As you know last year my husband and I designed and built our own raised beds which proved to be a really great way for us to grow our vegetables. At the end of last years growing season we covered the empty beds with cardboard (to prevent weed growth) and just left them alone for the winter. So when it looked like it might be actually getting warm enough to plant some seeds I started to ready the beds for the season.
Two out of our six beds are occupied already with perennial crops (asparagus in one, strawberries in the other) so they need slightly different treatment but I’ll save that for another day. A good amount of the cardboard cover had began to compost down so I started by removing any large remaining pieces and then used a hand fork to thoroughly turn over all the compost to ensure it was lump free and crumbly. I’ve not added any extra nutrients to our beds this year but will probably give the crops some appropriate boosts once they have begun growing. I tried to plan out what to grow in the beds but have kept dithering about exactly what to go for so I’ve ended up starting with what we really enjoyed from our crops last year.
We’ve planted one bed so far. Just with seeds directly sown into the ground rather than trying to grow seedlings and then transplanting them. We’ll thin as required, the chickens really enjoy seedlings and we have loads of free seeds from gardening magazines. Two of our stand out crops from last year were turnips and carrots. We only planted one row of turnips last year and we found they grew really well and were delicious. We really enjoyed turnip in soups and it is a great staple roast dinner side dish. Not only that but they grow relatively quickly, freeing up the ground for more crops. The second crop was a relatively late addition to our vegetable garden last year but became a firm favourite. As a late addition (we actually planted some in the space left by the turnips last year) we only had a small crop but they were probably the vegetable where we noticed the biggest taste difference with shop bought varieties. Carrots too are a relatively quick growing crop so the pair are well matched.
So our first raised bed has two rows each of carrots (Nantes variety) and turnips (Purple Top Milan variety). If it turns out to be too early and too cold to have planted them then we haven’t really lost much more than a few seeds. Let’s wait and see in a few weeks if we have any sign of life, fingers crossed. Next week I’ll have a go at planting one of our other beds up though with what I haven’t quite decided yet.
So our asparagus crowns went in in April and for the first year you are supposed to not harvest them at all and let the foliage grow wild so that the crowns can really develop and establish. It was lovely to see the spears appear from the ground but as they grew into foliage the bed looked a bit messy.
So when it comes to Autumn and the foliage starts to turn brown and die back you can cut the stems back to about one inch above the ground and them mulch the bed.
The bed now looks so much neater and hopefully we will have a good crop next year. One of the crowns does look a little weaker than the others but fingers crossed it will still produce well. It may seem a pain to have to not harvest it in the first year, but as crowns can typically last for 20 years, leaving one years worth of harvest in order to have 20 years of excellent harvest seems a small sacrifice to make. Hopefully it will pay off next year.
So although I have debated about whether to plant more things in the raised beds to try and grow them over winter, I have decided not to and to leave them empty and ready for Spring. Now there are three reasons for this. Firstly I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest from the gardening over the winter, not that there won’t be things to do but there certainly won’t be as many. Secondly, I want to make sure that I can start my planting for the summer as early as possible and don’t want to have to wait for other crops to come out. And thirdly, and possibly most importantly, I’m not a big fan of many of the crops that you can put in at this time of year. So I’ve decided to leave some of the raised beds empty for the summer. I will try to do something to build up the nutrients in the soil possible, but otherwise they will be empty. The asparagus and strawberries stay in their beds (read how they’ve been prepared for winter in a forthcoming post or two) but the pumpkin bed is currently empty as is the bed which had housed baby corn and broad beans. The other two beds should be mostly empty shortly apart from my experimental leeks which will be there through winter. But for now I’ll start with two beds.
So the beds have been emptied of any plant matter including as many roots as I could pull up. I then forked them over using a hand fork so that the soil was loose. I also ensured that any weeds were removed, especially important that the roots of these are removed as well. I have decided to add some more compost in the Spring as part of my bed preparation so for now I just want to prevent any weeds growing. So what I’ve done is covered the bed with cardboard and weighted it down with left over bags of compost/grit/manure/anything lying around. Hopefully that means that at least some of the weeds are kept from appearing and it should rot down enough just to be dug into the soil in the Spring. At least that’s what I’m hoping, I guess time will tell if I’ve done enough to keep the weeds at bay. What does anyone else do to prepare their garden for the winter?
Our broad beans were grown from plants bought from the garden centre to fill a gap as we were rather late in getting the raised beds finished. So I wasn’t too precious about them really. We had a few the other week but most of them weren’t ready before we went on holiday. Unfortunately, by the time we had come back from holiday they had been hit by what is known as rust. I did open some pods to check if the beans were alright but they weren’t, they were a write off. So we’ve had to dig them up and bin them (bin rather than compost for any diseased plants in our house). Not exactly what we would have hoped for but nevermind. Next year they will hopefully be in the field and will get more of the attention that they need.
Now as I’m sure I’ve said before, pumpkins were very much a novelty item for us. J doesn’t really like them, neither does C (I think, I haven’t really tried her with them since she was weaning) but I do like pumpkin soup as a nice winter warmer. But I had some seeds free from a magazine so I’d planted two next to each other and then once the seedlings had appeared removed the weaker seedling. The pumpkins had been planted in a raised bed with the cauliflowers (naively I had thought the cauliflowers would be out by the time the pumpkin got to any size, how wrong that was). We’ve had moments when they started to invade the rest of the garden and had to be cut back.
I ended up cutting it back to leave us with a total of two good pumpkins. It has been quite fascinating to watch not only as they grew in size but also slowly changed in colour.
So you can see they have grown quite a bit and slowly changed colour as they’ve ripened. So after a little bit of research about when to pick them (tap them and a hollow sound is a good indication) as the vine was starting to die back by itself I decided to bite the bullet and cut them.
You can see that the stem has already started to darken to the traditional look that you see in shops. So now we are going to leave them for a few weeks to finish the hardening. Apparently if stored in a cool and dry place they can last for a good six months so even though they have been picked now they should still be good until Halloween when we can try our first carving! Now I have about a month to find some good pumpkin recipes. Any suggestions?
So carrots this year for us were very much a ‘let’s just chuck some seeds in this empty space and see what happens’ kind of thing. I had some free seeds from a magazine and a bit of a gap from where some of our beetroot seeds hadn’t taken so C and I just threw some in to see what happened. When C is sowing seeds they tend to be rather unevenly sown, try explaining ‘sow thinly’ to a toddler! I wasn’t really expecting any of them to come to much, it was more a bit of fun for C. We have since sown a few carrots into a pot by the side of the house, and a last few into the raised bed. It’s been quite exciting watching the tops emerge and thrive but of course you don’t really get an idea of what the soil is hiding.
One of the biggest pest risks to carrots is carrot fly. They are attracted to the scent of the carrots apparently (I never really smell carrots but apparently they have a scent which attracts the bugs). So it’s best to try and avoid disturbing the soil until you are pulling them up. When I was pulling them up though I was surprised that there really was a carrot smell. As they were so closely sown (and as I did no thinning whatsoever) there are some very interestingly shaped ones where they haven’t had enough space to really grow, but I still am very proud. I think we’ll just give them a clean and then cook them whole, unpeeled or maybe try them raw with some hummus.
I think it will be a few more weeks until we can start harvesting our next batch but I think I would definitely plant a few more carrots next year. I don’t think we would ever manage to grow enough to be self sufficient in them (we do go through a lot) but we could certainly have a few little tasters during the year. Not bad for a packet of free seeds really (Grow your own magazine, Autumn King 2 variety for anyone who’s interested) and we still have plenty of seeds left for next year.
So the broad beans were really J’s idea. He is a big fan of them and has been really keen to grow some beans but as our final bed was rather late getting filled we’d had to pick up whatever plants we could find to grow rather than starting them off ourselves from seed. Hence we’ve ended up with broad beans. Now I’ve not really given them much attention at all apart from including them on my usual nightly watering. A month or so ago I saw that they had flowers appearing and shortly after I discovered they were being ravaged by aphids.
I told J to give them some attention (spraying with diluted washing up liquid is supposed to get rid of them) but I don’t think he got round to it as we had a fair bit on trying to sort the cabin. For future reference it is recommended that you pinch out the tops of the plants once the flowers develop to help prevent nasties. No matter as they seemed to dissipate on their own (helped I feel by the ladybirds I spotted on the corn) and I noticed the pods begin to develop.
Now as I’m not an experienced broad bean consumer I had to look up how to know when to harvest them. You can either harvest when they are about 3 inches long to consume the pods whole or you can wait until the beans are clearly visible to shell them and consume whole. Consensus seems to be that if you leave them so long that the line down the spine turns black then the beans will be inedible.
We didn’t really have enough to make a meal out of when we picked our first batch a couple of weeks ago so we shelled them (great activity for a toddler) and blanched and froze them for a future meal when we have some more picked.
This year we were very late in getting our raised beds built and filled, so we ended up being too late in the Spring to plant some of the seeds we’d originally hoped for. So on one of our frequent weekend trips to the garden centre we picked up some seedlings that they had leftover. We went for mini pop sweetcorn. It is a baby corn variety, designed to be picked and consumed when the cobs are about 10-15cm long. Sweetcorn is a big favourite with C although she does tend to prefer the ‘normal sized’ variety. However, babycorn holds a special place in J’s heart. J lost his mum when he was very young to cancer and one of his memories of her is when he visited her in hospital and she gave him her babycorn from her dinner plate. He’d never seen babycorn before and it always reminds him of his mum now. So growing our own babycorn is something quite special for us.
Now whilst normal corn is fairly easy to determine when to harvest (the tassels turn brown) for babycorn it seems to be a little bit more vague.
These are the male parts of the plant, which some seem to suggest aren’t needed for mini pop but others imply are still necessary.
And these are the tassels and indicate where each cob is.
Now all my research has said that if the tassels turn brown then they will be too far gone and will taste bad. So you have to harvest them when the tassel are still pale and you are aiming for the corn to be about 10-15cm long. Which is all very well and good, but how on earth are you supposed to know when they are that length without harvesting some? Well we decided to test one out today. We slowly peeled back the leaves (well it wasn’t really a peeling but a tearing) to reveal this.
My daughter was so excited to discover it, that is what has really made growing our own vegetables enjoyable giving her these wonderful childhood experiences. So tomorrows job is to harvest some more and then blanch and freeze them as they are best enjoyed when picked fresh on the day. I’ll be interested to see how many we get, as one doesn’t really give a meal!
So finally our cauliflowers have started to grow their beautiful white heads despite their foliage being ravaged by the caterpillars. Now in order to keep the heads white they need to be protected from the sun. So now I finally have a use for all those elastic bands I’ve been keeping (our post tends to come wrapped up in one each day and J keeps trying to throw them out but I have insisted on keeping them as they were bound to come in handy, how nice it is to be proved right).
So as I’ve said recently our one pumpkin has started to reach out from the raised bed that it’s in and try and take over the whole garden! Somewhat ironic that is seems to be the most prosperous of our produce given that we were only really trying to grow one pumpkin for fun!
Anyway it needed restricting so today I cut back some of it’s ‘arms’. Pumpkin plants tend to carry water through their arms so when you cut one off then you need to bury the cut stem into the soil to allow it a chance to seal over and prevent too much water and nutrient loss. So the below pictures show how it was before trimming.
I had expected the thick stems to be quite difficult to cut through but actually my secateurs cut through it remarkably easily and the stem surprised me by being hollow. So far I have cut back a couple of the stems and will probably cut some more once I’ve seen how the flowers (and hence pumpkins) grow. I guess only time will tell if I’ve done any harm by my trimming!