I haven’t written much about my vegetable garden this year. That’s because this is supposed to be a blog about making things easy, and gardening in the UK has not been easy for anyone this year.
First we had the Big Freeze, which took out most of the seedlings I’d sown last autumn. Then we had the Late Freeze which killed off everything sown this year. So I re-sowed, and nursed my little seedlings on every windowsill in the house till they were a size that I thought was survivable outside. Then it rained and rained and all the slugs and snails came out and said, “Dinner? For us? HOW kind” and ate the lot. So I sowed for a third time and finally succeeded in getting this lot planted out. They’ve (mostly) flourished in the heat, but the drought has meant constant watering and both of our water butts are empty…
As I said, not easy.
I’ve sown three lots of salad leaves and three lots of radishes. From that lot, I’ve had one salad and not a single radish. The globe artichokes produced two small fruit, then were completely destroyed by the slugs. The runner beans have been flowering but nothing is setting, and the courgettes have all suffered blossom end rot except for one overgrown monster that I forgot. But the rocket has grown so much it’s more or less a hedge, and the third sowing of sweetcorn looks promising. I’ve had some success with growing sputnik-like kohl rabi for the first time, and the chard is coming along very nicely.
The biggest success has been the tomatoes which were sown in January by my green-fingered granddaughter. We have been harvesting these for a couple of weeks now and there are still plenty to come. The variety is Garden Pearl, and I grow them in big pots outside, well-spaced so that if one gets the blight I can isolate it and get shot safely. One excellent tip I picked up from The Monty Don was to pot them on gradually in only slightly bigger pots, but each time to plant them deeper than the current soil depth. They grow more roots on the buried stem, giving them a much better take-up of water later. They’re not grown as a cordon so there’s no tying in needed, though I do stake them with a short stake when I first plant them out, just to keep them from collapsing before they’re developed a strong stem. Once they take off, there’s no point in trying to keep them tidy: they career over the edge of the pot in great bunches. I feed them weekly with a bought tomato feed once they’ve started fruiting and water every day if it’s dry. They start fruiting early which gives the best chance for them to ripen if the weather goes to crap. I think home-grown tomatoes are way too much of a treat to cook with (until you get to the green leftover ones at the end of the season). We’ve mostly been eating them two ways: in simple tomato salads with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice of balsamic, and a few chopped chives or torn basil leaves; for breakfast on buttered toast with a sprinkle of sea salt – like a Brit bruschetta.
I’ve also been experimenting with growing on herbs in pots from supermarkets. The parsley and coriander just laughed at me and died. But the basil was doing fine, potted up into a larger pot – till I put it outside with the snails… The most successful have been rosemary and chives. I did absolutely nothing to the former – just slung it outside in its little supermarket pot and tried not to overwater it. I bought a rosemary plant from a garden centre at the same time at four times the price, and there’s virtually nothing between the two of them now in terms of growth and healthiness. The chives were split up a bit and repotted in a bigger pot – not so easy given how utterly pot bound the supermarket plant was. They’ve been a regular addition to meals for a couple of months now. I even added the flowers to a salad… just call me the lazy woman’s Nigella.
The final big success has been the chilli plants. Again, these were sown nice and early and nursed inside before putting out once the weather was warm enough. In a colder summer I would keep them inside, and they’ll come back in once it gets cooler, hopefully to keep fruiting through the winter if they’re looked after. I pick the fruit regularly to encourage more, and freeze what I don’t need immediately. You don’t need to do anything clever, just chuck ’em in the freezer. When you need one, let it thaw for a couple of minutes, then chop – much easier to chop finely when they’re frozen anyway. The only problem I foresee is that they were grown from a packet of mixed chilli seeds so I can’t tell which are the really hot ones. It’s chilli Russian roulette, basically.
Wish me luck…