I’m champing at the bit to get out into the garden and get growing. I know, though, that if I start now all I’ll end up with are some very long, skinny plants on the windowsill or some very cold, iced plants outside. I decided that since I couldn’t grow things I’d look back on what things I grew last year, what mistakes and successes I had and what things I tried which I might tinker with this year.
First, here’s a little look at last year’s efforts:
Starting in January, I think, I pulled up a tonne of stones and black underlay and, in February, double dug the ground underneath as it was heavily compacted. The limiting factor on the size of the bed was where the sun would reach during the summer – I had some pictures from when we first moved in around August / September and knew how much shadow was cast by the fence and how far. By lining my garden up with that I could assure that I wasn’t wasting effort on shaded ground! The end portion was dug all the way to the fence for use with lettuces and peas / beans. That one spot gets light in the morning (until the sun moves to the other side of the fence) and I thought it might get enough sun, but not so much as to cause salads to be too precocious.
At the start of the year all I had was a tarp (and snow!) covered piece of ground. Fairly decent ground, if the soil test and ph indicator were to be believed, but it had been under stones for quite a while – at the minimum 6 months but probably more than double that. When I’d double-dug it I’d stuck in a layer of chicken manure to give it a little boost and I think this helped, later, when the larger brassicas hit that point and were kept well fed with very little extra fertiliser added. Things started off slowly. Oh so slowly. I succumbed to the impatience of the new gardener and tried to grow all sorts just a bit early (which is really a lot early when you take Scotland’s climate into consideration) leaving me with probably far too many spindly little plants. Once I learned, though, that brassicas preferred to germinate and grow on in larger pots rather than in trays I had much more luck getting things started!
When we left on holiday for a week I was terrified for my little plants. It was near the end of the first big summer heatwave we had last year and I thought I might come back to wilted veggies and dead potatoes. Luckily for me it rained quite a good bit that week and, with the sun beating down in between I came back to a small garden which had become a jungle! (Compare the May and June photos – the one with washing and the one before it). I was astounded, to say the least, and kept going outside to ‘check up on them’ as though they’d disappear when I stopped looking at them. Unfortunately, that holiday was also the death knell for my chances of squash and courgettes. The few plants I’d managed to germinate were still indoors and had become lanky, pitiful things which died not long thereafter =( I couldn’t get any to germinate again after after about a month, decided it was really too late to be starting them anyway. This year I might start them a tad earlier so that if I have germination problems I’m not stuck with none at all. Lanky ones are better than nothing and, so long as thy aren’t also left without water for a week, will probably last just fine.
What Went Wrong
Apart from the courgettes and squash, my only other big flops last year were probably the sweetcorn – it grew well, but I don’t think I gave it enough water to fruit well; and the potatoes. I watched my potatoes closely, terrified of the dreaded blight. I had picked a main / late main crop variety, Arran Victory, and several times worried over odd things on the leaves. Eventually I hauled them up early and got a small bucketful of potatoes. My worry that they were blighted seemed to have been unfounded (probably just a little underwatered) but I hadn’t wanted to chance it with there being peppers and tomatillos nearby.
I think that, really, was my biggest problem overall last year – watering. No hose meant lugging 12-15 watering cans or buckets up and down the stairs. Exhausting work and, when needed almost daily during the massive heatwave, was hard to keep up. This year, I’m buying a damned hose. I’d love to have a water butt in the garden but there’s no real place to put one!
What Went Right
Most of the things I planted later in the season grew well. Once I had my little plastic greenhouse thing in place I not only had more room for seedlings, but also more light for them. My brassicas seemed to thrive – all of them cropped well, though the cauliflowers got a little leggy. Might have been a space issue. The sunflowers and marigolds, grown for colour and seed and occasional nibbling in the case of the marigolds grew massive. Much, much bigger than I’ve ever seen calendula grow, really – plants grown in nearby gardens weren’t nearly so big – I guess they really liked the well-fertilised soil.
The radishes sucked horribly as actual radishes but, when left to grow, proved a great lure for beneficial insects. I probably won’t let them get that far this year, as I’m going to be more space constrained and they will take over as much as they can, but at least I got more flowers to show off in flower salads =p The seeds, unfortunately, also didn’t taste much good – just green and slightly bitter. I may have to try a suggestion I’ve seen since to pickle them!
My favourite of the year was probably the purple sprouting broccoli – it grew huge quickly and cropped well in late summer. I love tender new sprouting broccoli and having it right off the plant was amazing. I’m torn this year on growing a summer crop or trying it as a winter crop! It takes up so much room during the early part of the summer for, relatively, little actual crop.
Another thing which did well was the cabbages – they grew huge! I’m looking forward to growing them again partly because they give such a lot for very little effort put in.
What Might Have Gone Better
The nasturtiums did ‘ok’ but this year I’ll definitely be starting them off inside. They took too long to get going and not many germinated in the end. Given that the seed is expensive, I’d prefer for better than 30% germination (not the suppliers fault, I just think the package instructions that sowing them directly outside was fine might be a bit optimistic for more northerly climes).
Sunflowers – yes I have these in the good section too, I know. The ones which I managed to grow grew well but, like the nasturtiums, I think they’d have done better if I started them indoors / undercover. I’m hoping to have quite a few of the tall yellow ones again – this time protected up against the fence in the new plot – and I’m also trying a small, red, multi-headed variety to use as a lure for bees in amongst the veg.
I also could have done better at keeping up the watering / feeding towards the end of the season. I was, I admit, distracted by other things and tired of lugging the watering can up and down the stairs. This year I aim to keep up with my garden chores at that time and, hopefully, get in a last crop of cut and come again seedlings or something fast growing. Being ruthless about getting the spent veg up quicker would probably be good too – so I can maybe get a green manure in before things freeze over.
Hopefully next year I’ll have had at least ‘as much’ success as I did this year. I think I did not bad for my first year, all told!