Last year for the first time we planted some onions and garlic for the first time. We were slightly late last year planting them and only ended up planting them in January/February time. We had chosen varieties that were winter planting so we could have the beds freed up to plant something else in them late summer. They still did well enough, but actually if they had gone in earlier we may have ended up with a larger crop. They were, however, really flavoursome and required very little maintenance so we found them worth growing.
So this year I was very organised and went to the local garden centre and made sure I got our garlic and onions sets in December and planted them nice and early. To plant garlic you need to first separate the bulbs into cloves. Ensure that the soil is weed free and then push them gently into the soil ensuring that the pointy bit is upwards and is just below the soil level. Each bulb should be spaced about 10-15cm apart and they need to be just covered over with soil. For onions the planting process is very similar but they need slightly more space between them (15-20cm). I tend to plant my crops in rows, but if you were planting in a tub they could go in a circle. Our crops have survived the snow we had a couple of weeks ago and are now looking remarkably healthy. Hopefully they will continue to thrive and we will end up with a onions and garlic slightly larger than last years variety.
Alliums take very little looking after once they’re in. The main thing is to make sure that the bulb stays below the soil level (you can see from the photo above that I have a couple that need pushing back under a bit). It will be many months before they can be harvested, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t start flowering (it looks like a little bud at the top of the green stalks). If that happens then just pinch the bud off. Once they start looking ready to harvest the stalks will turn yellow and start falling over. This won’t be for a good few months yet so I’ll update on how to harvest closer to the time.
So this has been the first summer that we’ve had our greenhouse and I didn’t really have a proper plan for what I was growing, I’ve been fairly spontaneous with what I’ve grown. Our greenhouse is a good size and rather than be too ambitious and try and grow lots of different types of crops in it, I decided to focus primarily on tomatoes. Both C and I adore tomatoes and I love using tomatoes in my cooking. J isn’t as fussed at all about them but when we’ve grown them in hanging baskets in previous years he has admitted that they are nicer than shop bought so I’m hoping to convert him.
I’ve really used left over seeds this year and haven’t bought any new ones, partly as I hate waste and partly as I wouldn’t have a clue which ones to get. You may remember that spring in the UK was plagued by very cold weather and even some snow so my tomato seedlings didn’t get off to the best start. I planted them at the earliest recommended time and we had a rubbish amount of seeds actually sprout. I confess my watering was fairly sporadic and despite the greenhouse being heated the weather probably didn’t help. Anyway, after a very slow start I finally managed to get sufficient seedlings for the greenhouse bed.
Our greenhouse has, as do many others, a sectioned off bed down one side which we have filled with gravel and then laid our compost growbags on top of. Our growbags are in trays which are designed to help provide more consistent water to the plants. Each growbag contains space for three plants and we have a total of six growbags in our greenhouse, 18 plants. I do have one growbag with bell peppers in instead of tomatoes to give a bit of variety. Each growbag also has a plastic stake in it to support the plant as it grows.
I also have two hanging baskets with leftover tumbling tomato seeds in them and a good dozen or so pots with a variety which were fine to be grown in pots. Why so many you may ask? Well I did give away a fair few plants to friends but it seemed a waste to just bin seedlings that had sprouted so I accommodated as many as possible in the greenhouse. I do also have a rouge courgette in one of my growbags, more an experiment to see where they would grow best as I also have a couple outside. When everything was first planted it didn’t look that crowded and in fact I did think at one point that I wasn’t making good enough use of the space.
Well when everything started to flourish the whole greenhouse was taken over with green and it has looked rather wild. I did pinch out the side shoots a bit but probably not as much or as well as I should have but it’s my first year with a greenhouse so I still have lots to learn. It took ages for us to get any flowers on our plants and longer still for any of our tomatoes to actually ripen but once they did, they just didn’t stop. The warm weather this summer has undoubtably helped although it has meant watering up to twice a day.
The season isn’t over quite yet but we have had bucket loads of tomatoes. Most of the plants we have give cherry tomato sized produce but we do have a few giving us larger varieties. At first we were just eating them fresh as they ripened but there’s only so many tomatoes a trio can eat. One of the delights of homegrown is that you can preserve your goodies so you can enjoy that same great taste later in the year. I’ll write once all the tomatoes are done more about how I’ve preserved our harvest.
We have now harvested all of our Spring planted potatoes and so I thought I would do a quick review about what went well and what to change for next year. So this year we grew our potatoes in growbags as opposed to last year when we used lazy beds. We had five different varieties:
Red Duke of York: we grew these successfully last year and they were just as good this year. My only complaint was they weren’t as large as I would have hoped but still a good size. This is probably due to harvesting too early but I was just so keen to get some potatoes. We’ll probably still grow these again next year.
Cara: these were our most prolific cropper this year. A really good harvest of decent size potatoes which taste amazing. A definite one to do again next year.
Pentland Javelin: our most disappointing crop this year. A small harvest both in quantity and size. Whilst it could have been down to the weather I don’t think we’ll do these again next year.
Charlotte: a good solid harvest. Decent size potatoes with good taste these are always a favourite in our house. We’ll do these again next year.
Pink Fir Apple: our first time growing these but we had them at a fellow gardener’s house and they were delicious. They have given us a really good crop of nice sized potatoes. Perfect just boiled and topped with butter. I think we’ll try these again next year.
Overall a very good year potato-wise, we barely lost any to pests or damage which was a big improvement on last year. The individual potatoes weren’t as large as last year which could either be down to being in bags as opposed to the ground or due to the weather. Our Autumn sown potatoes are in bags so they can be moved inside to avoid the cold (more about that another time) but next year I’ll have to work out whether to go for the ground or bags. Does anyone else grow potatoes? How do you grow them?
So I’ve previously mentioned that for some of our homegrown fruit and vegetables we have had a bit of a glut. Whilst we love all of our homegrown produce I can’t really stomach eating strawberries every meal or everyday for a week. There are some products that can be stored for prolonged periods of time in the right conditions but others need to be preserved in some other way. The main ways in which I preserve produce are either by freezing or by making jams and chutneys. I know that in the USA in particular caning is also a popular method but I don’t yet have the proper equipment for that. Today I thought I would go through a couple of the different ways I’ve preserved our produce this year. All the ingredients that were homegrown I’ve put in bold.
Our tomatoes haven’t quite finished yet for the year so there will no doubt be more preserving to be done but so far this is what I’ve done.
Roasted vegetable pasta sauce; roast tomatoes, courgettes, onions and peppers in olive oil, then blend about half so the sauce still have some substance and season well. Then freeze as required.
Roasted tomato pesto: roast tomatoes in olive oil then add to basil, pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, Parmesan and black pepper and blend in a food processor until fine. Add more olive oil until you achieve the desired consistency. Quantity-wise I tend to go for the same basil, pine nuts and Parmesan when I’m doing pesto with tomatoes, if not including tomatoes I’d have double the amount of basil to the other ingredients. Pesto is all about personal taste so just keep testing to find what you like best. You can also toast the pine nuts to emphasise the nutty flavour. Or change them up for a different type of nuts. Or switch the basil for spinach, or rocket leaves. Then portion up and freeze (it will store in the fridge for up to two weeks just make sure it’s covered with a film of oil to keep it fresh).
Freeze cherry tomatoes whole to defrost and cook fresh at a later date.
Strawberry jam: strawberry jam is notoriously hard to achieve a good set due to the low pectin level in strawberries. In order to achieve a good set you need to either mix it with another high pectin fruit or add pectin to it. I’ve gone with adding pectin as I wanted to keep the lovey freshness of the fruit. I’ve made a couple of different batches now using two different recipes, one of which was much more complicated and I couldn’t really see or taste much between them.
Strawberry and yogurt lollies. A nice simple recipe, blend strawberries and Greek yogurt add to ice lolly mould and freeze. You can add a bit of honey if you want but I found our strawberries were sweet enough.
Freeze whole: remove the stalks and wash then open freeze before bagging once frozen (this will prevent them from sticking together). I prefer to weigh before freezing and label the bag so I know how much to defrost.
I also plan to use them in smoothies from frozen and make strawberry ice cream in the future too.
Potatoes store well in the ground but all gardeners have the dilemma of deciding when to pull them to avoid pest damage or damp ground. Once harvested brush off any loose soil and ideally leave the skins to dry for a few days. Then store in hessian sacks in a cool dry place. Check them periodically for damage and remove any damaged potatoes straight away.
Potatoes cannot be frozen without being cooked first or their consistency changes too much. My favourite thing to do is to freeze potatoes as roasties. Par boil and then roast for about 20-30 minutes. Then cool and open freeze before bagging. They can then be taken out as required and put straight in the oven and will just need 20-30 minutes roasting. It certainly reduces some of the stress of a roast dinner.
We still have lots to harvest and I’ve only looked at three different products here so I’ll do another post (or two) soon about some different ways to preserve homegrown produce.
We recently came back from being away from the cottage for almost three weeks and I have to say that although I loved our holiday, I was really glad to be home. Our garden was watered whilst we were away but any gardener know that no one looks after your garden as well as you do. It was so lovely to see how the garden has come on whilst I was away, and even better to started tending to it.
We had a courgette that had kept growing and growing, look how big it is compared to a normal sized one!
So now I need to find a good way to use up a marrow.
The plums weren’t quite right when we left for holiday and by the time we came back they had all ripened. We had lost some to insect activity and some had gone over but I managed to harvest a good amount.
Because of how ripe they were, those that weren’t to be eaten straight away were halved, de-stoned, vacuum sealed and frozen. That way when I have some more time I can use them up.
Some of our turnips and beetroot have also grown a bit ginormous. Hopefully they still taste alright.
It also looks as though somebody has been exploring our asparagus bed. Hopefully whoever it was (C suspects Peter Rabbit) hasn’t done any damage to the roots.
As you may know one of our raised beds is dedicated to strawberries. We planted it up last year with a couple of different varieties (none of which I can remember now) with plants of varying ages and had a very small but steady crop last year. Now I had planned to properly prune the strawberry bed in Autumn this year but things just got away from me and aside from removing the runners which had tried to escape the bed I did very little pruning. In fact I basically just left it alone. I promise you I haven’t neglected all of the garden this year. Anyway, come springtime our lovely little strawberry bed had an abundance of flowers. And we all know that flowers lead to fruit so we got rather excited about our potential harvest.
When we set up the raised beds J put semi-circles of piping over them so that they were easy to net as you can see above and once our strawberries looked closed to ripening we covered them with a black netting as shown below.
The netting enables bees to get in but keeps birds out. Once the strawberries were ripe it was a proper battle to keep on top of harvesting them. At peak time we were picking a kilogram or more everyday. In the end I was actually quite glad when the season ended. Aside from those which were eaten fresh we gave lots away; C took some into nursery where they made chocolate dipped strawberry ladybirds, I took some into work and we gave away lots to friends and family. I ended up freezing about 8 kilograms in the end to use up in the future. There really is something special about homegrown strawberries though, they’re so sweet that once you’ve eaten them you’ll struggle to buy regular supermarket ones again. I’ll update in the future about how we’ve started to use up our frozen ones.
Growing up we had a relatively small garden and gardening was never something which played much of a part in my life. I remember my late great uncle being into his garden and he tended a vegetable patch in his back garden. My grandfather also grew vegetables at home and took pride in his greenhouse. But although their passion interested me, I was never that bothered about having a garden of my own. In fact the first little flat which I bought by myself had no garden and that didn’t bother me in the slightest. How times have changed.
Throughout the (very) hot summer that we’ve been having I have been watering my raised beds daily and my greenhouse twice a day. I still feel very much a novice vegetable grower and I have done things differently this year to last and will no doubt do things differently next year again. One thing which we have done differently this year is that we have grown all of our potatoes in growbags this year. Last year we grew them in lazy beds in the field but we lost a fair few to slugs so we decided to try and reduce that problem this year with the growbags. Last year we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time and planting them much later than intended so we ended up harvesting most of our tubers at the same time. This year I have aimed to be a bit better organised and planted the five varieties a bit more spaced out. So far we have harvested our Red Duke of York first earlies and our second early Charlotte’s.
The Red Duke of York’s were smaller than last year but tasted just as delicious and we didn’t lose any to pest damage.
The Charlotte’s were much better than last year. Last year we lost a lot to slugs and they were one of our weakest varieties. This year we’ve had a decent crop with no damage.
The other three varieties left to harvest are Cara, Pink Fir Apple and Pentland Javelin. We should be harvesting them in the next few weeks. I’ve also started to plant our Christmas potatoes ready to enjoy in the depths of winter. With the very hot and dry weather we’ve had this year I’m not sure that our crops have been quite as prolific as they might have been and feel that with a bit more rain we would have had larger potatoes. However that is pure speculation and based upon no great gardening knowledge!
Now some of you may remember that last year we had a great disappointment as we managed to grow only one blueberry from our three plants. This year, however, things couldn’t have been more different. Our blueberry plants are in pots as blueberries tend to prefer acidic soil and for where we live we can best provide for them in pots than in the ground. Now the blueberries have been fairly neglected this year as they were moved about to make way for some of the house works and I was very grumpy at their lack of productivity this year so basically just ignored them. However, when I moved all our pots over to the greenhouse (in about April time) they looked a lot more bushy than I remembered and seemed to hold promise for more blueberries this year.
The blueberry flowers themselves actually looked rather beautiful and were in abundance on two out of the three bushes. The third one did have some but not as many at all and in general it’s foliage was much less healthy looking. It all looked rather promising as the tiny green blueberries emerged from the remnants of the flowers and slowly (much more slowly than I would have anticipated) began to grow.
Now I don’t really know how blueberry plants are supposed to look when they grow but ours have just become rather wide. You’re not supposed to prune them for the first couple of years (I think) although I imagine I should have probably done something to support them. However, once the delicate fruit had begun to emerge there was no way that I was going to to try and wield their branches about. The only problem was how to net them from the birds. Birds will not take the fruit until it is ripe but then will strip it of ripe fruit at every opportunity. So I decided to take the rather lazy step of just moving our pots inside the greenhouse when the first fruits were nearing ripeness to keep them safe from being stolen. This did mean that the greenhouse became even more crowded than normal for a couple of months (turns out blueberries take ages to get ripe and stay looking almost ripe for quite a while) but it was worth it.
Once they began ripening there was no stopping them and we were picking huge amounts every day.
It has been a bit of a battle to stop C from eating them all straight away. Not that I blame her mind you as they are so sweet. They were a great snack for C and I really enjoyed having them in my yogurt for breakfast. I even managed to sneak away enough to freeze a kilogram or so to use in the future for baking or smoothies. They’re finished for the year now so have moved back out of the greenhouse which has given us a bit more breathing room there and hopefully they’ll continue to give us more amazing fruit for years to come.
So this year we have decided to grow our potatoes in grow bags. There are several reasons for this. Partly this is down to our potatoes from last year. Across the UK last year was quite poor conditions for potato growth, lots of wet weather at the wrong kind of time ended up with blight and slugs being more common than usual. We didn’t experience any blight but we did have a fair amount of our crop hit by slugs. It was a real disappointment to dig up our lovely harvest and find it had been damaged. We also had our potatoes in the field last year and we trialled using lazy beds which were a lot of work to set up and I don’t think they necessarily gave us the best crops. This year a couple of things are different. We now have the dog and the dog kennel up in the field. We also will be living up there in the not too distant future in our caravan as the work is completed. The area we used last year has grown over a fair bit as we kind of neglected it a bit (oops). So we decided to grow our potatoes in bags this year. Growing potatoes in bags is a great way for anyone to start growing some of their own veggies as it requires very little outside space, it could even be done on a balcony, and requires very little skill. In a previous house of ours we had grown potatoes in bags one year so we still had some bags left over but they can be bought from most garden centres or online. I’m even planning on using some of our spare recycling bags this year for our larger main crop varieties.
I always like to chit my seed potatoes, although you don’t really need to chit main crop varieties but as I buy all my seed potatoes at the same time it makes sense to. For chitting potatoes all you require is an egg box or two. Make sure that the side of the potato with the most eyes is facing upmost and leave them to sit in a warm dark place. Chitting just helps to give the seed potatoes a head start. Make sure before you start that you roll down the sides of the grow bag for ease of planting and for more sun exposure, we will roll them up again when we earth up the potatoes. For planting potatoes into bags I tend to go for 4 to 5 inches of a mixture of compost and well rotten manure and then water them and leave for 10-15 minutes or so to let it drain downwards. Then place three seed potatoes with the largest chits pointing upwards (as shown below). There are variations in the sizes of grow bags so if the label suggests to include more or less then go with that. Cover the potatoes with more compost (say three or four inches) and then lightly water again. As there have been a fair number of cold snaps (lots of snow) this year, when I first planted our early potatoes I kept them in the greenhouse to make sure they got off to a good start. If you don’t have a greenhouse then you could keep them indoors until all sign of frost has passed or just don’t plant until a bit later.
In a couple of weeks you should see the first signs of growth. Don’t get over excited and start earthing up yet, I like to wait until I have a good four or five inches of growth first time so I can be sure that they’re well established. Then cover them with compost until the tops of the plants are only just showing. Repeat as often as you can until the bags are full and then just wait. Below are our Red Duke of York earlies. The three bags on the left we planted first and are just about to have their final earthing up, the two bags on the right were planted a couple of weeks later and are due their first earthing up. I’ll update more about how to know when potatoes are ready nearer to the time.
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.