I have discovered that you can become completely fixated with vegetables, especially if you grow them from seed. It’s like having your own babies – and like young children they rarely do what you want, and take huge amounts of time and patience.
I have grown all my plants from seed except the onions and shallots which were sets. I began with the simplistic idea that all I had to do was pop a seed into some soil and it would grow. Yeah right! They all seem to need slightly different conditions – some like being in the light, some the dark, some sprout within a couple of days and some like celeriac take for ever. My bathroom which is the hottest room on the planet due to the fact that it houses our hot water tank which is run by the Aga and so is on 24/7 and has no thermostat, became one large hot-house. Raising the toilet seat left the unwary in danger of being hit by falling plants.
Slowly – ever so slowly in some cases the seedings emerged. Some with more success than others – I’m brilliant at courgettes and runner beans and beetroot – pretty rubbish at chillies and parsnips. The array of shapes that emerged was fascinating – the number of failures frustrating. But it was really, really exciting to see it all happen – not sure if that makes me a very sad person or just happy to have discovered a new love.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY!
So my winners. It seems that I am very good at courgettes – who isn’t? – beetroot, tomatoes, potatoes, patty pan squash and broad beans. My favourites are without doubt beetroot, squash and a black bean called Blauhilde. I have grown Boltardy Beetroot and a mix of coloured beetroot. They are just so pretty and taste amazing. Soups, roasted veg, salads – raw, cooked, peeled, grated, mashed. All wonderful. My favourite recipe is the beetroot houmous from Amelia Freer’s ’10 day eating plan’. Completely yummy and really versatile. I planted some more beetroot in late July and it is already on its way – it might not get huge but I bet it is tasty.
I have grown about 5 different types of squash, 3 in the same bed – Winter Crown Prince, Barbara Butternut and Harrier. They have all spread and intermingled which looks amazing but its pretty hard to find them amongst the multitude of flowers and leaves. I havent harvested any of them yet so I have no idea how they taste but they look pretty impressive. I’ve grown 2 in a grow bag – patty pan and Turks Turban. The patty pan look like flying saucers but taste amazing when lightly roasted with courgettes and onions. The Turks Turban, well looks like a turban. I also tossed a couple onto the compost – Monty Don says they help to dry it out – lots of flowers but no fruit yet so we shall see. The courgettes were Black Forest which were meant to have ‘a unique climbing habit’. They have cropped well and taste great but stubbournly refuse to climb!
The Blauhilde beans are just amazing. I grew 2 of them from seed in the green house and then transplanted them into the soil. They have done really well. Firstly the flowers are lovely, they have produced loads of beans and they taste amazing. They turn green as they cook which is pretty clever I think. The 2 seeds that I put directly into the soil failed to grow, so next year I will start them all off in the green house. But they are my number 1 favourites.
Some of my plants have just not really thrived. I managed half a row of parsnips – hardly enough for even Christmas Day! I even started the seeds off on wet kitchen paper and only planted the ones that threw out a tiny root. My dwarf beans have completely failed to appear – I have no idea why, although through lack of experience I may have weeded the seedlings!! The shallots have been really disappointing – they divided into three or four but stayed really small. To be fair I think I planted them quite late but I also think they were not great quality in the first place. Next year I will plant them earlier.
My peas – Meteor and broad beans have been great but there have just not been enough of them, and the peas weren’t the sweetest so lots more next year and maybe different varieties. I went for dwarf ones so maybe thats why I didn’t get so many.
THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY!
What I haven’t enjoyed so much is the brassicas – it’s the caterpillars – both green and black. They devour everything and are just so persistent. I didn’t net my swede until they had munch loads of it – and I have struggled to keep them under control even though the swede is now under cover. I netted my broccoli and cabbage with a cage and netting set that I bought from Wilkinsons. Sadly the gauge of the netting is just too large and the butterflies get in – I thought I had won the battle with the caterpillars on these vegetables but no they have appeared in large numbers. I cut the head of one of the broccoli plants and it was literally full of green caterpillars – yuk. I’m undecided whether to try again next year – but the heads look great – I’m just a bit wary of the protein that may be wriggling through them!
Things I have learnt:-
Wilkinsons stock an amazing array of gardening stuff at great prices. Delivery is prompt, the staff unfailingly helpful. I am really impressed with them.
Net brassicas at all times, even as young seedlings in the greenhouse. It’s so disappointing to see all your hard work being chomped by pesky caterpillars.
Plant shallots earlier than onions.
Successional growing is harder than it sounds.
Invest in a good vegetarian cookbook – its lovely having all this fresh vegetables but its nice to have some new ways to cook them. I like Ottenlenghi’s ‘Plenty’, anything by Amelia Freer or the Delicious website.
The flowers of vegetables are quite beautiful