It was wet for months and the relentless rain now feels so very long ago, there have been a few other things which have challenged a positive attitude….
Mid March I decided the most positive thing I could do other than just do gardening in general was put some of my previous skills back into use and actually grow a serious amount of veg. I figured that I could use it to help my neighbours, barter it for things I didn’t have such as eggs and of course eat it myself.
One thing I didn’t figure on was getting floored by the virus myself!
A quick update as to what I’m up to in my garden at home and at work at Ulting Wick. To those of you who are being discouraged by the utterly vile weather we’ve been having I say hold on! In the words of Brandon Lee “It cant rain all the time”. Just a lot of it apparently!
I wrote the words above in the expectation that the weekend would bring more storms but as it turned out, for me at least it was bright and sunny for the most part. I gardened on the bits that werent squelchy, put some primulas I bought into pots, killed a few vine weevil grubs and generally pottered to my hearts content.
Some of you may remember me posting about my visit to GLEE in September last year, some of the people I chatted to were the lovely staff on the Thompson & Morgan stand. I explained to one of the guys about where I worked and what sort of things we grew and asked if he could suggest anything we might find useful… The reaction was amazing! This chap, and I REALLY wish I could remember his name, knew his seeds!
He flew into action pointing out packets, extolling their virtues, talking about them intimately like old friends, it was incredible to behold!
Long story, short, by the end of our chat I came away clutching some lovely packets of seed to try out in the garden, not just flowers but some really exciting veg too.
Now with all of absolutely itching to start sowing I’ll give you an insight into some of the varieties we will be trying out, starting with the veg
Kohl Rabi Kolibri F1
This is such a lovely veg I’ll never understand why it isn’t more commonly grown. Eaten young, golf ball up to cricket ball sized it can be plucked, peeled and eaten on the spot! In fact I highly recommend doing so. I loved using this veg to introduce kids to growing as it looks insane, a bit like a flying saucer. The taste is wonderful, incredible, juicy with a taste not dissimilar to the sweet heart of the cabbage. In over 3 or 400 younguns I gave it to not one said they didn’t like it and more often than not they came back for seconds! If you can resist peeling and eating it the second you pick it, it can be added to salads either grated or cubed. If for some strange reason you don’t get around to eating it this way it can still be used, it makes an excellent base for soups.
Dead easy to grow, start in March and successional sowing can carry on till late sept, it likes regular watering otherwise it can be prone to splitting. Although this in itself isn’t really a problem other than aesthetically…. If you’re like me and have a habit of eating everything the young leaves are quite tasty too.
Next on the plate and these look awesome are…
Radish Bluemoon & Redmoon F1 Hybrid mix
Now we all like Radishes, right? What’s different about these ones though is the colour and oh wow! What a colour! As the name suggests the crisp juicy flesh, which we normally think of as white is shades of violet blue and ruby red respectively. I’m hoping they taste as good as they look because they look amazing!
Sow direct from mid May to the end of Aug, every 2 – 3 weeks, thinly & give them plenty of water to prevent bolting.
Carrot Sweet Imperator mix F1
If I ask you what colour a carrot is you’ll say orange and give me a funny look, right?
Now some of you may already know this and forgive me if you do but no, not all carrots are orange. In fact orange carrots are a relatively recent introduction speaking globally. The wild Daucus carotta is white and although is edible isn’t as nice as the carrots we have bred for eating. They are descended from the wild afghan carrot which is purple!
This colourful mix of specially bred carrots retains some of the more interesting colours they are available in, the mix includes Honeysnax F1, Creampak F1, Snowman F1, Yellowbunch F1 & Purple eliteF1
Sow thinly from April onwards, to reduce the need for further thinning, as the smell will attract Carrot root fly & if you can protect with a barrier such as Enviromesh. If the barrier is over 30cm high it will prevent the little blighters from destroying your crop as they can’t fly high. Carrots are one of the very first thing I remember growing with my granddad and the sweet smell will always bring back fond memories of gardening with him. These memories are treasures that can’t be bought and your children & grandchildren will hold them close as they grow up too.
Squash Coquina Inca gold F1
Everyone in the UK would love to be able to grow Butternut squashes successfully, why not it’s a lovely tasting squash…but! There’s a small problem with growing them in the UK, they don’t like our growing conditions. It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening for people in their first forays into veg growing to have nursed a plant, loved it, hugged it, grown it carefully all season to get no real results from it.
In a good summer you may get one, maybe 2 fruits to grow successfully & if you do give yourself huge congratulations! Whilst growing for the restaurant at Sissinghurst in our best year from around 60 plants we managed a maximum of 60 fruits… in our worst, perhaps 20. We had a massive field of them and all of our other squashes were producing magnificently. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the wrong plant, wrong place.
That said, this Squash which is a cross from the conventional Butternut and a South American variety Coquina purports to be able to withstand our British summers a bit more successfully! The packet tells me that even in a poor summer it could produce up to 4 fruits per plant which would be a far better use of valuable space in the veg garden than the conventional Butternut.
As with all squashes the urge is to start them early, resist! Unless you have heat and are prepared to repot regularly and the space to keep them inside till ALL risk of frost, or even cold, have passed you won’t be doing yourself or them any favours. They are fast growers so by waiting till the end of May to start them off they will soon catch up & even overtake ones started early. They are incredibly hungry plants too so by giving them sufficient space to really romp away you’ll get the best results. I use a 10 year crop rotation which relates to veg families and cucurbits come in at year no.8, this may seem extreme but it does mean that many diseases such as onion white rot can be avoided (I’ll talk a bit more about this at the end)
My final T&M trial variety is not a new one exactly but still a very useful addition to the winter vegetable garden…
Carrot Nantes 2 – Frubund
This carrot is something of a traditional one in some ways, something of a forgotten tradition for most but still worth giving a go!
I’ve grown it before at Ryton and it really does give you a wonderful early crop of carrots without having to worry about Carrot root fly!
Sow it as late as Oct & it will overwinter to give you fresh carrots from early April, brilliant!
In my plans for next years veg garden I have included some other lovely veg I’m familiar with that not only look good but taste amazing and importantly I’ve included some plants that will help attract beneficial insects, some that will be sacrificial plants & others as herbs. These are normally referred to as companion plants.
One of the best companion plants I tried new last year is Calendula ‘Snow princess’ she is gorgeous! The traditional Calendula comes in shades of vibrant orange through to a pale yellow but this one is almost a pure white with a dark eye. A great pollinator it brings in all the wonderful bugs you want lurking in your garden especially the hoverflies. It also appeared to hold up well against the dreaded powdery mildew which Calendula is a martyr to. I intend on doing 2 sowings, one early around late April and another in late June. This should mean I get flowers all summer long and when the first sowing succumbs the second should take over.
Other companion plants you could consider are
Tagetes minuta – great attractant, its smell deters whitefly from your Brassicas and Solanacea. It’s also reputed to deter eelworms in the soil.
Nasturtium – I call this a sacrificial plant because blackfly will attack it over and above your more valuable crops. A level of pests in an organic garden will always have to be tolerated otherwise your predators such as ladybird larvae & hoverfly larvae will have nothing to eat. This can serve as a nursery for your predators and if you want to you can move the babies around to attack on your other plants!
I mentioned earlier I go for a 10 year crop rotation, this may seem extreme but it’s actually not so bad. Some of the worst diseases can stay active in the soil for several years and by splitting your veg up into families it makes managing these much easier & allows you to plan far into advance.
Miscellaneous – Lambs lettuce, basil, put to green manure
Personally I find this so much easier than a 3 or 5 year rotation which throws the families out of the window but of course the choice is yours. One book which I found immensely useful & still do is Carol Klein’s book ‘Grow your own’ if I was allowed just one book on growing veg this would be it!
I’d love to share with you every variety I’ll be growing this year in the veg garden and the sowing times etc. but honestly it’s a massive list! I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of the successes, and of course failures as we all have them, on twitter and the blog throughout the year and I look forward to hearing about yours!
Posted on March 27, 2014 on the Landshare Blog and on Sissinghurst castles Blog.
The Asparagus beds should by now be producing Kilo’s of scrummy Asparagus but this our first year was special to us.
This is a really exciting time for us on the vegetable garden as this year we will be harvesting our first crop of asparagus. It’s taken 3 years of planning, planting and looking after but as I looked at the garden this morning the first spears have just started to emerge.
We planted in the spring of 2011 and allowed our plants to grow without any interference or hindrance throughout the next 2 years. This was important as it created really strong plants that from now onwards won’t mind us taking the odd spear and we can continue to harvest from these plants every spring for at least the next 20 years. Asparagus is an investment in the future and as such when planting you should give it the best possible start. We bought ours as bare root plants and before planting we added lots of manure and our homemade compost to create raised rows into which we planted our crowns. Last year we mulched with our council green waste. This created a nice sterile layer of soil, free from weed seedlings which meant our asparagus had very little competition for light, space and water, allowing them to grow to their full potential with minimal weeding for us. Over the course of this winter we fed them with manure, being careful not to cover the crowns themselves, as this could burn them but instead placing it between the plants so the nutrients worked their way into the soil, allowing the roots to take up all the goodness as it slowly broke down.
So the emergence of these first spears means that for the next 3- 4 weeks we will be supplying our restaurant with the freshest asparagus you can get. We are able to extend the season very slightly by having an early and a late variety.
How to harvest
A really important point about asparagus is learning how to harvest properly. A lot of work and trial and error has gone into this over the years and yes, you could just snap a spear off but your chances of doing irreparable damage to the plant is very high and when you have invested this much time into growing a strong healthy plant, why ruin it for the sake of a moments madness?
Wait until your spears are about 6” long and no thicker than a pencil, then using a sharp, clean knife cut your selected stem at ground level with a slightly angled cut. The angle on the cut allows any moisture to drain from the cut end, reducing the risks of the plant contracting any fungal diseases. Try not to cut too low as this will damage the plant rootstock and any dormant buds just below the surface. Don’t cut too high either as this can allow dieback and also means you’re wasting good asparagus.
You can invest in an asparagus knife but any good sharp knife will do the trick on a domestic scale. Below is a picture taken from a website called Sour Cherry farm, an American couple showing how to grow your own in their weekly blog.
Asparagus can only be harvested for 2-3 weeks, any longer and you will start to sap the vigour of the plant, so be careful not to stress your plants by over extending the season.
Pests to watch out for are slugs, which can be deterred by the use of organic slug pellets, but the most significant predator of asparagus is the asparagus beetle.
A heavy infestation can severely weaken your plants over the summer months, stripping the foliage and causing weak crops the following spring. The best way of combating this pest organically is to hand pick both beetles and larvae off the plants and dispose of/destroy them. The adults emerge from the soil in May and climb the stems to lay their eggs on the fronds. The eggs are tiny black capsules from which the larvae hatch shortly after. There can be 2 generations between May and September so constant monitoring of your plants throughout the summer months is recommended.