Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gardening with JiliK - Let's Grow All the Things Edition

Having now uh, thoroughly mastered the art of herb growing, clearly the next step in my gardening adventure was to move outdoors to try my hand at growing pretty much every vegetable I could think of. With only a few herb seedlings under my belt now, zero other experience and very little in the way of research, what could possibly go wrong?

So this is the first photo I have of my humble vegetable plot, from the 4th of May 2014: about two weeks after I'd prepared the spot here and sown a bunch of different vegetable seeds that I'd bought on the internet: kale, chard, lettuce, carrots, turnips, beans, radishes, beetroot, spinach - several of which I'd never eaten before, let alone grown.

This maybe wasn't the best spot for a garden though. The soil here was riddled with stones and there were some apple tree roots I had to work around, but I prepared it as best I could, single digging the drills, sprinkling in some vegetable fertiliser and taking out as many of the bigger stones as I could. At least at this early stage, my efforts looked to be paying off as the first seedlings started appearing:

Well, along with some weeds. This is the chard.

And these are some turnips, I think. I cobbled together some wire brackets and covered them with netting after noticing some feline interference in the plot.

If you look closely, you might be able to spot a possible suspect now.:D

As well as growing some general veggies out here, I decided to have a go at growing some pumpkins and courgettes in couple of drills a few feet away.

These guys, I'd started off in a propagator on my windowsill. Maybe it was just because I had more of an idea of what I was doing now, but they proved much easier to get growing than the herbs earlier in the year, and at this point, they had just outgrown the propagator. I wasn't too hopeful that we'd get a decent enough summer to grow either of these, but hey, you never know.

But wait, there's more. I also wanted to try growing a few tomatoes. Pretty sure that those needed a warmer environment than your typical Irish summer, I got myself this little plastic growhouse - products that all seem to have the worst reviews imaginable on the internet. After a lot of searching around, I eventually went for a Gardman Walk-in Greenhouse, solely because that sounded like a brand I'd heard of before. :D It turned out to be pretty sturdy though, and I'm still using it, though I do put it away into a shed over the winter. Otherwise, with some of the storms we've had lately, I'm sure it'd be a crumpled ball of metal piping by now.

Inside the growhouse are a few already biggish cherry tomato plants. These, I got as super frail little things in Aldi, I guess in February. I'd been growing them since then on a windowsill, eventually moving them in here when they got too big.

The same variety, but grown from seed this time, a year later. You get the idea. :D

These plants had actually gotten so big now that I could only fit three of the six plants I had inside the growhouse. The rest I had to leave to take their chances with the elements outside. We had had a pretty great run of weather up to this point though, so those ones were doing just fine at the moment.

BUT WAIT! There's more!. Also in Aldi, I picked up a pack of four bare root asparagus plants. These you needed to bury in a trench that you gradually filled in with soil as they grow (That's what I picked up from the instructions anyway.). These guys were having some trouble in that department though, again thanks to those pesky cats.

In an effort to keep their treacherous paws away from the the still fragile stems, I put these segments I'd cut out of a plastic bottle around them, and for extra protection, I covered the whole trench with a bit of netting.

It's the 15th of June now and things are actually coming along pretty well. In the leftmost drill,  the beans are up. Moving over to the right, we've got some mixed lettuce, some nice-looking radishes and some sturdy-looking turnips. In the middle drill, both the chard and kale are coming along, with some more turnips at the back. We've got a few carrots in the next drill (Not many though. Even now, I'm pretty sure that they were starting to get attacked by carrot rust fly and other bug-like bastards :D). Also in that drill: some spinach, a few beetroots and what I thought was probably the fennel I sowed, but was actually just a big weed. In the fifth drill, that I'd added on since the last picture, you can see some more radishes just coming up here. A little later I'd set some more carrots in the front of that drill and some more lettuce and spinach in the back.

Over in courgette town, things have been a little shaky. Some pretty full-on bouts of wind during May trashed several of the plants I'd planted here a few weeks ago. I had to get a few more going in the propagator to put in their place. The one on the bottom left is one of the originals though and it's getting pretty well-established now.

The plant second up on the right here is a actually a butternut squash. I hadn't really planned on setting any of those (I mean, they are just kind of mini pumpkins. Right?), but someone got me a pack of seeds so I thought I'd give them a go.

Checking back with the asparagus: I've successfully managed to keep the cats out long enough to fill in the trench now, probably a bit too quickly, but whatever. :D The asparagus ferns have grown tall enough  that I've had to give them support with some way too short bits of bamboo I had left over from propping up my tomato plants. Would I get any edible asparagus out of this little plot? It would be almost a year before I'd find out. (But the answer is yes. Not much, but yes.)

It's Mid-July, and it's a big day: my first courgette! Thankfully, the last month had been relatively calm. My courgettes and pumpkins are all well-established now, which was a big relief after the devastation back in May, but it also meant that things were starting to get a little cosy in the confined space that I was growing them in, between a hedge and some apple trees.

Apple trees that my pumpkin plants were rapidly advancing towards. Yeah, I'm sure this won't be a problem. :D

It's not super-easy to make out here, but you can just about see that the bottom courgette plant has gotten a bit of a ravaging from insects here. This became more and more of a problem around now, to the point where I had to spray the leaves a few times with an organic insecticide. Not something I was super keen on, but I really had no choice if I wanted to keep the plants in one piece. Those freakin' bugs can tear through these leaves like nobody's business.

Speaking of firsts, my first tomato was also ripening; on one of the plants I had to leave outside, no less, which should tell you just how nice the weather had been.

Inside the growhouse, no doubt helped by all the sunshine and some regular tomato feed, things have gotten a little out of hand. :D I'm sure there was some pruning I was supposed to do that I wasn't aware of, but the tomato plants in here have now sky-rocketed to the roof of the growhouse. I didn't really want to trim them though because even high up on all the stems there were flowers which, hey, might set into more tomatoes.

Over on the right, occupying the shelf that was now of very limited use thanks to the giant tomato plants. were a few marigolds that I'd bought, which I'd read were good at deterring insects that attack tomato plants. Here's hoping.

Underneath those were a few pepper plants I'd managed to grow in here. The leaves were a bit chewed up, but still. Marigolds: not so great for deterring slugs. :)

Over in the the veggie drills, things are, generally, ticking over nicely. There's been a big casualty since the last pic here though. The turnips are gone! I don't know if I sowed the seeds too early or what, but all of them bolted. New turnip seeds started forming at the top of each stem, while the turnips themselves got hard to the point of being inedible; not that I didn't try cooking them, but they weren't good.

Everything else is doing okay though. At this point, I'd already started using the chard (Check out the size of that chard in the top right!) and the lettuce. Some of the kale is looking a bit weedy here, but I'd imagine that was a result of the turnip leaves blocking the sunlight out from it.

A little further down, the beans are doing well.

And moving left up along the drills, my mini sweetcorn is up. No doubt thanks to the exceptionally hot Summer that pretty much had me watering everything, every day now. That was a bit more than I'd bargained for, to be honest, but I was managing. Just about.

That long scraggly plant behind the sweetcorn is part of the original batch of spinach I'd sowed. Clearly not having read the seed instructions carefully enough, I was disappointed to find that the leaves in this variety of spinach were pretty tiny. To try to get a bit more yield from these plants I left them grow as long as I could which at least resulted in a lot of small spinach leaves, though the wind played havoc with them whenever it appeared, so bamboo canes had to be employed once again.

It's the 8th of August now, and the pumpkins have finally arrived, this being the biggest of the bunch.

Also, the pumpkin plants themselves...

...have shown something of a growth spurt. I suppose they were all overdue for some type of pruning at this point, but I was so excited to finally have some pumpkins going that I didn't want to do anything to jeopardise them, so I just left the plants basically overrun the place.

Yeah. I'm not kidding. :D

Aside from the threat of pumpkin assimilation though, everything else is doing pretty well.

In the last month, the kale has filled in nicely,

the first beans have been ready for harvesting,...

...and the sweetcorn has been growing like crazy. I don't entirely recall what was up with the small one in the middle though. I think I must have planted one later than the others to replace a damaged one maybe.

On the other hand, my beetroot doesn't really seem to be thriving,

and my carrots - those have unfortunately been laid waste to by carrot rust fly, leaving, I'd say, only about fifth of the ones I planted in tact. The worst thing about this is that I had a pack of seeds for a carrot fly resistant variety (which I planted last year and they totally did the trick), but I opted to sow the bag of funky mixed colour carrots instead. I imagine those would have been fine though if I'd sprayed those little orange bastards as soon as I spotted them, but I didn't.

Over in courgette land, the plants are in full flow now. Thanks to the insecticide, the bugs are no longer a problem. Though I'm pretty sure it was around this time that I was starting to have some trouble with mould forming on the leaves. I managed to find this recipe for a homebrewed spray that worked wonders for that though. I'm pretty sure this pic was taken only a few days after applying it.

Insect damage from last month: yes, but the mould is gone. (Also, my sweet gardening Nikes.)

The courgettes themselves are reaching harvesting size now. Actually, this one's even a bit bigger than the size I harvest them at now, which is at about a foot long. At that size, at least with this variety (Verde Di Milano), you've got plenty of courgette to play around with, but the skin isn't tough enough yet that to have to remove it, and the seeds inside have only started forming so you don't need to worry about those either. Just slice it up and get some pickles or roast veggies going, or make a nice courgette and bacon soup (recipe incoming). Yum.

Meanwhile, in the growhouse: yikes! The tomatoes have continued to sprawl out like crazy, to the point that they, and I, barley fit in anymore. I did cut some of the higher stems in the end though. I had to!

There's a giant crop of cherry tomatoes coming in though, so I can't complain. If you look closely, you might be able to make out some more marigolds. These guys are Dwarf French Legion D'Onore, which I grew myself. So much cooler-looking than regular-ass store-bought marigolds. I don't know if it's thanks to all these marigolds, but so far, there have been no insects attacking the tomatoes or the plants. Maybe they do work.

So, if you remember, I had a few pepper plants on the go back in July. Obviously I wasn't going to be able to fit those in my growhouse, and while the Summer had been pretty hot so far, it maybe wasn't hot enough for peppers, so I bought another growhouse for them. Just a small one this time though.

Tired of lugging potted tomato plants around by now (More so the ones I had outside. Any bit of wind and at least one was guaranteed to topple over, so I was forever moving the damn things. :D), I planted the pepper plants directly in the ground here.

Which is exactly what I also did with those pesky outdoor tomato plants;...

...plants that were now bearing a good share of nearly ripe tomatoes. I can feel a nice salad coming on.

But wait, there's even more. In front of my two growhouses, I seemed to have amassed yet another patch of vegetables. This one started as another couple of drills to mop up the butternut squash and pumpkin plants that wouldn't fit anywhere else, but I only used the far left drill and a bit of the one next to it on that, and with most of a good-sized drill to spare, I thought I'd take a chance on some more turnips. Then my dad had some excess cabbage plants, so I planted those in another kind of half-ased drill next to the turnips (Yeah, I'd pretty much had it with all the freakin' digging at this stage. :D)

It's early September now, and with the weather still being quite warm and sunny, my biggest pumpkin is all grown up and ripening rapidly.

The others aren't quite there yet, though they'd reached pretty good sizes too.

Shortly after this though: a setback; the most random, unexpected thing.

I got freaking chickenpox! Those were terrible. I did manage to grow a sweet beard while I had them, but they rendered me unable for gardening duties for a couple of weeks (I played a lot of Virtual Console though. :D). I got my dad to help out, but not being as invested in my garden as I was, I was expecting to find things kind of in shambles my the time I was fit enough get back to it.

I was not wrong. :D While I wasn't out there giving my kale and courgette leaves a spray, the slugs and insects had a field day.

Not to mention the courgette leaf mould, which had come back in full force without any treatment.

Weeding, also something that had gone by the wayside in the last few weeks. :D It's hard to tell, but in there somewhere are what's left of my carrots.

My beetroot is similarly surrounded. Unfortunately, I only got a couple of decent-sized beetroots in the end. Luckily though, you can eat the leaves and stems of this variety (bulls blood) at least, and I even grated in the small, tough little beetroots that they were growing out from, so nothing went to waste.

On the upside though, my big pumpkin is ready to harvest.

Check out the size of that thing!

And the others won't be too far behind.

In the meantime, Mr. Grey is handling pest control. :)

Over in the growhouse, my plants are putting out a steady supply of ripe tomatoes now,...

...even as some of the stems are dying off.

The outside plants are actually doing really well too. The tomatoes are a fair bit smaller on these three than the ones in the growhouse, but there are a lot more of them, so it all balances out. In the end, it was probably November by the time all the tomato plants were done completely. For my first time out, I really got a good crop this year.

Needless to say, much soup, and chutney was made.

Ooh, managed to catch a sunbeam in this shot. Nice.

In the pepper house, big news! I've managed to grow a couple. Unfortunately though, this was as far as I got with them this year. I just got started with them a bit too late I guess.

Elsewhere, my string beans are winding down now, but from only six plants, I got a pretty steady saucepan full of beans every few weeks, so I was pretty happy with that.

One drill down, and a bit to the left, my sweetcorn plants have sky-rocketed to tomato plant-like proportions.

And they've got full-on corn cobs now. Well, mini corn cobs. Had I known this was the kind of summer that we were heading into, I would have gone for full-sized corn, but hey, I was pretty proud to have just gotten the plants to this stage, regardless of the harvest.

Which, needless to say, wasn't huge.

Speaking of harvesting, it was about time to gather up whatever spinach had grown and use it at this point. I doubted it was going to grow many more leaves now and the plants were just a giant sprawling mess at this point.

I had actually sown a little more spinach a few weeks before this. It had made it to the baby spinach stage now, though it wouldn't get much further than that. September was pretty warm still, but it turns out you can't fight the growing season, the end of which was rapidly approaching now.

Didn't think I had any more pics of the asparagus ferns, but here they are towering over some sad little coriander plants in the background. The fact that I didn't mention those so far should tell you how well that went. :D

Meanwhile, they wouldn't have time to grow to full size at this stage, but the few cabbage plants I set had grown a nice little bit now and had managed to avoid the bug-riddled fate of the kale plants.

My second batch of turnips though were pretty much fully grow now...

...and fully fit for use this time around. (Yikes, that chopping board!)

A little to the left of the turnips however, strange things were afoot...

No, too far. :)

Here. Much to my surprise, my butternut squash plants had produced some... things. They definitely weren't butternut squashes. They were these small round fruits; I'd have to imagine the result of cross pollination from the nearby couple of pumpkin plants. At this stage, I was sure that these would be all I'd get out of the butternut squash plants, but a couple of weeks after this, a few real squashes appeared. Yeah, you left it a little late there, guys. They didn't get very far before winter hit.

And that, was about it. I'd continue harvesting a few things into November, but more or less, my first year of gardening adventures were complete.

There was nothing left to do now but make some soup with my less than photogenic produce. :D

Overall, it was a fun summer. It was great being out and about experimenting at being a gardener; learning the things I needed to know as I went along; watching my progress grow before my eyes, or not, in some cases. I really got the gardening bug this summer. Sure, not everything went according to plan, not that there was much of a plan, but it's something I definitely want to keep doing and keep getting better at as time goes on.

Oh yeah, and I am using the mutant squashes here. I was quite excited to see what they were made up of, but, though it's hard to make out from the crappy photo, they were indeed just some kind of pumpkin/squash hybrid. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was still kind of disappointing.

The soup was still pretty good though. :)

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