Trials and Tribulations in the Vegetable Patch

Mid-August, and time for reflection. This year was to be the year of the garden, and I was going to give it all a momentous amount of effort, and become something of a Grow Your Own Queen. Then the weather stepped in, and it all went wrong! Here are my midpoint thoughts on my successes, and not successes, in my vegetable growing endeavours. I will make an additional post about flowers, which was the big focus of this year.

Successes

I must have had about sixty tomato plants at one point. I grew three varieties – Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Alicante. I sold as many surplus as I could, at the Society stall or at my drive end, and potted the rest up. I have a mix in tall pots at home, under the cover of the summer house, and the rest in grow bags in the greenhouse. Those in the greenhouse have a fair bit of fruit on and are ripening quite quickly now. The ones outside the summer house are a little behind, with being outside, but a couple of fruit are reddening, so that’s all exciting.

I was given a few small pumpkin plants from the stall and after giving a couple to my friend, the rest I planted out just in my borders. Most are throwing up plenty of male flowers, however one plant has got a big pumpkin growing on him, so I will have to take a lot of care of him.

Beetroots have done well in the raised beds, as they usually do, and Mum sowed some radishes as well. To be honest I think something on the scale of armageddon needs to happen for radishes to not grow! I’ve had a bumper crop of lettuces, too. I sowed All the Year Round for green and Edox for red. I have some small plants that want planting out asap at home somewhere, though I’m not sure how to keep them out of the way of trampling paws.

Things To Learn From

I was going to call this section ‘Failures’ but nothing is a failure if you can take something from it. I had loads and loads of brassicas all growing nicely in the other raised bed at my mum and dad’s. I netted them, put cabbage collars round them, and kept an eye out for little pests. Then the drought happened. The plants are in direct sunlight all day, in a crowded space. I got broccolis and cauliflowers, but they never got any bigger than a fifty pence piece, and then started flowering. Then the caterpillars moved in, and overnight everything was decimated. So I’ve given up on that crop entirely. I had several problems, the main one being space. I sowed lots and lots of seeds, thinking nothing would come up, and all of them did. Suddenly I had all these tiny little plants and nowhere to put them. I thinned them out, but I wasn’t hard enough. I should have reduced them to two plants of each variety and left it at that. Then I could have paid them more attention and I think we would have been on to a winner. So I have learned, and will try again.

I sowed a rake of seeds in the other raised bed: carrots, parsnips, onions, beetroot, and even some flowers, cornflower and cosmos. A few carrots came up, and then one morning I went for a look and they’d all been dug up! My parents live on a very sandy farm which prior to us moving in, had become rabbit nirvana. My mum has six cats and even with them catching a couple of rabbits between them a day, the place is overrun. But I don’t think that is the principle issue here. The main problem I have is poor soil. I sowed a variety of onion/shallot hybrid seeds, and got zilch. Nada. Not a peep. I got one parsnip, who granted is putting on a valiant display. The cornflowers and cosmos were a bit patchy, though they have started putting in a late show, so all is not lost. I’m also never sure about growing onions from seed, and so have ordered a mix of sets from Dobies to try again.

I sowed courgette and butternut squashes one day, and realised I had sown more seeds than I had labels for. I grouped them together, kept them at separate ends of the windowsill, and then one day the chaos fairy must have come and muddled them all back up again. It made very little difference, as all the courgettes bar two rotted in their pots. I saved one piddly plant at home, popped it in a grow bag expecting nothing but disappointment, and I have one, albeit curved, courgette growing. But I won’t use that variety again. And while I have five butternut squash plants taking over the entire garden, I thought I had yet to see any fruit – until today, when I spied a small but very definite squash coming!

 

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Plant Stall & May Update

It’s been a busy May and I’m pleased with how most things are progressing.

One thing I am especially proud of happened towards the end of the month. On the second bank holiday weekend, the Horticultural Society hold a plant stall in Pickering Market Place, where members are welcome to sell their surplus plants. I took with me my abundance of tomatoes, plus courgettes, cucumbers and butternut squashes, all which had only that week begun to sprout so were very young. The society took half of the proceeds and we got to keep half, so I sold £25 worth of product, which meant I came home with a grand total of £12.50. It might not sound much, but I was very proud.

I brought home a lot of stock, so since our hens are on holiday at the moment, I made a new sign for the bathroom counter at the end of the drive and have started selling my extra tomato plants. On the first day I was so pleased to find a crisp £5 note waiting for me. Now I need to see what else I don’t need that somebody else might be able to make use of.

Elsewhere, things seem to be growing. In the brassica bed, in an attempt to thwart the continuous threat of cabbage root fly, we covered it with a tight mesh weighted down with bricks and tent pegs. I have some nasturtiums which I have heard the caterpillars love munching on so they might end up being sacrificed for the sake of my vegetables. But the mesh – more of a fleece than the enviromesh stuff – has in fact created a little micro-climate and everything has suddenly shot up unexpectedly, broccolis to salad and lettuce leaves. I had to thin out my seedlings, and have pricked out a few stronger ones into trays. If they do alright they might go at the end of the drive.

The other bed was looking a bit sorry, so in an attempt to replicate my (so far) successes with the brassica bed, I put more mesh on that side. We will see if it helps. In here I have carrots, parsnips, onions, beetroot, spring onions, radishes and a row of flowers. Some things are germinating quickly and others not so much. After a bright start to the month, with persistent sunshine, the last week or so have been a bit muggy and there hasn’t been much consistent sun. I’m hoping the mesh will act as a little mini greenhouse.

In the actual greenhouse I have growbags with tomatoes and cucumbers in, plus plants in pots for growing on a bit. My avocado that I grew from a Pinterest tutorial has new shoots this year, which is very exciting, however I do think the bad winter finished my pomegranate off, which is very sad.

We realised we are missing runner and green beans, so I think I will just buy plants from a garden centre and plant them in bags with sticks to climb up. I also realised, whilst thinning out my brassicas, that what I thought were green cabbages are in fact green calabrese, and I have no cabbages. So I will see if I can grow some for later on in the year.

How is your growing going?

Wisteria Hysteria

The smell of wisteria always reminds me of childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ house, where a huge climber all but covered one side of the house. Now that we live in the house, every time I walk past the plant in full bloom, I always think of my Nana and Grandad, sadly no longer with us.

It is a tremendous plant and possibly in need of a little pruning, though unless something drastic happens to it, I will never have it cut down. It is a dominant feature of the house, providing beautiful fragrance and dramatic colour, and is something so intrinsically entwined with the nature of this house.

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I am going to try to take cuttings from her, as she’s such a glory. There is a trellis attached to the other side of the window, where I believe there was once a clematis, though the bad weather has probably done for that. I do like clematis so I’d like to get a new one to replace it.

May madness

It’s nearly the end of May already – time has just flown by. After the terrible weather in March and April, we’ve had a long spate of warmth and dryness – to the point where the ground is rock solid and all our silage grasses are crying out for a good rain shower. It’s been good for more controlled growing – namely my seedlings in pots and trays. I’ve had some problems and some poor doers, but I’ve had some real success stories (so far, anyway).

Tomatoes have done very well this year. I’ve always found tomatoes are very easy to germinate, as I’m sure most people do. This year I’ve grown three varieties: Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Alicante. I started them all in the heated propagator, some in January and some in March, and have potted them all on. The plants from January’s sowings are monsters now. I cleaned out the greenhouse and have popped a couple of plants in there to grow. The rest I’m going to take to the Plant Stall on Saturday.

Cucumbers have been sown in two batches. I sowed six lots and four germinated. As they always sell well at the Stall, I have sown a successive lot though so far no germination, but it’s only been a couple of days. I used La Diva from Sarah Raven.

Squashes and Courgettes have seen me with a slight problem, in that they have germinated at the same time and there are no labels and somehow they’ve all gotten muddled up. Twitter might have to help me here!

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Squash or courgette? Who knows?

I also seem to have a bit of a floppy stem syndrome going on with some of them. I know they are meant to spread length-ways but I don’t remember ever having such floppy plants. Maybe they’re a little shy?! My squashes are from Sarah Raven and Courgette from Dobies (check).

In the raised beds, I sowed five lots of brassicas – cauliflower (All the Year Round), broccoli (Calabrese), romanescobrussel sprouts (Brigitte) and sprouting broccoli. Some of these were new seeds – sprouts and the cauliflower – but others were old seeds, particularly the romanesco which I found unopened in my seed box. They have all germinated, some better than others. I planted them in the bed into a compost mulch mixed with a generous helping of growmore, and as last year Mum had an issue with cabbage root fly, we are going to mesh them and hopefully monitor very closely.

I have put a lot of salad leaves in, as this time of year we eat a lot of salads, and I’m usually left a bit wanting by the selection in the supermarket. I’ve sown rocket, mixed leaves and red mustard, which have all germinated, and further sowings of All the Year Round and Edox lettucesmizuna and watercress. I sowed lambs lettuce and Cos lettuce from old seed packets and nothing came. I do like lambs lettuce so I might have to get a packet. I’m excited about the Edox variety which I got from the Dobies catalogue.

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Hello seedlings!

We’ve also sown two lots of spring onions as well as the classic super-fast growing radish.

In the next bed, I’ve tried to be crafty to fend off the evil carrot root fly, and have sown carrot (Autumn King) interspersed with onion (an onion-shallot mix from Dobies called zebrune), plus some parsnip (Hollow Crown – I couldn’t resist the name, though it is an old packet so we shall see if anything happens) and beetroot. I would quite like to pickle my own beetroot, and have a go at pickling carrot as well. When we’re in Germany they give us the nicest pickled carrot mix with our salad and it’s so yummy, but I can never find it in the Rewe supermarket so it must be a homemade mix.

We have lots of potatoes in bags. I use loads of potatoes and my idea is to try and grow ourselves what I buy the most of in the shops. I’ve had such bad experiences with potatoes from both the Lidl and Morrisons. I have thought about buying a great big bag from outside farms, but I might as well just grow my own.

Flowers-wise, there’s so much going on, I haven’t a clue where to begin, or even if things are going right. My lobelia, pansies and petunia all did really well then have come to a stop. Similarly I potted up my gaura and they’ve grown well then have flopped. I have one dahlia coming which is super exciting, and I potted up the other two only recently so fingers crossed they will come. I have verbascum coming, which I have just potted on, plus impatiens, nasturtium and of course loads of sweet peas. I’m wondering whether my little plants need a week in the greenhouse where it’s a little hotter to try and spur them on a bit.

I’ve sown, a bit late of course, some dichondra and begonia and they’re sat on a sunny windowsill in a propagator. My alstroemeria did nothing, very disappointing but I know they are very tricky to start from seed. In the garden of my old house I found a new plant that had obviously grown itself from a rhizome so that’s made up for the seed-related problems, plus when I was digging up my border I discovered a variegated one growing merrily away in amongst all the weeds. I had a poor do with the fuchsia – one very sickly-looking seedling out of two attempts, but I found a plant in the old house with lots of new shoots on it, so that’s been potted up and seems to be happy.

Soon it will be hanging basket time! I have four brackets to put up around the house, which means I need to get another two baskets. Hanging basket time is one of my favourite times in the garden, and I would like to make a few to sell, as I do think I make pretty good baskets.

How is your garden coming along in the May madness? Let me know in the comments!

February seedlings

In January you will remember I was exceedingly over-excited because I bought a heated propagator and sowed seven lots of seeds inside.

All in a row

I should have popped it on a south-facing windowsill for maximum light however while the little bedroom window is south-facing the room is in constant use and I have a pair of cats that just love jumping in windows and knocking things off. I had visions of soil being splattered all over washing drying on the airer, so instead I used the back bedroom. This room is a bit of a building site however it is a warm room and relatively light.

I’ve only turned the propagator on for the coldest of nights. We’ve had a couple of nights below freezing. Otherwise the ambient temperature in the room is decent enough that I’ve saved my electricity bill.

Tomato – Moneymaker
Little seedlings

I’ve been rewarded so far! The only thing that isn’t coming yet are the fuchsia. I’ve never grown fuchsia from seed before so not sure what to expect. The antirrhinum are taking their time too; there’s one seedling thus far.

I’m quite impressed with the tomatoes, considering they were a packet of seeds I just found, lying around, barely in date. They are going to get a bit leggy if I’m not careful.

I found a fab blog here which has some wonderful hints and tips for solving problems with seedlings. I’ve subscribed to Family Food Garden email updates and have learnt a lot!

This is my first year growing flowers from seed – I’ve done it lots of times with vegetables but not with flowers. If it doesn’t work out, I know I can buy plug plants relatively cheaply, but I just need to keep an eye on things. I would feel a lot of pride knowing I made a hanging basket that was 100% filled with plants I grew from seed. Even better if I sold them to people!

Yesterday Scott said the cats had got into the back bedroom and had a right time of it. They’re obsessed with a shut door and because I pop in and out of there to check on my seedlings they’re then very interested. Luckily they haven’t wrecked my seedlings or I think I’d be screaming.

I’ve done another order with Sarah Raven and have finally started getting my vegetable seeds ordered. I need to complete my Dobies order as well and then hopefully that will be it for seeds for this year. Then the fun growing part can start!

January seemed to drag and it’s still cold and frosty in February. My sweet peas haven’t done anything in the summer house yet and I’m wondering if they’re too cold. I have a few more seeds to sow and pop on a warm windowsill too, including successional sowings of all that’s in my propagator currently, so I’ll have to go to my mum and dad’s to fetch some of the propagators from there. I’m far too impatient at this time of year! I just want things to get started! I’m sure I’m not alone with gardener’s impatience?

Happy growing chaps! How are your seeds coming along?

My summer garden – an update

This summer so far has been a bit of a funny one – I’m quite sure last year we’d had a good long spell of scorching weather, and I’m sure my tomatoes were much further on than they are this year. I’m praying for a late bit of warmth – extend the season into September. Greenhouse growing isn’t maybe going so well… my tomatoes and cucumbers are doing very well at, ah, growing tall and shooting out lots of leaves; not so well on the setting fruit side of things.

An experiment I did this year involved something I found on Pinterest… growing an avocado bush! Bush? Tree? Plant? It started with the core of an avocado, suspended via cocktail sticks over a glass of water, until it showed a root. I then potted it out and left it in the greenhouse where it would hopefully be warm enough for it. And…voila! An avocado shoot! Pretty impressed.

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Another experiment, or maybe aim should I say, of this year was to achieve what I failed to do last year. If you read my last post (see it here) you might have been surprised (as the feedback I got suggested from a few people!) to read about my success… in growing a cauliflower. Just the one! But check it out:

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I spy with my little eye…?

IMG_6760Obviously I failed a little with the zoom capacity on my camera here. But there’s my cauli, about ready to eat! Any suggestions on how to serve him and do him justice?

I seem to be doing well with my brassicas this year! Here’s a humongous Savoy cabbage:

IMG_6761Doesn’t quite look like the store-bought variety but I bet he tastes grand. I’ve already had two of my greyhound cabbages – they are delish! Here’s a third one: 

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I’ve been serving them up a variety of ways: in summer coleslaws (obvs), or fried cabbage and bacon, and yesterday I gently pan-fried some with some grated courgette to accompany my lamb chops I had for tea!

So my garden is going OK outside. Some of my carrots have bolted, maybe because of the confusing weather. Looks like we might have some home-grown potatoes soon!

So all in all, fairly pleased.

How is your garden growing? Are you having better luck with tomatoes than I am?! If you have any pro tips, let me know!

Thanks!

Katy x

 

A Rainy Day Recap – A Break from #summerschoolmadness

It’s been a while since I’ve done much blogging. I work in a company that runs summer schools so naturally we’re entering our busy time! Since I’m in recruitment, this is pretty much the story of my life – getting emails like this:

Activity Leader wants time off

I’ve been in my garden/greenhouse today a bit, though it has been raining on and off all day, which isn’t exactly ideal. I had managed to get quite wet walking Bilbo so I thought I might as well continue as I started.

Can you tell the photos I took on my iPhone and the ones on my DSLR?

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Top marks for anyone who can name everything in all these pictures! We had home grown turnips with tea – and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I can actually grow cabbages! I’m sure loads of people will think that’s the saddest thing they’ve ever heard, but after last year’s brassica-related incident with horrid beasties, to see hearts forming on my greyhounds makes me rather excited! My potatoes look to be coming on well and I’ve about got everything set up in the position I want it to be.

Just need some sunshine now! I’m sure this time last year it was hot, sunny and dry.

 

Massive Progress! – The Raised Bed Diaries #9

Hello all! I’m sorry my posts have been rather sporadic of late, I’m currently working on presenting a paper for the postgraduate conference at uni and it’s taking up most of my time.

Most of these Diary posts are quite back-dated anyway, but I’m trying my hardest to bring them all up to date.

Because I’ve not had as much time to sit by the cloche and stare at my plants, every time I go to look at them they seem to have erupted. My broccolis, courgettes and even my runner beans are turning into great beasts!

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These are my broccoli plants, and they’re starting to look like small trees! I need to plant them out, but at the rate they are growing, there would be no room for anything else in my beds. I think I may clear away a bit of bare soil and plant them out beside my beds, so that they have the space to grow. Need to keep the rabbits off them though.

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Look at these two bad boys! On the left is one of the smaller courgettes. This one is probably my favourite because its two leaves are almost perfectly symmetrical. On some of the others, the proper courgette leaf is huge.

On the right is one of my beans! I’ve had a slight mishap with the beans, and one of them hasn’t germinated. A dud! But as you can see this one is majestic. They are all of a similar size, and desperately need repotting into something else. For the moment, they are OK, but they will soon need to be hardened off, and I need to decide what to do with them.