Wednesday, 28 December 2011

how was it for you?

This last year has been a real mixed bag as far as gardening successes go. I know we have some peculiar weather in Britain but 2011 was very peculiar and that made growing your own so much more difficult. There have been high spots to offset the lows and overall soft fruit and vegetable yields have been on a par with previous years. They should have been higher as I actually grew more but I can’t really complain and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

For those of you interested in statistics here's a breakdown of my successes and failures.

Potatoes - lower yields than expected due to very strong winds which damaged the haulms and then a lack of rainfall at critical times.
Onions - excellent crop. I have still have half a sack of good onions to get through.
Leeks - not as good as previous years and quite a few bolted.
Brassicas - cabbage, caulies, swedes and turnips did well. Later plantings of borecole and kale suffered damage from strong winds.
Peas/beans - good crops early on but the autumn winds put paid to later sowings.
Roots - excellent parsnips, mediocre carrots, good beetroot.
Salads - most are grown in containers and I always have a continuous supply of lettuce, spring onions and radishes.
Greenhouse - Not as good as previous due to a lack of summer sunlight although a good October did manage to ripen most of the peppers. One cucumber plant (La Diva) gave me seventeen lovely fruits although I lost several other plants which just seemed to give up the ghost. As for tomatoes, the old favourites Roma and Alicante did better than the new varieties I tried although that's hardly conclusive as I don't think 2011 was a good year for toms.

I do grow other veggies but the above are the staples of our household.

Soft fruits - bumper crops of blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries so I made lots of jam and gave loads away in return for fresh eggs and the odd fruit pie.

Tree fruits - apples, pears and plums a disaster although the cherry tree gave me over 6kg and I left the rest for the birds.

So, all-in-all, not too bad considering. It seems that if one crop fails another succeeds so the moral is: don't put all your vegetables in one basket!

As for next year, well, I'll just take it as it comes. I will be trying new varieties of most things as well as growing some old favourites. Gardening is one long experiment for me. I'm not interested in growing show-stopping vegetables just high quality food for my family and I can only do this by trying every possible cultivation technique and as many varieties as possible to find what works best.

To gardeners and growers everywhere I wish you all a productive season and may the weather smile on us.....just for once.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


At this time of year I have a great feeling of anticipation, not for what Santa might bring me but about the new growing season and what it might turn out like. The electric propagator is sitting patiently for the first batch of seeds to go in and by the end of January/early February things will really start to take off with lots of the early crops started under glass. Broad beans, onions and the first tubs of container peas will go in, along with winter lettuce as long as it’s not too cold.

young broad beans sown under glass early February

With a greenhouse you really can add a month or so to each end of the growing season which is a great help this far north. I was going to make a cold frame from some old glass panels, etc. that I have lying around but I really can’t find the space for it without a serious reorganization of the garden.

That's another thing I do at this time of year, reorganizing, though most of it's just in my head. I'm constantly working on how I can make best use of my available space, what can go where in order to increase yields. If I was starting again I’d probably try to make some sort of plan before lifting a single turf but I was so keen to bring this new garden into production that I just dug a rectangle out of the back lawn then added to it as the years passed. Probably not the most efficient way to do things but enthusiasm got the better of me.

We’ve had a few sharp frosts over recent nights but nothing to compare with the last two years so no damage done. Today was quite pleasant so I had a little run out and collected a couple of sacks of mole hill soil. A lot of the land close to the water has been reclaimed and the soil is very sandy...perfect for adding to the carrot/parsnip compost mix. I only collect from along the roadside verges so I suppose the soil belongs to the county council but I’m sure they won’t miss a few mole hills.

Today's landscape shows winter light on the estuary as the sun dips down. Hardly a breath of wind and the water like a mill pond.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

clearing up....again!!

Clearing up after yet more severe gales. Thankfully at this time of year there is not much left to damage but the calabrese looks as if it’s finished. The plants have been blown around so much they’ve almost twisted from their roots which have been partly pulled from the ground. The kale has fared much better but I suspect that’s because it’s a dwarf variety.

kale - dwarf green curled

A few branches had snapped from a neighbour’s birch tree so they’ve been added to the pile for shredding next spring. In the meantime the heap is home to all sorts of critters, including hedgehogs.

I tipped out one tub of leeks as I needed them for a big pan of leek and potato soup - one of my favourites. They don’t bulk up like the plot grown ones but are still perfectly usable. Growing some in containers also means you can bring them under cover if it looks like the ground might freeze solid.

 I still have fifty or so leeks in the ground which will keep us going to the point where we’re all heartily sick of them. There's probably still some of last year's in the bottom of the freezer as well so no chance of running out of leeks!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Yesterday was a day for pruning the soft fruit bushes. The currants and gooseberries are now looking much healthier with a more open structure. They've had one mulch of compost but they'll get another in spring with a couple of handfuls of wood ash for each bush. Hopefully it'll be bumper crops again next year.

I pegged down two low branches from currant bushes last spring to create new plants and they now have a healthy growth of roots. These will be severed from the parents and transplanted but for the time being I'll leave them where they are as the ground is completely waterlogged and not suitable for planting anything. Layering seems to be the best way to propagate currants as it gives a strong healthy plant straight away rather than waiting a couple of years for a cutting to root and develop.

Out on my travels the other day I stopped in a lay-by and in a corner between two walls the wind had blown leaves into a pile nearly three feet deep. Being a born forager I always have a selection of plastic bags and containers in the car so I filled two large sacks which will be used to top up the leaf mould cages.

Not sure that many people find sacks of leaves interesting so here's something a little more picturesque. 
'belties' (belted Galloway cattle) sheltering from the wind. Note the thick coats to survive up here!
snow-mantled Criffel on the Scottish side from Campfield Marsh on the English side of the Solway

Sunday, 4 December 2011

winter at last...

When I got up this morning I could see that the hills were mantled in snow and looking very seasonal. We have the Lake District to the south, the Pennines to the east, the Southern Uplands to the north and the Galloway Hills to the west, all clothed in white. The only direction we don’t have hills is the south-west where the Solway widens into the open sea and that’s where the gales come from!!

I wouldn’t like a repeat of the last two winters but we do need a decent cold spell to complete the cycle and get things ready for new growth next year. Everything is looking rather sad at the moment...leafless trees and waterlogged ground so not a lot going on. I have been tidying up the greenhouse and trying to rationalize all my plant pots and containers. Because of my acquisitive nature I tend to accumulate more stuff than actually wears out or breaks during the season. Flower buckets are a case in point so I try to resist shopping at Morrisons as I inevitably end up with another stack whenever I go there.

Although the exhibition growers often start their new season in December I won’t be sowing any seeds till the end of next month and then it will be limited to peppers and tomatoes in the propagator indoors. February/March under glass is soon enough for most of the early crops in this part of the world.

We had fresh baby carrots with our meal tonight, harvested from one of the buckets in the greenhouse. They were sown mid-August into sieved compost that had already grown a crop of potatoes. It was a bit of an experiment as I wanted to see how late they could be sown and still produce a decent crop. Another lot sown two weeks later are much further behind.