Sunday, September 23, 2012


The year's harvest is nearly completely in at this stage, and it's been pretty good. The allotment came along a little too late for much production, but it's going to be well set up for next year, and we did get some goods out of it anyway, as detailed below.

At the house, we planted peas, onions, carrots, some brassicas, squash and pumpkins, a couple of tomato plants, and we had the blueberries, strawberries (which had to be moved to a new bed), and other soft fruit from before, as well as the apple trees and the pear and plum.

The peas cropped very well indeed, and there were enough that some even reached the kitchen; this hasn't been the usual experience. And they were glorious. The onions produced a good crop - from sets, since the seeds last year didn't go - and the carrots did well too, even the ones planted directly in the native clay rather than imported topsoil. The brassicas, however, didn't even sprout. I'm unsure if the soil was just too heavy and wet for them, or if slugs were to blame. We'll try them next year on the allotment.

The squash, despite being planted in a cold frame on top of the entire compost heap, didn't get going until late, and had a dire germination rate - one plant from nine seeds. The pumpkins just didn't happen at all. I think the fact that the summer was pretty cool throughout was responsible for that, and then the lack of sunshine meant that there were no flowers until August, and no fruit setting until September. However, there are some decent squashes appearing now, and I'm hopeful of getting a few, even if small, by the end of October. I don't know how well they deal with frost, though, and being as we've already had a light one, that could affect things.

The tomatoes grew, and leafed, and were good, but produced very few fruit. Again, I think the lack of sunshine was to blame. The blueberries did fairly well. The strawberries didn't, partially due to being moved, and partially because they had a really bad case of slugs. Even repeated applications of Slug Death XL didn't see them off completely.

There were blackcurrants and gooseberries, although not many, but that's as expected - we should be up to seeing a decent crop from them next year. The apples and the pear flowered, and were on the way to producing a few fruit, and then an early summer storm blew everything away, quite literally.

The allotment came into our possession quite late in the year; too late to plant properly. Nevertheless, we got  in some potatoes, alongside the volunteers that sprang up everywhere, and also more peas, onions, and carrots. We put in strawberries, too, some more blackcurrants and another gooseberry, and there were some raspberry canes left by the previous owner. Our allotment co-owner put in some more strawberries, some blueberries, and some very experimental corn.

It's worth noting that the allotment soil is vastly better than that in the back garden. Things absolutely thrive there, and it's several orders of magnitude easier to dig.

The potatoes we planted did very well; the volunteers were pathetic. It's very clear, though, that planting in the raised beds suits them well, and deep planting with hilling as they grow also does well. However, we don't eat that many potatoes, and they're really not a good economic use of the land there, so we'll likely not plant many next year.

The onions absolutely boomed. They went in a good five weeks later than those in the back garden, and were, I think, about 20% bigger on average when we harvested them in late August and early September. The carrots also did very well, once they came up, which took long enough that we were starting to doubt they'd taken at all. And the peas there produced more, by a long way, although there more dried-up plants as well, which didn't happen at all on the back garden ones.

There was some produce from the raspberries, the blueberries, and the strawberries, though not a vast amount - that's fine for their first year, though. We'll expect more next year, and I intend to build a sort of cage for the strawberries to keep birds off.

The corn, surprisingly, did fairly well, considering the weather, and got as far as producing small cobs. I don't know if they've got as far as an eating size, but it's a positive sign for next year, when our co-owner intends to try a Three Sisters crop - corn, beans and squash in the same plot.

We'll be setting a few beds on the allotment aside for an experiment in medieval horticulture, as part of an Arts and Sciences project for the SCA. That'll be documented separately on Wattle Fence. Other plans aren't formed yet, but carrots, onions, and some salad crops will definitely feature, and I intend to try the brassicas there - possibly planting them indoors or in the mini-greenhouse first.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review of 2011's Vegetable Gardening

A review of last year's crops is in order, I think. They went in on April 23rd, and were a bit late - not to mention the onion seeds didn't take at all. Well, that's not fair, one onion came up, much later in the year.

We had potatoes (Organic Sarpo Mira). They grew well, cropped well, and I was reasonably happy with the potatoes themselves. We don't use all that many potatoes, though, and they're rather intensive use of space for something that's cheap enough in the shops and available from local sources. So I'm not going to plant potatoes at all this year.

Onions (Bedfordshire Champion - from seed, not sets). These were a disaster, as noted above. I blame our dense clay soil, but that's not not a thing  I can change quickly. So this year's are from sets.

Peas (Lincoln, an heirloom variety) and Green Beans (Nomad) - the peas were glorious, the beans just didn't fruit. They were within centimetres of each other, in identical soil. I don't know what was driving that, but I'll take the hint. This year I've a good-sized bed of peas in, and no beans.

The rocket came up and was eaten. No alarms and no surprises; I'll probably plant some during the summer, but there's no need to do so this early. The Coriander (Calypso) just didn't make it. We'll be trying some herbs in the mini-greenhouse, though, so I anticipate some better results in the warm-weather herb area this year.

The courgette plants didn't do so well - one just disappeared, and the other produced some lacklustre fruit, which was so slow-growing that the slugs got most of it before it was mature. This is pretty much the opposite of last year's experience, so I'm a bit mystified.

The basil just plain died. We haven't been able to grow basil worth speaking of, or even keep imported plants alive at all. It's not soil - some of the imported plants are in pots - and it doesn't seem to have any consistent cause. I'll try some on the allotment this year, and some in the mini-greenhouse, because I do like me some basil.

The tomato plants went well, but could do with more consistent heat and sunshine than we had last year. This year is shaping up well for that, and I'll buy some established plants at the beginning of June. And finally, the lettuces boomed, were eaten, those that didn't go to seed, and generally performed very well. Twelve was too many for a cut-and-come-again style, though; six would have sufficed. If we're picking full heads, it's a different story.

Pak choi that were planted later on were thoroughly slug-eaten - if I do those again, they'll need to be in containers, or protected in some fairly sophisticated way.

Update & Allotment

Apologies for the long hiatus - you can blame my college course. However, the term is over, and I can now spend a few months focussing on home projects, of whatever shape.

In the early winter, I finished out most of the attic work, and the new space has been in use there since. There's still some finishing to do - edging and trimming of various kinds - but it's been a huge benefit already. Over the summer, I'll finish that, work in a new pantry under the stairs, and build myself a fitted desk.

I did some quick planting in the garden in March - onions and peas, along with some pumpkins, squashes, cabbages and brussels sprouts. The onions (from sets, this year) are doing beautifully, as are the peas. The pumpkins and squashes may or may not be doing well - something in that cold frame is, but I'm not yet sure if it's the things I planted, or something else entirely. I don't really recognise pumpkin leaves yet. The sprouts and cabbage simply didn't appear - the cold clay soil strikes again.

However, we've a solution to that now, at least in part - a shared allotment. I wasn't aware of any such anywhere near our place, but a friend who lives nearby found them, and proposed sharing one. It's coming into shape now, and I planted more onions and peas there yesterday, after we put in a pretty solid afternoon's work making paths and beds. I intend to start some more brassicas off in our mini-greenhouse, and get those in place on the allotment as soon as they're up to it. And I'll try both approaches on some lettuce, and see which works out better - I suspect, though, that sowing in small pots and then planting on is going to be the winning method, much though I dislike it.

More detail on all these projects in the weeks and months to come!