Andrew's garden blog

I love our garden. The plants, the wildlife, the seasons. These are some observations about it, not from an expert but from an enthusiast. And a few other ramblings besides.

Hen and Hammock Blog

Newcomers, regulars and long lost friends

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My seeds have arrived!  There are a few newcomers, plenty of reliable regulars and a handful of long lost friends.  My job now is to make them all feel at home


The first newcomer to enter the germinator will be the colourful chilli collection.  These range from the fiery cayenne to the more docile Hungarian hot wax.  Chillis can be slow to germinate so I might have to relocate them into a plastic bag if there is too much of a queue for the germinator.  I love chillis and thankfully slugs don’t, so if they all germinate we should have a enough for a chilli festival of our own.


Hot on the heels of the chillis will be tomatoes.  I will start with golden sunrise and little red pear as these will be grown in the greenhouse, so I don’t need to wait for frost free nights.  The big chunky marmande and black Russian will end up outside, so these can wait till the end of March.  I don’t want the plants to get too big too soon, otherwise I will be needing more bubble wrap, fellece and cloches.


My last newcomer this year is the herb chervil, which even the best stocked supermarkets seldom seem stock.  According to Albert Roux, it is the key ingredient for an omelette fine herbes.  Its got to be done.


For the regulars, its ups and downs.  The ups are borlotti beans which I am hoping to grow up coir bean twine.  Previously I have grown borlottis on dwarf plants which has been very successful but this year I thought I’d go for a few bean wigwams which always add interest to the veg plot.  It’s the sweetcorn which is going down.  The last couple of summers the corns have been a bit dried out, so my logic is that shorter plants might cope better with less rainfall.  I have opted for the short and sturdy F1 variety early extra sweet.


Chicory is now a regular too and this year I am adding more varieties.  My pallo rosa will be accompanied by catalogna and treviso, the former green and spiky the latter red and rounded.  I need to wait for early summer though before sowing these and then should be rewarded with plenty of colourful bitter salad throughout the autumn.


I am also welcoming back three old favourites which have been pushed out in recent years.  Crystal apple, which is the most delicious crisp cucumber.  Its appearance can be a bit pasty, but its crunch is unbeatable.  Yellow scaloppini, which is more picturesque and more courgette-like than the gem squash it is pushing out.  And the last of my old friends is horseradish which I spent the first five years here trying to eradicate.  It had spread to every corner of the garden and had dug in deep.  I’ve now got over the trauma (after another 10 years!) and am ready to give it another go, but this time it will be contained in a planter sunk into the ground.  With some old friends its worth taking a few risks.

Vegetable Successes and Failures of 2011

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Vegetable successes and failures of 2011The mornings are already getting lighter and yet my head still hasn’t made the transition to the new gardening year.  Despite the over-wintered broad beans having broken through some weeks ago, I’m still mulling over last year’s successes and failures.  I need to work this through before doing battle with the 2012 seed catalogues.

I don’t like watering my vegetables, so as every allotment holder knows prolonged periods without rain can be problematic.  The fennel never really got beyond spring onion size (although it was still crisp and fragrant) and the cucumbers never outgrew their gerkin cousins.  And the extraordinary sunny spell in the autumn ripened the squashes to the point where only a meat cleaver could break through the concrete skin.  I realise though that the Indian summer was a blip and can’t expect the same weather pattern this year

There are some vegetables though whose performance doesn’t seem to depend on the weather.  For years leeks have been my sure-fire crop; low maintenance and a guaranteed winter of tree trunk like stems.  But for my last three years the leeks have suffered from rust, which has splattered them with pustules and drained them of their strength.  Each year I have put my faith in manure and crop rotation to keep my beds in tip top health, but this doesn’t seem to cut it for leeks.  Rust seems to thrive on nitrogen, so this year I’m going to try leeks in the most depleted bed and see if that helps.

Thankfully though whenever there are losers there are also winners.  Last year was the best I can remember for tomatoes (our freezer still has a few loose snooker ball reds knocking about) and we had a bumper crop of courgettes.  That being said, of the four courgette plants, the great F1 defender was responsible for the lions share yet again and the quality was superb.  Much though I love quirky heritage vegetables and the chanciness of germinating open-pollinated seeds, this year I’m going to limit myself to two F1 hybrid courgettes, Defender and probably Gold Rush.

Don’t get me wrong.  Consistency is well down the list of qualities I seek from my veg and generally I’m not an F1er.  I grow frisee lettuce and endive with a shockingly low yield, but the pleasure I get from being able to prepare a late autumn salad makes it a shoe-in every year.  And my brassicas are invariably outshone by the veg display at the market.  But for me its not a competition, it’s a passion.  When I finally get round to opening my seed catalogues this weekend I know my pulse will start racing.  I know that some seeds will disappoint but I also know that some will blow me away.  And that’s the thrill.

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  • Four coloured vegetables
  • Colourful heritage seeds
  • £8.00
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