What I’ve Learnt in our First Year Growing our Own

This Spring and Summer we tried our hand at growing Courgettes, Basil, Parsley, Tomatoes (San Marzano), Potatoes (Maris Peer and Rooster), Peas (Hurst Greenshaft), Carrots (Flyaway F1), a surprise Butternut Squash plant, and Jolokia Naga Chillies kindly donated to us from our local Bakers!

COURGETTE

  • The courgette plant produces male and female flowers
  • The first flowers are generally male and when the flower falls off, this is no problem, it’s meant to happen!
  • Female flowers have a mini courgette behind them which will continue to grow if fertilsed. If not, they will simply rot with the flower.
  • In moist conditions, if the flower remains on the fertilised courgette, sometimes the courgette may rot along with the courgette. This happened to two of our courgettes so I made sure to knock the flower off when it was ready on future ones.
  • Rather than pull up the plant on harvest moon I left the courgette plant until it either stops producing fruit, or until frost kills it off.
  • Courgettes can be eaten before they are fully grown.
  • Cut the courgette off with a sharp knife.

BASIL AND PARSLEY

  • Relatively easy to look after, plant in an adequately sized pot in good compost and on a sunny window sill, water regularly, and harvest frequently. I learnt that growing a plant from seed was a lot easier to look after than buying a grown plant as you can pick when young. They can also be grown all year.

TOMATOES

  • At first I did not prune the plant, I planted all the seeds (40) in one tiny pot, nearly killed them with lack of space and then by frost in the garden. And I did not provide any support. I now understand this advice is there for a reason or you will not get any or much fruit or will be late and not as tasty.
  • Should take a month from appearance of tomato to fully ripe. Mine however did not ripen.

POTATOES

  • As with tomatoes I thought had been hit by potato blight but may have been magnesium deficiency due to insufficient nutrients in compost, or simply damp weather conditions. I learnt not to water on the leaves but just the roots to avoid this.
  • Not all potato plants need to flower before producing potatoes.
  • To cure harvest, put out in dry sun to cure for a few hours then store in dark bag such as brown sack.

PEAS

  • I planted mine in a ridiculously small pot
  • Peas do not like SALT!
  • Pick regularly to encourage more from.
  • Once flowers arrive it shouldn’t be long before the first peas grow.

CARROTS

  • My carrot growing was quite successful. Next time I will put them in deeper compost
  • Carrots do not need a great deal of water or they will concentrate on growing foliage (but too little water and the carrot will crack).
  • Carrots are biennials and so the seeds and flowers will produce in the second year. F1 varieties like mine will not produce seeds.
  • If the carrot does flower, the carrot will be woody and inedible.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

  • These are related to courgettes and other squashes and grow in a similar way with similar flowers. The baby squash can be seen behind the female flower.
  • They are pollinated by nectar gathering insects, or if necessary they can be hand pollinate with a finger or brush.
  • They require a lot of space to grow.
  • It takes around 3 months from a fertilisation of flower to maturity.
  • Unlike courgettes, butternut squash can not be eaten until fully ripe.
  • The seeds from supermarket Butternut Squash, even if they do germinate, may not produce any fruit because you cannot be sure of the heritage of the plant.

NAGA CHILLI PLANT

  • Chillies are self pollinating, but jolokia naga chillies actually need a little help. I did this with a brush dipped in warm water and then I brushed it on the flower heads
  • Naga chillies can take 190 days to ripen
  • Jolokia naga chilli plant grows up rather than out.

COMPOST TRENCH

  • We are making our own compost the very old fashioned (and probably least efficient) way of digging a trench, adding our veg and fruit peelings (uncooked only so not to attract vermin – plants that may have fallen to the ground anyway), covering it with more soil and then layering in this fashion and turning over from time to time. Time will tell if the compost is ready for next summer.

I have also learnt that although we aimed to be as economical as possible with our vegetable growing, it can be a very expensive business! If you buy new pots (some needing to be very large), compost, fertiliser, tools and seeds, that lot can set you back a lot, and then you do not have a guarantee that you will grow any good food! At the supermarket you at least can see what you are getting for your money.

The trick, I think, is to do as much as you can in preparation. Make your own compost as early as possible so you don’t need to buy any, re-use old pots or use anything to hand (eg. use old wellingtons to grow carrots), research online for recipes to make homemade organic fertiliser. It takes a more effort to begin with, but can save a packet if budgeting is the reason you are growing your own.

Our mind frame is to treat it all as a fun experiment, then if our plants do fail all is not lost.The entertainment and learning Ana and I gained from it completely overshadowed the fact that I killed our peas and that our tomatoes were late fruiting and rotted before they turned red or that the butternut squash will not ripen before the frost. And our successes in terms of courgettes, carrots, parsley, basil and potatoes were happy bonuses!

Next year I want to grow chamomile so I can grow my own tea (I drink a lot of chamomile), and I’d like to try growing garlic from a garlic bulb.

Growing our Own – Update September 2013

When I last wrote about a month ago, the growing season was in full swing and we had eaten some tasty carrots, courgettes and peas from the garden (even if I had killed the peas by mistake). Now at this point in September the garden looks quite different.

Next Sunday is Harvest day – the closest Sunday to full Harvest moon (which this year falls on Thursday 19th). With harvest traditionally being the day to gather fresh produce ready to store over winter, and as we had a nice and relatively warm day, we decided to gather our food a week early so that our potatoes could dry and cure in the sun for a few hours to give them a better chance of not spoiling.

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As you can see, Adriana was very helpful. First we tipped out the potato plant and compost onto a plastic sheet on the lawn, and then we dug for treasure in the shape of potatoes. Then, when we pulled up the remainder of the carrots (mostly small ones left), Adriana pulled off the carrot tops so that I could wash and dry them, and then store them in an air tight bag in the fridge so that they might stay firm for as long as possible. We also ate a carrot or two on the way…

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This is the first potato we peeled, sliced and made into tasty chips. Yummy.

I now realise it is unlikely that we will get a butternut squash from our surprise plant as they take so long to mature and must be fully ripe before harvesting. I am no less excited about the plant, however, as it has grown wonderfully large and healthy with zero help from me, and even if we don’t get a fully grown butternut squash from it, we do have a baby one.

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A perfectly formed, but tiny baby butternut squash.

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The Butternut Squash Plant as it looks in September.

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Two male butternut squash flowers.

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And an even smaller butternut squash (female flower), never given time to ripen, or even flower, when it was accidentally removed from the plant.

The courgette and tomato plant have been left in their pot and we will see what will become of them. There are 5 tomatoes currently growing, one of which I have been waiting to turn red for almost a month, so if they do not ripen by Sunday I may bring it indoors to give it more chance as it is getting progressively cold. As the seeds I used weren’t even in date, and I thought the cold spring had killed them off back in April, to have anything growing from these plants has been a pleasant surprise. Next year I will actually follow the guidelines of ruthless pruning as I noticed a huge difference in growth once I finally did. First I wanted to see how the plants behaved naturally though.

tomato

Now I look forward to the carrot and potato soup I made with our garden produce, and to hopefully growing again next year.

naga chillies

EDIT: Our local independent Baker gave my husband a baby Naga Chilli plant (they grow their own chillies to use in spicy sausage rolls etc.) and we had a lovely crop of these also. They seemed to take forever to grow on our windowsill (it was too cold outside), but they did. We kept the seeds, but haven’t planted those yet.

Growing Our Own – Summer 2013

My last update on growing our own vegetables was back in the end of April, and much exciting activity has happened in our garden since then!

You may remember we were attempting to grow Courgettes, Tomatoes, a Blueberry plant, Carrots, Peas, and two varieties of Potatoes; along with Basil and Parsley in the kitchen.

Photo from April 2013 as our veg looked at the time

The Basil and Parsley grew wonderfully on our kitchen window sill and have accompanied many of our meals since.

Our Parsley and Basil as they were in April

Our Parsley and Basil as they were in April

 

The blueberry plant (bought from Poundland so I didn’t expect much!) failed to do anything at all.

The Failed Blueberry Plant that stayed dormant despite regular watering and beautiful weather.

The Failed Blueberry Plant that stayed dormant despite regular watering and beautiful weather.

I accidentally killed the peas by over crowding them in a tiny pot, and by killing them with salt!

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Exciting times when the peas began to flower and then pea pods formed!

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Note to self – Learn from your mistakes! Poor shriveled up peas 🙁

We did however manage to eat a few pods, though the peas were small, before I killed them all. Even better, my Mum and Dad were growing peas at the same time and we’ve had a bumper harvest from their crop, so we in no way feel like we have missed out.

The potatoes don’t look much different to be honest. No flowers yet, just a few dieing leaves… so we are yet to see if they will be a success at all.

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Our Carrots have been a great success and we’ve enjoyed picking them out of the compost to eat as and when needed. They have grown in a variety of sizes, and it’s fun to guess which are the big ones before we pull them out.

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One of the first Carrots we pulled up

But possibly my biggest excitement were the Courgettes that I thought were long dead as we had a frost just after I put them outside; transferred from the warmth and comfort of the kitchen window sill. With the help of molasses as fertiliser, slowly but surely they carried on growing until we had our first beautiful yellow flowers.

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Notice the stem – female courgette flower to the right, male courgette flower to the left.

 

The first flowers shriveled up and fell off, which I later learnt is what is meant to happen because these are the male flowers.

Male Courgette Flower

Male Courgette Flower

It’s only later that the female courgette flowers grow, and if fertilised, swell into a courgette.

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Female Courgette Flower

We actually enjoyed our first home grown courgette today, roasted with root veg, chicken and gravy. It tasted all the better knowing we grew it ourselves.

And last but not least, I have noticed two buds on our tomato plant at long last, so we may be enjoying some tasty tomatoes some time soon.

Tomato Buds

As a surprise to our gardening experiment, on making a compost trench to throw vegetable peelings into, I noticed seedlings growing one day. I left them alone to see what they would do and in no time at all the spot looked like this –

Our surprise vegetables

Our surprise vegetables

With a little researching it looks very likely that seeds from a Butternut Squash that I threw on the compost with the peelings, have germinated and produced the leaves above. Time will only tell if they provide us with any winter squash. I look forward to finding out!

The whole process, through trial and error, has been educational to me and certainly educational and great entertainment for my toddler! She may only be 2 years old, but she relishes and appreciates food she can watch grow and pick herself, and growing our own can do nothing but good things for her understanding of healthy and sustainable food choices. She can name plants just by looking at the leaves, and most importantly, she just really enjoys it.

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Growing our own – Spring 2013

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to attempt growing some of our own vegetables this year. Other than when I was a child myself, it’s not something I have personally done before, though my mum and dad do from time to time.

Growing in containers

And here are the results so far!

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I have Maris Peer potatoes

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Albert Rooster potatoes

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Carrots (there are a few shoots there, honest)

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Peas – Hurst Greenshaft

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Blueberry Plant (not expecting any fruit this year, maybe next…)

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Courgettes (probably not going to last due to the frost we had)

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And a tomato plant, basil, a money plant (given to us as a wedding favour), and parsley all growing on our window sill.

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Adriana likes to help water the plants

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And she’s making good use of the wheel barrow she had for her birthday…

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…to sit on!

All in all, I’m quite excited to see how these turn out. The fun of gardening is, apparently, in the experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn’t. We have the luxury in this country and time of knowing that what fails, we can buy from a greengrocer or supermarket instead. It wouldn’t be so fun if this wasn’t the case.

Grow It Eat It – Growing Food With Children

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m hoping to grow some vegetables in pots and containers in our garden this year. It will be an experiment in which I’m expecting to make many mistakes, so I am currently researching the best ways to go about it. I’m attempting simple projects because I am a novice myself, and because I really want to get my daughter involved. She will be two in the spring and I am hoping it will be something we can do together.

Reading many gardening books focusing on a small garden or one specific to pots and containers, I have to say my favourite so far is a children’s gardening book I came across by chance in my local library – The Royal Horticultural Society’s book Grow It Eat It – Simple gardening projects & delicious recipes, published in 2008 by Dorling Kindersley.

Click image for source

I love the way that children’s books assume no prior knowledge and that information is presented in a simple and straightforward way, meaning they are great for children and adult beginners.

Blurb – ‘From plot to plate, a cookery and gardening book in one, from the experts at the RHS.

Is your child a budding gardener or chef? Children will love learning how to plant seeds and turn their produce into delicious meals that they can eat. They’ll have juicy tomatoes that make fantastic pizzas, plump pumpkins for a perfect pie, luscious strawberries for a smashing smoothie and many more tempting treats.They’ll discover how food grows, from photosynthesis to pollination and learn to care for their plants.

Then when they’ve picked their crops, there are recipes for snacks, lunches and dinners that are really tasty and will encourage your child and family to eat healthily.

And you don‚Äôt need a garden: Grow It, Eat It includes plants that can all be grown in pots.’

Throughout the book the children made use of a toddler sized canvas bag with mini garden tools which I had previously seen for sale, and we managed to get one just like it. We are yet to use it outdoors, but our daughter loves the bag and watering can. I’ve put the hand trowel, fork and rake away until they are to be used for their intended purpose. I’m really looking forward to starting and hope we have some great successes. And if we don’t I’m learning a lot along the way.

Children's Garden Tool Set

2008. Grow It Eat It. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.
ISBN 978-1-40-532810-4