September II: 7.5lbs of Sweet Candle Carrots from one polypot

Back in April, I sowed eleven triplets of Sweet Candle Carrot seeds in a vermicompost layer atop 17 litres of Multipurpose Compost containing some friendly bacteria, fungi, rock dust and a smidgen of Nutrimate in a Polypot bag, which I usually use to grow show potatoes.

I did a post about how well the seeds had germinated after about 3 weeks and then I thinned each station to one plant.

Over the summer, the polypots lived on a plastic tray in our front garden. After letting the roots develop for 6 weeks through minimal watering, I started to fill the plastic tray regularly with water, allowing the roots to swell through absorbing moisture from below.

I also fed the roots twice with comfrey tea on root days, once in July and once in August.

I harvested the first polypot on Saturday 9th September, the morning of the village show. The feature image shows the eleven roots, which weighed in at 7.5lbs.

The largest two roots had cracked, making them unshowable, so they and the smallest root were turned into carrot and coriander soup.

The other eight formed two groups of four to exhibit, winning a first prize for carrots and a second prize as part of the four vegetables class:

Given that one pot only occupies between one tenth and one twentieth of a square metre, you could in theory grow 75-150lbs of carrots on an area of just one square metre!!

For those limited in space to garden, this may be a valuable option in freeing up space for other vegetables best grown in soil.

September I: 9 entries at the village show

Early September means the Ickenham and Swakeleys Horticultural Association Show.

I have been competing since 2013, steadily increasing my range of entries from a start solely including tomatoes and apples.

This year I entered 9 classes and achieved 5 first prizes, 3 second prizes and 1 third prize, with the greatest satisfaction coming from winning the stump carrots class against high quality opposition (the overseer of the village allotment sites).

Pictures are below:

 

Although not all crops are optimal in the first week of September, shows like this do add a discipline to growing, allow experimentation and give you an indication as to whether your growing skills are progressing or not.

July V: the leaf season so far….

2017 is the first season I am trying to grow many different types of leaf crop. Lettuce, endive, chicory, chard, kale, rocket, pak choi, lambs lettuce and spinach. The spring crops did well, the autumn crops are only now being established.

The spring harvest was only of four types:

1): Over-wintered chard, which harvested well initially in March but did not grow so well prior to going to seed due to the start of the dry spell from mid March, which lasted until the end of the spring chard season;

2): Medania spinach, sown this year in February, yielding good harvests in May before going to seed early due to warm and dry conditions;

3): Little Gem, Grenoble Red and Passion de Brune lettuce. Little Gems (10) were harvested young from May 15th – May 31st. The other two were harvested as Pick and Come Again. I learned that Passion de Brune is poor for PACA in spring, going to seed four weeks after first harvest, whereas Grenoble Red harvested for 8-10 weeks from mid May until late July;

4): Turnips for greens, sown in early March and harvested before the end of May (followed by Mulatka beetroot).

Summer harvests will be of chard (sown before the May Full moon), which started cropping in mid July grown in a 1 square metre slot in partial shade near a cherry tree and raspberry plants and will hopefully yield until November; and Canasta lettuce (Seeds of Italy), sown before the June full moon and ready to harvest as PACA from 28th July (one plant being picked each two days giving a 14 day cycle to regrow as days get shorter).

Both these summer crops are partly shaded, the lettuce behind the pole bean stand but getting good mid morning and late afternoon sun currently. Both are grown in my best compost to partly compensate for the lack of direct sunlight.

Autumn sowings to date have been:

1): Kale, sown before June full moon and 3 plants transplanted on 6th July;

2): Endive, sown 26th June and 7 plants transplanted in the 4th week of July;

3): Chicory, sown 6th July, to be transplanted at the start of August;

4): Spinach, pak choi, salad rocket and Grenoble Red lettuce (first attempt at overwintering lettuce leaves), to be sown before the August full moon and transplanted late August;

5): 3 sowings of lambs lettuce direct into the soil, from early August to early September.

 

The big lesson of 2017 is how rapidly leaf seeds will germinate if sown at moonrise on leaf days in the Thun calendar. Endive, chicory and lettuce seeds all showed visible leaves within 2 days, an astonishingly rapid speed.

July IV: the beetroot season so far….

2017 will be by far my best season of growing beetroot.

I have sown three crops:

1): an early crop of Boltardy, sown in early February and fully harvested by June 30th;

2): a main crop of Pablo, which I also use for exhibiting, sown 2 days before the April full moon and going to yield 45 beautiful roots from now to the end of September;

3): an experimental crop of 30 Mulatkas from Kazakhstan, via Real Seeds, transplanted on the morning sun side of pole beans in late May after sowing two days before the May full moon. These will be left in the ground until it is time to compost the ground.

The lessons I have learned are these:

1): Beetroot crops can be good even without good compost, provided the plants establish satisfactorily. My Boltardy crop was transplanted in early March, three of ten clumps were replaced due to slug damage and giving a good feed of seaweed was of great benefit in establishing the young plants in less than perfect soil. From mid April on, the plants grew away well and the first harvest was taken in early June.

2): In good compost, 100% establishment of young plants is achievable from early May onwards. Both Pablos and Mulatkas established perfectly.

3): Reasonable roots will develop after 12 weeks even in partly shaded ground with good compost. Enormous roots develop within 16 weeks in good compost in a sunny aspect.

4): unlike other crops which show edge effects of less productivity near bed borders, my best beetroots this year are at the end of rows.

5): In good compost, an area of 2.5 square metres will provide more than enough beetroot for three adults through the year. Obviously, the more inventive you get in preparing beetroot to eat, the greater area you may choose to grow.

July III: the carrot season so far…

2017 is the year I have cracked many of the problems of growing carrots.

The crucial issue is sowing into good compost. All my carrots this year were sown in my best compost and the result was too dense a young stand due to the excellent germination rates achieved. Thinning is not ideal for young carrots, but better that than no young plants to grow on into roots.

The featured picture at the top of the post is five rows of Nantes/Sweet Candle sown 2 days before the April Full Moon. 16 weeks after sowing, a test pull suggested roots were ready to start harvesting, providing a steady crop until the end of October.

Two 3 metre rows of Amsterdam Forcing Carrots sown on March 31st were harvested through July (13-17 weeks), mostly finger carrots for salads, but the final harvest on July 27th yielded 3lb suitable for cooking and making soups.

Four 1.5m rows of Autumn King were sown 2 days before the May Full moon, using seeds attached to tape, as sold by Thompson and Morgan. I found laying the tape a bit fiddly, but a good stand has now emerged, as shown below:

Good sized roots already can be discerned when scrabbling the soil around the plants.

I have also experimented growing carrots in 17 litre polypot bags, firstly Sweet Candle for exhibitions (sown 8th April) and secondly, Berlicum as a late crop, sown on 30th June. Germination of both was excellent and the pots are shown below:

The major lesson from 2017 is not to bother sowing carrots in any soil lacking good compost. 2015 and 2016 by comparison gave awful germination without good compost.

So if you are starting out, limit yourself initially to crops which tolerate less rich soil, like broad beans, beetroot, lettuce etc. Once you have mastered making good compost, carrots will grow easily and fresh harvests from the end of June until the first frost in November can be achieved, along with a harvest to store and use through the winter months. But lacking it and the slugs will devour all your seedlings long before you even have decent sized plants.

 

July II: the bean season so far

In 2017 I have grown overwintered Aquadulce Claudia broad beans; Enorma Runner Beans; Cobra French climbing beans; and Cupidon dwarf beans.

The broad bean harvest occurred for 3 weeks from June 9th, with the haulms lifted on 29th June to be followed by Musselburgh leeks. Early pinching out limited the effects of blackfly. Harvests were solid, not spectacular. It is unclear if sowing beans W-E is better than N-S.

The Cupidon dwarf beans, sown in early May, germinated spectacularly after saving my own seed in 2016 and completed harvest by 27th July, with five plants retained to save new seed again. Planting in an equilateral triangle lattice of 30cm side gave reasonable yields of 12-15 beans per plant. A second sowing in early June failed to germinate, and a direct sowing around the Summer solstice saw 7/9 seedlings emerge, for a crop hopefully in the first half of September.

The Cobra climbing bean crop, also grown using home-saved seeds, produced a spectacularly early crop on 29th June after an indoor sowing on May 6th. The crop is nearly over now after four weeks of productive cropping, with the bottom beans on the best plants left to mature as seeds for 2018.

The Enorma runner beans suffered in the June and early July heat, failing to set pods due to overly warm night time temperatures. Since mid July, however, a regular harvest has been made, which shows no signs of stopping.

As a result, July was the month of French beans, whereas August will be the month of runner beans.

The lesson I have learned this year is that splitting the French bean sowings into two batches will be valuable. How do do that with pole climbers is yet to be ascertained.

The second lesson is that saving french bean and broad bean seeds biodynamically in 2016 yielded good crops in 2017. They are easily made, there are no delays to subsequent sowings and germination rates and time to harvest improve.

The final lesson concerns the efficacy of Marigolds in preventing blackfly on pole beans, a tip I gained from gardeners in Uxbridge who were selling plants to raise money for charity. Two plants at each end of the sticks, no blackfly, hurrah!

July I: the tomato season so far

At the end of July, it is usually fairly clear how the season will pan out. Useful fruit set is complete on all salad and beefsteak tomatoes whilst cherries can set usefully for another two weeks here in NW London.

This year saw a sunny but reasonably cool May, with one four inch rainfall event; June had some unreasonably hot weather with temperatures well above 30C for around a week; July had a warm and dry first half, with more seasonal temperatures and regular rain in the second half.

The result of this has been that the Red Alerts and Maskotkas, sown in late February, were not appreciably earlier to harvest than Tigerella, sown on 10th March, with harvests starting in the first week of July. All other March sowings, including Super Marmande, Black Russian, Black Cherry, Alicante and San Marzano started harvesting before July 25th. Only Black Krim of the March sowings is yet to crop. The Zenith strain, sown on April 6th for the competition season 20th August to early October, has four trusses set.

The very hot weather caused certain strains to succumb to Blossom End Rot. The only major casualty was San Marzano, which has been rather decimated. Minor losses to Alicante, Tigerella and Black Krim will not prevent reasonable harvests. Zenith lost less than 5%. The strains Red Alert, Maskotka, Black Cherry, Black Russian and Super Marmande do not seem to succumb.

With a glut of summer fruit, soup and ketchup making has been happening and the annual freezing of tomatoes for cooking has also started.

All in all, the 2017 season for outdoor tomatoes seems likely to be a good one, the potential for brilliance disappearing with the excess heat of late June and early July.

The other lesson for me is that with increasing skill, the sowing date can be put back a bit, spreading the main strains equally between late March and early April, limiting the early sowings to rapidly growing bush cherry varieties. After 5 years of achieving harvests within 20 weeks of sowing, I am confident that this will improve, rather than adversely affect crop harvests…..

May VII: Drowning slugs in beer to save young plants…

Each May I wonder how well my plants will survive the return of slugs to the garden. I keep my plot clean and tidy, but I cannot force neighbours to do likewise. As a result, the north and eastern boundaries are jungles with trees and hedges, ivy and creepers. A ditch dug to create a space between the vegetable patch and the jungles does not always suffice.

However, this spring, trouble appears limited to the boundary beds near the hedges and two small beds closest to the jungles. The four main beds have seen no pest atacks in May, suggesting that the composting is creating better soil, my skills in creating healthy young plants are improving and the use of biodynamic calendars may also help.

Still, this May I started to see both ends of my 3 metre rows of early carrots being nibbled, starting in mid May. Half my peas were also decimated in what is called a gardening cock up: seeds failing to germinate in March meaning the second sowing was shaded out by rapidly growing broad beans in May. It is a stunning example of pests attacking shaded plants but not those in sunlight.

I therefore set up 5 beer traps last week, one in the pea bed and two each in the small beds (one at each end of the carrots, one near cabbage and one near broad beans.

In a week, I have murdered 40-50 slugs and the carrot munching has subsided and no further pea damage has occurred.

However, happily established cabbages suddenly fell foul to slugs as soon as the beer trap was set.

It is not therefore a guarantee of safety, rather one string to the bow in fighting slugs.

May VI: home made bean seeds germinate superbly…

May has seen me germinate the climbing bean and dwarf bean seeds I made last summer.

The results have been stunning.

29/30 Cobra bean seeds sown on 6th May germinated within 7 days and the plants were so vigorous, I potted them on before planting 20 out in the garden on 23rd May.

The Cupidon dwarf beans sown on 15th May showed 36/36 germinating within 5 days:

Of course, the ultimate test of seed saving is the quality of crop produced.

But early signs suggest that saving your own bean seeds is well worth it.

May V: First Harvest of Foremost First Early potatoes grown in pots…

Back in late February, I planted four single tubers in black pots with the aim of harvesting one pot a week in the month of June.

This week saw the first Blight Alert issued, courtesy of 2 days of unusually warm and wet conditions.

This morning I saw the odd brown patch on the odd leaf, so I did a test harvest of one pot to see if the crop was ready.

The result:

1.92lb from just over 30 tubers.

About five minitubers had not developed fully, suggesting continuing growth would have increased yield, however in general, the size of the first early potatoes was perfect.

Having sown around 25th February, a harvest on 19th May is an 83 day harvest, a day shy of 12 weeks.

The pots were kept inside until shoots emerged around the spring equinox, after which they lived happily outside (as we did not have a single frost from then on).

The conclusion is that new potatoes can be eaten in May in NW London, provided the pots remain indoors for four weeks to initiate growth.