17.07

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And all of a sudden, the vegetable patch is bearing fruit!

Well, it’s bearing vegetables, and that’s good enough for me right now. In fact, I don’t think I’ve bought a single vegetable from the supermarket in a good month now! We’ve had three kilos of Charlotte potatoes from just six plants (I forgot to weigh the harvest from the first row!), an endless supply of courgettes, the first of the runner beans and our sweet, earthy beetroots (my new favourite crop to grow, they’re delicious!), a slow but steady trickle of sugar snap peas, and more than a few ample handfuls crisp, peppery radishes.

And the lettuces have finally taken off! I think Jason and I might actually start turning green and leafy any day now, because we’ve been eating lettuce every day for weeks and still have masses of plants growing down in the vegetable beds. You won’t catch me complaining though, especially since it took them a while to get going!

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The radicchio plants that were just tiny seedlings in my last garden diary post are now planted out and thriving, and will turn deep red and deliciously bitter once the weather turns cold later this year. They’re destined to be turned into winter salads, perhaps with honey and balsamic-roasted beetroots   and some walnuts from the tree growing just down the lane from our house…

Meanwhile in the brassica bed, I’m just days away from taking a knife to my prize Savoy cabbage! It’s now got a lovely firm heart and looks just perfect with not a bit of pest damage to it, which is truly a miracle what with an army of cabbage white butterflies now on the march! Thank goodness for Enviromesh, is all I can say. And its bedfellows, the ‘Beaumont’ broccoli plants, are  F I N A L L Y forming lovely green heads, the first of which will be ready by the end of the month, I hope.

Who knew it was possible to get so very excited over cabbage and broccoli, hey?! But I’ve been tending to these brassicas since February you see, and so the anticipation has grown and grown over the last six months!
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Now that the summer vegetable plants are all away and thriving, I’m turning my attention to planning, sowing, and growing winter vegetables that will take us through the colder months. I’m challenging myself to grow enough food that we’ve something to harvest each month right through to next spring, so we’ll see how I get on!

The butternut squash plants that went in immediately following the First Early potatoes have begun to romp away, and though one is looking decidedly healthier than the other, if I get a couple of decent squashes from them to store for winter I’ll be chuffed to bits!

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Purple sprouting broccoli above, and below a main crop ‘Sarpo Mira’ potato below that decided to pop out of the soil a few weeks early plus the first ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ borlotti beans that I’m letting dry on the plants ready for winter soups and stews! Yum!

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But as ever at this time of year, there’s still lots to sow! So if you’re keen to get outside and grow some food, there’s a plethora of seeds you can be sowing during the next few weeks to provide harvests in the months to come.

Here’s what’s on my own ‘to-sow’ list from now until the end of August…

- Pak choi.

- Spring cabbages: a variety called ‘Jewel’, for overwintering and enjoying early next year.

- Winter lettuces and leaves: ‘Winter Density’ lettuce (a ‘gem’ type that copes with frost and can last through winter!), Mizuna and mustard leaves, and wild rocket.

- Spinach: ‘Medania’ is supposed to be an amazing variety for both cooking and salads that gets sweeter in cold, frosty weather!

- Beetroot: ‘Chioggia’ + ‘Boltardy’ varieties both can be sown up until the end of July, for picking in October. I’ve read that they can store in a cool, well-ventilated place for a couple of months too so we could have enough to last until Christmas!

- Turnips: I’ve never even eaten turnips before I don’t think but they’re supposed to be delicious, so I’m planning on sowing a tray and giving them a go!

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I’ve been busy in the garden this month, not just harvesting, planting, and watering, but creating new growing space too! Jason’s built two new beds in the last few weeks, one for strawberries (which I’ll be netting against toddlers and birds next year!!) and the other that’s currently got swede and kale in, but next spring I plan on using for peas! With a couple of barrowloads of well-rotted horse manure in from the yard plus a few bags of compost, they’re away and earning their keep already!

On the bed-building agenda for the rest of the summer (read: before this growing bump of mine gets so ginormous I can’t do much any more…) are a couple of long beds for the raspberry canes I just ordered from Marshall’s that arrive for planting in November, and two smaller, square beds for next year’s squashes and carrots.

Maybe one day I’ll get round to bark-chipping all the pathways around the beds…

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Oh, and I can’t round off this post without a quick trip to the greenhouse! Still just as jungle-like, but beginning to offer up a promise of fruit to come…

The tomatoes have been forming a little patchily thanks to my slightly shoddy watering schedule, but the cucumber vines are covered in baby fruits which makes me so excited! The ‘Crystal Lemon’ variety are my most-eagerly anticipated, with promise of rounded cucumbers that have a lemony tang.

It took me two rounds of failed seedlings to get these babies on their way, so the very first taste of homegrown cucumber this year will taste like pure determination I’m sure!

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On final recommendation before I go, for anyone looking ahead to next year already (I know I am!) and planning what to grow- James Wong’s wonderful book ‘Grow for Flavour‘!

Jason bought it for me a couple of weeks ago on a whim, and it’s absolutely brilliant. It breaks vegetables and fruits down into categories, explaining about the varying flavour and nutritional characteristics of different varieties, and how to get improved flavour from the crops you grow. It’s been the most fascinating read, and I’ve taken so much away from it in terms of what I want to grow myself next year!

It would be a brilliant read for anyone looking to get started with a veg patch, allotment or just some container gardening next year, alongside Hollie Newton’s ‘How to Grow‘ which I always recommend to beginner veg-growers.

~ ~ ~

What’s growing for you, this month? And is anyone else dealing with an army of aphids and cabbage white caterpillars trying to eat your brassicas down to stumps before they even get going?!

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12.06

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T H E   S E A S O N   O F   G R O W T H

Oh, June. The dreamiest of months, where the plants seem in a race against one another to show off who can grow the tallest, climb fastest, sprawl widest. I’m utterly obsessive about my daily (okay twice, or sometimes thrice daily) wander down to the vegetable patch to observe, tend, harvest, and water, and now that there’s often a pod of peas or two to snack on whilst I’m down there, all the better.

The jobs seem as constant as ever this month, with successional rounds of seeds to sow, the first row of potatoes to harvest, and a jungle of tomatoes to support in the greenhouse. My most-used phrase these days seems to be ‘I’m just popping outside to do X/Y/Z, be back in 5′, and half an hour later I’m still outside, with hands caked in soil and half a dozen jobs ticked off my endlessly updated to-do list.

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Like peas in a pod…

If there’s one most important thing I’ve learnt so far this growing year (and there’s been many things I’ve learnt), it’s that I can afford to sow three, four, five times as many pea and bean seeds and still have plenty of space to spare! In fact, that’s been my lesson in general this year, that it’s much better to have spares, extra spares, and a few more as backups rather than too few and risk being left with gaps in the beds and a sparse crop!

Especially since things like peas and beans ripen just a few at a time on each plant, I’m learning that to gather a really decent harvest in one go you need a LOT of plants! They really are so delicious though, sweet and tender straight from the pod and wonderful cooked into a pasta or risotto dish.

I’ve just sowed a new batch of petit pots peas (the variety is ‘Calibra’) to take over when the ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ main crop peas are done, and will be sowing some broad beans to overwinter in late autumn this year ready for the following spring.

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(Between Ottilie and the dogs, who all are more than partial to a pea pod or two, it’s a wonder I’ve even managed to get a look in this year. Roll on the sugar snaps!)

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Flowers flowers everywhere… 

…some bringing the promise of food, and others merely for show!

It was actually Ottilie who put the ‘Lady Salisbury’ sweet pea seeds into a little tray of compost back in January of this year, with more care and dexterity than I ever expected from her tiny, then-16 month old fingers. And now look at them! They’re the most gorgeous variety, with each bloom having a unique pattern of lilac tinging around its white petals. I cut the first little bunch today, actually, and Ottilie was so proud to carry the tiny vase I’ve put them in into her bedroom and up on the mantlepiece.

And much less delicate, but equally as exciting for the promise they bring, are the courgette flowers! Big, bold, blousy- a screaming yellow beacon amongst the muted green and brown tones of the vegetable patch. It’s the ‘Soleil’ courgettes that are first to flower, two plants ready and raring to go with at least five little courgette babies on each and a couple of fruits already a few inches long and only a week or so away from harvesting I should think.

I’m sure I’ve said before but growing my own courgettes last year absolutely ruined all shop-bought varieties for me, in fact, I’ve not bought a single one single before last summer’s glut began! I’ve got three varieties all romping away in the garden right now, and am already dreaming of the light summer pastas, ratatouilles, risottos, curries, pickles, and even cakes I plan on making with their fruits this season.
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 ^^ Always and forever tending to trays of seedlings- above are purple sprouting broccoli and winter savoys on the left, mixed radicchio on the right, and just out of shot is my next tray of lettuces ready to go…

In the greenhouse are trays of swedes, winter carrots (attempting multi-sowing in cells!), kales, cabbages, and some more runner beans all sown just this weekend, because I promised my mother-in-law an ample summer supply of her favourite runner beans and so must deliver! ^^

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Now, I like to think that so far this year I’ve done okay. Most things have germinated, I’ve overcome issues with imbalanced soil and still-unidentified diseases in my broad beans and a courgette plant that sulked for weeks after planting out, but lettuces? That most easy, foolproof of crops? It’s been a nightmare!

One variety of seeds just would NOT germinate, despite me trying another packet of the exact same type, and all those I’ve got to planting-out stage have grown so very slowly I’ve only just begun picking the odd leaf here and there! In fact, most have stubbornly refused to grow at all ever since planting out…except the ones that were munched to the ground by rabbits, and now have come back as full, beautiful lettuce heads.

Nature, eh. I don’t know, sometimes!

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And lastly, happy and flourishing are the ‘Chioggia’ beets, a pink and white striped variety I just can’t wait to cut into and taste, the ‘Swift’ first early potatoes are up and mostly eaten and all completely delicious, and a supposedly mini, two-foot wide Savoy cabbage that is just beginning to heart up and is my pride and joy!

What’s growing for you, this month?

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20.04

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G R O W   L I T T L E   P L A N T S ,   G R O W . . .

I’ve been meaning to put together another kitchen garden update for ages now (my last one was in January!) but what with the months on end of snowy, drizzly, and grey weather we’ve had, it’s not really felt like the weather for gardening! But I’ve been getting out and cracking on with my seed-sowing as much as I can, to keep on top of my plans for the vegetable patch.

And things are looking good! With the upswing in temperatures over the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to start putting the young plants out into the beds, with the spinach (‘Red Kitten’ is the variety) planted and thriving, and a second sowing of broad beans (originally sown in toilet roll tubes to encourage strong root growth) out and getting ready to unfurl their first flowers.

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The first ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ peas are under a fabric cloche (I sowed a tray of peas back in March, and then planted those out a few weeks ago whilst also sowing more peas in between the plants to fill the gaps), and the last couple of weeks have also been a mad race to get all the potatoes in! I’ve done 6 rows, two each of extra early ‘Swift’, second early ‘Charlotte’, and main crop ‘Sarpa Miro’ potatoes. The Swifts are already popping up through the soil, which fills me with joy and dreams of early summer potato salads to come!

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I’d forgotten just how wonderful it to see tiny green shoots poking up through the soil, and how addictive checking daily for signs of new growth can be! This week has brought about the arrival of a green haze of carrot seedlings underneath the black netting of their cosy tunnel, though I’m kicking myself for not having checked back at the plan I made for each of the beds and having sowed these seeds in totally the wrong place!

I’d intended to sow the carrots alongside the cabbages and kales, so that I could net them all against their enemies the carrot root fly and cabbage white butterflies respectively, but I stupidly just sowed them right next to the broad beans. It’s no big deal, but just not as organised as I’d hoped to be!

Anyway, carrots were one of my favourite things I grew last year, so I’m hoping this crop will do well. I’ve got one row of ‘Chantenay’ carrots, and one of ‘Purple Sun’, and plan to sow two more rows soon to have a succession of delicious homegrown carrots all summer long!

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And so, to this month’s lists of seeds to get going with!

+ Lettuces, ‘Red Salad Bowl’ and ‘All Year Round Butterhead’
Strangely, though I sowed both these varieties of lettuce at the exact same time and into the same seed tray at the start of the month, only the red variety germinated! I’m totally stumped as to why the butterhead variety didn’t come up, but now I’ve transplanted all the red lettuce seedlings I’d better get on and resow the butterhead seeds or else we’ll be having some pretty boring salads over the coming weeks!

+ Peas, ‘Sugar Snap Ann’ and ‘Kelvedon Wonder’
I’m trying to keep a succession of sowings going with the peas this month, so that we have a nice long season of fresh peas from the garden! Sugar snaps picked fresh were the most delicious thing ever last summer (though I had trouble with caterpillars!), and I truly can’t wait to have them fresh from the garden again this year. The canes and netting are up and ready for sugar snaps to scramble up, and I need to go and cut some pea sticks from the hedgerows to support the peas.

+ Courgettes, ‘Soleil’ and ‘Striato d’Italia’
Roll on courgette season! The Soleil’s are up and potted on and happy and I’m about to sow the second variety, which were the ones I grew last year and that I recommend to EVERYBODY! I’ve learnt this year to only sow three or four of each variety, because a couple of monster courgette plants is plenty for a copious supply all summer long!

+ Beetroot, ‘Boltardy’
This is my first attempt at beetroot, and from what I hear it’s a pretty easy going veg to grow! I’m not actually sure I’ve ever cooked beetroot either, but have big plans for pickling some this year to eat at Christmas time!

+ Cucumber, ‘Marketmore’
I grew cucumber last year but not very successfully- I think I had two cucumbers in total! This year I found them tricky to germinate, but after asking for advice from Sam on Instagram (a veg-growing guru!), and a brief stint on a warm radiator to help them get going, we’re finally away! And I’m so excited because nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber!

+ Leeks, ‘Musselburgh’
I sowed some leeks a few months ago, but I’m not convinced the young plants look all that healthy. I’ve planted them out anyway, and have just sowed another row alongside them and hope they’ll do well! Leeks are one of my favourite veg to cook with, and apparently this variety are fairly easy to grow. Let’s hope!

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And last of all, a couple of book recommendations for you! Hollie Newton’s ‘How To Grow’ was my Bible last year, and I’ve just started reading it once again. It’s just the most beautiful, practical, wonderfully written book- a guide to growing vegetables and fruit interspersed with recipes and anecdotes from Hollie’s own garden. The photos are gorgeous, and it’s the most accessible gardening book I’ve come across so far. I love it!

Charles Dowding’s Diary is, funnily enough, a diary! There’s space to fill in information and notes about what you’re sowing and planting throughout the calendar year, though I’ll admit I’ve been a bit useless about remembering to fill it in. I’ve found the seed sowing calendar the most useful thing about it, plus all the information about no-dig gardening and veg growing in general is invaluable. Worth a read!

What are you growing this year?

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24.01

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T I M E   F O R   N  E W   B E G I N N I N G S .

The beds are finished and filled. Finally! It’s taken us a full month to complete, in scraps of time stolen whilst Ottilie naps and between our work and the household chores and trips out as a family.

The first lorryload of compost was delivered five days before Christmas, and carrying it all round to the vegetable patch round the back of our house one wheelbarrow load at a time was the most arduous task imaginable! During one of the days I spent trudging back and forth fetching soil and tipping it out into the beds, I managed to walk 7 whole kilometres without ever leaving our garden!!

There’s still such a lot to do though, it’s a little overwhelming! Our soil is heavy clay and seems to be slug central (heaven help me and my lettuces this summer!) so I need to copper tape the edges of the beds, the perimeter fence needs rabbit-proofing, and I’m also desperate to lay some pathways to suppress the nettles that are already popping up all over the place!

And possibly more urgently, I need to find a way humane of deterring the moles that have started creating mounds in one of the beds I so painstakingly filled and raked smooth. No doubt they’ve been tempted along by all the worms in the layer of sheep manure that’s spread along the bottom of the bed!

p.s. Anyone want links for my outfit in that photo above? ;) ;)

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But first things first, time to sow the first seeds of the year! My ‘to sow’ list for January has been as follows:

+ Garlic ‘Carcassone Wight’

The garlic went directly into the bed in a double row at the beginning of the month, and almost all the shoots are now up and poking their tiny green tips through the soil! It’s a happy sight.

+ Leeks, ‘Musselburgh’

These I’m hoping to sow successionally over the coming months, to give us a long harvest of leeks starting later in the year and continuing through next winter. I’m also going to test out a technique called ‘multi-sowing’, where a clump of young plants is placed into one position (instead of the traditional one plant per position) and then the leeks can be picked and eaten as they mature one by one. An unclear explanation I’m sure- have a look at Charles Dowding’s videos on YouTube for a much better demonstration of the technique!

+ Mini Savoy cabbage, ‘Caserta’

This will be my first time attempting cabbage (last year I didn’t have space for any winter veg in the tiny garden of our previous house), so I’m a bit nervous about keeping the dreaded cabbage white butterflies away from my crop! I’ve invested in a large sheet of Enviromesh (pricey, but brilliant by all accounts!) and plan on planting the cabbages next to carrots (which will also need netting against carrot root fly), to kill two birds with one stone! Or rather, deter two pests with one big net…

+ Spinach, ‘Red Kitten’

The sowing instructions on these say outdoors from February, but I thought I’d pop a few in a seed tray and try to raise some nice strong, healthy baby plants in the greenhouse to be planted out in a month’s time! If it doesn’t work or they get nipped by frost, then hey! I’ve only lost a handful of seeds.

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And lastly, to the broad beans!

I sowed a tray of broad beans (the variety is ‘Aquadulce’ in a modular seed tray back at the start of the month, but have since learnt that our dining room and kitchen definitely don’t get enough sunlight to raise healthy plants! The seedlings have grown so stupidly tall and leggy that some have keeled right over, so it’s off to the compost bin for them and onto a new batch!

This next lot I’ve sown direct into the bed next to the garlic, and am keeping my fingers crossed that they grow well! I’ve heard that mice like to make a meal of broad bean seeds, so it’ll be just my luck to find out that alongside the slugs, snails, moles, and rabbits, we’ve also got mice to contend with too!

If the broad beans do well though they’ll be one of our earliest crops of the year, with the beans ready in late spring. They’re so delicious added to risottos, pasta sauces, and whizzed up into falafel and hummus, so I’m desperate for them to do well!

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And that’s our progress for the month! I’m so, so ready to start eating homegrown food again. The crisp lettuces and tender beans and shiny courgettes of last summer feel like a distant memory already.

So here’s to Spring!

~ ~ ~

What’re you growing this month? Are you hoping to grow any fruits or vegetables this year?

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