Wow! Is it that time of year already? It seems like yesterday that I was picking Lettuces but now it’s time to start thinking about next year and planting Garlic again. I suppose on the surface of it, kitchen gardening looks a lot like doing the same thing over and over again every year. But it’s not like that, is it?
Yes, sometimes it feels a bit like groundhog day when it comes to planting things like Garlic again but the choices are endless and that for me is what makes it exciting. I’ve been growing vegetables for over eight years and every year my garden is completely different. Not only do I have a go a different varieties but also my successes and failures are different too. Some years are just good for certain vegetables and bad for others. This year for instance I managed to kill all my pumpkin seedlings by forgetting to water them in the hot greenhouse. So no pumpkins for me but my Tomatoes were out of this world.
I’ve learned a lot about growing vegetables and should have it ‘down pat’ but it’s not that easy. Even if you do everything ‘right’ sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes the slugs mow down your seedlings (I should make a T-shirt that says that…). But that’s what makes it challenging, for me.
This is one part of my kitchen garden that I’m really happy with. Every inch of it is full. No dirt showing! It looks like a photo from Joy Larkcom’s book. But we all know this won’t last long so I’m savouring it while it’s here. The three types of Lettuces you can see will soon be going to seed if we don’t snip them soon. The Kale and Chard really needs to be picked over and eaten leaf by leaf but I haven’t the heart to do it. The Cauliflowers in the foreground are starting to heart up and will probably be the last men standing in this part of the garden. And the Shallots at the back are swollen and the tips of the leaves are starting to go yellow. Before we know it they will crisp, lying on the floor and ready for digging.
All those lovely fresh, lush photos of kitchen gardens that we see in magazines and books are just a, very short, moment in time. Why? Because we eat the stuff! I for one, struggle to let go of perfection.
Currently enjoying Snap Peas by the bucket and the Hood Strawberries are still coming.
One little trend that I noticed for the first time at Chelsea this year is the preference for dark coloured Pea Sticks. I saw them in several gardens. With green Peas and with Purple Podded Peas too. I particularly liked these planted next to red-flowering Broadbeans.
They look very ornamental and the dark wood stands out against the green Peas. They weren’t very tall so I’m hoping that these Peas were a dwarf variety otherwise the sticks would be inadequate to hold them.
The question is where do you find little dark sticks like this. Anyone got any ideas on the type of wood? I usually use twigs stuck in the ground but these little wigwams have won my heart.
When I moved from the UK I had to give all my seeds away to neighbours and friends. The customs laws in the US prevented me from bringing them into the country. Understandable really and I didn’t mind at all. But, that meant that when I arrived my seedbox was empty. That was strange for me because it has never been empty since the day I bought it. Infact, most of the time it was bulging and groaning under the weight of new seeds that I simply COULD NOT avoid buying or saved seed that, ‘well I might sow one day!’.
So, since this is the new year and in preparation for that lovely time of year when we all ‘start sowing’ I bought some seed. Okay, I might have gone a bit over board but I won’t be needing any new seed for a while. Most of them I bought from Botanical Interests – simply because they have lovely illustrations on the front. And I also bought some Herb seeds from the Territorial Seed Company too.
A few of the packets are seed that I’ve never grown before; Watermelon, Edamame beans, Black Krim beefsteak Tomatoes and some Chilli Pepper.
I thought I would sit down with a nice cup of tea and my gardening notebook and do some planning. I don’t know about you but I encounter the same problem every year. I get too excited at the beginning of the season and plant up my whole garden with all the early season plants (Peas, Onions, Broadbeans, Lettuce etc) and then when it comes to putting the later season plants in (Pumpkins, Squash, Cucumber, Tomatoes etc) I have run out of space.
To compound the problem early vegetables like Radish, Spinach and Lettuce start to go over leaving holes in my garden that are not big enough to house say a Pumpkin because they are surrounded with plants that take a long time to grow (Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower to name a few). I need a plan.
I find that traditional rotation and grouping vegetables by type doesn’t work for me in such a small space. Plus, my kitchen garden IS my garden so I want to avoid the ‘allotment’ look.
It’s still testing me, but I’ll let you know when I come up with something. Does anyone do anything purposeful to avoid these issues?
I went to my local garden centre to see what seed Potatoes they had and found they had done this really cool Potato display. They could have easily just chucked the Potatoes in boxes and left it at that but someone had really gone to town with the display. Not only could you buy in bags but you could also do a ‘pick and mix’ style shop and fill an egg box with different varieties. This is great if you have a really small garden and don’t have room to plant a whole bag full of second earlies.
They also wrote up some boards with some ‘Potato Facts’ – like “In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts.” And also some boards telling you how to grow Potatoes.
It’s not rocket-science and of course it’s all designed to entice you to buy seed Potatoes. But I just love the passion behind this. You can tell that they both grow and sell Potatoes. And they love doing it.
And after all this they did make a sale – I bought a bag of Highland Burgundy Red.
It’s about this time of year that I start to think about buying Onion sets. I must admit in previous years I have tended to buy what they were selling at the garden centre. But after growing a variety called Snowball last year I was very disappointed by its yield. I put it down to my soil or maybe me just not looking after them properly. But I recently read a trial that said that particular variety performed poorly – so maybe I should start taking notice of these trials?
Apparently, the soil here in the UK is not suited to all varieties of Onions. Sweet onions (the likes of which they grow in Spain) are difficult here because there are too many sulphur compounds in the soil (Which? Gardening January 2012).
I always grow from sets (immature Onions) rather than seed. And was interested to see that the following Onions did well in trials for UK soil:
Troy (best overall 2010) – although many places don’t sell this variety anymore.
Autumn Gold – matures end of July
Centurion – matures mid July
Forum – matures mid July
Garnet – matures early Aug
Hyred – matures early Aug
Red Baron – matures early Aug
I think I’ll be giving Troy a go and also either Garnet or Hyred since I’ve already grown Red Barons in the past.
I recently visited The Courts garden in Holt, Wiltshire. It’s a beautiful but compact garden and part of it is given over to a small kitchen garden surrounded by box bushes. The garden has a very ‘natural’ feel with most of the pathways blending in with the backdrops. Here they have used natural materials to denote pathways.
The gardener has used branches (maybe prunings from the fruit orchard?) as borders from this small herb bed. They have used thick branches to form the main pathway and smaller, thin branches to mark out the beds. Informal but very effective.
I’ve gone a bit ‘pattern-crazy’ this year and decided to plant up all my beds in some kind of design. This bed is mostly salads and I’ve planted it in a sunburst design. I suppose I just got bored of planting in straight lines and thought I would do something different this year.
I planted a Box hedge along the bottom and a row of pot-grown Shallots along on the right-hand side to give it some structure. Then I laid some sticks down on the ground to make a sunburst pattern. At the head I’ve planted one Perpetual Spinach plant, which will eventually get quite big. Then around that some Cauliflowers, and a row of American Cress seeds (which you can’t see in this photo) in a sort of half-moon shape. Then on the ‘rays’ of the sunburst I have planted (right to left) Carrots (Early Nantes), Spinach (Kimono), Lettuce (Tom Thumb), Mustard Greens, Lettuce (Henderson Simpson), Aubergine – yes I know it’s too early for Aubergine but I’ve got my fleece ready and waiting! Pak Choi and Red Cabbage. I have yet to plant anything in the space at the top.
This bed is only 2.6m by 3.6m and it already has some Strawberries and a Whitecurrant bush in it. As you can see I’ve packed them in quite tightly, far closer than the recommended growing distances. In a nutshell I want this bed to be completely full, with no earth showing at all. Also, as the larger plants grow so the smaller crops will be harvested. It should all work, but it’s the first time I’ve grown like this so I’m experimenting a bit.
What do you think? Anyone else trying anything similar?
I went to Dyrham Park at the weekend and noticed these cute little pathways on their kitchen garden area. I’m guessing it’s Willow bent over to make little arches and then tied together at the joins. Very decorative, I thought. A little too rustic for my garden but still, very neat.