I find it helpful to look back and think over the past season – it cements positive lessons in the mind and helps us to learn from our mistakes. With that in mind, here’s how the season turned out in the garden:
The greenhouse has been amazing in its second year. In the first season it took some getting used too, but I didn’t really make the most of timings, and I learned from those mistakes. This season the tomatoes we’re super productive and leaving the small window open at all times allowed better air circulation, so the fungal problem we had last year didn’t reoccur.
It was such a delight to be able to start seedlings off much earlier and not have every window in the house sill jammed with seed trays. A painful lesson came when I transplanted the sweet corn without properly hardening off the young plants. We had a late frost which completely stunted their growth and they never recovered – next year I’ll either use a cold frame, or improvise a cloche from a plastic bottle.
Towards the end of the season I remembered to pull the tomatoes out when everything was slowing down, around early october, leaving plenty of time for the mizuna and kale, planted in their place, to get well established before the temperature and light levels dropped.
The greenhouse is also proving indispensable to overwinter more delicate plants, such as my young tea bushes, and those established from cuttings like the one year old figs, and rosemary.
The freezer is quite literally half-full of fruit, which suugests the season was a good one. We planted a few new additions this year, including two honeyberry bushes, several goji berry bushes, including several I grew from cuttings when I carelessly broke a couple of branches off – it was worth trying to root them and it paid off.
The blackberries were absolutely prolific, we have a single ‘Navajo’ blackberry vine and picked around eight pounds of fruit. The vine is only three years old, and I think it’s just hitting its stride, so I expect even more this coming year. We also made a blackberry wine back in August which is now six months old and waiting to be racked prior to bottling, this will be my first, and though I’m eager to try, red wines need plenty of time to age, so I’ll have to be patient.
The ‘Glastons Perpetual’ rhubarb crowns are really coming on strong now with a bumper crop. Now that we’re in full winter mode, I’m feeling like some hearty rhubarb crumble is on the cards.
We moved the old, very productive blackcurrants bushes to make room for the greenhouse in early 2016, and though they’ve had some time to recover, they produced no fruit at all. I’m sure this in part is due to their more shady position so I’ll give it some thought and maybe move them in late winter whilst dormant.
The fig tree seems to be liking it’s new location in the shelter of the greenhouse, I think it’s a nice warm microclimate which should suit it well. Unfortunately this year the figs dropped during the heatwave at the beginning of summer and the second fruit didn’t ripen in time, I’ll have to watch the water levels next year.
The strawberries have also been abundant this year, with smattering of fruit from early may to a week before Christmas, and there’s still green strawberries outside. The runners have completely covered the bank at the back of the terrace dug out for the greenhouse, which has helped to stabilise the soil.
I planted ‘Major Cook’ beans, a heritage variety, praised for being great for both green beans, or shelled when mature – something not many varieties can offer. I think they went into the ground a little late, so we only had a small crop, but as I received only 12 beans from a seed swap, I now have enough to really plant up this coming year and maybe share some with friends too.
Also from the seed swap I received some lovely ‘Red Russian’ kale, though they were heavily attacked by slugs and snails which seemed to love it more than anything else. I’m not sure if it was just the season, or if it’s a particular delicacy for them but it’s certainly one I’ll be trying again.
It wasn’t such a great year for chard either – I planted up some ‘Pink Passion’, a rare heritage variety with beautiful coloured stems, which had mixed results with some strong plants, and others a little runty as was the self seeded ‘Golden’ chard from last year. Still chard is one of my favourites to grow and hard to find in the supermarkets too. I’ll be leaving the strongest ‘Pink Passion’ chard in the ground to go to seed next year (being biennial they set seed in the second year).
Having tried to grow cucumbers before with little success, I was sceptical but this season they turned out great. I grew the marketmore variety trellised on willow pyramids, and we had a productive harvest, we even had some excess to store as fermented pickles.
As I get more experienced as a gardener and learn more about permaculture I gravitate towards perennial plants and self seeding annuals/biennials. So this year we added perennial herb fennel, nasturtiums, red orach and took cuttings of rosemary to propagate. I also took cuttings from wild hops which I plan to grow up through the branches of a hedge or tree and maybe try in a brew.
Nasturtiums are great for companion planting, attracting cabbage white butterflies who lay their eggs on its leaves rather than your brassicas. They also provide edible leaves, seeds and flowers which have a mustard like peppery kick and also attract pollinators.
Last year I left the best of our black carrots to replant for seed. In spring I popped them into a pot, in a sheltered space behind the greenhouse, and collected a decent amount of seed, which can be planted in the coming season.
We also saved seeds from the poppies, tomatoes (read my guide on how to save tomato seeds), red orach (some of which I scattered liberally around the garden), fennel, hostas, and nasturtiums, though they are so good at self seeding I’m sure I won’t need to plant any.