Monday, 25 October 2010

How did their gardens grow?

I've posted several times this year about gardening. There was the article about Woodbrooke's gardens and grounds, and another specifically about the walled garden. My colleague Ben told us about transforming his garden for 'grow your own', and then I posted about my own very-small-space vegetable garden, to encourage those of you without lots of space to have a go.

It's been a bit of a strange year for gardening - the long winter and late, cold spring; the very hot, dry June and cold rainy August. That contrast has confused a good number of the plants in my garden, and I have spring bulbs in flower, spring-flowering shrubs in flower already, as their autumn foliage turns colour, and other spring plants blossoming.

So how have the vegetables done? First I asked Steve Lock, Woodbrooke's gardener, to tell me what kind of season it has been in the walled garden this year.

double-click on any photo to see a larger version, and then click 'back' to return to the blog
Steve writes: I refer to the Walled Garden as a nourishing landscape. The Vegetable Garden, the Cutting Garden, Herb Garden and Fruit Garden. The vegetable garden is what we think of first for nourishment but all play their part in the Woodbrooke experience.

The weather was unusually dry in June which meant far more watering to get crops going. I/we grow special crops more than staples, and harvest herbs with the vegetables. I always experiment with a few new things. So, for the first time we grew corn [maize] and we harvested 60 ears.

We grew Pak Choi, although later in the season which meant we couldn’t be vigilant enough with the slugs so lost the crop. I saw enough to know that it’s worth growing again. Celeriac proved a challenge to get started, with not a good crop in the end. The Winter Cabbages have been enormous with very few losses. The kitchen was supplied with lettuce and salad crops from June through August. It is the human stories in the season which feed me. The excitement of harvesting corn when it’s juiciest. Accompanying a volunteer on a new experience, growing a pumpkin from a seed, seeing it now.

What people experience is a larger picture of abundance.I am connected with the elements, with cycles of nature, with the ground. There is often a deficit in our connection with nature, with the awe and wonder, sadness and disappointment. In looking at the season, I have experienced God’s gifts that come for free and through the labours of many people including myself, the harvest has been plentiful.

And I asked Ben how things have been with his garden - he sent me some photos taken by his 5-year-old daughter, Florence, and wrote this:  
As you can see, the first year's growing has been phenomenal. Using permaculture and forest gardening principles, we have even had fruit from new trees and bushes, and the polytunnel is up and the yurt gone, freeing space for goats and chickens maybe.

Two weeks away in August meant lost of grass cutting by hand and the high grass meant slugs got over the bottles in places but we have collected over 250 slugs and put them onto a school playing field and the bottles are helping enormously.

There is a hosepipe ban in the Northwest and we have rigged up a system for using our chemical-free bathwater to irrigate the greenhouse and will use a water butt system for the polytunnel. The garden is full of wonderful smells, butterflies and bees and it is so much better than just growing grass! We have hardy-kiwi and grape vines coming in November and a lime tree for salad leaves too. We have grown our first melon! With the hot spring and wet summer, we are expecting a bumper damson crop.

In my own garden it's been a mixed story. The onions and garlic growing in troughs on my shed roof have done well. It's been an excellent year for climbing beans and courgettes, both of which have been prolific, and my freezer is now stuffed with them. The sharp frosts over the last few days have finally brought them to an end.
The butternut squash, on the other hand, took exception to the weather and didn't even flower until early September - in spite of being a variety ('Sprinter') that promises to flower and set fruit early in the season! As a consequence I have only two very small squash, currently wrapped in bubble-wrap in the hope that they might just grow to be edible before winter gets them. In previous years I've had four or five large fruit off each plant, and eaten them through the winter - if stored properly, they keep in good condition right through to Easter.

As with Steve, the cabbages I grew over winter were huge. Some of the early sown crops didn't like the hot, dry June, and immediately ran to seed - so there was a gap while later sowings of lettuce, chard and beetroot grew to edible size.

I grew two varieties of tomato, both outdoors (I don't have indoor growing space). One was Texas Wild, a heritage variety from Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library. Each plant produced hundreds (I really mean that) of sweet juicy Smartie-sized tomatoes. They're so small that they're a complete pain to harvest. But if you have children, they would be just perfect for growing somewhere where the children could pick and eat them like sweets - they would work well in a hanging basket, set just at child height!

The other variety - and quite different - was Ferline. These are sold as a blight-resistant variety, and for three consecutive years thay have reliably been just that. My garden backs onto allotments, so if there's blight anywhere there, I imemdiately get it in my garden. But each year I have harvested Ferline tomatoes into September and October with no sign of blight at all. Right now, they're wrapped up in fleece to protect them from the frosts that have arrived so early. This year they've produced a huge crop of larger-than-usual fruit - they're tasty, juicy, thin-skinned and good for either salads or salsa - highly recommended!

The soft fruit has done well - good crops of redcurrants, raspberries, alpine strawberries and blackcurrants; and I allowed my new-last-year cordon fruit trees to set fruit this year - apples, pears and plums; two of the apples got woolly aphid on them, so I've taken organic advice about what to do if that happens next year. The wild damson hedge out at the back of my garden has been laden, and the fruit has been sweet enough to eat as plums, straight off the tree - no need to make jam or compote to make them edible (though I did make compote, to preserve them, and gave some to Lizz Roe so she could make jam).

Unlike Ben, I didn't suffer a hosepipe ban, but after the very dry weather in June I decided to double my water-storage. I've now got 400L of water-butt capacity in the back garden. They're all linked together, and so they all fill from one single attachment on the down-pipe from the gutter; they can be drained together from one connecting pipe, or can be isolated and used separately. I was amazed to see how much the colour had faded in the two older butts.

I've now got onions and garlic, spring cabbage and early peas, in for next year. There's winter salad and chard still providing green leaves, and they will go on all winter. And I've a freezer full of green beans, courgettes and damsons!

I'm not the only one at Woodbrooke practising Square Foot Gardening - raised beds in small spaces. My colleague Judith Jenner has also been growing by this method.

Judith writes: Two years ago Tina and I moved into the Warden's Bungalow [at Cotteridge Quaker Meeting House] and I was pleased there was a garden. At the same time, at the Northfield Ecocentre, I made a pledge to grow my own vegetables. The garden was full of shrubs, one side was overgrown and there was a falling-down shed at the far end. The fencing has been replaced, most of the shrubs removed, a new shed created, a patio built and the other extended. The garden is an L-shape and the two pictures show the length of it.
In 2009 I started growing using the square foot garden method, because the soil was not in a good condition, and this is a temporary home. In 2010 more raised beds were built and the north side, with south-facing wall, was used for squash beds. We got another plastic greenhouse in the spring and grew squash, courgettes, sunflowers, aubergines, lettuce, spinach beans, salad greens from seed. Tomatoes, cauliflowers, beetroot and strawberries were from seedlings.
Having only a small space, the raised beds made sense, growing potatoes and strawberries in bags also saves space.We have eaten lots of tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, courgettes, salad greens during the summer. Pumpkins did very well and some are in store.

What did not grow well this year: beans garlic, cabbages - although I am still waiting for them to develop.
Jobs for the winter include planning where to move the raised beds on the west side now the fence has been moved back about 2 foot. Creating an outside room for relaxing, eating and entertaining in 2011. Deciding what vegetables and fruit to try.
This picture: squash wine fermenting

And now's the moment to introduce you to my colleague Louise Scott. Louise works in the Marketing department at Woodbrooke, and if you're one of the readers that picks this blog up via Facebook or Twitter, Louise is the person to thank for that. Each week, she posts a 'trailer' for the new blog post on both those paltforms, as well as on our own website. In order to write the summary, she reads all of the posts, and all this talk of growing-your-own inspired her to have a go herself. It's always wonderful to see a new gardener get hooked!
Louise writes: We moved into our first home together last summer and inherited a very overgrown garden. Bit by bit, we’ve cleared the garden but were unsure what to do with the raised section at the very back. After reading the Good Lives blog and seeing the results Pam had achieved in her small space, we felt inspired to try and grow our own and thought the wasted space at the end of the garden would be perfect.
As we didn’t start until the end of June, we decided to use this year as a trial run before properly planning what we grow next year. We decided to attempt to grow the things we bought often; tomatoes, baby carrots, spinach, sweet corn, courgettes and green beans. Some we grew from seed, others were bought in the sale at our local garden centre or were given to us by friends. After three months, our crops have succeeded to varying degrees.

Our tomato plants, which cost just 50p for nine, have produced over 100 tomatoes but are yet to ripen. We had a lot of initial success with our spinach and went without buying any for over a month but unfortunately the dry weather caused them to bolt.

Our baby carrots and green beans have been very successful and are crops we’ll definitely grow again next year and the sweetcorn has grown really well and are almost ready to harvest. Unfortunately, the red peppers and courgette plants were eaten by slugs.

Although we have had some disappointments and an ongoing battle with slugs, the pleasure of eating home grown food has greatly outweighed the expense and disappointment.

At the moment, the long-range weather forecast is suggesting a cold and quite dry winter in Britain. That's not good for the areas that suffered drought this summer, as they need to replenish their aquifers and reservoirs. It also means that we may have to do some watering - it's always hard to remember that this might still be necessary, even in winter. The sharp frosts already will be doing their bit to control some garden pests - one benefit from the late cold spring this year was that the slugs and snails were late getting moving - but they were very hungry once they did!

But right now, with the clocks going back next weekend, it's time for the pleasure of the 2011 seed catalogues!
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1 comment:

  1. For a global look at current food issues, see John Vidal in today's Guardian:

    sorry the Comments box doesn't do live links!