It’s that time of year when I settle down on a wet February afternoon and plan the planting for the kitchen garden. I’ve also been reviewing last year’s successes and failures and what I might do better. So how has my kitchen garden done in the last year?
Potatoes: the best crop yet – loads of good-sized, quality potatoes free from blight and the dreaded wire worm.
I planted Maris Piper again – one set in a new raised metal bed, the other in the kitchen beds as normal.
The galvanised planter had fresh soil to avoid wire worm. The kitchen border had the same soil (I always rotate my crops) but, like the previous two years, I went over every square inch of ground with a narrow trowel, removing any wire worms. The robin became my constant companion and we are now on first-name terms.
Despite the drought, the potatoes grew well and I harvested them quite early. Perhaps this was why they avoided blight?
The only down side of an early harvest is that the tatties have not stored as well as I hoped. They have all spouted despite being kept in optimum conditions. Perhaps it was just too warm an autumn for them?
Onions: my utterly reliable Stuttgart Giants utterly failed. Or at least they should be renamed Stuttgart Minis as they are no larger than a shallot. However, they have kept well and I am indeed using them as shallots so not all is lost. I put it down to the very dry weather last year and move on.
Leeks: ditto as onions. A miserable crop that bolted as soon as the temperatures rose. No sign of rust, though, which is a plus. This year I’m moving them to the big square raised border and see how they do there.
Garlic: not at all bad. I wanted to avoid garlic rust so planted out a few tubs and distributed them around the garden. The resulting bulbs weren’t huge, but they were plentiful and have kept well. They did get a bit of rust, but I was able to harvest them before it could spread.
This year, I planted some out (along with a few spare onions) in November and, despite the torrential rain, they have put on good growth and seem quite pleased with themselves. Time will tell if planting them out in the very wet West was a good idea or not.
Broad beans: last year I planted them the previous autumn in pots, in the greenhouse. By February 2022 they were in full flower. I potted them on and then planted them out a few weeks later. In effect, it meant handling them three times, so three times more work. However, they shot up and flowered their little hearts out. Unfortunately, few of those flowers set (plenty on bees on them) and then the blackfly attacked. We did get a crop, but I don’t think all the extra bother gained us anything at all. This year I planted the beans directly in the ground in November. Every one germinated and were about four inches out of the ground when the December cold snap hit.
I didn’t bother checking them for a couple of weeks. Christmas was coming and I wanted to press on with the latest book project. I needn’t have worried about the fate of the little plants as they laughed off the cold and are still there, looking chirpy.
Tomatoes: the best ever harvest. Every year I have planted cherry tomato types in special pots, tending them with extreme care. And every year, despite large crops, they have been hit by blight and I’ve lost a good third of the harvest. This year, I had a few ‘elbows’ when pinching out the plants, plus a random beef tomato plant, which I bought cheaply at the local garden centre. I thrust the whole lot into a raised bed around a newly planted white beam tree where they flourished, producing big, fat healthy tomatoes. And no blight. Perhaps it was (not) a good year for blight?
Chard: I’ve never grown ruby chard before and probably won’t bother again. It’s still going strong but no one in the family seems particularly keen on eating it.
Sprouting broccoli: beloved by aphids, it was a bind washing the little blighters off the sprouty bits. Nor did the plants produce enough to justify the space they took.
Butternut squash: mixed results. One plant produced ENORMOUS fruits, while the others were undersized. They’ve all kept well, though.
A mixed year, then. I am ever reminded that our ancestors relied on the food they grew and went hungry when crops failed. Tending my little plot I feel the connection to the earth acutely and celebrate the little wins knowing I cannot predict what next year might bring. There is a long story of Man’s relationship with the soil stretching back before Antiquity, and we recall just a little of it every time we plant a seed in hope of a harvest.