Happy New Year everyone! A new year means new plans, new seeds, and newly replenished beds like dark blank canvases, all ready to be filled with a promise of good things to come. Bring on the warm days of spring. But for now, in line with the rest of the media at this time of year, here’s my little review of 2014.
The past 12 months have been the usual roller coaster of ups and downs. Every year there are plants that do unexpectedly well, and then those you’ve been growing for years quite successfully, that are suddenly, inexplicably, a massive epic fail. Like courgettes. I never thought I’d have a year when I fail on every level to grow a single courgette plant. Thank heavens for generous plot neighbours donating their surplus in return for cucumbers.
The broad beans were another thumbs down last year. Sketchy in germination, attacked by slugs under their net covering, and then some last minute bought plants from the discount counter in the garden centre (beware) failed completely to recuperate from their sickly start in life, and were vulnerable to the first whiff of rust on the wind. Florence Nightingale of the plant world, it seems I am not.
I also failed to germinate any sweetcorn, probably because the seed was too old (and I was too stingy to buy new), but in the end I decided that my freezer hoard from last summer will suffice.
The tomatoes caught blight, but not before I rescued a fair few that ripened fine on the windowsill at home, and I made a batch of green tomato chutney. And at least it saved me from hours spent in the kitchen making endless jars of pasta sauce. Silver linings!
The big successes included Victoria plums, lemon cucumbers, Romanesque broccoli, potatoes, onions and garlic, squashes, beets and beans. I guess all of that makes up for the failures. I was pessimistic that the plum tree would produce anything this year, but it dripped with them. I was also pessimistic regarding the garlic after pulling up an early bulb to discover it hadn’t split, but they were fine in the end, and I was pessimistic that the squashes would come good after planting them so late, but they gave me 14 fabulous beauties which I’m still working my way through. So lesson one – less of the pessimism this year! It’s often hard to determine what will work out and what won’t, so you just have to take a leap of faith, do your best, keep your fingers crossed and count your blessings. I think that might be a metaphor for life, gardening usually is.
So additions for the new year so far include:
- Savoy cabbages. I grew these in my first winter on the plot and never again since, for no good reason. I’ve come across some lovely looking recipes with it, and while I’m not a big fan of white cabbage (unless raw in coleslaw), I make an exception for this, so it’s definitely going on this years list.
- Brussel sprouts. I haven’t had huge success with these in the past, but I’m going to try again with a new variety.
- More of the successes from last year – Romanesque broccoli (if you haven’t tried this, it’s like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, it doesn’t break up in cooking like conventional broccoli, but has more flavour than cauliflower, delicious), lemon cucumbers (less skin, more flesh and small enough to use in one go), also dwarf french beans and banana shallots which were both a great success last year.
- Lots more flowers for cutting. I was lucky enough to receive a tin of Sarah Raven flower seeds for Christmas, containing 8 different varieties of flowers and 5 for foliage. Not sure I’ll grow them all this year, but a new cutting patch will be included in the plans, and I also have some new tulip bulbs to plant.
Things I won’t be growing (or less of) include:
- Tomatoes (less of). There’s no way I’d be without homegrown tomatoes, but I had trouble with blight last year and it’s devastating and a pain when you have to clear an entire bed of diseased plants that can’t be composted. So I’m going to grow fewer plants, and do some at home too.
- Carrots. I think I’m done with trying to grow carrots successfully. I thought I’d cracked it this year, but while I managed to keep the carrot fly off, they still got eaten underground by slugs. Seriously, I give up.
- Borlotti beans. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them, but thanks to a bumper harvest last year, I have a jar big enough to last for about the next 5 years! So I’ll grow a different variety this year, or just stick with the dwarfs and eat them green.
- Sweetcorn. Not totally decided on this yet, but I might give it another break this year.
Apart from that, all the usual old favourites will be grown, alliums (garlic, onions and leeks), potatoes (early and main crop), beetroot, lettuce, parsnips and squashes. I’ve probably forgotten something off the list, and there may well be some late additions when I get seduced by something new in the catalogues.
Finally, another little plan I’m hatching. I’m thinking about starting a new sideline blog, documenting a year’s worth of cooking from the plot. Whether I can manage to keep 2 blogs going along with my day job, and of course the actual allotment, remains to be seen, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Or just insane! I’m not promising that all the food will be cooked by me, I may draft in a kitchen assistant who is frankly a better cook than me anyway. More details on all that to come, so watch this space.