The do say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll briefly walk you through the above. From the top-left: a bag of apples and plums donated by a plot-neighbour; the last of this year’s maincrop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes, with three giant black radishes on top; (in the box) autumn raspberries and Japanese wineberries; this year’s onion harvest, cleaned and trimmed and ready for storage; the first of this year’s ‘turk’s turban’ squashes (we have another nine or ten at varying stages of size and ripeness); a few more courgettes and a smallish spaghetti squash (at least, I think it is…); another bag of fresh runner and French beans, plus an unruly head of bolted purple cauliflower / broccoli.
Not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves.
Coming soon: sweetcorn, which I’m leaving a little longer to enjoy this week’s forecast sunshine, and perhaps the first of the cabbages.
Summertime (down on Plot #59) and the harvests are mighty! Here’s what we’ve been picking for the last couple of weeks:
Our four varieties of courgette are all producing like crazy, as you can see from the above. Not a few of those ended up in this year’s batch of courgette and tomato chutney, now maturing nicely in the cupboard.
And all three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants have decided to throw off their mere ‘courgette’ appellation and make a bid for full ‘squash’ status:
I’ll leave those to mature and toughen up, before bringing them inside for curing into gem squash (at least, that’s what someone from South Africa told me the larger versions are called and who am I to argue?)
In other news, the (predicted to be) truly epic bean harvest has begun:
From left to right there, we have ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library runner bean variety), ‘Fasold’ French beans and good old ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners. Still to come: ‘Prizewinner’ runners, ‘Medwyn’s Exhibition’ French and maybe a few ‘Cobra’ French as well. Oh, and we had a few ‘Purple Queen’ French from the plants in the greenhouse (which I tried to blanche to keep their colour, but they turned dark green. I’ll steam the next batch instead.)
Further down the plot, the broad beans and peas have been doing very nicely indeed:
The ‘Shiraz’ (purple) and ‘Golden Sweet’ (yellow) peas grew like crazy while we were down in Kent and no-one was around to pick them. Luckily the latter variety more than lives up to its name, delicious as a crunchy mangetout and, as it turns out, equally sweet and tasty as a young pea, either raw from the pod or lightly steams. We’ll be growing those again next year.
Just next door, we’ve lifted this year’s elephant garlic crop:
I forgot to add a pound coin for scale so you’ll have to trust me when I say those bulbs are as big as my fist. I brought them home for drying in the shed – the recent heatwave will have helped with that – and as long as they’re stored well we’ll still be eating them in March next year.
We also lifted an initial batch of onions and the ones we left in the ground seem to have swelled nicely while we were away:
Meanwhile, over in the fruit patch, the strawberries might be over (and in desperate need of reorganising and thinning out) but we’ve enjoyed a good-sized crop of gooseberries:
And just this weekend, we picked a big bowlful of redcurrants, the vast majority of which I turned into redcurrant jelly.
Still to come: many more courgettes, beans and peas. The blackcurrants need picking; a dozen rows of potatoes need lifting, drying and storing; I need to check the carrots to see if any of them have escaped carrot-fly attack; cabbages and kale are going in at the moment (a little late, I know, but the weather was against us earlier in the year); and we need to re-check the seed packets to see what we can sow now for late Autumn and/or winter harvests.
Reqular readers with a long memory may recall that this year I’m attempting to grow a tromboncino squash or two with a view to entering the inaugural Suttons Cup competition. Just a bit of fun, like, and as it turns out, a rather useful comparative growing experiment as well.
There are two plants on the go, both grown from plugs sent by Suttons. One I’m growing at home, in a compost-filled air-pot container, which I’m feeding on a regular basis with a high Potassium solution. The other is planted in open ground down on Plot #59. Here’s how they were both doing recently:
A week or so ago, I took a couple of pics:
And then just yesterday, I snapped another:
Definitely a little longer and with more girth. Coming along nicely.
Tromboncino @Plot #59
Alas, I can’t say the same for the tromboncino that I planted in the ground down at the allotment:
Although the plant is in good soil and was given a compost boost when it went in, the weather has been poor – wind, rain, repeat – and the foliage has clearly suffered. Perhaps if conditions improve it might turn a corner, but so far, not so good…
Looks like all my hopes will be resting on the home-grown fruit(s). Judging by some of the pics posted to the Suttons Cup Facebook page mine are a little way behind at the moment. But the final judging date is September 30th, so it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Again though, just a bit of fun, I’m not taking this at all seriously. (No, Sir. Not at all.)
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.
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…
Almost the first thing we did when we moved into our new house last Summer (apart from put he kettle on) was to invest in the biggest greenhouse that we could sensibly fit into our new back garden. We hoped that the 8’x10′ we opted for would offer more than enough working and storage space to meet our needs. It really should have done, but thanks to these cold snaps that the weather keeps throwing at us, we’re rapoidly running out of room.
We’ve currently got about as much heavy duty plastic shelving crammed into the place as we can sensibly fit and pretty much every shelf is taken up with plants in various stages of development. They range from newly-sown seeds – I put in some peas at the weekend; sweetcorn, gherkins, squash and kale in the last couple of weeks, and Jo has been working hard on her flower selection – through to good-sized plants – the broad beans for instance, and the dahlia tubers – which are pretty much ready to go out onto the allotment. That is, they would be if it wasn’t too darn cold to risk trying to harden them off in the cold frame, and there wasn’t a very real danger of frost and snow showers damaging the tender young shoots if we did.
Here’s a small selection of what we’re currently juggling:
The forecast for the weekend is a bit more promising. If there’s no frost on the longer-range radar then we’ll start moving a few things out into the newly re-stained cold frame to begin hardening off, and all being well we can take them down to Plot #59 in a couple of weeks’ time.
(And please do feel free to sing the title of this post to the tune of the E-Street Band classic, chorus line, if you feel the urge…)
A few weeks ago I placed an order for a few packets of seeds from Suttons and ticked the box on the order form to receive two plug plants of Squash (Cucurbita pepo) ‘tromboncino’ (which, according to one online translator app means “spigot-type grenade launcher”… the mind boggles).
It was partly because I’m a sucker for free plants (who isn’t?) and partly because I fancied entering the inaugural Suttons Cup Competition to see who can grow the longest tromboncino fruit. Or at least, see how close I could get to something worth entering in the competition. It’s just a bit of fun, after all.
The plug plants arrived on Tuesday, neatly packaged up:
They both had good (only slightly nitrogen-deficient) leaves and a healthy (if slightly module-bound) root system. I’m assuming they’ve been grown in hothouse conditions to bring them on to this size in so small an amount of growing medium:
The first job was to tease out those roots and then plant the plugs in small pots with some fresh multi-purpose compost. A good watering with a liquid feed late, and they were onto a greenhouse shelf to recover from their postal ordeal and re-establish themselves.
In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll pot them on again into an intermediary container before working out where I’ll be keeping them in the long-term. Squash ‘tromboncino’ is a vigorous climber, so I’ll need to provide sturdy support. And given my relatively poor track record with squashes to-date, I’ll need to read up on suggested optimal growing conditions and general care / feeding instructions as well.
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.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve received five out of my six first-choice varieties, and one of my second-choice (more about the request process in my earlier post on joining the HSL), as well as a lucky dip packet (one that isn’t actually on this year’s seed list, rather mysteriously).
Here’s what I’ve been sent:
Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccinea) ‘Blackpod’
Climbing French Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) ‘Major Cook’s Bean’
Dwarf French Bean (P. vulgaris) ‘Peewit’
Kale (Brassica oleracea) ‘Georgia Southern Collard’
Leek (Allium ampeloprasum) ‘Walton Mammoth’
Squash (Cucurbita maxima) ‘Zapallito de Toscana’
Turnip (Brassica rapa) ‘Kaskinauris’ (lucky dip)
A bit of research on that turnip variety turns up Garden Organic’s Adopt a Veg site, with the following info:
“The name is thought to be a Finnish compound word, ‘Kaski’ meaning an area managed using ‘slash-and-burn’ cultivation (which ceased more than 100 years ago in Finland), and ‘nauris’, which is the Finnish word for turnip. This variety has a very sweet long root that keeps well even in winter. The flesh is white and firm with a sugary flavour.”
Sounds good, I’ll definitely give it a go and see what happens, although it might be this time next year before I’m harvesting the roots.
In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to sowing and growing everything else and will providing updates in due course. The leeks will be the first to be sown as they can be started off as early as last February or March, depending on the weather. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the beans and squash. I did well with beans last year but my squash-growing efforts didn’t turn out well at all, largely due to the poor summer we had, and a lack of time to look after the plants properly. Here’s hoping for better conditions this year.
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: