Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 Gardening Year of Trials and Tribulations

What a challenge 2011 has been for us gardeners but with challenges comes resourcefulness and problem solving.

If we look back over the past year we've had an extremely warm start in spring with April reaching over 20 degrees centigrade.  In May, temperatures dropped (but I find they do most years so waited until early June to plant out the cucurbitaceae (squash)).  Then the summer didn't really come.  July was grey and wet through some of the weeks.  Then August came and didn't really bring summer either ending, certainly in the South East with a day of severe rain that swiftly followed with blight attack on many tomatoes (the community gardens and school garden I support suffered this more than my small patio garden).  In September as there were so many green tomatoes being given to me I learned to make chutney for the first time.  Followed by a crazy Autumn and really high temperatures in the first week of October when lucky people who hadn't cropped yet got a week's summer.  And now we are experiencing a rather warm winter - in fact, I'm not sure whether to call it winter at all.  Usually the nasturtiums have died off by now but my sheltered patio garden hasn't really felt the bite of a frost yet.

So a rather challenging year to garden in but his meant lots of adaptation and resourcefulness.

Early in the year my boyfriend bought me a plastic greenhouse.  It was absolutely fantastic for hardening off seedlings in early spring and I used it for this purpose from March all the way through to June.  For a few months I left it vacant, but I've really got into growing chillies this year and our summer wasn't really a good one for them so as the weather started to disappoint in July I started to move them into the plastic greenhouse - and they loved it!  I didn't even have to water them that much as they would sweat off the excess water and it would stay in the green house.  I continued to use it all the way through to October.  If you don't have one, and don't have the space for a glass green house I really recommend getting a plastic greenhouse!

In the summer I also started to use horticultural fleece.  I've never used this before, not even in the winter but I bought some by mistake when I was buying some horticultural mesh for my cabbages.

For ages it remained stored in its wrapper and then when I started to see flowers on my aubergines I had little hope of them bearing fruit and I thought about the idea of using the horticultural fleece.  It worked a treat!

Definitely using it next year, especially if I get impatient with my tomatoes!

This year I stumbled across a really good variety of winter squash that seemed completely unperturbed by our disappointing summer.  They are called Zapallito de Toscana and I ordered them from the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library Catalogue.  I am definitely going to be sourcing more seed for next year.

It was the first year I grew from seeds sourced from the Heritage Seed Library and I had some absolutely beautiful purple peas. 


I wouldn't recommend them for crops to be grown in a container garden as they didn't really give enough of a yield but the flowers were beautiful and I just couldn't help take photos of them.

I would definitely recommend growing Heritage Seed Library varieties and to learn seed saving.  Its a great source of seed if you like to experiment with unusual or old heirloom varieties.

I tried seed saving for the first time this year and found it tremendously rewarding.

Next year, I am going to grow more varieties that are perennial/biennial and/or are low fuss to grow. Varieties I found to be in this camp this year were nasturtiums (plant them anywhere you have a spare bit of ground - you can make pesto, a little chopped leaves on top of curries, flavour for salads - they are truly wonderful and add colour to small plots), zapallito de toscana (winter squash), kai lan, chard, kale and herbs, salad potatoes...  

I am also going to introduce more early varieties of tomatoes as these will probably be more UK climate friendly.  I'll also look for early varieties of chillies, sweet peppers and aubergines as these could be more suited to the UK growing season too.

In 2012 I will be looking for more varieties to add to this list.  I am still trialling Egyptian Walking Onions and broad beans.

A review of gardening in 2011 wouldn't be complete without mentioning my wormery.  It provided me with wonderful worm casts and the garden benefited so much from the worm tea.  If I didn't have my own wormery I would pay for worm tea.  So much more superior than bought organic fertiliser.

Next year I plan to be far more savy in July and August with my winter planting.  Its lovely having things growing in the winter garden and I think you should be able to graze and browse your garden no matter what month of the year it is.  I still have some winter salad growing and brassicas in my garden.

I think it so important to keep a relationship with your garden no matter what season and that includes eating/grazing from it as many days of the year as possible!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Fresh Veg from the November garden


I was just looking through my garden diary and noticed that I am still cropping food from the garden even now in mid November.  The other night I picked a winter salad to accompany some shepherds pie and last night I was picking chard for a curry.

In fact the garden has been feeding me steadily and hasn't taken a week off since April - thank you garden!

Considering I have a small patio garden and my growing is in pots,  I don't suffer gluts very often, but I am finding with time and learning about what works through trial and error that I have a steady supply of salad greens and these haven't had a week off for about 7-8 months, which I would never have guessed would happen in a small container garden, but what a blessing it is.

I am sure it is also thanks to this strange year of weather we've been having and we haven't had a frost in South West London yet.

The types of things that I am still cropping are:
  • Chillies & Peppers (from the plastic greenhouse)
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Beetroot
  • Cabbage
  • Rapa de Senza (turnip green eaten as a salad leaf)
  • Kai Lan (delicious raw in salad or lightly stir fried)
  • Nasturtium (will definitely be popping these seeds around the garden anyway I find a spare bit of soil - such a versatile crop for pesto, salad, pickled seeds, flavour and it grows so easily in the UK.  So far from May - November)
  • Mustard Leaf
  • Garlic Chives (from last summer's garlic bulbs - I missed a few when harvesting and now have garlic chives popping up in a few places...delicious!)
Last night we made a flavourful curry with the chard from the garden and some potatoes and free range chicken.  It was simply delicious, made even more delicious by the garden chard and fresh from the plant chillies.  Even the mustard seed was saved from the garden.

I would never have guessed that even in November the garden would be inspiring evening meals.

Friday, 28 October 2011

October Gardening

I haven't been blogging much of late.  Its not that I've stopped gardening... I've just not been gardening much in my own garden.  Maybe because I have a container garden and there's so much more to do in the community gardens I help maintain.

At the school garden we've been doing lots of weeding, harvesting beetroots, chard, beans and grapes.  Some of the pupils were even inspired to make juice out of the grapes!  We've also been planting green manures on the patches of ground that will remain vacant until next spring.  We chose Phacelia as it is not in any of the crop groups we are using in our crop rotation plans.

At the Community Garden we're planting a winter wheat section.  So far we've been turning the soil (with forks I might add as we didn't have a rotavator!)  As we have quite a large area to sow this has been very much fat burning work with towels to mop brows and water bottles on hand!  Next we will be raking the soil and then planting the seed.

At home, I do still have jobs to do... Planting the garlic!  This is a job my boyfriend sees as very high on my todo list as he would be devastated if there wasn't any fresh garlic to go with the fresh tomatoes next summer!!  I'm also going to plant some broad beans.  I've never grown them before but have an eye on a broad bean hummus recipe I'd love to try and I'm sure it just wouldn't be the same unless they are fresh from the garden and young beans.  I'm also thinking about moving the salad boxes into the plastic greenhouse when the final chillies have moved out.  I have some Hatif d'Annonay Peas http://www.realseeds.co.uk/peas.html which is a fast growing dwarf pea which can be sown now in October/November so that's another of my intentions.  I will have to bring my Zapallito de Toscana winter squash in soon but as we haven't had any frosts in South West London yet I'm letting it stay on the plant as long as I can.  The plant is still very much alive so have been letting it stay on the mother plant for as long as possible.  Please let me know if this is the right thing to do or would I be better just bringing them in now as this is the first year I have grown winter squash with a hard outer shell.

I've also been busy in the kitchen baking muffins with an oversized 600g patty pan, making nasturtium pesto, cooking roast squash and chilli, rosehip and apple jelly to name but a few concoctions.

Recipes coming soon to clairesculinaryadventures.blogspot.com

I'm still trying to find something exciting to do with a bumper crop of beetroot from the school garden.  Any delicious beetroot ideas?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Growing Aubergines Outside

I think I need to fess up... in my last post there were some pictures of my prize aubergines.

These were grown outside in the patio garden but with a little bit of help.

Now I don't have the space for a green house and am so envious of people who are able to grow their tomotoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies, physalis ... the list goes on!... under cover.  They always look so healthy when grown under cover.  And of course they do for they are in the solanaceae family, also known as the sun lovers family.

Whilst I don't have a green house, there are other options for the space challenged container gardener.

Last year, we had a rather disappointing summer (not that much different to the one we've just had) and all the flowers dropped off my aubergines - i.e. no fruit. 

This year the aubergines have been enjoying the comforts of a hort fleece tent fastened to the wall with clothes line pegs and a stone on the floor to stop it flapping about.  They seem to really like the tomato planters I have grown them in this year too as these are the tallest aubergines I have ever grown aubergines. They also enjoy a diet of worm tea from the wormery and comfrey leaves.

If we are getting a good sunshiny day I unveil them and then tuck them in once the sunshine's finished for the day to keep them warm for the night time.

I know, I know, I could just grow easier things that don't have such a need for heat but I love eating aubergines - they are just great roasted in the oven with tomatoes and garlic.  Its a challenging labour of love every year but this year I think I've cracked it!

The other thing I was not telling you in my last post was the peppers and chillies that are still happy outside despite the drop in temps.  They are not showing signs of stress yet and I don't like denying them outside sunshine if they are able to cope with our outside temps so to help them extend their stay outside that little bit longer, they are in the portable greenhouse, a present that my lovely boyfriend bought me last spring that proved invaluable when I was hardening off seedlings in spring and now to extend the growing season into autumn.

So there you have it... I'm now thinking of hort fleece tents for the tomatoes next year, especially if the summer's the same as it was this year I just need to improve on the frame for the hort fleece tent - any tips out there?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Autumn Sunshine

Autumn has finally arrived to the garden here in South London, the squash leaves are looking tired, the sunflowers are starting to look a little sad with their bowed heads, lots of leaves to clear up off the patio and pots to spruce up.  Time for the autumnal tidy up!
Zapallito de Toscana (Cucurbita Maxima)

I love all these new gardening jobs as the summer season moves on to the next chapter of autumn.  The new light levels, the warm sunshine, spaces made where the summer crops have finished doing their thing, the garden is starting to look a lot less congested!  Whilst I absolutely love the jungle look that summer brings in our garden thanks to all the squash plants I like to grow I also love the new space that we get as autumn moves in.

Aubergine "de Barbentane" (Solanum Melongena)
And in the new spaces I've been busy sowing!  Winter radish, variety of turnip greens, peas for peashoots, tree onion bulbils (a perennial onion), onions from seed, Kai Lan and various winter salads.  I'm determined to keep the patio awake with edibles feeding us right through those cold winter months and into the hungry gap.

Against the south facing wall I have new spaces so have moved the sunloving herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage, marjoram and camomile which really seem to be enjoying their new home.

Citrus Lime (Citrus Latifolia Tahiti)
That's the beauty of the container garden, you can just keep moving your pots around through the seasons.

Another event in the garden is the migration of the heat lovers back inside the flat (chillies, peppers, the lime tree, the aloes...).  I keep an eye on their leaves and as long as they are not yet showing any sign of stress am letting them stay outside to make the most of any sunshine available.  However, I am keeping an eagle eye on the forecast and a daily check of these plants to make sure they are still happy outside.  Whilst we had a rather disappointing summer, we do seem to be blessed by a warm and gentle September.  As soon as those temps start to go towards 10 degrees C or below, I will find homes for the tender ones inside the flat.  I have a feeling that it might be a bit crowded indoors this winter!

Looking in my seedbox, the only month I can't find anything to sow is December.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Sowing in September

September is an interesting month in the garden.  Its harvest time with all the summer crops providing their bounty and there's lots to do in the kitchen if you like preserving all those summer goodies. 

September is also a good month to think about planning your way through the next season and there are a few things that can be sown now to help you through the sparse winter months.  Good planning and sowing now can also help make that hungry gap (between February - May) a little bit more bountiful.

Here's a few September sowing suggestions:

Cabbages (for spring hungry gap)
Chard
Corn Salad
Kai Lan
Kale (if you sow in the next week or so)
Kohl rabi
Komatsuna
Land Cress
Lettuce
Leaf Chicory
Mustard
Onions (from seed or bulbs)
Parsley
Radishes
Rocket
Shallots
Spinach

Blighted Tomatoes

Everywhere I look there's a tomato blight epidemic in London.  The weather we've been having this summer has presented the ideal conditions of warmth and wet.  The fungus is transmitted with water and especially when there's been intense rainfall leaving droplets of water on the leaves and the stems.

The first place I found an attack was at the Bramford Community Garden last Thursday evening.  I quickly removed all the tomatoes and there really weren't too many salvageable fruit to harvest red or even green.  Just the chore of pulling all the plants up and disposing of them.

The next day I was volunteering at Capital Growth's Regent Park Allotment garden and the same situation again.  Again, the majority of the tomatoes were blighted.  We managed to save a lot of the fruit and I was kindly given 3kg of green tomatoes for my efforts in tomato plant disposal.

Monday morning I went for my usual volunteering duties at the Ricard's Lodge High School Gardening Club and.... yep you've guessed it... blight attack!

The only place that seems to be unscathed is my own back garden.  There have been a few suspect branches but I removed them very swiftly and it doesn't seem to be spreading so far, fingers and toes crossed!  But it's plain to see that this year is a blight year and I am guessing that London is not alone.

So here's what I've been doing when discovering attacks:

1.  It spreads so fast that the first thing to do is remove any infected plants and harvest any salvageable fruit.
2.  Disinfect any containers, tools, gardening gloves, canes, my clothes, my footwear, myself ...!
3.  If there are any salvageable fruit wash them in soapy water
4.  Hit the recipe books for some good green tomato recipes

Going forward the big issue is the soil they've been growing in which will now be contaminated with the fungus.  There are differing opinions of how long to wait before planting solanaceae crops (e.g. tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines) in the soil.  I think the best method is to follow a four year crop rotation plan which will provide a break of 4 years before the next planting of solanaceae.

If you have lots of green tomatoes, here's a few recipes:
Green Tomato Chutney
Tomato Ketchup

Have you suffered from a tomato blight attack recently?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Halloon Germination Update

Yesterday, I wrote about some Halloon seeds that I had managed to get hold of from a "Growing Exotics" training session by Garden Organics Sowing New Seeds Project.

This morning I was really shocked to see that the seeds have germinated already.  The funny thing is, I hadn't actually got round to watering them and I was thinking - I must really give them a water to start them off.  To be fair the compost I used was ever so slightly damp and that must have been enough to start them off.  I will take note that the slightest bit of water works wonders!!

I wonder how they will grow... I know they are an edible, suspect that they are a salad type leaf with a bit of spice but at this stage it is still all a complete adventure!

Do you know anything about Halloon?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Growing Exotics

Bengali Chilli
Last month, my Master Gardener training was on growing exotics and I was completely seduced to trying to grow all sort of new and unusual vegetables.  The training consisted of a morning training session followed by an afternoon walking around Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses and seeing the sheer variety of exotic crops being grown there.  It really lifted the lid on a whole new world of growing possibilities.
Hungarian Hot Wax

Following the training, I was bursting with enthusiasm to grow all sorts of things but I'm rather limited in space and don't have access to a green house.  No matter, there are still a lot of things you can grow outside and on windowsills.  The main new additions are my ever increasing collection of chillies.  I was already growing Real Seeds Nigel's Outdoor Chilli, Cherry Bomb, Hungarian Hot Wax and a Bulgarian Carrot.  After the training I added a Bengali Chilli and a Cashmere Chilli to my collection kindly given to me from the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses.  If you have experience of growing these, please tell me how they grow and taste as this is a new project for me.
Bulgarian Carrot
I have now got to the stage where I need at least one chilli plant growing at any one time.  As and when I lose one, I will germinate another.

Apart from increasing a passion for growing chillies, I also got hold of some Halloon seeds and some Fenugreek.  I sowed these seeds this morning and am intending to grow them on sunny windowsills throughout the winter to brighten up meals with their flavoursome leaves.  Watch this space to see how I get on!
Tomatillos

Garden Organic's inspiration for the exotic flavour of my latest training was inspired by their sowing new seeds project which is currently running in the Midlands.  The project has uncovered many varieties of exotic crops that are adapted to the British climate through allotmenteers and home growers cultivating and saving seeds over several generations. Here's some information on the project http://www.sowingnewseeds.org.uk/

The Chelsea Physic Garden is also growing exotic crops with their spice garden.  Some of the plants they are growing are turmeric, ginger, black pepper, mustard and chillies to name but a few of the variety of plants currently growing in the exhibition bed Chelsea Physic Garden Spice Garden

Are you growing any exotic or unusual edibles? 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Asparagus Peas

One of my new experimental crops I'm trying for the first time this year are Asparagus Peas.  They have these lovely deep red blossoms that result in a very interesting looking peapod.

Researching on the web, they are a sort of poor man's asparagus as they are said to have a similar flavour and consistency and don't require a trench or a 3 year wait for the first harvest.  Just cook in butter with a little salt.  I'm not sure they taste like asparagus, but an interesting pod nevertheless.

Their seeds are sown directly in their growing position late May.  I planted them at the base of my peas so that I had something new to take over when the peas died back.

I've had a reasonable yield from them if compared to the pea harvests, but I think they are more suited to a larger plot than grown in a container.

However, in their favour, they have continued to crop when other harvests have dwindled in our not particularly disappointing British summer.

A very interesting novelty crop to experiment with as the pods look so interesting and the flowers so pretty.  It's always fun having something new to experiment with in the kitchen.

Maybe a good one to try with children as they can be sown outdoors, are quick to germinate and have their curious looking pods.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Community Gardening


City dwellers often find frustratingly long allotment waiting lists and for many getting an allotment is just a pipe dream.  In my area, allotment lists are 8 years long.  But there are other gardening opportunities for those with no space of their own...
Another option is to find wasted spaces of land near you and find out who owns it.  You  might be pleasantly surprised who will be willing to let you turn a disused space into an edible oasis.

You can also try asking your Council.  According to the Landshare site:
"Did you know that your council has a legal duty to provide you with an allotment? You just need a group of 6 council tax paying residents and to make a written application".
I garden and mentor at the Bramford Community Garden which is situated in a public park in Wandsworth.  Here's more information about the garden Bramford Community Garden
Sowing the pictorial meadow

Bramford Community Garden is a Transition Town Wandsworth initiative and they have been growing on the site since August 2010.  In the garden there are edibles, ornamentals and even a few areas of a pictorial annual flower meadow.  So I guess you could call it an ornamental edible garden (it's about 50/50 of each).  We don't have designated areas that we garden but rather, all garden the beds together, weeding, planting, etc and share out the produce.
  
They are now receiving very positive feedback from the local community who see the garden develop.

Gardening at a community garden is a lovely experience for many reasons.  Here are some of mine:  
  • In big cities, many people don't have growing space so it provides more opportunity to grow your own and garden
  • Gardening is good for the soul and can be stress relieving, therapeutic and an escape from the hustle and bustle of a busy working life
  •  There is nothing that beats cooking and eating food you've grown yourself, its worth so much more than its equivalent value in the supermarket and always tastes amazing fresh from the earth
  •  Meeting new faces and making friends in your community - the social aspect of gardening in groups
  • Share out crops to take home
    Pictorial Meadow
Shaping the herb spiral
 
 I joined the garden back in February 2011 when they requested help from a Master Gardener through Garden Organic's Master Gardener Programme and since joining I have inspired the idea of building a herb spiral which we all built by moving lots of compost onto a bed to create the spiral and planted lots of herbs and a great big horseradish back in April 2011.  I also donated and planted a few large perennials which would have never succeeded in my small garden (globe artichoke, rhubarb), brought the garden many seedlings which I propogated in May and transported over in an interesting fashion on my bicycle!  And I continue to bring ideas and inspirations of growing and cooking your own food.
Freshly completed herb spiral

In return, I've made some really lovely friends with people who have similar interests in wild life and eating seasonal garden produce.  I've also had quite a few extra veggies to take home and cook with.  For me, the really amazing benefit has been the opportunity to grow the larger perennials, to participate and experiment in larger scale garden projects and have another garden to compare my home experimentations to.  What's in season at the Bramford Community Garden is not necessarily the same as what's in season in my small garden.  I find the community garden is usually a few weeks ahead of my garden which is interesting as my home garden is south facing and sheltered and the community garden a north facing garden which is highly exposed.  However, it is always good to have some comparisons to draw from.
Established herb spiral

If you would like to come and garden at the Bramford Community Garden please email me.  It would be great to have more growers to garden with us.

If you don't live in Wandsworth, there could be a community garden near you.  Take a look at Hugh's Landshare  site.

    Friday, 12 August 2011

    Zapallito de Toscana

    I'm growing a fabulous squash in my garden.  It's called Zapallito de Toscana and I got hold of the seeds from Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library.

    They were easy to germinate.  Well, easier than the courgette seeds.

    They were strong seedlings.  I could tell that they would be feisty growers!

    I planted these two seedlings out into their final planters with a courgette plant.


    They are the perfect squash for a small garden as they grow in a bush style rather than the squash that like to crawl all over your garden.  They just need a decent depth of soil (like the planter in the picture).  They also would grow very well in potato planters.  Anything which allows them a good depth for their root run.

    They are hungry feeders with a good appetite for water too.  Give them water whenever its not raining and feed them once a week with the richest feed you have (I feed mine with worm tea from my wormery) and in return they will reward you with many squashes.
    One of the major benefits of this squash is even if you have a glut, you don't need to eat them or cook them all up at once as you would courgettes.  As they grow bigger they form a hard skin which means they can be stored and eaten into Autumn.

    Another benefit is, when harvested they will have grown their seeds to a large enough size to be able to save them.  Just be sure to pollinate the fruit yourself to ensure the seeds are actually a Zapallito de Toscana.  In order to do this, I check the flowers at breakfast time and have a look for any open female flowers.  Once I've found one I hunt for an open male flower from the same plant or exactly the same variety, in this case another Zapallito de Toscana.  I pick the male flower and remove all the petals.  I brush the stamen (the male sex part of the flower) over the stigma (the female sex part of the flower) and then leave the stamen inside the female flower.  I then use an elastic band to shut the female flower to ensure no pollinating insects can get into the flower.  Once the flower starts to die away I move the elastic band on to the base of the fruit so that I can identify a fruit that I have pollinated.

    The benefit of pollinating a squash plant is that it will ensure that the seeds you save will produce the squash you want.  Squashes cross pollinate very easily and you will probably get a mix of all the squashes with open flowers on a given morning being grown in your street or allotment.  You can never be sure what you will get.  Although, the experimenter in me would like to grow one of these insect pollinated ones just to see what I would get!  





    So there you have it... Zapallito de Toscana...

    1.  Great for a small patio garden due to its bush growing habit
    2.  Grows fruits that can be eaten straight away or stored for later use
    3.  Easy to save seed from (once pollinated by a gardener)
     
    Squash recipes:
    Courgette Humus
    Good Summer Roast

    More squash inspired garden blogs:
    Gem Squash, the intrepid explorer
    Passion for growning cucurbits

    Monday, 1 August 2011

    Gem Squash - The Intrepid Explorer



    This year, I am trying to grow gem squash for the first time.

    I was inspired to try growing them by some South Africans that I got into conversation with about 2am one morning.  We got onto the conversation of my passion of growing veg - a conversation that seems to occur rather regularly!!  Then they told me about a squash that was very readily available in South Africa but very difficult to find in the UK and they loved the taste of it.  They got the laptop googled "gem squash" to show me pictures of the squash.  Their enthusiasm for this vegetable inspired me and I added it to my seed wish list for this season's planting.

    So now I have this lovely cucurbit growing in my back garden.

    Its quite a small cucurbit plant.  The leaves are relatively modest compared to its neighbours. It is a cucurbita pepo and shares the same latin name as the courgette which is also a cucurbita pepo.
    The gem squash germinated really easily with all seeds germinating.  It did try to keep them at around 18-20 degrees centigrade during germination and the soil moist not wet as cucurbit seeds do have a tendency to rot very easily if kept too damp.



    Out of the 6 that I germinated, I kept 2 and gave the other 4 away to the community gardens I support through my Master Gardener volunteer role. 

    I did notice early on that they were developing into rather small squash plants but soon they were clambering all over the place, and started to crawl up my landlords shrubs.



    I was very proud.  I love opportunistic veg!

    But this morning I noticed something even better...  The most gutsy out of the two plants has started to climb the netting on the garden fence.  Fantastic!!



    I am really hoping that eventually they will start to climb the sunflowers... but we will have to see


    I am really looking forward to cooking with their fruit, but until that time, they are certainly going to keep me very entertained with their climbing habits!

    Friday, 29 July 2011

    Passion for growing cucurbits


    Every year I fall in love with my cucurbits all over again.  I've been growing 
    them every year for the past 7 years.
     
    I was living in Brixton in a shared house when my next door neighbour gave me 
    some spare courgette seedlings.  She had noticed that I was out in the garden at 
    every opportunity and that I was starting to grow vegetables.  She told me she 
    knew they were going to a good home!
     
    At first I tried growing them in a large pot but their leaves started to look a 
    little sad so I planted it in the flower border.  It grew these big luscious 
    leaves and lots of courgettes and contributed to my very first home grown hangover 
    recipe!
     
    In my second year as a courgette grower I grew one fruit that was over half a metre 
    long - I know, I know, that's not really a courgette anymore!  It looked very impressive 
    but didn't really taste great!!
     
    Last year I started experimenting with other cucurbits.  I tried a crook neck squash 
    which I sourced from Real Seeds.  They had bigger leaves than the courgette and the 
    bright yellow fruit looked amazing.  They also cooked very nicely too.  I fried them 
    and roasted them with very tasty results.  I grew them in grow bags and neighbours 
    did ask how they were growing in such a small amount of soil but they did.  I think 
    I'm quite attentive with lots of watering and feeding which makes them look all the 
    more lush!
     
    This year I'm growing 7 cucurbits in the 2 containers in the picture above. I am often
    asked how they can grow healthily in such small containers and so close to each other.
    But they wouldn't show off their big velvety leaves if they weren't happy.  I keep them
    well watered and well fed.  I have a wormery so they have been top dressed with 
    vermicompost and get a regular feed of worm tea.  They seem quite happy on this diet! 
     
    I've also heard of them being grown right on top of a compost heap as they are well 
    known to be heavy feeders. 
     
    Here's what I am growing this year:
    1 courgette (this one's a heavy cropper so I shall surely be saving seed from this one), 
    2 French heirloom pattypans, 
    2 gem squash (inspired to try by my South African friends) 
    and 2 squash Zapallito de Toscana from the Heritage Seed Library
    All are cropping nicely, although the courgettes are slightly more in the lead.  All 
    showing off their huge, luscious velvety big leaves.  And the gem squash have started 
    to clamber over my landlords perennial shrubs - ever the opportunists!  How could 
    you not love such a gutsy vegetable?
    
    Last weekend, for my Master Gardener in service training, the theme was exotic 
    vegetables and they were quite a few new cucurbits to find out about.  That sparked 
    some future experimentation like trying shark fin melon, dudi and especialliy the
    mouse melon looked very interesting to grow. 
     
    But I fear that it is not a large garden or an allotment I need.... It's a very large field 
    with lots of room for all the cucurbits I want to grow!!

     
    Here's some recipe ideas for the squash glut:
    Squash Flower Salad
    Courgette Humus 
    A Good Summer Roast  
    There was an error in this gadget