Ten things I have learnt about growing veg this year

Here’s a quick list of some of the things I have learnt so far from my first year of growing vegetables. Some might be useful to you if you’re starting out too.

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

Parsnips, carrots and a few leeks still left to harvest

1. Grow more of the vegetables we actually eat

This one seems obvious, and I knew this before we started but it still didn’t stop me dedicating a whole corner of a raised bed to broad beans which no one really eats. They failed and that space has gone unused aside from the nasturtiums which have taken over a little. Which brings me onto my second point…

2. Don’t grown nasturtiums ithe vegetable patch

I had read that nasturtiums are a great companion plant and so I popped a few very small plants in amongst the vegetables. I think this was a mistake, because they have taken over in some places, which I was not expecting! The bees love them, and they are a tasty addition to salads (leaves and flowers) but I think next year it would be better to grow them just outside of the raised beds to allow more space for the vegetables.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly.

Humphrey was chasing off a large white butterfly – note the nasturtiums in the back

3. Onions don’t grow in shade

I had a bit of space alongside a hedge which I dug over and planted the leftover onion sets in. I sort of knew they wouldn’t work, but didn’t have anywhere else to plant them and thought it might be worth a try. It really wasn’t as although they did sprout, they never got any bigger than the onion set originally was when it was planted. Then, they got eaten by the slugs. Next year, I’ll leave this area alone. Maybe I’ll plant some red campion Silene diocia which likes growing in shady areas.

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

The onions spouted, but have since been devoured by slugs

4. Chose the compost carefully – or feed more

Because we were just starting up we needed to buy in a fair amount of compost to fill the raised beds and pots. We did try to find topsoil on freecycle but had no success. Trying to keep the cost down, we used compost from our local garden centre which was an organic general purpose compost, £12 for four 75 litre bags. This was the cheapest option but definitely came at a price. After a while, anything growing in a pot turned yellow, and the vegetable patch began to do the same. I could only assume that the nutrients we being used up, because once I fed everything with a home-made mix of nettle and comfrey fertiliser, the plants all perked up and got their lovely green colour back.

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

The compost looked dark and rich but soon ran out of nutrients

5. Try some of the container varieties

We had a lot of space around the garden which I don’t want to dig up, but could have been utilised with more container plants. Next year I think I will try some of the smaller varieties of courgette plants as well as growing my dwarf runners in pots rather than the veg patch. They didn’t do very well because they were soon shaded out by the bigger beans.

One of only two courgettes.

One of only two courgettes

6. Watch out for slugs around harvest time

Earlier in the year around the time we were sowing seeds we used nemaslug to help control our mollusc population and it worked – we have lots of fully-grown vegetables. However I have noticed a growth in the number of slugs and snails recently and We’ve lost beetroot, french beans and potatoes. I think that a secondary dose of nemaslug is required to stop this because hand-picking doesn’t seem to be working enough.

This leopard slug was saved the slug-knife because he's quite handsome - for a slug

This leopard slug was saved from the slug-knife because he’s quite handsome – for a slug

7. Nobody likes kale – except the butterflies

A continuation from the first point really, but serves to reiterate that it is important to only grow what your family will eat. It’s tempting to try out different varieties, new vegetables or to create that perfect mix for rotation. But resist the temptation to grow things unless you are sure everyone likes them otherwise, come harvesting you’ll kick yourself that you could be eating delicious squash, but instead you have half eaten kale.

Mmmm... Kale

Mmmm… Kale

8. Sowing carrots thickly is a good idea

I sowed the carrot seeds quite thickly thinking half probably wont germinate and if they do I’ll just thin them later. Then I read that thinning carrots can attract carrot root fly because they can smell the carroty goodness from miles away and I wondered if it was a good idea after all. We protected the carrots with a fine mesh net all around, about 2′ high so hopefully we were safe – and I am glad I did it this way because we’ve been enjoying carrots for over a month now and there are loads left. Okay, the first ones were just baby carrots, but tasty nonetheless. By picking out the larger carrots, the smaller ones are allowed to continue growing. Much better than thinning and chucking a load on the compost heap.

Some of the first 'baby' carrots

Some of the first ‘baby’ carrots

9. You can never have too many tomato plants

This is quite simple really. We love tomatoes and there can never be enough. Both our children love tomatoes so I am not worried about having a glut, but if we do, we’ll be making tomato sauce and freezing down our own ‘tinned’ tomatoes for use in sauces throughout the year. I’ve grown four varieties this year; money maker, plum, sweet million and black cherry.

Just a few of the many tomato plants

Just a few of the many tomato plants

10. But tomato plants will take over if grown in a veg patch

I had a little space left in the top veg patch and a few plum tomato plants which needed a home. It made sense and I popped them in the ground. They have since taken over and smothered the beet, chard and butternut squash.  If I had an allotment, I’d probably dedicate a whole patch for tomatoes, but when we only have two small raised beds, the tomatoes can stay in pots.

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch - just in front of the runner beans

The tomatoes have almost filled half the patch – just in front of the runner beans

Gathering inspiration

The summer holidays have been here for a few weeks already and it’s been quite busy. So busy the garden has become slightly overgrown and neglected. When I went on maternity leave I had envisioned lots of free time to lay in the sun and read books, potter in the garden become a lady of leisure. I was very wrong, and with the eldest off school as well, the garden has definitely taken a backseat.

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The Garden before the summer holidays – relatively tidy!

At the beginning of the holidays the kids and I spent a week away in Norfolk visiting friends and family leaving my partner in charge of the garden. While we were away it gave me a chance to pinch a few ideas and get some inspiration from other people’s gardens. My Dad has recently become quite keen on attracting wildlife to his garden and had added a few insect hotels since our last visit, one of which was being used by a leaf-cutter bee.

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A couple of holes have been blocked off with vegetation – suggesting a leaf cutter bee has been busy.

I was also quite impressed with my Dad’s use of pots in their small garden. Without the pots, there wouldn’t be nearly as much colour. A great idea for a rented garden, especially as the plants are easy to take with you if you need to move. He even had a pot with wildflowers which the bees were enjoying. I picked up a box of all white wildflower seeds at hampton court which I am saving for next year. I was going to sow them into the flower border out the front to create a white garden, but I think I might sow them in a pot. This also might protect them from the slugs too.

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Wildflowers grow in the pot below an ornamental tree

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A nice arrangement of pots can bring splashes of colour or year-round foliage and structure

We also went to visit my partner’s mother who has a beautiful cottage garden, as well as a vegetable patch. The flower beds are gorgeous and look like they belong in a Gardener’s World feature. I also love that there are surprises around every corner; a hedgehog house, and old wheelbarrow filled with plants, raspberries and blueberries hidden in the hedgerow and magnificent tomato plants in the greenhouse! The tit boxes were used this year and so were the bat boxes – but by tits too! Looking at the veg patch also made me realise a mistake I had made with my own at home – I hadn’t grown enough peas!

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

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The Vegetable patch – peas protected by netting earlier in the year. By the time we visited they were doing really well.

 

When we got home I was please to find the garden not only alive – but thriving. Having had quite a few days of rain the vegetables had exploded and everything was doing really well. Lots of different plants had also flowered including the purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria (one of my all-time favourites) and teasel Dipsacus fullonum, both growing by the pond.

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The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

Bees love teasel

Bees love teasel

As August has progressed, much of the time in the garden has spent harvesting the crops, but more on this later.

One final note – while we were away my partner spotted what we are pretty sure was a silver-washed fritillary in our garden. A first record for us and one I have yet to see myself.

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