Our top crops from last year and improvements to make in 2018
It’s currently snowing outside.
I say snowing, having had a glass or two of mulled wine, but really it’s slush and not that idyllic. However, as it’s Christmas, it definitely counts as snow. And as I pine for spring sunshine my thoughts go to planning the allotment for 2018. An exciting blank canvas to experiment with new crops. Red sweetcorn, anyone?
As part of the planning process, I’m reflecting on the last year. What worked, what didn’t and what I’d like to improve on. We’ve grown so many types of vegetables in 2017, and I almost feel bad that I can’t pick them all. But alas, I’ve set myself a challenge of only picking five.
Our 2017 top five crops:
*Squash – Type F1 Festival. This year, the festival squash thrived and each plant produced at least three or four decent sized fruits. We gave each plant a handful of really rich fertiliser – 6X – and while a bag of 6X was expensive, it went a really long way and helped produce healthy plants. The great thing about festival squash is not only did they taste great, but they store fantastically, so we’re still eating them months later. Him Outdoors even suggested having some with our Christmas dinner.
*Artichoke – Globe variety. They just kept coming and tasted fantastic. We put the plants in two years ago as little plugs (which cost £2 for eight – bargain!) and this is the first year they’ve produced lots of fruits. This proves that a waiting game can pay off, and now I really want to get some asparagus in the ground next year. We cut the artichokes down at the end of October and gave them a good layer of mulch from the chicken run, and they’ve already kicked on. We left some to flower and I didn’t realise how beautiful they are – a stunning purple which the bees LOVE. As a bee steward, this delights me!
*Rainbow chard. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll no doubt have already witnessed my love for chard. I really do love banging on about it. I’ve been amazed all year how it just keeps growing and how versatile it is – you could grow it in pots on a balcony for example. Through scorching sun to frost and snow, it provides December colour when the allotment has slowed down. As the temperature plummeted to minus six, the darker colours in the chard intensified and it always made me smile when I got to the plot. I’m going to look for more recipes in 2018 to make the most of it, and the chickens love it too.
*Chicory – Rossa di Treviso variety, aka the diva of the salad world. The seeds were set back in June, and I let the plants establish before starting to tie up the middle of the plant with string at the end of September. Not too tightly, letting air and water pass through, but so the light couldn’t reach the middle of the plant. This helped to keep the leaves tender and not quite so bitter. We harvested the chicory hearts and made autumnal salads with pomegranate and orange for sweetness.
There were lots of contenders for this final spot. The detroit beetroot which produced good sized plants, the summer glut of F1 midnight courgettes, the Red Kuri squash for their incredible nuttiness when cooked, the hundreds of runner beans and the Cavolo Nero which made you feel healthy in winter. But there’s something about fresh sweetcorn which can’t help but excite me.
*Sweetcorn – F1 Sundance variety. The first seeds I set at the end of April didn’t germinate. The weather was quite temperamental, and it got too cold in the greenhouse. I’ve since realised that sweetcorn hates being cold, (I don’t blame it) so I held off until the middle of May before starting again. The second time around I chitted the seeds in water first before transplanting into root trainers, and the result was strong healthy seedlings. I planted them slightly closer together than in previous years in a grid for pollination, and made sure to keep them well watered. The difference in shop-bought sweetcorn and that picked straight from the plant will always stagger me. It’s so much sweeter, and in the summer evenings we’d race from the plot back with our cobs to dunk them in boiling water and smother them in butter. Perfection.
One of the things I love about gardening is that it inevitably goes wrong from time to time. Plants die, get eaten, and the weather changes, but it’s never the end of the world. You just try and get better next time around, and that’s the aim for 2018…
Things to improve on in 2018:
*Slugs. I know that slugs are part and parcel of having an allotment. But I’ve lost count of the times I’ve offered up prayers to the slug gods. Please, if you have any respect slug lords, LEAVE MY CABBAGES ALONE. They came in their hundreds to devour things, especially spinach and cabbage life. I don’t like to use pesticides, and it got quite tedious picking them off things in wet weather, so this year I’m going to try digging in nematodes to the salad and brassica beds to attempt organic slug control. Watch this space!
Slug life: The Christmas cabbages that survived…
*White fly. Keeping on an insect theme, I battled with white fly on our kale this year. In the warmer months, I tried to spray the plants with strong jets of water – but I needed to get on top of it earlier. This year, I’m going to make an effort to check regularly and remove any infested leaves as soon as possible. I’ll also attempt companion planting next to them, so nasturtiums and French marigolds will get planted early on as a preventative measure, as well as continuing to spray them with water.
*Successional sewing and harvesting. Last year I would have scored an A for enthusiasm but probably a C or D for planning. As we were still overhauling the space, plants went into the ground when the beds were finished, rather than because I’d spent time working out how to make best use of the plot. This year, I’m going to sit and plan properly. For staple crops like salads and beetroot, I’m going to try to set seed every few weeks to ensure we have a constant supply, and even when life gets hectic make the effort to keep cropping and picking. Good intentions, and all that jazz.
*Making better use of the space. For Christmas we got three arches which we plan to put over the paths, so we can grow up as well as across. I’d like to grow a trailing squash upwards, as well as beans and something that flowers to attract pollinators. We also have to finish off the second fruit bed, and I’d like (Him Outdoors) to build some cages I can put over beds to prevent the pigeons eating all of the raspberries.
*Cut flower bed. This will be the first year I’ve dedicated a bed to cut flowers, but I utterly adore having fresh blooms in the house. I always feel guilty taking them from the garden as I feel like I’m stealing from the bees (I know, I know…), so I’d like to have a dedicated space where I’m growing them to enjoy in the house.
Last but not least, thanks for following me in 2017. Here’s to documenting a whole growing year in 2018. Hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas break, Rach x
Love your garden! I’ll be trying those Festival squash!
Challenge for you: I have never had a memorable dish of chicory, to my knowledge. I believe it went into making ersatz coffee in the war, and I’ve never read a novel that enthused about this. I will be most interested to hear how the nematode experiment goes – I too strongly disapprove of slugs, but am not keen on pesticides. I read the other day that spring greens improve one’s memory, and only taste as they should after a frost or two – if only it weren’t so miserably cold I would plant some..
Hi Rachel – that’s a heck of a squash harvest, well done!
Couple of tips that have worked for me: beer traps really do work well against slugs. Sink an old plastic tub in the ground, add an inch of the cheapest supermarket bitter / lager and then cover over with an old tile or something else that you can prop at an angle, to make a sloping roof. Slugs love to take cover, and will be attracted to the beer, fall in and drown. Then you can add the mush to your compost as a bacteria-booster. Also: put down sheets of heavy cardboard, leave ’em a few weeks, and more slugs will congregate underneath. You can then lift the cardboard and pick ’em all out of the soil.
As for whitefly on brassicas, the best results I’ve had involve buying Enviromesh – pricey, but re-usable for a few years – and making sure you get that over your kale as soon as they go into the ground. Make a tent that’s tall enough to accommodate the plants as they grow, and if it doesn’t completely prevent an infestation, hopefully it’ll be less severe.
Hi Darren, thanks so much for your comment and advice – much appreciated! Yes I’ll definitely try the beer approach for slugs – it’s nice to think they die happily. Great tip re the sloping roof. I did try and use a mesh that looks quite similar re cabbage whitefly, but I think perhaps my frame wasn’t sturdy enough, so that’s going to be a winter task for me! Thanks again, Rach x
Slugs – I used nematodes and for once my plants did not disappear! Highly recommend