Although we’ve grown edibles in our garden in previous years, this year has felt like the first time that we’ve really managed to produce a good harvest. We installed two raised beds near the house in early spring, which gave us so much more growing space than we’d had previously, and then one of the benefits of the coronavirus lockdown meant that we had more time than ever to dedicate to nurturing our plants and flowers. We had made a planting plan for this year and we had high hopes for what we wanted to achieve, so as winter and the start of a new gardening year rolls around, I thought it would be useful to reflect on what went well this year and our hopes for next year.
Introducing my Green Fingered Assistant
My biggest surprise of the year has been just how much the children have loved helping in the garden, and even more surprising, that their help has truly been helpful! Max, my eldest, is 6 and has become a little green fingered gardener, assisting with planting seeds, weeding, and always very keen to harvest. It’s been an absolute joy to watch his face as he pulled out his first carrots, or tasted a pea straight from the pod. Growing our own food has been the key for us in slowly expanding Max’s repertoire of vegetables away from just broccoli (I’m unclear why kids seem to love broccoli quite so much, but mine certainly do!).
The Big Successes
A huge win for us this year was our carrots. I didn’t have high hopes for them. They always strike me as something that everything loves to eat, and I was particularly worried about the dreaded carrot root fly as I couldn’t get hold of any protective mesh during lockdown. I sowed as thinly as I could, and made sure to thin on days when it was windy, as I’d read this carries the scent further away, meaning the carrot fly is less likely to find your precious carrots. But I was still amazed when we came to harvest our carrots and found a wonderful crop beneath the soil!
Our courgette plant did amazingly well! I absolutely love courgettes and despite everyone’s warnings that we’d be sick of them after growing them as they’re so productive, I did question whether we should have planted more than one plant. But that one plant did so so well that we had enough to give away to so many neighbours, and I did find by the end of the summer that the thought of another courgette was not at all appealing!
Tomatoes were also a great success! It’s the first time in years that I’ve grown tomatoes and I’d almost forgotten just how good a home grown tomato tastes! I grew them in big pots on the sunniest part of our patio, where they did beautifully. We had great success with Gardener’s Delight and Sungold, so I’m putting those on our list for next year, and I’m also keen to try out some more exotic varieties, like a black cherry and the beautiful Costoluto Fiorentino. Even once the weather turned I was still able to make lots of green tomato chutney, using this recipe from Lovely Greens. I’m not usually a fan of green tomato chutney, but this one had a lovely kick to it and I’ll definitely use it again next year.
And the disappointments…
Having read back on my plans for the garden, I’d forgotten that we put in a sowing of onions in the raised bed at the back of the garden. This was a total disaster! Our garden is North facing, and does get a reasonable amount of sun, but come afternoon falls more and more into shade, and the spot the onions were in was just too shady for them to succeed. Lesson learned!
Our potato crop was also rather disappointing this year. We always grow them in bags and usually have a good amount, but despite following the same process, our harvest was very disappointing. We did have a late frost, so I’m not sure whether they were slightly damaged by that and it effected the crop, but I’m hoping for better things next year.
The other area that I need to get much better at next year is preserving. I froze a good proportion of our carrot harvest (blanching, chopping, and freezing), and made the green tomato chutney, but most of our produce was eaten fresh. Our plans for next year involve growing far more of our own food, dedicating half of our lawn to convert to vegetable and flower beds, so I need to get better at preserving our harvest for the winter months. It’s been eye opening just how much food you would need to grow in order to be anywhere close to self sufficient – we seem to eat an awful lot of fruit and veg in our house!
The Herb Garden
My little potted herb garden has been one of my favourite additions to our cooking this year. Fresh herbs make such a huge difference to the taste of a dish, and being able to just pop out of the back door and cut a handful of herbs is wonderful. My favourites are mint and thyme, and I’ve created quite a collection of different varieties, thanks to Urban Herbs, who grow some unusual and amazing herbs. We have Moroccan Mint, Strawberry Mint, Pineapple Mint, Lime Mint, and Chocolate Mint, as well as Common Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Orange Thyme, and Creeping Red Thyme. All of these are in pots, and I’ve tried to ensure that the mints are kept a distance apart from each other, as I’ve heard that growing immediately next to a different variety can affect the flavour.
I loved that the herbs were so attractive to the bees, particularly as I positioned them directly by our courgette plant, so they ensured that the courgette flowers were pollinated (although I will admit to hand pollinating a few!). I really want to increase our herb collection next year, especially the lemon thyme, as we seem to use it in so much of our cooking.
Final reflections and looking forward
It’s been a fantastic first year of growing for us and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved as a family. I’m always someone who is looking forward to the next project though, and next year we hope to really be able to make progress in our garden. A lot of changes that I wanted to make have been put on hold this year, as we are taking down our dilapidated outbuilding and putting in a new one at the end of our garden, so we’ve held off making big changes as we know from experience that the garden is likely to suffer a lot with builders walking up and down it.
But as you can see from these photos, we’ve already put in our four no-dig beds in the front lawn to dedicate more space to growing, and I have a plan in place for the garden design as a whole that I’m very excited to see starting to take shape. Stay tuned to see what we get up to next year!