Vegetable Garden

Sugar snap peas and broad beans growing in croft garden cottage vegetable garden
Sugar snap peas and broad beans growing in croft garden cottage vegetable garden

The potatoes are in sacks under the bench in the shed, the garlic neatly platted and hanging above, soon to be joined by the onions which are drying in the polytunnel. There are boxes and boxes of jam and chutney and both freezers are full to bursting point. Autumn has definitely arrived, complete with the equinox gales, and there is a feeling of contentment in knowiledge that the garden has provided us with a good harvest to see us through the winter. It is so much more satisfying to reach for a jar of home-made chutney or retrieve the ingredients for a hearty vegetable soup from the freezer or the shed than to go to the supermarket. This is not just romantic idealism it stretches the family budget, reduces food miles and will taste better than anything you can pull off a shop shelf.
This year has been our most successful vegetable growing year so far – a combination of good weather, a soil that is improving year by year due to copious applications of seaweed and well-rotted manure and a slow ascent up the learning curve. Overall the lack of rain had little effect on most of our crops but in future I will increase the amount of watering in dry periods. Enriching the soil with organic matter certainly helped but there were times when I felt that watering my sandy soil was like flinging planets into a black hole.
So here is the report card for the vegetable garden:
Beetroot – I plant plugs raised in the ploytunnel in modules and normally have a good crop. This year the growth was slow, almost certainly due to lack of moisture, but we got there in the end.
Broad Beans – I grow my plants in cardboard tubes and then plant in the garden in early May. This year I had problems in germinating the seed (my fault for using old seed) and when I eventually had some plants they grew very slowly and flowered late – so I did not expect a good crop. A combination of lack of moisture and cool temperatures. The bumblebees obviously felt the same and did not appear until June – so in the end the bees had the pollen and nectar and I had a bumper crop of beans.
Carrots – normally one of my best crops – I sow my seeds as soon as the ground is warm enough (10°C) – but this year I could not get the seeds to germinate until July! It was so dry that I could not keep the top few centimeters of soil moist enough. So a late harvest of carrots this summer. They’re still growing and will be left in the ground until required.
Cabbage – I grow the summer variety Greyhound which in previous years has grown well and lasted well into the first part of the winter. This year they grew beautifully, then split, the water got in and they rotted! This has never happened before and I am more than a little puzzled!
Fortunately it ruined any prospect of making to make sauerkraut.
Cauliflower, calabrese and broccoli – oh I was proud of these even if they did all come together! Not sure what went wrong with my careful schedule of succession planting! I will probably not grow the tender stem broccoli again – a victim of its own success – it was very prolific but the spears became flowers very quickly.
Celeriac – a new crop for 2012 – it has grown very well and produced good sized roots. Unfortunately they are a little hollow – lack of water again. However still good enough to eat and I am encouraged to try again.
Chinese cabbage – this is an early and late crop – it will bolt if it gets too warm. It grows rapidly and produces enormous head of crispy crinkly tightly packed leaves. It has to be cut as soon as it is ready but keeps very well. To avoid the cabbage glut you only need to grow 3 or 4 plants at a time.
Courgettes – prolific but tasteless so most of the fruit ended up in cakes! I suspect the variety rather than growing conditions.
Florence Fennel – this is one of my most reliable summer crops and one of my favourites.
Garlic – the quality of the crop depends on the weather in May last year it was wet and windy and destroyed the crop. Always a gamble but worth the effort to eat fresh juicy cloves.
Jerusalem artichokes – the jury is out on these as I’ve not dug the tubers yet! The plants grew well and were over 6 feet tall, so I am quietly optimistic.
Leeks – my soil is not really suitable for growing very good leeks, but if I plant early I usually get a respectable crop. In my native county they would be laughed at – “what d’you call these lass pencils?” I prefer to think of them as gourmet leeks.
Onions and shallots – a good crop of onions but the shallots were disappointing. They were rather small and a high proportion had some evidence of neck rot.
Parsnips – alas very few germinated and the dozen are so which have grown may not we worth eating!
Potatoes – a good crop despite the drought. Certainly enough to see us through the winter.
Sugar snap peas – reliable and prolific. Unfortunately they do not freeze well, but there is always a market for the surplus.
The garden is now looking rather empty and the beds are ready for their winter dressing of seaweed and manure. There are still a few crops left – the winter brassicas, calvo nero (Tuscan kale) and leeks – all covered to give wind protection. There is still plenty of work to do outside, but it is a case of dodging the showers and looking for the gaps between the gales! It may only be September but it is time to think about next year. There is nothing nicer than sitting by fire on a stormy afternoon with a pile of seed catalogues.

22 thoughts on “Vegetable Garden

  1. So nice to read your blog! I’ve finally put in raised beds; winter vegetable planting this week. You’ve inspired me 🙂

    • Do have fun with your new vegetable garden. Of course it can be frustrating and back-breaking but oh the joy in your first harvest even if it’s a single spindly carrot which I’m sure it won’t be. I look forward to hearing about your garden in between reading your lovely recipes.

      • Thank you so much – certainly looking forward to seeing what, if anything, emerges. I’m so impressed that you have managed to grow so much up there in the Highlands and Islands! The weather can be pretty dramatic, as you wonderfully describe. At least you have that beautiful view to inspire you. Will certainly be following you – wonderful to connect!

        • Sometimes it is only the view that keeps me going! Is it worth it – oh YES

  2. Amazing report and quite a harvest consdering your climate. I know it’s a good bit of work too.
    My father-in-law was a potato farmer and fresh potatoes are the best. Your story reminded me of so many wonderful meals made up almost entirely of food they had grown themselves.

    • We’ve had a good summer which has helped enormously and it has been a pleasure spending hours pottering around in the garden. Himself is responsible for the potatoes and I only get involved in the manual labour. Growing potatoes is very much a male preserve in the islands and almost every crofter will have a tattie patch. Our sandy machair soil is great for producing good potatoes using seaweed as a fertilser but you have to watch the watering in dry periods. We probably have bigger debates about the quality of our potato harvest than anything else. Talking about tatties is almost as big a conversation topic as the weather and the state of the grass!

  3. My goodness! It’s no wonder you don’t post every day as you must be so busy tending your fantastic vegetables – I feel quite ashamed of my half-hearted attempts! I can certainly see the incentive though, given your location, and yet your soil and weatiher conditions won’t make it easy for you. And you must have been freezing and jamming and bottling non-stop for weeks! Again, my efforts with preserving are quite feeble compared to yours – I am very very impressed!

    • Our long summer days instigate hyperactivity – it is such a short growing season that every daylight hour has to be packed with gardening and preserving. So by September we are starting to wilt! Fortunately Himself is a great one with the preserving pan and produces lovely jam. I never though I’d take to veg growing, but pure greed won!

  4. candi052781

    Nice work. And a good review! Good luck next year. All my stuff has done good this year except for my runner beans. We had a early heat that made the flowers drop, and they never fully recovered. But ur seaweed….hmmm, I’m two hours away from the coast, but it could be worth a trip

    • Thank you. Our garden is too windy for runner beans and probably too cold for good pollination. I’ve always found them temperamental and if I’m honest I prefer French beans. We uses tons of seaweed on the garden, it is rich in micro-nutrients and breaks down to a nice crumbly texture. On the downside it is smelly and you need to compost it for about six months before you put it on the garden. I also use liquid seaweed as a plant tonic and feed. I could make my own but it is even more evil aroma than comfrey so I confess to buying it from the local seaweed processing plant.

  5. Wow wow wow! As a flower gardener, I am always truly impressed with folks who successfully grow their own produce! You have an outstanding list of veggies – congratulations! Your hard work and efforts have certainly paid off.

    • Thank you – the reward is in the eating.

  6. Whoa! I am so blown away! You are incredible! Beautiful!

  7. What an amazing array of veg – and your caulifowers look fantastic! I’ve heard that they can be tricky so I haven’t attempted them yet.
    I’m really pleased you’ve had a good year and you more than deserve the sunshine 🙂

    • Thank you. I grew cauliflowers last year for the first time – no problems at all except I had 12 large cauliflowers all ready at the same time. So this year I changed to an “all year round” variety and staggered the sowing and planting. Wonderful cauliflowers, but this time I had 24 cauliflowers all ready at the same time. I must re-think this strategy. Do have a go I’m sure you’ll have great success.

  8. Fantastic–congratulations on wresting sustenance from the land. Growing what you have in a seaside climate is remarkable, and I adore how you have used and preserved it. Inspiring!

    • Thank you – this year I had the weather gods on my side. Although I was born at the end of rationing I was still brought up in austerity Britain so waste not want not and make do and mend were very much the mantra of the times.

  9. I can taste your vegetable soup already! What a brilliant report. So envious of your edibles. Our droughty weather did nothing for our veggie garden save for the tomatoes. Oddly enough they loved it and were prolific. Carry on.

    • Hi Mario – we have a big blow predicted for tomorrow so now that I have tied down the garden and everything else I will probably make some just-in-case soup – just in case the power goes down as it often does and we have to rely on candles and the wood-burner for heat and light.

  10. My goodness, you had such a different time to us here in Wales. My harvest has been terrible compared to your spectacult array, or perhaps that should be ‘different’. Actually, it’s not been as bad as I feared, but I am very envious of your cauliflower and especially your garlic – mine got to a certain stage (tiny) and sulked…
    And you’ve made me realise that I need to get on with the chutney making. I think green tomatoes will feature quite strongly!

    • I think conditions in Wales have been far worse than I had realised, so I think that you have done well. I also have a suspicion that your leeks are probably far superior to my slimline version!

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