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.
I’m preparing the notes for my upcoming workshop over at The Bath Gardening School. I really want everyone to walk away from the workshop feeling that growing vegetables is EASY and that they can do it with really just a basic set of information.
I also want everyone to go home with a plan of their garden (hopefully drawn to scale) with the proper rotation in place (if that’s what they want to do) and a good idea of what they will grow in each bed for the next 3 – 4 years. This is somewhat ambitious, I know. But I think I would have felt so confident if someone had sat down with me and done that six years ago. As it was I fumbled along by myself and made lots of mistakes in the first few years.
I don’t see gardening as an exact science. There are tons of factors that affect what you can and can’t grow, not just soil, position and aspect but also time constraints, lifestyle, and taste. But drawing a plan of your garden and thinking about, firstly what you want to grow, and secondly what you can grow in the space you have, is really getting you halfway there.
The one thing that frustrates me about the books is how they all ask you to plant your vegetables so far apart. 30 inches between two rows of Tomatoes! I really don’t do that – I can’t! I would end up with one bed of Potatoes and a few Lettuce if I stuck to the planting distances. So I’ll be telling my workshop attendees that they can plan closer if they have a small garden and are prepared for yields to be lower and that they should follow the book recommendations if they have a larger garden or allotment and they want yields to be higher. Do you think that’s a good way to describe it? Do you follow the books suggestions or do it your own way?
Oh and Emma over at The Bath Gardening School is offering you a special 20 per cent discount on the course. All of the day courses include home-made cakes and a delicious lunch.
Spring – everything is all green and bouncy!
Summer – many of the plants are bigger and in full production.
Autumn – large empty patches appear and the Winter veg take over.
Winter – the garden is coated in frost and snow and everything is sleeping.
I love looking back over the seasons. Taking lots and lots of photos enables you to remember what the garden looked like at certain times of the year. I find this very useful when it comes to planting the following year. I can see how big a plant was, how much room it is likely to take up, whether it will shade other plants etc. These are all very important in a small garden like mine.
But more than that, it’s just interesting, isn’t it? To see the same garden change over time. The Spring and Summer photos look quite similar but there are subtle differences that make it obvious which is which. Apart from the plants being bigger the light is different. I didn’t take any of the photos on a sunny day which is great because you can see the nuances of light. The colours, and direction of sunlight makes a big difference, I think.
You can see the importance of having some structural plants in the Winter too. Otherwise it would just be four squares of bare earth!
One of my favourite Lettuces to grow is Tom Thumb. It’s a butterhead type with nice tight, bright green leaves and it tastes lovely with a good mustardy dressing. One of the reasons I like it so much, apart from the taste, is that it looks so neat in the garden!
Some of the Lettuces I grow are, to be honest, a bit floppy like Marvel of the Four Seasons, and a new one I tried this year, Drunken Woman (I don’t know why it’s called that either). And then your common or garden varieties like Oakleaf can get very big very quickly and take over the garden.
With Tom Thumb, they stay quite small (so you need to grow a lot of them) but they also stay where you planted them, in a neat row. I like that. At this time of year it’s my little piece of sanity in a garden gone mad.