown and adapted to our local conditions and soil, rather than the very different temperatures and chemistry of the Isle of Wight.
The planting method was relatively simple: dib (or dig with a trowel for the elephant garlic) a hole around one and a half times the size of the clove, then sprinkle in a small amount of The Garlic Farm’s proprietary blend of garlic fertiliser (N-P-K 5-12-20 +3%MgO made with 100% of the K from Sulphate of Potash) before popping in the clove and covering over.
Once the shoots begin to show I’ll mulch over with leaf mould and then net the patch, just to keep inquisitive pigeons at bay. Garlic isn’t a crop that suffers much from slug-damage and although white rot and rust can be problems to watch out for in Spring and early Summer, it’s usually just a case of watering in prolonged dry spells, but otherwise letting it get on with growing. Wonderful stuff, garlic.
June was a quieter month than you might think, down on Plot #59, thanks to a combination of wet weather and exam revision. Nevertheless, Jo and I forged ahead as best we could and kept things moving on several fronts.
Projects / Maintenance
The ground was too wet for most of the month to allow any serious digging, but we have made a start on clearing the last properly overgrown section of the plot. More progress in next month’s update, all being well.
We found a spare patch of ground in-between the carrot bed and the pea harp, so we’ve sown a couple of rows of swede and a few of turnip for later in the year. The turnips have germinated well and need thinning, but the swedes are a bit sparse. We might have to re-sow to fill the gaps.
We finally managed to get the first batch of this year’s brassicas planted out and covered over with enviromesh. There are a dozen sprout plants of four different varieties under there, and next door I’ve planted out a few cauliflowers. They’re staked and well-spaced, and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on the watering and clearing dead foliage a lot quicker this year, so hopefully they won’t suffer from the same problems as last year’s plants – sooty mould and wind-rock mostly – and we’ll actually have a decent sprout harvest this winter.
A cauli or two would be nice as well, but it’s the first time we’ve grown them, so we’ll have to wait and see there. We’ve draped a loose net over the top of those to hopefully make the pigeons think twice, and have companion planted a few chives to hopefully keep the brassica pests at bay, but I suspect the diomandback moths have found them already. So it goes.
The courgettes that we planted out at the end of last month are doing really well. They seem to be doing well in their sheltered location, with a greenhouse to one side, and runner beans / potatoes providing wind-breaks on two others.
As per the latest Harvest Monday post the summer fruit and veg is starting to flood in. Strawberries, raspberries, broad beans, mangetout peas, Swiss chard, potatoes, carrot thinnings, courgettes and garlic are the main crops at the moment. We’re still getting rhubarb, too, with the crowns showing no signs of needing a rest just yet.
Lovely stuff, and lots more to come.
Jo’s flower beds are really coming into their own as well, with dahlias (an update post on those shortly), lavender, sunflowers, foxgloves, sweet peas, geraniums, lupins, toadflax, ox-eye daisies, marigolds, nasturtiums, tagetes, evening primrose and cornflowers all doing their bit to add splashes of colour and bring the pollinators to the plot.
Here are a few highlights, and I’ll see if I can persuade Jo to put together a floral-themed blog post at some point, too:
It’s all coming along rather nicely, and judging by the way things have already moved on and changed there’s lots more to come in next month’s round-up.
Summer is here! Although you wouldn’t know it to look at the weather records of late. But the crops are starting to come in down on Plot #59 and we’re beginning to enjoy a wider range of the fruits of our labour.
Here’s a quick photo-montage of the foodstuffs that we’ve been able to harvest recently:
Last year adverse weather conditions meant we harvested a total of three ripe strawberries. This year we’ve done much better, although the grey mould has ripped through the patch, so we’ve thrown away three times as many as we’ve picked, but it’s still a good result. A lot of these were a tad mushy, and so they went in to a batch of mixed fruit jam. The rest went into us, with a dollop of natural yoghurt and a handful of early summer raspberries.
Having spotted blight patches in the second earlies and lifted a plant to make sure we had tubers to rescue, it would of course have been daft not to enjoy the spuds. Many, many more to come, all being well. Those radishes are called ‘China rose’ and are probably a bit bigger than ideal, but have a good, peppery kick.
Our summer veg is in full swing now, with broad beans, Swiss chard, peas and the inevitable courgette glut kicking in. I’ve been thinning our < a href="http://allotmentnotes.com/2016/04/24/we-need-to-talk-about-carrots/">carrot patch and we’re eating any thinnings big enough to crunch in a salad or chuck in a stir-fry. And having lifted garlic t’other week and saved a few bulbs from allium white rot, we had some green garlic to cook with as well.
All of which went into…
…our first allotment medley stir-fry of the year. That was our Sunday dinner, along with a few sausages, those new potatoes and steamed chard leaves – delicious! And of course there was far too much there for just two of us, which meant allotment bubble-and-squeak for my lunch today – bonus!
Last week I decided to lift the bulk of this year’s garlic crop. It’s technically a little early – according to a recent email from The Garlic Farm, at least – but as you can see below, one variety was quite badly hit with allium rust and I’d spotted signs of onion white rot in another, so I didn’t see much point in leaving it in the ground to get worse.
Here’s the state of the crop before harvesting:
All seed garlic was bought from The Garlic Farm and planted out last September so it could over-winter.
1. ‘Extra Early Wight’ – a softneck variety that’s suitable for harvesting a little earlier than most.
2. ‘Elephant Garlic’ – a definite favourite, performed wonderfully well last year, cloves lasted for months and months.
3. ‘Carcasonne Wight’ – a hardneck variety that was supposed to be able to support flowers, and would have done if we hadn’t eaten the scapes…
I started with the ‘Carcasonne Wight’ and as I’d feared, more than half of it was infected with allium white rot, a nasty fungal infection that damages the stems and bulbs, reducing vigour and rendering cloves inedible:
I cleaned up what I could, saving a few half-bulbs for immediate use, and set the rest for drying:
Next to come out, the ‘Extra Early Wight’. Much better results from that one, only one bulb showed any signs of white rot, and that was cleanable and usable. The rest were quite badly affected with allium rust – a fungal infection that usually only affects the outer layers of the leaves and stems, so doesn’t damage the bulb – but once they were cleaned and trimmed I had three dozen bulbs to set out for drying in the greenhouse:
I’ve left the elephant garlic in the ground for now, but I might be tempted to lift that at the weekend, rather than risk any white rot creeping in. It’s such a great crop – flavourful without being too overpoweringly garlicky, and the cloves last for months if properly stored – that it would be a shame to lose any of it just for the sake of hoping for a few extra grams of weight.
I’ll be placing this year’s seed order with The Garlic Farm before too long. ‘Elephant’ and ‘Extra Early Wight’ are both definites, but I won’t be growing ‘Carcasonne Wight’ again.
Phew! That’s the exams done and dusted. Until I start the next RHS Level Two course in September and sit the next set of exams in February 2017, that is.
My pre-exam weekend was spent down the allotment, on the grounds that I’d already crammed about as much into my head as was going to fit, so a bit of fresh air and exercise was likely to do me more good. Here’s what the place was looking like:
It’s starting to look a lot like Summer. My next few Harvest Monday posts should be a bit more interesting and varied, too.
It’s been a while since I posted a Harvest Monday piece, mainly because about all we were harvesting from Plot #59 from February through until early May was the last of last year’s leeks. But finally, I have something new to report.
As seasonal delicacies go, you can’t get much more seasonal than garlic scapes. In case you’re unfamiliar, they’re the flower stems and heads of garlic plants. The spell of hot weather recently has encouraged our garlic crop to bolt and set flower. That diverts energy from bulb development though, so it’s generally a good idea to remove the flower stems before the flowers open. Unless, of course, you want the flowers to open and feed the bees for a while, in which case feel free to leave them, but your garlic bulbs will be smaller as a result.
Anyhow, I’ve de-scaped our softneck garlic, chopped it into 5cm or so lengths and we’ve been eating garlic-butter sautéed asparagus with the past couple of evenings’ salads (and we’ve still got the elephant garlic scapes to come, too). They’re absolutely delicious. Once they’re cooked, the scapes’ garlic flavour is noticeable but quite mild. I did try nibbling on a raw piece and I have to say I can’t recommend it as a salad vegetable, unless you’re a fan of very strongly concentrated garlic flavour.
If you’ve got a garlic crop coming along and don’t want it to flower, then do trim off the scapes and give them a try.
Well, actually, we’ve been picking rhubarb since early May (as I mentioned in my May update). And so much rhubarb, too! The warm, wet spell in mid-May sent our eight crowns into overdrive and we ended up with masses of stems. Here’s the first harvest:
The stalks we’ve harvested have only gotten longer and thicker since then. We’ve mostly stewed it and enjoyed it with custard (as you do) or in a crumble, with custard (as you really oughtta). Some has been frozen for later in the year, some has been given away, lots more is still to come.
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…)
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.