Hello Autumn

autumn footwear Summer has truly packed up and left today. It sure is chilly outside. Crispy leaves desperately clinging for dear life to trees blow around everywhere, sticking to wet windows. The rain hammered it down for hours. I love this time of year, the switch from summer to autumn really is spectacular. After the rain stopped I ventured outside to welcome autumn. Finally.

Growing Happy Carrots

carrots collage

We haven’t done very well with growing carrots at the allotment, our plot in its 3rd year of being worked (previously uncultivated land) is still quite troublesome in places due to heavy clay soil. Carrots prefer light soil, growth will become stunted if grown in heavy soil resulting in stumpy carrots come harvest time. Some of our raised beds have better soil than others, growing potatoes (helps to break up stubborn soil) and adding organic matter has helped with improving the soil structure, but not quite enough to grow carrots successfully, it seems.

Being reasonably inexpensive to buy and readily available all year round, am I ever tempted not to grow my own carrots? It’s true they are fussy little blighters when it comes to soil type, making them tricky or almost impossible to grow for some. So are they really worth my time and effort? For me, the taste of a home-grown carrot is superior to any mass-produced, shop bought, plastic bag carrot. I don’t mind them being forked (some shapes are hilarious!) and I enjoy the sensation of pulling carrots that I’ve grown from the earth, a sweet carroty aroma drifts in the air with each satisfying pull. Soft, feathery leaves sway in the gentlest breeze making carrots an attractive crop to grow. For these reasons, I think carrots are well worth growing.

carrot leaves

This year we’re determined to grow some decent allotment carrots, like these….grown in our previous vegetable garden.

carrotsharvesting carrots

To solve our heavy soil problem we identified a raised bed with soil that had improved the most and filled it right up to the top with good quality compost. Pushing my hand down into the compost to check the depth, my entire hand and wrist were buried deeply before my fingers found the heavier soil. This should be deep enough for our carrots to be happy. Finally, I covered the rows with plastic tunnel cloches to keep the soil warm, helping the seeds to germinate.

Carrots can also be grown in containers of compost, try using large plant pots or get creative and thrifty by using things like trugs, barrels, crates, toy boxes, car tyres or emptied water butts with the bottom removed. As long as the soil is light and the container is reasonably deep (don’t forget drainage holes), just place it in the sunshine and you’ll be pulling carrots of your own.

Onion Sets in Module Trays

onion sets planted early

I usually plant my onion sets straight into the ground in spring, covering with a mesh frame to keep the birds off until they’ve sprouted and developed a good root system to anchor them in. I harvest a decent crop but I do get a number of smallish bulbs despite my soil being well nourished.

onions drying

Red onions drying

Today I planted half my onion sets in module trays filled with compost (‘Red Baron’ and ‘Stuttgarter Giant’), growing them on in my unheated greenhouse. The other half will be planted out into the ground, in the usual way. The idea is to give half the sets a bit of a head start, an experiment really.

onion sets planted in module trays

onion sets in module trays

I’m curious to see if this makes any difference to the overall size of bulbs come harvest time, compared to the sets planted straight into the ground a month or so later.

onions

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Let the Chitting Begin

chitting seed potatoes

At last, it feels like I’m doing something productive again. Laying seed potatoes out in trays or egg boxes to chit (encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting) really is the start of the growing year for me. Some say chitting potatoes isn’t necessary, I get stupidly excited about chitting mine so I’ll carry on doing it regardless.

This year I’m planning to grow Charlotte (a salad variety) and Desiree main crop. They’re firm favourites of mine and always seem to do well on my plot.

desiree potatoes growing

By the way, I think potato flowers are utterly gorgeous…..

potato flowers

What are you planning to grow in your potato bed this year? If it ever stops raining!

Beetroot ‘Burpees Golden’

beetroot burpees golden

I had a wonderful crop of beetroot this year, my usual ‘Boltardy’ and an orange variety called ‘Burpees Golden’. The attractive orange roots look wonderful grown alongside red/purple varieties, a great contrast grated together in salads. No bleeding or staining, unlike the red varieties!

burpees golden beetroot

The attractive green and yellow tops can be eaten too, harvest young leaves as baby leaves, older leaves can be steamed and used as Spinach or Chard. Easy to grow although germination can be a bit hit and miss, sow thicker than you normally would for beets to avoid gaps in rows.

beetroot burpees golden

The vivid root colour just gets better when cooked, a lovely sweet taste but I do prefer the red varieties for flavour. Thank you to Mr Fothergills for sending me the seeds to grow.

Greek Gigantes Beans

greek gigantes beans

Back in May I blogged about having a go at growing a type of rare runner bean called Greek Gigantes. You can view the post here: http://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/sowing-greek-gigantes/

I grew just 3 plants up tall canes at my allotment, they grew well in the warm sunshine producing lots of lovely white flowers. Leaving the pods to go brown and papery on the plants, I picked them before the real wet weather arrived to avoid rotting. As you can see, the beans are huge and as white as snow, with a lovely buttery taste which I’m a big fan of.

dried pods of greek gigantes beans

greek gigantes beans and pods

I did rely on the runners to feed us throughout summer, but these beans are unusual and worth growing if you like buttery beans and wish to avoid a glut of beans throughout summer, considering how prolific runners can be!

Harvesting the Carrots

harvesting carrots

This year I grew carrot varieties that I’ve never tried before. After looking at so many tempting choices, I settled on a main crop variety called ‘Flakkee’ and a yellow-skinned variety called ‘Jaune Obtuse du Doubs’, a French heirloom with a beautiful sweet taste. Both nice varieties and trouble-free to grow if you fancy a change from your usual favourites.

carrots

I’ve just realised, I don’t have a photo of the yellow carrots! If I get to the allotment this weekend I will grab one. They’re a lovely colour and look fantastic grated into a salad.

carrots

I’m looking forward to browsing seed catalogues and websites soon, I’ll probably order new varieties for next year. I quite enjoy the challenge and unpredictability of growing new things.

Peas in October?

blauwschokker peas

I intended to do this post in July. Family and pet loss forced blogging out of the window for a while, along with all sense of time. I couldn’t find any enthusiasm to visit the allotment, as a consequence some of my planned posts haven’t met the publish button. So here we are, late October. Why bother to blog about peas now? Well, these particular peas, in my humble opinion, deserve a mention. The variety is ‘Blauwschokker’ and they’re definitely on my list of crops to grow next year.

blauwschokker peas

Deep purple pods with huge minty-green peas nestled inside, the plants grow very tall so you’ll need to grow them against something sturdy and high (I used 7 ft canes pushed into sheets of wire mesh, such as chicken or aviary wire). Stems and leaves are thicker and heavier than any other pea I’ve grown, with tendrils as thick as springs. Pods are easy to pick, thanks to the bold colour, and can be eaten as mange tout before the peas begin to swell. Eye-catching pink/crimson flushed flowers are large and could easily be mistaken for sweet peas, for that reason alone, a perfect addition for the allotment or veg garden.

allotment harvest

A doddle to grow, these peas are very similar in size to marrowfat peas with an earthy, punchy flavour. Shell and mix with young broad beans, mash and smash with a fork or pestle and mortar adding a little olive oil and fresh mint, spread onto warm olive bread. Yum!

How I Support Peas

growing peas

I love seeing peas scrambling up natural pea sticks, tiny tendrils stretching out, curling tightly around their rustic support like miniature green springs. However, when it comes to supporting taller and heavier cropping peas (‘Blauwschokker’ for example), sometimes a sturdier or taller form of support is needed. Using several long bamboo canes and pieces of chicken or welded mesh wire, I fashion together support structures that have served me well for many years, even through gales. Unlike netting, wire mesh is safer for wild birds, so it gets a big thumbs up from me.

peas

Measure out the area that you wish to use for planting, then cut your wire to fit using wire cutters making sure it’s at least 5 ft high. Take a cane and pass it through one of the lower holes of the wire at one end, repeat again somewhere in the middle and one last time near the top. Leave at least 7 inches of each cane bare at the bottom of the wire, these will be pushed into the soil. Repeat this process for the other end of the wire and pop another cane or two in through the middle section for extra strength. Once you’re happy, push the bare cane sections into the soil, keeping it taut as you go. If you use chicken wire, secure to canes with short lengths of garden wire if needed.

peas

peas on chicken wire

For some years now I’ve grown peas this way, the support structures can be left permanently in place and to save growing space and adhere to crop rotation practices, place the support structure near the end of a raised bed and refresh several inches of soil every spring to keep diseases and pests to a minimum.

Sowing Greek Gigantes

greek gigantes

One of my absolute favourite crops to grow and eat is the runner bean. Usually trouble-free, runner beans have attractive flowers and are useful for creating height and interest in the veg garden, flowering runner beans look great scrambling up tall willow obelisks in ornamental gardens too.

Browsing The Real Seed Catalogue website, I was drawn to a type of runner bean I’ve never grown before –  Greek Gigantes. From the northern mountains of Greece, these beans are grown in similar conditions to our UK climate so they should do well. I expected the beans to be big, believe me, these beans are enormous!

greek gigantes

Grown exactly the same way as runners, the buttery beans are eaten rather than whole pods. Leave pods to go brown and papery, shell beans and cook fresh straight away or dry them to store.

If you fancy having a grow yourself, grab yours at http://www.realseeds.co.uk/runnerbeans.html

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