Vegetables


Having enjoyed learning about Scott McGuire’s Experiment in Backyard Sustainability You can imagine how delighted I was to see that Peak Moment had visited him again to see the results of four years of hard work. It’s fascinating to see how his dreams gave changed over those four years, and the result of all that learning:

For today’s Movie Monday entertainment I’ve got a video that I first watched years ago, but which I still think is fantastic. I really love watching people go beyond talking about things and into actually experimenting to see what works. Scott’s garden and approach to self-sufficiency is wonderful to watch – particularly as it is all done behind a house he’s renting. I always love re-watching this video:



In spite of the snow and big freeze before Christmas (it got down below -10c) we have been able to keep harvesting food from the aquaponics and under the fleece tunnels. The pic on the left is perennial spinach, and the one below is the first of our aquaponic leeks heading for the dinner table.

And here’s some of our Ruby Pak Choi:

Getting to the end of our first year in the garden, we’ve been a bit chaotic. Digging beds just in time to plant chitted potatoes, or seedlings outgrowing their seed trays, and we’ve only managed to get three-and-a-half of the eight beds dug (each bed is 5ft x 20ft, and double-dug)

I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and plan it all out properly, ready for next year, and – several books later – I have got a full four-year crop-rotation plan mostly complete: Our Crop-Rotation plan (pdf)

Now I’ve just got to dig and manure the remaining beds, and buy a million-or-so seeds. It’ll be interesting to see if reality even slightly matches the plan . . .

Rainbow trout to be exact! We should be getting tiny (10g) Rainbow trout for our system tomorrow, so I thought it was time for a quick celebratory update:

Almond - Robijn - Blossom

Almond - Robijn - Blossom

Just time for another quick update before I zoom off to Green Drinks tonight to present on the topic of Manchester’s Food Security and Aquaponics. I had a good half-hour of planting this morning so, I had a chance to run around with the camera capturing all the growth:

We’ve been taking (false) hope from all these false springs and started our January plantings with tomatoes. Planted them in little seed trays in an unheated propagator on January 24th on a beautiful south-facing windowsill and here’s the result two weeks later:

They are Beefsteak tomatoes “Big Boy” and Sweet Olive cherry tomatoes, and have been going really well. They survived a week of us being on holiday and a couple of days ago were ready to be potted up. I really wanted them to go straight into the polytunnel, but that is still dropping to near freezing overnight, so now we have them lined up along the windowsill in the kitchen

Before potting up:

And all the beefsteak seedlings, now without propagator lids, on a slightly cooler windowsill:

We didn’t have space, or enough pots, for the sweet olive tomatoes – they’ll have to hang on for another week or so.

Feels great to be growing seedlings again!

Another great step here at the Eco-House, chitting our first potatoes!

We’ve been collecting eggboxes for a little while now so we’d be ready, and today I took the kids out to the Hulme Garden Centre in advance of this Sunday’s Potato Day. Here’s our haul, all ready to “chit”:

I got a whole range of different ones to try, to try and liven up one of our less exciting, but important, crops:

Swift – First Early

Pink Fir Apple – Salad Variety

Maris Peer – Second Early

Setanta – Highly Blight Resistant Maincrop

Kestrel – Second Early

Sarpo Mira – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Sarpo Axona – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Salad Blue – Blue-fleshed Salad Potato



Seems like an obvious thing to have in one place, but I’ve been struggling to find a good planting list for October (or the rest of Autumn for that matter) So here’s what we’re planting:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

I thought we’d missed the boat on this one, as you usually have to sow seed a lot earlier in the year, but I spotted some seedlings at the Altrincham Wyevale Garden Centre and thought we’d give it a go.  They were sold as twelve seedlings for £2.99, were already a reasonable size and seem to be thriving. We’ve planted them 12″ apart, as per the instructions in “How to Grow More Veg” in our double-dug allotment-style bed. Apparently they should be ready to harvest in 34-36 weeks. We planted them on the 6th of October, so I’ll see how accurate that is when we get to harvest time.

Garlic – Early Purple Wight

This is one of the earliest varieties – as discussed in my aged post on 18 different varieties of Garlic. We got ours from the local Homebase – £1.99 for a large bulb. They can be planted September to November and should be ready for harvest from May-August, a couple of weeks after the leaves yellow and die back. We bought two bulbs, and they have split into 20 good-sized cloves.

Red Onions – Electric

Another one of our purchases from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 bulbs (“sets”) for £3.49. We’ve planted all of these in the allotment bed, the packet says you can plant them from August onwards, and that they are an “Over-wintering” set. It’ll be interesting to see what yield we get – 100 red onions could last us all year! It doesn’t say when to expect the harvest – just to wait until the tops start to die back. We’re planting sets rather than seed as they are apparently a lot more reliable. Not a very resilient solution though, so maybe we’ll try and harvest some seed for next year’s crop.

White Onions – Senshyu

Also from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 sets for £3.49 again. These haven’t gone in the ground yet as we’ve run out of space in our single bed. Time for some more digging I think!

Autumn Planting Pea – Twinkle

This was a bit of an impulse buy at Wyevale. And the thing I hadn’t spotted on the label was the crucial “protect from frost”, so they haven’t been planted in the ground, but in pots that can be taken into the polytunnel when it gets frosty (assuming we ever get the polythene on the tunnel!). I don’t rate their chances of lasting the winter, so we may have to build them a cloche or a coldframe.

Broad Beans – Sutton & Aquadulce Claudia

All of the gardening magazines are listing these as things to plant now, so I got some as we were passing the seed aisle in B&Q. They haven’t gone in the ground yet – no space! But that’s ok, as the packets say to plant them Nov-Dec, with harvesting from April (Sutton) and May (Aquadulce Claudia). The Sutton beans suggest they need a cloche too – looks like I might be busy trying to work out how to make cloches!

Thats all that’s going in for us this autumn – I’ll let you know how we get on.

Purple Sprouting BroccoliOK, don’t get too excited, we haven’t got to the top of the 15-year queue for allotments. What we are doing is starting to turn large amounts of turf into productive garden beds. In addition to the Aquaponics system we have in our polytunnel, we are going to have eight conventional allotment-style beds. Each will be 5’x20′ and we’re going to try the planting styles detailed in the excellent “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine“. This means we’re planting a lot closer together than the instructions on the packets, and we’re not planting in widely spaced rows.

According to the book, this should give us maximum yields with minimum weeding and we should be able to reach every plant in the 5-foot wide beds without walking on the beds at all. The downside? It’s all about the soil! So that means digging . . . lots of digging. And compost . . . lots of compost.

Luckily we seem to have really good, deep topsoil. From digging the holes for the sumps in our aquaponics system I know it goes down about three feet. Unluckily it has had turf on it for a long time and so it is incredibly solid – too compacted to consider planting into, and it’s causing real drainage problems. So, we dig, and dig, and dig. The book calls for double-digging which is hard work but at the end of it the difference is amazing. These big thick slices that we’re levering up break apart into a beautiful fine soil and with plenty of compost mixed through it is finally possible to think of this piece of ex-lawn as a possible vegetable garden.

The hardest bit is getting rid of the turf. Lifting and shifting it took far more time than doing the eventual digging so we’re going to have to work out a better way to do that. The result is a little underwhelming, but we’re happy with it:

Allotment bed

That’s half of one of the eight beds – it’s 10’x5′, fully double-dug with a couple of big bags of compost dug through for good measure. We’re now planting it up with over-wintering onions (red and white), garlic, and purple-sprouting broccoli. This is our first real go at growing our own food, so wish us luck! Hopefully the slugs haven’t eaten it all yet!

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