Monday 29 June 2020

Keeping it going

When you don't have a lot of space you need to use it efficiently. My garden is small, so I make sure that it is as productive as possible, and this means getting more than one crop per year from every piece of ground.

My garden - 9th June 2020

In the last couple of weeks I have started harvesting several of my vegetables, and I am now beginning to fill in the resulting gaps with more plants. This, for instance, is the bed in which most of my Broad Beans were grown (the ones so badly affected by the Blackfly).

The Broad Beans have gone, and in their place I'll be growing brassicas. I have already planted four Brussels Sprout plants, and the empty spaces in two of the corners are reserved for Purple Sprouting Broccoli, which is currently a little too small for planting out.

PSB seedlings - 29 June 2020

Each of the Brussels Sprout plants is protected by a rudimentary collar, made from cardboard, which will hopefully deter the Cabbage Root Fly from laying its eggs in the soil next to the plants.

Elsewhere, the spaces left after harvesting Lettuce and Kohlrabi are being filled with more Kohlrabi seedlings.

We have particularly enjoyed eating the Kohlrabi, so I'm glad I had the foresight to sow a second batch! A couple of days ago Jane made some of it into a Kohlrabi gratin, with a bechamel sauce, which was delicious.

So far I have put in four more plants, spaced at about 30cm in each direction.

I have four others coming along, but there is no room for them yet.

Kohlrabi "Kolibri F1"

At the other end of the same bed, my Radishes were replaced about a month ago with a trio of "Greyhound" Cabbages, and last week I also managed to squeeze in three clumps of Swiss Chard.

Just a word of caution here: There is a balance to be achieved between maximum productivity and over-crowding. My bed here is verging on the latter, and if I had more space to play with I would definitely keep my plants further apart. Also, because I grow so intensively I'm always careful to keep adding nutrients to the soil - preferably in the form of home-made compost, but failing that commercial pelleted chicken manure  and Growmore general-purpose fertiliser.

Several of my big 35L pots are becoming vacant now, as I harvest potatoes. I have sown some Radishes in a couple of them, in the hope of getting a quick crop.

The wire grilles are to deter the "Nocturnal Diggers"!

To be honest, I have never yet had a good crop of Radishes from a container (as opposed to ones grown in open soil), but I may be lucky one day!

There's one other thing I want to show you today - my Asparagus. I only have 3 crowns of it, and they too are growing in a big container, because of soil problems. The Asparagus season traditionally finishes at the Summer Solstice (20 / 21 June), so I am not cutting any more spears this year. If you leave the spears to grow, they develop into tall feathery ferns, so I'm supporting mine with a bamboo cane and some string. I'll give the plants a good feed in the next few days too, to help them build up their strength for next year.

Friday 26 June 2020

I got some Broad Beans after all!

Despite the devastation wrought upon my Broad Beans by the Blackfly, I still managed to salvage a few beans!

The ones from the Blackfly-damaged bed are the shorter, fatter lighter-coloured ones seen at the left in the photo below. They are mostly "Witkiem Manita", because the "Express" ones yielded almost nothing. The darker-coloured beans on the right are the first of the "Imperial Green Longpod" ones, which have so far got away with only minimal Blackfly infestation.

As you can see, the Broad Beans are on this occasion accompanied by a couple more of the purple "Kolibri" kohlrabi, and several spears of the Brokali and Tenderstem broccoli. The Brokali forms long, quite thin spears, whereas the Tenderstem has shorter thick juicy stems.

The Tenderstem is really taking off now. Since I have cut the central heads, lots of side-shoots are forming - one at each leaf axil, as seen here:

I thought you might like to hear how we have eaten these vegetables. Well, the broccoli was cooked in very straightforward fashion, simply steamed, but we have used the other two veg rather more adventurously. The beans were boiled very briefly (about 2 minutes), so that they were just tender, then decanted into a bowl and doused with olive oil, lemon juice and chopped herbs (Parsley and Savory. The latter has a sharp lemony flavour). They were allowed to cool for a couple of minutes and served warm. They were absolutely delicious eaten this way! The kohlrabi was peeled and grated and steeped in a simple vinaigrette made with oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard. It was left for an hour or so to marinate and then served alongside the Broad Beans. The combination of these two veg side-by-side was very pleasant indeed.

This week I have also harvested more of the young onions - I hesitate to call them "Spring Onions"!

This particular batch went into a Chinese-style chicken and mushroom stir-fry.

Although I have written quite recently about harvesting new potatoes, I want to include a mention here (mainly for my own records!) of the latest batch to be lifted. They were another classic First Early variety, called "Rocket". At 892g from the one 35L pot the yield was the best so far.

Even though new potatoes like this are very light and insubstantial, 892g is enough for two 2-person servings.

Last thing for today...a mention for my first ripe(ning) chilli. It's one of those from that mixed pack of "Cayennes". This one is going to be an orange one.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Disaster with the Broad Beans

I thought I was going to have a bigger than normal crop of Broad Beans this year, since I sowed extra seeds because of early fears of a Coronavirus-induced vegetable shortage. However, my hopes have been dashed. The blasted Blackfly have beaten me!

A week ago, the 30 bean plants in this raised bed were looking reasonably good, and the pods were beginning to swell, but more or less overnight they collapsed into this sorry heap:-

Of course I tried all the usual anti-Blackfly measures, like washing them off with the hosepipe set to spray, and even (unusually for me) squirted them with a proprietary bug spray. To no avail.

I have left in place a few of the least-affected plants, but pulled up the remainder, after picking off the few small pods that they had produced. The "Express" plants were the worst affected, by a long way, and the "Imperial Green Longpod" ones were the least affected.

Fortunately, I have a few more Broad Bean plants in a different place. These are the spares that I couldn't bear to part with. They have developed into the best bean plants of the lot - tall and strong and now bearing plenty of pods.

These are also "Imperial Green Longpod". When it comes to sowing Broad Beans next year (If I sow Broad Beans at all), I shall remember how well this variety did!

The fact that these beans are doing well when the "main crop" ones failed to deliver is another vindication of my normal "belt and braces" approach to my crops. I always try to grow more than one variety of each vegetable type, and I try to keep some spares available to help me replace any casualties. It seems to have paid off on this occasion.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Protecting my little carrots!

I recently posted about sowing some finger carrots in a couple of tall pots... Once the seeds germinated I realised that I ought to do something about protecting these plants from the dreaded Carrot Root Fly, which is highly likely to have a go at them.  My bigger types of carrot are protected by a frame structure covered with Enviromesh, so I have attempted to make something similar to this but in very much smaller scale.

The main carrot bed, covered with Enviromesh
This what I used: some offcuts of Enviromesh, some small sticks, some cane-toppers and some rubber bands.

The method is simple: cut the sticks to the desired height; push them into the soil/compost at appropriate points; place a cane-topper on each stick (without these, my thin sticks made holes in the mesh and poked through); roughly cut out a piece of the mesh and drape it over the sticks; secure it in place with a big rubber band; trim off any excess mesh. That's it.

I think I may have cut my sticks a bit too short, and will probably have to replace them with taller ones in a few weeks' time, as the carrots grow. Also I think it might have been better to use 2 or 3 rubber bands to secure the sticks to the outside of the pots. This way there would be less risk of damaging the little carrot plants. The Mark II version will be better!

Friday 19 June 2020

Harvesting Kohlrabi

Well, this week the first of my Kohlrabi reached a good enough size for picking, so it was duly picked.

Kohlrabi "Kolibri F1"

I only have six of these plants, so for me it is important to pick them at exactly the right stage.

The seed-merchants always say that Kohlrabi is best when it's the size of a tennis-ball, so I made sure that mine conformed to this standard!

I've found that quite a lot of people here in the UK are unfamiliar with Kohlrabi, even though it is very popular in many other parts of the world. Maybe they are intimidated by the weird octopus-like appearance of the vegetable? Incidentally, it's not always this purple colour; the green version is more common.

Left whole, a Kohlrabi takes up a lot of space in the fridge, so the first thing I do when I harvest one is cut off the big leaves.

In the kitchen, Kohlrabi is a very versatile vegetable. It can be eaten cooked (maybe steamed or boiled, or sliced thinly and deep-fried in tempura batter) or raw (perhaps finely grated and coated in a sharp dressing, as a salad ingredient). The skin of young specimens is edible too, though older ones have fairly tough skins and are best peeled.

When it comes to growing it, Kohlrabi is very little trouble. Just treat it like a Turnip or any other quick-growing brassica - which indeed it is! (The name derives from the German words "Kohl" meaning "Cabbage" and "Raab" or "Rabi" meaning "Turnip".) Mine were sown on 25th March, so they have taken roughly 3 months to mature. In theory, since this is a brassica, Kohlrabi should be protected from the usual brassica pests, such as Cabbage Root Fly, and butterflies. Mine have been under a net to keep the butterflies off, but I took a risk and didn't use brassica collars for the Root Fly, and I've got away with it this time.

Because this is a quick-growing vegetable I have planned to have two crops of it this Summer. I have another batch of little seedlings which will be ready for planting out just as soon as the first batch is cleared away. Hopefully this means it will mature some time in September.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Small but satisfying harvests

As promised a couple of days ago, I can today show off some small but nonetheless pleasing harvests.

Top of the bill are the first of my Broad Beans.

This little batch weighed 350g - enough for a two-person serving, I think. They are mostly ones of the "Express" variety, with one or two pods of "Witkiem Manita", which look pretty much identical to me!

I also cut the main heads off my three Brokali "Apollo" plants.

Three heads is not a big crop, I know, but once more it is enough for a two-person serving, especially since (unlike what often happens with Calabrese broccoli) the substantial but succulent stems are not discarded. My view is that small but special harvests like this are a completely different thing to bulk purchases of "ordinary" veg from supermarkets.

In view of my previous remark, I'd like to say that during the lockdown we have taken to buying a weekly fruit & veg box delivered by a local small business. The quality of their produce is far superior to anything we have had from the supermarkets, and the customer service, flexibility and responsiveness are first class. I suspect we will end up being permanent customers of them.

I've taken the crop from another of my pots of potatoes. These are "Pentland Javelin", another First Early variety.

As with the "Colleen" potatoes last week, the yield from these was small - only 485g. The quality seems fine though; they are very white, and have few blemishes.

I have to say that so far I'm disappointed by the yields of the two potato varieties I've harvested. 600g for the first ones and now 485g from these. Normally I'd be hoping for 750g or more from each pot. [Two seed tubers per 35-litre pot.] I think maybe the long dry spell during late April and then most of May is probably the cause.

I haven't harvested any of the Kohlrabi yet. With only six plants it would be foolish to pick them prematurely! They need just a couple more days, in my opinion. We have had a bit of rain this week, so hopefully that will have done them some good.

Sunday 14 June 2020

The end of the Hungry Gap

Well, finally my garden is moving into the Harvesting phase, and most of the sowing and planting is over. This is the point at which all the hard work begins to pay off. I've you've made it this far with your veg plot, you can begin to a relax a little now - though don't forget the watering!

My Brokali plants are just about ready for their first cut. This vegetable is a hybrid of  the Calabrese-style broccoli and Chinese Kale. It produces heads that look like small heads of Calabrese, but the main attraction is the fat juicy stems.

Brokali "Apollo"

Just like the other types of broccoli, when you cut the main heads the plant puts out lots of side-shoots, so I'm eager to get this done as soon as possible.

Growing next to the Brokali plants are my Kohlrabis.

Kohlrabi "Kolibri F1"

I'd say they are now not far off the size of a tennis ball, and I'll be cutting the first couple of them in the next day or two. I'm reckoning that each one will make a serving for one person, so even my paltry 6 plants will be a worthwhile contribution to our veg intake.

I keep hesitating about picking the first of my Broad Beans. I'm always saying to myself "Don't pick them too soon, because you'll get a tiny yield." But then I don't want to leave them too long and find that they go floury. As with so many vegetables, deciding when to harvest is a matter of judgement, based on a number of factors, and I believe that quality is usually more important than quantity.

I expect to be reporting the first harvest of BBs any day now...

Back in the Spring I sowed and then planted lots of clumps of Onions, but was left with a few spares. I put these into a couple of black plastic crates, and they have now grown to a stage where they are useful as Spring Onions, and I have begun harvesting them as required.

Ironically, I have seldom been able to grow any Spring Onions from seeds sown for that specific purpose, but these are lovely!

In times gone by, onions were typically sown in Autumn / Winter and then thinned out in the Spring. Rather than waste the thinnings they were used as a salad ingredient. These days they are bred and grown specifically for this purpose. My mother-in-law calls them "Young Onions" not "Spring Onions", which is probably a better name, since these days you can buy them all year round .

Most of my tomato plants are setting fruit now, though none of them are anywhere near ripe.

Tomato "Sungold"

I have decided that this year I am not going to let my tomato plants get as big as I usually do. Normally I stop them only when they have produced 5 trusses, but because of this they get very tall and I often have to spend a lot of time and energy keeping them upright, on account of the weight of fruit. This year I am only going to let them produce 4 trusses at most, and pinch them out when they reach the tops of their canes. Obviously this won't apply to the short bush-type plants. To be honest, last year we had too many tomatoes, and the freezer still contains a fair few tubs of tomato sauce!

Most of my cucumber plants seem to have settled in OK now, and are growing up their support poles.

Some of them have begun to produce flowers and little tiny fruits like this:

Once they get started these things grow very rapidly, so I don't think it will be long before I'm picking my first ones - especially as the most advanced ones are the types which are going to be used for pickling as cornichons.

I did have a couple of casualties with the cucumbers. I planted two of a type that produces white-coloured fruits, down at the bottom of the garden next to the "spare" Broad Beans. They never got established at all. They just withered and died. I'm not really sure why. When I dug them up to do a "post-mortem" I noticed the roots were very small, so I think maybe a pest of some sort had had a nibble of them. Fortunately I have two more plants of the same variety, and I'm currently contemplating where to plant them. I don't want to put them in the same place, just in case the suspected pest is still lurking there.

My potato plants are all looking very pale now. Their foliage is beginning to die down, so I'll be harvesting another pot of them every few days over the next month or so. In fact this will be the most significant early summer harvest for me, and I'm hoping for bigger yields each time as the the tubers swell.

That's it for now, but expect to see photos of harvests in my next post!