Garden Review of 2017 – my Top 5 Vegetables

Looking back to the 2017 season in my garden, and highlighting my vegetable growing successes.

The spring and summer of 2017 have long since ridden off into the sunset, and the memories of my first spade into the tired old lawn of my new garden are beginning to fade.

So, what better way to beat the February chills or driving myself crazy with wanting to sow every seed, than to look back at my five favourite vegetable successes that grew in my new garden.

Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’

Three Squash Spaghetti Stripetti
Three left!

Having never grown a squash before, and rarely tasted them in anything other than soups, I decided to grow 2 Squash Spaghetti Stripetti seeds.

I greatly underestimated what these plants could do, although the wind sorted one of them out in just a few hours of planting it out into my new raised bed. I sowed a replacement, but really didn’t need to.

Within only 6-8 weeks of sowing the first one, I was already expectantly watching the first of the squashes form under a mass of leaves and tangled stems.

Small Squash Spaghetti Stripetti forming
The first Squash forming after about 6-8 weeks of sowing.

I ended up with the original plant meandering and clinging to all other plants (including the lawn), with a radius of about 20 feet.

By the time that the plant had peaked, it had given me about 15 edible big plump squashes. I swiftly learnt how to roast them up and have enjoyed eating their soft, spaghetti-ish, kind-of sweet yellow flesh. I still have three of these in my kitchen – they store really well.

Courgette ‘Black Beauty’

Courgette plant on flower
One of the Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants on flower. They went er.. bananas.

The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’, just like the namesake horse, galloped along and took over my diet for about 3 months, allowing me to legitimately infiltrate the courgetti fad crowd with my tricky-to-clean spiralizer gadget.

I’d tried growing these over the years with intermittent success. In this new garden though, for some reason I thought 6 plants would be ok. This gave me heaps of courgettes resulting in a great soup recipe, and new-found friends at work (gardening really is sociable!).

Courgette, Potato, and Cheddar Soup
Courgette, Potato, and Cheddar Soup – one of the tastiest ways to reduce my courgette glut.

Considering that the seed ‘should have’ been discarded about 8 years previously, they did very well. After drowning in courgettes, and the plants experiencing mildew that eventually suffocated the courgettes and the marauding squash plant, I pulled up both after a long and happy harvest.

I kept a tally, but gave up at the end of Week 7’s harvest. At that point, i counted a total of 45 courgettes, weighing a cumulative 15.5 kilos (that’s 15,500 grams – the equivalent of just less than 1 London Bus).

French Climbing Bean ‘Blue Lake’

French Bean 'Blue Lake' beans
Just a few of the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ beans that cropped well in the new garden.

This was probably my best harvest yet, and these French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ beans soon took to the wigwam and cropped. They were the second plants to be planted out into my new garden, as the seedlings had spent most of April crawling around my old house’s windowsills desperate to be planted out whilst solicitors did their job.

French Bean Blue Lake seedlings with wigman
My French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ seedlings had been desperate to be planted out in 2017, so they were 2nd out, in week 1!

Heavy assaults from snails were seen off with some magic sweets, enabling me to have many harvests right up to the frost. I’ll definitely continue growing these, as the beans are so tasty, and I love to pop a few in a stir fry.

Mixed Salad Leaves

handful of mixed salad leaves
The mixed Salad Leaves have been lush and delicious, and I’ve enjoyed picking them in the morning sunshine before work.

These did really well, considering that they were supposed to have been sowed ‘before 2012’. They were desperate to be planted out when they were filling up the windowsill of my old house, so they were the first plants in – just a few days after getting my new house keys.

A red leaf lettuce planted out.
The slugs don’t seem to like these red-leafed lettuces. I’ll grow some more.

I grew a mixed range, and I soon realised that one of the red leaf varieties did not appeal to slugs and snails. I think I’ve identified the variety as Lettuce ‘Red Salad Bowl’ (ingenious name, right?), and will be growing it again in 2018.

Pea ‘Alderman’

Last year, I returned to growing one of my first garden successes from when I was a child – Peas. Armed with a packet of Pea ‘Alderman’ seeds, and a newly erected fence, I sowed my line.

Handful of Peas 'Alderman'
My one and only handful of Peas ‘Alderman’ from my 2017 garden. Delicious.

They germinated fast, but the woodpigeons and slugs were fast too. I managed to pop some wire over them but they’d already taken heavy slug damage. I managed a harvest though – a handful of pods – and well, a mouthful of fresh peas. They were delicious, but brief.

Small harvest of Pea Alderman
My 2017 Pea harvest. That’s it. Baby steps, Andrew. Baby steps.

I hope to improve this in 2018, and be two steps ahead of my pea-nibbling foes.

So, those are my vegetable highlights of 2017 – all of these grew from seed, and were planted out in my new garden.

What did you grow in 2017?

Did you have any vegetable growing successes in 2017? What are you planning to grow in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, happy gardening (or simultaneous seed catalogue browsing and dreaming). I’ll post the garden review of my favourite flowers in a few days, but for now – thanks for reading.

Andrew

Planning the 2018 garden

I’m planning my 2018 garden. Always have a plan!

This April, it will be 1 year since I bought and moved in to this house.

During that time, I have broken a garden laid entirely to a tired lawn, moved fences, planted a hedge, and enjoyed a lot of homegrown vegetables and flowers.

Now that I’ve begun to understand my garden a bit, I’m creating my plan for 2018, based on what I’ve observed so far.

Above is my 2018 Google planner for the seeds that I want to sow this year – helping me to keep on track.

 

1. There’s a shady bit

Close to the fence, patio and house, there’s a shaded area which is also pretty heavy clay. The water sits here sometimes for a while, trying to escape the patio. My potted Ferns like this area, and I successfully transferred a few self-sown Foxgloves that had tried to make home in my garden pots that I moved with me from my previous house.

This part of the garden will be getting some Aquilegia ‘McKana Giants’ in 2018, which apparently enjoy more shaded moist conditions.

2. There’s an old shed

The old decrepit shed needs to be demolished, as it’s empty, somehow has stood the countless gales we’ve had with little more than an occasional door swing, and it’s taking up precious growing space. What it is doing though, is helping to provide some privacy between the bottom of my garden and the houses who back up to my fence. I’m thinking about having a new fence installed, but first I just need to take it down. I hope it’s not concrete under that!

3. More raised beds

Having demolished the old shed, then I’ll have space and a pile of wood from which I aim to make some more raised beds. This part of the garden fared really well for my French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ and my ‘sow-by-2012’ salad crops. It also gave me the occasional courgette, although these were the only ones grown in the ground (rather than a raised bed) so they were a bit slower. The new raised beds will fit in the old shed space.

4. Blackcurrants

I’ve bought a couple of Blackcurrant ‘Ribes Nigrum’ bushes. They’re just budding at the moment, but I hope to eventually get a crop from them in the next couple of years. I think these are also going near the shed footprint.

5. Birds

This morning, I participated in The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch with my independent adjudicator, RubyCat. The garden is busy this weekend – now that the snow, wind, and rain, gave everyone a few hours break. I noticed that there’s a reasonable range of bird life coming in, and so I hope that my B&Q birdbox (which incidentally split) will get its first use, and I hope the birds are enjoying the 4 bird feeders and the sunflower heads I left on. I’ll be growing more sunflowers for them and the bees.

6. Up

Last year I learned that Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ loves to crawl, climb, grab, grasp, and strangle. That was my first ever year of growing squashes, and they gave me plenty out of just one plant. This year, I need to make that plant go upwards, instead of letting is maraud its way over, through and around a 20ft radius of garden. I shall be looking for either a trellis, or an arch that will suit my needs.

Elsewhere in the garden, I also want to solve the issue I had last year with the reluctant Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mix’. They were happy to flower and grow where i’d planted them, but they refused to climb. I put it down to the climbing ‘frame’ being made of string rather than wire, and so I will swap my intricate string grid with wire, and see if I can finally persuade them and my new Honeysuckle ‘Lonicera’ to reach upwards and give me scent and blooms this summer.

Flower and vegetable seed packets
My seed packets are raring to be opened!

Right! My seed packets are all alphabetically filed in a new storage box, and ready to go… c’mon budge over Winter, let’s have some Spring!

What are you planning for your garden this year? Are you trying anything ‘new’ in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy gardening,

Andrew

 

Planting the French Beans

It’s time to sow the French Beans and to tackle my Antirrhinum forest.

As we’re heading towards the end of April, it’s time for me to plant my French Beans.

I’ve always started them off indoors in pots, and once again, I’ve opted for French Bean ‘Blue Lake’, which have grown well for me most years (when they don’t get fried, blown to bits, or eaten by marauding snails).

In good years, these beans have given me many crops of beans, so as I head towards the final days of my tiny little border garden, and towards the proper new garden, I’ve sown 12 of these beans in a hope that they will give me a bumper crop come July. I erect a wigman from bamboo canes and let them get on with it, and give them plenty of water.

French Bean 'Blue Lake' seeds to sow
French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ are ready to sow.

Usually these smooth pale off-white bean seeds shoot up through the multipurpose compost within just a few days and with a great success rate. I’ve bought some fresh seed for the first time this year too, so hopefully they’ll be super-charged and soon climbing up those poles in my new garden.

Meanwhile, I tackled my Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest, which having only had one germinate from the old seed, and hundreds from the seed head of one of the Antirrhiums in my garden that I used to re-sow a few weeks later, it was time to prick out some of the seedlings from the lush green forest on the windowsill.

Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedmings
My Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest. The large seedling (foreground, right) was the only one to germinate from the old seed.

One great thing with these plants is that once you’ve got Antirrhinums, you’ve got Antirrhinums – such great value for money! Whoever is having my old house and garden, is going to have Antirrhinum’s unless they own a blowtorch or are very creative with concrete and cement. I’m looking forward to introducing them to my new garden and letting them find where they’d prefer to grow in year 2.

I spent quite a cathartic while carefully pricking out seedlings on Saturday morning, which hardly seems to have made a dent in the forest, but as given me 47 pricked out seedlings.

Some of the Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedlings after being pricked out.
Some of the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ seedlings after being pricked out.

I suspect I could probably fill another 4 or so trays with Antirrhinum seedlings, so I might do another one, and see whether my mother wants any for her garden. If not, just plonk the rest in the garden after the frosts and let them get on with it.

Anyway, there’s plenty of things to prick out, sow, and dig up in preparation for the coming week’s house move. So, with April nearly at a close, I wish you another week of happy gardening.

Thanks for reading, Andrew 🙂

Tulips in the wind

The Tulips are in bloom, the seeds are sown, and the snails are marauding.

I’ve been delayed this year as I’ve been busy doing a ton of other things instead, but I’ve set some seeds and they now start their merry crusade.

I’ve just set the seeds for a few of the plants I want to grow this year. There’s no ‘new faces’ this time.

Before I go into detail, I’ve had a quick look around my garden to see what’s going on this week. The Tulip ‘Negrita’ bulbs are all flowering, and the Broom ‘Cytisus Scoparius’ and Forsythia are all teetering on the edge of opening their yellow flowers.  This is a welcome blast of colour in the garden, where the only other colours are green, silver (the latter from the Cineraria that’s still going strong from 2 years ago!).

Tulip 'Negrita'
Tulip ‘Negrita’
Broom 'Cytisus Scoparius' is on the verge of blooming.
Broom ‘Cytisus Scoparius’ is on the verge of blooming.

I’ve sown some more French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ as they have never failed to provide me with a nice regular crop of green beans.

Joining them are Sweet Pea ‘Floral Tribute Mixed’. Sweet Peas have been struggling in my garden – partly at the wrath of slugs, snails, and aphids, but mainly at the wrath of wind and sun – those that survive being nibbled through, go on to be blown to bits or fried before they get very far up the canes to flower.

Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ return – the hover fly’s (and sadly caterpillar’s) favourite. I lure the hoverflies in because they eat a vast amount of aphids that attack the roses and the sweet peas.

The final sowing today has been more of the wonderful flat-leaf Parsley ‘Laura’ – which aside from being very good for you, is also wonderful with scrambled egg (and i eat a lot of eggs).

Parsley 'Laura' - just 20 days old.
Parsley ‘Laura’ – it will be ready in about 20 days.

It took me just a few minutes to sow these into pots, plop them into the propagator on my spare room windowsill, and give them that all important first watering in.

The next bit, is up to fate.

Last year’s Aubrieta ‘Cheeky Mix’ are ready to be planted out, having survived wind, constant rain, and a marauding wheelie bin.

I’ve decided that the slug and snail ‘meet and greet’ sessions need to begin now, as the Hollyhock ‘Single Mixed’ that I bought the other week, has already sustained heavy damage, and I haven’t planted it out yet. I thought it’s hairy stems might exclude it from the slug and snails’ menu… but it seems they found a way to get to the leaves by scaling nearby pots. I’ve moved it away from them, as I don’t think they’d jump or parachute in.

Hollyhock Single Mixed - snail battered
Hollyhock ‘Single Mixed’ – snail attacked

In other news, my neighbour has cut back a big piece of a large tree in her garden, and this has really let a lot of light in. I wonder how this will affect the garden? More light, yes, but more wind too?

Plants vs Snails – the endless war

Snails.
Yes, SNAILS. Where the hell do they all keep coming from?

This week has been hot and sunny. This weekend is going to have to be one of planting out and potting up.

I came home the other day to discover that the plants on one of my windowsills had all wilted, but they’ve all seemingly recovered again after a quick soak. Phew! These plants are going to have to be planted out, or they’ll become too lanky or stressed to do anything.

In my last post I noted that I’d planted out my new Lupin ‘The Governor’ plant. Prior to this, there were no snails to be seen. However, knowing what they’ve been like previously, I decided to circle the new lush green plant with some special ‘fizzy sweets’. It worked a treat. The next morning I checked the plant and it was relatively unscathed, but surrounded with abandoned shells.

That evening, I checked again, to find 15 snails within 1 foot of the plant. I swiftly aided them on their way, but it begs me to ask where the hell do all these snails come from?

Despite this, and through the desperation they’ve show to escape my windowsill, I have planted out some of the Sweet Pea ‘Candy Cane’, and the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ plants. This fills one of the cane structures nicely, and again i have circled each plant with those special treats for the snails. I’m hoping that the plants will soon become established, forcing the snails to leave them alone in favour of more tender juicy plants (ie weeds, or something in my neighbour’s garden).

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
One of the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants.

I came home a littler earlier today, to find that some of my Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ plants that I had sowed back in June 2011, and had flowered in 2012, are flowering again. These are welcome in my garden. Not just because of their flower-coated spires that reach upwards, but because they are quite happy in the shade – something my garden gets a lot of.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ – its stems reach up, with flowery bits every so often

Not far from the foxgloves, is my Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ plant with its soft blue flowers. I’ve checked back to see when the Foxgloves and Nepeta flowered last year – given that we’ve had some pretty rough weather in the first 4 months of the year, and it seems that they’re only about 10 days behind 2012.

This weekend should see the planting out of the rest of the Sweet Peas, the potting up of the Courgettes and Tomatoes, and perhaps the planting out of the Nasturtiums too. Fingers crossed for sunshine, please!

Tubers, Sowing, and Potting On

There might be lots of new lush green growth outside, but there’s still plenty of seeds and plants to sow and pot on indoors.

Whilst the sun has finally found its shine, the wind has found its gust, the garden has been growing green and lush, but there’s plenty more seeds to sow.

The annual winds are currently flattening the garden (bye bye Tulip ‘Negrita’ flowers!). Fortunately some rain has been falling too – mostly at night (thankfully), which is much needed by these tender  new plants as they reach skywards.

TUBERS

I’ve planted the three Begonia ‘Prima Donna Pink’ tubers that I bought a few days ago. These aren’t like bulbs – you don’t bury them and cover them over – as they’ll simply rot. Instead you kind of push them into the surface, so that they sit flush with the soil. This gives their buds maximum light, and overall a lower chance of rotting.

A Begonia 'Prima Donna Pink' tuber
A Begonia ‘Prima Donna Pink’ tuber

sowing

But I’ve realised that I’m a bit behind in sowing some seeds, so I’ve just had a big catch-up session with pots and a bag of multipurpose compost.

I’ve just sown:

  • French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ – this is at least the 3rd year i’ve planted these.
  • Sweet Pea ‘Floral Tribute Mixed’ – my first year with this variety.
  • Aubrieta ‘Cheeky Mix’ – these won’t be ready for flowering until 2014.
  • Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ – my cheerful hoverfly magnet, and sadly the preferred snack of every Cabbage White caterpillar in the county.
Caterpillar strike
Last year’s cheery Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ were completely stripped within about 36 hours.

Potting On…

I’ve also potted up some of the Tomato ‘Minibel’ plants, as they’re now getting big enough to handle. I love the smell that they give off when you’re handling the leaves.

Two Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings
Two Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings

These might get potted on again, into their final pots – or they might end up in a grow bag (or the wicker basket) – i’m not sure yet.

Daylilies and brazen snails

The Daylilies are blooming marvellous at the moment, but the snails continue their brazen crimewave.

The Daylily ‘Hemerocallis Bonanza’ have opened in sync with the arrival of blazing sunshine.

Daylily Hemerocallis Bonanza
The Dayliliy ‘Hemerocallis Bonanza’ are having their best year…

Creating a hedge-like row of gold and yellow flowers, the lilies, which open and close with the sunlight, and wither after 2 days, are currently brightening up the garden. This is the best year for these – only managing about 3 flowers last year, this year there must be 10 times that.
The ample heavy rain and then warm conditions, combined with my digging and composting around their roots, will no doubt have led to this massive increase in blooms.

Snails continue their assault

Meanwhile, the snails are completely brazen this year – with me often discovering them unashamedly clinging to the tops of the 6 foot tall bamboo wigwam canes and in plain sight!

French Bean 'Blue Lake', post-Snail assault
… but so are the snails, which have eaten the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ plants.

The snails have been their worst this year – they have almost killed off the Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants – eating them through the stems low-down, they’ve almost eaten all of the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ (by climbing the wigwams and using nearby plants to get above the snail pellets and then down on to the beans), and they’ve been tackling the Pepper ‘Sweet Frigitello’ too.

No amount of evening ‘meet and greet’ or pellets seems to be stopping their organised crimewave that’s killing all food producing plants in the garden.

The Chysanthemums and Sweet Peas brighten the garden

Further flowers are beginning to open in the garden – this time in the shade, as well on one of the reluctant climbers.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sweet Peas have now joined in the colourful fanfare, adding crimson, purple and white to the palette. 

White Chrysanthemum flower
The mystery Chrysanthemum is happily flowering in the shade.

With this continuing heat and sunshine here in Cambridgeshire, England, the garden is seeing more and more flowers opening. Over the last few days I have watched the Chrysanthemum with its dark glossy leaves, send up its straight stems that have now burst into its annual show of white daisy-like flowers. This plant was another one that was already in the garden – it’s variety remains a mystery for now (any ideas – leave a comment below!). It seems to thrive in the shady part of the garden (it’s just a few feet away from the Fern). It’s white flowers, which seem to attract hoverflies, delivers a welcome contrast to the greenery that dominates the corner.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ flowers have begun to open with their pungent crimson and purple flowers.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
The Sweet Peas are blooming, they just forgot to climb.

Fortunately the Sweet Peas have eluded the aphids this year (which were probably blown and washed away a couple of weeks ago), leaving them with strong stems and early flowers. However, they haven’t exactly utilised the wigwams yet, despite some gentle woollen encouragement.

They have been joined by the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ which similarly have started flowering and again haven’t climbed very high.

The snails and aphids celebrate in the summer rain

The summer showers welcome some hungry pests into the garden, just as the Rose and the French Beans are about to put on a show.

There’s just been a short rain shower – enough to stop me being outside in it – but as soon as it stopped I was out there to meet the unwelcome visitors that are enjoying my green finger skills.

The French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ that I planted out only a few days ago, have seen two of the plants stripped completely of buds, shoots and leaves. These snails move fast. But today I moved quicker, and with the rain on a momentary pause, I went out and immediately pulled 8 small snails off of the beans. It seems that they’re using other plants to get them up and onto the bean leaves… and then they work their way up or down, decimating the plant until it’s a just lanky stem resembling a continuous chain of arms and elbows. I don’t know if they’ll re-grow, but i’ve got seed.

The Rose
This Rose was already in the garden when I moved here.

Not far away, is the Rose (of an unknown variety). It was already in the garden and clearly hadn’t been in place for many years. Still, it has flowered without fail – sometimes reaching two seasons of flowers in a year. This year though, after pruning it hard, it is full of lush growth and green leaves, and lots of buds.

Today, it is also full of lush green aphids.

Aphids on a rose bush
The Aphids have moved in. I just hope they don’t spot the Sweet Peas nearby.

Having witnessed them obliterate last year’s sweet peas, I was gutted. There’s not enough Ladybirds around yet to feast that lot, and the Hoverflies aren’t about due to the rubbish weather… so it’s down to some manual techniques to usher them away – a piece of tissue and some careful squeezing (not to damage the rose buds), or maybe some diluted washing-up liquid. Aphids breathe through their skin – so if you clog that with an oily washing-up liquid mix, they suffocate and die. Gruesome but fortunately true.

Again, not far away are this year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – they’re looking stunted at the moment, and not much different from when I planted them out weeks ago. I know that the aphids will show them no mercy, so I will need to deal with these aphids sooner rather than later.

For now though, it’s the snails that are top of my hit list.

Sunshine coaxes the Foxgloves and I am bee-seiged by ‘friends’

The garden has grown a lot thanks to rain and lots of sunshine – with Foxgloves and others coming into bloom… plus a surge of bees cause a problem!!

After weeks of dreary rain, and then days of hot sunshine, the garden has rapidly grown.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
The first Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ flowers

Today has seen the first flowers emerging from the lush green growth that has flourished in the recent weather conditions. The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I sowed last year and have spent months nurturing, have finally opened the first of its flowers, having spent the last couple of weeks reaching skywards with long prongs of tightly closed buds. The first of these opened today, but many others have their buds ready to uncurl in the next few days.  It’s very satisfying to see these finally come into flower.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
The Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ survived the winter.

These Foxgloves were joined by the return of the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ with its gentle blue flowers that lure bees, and the bright white of the Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ herb – another survivor of the winter, which probably disgusts mistaken passers-by who wonder why i’m growing ‘Cow Parsley’ (Anthriscus sylvestris).

Caraway 'Carum Carvi'
The Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ on flower

Anyone following me on twitter will know that after all my efforts to encourage bees to the garden, I have somewhat overdone it…. by getting bees in my loft. Whilst they pose no immediate harm, a bee-keeper will soon be venturing through the loft hatch to coax them out before they do any damage.

In the meantime, their night-time buzzing and strange noises are fascinating, and there’s a distinct warm spot on my ceiling, caused by their nest, which gives an agitated buzzing reply if you gently tap it.

I’ve also planted out some of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’, the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ and the Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mixed’ – the latter two no doubt causing great joy amongst the snail herd.