Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Review of 2010 - Part 4, Peas & Beans

I always start my early peas and beans under a cloche, which goes on the ground when I prepare the soil about two weeks before planting. This traps what little warmth there is during the day and helps germination. After the cold winter, this was even more important this year and the peas above were planted in early April. I also did a second sowing (without a cloche) one month later, in an attempt to extend the season.
I know I really bang on about this, but if you like peas, grow an old tall variety like this one - Alderman, which grows up to 2m in height. You get more crops for the same amount of land, and you stand a better chance of eating your peas instead of feeding the slugs. The only downside is the support needed - this year I used a framework consisting of canes with twine woven from top to bottom in between. It stood up well to the weather and wind, only subsiding gently towards the end of the season.
My bid to extend the cropping season did work; although the second sowing suffered a bit from the 6 weeks without rain, it recovered and we had peas into August (picture above). I still have a large bag of peas in the freezer.
The runner beans were started in toilet roll pots in the shed. I waited until quite late this year as we had late frosts, but they grew on well once they got going. The great thing about toilet roll pots is you just pop the whole thing in the ground. Unfortunately they went out just as the dry spell was kicking in, I did water them but they were a bit slower to get away.
I'm not really a big fan of runner beans; I grow them mainly for my Mother, who loves them. They were late due to the weather but cropped reasonably well into October. Most of mine ended up in vegetable soups, liquidised! The variety is White Emergo, a white flowered variety. These are supposed to keep good pollination rates even in a dry summer. This did seem to happen in the one dry summer we had some years ago, but I can't really remember the days when we had hot, dry summers any more!
The broad beans weren't good. I planted them under a cloche in March, which was late as I normally put them in in February. The soil was just too cold and we had been unable to prepare it due to the snow. They started well, as you can see from the picture, but ...
... just as they started to flower, we hit the dry spell and they struggled. The crop was poor this year; I think I started to seriously water them too late. I featured these poor plants in my review of the weather a few weeks ago.

So mixed results with the peas and beans, and a few learning points.

Next week, the stars of my plot this year - marrows, courgettes (zucchini) and pumpkins.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Review of 2010 - Part 3, Roots

This has been a generally good year for my root crops. The radish got off to a good start with the sunny weather in spring and the first crop was excellent. Unfortunately the subsequent sowings suffered a bit due to the dryness. Watering produced excessively quick growth, splitting the roots. But in my part of the world I usually find the first sowing is always the best anyway. The variety I sowed is Rudolph.
After last year's total failure of the beetroot crop, I was determined not to let the same thing happen again. So I started all the beetroot in pots in the shed, 4 or 5 to each pot. I think this was wise, given the cold and late spring and it paid off. I lost no more than 5 plants when I put them in the soil - being very careful to leave the soil around the roots intact- and you can see from the picture that we had a lot of beetroots. At the end of summer I picked all the small ones and pickled them leaving the larger ones to grow on. There are still a few in the ground, I'll get them up before the hard frosts come. So if anyone tells you that you cannot grow beetroot in pots and plant them out, tell them that's rubbish because I've done it! The variety I grow is Egyptian Turnip Rooted - it seems to tolerate the damp soil and vagaries of the weather here better than other varieties.
Parsnips also did well, a mix of home-grown and bought seed produced a lot of plants. Unfortunately I planted them a little too close to the pumpkins and some of them didn't get quite enough light. Still, they will be useful for miniature parsnips for roasting. I've only picked one as yet (top of the picture) but it was delicious. The variety is Tender & True.

As you can see from the picture, I've still got a few cabbages left as well as beetroot and parsnip. Next week I'll look at the peas and beans.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Review of 2010 - Part 2, Leafy Green Veg

I've never got on well with spinach, it didn't seem to matter what variety, when or how I sowed it, it always ran to seed without producing leaves. So last year I bought a few Perpetual Spinach plants from the garden centre and popped them in to see how they did. To my surprise, they flourished, and for the first time we actually had leaves to eat. I therefore decided to take the plunge with a packet of seed this year.

The photo above shows the leaf bed in July. I sowed them in April, Swiss Chard on the left, Perpetual Spinach in the centre and lettuce on the right. The spinach was producing when this picture was taken, and is still going now. It should survive over winter and I anticipate having some early leaves in 2011 before next year's crop gets going. The bed was just composted, with a small bit of manure as well. So a definite success, not one plant went to seed.
The Swiss Chard (leaf beet) was slower to get going, and I had to do a second sowing as it didn't all germinate well. But it is doing well now, as this picture from a few weeks ago shows. Good quality leaves, again the best ever. This is one of those plants which tends to seed itself where it fancies around the garden. The lettuce was Salad Bowl and was very good, as always.
As for the cabbages, I grow summer cabbages, though we tend to eat them well into autumn. This year we grew two of the smaller varieties; Minicole on the left, Golden Acre on the right (the apple helps to give scale). This size of cabbage means you don't end up eating it for days, and we tried Golden Acre as we had difficulties getting a good crop of Minicole. The growing conditions this year were particularly good as we had lots of light at the right time of year, so it was a good test of the two varieties, and the consensus is that Golden Acre won. While not as compact a variety as Minicole, it provided a more consistent crop of similar size vegetables and a slightly better taste too. Minicole varied from teeny tiny cabbages (the size of a blown sprout top) to some a little bigger than the one in the picture. So we'll just grow Golden Acre next year. By the way, as you can see from the picture, our slug population has now recovered in number and appetite!

As the sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli are still going, I'll make a judgment on them later.